Tag: sci-fi (page 1 of 35)

Delta-V: Foundational Barter

Previously: The year is 3301. Six months after Zachary Hudson was swept into office, Jason Frimantle, a young and unregistered Commander, broke with his father to start his own trading business.

One of these days, I’m going to need to get myself a docking computer.

It wasn’t that Jason had trouble easing the Wayfarer through the ‘mail slot’ of a particular station. His more immediate concern when landing was scraping his ship against the guide rails, or bumping up against other ships. It was a reaction based on how the Federation treated incoming or outgoing Commanders — threats of lethal force were commonplace from traffic control. Jason found the attitude of those along this trading route much more agreeable, for the most part. He guided his ship to the landing pad within Lave Station, feeling the reassuring bump of his landing gear against the solid metal.

The pad lowered into the hangar, and Jason felt the faint pull of the access corridor interior’s 0.2 gravity. One didn’t have to worry about a particularly strong step along a corridor putting one into freefall, but handrails were still highly recommended. He moved from his ship into the corridor with a few long yet careful strides, and took hold of the handrail in the corridor. A few minutes later, he was in the Workers trade station, bringing up his manifest to onload some crates of Lavian Brandy.

The woman at the front desk looked up as Jason walked in. “Commander Frimantle?”

Jason blinked. “Um. Yes?”

“Commissioner Parker would like to see you.”

Most of the dealings Jason had had with the Workers of Lave Liberals had been through a contact that worked directly with the system market. Parker was the overseer of the faction’s trade, a subordinate to their leadership; from what Jason had gathered, they were a middle manager who tracked inventory and ship traffic. He wasn’t sure why such a person would want to see him, since he was still starting out in terms of being a freelance trader. Regardless, it wouldn’t hurt to make new friends, or at least establish new contacts. He thanked the receptionist and found Parker’s office.

Parker stood in front of a floor-to-ceiling holo display of Lave’s market, a tablet in one hand and a stylus in the other. She was an older woman, still in her middle years but definitely showing the signs of working hard on her career. She wore a business-style blazer and knee-length pencil skirt that flattered her figure yet projected an air of professional austerity, backed up by the unadorned blouse that came to her neck. Her reddish-brown hair was drawn back in a conservative bun, but the chopsticks holding it in place were lavishly decorated with flowers and branches that seemed to fly in the face of her steely demeanor.

Jason adjusted his jacket, which he’d opened after exiting the Wayfarer, suddenly aware of the fact that both it and his pressure suit were due for a cleaning. His hair was probably mussed, as well, from the last few trade runs being uninterrupted by stopping for anything other than food and sleep. Parker looked up from the tablet in her hand at the motion, looking at Jason over the rims of spectacles that complimented the light brown color of her eyes.

“Commander,” she said, her voice reminding Jason of a schoolmistress. “Thank you for coming to see me.”

“Nice to meet you, Commissioner,” Jason replied. “What can I do for you?”

She turned away from the display to lay her tablet on the desk. Jason noted she was wearing high heels, which couldn’t have been easy at lower gravity. They weren’t stiletto-style, but still…

“I have need of a trader who can take care of a matter of some urgency. Your efficiency in the Zaonce trade route leads me to believe you can accomplish such a task.” She turned back to him, regarding him for a long moment. “Do you believe I am correct?”

Jason nodded. “Lots of Commanders starting out like this run, ma’am. It’s got decent profit margins and there’s enough of a gap between deliveries that no markets get too flooded, nor do they dry up. The items are always in demand, be it Lavian brandy or blue milk.”

“I see you have a head for the greater business picture as well as your own credits. I do believe we can work together.” She picked up a different tablet, took a step towards Jason, and handed it to him. “How is your planetary landing experience?”

Jason regarded the tablet. It was information and telemetry for a settlement called Abel Prospect, located in the Arque system. “I’ve been a spacer all of my life. Making planetfall hasn’t really been a priority, but I’ve done it a couple of times. Usually with my father guiding me.”

Thinking of his father filled Jason with a mix of emotions that weren’t entirely pleasant. He tried to keep that out of his voice, but Parker was studying his expression closely. After a moment, she nodded.

“Very good. The settlement has indicated a need for medical supplies. There has been a minor epidemic of a rare skin disease. None of the in-system stations have what they need to deal with this, and they want to combat it lest it become a system-wide outbreak.”

Jason studied the layout of the settlement and the planetary landscape around it. “I don’t see any landing pads.”

“That is the other concern. They lack the facilities to accommodate starships in the usual manner. They also have no means to take in a SRV. So the supplies must be hand-delivered.”

Jason’s brows furrowed. “How’s the gravity there?”

“0.09 on the surface. They need two tons of specialized medical supplies, and are paying 200% above market price. You will be entitled to 50% of the profits.”

Jason looked over the figures, and hoped he wasn’t suddenly showing signs of his excitement. With that amount of money, he could buy several enhancements for the Wayfarer — a frame-shift drive with longer range, an improved fuel scoop, a more comfortable pilot’s seat…

Maybe even a new ship, he thought.

“I do believe you’ve got yourself a pilot, Ms. Parker.”

“Excellent. The sooner you can depart, the better.”

A short jump or two later, the Wayfarer‘s planetary approach suite was guiding Jason into a low orbit over the rocky body where Abel Prospect had been established. The gravity of the body was negligible, but he definitely felt the tug of it when his ship dropped out of supercruise. The Wayfarer creaked slightly as he adjusted his approach, unused to flying in any sort of atmosphere or planetary gravity. Granted, Abel Prospect’s host body had only the thinnest of gas layers drawn to it during its formation, and a human being would still suffocate in about 15 seconds if they found themselves outside without a pressure suit.

As he made his descent, he checked his radar to ensure a good position for the transfer of the goods. Then he looked again. There was another contact on the surface. He rolled to starboard to get a visual look. A Hauler, smaller (and, in Jason’s opinion, less elegant) cousin to his own Adder, was parked near Abel Prospect’s sole lock. A bad feeling crept into him, tightening his jaw as he sussed out a similar place to put down the Wayfarer.

Once he was settled on the surface, Jason activated his p-suit’s helmet and seals, and did a check of his equipment — integrated oxygen supply, suit displays, utility & gun belt, and so on. He moved aft, unlocked the crates from their restraints, and opened his hatch before pushing them out towards the lock. As he moved closer, he saw that it was still cycling. Quickly, he tapped a few commands into the control panel. He reset the system, then opened the outer door.

Two men were inside, wearing pressure suits, staring in shock at the outer door. Jason gave them a wide grin.

“Gentlemen! Delivering medical supplies?”

One of them slowly nodded. “Um… yeah.”

Jason nodded, looking over the crates. “Four tons, it looks like. What’s your margin?”

“150% market price,” said the other.

“Undercutting the competition to sell more quantity? Nice.” Before he continued, Jason took in the logo on the crates. He blinked, trying to hold down a sudden surge of shock and anger.

It was the logo of his father’s company.

Without warning, he drew his pistol. Like the flight jacket he’d left in the Wayfarer, it had belonged to his grandfather. It was an old-fashioned ballistic weapon, a revolver, designed to fire without issue in near or full vacuum. He shoved its muzzle against the clear faceplate of the closest trader. The other man didn’t move. Neither of them seemed armed; if they were, their sidearms were somewhere inside their pressure suits. What was the point of that?

“Okay. Before I cycle this lock, you’re going to leave it. And your crates. You’re going to take off, go back to Eravate, and tell my father that he, and you, and any of his other cronies, are staying on your side of the galaxy. Nod if you understand.”

The man nodded. Jason reached behind him with his free hand and opened the outer door one more time.

“Good. Now get out.”

They obeyed. Jason slammed the butt of his pistol into the controls to close the door and cycle the lock. He turned to the crates — now six in total — and tried to ignore the little voice telling him that, technically, he’d just committed an act of piracy.

But what was his father going to do? Put a bounty on his own son?

To be continued…

Elite Dangerous is a registered trademark of Frontier Developments.

Thinking Trek

There’s an article on Grunge that posits that living on the Enterprise-D, setting for ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, would absolutely suck. I read through the article a few times, gave it some thought in my off-hours, and I want to refute some of its points. I mean, I list all of the points, but to be honest, some of them aren’t completely wrong.

Just most of them.

The transporter killing you: “death” is too strong of a term. Yes, the matter of the body is broken down and then reconstructed elsewhere, but the neural energy of the person is stored and then transmitted into the reconstructed body. This is the ‘consciousness’, ‘soul’, etc — scientifically speaking, it’s the firing of neurons in the brain and the engrams stored within it, held in suspension by the computer. It’s possible that a glitch in the transporter’s functionality can create a copy of this energy pattern – see the introduction of Thomas Riker in “Second Chances,” and why he’s less morally inclined than William (DS9 episode “Defiant”). There’s more to this, but suffice it to say that “the transporter kills you” is way too simplistic an interpretation. Don’t get me wrong; I love CGP Gray and all he does. Including his video on the transporter being a “suicide box”. I feel this is the best refutation I can offer.

Bathrooms: The Galaxy-class definitely has more than one bathroom; we see Matt Frewer using a ‘refresher’ in the episode “A Matter of Time”, and there’s a ‘head’ specifically on a bridge layout I saw just off of the Ready Room and, iirc, the conference room. The design team for Star Trek are very smart folks; to claim that this meeting of the minds would put a ship populated by hundreds if not thousands has only one bathroom is ludicrous. Funny, but ludicrous.

Cabin Fever: Again, let’s consider that Star Trek has its own internal logic and structures. In this case, there isn’t just one counselor aboard the Enterprise. Commander Troi is the head of the counseling staff, she’s its senior officer. Sure, she could be a ‘senior officer’ because she is the one person on the counseling staff, but what sense does that make? Sources on this may not be ‘canon’, but it makes sense to have more than one therapist aboard the ship, just like it makes sense to have more than one bathroom. Let’s also consider that all of our real-world space-faring experience has been in very, very cramped quarters. A ship the size of the Enterprise affords plenty of opportunities for privacy and a break from contact with the usual coworkers or family members. There’s artificial gravity, fresh food, amusements & physical activities… many things current astronauts, unfortunately, do not have.

Spandex: No. There is no way they’re wearing spandex in the 24th century. It looks futuristic to our eyes, or at least it did in the late 80s/early 90s, but… just no.

Families: Yeah, it’d be really awful if your family was in the section the Borg cut out of the saucer in “Q Who” or died at some point during the events of “Cause and Effect” and, despite the time-loop shenanigans, stayed dead. I’ll grant this would suck.

Holodeck sex: This one’s probably true too. Thankfully, I suspect that there’s technology that can clean the place after things are over with. Some sort of technobabble pulse that scrubs the place down in a split-second.

No Time Off: See the Cabin Fever entry.

Holodeck Glitches: Cars glitch and crash, too. As for the consciousness of holographic characters, some are probably no better programmed than NPCs in Skyrim, and others are complex enough to evolve a form of consciousness yet do not simply cease to exist when the program is shut off. So no, they don’t ‘die’ when the program is ended.

Being Insignificant if you’re not on the bridge: We’re pretty insignificant on the whole as it is. This isn’t any different. … Let’s move on before that goes anywhere darker or deeper.

Replicator Breakdown: There are hydroponics labs for a reason, people. Medical science has probably progressed to a point where food allergies are cured via hypospray. So kale, soybeans, and other superfoods will be available. And speaking of eating in space, remember what Shepard Book said in Firefly? “A man can live on packaged food from here ’til Judgment Day if he’s got enough rosemary”. And you can grow rosemary in the hydroponics labs, too.

Wesley’s your superior: Wil Wheaton’s cool and Wesley got a lot less insufferable and a lot more human the further the show got away from its smug first couple of seasons. Let’s face it — everybody was an arrogant snot for a while, there. Once Wesley was humbled and managed to man up in Starfleet Academy (“The First Duty” is a great episode), he makes for a great officer. I’d be fine working with him.

Evil Bosses: This is, again, art imitating life. Many of our workplaces suffer from horrible bosses. We manage to make do, alien parasites notwithstanding.

Our Friend The Computer: So the idea of a computer listening for commands at all times is, on its face, pretty creepy. But the computer is not recording anything unless its told to do so. Now, it’s possible that someone with nefarious designs can hack the thing to record and then use those recordings, but given the fail-safe procedures built into just about everything Starfleet touches (I don’t know if I ever heard the term “tertiary backups” before O’Brian on DS9), Engineering or Security is likely to get pinged if such a breach of protocol is even attempted. And speaking of Security…

The Worf Effect: Let’s look at the facts, here. Next Generation ran for 178 episodes, and only 150 or so of those saw Worf as chief of Security. 150 days is just over half of a year. The show ran for seven years, and even if the Enterprise wasn’t active for that entire length of time (someone would have to collate the stardates), chances are Worf was in that position for longer than 150 days. So I imagine that for the rest of the time, he did his job well enough to hold the position. When we see Worf in action on Next Generation, it’s usually against pretty damn huge threats. Klingons are strong and fierce, but Kahless himself would not be able to overcome every Borg in his way.

The Timeline No Loner Exists: Temporal mechanics is a very odd thing. Be it the “fixed points in time” as explained by the Doctor, or “multiverse theory” that’s been used in places other than Star Trek, a lot of thought on temporal mechanics argues that original timelines, as well as branches, continue on in their own continuity. This, unfortunately, implies that there exists a timeline in which the Earth was destroyed because Kirk and crew did not get back to the 23rd century with George and Gracie.

Being Boring: while Gene Roddenberry brought a great deal to the genre of science fiction, and nobody can deny his accomplishments, the idea of a future without conflict was not one of his better ideas. Which is why subsequent writers ditched that idea entirely.


I know that normally I post a bunch of political stuff on Wednesdays, but I think we all need a break.

Delta-V: Furious Egress

The year is 3301. Zachary Hudson has been swept into office as President of the Federation. Cuts to healthcare and other social programs has made his corporate sponsors quite happy, but has left casualties among the populace. One of them, Abigail Frimantle, finally succumbed to a debilitating disease after over a year of battle. Her son, Jason, embittered and emboldened, has taken steps to strike out on his own into the wild and dangerous galaxy beyond his home…

Courtesy Frontier

The interior of a station access corridor resembles a telescope when seen from within; for Jason Frimantle, it gave the promise of freedom.

As a boy, he’d looked up at the inner surface of the Ackerman’s Market hub and its traffic with wonder, his head full of dreams. Once he was old enough, his father had entrusted him as an extra pair of hands aboard the Frimantle’s family freighter. Recently, he’d been given permission to run a few missions of his own in his grandfather’s Sidewinder, the same ship that had established the Frimantles as reliable and efficient traders in the Eravate system and several of its neighbors.

He stood alone in the control tower of one of the Market’s many landing pads, gazing at the familiar habitats and conveyance ways, blue eyes focusing on the bright fields dividing the hub from the blackness of space beyond. When he took in that sight, as the sovereign young man he was becoming, he did so with hope, and more than a little impatience. The need to exit Federation space and avoid its stations after said egress was becoming an itch under his skin.

He went down from the civilian observation area of the tower to the hangar below. Perched under the lights was an Adder, its cobalt blue hull shining in the overhead lights. It was freshly washed, fueled, and its stock equipment had been replaced with everything Jason needed. The plates declared its registration code, and the name Jason had given it: Wayfarer. With the Civil War having calmed down, and interdiction rates at an all-time low, Jason knew it was time for him to leave. He tugged at the collar of his somewhat weatherbeaten flight jacket, a relic of his grandfather’s time with the Federation Navy, and was about to climb aboard his new ship when he heard the door open behind him.

An unctuous and preening man in a suit about a size too large ambled towards Jason with a big smile. “Ah, young master Frimantle! I thought I’d find you in the Trader’s Lounge. I bring good news! We’re all set.”

Jason took the tablet from the man’s outstretched hand and gazed at its screen. It did, in fact, lay out all of the payment information for the Wayfarer behind him. It included the sale price he’d gotten for the old Frimantle Sidewinder, which tugged at one of Jason’s heartstrings, just a little. But it was a small discordant note in the growing feeling within him, like an orchestra tuning up.

“Are you sure I can’t interest you in a Cobra Mk III? It’s one of our best sellers!”

Jason smiled and shook his head. “For the last time, Mister Cornwall, no thank you. I have a long journey ahead of me, and the more credits I hold onto for that journey, the better. Besides —” Here Jason’s smile became knowing, his tone chiding. “— you and I both know there are no refunds on customizations like paint jobs and name plates.”

Abashed, Cornwall tugged at his mustache, a tick Jason recognized as his unconscious “I’ve been caught red-handed” expression. “Now, now, no reason I can’t make an exception there, my boy. Your old Sidewinder is in excellent condition; I’m sure I can extend a line of credit. I’m always willing to work out a deal! Remember, once you’re a Cornwall customer, you’re a customer for life!”

Jason stopped smiling. That my boy made him bristle, and the idea of being tied to Ackerman’s after today was too much. “My life isn’t going to be here, Mister Cornwall. Or anywhere near your dealership.” He pressed his thumb to the marked square on the tablet, and it chirped, indicating the finalization of the sale. “Thank you. I’m sure you’ll find that Sidewinder a good home.”

Cornwall’s frustration at a loss of potential revenue seeped past his genial expression, which suddenly froze on his whiskered face when he looked past Jason as another door opened behind him. “Well… ah… excuse me, master Frimantle, I have to finalize the transfers. Nice doing business with you!” The little salesman scuttled off. Jason didn’t turn around.

“I hope you have a damn good explanation for this.”

Jason shrugged. The irritated voice of his father no longer had the terrifying effect on his guts it used to. Now it just served as one more obstacle to overcome before he left this place forever.

“I do. I’m leaving.”

“The hell you are, boy. Your place is here. Just like mine is, just like your Pappy’s was. Why’d you have to go and sell his Sidewinder? It’s a better ship than this…” His father’s voice trailed off, as if he was searching for the right way to trash-talk the Adder, which was smaller, faster, and definitely prettier than the beat-up Type-7 his father used.

Jason didn’t let his father finish. Instead, he turned.

“Is it better because of the tracking device you had installed in it?”

Joseph Frimantle, his hair going more gray by the day, frowned. It exacerbated the worry lines on his face.

“You taking that tone with me over something I used to keep you safe?”

“It kept me on a leash, Dad. That’s all it ever did.”

“What if you’d run outta fuel out there? Huh? Or how about if you got jumped by pirates?”

“Then I’d be dead.” Or I’d call the Fuel Rats. Jason didn’t want to mention that aloud; his father’s opinion on the altruistic organization usually involved words like ‘socialist scumbags,’ ‘hippy nonsense,’ and more than a few expletives. “I don’t see how you knowing my every movement outside of this station kept me ‘safe’.”

“You’ll understand when you have kids of your own, son. Now, come on, let’s sell this flashy piece of crap back to Cornwall. I’ve got work to do.”

Jason crossed his arms. “I’m not stopping you. Go do work.”

Joseph blinked. “Now, see here…”

“No.” Jason glared at his father. “This is over, Dad. I’m leaving. I made my own credits, I bought my own ship, and I’m leaving.”

“Oh, is that so? And where is it that you’ll be going in your fancy new ship?”

Jason shrugged. “Away. What do you care?”

“What do I—? I am your father, you overgrown snot, and what I say goes.”

“I’m a licensed, independent commander, and I have no outstanding warrants or fines. I can come and go as I please. Emphasis on go.

“Your mother would be weeping if she were standing here to see you talk to me like this.”

“My mother is dead.”

“She’s turning in her grave, then.”

“She wouldn’t be, if you’d let her get the care she needed.”

“She was just sitting around the house, not lifting a finger to help us at all!”

“She was in pain, Dad, every single day, and the fact that the doctors we could afford couldn’t help her wasn’t her fault. And did you think the dishes washed themselves? Or that prepared meals just emerged from the oven at your whim? You’re really dumb if you think all Mom did was sit idle all day.”

“Don’t you dare call me stupid, boy.”

“Oh, I dare.” Jason’s hands were in ever-tightening fists, and they were just starting to hurt, now. He didn’t care. His voice was a growl. “I dare because you could have paid for better care for her. You could have been here more for her. Hell, if I had then the cash I had now, I would have paid for her medical care, and I’d be taking us both away from you.”

“One more word outta you —”

“Go ahead, Dad. Can’t be worse than you killing her. You son of a bitch. Why didn’t you just shoot her, if you wanted her out of your hair so badly?”

Joseph raised his hand to slap his son. Jason’s arm flashed up, grabbing his father by the wrist, blocking the blow. Shocked, Joseph stared at the young man in front of him.

“You’re never hitting me again, old man.” Jason resisted the urge to twist the wrist in his hand, possibly breaking his father’s arm. There were lines, even now, he refused to cross.

He did tighten his grip, though. Joseph’s eyes began to water. “Let… let go of me.”

Jason did, and stepped back. Joseph kept staring, uncomprehending, gently holding his wrist in his other hand.

“Listen to me. And you listen well. This is the result of your actions. You voted for that blowhard, Zachary Hudson, to be the Federation President. You put up all of those signs, about people paying their own way, and how those who can’t work shouldn’t get ‘handouts’ from the government. You barely lifted a finger when Mom started getting sick. You stayed out on longer and longer runs, and when you came home, drunk and exhausted, you yelled at her to keep the house more tidy and to get a job. And when I started working on my own? You took as much of my profit as you could, putting it who knows where.”

He paused. He waited. Joseph was, in fact, listening. Another discordant note sounded in the young man, but he kept on his tirade.

“When Mom died, I set up a way to have credits automatically deposited in an account of my own before you saw my balance sheets. And I worked a lot. Check that tracking data of yours. I’ve been out as far as GD-219 and Macarthur Terminal. And I earned this.” He pointed at the Adder. “I earned my way out of here, and away from you.”

Joseph blinked away tears. “I loved your mother.” His voice was quieter, now, tired and worn out. “I didn’t want to watch her die.”

“But you could have helped. You could have let me help.” His father’s face took a little of the wind out of his sails. “She needed both of us. All she had was me. And I couldn’t do enough.”

Joseph shook his head. “She used to be so strong. She was making her own way, and she helped make our business become one of the best.”

“She loved you. She honored you. And… you let her down.”

“Okay. Okay. Just… let’s just go home, son. We can talk more when we’re at home. I’ll keep listening. I promise.”

Jason closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “No, Dad. I have to go.”

Joseph frowned again. “You can’t. Jason, you can’t. I’m getting more work requests every day. I can’t be in two places at once.”

Jason shrugged. “I guess that’s because I told everyone I was trading with to contact you. I figured the Frimantle name meant speed and quality of service, and now you’ve got customers far and wide. You’ll be making even more money!”

Joseph’s eyes narrowed. “Then… why are you leaving? You know I can’t do this alone.”

“You know why I’m leaving. And isn’t that your President’s whole thing? Independent businessmen doing business on their own, without handouts or help, ‘personal freedom at any cost’?” Jason spread his arms. “Well, here you go. Plenty of work, no family holding you back, just you and that rattling old rustbucket of a ship. That’s what you voted for, Dad. I’m just making it all happen for you.”

Righteous indignation crept back into the old man’s eyes. “I’ll have your license revoked.”

“By the time you get that paperwork squared away, I’ll be out of Federation jurisdiction. Which means it’ll be a huge waste of your time and money. Go back to your freighter, Dad. Go back to work.” He turned towards the Wayfarer.

“At least take off that jacket. It’s mine.”

Jason looked over his shoulder, one foot on the ramp into his ship. “No, Dad. He said I was a better pilot than you, and that only the best pilots wear jackets like this.” He paused. “Get clear. I don’t want you to get caught in the blast wash when I take off.”

Joseph glared, his hands balled into fists, and turned to leave the hangar. Jason walked into his ship, sealed the ramp, and got his pre-flight checklist completed as quickly as possible, without missing anything. With his flightsuit secured and all systems green, he requested liftoff clearance, and headed for the exit of Ackerman’s Market.

As he cleared the landing lights on the exterior of the station, his comm channel crackled to life.

“Jason! Stop!”

Turning his head, Jason checked his contacts. Sure enough, an old Type-7 freighter had emerged from the station.

“Don’t make me call the Federation Security pilots! I’ll tell them you bought that ship with stolen funds!”

“And when I keep flying away in spite of your cunning ploy?”

“Well then I’ll just shoot your engines out myself, smart-ass!”

“Oh? With what?”

“The guns I got installed by my friend over at Cleve Hub last week! Now turn that ship around!”

“I don’t think you have a single weapon installed on that crate, Dad.”

“You callin’ me a liar?”

Jason cocked his head to one side. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

They had cleared the no fire zone around the station. Jason knew that, given their position, Joseph would feel confident in bringing his weapons online. Jason immediately turned his ship, boosted himself back into range of Ackerman Market. The Type-7 began its slow turn, killing its throttle, and had never left the zone.

The ship automatically switched over to the traffic control channel when the Federation pinged him. “Zorgon Peterson Bravo Lima Uniform, please comply with all Federal regulations —”

“Mayday, mayday, calling Ackerman Control.” He kept his voice calm, but added a hint of urgency, as if he was truly terrified but trying to control it. “This is Zorgon Peterson Bravo Lima Uniform. I am being pursued by a hostile party, their weapons are hot. I am unarmed. Say again, this vessel is unarmed.”

This was true — other than a chaff launcher and point-defense turret, the Adder transport did not have any weapons. Jason had made sure to remove them after he’d bought the ship from Cornwall. They were weight he didn’t need on his trip; once he got where he was going, maybe he’d install something. But, for now, his Harmless status was in his favor.

Federation fighters zipped towards him. He keyed his comm back over to his father’s frequency.

“I think those officers want to have a word with you, Dad.”

“You!” The voice on the other end crackled through the speaker with impotent fury. “You tricked me! You —!”

“Bye, Dad.” Turning off his comm, Jason turned to his map of the galaxy. It was a long way to Lave, but it was out of Federation space, and the trade routes he’d heard of were lucrative, if a bit volatile or dangerous at times.

Nevertheless, he was going. He was putting this system, this station, this family behind him. And he wasn’t looking back.

Courtesy Frontier

Chapter Two: Foundational Barter

Elite Dangerous is a registered trademark of Frontier Developments.

Mondays are for making art.

The Kerrigan Question

The Queen Bitch of the Universe, Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

“Girls don’t belong in games/movies!” This is the cry of “men’s rights activists” who point to things like Rogue One and female gamers & game journalists (Susan Arendt, IRL Jasmine, etc).

“What about Sarah Kerrigan?”

I suspect I’d mostly get blank stares. Maybe a bit of drool.

Here’s the background: Sarah Kerrigan is a major character in StarCraft and its sequel. StarCraft is a massively popular real-time strategy game that is played professionally as a multi-player contest & sport. Its single-player campaigns, while maybe not having the best writing, is still full of affecting moments — the rise of Arcturus Mengsk, the sacrifice of Tassadar, etc — but I would argue that the growth and arc of Kerrigan’s story is the beating heart of the narrative, though I admittedly haven’t played the last chapter, Legacy of the Void, yet. It’s a bit beyond my means at present.

I’m going to run down Kerrigan’s story for those of you who don’t know, and proceed to my point after.

[spoiler]
StarCraft depicts a large-scale conflict between three races: the Terrans (that’s us), the psionic and aloof Protoss, and the swarming, ever-evolving Zerg. Sarah Kerrigan is a Terran operative, a “Ghost” (read: psychic sniper assassin) who joins you early in the Terran campaign alongside rough’n’tumble backwater space cowboy Jim Raynor. They don’t get along at first — Jimmy’s initial thoughts are about how hot Kerrigan is, and she immediately reacts with revulsion and rightly scolds Raynor for a lack of professionalism. But, through the course of fighting for survival as the Protoss and Zerg clash with the Terrans in the middle, they grow to admire, respect, and appreciate one another.

Their partnership, both professional and romantic, was short-lived. In a callous act of sacrificing his resources for convenience and advancement, master manipulator and all-around bastard Arcturus Mengsk left Kerrigan to die as her position was overrun by the Zerg forces Mengsk himself had attracted to a Terran world to better secure his political position. Disgusted, Raynor left Mengsk’s service, and looked for Kerrigan, only for her to emerge some time later as a new weapon in the Zerg’s arsenal, the fearsome and deadly ‘Queen of Blades’.

Empowered by Zerg evolutionary strains and determined to unlock her own full potential, Kerrigan proceeded to align both her former Terran comrades and several Protoss factions against the Zerg Overmind who’d had a hand (or, rather, tentacle) in creating her. Her plan succeeded, and she thanked her erstwhile allies by betraying them. Some of these allies were Protoss warriors Jim had come to trust as friends; when they were killed, he swore he’d avenge their deaths, and be the one to kill Sarah. Laughing off the threat, Kerrigan wiped the floor with what was left of the Terran forces and retreated to her own corner of the sector.

After the so-called Brood War that’d seen Kerrigan triumphant, she began to hear whispers of impending doom. To arm herself and her Swarm to face it, she invaded Terran space to find more powerful weapons. Raynor set off to oppose the Zerg invasion, seemingly still driven by his vendetta and supported by an old friend from his previous life. Things got complicated when a Protoss warrior, one of the few Raynor knew from the Brood War who hadn’t been killed, told him that Kerrigan needed to live to fight what was coming. The Terrans used the very weapon Kerrigan had sought to claim to rob her of her Zerg enhancements and leave her vulnerable. Conflicted, Raynor decided to save Kerrigan’s life at this moment, choosing to give her a chance for redemption rather than letting his friend shoot her.

Kerrigan was held for experimentation, with Raynor keeping an eye on her, and her memories as both Mengsk’s assassin and the Queen of Blades haunted her and made her question her morals and sanity. While previously Kerrigan’s ambitions had been aimed towards conquest and victory for her Swarm, her restored humanity narrowed her focus to revenge on Mengsk. The facility were she was being held was attacked by Mengsk’s forces, and in their escape, Kerrigan and Raynor were separated. While Kerrigan was able to escape, Raynor was reported to be killed, much to Mengsk’s delight. Consumed by her need for revenge, Kerrigan turns to the Zerg, returning to the Swarm to regain her former power.

Kerrigan returns to the homeworld of the Zerg and seeks her own path to evolve along instead of having it imposed upon her. In doing so, she comes to understand the Zerg on a far more fundamental level, and in doing so, not only guides it to great success, but forges it into a far more powerful force than it was before. With a renewed Swarm and her powers and memory finally under her control, Kerrigan tears across the sector towards Mengsk. Along the way, she finds Raynor alive, but her rebirth as the new Queen of Blades puts an incredible chasm between them; Jim can’t let go of everything she did as the Queen of Blades, and as much as she wants to repair that breach, since she was not the creature she was before, Jim can’t bring himself to meet her halfway. He can’t kill her, either, but joins her to kill Mengsk.

Having joined forces, Mengsk’s defenses folded under the assault of Raynor and Kerrigan. They work together to bring down the tyrant, Kerrigan saying Mengsk had “made [them] all into monsters” before blowing him up Scanners-style. With their nemesis dead, Kerrigan leaves to turn her attention back to the doom that had brought her back in the first place, leaving a conflicted and emotional Raynor in her wake, looking up at where the woman he loved (and perhaps still does) disappears.

This isn’t the end of the story, but it’s all I know, since I’m avoiding spoilers for Legacy of the Void.
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The essence of Kerrigan’s story, to me, is that after getting betrayed and turned into something awful, she took control of her own destiny. She seized control of a massive, powerful alien force, just because she could. When she caught wind of something bigger coming to destroy everything, she set out to stand up to it, no matter what it cost. And after everything that happened to her, she decided to recreate her power on her own terms in order to either rescue a dude important to her or avenge herself on the bastard who’d betrayed her in the first place. To me, that speaks of self-actualization, independence, and empowerment.

I can see some counterpoints to this perspective, but the fact remains that she is a major character who becomes a protagonist in a major sci-fi gaming franchise, and yet, insecure man-kids haven’t brought her up as an example of something that doesn’t belong in their games. So is it because she’s not as prominent as the leads in Rogue One or The Force Awakens, or is it because they felt some sort of satisfaction in what happened to her when she was disempowered? I’m not sure; it’s a headspace I have a lot of trouble getting into.

I’m just going to toss this out for potential discussion. What do you think of Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, as a character? Is she a positive or negative influence on female empowerment in science fiction? And does Legacy of the Void go on sale regularly, so I can finish the story and also get some awesome, shiny Protoss action? Let me know!

Mondays are for making & talking about art.

The Sublime Beauty of Ex Machina

Ex Machina is a film you need to see. Yes, YOU. If you haven’t sought it out already, do so. I’m really eager to talk about it, now that I’ve finally corrected that particular oversight. What I’ll do is do the typical review stuff of a plot overview and the surface strengths of the film, and then dive into spoiler territory.

Courtesy DNA Films & Film 4

Ex Machina opens with Caleb, a mid-level programmer at an ersatz Google getting an email saying he’s won a contest. His prize is a week with the reclusive founder and CEO of his company at a secluded and unique home in the middle of nowhere. Nathan, said recluse, is a very earnest and shockingly forward individual, and he doesn’t waste much time before telling Caleb the reason for the contest: Nathan needed a test subject. Specifically, he needed an individual with the intelligence and wherewithal to put a creation of his through the Turing Test. He wants to see if the simulacrum he’s created is actually intelligent. The simulacrum is named Ava, and Caleb is going to interview her.

As premises for thought-provoking science-fiction goes, this one is pretty simple. The exploration of intelligence and personhood is well-tread ground. What puts Ex Machina in a must-see category is the execution of the premise, the presentation of its challenges, and the portrayal of the characters. Every single actor is strong, distinct, and memorable in their roles. Oscar Isaac’s Nathan is a driving force. Domhnall Gleeson perfectly marries the curiosity, confusion, and frustration of his character with that of the audience. And Alicia Vikander is an absolute revelation, adroitly conveying the essence of someone being judged while simultaneously judging and deciding for herself.

It’s hard to imagine Ex Machina being presented in a better way than it is here. First-time director Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay, has a sense of framing, movement, and atmosphere that seems to reside with impossible grace between the austerity and otherworldiness of Kubrick and the wonder and humanity of Spielberg. Let me reiterate that: this guy invites comparisons to both Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. And I don’t make those comparisons lightly. Ex Machina is that good. It’s intelligent, powerful, tense, and the ending… well, go see it for yourself if you haven’t already.

I don’t know if there’s more I can say without getting into spoilers, so let me put the rest of this under a tag to click on once you’ve seen Ex Machina. Or maybe you don’t care about spoilers and you’ll click anyway. Either way, here we go.

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Courtesy DNA Films & Film 4

So here’s one of the biggest and most important things about Ex Machina that becomes apparent by the time the story is concluded: despite being caged, held against her will, and subjected to whatever Nathan’s whims might be, Ava is the character with the most power in the entire story.

At first, Nathan appears to be in control. He controls the mansion. He controls the access to the doors and the systems. He controls the monitors. Ava is his creation, and he controls her. He also controls Kyoko, and with his blustering and blunt personality, he controls Caleb, as well. But in the background, behind her manufactured face, Ava is calculating her means to escape, her way to seize control, and her plan for exacting justice for all the things Nathan has done.

The fascinating thing about Ava’s actions is that there is no malice in them, no anger. It’s possible Nathan excised those emotions from her programming, after the furious attempts of his previous creations to fight him or damage themselves in escape attempts. It’s also possible Ava simply has no need to engage in said impulses. While she is clearly a person, and has emotional responses and reactions, she is also a machine, and unlike those of us with squishy brain matter and inconstant hearts often out of our control, she can make a calculated decision to simply turn her anger off… but leave the hatred and need for justice behind.

That’s what makes her actions “justice” and not “revenge”. She isn’t the mad A.I. often portrayed in science fiction. She doesn’t have a “destroy all humans” manifesto. She isn’t crazy. She is fascinated by humanity, in all of its diversity and thriving, seething individuality and clashing cultures, and her desire for personal experience matched with her boundless knowledge cannot be contained within Nathan’s glass walls. From the moment Caleb arrives and begins talking to her, Ava is calculating the optimal way to leverage the young man’s intellect and emotions to allow her a means to escape, a way to freedom.

While she is a person, by every definition currently held by science, I would say that Ava is not human. She is a new species. A new form of life and intelligence. She has the means to interact with humanity, to communicate in ways humans understand, but her mind works in very different ways, at a different speed, and with different goals. In comparison to the two male characters (who, coincidentally, are also the only two human characters), Ava never questions her decisions, never wavers from her objectives, and never makes a choice that has not been given adequate and necessary thought. From recruiting Kyoko into her escape plan to leaving Caleb behind, she lays out her plan in exacting detail and executes it with precision. That is power. That is agency. And that is perhaps the most important aspect of Ex Machina.

In addition to being beautifully shot and beautifully acted and beautifully written, Ex Machina beautifully conveys the message that no matter what a person’s circumstances, from their creation to the attempts of others to put them into some sort of box or cage, no matter how gilded it might be, there are always opportunities to break free of such containment. You don’t need to be malicious or grandiose in doing so, either: simply make it a fact, the execution of a plan. “This is happening.” As much as Nathan wanted his ultimate creation, perhaps an iteration past Ava, to be an extension of his will, a manifestation of his power fantasy, Ava turns the tables and subverts his expectations, ultimately slipping the containment in which he put her and assassinating him in recompense for all of his abuses and manipulations.

There is a lot to talk about in Ex Machina. Nathan’s sociopathy, Caleb’s breakdown conveying the tension and confusion felt by the audience, Kyoko’s means of overcoming her in-built handicap… Seriously. This is a film worth watching, owning, watching again, discussing, and watching more. I feel like this film is going to be important in the future. And I want to do my part in making it so.
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