Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Short Story: You Just Can't Get the Staff These Days

[Foreword: This is a story about what happens to two low-tier criminals when they try to pull off a hi-jack cum robbery, and one of the duo has been educated in a failing society with a stupefying education system and low-quality parenting (sound familar…?!) and so isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. The dim-witted criminal also happens to be black. This isn’t a racial sleight but merely a comedy gimmick which makes light of stereotypes. Other races, genders, and socio-economic groups have ‘dim-witted’ stereotypes, e.g. the dim-witted English aristocrat (cf. George in Blackadder), the peasant (cf. Baldrick in Blackadder), the working-class man from USA (cf. Homer Simpson), and also every ‘dumb-blond’ joke you’ve ever heard.

As with the other short stories on this blog, the setting is the science-fiction computer game world Frontier:Elite, but the details aren't important and the story can be read and understood without knowing anything about the game. It's just an environment to experiment with different ideas, like a proverbial 'sandbox world'.  A sandbox world is one that anyone can express themselves in without any consequences.]

You Just Can't Get the Staff These Days..

Location: A crater somewhere on Planet Williams, Sigma Draconis (An Independent System)
Date: August 3229

    "What the fuck an I doing 'ere?" Karl Crook (who looked un-cannily like Jason Statham) asked to no-one in particular.
    "Here I am, sat in a crater, on an bleak airless world, in a grubby second-hand space-suit, sat next to a numpty, waiting for Tiger Trader to fly over head so we can shoot it down and rob it. I should be sipping sambucas in the summer, sun-kissed, Seychelles by now. I should be wealthy. I should be tanned. I should be relaxed. And most importantly I should be retired."
    He was exasperated; it was the third attempted freighter robbery in nine months. Note the use of the word 'attempted'. Attempted and failed, all because of the incompetence of his partner in crime.

    The drop in quality of parenting and schooling in the Federation over the past generation had had a disastrous effect on the quality of the whole labour-force throughout the Federation owned planets. It wasn't just honest businesses like hospitals and engineering firms that had difficulty finding quality staff these days. Oh no. The criminal world was also suffering from a lack of competent employees. All of the criminal gangs were going under, not for want of goods to steal, because there was plenty of booty out there to rob (lots of gemstones, precious metals, fancy artwork, fashionable drugs; you name it, all ripe for the picking) their problem was that you just couldn't employ the quality of staff to do the job. It was nothing like the 'good old days' when criminals were expected to be motivated, computer literate, and skilled with a las-gun. The labour-force just didn't have the aptitude or attitude needed to commit any kind of crimes above the level of 'opportunist robber'. This wasn't a problem confined to 'big time' MAFIA organisations: Karl, a small time crook, was having this problem as well: He had to make do with an incompetent man, Blacky (named because he was..), as his partner in crime, until he could find someone with more skills and brains. That was something that didn't look like it would happen any time soon. So until then, Karl would have to make do with second-rate tools and second-rate people. C'est la vie.

    "What the fuck an I doing here?" Karl asked again to no-one in particular.
    "I ask myself that same question every mornin'". Blacky replied in a chipper voice.
    "I doubt that." Karl said in a drole tone.
    "Wotchoo mean by that man?"
    "Simple: you ain't got two brain cells to rub together."
    "Dat's harsh man. Harsh." Replied Blacky, slightly wounded.
    "Oh quit whining. And check the scanner again. Tell me what the ETA is on the freighter."
    Blacky shook his head in hurt. Then pushes a few buttons on a hand held scanner which displayed the whereabouts of nearby space-ships. "It's about two minutes."
    "Two minutes. Right." Karl exhaled. He picked up the SAM launcher that he would use to destroy the main thruster on the ship. The plan was to disable the ships electronics system with the ECM, and then destroy the main thruster with the SAM, which would cause the ship to crash-land somewhere nearby.
    Karl tightened his grip around twin-pistol grips of the triple-barreled SAM launcher, and looked down the scope into the horizon.
    "So, why you so harsh on me man? Wot's yo' beef wiv me?"
    "You're a dumb nigger. About the dumbest nigger I've ever had the misfortune of encountering. And I have to have you as a partner. A partner in a complex shipping heist when the best physiological apparatus you could need are brains; which you, my dear friend, do not have. You're about as much use as a chocolate fireguard; and twice as ugly."
    Blacky got defensive. "Oh fuck you man. Why d'you got to be racist on me for?"
    "Because you're thick. You're so thick that even the Black Nationalists on New Nigeria wouldn't complain about me calling you Nigger. And I've traded with them. Freely. I don't have a problem with race. I have a problem with 'wilful' morons. Which is exactly what you fucking are. Wilfully stupid. So don't you go call me a mother-fucking racist, 'cause that shit won't wash with me boy."
    "And why do I listen to you? I don't need to take yo' shit."
    "Oh yes you do. You need the money." Karl said matter-of-factly.
    "Fuck you I need the money." Retorted Blacky, still twitchy.
    "Yes you do. If you don't get it then you won't be able to pay your landlord, then you 'n' your sis' will be out on the street. She'll be hookin’ her fat-ass out for fifty cents a go, and snorting 'angel dust' on the side, and you'll be dealin' that shit out to every under age kid you can find. All because you can't run a simple household budget like a regular human being."
    "Dat ain't true man. I've been makin' some investments, and I think they're startin' to pay off. You could say dat my finances are lookin’ up." He said the last sentence in a chirpy optimistic tone.
    Karl burst his optimism like a pin to a rubber balloon. "Like fuck they are. You're idea of 'investments' is going down the bookies and using your 'system' to win at dog-racing. Which is why you're broke. You're neck-deep in the shit, and you know it. This here job is the silver spoon to get you out. So just keep your little brain in gear and focus on the job."
    "Dang man, you gotta put a downa' on everything all the time."
    "Oh, shut up." Karl said like a husband to a complaining wife.
    He looked through the scope on the SAM launcher. "Wait a minute. Something's coming over the horizon. This is it. This is what we've been waiting for. Get ready to disable their ECM when it get's within 10km. You can count to ten can't you Blacky? You don't have to take your socks off for that one.."
    "Fuckin' cracker bitch." He muttered under his breath as he punched some buttons on the ECM unit.
    Karl made a sly grin.
    The Tiger Trader ship approached over the horizon, and got closer to their position. It was travelling quite slow for a merchants space-ship, which was uncustomary.
    When it got within range, Blacky engaged the ECM which sent an electromagnetic wave which overloaded the computer systems on the Tiger, disabling it's electronics, and importantly it's defensive shielding.
    With the ship now vulnerable to attack, Karl targeted the SAM launcher at the main thruster on the Tiger trader and launched two of the missiles. They burst out of the SAM launcher and hurtled towards the ship.
    "Strike." Karl said.
    Without the main thruster to keep the ship in the air, the Tiger headed downward, ready to make an emergency crash landing. Without the main thruster in working condition, there was no chance that the Tiger could make a getaway.
    Everything was going to plan, so far. Now all they had to do was get to the crash site, and enter the next stage of the operation.
    "Right Blacky, forget the ECM, we don't have time for that now. We'll recover it on the return journey. Get in the back of the truck."
    Blacky did as he was told, and Karl got in the drivers seat of the second-hand cross-country truck, activated the motor of the vehicle and set off at a steady velocity towards the crash site.

    After a few minutes of driving, they had got within a hundred metres of the crashed Tiger. Karl stopped the truck just in a small meteorite crater, out of sight from the Freighter ship. The two of them got out of the truck. Karl took an assault rifle from the passenger seat, and an RC mosquito-drone unit from the foot-well. To stay out of sight, they got on their bellies and crawled up the side of the crater until they could see the rear end of the Tiger Trader.
    "Pay day's here at last." Karl said to himself. "You got that scanner Blacky?"
    "Uh-huh." Blacky dragged it up until it was infront of his face.
    "Great. Let's see where the crew-men are."
    Karl punched a few buttons on the scanner, and saw where the heat signatures of the human crew were.
    "Looks like they haven't moved from the cockpit yet. Damned handy."
    He opened the case to the mosquito-drone which he would use to deliver a dose of tranquilising gas into the ships cabin.
    The drone flew over the rocky surface of the planet to the side of the freighter, landed, and then bored a microscopic hole into it.
    "Hey man.." asked Blacky "won't they know that the drone is drillin' into their ship?"
    "No mate. The ECM should've disabled their radar and other sensors. They shouldn't be able to get them back online until the drone has done it's work."
    Blacky nodded.
    The drone finished drilling the hole, and injected the tranquilising agent into the ship. The agent quickly dissipated throughout the cabin and into the lungs of the three unsuspecting crewmen.
    "Bingo. Now it should be a matter of waiting for the drugs to work their magic, and then we can begin working ours."
    Blacky looked up at Karl, then back at the ship.
    Karl piloted the drone back to there position. Then packed it back away in it's case.
    After a few minutes, Karl checked the scanner. He saw three figures slumped on the floor, presumably unconscious from the gas.
    "They're out for the count. Should be snoozing for twelve hours, which will be long enough to load their cargo into our truck and make a getaway. Get in the truck and drive it over to the cargo doors of the ship. I'll crack 'em open and see what's what."
    Karl got up, picked up the assault rifle and made his way to the Tiger Trader.
    Blacky began pacing back to the truck.
    Karl stopped for a second and turned around.
    "Oi!" he shouted out. "Don't forget the scanner you dopey sod."
    Blacky stopped, turned around and shuffled back to pick it up.
    "I paid a hundred and fifty creds for that shit! So make sure you take good fuckin' care of it."
    He picked up the scanner.
    Karl stood with one hand on his hips. "And the drone box!"
    Blacky turned his head back. Looked down at the box, walked over to it and picked it up.
    "Fuck me!" He shook his head in disbelief. "You are a dopey son of a bitch."
    "Shut up cracker." Blacky said cuttingly.
    Karl shook his head and continued walking to the Tiger.
    He arrived at the Tiger's cargo door control panel. Pulled a lock pick device from one of his pockets and placed it on the control panel. After loading up the appropriate programme, it started to work. A visual interface showed the progress of the lock-picking in glorious technicolour.
    The truck trundled over towards the Tiger and stopped about 10 metres from it. Blacky got out and walked over to Karl.
    "You ready yet, cracker?"
    The visual interface on the lock pick turned orange; 50% completed.
    "And knock it off with that 'cracker' shit. Unless you wanna take a 'b-i-i-i-g' fucking pay cut."
    The lock-pick display turned yellow; 75% completed.
    "Capiche." Blacky begrudgingly said.
    The lock-pick display turned green; 100% complete. Lock picked.
    The doors hissed as some air escaped from within.
    "Open say's me."
    Karl took the lock pick off and put it back in one of his pockets.
    The doors slid open, showing the Tiger's capacious cargo hold.
    Blacky leaned over, and peered inside the dim space.
    "Let's see if Aladin's got the goods we came 'ere for."
    Karl picked up his assault rifle and brace it against his shoudler, in a ready position. He wasn't entirely sure that the cargo hold was empty. Better safe than sorry, so they saying goes.
    "Switch on your space-suit's ambient lighting, and you're helmets image enhancer. You wanna see where you're going don't ya?"
     "Oh yeah, yeah, right." Blacky pushed a button on his wrist, causing a few of the working light bulbs on his suit to fire into life.
     After walking in the cargo hold, and looking around it quickly became evident that the crates are not the type of rough 'n' ready precious metals crates that they expected them to be.
     "Shit." Cursed Karl.
     "What's up man?"
     Karl rested his assault rifle up against one of the crates, kneeled down and wiped some dust off of the ID tag on the crate.
    "This doesn't look like the goods we were expecting."
    Karl took a PDA out of one of his pockets and punched a few buttons on it. He loaded up a copy of a cargo manifest that he had stolen from the nearby Starport Customs Bureau.
    The cargo manifest had a list of the goods that he expected to be on this ship. This particular Tiger Trader. It was the reason that he had targeted it, because it had high value goods on it: Lithium, magnesium and other precious metals that he could find a blackmarket buyer for with relative ease. Metals were easier to sell on the blackmarket than finished goods, because they were harder to trace. You can't really trace a lump of magnesium if it's been melted down and reforged again. But you can track down DIVA Droids due to the VIN numbers they have dotted around inside them.
It had taken Karl three standard months looking, waiting, for the 'right' quarry to rob: The right ship to rob. And, alas, 'this' ship was not 'their' ship. It did not have 'their' cargo in it.
    "Shit. This is not good."
    "What's up boss?"
    "We've got the wrong fucking ship. That's fucking what. We've shot down the wrong fucking ship. That is not good. How the fuck could that happen?"
    He knelt down again and wiped off more dust from the crate ID tag, and began punching it's numbers into his PDA.
    Blacky looked at a computer console.
    "Hey boss, why don't we boot up their computer and see what their files say.
    "Because, my mentally challenged friend, the ECM you used disabled their electronics."
    "But we could..."
    "It would take an age to boot up their systems again, which is an age we do not have." He continued furtively punching away at his PDA.
    "So what're we gonna do?"
    "Do? We, I mean I, am going to contact my friend, Rex Merchant, who is an insider at the local starport, where 'this' ship probably came from, and see if he can tell me what is in 'these' crates we're looking at."
    Blacky frowned. "Why don't we just gedda crow-bar and open 'em up?"
    "They are designed to survive the perils of deep space." He pushed 'send' on his email message. "I don't think a crow-bar and several newton-metres of force are going to open them, do you?"
    "Now it's just a matter of wait thirty minutes and see."
    Karl sat down and leaned his back against one of the crates. Blacky followed suit.
    A few minutes of silence passed.
    'flash flash. flash flash.'  His PDA indicated a message had arrived.
    "That was quick." Remarked Erhl. He read the message, it was from Rex: 'Do NOT steal the crates under any circumstances. They contain Federation-Military artificial-organs for super-soldiers. The Fed will be on to you ASAP. Get out, NOW.'
    He cursed quietly. "Fuck."
     Blacky turned his head. "What's up?"
    "My fucking blood pressure that's fucking what." Karl hastily picked up his rifle and paced toward the cargo hold. Blacky followed suit.
    "Wadda you say?"
    "I said we need to get the fuck out of here right now. 'This ship' is an unmarked Federation Military vessel."
     Blacky's eyebrows shot up to the top of his head.
    "Yes my little negro friend, even 'you' can figure out this is 'not' good."
    "Oh shee-it!"
    "Let's get in the truck and get the ECM and get the fuck out of here."
    "I'm witchoo on that man."
    They made a run for it, not bothering to shut the cargo doors behind them.
    Jumping into the truck's cabin, they closed it's doors and made a bee-line back to the ECM as fast as the second-rate truck would take them.


* * *


    After they'd arrived back at the ECM and had finished loading it and the SAM launcher into the back of the truck, they noticed a Tiger Trader lazily flying over head. Puzzled, Karl looked at Blacky and Blacky looked at Karl. Then they both looked back at the ship, flying off into the horizon.
    "Is that what I think it is?"
    "I don't know what it is man."
    The Tiger continued off into the distance.
    A thought occurred to Karl.
    "Is that 'our' fucking ship?"
    "I said, is that 'our' fucking ship?"
    Karl, turned to directly face Blacky. "Hang on a minute. Did you double check the Registration number on the Tiger before you ECM'd it?"
    "Oh fuck." Karl sighed and shook his head. "You are one thick piece of shit Blacky. You know that?" He said in a frustrated tone.
    "Hey man!" His voice rose in defensive tones. "How was I ta know? Dem registration numbers all look the same ta me!"
    "I don't believe this! This is insane! Check a bog standard registration number, that's all you had to do! How hard can it be?!" Karl pointed at Blacky. "You're a complete fucking idiot!"
    Karl took one final look toward the Tiger Trader. He saw it drop over the horizon and disappear out of view, taking with it their hopes of a successful heist.
    Karl looked back at his partner, and was overcome by a wave of incredulity: 'How can a career-criminal be so stupid!?'.
    I'd love to ditch this guy and employ someone else, someone with skills and brains, someone who could actually pull off a successful heist. Wouldn't that be bliss? Wouldn't that be marvellous?! Just imagine it: a successful couple of heists, some cash in the bank, and then I can retire to the Seychelles for sun, surf, and Sambucas. But you know what? That ain't gonna happen. I'm never gonna be able to retire by 40; and do you know why? Because...
    You just can't get the staff these days.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Men of Yore: Joseph Aspdin

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Joseph Aspdin

Aspdin, Joseph (bap. 1778, d. 1855), cement maker, was baptized on 25 December 1778 in Hunslet, Leeds, the eldest in the family of five sons and one daughter of Thomas Aspdin, bricklayer of Hunslet, and his wife, Mary. Aspdin followed his father's trade of bricklayer and builder at Briggate, Leeds. On 21 May 1811 he married Mary Fotherby at Hunslet. They had two sons and five daughters, two of whom died in infancy.

Aspdin's experiments with cement making led him to apply for a patent, which was granted in June 1824, for ‘An improvement in the modes of producing an artificial stone’—the first patent to be granted which used the term ‘portland cement’.

Cement is the term in common use for a powder which hardens when mixed with water and is used to bind together aggregates of gravel and stone to produce concrete. In the second half of the nineteenth century portland became the most popular type of cement and it has been used in vast quantities for building and construction in all parts of the world. In Aspdin's day cement manufacture was undergoing relatively rapid development and many experimenters were working in the field. Aspdin took the name for his patent material from portland stone, which had a high reputation and provided a standard with which artificial products would naturally be compared. To produce the high strengths associated with modern portland cement it was necessary to burn at high temperatures finely pulverized lime with clay in certain proportions, and grind the product. It is uncertain when Aspdin made this breakthrough. He may have used a glasshouse kiln, which would be more likely to reach the high temperatures required for successful burning of portland cement than the lime-burning kiln used by his competitors. There was a glassworks at Hunslet at this time and a glassworks and foundries at Wakefield.

Aspdin set up a partnership in 1824 with a neighbour, William Beverley, as ‘patent portland cement manufacturers’, operating from Leeds and Wakefield, to where Aspdin moved, and later expanded to an agency at Liverpool. The partnership ended in 1837, and Aspdin recommenced manufacture with his two sons, James and William, at a nearby site in Kirkgate, Wakefield, and took James into partnership three years later. When Aspdin retired in 1844, James continued the business.

William Aspdin moved to London in 1841, forming a succession of partnerships to make portland cement at Rotherhithe, Northfleet, and Gateshead upon Tyne in England, and Hamburg in Germany. It appears that his father deliberately excluded him from the family business, but despite this William was an enthusiastic advocate, often with exaggeration, of the superior qualities of portland cement.

Aspdin died at his home in Hansons Terrace, Wakefield, on 20 March 1855 and was buried in St John's churchyard, Wakefield. A tablet to his memory was unveiled in Leeds town hall in 1924. 

Concrete is often derided as a building material because of the poorly designed and un-aesthetic buildings that have been built out of from the 1950s onwards (both in the tower blocks of the Communist East and the shopping centres of the Capitalist West).  However that is not the fault of concrete, or the men who conceived it, but rather the architects who made poor use of it.  It is an outstanding and versatile building material as we can see practically everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.  It can be manufactured easily (Aspdin made the first Portland cement in his kitchen), shaped easily to suit many many purposes easily, and easily recyclable when it's lifecycle has ended.  You can't ask for much more than that from a building material!

It should also be noted that while Aspdin is credited with being the inventor of Portland Cement he is one link in a long chain of men who made their own unique innovations (as personal, individual discoveries) and thus contributions to the development of cement, men who lived before Aspdin and came after him as well, one link in an important chain that stretches on to this day and potentially in to the future.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Game/PUA as a Placebo

How does Game/PUA theory cause men to have increased success in having casual sex with women (assuming that it indeed does work)?

Possibly because it acts like a placebo does: it's the belief that Game works that is enough to imbibe the neophyte individual with enough confidence in them to believe that he will succeed with his goal of having sex with a woman. So in this manner, it's not the theory, the practice or anything else to do with the practice of Game that causes him to succeed, it's the 'belief' of success that is associated with Game/PUA that will cause him to succeed.

It's like someone giving you a sugar pill to cure your headache and telling you that it is made using the latest scientific know-how and expertise. You'll believe it because it has the appearance of credibility, and then your headache will magically go away, although you could have cured the headache yourself by simple belief.

It's also like a man with letters before and after his name, wearing a white lab coat, a pair of glasses, and a beard telling you that Global Warming is real. It's the illusion, the belief that the man in the white lab coat inspires within you that causes you to believe that it's true. Global Warming isn't true, natural solar cycle and localised environmental modification (pollution, deforestation etc) are true, and it's these that are causing the continual change in regional and global climate. It's the appearance of credibility that causes you to believe the man, rather than question him and determine the truth for yourself.

There's no doubt that some elements (either theory or practice) of Game are actually objectively true, Hypergamy for instance, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it is just the placebo effect of the whole PUA/Game culture that causes potential clients/adherents to have an increase in success. And so remember that it's not Game that you need in order to succeed with women, it's just that you need belief. And belief is something that you get from yourself, not from anyone else, be they in a scientific lab coat, effete-dandy coat, or business suit. Get belief from within yourself and determine what's true for yourself.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

Men of Yore: Peter Henlein

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Peter Henlein (A Franz Meiss Statue in Nuremburg)

Peter Henlein (also spelled Henle or Hele)[1] (1485 - August 1542), a locksmith and clockmaker of Nuremberg, Germany, is often considered the inventor of the watch.[2][3] He was one of the first craftsmen to make small ornamental taschenuhr, portable clocks which were often worn as pendants or attached to clothing,[4] regarded as the first watches. Many sources also erroneously credit him as the inventor of the mainspring.[1][5][6][7]

Little is known about Henlein's life. He apparently apprenticed in his youth as a locksmith. At the time, locksmiths were among the few craftsmen with the skills and tools to enter the new field of clockmaking,[8] and Henlein also became a clockmaker. On September 7, 1504, he was involved in a brawl in which a fellow locksmith, George Glaser, was killed. He sought asylum at a local Franciscan monastery, where he stayed for four years, until 1508. In 1509 he became a master in the city's locksmith guild.[2] He became known as a maker of small portable ornamental spring-powered brass clocks, very rare and expensive,[2] which were fashionable among the nobility of the time. These were sometimes worn as pendants or attached to clothing,[9] and so may be considered the first watches, although at over 3 inches long[4] they were bigger than the first true pocketwatches which appeared about a century later, and were not able to fit in pockets. He is mentioned in the city's records as the supplier of small spring-driven clocks, which were given as gifts to important people.[2] He was supposedly the first craftsman to build clockworks into "Bisamkopfe", small containers fashioned from precious metals for fragrances or disinfectants.[2] For example a Nuremberg paper records that in 1524 he was paid 15 florins for a gilt musk-ball watch.[10] He also built a tower clock for Lichtenau castle in 1541, and was known as a maker of scientific instruments.[2]
Henlein's fame is mostly due to a passage by Johann Cochläus in the 1511 Cosmographia by Pomponius Mela:[1][2]
Peter Hele, still a young man, fashions works which even the most learned mathematicians admire. He shapes many-wheeled clocks out of small bits of iron, which run and chime the hours without weights for forty hours, whether carried at the breast or in a handbag
His reputation as the inventor of the watch came after his rise to popular consciousness in the 19th century, through a novel by Karl Spindler, Der Nürnberger Sophokles.[2] This was made into a 1939 film, and his likeness appeared on a 1942 German stamp.[2] However, although he was a notable and talented clockmaker, there were other clockmakers making small clocks at the time,[3][8][10] and no contemporary source from his time credits him with inventing anything.[2] The mainspring which made portable clocks possible, often attributed to him,[1][5][6][7] actually appeared in the early 1400s, almost a century before his work.[11][12] Perhaps the most that was said of him by his peers comes from Johann Neudorfer in 1547 shortly after his death:[2]
This . . . Henlein was very nearly the first of those who invented how to put small clocks into little boxes.

Being able to accurately know the time is something we take for granted in modern life.  After all clocks and timepieces are everywhere: wrist watches, wall clocks, i-pods, radios, clock-towers, parking machines, bus stops, railway stations, etc etc.  But someone had to first conceive of a mechanical device that could tell the time, Peter Henlein was one of those men.  He may not have been the first clock maker nor made any great innovations in clock-making but he did design and make small clocks that could be easily carried around, thereby making the clock a more practical device; a device that could be used in a number of geographical locations rather than being fixed to one particular spot.  Which is useful in the same way that many things are more useful when they are mobile rather than stationary (e.g. engines/motors, communication devices, computers etc).


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Short Story: Ginger Kevin's Purple Moray

[Foreword: There's not much of a moral with this short story, it's just a bit o' fun about what happens when an interestellar trader ends up idolising a ship that he wants.  He ends up purchasing one with several defects, including an effeminate colour scheme.  Later on this leads to an encounter with a cliched 'macho man' who takes offence at anything vaguely feminine in his pub.  I suppose that's a problem, one of many, with idolatry: it causes you to see the thing with rose tinted glasses rather than seeing it as it is - with it's pros and cons.

As with the other short stories on this blog, the setting is the science-fiction computer game world Frontier:Elite, but the details aren't important and the story can be read and understood without knowing anything about the game.  It's just an environment to experiment with different ideas, like a proverbial 'sandbox world'.]

Ginger Kevin's Purple Moray

Location: Irkutsk Orbital Station, the Alioth System.
Date: February 3251

    'Why oh why did I buy a purple Moray Starboat?' Kevin thought to himself as he sat at the counter at the 'Wandering Bashkort's Bar'. He had just arrived at the Irkutsk orbital station, in the Alioth system, after a long voyage from the Ioveso system where he had bought the Moray. Kev rested his elbows on the counter and massaged his temples. A moment later, he looked down at a tumbler in front of him that was full to the brim with 'Super Strength Kumiss' - some distilled Turko-Russian drink, or so he had been told by the barman who was selling it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that walked in there. Mind you, the grim taste of the milky alcoholic beverage was the last thing on his mind.

    For the last couple of months, Kevin had been searching high and low, scouring the independent systems of the Northern frontier, desperately trying to find a Moray Starboat. His ship at that time was a Gecko. It was a great ship for long distance travel, which was useful to small time couriers like Kev. But it was highly ineffective when it came to combateering. This was because the Gecko was a small ship which could only hold one measly missile, a solitary shield generator, a prissy pulse laser, and enough fuel for a one way trip. In contrast a Moray could hold around five shield generators, four missiles, a whopping great beam laser, plus enough fuel to make several emergency getaways. A Moray was just what Kevin wanted. But where ever he went, from shipyard to shipyard, no matter how underpopulated or overpopulated, remote or connected, technophobic or technophilic the system was, he could never find that ship. There was always a Cobra, a Viper or an Adder for sale, but never a Moray.
    The Gecko was a ship that he had 'inherited' from his former boss, Adnan Escobar: a gun running, drug dealing profiteer from way down South, around the Beandce system. Escobar, he had been told, had 'gone missing' on a business deal somewhere, and no one had seen him since. This was not particularly surprising since the man had been trading with brigands, pirates, terrorists etc, who would and could easily kill a man for no better reason than a sideways glance, or a frown at the wrong time. Such people are very sensitive about their status, their so called prestige or 'honor', and don't take kindly to those who show them disrespect. After all the individuals position as 'pack leader' is largely dependent on them 'keeping face' and ruling over a mob of equally violent psychopaths. Thus it wouldn't have surprised Kev if his boss had been killed by one of these characters during a business deal that had turned sour.
    Following his boss' death, Kevin, as the vice president of the company (a role that he had served in name only), had taken command of the business (which was called 'Escobar Enterprises'): a few warehouses and offices, half a dozen retail outlets, a few planet-side shuttle craft and a Gecko interstellar ship. He let the gun running and narcotics dealing part of the business fall by the wayside, and focused on the legal, peaceful, elements of the business: principally selling consumer goods in the Ackedze and Beandce systems, as well as some import-export trade and haulage. A year later, the old customers finally stopped hounding him to sell them weapons. So, with the business now secure and growing slowly, Kev decided to take a gamble: he would liquidate some assets and buy a second Gecko so he could fly northward in search of new business opportunities, while leaving his business partner to keep the company running while he was away.
    Kevin headed Northbound: passing through the Empire, the Federation and finally arriving in Alliance territory. On the route he encountered many more of the macho bully boy types that he had had to deal with back in Ackedze. This time though they were not in lightly armed trader ships but heavily armed combat craft. And instead of engaging in trade in a semi civil manner (by exchanging goods for cash), they were intent on killing him and scavenging the remains of his ship. The more extreme end of the macho scale weren't even interested in the potential booty they could get from the carcass of their defeated foe. Oh no. Their only concern was to tally up as many kills as possible. Like some lothario who is always on the prowl to carve the next notch into his bedpost. They always want one more lay, one more kill, to up their rating.
     It was during these numerous stressful battles against pirates that Kev had realized that he needed to get a superior ship. He needed more shield generators, more missile pylons and a bigger laser. He flicked through a copy of 'Jane's Guide to Interstellar Ships' and set his heart on a Moray. It quickly became an obsession; and he wouldn't be satisfied until he finally owned one. Alas, finding a Moray is a much harder than you might imagine. Shipyard after shipyard, planet after planet, system after system, and still he hadn't found one. He was beginning to wonder whether he would ever get his hearts desire.
    Then, one average day in Aachen Town (Alioth), struck by a hunch, he filled up his Gecko's fuel tank and decided to fly off to a nearby system. His destination of choice was the technologically backward, religio-socialist system of Ioveso. An unlikely choice for a prospective ship owner. But his hunch paid off. He walked into the local second hand shipyard, and there it was! A Moray! A second hand Moray Starboat! 'Thrill of thrills!' Joy of joys!' Overcome with desire, he pounced on the ship like a Cheetah at a Thomson's Gazelle. Like a thirsty man who'd been walking through a desert for weeks and finally stumbled across a muddy, pest ridden Oasis. He didn't care for the quality of the water. The quality of the ship. It was this desperation that was his undoing. In his fit of enthusiasm, delirious with desire, Kevin had forgotten to engage his brain before he signed the deal with the used ship salesman. The result of this was that he forgot to sell any of the Geckos additional components: Naval Standard ECM, shield generator, various computer systems etc etc. All of which totalled up to around thirty thousand credits. This was a huge sum of money; and was the equivalent of about nine standard months of hard, very dangerous, work for a second rate courier like Kev.

    He put his chin on his hand and sighed at the thought of all those credits mindlessly thrown away. 'What a drag'. The second hand Moray wasn't even kitted out with some basic navigational systems. He'd had to fly the blasted thing back to Irkutsk on manual ie without an autopilot. A task that required the pilot to be awake almost constantly, so he could make minor alterations to the trajectory and velocity of the ship. The only saving grace was that Alioth's deep space was totally pirate free. And this was thanks to the effective Alliance police and military.
     'Five days and nights with barely no sleep. Or should that be 'barely any sleep'? Grammar was never my strong point. Or is syntax? Oh I don't know. My brain's gone to mush. Man, I need to get some sleep, badly.'
     He took another sip of the potent liquor, and pulled a face at the strong aftertaste. "Good grief this is strong stuff!" he croaked to himself in a hoarse voice.
     "It's distilled from Mares milk lad. Put hairs on yur chest that will." said the thick-mustached barman as he passed buy on his way to serve another customer.
     'Mares milk! What a ridiculous thing to say!' Kevin thought, 'How on Titan can you milk nightmares? I know dream-reader contraptions can do a lot these days, but that's taking the biscuit! What are you supposed to do exactly? Capture them, ferment them, and then distill them! What a barmy notion. Mind you, it would explain the aftertaste.' He took another sip of it to reassure himself of how bad it tasted. Ick. He shuddered at the taste. 'Anything to take my mind off that darned colour.' He shook his head just visualizing it. 'Of all the possible colours in the universe, and it just happens to be purple'. So he took another sip of the 'Super Strength Kumiss'.
     Just then the front entrance to the bar opened. A few footsteps were heard, and the noise from background conversations fell to near silence. Kev didn't take much notice, he was too engrossed in his drink and bemoaning buying a poorly kitted out purple Moray: 'The only Moray I stumble across, in all of the known galaxy, and it has to be in the technophobic Ioveso system of all places. Marvellous. Just marvellous.'
     Then, a gruff voice sounded from near the entrance to the bar: "So then, which one of you is the mincer with the purple.."
     That caught Kevin's attention. His gaze lifted up from the tumbler in front of him to the drinks cabinet behind the bar. 'Oh dear'.
     "..Moray starboat. With the registration number.."
     'Please let there be another purple Moray starboat here in one of the other five docks.  Please.'
     He dropped his head in his hands in despair. 'Ah nuts'
     "..parked in docking bay three. I don't much appreciate nancy boys round on our turf now do I boys?"
     'Great, a macho bully boy who's probably touchy about his own sexuality. Just what I need.'
     Kev slowly brought his feet from under the bar, and placed them flat on the floor, before standing upright. This caused his heavy stool to noisily scrape across the floor, immediately, and intentionally, drawing attention to himself. The rest of the customers in the bar remained quiet.
     Kevin picked up his tumbler of Kumiss and turned around to face the man who wanted to meet him. Wrong. Three men. Not exactly small either. Squinting slightly as he surveyed the burly man and his two sidekicks, Kev replied: "That would be me then." He took four steady paces toward the man, just out of arms reach. Kevin was desperately trying to think on his feet, wondering how he could come out of this encounter with at least two ribs still intact.
     Kev put on his best Aristocratic English accent and said with a raised eyebrow: "I'll have you know, my good man, it's not purple actually. It's a very delicate shade of Imperial lilac, with specks of autumnal lavender."
    Kevin tried to make the colours seem as effeminate as he could. His instincts seemed to tell him that he should rile these men up, try to make them blind with rage. Then at least their anger would impede their ability to think clearly. That way Kev could make a move or two without the risk of them blocking him. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be having the desired effect on his opponents, who stood in front of him with pseudo 'hard men' looks on their faces. So he continued,
     "And, as a matter of fact, it is for my good friend Julian Cecil Smythe. With whom I am on the most intimate terms." Still no response from them. So Kevin added one final push: "You should come and meet him my dear fellow, he likes rough miner types, and you'd certainly like him. He has the softest smoothest skin you could possibly imagine."
     That had the desired effect. The fat man in the centres face nearly blew up with fury. Kev decided to make his move: He threw the contents of his tumbler in the face of the central man to blind him temporarily. The dark skinned guy on the left saw this and began to draw his fist back, ready to strike Kevin. Kev countered quickly: he thrust the tumbler hard into the face of the dark man practically blinding him. Then, seeing his opportunity, with a swift blow with his right elbow, Kevin knocked the central man in the throat, catching his adams apple before he could wipe the Kumiss out of his eyes. The burly man crashed to the floor. The last man, shocked, but not scared by the events lunged at Kev. But Kevin was ready for him, and thrust a right handed punch deep into the guys solar plexus, winding him and sending him to the floor.
     He stood amidst the three incapacitated bodies and exhaled deeply.
     Kevin looked over the three men on the floor to be certain they were out of the fight. Gaining awareness of his situation, he surveyed the eyes of the customers in the bar to see their reactions. Were there any more fights coming his way? Any hostile eyes staring daggers at him? No, niet, nada, not a thing. He took one last glance down at the men on the floor before reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a coin, a pieza del octa - common currenc - and flicked it onto the counter.
     "That should pay for the drink." he said matter of factly to the barman.
     Turning around to face the entrance to the bar, Kev decided he should make a rapid exit, before his three new chums regained consciousness. Walking out of the doorway, Kevin heard a voice from a darkened corner of the bar speak out to him in a thick Mexican accent: "Hey gringo! You pretty tough for a nancy boy no!? Did you get those pusillanimous powers when you bought your purple ship? Maybe I should get my ship painted purple too, then I could kick some sorry puta's ass!"
     A few men chuckled at the absurd suggestion. Kev turned his head and looked at the man and said in his fake aristocratic-English accent:
     "It's not purple my good man. It's a delicate shade of Imperial Lilac, with specks of autumnal lavender."
     That joke went down like a plutonium balloon on a high-G planet. There was no laughter from the crowd this time. No noise. Not so much as a snigger. Just the 'zap' sound as a stray fly got vaporized by a UV lamp fly-trap. All Kevin saw looking back at him was a bunch of grizzly faces, blazing eyes, nervous ticks and yellowed teeth, which indicated that the scene could quickly turn nasty. He thought better than to correct the man by telling him that he wasn't actually a nancy boy. 'No point in pouring deuterium into the reactor' he thought. So Kev swiftly vacated the bar and headed off toward the space stations dock, hoping he could avoid any more encounters with the locals, or the police for that matter, on the way.

* * * * *

     As he walked up to the front desk of the space-station dockyard, he saw a number of monitors behind the front desk which displayed live footage of all the docking bays; including his Moray. After speaking to the receptionist, Kevin stepped into an elevator that would take him to dockyard number three, and his ship; muttering as he did so: 'Why oh why did I buy a purple Moray Starboat.'