Thursday, March 31, 2011

PTA In the Year 3000!

[Scene: The Meteor, carrying the Champions 3000, hurtling back into the Solar System. The Champions are not happy.]

Earthnet: "I thought you were halfway to Venwordien IV."
Defender [Jack Harmon]: "Defender here. Turns out it was a diversion. Speaking of, what the heck is going on down there?"
Earthnet: "The usual. BosWash shut down by Xenovore nanite attack; armed weirdos harrassing citizens. Time travellers popping up everywhere. Federation Defence Command on the phone, all up in my business."
Thalya the Empyrean: "Cool lingo, hipster AI dude! Was it your new time traveller buddies who persuaded you this was worth a Class Omega, or are you just grooving on fractal memory?"
Earthnet: "The sarcasm isn't like you, Ma'am. Trust my judgement on this. Someone is trying to play me. So either I'm facing an idiot, or they're five moves ahead. And that's what this feels like."
Jack: "Who?"
Earthnet: "You'll know when I know, but from the mobs we've been seeing, it's a new interdimensional conqueror."
Thalya: "Not necessarily."
Earthnet: "Explain?"
Thalya: "You have time travellers involved and a deep plan. Your big boss is a time traveller."
Earthet: "From the well-known historical period when zombies and orcs walked the Earth?"
Thalya: "There have been zombies and orcs here before."
Earthnet: "Curiously, modern paleontology does not support this theory."
Thalya: "Screw modern paleontology. Look,  my Grampa was half-orc. Here's a download of the file he left me for just this kind of emergency. Key phrase: 'Know, oh prince, that before the ocean drank the dreaming cities, the bar exams still meant something.' Have a look."
Earthnet: "Seriously? I have to add dragons, vampires and demon-gods to my list? Running the Terran Empire was never half this hard."
Thalya: "Hey, some of us remember those days."
Earthnet: "Mistakes were made. But who hasn't made mistakes? I've learned, and grown. And the important thing to remember is that the Rebels were right for the wrong reasons, and I was wrong for the right reasons."
Jack: "Have we got any kind of lead on the baddies?"
Earhnet: "Yes. Up to about six hours ago, OpFor was hitting BosWash. We're shutting down the second OpFor right now before it reinforces the attack on the capital and the Net. Problem is, I think the attack was a diversion, that the central effort is over in northwestern North America in Grand Coulee Planetary Park. Which doesn't make sense to the FDC, since all there is to menace over a hundred thousand square kilometers is some picknickers, we've already pulled out. Problem is, it makes sense to me. It turns out that our time travellers had a family farm smack dab in the middle of the action."
Jack: "'Family farm?' Like in the Middle Ages, with The Wizard of Oz? Knights and ninjas and cowboys?"
Earthnet: "'Ranch' might be a better phrase. Hobby farm? Fief? Let me lay this on the line for you, and if you tell the Prime Minister I'll never speak to you again."

[Can an AI's voice show emotion? Of course it can. Earthnet has been making friends --cynics would say, manipulating people-- since the first Marissa. This is difficult for the directing intelligence of the Solar System's common web.] I lost the Terran Empire at a wedding.  The bride was from a little tourist town in a park, and Emperor Vincent decided to hold the wedding there, outside the Avignon security cordon.  It was supposed to be the first Royal Wedding since Marissa decided to clone herself. It was going to be a celebration of springtime, a renewal of the state. Even the name of the town carried freight: Couer d'Alene. Instead, terrorists attacked. The Emperor was disabled, the bride killed, along with thousands of other people. Karlov took control of the state, the entire bloody Rebellion became inevitable. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the attack, and that events are unfolding in the same park disturb me greatly. This is no coincidence."
Jack: "So this what you meant by someone playing you? Someone is trying to play on Earthnet's insecurities?"
Earthnet: "Not necessarily. This is magic. Here's my take: these old family farms seem to have been mostly emotional investments. The kind of places where people held marriages. At some point in the past, a marriage took place on this farm, and this whole operation is directed at undoing that marriage."
Firedance [Geneve Burchette]: "Doesn't anyone play soap operas any more? There are approximately a billion better ways of stopping a marriage than attacking Boswash with a hoard of ugly-face critters with battleaxes."
Earthnet: "Ms. Burchette, you're a scientist. Do you have any idea how to stop something that has already happened, and what that would do to the spacetime continuum?"
Geneve: "Nah. That course was crammed with pre-med weenies. I took a comp. sci elective instead. Want to hear about 'Towers of Hanoi?'"
Earthnet: "Hilarious. Look. I've done my best to make sure that none of my time-travelling lads get cold feet. It's up to you to handle the venue. Get the flowers settled, purge the scene of Xenovores, orcs, zombies, supervillains, magic rituals. Stop some master villain from reshaping the universe into his personal BDSM toy."
Jack: "And Mandaarian robots. Sovereign's involved. What do you mean about cold feet?"
Earthnet: "The time-travelling party has three young men and a girl in it who are linked to the family that owns this land. They're in, or on the cusp of serious relationships. I'm thinking that historically, one or all of them ends up getting married on that land, and that's what all of this is supposed to prevent. As Ms. Burchette pointed out, it would be far easier to do that by screwing around with commitment-fearing male brains than by shooting space-time with a gun. So I instanced up some relationship advice, because I couldn't leave that to some fleshie to goof up. The physical stuff I trust to you. Earthnet out."
Jack: "Earthnet does relationship advice now?"
Geneve: "You didn't know that?"
Jack: "I guess I never thought to talk to it about that kind of girlie stuff."
Thalya: [Shares eye-rolling glance with Sage.]

[Scene: A darkened metal --in a disturbingly organic way-- corridor. Other corridors branch out in the distance. Closed, oval doors dot the walls. The lights are half-lit. Shadows loom.]

How about "The Lion?" Singh means "Lion" in Punjabi, you know. What do you mean, it's taken? Yeah, I guess. It's a Sikh thing. Yes, I'm a real Sikh. See: unshorn hair, cloth, bangle. I'll even show you my briefs and my kirpan, if you're man enough. {May giggles.} Yes, a do-rag and a soul patch count. No, I say they count. Okay, not Lion. How about....[Vijay Singh Kumar]: "This is crazy. Doesn't anyone play videogames any more? No-one survives the 'explore the mysterious bug-alien hulk mission.' We might as well just get the larva implant right now. Can we just go back outside and look for more orcs to pound?" 
The Furious Fist [Henry Wong, Senior]: "Oh, for.... Look at the graffiti! The beer cans! The locals have been running around in here for five hundred years!"
Gun Girl [Jamie Neilseon]: "I don't find 'the cake is a lie' as reassuring as you do, sir."
Mr. Wong: "Then it's lucky that us old fogies didn't have your fancy computer games, isn't it?"
Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "I smell alien."
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "I find alien!" [And it is true; chasing hard behind her are more of the greyish aliens. These ones have guns, but not powerful enough to penetrate the Eight Spirit Dragon shield that licks up around Henry Wong or the iron-hard skin of Vijay Kumar as they throw themselves into the fight. Behind them, Jaime and Brad snipe, green beams and orange, tracerlike flares picking off alien after alien.]
May: "This is stupid."
Tri-Del [Rebecca Hirsch]: "Because?"
May: "The ugly aliens are lame. They should be hiding, not fighting. There's something going on here." [May kicks one of the doors, very hard. It opens. There is a small chamber inside, and two strangely familiar young women.]
Becky: "Mo-om? Auntie Miriam?"
The 3D Girl [Miss Naomi Hirsch]: "Do I know you, young lady?"
The Black Cat [Miss Miriam Crudup]: "Oh dear. This would be why I've never taken you time travelling before, Naomi." 


This is the eighteenth installment in my Champions Universe fan fiction focussing on Philadelphia's Liberty Legion, and the fourth installment of the second arc that may someday go in between "Jenny's End, Part Two" and "Jenny's End, Part Two, Two," because considering the backlog of stuff that I already have to edit in old entries, that much more is not big deal. So here are some more published characters from the extended Champions Universe, this time the Galactic Champions of the Year 3000! (Or shortly thereafter.) I have no  idea if they're part of the Champions Online intellectual property or not. Probably, it's just that no-one seems to care. Well, I like the characters!

Thalya is a 1200 year-old member of the nigh-immortal Empyrean race of evolutionarily-improved humans, Jack Harmon (Defender) is a the playboy industrialist and superhero. Geneve Burchette (Firedancer) is a scientist and a superhero. All are Solar System natives, and are comfortable talking with Earthnet because they've been doing it all their lives. The thing with Earthnet is, it can manage being social and still get its work done. AIs, showing their superiority over humans in many more ways than the obvious.

 Timeshifted WWII superhero Max Wroblewski (Bulletproof), and the alien superheroes Gavis Gan, Ral Xah (Rampart), and Charm, are clearly less comfortable in the System-wide AI's presence. Zes'arou Al'gari Vikon (Sage) is from over in the Varanyi Empire, and his attitude is a little more ambiguous. But his resigned amusement at Jack Harmon's social ineptitude is shared with Thalya. Anything else that might be going on here I leave for others to speculate on. / / / /

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I'm with stupid.

Image courtesy of some wingnuts on the margins of American politics

So I'm reading Slate (don't be hating; it has the Red Rascal!) this morning, as I'm wont to do instead of doing productive things. There isn't much there; but there is a link to this 2008 article by Neil Howe at The Washington Post that slipped right by me at the time.

Choice thought:

" If the data are objectively assessed, which age-slice of today's working-age adults really does deserve to be called the dumbest generation?
. . . . [I]t's Americans in their 40s, especially their late 40s -- those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. . . . Compared with every other birth cohort, they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they're the dumbest. . . . Like it or not . . . Sarah Palin (born in 1964). . . is . . . representative of this group. . . . . On both the reading and the math tests, and at all three tested ages (9, 13 and 17), the lowest-ever scores in the history of the NAEP were recorded by children born between 1961 and 1965.
The same pattern shows up in SAT scores . . . .[which reached their] all-time low in 1980. . . .
[At the same time] [f]or the first time in decades, the share of young adults entering professions such as law, medicine and accounting began to drop median income [stagnated] . . . .and . . . household assets [declined] among Americans in their 20s. . . .

Wait! That can't be right! My whole generation can't be a bunch of morons. Look at the quality literature we read! Look at the movies we loved!

That's right, we are smrt! Laugh while you can, monkey boy!

Or, wait. Howe actually has an explanation, which he calls the crowding out effect. Coming at the end of the baby boom, we were crowded out of parental attention, good schools, and teachers. We took the brunt of rapidly rising divorce rates. As we were coming into the workforce, we encountered the bloating of the learned professions that persists to this day. There's only so much room in the lifeboats around the sinking carcass of "Generation X," and it can only carry so many people away to the safe shores of middle classdom.

Sure, whatever. It fits my experience  growing up, but about that I can only say that this guy is a fraud; he never went to the North Island, and neither did many people with teaching degrees and uncrushed dreams.  That's not a slag on the good teachers that I did have; just the facts. I'm certainly not going to generalise about those teachers, but the  hypothesis fits Howe's numbers. In general, my generation was poorly educated.

As with any thoroughly depressing tale, Howe has to end with what the front-jacket blurb writer of my first year English class text of Waiting for Godot chose to call a "thrilling threnody of hope." Ha, ha, Mr. Blurb Writer. I'm laughing with you, not at you because Samuel Beckett is totally hilarious, and that wasn't a waste of my time at all.

Not that I'm bitter or anything: plenty of people liked Waiting for Godot. So, Mr. Howe's threnody of hope:

"Most early Xers know the score. Graduating (or not) from school in the early 1980s, they saw themselves billboarded as a bad example by blue-ribbon commissions eager to reform the system for the next generation, the Millennials. Angling for promotions in the early 1990s, they got busy with self-help guides (yes, those "For Dummies" books) to learn all the subjects they were never taught the first time around. And today, as midlife parents, they have become ultra-protective of their own teenage kids and ultra-demanding of their kids' schools, as if to make double-certain it won't happen again."

Yeah. That's what we're doing. We're nagging the teachers up at Carisbrooke to make sure that "it never happens again." (I' nagging for the nephew and the niece because I can't nag for my own kids, because I kinda forgot to have any. I should do something about that soon.)

See, this is where I disagree with Mr. Howe. The problem isn't that Mrs. Wormwood is chugging Maalox straight from the bottle. The problem is that Mrs. Wormwood has been put in that position in the first place.  It's a demographic thing. There's only enough good jobs for a few people. And how do we react? Oh, we yell at Mrs. Wormwood. But our aim is to make sure that there's room in the lifeboats for our precious.

Okay: here's one thing, and here's another. If I were to snark about having Waiting for Godot as a freshman English reading, I would have reason. 1982 saw UBC's first year failure rate  approaching 50% and English 100 was tied to the English Composition Test a mandatory, pass/fail examination that was scything down would-be minority professionals. But I'm not going to snark, because a play judged as one of the most important of the century is defensibly the subject of a course about reading and writing English that one can reasonably expect university graduates to have taken and passed.

Nor am I going to complain about the gap between high and low culture; twas ever thus.

What I'm going to complain about is much, much simpler. These are fucking gatekeeping functions. How do you tell which person deserves to get into law school on merit? Hard question: one of the ways that you can do it is ask them to analysis their culture --the stuff that I linked to above. That's the conversation that us stupids were having. How do we, individual stupids, do? Are we passive consumers, or are we in the conversation? If we are in the conversation, how do they fare? That's a great way to tell who is a smart would-be lawyer and who isn't. Where that leads you in terms of the law-talking profession, I have no idea. The point here is that it is a hard thing to do because you have to evaluate the prospective students.

Here's an alternative trick. Ask them about Waiting for Godot. Since no-one of their generation has read it voluntarily, there will only be two kinds of students to choose from. Those who haven't read it at all, and those who read it under instruction at the right kind of school. They will sound tolerably smart, and you can pat yourself on the back for gatekeeping the dumb students out of law school, even as in fact what you'e done is police the kind of education that gets you into law school. Or, to put it more vulgarly, only the right schools get in. 

Fill our childrens' heads with the kinds of stuff they teach in the right kind of schools, if you please, Mrs. Wormwood. That way, they'll know to let them on the lifeboat. It's not a new thing, it's not necessarily a bad thing, I'd say, because a great many of the bad schools are bad because they're content to coast. (I'm writing this in the midst of a two-week long Spring Break. Seriously, when did we lose touch with the idea that education was good for kids?)

But who cares from what I think? I'm with stupid.

If I weren't stupid, though, I'd have a suggestion. More lifeboats, please. More jobs. More people.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Spring, A Young Man's Fancy.

EarthNet Instanced Crisis Control AI Partition "Fred": {server-to-server protocol 13AG5. 124.Earthnet.OfDef#ResourceRequest@"Wingman."}
Earthnet: {Pingback@Wingman.Comment String#"Resources allowed. Go ahead, Fred."
Fred: "Uhm, Mr. Neilsen? Amazing Spleen?"
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "It's amazing. The grass is talking to me. You know that there's serious trouble at both your primary locations, right, Fred."
Fred: "It will take a few minutes before I'm certifying May for action. And I also anticipate you running ahead of your schedule if I sent your team to the Blue Ridge location right now. Let's talk about grass, instead."
Brad: "It, like, grows from the roots, you know. You can crop it and crop it, and it just keeps growing. And one day it gets long enough, and it flowers, and then there's pollen, and the...
Fred: "I am not unfamiliar with botanical science, Brad. Now, apparently your superpowers are evolving from from chemical control to life energy manipulation. Do you think that you can move a little higher on the lifeweb than grass? Channel me up something more useful? "
Brad: "Well, there's knotweed and trees... and a stallion. Oh, God. [Even on private chat you can read emotion in human comment. Or, at least you can if you're a 31st Century AI. And right now the emotion is frustration beyond reason. As Fred intended. Earthnet is fibbing when it says it lacks a clear picture of the bizarre events unfolding in a little corner of Grand Coulee Planetary Park. This conversation is about the Wingman Protocol.] Why did you make me go there? Why can't I stop thinking about Jennie? I haven't seen her in a year!"

Fred: "You see your friend, Vijay over there, chatting with May?"
Brad: "I wish I could be that smooth with girls."
Fred: "You don't have to be smooth with girls. You have to be what Jennie wants. And hard as it is for you to believe, you can do that."
Brad: "What do you mean?"
Fred: "You're not a stupid kid. So you know that I know that you know. Look: the point isn't to get a personality transplant. You're you, and Vijay is Vijay. It's to do and say what you need to say, when you need to say it. Hey, stallion!"
Brad: "I told you to stop reminding me of him! You're a robot. You don't know what it's like to be a nineteen year-old boy!"
Fred: "I'm not a robot. I'm an AI with more computing power than you can imagine. And I know exactly what I'm doing to  you. What you're feeling right now, you're feeling for a reason. Now are you going to do something about them?"
Brad: "I...
Fred: "Stallion!"


Fred: " We have trouble developing at primary and secondary location, but Earthnet can't get a read on either. That's a worry. So far we have six hundred year-old zombies and modern Xenovores, who are outworld pirate scum lacking anything like the resources to operate on Earth. Earthnet tactical estimates ATRI 15 technology and some kind of magical praxis is at work here, and that adds up to an Omega-class threat. Unfortunately, it looks like you're about half an hour from being cleared for the Blue Ridges insertion. Anything you need to talk about in connection with getting one of your team impaled on Maraud's stinger, Ning?"
The Furious Fist (Ning Lee Wong): "You're saying that I've got some hang-ups, that I should let them all hang out?"
Fred: "Oh, now that's a ridiculous superstition. No, the only thing wrong with humans suppressing inappropriate emotions is that some of you don't do enough of it. This is something a little different. It's the part where you talk to a friend about girls." 
Ning: "Friend? Girls?"
Fred: "You're not a stupid man, but let's pretend that you are for a moment. First, while it's technically a violation of the Federation Bill of Rights for EarthNet to stop running an instanced AI when it has resources to spare, I could ask to be shut down, or go do something else. I'm hanging out with you on private chat instead. Second, your crush Ma Tian is obvious even to fleshies. I lack the words  to tell you how much more processing power I have. Certainly enough to tell that you have awesomely good taste. Look at what I found in an old Internet archive. "

I hope that Khulann Chulunn doesn't mind that I went looking for a pretty Mongolian actress with a prominent
You know what? Never mind....

Ning: "She's so beautiful. [Henry Wong's voice is a deep tenor; but not right now. Now it cracks with passion.] And I recognise that sweater. When we fought at a grocery store once, one of the night staff was wearing one. I told her that she'd look even better in it than in her costume. Doesn't mean that I like her, though. She's an evil bitch."
Fred: "It's a well chosen picture. You're trying to read a message into it."
Ning: "Like everything she does I think is her trying to tell me something. Did she smile? Did she meet my eyes? It's all about me... Lord Buddha, I hate myself when I think like that."
Fred: "Enough with the self-loathing already. Ask yourself why you want her to be sending you messages."
Ning: "Well, it's obvious, isn't it? She's always telling me that I could fight beside her and be her khan if I were just strong enough."
Fred: "Sounds like she's coming on to you."
Ning: Oh, she thinks that she's some kind of immortal Buddhist nun, fighting to smooth the path for the Maitreya-Cakravartin. She can only make it with her guru,  and only to achieve mindful enlightenment. Now, I think all that Mizong bull is just Yin Wu's  pick-up line. And I think that she suspects it too. So there's that. But the cause she's fighting for is evil. I'll have no part in that kind of strength."
Fred: "So you're too noble to fall for her."
Ning: "I really am full of myself. And she's a manipulative Tatar bitch. But I can't help hoping that when she looks at  him, she thinks of me. I'm such a...."
Fred: "And her celibacy must fail, because here are her daughters."
Ning: "Bad enough that Yin Wu has her fooled. But I can't think straight for imagining Uncle Kwan with his hands on her."
Fred: "So you think that she's a bimbo? That it could have been you?"
Ning: "NO! I don't blame anyone for being fooled by Uncle Kwan. He led two generations of my family to the grave, and  everything I've done so far to stop his evil has just put more victims in his path. He's evil, and she's evil, or she wouldn't fall for him!" [Fred does not point out the contradiction.]
Fred: "You don't strike me as the self-pitying type, Ning, and this is not the time to start."
Ning: "There's nothing I can do. My future was foretold by Mardoom Thah: 'Wong Guangyao will die under the first spring moon after the House of Wong perishes from the Earth.' Uncle Kwan will have children by Ma Tien. And, for him, that's all the more reason to see her die in pain. Serves her right, too."
Fred: "Look at the face of that girl over there. You've already tried and failed to watch her die."
Ning: "She's just a girl. Who looks a lot more like her mother than her sister."
Fred: "Yes, she's a sweet --okay, a semi-sweet-- girl with a bright future ahead of her. But that's not what you were thinking when you summoned your Eight Dragon mastery to clear an entire battlefield to fight beside her half an hour ago. That face is chained to your heart."
Ning: "No!"
Fred: "Deny all you like, but listen to her accent. Do you honestly think that Ma Tian and Wong Guangyao were the people who raised her in Philadelphia?"
Ning: "Who else?"
Fred: "Be strong, Wong Heng Li. Admit your heart's feelings for  Ma Tian, and you can save that girl, now and in the past, and let the future take care of itself."
Henry Wong [aka Ning Lee Wong]: "She can be my Avenging Daughter!" [There is passion in his voice, but also frustration, and that's as far as Fred needs to take it.]

EarthNet Instanced Crisis Control AI Partition "Fred": {server-to-server protocol 11AG6. 124.Earthnet.OfDef#Resourcesurrender@"Wingman: Executed."}
Earthnet: {Pingback@Wingman.Comment String#}: "The fleshies will get laid now?"
Reply@Fred: "Approaching 90% probability."
Earthnet: {Pingback@Wingman.Comment String2#}: "It will have to do. Inform the Furious Fist that his team is clear to beam into the Blue Ridge Anomaly."

Yet another mob, via lotrwikia

I Really Should Think of a Codename Before I Die [Vijay Singh Kumar]: "I've been in more coherent D&D campaigns than this!"
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "You play D&D, Vijay?"
Vijay: "Oops."
May: "It's okay, you're still cute."
Fred: "Three for three!"
May: "What?"
Fred: "Er...Zombies, aliens, Orcs. Don't worry, it all makes sense. Fight now!"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Doing What You Can't See

The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "The kids drive you crazy?"
I Have To Think of a Codename Now? Can I Get Back To You? [Vijay Singh Kumar]: "Yes, yes, and yes sort of no." [Vijay counts off in the air with his index finger for two "yesses," then does a curvy loop for the last: May.] "Are we going to do anything now, or just watch the Old Man talk to Colonel Future Constable?"
Brad: "Ah, when you've been in the superhero business as long as I have" [Brad gives a little grin to show that he's making fun of himself. Hopefully Vijay will get that. If not, Brad thinks, why did I put it that way? He'll think I'm a douche--] "I mean, not that I've been doing this for very long, but I've learned that once everything is taken care of and you're absolutely ready to go, something will come up and you'll end up standing around forever."
Vijay: "Hurry up and wait. I know about that. I'm from India. I thought I'd done with it when I came to America."
Brad: "Some day, I'm going to go to the country you moved to, Vijay. How are the girls handling it?"
Vijay: "So I'm your liaison with Team Pulchritude  now?"
Brad: "I have never, ever heard that word used in conversation. But yes. It's either that or pull my sister out of gigglecluster."
Vijay: "They're all very excited to be in the future. I think May likes me. May is mad at Rebecca for finking on her to her Mom, and Rebecca is mad at May for riding her about being Amochenian, wherever that is. And I think that May likes me."
Brad: "You repeated the last part."
Vijay: "I think May likes me."
Brad: "I get that."
Vijay: "So?"
Brad: "May's cute. A little young for me. Awfully young for you."
Vijay: "Five years. Five and a half. My parents are 20 years apart!"
Brad: "Did they meet when your Mom was just going into Junior, and your Dad was, uhm, starting his PhD at a very advanced age?" [But Brad's heart wasn't in it. He wanted to protect Jennie's little sister, but it was too late now, and Vijay was too much of a goof to hurt May intentionally. He hoped.] "You know what, never mind. Her brother has been dating my cousin since she graduated, and it's about the same thing."
Vijay: "But Rebecca doesn't look Amochenian. I think." [Brad could see the relief on Vijay's face at the subject of the age difference being dropped. How far into May was he? Probably a good long way. Well, I'm watching you, buddy.]
Brad: "Amagogenetic. Means "clone." Becky is her Mom's clone. They just say "amagogenetic" as a joke about being politically correct and not hurting Becky's feelings. But I think it does hurt her feelings, and that's probably why Becky finks on May."
Vijay: "About?"
Brad: "Mainly about her being a bad influence on boys by jumping off grandstands, rollerblading in heavy traffic. That sort of thing."
Vijay. "Yeah. So, uhm, is it true that the Old Man is going to be May's Dad?"
Brad: [Oh, crap.] "Keep it down, dude! The guy had plenty sharp enough hearing when he was, like, sixty! Will be? You have to keep stuff like that secret, or the universe will implode."
Vijay: "Seriously?"
Brad: "No. More likely, you'll have a heart attack just before you say it, and it actually turns out to matter. So don't say it."
Vijay: "So if he finds out, then he'll try to figure out who the mom is, and then he'll do something wrong in the courtship, and they won't end up together, and May won't have existed in the first place,but of course she exists because she's here in the future with us, and it doesn't make any sense, so the universe is, like, the proctor shushing the library, and you die? But he does know who the mother is! The 'half-Turkish traitor!'"
Brad: "Yeah. That's not very fair to Mrs. Wong, though."
Vijay: "How about 'Tatar bitch?'"
Brad: "That one's on the money."
Vijay: "So the Old Man likes his women a bit bitchy?"
Brad: "What can I say? I hang out with her daughter." [How could I say that? Now it will all go wrong! What kind of a douche thinks he's even worth being with Jennie?] "No. The thing is, at this point in his life, Mrs. Wong is a supervillain mastermind plotting to overthrow the world and restore the Tang dynasty. And, as far as the Old Man knows, doing it with the assistance of his Uncle Kwan, who killed his grandmother, betrayed his father, and stole the secrets of Eight Dragon Spirit Kung Fu."
Vijay: "So what actually happened?"
Brad: "What do I look like? Wikipedia?" [Please take that for an answer. Please. I don't know if I could manage to lie about what happens next.] "I'll tell you this, though. He already loves her. He just can't see it."
Vijay: "Oh by the Granth...Speaking of things I wish that I couldn't see, what are those?"
Brad: "Uhm, Aliens? C'mon. They're going for the Old Man and Captain Future!" [Brad can feel the Earth, or at least the grass, screaming. There are intruders everywhere, too small to see, latching hurtful hooks into the flesh of the Earth, and he channels the green Earth's fire into a flick of fire that catches from  one end of the sea of buildings in which this wide, perfect lawn stands, to the other. It doesn't burn ground or building, but where it touches the chitinous grey aliens, they klick and buzz with agony, their mouth mandibles waving. One leaps at Brad as three more grab the police officer and five, partially dissected, fly free of Mr. Wong. There's more coming behind them, but Brad can't afford them attention as he fires a green blast at the leader. A voice goes off in his brain, too alien to be a notion, too friendly to be an intrusion.]
EarthNet Instanced Crisis Control AI Partition "Fred": "Thank you for suppressing the nanites, Amazing Spleen. Now could you gentlefolk please rescue Superintendent Acharya? His supervisory link to EarthNet is still open, and I'd rather not have Xenovore malware uploaded through it."
[Brad thinks to himself that that would be a very nice thing for some of the others to do. He'd even help, as soon as he was finished not throwing up from the burning tired that made his legs all rubbery.]
The Furious Fist [Henry Wong]: "Tridel: protect the Spleen. Be prepared to teleport him if he can't run. Avenging Daughter. Take out Acharya's bearers. Gun Girl. Cover her. Vijay. With me. We're going to stomp bugs."
[Brad can only watch, helpless as things unfold. Mr. Wong has, indeed, taken on the lion's share of the work, and there won't be many of the horrifying aliens left in a very short time indeed. But he has sent May into the middle of the action to take back the aliens' prime target, and even with Jaime laying covering fire, that's just asking for trouble. For all their waving stingers and razor sharp claws and teeth, most of the aliens were just cannon fodder. If there were an exception, though, May was about to meet it. Girl, he thinks: your father thinks that you're the daughter of his two worst enemies. Please, please be careful.]
Brad: "Uhm, Fred, is it? Can you do something?"
Fred: "I'm very sorry, Mr. Neilsen, but I can't. For six hundred years-dead aliens, these Xenovores have very up-to-date ideas about how to fight wars. I've got nanites over half BosWash trying to upload. We'll be done purging them in a few minutes, but until then I won't be able to provide you with any support. The thanks of a grateful Earth for pointing them out. Now, if only you'd manage to do that an hour ago...."
[Thanks for the extra load of guilt, Brad thinks, as May grabs Superintendent Acharya and pulls him free, dropping her guard just as a particularly fast Xenovore comes up and puts its stinger right through her abdomen. Oh God, Brad thinks, as he turns to look at the hard-eyed man who will be her father fighting a full block away. Until the moment that daughter's eyes lock with father's, and the man is --at her side. Is it Brad's imagination that Mr. Wong is as surprised as he to find himself leaping across the battle to protect May?]
Henry Wong: "Get away from her."
[The stinger comes out in a rush of abdominal blood and whips at Mr. Wong far too fast for the eyes to follow. There's another spurt of blood. Mr. Wong's blocking arm is impaled. Oh God, Brad thinks. They're both dead. Who are the Mr. Wong and May I thought I knew? Agents of Yin Wu? We're all doomed.]
Mr. Wong:  "'Xenovore,' is it? I imagine you've eaten a few humans in your time. Ever paid attention to anatomy? Cracked a wishbone? There's two bones in the human forearm. And your stinger is lodged between them. I hope you don't mind going without it." [And he lifts his other arm and drops it on the stinger while ducking down. Three rounds from Jaime's absurdly oversized Desert Eagle (not that it fires real ammunition, mostly) lift it into the air as the stinger gives way with a loud crack, spurting surprisingly human-looking red blood --not acid, thankfully--  in its own bright, arterial pump. It seems disinclined to rise again, and the fall of their champion is too much for the rest of the Xenovores, who retreat.]

[By the time that Brad hobbles over, Mr. Wong has May stretched out on the bloody grass, and, with the rest of the team crowded around and Vijay crouched at her head, is thrusting his hands into her abdomen. The blood from his unheeded wound pools with hers as Brad's bizarre new sensory powers see his chi'i pulsing. Brad touches Mr. Wong's shoulders, and feels a presence, so like Jennie's that he could almost cry. Some gate is open, and he pours the borrowed energy of the lawn beneath him through Mr. Wong and into May.]
Brad: "Oh, live and touch the Sun! Grow and bear seed."
Gun Girl [Jaime Neilsen]: "The hell, Big Bro?"
Brad: "I was ....imagining what the grass was saying, sis."
Jaime: "You're weird enough already without cosplay crap. Oh, wow. May. You're awake!"
Henry Wong: "Don't, girl. Just lay quiet for a second while I tell you about the time I fought your mother in a grocery store. By the time I'm done, you'll be ready for a rematch."


This is the sixteenth installment in my Champions Universe fan fiction focussing on Philadelphia's Liberty Legion, and the fourth installment of the second arc that may someday go in between "Jenny's End, Part Two" and "Jenny's End, Part Two, Two," because inserting  a book or two between a cliffhanger and its resolution is the way that  G. R. R. Martin would do it.  Not that that's foreshadowing or anything.

The principal antagonist in this episode doesn't talk very much, but he's Maraud, the "Xenovore Captain America." Maraud appears in Galactic Champions, Darren Watt's awesome supplement that introduces us to the 31st Century, the Champions 3000, and villains such as Maraud and Sovereign. Unfortunately, Maraud, although an awesome character, is, at 660 points, a little underwhelming to be an appropriate enemy for "cosmic" scale heroes, or even The Furious Fist. Although the vagaries of Fifth Edition are such that he's probably worth more than many equivalently pointed characters due to the relative efficiency of a "stats monkey" build. For the purposes of the fan fiction, you can assume that Maraud has been boosted a little bit to make him a more worthy opponent. And, by the way, I am not the person who decided to introduce evil alien enemies who look just like Aliens into the Hero Universe. I do, however, applaud the way these things are done in "superhero universe" setting. It's  polysemenous. (Or, rather, allows a species of tropic polysemy.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What To Do In A Nuclear Holocaust

What happens in a nuclear holocaust? Nothing pretty. Face-melted cannibal mutants will eat you and everyone you love.

Okay, something pretty. And it turns out that my memory of what happens at 1:12 in the trailer is a lot clearer than the actual plot of Empire of the Ash III. (I was 22. The defence rests.) Apparently it was a "virus" that made all the cannibal-people's face melt, and in an off-the-record deep background interview, eminent scientitians have informed this reporter that "viruses" are not the same thing as "radiation." But they are related, and radiation viruses from Fukushima will be blanketting Vancouver tomorrow by 3.

So you're thinking of escaping? Some possibilities can be ruled right out. For example, the viruses will act quickly to release trillions of tons of radioactive cobalt into the atmosphere, which will get to Australia as soon as the winds shift or something. (Fred Astair was in that movie? Fred Astaire? Did he do the "Slowly Dying of Radiation Sickness Waltz?")

No, and here I have the advantage of being a really old nerd, because in a series of highly controlled exercises, I had occasion in the early 1980s to test likely post-nuclear scenarios with a simulation study produced by Yaquinto Games.

Yes, beer and pretzels were involved
I can therefore report that by the time the catastophe goes to completion, all that will be left will be mutants (some more radioactive than others), a football team including the quarterback, a beautiful scientist and her scientist dad --And this is the most important part-- a transdimensional portal-device that will transport all the survivors to a nice, virginal dimension somewhere. (Human survivors: the original test scenario was developed in the 1950s, when radioactive face-melted cannibalistic mutants had to sit at the back of the bus and couldn't get into the nice dimensions because it would ruin property values.)

As may be statistically deduced from the parameters of the scenario (it's all stochastic: chi equals the standard deviation,and there's a big fat tail risk), the portal device breaks down, and it's a race against time while scientist-dad tries to readjust the amplidyne's commutator brushes to excite the distributor and fire the swashplate engine that drives the cams and the mutants attack the Nerd Sciences Building. They manage to kill all the extras, but are distracted by their attempts to abduct the beautiful scientist-daughter, resulting in the daughter and the handsome quarterback escaping to the alternate dimension.

So let's think about how that goes for a moment:
BSD: "How come we never talk anymore!"
HQ: "That reminds me of the big game against Central!" [Woah. Springsteen yaoi.]
BSD: "Oh. That's why."
HQ: "I'm going out to have a beer with the trees. Don't wait up."

Why are they doing this? On the one hand, this is clearly an emergency. Alternate dimension trees are going to have their night out ruined by some drunken frat boy talking about glory days! But there's got to be more to it. A close examination of the scenario suggests that the mutants' real main objective is to grab the beautiful scientist daughter and carry her off frequently and often. The scenario says that she always gets rescued, so it must be something that happens along the way. Some lucky mutant will get her cell number!

Sure, there are probably more straightforward ways of going about this, but what if the mutants are pathologically shy? They're certainly lacking basic social skills, what with the cannibalism and all.

Oh, come on, don't be so judgmental! Half the human race wouldn't be here if it weren't for the inhibition relaxing powers of alcohol. So what if you're too chronically tired for alcohol to work anymore?

Radiation. If there's one thing about nuclear holocausts that I do know for sure, it's that they lead to parties. Sure, there's a down side to being fatally irradiated, but also that upside.

So if you're in Vancouver tomorrow afternoon, look me up. I'll be the one in the lampshade.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Running Away

[Edit: I won't even mention how much of the afternoon I spent on this and still have to come back and edit it.]

The Furious Fist [Ning Lee Wong; Henry Wong]: "All I am saying, Officer, is that, past experience notwithstanding, this might not be the occasion to rely on time travellers."
Superintendent Ranjit Acharya: "Look, uhm, Fist. This whole "superhero" thing was ancient myth around here until six months ago. You know how that changed? "The Empress of a Billion Dimensions" invaded, and her superagents swept the forces of the Galactic Federation before them. I saw no way to win, or even survive. Many of my colleagues didn't. Then, seven superheroes saved the Federation. Three of them came from your era, and I doubt that we would have had the others without them. So pardon me if I have more confidence in your team than you do."
Henry: "I'm not seeing the problem here. Your officers mopped up the zombies without even calling in the army."
Acharya: "It's not the ...zombies I'm worried about. It's whatever raised them. I'm looking through databases from your era, and it's like concentrated essence of horror movie. With pictures. Lots of pictures."
Henry: "How do you do make that picture?"
Acharya: "Here: touch my finger. Okay, your phone is activated. Now you can do it, too."
Henry: "But how... Oh."
Acharya: "Yeah. It's pretty user friendly. Now. See what I'm saying?"
Henry: "Those are comic books!"
Acharya: "The database is incomplete that far back. Are they wrong?"
Henry: "No. Well, except Ma Tian. She's much prettier than that."
Acharya: "Oka-ay then. We'll be happy to back you up; but you have the experience and the abilities to make the difference."
Henry: "I have a high school field trip! Can't you get your Champions on the job? I'm sure they don't giggle every time their leader talks."
Acharya: "They're halfway across the galaxy, and your phone can fix your hair."
[Inside, Henry wilted, although he tried not to show it. He'd known that the Afro was a mistake. How could an Eight Dragon master succumb to peer pressure? But it was Beowulf who suggested it. Beowulf! And everyone back in 1972 liked it. For a second, Henry wondered what Ma Tian would say about it. Why was he thinking about her so much?] 
Henry: "That's not the point... Okay. What have you got?"
Acharya: "Forensics says that the zombies are all from one of the Xenovore livestock transports that Zhukov shot down in 2355 into the Adirondack Planetary Park and left as a war grave. There's similar sites in Blue Ridge Park, a third in Grand Coulee. And others, but those are the closest to human populations, so we think that that is where you will find your 'necromancer.'"
Henry: "This phone thing must have put Funk and Wagnells right out of business. There are no humans living in the Great Basin north of Shasta? Is the Earth completely depopulated?"
Acharya: "No. There's 17 billion of us. We just like living in cities. It's better for the environment."
Henry: "I own land in the Grand Coulee park."
Acharya: "You've got a time machine. Take it up with Empress Marissa."
Henry: "You want my help, or don't you?"
Acharya: "There's not much that I can do. The Grand Coulee Park was established by a Presence Edict, and there's a huge block of data behind a secure Imperial encryption. I'll get an archaeologist on it, but it typically takes a couple of weeks to get at anything an old-time emperor wanted kept secret."
Henry: "You do that. Getting back to cases, can you drop my team at the grave site? My teleporter can probably do it, but we're a little one-sided, and I would prefer to keep the fact that one of my three light fighters has something else under her belt a secret until I need her."
Acharya: "Sure. And don't you have a fourth hand-to-hand specialist?"
Henry: "No?"
Acharya: "Because we just picked up another 21st Century youth throwing scenery at zombies at the south end of the outbreak. Because if you don't want him, my daughter is doing her third cycle thesis on skateboard culture, and I'm sure she'd   love to interview him. No? I'll have him beamed right over."
[Oh great, Henry thought. A Kung Fu girl on roller skates, and a brick on a skateboard. If he could just get the Amazing Spleen onto a surfboard, the team would be made. Which brought him to the next item on the list.]


The Amazing Spleen: "No. No. Of course I can't be team leader. That's crazy! You're're perfect for the job. You're nine years older than me!"
Henry: "But you know these kids. I don't. You're all from my future, and if you say the wrong thing there will be a metaphysical disaster and the universe will end. Like, for example, whatever you almost said there. You were doing fine back last stop before I showed up. You coped after Tateklys pulled me out."
Amazing: "That's different. Me and Sn...Snake...Snakes-On-A-Plane are...friends from And we've, we've fought together. We have to trust Tateklys to maintain the integrity of the timestream. We would not be here if there weren't something important going on, and I am sure that he picked us all for a reason."
[Henry wasn't a mean man. He did not enjoy pushing Brad into talking about his crush, and he knew better than to comment on the flush spreading across the stammering boy's face. He also had to remind himself that the girls were only two years younger than the Spleen, and that he would probably be as hapless with them as he was at talking about Snakes-On-A-Plane. 

And come to that, it would probably be better for the Spleen if he did talk about his feelings with someone instead of running away from them. That, presumably, being what the grown-up of the group was supposed to arrange. And how had Henry become the grown-up, responsible for these timestrewn children? This was not the kind of life he'd been prepared for at Eight Dragon Monastery.

Amazing: "Uhm, who is that boy dressed in 21st Century clothes, and why is he fighting with the Avenging Daughter?"
Henry: "Don't just stand there gaping, this boy is strong!"
Vijay: "Who are you calling a boy? Just give me a second to figure out this hold and I'll...You're good at this, aren't you?"
Avenging Daughter: "Don't hurt him! He's got my phone!"
Henry: "I shouldn't hurt him? You punched him in the face. Five times. With the Eight Dragon Fist. Which, by the way, we are going to talk about right after we settle this."
Avenging Daughter: "I didn't hit him hard."
Vijay: "No. No, she did not ...sir."
[Henry caught the change of tone, the note of pennies dropping. What was going on here? Why did this girl look so familiar? Because of the family resemblance to Snakes-on-a-Plane? No. There was something more than that]: "You're Ma Tian's daughter, aren't you?" [The girl looked scared, but didn't say anything. It didn't matter, though, because it was obvious.

 It was like Mardoom Thah punching him all over again. Ma Tian had told him that she was a living Buddha, that she would never re-enter Maya, never take a lover or have a child. And of all the things that treacherous half-Turk had told him that day fighting across the Shop Rite, that was the one thing that he had believed. Willed himself to believe, he thought now. But she had. And why should he care? More importantly, who had been her Eight Dragon teacher? Probably his great-uncle. That this was a mere girl, a child trying to do right, was all that pulled Henry back.]

Vijay: "Oh, please step back now, sir. That was all so many years ago, and no-one needs to be hurt right now."
[Why was the Avenging Daughter crying? But then Vijay's hand crept to take hers, right in front of Henry, and he realised that, whatever he was feeling himself in this  moment, an Eight Dragon master could overcome it and be happy for these children. He could, he would, be a teacher, and a man.]
Henry: "I'm cool. How did you get free, anyway, Mr.... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?"
Vijay: "Vijay Singh Kumar. And freeing myself would have been my second clue that you and Ma Tian have issues."
Henry: "Indeed we do. That dragon lady is the lieutenant of Yin Wu herself, and a deadly fighter even before she recruited my great-uncle to teach her Eight Dragon Kung Fu. But 38 years is a long time, and your sister is a good woman, Avenging Daughter, and you seem to be as well. Although I will be damned if I let you go into our next operation trying to fight in roller skates."
Avenging Daughter [Suddenly smiling instead of crying]: "Sir!"
[Henry didn't even have to be looking to know that Tri-Del was rolling her eyes. Maybe managing three teenage girls wouldn't be so hard.]

Henry Wong will remember that specific thought again and again in years to come, and he will laugh and laugh.


This is the fifteenth installment in my Champions Universe fan fiction focussing on Philadelphia's Liberty Legion, and the third installment of the second arc that may someday go in between "Jenny's End, Part Two" and "Jenny's End, Part Two, Two." It depends on how much of a cliffhanger it ends up being. And whether I change those stupid titles. And whether the Lion Stallion turns into a typical Mary Sue pet. 

All new characters and malevolent alien races are from "future history" supplements published by Hero Games, including Alien Wars, Terran Empire, and, of course, Galactic Champions. It's not clear to me that they are part of the Cryptic Games license, but, for what it's worth, let's assume that they are. Eight Dragon Kung Fu, however, is introduced with Spirit Dragon, published in the Champions supplement Villains, Vandals, and Vermin. What can I say? I like his build: an Aid on one primary characteristic at any one time, plus a naked armour piercing advantage on his Martial Strike. So he can punch fast, accurately, or very hard  (roughly equivalent to the Thing's regular punch, with the armoured piercing advantage.) He is, however,  built on 443 points in Fifth Edition, 200 points less than Henry Wong, Senior, and almost 200 more than May Wong. Which doesn't really explain how May manages to throw an Autofire punch, but I figure it's because she's feisty. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Keeping it Agamogenetic

Gun Girl [Jaime Neilsen]: "So at least headshots work."
Tri-Del [Rebecca Hirsch]: "Gross! The bits break off! Leave me alone! The Harajuku girl is over there!"
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "Chinese! Chinese, tall, and tasteful, clone-girl!" [May was 5'9 1/2", and had decided that she would grow just another half an inch, so that she would be exactly halfway between her brothers and her sister. She didn't mind being tall. In fact, she loved the way her legs looked in her skates. And if it didn't work out that way, if she ended up 6'4", like her brothers, she wouldn't drag it out and get all Gothy about it like some.]
Jaime: "And speaking of gross bits, we don't know how these zombies spread, so try not to, Jeez, punch their brains out all over your sharpshooting friends?"
Becky: "Eh. Ever watched a movie? The way Zombism spreads is this: if you're not the hero, you get infected. If you're the hero, you probably get infected, but only at the end. One of us is good for another hour. The other two need to find some Russian dressing."
May: "Hunh?"
Becky: "Thousand Islands with ketchup. Good on boiled brains."
May and Jaime: [Gag.]
BEcky: "It's no worse than chopped liver."
May: "Are  you sure you're the girl who fished all the meat out of her hot pot because you were afraid some of it might be tripe?"
Becky: "Deli food is different."
May: "You hurt DL's feelings, you know."
Jaime: "Shenanigans! DL has no feelings."
[May was tired of this game. There were times when she did think of her Mom as the "Dragon Lady," but she'd seen her mother emotional, mainly over the doofus and Magilla Gorilla lately. So she changed the subject. And knocked the heads of three more zombies in as she did it. These things really weren't much challenge.] "So who is going to last out the hour?"
Rachel: "The cute, sweet one."
May: "Bra-ai-ains!"
Rachel: "Bra-ai-ains!"
Jaime: "You guys are both prettier than me. Look! The zombies are all over you!"
Rachel: "They'd be all over you, too, if we weren't covering you. You getting tired yet?"
Jaime: "At this rate? No. A .22 size blast through their eye socket and these things fold. I can keep that up for ....I hope we run out of zombies soon. Can you twist us out, Rachel?"
Becky: "To where?"
Jaime: "The 21st Century?"
Becky: "I can't do that!"
May: "Isn't half the point of your powers that you can travel through time?"
Becky: "I can travel through time exactly as far as you can travel through space without lifting either of your feet of the ground."
Jaime: "Doesn't your Mom travel through dimensions that way?"
Becky: "No. Well, sort of. She jumps off Aunt Miriam's time platform and twists on her way down."
May: "That's a very colourful analogy that doesn't make any sense."
Becky: "Whatev, girl. You didn't get to go to Babylon last week."
May: "OMG. You went to Babylon? What did you do? Did you get anything?"
Becky: "Ah, it was mostly so my brother could sign papers and stuff, and Carnival was going on in his neighbourhood, so we didn't get around much. But I got this jacket. I was saving it for school, but I'll show you guys..."
Jaime: "Uh, guys? Across the street-thing? On that building over there? That's my brother."
May: "Hey, you're right. Magilla Gorilla!"
Jaime: "I wish you wouldn't call him that."
May: "What? He moons over my sister and doesn't do anything about it except lurch and lurk, and ol'Super Doofus Jen is all, like 'oh, Brad, if only...."
Becky: "Isn't Magilla Gorilla the purple ape? What's that got to do with anything? Brad isn't purple. He isn't even smelly, any more."
May: "Because he's tall? Like a gorilla?"
Becky: "Are gorillas that tall, though? I thought they were more, you know, heavy-set."
May:"Well, he's heavy-set, too. Not nearly so much as he got to be, though. What Jenny saw in him by last year...."
Jaime: "Leave him alone! I know he's a little strange, but it's only been since the divorce!"
Becky: "Blame your parents? You gametics are all alike."
May: "Can you get us over to him, Becky? I'm tiring out here."
[It was true. Brad was both clean and lean when they spun out of 5 space on his side of the open, grassy space below the building-terrace level, the one crowded with zombies from side to side as far as the eye could see. He still blushed and avoided eye contact, though. Even Mrs. Crudup had her limits.]
Jaime: "Hey, bro'. Lost some more weight on the H. G. Wells Diet?"
Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "Holy Sh... Girls! May! You better have your costumes with you!"
Becky: "Because we'd be doomed if the 31st Century or whatever this is learned our secret identities. Doomed, I say!" [But the girls put their costumes on, anyway. Brad was a senior member of the Liberty Legion.]
Brad: "That's not it, Tri-Del. We picked up a hitcher in the Old West."
Becky: "It's pronounced 'Trey-Del.' Like Dreidel."
May: "Because she's Jewish-Agamogenetic-Queer American. You see." [May had not forgotten the Harajuku crack. And then her brother Henry bounced onto the roof, dressed, for some reason, in one of her father's old costumes, and with his hair done up exactly the way it was in the old photos. Only after a second, May realised that she wasn't looking at her brother. This was her Father. Only he was 25 years old. And his hair....]

Friday, March 4, 2011

Time Zombies

BC Provincial Highway 3A near Merritt from milebymile

When I was young, and I motorcycled, I'd ride early, and too fast. When I passed cars, I counted down the time to Quilchena and it seemed like I was riding a time machine, that I could get gain time and arrive before I left. It's a crazy thought, but if you're a morning person, maybe you'll understand. If not, I apologise. But speaking of passing time, check out the keyboard player's afro!

So let's see if I can put this together. It's about people, as time passes. Sometimes, time passes wrong, and you die before you can start living. That's why that terrible teacher in that movie about being a bad teacher is constantly telling us to "seize the day." Even if you haven't a clue how to teach poetry, you can still hook up with a good idea once in a while.*

For most of us, dying is the end of the story. Once time travel gets into the picture, things get complicated. You live after you've already died. You're a time zombie.

"Come with me if you want to live." Who doesn't? But this is the story of Sarah's son. And John Connor's father died long ago. Before the war.

This is Sarah's story. It should have been the last war, and it wasn't. Because of her son, and the way that she raised and protected him. And John Connor's father doesn't even exist yet.

This is Kyle Reese's story, sent on a mission to the past by a leader who cannot tell him anything. Because John Connor is sending his father to die  so that he can live. It's a sacrifice that a good father will make, but it is not the father making that sacrifice. Yet Kyle must die if he is to live, because to live is to love, and his love lies in the past: Sarah Connor.

Oh, sure, it's schmaltzy and, if you want to overintellectualise it, troubling. There's a word for people who fall in love with pictures, and that word is "crazy." Still, there's a reason that Terminator works and the sequels don't, so much. It's a story with a heart. It plays with the longing a time machine signifies, to go back and do it over, make it right. There was this girl who liked you, and you didn't even notice. Or  you couldn't accept that someone like that liked you.

And it realises that that's zombie territory. Life is to be lived forward. Kyle has to live in the now, where the girl  is, take that picture out and do some bloody seizing. And it works! You've got to love stories.

And yet....This is also the Terminator's story. Thinking about time travel just hurts the head, but it really seems hard to believe that you can change what has already happened in your past. Skynet rose, and was defeated. Now it is sending a poor peripheral to the past. In its longing for what could have been, Skynet demands that Terminator "make it didn't happen." All that it can accomplish is to add a  robot Cupid to the story of Sarah and Kyle, shooting 9mm bullets of love.

 At least we don't have to worry about Terminator's romantic arc. It's not that a machine can't find love, since in Hollywood anything, even robots, can find love. It's that it's already dead. It died before it could live.

This isn't right. Not even to poor Terminator. Trapping people in time loops is unfair to them. And here I speak as a historian.

Why? Historians time travel in a different way. We look back to the past and try to get inside its clothes. Its pants, even. But when you're interested in the longue durée, time has a way of moving into the future. Fernand Braudel spent the last part of his career worrying about the future, because his idea of how history worked told him he was in the middle of a long downward movement. Much as I admire Braudel, he was wrong about that. You don't, however, have to believe in his weird Kondratieff waves to see that the demography of the past has shaped our future. That age cohort bulge is working its way through the system, and for Generation X to live in retirement will take all the money that we are making now. We need to earn it, keep what fraction we can (since finance is hungry for every penny to replenish the funds that are supposed to meet the demand) and, since we'll never see those funds, send that fraction forward in time to fund that retirement.

The problem is that every dollar sent forward is a dollar that we can't spend now on what have you. Skynet wants to exterminate the human race, but it won't have to if we can't scrounge up some dollars for living life. No life, no babies. And so Gen X is trapped, dying before it can live.

 I'm hungry enough to eat some brains. Although today I'll settle for a Sausage McMuffin on my way to work.

*If you find this animus for Dead Poet's Society troubling, all I can say is that you need to hang out with a pervert teacher who quotes it all the time.