Friday, August 30, 2002

This post will kill two birds with one stone. A clarification and an announcement/brag.

The Fleet did win the war for us. Both wars. But it was OR/Aeneid's unflagging support of the war effort that allowed the Fleet to do it.

Ever since they were founded practically, OR/Aeneid has had interesting (read eccentric) maintenance contracts and lifetime replacement policies. And in explaining a little bit about that, I will also throw in the hint that I have recently benefitted from them. Thanks to my grandparents.

Once a customer has ordered and received a ship, the history of the ship is updated constantly in OR/Aeneid's databases. Obviously the database can't include every little physical and software patch/kludge/tweak that the engineer might put in, but if there are regular check ups (mandatory) with licensed technicians (spread all over the inhabited system) then most of the ships foibles and individuating traits will show up somehow in her database. It's in the fine print, and there's going to be a few owner/captains out there who didn't know this until now, but it's in the purchase agreement and maintenance contract that OR/Aeneid owns those modifications. So they can use the really clever ones on later models is what I'm guessing.

The captain-pilots that I know about don't care because they think it contributes to the safety of humanity in the Big if this kind of thing is shared. After all, a new tweak on the gadget for hydrogen flow to the fusion plant would benefit everybody.

I know there's a few recent immigrants who have become owners/captains/pilots and discovered this lurking in their contracts and decided to challenge OR/Aeneid about it.

It's going to be really interesting because there is no case law on this sort of thing, and the statutory laws, usually for the country of ownership, while applicable to the contracts, were created more for the Dirt and aren't really recursive. And there really is very little common law yet out here. But there will be soon, the way things are going. The UN is the 'sovereign state' in the Big as far as OR/Aeneid goes, so that's a lot of resources besides OR/Aeneid's own.

OR/Aeneid says that they will replace or repair any damaged or malfunctioning part or parts of the whole, including the whole, during the lifetime of the ship, and that under circumstances determined to be extraordinary by themselves will replace the entire ship anyway. Now I know most of you know that this is what happened during the wars.

When the Jovian and Saturnian settlements came under ballistic attack by the Thaiax, it was the ships that were hit first. And of course, since many of the ships were the habitats too, there were family casualties as well as crew - the two very often being the same.

OR/Aeneid unilaterally invoked extraordinary circumstances and began sending out replacement ships right away, usually with robot pilots so that they could go out at extremely high human-fatal accelerations. They even started redirecting new ships intended for the inner solar system outwards. All new ships were being outfitted with railguns and lasers, and the occasional plasma cannon.

Then as information came back about the severity of the attacks and the appearance of enemy ships, instead of just their weapons, the UN got nervous. That's when they started drafting everybody they could and shipping them out.

You can hopefully see the problem. The extra ships being sent outward from Ceres and the other factories around the Asteroid Belt would need crewing. There weren't enough volunteer AIs to do the work, and they couldn't be drafted, partly because back then they were generally too neurotic and antsy about everything. Control had become Command by this point and Command started press-ganging innocent bystanders out of the corridors (at least that's what it felt like to me and my friends) and throwing us into cattle-car ships, packed in jello (not joking) and accelerating us outward to try and get us to Jupiter/Saturn while there was still a war to fight.

Various branches of UN authority were drafting/shanghai-ing civilians from every piece of settled solar real estate between Mercury and Saturn so lots of spacers were being indiscriminately distributed over the range of rocks from the Asteroids to Jupiter local space to the Jovian Trojans to Saturn local space and what passed for the Saturnian Trojans.

It took five months at various accelerations for my ship to get to Saturn (pure existential hell), which would have been a pre-war record, hooray for war. I was assigned to UNS Isildur and I spent most of my time, as I have already said, examining starfields and plotting (literally and figuratively) strategies and intercept trajectories for our own railgun projectiles to take out absolutely any suspicious rocks. We'd drop a passive transponder on them anyway, just in case.

This was a slow war. That should go without saying, but if you live down on the Dirt, then it has to be said. Imagine a square meter of floor. Easy, right? Now imagine 100m2 of floor. A little bit harder but doable, right? Keep going. Imagine a sphere. Imagine that even with computers, maybe even mature AIs (they do so exist) you have to keep track of absolutely everything you can see, all around you, all the time.

I'm going to say right now that remembering all of this is almost like a dream. I got drafted as I was walking towards an actual physical mailbox in Tycho, Luna. I had just finished the most important contract of my life (training the Talos series of AIs) - said 'good-bye' to my friend who had just been drafted himself - and was walking across Sagara Square when I got shanghai-ed. Not just because I was a body alone, but because they knew who I was, what I could do and how I would be valuable to the war effort if I was out at Saturn. And once I was out there, I was never called upon to deal directly with an AI.

I sat through shift after shift of hours of eyeball fatigue, following up the computers' recommendations on objects to target. I drank more liters of ersatz coffee than there are real liters of coffee in the Big, I swear. For months, I got screenputs from the robots onboard, or maybe the AIs on other ships on the same triangulating sweep and made educated guesses about the objects in the scans. I sat there - occasionally hung there - and just made plans to throw our rocks at their rocks.

At Mimas, after months of travel, fatigue and boredom, Isildur was attacked. We should have seen it coming, but we didn't. Her spine was split by a rock that, if it had come a few dozen meters forward would have holed the habitat module. The precision of the attack was noted. I say again, we don't call it the Big for nuthin'. Then - this is hard to write and you had better appreciate all of this - the Thaiax ship came swooping in on us out of nothing. While we had railguns and lasers on Isildur, she - the enemy - was still throwing rocks. But they were close and fast and many. I was nearest to the docking bay. I got into a suit. But I also got five of my crewmates into an airbag and all of us attached to the escape pod that our other crewmates were in. Isildur herself was lost. We were picked up by UNS Valiancy about a day later. The longest day of my life.

I hung there outside the escape pod with a laser in my clumsy mitted hand. I was essentially immobile, umbilicaled to the pod, likely to survive as long as they did inside. I watched as the Thaiax ship closed on us. The pod was moving perpendicularly away from Isildur's wreckage but the enemy was following us, not our ship. It looked like a big winged balloon - wings being silly and ineffectual out here, so it was purely aesthetic (unless intrinsic to the technology) - and a door opened. I went nuts. I started firing. I burned scars onto the alien ship, onto our pod, onto the bits and pieces of Isildur that were trailing us. The figure that emerged from the enemy ship was kind of like a starfish with a bulge in the middle, and it came towards me with an easy grace. I don't know even know if it was an actual alien or a robot or what, but it came close enough before I ruptured its suit for me to see its face. And you've read what I saw on scores of websites now, from my UN testimony to my interviews with the Star, Globe and Sun.

Isildur was replaced from Ceres, but without us. I was on Calamity Jane which saw no action, and when the Thaiax broadcast their surrender rebus, I got to go home. It was a few days after that when I met the Admiral.

And so along to my recent inheritance.

It is generally believed that my parents are dead. As former citizens of the province of Ontario, Canada, and even under UN law out here, they are legally dead. I admit that I have feared this for many years. I did not feel at all right when I had to admit it to my grandparents. But eventually, we all agreed. If they were still alive they would have tried to contact us, some way or other.

What had not occurred to me, but had to my grandfather Robert Joyes, was that before they left, in order to leave, my parents had bought a ship from OR/Aeneid. Which ship had apparently failed them in some way. And I was a war hero.

OR/Aeneid did not dither when my grandfather contacted them. Two months after he submitted his claim on behalf of his daughter and his grandson, a robot pilot (who was also a provisional AI) delivered a brand new Lustre class spaceship to High Manhattan,where I'm living right now.

I am now the captain/pilot/owner of UNS Kirkfield II. While I will continue to update this log as per Command's request, I am leaving for Mars in two days.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Some more notes, ideas, etc.


To the kid in Montana, USA, who's thinking 'who cares about a martian kid not memorizing the state capitals? Who cares?!' Well, there's that martian kid and a whole lot more who're thinking the same thing about you. And think about this, Montana, they've got a whole planet to terraform, and there's a good chance that your grandchildren will grow up there. Or Titan or Europa. So lose the attitude. This is my forum.


According to the practical physical laws we know about, we can get data from Point A to Point B even all the way across the System as fast as will ever be possible.

Mass, however. According to all the cosmic laws we know we can get mass from Point A to Point B only as fast as our current technology (or, as has been pointed out, our application of current technology) will allow. We know there must be faster ways, we just don't know what they are yet.


Communitats are being commissioned and built as fast as OR/Aeneid (and licensed contractors I feel obliged to point out, cousin thing) can go. There are stations in out-of-plane solar orbit that are practically perpendicular to everything else. There are all women mini-worlds, all afrigen, all tall. There is one communitat at L4 (Ell Fore not Ell Cat) where absolutely everything is decimal, including time. There is one where the humans are agitating in the UN for the granting of full citizenship to their AIs and the AIs are lobbying against it, claiming they're not ready. (!!!!) And if I didn't mention it before, one of my first jobs, and occasional contracts since, was training AIs, including etiquette and diplomacy.


I have received complaints from some Clavians about my description of Clavius in the first item in this log. They feel that I was not kind.

There are two ways to design an underground city.

A) Contract all your tenants, occupants, and lessees first, then build.

B) Don't.

Clavius is a Plan B city. I ought to know because I used to live there.


I've done a little research recently and found out something interesting.

After about 2020, when humans starting actually living in the Big, on the ISS and Luna, and then later at L5, UFO sightings went down, first in the West, then in the Third World (terms, I will point out, that are meaningless to a martian outside a purely historical context, like Holy Roman Empire or phlogiston are to you.)

Then, after the discovery of Wreck (but not so much the Czech Probe earlier) the reports of sightings increased again, especially during the wars.

Now with the Great and Terrible Humanic Protection Fleet of Fleets (q.v.) patrolling the skies, sightings have started to drop off again.


And speaking of sightings, reports of Barbra Streisand have started to drop off, kind of like Elvis Presley about this long after his death. Now people are starting to see Lance Bass in odd places, like L5-l'Usine and Kyiv.


Every database on the Dirt, every web server, every kid's homepage is probably backed up somewhere in the Big. Permission be damned in some cases.

Big companies like Stawarz and Xerox-Heptagon, Microsoft-Yoshioka, Kimura-Murdoch, GM - all of them have contracts with spacers that ensure that all databases are constantly copied and stored out here, on asteroids, long-orbit roboships, or deep shafts on Luna or Mars.

Hobbyists are constantly just trolling cyberspace in VR or letting bots do it, to take copies of every single website and copy it for posterity.

These aren't mirror sites. These are backups that will survive the worst that might happen down there. There's people who really do think it's just as important to save pictures and commentary on the most recent trip to Wasaga as it is to save all of Shell's credit transactions for the last quarter.

They've figured in some legal cases where the original page was defunct but a copy was maybe found in archives on Luna or wherever.


My Grandda, Robert Joyes, told me that after my parents were married and living at 'the quarry' as they still called the fish farm, they seemed to be living in a world of their own. They worked, did their jobs, got along with everyone, but they spent a lot of time on the web, researching all sorts of things, and then a lot of time alone together discussing it. Sometimes, Grandda said, it was like they were play-acting everything but their lives together. He told two jokes about them, one for each. He said that the jokes summed up how they seemed to look at life and the impression they left on people. Gramma Eva told him not to tell me those old things, but he did anyway. Keep in mind that my mother was an only child and a moby, and my father was the youngest in his family by 18 years.

Lillian walks into this livestock vendor's and says 'Give me 200 chicks.' So he does. A week later, she's back and asks for 200 more. The vendor thinks 'what the heck, it's a sale.' A week later she comes in again and asks for 200 more. The vendor says 'I gotta ask, lady. What's happening to all these chicks?' 'Don't know' says Lillian. 'I must be planting them too deep or too close together.'

Norm calls 911 and says 'Help! My wife is having a baby!' The operator says 'It's alright, sir. We're here to help. Now is this her first child?' 'No!' says Norm. 'This is her husband.'

The thing is, looking back, even the way they left me at school when I was 15, I get it.


A short note from the Admiral during her busy schedule: "You still haven't disabused your readers of their romantic notions of what our Fleet actually was. I can't really order you to, but..."

Well, alright. Those of you with romantic notions about the Fleet, consider yourselves disabused.

Seriously, now, because spacers have no sense of humour.

Since there was no reason whatsoever for humanity to maintain anything more than a police presence in the Big - no enemies - there was no need of heavily armed battle cruisers lumbering around from orbit to orbit. My ship, Isildur, and her sister ship, Anarion, were ore freighters that had been doing the loops from Ceres to Mars to Earth/Luna for years until they got conscripted just like I did.

You already know (and I think I already said it at least once) that almost all spaceships were made by OR/Aeneid. The design is highly functional and beautiful in its own way. A long spindle with the fusion plant at the back, fuel tanks in the middle, and the hab module plus whatever on the forward end. They all follow the same plan and they're modular. Even the Iona-Cathay cruise ships are built that way.

There's that classic postcard shot of L5-l'Usine's aft with a sidelit forest of ship spines all sticking out from the docking cap. Those bulges on the ends are the fusion plants and the bulges in the middle are the fuel and/or cargo mods. The reasons the ships aren't all the same length are different for each one. Older ships had a slightly higher danger of fusion plant explosions so the spine was longer. (If you can make out thick disks forward of the fusion plants, those are the older ships.) Newer ships that are that long are usually just to allow more cans to be attached to the spine, for cargo or passengers.

Freighters are the most common type of spaceship. When a ship is ordered, the owners specify how big the habitat ring is going to be; how much floor space, the diameter and rotation speed (Coriolis really bothers some spacers. I miss it though when I'm down there) and any particular amenities.

Then they get a contract. Luxuries from the Dirt are the real moneymakers and will continue to be for a good long time, since we don't have antiques, a Kona Coast, a Levis factory, or Carrara. Failing Dirtside goods, the contract could be for ordinary metals, precious metals, volatiles or rare earths from the Asteroids or manufactured goods from anywhere for anywhere. The big seller/moneymaker that OR/Aeneid practically has a cornered market on is ice. They're the only ones to put fusion plants on comets to guide them in to Ceres or Mars (for the terraforming but they mine them on the way too). Once in-system, the ice usually gets distributed by freighter. Buyers will then melt it and - ahem - use the water. Or they will split it and use the oxygen for air and the hydrogen for the fusion plant.

The economics of distribution and remuneration are the same out here as they are down there. So say it's a load of municipal construction robots from Ceres for Helium on Mars (let's say the one in Aeria). The client provides them all crated up in a big system-wide standard container (only we say can) that just clamps on to the ship's spine aft of the hab and forward of the fuel. (Usually, since there are exceptions based on what's being hauled.) A few more cans bound for other locations or Mars too, and the ship's ready for its run.

Alright, now say the contract is to take a group of immigrants from a geosynch to Mars. Same kind of cans but now they're habitat modules and the cargo clamp section rotates too. Iona-Cathay's ships are like this, only the setup is semi-permanent and much classier than an immigrant config.

The Guard's ships were the same but with mass-drivers/rail-guns, really high-powered lasers,and other 'experimental' weapons. You already know how the Guard were basically simple peace-keepers and escorts out in the Big.

Then we started losing ships. We didn't realize it at the time, of course, because ships went missing all the time. And sometimes showed up again under miraculous or terrible circumstances light-minutes from where they were supposed to be. The buzz-word for a recovered drifter was 'raft' as in that painting 'The Raft of the Medusa', even though sometimes there were survivors.

Statistics gathered over years suggested that we could expect a certain amount of losses for any given number of successful passages, at any given level of preparedness, including safety training, emergency supplies, quality of ship design and so forth. When caravans full of immigrants started going out to Jupiter and then Saturn was when our actual losses starting rising out of the realms of expectation.

The Guard requested and got the funds to order more and better armed ships from OR/Aeneid. Since the most likely culprits for the losses were pirates a lot better organized than usual, no one - no one - suspected aliens.

Then came a series of abrupt disappearances culminating in the video transmission from Ring of Solomon out at Saturn that showed the alien ships, kin to the Wreck, and their destruction of Ring of Solomon right up to the point where the transmitter failed. Her crew was lost.

Since military secrecy in the Big was almost non-existent, Ring of Solomon's file was soon downloaded all over Earth/Luna and then back out to the Asteroids and to the isolated and vulnerable outposts, stations and settlements in the Jovian and Saturnian systems.

Here's where the Fleet came from, its humble origins. The Guard, while technically under the control of the Secretary General of the United Nations, was de facto run by the Chief of Police of Tycho City on Luna. That was Murray Scott, a civilian immigrant but long time EMT IT tech and paramilitarist from Vermont, USA. He immediately called a halt to any planned caravans and commandeered all the ships in port at L5-l'Usine, even though that was Euro property, not UN. The Euros weren't arguing under the circumstances.

Word went out to Ceres and Zion-in-starlight and after a bit of a false start due to innate spacer bloody-mindedness, all the ships that could be were armed and sent out. The main weapons were mass-driver/rail-guns and giant lasers from R&D stations. Plasma cannon were still experimental at the time, but there were enough prototypes that a good few ships could be armed with them.

All the places doing research on the Czech Probe and the Wreck were taken over 'for the duration of the hostilities' and all efforts were put in to tracking down the enemy. A formal declaration of war was made by the Security Council, endorsed by the General Assembly, and broad-beamed out to every part of the Solar System. This was mostly for any humans not in regular contact with anyone else, like prospectors or Utopians in the Asteroids or even the crazy isolationist survivalists that had long before claimed the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt for true humanity. (And they really are out there, probably still on the way in very old OR/Aeneid ships. We're going to be there to meet them when they arrive.)

The enemy was by then already being identified with the species of the Wreck and the Czech Probe (Prague trying to change the popular name back to TMA 1 with commercials, banner ads and pop-ups). So we were at war with the Thaiax.

The Fleet that saved humanity twice was a hodge-podge of mining ships from the Asteroids (which would also be actual habitats for the miners), freighters, mostly for ore and ice, the few pleasure yachts that existed at the time and the few cruise ships ditto.

There still weren't a lot of AIs around back then, but a few volunteered to join up and were invaluable in the most boring parts of recon and surveillance.

We didn't call it the Navy back then, like they do now. It was just the army and I think practically everybody thought it was essentially temporary. That all the ships would be returned to their owners (if the owners weren't still with them) and life in the Big would go back to normal; fast data and slow travel.

In this guy's army there at first were no ranks, no stripes, pips, bars or medals. The core discipline was from the Guard training that everyone got. We dug up titles from TV, VR, old movies and old science-fiction (which had been blurring the line with reality for so long that it had lost much of its appeal).

Attacks increased, hab cans were added to the mining ships turned warships and crewed with draftees (although not me, not yet). Non-critical vessels were cannibalized for their telescopes and the warships went out hunting for the tell-tale optical signature and trying to identify any non-visible EM traces that would help us identify an enemy ship.

There are lots of guys still around who were drafted earlier than me, but our service record was the same. So what did the draftees do? We sat and watched what the telescopes were seeing. We looked for anything moving out there that wasn't already identified or wouldn't identify itself. There were passive transponders on practically every moving hunk of rock that had ever come near a human ship (it was considered meritorious to brag about how many rocks you'd tagged on your last trip.) You pretty much couldn't miss an ice block of any size. There was very little human space junk along travelled trajectories, since it was stupid to leave it there and it was easily recyclable.

What we looked for a lot was untagged rocks travelling too fast on intercept trajectories towards anything human. That was how the attack on Ring of Solomon had started, and we already knew that was what had taken out the Wreck.

At some point the Thaiax must have figured out we were on the defensive, because, especially in Jovian and Saturnian space, the number of projectiles we discovered increased sharply. We would give them a new heading by taking a rock of our own and mass-driver blasting it at the projectile with enough oomph to nudge it into a non-threatening path. And we did that a lot. Sometimes it seemed that that was all we did over and over. Until their ships actually started attacking ours.

Friday, July 26, 2002

On my second trip down, for the Admiral's fifteenth wedding anniversary, I decided to look up my grandparents. We had never communicated. My parents always said that they all disapproved of them going out to the Big, and thought it a crime to bear a child out there with all the medical problems during gestation and, lord, how would the child turn out? Well, I was fine, if a little brittle and prone to a mild form of spacer's arthritis.

My paternal grandfather was dead. Mina Barker still lived on the farm where my father was born and raised. I called her first, identified myself and asked if I could meet her. She said 'yes' and 'right now' and then cried for fifteen minutes. That made me a little gun-shy about calling elderly Earthlings, so it was a few hours before I called my maternal grandparents.

My grandfather Robert Joyes answered on his cell and said "Mina just called us! We're already on our way." I was floored. In one gee.

I took a helibus to the town of Kirkfield, near Lake Simcoe, and then a groundcar from there to the farm. It was a large-scale freshwater fish raising concern in an old flooded gravel quarry. They also ran a tourist marina on the Trent Canal, since the quarry was only a few meters away.

The highlight for tourists and visitors was the canal liftlocks, that carried boat traffic up and down a high cliff that would have otherwise prevented the canal construction. It was a solution to a problem that reminded me of how us spacers faced an unusual problem; with a unique solution.

My grandmother Barker and Robert and Eva Joyes were standing on the porch of the house with glasses in their hands. There were a few other people there too. Cousins, as it turned out.

I didn't know what to say to start things off, but didn't have to worry.

"You're taller than your father, David!" said Grandmother Barker. She threw her arms around me, then jumped back, obviously afraid she'd break something. Then Grandmother Joyes hugged me too. Grandfather Joyes shook my hand, then so did everybody else.

I met a dozen more relatives whose names I only half remember, even though I was recording everything. Almost all employees of the farm and marina, they were Wilsons, Stewarts, Lytles and, to my surprise, Sherpas. I commented on being related to immigrant Tibetans and the entire party broke up in laughter. A Barker cousin explained that they were Chirpaughs, an old Irish surname in the area. I was reminded that my heritage did not begin when my parents left for the Big.

I was offered sushi (trout and some other local delicacies), salads, interesting adaptations of the vat-cloned meats that were first being marketed then, and a very nice local beer.

Finally the grandparents shooed everybody back to work and we retired to a sitting room overlooking the quarry. The open sky above was, thankfully, obscured by a partial dome to keep the harmful sunlight off the water and the workers. That and the flat surface of the water, with all the rafts and pens, and the meters high cliffs helped calm my initial but mild agoraphobia. And, as we all know, there is really no such thing as a 'sky'; it's an illusion, like rainbows and 'red sun at night.'

"Call me Gramma," said Mina Barker. She gestured outside. "They all do. My God. Eva, look at him. Looks just like Lillian."

"Norm's hair, though, Minie," said Robert. "So you saw one of those aliens, did you, David? Dave? Davey? What do you like?"

"Dave's fine, sir."

"Listen to you! Sir! I'm your grandfather, Dave. Some of your cousins call me Gramps, some call me Grandda." He pointed to Eva. "She's Ayesha."

"I am not. You shut yourself up, Rob. Now, David. Please tell us. Do you speak to them? Write? Anything?" She meant my parents.

"Ma'am. Grandma." She smiled. "I haven't heard anything from them since they left." Nearly twenty years ago,then. And I didn't want to give them any illusions. "There is no colony that has them on file. And no -uh- abandoned settlements on record. I've checked." A hundred times.

Eva sighed and cleared her throat. "But they could be -"

"Sure. People are still settling the Jovian Trojans and we don't get much data from them at all," I said. I was afraid they'd ask what the Jovian Trojans were.

Robert shook his head slowly. "They were such a pair a goofs. My god." I thought he was going to cry.

Mina, sitting beside me, took my hand. "Do you know anything about them, Dave? Did they tell you anything about us or here?" I shook my head. "Do you want us to tell you anything?" I nodded, because I realized that I did. "Ask us anything. Oh! I'm going to cry! I am so happy right now. We were so afraid we'd never meet you, and then we heard your name after the battles out at Saturn and we hoped it was you!" She wiped her nose. "I'm sorry. Good God. No, I am not." She leaned over and hugged me again.

"They always seemed so intense, even when I was little. Like I was important not because I was their kid, but because I was the seventeenth human child born in the Big. Like they needed to learn everything about space so that they could write the book on it." I surprised myself with that because I had never actually thought about it that way before.

"Norm and Lillian," said Eva. "Do you know what a moby is, Dave?"

"A fish? A golden calf idol from an old movie?"

"Mobies were from the first groups of kids to grow up in the mall cities and arcologies. You've seen them, I'm sure. Small apartments, shared public spaces, parks, playing fields, everything. Moby means 'My Own Back Yard'. It was what they wanted to have. They were hippies of a sort." Ah, some kind of Utopian. "Norm grew up here, and worked here summers when he went down to Toronto to Ryerson. Lillian grew up in Parkdale Village, under the first Toronto dome, in the Roncesvalles Mall. They met at school. She came out here to work one summer, they fell in love and were married right out back in the arbour garden."

I was a little flustered. My parents had always seemed very efficient and all-business in our various flats in Clavius, L5 and a couple of different geosynchs. "But if Mum wanted more space, more room, and Dad was perfectly happy here, why did they - "

"Go out?" asked Mina. "Propaganda, I guess. Lillian was already used to limited spaces, and Norm's type of experience and training here was exactly what the UN wanted on the moon and Mars, too."

"They were so serious all the time," I said. Everything was mission critiical for them. "Who wrote who off? They said you didn't want to contact them."

All three gasped, startled. Eva looked at Mina, and both started to cry. "I'm sorry," I said. "Please. I -"

"Leave them, Dave," said Robert. "When we asked them about you, about Lillian getting pregnant when even the UN doctors disrecommended it, they both got mad. It was like having one of the first babies born in space was their destiny." They'd treated me like a project sometimes.

Eva was wiping her eyes. "We sent you books and toys and pictures. We told them to come back for a vacation, but they said they couldn't due to health problems. Norman even hinted once that they could never return to Earth or they'd die, and we knew that was a crock. Once, when you were about four, I told them I was coming up and they said they were moving to Mars." I remembered that move, although we just moved to Giordano Bruno on Farside.

Mina looked at me woefully. "When they posted the announcement that they were immigrating out to the Asteroids, I cried for days. We thought you'd gone too. When we got the updates from the front, it made sense to us that David Barker would be on the front lines. We didn't know they'd just left you behind." I was at school the day they left. "You should have called us then."

"I didn't know you'd - I didn't think of it." I do not get easily moved, but that day, well.

"Are you happy up there, David?" asked Robert. "Do you like it?"

"It's home. It's my home." I looked around at this house that first my father and later both my parents had called home. Large rooms and wide halls, ancient furniture and static paintings and hangings, an antique television with a fish-tank in it, rugs and windows and a view from here to the edge of the world. But no further. Not even an negative exponential fraction of the view from Farside back almost to the beginning of time.

"You're welcome here anytime. I know you don't belong here like Aaron or Elizabeth out there, but we're family, you know. Put us in your address book, your distribution lists. I know you have work to do while you're down here, but could you visit us again, sometime? Maybe call? Let us give you our addresses and websites. Well, you have those. So put a star beside them."

Mina looked into my face, into my eyes. "You have a second cousin or something. I can never keep these things straight. He's at the UN training school for immigrants in Sudbury. Can we ask him to call you when he gets up there?"

I believe I was near to tears myself. "Of course. Certainly."

I included this story for two main reasons. One to brag about the fact that after a great many years without, I found I had a family again. The second is to let you in a little on why I am the way I am. Until I met my grandparents, I had no idea that being this way was genetic.

Well, somebody down there has a sense of humour and apparently thinks that I do too.

A correspondent in Ireland sent me this, saying that it reminded her of the way I talk about spacers and living in the Big.

It's the words to a song called 'Iowa Stubborn' from a very old musical comedy called 'The Music Man'. Credit where credit is due - (c)1957 M. Willson

It purports to be the way the people of the mythical River City, Iowa think of themselves vis-a-vis newcomers.

Here you go. Make of it what you will. I kind of like it.

Oh, there's nothing halfway
about the Iowa way to treat you
when we treat you
which we may not do at all.

There's an Iowa kind of special
chip-on-the-shoulder attitude
we've never been without
that we recall.

We can be cold as a falling
thermometer in December
if you ask about our weather in July
and we're so by-god stubborn
we can stand touchin' noses
for a week at a time
and never see eye-to-eye.

But what the heck, you're welcome,
join us at the picnic.
You can have your fill
of all the food you bring yourself.
You really ought to give Iowa a try,
provided you are contrary.

We can be cold as a falling
thermometer in December
if you ask about our weather in July
and we're so by-god stubborn
we can stand touchin' noses
for a week at a time
and never see eye-to-eye.

But, we'll give you our shirt
and a back to go with it
if your crops should happen to die.

So what the heck, you're welcome.
Glad to have you with us
even though we may not ever mention it again.
You really ought to give Iowa a try.

Hawkeye, Iowa
Des Moines
Mason City
Clear Lake

Ought to give Iowa a try.

Nuff said.

Some notes, snapshots, ideas, et cetera.


That time down in Georgetown, when I was speaking, during the Q&A, a girl came up to one of the microphones.

She was a radical steeler hardcase with only just more attitude than tattoos and a Spock gene-hack to the ears. Since that was expensive it meant that her parents had probably paid for it. So she was either spoiled rotten or her units were compensating.

"Hi, Dave", she said."Fluid Stasis." That was her name. "My brother Nick was on Ring of Solomon." And bingo. The last ship lost before we declared war, that made us declare war. Captain Riegert sent video back of the Thaiax ship that was destroying his. His crew were the first martyrs of our first interspecies war. Fluid Stasis was probably Nick's only sibling.

"You kill any?" she asked.


"Good," she said and sat back down.

A few years later I ran into her in Clavius. Well, she ran into me. She'd emigrated and enlisted and wanted me to know it was because of my talk. "Gonna give those bastards the Static Flu," she laughed.


As of right now, this instant, when you are reading this, humanity in the Big is completely independent of humanity on the Dirt. Absolutely.

We don't need you for energy, food, water or even replacements.

We have solar power in the Inner System and fusion out where we need it.

We have habitats whose sole purpose is to grow food. Vast plantations out in the Asteroids spinning silently in the dark, with hectare after hectare of wheat and corn and soy,all suitably genetically diverse to avoid plagues.

We move mountains of ice to where we need them. It's considered an honour to get the first drink of water off a newly tamed comet.

We move mountains of stone to where we need them, too. We build our own worlds, with technology developed out here, where we have unlimited space and energy to experiment with anything we choose.

There are young adults on Mars who were born and raised there. Who are having their own families now.

Children on Mars aren't memorizing American state capital names, or Old World GNPs. They don't even call it the Old World because that's meaningless to them in that context. As far as they care, Earth is the Old World, people came from there and now they're on Mars.

Kids born at L5 have their own anthropological jargon to describe people, and it's catching on all through the Big. Here's a sample:

Old World - east hem
New World - west hem

European - eurogen
African - afrigen
Asian - asiogen
Indian - indogen
aboriginal (any) - eogen

So, I, born in the Big of Canadian European descended caucasian parents, am a west hem eurogen. NB, no caps.

These words are mere historical adjectives, with no negative connotation, like up and down or east and west. And here in the Big, when they're used, their meaning is completely local and consensual.

Yes, there's Jews and Muslims et cetera out here, but in most cases, they're like hobbyists. A few hardcases, to be sure, but life goes on.


The copyrighted name for OR/Aeneid's fusion plant, whether used as a rocket or a power source, is the Askr. It's really hardly ever used. It comes from ancient Norse myth of Ragnarok, the end of the rule of the ancient gods like Odin and Idun and Loki. After the apocalyptic war, two figures emerged, the first man and the first woman of the new world. (Historians usually point out the obvious Christian influence on the evolution of this part of the story.) Askr was the man and Embla was the woman. If you don't know, Embla is the nickname of the 'flying girl' figure in OR/Aeneid's logo.

Rumour has it that ASKR are the initials of relatives of one of the original founding principals of OR/Aeneid. False.


Re: ships and stations

Ever since the production of buckytubes and buckyballs was made practical by zeegee factories like at L5-l'Usine, stations or habitats are really just special cases of ships.

(I keep saying this) 'You know' the Gibraltar bridge was built with the substance sometimes called fullyester or bylon or half a dozen other copyrighted names for strings, cables, sheets or stays made of woven, braided, twisted, plaited or knitted long tubular carbon fibres that are the strongest substance we've ever made. And, yes, we have way more uses for it out here than you do down there.

The standard design for an OR/Aeneid ship is really the same as the design for a habitat, or as they're saying now 'communitat'. For years now, the standard construction material has been fullyester.

After a few test cases were built out at Ceres, including the showcase Amarna, OR/Aeneid approached the Europeans and joint-ventured the construction of L5-la Ville. And please, west hem eurogens should know that it's pronounced Ell Sank La Ville. It's French. L'usine means 'factory' and it was built by the Euros too, the old fashioned way.

Stations/habitats/communitats have to be as robust as any ship. First of all, they are seldom built in situ. They come with a standard fusion engine so they can be moved into place on completion. Or moved to another orbit or location later.

L5-la Ville is the largest station that OR/Aeneid has ever built. It's fifteen klicks long and four in diameter. It maintains one standard gee on the inside surface and it can even rain inside. It is such a design and functional success that several more are planned, some to replace the much smaller rings and toruses at L5 and L4. Even some of the geosynchs will be replaced.

'Communitats' like L5-la Ville can only become more common, so I imagine a time when there will be bred and born spacers who might never leave their home habitat, just like - ahem - you. I'm not really kidding, but I truly hope I'm wrong.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

I forgot that I was going to explain about the Wreck last time. I will this time, but a couple of related tangents first.

I was reminded sideways by a snotty e-mail from a Brazilian who plans to emigrate when she's old enough, and clicks on anything having to do with anything 100 klicks or more above the Dirt's surface. (And N.B. to correspondent in Atlantis, it may be Oceanus to you, Earth to everybody else, but it's still only the Dirt to me. Sorry if you're offended. Watch your language. I BCC'd your mother.)

Brazilian pointed out that everybody who has a clue about the Big knows what the Wreck is, and I don't have to assume that everybody on the Dirt knows nothing about the Big.

A bit of background, because, face it, you need it.

I had never been down to the Dirt in my life until just after the first war. I'd met the Admiral (only a captain then) through a mutual friend (see the first entry in this log) and later she invited me down to spend some time with her and her family.

When Command (they run things up here for the UN) found out I was going, they asked a favour, for which they would pay me. I was checked out to stay down for three months (after one month of 1 gee treadmill stuff at the L5 hospital) and could I take some of that time for a simple speaking tour of some Canadian and American schools within flying distance of Toronto? They wanted some live PR for immigration (that's what they called it then, now it's officially emigration, sounds more frontiery, I guess). I said yes.

So I spent some time travelling around, mostly to schools (yes, spacers, real-time meat-in-the-seats 'say present but only if you are' schools), and the occasional town hall meeting, real and VR.

Kids down there knew about the war, but since it had come nowhere near the Dirt, it was like a car-accident in another country. Sad but irrelevant. Command (and the UN) wanted me to give them my first hand account of things, which I did. I even had pictures. No, it wasn't morbid. My suit took them while I was in action and I kept them.

I remember a class in a town called Georgetown, outside Toronto. It was at one of the local high schools, the oldest as a matter of fact. It had seen better days, a long time ago. My speech was supposed to be a reward for all the high-rollers in the senior class, but in the end, they just opened the doors and let half the school in. The rest were watching in VR or on the screen in the cafetorium. I was popular.

I talked. I showed pictures. I talked some more. Sadly, some of them didn't care at all about the invasion or our losses, just the time off from classes. They didn't seem to understand - maybe couldn't - what the presence of two intelligent species fighting over territory implied about the galaxy, about our future, even when I spelled it out for them.

And I quote: "We are not alone. This isn't the tag-line from an old movie. This is the truth and it is terrible or awesome, as your imagination allows. Some of you might want to immigrate someday. Do it. And I can't tell you to forget all the dreams you might have about life out there. Go out with all the dreams you want. Just remember, that for the first fifty years, it was just us in the Big. There was no enemy but ourselves and our own inexperience and even stupidity. But the Thaiax invasion changed that completely. From now on, it is in our own best interests, as individuals who do not want to die, and as guardians of our own species, to be constantly aware that war could happen again at any time." (And as you know, it did, three years after the end of the first war.)

Well, it was mostly like pissing in the Big talking to these kids. That kid from Atlantis might understand about beautiful but innately deadly environments, but they didn't. Out here you can kill yourself two meters from your front door by pressing the wrong button on your spacesuit, failsafes be damned. And a very important point I tried to make over and over: your best buddy can kill you with one teensy stupid mistake. "The evolution of human culture in the Big is lamarckian," is what I told them, and left the ones to look it up who wanted to. It's memetic, too, of course. Letting the next guy know what killed you also goes into the rule-book for everybody else.

J.J Earthling can't get killed by forgetting a doorcode. (Spare me the e-mails, it's a generalization, not an absolute. I know what the crime rate is in some places down there.) J.J can't kill the family by pressing the red button instead of the blue one. And do you all know what happens if you're stupid enough to go EVA during a coronal mass ejection? Out here, if you're not on your toes all the time, you're 64 bytes in the obits tomorrow.

So to finish up my point to Brazilian, there is a lot you need to know and truly believe to survive out here. And you never know enough. But, guess what? You can't just go out with a memorized list of do/don't do. You have to be observant on every level. The Wreck taught us that. (Yeah, I know. Finally.)

Five years before the start of the first war, let's see. Control was keeping things humming at Earth/Luna (yes, one says Earth/Luna not Dirt/Luna). OR/Aeneid was single-handedly taming the Asteroid Belt and extending the frontier out to Jupiter and Saturn. As new ships came off the assembly lines at Ceres, they were sent inwards, sometimes with robot pilots, sometimes with meat. The people who'd commissioned them or selected them out of a catalog would pick them up and sign on with the next caravan going back out. The Guard (now Service and the Fleet) had regular scheduled runs according to orbital stats. Safety in numbers because there were pirates.

Hey, another small tangent, because some of you don't get this when it's really easy. Earth orbits the Sun in one year. So does Mars, but it's one martian year, which is about two Earth years. Ceres' orbit is even longer, and Jupiter's even more so. You don't aim your ship at Mars where it is when you leave, you aim where it's going to be when you get there. Huh?

Ah, my old friend Distance, and his brother-in-arms, Celestial Mechanics. Factors to consider when planning a trip outside Earth/Luna are basic. Say you're a freighter captain with a contract to take some luxury items to Mars. They mass a certain amount on top of what your ship does, fully fuelled, provisioned and crewed. Your contract stipulates a latest allowable delivery date. Where's Mars going to be by that date? So your departure time, speed and fuel consumption all depend on that. How much mass do you have to get to Mars in how tight a time window? Does the Guard have a caravan scheduled that matches up, or do you a) go alone (dangerous) or b) try to get a caravan of your own together and get the Guard to fly along? Let's say b).

So you're on your way out to the Asteroid Belt with your caravan and a couple of Guard ships armed with mass-driver rail-guns, some big lasers, and maybe experimental plasma cannon at that time.

In an earlier post I mentioned that we put telescopes on everything because we have to. Part of the original reason was to find approaching objects whose path might or might not intercept your own. On an outbound caravan, that would almost certainly be pirates, since anything natural would probably have been charted and redflagged years before. But we look at everything anyway, cuz we don't call it the Big for nuthin'.

You find the Wreck. Your name goes down in history and it's all you talk about at parties for the rest of your life.

Captain Mike Cecutti was the ranking officer on that (real) caravan. (Invite him to a party. He loves it.) The trip was unscheduled and the due date tight, so they were going faster than usual on a non-standard trajectory, but they were being tracked from Earth/Luna and from Mars. If the trip had never happened, or if the Guard had refused to accompany the caravan, the Wreck would probably never have been found. But it was.

At first they thought it was a wrecked human ship of non-standard (ie, non OR/Aeneid) manufacture. The second thing they noticed was that markings on the hull appeared to be in the same alphabet as the inscription on the Czech Probe.

It had been holed by a high-velocity object and then apparently been almost completely cannibalized and left adrift. Calculations suggested that at one point some years before it had been in or very near the Jovian system.

It took some doing, but with Guard negotiated changes to that freight hauler's contracted delivery date, and some fuel borrowed from the caravan ships, two of the Guard ships hauled the Wreck back to Earth/Luna. It might have been easier just to take it to Mars with them, but Control wanted it back home ASAP.

Now be aware that there really were pirates. They came from small rat-hole colonies out in the Asteroids who needed food, air, volatiles, reaction mass for their fusion plants, whatever.There weren't a lot of them, and lost colonies died fast, but they were a definite nuisance on single ships and even caravans. Uusally out in the Asteroids, but they been known to attack within Mars' orbit.

Ships had been disappearing without a trace, or found holed in exactly the same way, for several years at that point. The pirates had been blamed for all of it. The Wreck suggested very strongly that the aliens who left the Czech Probe had attacked one of their own ships exactly the same way ours had been.

You see where this leads. We'd been under attack for some time by then, and didn't even realize it.

You may not know that a very appropriate (for us) expression from an old movie became very popular around that time. "Keep watching the skies!"

Friday, July 19, 2002

I had been thinking about this next point for a while when I got an e-mail from that friend of mine you've all probably heard of. She was a hero of the last war and is an outspoken proponent of immigration out to the Big, even though she still lives down there on the Dirt. She asked me to talk about the Wars.

Now, I had been hoping to put off writing about the Wars specifically for as long as possible. It was a strange time for many of us, even surreal. Nobody with a practical soul (and to survive in the Big you have to be ice-cold practical a lot of the time) ever thought that we would find ourselves engaged in a guerilla/territorial war with an alien species that basically blind-sided and sucker-punched us. Everything we had ever read or learned about the Big stated that chances were we'd never see another intelligent technological species and likely never actually hear from one either. Well, I looked one right in the face out at Mimas.

"Straighten them out" she wrote. "Tell them where the Fleet came from. Tell them it wasn't all Star Wars and Independence Day or even Ender's Game.Tell them how cold and boring our patrols were. Tell them what it was like to stare for months into the Big Empty and end up just hurting for company, even an dark-eyed enemy ship." Bit of a poet, our admiral.

And so I will. I was there too, so I know exactly what she means. She was an officer, and I was infantry on a different ship, but what we both went through and came out the other side was a whole lot of nothing, interspersed with severe jolts of making history.

I'm going to explain to you about police navies, lost colonies, pirates & privateers, daring rescues, magic cities, seven league boots. (Only some of that is a joke.)

The place to start, I suppose, is how we conquered the tremendous distances from point A to point B. The ones I think about. Remember?

The single most important factor in the human colonization of the solar system deserves to be written like this:


Like television, functional fusion power came about by the happy meeting of several different little theories and technologies and innovators. In fusion's case, it was in a lab on Luna in 2032. I don't know the particulars and don't ask me how fusion works, but it does, and OR/Aeneid keeps making it better. If you really need/want to know, then do the research. It's all out there, everything from the basic ABCs to <insert something impressively scientific here yourself.>

So at that point, we had cheap, easily controlled, very efficient and highly productive fusion power.

That was in the ivory towers of science.

Out in the real world...

A few years before, a small geospace startup called Ohi-Ridpath (first initials sound familiar? It's the same OR as in OR/Aeneid, and everybody knows who they are) had got hold of the metallurgical assay of an NEA called Gamma 2016. One of the crew on the actual team on the asteroid had e-smuggled the data, encrypted, to an accomplice at NASA, and it got out on the web from there.

The assay (and again, all this is public knowledge) showed the usual and expected high levels of iron, nickel, some carbon, with the added bonus of half the surface of the asteroid was encrusted with mostly water ice, likely from a fairly recent brush with a comet or cometary fragment.

OR landed a cobbled together refinery/rolling mill on Gamma 2016 and basically started to build ships. The plan was to build them cheap but sturdy, sell them to the pioneers, and float back and collect the rewards. And that's exactly what they did for a while.

Then when it became possible to lease the rights to the new fusion patent, OR was rich enough to outbid everyone, even most governments. (This was during the period when the most critical national priorities were rising sea levels and protecting humans and animals from the rapidly increasing ozone depletion. The same reasons why you probably live in an arcology or a mall-city.)

OR had originally planned to lease the best NEAs that came into the Inner System. They would mine them up to a certain allowed percentage of mass, build their ships (and later stations) then go on to the next. But the unlimited energy, high speed and time-savings that fusion power offered got them thinking really hard about the original business plan.

Finally someone on staff thought to take Mohammed to the mountain. They moved the whole project out to Ceres. All the rocks they would ever need were right there and being at the frontier was useful for many reasons. At Ceres, OR established the colony that would one day become the fabled city called Zion-in-Starlight. I have been there, oh my readers, and I will never forget what beauty humans are capable of building with space-rock, clunky robots and cometary ice.

OR became OR/Aeneid and would be instrumental in us winning both wars against the Thaiax, due in part to their eccentric maintenance contracts and lifetime replacement policies..

And it's just been announced as I write this that - surprise, surprise - OR/Aeneid has won the UN's contract to build your space elevator. Now ain't that somethin'?

The fact that they are richer than half the human race combined and that most of the spaceships in existence come from Ceres is just a minor historical footnote. =;]

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Oho, my loyal readers! An old two-part weblegend rears its ugly mug, yet again. I think everybody thought that this old thing had been thrown out the airlock long ago (taken out behind the barn and shot, same thing).

I'd been doing some research for this log and came across pages of hits on a websearch that were all fairly recent, all references to these 'facts'. Okay, it's human nature to believe what you're told when you trust the source, but these yarns have been debunked so many times that even Graham Hancock's ghost doesn't believe them anymore. (Look him up.)

Part 1:The Czech Probe

This was found in Mare Tranquilitatis, Luna in 2029, about 20 kilometers from Tranquility Base.

It was a, by then, electrically dead device, equipped with a dish antenna aimed at Earth and one facing out into the Big. About twice the size of the base of the LEM, It was made out of some pretty prosaic metals and alloys and some pretty interesting substances used as sheilding and insulation. Of course, the electronics were completely new to us, too. It made the news bigtime.

Otherwise well-informed websites are still saying that one of the pieces of evidence for the presence of the Thaiax in the solar system from well before the war is in reality a Czech space probe launched in, variously, 1972, 1978 or 1984. No. It's called evidence of Thaiax presence because it IS evidence of Thaiax presence.

Analysis of its exposed surfaces for exposure to cosmic rays indicate that it has been there since about 2000, and is the closest anything associated with the Thaiax has ever come to Earth, even during the wars.

Prague has posted notices several times on the national homepage that, much as they would like to claim credit for something like that, they can't. It would have been during the Soviet era, and what was then Czechoslovakia simply didn't have the technology. If you check it out, you'll find they provide a list of links to all sorts of pages about the Probe, from scientifically serious to woo-woo crazy.

One thing that's funny is that because this story was so prevalent ten years ago, even historians started calling it the Czech Probe, instead of its formal name, TMA 1.

Part 2:'Thaiax' is Czech for 'Alien'

Where do they come up with this stuff? The Czech for 'alien' or 'foreign' is zahranic'ni. I don't know how to pronounce it, but you can look it up if you want.

This probably is just an extension of the first part of the weblegend.

But do you really want to know why we call them Thaiax? Huh? Send me enough e-mails and I'll tell you.

No, that's cruel.

Hopefully you know that we've never ever talked to one. We don't know how they communicate with each other, and we honestly don't know if they've ever really tried to communicate with us, outside of the rebus they sent that ended the First Thaiax War. And that was just our own video sent back to us, played backwards; a human ship moving away from a Thaiax ship. You've all seen it.

So we don't know what they call themselves, or what they call us, for that matter. As far as physiology goes, there's lots of autopsy data and analysis/extrapolation on the bodies they have out at Ares 51, but you can look that up for yourselves.

So on to the name. This part, to me, is more interesting (read 'fun') than the very odd attribution of the probe to the Czechs. Go find a VR of the probe. If you don't have VR, find a 3D movie. Got one? Okay.

Bring the camera in so that it points straight on at the inscription on the band around the middle. It usually shows up as black on beige. Now, whichever media you're using, turn it upside down, or stand on your head. Rotate the image slowly from right to left. What you're looking at is what is believed to be an alphabetic sequence and that's all they're saying it might be. It could say the equivalent of 'McDonnell-Douglas' or 'GM' or it could say 'The Only Good Human Is A Dead Human!' We have no way of knowing. Yet.

As it rotates, you'll see a pair of wiggly exclamation marks. Just after that, you'll see a sequence of characters that look like distorted versions of the lower case Romans letters that spell 'Thaiax'. Seriously.

In 2032, at Giordano Bruno, one of the journalists attending the first conference noticed this and it stuck, just like 'the Czech Probe'.

Now I think I'm not anticipating the Admiral's coming autobiography by telling you that this discovery and the much later discovery of the Wreck were what inspired her to sign up with what was then the Guard. She'd been second officer on a nice Earth/Luna freight and immigrants loop, on a little ship called Bournville. Something about the undeniable presence of non-human sentients right at our own front door got to her, and she enlisted with what was then basically a UN police force and bodyguard for ships going out to Mars and the Asteroids. Check out her book when it's posted. She'll do a fine job of explaining herself, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

This entry is going to sound whiny.

It occurs to me that all of you Earthlings (it's been politely suggested that I refrain from calling you Dirtsiders), you know how many you are, are living lives that have been basically unchanged since the days of your grandparents.

Oh, sure. There's been major political changes in China, Africa and India. Sea-levels are higher now than ever before. England has tornadoes, there's malaria in Vermont, and you've lost more species in every biome in the last fifty years than in the previous five hundred. Definitely your grandparents wouldn't recognize a lot of what you have that they didn't; VR, gene-hacks, cybersex. But economics have barely changed, the global economy is still based on money, and you still work to get paid to buy groceries to live.

If you're reading this, you may end up being an exception, but most of you have never and will never see a spacer in the flesh. VR doesn't count. There's billions of you and at last estimate (because we don't census well) there were about 3x105 of us out here, spread from Mercury to Saturn. Most of us don't like leaving the Big, but don't assume that just because Luna has gravity, it isn't in the Big. It is.

I know from my e-mail that a lot of you have olde tyme romantic notions about the Big, about spacers and space travel. And I know that VRs about the wars are way more popular than documentaries and that the VRs do it all wrong. It's probably a feedback loop; the producers give you what they think you want to see and you respond by wanting to see more of what they gave you. Human nature plus ratings equals...

But whatever you think happened during the two Thaiax wars is probably wrong. And most of you will go to your graves with the wrong movies playing back in your heads. I hope I can do a little something about that.

And I think I speak for every spacer, born and immigrant, when I tell you that no matter how efficient your apartment is at it, no matter what brand you use to do it, no matter how small a package your kitchen delivers to the municipality, you guys don't know nothin' about recycling.

Seriously. Now I truly believe that Distance is the single most important factor in defining human culture out in the Big. Sometimes though, when I think about being in a small, closed, artificial pseudo-ecosystem (read patrol-ship on picket duty), I almost want to change my mind. Especially when I just want a drink of water.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

I won't say that humans out in the Big and most of you down on Earth are becoming two different peoples. But our sensibilities can be very different.

Take multi-party on-line conferences. Three parties, let's say. Yours:Toronto, Hong Kong, and London. Mine:Clavius, L5-la-ville, and High Manhattan.

You moan about 3 or 4 seconds latency between parties. Five is just insufferable and anything more is a letter off to the carrier with a copy posted to your favourite discussion groups. You have what we call 'Least Fuss Routing' of data packets (that's your fussing, not the carriers or the routing software), so data always gets where it's going the fastest possible way, fibre, radio-link, or worst choice, satellite or copper. Along with higher priority for video and audio data streams over simple text or binary transfers, you're surfing in paradise. And you don't appreciate it.

The worst crowflight your data can take is all the way around the world at the equator, which is what, 38,000 km? And the speed of light in a vacuum is 3x105 kps. So allow a little slower transmission rate for fibre or atmosphere, and 3 or 5 seconds is worst latency you're likely to get on an average day down on the Dirt. (Don't e-mail me with documented proof of 10 seconds latency on a simple ping back in '68. I said average.)

Our conference on the other hand, has all three legs that are each nearly 4x105 km long. One way. So just to say 'hey' and get a 'hey' back is 3 seconds. If there's no data congestion. And no EM interference from the Sun, or you guys.(Radio free-for-all light-minutes out in all directions, I swear.) So, when the people at our three locations are trying to have an important meeting, the one with the slowest latency time has to wait until the one with the longest has got the original -say - question, and thought about it and replied.

There is no way adding more data pipelines can overcome this. The problem is not a paucity of routes or inefficient routing algorithms. We have stations and relays and satellites all over, and our networking software is by and large better than yours. The problem is the limitation imposed on our communications by distance, by c.

Okay. So I'll hope you get the difference. That is, why we think differently, and not just about how we communicate. That's only an example. And a good metaphor.

The distances out here are truly the thing. You might think it was the Big itself, the vacuum, 'the final physics lesson' as one guy put it. No. It's the distance.

And I bet you're thinking right now, 'Hmm. Travel must be an imperial bitch.'


And I'm breaking my own rule about these postings by coming back a day later to add one thing relevant to the distance/latency issue. Spacers are, by a long shot, way more patient than you.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

You can't see the Big from down here on the Dirt. Yeah you can, you tell me. Go up north! Go out at night! Look at all those stars, man. Nope. Sorry. All what stars? You're missing -oh, a few. And stars don't twinkle. And where's the colours?

I can stand at a rec-room viewport in Mosco City on Farside and see farther back in time than you can anyplace on the Dirt. There's starlight arriving from out there that doesn't have a star anymore, it's been travelling for so long. That orphan starlight just gets absorbed by your atmosphere. But out in the Big, if you're looking at the right tiny window of space at exactly the right time, you might see new light arriving here from stars that only ignited fifty-thousand years ago. I watched a stellar nursery bloom one day a year or two before the first war. Just because I could.

Spacers put telescopes everywhere, robotic and manual, watching the whole spectrum. We have to. Most of the time we track asteroids, space-junk(yours and ours) and ordinary, prosaic celestial objects. But we keep an eye on each other too. Everybody knows everybody else's comings and goings because we have to. But sometimes we aim the telescopes at the nebulae and it looks like we're just doing research. And for the most part we are. But we've been doing this for over fifty years, and we learn the signs. Sometimes, the word goes around. 'Cassie out at Linden 2033 says that stellar creche she e-mailed us about is definitely going to bloom soon. Time and coordinates follow.' Pass it on.

Sunday, June 30, 2002

I should probably tell you the truth about how I met Luisa Perrella.

It was just after the the first Thaiax War ended and I was in a spacers’ bar called the See & Call in the bowels of Clavius, the worst spaceport on good old Luna. If you don’t know what I mean by ‘worst’ ask any spacer you know. Or just search on synonyms for ‘stinking hell’.

It was dirty and smelly. The publican was some new cheap-ass since the old cheap-ass had gone broke during the war with no spacers around. It was hotter and noisier than a Class Fiver spinning out in flames, and I oughta know. Everybody was yelling because they had to, and I heard seven different languages just walking from the door to my buddy Jim’s table. The new guy was letting people smoke if they wanted too, but all the recently released draftees and merx were still following wartime shipside discipline, so it was one annoyance we nobler customers were spared. For now.

Jim was just back from the war too. He’d sworn he’d make it because he had two boys and great wife to get back to down on the Dirt, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, right about where the Great Ontario Elephant’s jewels would be. He been drafted after the first Thaiax invasion, but they found out he wasn’t just boarding party and he got to spend the two years on tech and tactics behind the lines.

I grabbed a girl whose age probably made her illegal in here whether she was client or server and ordered a beer. I sat down. Jim smiled through a short new beard (in the army you weren’t allowed facial hair) and we shook hands. I hadn’t seen him since this shit started and I will admit to being quite a bit happier right then and there than I’d been in a long time.

“Chupta?” I asked as if it was just yesterday when I saw him off at Tycho, with his hard-copy letter to his wife and kids in my hand. I was supposed to send it express that day, because I wasn’t supposed to be drafted, but I was, and she didn’t get it for weeks, and only then by regular post.

“Don’t mention the war, buddy,” he said and we both laughed. Not only was everybody saying that, but Basil Fawlty’s sound-bite was probably being e-mailed to more people across the System than Queen Caroline’s weird abdication speech. That saying was scrawled in public washrooms, sprayed across lunar cliffs, and translated into every known human language, real, artificial and imaginary, including Klingon and Elvish. Rumour had it that the Thaiax were getting an earful (or whatever) of it too.

He went on. “I am deloused, debriefed, demobbed and delighted. I’m on the 1800 shuttle to High Manhattan, then from there tomorrow morning to JFK, then to Toronto tomorrow aft. I am so totally pissed off at three seconds latency that I kept getting back in line at the Demobilization Office until they got sick of me. Going home, Dave. I am going home.” Just then my beer actually arrived.

Home for me was – well, never mind. But just because I didn’t have a family to go home to didn’t mean I was jealous. Well, okay. A little jealous. I wished it was me, but I was glad it was him. “Yeah, well when you get yourself settled, send me an invite so’s I can stay a week or too. I’ve never been down to the Dirt, you know.”

He’d never known that about me. I was one of the first generation that were born in the Big. We took our treatments and pills and observed strict physical discipline for our bones and cardiovascular health, but most of us never really wanted to drop into a gravity well. And if we did, it would be where the really happening shit was going on, Mars or Europa or even the newer rotating asteroid shells. I’d heard that Dirt air smelled wrong. But I’d brave it for my buddy.

He looked off towards the doorlock, then his eyes went wide with surprise and he roared “Hey! Luisa!”

I looked over. So did a couple of other guys. Two years of shipside took over and we all stood up. Some of us even started to salute. Captain’s bars.

“Stand easy, you idiots!” she laughed. “War’s over, remember? Hiya, Jim. Who’s the demob?” She reached out to shake my hand. Part of me recoiled. She noticed my hesitation and laughed again. “You’ll get over it.”

“David Barker, ma’am.” I shook her hand carefully, and started smiling myself. I was not in the army anymore.

“Ma’am,” she said. “I’m Luisa Perrella to you. What ship were you?” She sat down and gestured to someone she thought might be a server.

Isildur,” I said softly, but she couldn’t miss the look on my face when I said it. Jim winced. He hadn’t known that either.

“I’m sorry. She was a good ship.”

“Yeah. Good captain.”

“I knew him.” She tapped her lapel. “UNS Thorold. I only got these the week before the Armistice. My captain was injured at Enceladus and I had to take over. He was invalided out after and They made it official. Getting saluted still makes me nervous.”

“Hey, saluting still makes me nervous and I’ve been trying to get it right for two years.”

“So, Jim,” she said. “Who’s David Barker?”

“We worked together on the BCB project, when it was still secret. He was on the voice component team.”

She looked over at me. “Bugger to work with, isn’t he.” Jim opened his mouth to object, then decided he agreed with her.

“Probably, but I wasn’t on his team so I didn’t have to put up with him. So how do you know him?” I asked.

“Kids were in the same daycare in Toronto. Then when I enlisted and my hubby and kids moved up here, we stayed in touch. Didn’t know he was up here himself until after BCB went public. Then the war started.”

“Don’t mention the war,” all three of us said at the same time. It was echoed across the noisy room like a mantra. Everybody seemed to order another round of drinks at the same time, as if that saying and getting drunker went hand in hand. And they did, believe me.

Luisa didn’t drink though (she got a fake mineral water; 'Eaux Faux' they called it), so I was careful with mine. We chatted about things for a while, and yeah, it was impossible not to mention the war, because it was all the three of us (and everybody else in the bar) had been thinking about for two years. It turned out that I was the only one of us who’d actually seen a Thaiax, albeit through its space suit ‘helmet’ or ‘chest-window’ or something, during one of the rare boarding raids on a captured enemy shuttle out at Saturn, before Isildur went to join the gods. Luisa had seen combat twice but had never been injured. Jim sort of felt guilty about being safe in the dome on Titan the whole time. But Luisa and I were adamant. It was his work as much as ours that had helped win the war.

It felt really good to be able to talk like that about things. I’d been angry as hell when they drafted me out of the blue against all expectation, given my clearance and job. But when it’s for the human species, down on the Dirt or out in the Big, you realize it’s the right thing to do, even if all your own plans are changed, even if you think you’re going to get fried or freeze-dried or aerosoled. You just do it. Luisa had figured that out by herself, long before the war. I’d gotten used to the idea pretty quick once it was inevitable. And Jim realized he’d better be working his ass off for people like us who were really out there.

Luisa had a great idea then. She had the keys to Thorold’s shuttle. And the keys to Thorold too, as it turned out. All three of us went out to her ship, she gave Jim and me the tour and we spent several hours just hanging out and talking in the captain’s cramped ‘salon’ as she called her staff-room.

Jim’s gone now, but he died at home with his family there. Luisa and I are still good friends. Her husband and children are my friends too, which fact I take great comfort in. I’ve met some amazing people because of my friendship with her, some I’d even brave the gravity well and bad air for. And have done.

She was still in the army during the second Thaiax invasion but we won again. It was worse than the first war because we were on more solar real estate than the first time. And whatever the Thaiax’ reasons for invading, they were meaner this time. Luisa lost two ships in major battles, made admiral (to save the rest of the fleet said her husband Reid) and came home again in one piece.

It’s been seven or eight years so far. The Thaiax haven’t come back and I have actually been down to the Dirt six times now. The air is funny. But it really is worth it for your friends.