gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
2017-10-09 04:04 pm

It lacks a black cover with a red stripe, but I'll deal.

Today I dropped off a ton of books and old games at Half-Price Books and got just enough back to pick up Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition. I like Half-Price because even though they don't pay the highest price, they take everything you bring in. We have cleared enough space to shelve all our books on actual bookcases, with room to spare.

My standard for removing a book from the collection is simple. If I look at it and either remember completely from reading a single line or just have no desire to ever read it again, it goes away. I know many of my friends see getting rid of books as anathema, but we live in very cramped quarters and need the space.

Now to Traveller, purchased at my Friendly Local Game Store. Whenever possible, I prefer to buy locally and from small businesses. I practice what I preach. The new Traveller is a very nice book. The print is clear and large enough to be easily read. There are some odd breaks here and there that leave you searching for where the text resumes, but that's pretty rare. The illustrations are full color and well done, evoking the feel of Classic Traveller. I love that the equipment chapter is set up as a catalog, with illustrations and sales text. This moves Central Supply Catalog to the Must Buy Soon position.

First look at the rules shows a nice, clean system that uses a simple target number system. 2D6+Skill+Characterisitic modifier. Clear rules for time (and the benefits and penalties for taking your time or rushing things) and modifiers for things like having excellent tools or working under harsh conditions. Combat is equally streamlined but will have a bit of a learning curve to master. On the surface, it looks deadly, which I approve of heartily.

Lots of options in character generation. No, dying is no longer an option. These kids today will never know that joy. But you have 12 broad career paths, each with three subsets, allowing for lots of customization. As an example, the Noble career allows you to be in Administration, serve as a Diplomat, or, my favorite, the Dilittante, a useless scoundrel living off the family's fortune and name . . . or is he something more?

In each four-year term, the character gets a misnamed survival roll and an advancement roll. Failing the survival roll takes you to a disaster table and ejection from that career (usually.) There is also an Events table for each career category. These rolls really help define the character, creating not only narrative points, but giving the character contacts, allies, and rivals; all of which create potential storylines to explore.

A character is free to try to enlist in a new career after each term, although it gets harder as you get older. One career, Drifter, is an automatic option for anyone expelled from a previous career. (This really describes the career path of Beowulf Shaffer, come to think of it.) Mustering out and aging is similar to earlier editions.

There is a 13th career path: Prisoner. Several results on the various disaster tables can send you to prison; local, planetary, or Imperial, it's up to you, and you stay until you roll for parole. Again, a great character-building tool.

Just thinking about it, I'm realizing that John Rambo was a three-term character: Army, Drifter, Prisoner. No one would say he was an inefficient character!

Delving further, we get the skill listings with subskills as needed. I might make a pistol/longarm subskill requirement for my game. The skills for shooting are quite different. But the skills are comprehensive and well described. A good chapter on environmental dangers, animals, and encounters. All sorts of way to die!

Then we get the starships! Operations, combat, and a selection of some of the classic designs all with "exploded floorplan" deck plans. Very, very nice, but I have to reread the chapter to answer some questions I have about fuel use. A short chapter on psionic powers, trade, and then a woefully short chapter on world building.

Lastly, we get the sample setting: the Sindal subsector. This one hurts a bit, as Sindal is in the Trojan Reach. I had the contract to write the Trojan Reach for Steve Jackson Games and the project got killed due to my failures and declining sales of GURPS Traveller. Still, it's a good basic subsector.

This is a good game and playable as is. I'll have no trouble teaching new players. I plan on starting a game in January. Finders, Inc. is looking for YOU!
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-10-04 02:13 pm
Entry tags:

Atomic Batteries to Power, Turbines to Speed...

I am surrounded by books on writing that are gathering dust, waiting to be read. Books on creating plots, types of plots, how to create, how to edit, how space travel works, how bodies get injured and how to turn pro.

All sitting there waiting. With National Novel Writing Month fast approaching, I need to get serious and focus my mind of getting ready and working hard on my preparation for the task of getting 50,000 coherent words in place in 31 days. That's about 1,600 words a day without fail. A daunting task indeed.

But one that's important to me. It has been 17 years since GURPS Traveller: Ground Forces hit the shelves. I want that feeling again. I want to hold something I created in my hands and take people to a world that lives only in my head. I want to entertain people.

I want to write.

Admittedly, I'm a complete failure at the Larry Niven School of Being a Successful Science-Fiction Writer. I wasn't born rich and I didn't start young. But Grandma Moses didn't start painting until she was in her late 70s, so I have no excuse. The words are in me, somewhere, I just have to find the way to get them out.

Fantasies of winning the Hugo aside, I'm realistic about this novel of mine. Odds are, it will sell maybe a few hundred copies. People will hopefully like it and maybe want a sequel. The probability is that my book will fall into the vast abyss of self-published SF and exist only as a base of the Amazon sales pyramid, coming in at 3,658,108 in Science Fiction this week!

Seriously, if I make enough money for a Chili's and movie night with Kirsten, I'll be satisfied. Look for me sitting behind a pile of trade paperbacks at Baycon!

But somewhere in the locked corner of my heart where my dreams still hold out, I hold the slightest flame of hope that Task Force Khanda (I've changed the name) will be *good* in that special way. That I'll have written a really good Space Opera. That it will be noticed. That a real publisher might pay for the rights. That I might be an author in name as well as intention.

Why now? Because it is time for me to start moving again. I'm at a point where I'm maintaining my health. I'm not getting better. I am painfully aware that I have a limited time to leave a mark on the planet. I have no kids except for a possible son who would be pushing 30 at this point and has never attempted to make contact. I've done no great thing to get me into the history books. There will never be a statue of me in the park for pigeons to poop on. Ground Forces is out of print. I'm searching for both validation and a legacy, and I have a story to tell.

Starting now the work begins. I'm going to get the ship lists together, crew them, sit down with my stellar atlas to plot the moves of the several squadrons and ships involved, and outline the three major plot lines I'm planning on, with all the complications.

I have the tools. Libre Office is my word processor of choice, I have Grammarly to catch my mistakes, Scrivener for plot whiteboarding and editing, and Dragon speech recognition if I just want to cut out the keyboard and try speaking a chapter or scene. That should be faster in getting thoughts out, although it will mean a lot of cleaning up, as Dragon sometimes gets things wrong. Still, It's worth a shot.

For those not up on this project, I'm taking the actions of the German Imperial Navy's Far East Squadron in WWI and transferring it to deep space. The feel is going to be claustrophobic in the ships while a chess game is played between the two commanders. Travel using the faster than light drives is hard on people and electrical equipment, and ships can only enter or level hyperspace when the local gravity is above a certain level. So the chase is going to be guessing where the fugitive fleet is going, while the runners try to trick their pursuers.

A couple of big fights, lots of tension on the ships, and a few surprises. And I'm not a big fan of happy endings in war stories. I just have to make it happen. I may be asking for people to comment on chapters as I go. If you'd be interested in both picking apart my grammar as well as commenting on the flow of the story, let me know.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
2017-09-27 03:24 pm
Entry tags:

TV is King.

After some shenanigans with our cable feed last night - it dropped out just as they were announcing the winner on Forged in Fire - we stayed up to watch the "live" (nothing is live when you live on the West Coast) season finale of Ink Masters - Shop Wars.

It was terrible. First of all, whoever was doing sound needs to be shot. The three judges could barely be heard of the constant screaming audience. Host Dave Navarro had to repeat himself at several points to keep the show moving.

Which brings up the point that it appeared this event had a bar. Which meant half the crowd was sloshed. Which meant it sounded like a typical night in a bad club. I almost turned on the subtitles just so I could see what was going on.

Next problem, they had *all* the defeated contestants on stage, sitting on two sets of risers at stage left and right. Now, these are tattoo artists, not people generally given to the finer points of etiquette to begin with, and the show format is designed to foster bad feelings. So, early on, we were subjected to shouting matches across the stage. Charming. We got sick of these morons yelling at each other weeks ago!

All of which led to a loud rushed show. The three shops in the final, represented by two artists, had done two full back pieces at their own shops, one black and gray, one color, as well as a "live" six-hour tattoo in the studio. Fans voted for the favorite live tattoo, and the winning team went to the top two, and then the black and gray work was judged. The final winner was based on the body of work shown that night.

But the judges had almost no time to work, They had done previews of a spin-off, and the next season, announced that Spike was becoming the Paramount Network, and did everything but examine tattoos. As I said, the whole feel of the event was loud and chaotic. They didn't even have time to spend a minute or two with the winning shop, present them with their check for $200,000, get a reaction, you know, happy winner stuff.

I freely admit that I'm addicted to reality TV. Especially competition shows where talented people are pushed to their limits to perform. This is why we've come to love Forged in Fire. In last night's episode, four blade smiths had to make a good blade out of a chainsaw. Seeing the process of them all using the teeth and bar to make cannister Damascus steel, seeing the problems that can result, and getting an in-depth examination of the blades by experts is fun and educational.

Things like that. Hell's Kitchen is great because it puts chefs under a pressure cooker (NPI) like they've never experienced. Top Chef does the same, but with higher standards and less yelling. Project Runway has taught me a lot about fashion, and how *not* to make a dress. Then there's MasterChef, where home cooks get held to Gordon Ramsay's standards. If you really want to question your life choices, watch the Junior editions of Project Runway or Master Chef. Seeing a 9-year-old kid present a stunning Boeuf Bourguignon when you have just mastered not setting the house on fire with your Foreman Grill really humbles you.

There are a dozen more, many of them on the Food Network. I could spend all day watching people struggling to make that perfect Paella Mixta for the judges. But then I'd eat everything in the house, and that would be bad.

Then there are the "fix it" shows. These are where an expert goes in and rescues a flailing business. The grandfather of these was Kitchen Nightmares, which ran both on the BBC (where it was about food) and on FOX (where it was about screaming.) The formula again is simple. The expert comes in, identifies the issues. Deals with a recalcitrant owner and/or staff, makes radical changes to the services and building, everyone is (usually) happy, roll credits.

Kitchen Nightmares (US) ended after Ramsay realized that people were gaming the show to get free remodels. That's the problem. On another favorite, Bar Rescue, it seems that the drama is played up for the cameras. Still, it's a great lesson in how not to run a bar. We all miss Tabitha Takes on, where a blond Australian Amazon megastylist took over all sorts of businesses and applied tough love that was just shy of a BDSM session.

We watch a mix of scripted and reality TV, plus a lot of sports. I think the key to keeping the interest is don't get too formulaic. Especially if your show does makeovers. Make it clear that changes in the physical plant require changes in the people. For the skill shows, keep throwing curves. Make designers make a dress out of car parts, force chefs to fun a food cart in competition with the other teams. Force them out of their comfort zone and see if they can overcome.

And make sure your finale doesn't suck, OK?
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-09-26 04:43 pm
Entry tags:

When you get an idea, WRITE IT!

I swear this first scene of the warehouse fight just popped into my head. The rest followed just as quickly.

____


I pressed my back against the wall of the crumbling warehouse, standing in the waist-high brown weeds and holding my pistol chest high, just waiting. From long experience, I knew that around the corner was a two-door loading dock, choked with weeds and the roll-up doors long since pillaged. My zen told me there were two Norteño soldiers advancing up the ramp.

My zen. It's what the Army called "Enhanced Battlefield Awareness" when they plugged me and a few hundred other Airborne Rangers back during the Rio Plata War, back before everything went to shit. I hear, see, even detect smells better than the average human. Even have a kind of ESP from all the data I can collect. The downside is blinding headaches, vivid nightmares, and suicidal urges.

You get what you pay for, I guess, and I paid nothing for these upgrades. These two guys stalking me are good. They know that I've taken out the other four members of their scouting group, and are being cautious. Carefully I squat down and grab a chunk of concrete lying in the dirt. There's a window above me that goes into the old office of this place. I slept there once or twice when times got hard. Feeling where the Norteños are, I toss the rock through the broken window and begin moving.

Did I mention I was also gifted with an Enhanced Neural Response System? Means I'm fast as hell when I need to be. I come around the corner and I'm already aiming. Target One has heard the rock hit the garbage on the upper floor and is starting to look upwards. I squeeze the trigger and I'm so amped I can almost see the bullet crawling towards his chest. Before it hits I'm onto Target Two, who was looking to the side, sweeping the open area of the parking lot with his rifle.

Both shots hit. Two takes a headshot and drops like his strings got cut. One is still breathing and looks like he might start screaming for his mama in a second. Can't have that. I carry a knife just for this sort of situation. I quietly finish One off, then have to stifle my own screams as my ENRS shuts down. Overdriving your body like that has its own price, pure agony as your nerves scream at you for a minute. They used to give us drugs to stop that reaction. The drugs are long gone.

Because it's part of my job, I search them. Two very nice M34 6.5mm battle rifles and about 150 rounds of ammo. Those join the pair of rifles and ammo stock I took off two of the other members of this patrol. One has a bag of cold tamales. Without a second thought, I devour the entire bag. The other price of being that fast is you need more food, which is a liability when the enemy controls almost all the remaining farmland. I've learned to like fish and rice, two things we can get ourselves.

I had to get back, night was coming soon and the night belongs to the feral dog packs and the equally feral packs of humans who are struggling to survive. Wrapping the captured gear for easier transport (after claiming one of the rifles for myself, of course), I struck north, coming up the rough roadbed of 580 with the oily waters of the bigger and better Bay lapping over the drowned buildings of Old Oakland. An hour walk and I spotted the watch fires, young men barely out of their teens trusted to maintain the borders. They knew me - everyone knew me - and let me pass.

"Lord Mayor at the Claremont?" I asked as I passed through the makeshift barricade.

"Where else?" the kid replied with a shrug. He was armed with an old sport crossbow. Even in the ruins of Oakland, there weren't enough guns and ammo to go around. I thought for a second about teaching the kid a lesson about respect and giving correct answers, but I was tired, still hungry, and my legs were still shrieking in pain.

Eventually, I made my way to the sprawling City Hall. It was once a luxury hotel and spa, but how long since anyone has gone on a vacation? I've forgotten. After a brief argument with the guards over the guns I was carrying (they wanted to take them "for safekeeping" which meant they'd never be seen again), I was admitted to the Lord Mayor's presence.

In a world facing famine, he managed to be obese. He called himself "Lord Mayor" because he liked the title. He was really just another strongman squatting in the ruins, but he kept the food coming and the violence down. We could have done a lot worse. He rose from his throne and lumbered towards me.

"Ranger Man! We were getting worried about you, haven't seen you for days!"

I managed a smile. He liked it when people smiled. "Got tangled up with a Norteño scouting group near Hayward. Took me a couple of days to finish them." I dropped the bundle of guns and ammo on the floor. "Took that from them, pretty good gear." I looked him in the eyes, smile gone. "I'm keeping this rifle and two loaded magazines."

The Lord Mayor just laughed. "Of course, Ranger Man! You are my best scout, and the guys you train are the second best! Sit, eat! It's crab season, and we even traded for some garlic." That sounded too good. I abandoned all pretense of manners and plopped myself down on some cushions. One of the Lord Mayor's numerous serving girls brought me a plate with a mountain of crab meat on it and a glass of some cheap red wine. She crouched next to me, in case I needed something. The Lord Mayor was going on about negotiations with the San Francisco Island Confederation over our mutual problems with the Norteños and piracy on the San Joaquin Channel. I wasn't interested.

The mostly-naked girl stared at me as I ate, furtively glancing at where the Lord Mayor was still talking and laughing on his seat of power. "I . . . I heard that you remember," she said in a hushed voice. "I mean before the collapse, I mean, back when this was a city and San Francisco wasn't a bunch of islands. Is that true?"

My mouth was full of really good crab, so I just nodded yes.

"My goodness!" she almost squeaked before controlling her voice again. "May I ask how old you are?"

I swallowed and stared her in the eyes. "Calendar is messed up, but I suspect I'm 77 years old."

She gasped loudly and made a show of taking my empty wine glass for a refill. The Lord Mayor noticed the motion and drunkenly shouted "My Ranger Man! Don't know what I'd do without him!" as the crowd of sycophants cheered.

I bowed my head in acknowledgment of his compliment, but my thoughts were dark. You’re going to learn soon enough. I'm not immortal; the Army couldn't do that for me. I may be the last man in America who remembers civilization. And après moi, le déluge.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
2017-09-25 07:30 pm
Entry tags:

If I had wanted ice cream . . .

Had an annoyance this morning. I'm finally getting back to my writing group. The fall session started in late August, but I would have missed two of four sessions due to Burning Man, so why pay for that? So I was ready and eager to get back to having to explain things to my fellow writers who know nothing about science-fiction.

A ritual I've developed is hitting the McDonald's drive-thru for breakfast. I love their sausage biscuits with egg, and I get a milk to go with it. I do this because making breakfast myself requires spoons that I'll need later. Plus, yummy biscuits.

I should have known there was a problem when the line was at a dead stop. But I had given myself plenty of time, and I wanted my sandwich! So I crept the truck up to the order box. Where I gave my exceedingly simple order in a clearly enunciated voice. "Sausage Biscuit with Egg, and a milk, please."

All I get is an "OK, second window" and nothing on the order screen. This was a little disturbing, but the screen has been out for a while. And my order is dead fucking simple.

Still creeping. I have the window down and I don't care who hears me mangle Turn the Page Finally get to the window, with my formally comfortable time cushion deflating rapidly.

The young lady asks me for an amount way over what I know my order costs, even with tax. When I question this, she reads back my order as "Egg McMuffin meal . . ." I stop her right there. Where the hell does one get "Egg McMuffin" from "Sausage Biscuit with Egg"? She gets the correct order up, and after wandering aimlessly for three minutes hands me my order. Stopping only long enough to check it was my order, and not a BigMac or a half-eaten donut from across the street, I raced (as well as one can race on streets with a 25mph speed limit) to school, devouring my precious food all the way. I figured I'd just slam the milk in the parking lot. I'm an old truck driver, many times I've eaten a meal in stages in three different places.

Find parking, put up my Gimp Placard, and grab my milk. I twist the cap open and get a refreshing mouthful of . . . nothing. That, and my lips are very cold. The milk they handed me was frozen solid. It was a rock. Frustrated, I grabbed a few swallows from a water fountain and headed in for the group.

Which was terrific as ever. Good to see everyone again after the extended summer break, and see what people were working on. This group lasts two hours, 1000-1200 hours, and it was a warm day here in Santa Clara. We even stayed late to allow one more story to be read. The milk jug was still solid.

Back over to McD's, where the manager was appalled. She quickly checked the unit where milk and the like are stored and swore in a language that was both beautiful and venomous. She was pissed. I've seen this woman, always clad in the best hijab that manages to compliment the uniform of the day, running the morning shift like a pro. She takes pride in her work. She quickly refunded my money, and I was on my way.

But seriously, the problem with the frozen milk aside (which is a training issue, someone forgot to reset the temperature controls) my real complaint was with the young lady who took my order. She failed to offer a greeting, failed to confirm my order, failed to tell me my total, and I never got a thank you. This location is hiring a lot of new people, but someone that inexperienced should not be running breakfast rush by herself. I can only imagine how many errors ahead of me were the cause of the glacial movement of the line.

I know I've never worked fast food, but I have worked jobs where getting and relaying accurate information is vital to success. I've been a dispatcher, carried messages from contractors to my warehouse manager and sales staff, and, oh yeah, learned to call in artillery and air strikes! You do not want to say Sausage Biscuit with Egg and have them hear Egg McMuffin in that last one!

And it really isn't like this is my only option. Within a short drive, there is a Jack in the Box, a Burger King, and if I want to go nuts, I can sit down at Denny's. I hate to sound like That Customer, but they are in a fight to keep my money in their tills.

Oh, well. At least I got my biscuit.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-09-22 02:50 pm

The Ganaraajy Arjun (Task Force Singh)

Beginning to gear up for the marathon slog that is NaNoWriMo. I'm doing a lot of background work, material that probably won't be in the book, but is essential for building a story in a setting that makes sense. To that end, I'm detailing the government and culture of the state that controls Task Force Singh. The main change is I'm getting away from Star Empires, because what a tired out trope that is!

The Beta Hydri system was settled roughly 300 years before the book's starting date, by way of a huge colonization effort headed by India. The effects of climate change and the ravages of the Warpox epidemic (a weaponized form of smallpox released in the 2060s by an unidentified group) was leading to mass famine. Volunteers from across southern Asia begged to be included in the mission. All told, over 5 million refugees were packed into colony ships and sent out.

The rigorous conditions on the poorly-maintained ships heading to their new home, named Arjuna after a mythical hero from Indian folklore, led to the creation of a strict hierarchy and a strong work ethic. Shelters needed to be dug and fitted out, vast hydroponic farms put into operation, and a million other details worked out. The colony thrived with an isolated oligarchy running things.

Power has concentrated in the hands of the Jagirdar; landed nobles who ruled through sheer economic power. The Jagirdar were the captains of industry and governors of the vast warrens of worker housing. A strong patron-client system grew as the Jagir houses provided for and protected the workers in their territories, while the lower class agreed to support their patrons nearly without question. As the colony grew to exploit both the resources of Beta Hydri and those of nearby stars, conflict among the Jagir houses grew to near warfare. Finally, the leading houses came to an agreement to form a new government based on wealth, a plutocracy with some nods to a representative government.

Today, the Ganaraajy Arjun (Republic of Arjun) controls sixteen star systems besides the home system of Beta Hydri. The government is headed by a Prime Minister. This official wields wide executive and judicial powers but holds his office at the pleasure of the Gomed Hol, the legislative body made up of Jagirdar representatives. Earning one of the 250 seats in the Onyx Hall is simple: you bid for it. Powerful families will place a dozen or more of their clients and relatives in Gomed Hol to further family interests. A seat is held until a challenge is made for it by an interested party.

The people are represented in the Samsad (Parliament), which is based on population. Currently, the Samsad seats 573 voting members and numerous non-voting observers from the colonies. The Samsad is where legislation is proposed and passed, although the Gomed Hol can veto any bill with a simple majority vote. This has led to legislative gridlock and blocked any attempt at reform.

Members of the Samsad are elected from regional councils, which are elected by the people. One of the greatest issues on Arjuna is the growing demand for direct representation and more regional power. The Samsad is considered too remote, with each member speaking for an average of 3 million citizens.
The Prime Minister is charged with appointing officers to the various ministerial posts and running the day to day operations of the state and government. Prime Ministers are usually chosen by the party with the majority in the Samsad, or by coalition vote. Prime Ministers remain in office at the pleasure of the Gomed Hol or until his party falls out of the majority and a new Prime Minister is called for.

There are several unofficial political parties in the Republic and many small factional groups. The major players are:

  • The Expansionists. They support a strong central government and expanding the Republic. Currently, they hold a slim majority in the Samsad with strong support in the Gomed Hol.

  • The Traditionalists. A conservative, religious party dedicated to returning to old Hindu ways and promoting religious unification under one faith. The more radical members want a return to the caste system. They are partners with the Expansionists in the current government.

  • The Unionists. Their main platform is full membership in the Republic and full citizenship for those living on those worlds designated as colonies and ruled by appointed governors.

  • The Democracy Now Party. They demand the dismantling of the current state and full suffrage and free elections under a new constitution. They hold a small number of seats, but are quite vocal and vote as a solid bloc. They tend to support the Unionists, but the latter seems to be embarrassed by the antics of Democracy Now supporters. This faction has been linked to terrorism in the past.

  • The Consolidationists. Bitter foes of the Expansionists, they advocate spending precious Rupees on building infrastructure and improvements in the territories already controlled by the state and improving the lot of the citizenry.

  • The Isolationists. They fight defense spending and expansion tooth and nail. Once the strongest voice in the Samsad, they've lost dozens of seats over the years and are now a distant third after the Expansionists and the Unionists with almost no support in the Onyx Hall. Natural allies of the Consolidation Party, they break on several issues, so a true union seems impossible.


As I said, almost none of this will show up directly in the book, but it will help me build characters and tensions inside the task force. And if I get to a second book, I can see it being a more political novel focusing on the aftermath of the war shaking out in the defeated Ganaraajy Arjun.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
2017-09-20 11:48 am

My brain has been interrogated.

It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I mostly agree with that, it's another variant of "know yourself" and other such truisms making it clear that you need to be in touch with yourself before you can make it anywhere.

I would like to point out that I did pretty well as a blissfully ignorant soldier and truck driver, but that's beside the point I'm trying to make here. For the last few weeks, starting literally the day after we returned from Burning Man, I have been having my brain stretched by my neuropsychologist.

These evaluations and tests run the board from the kind of surveys that ask you about your feelings to tests of my ability to retain information to my critical thinking abilities and perception. The results, just from where I'm sitting, have been interesting.

Also exhausting. I leave these sessions feeling wrung out. Some of these tests are extremely hard, forcing me to really push my brain to manage them. Thinking can be hard work, especially when you are forcing yourself into areas that don't work so well due to some traumatic incident. Like a stroke.

So what have I learned just from my observations? My ability to retain and recall information is crap. I forget things really fast or lose them entirely in moments. This is even more pronounced when it comes to numbers. I simply cannot hold numbers in my head. This helps me understand why I am so bad with handling money these days. I can't keep the idea that we only have X to spend when I'm looking at an item that costs Y. Trying to keep those two figures is too much for me, so all I see is Y, and forget that X even exists.

This is why I ask Kirsten for permission to spend any money that isn't cash-in-hand. Even a five-dollar download for Civilization VI has to be cleared through her. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since I think it's good to have one person being the final word on a family's finances, but it can be annoying. I'm a 52-year-old guy who needs permission to buy a book. But we deal with it.

While my ability to retrieve information is shot, I am much more likely to recall information if I'm prompted. We've done several exercises where there were lists of words in pairs. Trying to just remember the words was almost impossible. But when prompted with the first word, I was usually able to give the correct response. Same goes for the long lists of single words. Trying to remember them was a wash, but when asked for them by a category, like "vehicles" or "furniture", I was suddenly able to remember far more of the words than when just asked for the list.

I've also done many tests designed to examine my reasoning. Mostly puzzles and following directions. I'm happy to say those features seem to be working well. But again, when numbers come in I start to flounder. I suspect that my life-long troubles with math have only been made worse by the stroke. Thank Halford for calculators.

Where does this leave me? I'm not sure. I'm waiting for Dr. Dahl to score my last few assessments to see if we need to do a few more to nail down my exact diagnosis or if we are ready to move ahead with a treatment plan for my depression and hair-trigger emotional swings. I'm good with either path. To me, the important thing is moving forward.

But oddly, the most telling thing about my psyche that I've learned about in these past weeks didn't come in a nice office, but at Burning Man. I've volunteered with the Porta Potty Project a few times. It's a team that does education about how to keep the 1,400 blue rooms on the Playa in good shape, goes around to make sure that each john has toilet paper, and locks off the ones that have been vandalized or, um, desecrated beyond usability. This year, I learned that we might become an official part of the team that runs Black Rock City, and I might be able to drive my truck as an official vehicle to do the necessary work at the banks that lie in the deep Playa.

The way the concept of being able to drive in an official capacity again hit me is hard to describe. I spent nearly twenty years in the transportation industry, most of that as a truck driver. Even if it is just driving a couple of guys and boxes of toilet paper around, it will mean being a driver again. It will mean being part of a team. It will mean I have that part of me back if only for one week a year.

Here's hoping it happens.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
2017-08-24 06:29 pm

How The West Wing Should Have Ended

I just finished one of the semi-regular binges of The West Wing on Netflix. Still an amazing show even after several complete viewings. Yes, there are some extremely weak storylines, and some characters who were forgettable (Oh, Mandy, where did you go?) But all in all it remains one of the greatest achievements in American television.

For those of you who missed out, the show follows the trials and tribulations of the staff working in the West Wing of the White House under President Josiah Bartlet of New Hampshire. Originally meant to be a starring vehicle for Rob Lowe, who played Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, he was quickly overshadowed by a stellar cast and left the show midway through the run.

But I'm here to rant about what happens near the end of the run. The series began about a year into Bartlet's first term, so seasons 6 and 7 were largely devoted to the campaigns to replace the outgoing Administration. On the Republican side, the board was run by Senator Arnold Vinick, R-CA (Alan Alda) a grandfatherly moderate with an incredible pedigree on foreign affairs. The GOP forces him to chose an evangelical anti-choice governor as his running mate.

On the Democratic side, things are more complex. There are three contenders, and one spoiler waiting in the wings. Vice-President John Hoynes, who was forced to resign due to a sex scandal; Vice-President Bob Russell, thought to be a dense political nobody who was forced on Bartlett by the Republican Senate but who turned out to have a brilliant political mind; and Rep. Matt Santos (D-Texas), former mayor of Houston who was about to leave politics out of frustration under Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, convinces him to run for President.

Long story short. The three candidates come to the convention with none of them having enough delegates to win on the first ballot. An insurgent drive to draft the Governor of Pennsylvania erupts. Finally, Santos is told that he has to throw his weight behind Russell for the good of the party. He turns his concession speech into a rousing call for the delegates to reject the orders of party leaders and vote for themselves, wins the nomination, and here's where it all goes wrong for me.

There remains the question of who Santos' running mate will be. Josh Lyman walks up to his old boss, former White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, who had been sent to bring order to the convention and taps him for the role.

Which is TERRIBLE politics. Horrible! Here's why:

Leo is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. He spent time in a rehab facility while serving as Secretary of Labor. This came out early in the Bartlet presidency, and only a last minute deal prevented the public from learning that Leo had fallen off the wagon, hard, during the first campaign for the Presidency. There's your first line of ads. Not even dirty, as it's an honest question, here's a drunk who popped Valium, can we trust him?

Secondly, Leo helped conceal the fact the President of the United States has multiple sclerosis. This was a scandal that rocked America and nearly torpedoed the re-election campaign before it started. Leo learned late in the game, but still, his silence would be troubling to many people on the fence.

Next? About a year before the campaign, Leo suffered a massive heart attack at Camp David and was forced to retire. It was hinted that this wasn't his first. The extent of the damage to his heart was made very public. Now, the Democrats want to put a man with a history of heart disease one heartbeat from the Oval Office. Serious concerns there!

Finally, and this is the killer, it looked like the convention was fixed. Think about it. Two well-established candidates, both of who served as Vice-President, and this scrappy outsider. The Santos is given a prime time speech slot, allowed to say whatever he wanted, gets the nomination, and immediately awards the man running the convention with the Vice-Presidency? People would be screaming "Fix!" before the first balloon hit the convention floor! The Republicans would have a field day screaming about Beltway insiders and while Democratic fundraisers might back away out of concern over the circumstances.

So, who would have been a better choice? Glad you asked. In the episode "La Palabra" Santos is campaigning in California when a bill banning illegal aliens from getting driver's licenses is passed by the GOP-dominated legislature. California's Democratic governor, Gabriel "Gabe" Tillman, ends up vetoing the bill, ensuring an endorsement from a powerful Latino group for Santos, while not endorsing Santos himself. Instead, Santos stands near the Governor as he explains his veto. The Governor then tells the reporters to ask Santos about his policy ideas.

There you go. The ticket should have been Santos-Tillman. Bring California's governor on board suddenly makes Vinick have to fight and fight hard for his home state. You could pretty much leave Tillman in the West. While Vinick is trying to win votes everywhere, Tillman, who just became a hero to Latinos, is campaigning in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Less drama, but it makes more sense to me. Do you need drama? Santos and Tillman learn that they don't like each other very much, and have to keep it together. That's how I'd do it, anyway.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
2017-08-03 07:48 pm
Entry tags:

This post is Moot. (Traveller Government Stuff)

(Sorry if this is choppy, my case manager called in the middle of writing it.)

The Great Hall of the Moot has been described as one of the most impressive spaces in known space. Under a soaring 50 meter dome featuring an Imperial Sunburst crafted from the remains of a First Imperium warship, lay the desks and benches of the nobles of the Moot, each a work of art celebrating the home County of the noble. At the center is the pure black marble of speaker's dais, and opposite the great main doors to the chamber is the raised throne of the Lord President of the Imperial Moot. An impressive sight, with banners for each of the 300-odd noble houses hanging from the ceiling, the trophies and relics in niches around the viewers' gallery. Not to be missed.

It's also almost empty most of the time. The full Moot only meets sporadically, usually to vote on measures and packages to be presented to the Emperor. The true work of the Moot happens in hearing chambers and offices.

But who are the nobles who serve in the Spire? Currently, there are 347 members of the Moot, each one either an Elector or representing an Elector. The vast majority of seats are held by Counts-Elector, with 12 Baron-Electors and one Duke-Elector. Only a fraction of the actual title-holders serves on Capital. Time and distance combined with the responsibilities of holding an Imperial title force many Counts-Elector to remain at their county capitals.

Various Imperial Orders have, over the years, refined who can serve in the Moot. All Electors are required to maintain a presence on Capital. As the Imperium grew, that presence was allowed to fall into the hands of family members "of appropriate rank." Which means that a Count-Elector's representative must be drawn from the immediate family. This is often a duty given to favored cousins, and one eagerly accepted, as the social whirl on Captial is unsurpassed anywhere in known space. For many noble families, a stop at Capital is de rigueur on a young noble's grand tour. A chance to learn the ins and outs of the Imperial bureaucracy and make important contacts for the future.

Such noble stand-ins are granted a limited Imperial Patent naming them Viscount [County name] for the duration of their tour in the Moot. This patent can be revoked by both the Emperor and the actual Elector. While serving as Viscount, the noble has all the powers of the elector but is expected to keep his lord well-briefed and obey any commands issued.

The day to day business of the Moot is advocacy. Each and every member sitting in the Great Hall is there to get the best for their homes. More money for defense, increased allocation of assets, subtle cloakroom maneuvering to solidify power in the home sector. The hallways of the Moot Spire are always filled with intrigue and secrets. Much of the open work is done in the Standing Committees. These ad hoc groups are formed with the permission of the Lord President, and some have endured for centuries. The Standing Committee on the K'kree Issue, for example, is made up of nobles from Gateway and advocates of a larger navy. They exist to convince the rest of the Moot and the Emperor that the K'kree are the greatest threat to the Imperium and that naval building and deployment should reflect that fact.

There are dozens of such committees that meet daily, drawing on the advice of the hordes of experts that descend on Capital every year. Every committee and faction chimes in on the many reports and proposals that get forwarded to the Emperor. Generally, a majority of the Moot must sign off on any document destined for the Palace, but this is not a hard rule. Minority reports are politically risky, as offended factions within the Moot can call for a new Lord President or work to sabotage rivals and their agendas.

There are two days when the full Moot meets in all their glory and finery. Holiday, when the Moot is formally opened for the new year, and the Emperor's Birthday, where the assembled nobles receive an Imperial address and renew their vows to the Imperium and to the Emperor.

The Loyal and Honorable Nobles of the Imperial Moot live in either spacious estates for the older, wealthier noble houses, or in luxury apartments in the Palace Districts. Most have large retinues of servants and advisors as well as personal house troops guarding their estates. The social circle of parties and receptions is seen as being just as important as the hearing rooms of the Spire for getting business done.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
2017-08-02 06:46 pm
Entry tags:

I just like to say Moot. (Traveller government stuff)

Every visitor to Capital agrees that the highlight of the visit is the looming mass of the Imperial Palace, a burnished brass sphere a kilometer wide hovering 500 meters over Zhunastu Park. The museums, the precise drill of the Imperial Guard regiments, and the somber remains of the Palace of Martin II which was destroyed in the Civil War, all impress the visitor with the power and legacy of the Emperor of the Third Imperium.

However, 5 kilometers down the Imperial Promenade stands the Moot Spire, a needle soaring 3 kilometers into the sky, by law the only building on Capital allowed to be taller than the Palace. Most citizens understand vaguely that the Moot is where the nobles of the realm meet, but their actual function remains a mystery to most.

Cleon I created the Moot as a way to keep the new nobility under control and in one place. As the Imperium grew, that became impossible as more nobles were required to attend to their own fiefs. The Moot remains of vital importance to the Imperium and Emperor, as it holds two vital powers.

The first power is to confirm the heir to the throne and conduct the ceremonies acknowledging the heir and eventually crowning the new ruler. To this end, the Moot maintains an office that tracks all potential heirs and their place on the Succession List. As of 1115, this list has some 17,000 names on it. The Office on Succession and Continuity scours census data and reports to keep the list as up to date as possible. The Imperial Household also maintains an office that tracks heirs, but their list is much shorter.

The nobles who volunteer for this office take their duties seriously. The monitor the extended Imperial Family for signs that a candidate for the Iridium Throne would pose a danger to the stability of the Imperium. Imperial family members can expect to be asked for interviews, have their actions scrutinized, and their accomplishments judged. Only once in 500 years has the Office had to inform a sitting Emperor that his heir would not be passed by the office. The heir was quietly removed and granted an office in Gateway.

In 654, the Empress Arbellatra issued Imperial Edict 378, which gave the Moot the power to establish a Regency Council in any case where the Emperor died with no clear heir, the heir was below the age of 16, or the Emperor was missing in action but not confirmed dead. The Council is to be made up of the senior noble of each Imperial Sector in residence on Captial, the Second Fleet Lord, and the senior member of the Imperial family not in line to succeed to the throne. The Regency Council is charged with resolving the empty throne as quickly as possible with a legal heir.

(The preceding is part of my annoyance with the whole "Rebellion" in MegaTraveller. The idea that the Imperial government would grind to a complete stop is stupid. Even if Dulinor was able to pull a pistol in the Octagon and kill the Imperial family - and that's another groaner - the Moot would immediately summon a Regency Council and assume command.)

The second official power is to dissolve the Third Imperium. The Moot can, on a three-quarters vote, dissolve the Warrant of Restoration and strip the Emperor of all powers. Obviously, this is an act of last resort and was last invoked as a threat during the Civil War. All analysts and historians agree that this power would only be used if the Imperium was already failing, as a sort of lifeboat measure to allow local governments to bind together for survival.

Never the less, almost every year some noble with an ax to grind introduces a measure to dissolve the Imperium to the Moot. Such measures are usually shouted down in short measure, then a quiet inquiry into why the noble felt such a measure was necessary. The Vilani nobles can be relied on to try to dissolve the Imperium on a regular basis.

Moot spokesmen have denied for years that there are contingency plans locked away for how to assign Imperial assets should the Moot vote to end the Imperium. Rumors continue to fly over secret deals concerning post-Imperial states, re-flagged fleets, and even splinter states having their own governments ready to roll. Every few years someone leaks documents that "prove" the Imperium is about to fail.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about what the Honorable Nobles of the Moot do all day, and who they are.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
2017-08-01 03:27 pm
Entry tags:

More brain wiggles

It's a new month, and time for some honest self-examination. I have been really, really bad about using this tool for anything. Novel preparation, Traveller world-building, even just blogging stuff. Using it as it was intended as a way to encourage the daily habit of writing 750 words every single day. Even if they are total crap, I have to be better about putting myself in the chair and opening the page and doing it.

It's been hard. My birthday stresses me out, as I wrote about earlier. Hot weather really messes with my system, and we don't have air-conditioning at our place. And my mental state has continued to get worse. I'm going to say it: I think I'm suffering from depression. My moods have gotten deeper and darker like my emotional drive is a pendulum that is slowly losing momentum. I'm spending more and more time in the dark spaces of my head, questioning my basic value as a human being and wondering why the hell they ever woke me up from that damn coma four years ago.

There's another stressor - four years ago yesterday I had a stroke and 22 years ago in late July, I was diagnosed with Stage IV-B Hodgkins Lymphoma. So the happy days of summer are not the happiest for me. Probably why I hate my birthday so much; just another reminder that I am actually past my sell-by date in terms of how Hodgkins survivors do. I am beginning to realize that I'm never going to shout "Hello, Cleveland!" to a capacity crowd at Red Rocks, and my chances of topping Chris Garcia's Hugo Award acceptance speech grows ever dimmer with each rejection notice.

But the hardest thing for me is feeling useless. I used to be things. Light Weapons Infantryman, Training Driver, Truck Driver, Dispatcher. . . all those identities, which are so vital in our culture, have been taken from me. I'm a writer who can barely write. A gadfly at conventions. Someone who is only of the slightest help at Burning Man. I feel all my days of glory have passed me by far too soon and just when I was getting good at life, it was all taken from me piece by piece.

See, that's the real horror. I wasn't struck down in a day and told: "rebuild from the ashes, Berry." No, my competence was taken away in tiny chunks. Bit by bit parts failed, slice by slice I lost chances and doors closed. Did y'all know I was on the verge of working to get my Class B license and a much better paying job when I developed pulmonary embolisms and had to quit commercial driving? Road construction company in Fremont. They wanted me and would help me get that Class B and pay me double what I had been getting at Lord & Sons, plus a per diem for overnight runs. That fucking close.

Closed doors. That's all I can see these days. Except the one marked "exit" and I'm not quite ready for that one, even if some days it's only understanding how badly my death would hurt Kirsten and my family that keeps me here.

But there may be a crack, a light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train. I finally got some referrals for therapists, with a suggestion I schedule an evaluation meeting with a therapist and they can work with me to decide if I need full-on psychiatric care from an MD or if therapy might be the best bet. Waiting for a call back from one of the offices I was given to look at. Hopefully, I'll hear back soon.

Because when the pendulum isn't down in the dark places, I'm still me. I can still feel some hope, some joy, even have some energy. I want to write the Great American Fanzine Article, I want to finish my novel and sell fifty copies, I want to volunteer at BMIR at Burning Man to see if I can help out and be part of a team again. Damnit, I want to see the 49ers win the SuperBowl and the Sharks take the Stanely Cup.

Right now, I'm just waiting for a phone call and an appointment. No idea what that will lead to, or how long it will take, or if I'm going to be one of the Happy Pill People or sitting in a group. No matter what, I want it to happen because it represents a door opening.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
2017-07-25 01:33 pm
Entry tags:

It's good to be the Emperor.

Still thinking about a revised Third Imperium for Traveller, and making it "crunchier" and a better setting with more holes and internal conflicts. This is definitely going to be a "weak Imperium" build, as a strong Imperium simply clamps down on too many opportunities for things to go pear-shaped. So today, I'm going to look at the man at the top, the Emperor of the Third Imperium.

There's an old saying in the Imperial corridors of power; "the Counts make plans for the next year, the Dukes make plans for the next decade, the Archdukes make plans for the next century, and the Emperor makes plans for dinner." Although a bit over the top, the truth of the matter is that the Emperor is too far removed from his empire to really have that big an influence on matters popping up in systems that can be months away from Captial. This is why the Imperium has become decentralized, looking to the Imperial hierarchy more for support than real-time leadership.

But in a very real sense, the person of the Emperor is the Imperium, and all authority flows from the commands given by him or his predecessors. Those commands come in several forms.

Imperial Edicts are the most formal and powerful of the Emperor's commands. An Edict is law and will be enforced throughout the 11,000 worlds of the Imperium without question. In the Imperium's 1,100 year history, fewer than 400 Edicts have been issued. Over a hundred were issued by Cleon I and Artemsus in the first century of the Imperium, and these Edicts defined and shaped the state and how it was to be run.

Second in precedence are Imperial Commands. These are orders from the Emperor that directly address issues facing the state. A command might be issued to a Sector Duke to mobilize his military forces to support another sector or a command that a former Count-Elector is an Enemy of the Imperium and is to be found, captured, or killed. Commands are less formal than Edicts and expire once they have been carried out.

Warrants, Patents, and Charters are the next level of Imperial command. These are grants of authority from the Emperor to groups or individuals to carry out duties or activities. Every noble family has an Imperial Patent of Nobility and when a new person ascends to a position as Count-Elector or Duke, the Emperor will confirm their position with a new Patent. Any corporation seeking to do business on an interstellar scale will seek out a Limited Imperial Charter (LIC) which gives the company assurances of Imperial protection.

Warrants are a special case, as they directly give the holder the power to act for the Emperor. Many Warrants are limited in scope. Every naval officer holds a Warrant confirming his commission and allowing him to act for the Emperor inside Naval regulations and orders. Some Warrants have been vaguely worded due to Captial not having a good idea of what was happening.

This is is how Norris, Markgraf-Elector of Regina, was able to proclaim himself Erzherzog of Deneb. He had a Warrant in his possession which granted him full Imperial authority to take any steps needed to secure the Spinward regions of the Imperium from further threats. Norris decided that a united Domain under his leadership was the best answer to that. Strephon is still fuming over that trick.

It must be noted that many of these orders are first issued in the field, as it were, and sent to Capital for the Emperor's approval. This can take years for minor patents and commissions, so the standard has been to assume assent unless otherwise told.

Lastly, comes the Emperor's wishes or desires. These are minor commands that generally are used for issues inside the palace or dealing with the pomp and ceremony that surrounds the Imperial Household. The Emperor might state "It is the desire of the Emperor that Flumb fruit no longer be allowed inside the palace, or at any event attended by His Majesty." Wishes and desires are common when arranging large social events and ceremonials. It is commonly known that many of these orders come from the Imperial Family's large social staff and the Emperor considers such "mindless details" boring.

Day-to-day, the Emperor is a busy man. He is constantly dealing with reports of issues inside and outside his realm and tasked with decisions that can send thousands of warships into a battle or affect the economies of a hundred worlds. Luckily, just down the Promenade from the floating sphere of the Imperial Palace is the towering Moot Spire, where hundreds of nobles work to keep the Emperor informed and plot to keep him focused on their problems.

I'll cover them next.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-06-12 05:22 pm
Entry tags:

What Dreams May Come

It's not often that I wake up and remember what it is I've been dreaming, but today was an exception. I frankly had a bad night's sleep, caused mainly by some stomach upset and my legs being their usual awful selves. So I was a bit surprised when I woke up around 0645 with a vivid image of a dream still with me.

Having lost too many good ideas to procrastination, I got dressed and headed out to my computer. I was under a bit of a deadline, as I had an appointment for my regular blood work and after that my writing group, so I had to be out the door by 0830 at the absolute latest.

Even though I'm not at all a fast or accurate typist, and my spelling leaves much to be desired, I was able to flesh out the image in my head into a short, but serviceable, story. Printed it out for the writing group (I did have another piece, a long, pretty much complete story that we didn't get to this week. I'll be reading that one next Monday) and stuffed it in the portfolio and out the door.

My good seemed to be holding. I was the only car in the McDonald's drive-thru, there was an adorable baby at the lab, and everyone loved what I had written. Then I found I had locked my keys in the truck and things went a bit downhill. But I hope you enjoy this thing that has sprung from my head.

The Modern Cassandra

Working in San Francisco has many benefits, one of those being exposure to all sorts of lunatics. At least that's what I thought as I emerged from the depths of the Montgomery Street BART station on that June morning.

He was standing on a wooden crate, with a beatific smile and shiny eyes framed by what we used to call "Jesusbro-fro" back in college. What caught me eye was the silver jacket he was wearing, it looked like the cheesy space jacket we all wanted as kids. Seeing the growing crowd emerging from the station, he began to speak.

"Friends, please hear me out. I know I sound crazy, but I have just returned from . . . the future! And I leave for there tomorrow. Hard to believe, I know, but please hear me out, for I must warn you of something terrible. But first, here's Dave with sports." He subtly shifted his manner and spoke with the rhythm of a long-time broadcaster. For a lunatic, this guy was good.

"Thank you, Dave. Tonight, the Warriors will beat the Cavaliers 108-92, taking the NBA Finals in five games." That got a small cheer from to commuters passing by. "In July, the Giants will go on a record-smashing winning streak, take the NL West and sweep the Yankees to win the World Series. Finally, The 49ers will have a chance to make the playoffs as the Wild Card, but fall just short, finishing the season 9-7. Sadly, that's all the sports news left. Now that I've established my bonafides . . ."

At that point, I had gotten my coffee and muffin from the street cart and was hurrying up the street to my office. So I missed the rest of his rant. Once settled in at my desk, I took a moment to write the guy's predictions down.

That night, the Warriors beat the Cavs 108-92.

Then the Giants won 26 straight games in July. By the time the World Series rolled around, I wasn't even watching the games, I was too busy trying to find the man who had made the predictions. A friend got me access to surveillance camera footage of the plaza at Montgomery Street. There he was, ranting away. He spoke for about ten minutes after I left the scene, looked around, and dejectedly went down the stairs into the Muni/BART station. Those cameras showed him entering a station restroom and never leaving.

By the time the 49ers faltered during a late drive in Week 17 and finished the season 9-7, I was a wreck. The words "all the sports news left" haunted me. I even hired lip readers to try to figure out what he was saying and spent thousands on ads trying to contact anyone who might have heard more of his message.

In legend, Cassandra was cursed to know the future and have no one believe her. This man's curse was to know the future and have no one listen.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
2017-06-05 05:53 pm

Rethinking the Zhodani

I'm going to mess with the Traveller default setting again. It needs it. This time, I'm looking at the Zhodani, those mind-raping scum! Or not.

The Zhodani might be the oldest official races in the game, first appearing as the "barbarians" defeated at the Battle of Two Suns. Then they earned a name and we began to learn about them. The Zhodani are human, the descendants of the stock taken from Earth 300,000 years ago by the enigmatic Ancients, and scattered across space. Many of those transplants died out, the Zhodani thrived.

Uniquely, they embrace the use of psionic powers and have made them almost the center of their society. The psionically gifted are nobles, everyone else the lower classes. Nobles hold all positions of power in the Consulate, civilian and military. To keep control, the dreaded Tavrchedle' - the Guardians of Our Morality - constantly scan the masses for thoughts or rebellion or anti-social acts.

Or at least that's what the Third Imperium would have you believe. Later remakes of the Zhodani softened the edges a bit, making them less leering villains in black capes and more an alien-human race. The capes stayed, because they are cool.

Here's my first problem. The idea of an entrenched psionic nobility. In Traveller psionic ability is unpredictable and not inherited. So there is no guarantee that a noble's children will have any psionic potential at all, While Zeb, son of a dirt farmer, but be a prodigy. There would be no institutional memory, outside of a true celestial bureaucracy. Even then, what's to stop a non-psionic son of a powerful noble from seizing the reigns of power?

The problem is the writers were in love with feudal autocracies when writing up the setting. The Imperium, the Aslan, the K'kree, the Zhodani, and even the Droyne all had some variant of "rule by tiers of nobility" as their government of choice. Which simply doesn't make sense.

Main;y because life as a member of the psionic nobility is pretty damn awful. Consider the fate of the Tavrchedle' officers. They spend day after endless day inside the minds of the sick and broken. Know any cops or social workers? Imagine their war stories if they had to probe deep into the raw psyche of each and every unhappy person they encounter. Then they have to fix them. I don't know how you say "alcoholic" in Zhedtl, but one thing for sure, there's no Alcoholics Anonymous in Zhodani Space, because the Tavrchedle' handle that as well!

No, being a noble in the Consulate means a lifetime of service. I would imagine that the word the Imperials translate as "noble" actually means "Servant of the People" or something similar. Because there will be a strong "you owe it to the people" push in this society.

Let's look at the life of Zeq Chtilnats/ On the occasion of his Third Olympiad (roughly nine years old) Zeq, like all the other kids his age, is tested for psionic potential. It's a big deal, and Zeq and his classmates have been preparing mentally and emotionally for a year. The tests are odd, but fun.

Several days later, the Chtilnats family gets the fantastic news! Zeq has tested as one of the highest potentials in the District! His family starts planning his big party while he studies his packing list. Because Zeq is leaving home. He's losing his family name. Zeq is now Zeqiepr and will stay that way until he is trained.

Zeqiepr's new school is a huge facility on an important world. Here, the new students both learned the usual lessons (with a lot of political indoctrination) and undergo more and more testing to see what their skills are. Zeqiepr turns out to be wired for teleportation, clairvoyance, and telepathy. Right then his career is chosen for him. Zeqiepr is going to be one of the elite Consular Guards, troops trained to teleport in full combat armor and use their skills to defend the Consulate!

His training shifts. He and the others destined for military careers live in a more regimented way. Endless physical training, weapons training, and learning about the threats facing the Consulate. Much of the time is spent honing his ability to teleport accurately while carrying more and more weight. And always, the reminder that he is a servant of those who have not been blessed with his talents.

Finally, after three Olympiads of training, Zeqatl claims his new rank as a Commissioned Assault Specialist and reports to his Legion. Fast-forward thirty years. General Zeqiashav, commanding the 35th Consular Guards Legion, steps down. But his career isn't over! He's invited to join the Regional Defense Council as a military expert, and help guide the Regional Council on defense matters. His is a life of unending service to the people.

Now being one of the elect doesn't just mean work! They get great perks and universal respect. The turban worn by nearly all Zhodani nobles is both a symbol of rank and of humility. The bind their hair in turbans, because they work too hard to have the time to style it.

A different look, one that makes the Zhodani a little more alien.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-06-04 05:36 pm

I'm a Complete Tool

I find myself struggling with the central driving force for my planned novel. The research is going fine, and I have the plot roughed out . . . to be honest, I have three plots worked out. Well, two and a half, as one ends rather suddenly early in the book.

But I'm digging for the emotional hooks to bring my characters to life. I know that Battle Captain Singh (I've changed his rank, as after reading the Ancillary Justice series, I think "Fleet Captain" would be seen as derivative if not out-right copying. Besides, this gives me a chance to add a little more detail to the Arjuni Deep Space Fleet. Officers in command slots are ranked as Captain with what class of vessel they are qualified to command. Escort Captain, Frigate Captain, Cruiser Captain, and Battle Captain. When they are not in command roles, those ranks are Lieutenant, Senior Lieutenant, Captain-Lieutenant, and Flag Lieutenant.

I just did a little world building right here. Go me.

But I'm struggling with how to create the drama in the two opposing forces and multiple ships. These are naval forces at war. For the Arjuni, they are running from a colony that cannot be defended and are trying to aid in the war effort by raiding merchant shipping in a cluster that should be lightly defended. The UN squadron has been dispatched to hunt them down. So right there is the main tension. It's a grand game mixing chess and Battleship. Two commanders trying to out think each other. I'm going to try to portray the stress of each emergence into real space, the desperate need to make repairs quickly, and every present knowledge that it has to come to battle at some point.

But along the way, I want to develop tensions based on crew interactions. Even the senior officers aren't always going to be on the same page. Some will doubt the mission, or the crew, or their ships. A few might be cowards, or utterly incompetent but in command because of family ties. The Arjuni force was basically at the ass-end of nowhere, so it is hardly the prime assignment. Meanwhile, the UN fleet is staffed by drafted starmen with minimal training and no real patriotic drive to excel. They live in terror of their brutal petty officers and the Political Affairs Officer and his spies. Some will take pride in having a positive identity for the first time. Others will mutiny at the first opportunity. It is led by an officer who picked the wrong side in a succession fight and has paid for it by being denied advancement. The Navy is all he knows, so he stayed. He sees this command as a chance at redemption.

There, more worldbuilding! I can do this in my sleep! It might be easier that way!

But at Baycon, I attended an intimate panel (seriously, there were ten seats in the room around a table) where I learned how to use the Tarot's Major Arcana to flesh out characters quickly. You can use the suites if you like, but that just muddles things. It's a simple layout that covers the past, present, future, motivations, fears, and a couple of other things. It's great in that it takes the foundation work out of building a character and instead gives you something to build on, creating unique characters for writing or gaming.

When it comes to designing anything, whether a character for D&D or a setting for a story, I use all the tools I can grab. My brain took a shot to the language center, so anything that can help me flesh things out is great. Any tool that helps me with my spelling and grammar is a gift from the Gods of Writing. I feel no shame in submitting my odder sentences to a website that diagrams sentences. Anyone else remember doing that in school? There are websites that do it for you, so you can see where you are screwing up.

So using one of my Tarot decks (I own both the Rider-Waite deck and a Thoth deck) I a going to designate a day when I print out a list of characters, draw cards for them, and note the results. This way, when that character needs to appear, I'll know more about them, and be able to weave them into the story.

At least until the characters begin telling me what they are going to be doing. I hate it when they do that.
gridlore: The word "Done!" in bold red letters. (Done!)
2017-06-03 09:03 pm

Magic Axes and Trailers. A full Saturday

Dear gods, my feet hurt. But it was a very good day. I like busy Saturdays, mainly because it lets me spend more time with Kirsten that doesn't involve staring at some sort of video device and they recharge my brain.

But damn, do I pay for it. My floor weasels are running wild tonight, setting my feet on fire, pulling off toes, driving spikes through my feet . . . it's not the pain that bothers me so much, although it can be excruciating, it's that my brain has a library of Things That Can Happen To Feet that translates these random bursts of information from dying nerves into specific sensations.

Like right now, where the big toe on my left foot has just been ripped off. Ow.

My morning started with the bi-monthly Dungeons & Dragons game. Playing over Skype with roll20 for the maps and die rolls is fantastic. We have five players and our DM with me out in California and one in Norway, with the rest in or near Michigan. Today we reached the end of our epic side quest to clear the abandoned hold of the Ironaxe Clan of the fiends that possessed it and return the Ironaxe to the clan's last survivor.

Digenis, my pantless (it's a running joke) Half-elf Barbarian was wielding Fred the Greataxe, who was smarter than Digenis and hated the fiends with a passion rarely seen in sharpened hunks of metal. It is a testament to my love of playing my Chaotic Neutral character that not once did I have to make a saving throw to keep Fred from compelling me to fight. No, I waded right in, screaming my battle cry "Safety Third!" and hacking away. Fred and I made a good team.

Sadly, after we defeated the boss demons, Fred's mission was complete. He left my axe. Luckily, In the treasure trove was a shiny +3 Battle Axe. Mine! I've named it Fred, Jr.

But after all this, I had real world work to do. Kirsten had hooked up the trailer and brought ti to her office so we could do some work on it. She came and got me, and headed back over.

The first task was to deal with some of the drips and oversprays from the painting of the red stripes. Kiri did a great job matching the trailer's color, and you can barely see the newer paint over the old. She also painted the small window frame, and we did touch ups here and there. It looks much better now.

The second task was a bit harder. Hell, it was a stone bitch. The platform for the sleeping area is multiple sheets of thick plywood. We had removed them so the interior could be stained and sealed (it looks amazing now) and today was the day to reinstall them.

One little problem. We had forgotten to mark which holes in the supporting frame lined up with which holes in the platform pieces. There was much cursing and setting of things before we finally got the pieces to fit. We are not taking those bloody pieces out again without a very, very good reason.

After a short break, we tackled the third task of the day: our pallet. Since Burning Man requires that you support yourself for a week, you need to bring a great deal of stuff. The Army left me with a compulsive need to organize and make lists. Since we have the Free Trailer Beowulf now, our packing needs have changed. We wanted to get a feel for what we had, what we needed, and what we can get rid of.

I was pleasantly surprised. Because of my broken foot last year I was unable to take part in our unloading process. But everything was well-organized. We realized we don't need our cots, the spare tent, and a couple of other things. We will be taking the big tent and all its support material as someone will be buying it from us on the Playa.

Doing this has allowed me to better see how our loading is going to happen. A small amount of material can be carried in the trailer, not too much due to weight and stability issues, but it gets some of the load out of the truck bed (and out of the cab for that matter.) Having the trailer means less stuff and time needed for set-up and tear down. It's all coming together nicely.

We do still need a few things, a battery for our solar panels, a spare tire for the trailer, a couple of other minor things. And we still need to get the trailer's name up on it. I'm almost tempted to look on Craigslist for a graffiti artist to do the work.

But after all this, it was time to hook the trailer up and take it back to the storage yard. We decided to take 101 to avoid the rather bumpy roads on 87 and 85. Big mistake. The had been a major accident on the other side of the freeway, and the looky-loos were causing a backup.

But we made it, eventually, and got the Beowulf into its assigned bay. A run through the nearby Jack drive through, back to the office where I had forgotten my cane, and then home.

2,700 steps today. Not bad. But dear Halford, my FEET!
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
2017-05-19 06:16 pm
Entry tags:

American Storm Gods

It's a pretty hot day here in the Valley of Silicon. Not terrible, that's still to come, but exceeding warm. Call it about 85 degrees right now. It's much warmer in Offhand Manor (our name for the apartment) and will turn into an Easy-Bake Oven as the summer progresses.

But as much as I dislike the extreme heat, and it's worse since all my health problems, hot days like this always trigger a memory for me, one that explains my fascination with storm gods.

Back in 1984-85, I was a stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Home of the Infantry, Benning was situated on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River valley and the city of Columbus, Ga. It is the largest infantry training base in the world. It is also subject to some extreme weather.

The winters were cold, with rain and snow. Spring and autumn were pretty brief. Then there was summer. Summers in the Deep South have to be experienced to be believed. The heat and humidity are unbearable. Moving into the pine forests was like walking into an oven. The sun beat down like an angry god's hammer in some cosmic forge. Smart people retreated to air-conditioned homes and offices or escaped to Flat Rock Park to spend the day lying in the cool water.

We weren't smart, we were U.S. Army Infantry.

But a couple of times a week, we got a reprieve. An even that cut through the muggy heat and renewed our will to live. We were visited by the storm god.

Picture the scene: a company of infantry moving through one of the vast training areas. You are all dressed in camouflage Battle Dress Uniforms, wearing steel helmets, and carrying up to 60lbs of equipment. Everyone's faces and arms are coated in camouflage paint. The temperature has soared past 90 with no sign of stopping. The humidity is also in the low 90s. The air is thick as molasses, and there isn't a hint of a breeze. You feel as if you stood still, you would use up all the oxygen around you.

Your M-16A1 weighed about eight pounds when you started out. Now it weighs a ton. Your shirt is soaked with sweat, and you can feel your socks squishing in your boots. You're limited in the number of times you can drink from your canteen. Every gulp of air burns your throat.

Then you come to a clearing and looking west, you see that someone has stolen the sky. A wall of black thunderheads, towering like the walls of hell, sliding across Alabama towards your position. Flickers of lightning light portions of the clouds in unearthly shades of green and purple. Beneath the cloud, you can see the shifting curtain of rain. The storm is coming, and coming fast.

Around you, AN/PRC-77 backpack radios come to life with chatter. The order comes down: get into the tree line and stack all metal gear at a designated point. Those who have been through this a few times tie condoms around the muzzles of their weapons. Then we disperse. And still, the storm comes.

The air remains still and lifeless. You take off your BDU blouse and use it as an improvised rain cover. Nobody bothers with the issue ponchos, they are useless and hot.

Suddenly, the wind stirs, quickly rising to a steady wind. The temperature drops like a rock, and where you were near heat exhaustion minutes ago, now you're shivering in your sweat-soaked t-shirt. The air becomes like the finest crystal glass. What was blurred in the distance seconds ago is now in perfect focus.

With almost no warning, the sky goes black and an assault of rain and hail comes down. The sky goes blue-white against the black backdrop of clouds with lightning and the near-constant crash of thunder roars in your ears and shakes your bones. Above you, the clouds boil like a living thing. Lightning flashes from cloud to cloud, and slashes down to strike the proud pines standing on the hills and ridges.

And it keeps coming. The red clay dirt turns to mud and tiny rivulets of water around you swell to small streams. You realize that you are actually sinking into the mud, and shift to a solid root. Then it comes.

For the briefest moment, the entire world turns white. A millisecond later an angry ancient spirit, freed from confinement and hungry for vengeance, bellows a war cry that smashes into your entire body. As you blink away the spots, you hear something over the ringing in your ears and the pounding rain and hail.

Cheering. Every man in your company is yelling at the top of their lungs, and you realize that you are as well. You don't know why. It just feels right, and you go with it.

Soon enough, the front passes. The God of Storms allows the Sun God to return. You're a mess, soaked through and coated in red mud. You retrieve your gear and set to cleaning it. But you know this is Fort Benning in summer.

You know that there are good odds that the Storm God of the South will be back tomorrow.

Yeah, sometimes I miss Georgia.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
2017-05-17 06:38 pm
Entry tags:

Seriously. Those arrows were huge.

History and fantasy literature and filled with tales of lost cities and tribes, people cut off from the main course of events and left to their own devices for centuries, until found by accident. There are still places in the world where tribal people still live in the stone age. The vast Amazon basin in South America potentially has thousands of isolated tribes living in its vast reaches. Papua New Guinea also still hold many mysteries, including constant tales of uncontacted tribes wholly unaware of the modern world. Even in the frozen wastes of Siberia, there are reports of nomadic peoples who run from any contact.

But none of them can hold a candle to the people of North Sentinal Island. More than 745 miles from mainland India and just 87 miles from Sumatra at the nearest, North Sentinel Island is found at the west of the Andaman Islands. It is a mere 27.8 square miles, roughly twenty percent bigger than the area of Manhattan. The island is surrounded by jagged reefs, with only a few openings usable only at high tide. The local climate is stormy, with unpredictable storms and surges. All of which has made the Sentinelese the most isolated people in human history.

How isolated? It wasn't until 1867 that anyone was known to have landed on the island when an Indian ship called the Ninevah was wrecked on its beach. The 106 survivors set up a temporary camp and were attacked a few days later.

They managed to fend off the worst of the onslaught but, if it hadn’t been for a Royal Navy steamer which arrived shortly after to rescue them, it is unlikely the terrified group would have survived. After that, the island was wisely left along for another century. In 1974 a documentary crew from the National Geographic Society accompanied and Indian Navy contact team to North Sentinal.

The team left gifts; coconuts, knives, small tools, and the like, and retreated to their boats to wait. Only after the boats had moved a fair distance into the lagoon did the Sentinelese emerge. The replied to the gifts with aggressive posturing, similar to ritual war dances seen around the globe. When that didn't drive the boats off, they started shooting arrows using their huge longbows. The film director was hit in the leg. The arrow was over 8 feet long.

After a few more attempts at contact, the Indian government placed a ban on visiting or even approaching North Sentinal Island. It was a good plan, until to fisherman who had been poaching in the region drifted too close to the island. The Indian helicopter that tried to retrieve the bodies from where they had been killed was driven off by arrow fire coming from the dense jungle.

Here's the kicker. The tribal people on the other Andaman Islands refer to North Sentinel only as a place of death, they've never gone near it for as far back as their histories go. We know from archeological research and genetic heritage testing that the Andamans were first settled as long as 60,000 years ago. It's possible that the Sentinelese have been living in xenophobic isolation for ten times the length of human recorded history. It is entirely possible that they are the direct descendants of the first humans to move out of Africa.

It's possible. The island is practically a second Garden of Eden. The Andaman chain is home to many wild fruits and berries, and the wide lagoon is filled with fish. Migratory birds make nests on the island, providing a source of meat and eggs. So food isn't an issue. The island is large enough for an estimated population of anywhere between 400 and 1,000. Large enough to prevent inbreeding issues. The reef even provided a natural barrier to the effects of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami.

They've never had to develop the ability to sail the ocean. Never, as far as we can tell, had any need to tame fire. No need for clothing. None of the modern vices, as far as we can tell. They are a people frozen in time, a snapshot of our Neolithic ancestors.

But I can't stop wondering who they are as a people. We know, from the abortive contact programs of the 60s and 70s that they have a language. We saw what appeared to be a social order where one man was given orders. They laughed, told each other things that made them laugh, maybe laughing at their visitors. Then with no warning bows were raised and the threat-dancing began. What did we do?

How do they live? Do they sing tales of their ancestors? Where do they live? Do they build shelters? Who is in charge at home? What do they think of us? Why are they so hostile to outsiders?

Just how long have they been on that island?

All questions I'm never going to learn the answer to in this lifetime. Because the Sentinelese have made it clear that they aren't interested in our world. And as I watch the grainy video of their children playing on the beach under the watchful eyes of family, I have to wonder if maybe they aren't the ones who got it right.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
2017-05-08 04:48 pm
Entry tags:

I Weep for Editors Now

For a couple of years now I've going to a writing "class" offered by Santa Clara Adult Education. I put class in quotes because the format is more of a writing group, with people reading their works as the rest read along, and then offering comments and suggestions.

It's been amazingly good for me, both in terms of my mental health and in encouraging me to write on a more regular basis. Each session is four weeks, meeting on Monday mornings, with 4-5 sessions a year. There is a core of regulars who come to class after class, some for years. I've made good friends there, and I'm especially proud to call Rafael my friend. He's a 94-year-old retired US Marine who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Never once loaded a weapon, as the Marines realized very early that he could type and had been taking accounting classes. He's an incredible writer, and we have to keep him away from the women, as he remains an incurable flirt.

I am the youngest in the class by at least a decade. Which I don't mind at all, I love listening to the others' stories and memories. I like that my best friend in class is a fellow writer of fantasy and really value the feedback I get from them.

Then there's Ralph. Oh, dear Halford, there's Ralph.

Ralph is a nice enough guy, a retired engineer (like several people in the group) who wants to write fiction. However, there's a slight problem. He can't write to save his life. I wish I was kidding about this, but his work is just jaw dropping.

First of all, he writes like he's still writing engineering papers. Everything is stiff and formal, overloaded with technical details. In a series of stories he wrote about two women rowing across the Atlantic, he detailed every single building they passed while rowing down the East River towards the sea. No emotion about setting out on the trip, no description of the smell of the water, the weather, the sound of the oars in their docks . . . just a monotonous list of places. He does that all the time.

Then there are his characters. Think of the worst-acted movie you've ever seen. That's how his characters speak. Stange declarative sentences that pop out of nowhere, spoken with no emotion. No emotional reactions at all. In his latest masterpiece, a man with his family at the Santa Monica Pier realizes that the Big One is imminent, and races to reach the Mt. Wilson Observatory. At no time in this story do any of the adults question this action. Nor do any of the children react to suddenly pulled from a fun day at the beach in the traditional childish way. No one objects when a near stranger joins them.

It drives me crazy.

But today took the cake. I literally had to keep myself from screaming or writing "YOU ARE A HACK!" in giant letters across his latest. Because in today's installment, the characters, at the conveniently abandoned Mt. Wilson facility, having found the fully equipped arms locker found at all the best observatories, decide to take target practice. Just as two Evil Dudes on horses ride up. Remember, this was happening as target practice was underway. Evil Dudes seem to think that all the gun shots were signs that the people there were easy pickings. Two dead Evil Dudes and a rescued boy.

But afterward, we were confused about how long the Swiss Family Woebegone had been up there. "Oh, several months." Was Ralph's reply.

Several months. Let that roll around your head. He was writing about a quake and tsunami that devastated the Los Angeles basin. WHERE THE FUCK DID HE THINK THE REST OF THE COUNTRY HAD GONE? There would have been National Guard, FEMA, Red Cross, mutual support from fire departments across the state, aid coming in from Mexico. . . he just thought that a big earthquake in L.A. would be ignored.

Niven and Pournelle did it better, dude, and their end of the world novel was a racist, misogynistic mess.

He's no better reading your stuff. He misses the obvious and gets diverted by pointless details. I can't begin to calculate how much time has been wasted explaining to Ralph things that were in the work to begin with. As an example, I wrote a piece about our visit last year to the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul. I included how pleased I was to find a relief of Teshub. I gave his entire history, explaining how the storm god of the Hurrians moved west into Lydia and Greece, becoming Zeus along the way, and giving us the idea of God as a man sitting on a cloud.

Ralph's first comment? "This thing about Teshub, I feel I'd need to know who he is to appreciate it." I almost killed him.

He is the only thing about the group I don't like, and I can tolerate him. But I needed to get this rant out.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
2017-05-07 07:04 pm

Yes, I've been bad about this.

But between weather extremes and the never-ending back troubles, I've been hard-pressed to find the energy to write.

This is a writing experiment to describe the bridge of the battleship Vajra, from Task Force Singh, my proposed National Novel Writing Month Project.

A couple of things. "kps" is kilometers per second, the standard measure of velocity. 1 kps is 2,237 miles per hour. These ships really move!

"mpss" or "mips" is meters per second squared. This a measure of acceleration. The Vajra can accelerate at 50mpss. Earth's gravity is 9.8 meters per second squared, so if it wasn't for the artificial gravity, people on the Vajra would experience over five times Earth's gravity at full acceleration.

"LS" is a light second, a unit of distance, 299,792 km.

--

"Captain, Glaser orbital control has cleared the squadron to depart. We have been cleared to departure area 117 by 230."

From his command chair, Singh nodded. It had been a productive visit, shoring up relations between the empire and the neutral Glaser Republic. But he doubted he could stand one more banquet. "Very well. Set the course and have the squadron set into travel formation."

He consulted his private plot on his repeater. "Engineering, please bring us to 75,000 kps once we clear the planet." Singh shifted his attention to the young officer of the deck. "Commander, set Condition Four and secure for movement. I will be in my office if I'm needed."

Satisfied that the small squadron was moving out according to orders, Singh walked the short distance to his day cabin, just to the rear of the bridge. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he settled at his desk with a sigh. Running a ship seemed to involve never-ending paperwork to keep the Fleet offices happy, and now he had to compile a report for the Foreign Office on the visit to Glaser.

He had barely begun that task when the door buzzer went off. 20 minutes, Singh thought, barely 20 minutes before I'm interrupted. "Come in!" he shouted, trying to hide the irritation in his voice. It was Khan, his executive. And he had a grin on his face.

"Alright, Ahriman, care to share the joke?" Singh said while Commander Khan helped himself to a mug of coffee.

"Did you happen to notice Lt. Metz just now?" Khan said as he settled onto the spartan bunk across from the desk.

"I was a little occupied," Singh admitted, a smile growing on his own face. "Was our favorite a little worse for wear?"

"He looked like the gravity was off. Holding onto a grab rail for dear life. My sources tell me he was half-carried aboard by several fellow officers just shy of curfew."

Singh chuckled. "Oh, dear me! Was it too much drinking? A whirlwind love affair? A blood feud with nefarious characters?"

"All three, if the stories are to be believed. Ah, to be young again! To hit dirtside leave with visions of wine, women, and song!"

"That was you, Ahriman. I don't drink and am a terrible singer. Which left me the women!"

Their laughter was interrupted by a call on the overhead speaker. "Captain to the bridge." Both Singh and Khan quickly returned to the bridge, waving the crew back to their seats as they entered.

The rating manning the Signals console remained standing. "Sir, Glaser Control is monitoring at least four hyperspace bowshocks approaching the system. They are not scheduled, and there isn't a known route to account for their approach vector. Control requests that we divert to meet these ships." The young rating fidgeted for a second, clearly wondering if he had to remain standing after his report, before awkwardly taking his seat.

Singh absent-mindedly stroked his beard as he stared at the large holographic main plot. The tactical officer had already updated the plot with this new data. Commander Khan leaned over to speak in Singh's ear. "It is part of the treaty, and we know there have been some pretty heavy raiding being done in this general area."

Singh nodded. "Absolutely." He raised his voice. "Set Condition Three. All hands prepare for battle stations." He looked to his left at the helm station. "Set a course that brings us to intercept in four hours. Let engineering know we're going to be making the turn. I want to enter the potential battle area at no more than 750 kps. Signals, send confirmations to Glaser control. Alert the squadron that I'm going to want formation Gamma one hour before arrival at the intercept point."

As Singh sat back on his couch, doing the math on intercepts in his head, Commander Khan spoke up. "You heard the Captain, now move! This is a battleship, not a luxury cruise! Get to work!"

Soon the bridge was filling with the battle staff. Every console was now manned. All eight gunnery control officers filled the sunken area known to everyone as the pit. Three ratings and a control officer at Signals. The A crew for the Sensors team. All ready to pass on information and command decisions. Singh allowed himself a slight smile. This was a good crew.

The squadron raced through the empty system, every sensor probing the area where the unknown ships would likely emerge from hyperspace. At one hour out, Commander Khan commanded "Set Condition Two." Klaxons blared across the ship. On the bridge, half the staff hurried out to a nearby ready room, returning in a very short time in combat vacuum gear. Then the other half repeated the act. When everyone else was suited up, Singh retreated to his day cabin to don his own suit, bright white with orange and red recognition panels and the Fleet Captain insignia comically large on his chest.

Once back on the bridge, he double checked that everyone was hooked into the ship's air supply and was ready for action. Captains did have to do that, but it helped morale. Satisfied, Singh returned to his own couch and hooked in.

Mere minutes later, the sensor team sat bolt upright, as if they had been shocked. "Captin, multiple hyperspace emergences at 012 by 362. Evaluate as two Kian-class armored cruisers, one Divad-class battle cruiser, and a large transport, class unknown. Updated to the main plot."

A few scant seconds later, the call came from the tactical officer. "We are being painted, multiple targeting lasers."

"Well, they wish to play? Set Condition One, battle stations." As the klaxon sounded again, Singh leaned forward toward the plot and addressed the chief gunnery officer. "Commander Khatib, you may fire when ready."