Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rock Lobster Part III

My game was in shambles.

Dead technocrats littered the camp. Johan failed to save a single father from electrocution.  Now the whole desert is teetering on the brink of disaster and the players are no closer to answers. Exploring the camp, they found the key to the technocrats plans: an enormous nuclear-powered robot, like a giant metal bowling ball on three squat hydraulic legs. A quick examination showed just how broken down it was. The whole thing needed a complete overhaul and it's reactor shielding was cracked right down the middle. It never came up in the game, but if the technocrats lived a little longer they would have explained that the first to repair the robot would have been appointed leader. Using it, they would have brought their new scientific order to the people of Trinity. So yes, they were villains. But the players still ended up looking worse thanks to their wanton destruction.

This was also going to tie into the lobster man's problem. Because the water the technocrats were hoarding wasn't just any old water, it was heavy water intended for the robot's nuclear reactor. But again, irrelevant.

As the players made their way further north there was a loud roar of engines flying overhead. A huge metal box soared past them and came to a graceful landing a few miles away. It had strange alien markings all over it's surface and was towing a huge metal cylinder under it's body. I told everyone to imagine something like to the shuttle from District 9. The players finally found it: the missing Kretak dropship.

Finally, they were back on track. They would meet up with the Kretak, get Urmon's enchanting supplies and finally get out of this desert. Even better, they could drop of the huge piece of scientific equipment they'd been lugging around since their visit to Tory 401. All they needed to do was not cause needless conflict.

The hike to the Kretak camp took several hours. It was late evening by the time they made it to the other edge of the Glowing Pond and found the wall made of gutted, rusted cars. A single Kretak guard was there to greet them and luckily for the players, it recognized Wilfred. It crawled down from it's perch and started leading them back to camp. It clattering wildly. Omaru's radio filled with static as the rest of the Kretak came out to see them. Several dozen of the alien creatures where there, safely hidden under layers of armor and environmental conditioning. Each one carrying a tank of the exotic gas mixture they breathed on their home planet.

The camp was cobbled together from old environmental pods, the remains of their mothership and whatever junk they had scavenged since being stranded on Chmatra. On the edge of camp was the Kretak dropship, still unloading it's cargo. Beside it was a large cylindrical object hidden under a tarp. The Kretak leader quickly ushered Wilfred over to it's workbench and operated a few dials on it's console. A display lit up and suddenly a huge holographic image formed before the players.

A map of Pitchblende Flats appeared, with arrows indicating every major mining operation for miles around. In the center was God's Candle, the radium mountain. God's Candle was the richest source of radioactive ore in the entire world, but also the most inhospitable. The mountain was composed entirely of radium and it's decay products, spewing radioactive gas in a huge cloud around it. Every night, the mountain could be seen from all over the desert, glowing a faint green.

The hologram spun around, showing the land deep beneath the surface. The radium deposit under God's Candle came into view as a bluish-green blotch. All around it were deposits of uranite, coffinite, zeunerite and all manner of other radioactive ores. Another spot appeared far below the virtual surface. Colored purple, it flashed several times and the Kretak leader pointed to it. A huge red wave, signifying hot magma started to pulse upward, compressing the purple ore. It heated as the pressure squeezed it from all sides. Alien numbers and symbols danced across the display as the purple spot continued to compress. Then, without warning, it exploded, bombarding the uranite above it, which then exploded itself.

The whole simulated desert started to tear itself apart as more and more of the uranium started to undergo fission. After mere seconds, all that was left was a smouldering crater in the virtual sand. The Kretak turned to face the players, to see if they understood.

There was a local legend shared among prospectors. It was believed that uranium wasn't the only fission fuel dragged to the surface by the earthquakes. Somewhere out in the desert, far past the high-radiation zone of God's Candle there was a huge deposit of pure weapons-grade plutonium. It's said that the plutonium is so rich in that deposit that it can be placed in a bomb without any other refining and still explode with the force of several megatons of TNT. Mining such a deposit would make a prospector rich beyond their wildest dreams. And now, the Kretak were trying to tell the players that the plutonium exists, they found it and more, the volcano under the surface was going to make it explode with enough force to wipe the desert off the face of Chmatra.

A second simulation appeared, only this time, the scene zoomed in to show a drill digging deep behind the high-radiation zone, straight down into the plutonium deposit itself. A virtual miniature of the Kretak dropship appeared above the bore hole and the scene zoomed in again. A long cylindrical shape fell out of the ship and froze above the lip of the hole. The cylinder exploded open to reveal it's inner workings, revealing a small bomb and two subcritical masses at either end of the assembly.

The scene zoomed out and the bomb fell down the bore hole. It reached the plutonium and there was another explosion, only this time the deposit cracked apart. Pieces of it still went critical, some even formed a chain reaction with other rocks nearby. But most of it survived intact. All that was felt on the surface was a dull thud, like another short earthquake had struck. The Kretak turned the hologram off and turned to face the players.

Suddenly, Nick had an idea. The Kretak could only explain so much through pictures, but his character had just gained the ability to create minor reality last session. He asked if his character could use his ability to alter reality to rewire his own brain in order to speak fluent Kretak. I told him yes, absolutely. But be careful, because if it doesn't work he'll end up with brain damage or just die right there in front of everyone. We all agreed it was worth the risk and he rolled.

He got a 5 (on a d6). And right before everyone's very eyes, Minamillian started speaking fluent Kretak Interworld. Immedat

"It is because I am God." He said.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rock Lobster Part II

Last session, Wilfred and his gang of bandits met the wizard Urmon and his staff. After a brief misunderstanding with his apprentice, he promised them that if they retrieved his spell book and magic dust and what have you, he would enchant their weapons and make them several orders of magnitude more deadly than they already were. The players agreed and made their way north, into the marshes surrounding the Glowing Pond, the second-most radioactive destination in all of Pitchblende Flats.

This was around the time Obtuse Goose invited his friend to play. I wanted him to have fun so I tried to ease him into the setting and explain the world of Chmatra.  But the more I tried to rationalize the talking cow people and robots the more I realized that I didn't even really know what was happening at this point. Any semblance of a goal had vanished long ago. After the pie lady died it was really just a matter of everyone following Haydn's character, Wilfred around the desert, looking for more people to kill. But none of it mattered anyway, because by the time I was done explaining the details of naturally occurring fission reactions I realized he didn't really care anyway. He was just along for the ride.

And that was just fine with me, since I figured it probably meant he'd stay out of trouble. With that, they were off. Travel through the bogs was long and arduous as they struggled against the mud and tried to weave a safe path through the zones of intense radiation. A sickly green light filled the air. Balls of luminous swamp gas floated eerily through the fog. As they reached the waters edge the mud started to bubble around them and before they knew it, a arm reached out of the muck and grabbed their mechanic, Travis. A mud monster pulled itself out of the underbrush and started trying to eat the hapless elf where he stood. Everyone else rolled for initiative. Wilfred fired into the monster. And since he's extremely overpowered he got a whole handful of rolls and dozens of bullets to use. He squeezed the trigger, neatly severing the mud man's arm in a hail of gunfire. The rest of the bullets plunged deep into the body of the monster, doing nothing.

The bog beast started flailing Travis around as more creatures started to form out of the murk. Nick's character, Minamillion killed one with a fireball. I asked Twitch what his temporary character Mikial would be doing. He snorted over the microphone and flatly refused to do anything. "He's an elf right? Forget that, he's on his own." I couldn't really do anything about that. It was out of character for Mikial, sure. But then again it's nice to see elves get whats coming to them.

More swamp monsters appeared. Wilfred kept shooting, Minamillion kept launching fireballs. Omaru did nothing. Suddenly there was a stream of gunfire from the lake and what looked like miniature rockets started cutting through the mud men. As the creatures scattered a large shape appeared from the water and waved at the party with a huge barnacle-encrusted claw. A pair of yellow eyes appeared out of the fog. A huge lobsterman came striding out of the lake, carrying a hi-tech assault rifle in one of his claws.

He greeted the players and jokingly asked what they were thinking wandering into a radioactive, monster-infested swamp. They didn't have an answer for him. Instead, everyone decided to immediately start lying to the guy who saved them. Since Wilfred and Devereaux were both journalists, they tried to convince the lobsterman that he'd been picked as a contestant on a new reality game show. He would be competing against several other eligible bachelors for Devereaux's hand in marriage. He was instantly seduced.

Lovestruck by the elf woman wandering into his swamp, he led them up the shore while telling the party what a great candidate he was. He had been living in the swamp for a few years by that point. He and his previous wife moved out there when he got a job at the local dam. Back then, a huge river went through the desert and the swamp was a fertile delta. But after a series of intense earthquakes the river was rerouted and the marshes started to dry up. "All that's left" He said. "Are the stagnant pools here. When the earthquakes shook us it cracked the dam right down the middle and threw up the radioactive dust clouds. That's what killed me first wife, bless her soul."

Devereaux kept feeding him lines about what a strong, crunchy lobsterman he was. But Wilfred wasn't listening. He was just eyeing his rifle the whole time. I made a point of describing the gun as very unusual looking, like an FG 42 made of advanced polymer plastic, something it shouldn't be possible to build on Chmatra.

And it wasn't actually; it never came up in the game itself but the gun was actually a IPTA assault rifle designed for astronauts. Chmatra drifts across the multiverse, with wormhole storms opening in the upper atmosphere all the time. Junk from all over the multiverse comes raining down on the planet all the time. Sometimes it's Beanie Babies, which local shamans hoard as powerful totem animals. Sometimes it's alien home appliances, advanced pieces of technology they assume are powerful weapons and death rays but end up being something like a pasta strainer. In the case of the lobsterguy, it was an InterPlanetary Trade Administration gyrojet rifle, firing 13mm rocket propelled bullets. The gun was from the moon Titan in the year 2137 AD (and incidentally, from my science fiction setting which remains mostly unrelated to this game). Again, the players never knew any of this.

Meanwhile, the lobsterman was telling the players his life story. Before his wife died she laid a clutch of eggs they kept hidden in the least polluted part of the lake. Since then, a new group of people moved into the dam and started stockpiling all the fresh water for themselves. "If I don't get clean water soon I don't know if the kids'll make it." he said.

Lobsterdad lead them to the ruins of the old dam. "There," He said. "I don't know what their deal is, but they've been hogging all the junk, all the good water and everything for themselves. They won't even let me back up there and I practically ran the place. No respect for honest working people, I tell you..." So, the players snuck up the wall and peaked inside neighbor's camp.

A bull man was giving a speech on a cobbled together stage, extolling the virtues of society based on the scientific method. His peers, a cow woman, gnoll and a dwarf were sitting around him. Each one of them were bristling with cybernetic augmentations; robotic limbs, electronic eyes, metal plates grafted haphazardly onto flesh and bone. The players weren't impressed though and happily barged in on the rally. Immediately, they tried to convince the cyborgs that they were filming a documentary and wanted an exclusive interview with them. Otom Blackrock, the one speaking was all too happy to start lecturing them on the obsolescence of elected leaders, how a new ruling class of apolitical engineers would take control and that soon, a new order of scientism will reorganize society along new, logical, scientifically formulated strata. Again, the players weren't interested.

"Hey," Twitch said. "What if we just killed these guys?" Haydn was hesitant at first but then Nick joined in. Chanel still wasn't paying attention. Before long, most everyone was okay with killing the Technocrats and Haydn was forced to relent. Suddenly, Obtuse Goose butted in.

"Hang on," He said. "I know you, you're trying to start something."  Before then, Wilfred had been the driving force of evil in the party and only Omaru had done anything to stop him. Sure, he helped burn down the thorn thicket and sure, he never looked into the mysterious disappearance of all his babes. But whatever was going on he wasn't going to let Wilfred get away with it. I let him roll to fire a low power laser blast to stun Wilfred in his tracks. He got a six, and the tiny lizard fell to the ground, unconscious.

With the unexpected voice of reason silenced, Minamillian and Mikial launched fireballs at the cyborgs. Their electronics started to melt. Their servos ground helplessly as they tried to flee, their screams were distorted through their melting vocoders, muffled by the sounds of burning flesh, and sputtering vacuum tubes. Omaru did nothing.

The lobster man started to panic, pleading with the wizards to stop.

"Why not kill him." Nick said. Lightning flashed, and the lobster fell to the floor, sputtering and seizing. As the game master, I couldn't really forbid my players from taking certain actions, but I could definitely hint that they were taking a few steps down the slippery slope:

"Alright, you roll a five and mercilessly fry the single father as he pleads with you to stop killing people."

He was still squirming as the players were getting ready to finish him off. Wilfred was still unconscious. Chanel wasn't paying attention. I realized it was up to me. Me, and the little gnoll sitting in Devereaux's backpack. Suddenly, Johan leapt out and stood defiantly between the wizards and the dying lobster. He threw his little arms up to stop them and putting as much power into his meek voice as he could, he gave them an ultimatum.

"If you kill him, you have to kill me too!" He cried out. It was up to him now. If I had to sacrifice my favorite character to make them see reason, so be it. Live or die, Johan wasn't going to let this go any further. The smouldering remains of technocrats continued to convulse around him. The last survivor fled into the junkyard. Meanwhile the lobster was coughing up ichor, shuddering as sparks danced across his carapace. Omaru did nothing.

But Chanel heard Johan's name. I knew she was protective of him. I could count on her to change her mind about this senseless slaughter, even if it was just to protect him. She put herself between the lobster and the other players, scooped the little gnoll up...and went to the back of the group.

"Okay, now do whatever you were doing." She said.

Another pair of lightning bolts flashed and the lobster man slumped over, smoking from the joints in his shell. Omaru did nothing.

Wilfred started to wake up just as their guide stopped twitching. He took a look at the scene around him and without a word, stood up and started walking away.

And I knew in that moment, that the gods had abandoned these adventurers. Whatever noble quest they may have had was at an end. Whatever goodness was in them had vanished. All that was left was to take this as far as it could possibly go.

And I told myself, never ever let someone take control of an NPC again.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rock Lobster Part I

We finally rejoin our heroes as they continue their adventures in the wastes of Pitchblende Flats. It's been ages since anyone played my tabletop game. But I've finally been able to gather everyone together, pile them into the Steam chat and remind them why they all left in the first place.

When we left off, the players had just finished murdering a clan of Gnolls living in the desert. This came on the heels of another crime spree of theirs; releasing all the prisoners from jail and burning down the town of Trinity. The Bristlefur clan had befallen the players and their psychotic leader, Wilfred Sanddrinker one too many times and they had resolved to kill the innocent unassuming miners. Thankfully, the clan's matriarch sacrificed herself to buy her sons enough time to escape. Not so fortunately, one of those sons took that time to climb inside a bulldozer and ram 0M-4R-U, Obtuse Goose's character.

The last-ditch attack did nothing to harm the giant robotic monstrosity. Omaru smashed the bulldozer into pieces with a single blow, turning the driver into a thick red paste in his seat. Only a single Bristlefur gnoll made it out alive that night, last seen fleeing into the glowing desert to the north.

After the battle, the players kept going west. They heard a rumor about a powerful enchanter living on the edge of the mining claims. So, with no other quests or obligations, they set out to find Urmon's tower. After a day's hike through the desert, they found it; perched on a clump of fresh dirt and grass, the massive stone tower was leaning precariously to one side as if it materialized from another part of the world and fell on that spot.

Standing outside to greet them was Urmon's apprentice Karlo, who had been ineffectually sweeping up all the dust and sand kicked up by the tower's sudden appearance. He tried to say hello and welcome the players inside, but all he managed to do was offend them and make himself sound prejudiced against kobolds and robots. Thankfully they didn't kill him right away, more on that later.

Urmon himself and his fellow spellcaster Kelly were better received. The only problem was that Nick pointed out that the voice I put on for him sounded exactly like Dr. Orpheus, so it was basically impossible to get through any kind of conversation with the guy and have them take it seriously. Nonetheless, the players were adamant about getting their weapons enchanted and were willing to spend a large sum of gold to do it.

"Alas" The wizard explained. "I can't help you, not since those filthy crab people and their metal box stole all my enchanting materials." Thankfully, everyone pieced two and two together and realized the wizard's tower was actually raided by the Kretak, a group of alien miners who only bore a resemblance to crab people. Finally, something like a plot was starting to form again. After killing the pie lady and burning down the town the players had been wandering more-or-less aimlessly, looking for something to kill. Now one of the most successful mining companies had gone off the grid, stolen magical artifacts they couldn't use and had gone missing somewhere in the wastelands to the north. I expected Wilfred, Minamillion and Omaru to start asking themselves the hard questions and touch on the larger conspiracy at work.

They didn't, but we were getting somewhere.

And with that, they had their new mission and were back on the road. As a parting gift, Urmon gave the organic members of the party his own specially brewed radiation resistance potions, the side effects of which are still unknown to them.

Next stop: the Glowing Pond, the last known location of the Kretak miners.

First, something needs to be said about Wilfred's personal minions. Travis Splinterpeak, elven car mechanic and Mikial Kalwilsko, gnoll wizard. The players met Travis back in Trinity when they were trying to engineer a rotary Gatling-style shotgun for Omaru. By that point, everyone was terrified of the ten-foot tall robot and the only mechanic in town who agreed to help them was Travis. From the outset it was clear he was way too enthusiastic about building their newest superweapon and clearly had some issues he needed to work out. Wilfred agreed to bring him along since they were planning on burning down the town anyway. And Travis was a pyromaniac.

Later, when the group was fighting the Bristlefur's Tiger tank, Travis leapt into the crew cabin (while it was on fire) and started headbutting all the gnolls inside. He was unfortunately knocked unconscious but managed to distract the crew long enough for the other players to hurl fireballs into it's radiator. From then on, when he wasn't being knocked unconscious Travis's role in the party was either getting into fist fights or carrying Wilfred around on his shoulders.

Then there's Mikial, who's been with the group longer than most of the players. Originally the court mage for a backwater swamp kingdom, he had recently tried to feed Wilfred to a pack of sandworms after having second thoughts on the direction his life was taking. Wracked with guilt, he had been a faithful yes man ever since.

Now everyone was ready to brave the dangers of the Glowing Pond, the most polluted body of water in Pitchblende Flats. But we had a guest player that week. Obtuse Goose invited his friend Twitch to join the game to see what he'd think of my setting. Rather than have him make a new character I lent him Mikial. It seemed like a good choice, since Mikial was a big coward anyway and spent most fights hiding behind the bigger members of the party. To me at least, it seemed like a safe place to put him. More on this later.

My sister rejoined the game around this time too. Her character Devereaux was a journalist by trade, like Wilfred, and had her own minion she picked up in the swamps: Johan Axegrinder. Johan had been a guard in the king's gatehouse until the players framed him for terrorism. He joined them when it became clear his whole homeland was going to be destroyed in a civil war and had been riding in Devereaux's backpack ever since. He's easily the least evil member of the party and spent most of his time up to that point trying to find a peaceful way of resolving whatever crisis faced them. Part of the reason he doesn't gel well with the rest of the group is that he's the only one who hasn't committed any kind of murder, wanton or not.

Finally, everyone was gathered together again. They faced the poisonous wasteland ahead of them with nothing but steely determination. A larger conspiracy was brewing just beneath the surface. But with luck, they would accidentally stumble upon it on their next great unrelated killing spree. But little did I know I would be facing the greatest disaster of my gaming career. We didn't know it, but the session was about to take a turn for the worse and the game was about to enter a much darker place.

Tune in next week for Part II, where the players explore the ruins of the dam, meet the Kretak and ruin more lives than you can possibly imagine.

Finally, here's Slithers:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quantum Of Distress

Science is hard.

But more than that, science is hard to keep up with. Everyday it seems like there's a new discovery being made that completely changes our understanding of the Universe. If you had told me a couple weeks ago someone invented a real-life reactionless drive using only the magnetron from a microwave oven and the contents of his garage I would have said you're a dirty liar. But now look, NASA is experimenting with a reproduction of that very same device and they still haven't come up with a good explanation for how it works.

As someone who writes science fiction semi-regularly I find the burden of scientific accuracy a little overwhelming at times. I could spend months designing a fictional rocket and all it's components; the nuclear reactor, the deck plan, weapons and give it the most robust and accurate engineering I can. And sure, I could sell the idea to Reader's Digest and rake in millions. But it will all mean exactly zilch if a few weeks after publishing NASA appears and announces they've invented honest-to-God anti-gravity. It's impossible to keep up with every new scientific discovery and sooner or later any piece of science fiction will succumb to what TVTropes calls Zeerust.

I accept that everything I write here and now will one day be seen as dated, even quaint. But if my fictional universe is doomed to being hopelessly antiquated then at least it's going to be consistent.

Here in 2015, there are dozens and dozens of theories regarding the possibly quantum nature of gravity. Some of these were formulated simply to reconcile General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics (two very very different fields with completely incompatible equations), while others have the lofty goal of becoming a so-called Theory of Everything, a theory so complete in it's description of the physical world that it can predict and explain every aspect of the physical Universe.

As for potential Theories of Everything or the less ambitious Grand Unified Theories, there's plenty of candidates to choose from. Of course you have String Theory, the lesser known but still very interesting Loop Quantum Gravity and ugly ducklings like Supergravity or Euclidean Quantum Gravity. The problem is that there's so many to chose from and none of them can be experimentally verified. All these theories concern themselves with either very small or very energetic environments; conditions we're physically incapable of interacting with. So who knows what's really going on down there. We certainly don't, because our giant, fat instruments make a mess of everything we're trying to observe. This is part of the reason why some believe the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal isn't due to the actual nature of subatomic particles, but is actually a result of the limitations of our giant Human measuring equipment.

The point is that any one of these theories could be correct and I have no way of knowing which one that might be.

I'm getting ahead of myself of course. Because before we can even hope to unify Relativity and Quantum Mechanics we need to figure out how we've even supposed to interpret Quantum Mechanics. As you know, Quantum theory is very strange, some would say frightening. Much of what goes on down there is open to interpretation and the math supports plenty of daffy ideas. For example, when you take a measurement of a particle's position or momentum (but not both), what's really going on? Was the particle behaving like a wave and you've just collapsed it into a particle? Are you getting interference from an unseen pilot wave? Or have you inadvertently created an alternate timeline where your measurements were different? Nobody knows.

The most common interpretation by a wide margin is of course the Copenhagen Interpretation. It has the distinction of being the most widely accepted and visible interpretation and also the one with the most crazy stuff going on under the hood. This is the one that gives us such weirdness as wave-particle duality and wave function collapse; strange circumstances that probably don't even accurately describe the nature of subatomic matter but is as close as we're going to get to really understanding it using our feeble Human minds.

Then there's Pilot Wave Theory which asserts that the bizarre behavior of particles has less to do with them being probabilistic bundles of energy and more to do with 'hidden variables' called pilot waves: ripples particles leave in the fabric of space-time as they pass through. These waves 'remember' the path the particle took and influence the motion of all subsequent particles that pass through it, providing a handy explanation for unusual behavior like what's observed in the famous double-slit experiment.

Or you could stick with the old sci-fi standby of the Many Worlds Interpretation and toss all those sticky questions regarding wave-functions in an alternate timeline.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There's a plethora of unanswered questions in physics and each one could have a potentially bizarre answer that totally changes our understanding of reality. For example, what is the origin of mass? We don't know because the concept of mass is so intertwined with gravity and like I said earlier, we don't know what gravity even is at the quantum level. Is mass actually the symmetry breaking Higgs field? W Z Bosons we haven't detected yet? Nobody knows.

How can neutrinos of a specific lepton flavor suddenly have an entirely different flavor? Do they spontaneously transform into a different particle?

Why is there so much more matter than anti-matter in our universe?

What is dark matter and dark energy? Is it zero-point energy? The cosmological constant? Another universe absorbing our own?

Who knows how long it'll take to answer all these questions. Some of them might never be answered. Well, I am not a scientist. But I am someone aiming to write a gripping sci-fi yarn so a few weeks ago I decided I wasn't going to wait for real results from the LHC. Instead, I'll come up with my own fictional Grand Unifying Theory; one that was complete in it's description of the physical universe, that was consistent with all our experimental data so far and allowed for plenty of wacky circumstances like negative mass, anti-gravity or the Alcubierre drive; phenomena conducive to a good science fiction story that haven't been disproven yet.

I call my fictional theory the Theory of Choice as it'll be fine tuned for exactly the sort of stories I want to tell and take all of what I consider the most interesting and probable explanations that are floating around in the physics community right now.

In all likelihood, my pet theory will be disproven ten, maybe twenty years from now. But in the meantime it'll serve as a good framework for the physics of my fictional universe, providing consistent and (hopefully) reasonable explanations for how all the technology therein works. And if any particular element gets disproven (like dark energy ends up being angry ghosts or something), well, I never said my fictional universe was supposed to be our universe. I'll just say in a press conference that my intellectual property takes place in an alternate timeline, similar to our own but with subtly different laws of physics. Until then I can claim perfect scientific accuracy.

How the Theory of Choice works is that I make a few sweeping assumptions about physics and from there, pick the real scientific theories that best fit those assumptions and slowly move down the list of unanswered questions , using explanations from the aforementioned theories until everything is more-or-less ironed out. It's slow going, partially because there are just that many unanswered questions in physics but mostly because I am dealing with heady scientific topics most laypeople don't even know exist. I still have no idea what CP Violation is but it's important and because it's important I have to pretend I'm an actual astrophysicist and try to wrap my head around it.

First, the assumptions: in the ToC, the universe is probabilistic, not deterministic. Second, gravity is quantum but Relativity and Quantum Mechanics go ultimately unreconciled. Third, the origin of mass lies in the Higgs field, the Higgs Boson is not the only such particle of it's type and there are many more left to be discovered, each one capable of more and more bizarre gravity-like effects than the last. Finally, no matter what, the ToC must allow for travel to alternate realities, each more terrifying than the last. This last point is the most important as it allows the antagonists of my work to kill far more people than the total population of any one universe.

Right away, I can say that String Theory has no place in my fictional universe. It's not that I think String Theory is necessarily wrong or bad. I just feel like String Theory has ballooned far out of proportion and makes a lot of assumptions that aren't going to hold up to real-world experimentation. As of this writing, there's virtually no experimental evidence for String Theory and yet it enjoys widespread acclaim and support as the most likely candidate for the fabled Theory of Everything. Plus, String Theory's implication of an orderly and elegant universe is totally at odds with the kind of story I want to tell. String Theory describes an intricate tapestry of 11-dimensional manifolds, where matter arises from the subtle vibrations of mysterious bundles of energy. Well not here it isn't. My universe is a violent, unwholesome place; a cosmology of terror where life counts for nothing and there are only three spatial dimensions.

In my universe, there is no Theory of Everything and the interaction between gravity and the three fundamental forces is ultimately hazy and indistinct. There might not be a Grand Unifying Theory either, meaning there was never a time when electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces were unified as a single fundamental force. This goes back to the idea of a probabilistic universe. Here at least, God really does play dice with the universe. Everything that occurs in the subatomic world is hazy and left to chance, meaning that at it's most basic level, the universe is open to all sorts of unsettling unrealities.

This is why Pilot Wave Theory has no place in my universe either; it offers a logical, deterministic explanation for the strange behavior of particles with the introduction of pilot waves, injecting reality back into the study of Quantum Mechanics. Determinism and the idea that there is a logical, mechanical explanation for everything his has no place in my chaotic, ultimately nihilistic universe. Instead, I'll probably end up sticking with a modified form of the Copenhagen Interpretation, but it has problems of it's own.

The crux of the Copenhagen Interpretation is the wave function collapse: before observation, particles are in superposition where they occupy any number of energy states and locations. But after observation the wave 'collapses' and the particle inhabits a single energy state. Many have interpreted this as meaning a conscious observer is an essential part of quantum mechanics and that the conscious mind plays a large part in shaping the nature of reality itself. I want to avoid this as it opens the door to a lot of New Age mysticism and other hippy-dippy nonsense I don't want to be involved with. Plus, this mindset kind of implies magic is involved.

Now don't get me wrong, there is magic in my setting, but it has it's own rules unrelated to physics at large and the less said about the quantum mind, the better.

Instead, I'll probably stick with something closer to the idea of Quantum Decoherence. But it's implications are little more far reaching than what I'm comfortable with. If I end up sticking with this route then I might not be able to justify the existence of quantum computers in my setting, something I'm not too eager to let go of.

As for dark matter and dark energy; I think I'm going to stick with main stream opinion on these two. I'll claim that dark energy has actually been the cosmological constant this whole time, similar to what's proposed by the Lambda-CDM model. Dark matter  is composed of weakly interacting massive particles (also known as WIMPs). This is the detritus left over after the Big Bang which have been counteracting the force of gravity ever since. Of course, there have been a few other interesting ideas regarding the identity of dark energy. My favorite comes from Christos Tsagas who in a paper published in Physical Review D claimed that there is no such thing as dark energy. Instead, the apparent expansion of the universe we observe is actually an illusion caused by the relatively fast motion of our corner of the universe compared to our neighboring galaxies. If he's right then all this fuss over phantom forces is ultimately pointless.

Beyond that, I like the idea of there being no supersymmetry as it reenforces the idea that this universe is altogether 'broken' or 'inelegant'. What this means for the aforementioned CP violation, I don't have a clue, but I might allow for spontaneous symmetry breaking. It's just something I'll have to work out later.

Finally, there's the question of the ultimate fate of the Universe. Personally, I prefer a scenario like the Big Rip destroying everything in the end, because it's more horrifying that way.

The Theory of Choice is an ongoing project, probably one I won't be finished with for many years, if at all. It relies on the work of actual physicists for me to iron out, so really nothing has changed. I'm still have to follow the latest news from scientific journals and letting their discoveries inform the nature of my science fictional universe. But the point is that the Theory of Choice is consistent and will make it easier to make a timeline of technological progress in this nightmare vision of the future. Plus, it'll be easier to keep track of just what each technology is capable of.

Do I think the real, physical universe is as probabilistic and inelegant as this fictional universe? It's hard to say really. Pilot Wave Theory was suppressed throughout much of the twentieth century in favor of the Copenhagen interpretation. Given the chance, I think it could have gone a long way to describing the physical world. But as it stands, Pilot Wave Theory is tragically under-researched and nowhere near as robust as the Standard Model, which I think will stand the test of time no matter how clunky it is. I think our desire to unify all the fundamental forces and find the superpartners of all the particles is a natural human tendency to see order and symmetry in every system we encounter. We just naturally like things to make sense, even if the universe might not on some hidden, fundamental level.

With that in mind, I still think String Theory is a load of malarkey.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hooked On Phonics

I've been working on a Chmatran alphabet, partially for the game, but mostly just to develop the setting more. It's been an arduous experience but I think I finally came up with a group of symbols I'm happy with:

The Chmatran writing system is very simple, befitting such a primitive culture. Their alphabet is unicase, with some symbols representing multiple consonant sounds. There's only one symbol for C and K. There's also only one symbol for G and J. For words with a C sound, readers must rely on cues from the rest of the word to determine what sound it makes. Incidentally, a native Chmatran would actually spell it 'Khmatra'. G sounds are represented by an H after the symbol. Going by Chmatran rules, to make the G sound in a word like 'go' it would have to be spelled 'jho'.

There's no letter for Q or X which are represented by a the KW or KS diagraph respectively (kwantum instead of quantum or ekssterminate instead of exterminate). Dropping these two from the list was a hard decision to make as Q and X are easily my favorite letters of our own alphabet. But the Chmatrans are a simple people and they need a simple writing system.

Words are spelled phonetically for the most part. But since International Chmatran lacks accent marks, they need another way to differentiate between long and short vowel sounds. To make a long vowel it's written twice. Ka is pronounced 'kah' whereas Kaa is pronounced 'kay'.

I don't have very many words in the dictionary yet. But once the grammar rules are robust enough I'll have time to work on a complete list of words and etymologies. Right away, I can say that many of their words related to the natural world could come from the root word for their fertility goddess, words related death could share their origin with the name of their god of death and so on. They'll probably have a dozen different words for genocide.

The only hard and fast rule for Chmatran words is that it must have a lot of hard consonant sounds and sound very rough and unsophisticated. Words I have stashed away so far include: ajhiir, jhaljhash, kalajhn, kefez, kreledesh, meka, nafas, otesh, radijastk and teratsk.