T2000: W+12

I remember just after I finished Basic, I was late for Guard duty and the SM thought I should work it off in the kitchens. I spent days peeling potatoes, mopping floors and washing dishes. My hands were constantly wet so my skin started to slough off – which was pretty gross for anyone who was getting them for lunch. I was up from 4:30 am and worked solid until 9 pm. I thought I was tired. I really did.

I’ve spent the last two days doing laundry. Scrubbing makeshift bandages and rinsing liquified skin from dressings literally from sunrise to sunset. Again I thought I was tired.

The fireburst caused hundreds of casualties. That’s about a thousand injured. The Colonel is off doing his own thing investigating what happened as he reckons it was unexposed munitions that someone set off. While we’re all happy to have him out of the way, I know he’s scared there’s more than one of these incendiary fireburst monstrosities out there.

Doc is a machine.

I don’t know much about her, no-one does. She is never without her headscarf. I know she speaks great English, probably better than me. I know she’s lived in loads of countries or been to them at least. She rhymes off places she’s been to like I rhyme off baseball players. I’d barely even heard of Poland before I was shipped out here – which I know is a damning indictment of our education system back home. I knew that some people were “Polish” or “Polacks” but I didn’t really understand what that meant. I didn’t associate it with a place or a people. Just a term to describe kids we didn’t like.

But back to the Doc. She’s up before the rest of us, and stays up later than the rest of us. She has time to pray, she has time to wash and she has time and endless compassion for her patients. I’ve never heard her speak with a raised voice but I’ve seen her glare at the Colonel when he’s having one of his moments. She talks about how we have to pull together, we are all humans now. The Colonel still thinks the war is on.

I don’t know how the Doc ended up here, in this hellhole. But I’d damn glad she ended up with us.

This afternoon, I brought her coffee, some of the last in our stores, and we sat and cried together. Just a few moments of humanity before we got back to the grind.

While I’ve been washing bandages, Monk has been tinkering with the vehicles. I think it’s his way of avoiding work he just doesn’t want to do. When something is going on, he just fades into the background or makes an excuse and disappears. You’ll find him under the engine of something later. Talk about avoidance issues.

I can’t say much about the Colonel. Colonel Alexander Harland. He’s a gung-ho stereotype. I swear he bleeds red, white and blue. Despite everything he’s well turned out, always clean shaven and I know his weapons are as clean as a whistle. But for all of that gruffness and military precision, he’s also the best scrounger I’ve ever met. Doesn’t matter if he needs to get 30 ft of copper wire or requisitioning an APC, the Colonel can talk anyone out of anything. A real mix of charm and authority.

I suppose I should mention our new hanger-on. For the last two days, we have had a young Czech lad helping out. I think he was a refugee here and when the fireburst hit, he was homeless again. He’s helping Doc with anything she asks. Nice lad, kind. Who knows if he will stay with us.

That’s our crew. We aren’t anything more than survivors. We’re not a force to be reckoned with – we’re just trying to get to somewhere beyond the bombs and bad guys. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a couple of heavy hitters join us, but those folks are scary as fuck. How can we trust someone like that?

There aren’t many people I’d take a bullet for. Until two days it was my mom and my little brother. I’d take a bullet for the Doc. No question about it.

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T2000: W+10

W+10

No. That is not the sunrise.

We’d been near the town of Luban, not far drom the German border for a few days and was beginning to feel a little more human. The people of the town had given us a couple of buildings to settle in while we repaired the UAZ and calmed our own nerves. We’d been on the run for ages and Doc was still treating everyone for burns in the firebombing a few days ago. But it was easier. While Monk was making himself useful repairing a tractor, the Colonel was helping the town salvage supplies. He was actually doing it; not just detailing us grunts.

Anyway.

I’d woken that morning, started to brush my teeth and was looking North to the town. The light dazzled me at first but my surprise was fleeting as I stumbled back shouting for the Doc.

The town was a few clicks away but by the size of the fireball I knew we would be busy that day with the crying wounded and the walking dead. There just wouldn’t be enough medicine or time to help everyone. Doc would know what to do, even though she’d barely slept in days.

Maybe we’d have to move on sooner.

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T2000: W+9

After the fire raged through, we took the UAZ through a small town land on the outskirts of Warsaw. The bushes and trees and grass were still burning. I saw a dog, it’s back on fire, screaming as it ran down the road. The metal of our vehicles began to heat and I wondered whether or not I survived the initial blast and maybe I was in hell like my pastor said I would be. We poured water on our ammunition, afraid it might ignite. But, eventually we made it past the fires and I’m thankful that our tires didn’t melt. Fuck that pastor.

(Inspired by scenes of the fires in California. And in my impatience for the new edition. I said to my gaming group I want to play in a game where the spirit of Saving Private Ryan lives. A group which cannot be sundered is fighting to get home in a world that is completely sundered, and righting a few wrongs on the way)

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T2000: W+8

I woke at 7 am and padded into the shower.
Hot water. Soap. Clean towel.
Breakfast. Coffee.

I heard a voice calling me. I knew it was the Colonel. And I was back to my foxhole.

So, again, woke. It’s 5 am. I’m cold. There’s no shower. I shave in cold water out of a mug that I brush my teeth in. Everyone else is up. Monk glares at me with his sunken eyes. I don’t think I did anything wrong. The Doc is silent; the woman speaks at least four languages and she’s got nothing to say.

I pull my blanket around me and I stumble towards the UAZ and then all hell breaks loose. The ground erupts in a shower of dirt and panic. I see Monk scramble into a foxhole and the Doc hits the ground. I hear treebursts around me and I’m showered with splinters that embed themselves in my blanket.

Monk is screaming. The Doc is screaming. I think I’m screaming. And then I’m hauled to my feet by the Colonel. He shoves me against the UAZ and then goes to get Doc and Monk. Minutes later we’re all moving and I see why he was rushing us. A wall of fire is behind us and coming this way.

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T2000: W Day

The silence is deafening.

We were shelled last night. I could hear the pum-pum of guns and the blasts as they landed near. My ears bled from the pressure waves and even those blasts I couldn’t hear, I could feel in the ground. I could hear every one as I tried to sleep. I thought it was night but I realised it was just my eyes that were tightly closed. I felt like if I opened them, one of the shells would get me.

As the rumbles died down, I opened them. Around me my platoon was smashed. Not just the equipment. My friends. I closed my eyes again. I didn’t want to open them ever again. I didn’t want to.

The clouds of smoke cleared with an Eastern wind and I could see the sun was high in the sky. I could hear voices but they weren’t speaking in English so I hid under a tarpaulin and just waited for death. The voices quietly died away.

The Colonel found me that way. Hiding and pretending to be dead in a foxhole. He said he took one look at me and knew I was still breathing. So, he hauled me outta there and carried me on his back to his HQ – a lean-to made of a corrugated iron shed using two UAZs for walls. It was simple and effective. A skinny guy with a mohawk handed me a steel mug of hot coffee. Muttered something about no milk and sugar. And then he disappeared. I felt alone and vulnerable. These people all knew each other; they didn’t know me. I’d lost my entire squad, my entire platoon was behind me.

As I finished my drink the Colonel reappeared and asked if I wanted to go home. I didn’t have the words to answer him so he just ruffled my hair like I was his kid or something and said nothing.

These people; the Colonel, the skinny guy was called Monk and later I met the Doc. These were my new platoon.

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About Frontier and Representation

When I conceived Frontier it wasn’t the way it is now. There was a little collaboration from others and everyone had their own idea what it would become. For one it was Sci-Fi-Done-Right in the science. For another it was a aliens done right. My vision was essentially the standard picture of the Bridge Crew in Star Trek but with one token white face – rather than one or two token black faces. It would be humanity-done-right.

Representation

I stopped working on Frontier for “personal” reasons. You can see I had a multi-year hiatus on all of these creative outputs as my life was too “busy”. But now I return, and I’ve had some education. On actual representation, on the most excluded and marginalised in society and with an expanded background in performance arts and film production, an understanding of what representation means.

Whoopi Goldberg says that when she saw Star Trek she told her mother in amazement “I just saw a black woman on TV and she wasn’t a maid!”

Can you imagine never seeing a face like yours on television? This is why movies like Wonder Woman were important. This is why Reys saga, in the latest Star Wars movies, is important. How can you tell a story when 51% of the population is just a bit part.

Reading

Frontier has a slightly different origin to most stories. It’s meant to be a roleplaying game. But then I thought it could be a movie. And then an animation. And then a video game. At the moment I’m working with a young Kenyan artist to produce art either for the roleplaying book or as conceptual guides for the other media.

I’m currently reading “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi and I thoroughly recommend it (I don’t read fantasy much but this is good). It’s much more overt in the writing than, for instance, LeGuin’s Earthsea. I’d not really fully digested that Sparrowhawk, Le Guineas protagonist, was not white.

Your. My. Our story.

There are stories to tell. While Frontier is hundreds of years in the future and not of Ireland, it is my story too. It’s about a Western civilisation so caught up in greed and hubris that it almost destroys everything. It’s about a culture we can only dream about – where contribution to society is not measured in how much money you earn (or in how much tax you’ve managed to evade). It’s about a future where humanity has reached out into space, made contact with alien races, established itself in the dark spaces between the stars and saved us all. And a future where I am that token face.

I’ll finish off with this list of names. Characters in Star Trek who had real impacts….maybe you’ll look them up.

Richard Daystrom
Nyota Uhuru
Clark Terrell
Lily Sloane
Geordi La Forge
Emory Erickson
Benjamin Sisko
Kasidy Yates-Sisko
Calvin Hudson
Tuvok
Worf, son of Mogh
Guinan

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Frontier: The Snakes of Rist images

The post “The Snakes of Rist” has been updated with some art. To give a feel for the Aliens. Pop there and have a look.

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Explorers: Ten Experts

Human Unity has build dozens of these craft; their primary purpose to map the wormholes and document everything they encounter. Because they may be out of touch with Earth for long periods, they are built to be totally self-sustaining.

The vessels are equipped with up to 200 souls and up to 10 Experts to manage the vessel and perform the duties and missions assigned.

Five Experts are indispensable:

Command Expert (or Captain)
Support Expert
Medical Expert
Navigational Expert
Engineering Expert

These first five are considered the absolute authority for their position.

The Command Expert is not an AI aboard ship, it’s built into the core of the vessel itself. It is primarily concerned with the main mission and the liaison with the senior human team within the Explorer crew. The Command Expert also maintains Human Unity policy with any contact or ethical concerns. The Command Expert is usually referred to as Captain but individual ships may have other names for the AI. As far as Experts go, the Command Expert is probably most human-like in interactions and can meaningfully interact with humans, even to the point of seeming emotional. There is no part of the vessel which is not linked to the Command Expert.

With 200 crew and being out of touch for maybe more than 600 sols, the Explorer needs to be able to carry and manufacture more than 360,000 meals. Each packed meal weighs around 500 grams (providing 500-900 calories) but the Explorer would store only perhaps a years worth of those (108 tons for 360 days). The remainder would be powdered or freeze dried rations weighing 150 grams each (a years supply being (32.5 tons for 360 days). Obviously if a Captain Expert wishes to keep crew happy, they will allocate additional storage to less efficient nutritional sources (fruit, vegetables, mycoproteins). The responsibility for maintaining this is usually handed to a Support Expert, one of the potential ten Experts aboard the Explorer.

The Medical Expert has access to a subset of the Encyclopaedia pertaining to medical conditions and their effects on various encountered species as well as whatever human knowledge has been collected. The Expert can direct human medics and surgeons as well as medical drones. Medical drones themselves are little more than Specialist drones guided by the higher processes of the Expert. They can work wonders – but their bedside manner is absent.

The Navigational Expert is the busiest (and probably most pre-occupied machine intelligence aboard). The core of this Expert is a distributed sensornet on the hull of the craft, augmented by remote drones which provide additional lensing capabilities (for better resolution). Together they are a highly mobile “Redundant Array of Distributed Sensors”. This Expert is involved in constantly processing every piece of stellar data they can sense, as well as mapping the bulkspace of wormhole transits. This data will later help with navigation as well as finding new routes through the wormholes.

The power systems and life support of the Explorer are primarily maintained by an engineering crew headed up by an Engineering Expert. The Engineering Expert is not tasked with getting the last 10% of performance out of the engines and will not sacrifice power or life support to achieve a mission; quite the opposite. Experts are, by design, dedicated to the continued survival of the crew above other concerns.

Five more are optional:

XO Expert
Tactical Expert
Science Expert
Contact Expert
ISD Expert

The XO Expert is an auxiliary artificial intelligence placed to second-guess the Command Expert in decisions where the human crew is in disagreement. In theory, any Expert can be promoted to the XO Expert position. It’s purely the failsafe (and if it can’t convince the Command Expert, who can?). The XO is also the primary countermeasures against outside interference with the Command Expert.

The closest analog to a Master Expert on board is the Tactical Expert. The TE is not as aggressive as a Master Expert, but rather about winning through defence and diplomacy (as well as the infrequent Kinetic Kill Vehicle).

Science Experts are as varied as they are specialised. It’s common for at least one to be aboard but depending on missions and route, not uncommon for there to be two or more.

The Contact Expert is tasked with dealing with all diplomatic or xenosociety interactions when they’re going well. when they’re going sour, they tend to be handed to the Tactical Expert.

The ISD Expert is seldom deployed but like all Experts, can be a position an Expert is promoted into. As a coordinator for the Internal Security Department, they are mainly responsible for the physical integrity of the vessel (and the actions of humans therein).

These secondary Expert systems are employed in the support of teams of humans who use them for guidance.

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Looking at a black hole…..

This is the sort of result that we got from Interstellar (with science from Kip Thorne) and validated by Katie Bouman in her algorithm to piece together collected data from a black hole and see what it looked like.

Continue reading

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Is there life out there?

CETI

We present a cosmic perspective on the search for life and examine the likely number of Communicating Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent civilizations (CETI) in our Galaxy by utilizing the latest astrophysical information. Our calculation involves Galactic star-formation histories, metallicity distributions, and the likelihood of stars hosting Earth-like planets in Habitable Zones, under specific assumptions which we describe as the Astrobiological Copernican Weak and Strong conditions. These assumptions are based on the one situation in which intelligent, communicative life is known to exist – on our own planet.

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