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Daily Snapshot for March 21, 2012

Look! It’s landscape this time!

The Washington Monument

click to enormi-cize

Daily Snapshot for March 15, 2012

The Washington Monument

Click to en-huge-n

Daily Snapshot for March 9, 2012

One of the shots from today had a helicopter in it. Which is cool, but overall this shot looked better.

The Washington Monument

Click to Airborn size.

Daily Snapshot for March 7, 2012

Not much to say. Here’s a picture.

The Washington Monument

click to make it larger.

Socially Awkward Penguin Sharted on my Web Site

Let's Talk...

One of the things my team does at work is maintain and develop a set of five distinct but related web sites. They have different content and styles, but they have related material and the same layout and code structure.

One of the design elements that is the same across all the sites is that they have a row of buttons that link to each of the other sites. These buttons are graphics that consist of the name of the target site.

The particular implementation of this design element looks as graphically attractive as fornicating porcupines. I mean, they go well as a set, but no one needs to see that.

Specifically, they look (literally) like someone wrote the name down in marker, and before it was dry wiped it with his thumb. It’s horrendous — and they were created by the individual I have referred to in the past as my nemesis. She’s been gone nearly a year and I’m still trying to fix all the damage she did.

At any rate, until recently only four of the five sites were inter-related this way. The fifth one, which we were already responsible for, was a little more independent. But now it’s integrating with the other five. This means that before we had 3 buttons on each of four sites (no site links to itself, dur). But now we need to implement a fourth button on each site, and put four buttons on the newly integrating site.

That means creating a new graphic.

The new site has a very similar name to one of the previous four, so the name we were using is being tossed, and we’re using an abbreviation for both these sites.

So that means making another new graphic. Two in total, which is 20% of all the graphics we used.

My nemesis, naturally, did not bother to save a source file which could be easily edited to make changes or add a new button. This usually is something that would justify my low estimation of her competence, but this time around I was grateful. With no record of what font was used and a pretty small set of letters to work it out with, coupled with my inability to recreate the horrible appearance of the old ones, altogether meant that I had to redo all five graphics. Or, more to the point, that I not only had no choice, but that I could make graphics I could live with.

Another objective in remaking the graphics came in at this point. The lengths of the names being used varied from 3 to 10 letters. With the previous name set, the variation was from 6 to 10. So the previous buttons were all different widths, but not too big a difference. Doing that again was going to make some huge appearance differences.

So I made all five. Very simple, all based off a very easily editable Illustrator file. Took me ten minutes. They all match, they were all the same width, they all look good, and they all blended with their background better.

When I first put them out on a test site, it didn’t look good. It was like one of the porcupines was still there, but now he was shtoinking a jellyfish. There didn’t seem to be a reason for the apparent spacing variations. I could just crop them to the name length, that made it look like the jellyfish was really kinky, had convinced the porcupine to become a swinger, and invited an ostrich to the festivities.

So I put a simple one pixel border around each button. Voila. Now they look like five different objects all the same width, evenly space. It was beautiful (in relative terms, of course). I was complimented on how good it looked.

Documentation for the sites is handled by a different group, and around this time they asked for a copy of one of the graphics so that they could put it in the documentation. No problem. I sent it over.

1980s Troll Doll


A few hours later, the troll wrote back.

I call him a troll because, honestly, it’s he reminds me of one of those dolls from the 80s.

He’s short, round, and I’m quite certain that if I stuck him on a pencil and spun him his hair would make a weird mess. Normally this just amuses me. This time, it was irritating. Not the hair, just the trollness.

And trollness he projected at me.

He started complaining about how the changes hadn’t been approved, and we’d have to send it through the stake holders. And how he’s “uncomfortable” changing the “look and feel” of the sites and that we’d have to fill out a change request form which at this time “we don’t have time to do.”

All of this seemed intended to bug me. Socially Awkward Penguin Evacuates

I thought, maybe this guys just being lazy.

But over the course of 10 paragraphs in 3 emails I was certain he wasn’t being lazy. He was putting far too much work into getting out of this.

I came to a conclusion: he was scared to do this. It was change. And he feared change. Because he wasn’t given explicit written instructions to do something, he couldn’t do it.

I guess he kind of had a point to a certain amount. I mean yeah, we don’t make changes just because we feel like it. Even if they’re necessary. But on the other hand, I was already making changes that were not just asked for by the stakeholders, but were REQUIRED. I certainly couldn’t leave things as they were. They had to change.

As for filling out the a Change Request form…. Really? You’re one of those people? One of the people who thinks it’s a good idea to create more paperwork? What the heck is wrong with you? That’s so foreign to my way of thinking that I can barely comprehend it.

Business Cat Tells You What He Really Thinks

Plus, I know what happens to paperwork around here. We literally changed the name of a document once to submit it as the necessary paperwork for a different project than the doc was created for. No one ever said anything. Paperwork around here is a gatekeeper. It’s not to accomplish anything usefully administrative. It’s to keep the faint of heart from ever asking for anything to be done at all.

And after all, adding the borders (or taking them away) was all of 3 minutes of work. If my computer was experiencing some sort of lag.

So we argued with the troll for a while. It was finally conceded that the borders had to go, and the troll finally gave a parting shot that “he had to explain this to the stakeholders.” At which point one wonders (or at least, I wonder) why the border couldn’t simply be part of that, since it was good for the design and all.

So in the end, we no longer have porcupines fornicating on these web sides. But it sure does look like some waterfowl defecated on it.

Philosoraptor Questions Your Ethics

The answer, philosoraptor, is NO.

Daily Snapshot for March 6, 2012

The first in a pretty regular series.

The Washington Monument

Click to Capital-size

Deep Blue: A Diceless RPG v0.7

Deep Blue is a story-oriented, diceless roleplaying system. The players and the referee work out a story together, with new elements brought in all the time.

One of the big issues with a roleplaying game is coming up with the character concept. With Deep Blue, conceptualizing a character is simple. If you are well and truly stuck, you can simply use yourself as a model.

A character in Deep Blue starts out as a simple, normal person. Going to school, driving a taxi, shuffling kids to activities, working in the office, or what have you.

Sounds dull, doesn’t it.

Don’t worry, this isn’t Essays and Economics. In Deep Blue, each character has powers that he is unaware of. These powers manifest within the game whenever a key point in the plot would make it dramatic.

Every character has a pool of Character Points (CPs) that can be used to manifest these powers, either to discover a new power or use one he has recently discovered. Naturally, discovering a new power costs more points than using one established already.

How many CPs a character starts with depends on the setting. A generic Earth setting (like our own, but with latent powers) typically uses characters that start with 10 CPs. A game with typical superpowers will probably start with 2-4 times that number. In fantasy, a wizard will start with 20 points or so.

There are four trait-pairs that governpowers: Focus-Spontaneity, Hubris-Humility, Creativity-Traditional, and Boldness-Restraint. Your score in these traits determine how well you can use your powers and how strong they are. Together, trait-pairs will total 10; in other words, if you have a 3 in Focus, your Spontaneity will automatically be 7. When one trait in a pair is lowered, for whatever reason, the opposite trait is raised, and vice-versa.

It should be noted early on that a low score in any of these traits is not a “bad thing.” A character with a low score in Creativity, for example, is not stupid. He is simply systematic in his approach to problems. He is better at logic than intuition. A low Boldness score does not indicate fearfulness, but careful planning. Such a character would “play it safe” when it comes to dangerous situations.

Each Trait has a score between 0 to 10. A score of 5 is unremarkable for either the trait or its opposite. A score of 0 or 10 probably indicates some sort of compulsive behavior the character has. A character with a Focus of 0, for example, would be incapable of completing all but the most basic and simple of activities before he loses interest and moves on to a new project).

Focus-Spontaneity: Focus describes your dedication to completing a task. The higher a Focus score is, the less likely a character is to be able to interrupt something he is working on. However, Focus also measures dedication to a plan or an idea. Characters with high Focus scores are dogmatic and are difficult to sway. Characters with high Spontaneity, on the other hand, are willing to try new experiences. A high Spontaneity score indicates a high level of impulsiveness and an acceptance of change, while a high Focus score resists change.

Hubris-Humility: Hubris is essentially pride. An unusually high Hubris score usually indicates such self confidence as to exclude any reliance on others. However, an exceptionally high Humility score means the character does not admit himself capable of anything. Low Hubris, taken moderately, indicates Humility. Characters with high Hubris prefer to grandstand and be in the limelight. Characters with high Humility prefer to be behind the scenes and not receive any attention.

Creativity-Traditional: Creativity measures a character’s ability to come up with original applications, solutions, or constructions. A high Creativity score is representative of a character that chafes without new ideas. He revels in thinking “outside the box.” A high Traditional score prefers to make use of resources that already exist, and tried and true methods of execution.

Boldness-Restraint: High Boldness scores indicate characters that jump into problems regardless of the risk involved. Gamblers have high Boldness, for despite the possibility of loss, they are willing to try for a large gain. High Restraint characters are not necessarily cowardly. They are merely conservative. They will evaluate, at length, all the factors to try and predict the outcome.

Assigning Traits
During character creation the player assigns traits as he desires, keeping in mind the combined total of 10 for each trait-pair. The referee may also assign a maximum score for initial scores in traits based on the setting and style of campaign he wishes to run. A score of 7 in a given trait is a good maximum for “real world” campaign.


Like, traits, Powers are rated with a minimum of 0 and maximum of 10. They are controlled by a related trait.

I have no intention of making an exhaustive list of powers. The nature of Deep Blue is to make up powers as you go. When your character is in a tight situation, and there seems to be no way out, spend some CPs and manifest a new power. The more creative the power, the better. Of course, the more generally useful and powerful, the more CPs it will cost. A great deal of this is using best judgment. While the referee will have the final say in the matter, all the players should be involved in the discussion about how the power works and what the cost should be.

Below I have provided below two example powers (based on superheroes we know and love) to demonstrate the relative costs a power should have.

Power Example: Flight (min Hubris 4)

4 Extended jumps (over tall buildings, for example)
5 Clumsy flight (think The Greatest American Hero)
6 Traditional superhero flight
7 Perfect or superspeed flight
8 Perfect superspeed flight

Power Example: Self Multiplication (min Spontaneity 4)
4 Create a temporary mirror image of yourself
5 Create multiple illusions of yourself
6 Project an image of yourself that you don’t need to concentrate on to maintain
7 Project an image of yourself that can work by itself, but can’t physically interact
8 A single “double” of yourself
9 Multiple “clones”
10 A permanent separate being springs into existence

Use of powers
When you want to use a power you have already used in the past, you must think about exactly what you want to do with it. The more complicated or extreme the application of the power, the harder it will be to use. Once you have declared that you will use the power, you are committed to it, whatever the consequences.

Together, the group decides what trait the power requires for use and the minimum required score in that trait. You must have that number or greater in the trait to use it. If this is the case, you have succeeded and you are able to dictate how it works. Be descriptive, and explain what happens. The referee will, of course, moderate, but you have a lot of latitude in your description.

Failure: if your trait score is less than the minimum score needed, something has gone wrong. If this is the case, you have lost control. The referee describes what happens as the result of your attempt. It is possible you will still achieve the ultimate result you wanted, with perhaps something unpleasant happening as well. However, if you have missed the target by large number, then there will be drastic consequences — possibly injury or even death. The player group may choose to point out that the referee has taken too much liberty for the degree of failure, but again, the referee is the final arbiter.

Example 1: Cornered by a strange monster that has chased him and his friend to the edge of a cliff, Stephen decides to manifest the power of flight. He actually only needs to jump — across the cliff or down to the ground below, but he wants to take his friend with him. Normally an inhuman jump such as this would require a minimum Hubris of 4, but they agree that since he will be carrying someone, it will be a bit more difficult, and that it will be a minimum Hubris of 5. Since Stephen has a Hubris of 6, this is not a problem, and he escapes the beast. Stephen’s player announces that he grabs his companion and leaps to safety on the other side of the chasm.

Example 2: Tasha is fighting a gang of teenagers who are trying to take her purse. She hopes to be able to confuse them, or possibly fight them off by creating a double of herself. She decides that she won’t need to actually fight them with the doubles, so she creates 3 illusions “selves;” since she won’t be able to concentrate, she needs them to be able to work independently. Together the group decides this will require a minimum Spontaneity of 8. Tasha’s Spontenaeity score is 4, and she fails to manifest the doubles. The referee then describes what happens. Because she failed by four, he rules that she has become distracted by her own attempt, allowing one of the gang members to grab her and pin her arms behind her.

Manifesting a New Power: In the normal course of events, you do not have powers. However, in the game of Deep Blue, new and strange things can happen. Manifesting a new power (one that you have never used before), costs CPs. When you first manifest a power, your group should decide what the minimum trait needed for that use of the power. Multiply this number by 2 to find the cost for manifesting the power in CPs.

If you have the CPs available to purchase the power, you have done so. However, you can still fail to use it correctly (as seen in Use of Powers above). If you do not have the CPs, nothing happens, and you have wasted some in-game time (as appropriate for the situation). Note that if the CPs are available, you must purchase the power, even if you will fail in your attempt. Once you have announced that you will manifest or use a power, you are committed to the attempt.

Example 3: Lillian is an elf wizard trying to foil an attack by a rival sorcerer. Before he arrives, she creates a temporary clone of herself to distract him while she sneaks up from behind. She has never used the duplication power before, and the group decides that this will require a minimum Spontaneity of 8. Thus the cost of manifesting the power in CPs will be 16. (8 x 2 = 16). Whether the attempt will succeed will depend on what her Focus score is.

Example 4: Electroman decides that to capture the villain who is escaping he will need to fly. He is not worried about grace however, as long as he can get close. This will require a minimum Hubris of 5, meaning that manifesting the power will cost 10 CPs. (5 x 2 = 10).

As you can see, it is easier to manifest a power at its weakest stage first, but since most powers manifest at the mercy of circumstance, this is not always possible.

When a new power can manifest: The obvious way to get around the expense of manifesting a new power is to do something small and insignificant with the power when you use it for the first time. However, this is not always possible. Powers only manifest during times of great stress — combat, danger, and so forth. The story being told at the time will reveal these times of stress. Compelling player reasoning is encouraged, but the referee has the final say regarding whether the circumstances warrant a new power. During these times it’s true that you could still use a “low end” manifestation of the power to get a reduced point cost, but this will have narrative consequences as well: if the player does not manifest a power significant enough to overcome the problem he faces, then he has wasted in-game time and the problem may overcome him.


In any roleplaying game, there are things you want to get done. Sometimes these tasks are routine: buying a commonly available piece of equipment, for example, or driving a car to a new location. Unless there are unusual or extenuating circumstances, these tasks should simply be done. However, what if that piece of equipment is illegal and only available on the black market? Or what if you’re being chased in your car by a motorcycle gang? Suddenly things are a little more difficult.

I am a strong believer in the precedence of story and fun over mechanics. However, simply allowing the referee to decide whether a difficult task is possible will often seem unfair to players, and (let’s face it) people, even referees, are imperfect and occasionally will act capriciously.

At character creation a character gets 3 Accomplishments and 5 Skills assigned. These numbers may be altered by the referee if the character is older or the setting justifies it.


Just as with powers, we have no intention of creating an exhaustive list of skills. Players and referees should exercise judgment when deciding whether to allow a skill and what it relates too. Skills are things your character has some training and/or experience at. They should not including routine skills like driving a car (though stunt driving would be appropriate) or writing (though contest winning writing talent would be). Example skills include fencing, firearms, computer programming, research, diving, or trivia.


An Accomplishment is just what it sounds like. Something your character is achieved in his life. Accomplishments are things like gaining a Bachelor’s degree, competing professionally in a sport, or serving a tour of military duty. They are more broadly applicable than Skills (you learn to do a great many things in the army, for example) and can be applied to more tasks. As this is part of your character’s history and personality, you will need to make them relevant to the character you have established.

Performing a Task

When you try to accomplish a more difficult action, a difficulty of at least 1 and usually below 5 will be assigned to it by the referee. For each point of difficulty, you need to have either a relevant Skill or Accomplishment, or pay a CP. In many cases, the referee may rule that you must have a relevant Skill or Accomplishment as part of your “payment” for the task. For example, if you want to write a virus to take down the master computer, the referee should demand that at least one of the difficulty points is compensated for by a programming skill. For difficulties of 3 or more, the character is required to have at least one relevant Skill or Accomplishment.

Example 5: Skill Difficulty “For Instances”
Difficulty 1: Programming a database (requires a relevant skill)
Difficulty 2: Hitting a small target with a firearm
Difficulty 3: Landing a plane at night
Difficulty 4: Jumping your car over the parting drawbridge
Difficulty 5: Assassinating the president and escaping

Low-stress Tasks: Some tasks can be repeated until they are complete, even if someone fails on the first try. For example, writing a program. Even if your first attempt fails, you can rewrite code until it works, assuming you know enough about the programming language. If a character has the time, and the task is appropriate, difficulty 1 tasks can be assumed to be successful eventually. Many difficulty 2 tasks can also be done this way (the example of hitting the target is one, if you have enough ammunition, you will eventually hit the target), but it would be appropriate to pay a CP for automatic (if eventual) success on a difficulty 2 task.

Unusually High-stress Tasks: Many difficult tasks, like a drawn out battle, will take their toll. An extra CP point (but not a Skill or Accomplishment) should be paid by any character in such a situation, even if the task is normally one that would be automatically successful (a karate black belt facing a long succession of simple opponents, for example). This is to simulate the physical, mental, or emotional stress of the task. Please note that a task need not be a “task,” necessarily. Enduring emotional torture may also qualify for the loss of a CP.


One of the great rewards of roleplaying is watching a character improve or progress. Thus, at the end of each session, the referee should award a CPs to each character. A typical award for standard play is 2 or 3 CPs. Extra Character Points should be awarded to characters who accomplished something difficult or were very original in either description, use, or choice of powers. Characters should rarely, if ever, receive more than 6 Character Points for a single session. A session, however, should be defined not as the time you’ve actually met. It should be defined by a recognizable chunk of a story. If your group breaks early because someone needs to leave, you should not call that the end of a session. The end of the session will be when the adventure, or adventure chapter, ends.

In between sessions, players may also alter their character’s Traits. By paying a number of CPs equal to the highest score in a trait-pair, that trait-pair can be adjusted by one. In other words, if a character has a Boldness 7/Restraint 3, it will cost 7 points to raise Restraint to 4 or Boldness to 8.

Skills may also be advanced between sessions. 1 CP may be spent to gain one skill. However, this can only be done if there is sufficient in-game time between sessions to have learned the Skill.

Character Points never “expire.” They can be saved indefinitely. However, once they are spent, they have been permanently used. They do not regenerate automatically.

I hold these truths to be self-evident.

Almost three and a half years ago, I wrote this and my thoughts are going back to it.

I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve decided that I do not pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I don’t pledge my allegiance to any flag, even Virginia’s. I think that pledge allegiance to a silly looking piece of fabric (I’m not a huge fan of the US flag’s design) is exactly what’s wrong with this country.

I thought about instead I would pledge my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America. But that didn’t sit exactly right. You know what I pledge my allegiance to? The principles upheld by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. To wit:

  • That all men are created equal
  • That they are endowed with certain unalienable rights such as
    • Life
    • liberty
    • the pursuit of happiness
  • That government governs only with the consent of the governed
  • That a populace has the right to take up arms against a government that treats them unjustly if that government is not willing or able to make reparation
  • That church and state should be separate entities and not screw around with each other if they can at all help it
  • That people should be allowed to gather and discuss even vile and stupid ideas
  • That with the exception of dangers to national security (not an individual’s security) the government should not keep secrets
  • That the range of national security dangers is quite narrow
  • That protesting a government policy is at the core of patriotism
  • That citizens of a free society have the right to arm and defend themselves if necessary
  • That the government has an obligation to explain itself when it feels it necessary to search a person or their belongings or property, and that this option must receive approval
  • That persons have a right to trial by jury of peers when accused of a crime
  • That there are punishments for crimes and methods of interrogation that go beyond necessary or humane, and these should not be used.
  • That any citizen has a right to vote and protest and speak
  • That all men being created equal does not exclude any race, color, creed, or gender
  • That this list, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, nor any other document contains a comprehensive list of all civil rights nor all principles of good governance.

Why? Because this:

One of these men is an arch-conservative. The other is Rick Santorum

This man also said that JFK believing in the separation of church and state made him “want to throw up.”

GOP, I mean it. You are horrible, vile people if you continue to even consider Santorum.

But that’s off subject. What I really wanted to get at was this.

I’m certain Santorum loves America. Or at least his idea of it. I’m sure the flying flag stirs his heart.

I also think he doesn’t give a fig for what’s actually in the Constitution or any of the principles. And that’s my point. Loving your country, loving its flag, none of that is an ideal that I truly aspire to. I have a love of my country, and even of its flag (which, I still maintain, is a little bit silly looking). But ultimately, where I pledge my allegiance is the principles of humanity that this country is supposed to maintain. And Gingrich and Santorum don’t even pretend to do that. They want to use the Constitution as toilet paper.

That makes me want to throw up.

Bad Cinema

So I have been asked what I mean when I say “Bad Cinema.” The thing is, it’s not an easy thing for me to encapsulate any other way. Which is, after all, why I settled on the phrase.

One proposed definition is “movies that are so bad they’re good.” And to be honest, Bad Cinema encompasses a lot of these sorts of movies. Robot Jox is a good example of this. Robot Jox is a B-movie, set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remaining nations (the Soviet Union among them) have agreed that instead of full on wars or weapons of mass destruction, they will settle disputes with what amounts to Ultimate Fighting Championships – between giant robots. There’s no rationale for how on earth societies settle on this, or why they even abide by it. The budget was so low that the props and costumes were made primarily out of bits you’d find in any local Radio Shack.

What did the film have going for it? Well, they managed to avoid wholesale copying of “mecha” style robots. Otherwise… not really anything.

But I like it. So by default, I throw it in the Bad Cinema category.

But that doesn’t work for the main body of what I consider Bad Cinema.

The second simplest way I can put it (since “Bad Cinema” is the first simplest way) is that these are movies that have at least one flash of absolute brilliance in them. Something genuine and real, and almost objectively well done – but that are otherwise so poorly made that they have no chance of commercial or critical success.

Many movies with cult followings fit into this category: Buckaroo Bonzai, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (the camp approach on the last one walks the brilliant line of farcical silliness without ever crossing into just plain stupid, which is the problem with so many spoof movies, including all of Tomatoes’s sequels.

They all have that one piece of inspirational awesomeness that draws certain people who are able to overlook the flaws. Highlander is another example. By all objective measures, the TV series was a better made production. Critics collectively gave the movie a “meh.” If it weren’t for international audiences, the theatrical release would have been a loss for the studio.

All the same, the ideas and the story that lay under the movie were enough to inspire Queen to sit down and write a bunch of songs for it. It launched a multi-film and multi-media franchise. The catch-phrase “There can be only one” is widely known these days. Taken as a whole, it’s not a brilliant achievement. But the component parts of it reveal some wonderful creativity and some powerful ideas that can be truly moving.

Another example: Godzilla (1954). This isn’t what most people think of when they think of great cinema. It’s also an example that initially seems to be arguing against myself. Godzilla was initially panned by critics. But the people disagreed sharply. It broke records for ticket sales. The only reason it didn’t win best picture in the Japanese Academy Awards was because it was up against Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (a fantastic movie by almost any measure).

You know what’s awesome about Godzilla? This is a movie about the horrific accidental result of a nuclear weapons testing – made concrete in the form of a literal giant monster. And the only way to stop it is to create a new kind of weapon of mass destruction and using it on their own territory. And where does it take place? The only country to have had a nuclear weapon used against them – less than ten years after the flight of the Enola Gay. It is powerful that the creators would have the courage to examine the issue that way in the mass media.

Of course, when I talk about Bad Cinema, I don’t mean just the 1954 movie. I’m talking about most of Toho’s output, as well as even the Mathew Broderick version. One of my favorite installments in the franchise is Final Wars, which features … well, pretty much every rubber suit monster Toho ever conceived. And they just keep coming. Also included? A Power Rangers-esque set of super soldiers who do battle with humanoid aliens (who control the monsters) and each other. Good times. It is, essentially, pro wrestling in rubber suits. I think, honestly, it’s that homage to the original that makes it so appealing. It’s not an attempt to recreate the phenomenon. It’s an acknowledgement that giant monsters stomping tiny things is pretty awesome on its own.

So that’s Bad Cinema. I’m not sure if I can reduce it any more than that, other than to cite more movies and explain what I love about them.

This. Yes. This. It is truth

How 30-Somethigns with Kids celebrate Christmas

Courtesy of The Oatmeal

Contents of the best spam conmment ever

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Thirty-ish paragraphs of gratitude.

One item for each day of November. No, it’s not 3 like much of my in-laws have been passing about each day for the last month, but I wanted to expound a bit on them. And tripling the size of this list was just not an option at this point. Maybe next year. NOTE: the sequence is not significant.

  1. Suspension of disbelief
    I’m not sure why this one is first. But I’m glad to have this particular skill. I can watch a movie with a guy in a rubber lizard suit stomping on models and I can enjoy it for what went into it. And yes, the original Godzilla raised some interesting questions worth thinking about.
    Likewise, my favorite stories all rely on fantastic premises. How dull my life would be without the willing suspension of disbelief! And how many opportunities to learn and understand would be lost!
  2. Comics
    I love comics. The synthesis of words and images to create a narrative. It’s fascinating simply as a communications medium. I won’t bore you with an analysis here, but in this case, McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. I enjoy reading comics because they’re comics. Certainly I love stories about superheroes too, but comics on their own are intriguing to me.
  3. The Internet
    It’s the future, people. Innovation is faster because people can collaborate across the globe in real time. Your Kindle? That’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Certainly there is some knowledge that has never made it on to a web site, but on the whole, the Internet is the human race’s memory. And it doesn’t have to be deep! The simple communication it fosters is a great boon.
  4. Passionate people
    Passionate people are interesting people. Sometimes they’re also irritating people, but people who aren’t able to put their emotions into something don’t bring a lot to talk about to the table. Also, passionate people are the people who change the world. New things happen because people are excited to find something new.
  5. Democracy
    It’s easy to get hung up on the problems of our society – because we have got a bunch of them. “Democracy is the worst form of government… except all the other ones.” (yeah, I probably misquoted that one). Greed, disinterest, shortsightedness, misunderstanding. These things cause major problems. But we don’t have to wait for a specific person to decide to do something about these problems. We can work for change with efficacy. And if the people who are supposed to do things about the problems are too apathetic, we can replace them.
  6. Divergent opinions
    Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, I’m not always right. People have different ideas and different ways of understanding issues. Because they disagree, I can receive deeper understanding of issues. And it’s divergent opinions that push progress as well. If we all accepted something as best, no one would ever try to make it better.
    And at the very least, an intelligent discussion of different opinions is good for an excellent conversation.
  7. My cat
    It’s stupid sounding, but I really was inspired to adopt Pippin. I’m very affectionate toward him. After all this time with us he’s learning how to accept and even enjoy petting and scratching. And he’s excellent with the children. He’s even learned to game that system. The other day when Erica grabbed his tail, he didn’t retaliate and just left, which earned him four cat treat snacks. Later, he was found encouraging Erica to grab him again, so he could get more treats.
    It’s also very cool that he has one ear. It makes him look tough and manly. So when he kills small critters, it’s easy to be proud of his accomplishments.
  8. My mind
    My mind doesn’t work like most other people’s do. This can be a detriment when I haven’t been able to adapt to new situations, but on the whole it’s given me wonderful ways of looking at things and has brought me access to a variety of things I would never have tried if I was stuck in your focused brains. I don’t know what it’s like to have a non-ADHD mind, but it’s not infrequent that I pity you for not experiencing life like I do.
  9. Good books
    Moving books, educational books, inspiring books, well-written books. Books of wit, books of adventure, books of instruction. I have gained so much from so many different categories of books. Insight, catharsis, fascination, understanding. It’s because of books that I write. It’s because of books that I’ve learned to do most of the things I do. I’m not talking about nostalgia for traditional “dead tree” books, though I love those plenty, but any cohesive, discreet combination of words with the possible addition of images – those have enriched my life.
  10. I can write
    I enjoy it. It’s responsible at least in part for my livelihood. It allows me to share my ideas. It helps me to remember my own ideas and keep track of other people’s ideas. It’s not the only way to tell stories or to organize thought, but it is the most effective and common way I do it.
  11. I can write code
    Because creating a web site or a program really feels like doing something. It can be shown off. It helps me see the relationships between points of data. And, ideally, putting good code together makes the world just a tiny bit better for me and possibly others.
  12. Turkey dinner
    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and while turkey dinner with stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole is far from even half the reason for it, this particular meal is a non-trivial contributor to making Thanksgiving so wonderful to me. It makes me fat, but it makes me happy.
  13. Kirsti
    It’s a wonder I ever got anything done without Kirsti in my life. I look at all the other relationships I had and I wonder sometimes how I ever thought I was in love. I am literally a better man because she’s in my life. Plus, she keeps me grounded. I would be off in la-la land. Being near her helps me remember what is important.
    And let’s face it, nobody doubts that it’s her genetics that made my kids so beautiful.
  14. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth made me a papa. Ok, maybe it’s more accurate to say Kirsti did that with me. But before Elizabeth, I wasn’t a papa. With Elizabeth, I am suddenly a papa. She’s a smart kid finding her way with a lot of the same issues I had. She reminds me of my past. But she’s not the same as me, she has her own ideas and her own loves. It’s fun to talk with her.
  15. Sarah
    Sarah is a ball of energy. She is also brilliant and creative. So often I finding her giving of herself. After Hurricane Katrina, she donated one of her blankies to the relief effort. I almost cried in that moment. I’m not sure that I did anything right to teach her to give that way, but it’s a thing of beauty to have a person like that in my life.
  16. Rachael
    Rachael has the most awesome smile of anyone I’ve ever met. As the middle kid, it seems she often gets lumped in with other kids or completely overlooked. Then, when she does something that catches my attention she stands out with a radiance that makes me wonder how I could have paid attention to anything else. She has a dynamic and a powerful spirit, and she is going to change the world.
  17. Maire
    For the longest time, Maire was the baby in the family (for almost five years, in fact). She sometimes resents being so far behind her sisters, but she really shouldn’t. She’s a shining star where she is. No one else in our family has invented nearly as many songs, or given so many smiles to other people. As she finds herself, she becomes a more amazing person.
  18. Erica
    A frenetic wiggler. That’s enough to bring joy to my heart. She adores her sisters, and seeing that adoration is enough to bring joy. She gives everyone something to care about. And in her seven months she has often been a source of comfort and emotional warmth for me when I have felt dark times upon me.
  19. My parents
    It almost goes without saying that my parents have made me who I am today. It’s possible that I would have found many of the things that make up my psyche anyway, but it’s doubtful. My faith grew from their faith. My loves grew from their loves. They gave me emotional and physical shelter, and I can never thank them enough for that.
  20. My in-laws
    We have strikingly different outlooks at times, but I owe them everything for turning out my wife like they did. And yet they continue to give, encouraging us, loving us, and giving my children new opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. They are amazing people, and I don’t give them credit for that often enough.
  21. Bob Dylan
    The single best songwriter. Ever. Maybe you could argue against that, but I’m firmly convinced it’s true. He helped shape culture for nearly five decades now. Music wouldn’t be anything like it is without his input. So much joy and art has come out of his existence.
  22. Ray Davies
    I almost feel like I’m cheating by putting two songwriters in a row, but it’s my list, so my rules. While Bob is the best songwriter ever, Ray Davies is my favorite songwriter. I have had hundreds of hours of bliss listening to the music of Ray, his brother Dave, and the band they formed. Ray’s music literally formed the way I would listen to music throughout my life.
  23. Speculative Fiction
    Because reality gets so boring and its impact decreases when it gets too personal. Speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and the like, fixes all that. It puts a layer of metaphor in between all the problems it addresses. And also, dragons and aliens are fun.
  24. Fun games
    This is simple and I worry I’ll make it sound deeper than it is. I love playing interesting games. Working through the relation of the rules and the goals, inconsequential competition, entertainment. I can’t understand people who don’t like games.
  25. A safe home
    With so many troubles, it’s so nice to have a safe place to turn to. It keeps us dry, and warm (or cool, if appropriate), gives us a home base to rest and let go of stresses. And it gives us a place to relate with each other and bond. The value of a home, even a small one, cannot be overstated. The stability it affords alone is worth more gratitude than I can give.
  26. The gospel
    I can really be a screw up. And you know what? That will always matter, but because of the gospel, I know it’s not terminal in a spiritual sense. I can change on a fundamental, identity level. Change into something infinitely more than I am. Even better? My family can go with me in that change. The gospel and its implications are beautiful.
  27. Best Friends
    The identity of my bestest best buddy has shifted over the decades of my life. But there are very few people who have moved out of the category of people I think of as my best friends. These people are emotional and social bedrocks for me when I feel I’m otherwise cut adrift. There are people who have been as literal a second family to me as you can get without a marriage license. They are at the core of my being.
  28. Friendships with interesting people
    There’s a lot of overlap between the last item and this one. But there are people in my life who have inspired me by their interests and their friendliness to me. People who, because they were in my life, have shown me proof positive that I can achieve amazing things if I pursue those things. These friends have done things worth talking about, and because of that, I know I can do things worth talking about as well.
  29. My job
    I say bad things about my job a lot. This is because at least 80% of the time my job is a waking nightmare. But even given that, a nightmare job is better than no job at all. The idea of where I could be because I was unemployed for the last 2 years is orders of magnitude more terrible than my actual job is. Someone paying me to do stuff for them is, on the whole, pretty darn awesome, and I’m grateful I’m in that situation.
  30. Seeing my grandmother
    Last Saturday may be the last time I ever see her. Not because I think something is happening to her (or me) soon, but it’s already been years since I last saw her. Neither of us can travel across the country that often. My heart is full just because of the time I got to spend with her. She is a true matriarch and an inspirational life. It is an honor to be her descendant.

Maire’s first story

Elizabeth, my oldest, is in a creative writing class in seventh grade. They are given prompts to write on. Elizabeth adapts these into segments of an ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan fiction. Lately it’s started crossing over with Transformers and Dragon Slippers too. It’s a complex world.

She frequently shares the story with us at dinner. And her writing has inspired the other girls as well. Sarah and Rachael both started TMNT fan fiction too.

Maire has finally joined the craze. What’s really awesome about Marie’s though, is not just that she’s 5, but that she isn’t dictating this story or stealing anyone else’s. She’s writing new material and she’s writing them herself on different colors of construction paper with a black marker. She does occasionally ask for how to spell a word, but for the most part, she’s just using her one quarter of kindergarten education to make her best guess.

This is awesome because it’s the best way for her to really learn how to do it, and it tethers her less to needing any help.

So without further ado, here are scans of Maire’s hand-written story I have provided a translation, trying to match up the proper English with the letters she wrote to represent them — I think you’ll find she does a good job at figuring it out. I’ve added punctuation, and corrected some spelling, but not corrected grammar.

One day I was in a airplane. Then I saw a hole. I tried to walk around it. But instead I fell into it. Then I saw some turtles. Well, 4, actually. Then I fell unconscious! Leo said, uh guys I think we should tell Splinter

click to mutant-size

"Ah, Leo I think you should not have said that." "Me" said Leo. Then I didn't know what to do. Then a rat walked out of a tunnel. "Master Splinter, look who found us."

click to Maire-size.

The rat's eyes widened. The turtles went to the side, to let me to follow Splinter into a room. Then Splinter gave me some robes. When I walked out I found myself in a room that Splinter told me out. Then I started to realize

Click to giant-rat size.

that I was practicing with turtles. Then I had a dream. well, day dream. "Hi Maire," said Leo. "Hi," said Raph. "Hi Maire," said Mikey. "Hi Maire," said Don. Then Pippin jumped in the hole. "Pippin where are you going?"

Click to fan-fiction size.

Maire would like to point out the awesome turtle illustration in part 4.
I just want to clarify that Pippin is our cat.

Strong Women in SF

    Because I’m the kind of guy who makes lists

    And because I have daughters (five of them)

    I started making a list of strong women characters in SF. Not damsels in distress. And not fantasy or urban fantasy or horror or comics. But movies that are more SF than other genres.

    I even got out some lists of SF movies and for ideas.

    People, there’s a paucity of truly good female characters in SF.

    Here’s my list so far:

    • Ripley (Aliens)
    • Samus (Metroid) (I may be pushing it here)
    • female Jedi (Star Wars) (most are not actually portrayed, but here’s some that are)
      • Shaak Ti
      • Ashoka Tano
      • Darth Talon
      • Jayna Solo
    • Princess Leia (Star Wars)
    • Padme Amidala (Star Wars)
    • Mon Mothma (Star Wars)
    • Tuvoc (Star Trek, various)
    • River Tam (Firefly)
    • Zoe (Firefly)
    • Kaylee Frye (Firefly)
    • Sarah Connor (Terminator series)
    • Seven of Nine (Star Trek Voyager)
    • Captain Janeway (Star Trek Voyager)
    • Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica)
    • Quorra (Tron: Legacy)
    • Akina (Titan, AE)
    • Aeon Flux (Aeon Flux)
    • “Franky” Cook (Sky Captain vs World of Tomorrow) (i’m on the fence about Polly from this film)
    • Trinity (The Matrix)
    • Scarlett (G.I. Joe)
    • Lady Jaye (G.I. Joe)
    • The Baroness (G.I. Joe) (yeah, she’s a villain, but often she’s portrayed as very independent)
    • Leeloo (The Fifth Element)
    • Uhura (Star Trek, most recent movie)
    • Arcadia “Arkady” Darell (Foundation)

    Yes, I know this is very incomplete. I haven’t even mentioned Star Trek DS9, for example, and i’m sure there’s one or two there, but I didn’t watch it because I didn’t like it. So please, tell me more and I’ll update.

    My requirements?

    1. Must be a strong character, not just tough (that’s why I left Dejah Thoris and Lara Croft out).
    2. Romantic interest is ok, but that cannot be the definition of her character).
    3. Can’t be simple background material. There’s at least half a dozen other female Jedi for example, but they never show up in the stories, even in the EU. They don’t count. She doesn’t have to be the primary character, but she does have to have an important role as more than just window dressing
    4. Any media is acceptable. I’ve focused on film and TV so far, but books, comics (as long as it’s not a superhero book), and video games are ok too.
    5. Mothers can be strong too. This doesn’t have to be action heroes. Amidala, for example, does participate in firefights, but she’s not strong because she kicks booty. She’s strong for her convictions, even if they are poorly portrayed.
    6. Should be primarily Science Fiction. It may have fantasy or horror elements, but the focus should be SF. I may do a list of other genres later, but this is not it
    7. Should be from a reasonably well known property.

    You know, it looks to me like if a series gets it right, they get it right several times. But still, i mean, I have 6 named Star Wars characters here. And that’s out of 6 films and a TV series. And how many strong male characters are portrayed in that? Ditto for Star Trek. Trek has a better ratio than Star Wars, but I mean, 7 of 9 is lucky to be there. She was written in for looks. Arguably you could put Dr. Crusher and Troi on the list, but I wasn’t impressed with them, and there are a half dozen strong male characters on the standard cast list, not to mention repeating characters.

Tabitha Reeves: SPACE GIRL! Parts I –

Part I: Awakening

Gasping. Confusion. Panic. Choking. Vertigo. Collapse.

Tabitha Reeves hit the metal grate covering the floor on her hands and knees. She vaguely felt the blood leaking through the skin on her knees as she coughed over and over. It felt like dry heaves, but a little liquid came out each time. It looked a little like blue mucus, she thought. What the hell is going on?

Then strong hands grabbed her shoulders, and flipped her over. Everything was blurry, but she made out a huge man holding her down. She was suddenly acutely aware of the fact she wore no clothing.

Panic and bile rose to her throat as the man set his knee across her legs and pinned her shoulders to the floor. Then another set of hands shoved something hard in her mouth, lodging it between her back teeth to hold her mouth open. Then some sort of tube went in and down her throat. Another object went into her nose and she felt it hit her throat as well.

A second later there was suction in her lungs and her gut, then the blue mucus started to flow through the tubes. Her body started to relax, and as it did she felt the man move off of her. She tried to sit up but found that didn’t work so well, and she felt another bruise form on her elbow. So she laid there, waiting for her strength, sight, or breath to return.

As Tabitha waited she was given a towel by one of the people with her. She wiped her face, noting finally that her body was covered with a thing layer of something very like the slime being withdrawn from her body. As she toweled off and her mind relaxed she was able to remember how she’d gotten here.

She’d been in stasis – that explained the slime, it provided her body with oxygen and nutrients and even simulated the benefits of exercise for her muscles and bones while holding her aging at bay. The ship she was on was bound for Chigon IV. Even at faster-than-light speeds propelled by the dark matter drive it was a trip that would take decades.

She hadn’t imagined waking up was that unpleasant. She’d read the documents they’d given her. Disorientation and minor sickness was all she remembered. But she thought they used beds and restraints to avoid some of the trauma.

She finished toweling off and she was handed another towel — no, a blanket. She wrapped it around her body and looked up and around to try to get some bearings, but everything was still blurry.

The big man grabbed her arm and she felt a sharp pinch. She tried to pull away but he held her fast while injecting her with… something.

She was distracted as suddenly she started coughing again. The last of the blue fluid had left her body, which she could tell because the tubes were clear now. She couldn’t get her body to breathe on its own, though.

The second figure came to her rescue and quickly pulled the tubes from her face, then slapped her back till she had one final, wet cough and drew her first, ragged breath.

“Thanks. I…” she couldn’t hear herself. She felt panic rise for the third time when the figure who had just helped her made calming gestures. A hand held forward, fingers slightly splayed, telling her to wait a moment.

As she stared, she started to make out more details. The second figure was a woman. Above average but not too tall. Jet black hair, dusky skin and blue eyes, indicated a mixed genetic heritage. She wore a tight uniform of gray-blue, identifying her as crew on the ship. She sat on the floor, holding the used towel and smiled kindly at Tabitha, showing white teeth.

The big figure was indeed a man. Genetically designed, it appeared. He had the purple eyes that indicated such. Which explained his size: he was squatting but Tabitha could tell he was at least seven feet tall, and at least half that shoulder to shoulder. Every bit of his body was muscled, and she could tell because he wore a uniform similar to the woman’s. It didn’t hide much on either of them.

Tabitha drew the blanket tighter around her, suddenly embarrassed at her nakedness.

The man said something, but Tabitha still couldn’t hear. The woman responded, and it went back and forth for a few moments.

After a few moments Tabitha was able to make out the names sewn on the left breast of her companions’ uniforms. The woman’s read “Genzi.” The man was “Schwartz.” Last names, clearly.

“… long will it take.”

Tabitha jumped as her hearing suddenly returned.

Genzi laughed softly. “Apparently that long. Can you hear me, honey?”

Tabitha nodded.

Schwartz grunted. “Finally. We don’t have time.”

“Come on, we need you.” Genzi held out a hand.

She was still confused, but she took the proferred hand and rose to her feet, stumbling slightly.

Genzi led her through a door, and Schwartz followed them.

“Get dressed,” Schwartz growled. He held out a uniform similar to the ones they wore.

Tabitha took it gingerly but hesitated.

Genzi spoke up again. “Schwa, dear. Give her a moment of privacy.” Schwartz grunted again but stepped back through the door and slid it closed. “You want me to leave too, honey?”

Tabitha wasn’t sure, but she needed answers, so she shook her head and started to dress. She noted that the name on the uniform said “Kronopolos.” It wasn’t made for her. She hoped it would still fit. “What’s going on?” she asked. “I wasn’t supposed to be revived until we got to Chigon.”

Genzi grimaced. “I’m afraid you’re not going to like the answer.”

Part II: Escape!

For some reason, that didn’t surprise Tabitha. She hadn’t liked being woken up at all. Why should not liking the reason for it be a shock? Tabitha didn’t respond, she just waited for Genzi to continue. Which she did a moment later.

“The ship’s been hailed by another vessel.”

“What?” Tabitha paused, her arm half in one of the sleeves. “What are the chances that two ships can get close enough to hail out here?” The space between Chigon and anywhere civilized was vast, even by astronomic measures.

“Impossible. Or near enough to not matter any. Unless they had a means of tracking the ship. It wouldn’t be that hard to install something if they got to the ship before it departed.”

“But, why would they?”She finished sliding her arm in.

“If they wanted something from the ship and found it difficult to acquire while in port, they could reach it in space, where security would be easier.”

“So these guys are crooks? Ok, fine. But why are you waking me up?”

Genzi gave a humorless grin. “Honey, you’re what they want.”

“Me? That doesn’t make sense. My family isn’t rich. They can’t get a ransom.” Tabitha finished dressing and the break along the front sealed seamlessly as she ran her finger along it. Whoever this Ms. Kronopolos was, she has small feet and a small rear end, but a much larger bust. It was almost too tight to walk in the legs but quite roomy up top.

Genzi shrugged. “You’re Tabitha, right?” Tabitha nodded. “You’re who they asked for. We’ve woken you because they’re going to board. We don’t have defenses strong enough to repel them. On board security teams should probably be able to stop them, though. We just don’t want to risk they’ll make it this far and get you.”

Genzi was right, Tabitha didn’t like the answer. She swallowed, her throat dry. “Ok.”

“Ready, honey? Ok, let’s go.” She slid the door open and greeted Schwartz.

Schwartz nodded and started walking.

The room was full of passengers in stasis. Rows and rows of tanks, all of them filled with blue, viscous fluid in which a human body floated motionlessly. It was eerie to see them all in so much silence. There had been a lot more movement and noise when she’d entered the tank before departure.

Schwartz didn’t pause, moving forward with the ease and directness of someone who was familiar with such sights and had something else to get too. Tabitha was behind him, Genzi bringing up the rear.

They exited through a door on the far side of the room and passed through close, dark corridors, turning every now and then. The walls curved away from the floor and then back together to the ceiling, making the halls resemble tubes. Tabitha was unable to keep track of the path they took.

Before long, the distant sounds of fighting could be heard. Shots, crashes, small explosions. Though it was cold, Tabitha felt perspiration forming on her body. The uniform quickly swept it away, but she was still aware of it.

They encountered a small pack of men. They weren’t dressed in uniforms, but they carried firearms of various models and styles. One of them grinned. “How much you bet this is her?” he cackled.

Tabitha’s eyes went wide, but Schwartz didn’t hesitate. He ran forward, yelling incoherently at ear-damaging volume. The invaders fired but that didn’t stop Schwartz as he waded into the middle of the crowd, throwing enemies to the side. He was probably wearing something to block the attacks, but that he didn’t even break stride was impressive.

“Come on, honey,” Genzi said, pulling Tabitha down a side passage. Tabitha followed, not willing to wait and see how the fight ended. Genzi held her wrist and pulled her along. They were moving than Tabitha believed she could run. Soon Tabitha was breathing hard, but Genzi kept going.

A man blocked their passage. His purple eyes showed he was genetically designed, but he was nothing like Schwartz. He was smaller, narrower, wiry. He had corded muscles on his arms and legs that made them look like braided steel cables. And his arms were long, like an ape. He raised his arm and his arm grew at least five feet.

Genzi dropped low and grasped the man’s wrist. His arm shrunk back to its previous size, even as his other arm stretched out again, grabbing lower to keep Genzi from ducking again.

This time Genzi dodged to the side and ran up the round wall before pushing off and launching herself at the man. A knife appeared in her hand and she stabbed the man’s neck. Blood sprayed everywhere.

“Let’s go,” Genzi said, waving to Tabitha.

Tabitha stood for a second, taking in what happened. “How did you do that?”

“Honey,” Genzi hissed. “We don’t have time. There’ll be more.”

Tabitha finally found motivation to move and stepped to Genzi. The dark-skinned woman took Tabitha’s wrist and started running again. She hid the knife back on her sleeve as they moved.

The sounds of fighting grew louder and closer. Genzi stopped to check a computer panel, bringing up a display that looked like ship floor plans. Red and blue dots blinked all over it.

“Cark!” Genzi spat. “They’re everywhere. We can’t get to the secure hold.”

“What do we do? Surrender?” Tabitha tried to keep the fear from her voice, but the rising pitch almost certainly gave it away.

“If you want to be a pirate’s slave, be my guest, honey.” When Tabitha didn’t answer Genzi continued. “We could take an escape pod, but at this point the pirates are just as likely to win as the crew. ” She stared at the screen for a few more moments. “We could walk.”

“Walk? We’ve been running…” Tabitha realized suddenly what Genzi meant. “You mean… outside?” Genzi nodded. “But I’m not rated for… I’ve never even done it before! What if I float off?”

“Honey, we can stick to the outside of the ship. The bad guys are either driven off or leave when they can’t find you. Afterward, we go back in and you’re safe. We’ll tether together so you can’t get lost. I don’t see another option.”

Part III: Clinging to the Surface

No other option? Tabitha could think of a few. Fighting their way through was one. Genzi was more than competent, it would appear, having taken out that Gen-D without breaking a sweat. They could take the escape pod, which was much less terrifying than the prospect of a space walk. But Genzi was right. With the outcome of the battle up in the air, who knew who would pick the pod up? If either one did at all. Both ships could be disabled and then where would she be?

Tabitha closed her eyes. “Alright. We’ll walk,” she heard herself say. She shivered as she did so. She opened her eyes to see the humorless grin on Genzi’s face.

“Let’s do it then.” She took Tabitha around a corner to an airlock. A variety of space suits hung in the hallway by the iris portal.

They both began to dress, Genzi in a navy blue suit, Tabitha in a pink one. When she had her feet and arms in, Tabitha couldn’t figure out how to seal the suit. She touched the zipline but it didn’t respond.

“They don’t work that way. They’re designed not to respond to touch – that makes it too easy to open the suit in space.” Genzi set the helmet – a transparent bubble that looked a little like a slightly flattened fishbowl – on Tabitha’s head and pointed at a screen by the hanging suits. “Everything in the suit is controlled by eye movements. The seal command is pretty complex because, well, you don’t want to accidentally open up your suit out there. Just follow the dot with your eyes.” She pressed a button and a blinking purple dot appeared on the screen. For several seconds it moved in circular patterns that crossed over each other and then turned into back and forth and up and down. Tabitha could see why they had the screen help, because she couldn’t imagine ever memorizing the pattern.

When the dot disappeared, she heard the soft thumb and tearing sound of the suit sealing. The inside surface of the helmet was suddenly covered with a variety of lights in complex data displays. Charts, read outs, lists, arrows – she couldn’t make sense out of any of it. She stumbled backward, then held as still as she could, trying to overcome the vertigo caused by the display superimposed over the real world.

Inside her suit, she heard Genzi laugh. “You can’t see, can you?”

Tabitha shook her head.

“Using the HUD is at least half of the rating program for using one of these. Move your eyes right-left-right-left.”

Tabitha relaxed as the display disappeared, replaced by the solidity of the real walls.

“You can talk, you know,” Tabitha told her. “The comm is voice activated and defaults to broadcasting to local suits.”

“Ok,” Tabitha said quietly.

Genzi held the end of an orange cable. “The tether,” she explained. “Turn around.” When she did Genzi pushed the cable against the back of Tabitha’s suit. “Move your eyes in a clock wise circle three times.” The cable sealed itself to Tabitha’s suit. More accurately, the suit sealed itself to the cable, Tabitha thought.

Genzi held out the other end of the cable. It was about 20 feet long. “Push it against the square on my back.”

When they were both connected to the tether, Genzi started pushing buttons by the screen again, but seemed to ignore the button for opening the lock.

“I’m hacking the registry so there’s no record we went out this way,” she explained. We don’t want them to know where to look for us.”

As Genzi worked, Tabitha became aware of how silent it had become. While dressing, they had heard the sounds of the ship operating and the fighting going on. But inside the suit the silence was absolute. Tabitha couldn’t remember anything being this quiet.

At last Genzi finished and opened the iris door to the airlock. “Let’s go, honey.”

Tabitha stepped in, and the iris closed behind her. It was dark inside the lock.

“Why isn’t the other door opening?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.

“They’re pumping the air out. Interstellar travel teaches you not to waste. They don’t want to lose the oxygen that was in here.”

Tabitha nodded, forgetting that Tabitha couldn’t see her.

A moment later the external iris spread open. Genzi stepped out onto the surface of the ship. Tabitha followed awkwardly, unused to the strong attraction between the boots and the ship, but grateful for it so she didn’t fly off into space.

“We’re not sharing air,” Genzi said with a chuckle. “So feel free to fart, it won’t bother me.”
Tabitha had an image of what a spacewalk would be like. There would be long dark shadows along the ship from its irregular features, with a bright, blinding glare from the nearest sun. This was nothing like that. For one thing, the surface of the ship was smooth, a fact she should have remembered, since she had seen it before. It was smooth to minimize the damage and chance of accidental collision with space debris. Very little of space was completely empty.

For another thing, it was dark, nearly pitch. There was no nearby sun. They were far in between stars. There were a very few lights that indicated where view ports were, but none of it illuminated onto the surface of the ship. The only light in their area were the arm-mounted lights on Genzi’s suit.

They took a few strides and then stopped. Genzi turned off her lights. “Shutting off anything that will help them find us,” she explained. “Now we wait.”

It was queer not to feel a sense of down. There was a pull at Tabitha’s legs where her boots attached to the ship’s surface, but she could her body trying to drift away from it. Her inner ear had no idea which way to orient her. It made her more than a little nauseous and she worried about throwing up inside the helmet. She tried to distract herself by looking around.

Tabitha had never imagined herself afraid of the dark before. But she had never been in darkness so absolute. There were stars in view, but far fewer than she had imagined. Mostly what she saw was black. Black nothing. Emptiness. Void. She had never felt so isolated. There was a woman tied to her, she knew, but unless Genzi spoke, Tabitha couldn’t hear her. And she couldn’t see her. She peered into the void and it didn’t peer back. Nothing did, because there was nothing there.

She could feel her heart rate start to increase. Perspiration dripped down her temple. She began looking all round her, back and forth, hoping to see something, anything. Somewhere in her head she could tell she was panicking, but she couldn’t stop herself. The HUD in her helmet started to flash on and off intermittently as her eyes moved frantically. She crouched down into a fetal position. Her boots released from the ship and she started to float away. She felt the tug as her inertia was stopped by the tether to Genzi.

“Honey?” she heard over the radio. Tabitha couldn’t respond.

“Honey,” Genzi said again. “Honey! Listen to me.”

An incoherent whimper was all Tabitha could manage.

“Honey, close your eyes. Close them tight. I’m going to help you, but you have to be able to do what I say.”

Tabitha nodded.

“Honey, I need you to answer.”

“Y… yes…” Tabitha managed.

“You got your eyes closed?”


“Ok, sit like that for a moment. Imagine you’re in your bunk, tucked up. You got a mom?”

“N… no. Dad raised me… She… d…”

Genzi interrupted. “Ok, your dad. He’s with you, sitting next to you on your bed. He’s got his hand on your hand, he’s keeping you safe.”

Tabitha pictured it, trying to keep it in her mind.

“Ok, hold your breath. Control it. In slowly. Out slowly.”

“Yeah,” Tabitha said, letting her breathing slow. The tugging on the tether stopped and she felt Genzi grab her.

“Ok, honey. Stretch your legs out, let them re-attach to the ship.”

She felt the movement stop, but was glad Genzi didn’t release her. “Ok, eyes still closed?”

Tabitha nodded again, then remembered that Genzi couldn’t see it. “Yes,” she said.

“OK, open your eyes slowly, tell me if the display is on.”

Tabitha opened her eyes, quickly shutting them again. “No, it’s not there.”

“Ok, this is going to be hard. But I want you open your eyes again. Then turn on the display. Right-left-right-left.”

It took her three tries, but at last she managed to control her eyes enough to get it to come on.
She took a strange relief in the appearance of the colored display. It has disoriented her in the ship, but now it was a comfort just to see anything.

“You doing ok now, honey?”

“Tabitha let out a long breath. Yeah, I think I’m alright. Thanks, uh… Ms. Genzi.”

Genzi laughed. “I guess I never introduced myself. I’m Neva. I guess you got my last name. The muscle’s name is Percy, but for obvious reasons we just call him Schwartz. I’m sorry about this. I had no idea you’d be a kenophobe.”

“A what?”

“Kenophobe. Someone frightened of, well, space. It’s not the stuff in space, it’s the nothing in space. It’s not uncommon, I just… wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s ok, I didn’t know either. All of this… is so weird to me.”

“Heh, honey, you ain’t seen nothing. This is a big galaxy, and there’s some bizarre things in it.

“Look, I need to work on something, but we want to keep your mind from wandering off. There’s a help manual in the HUD. Down-up-down-left. That’ll give you something to read. Sorry it’s not more entertaining.”

“What? No romance novels?”

Genzi laughed. “Sorry honey.”

Part IV: Purple Haze

Tabitha read for a long time. It was impossible to tell how long – though the HUD had a clock synced with the ship, she didn’t take note of the time when she started and didn’t know how to access the HUD’s logs. After a while, though, her eyes began to swim and dry out. Her brain had dried out long before, but she kept reading, even though she didn’t understand most of it, because she didn’t want to succumb to her kenophobia again.

She wanted to rub her eyes, and even reached up to do so, and felt sheepish when her gloved hands bumped into the bubble over her head. She laughed nervously.

“Incoming,” Neva said over the suit communicators.

Tabitha looked around but all she could see was the wall of text that covered the inside of her helmet. She bit her tongue before she could cry out in irrational panic. She flipped her eyes from side to side to deactivate the HUD and tried to see what Neva was talking about.

It didn’t take her long to find it. A wide shadow was blocking out stars and shining lights onto the surface of the ship in a search pattern. The black spot grew larger till the reflection of the light it emitted finally gave Tabitha a sense of its shape. It was broad, and seemed to be flat in comparison. It was a diamond shape, with one of the longer sides in the lead, the extended points out to each side. The back end of it had a long triangular tail. As it was nearly on top of them, Tabitha realized the size was sort of an optical illusion. Compared to her it was big, but it was probably only a couple hundred feet from one wing-tip to the other. It was clearly not large enough for interstellar travel, and probably belonged to one of the two ships in conflict.

That was confirmed a moment later when the light shone directly on them with blinding brilliance. The ship stopped moving and narrowcasted to their helmets. “This Sergeant Blod of the Inverness, attached to the cruiser Passagarde. Maintain position. We will pick you up.” The connection snapped off just as quickly. Tabitha relaxed. It was from the good guys and not the pirates.

All the same, she heard Neva curse over the suit comms.

Tabitha held up her hand to block some of the light, but she still couldn’t sense anything. A few moments later a smaller pod landed on the ship’s surface just a few feet away. She could feel the vibrations through her legs and feet.

A square door in the pod opened and two Gen-D’s stepped out. Tabitha thought one might be Schwartz for a moment, but they were too short to be him. Their guns were massive things. Nearly the same size as their body. Impractical for most to use outside of a zero-g environment, but with a Gen-D, it might be what they used all the time. The soldiers motioned for the women to enter the pod with them.

After they did so, the door shut. Tabitha thought it was completely dark at first, and she felt some bile rise in her throat till she realized there was a light dome on the ceiling, and it was just the comparison to the search lights that made it so dark. No one opened their suits, and there was no gravity in the pod. But she felt it move, the ship above, the Inverness, Tabitha supposed, reeling them in at what felt like a rapid pace. A moment later, the door opened again and she had a view of a large area. The pod was in the center of a large room with brown floors, and a huge arching dome over head. Around the edge of the circular room servicemen sat at computers. A man sat in a chair nearby, turned to face them. He must be the commander of the vessel. He lounged comfortably, slouching. His splayed fingers steepled as he regarded them without expression.

The Gen-D that had picked them up removed their helmets, and one held a datapad in front of Tabitha’s face. A dot moved in strange patterns across it. It took her a moment to realize it was the code to unlock her suit. She pushed the “restart” button at the bottom of the pad than dutifully followed the dot. When it finished, she was rewarded with a soft hiss as the seals on the suit released. One of the Gen-D took her helmet before she could even move. She looked over and saw that Neva was being treated the same way. They left the space suits on them.

“I see,” the seated man said finally, looking at Neva. His face twitched once, ever so briefly showing anger or hate or something similar before he restored his stoic appearance. “Contain her,” he said, pointing at Neva. “Don’t let her speak.”

“But, she helped me!” Tabitha said in confusion. Neva didn’t say anything.

“Indeed.” He waved to the Gen-D soldiers and they dragged Neva away.

“What’s going on?” Tabitha asked.

The officer finally stood. He wore a uniform identical to the ones she’d seen on Schwartz and Neva when they’d revived her, except the name and he had decorations on the shoulder. Tabitha assumed the indicated rank or medals. “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” he said. “I’m Commander Tarsak. And as a commander I’m not cleared to explain much. You’ve already seen that pirates have boarded the Passagarde in an attempt to kidnap you. Beyond that, I’m not allowed to explain. I’m sure the chief captain of the Passagarde can help you further. We’re taking you to her now.”

Tabitha tried to think of what to say. Before anything came to mind Commander Tarsak returned to his chair and rotated to face the front of the ship.

Tabitha watched out the dome as the ship propelled itself along the length of the big cruiser. As they moved toward the front she could see the pirate ship disengage and pull away from the Passagarde. It seemed to happen in slow motion as the two huge ships drifted apart silently. Compared to the Inverness, the pirate ship was huge — easily a hundred times as large. Even at that, it was only a quarter the size of the Passagarde.

Every interstellar ship in the galaxy either belonged to a giant conglomerate (which ran their fleets like military), a government (which made them a part of an actually military), or to pirates (which either ran their ships like military or barely controlled anarchy). The Passagarde, while government (and thus military) was not a combat ship, which meant it had very few weapons. So while the pirates looked gutsy, the Passagarde was actually the kind of ship they found ideal to attack.

So why were they retreating? Were they simply incompetent or under armed? Decent pirates could take the ship, or at least enough of it to demand something to get rid of them. And they had that Gen-D on their side. The one with the freakish arms. Something was weird about all that.

But Tabitha couldn’t put the pieces together. So she stared at the pirate ship starting to distance itself from the Passagarde. The Inverness was moving faster, relative to the Passagarde, so they managed to see some details on the pirate vessel before they distanced themselves. There was no name printed on the side like legitimate ships had, but there was a huge, if dirty and faded, emblem on the side. A scorpion with a devil’s face, in what was once a deep red, was painted on the vessel’s metallic hull.

It made Tabitha shiver.

A few moments later and the pirate ship was starting to gain inertia and really separate from the Passagarde. The Inverness slowed as it approached a thick tower jutting from the Passagard’s primarily smooth surface. There was a mechanical whirring and thumps, and the smallest shiver through the hull of the Inverness as it docked.

Tabitha was escorted by the same two Gen-D soldiers back to the Passagarde and through a maze of tunnels. She tried once to speak to them, noticing that the name on one of their uniforms said “Blod,” the sergeant that had hailed her earlier. But the men just grunted. Eventually they arrived at a gold-painted double door with the Earth League’s crest on it, centered over the crack where the doors met.

Sergeant Blod tapped the computer on his wrist and the doors opened. Neither soldier stepped forward but instead saluted by making a fist over their heart.

There stood the coldest looking woman Tabitha had ever seen. A pinched nose, sunken cheeks, pale, nearly translucent skin. But corded muscle evident under the skin and the same skin-tight uniform. She had shaved her head, but not recently, and stark black stubble stood out on her scalp.

That’s when things got very strange. A purple, cloudy haze drifted through Tabitha’s field of vision. “What is that?” she asked, but no one else seemed to react at all to the violet fog. Tabitha’s adrenaline spiked, and she fell back into a ready stance, not sure if she was about to be attacked and ready to flee if she was. The mist grew thicker, obscuring everything, and eventually hiding it entirely. She held up her hand and couldn’t see it until it was mere inches from her eyes.

Then shapes started to form from the purple clouds, making images, new colors. Small actions, like tiny vignettes acted out by players on a stage, but some of the players were people she knew. A vision of Schwartz firing a large gun into a crowd of silhouettes. Her own hands, covered with blood, the woman officer at her feet. Neva being carried away by a mob. The pirate ship trading weapons fire with an unfamiliar ship, swarmed about with fighter craft. Flashes of even shorter scenes she doesn’t have time to make sense of.

Then a flash and the purple haze drifted away faster than it had appeared. Tabitha stumbled in place before catching herself and rubbing her eyes. What the heck had just happened?

She looked up. The woman officer raised an eyebrow. “Are you well?”

Tabitha hesitated then nodded. She wasn’t well, she didn’t think. But she didn’t think it would help to tell this woman that.

“Good.” The officer nodded to the Gen-D soldiers. “I am Chief Captain Talia Zenzoff of the E.L.S. Passagarde. Please come with me, we have much to discuss.” She moved back through the double doors into a small antechamber. Opposite the doors was a large room with screens, computers access panels, and a small crowd of officers. An empty command chair sat perched slightly above the rest of the room.

To Tabitha’s left, between the main ingresses of the antechamber, was a single door emblazoned with the Earth League’s seal. Zenzoff led Tabitha through this door into a small but impressively appointed office. The walls were covered in a fine, burgundy, velvety material. Soft Light emanated along the tops of the walls. Hanging on the wall were pictures featuring the chief captain with various official looking people in and out of uniform, and not a few letters of commendation. In the center of the office there was a desk, which looked to be actual wood – an extreme luxury.

Zenzoff saw Tabitha’s reaction and smiled with co ld pride. “Yes, it’s a family heirloom. For four and a half centuries my family has commanded ships of the Earth League’s fleet. The desk was carved from trees found on our ancestral estate before Earth was evacuated.” She moved around the desk and sat in a high-backed chair. She indicated Tabitha should sit in one of the smaller chairs.

After a moment Zenzoff held up a datapad. “I’ve been reading your files. Trying to see what motivated the pirates to come for you.”

Tabitha caught a glimpse of the contents, wondering what information they kept on her. The heading read “Tabitha Kronopolos.” Unconsciously, she looked down at the name on her ill-fitting borrowed uniform, which also said “Kronopolos.” She felt a chill.

Zenzoff appeared not to notice. “You are a xeno-biologist, specialized with research in arthropod analogs, yes?”