Monthly Archives: May 2014

30 Cubed – The Climatologist

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Earth’s first star ship had left the planet in the early 2030s. At that point in time the ship was structured to last a hundred years. The engineers knew that the target system would not be reached until the third generation reach maturity. The ship’s libraries were loaded with every digital record available. The planners also knew that they could only structure strong suggestions on shipboard culture and governance and schooling. Once contact with earth was lost, the tiny, inconsequential seed pod of humanity would be on its own traversing some small piece of a vast universe.

That of course, was then. Barely two decades later the unrelenting commercial and social pressures had driven the physicists and engineers to create the dreamed of warp drive. The keys to the universe finally dropped into humanity’s lap. And there were those ready to go. If the Centennial Ship had stayed on course and reached its destination, the new fleet would find them in a mere 5 years. We knew we could go faster, but this was the maiden voyage. After much haggling this time period was considered a sedate route and one that would permit a substantial amount of science on the way. The day arrived when the new ships were ready to launch from near earth orbit. I had dreamed of this moment for 20 years. My name is Andrew. I am a climatologist with a second degree in planetary sciences and I have a berth on Argosy; one of three ships in the fleet.

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In many ways it doesn’t seem possible that we have been in space for five years. I have to admit there are days when it seems forever. We have spent the last six months adding scans and surveys to our working load to see if we can pick up any sign of carbon based, oxygen breathing life in the system before us. This is where we had sent of Century Ship; it was time to see if the pioneers had made it.

Braking into the system we scanned the local moons to find likely candidates. The gas giants were useless, except for mining, and the rocky worlds were too big. The change in our mass would have made it difficult if not impossible to move around the planet. Especially after five years of reduced gravity. Moons is where we had sent them, moons is where we would look. There were 11 good possibilities. The landing crew was already discussing possible first attempts when my systems told me exactly where to look.

Settled in an orbit around one of the gas giants was a rocky moon with a great deal of water. It seemed strange that they would pick something this far from the host star, but there seemed to be enough free oxygen in the air that the high probability of terraforming was evident. There also seemed to be quite a bit of debris in the planet’s near orbit. I will grant you it was a beautiful planet. Seeming to glow with a fire all its own, it was an easy rival to our own Jupiter. No other body in the system seemed to have the requisite chemical composition. Then I found the ship. No detail this far out, but the mass seemed off. Well, we’d be there in a week and see what was happening. I wonder if they’ve seen us.

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We’re here. Though I’m not sure yet how welcome we are. Replies to our calls have been short and non-committal. Evidently, at least that’s what they are saying, there are some transitional things we must go through before we can actually land. I wish they would hurry. It’s spooky out here watching the huge Century Ship orbit the moon. It’s a hulk now. The colonists had gutted it for anything of use on the surface and appeared to be reclaiming the metals at this point. They say they have changed in some ways and need to know if we will do well in their environment. Possibly. But why do I feel like salvage?

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30 Cubed – The Players

It is a legend born out of the distant frozen north. Ancient as the ice sheets which remained in the summer-long day, yet renewed each season as the great sea swelled with new life and nutrients. It was the heartbeat of the north, announcing the coming and going of the winter-long night. The tribes that inhabited the land could not say where the story began, they only knew it had been passed down, seemingly forever. The story went something like this.

The masters of the great ice ocean were and always have been the great Polar Bears. Full grown males weigh in at 770 to 1,540 pounds. Their ladies only half that size. These great beasts do not sleep the winter away, unless the individual is a pregnant sow. No, the great white hunters are active all winter long, wandering the ice-encrusted world under a sunless sky. A bit lonely, one would think. Possibly even boring. So what does a bear with a full stomach and no parental duties do in the dark?

That’s where the legend comes from. You see, once Polar Bears have full stomachs they can be a rather jovial bunch. Males are not adverse to, well, playing together. It was something that started in a small group, just two or three bears, in friendly competition. Who could pounce the deepest hole in the ice to catch a seal? Who could break up the ice to hunt down a good swimming spot to find a good floe? In all the exercise someone noticed that large chunks of ice traveled well on the sea ice and it was interesting to see who could hit it furthest. The competition grew.

So it became an annual affair. After the sun has slipped below the horizon for its winter absence, out would come the champions of the prior year to defend their title and find new ways to compete on the open sea ice. Some years could be a bit lean and if so, well, tempers were not quite as jovial.

Not so far to the south of bear country was another roaming animal, a great beast of nearly the same weight. This one, however, sported great antlers build in wide paddles with massive force when applied in rutting battles. Of course these huge racks would drop before the winter chills descended on the tundra. Somewhat, well, denuded, solitary males wandered the winter tundra for something to do to keep in shape while on a reduced winter diet. The ruckus raised by bears apparently doing battle drew the attention of some of these solitary souls.

What had first sounded like a fierce battle now appeared as something quite different. There were pouncing bears, rolling bears, bears digging holes in the snow, and bears throwing or scooting ice. As the dehorned beasts watched, a large chunk of ice landed at their feet. The bears stopped and looked intently at the newcomers.

Now, you need to understand that under certain circumstance, bears have no problem helping themselves to a dinner of moose. So, for such an event as our legend to take place, everybody had to have very full tummies and no concerns about continued resources. But this is how the story goes.

The moose kicked the ice chunk back.

And so the great and hallowed spirit game of Hockey was born.

Now you know why even when the great northern country brought the ancient legend to the ice rink of 20th century human settlements, it wasn’t a game until their southern neighbors were invited to join.

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A bit of a jab at my dear friends north of the border. After five years in Canada I can tell you that Hockey is far more than a sport in the great white north. Even more than “football” in American, it is a cultural icon.

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30 Cubed – The Chemist

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A dog lay on the porch just out of the hot, afternoon sun. The casual observer would think that he was sound asleep. Odd, on a sunny afternoon like today. Must be an old dog, too tired to investigate the summer meadow that surrounded the old cabin. The dog, however, was not asleep. On close inspection the ears were cocked; on occasion rotating like radio telescopes, listening, while the dog barely breathed. Without warning he sprung up, fully alert, watching the path to the creek bed.

Jake came sauntering up the pathway, wet to his thighs. Even in the warm sun he was shivering from the chill water. He carried a satchel, one he had carried for many years as he made his daily trek to the creek bed. It wasn’t fish he was after. No. Neither dog nor man could eat the fish in that stream. Long ago the runoff from farms and mines further upstream had tainted his catch. Now he relied on other sources of food. He and his dog.

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Adele sat in front of her screen and tried to make sense of the readings forming on the charts in front of her. She had monitored output from this particular site for over two years and she had never seen this particular combination of chemicals and byproducts. In some ways she hated her job. She was supposed to be a safety inspector. Someone who reported when levels of waste were toxic and should not be released into the river banks below. But those reports never seemed to get to the right desk.

The filtering plant they had constructed a year ago did not follow the design drafted by the engineers. She wasn’t sure if it was time or money or both, but it sure didn’t do the job is was supposed to. She had seen the original plans, it should have worked, but it didn’t. In fact, things seemed to be getting worse. What she could not understand was the change that was occurring. Why were these things combining this way? They should be breaking down in to less hazardous byproducts, not building something new.

The hunt for how life sparks had been going on for decades. Some labs had found ways to combine inorganic chemicals to create amino acids. Even some of the building blocks of RNA had been created in laboratory circumstances. Research had also been conducted on the possible formation of the first cells membranes; something absolutely required in the creation of a living thing. A wall that says, me and not me. Science had failed, however, to find that spark, the leap from inorganic chemistry to organic life. Some, of course, felt the question could not be answered by science alone. Adele was uncommitted.

Throughout her career, Adele had kept an open mind on the origin of life. She knew there were holes in evolutionary theory, but for all intents and purposes, it was a good working model. If only biologists could learn the same sanguine method of addressing questions as physicists had. Most physicists just followed the numbers and didn’t worry too much about the argument. Ask a biologist something that sounded like you were a true believer and more times than not, well, Adele just didn’t have the patience. It was probably the reason she chose inorganic chemistry. It seemed safer. Until today.

Something was happening in the slush pond above the drainage field and Adele was pretty certain she wasn’t going to figure it out sitting behind a computer screen. A field trip was in order. Knowing that people were touchy about samples being taken from the ponds she planned her trip at a time she might not be disturbed. She could work up some preliminary tests in her home lab. If there was something interesting she would figure out what to do next.

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Jake and his dog entered the old cabin and Jake put the hare he had snared on the kitchen counter. He had dressed it in the field to make sure that it was healthy and unharmed. Since his rabbits were kept in a separate pen far from the creek and given filtered water, he really hoped they would be fine. At least for a bit longer. He and dog would be moving soon. Really, couldn’t stay much longer. Nope. Not after what he found in the creek, under the trees, on this sunny afternoon.

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30 Cubed – The Analyst

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Fixing it. Sometimes the lure of a chance to, well, do it over and do it right is intoxicating. The human curiosity of how we might make the math come alive in the “real” world taunts us. Surely the math can’t lie. If time has no arrow in the equations, then why do we still see an arrow?

Given the current state of affairs in my life, time travel was beginning to look more than desirable; it was looking downright necessary. My job was out the window, my wife had shown me the door, and most of the friends I had were avoiding me in case I was contagious. And the thing was that I knew when things went bad. Well let’s face it, a lot of people knew, when but I seriously suspected it before it all came crashing down. I grumbled about it almost daily. My wife was sick of it. Maybe that’s why she kicked me out. “I told you so,” are not words that endear you to people or create deep bonds.

Aw, see? That’s where the problem was, bonds. One of the things that any mathematical or physics theoretical specialist will tell you is to not apply the math unless the entire scenario fits. Some seriously damaged soul had taken a mathematical algorithm that defined how bodies of a certain mass react and applied it to bonds. If bonds have any mass it can only be defined by the amount of puffery used to sell the things. Why, then were we using the math of gravity (as we knew it) to define bond markets? It was insane and it kept me up at night.

It’s taken me months of research, quiet investigation and not a few bribes. I have, however, found someone that is sure they have a functioning pathway to the past. They were quietly looking for volunteers because one person had to stay in the present while one went into the past. I was game. And I knew just where I wanted to go.

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Wall Street in the late 1990s was on fire. There was a perception in the country that things were really moving up. I knew then and I know now that the real numbers were far gloomier. Expendable income in the majority of households had not risen in a decade or more. But people believed. And when they believed they spent money. I was there to find the one person that would change the course of the future. The MBA who thought it was a good idea to mix physics with finance. Surely I could explain the facts of life and economics over a nice Manhattan lunch and return to a saner world, a world where I still had a job.

His name was not widely known. A student in a university taking an MBA with a serious interest in economics. He fell in love with math. He had been looking for a way to determine future yield on bond markets. Something reliable in an emotion driven market. (You didn’t really think that market investments were driven by logic, now did you)?

I had to convince this person that the idea he was about to take to Wall Street was the worst economic decision the world had seen since the crash. I found him in an off-campus diner, chatting with another student. Placing myself to hear the conversation I realized that this was the physics student that would drive him off course. Friendly as I could be I introduced myself as a visiting professor of economics. During our lunch I did my best to point out the pit falls of combining the fields in the manner they were attempting. Believing I had made my point I took my leave and found my way back to the portal.

I found things as they should be in the lab. My guide, however, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps I didn’t return exactly as expected, so I went in search of information. Walking down the hall I saw a television on in what appeared to be a break room. Several people were watching the program on the screen and I stepped in to listen. There was the student, now a few years older and he appeared to be under arrest. Moving closer I heard the newscaster rattle off some statistics that only made sense in one context. The camera pulled out and on the building behind him an all too familiar logo came into focus. Oh, he had learned all right. When I suggested his formula would cause havoc in the bond market he simply switched tactics and sold his paper, and his life to Enron. I had arrived too early. And most of it was going to happen again.

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30 Cubed – The Anthropologist

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There was a time, back in the early 21st century, when the debate surrounding interstellar travel settled into roughly three camps. These were the “go now with what we have,” the “wait a few decades and the physics/technology will grow so quickly we would out run the first mission” and, well, the “do we really care?” crowd.

The last was understandable as it became increasingly clear that space was not a friendly place. The problems that would be faced by the human mind, body, and spirit were daunting. More and more people began to realize that leaving our cozy home was not going to be all that easy. Perhaps, we should take better care of that home. After decades of abuse, restoring portions of the earth to health would demand a multinational commitment of funds and energy. How could there be anything left for space travel?

There was, as there always had been, a portion of humanity that could not resist the call of the stars. Unwilling to wait on the political will, private companies began to spring up and look seriously at the requirements for getting members of this delicate race on to the surface of another galactic body; and hopefully avoid such things as stars and black holes. Some companies formed coalitions to share costs, some specialized and provided needed technology and research to those who would dare to try. Eventually, the “go now” crowd won out and a star ship took shape.

I’ve studied the history of how my ship was built. The strange political maneuverings and financial schemes intrigue and confuse me. It is a culture as foreign to me as native cultures must have been to exploders in our race’s far distant past. I have spent many hours in our ship’s library, learning about human history and the failures and successes of the meetings between cultures and species. You see, I am the ship’s anthropologist and it is my job to help maintain a healthy onboard culture and to help make the smoothest contact possible when we arrive at our destination.

I am the second generation born in transit. This is, of course, a very good sign that we have overcome most of the unknown hazards during the birthing and rearing of the first in-transit generation. We started with all that earth could offer, including our own magnetic field. But space is unforgiving. Even with artificial gravity, it is not a full “G,” whatever that should mean to us on board now. Consequently, our bodies changed. Many of the regimens demanded of our grandparents were abandoned by our parents. We know we must prepare for some change in mass, but we have yet to discover what that change will be. So I spend hours at a time searching for clues of how we might react and what systems I can put in place to make that transition easier. After all this time we really can’t opt for staying on board. The ship will not last forever and some of the systems are beginning to show their age. Including the nuclear plant that brought us here. When we arrive at our destination we will have to find a place to call home.

Home. How do we define a home we have never seen and that we are just now learning about? We are approaching the system that has been our goal for three generations. Our libraries tell us that there are some very large gas giants, a few rocky worlds that appear to be much larger than earth, and moons. The moons are our target. It amazes me that our ancestors could bet so much on the hope that a ship filled with yet-to-be-born children could find a home around a far distant star by settling on a moon that may or may not be there. Yet, here we are. As of 24:00 ship’s time we began the breaking procedure to enter the system through its Oort cloud and to begin our search.

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We have experienced a large dose of astronomical luck, or maybe solar systems really aren’t all that unusual or unique. In any case we have located at least a dozen moons that represent good candidates. Chemical scans indicate that the required elements are there. The question remains whether or not something or someone is already availing themselves of these candidates. Tomorrow I go with the landing crew to check out our first option. I’m not entirely sure what I can do should we find something. I do know that the thought of being “outside” is somehow terrifying. I really must get a grip on myself.

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30 Cubed – The Commuter

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There are some days that just don’t go according to plan. No matter what you try things just seem to conspire to make it go south. For some reason I seem to be having a lot of those recently. Here, I’ll give you an example.

Most people arise at some unnatural hour and prepare to drive some time-warp distance in order to earn what we like to call “a living.” Time-warp because the distance in space is usually inversely related to the distance in time. After a long and arduous journey they arrive at the “place of making a living.” Here they spend approximately 8 hours moving pieces of information from one place to another and hoping (well possibly hoping) that it all ends up in a form that someone finds useful. Then the process reverses itself and they return home to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Weekends might be a bit better, although, there’s mowing and cleaning and shopping and such. It all seems to be, well, a treadmill.

I’m not particularly fond of treadmills but I am rather fond of eating, staying warm (or cool) and having sufficient outer clothing to keep me out of the gossip column. Consequently, I too must venture out into the world to hunt and gather the funds necessary to meet my needs. However, I tend to do so in the most creative manner I can manage. That sometimes gets me into — situations.

I was running a bit late on this particular morning. Probably up too late the night before chatting away with like-minded folks in various Internet forums. However, one must sally forth and take on the day at whatever pace you first set.

There were a few stops along the way and the first was the office supply store. Someone is always running out of something and it wouldn’t be convenient to wait for a delivery, so I offered to stop and pick up the order. I pulled up in front as they were opening the doors. First greeting of the morning? “You can’t stop there!”

“And, why would that be? I have an order waiting.”

“This is no place for that, that thing you have there. You’ll have to come back or send someone else.”

I see, well then, I suppose I can try the next stop. This was the florist’s shop. A fellow worker was leaving on maternity leave and we had planned a small party. As I pulled up in front of the door the lady came running out waving her arms, “No, no! You can’t stop there!”

“But I have an order and it’s paid for!”

“What’s the name, I’ll bring it.”

“Okay then, it is for Alice.” She brought the order to me. I stowed it away and off I went again. Last stop was the coffee shop. Surely this small bit could be handled without causing major to do. After all, our office was a regular, we took turns picking up the order. When I arrived the owner stepped out of his shop door with our regular tray of drinks and promptly dropped them on the sidewalk.

“Susan, you have to get a grip on things.”

“What things, Alex?”

“Things, Susan, you need to have a firmer grasp on reality. Don’t you know that, that beast does not exist?”

Does not exist? What could he possibly mean? It was then I nearly fell off my Unicorn.

 

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Hopefully not too contrived, a bit for my friend Stacey, an avid believer in Unicorns and all things fae. But then, aren’t a lot of us that way?

 

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30 Cubed – The Linguist

header slimThe cottage was perched on the edge of the rocky cliff, a bare 50 feet above the high tide marks. It wasn’t all that unusual for it to take the brunt of a storm now and then. That’s what shutters were for. And the generator. Power this far out from the nearest town was iffy on occasion and if you wanted to read and work on a computer, well, power was a very good thing.

Infonet access was only available through satellite phone. What had once been the wild wild west of information had finally been organized in a way that humans could manage. University libraries were digitized, museums were online with virtual tours. No one had to argue over who stole what from where. What was not hidden away in private collections was returned to the source country and set up in virtual holo-deck tracks.

I had lived in this cottage for a decade. It was cozy, easy to take care of (except when one of those storms blew in) and it put me right on the doorstep of the Pacific Ocean and a beautiful, private, beach. When I’m wasn’t conducting research in the water or out, I was walking that beach and letting the rolling waves and gentle breeze help me think. I did a lot of that. The information that I was gathering kept me hungry for more.

Each day I would put on my gear, step into the water and swim out beyond the kelp beds. That’s where they would meet me, those playful, intelligent and sometimes rather cruel beasts we had always called dolphins. Yes, that’s right, I’m that one. The one that claims she can talk to dolphins. I retreated here a decade ago because people thought I was nuts. Even with piles of evidence, the arrogance of the human race could not look at a “fish” and think intelligence. Primates managed to garner some sympathy, but they could play like a human. Dolphins, though they would perform, were stubbornly their very own creature.

As a student I had come upon the work of Dr. Laurance Doyle who worked with SETI in the early 21st century. He devised a method to determine if a group of sounds conveyed information. The squeaks, whistles, clicks and bubble blowing of dolphins charted out in the same manner as any human language. He was convinced they were conveying information. Their food gathering plots were intricate and showed quite a bit of intelligence. Then, of course, they had fascinated mankind and pervaded myths and legends in one form or another for centuries. I could not resist the urge to find out just what it was they were so talkative about.

Well, I believe I know now. I will be meeting with the pod today. I’ll have to tell them it’s the last day. I really must put together all of the information I have documented. People need to know and I think I have enough evidence to show them what we should have known all along. I know without a doubt that I have accurately recorded their stories. As ancient as the species, and as broad as the ocean itself. These wise creatures know the health of the globe like no human can.

We’ve had discussions about my approach. They are really not that happy that I want to share. You see, they have a plan to change things. It’s not just theirs, of course, they would have help. But it would cause a lot of upheaval and I’d like to get the word out before something terrible has to happen. They are trying to convince me that the only thing I will accomplish is a mass murder of them and their kind. I really hope humanity is better than that! In any case, I’ll try to get them to work with me one more time.

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Debris floated in the surf. A waterlogged computer lay half covered with drifting sand. The drifting bits appeared to be the remains of a small cottage. Perhaps a storm had come without much warning; perhaps not.

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