Springingtiger's Blog


The Glasses For It

 February is Steampunk Hands Around the World month hosted by the Airship Ambassador. The theme this year is Making Life Better. I have chosen the category ‘Personal Issues’ because Steampunk has added so much to my personal enjoyment of life.

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You should come along, you’ve got the glasses for it!” said my friend Brian as he informed me that the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society was going to participate in the Glasgow (Scotland) Style Mile Winter Parade. I hadn’t heard of the Style Mile and the existence of Steampunk as a thing had escaped me. A little explanation left me wondering how it had escaped me. I had the glasses, I also had a long association with waistcoats, cravats, bow-ties, hats and other sartorial eccentricities. I was at school when William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton were ‘The Doctor’. My school reading tended to be HG Wells, Kipling, H. Rider Haggard and Michael Moorcock as well as The Eagle and the Rover and Wizard. I loved the cartoons of Charles Addams and Heath Robinson. The school film club brought us films like The Time Machine, 2000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Centre of the Earth. However Steampunk had never impinged upon my consciousness.

I had accidentally retired early when I was made redundant at the age of sixty. I had time on my hands and so I wrapped a top hat in holly, put on my naval greatcoat, picked up my carved Indian walking stick and joined GUESS on the parade. I was unprepared for just how much fun I would have and how much entertainment we would give the public just by walking among them. I was easily persuaded to attend RaiCon a few weeks later, I had never considered going to a Comic Con previously and I had a marvellous time. Cosplay is another concept that had largely escaped my notice, but what a lovely welcoming group of young (well compared to me) people they are and they seemed delighted to have a bunch of Steampunks wandering around the Con.

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The Society’s annual general meeting came around and inevitably I went along and left at its end, the ‘Chief Engineer’ (Club Secretary) of the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society. No longer just a pensioner, but a pensioner with a purpose (besides my writing that is). As a representative of Steampunkery and of the Society I threw myself into Steampunk. I had been up until that point an E Bay virgin, but building a Steampunk wardrobe for every occasion can prove costly and I was on a small pension. I not only learned to use E Bay, but became a frequenter of charity shops and antique shops. I was forced to become creative and gradually more adventurous. I began by camouflaging with cogs, burn holes in a used Morning Coat. It was not too long before I had sewn myself a leather coachman’s hat from a bag of scraps bought online. I learned, as I went round charity shops, to look at things differently; I learned to see things not as they were, but as what they could be. Sometimes I bought things merely because they looked as if they could become something amazing even if I could not yet see it. I have even been on a workshop to learn how to use a sewing machine!

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I went online seeking ideas and inspiration on You Tube, Facebook and Google Plus, there are so many of us in cyberspace! Steampunks are very helpful and encouraging and some I call my friends even though we may not yet have met, and some I have. I was amazed to discover how large a community we are and how widely dispersed around the world. I was delighted to discover that many are ̶ like myself ̶ on the autism spectrum, finding in Steampunk an ideal outlet for their imaginations. I find Steampunk is a wonderful vehicle for communicating with the world and building a web of relationships. I now edit a quarterly (ish) online newsletter for the Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society. From the last issue we have started to produce it in association with the Music City Steampunk Consortium of Nashville, Tennessee and hope to have increased participation from them as time goes on.

dscf2236There is something magical and inspiring about the internationalism of Steampunk. I went alone to the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln last year and had no problem communicating with complete strangers from all around the world. Those who understand Aspergers will appreciate how important that is. However I did not feel as if I were among strangers, I felt very much at home (in the evenings I was staying with my brother outside Lincoln which probably helped too).

There is so much to discover in Steampunk, culture, fashion, art, music, literature, amazing events. My days are never dull despite retirement. Also it opens the door to so many other new interests. In Glasgow we have the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall, the world’s oldest operating music hall and I have become a volunteer in its struggle to preserve a unique cultural institution. I used to study medieval history when I was younger, now I find myself looking at the history of the Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians to inform my Steampunkery and of late I’ve been looking at the American West in the Nineteenth Century in a way I never did before (Bass Reeves…wow!)

Here I am in my sixties, on the Spectrum, with a whole new and exciting life open to me. I had expected, once the work dried up, to spend my time at home reading and writing and growing old. Now I’m like a child in some sort of brass and copper built Disneyland with a new wonder around every corner, a new adventure over the brow of every hill. Someday I may die by chronological inevitability, but I doubt if I shall ever grow old!

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Death and the New Year.

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Two days into Twenty Seventeen and we’ve already had the terrorist shooting in Istanbul and another mass shooting at a new year’s party. We are being told that a terrorist attack on British soil is inevitable. Am I worried? Surprisingly not in the slightest.

When I say I am not worried I mean I’m not worried about a terrorist attack. Statistically we are all in a lot more danger from dying as a result of an air crash or road accident than at the hands of a terrorist. I am far more concerned that our politicians are going to use the supposed threat of a terrorist attack to further curtail our liberties and to spy upon our every day activities. I am concerned that our politicians’ eagerness to reject the European Convention on Human Rights will undermine the Good Friday Agreement and expose us to the possibility of renewed paramilitary violence in the North of Ireland and to bombings on the mainland. I am worried that withdrawing from the ECHR will provide the Westminster government with an opportunity to destroy the limited devolution settlement Scotland now enjoys and anxious that it will lead to a further diminution of employment rights. The threat of Islamic terrorism against targets in the UK is very low on the list of things that concern me. I see the rise of the Right and of post Brexit xenophobia as far more dangerous to the UK than Islamic extremism.

I have to admit that I can see no logical reason for fearing death. Death is inevitable and no amount of fear will prevent it, only an idiot fears it. On the other hand it is equally stupid to unnecessarily seek death, except possibly in the face of debilitating illness. The upset of bereavement makes a degree of sense, it is natural to be upset when we lose someone we love. However death is inevitable and we will inevitably lose people we love, everyone we know will eventually give up this physical body and move on to something else. There is little point in speculating what comes next because we can’t know until we get there, assuming there is anywhere to get to. If all that awaits us is oblivion then there is certainly no logical cause for fear.

Last year was marked by the deaths of many much loved celebrities as well as many less widely known benefactors of humanity in various fields, some of whom may have contributed more to the world in practical than even David Bowie. There is a meme on social media at the moment showing Bruce Forsyth saying “I made it, you bastards!” referring to the perception that Twenty Sixteen had been massacring entertainers; and, of course, there is the ever popular meme, “Breaking News: Keith Richard found alive!” The fact is that every year actors, musicians, academics, writers, politicians, and many other people well known in various fields will die and this year will be no exception. While our beloved celebrities are dying there will be many ordinary people dying from illness, war, the effects of the UK Government’s austerity measures, unjust sanctioning of the sick and disabled, road accidents, natural disasters and many other causes and most of us won’t even notice. No one life is worth more than any other, nor any less. Every life should be celebrated and every death marked with respect.

Many of us will die this year. Perhaps some of us by violence, hopefully not. The inevitability of our deaths is not cause for anxiety, nor upset. That we must die is an excellent reason for enjoying our lives to the utmost while we have them. We are all as capable of joy as we are of sadness, so why not choose to have fun? Our joy is not caused by our circumstances, but by how we relate to them. I don’t have any plans to die this year, but I’m not going to worry about the possibility which will be there every year until it isn’t (or I am not). My plan for this year is to live every second to the fullest, anything else is a waste of a precious gift. As for everyone else’s lives, I intend to celebrate them whether they are alive or not. Now I shall retire for the night and probably celebrate Leonard Cohen or Elvis perhaps. So many lives then and now and each (even the worst) carries a gift that deserves to be celebrated.



Chapter 24: Seacole
November 25, 2016, 01:15
Filed under: Health, Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

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From the Captain’s Log, Scourge of Space.

‘Lieutenant Cray’s party returned in Launch One after making a search of the Bug piloted by Cain. No trace was found of Jog although women’s clothes were found in the cabin. As per instruction Cray had not mentioned Jog and so did not confirm the clothes were hers.

He has reported a small case of platinum ingots on Cain’s possession worth about 20,000,000 Imperial credits, perhaps more.

Cray reported that his party had successfully placed a tracker on board the bug. Unfortunately when we activated the tracker it registered in our own crew’s quarters and was discovered in a canister of tea in the possession of Private Usha Bahadur. Cain had given her the tea.

Cray was at a loss to explain how Cain had removed the tracker as he had been with Cain the whole time and there was no one else on board.’

“I wonder if they’ve found their tracker yet.” I said scratching Little Fluffy’s head.

“It’s just as well you had the cats watching them.” Said Anya.

“It’s just as well humans don’t think of us as people!” Growled Muffet

“We do!” Objected Anya.

The cats had followed the soldiers as they searched and as the squad drank tea Fluffy had demanded to be fussed and dropped the tracker into my hand. When I discovered that one of the soldiers came from Jeelong an opportunity for disposing of the tracker occurred to me. Perhaps it might have been more sensible just to leave it in space, but nowhere as amusing.

Seacole was one of the largest hospital’s in Imperial space sitting at the junction of what was indisputably Imperial controlled space and the Outer Planets where the Imperial writ held less sway. Seacole was – by treaty – a neutral facility open to all, However in practice not everyone could avail themselves of the facility particularly if like Alabama they were effectively blockaded. In Alabama’s case the Imperial blockade was supported by many of the Independents which made it harder for the besieged planet to get support from the other militia planets. The Empire had expected the blockade of Alabama to bring about its surrender decades ago. but they reckoned without the stubbornness of inhabitants.

The people of Alabama tended to be dismissed as rednecks throughout the Empire. The truth is, they like their ancestors from old Alabama,Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia were bred to hardship and had learned over the millennia to survive hardships that would break ordinary people. It was said of them that the people of Alabama could get a crop off a cliff face. Despite the embargo the colony managed to feed itself on what it could grow and what it could smuggle. Unfortunately the people had more or less killed off the smuggling business because of their deep suspicion of outsiders, A lot of smugglers had never made it back from Alabama and that tended to disincline others from going,

If the Empire had expected the annual Swamp Fever to break the people of Alabama they had been disappointed. Every rainy season the Fever killed thousands, but every time the Empire had tried to invade on the back of the plague they had been frustrated by the guerilla fighting of a population where everyone learned to shoot as soon as they could hold a gun. The blockade never stopped the spread of guns, in the absence of imports the people made their own..

What with the swamps and the mountains Alabama wasn’t an easy planet to travel across. The locals either travelled by mule and horse or by Skimmers. These were effectively a cross between a hovercraft and a jet plane capable of hugging the ground at high speed or climbing to altitudes of thousands of feet. They were also highly manoeuvrable as they needed to be to navigate the New Appalachian mountains.

After a few attempts the Empire had given up trying to subdue the planet. They continued to try and starve Alabama into submission, but no one really expected it to ever happen.

One of the good things about Seacole is that while our presence would inevitably be reported to every government with a spy on the station, no one would interfere with us while we were there; not officially at least.

“So how many of DST went missing on Alabama?” I asked Anya as we waited in our room on Seacole for our tests to come back. Every arrival went through a mandatory health screening and we were no exception.

“Just six of our best,” she replied. “they were supposed to land undetected, analyse the general situation and get out. They never made their rendezvous.”

“I’m not sure what the problem is, surely even DST accepts it will incur some losses.

“The DST doesn’t leave people behind if there’s a chance they might be alive. However the big problem is that they were using one of our new stealth ships. It has the nearest we’ve ever got to a true cloaking technology. We know the rednecks are using it, because they’ve been showing up on other militia planets, we need to ensure they can’t share it.”

“Sounds to me as if their necks aren’t as red as people like to think!”

“Either way, it’s my job either to get the ship back or destroy it.” Declared Anya.

“Of course, you couldn’t have told me. This is what I hate about authority always lying, never straight. Worse still I keep falling for it! What if I refuse to help?”

“It’s my mission I can do it alone. The General expects me to do it alone.” Said Anya.

“Damn it,” I groaned, “I’ve come this far, I might as well see the damn thing through!”

She smiled and climbed into bed, I joined her.

The next morning after breakfast had been brought to our room a doctor and a nurse came to visit with our results. Anya was, they said, one of the healthiest specimens they had seen, but they would like to examine me further.

“Why?” I asked.

“We have discovered something in your blood we have never seen before and we’d like to study it.” I must have shown interest because the doctor continued, “You appear to have microscopic worms in your blood. However one moment they are there and the next moment, not. It is as if they flick between existing and not existing.” Answered the doctor.

“And you’ve never seen anything like it before?”

The doctor looked uncomfortable, paused, and then she replied, “We once found something not entirely dissimilar in a Shoggoth we dissected”.

“Perhaps I’m a Shoggoth!” I lifted my hands in front of my head and waggled my fingers, the doctor did not look amused, the nurse looked uncomfortable, but Anya looked ill.

“Don’t!” She snapped. “I’ve seen them up close…” she brought up her breakfast.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”

“No. You didn’t! I had them crawling all over that pod. Looking at me. Some of those tentacles have eyes, some are mouths. They were trying to get the pod open…” Anya began to cry. I didn’t know what to do, so I sat and held her, waving the doctor and nurse away.

After some time she calmed down.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered.

“No, I’m sorry. I was stupid.” I insisted,

“What do you mean, ‘was’?” She asked with a smile. I relaxed

“Lock the door!” She commanded.

A couple of hours later we showered and went to meet Sikorsky’s contact. To my surprise it was the doctor who had visited us earlier. She had, she told us, got the supplies ready for loading, Rather than waste time we had them loaded there and then.

“Right,” I said when the transfer was complete, “we’d better get clearance and get off.”

“I would like to study you further.” Said the doctor.

“I’m sure you would.” I replied.

“May I?”

“We’ll see.”

I could see the disappointment in her face as she watched us leave. We both knew I was never going to let her run further tests.



Chapter 22: Puritans, Perversion and Pharmaceuticals
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Not New Plymouth, but looks like it…a bit!

I think the correct term to describe New Plymouth would be ‘austere’. Its sombre undecorated architecture seemed to embody my preconceptions of puritanism. The pinch faced puritan women kept themselves covered from the tops of their heads to their feet in undecorated grey or black dresses. I cannot in all honesty claim that none of them looked happy, but the majority had a gloomy look upon their make up free faces.If the women were unappealing the men were every bit as unpleasant. I think the most positive thing I can say about the good men and women of New Plymouth is that they were unfailingly polite in a stiff and formal way.

Whereas the buildings in New Palestine tended to follow the general style of Colonial Utilitarianism the buildings of New Plymouth were obviously designed to recall the architecture of the Georgian period of Britain and her American colonies. The civic buildings were imposing with pillared porticoes, the churches not dissimilar, but generally having a spire. there was not a trace of stained glass to be seen. It was only when I realised that the court building lacked the statue of justice that it occurred to me that the town was devoid of statues, even the most worthy were celebrated only by occasional plaques upon the walls of the buildings. The nearest thing to a building devoted to leisure were the coffee houses, but there were no public houses or bars, no cinemas or theatres. It went without saying that there were no brothels in the town. The towns were for the Elect and Outsiders might only visit them during the hours of daylight.

At some distance from the settler’s austere towns could be found the settlements of the Outsiders. These settlements were looked upon by the Elect as veritable sinks of iniquity and every sort of vice. Periodically the Elders would order the settlements to be cleansed, but they inevitably grew back like the social cancer the Elect believed them to be. Because the Outsiders performed all the unpleasant work of the planet, that is to say all the manual work – other than horticulture which was considered holy – their settlements were tolerated. It was here that the respectable burghers cane stealthily after dark to indulge their baser desires, entertainment, sex, alcohol and drugs were all available provided by the smugglers who found it surprisingly easy to sneak past the planet’s defences.

We had been instructed to seek out one William Honesty Goodlove to arrange the disposal of our cargo of Astarte. Obviously we had believed the most likely place to find him would be in the Outsider settlements. However when we enquired we were directed to speak to a Madam known as ‘Sair Flaps’ Peggy. She seemed pleased to see us and produced from her desk a sealed letter.

I read the letter and passed it to Anya, “It would seem we must attend Mister Goodlove at his law offices in the morning, this evening belongs to us.”

We bought some fresh meat for the cats and left them in command of the Bug. If anyone tried to enter the cats merely had to hit the call switch on the communications console to recall us. We could also monitor the hull cameras from our communicators. We had an enjoyable dinner in a traditional pub called the ‘Mucky Duck’. I have to say with all my experience of Earth’s cultures I am at a loss to determine what tradition the ‘Duck’ belonged to. The meal was excellent, I suppose after Compo Rations you could argue anything might have tasted good, but this really was good and set us up nicely for an evening in the Music hall.

It was during the show at the Panopticon Music Hall that my communicator alerted me that the Bug’s proximity alarms had been triggered. We left immediately and Anya scanned the buggy for bombs and trackers before we set off at speed back to the ship. Triggering the alarm had turned on the Bug’s exterior lights and the cameras showed several men outside the ship. I spoke into my communicator and my voice was relayed through the ship’s speakers.

“Stand away from my ship or I will open fire. Stand back and state your business!”

One of the men replied, “We are here to search your ship for contraband.”

“And who are you?”

“New Plymouth Customs and Revenue.”

“Very well, come back in daylight and you’ll be welcome.”

“We require access now.”

“Then you’ll have to wait. We’ve called for city officials to come and secure the area.”

As I spoke I ordered BG 784 the Bug’s computer to open the anti personnel cannon and fire some warning shots. The gun dropped muzzle first from the Bug’s belly, levelled off and fired several shots into the ground between the men and the ship. They returned fire. One of the men aimed a rocket grenade at the Bug, but I had the gun lay down fire at him and the other attackers and they all dived for cover. Unfortunately as he turned to try and avoid the gun fire the man managed to fire the rocket grenade into the ground killing himself and several of his comrades. When we barrelled into the clearing in the buggy the remaining men ran which was just as well as Anya had readied the Gatling gun, as it was she fired off a few shots to encourage them to keep running. As we settled down for the night the cats went to investigate.

The next morning after the cats had reported the results of their investigation we searched the pockets of the bodies then covered them with brush and leaves before heading to the town to meet Mr. Goodlove. His offices were in a well appointed and imposing three story office building round the corner from the Courthouse. As Outsiders we drew some attention as we walked through the streets. Even though Anya had exchanged her usual slacks for a long skirt neither oh us could be taken for a local.

As we entered the building a guard in frock coat, britches and hose stopped us. Only the Alliance Webley Blaster in his holster showed he wasn’t a character from an historical drama.

“Can I help you?” He demanded with a contemptuous sneer which betrayed his opinion of Outsiders.

I responded, “I am Cain.” He dropped the sneer and inhaled. Anya added,

“Mr. William Goodlove is expecting us.”

“Please follow me. Sir, Ma’am?” He escorted us to a lift at one side of the marble hallway, rather than take us up the magnificent staircase. I noticed the badge beneath the control panels – Otis Elevators – if it was genuine the lift was an antique, but it worked well enough.

Goodlove’s office was on the top floor with views towards the Courthouse rear and across the roof of the adjacent building, to the main square. Like the rest of the town the office was devoid of figurative decoration, but its carpet was sumptuous and reached from wall to elegantly panelled wall. Goodlove was obviously a man who both appreciated and could afford luxury.

As we entered Goodlove came from behind his huge mahogany desk. He bent to kiss Anya’s hand – an action that surprised me – then shook me by the hand. He showed us to two armchairs, as luxurious as the rest of the room. When we were seated he called for coffee and until it was brought chattered about the weather and the dangers of space travel in the Outer Planets. At last he said,

“I gather you had some trouble last night?”

I took a sip of my coffee before responding. “I would like to know how you knew about that.”

“It’s my job to know things.” Goodlove replied.

“So it’s nothing to do with the two men who came back to the Town last night while the others went to the Outsider settlement?” I asked.

“You also seem to be well informed.”

“I am Cain, I also know things.”

“I could hardly have grown up here without knowing about Cain, but your reputation makes the scriptural account pale into insignificance. So you are immortal?”

“No.” I replied, “I am not immortal, I just haven’t died yet.”

“You have the cargo, obviously. Perhaps we should discuss delivery and payment?”

“We can bring it here.” I said.

“Now.” Added Anya. “This planet is dangerous after dark.”

“It is only after dark that this planet becomes truly alive!” Smiled Goodlove. “After dark when the sanctimonious hypocrites who call themselves ‘Elders’ creep off to taste the pleasures they pretend to deny themselves.”

“You should turn a good profit from your cargo then.” I ventured.

“Oh I don’t need money,” Goodlove replied, “I want them to reap the reward for their debauchery.”

“Karma!” Exclaimed Anya.

Goodlove frowned, “We don’t use language like that on New Plymouth…but you are correct, they will reap what they have sown! I need you to deliver the shipment to Peggys and she will pay you and supply you with a cargo to be taken to Brunswick Station.

“How did Peggy get the name ‘Sair Flaps’?” Anya asked.

“She made her fortune by putting the comfort of others before her own and she worked very hard.”

There was a slight pause then Anya covered her mouth with her hand, “Oh!” She exclaimed.

Goodlove picked up his telephone, “I shall call Peggy and tell her to expect you.”

“Remind her we will be armed.”

“Don’t worry. No one’s going to try anything stupid a second time.”

“I didn’t live this long by not worrying.” I muttered as I got up to leave.

It was obvious to me that Goodlove was up to something, but for the life of me I couldn’t work out what. Anya suggested that Peggy might give more away. So we loaded the buggy and drove to ‘Peggy’s Gentleman’s Club and Spa’. From outside it exuded a level of class unmatched by the rest of the Outsider’s Settlement. As Anya suspected she was more willing to talk than Goodlove had been.

Peggy had had a few drinks before we arrived and although as in control as ever was in a chatty mood and ready to brag about her son’s plans. We were surprised that such a pillar of the establishment as William Honesty Goodlove had a mother who ran a brothel, no matter how classy it may be. Peggy had as so often in these tragedies been a governess in an Elder family. The father of the family had forced his attentions on her and William was the result. William’s father denied his paternity and had Peggy whipped and thrown out of town. Unable to get respectable employment she turned at last to whoring and discovered a natural talent which coupled with her intelligence which William inherited and business acumen enabled her to build up a sizeable empire in the Outsider settlements and a substantial fortune. She had engaged the finest tutors for William, there were many men of ability who were happy to tutor the boy for considerably more than the Elders – notoriously parsimonious – were prepared to pay. She was content to use a little discreet blackmail to ensure her son received a scholarship to the University of New Plymouth. His mothers wealth had brought William the identity of a son of a respectable rural family and the surname of ‘Goodlove’ which his mother thought a witty touch. He graduated with a First in Law in half the time of a normal student and by the time those with whom William had gone up to University were graduating he had received his Doctorate.

Tonight William was holding a dinner in the Club for Peggy’s elite clientelle whose decanters were to be laced with Astarte. After spending the rest of the evening with her girls, many of the leading men of the town would be under the control of the only man who could supply their new addiction. It was only a matter of time after that, until he brought the planet under his sway and there would be changes. Once William could control Parliament he would introduce a bill to give citizenship to Outsiders and another to extend the right to vote to all citizens both male and female.

I observed that he would need to secure a regular supply of the drug to maintain his position. However Peggy said that once William’s reforms had become law there would be no further need to feed the addiction of his colleagues in Parliament. She took great pleasure in the prospect of those who had ill-used her succumbing to the insanity of Astarte withdrawal. I had thought earlier that I might have to take measures to prevent Goodlove’s plans, but when I heard them I felt it better not to interfere in the internal affairs of the colony and Anya agreed.

Peggy transferred a large payment of credits to my account. Anya’s account had been frozen after the robbery, but for some reason the cameras failed to catch a single image of my face. However I have several accounts and the payment would be dispersed among them as soon as I could reach the terminal in the Bug. Peggy then handed over the ‘cargo’. I prefer to call them passengers. They were two men and a woman all wanted for revolutionary activities within the Empire, including the assassination of the Emperor’s father. They were fleeing Imperial space and at the moment were hiding by keeping on the move.

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The Bug was going to be cramped. The three fugitives would have to share a cabin and the cats would have to bed down anywhere they could, which was no hardship as that is what they did anyway. The first thing to do was to find out where our fugitives wanted to go. I left that to Anya while I removed ourselves from New Plymouth Space. She came into the cockpit and told me they wanted to go to Los Alamos, New Texas.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” I exclaimed, “that’s the first place the Empire will look for them!”

“Apparently they were already on New Texas. A couple of marshals found them and told them to get to New Plymouth until the Empire had swept the planet. The Imperial fleet is headed for New Plymouth now to try and capture them.”

I called up the navigation charts of the space between New Texas and New Plymouth. To see which route the fleet was most likely to take. I reckoned we didn’t have a day before the fleet hit local space so I decided to dogleg my route. I headed away from New Plymouth keeping the planet between me and the route the fleet would take if it was in a hurry. We skirted the system’s sun close enough to feel its heat, but so close it would be impossible for even the trackers of the Empire’s Cruisers to detect us.

We had burned up more fuel than was useful breaking from the sun’s gravitational field and so I plotted a course for the Silas Deep Space Way Station for refuelling.

Tomkin Arupa the leader of the fugitives objected to going to Silas, “It’s an Imperial Station, you might as well shoot us here!”

“You’re not going to Silas,” I replied. “The bug carries four life pods so you three will use them. We shall leave you hidden in the debris field. Take the Bug to Silas, refuel and come back for you. It should take less than thirty six hours, the pods contain oxygen for forty eight hours, if you suit up that’ll give you another eight. On the fuel we’ve got the only places we can reach are under Imperial control. This is the only one where we’ll be able to hide you off ship. If you stay on board their scans will pick up your life signs.”

Eventually Tomkin and his associates, Mika Bulgaram, and Sula Canut agreed. What else could they do it was agree or be captured?

Space is full of junk, it wasn’t, but wherever humans go they leave rubbish. The Silas station originally was built to provide salvage facilities for salvage teams after the Battle of Silas. The planet Silas sat at the junction of several intergalactic trade routes and its people were fiercely Independent. The Alliance had thrown everything at the planet and the federation of Independent Planets had thrown everything into its defence.

The debris field was the wreckage of the two largest war fleets ever seen and the battle left both sides near to collapse. When the Koch Imperial fleet arrived on the side of the Alliance the Independents evacuated as many people from the planet as they could. The evacuation was cut short by the surface fighting which was brutal, frequently hand to hand and continued for weeks. Although the Alliance now controlled the air, they had no wish to destroy the facilities they had been fighting to capture. Gradually the last of the Independents fell back to the Castro Deep Mine and processing plant. When the fighting reached the outer buildings of the facility Sergeant Ramirez who by surviving was in sole command gave the order to engage the final option. A bomb using Dilithium as its propellant was released down the deep shaft to the planet’s Dilithium core. The resulting explosion shattered the planet and destroyed the besieging fleet within a minute.

It was many generations before the salvage and clear up began. What had been the main trading hub for all human space had become its greatest impediment. Eventually as the Empire swallowed the Alliance the resources floating in space at Silas became worth salvaging and hopefully as the debris was dealt with the Silas trade routes might reopen. Trade did pick up somewhat, but it never reached pre-war levels as the area was still hazardous to large vessels. However it was popular with smaller ships carrying urgent cargoes.

As we approached the station the scanner alarm sounded. The only life signs they found were two humans and two cats. We got permission to refuel and I paid from one of my legitimate accounts. While the Bug was refuelling Anya and I went shopping for supplies. Had a meal and returned to the ship to take delivery of our purchases. As we were beginning to load them three men in Imperial uniforms stopped us and asked to see our papers. They handed mine back, but the Lieutenant looked at Anya and asked

“Rahima Suleiman?”

“Yes,” replied Anya, “can I help you?”

“Please remove your headscarf and glasses?” Requested the Lieutenant. As Anya hesitated the Lieutenant’s hand moved to the holstered blaster on her hip.

“Rahima?” I said.

Anya did as she was asked. The Lieutenant looked at her communicator and then said,

“Anya Jog, I am arresting you for the murder of Private John Timson on D18X and the theft of thirteen crares of fragmentation grenades.” The Lieutenant said before continuing with an explanation of her rights that has remained almost the same for many centuries.

“Rahima,” I said sounding shocked, “is this true?” I turned to the officer, “Are you sure I have seen her papers, she is Rahima Suleiman. I checked them when I gave her passage at New Plymouth.”

“I am sorry, Sir,” the Lieutenant said, “but I need you to come with us too.”

“Of course. Am I under arrest?”

“No, but we will need to ask you some questions.”

“Anything to help, However I am on a schedule, would it be okay to make a call from your office. I’ll let you place the call if you like.”

The Lieutenant agreed and as we reached the office I noticed the clock on the comms screen, we were running out of time already we had reached over the thirty hours. I gave the Lieutenant a comms code and she keyed it into the terminal. After about a minute a voice barked from the speakers and the Lieutenant snapped to attention

“Sikorsky here, is that you Cain?”

“Afraid so, General. I had to put into Silas for fuel and the security staff have arrested my co-pilot Rahima Suleiman. It appears she is the fugitive Anya Jog. I can’t afford to hang around just now lives depend on it.”

After a couple of minutes the speaker barked again. “Officer give me your number!”

“DSS 47977” She replied.

Another long pause and then the General’s voice spoke again, “Lieutenant Jaswinder Dhillon, yes? I’ll tell you what to do. Release Cain immediately. Keep Miss Jog behind bars until I can arrange for her removal.”

The Lieutenant saluted towards the speaker and responded, “Sir, yes Sir!”



Chapter 14: Contamination
November 14, 2016, 23:50
Filed under: food, Health, Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

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If the Alliance feared the Independent Planets because of the threat of viral contamination it was nothing compared to their fear of cultural contamination. The whole point of the official Diaspora was to preserve humankind in all its purity. The problem is that in order to preserve their vision of humanity they had to compromise their humanity. It was not only the Independents that the official colonies feared, but any contact with alien species. The majority of humans on the allied planets had no awareness of alien species.

Centuries of science fiction had prepared humans for the possibility that any alien species they met would be hostile. Even if not deliberately hostile they would present threats to human culture and so any contact that occurred tended to be kept from a population who continued to be fed a diet of entertainment that propagated and preserved ‘human values’.

Of course by the time of the Cyber Wars human values had changed considerably from my youth and I had seen the changes. In each era the dominant values being dictated by a different culture: the Greeks, the Roman Empire, Christendom, the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, the Maritime Empires – particularly the British – then global capitalism. The decline of the western capitalist nations under repeated totalitarian regimes strong enough to oppress their own peoples, but not to prevent the rise of the East brought about a long period of economic domination from the Asian manufacturing nations. Resource rich African countries – largely Islamic democracies – became major players in the United nations by the dawn of the Twenty Second century.

The Twenty First Century was a time of upheaval with the rise of fascism in the west. However the war against Islamic extremism that so badly weakened the West also irreparably weakened Extreme Islam and throughout the Middle East a second Arab Spring swept aside the old regimes in an Islamic Reformation. The liberal Campaign for Quranic Values extended democracy to ordinary people throughout the region and that ethical Islam spread to Africa. Just as they had swept away corruption in the Middle East they swept away the dictatorships that remained in Africa.

The West was too exhausted and inward looking to confront the East militarily and so the United Nations became the playing field for the game of nations. It soon became apparent that the West needed the East and there was a necessary softening in relations. The liberals and socialists who had managed to survive the fascist governments of the West received inspiration and support from the Campaign for Quranic Values who had shown the world that far from a threat Islam had much that was good to give the world.

Perhaps the master stroke of the CQV was to protect the identity of Israel. Everyone especially the Israeli government who welcomed the rise of Western Fascism expected a resurgent Islam to seek to destroy Israel. The West had become too weak to protect them and so Israel readied itself for conflict. The Federation of Islamic republics that represented most of the Nations of the Middle East had several battle hardened armies at its disposal encircling Israel. People were just waiting for the worst when the President of the Federation Mohammed Ali Saud announced that the Federation would guarantee the safety of Israel in perpetuity. He then invited the Israel government to a summit to iron out the details of Israel’s relationship with her neighbours. It was apparent that between the the Islamic navies, armies and air forces could effectively isolate Israel so perhaps Israel didn’t have a lot of options. However on the day the invitation was issued the naval blockade was lifted and the Arab army withdrew some distance from the borders.

As you’ll know from your history not only were the talks a success, but Israel was largely responsible for breaking the deadlock between the Government of the USA and the Islamic Federation. If that log jam had not been broken there would have been no united response to the Great Flood and the rise of the Cybertrons. It was unfortunate that the response to the Cybertrons began with war, but it ended in negotiation.

The resurgence in liberal and socialist parties ensured that the United Nations could meet the melting of the icecaps with a coordinated response. This allowed for the maximisation of productive land use and the redistribution of populations to match available resources. There was a lot of moaning from conservatives about the falling standard of living, particularly after high rise living became compulsory, unfortunately for them the living standards of most people either improved or remained the same.

The decreasing landmasses caused real problems in matching food production to demand. The problem was offset to an extent by farming the sea. There was a coordinated program of fish breeding to take advantage of the increased oceans. However just as important were the sub-aqua farms where food crops were grown hydroponically in air filled domes beneath the surface of the sea. Each dome was a perfect micro climate and the water depth allowed a stable temperature to be maintained while not being too deep to prevent adequate sunlight reaching the dome. Condensation provided most of the water the crops needed and additional nutrients were piped in from the shore. The rising sea levels meant that there was more rain so in the remaining land masses drought had ceased to be a problem. Rice became the main staple crop and wheat became more of a luxury.

The reduction in acreage brought about restrictions on non food use of crops so the availability of alcohol decreased. However there was a great increase in electronic entertainment. Because of the need to exercise more control over resources and the new types of production there was an increase in mechanisation and computer control of productive activities. The major employer of human labour became the entertainments industry because when a population may not need to work it does need to be occupied.

With the decline of drinking as a leisure activity debating became popular. It provided a major focus of human interaction and the best debaters became stars commanding huge followings. The debates were on every topic of human interest, moral issues, religious issues, economic concerns, health, nothing was excepted from debate and the debates as well as attracting large audiences were televised. Of course the popularity of debating drove the final nail into the coffin of the discredited opinion polling industry who could serve no further useful purpose. What it did mean was that politicians were more in touch with the opinions of electors than ever before.

With so much leisure time the Leisure Industry at the dawn of the Twenty Second Century was the major employer. Along with the rise in electronic entertainment came a centralised effort from the world government the United Nations had become. The rising waters became the people’s playground. There were floating hotel cities devoted to water sport. Whereas river fishing was less available, sea angling and sport fishing provided both fun and food. Sunken cities provided scuba divers with exciting opportunities for exploration. One of the best loved television programs was ‘David Attenborough’s Sunken Cities’. Although the great man was long dead his programs were still being made fronted by a computer generated Sir David who still commanded the affection he had during his lifetime. Natural history changed and the world still needed Attenborough to explain those changes. So popular was the Sir David Attenborough brand that centuries later in the colonies of the Diaspora he was explaining the flora and fauna of the terraformed worlds to rapt audiences and the original programs from the old Earth remained popular with generations centuries removed from them. When Sigma Seven established its first university had a ‘Sir David Attenborough’ Chair of Zoology, he quite easily beat Charles Darwin who had never had a television audieance.

Computer games never declined in popularity and with so much leisure time television programs continued to be made. However the popularity of broadcast television declined to be replaced by on demand services. The broadcast media had declined in popularity and respect after their role in the rise of fascism was exposed. Even in the west the only news service that most people had come to trust was Al Jazeera who were supported by the Campaign for Quranic Values. Every home did have a dedicated screen for official announcements which also carried a scrolling news banner. Official communications would sit on screen waiting to be opened, but in practice because most people picked them up on their phones or watches the screens were not much used except by officials who used them for conferencing.

Apart from public events and official meetings scheduling became almost non existent. Even education was conducted mostly on line when the students chose their attendance being logged based on their signing on and off times. The bulk of the course work was also completed and submitted online. Ironically this stimulated the students to demand study centres where they could meet and discuss their work and lives. Attendance was optional and people turned up when they wanted. Teachers would announce when and where they were going to visit a centre so that those who wished to meet them could. There was a scandal in Twenty One Two when a student’s exam was rejected because his online log in did not demonstrate what the examiners considered adequate study time. The case went to court and he won because he could demonstrate that not only did he have access to one of the few remaining public libraries that held books on paper, but the library records demonstrated his attendance. This gave rise to several well attended debates considering whether access to old fashioned books provided an unfair advantage, whether online study should be compulsory. There were suggestions that we should begin printing books again, but the print industry had already been considered unnecessary so while the debate found that printed books were desirable they were at that time impractical. One of the attractions of the Independent Planets later was that, largely as an act of rebellion, they established printers and as a consequence a flourishing literary scene.

Most of the Independents had very little central control by government, indeed such government as there was tended to be a response to circumstances whereas the official colonies were settles and administered to a fixed plan. The biggest problem for the official Diaspora is that too often circumstances would not fit into a well ordered scheme. Many colonies maintained a veneer of organisation to plan, but beneath it was a patchwork of fixes and hacks as anarchic as anything in the outer planets.

The rise of fascism in the Twenty First Century had demonstrated humanity’s need for order and structure. Ironically the liberal backlash that followed and dismantled the oppressive national institutions of the fascists replaced them with a supra national central organisation that was certainly more controlling than the oppressive regimes it replaced. However it controlled by enrolling the citizens into a system where their voices could be heard and considered before a decision was made by the government on grounds of utility. Whereas previously there had been differences between nations – some that threatened all of humanity – under the central government differences were largely ironed out. Although there still remained a governing elite social inequalities more or less disappeared. There were no appreciable class divisions between people. There was no longer a working class or rather, there was and it consisted of machines.



13: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

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I think the thing I miss least about Earth is the Common Cold. I am the only person who remembers it and have been for centuries. When you think about how much money was spent in trying to cure the common cold it is slightly that its defeat was accidental a mere side effect of our travel into space.

After the first Exodus the later jumps wouldn’t accept anyone for stasis until they were tested clear of all disease. It wasn’t a precaution taken on the early jumps and some of the early colonies were very much like Earth with their catalogue of ailments. Humanity only gradually discovered the unforeseen consequences of terraforming particularly the occasional genetic mutations that sometimes occurred. It is bad enough to have chickens turn into flying dinosaurs, but introducing hostile bacteria into a genetically unstable environment can be disastrous.

The colony on Beta Four was still flourishing when Beta Seven was quarantined. The B-7 colony was less than a year old when it went into quarantine. Their communications indicated that they were suffering from a new form of influenza they called Encaphalitic Flu – it had a Latin name, if I remember I’ll look it up in the data bank.

We sent medical supplies and emergency food aid by unmanned shuttle when they requested help. Over the weeks the requests and messages became fewer. By the second anniversary of the settlement there were no more messages from the seventy thousand men, women, and children of B-7. We sent an expedition to scan the planet from orbit. While the scans found mammalian life signs there were no human communications. We didn’t land to investigate which upset some people. Death is supposed to be inevitable, but even now after all these centuries people find it hard to accept.

I remember in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries there was a tendency for bunches of flowers to appear on railings, lamp posts, railway tracks, anywhere where someone died suddenly. Perhaps it was a symptom of the decline of religion’s power to provide comfort and answers, but temporary shrines to the dead seemed to spring up everywhere. Interestingly the practices of the Dia De Muertos seemed to spread internationally during the same period. In all the millennia I have been wandering I have encountered many rituals around death, and much speculation about the fate of the dead, I have never encountered a culture that has not had rituals and beliefs about death. I have seen deaths go unmarked, frequently to punish the dead person and their families. I have seen names expunged from the records, because people are terrified that they may be forgotten they punish others with oblivion. The majority of those who have lived and died have been forgotten, but humanity continues against the odds.

The United Nations Resolution on Floral Remembrance ended the practice of floral shrines. It also ended the practice of taking flowers to mark graves. The reduction of habitable land masses and the fertility changes brought about by climate change eventually placed prohibitive restrictions on the cultivation of non-edible plants. The decreasing space soon meant the disappearance of the graveyards and gradually of all residential accommodation less than twenty stories. Some people were actually relieved when the exodus came. As the area for growing plants diminished and the cultivation of whole species banned except by scientific institutions the seed banks became particularly important, because it was these seed banks that were eventually to feed the diaspora.

The first exodus had neither the time nor the luxury to be too choosy about those we took. As long as the Cybertrons were prepared to allow humans to leave the Earth unimpeded, we took everyone we could and many of those who remained remained out of choice. Someday perhaps I’ll return to Earth and see how humans have fared in a planet ruled by machines. I doubt whether the machines could have been as unjust or intolerant as some human governments.

Even before the tragedy of B-7 screening had become more stringent, but not so harsh as to make minor ailments a bar to travel. I think some viruses were rendered unviable by the cryogenic process. Some survived. After B-7 the occasions of an undetected virus getting into space dropped to a fraction of a percentage point. It happened, but very rarely and – at the time of writing – to no recorded adverse effect. As well as pre voyage screening all colonists in stasis were monitored continuously by the pods. In the colonies it became normal to quarantine people at the first sign of illness until a diagnosis and risk were completed.

The biggest danger were the independent Militia Colonies. There will always be people who resent the imposition of restrictions and law and a number of these struck off into deep space without authority. most of these groups didn’t have access to the terraforming equipment of the official expeditions, but many militia groups were not averse to stealing the tools they needed for their colonies. The majority of the independent planets were not terraformed, but set up on habitable planets, some barely so.

Without the stringent controls of the official colonial expeditions many of the independent colonies were riddled with disease. However those who survived tended to be the toughest and most resilient. When the Alliance planets tried to impose their rule over the Independents and Militias they came up against the people least amenable to surrendering their sovereignty to outsiders. In the end the Alliance claimed victory. However they found it expedient to apply a policy of non interference with the Independents who continued to carry on all the same practices the Alliance had gone to war to prevent. Sometimes the only time an Alliance ship was seen on some planets was when the police were hunting the sort of criminal attracted to the easier laws of the outer planets. On the whole the Alliance avoided the Independents out of a fear of contamination.



Chapter 12: I See The Darkness
November 12, 2016, 23:40
Filed under: Health, Justice, Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , ,

(A shorter piece today, I have been travelling all day)

 

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Sitting alone in the cockpit looking out into the darkness playing Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen and pitching my smallness against the vastness outside the window. The music reminds me that however the empty and dark the void between galaxies nothing can be as dark, as empty or as lonely as a human soul. I have been in this place before, not physically, but emotionally. Sitting alone in the desert answering the howl of a lone wolf with the mournful note of my shenai.

As ever, regardless of the slaughter, I survived. I have fought Mongols and Moghuls, Tatars and Terrorists, and men of all colours and faiths. I watched the Crusaders rape and murder their way to Jerusalem and Aurangzeb glorying in the slaughter of holy men and innocents. It may not have been part of my curse, but I seem to have had a gift for being on the losing side of every conflict. I have looked into the darkness of the human soul and rarely found a soul that was as dark and cold as mine.

In a normal lifespan it is impossible to avoid actions that leave a man feeling guilty of ashamed. In a hundred thousand lifetimes imagine how many more regrettable, shameful deeds I have committed. I have made more mistakes and suffered more mistakes than most people have seen sunrises.

People feel that there is nothing worse than feeling guilt, shame, and embarrassment. The think that their life will be happy if they can look back from their death beds at their lives without feeling regret. I think the worst day of my life was when the guilt and shame died.

Perhaps I had killed once too often. Perhaps too many years of living among men. Perhaps an understanding that every ‘war to end all wars’ is nothing more than a prelude to the next. Perhaps a realisation that in the scales of history every single life carries very little weight, even the greatest historical figures – worth a book or two and perhaps statues – eventually fade into an undistinguished past and unconscious dismissal by later generations to whom they are irrelevant. I knew that shame had died and I shed not a tear of regret.

I was helping clear rebels from a village in the Congo. In one hut I found a terrified woman and her small daughter. I shot them because it was easier than trying to keep them alive. I was just about to torch the hut when our corporal Arnie Janssens asked me what I’d done. I told him and he was angry,

“Why did you do that?” He demanded, “We could have had some fun with them first!” I shot Janssens and felt no more than I had in the hut. I had become a monster. I had not become evil, evil requires a degree of malicious intent. I had become indifferent. The evil man is aware of the difference between right and wrong and chooses the darker path. Me, I just ceased to care and my choices based upon arbitrary expediency. The evil man feels malice…I felt nothing. It would be many lifetimes before I felt again.