Hope It Floats

Today I rode Stevens Creek Trail for the first time, and it’s pretty cool: a tiny jungle wedged between a freeway and suburbs, with lots of engineering to overcome highways and the occasional railroad. As I approached the south end of the bay I passed Moffet field and the NASA Ames Research center. Just past that there was a pair of fancy new buildings going up.

“Huh.” I thought to myself, “I’d have thought that NASA people would know better than to create grand new structures at sea level.”

Ames Research Center and something Big and New

The hue of the image is due to smoke; this is the “new normal”, as the kids say. So – two big buildings with Major Architecture going up (only one pictured here), on land that is almost certain to be under water within the intended lifespan of the buildings.

I wondered how NASA could be so short-sighted, but it turns out they’ve worked a pretty good scam. After I got home I did some research.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to one of Google’s new flagship sites. I imagine the NASA people who leased Google the land are cackling at the prospect of getting anything at all for that doomed real estate. And maybe if Google is there, they will spend their billions to protect their investment, constructing dikes and pumping stations that not only will prolong the agony for Google but also give NASA a few more years in their own facilities next door.

The people who paid for that new fancy building must know that the ocean will soon be taking ownership of that land, right? They must know that clever geothermal piles (which sound pretty cool) will not alter the simple fact that the ocean is rising, and cares not how many dollars you have sunk into your new building.

I have many unflattering things to say about Google, but stupid was not one of them. But if the shoe fits…

Maybe the End of a Story, Maybe the Beginning

She stood naked looking out the window, limbed by the lights of the city. “You people,” she said.

From the deep hotel bed I said, “what people?”

She shook her head and after a moment looked back over her shoulder at me. It seemed, in that light, that maybe her light brown eyes were lit from within, but it was just the way her they caught the glow of the the television, I told myself.

“You people,” she said again. “You need something to fear. It’s wired in your brains.”

“Uh huh,” I said. The night was getting a little weird. I was for sure going to end up paying for the room, I could tell, no matter what she had said.

She snorted. “If you don’t have something concrete to fear, you will invent something.” Her eyes were definitely glowing now.

I pushed myself up against the headboard, pulling the sheets up with me to cover my frailty. My gut told me that there was no need to invent something to be afraid of at that moment. She watched me.

“You’re cute when you’re terrified,” she said, and turned to look back out the window. “It’s an honest fear.” She took a deep breath. “Delicious. Left to yourselves, that fearful instinct, combined with the power you suddenly wield, will certainly destroy you. There’s no doubt. That’s why I’m here.”

“To… help?” I was starting to feel the heat radiating from her body. She didn’t seem like the helpful type.

“Maybe,” she said. “Or maybe just to speed things up. I’ve been sent to simplify things.”

She waited for my obligatory leading question but my throat was dry.

She laughed. “I’m giving you something real to fear. It’s as simple as this: you people learn to work together and kill me, or I will cleanse this planet of life.”

“Simple enough,” I croaked, as I kissed my planet goodbye.

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A Sign of the Times

My local bike shop published a nice intro to indoor bike trainers today, breaking down the different types and the pros and cons of each. There was one section of the article addressing why one might want an indoor trainer, that included this:

You can get a great ride in regardless of rain, wind, smoke, or snow.

Smoke. A new weather condition driving us indoors. One we created all by ourselves.

Almost There

The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings & Half-Baked Ideas cut my hair today. She did a good job, but when done said, “I’m not an expert, and I hope never to be.” Amen to that.

I had gotten pretty shaggy, as the pile of hair in the picture will tell you. We thought, Official Sweetie and I, that my next haircut would be by a trained professional. We were almost there.

But it turns out we weren’t almost there. The groundhog poked his head up, saw rich people exploiting fear of the vaccine for profit and political power, and dove back into his burrow for six more months of plague.

As a result, I got my best home haircut since I was a kid this afternoon. I hope it’s my last.

 

Hmm…

I’m just going to leave this here.

The Beginning of a Fun Space Opera

“Everything will be all right.”

Tommy thought he heard those words, anyway; a soothing alto whispering in his ear. A lie, he was pretty sure. He tied to open his eyes, but he couldn’t, and he became aware that his head was wrapped tightly.

But as he emerged from his sleep he wanted to go right back. He was aware, distantly and intellectually, that half his body was on fire, but it was the other half, the parts he couldn’t feel at all that frightened him.

He had been flying, dodging, cursing, ducking between hulks of weird alien… things, sending the Feds crashing into each other while Mags did what she could with their little popgun, extracting every possible cost to those trying to kill them, but knowing, all along, that there were just too many of the bastards. Knowing all along that he was going to die.

He jerked in the restraints that held him now as he remembered the last hit his little ship had taken, reliving the moment his craft had been vented and Mags had gone cartwheeling into the void.

“Please try to remain still,” the voice said. “I am currently testing your mental function, then you will sleep again. Everything will be all right.”

His mouth was not bound. He worked his jaw, tried to force words through a throat that would not respond.

“The next time you are conscious, you will be able to speak,” the voice said.

He felt sleep return, but now he feared his dreams.

“Do not be afraid. Everything will be all right.”

* * *

The second time up the well, it was a slower climb. The pain was closer now, but still he was shielded from the worst. Out there somewhere his left arm was in agony as it slowly repaired itself. The right arm felt… odd. But it didn’t hurt. Tommy was pretty sure that was worse.

He could feel himself breathing now, he could feel the air passing over scorched and raw tissue in his throat and lungs. He could feel his heart beat. The top of his face was still wrapped tightly, but he could sense the room around him now. He was surrounded by almost-silent machines, machines that no doubt were keeping him alive.

A simple fact: shitbags like him did not get this sort of medical care. Ever.

The voice again, so soothing, but tinged with concern. “Are you able to speak?”

He opened his mouth, closed it, tried again, moving air through his abused throat until noises started coming out. “Huh..hii… is… everything going to be all right?”

She didn’t laugh but her voice sounded like it was colored by a smile when she said, “I believe so, yes.”

“Where am I?”

“You are in a medical bay, undergoing repairs.”

The million-dollar question: “Why?”

Did he hear that smile again? “I like the way you fly. Now sleep. You are safe for now.”

He felt sleep coming to him unbidden, and knew it was sedatives in his bloodstream. “For now?” he whispered.

He was sure he heard a chuckle as he drifted back into the blackness. “As safe as any of us are.”

Somehow he was all right with that.

* * *

Tommy might have been dreaming while he was under, but as his mind was released from the drugs this time the memories came.

Scavengers all lived for the big score; most of them died for it as well. When word filtered down about a new find of Old Tech, probably Gamma, it flashed through his little circle like a supernova. Someone who knew someone said that some of the Old Tech was fully intact. Even if that was an exaggeration, they were talking about El Dorado.

There are two kinds of people in the universe; those who stupidly believe Old Tech is valuable, and those who sell the shit to the first group. The equivalent of selling tunnel drives to cavemen. But some of those cavemen had serious cash, and dreams that they would be the ones to decipher the Old Tech and rule the universe.

Three kinds of people if you count the Feds, but they’re not actually people so much as cogs in a machine that understands that the devices are a source of power, but like cavemen they just hit the things with rocks to see what happens. They are organized cavemen, and what they have that the other cavemen don’t is a navy, and they will to use it to keep all the shiny objects they will never understand to themselves.

This interfered with the desire of the scavengers to sell the Old Tech to stupid rich people.

The ageless artifacts came in distinctive styles, which were named using the Greek alphabet in the order they were identified. Gamma sold the best. “Experts” at hitting mysteries with rocks said Gamma was the most advanced, as if they had any hope of actually understanding any of it. Gamma was bank, but most of it had been thoroughly demolished by weapons of power beyond comprehension. Intact Gamma tech was the Big Score all the scavengers dreamed of.

It was late when the three of them got together to discuss the news. They were drinking, and Mags wanted that loot. She leaned in towards him, her crazy blonde hair flying in every direction as she skewered him with her perceptive squint. “My friends say it’s incredible. Tons of fully intact… stuff.” Stuff. A supercomputer, maybe, or perhaps a sex toy or a recipe book. Ask again in a thousand years. “People will pay out thier dicks for this shit.”

Aggie kicked Tommy under the table to get his attention. She was like the Cheshire Cat in a way; once you saw her eyes, brown and clear and endless, you didn’t see anything else. She could rob a person of their soul with those eyes, and she had stolen Tommy’s, more than once. “We got an image from the site. Big things, small things, in a cluster, orbiting a red giant. Spread out over time, though, so there’s a good chance some of the shit has been knocked out of its original orbit. We find a piece like that, no one is ever the wiser.”

“Counterpoint:” said Mags, “Rather than spend months looking over our shoulders for patrols while we hope to find a stray widget that will fit in our hold, we go in hot, grab something choice, and get the fuck out of there. If anyone can do it, Tommy can.”

Ultimately, as always, Mags got her way. And the Feds got theirs.

* * *

He was awake now, almost as much as he was asleep. The pain gradually crept closer and closer to his mind, until his entire left side was a constant throbbing ache. The right side was a collection of sharp pains here and there, but otherwise nothing.

“My right arm’s gone, isn’t it?” he asked his caretaker.

“It is. I am fashioning a replacement.”

“My legs?”

“The same.”

“My… eyes?”

“The same.”

“Fuck.”

“Do not be too discouraged; the replacements will in some ways be superior to the originals.”

“You said you are fashioning replacements.”

The soft voice paused, as if she knew what the next question would be. “That is correct.”

“You used the singular.”

“That is correct.”

“Are you the only one here?”

“No,” she said. “You are here, too.”

“You’re not with the Feds.”

“I am not.”

“Who are you?”

“I am waiting for a name. But your people call me ‘Gamma’.”

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