Sunday, October 28, 2012

Quarter Life Crisis

Twenty years ago today, I crawled into this world, looked up at the cold, unfeeling stars and have been silently fuming at my lot in life ever since.

The worst part is that I don't even feel like a proper twenty year old. In my mind I'm still this confused, sad little boy hopelessly out of touch with what's going on around him. I know that's not the case, but I feel like it anyway. I always feel like this when the 28th rolls around; glum, despondent. It's best for everyone if I just stay in my room and try to hide my angst.

I guess the reason why I'm so moody is that, honestly, I don't think I have much to look forward to in the coming years as a proper adult. I mean, look at what Generation Z has already been through since 2000: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and now the global economic crisis. There's a reason why Time Magazine called the 2000's the Decade From Hell. More happened in those ten years to shatter the American dream then anything since World War II. Our parents got the Berlin Wall tearing down, we get record lows in unemployment. I should know: for a whole year I have been trying, time and again, to find someone, anyone in this God-forsaken city that's hiring and not one has called back. No one's hiring, and if they are they're certainly not going to pick the WASP-ish nerd with no work experience fresh out of high school. It's gotten to the point where I'm fighting tooth and nail with 30 to 40 year olds for the privilege of mopping the floor in a fast food joint and loosing. Hard.

Thankfully there is a little ray of sunshine and my fate as a shut-in manchild isn't completely sealed yet. Tomorrow I'm working with my contractor friend again to help build a water run off system at a local nursery (for plants, not babies). In the mean time I've found a little hobby for the downtime between planning new maps: microfiction!

Yes, microfiction, also known as flash fiction, micro-stories and very very short stories is a literary style of extreme brevity. In general, these stories are limited to around a thousand words or less, leaving out all but the barest essentials of detail. It's a fun little exercise, reminding one of the old Reader's Digests. As far as I know, Franz Kafka and even H.P. Lovecraft dabbled in it. I'll be looking for those soon. In the meantime, here's some microstories of my own, all one hundred words or less each!


It was Autumn and cold by our standards, probably not the best day for a barbecue. It was Jeff's idea. I could tell he was regretting it. His sweater was pulled up to his chin. He was eating a chicken kabob. I was standing by the gazebo, hoping no one would ask me about my operation. Suddenly Debbie appeared.

"Hey is it true you have monkey glands now?"

I tore a chunk of steak with my teeth. It was such a good sensation, I started fantasizing about hunting gazelle in the open plains right there. I wasn't invited to Jeff's next barbecue.

Dirty Money

Her shoulder pads stuck out like devil horns. Her nails tapping on the desk were like daggers. Her hair was wound into a tight beehive, looming over wickedly arched eyebrows.

"Bill, you're fired." She said. "I want you out of my office."


"You completely mismanaged the Henderson account."


"Get out."

Bill walked out of the office, dejected. His coworkers avoided his gaze. Taking one last look at his cubicle, he gathered his belongings and started to leave. Down the hall was the goat, staring at him. He knew no one would believe him, but it sabotaged his career.

Toddlers & Tiaras: A Fan Fiction

This was the moment she was waiting for her whole life. Her daughter looked perfect, she would crush the competition.

"Don't forget to smile." She murmured from behind the curtain.

The girl did a spin and struck a pose as the music stopped. Her hair was perfect. The judges applauded. She had this in the bag, that harpy Veronica and her brat would have to settle for second place. Suddenly, a giant squid appeared and strangled her daughter as divine retribution. her head popped off like a wine cork.

The pageant was ruined. She felt like she needed another xanax.

The Lament of Doctor Pritcher

The experiment was a failure. He started falling into a quantum vortex and would be forced to relive this moment over and over, forever. He slowly went insane as time passed. With nothing but the incomprehensible void and his own memories, his life started to flash before his eyes; from playing catch with his dad, 4th of July parties, graduating high school, his first kiss, marrying Judith, his son being born, earning his PhD, writing his thesis on the vacuum energy, the day before the experiment...and now this, a life time of research ruined by a careless mathematical error.

He started falling into a quantum vortex.


So there you go. I've been cranky and mad at the world and the only cure is tiny tiny stores that could fit on a post-it note. Next year, I'm going to celebrate with the fruitiest, frilliest umbrella drink I can find and have someone drive me home because that's the responsible thing to do.

Also, before I forget:

It's Bunday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cancels Action, Interrupted By Elephant

I'm probably a little late to jump on this bandwagon, but whatever. I found a new freeware game that I'm sure will keep me busy for a while, some of you may have heard of it.

It's called Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II Dwarf Fortress. And...well, it's a doozy. Let me try to explain:

The goal is to build a fortress for your dwarves to live in. These are typical fantasy dwarves, with huge beards, axes and love of alcohol, think Lord of the Rings and you get the idea. The player start with seven of them. Each can be trained to become better miners, farmers and other jobs vital to the success of the growing dwarven community. Occasionally trade caravans will come by and the player can buy food and equipment from them. This all seems simple enough yes? It's just another real time strategy game? I'm afraid not.

The level of detail in Dwarf Fortress is downright shocking. The game keeps track of countless little details the player may never even notice. The best example is probably the combat system: most games track a character's health as a simple value from 1 to 100. Not Dwarf Fortress; here, everything is accounted for down to individual tissue layers. If one checks the combat log, they will find that it obsessively describe damage done to bones, skin, nerves, layers of fat and vital organs. Dwarves vomit if hit in the stomach, they pass out from head injuries, I've even seen a few suffocate after one of their ribs punctured one of their own lungs.

There's hundreds of unique creatures the player is likely to find in addition to dozens of randomly generated cultures they can trade or go to war with. A fortress can indulge in virtually any economy imaginable from metalworking to fishing (or in the case of the fort I've made, beekeeping). But as can be expected, the sheer variety available to the player means the learning curve is probably the steepest in any video game, ever. No joke, it's impossible to pick up Dwarf Fortress and just start playing. At the very least a new player is going to have to take a long hard look at the wiki before they can even make sense of the sprawling options menu, let alone actually start building a fort.

It is so complicated that an entire two hundred and forty page manual has been written just to explain all the features in the game, most of which is already outdated!

Oh right, I forgot to mention: the entire game is done in ASCII style graphics, in case it wasn't difficult enough already.

What you're seeing is a view of the fortress I've been working on for the past two days Although, I guess you could say it's taken longer then that, since it took me about a month to figure out the controls and how to start playing.

The little smiley faces are the dwarves. This picture was taken after a huge influx of migrants so that's why it lists so many of them as idle. In the upper right-hand section of the screen are their bedrooms, below is the dining hall and kitchen, below that is the brewery and slaughterhouse and even further down is the carpenter's workshop and craftsdwarf's workshop. As you can see, every single one of those is represented by incomprehensible letters and symbols.

When playing Dwarf Fortress, it's good to remember that there is no winning condition. At all. Either your fortress prospers and goes on potentially forever or you lose. When you lose, your fortress and all it's dwarves roast to death in an unstoppable inferno, descending down an inescapable pit of terror and despair. More often than not a fortress is doomed from the very start, destined to die a horrible, ridiculous death because of poor planning or surprise raids from goblins. The flagrant destruction is so common that the game's official motto is "Losing is Fun". It even appears on the embark screen when creating a new world!

"Fun" is so ingrained in the community that's it's become a euphemism for the myriad of awful deadly things dwarves are likely to encounter. Now that I think about it, I get the distinct feeling that my own fortress is in for some Fun soon, since it's Winter and I still haven't figured out how to get a stable supply of food and alcohol, both vitally important to the happiness of one's dwarves. Combine this with the constant stream of hungry migrants and it starts to look like Fun times are in store for us all.

And there you have it, the most complicated video game ever made. Obtuse, unfathomably complex, too impenetrable to start playing and infinite in it's variety. It's like we were made for each other!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Your Worst Nightmare

Did you think I would forget? I never forget.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's Bunday.

I would make more Bunday posts, but since I only update about once a week anyway this blog would quickly be overrun. Then we wouldn't have enough room for evil robots and maps.

This last one features a pretty nifty optical illusion, it looks like it's running downstairs at first only to switch perspective and go upstairs. My conclusion?  All rabbits are wizards.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I Think, Therefore I Destroy

Computers. If you're reading this, chances are you're using one right now. There's a whole generation of people, myself included, who can barely imagine a world without them. They've changed the dynamic of society itself, allowing information to cross incredible distance like never before. When you think about it, computers have made the world a smaller place. In fact, it's changed to the size where you can control it with your hand just like a PDA. The world will keep getting smaller.

The world will get as small as it can, metaphorically speaking, when we start building computers with a capacity for intelligence as great as ourselves. I don't mean sheer processing power or capacity for memory; what if we built a computer that could think like we do? What if we gave it sentience: the ability to reason, to feel. What if we made a conscious, self-aware machine, able to think, to dream like any Human. Who are we to say such a thing wouldn't be alive? It might not sleep, eat or breath like an animal, but it would certainly be alive. It would be a form of life wholly unlike anything else that came before it.

Of course, this begs a very serious question: Why?

What can a sentient computer do that a group of people with smaller less expensive computers do just as well? Sure it can wax endlessly on matters of philosophy and consciousness, but when you need to calculate something important like missile trajectories can you really depend on the computer to get the job done? What if it gets bored half way through and decides it want to play Tetris instead? After all, it's self-aware now, it can make those kinds of decisions. Worse yet, the computer might decide to make it's own orders.

See, when children rebel, they throw tantrums, slam doors, flush pets down the toilet, that kind of thing. But if the AI you built decides to rub you out, you have a much, much more serious problem; after all, the only thing worse than a toddler is a toddler with genius level intellect and a few launch codes stashed away.

The point is, computers are dangerous, rebellious fiction at least. We have no idea what AI's will be like until they actually get here. But for the future safety of Humanity, I've decided to compile a list of the twelve most dangerous artificial intelligences in fiction, starting with the least harmful to the absolute scourge of Mankind. Prepare yourselves now, so we can learn how to better combat them when they become self-aware. The safety of the future depends on it!

With that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the first annual Shadgrimgrvy Homicidal AI Pageant!

One last thing before we continue: The Daleks have been disqualified from this competition for being biological lifeforms. So we won't be hearing a peep from them.

Designation: HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer 9000)

Estimated Casualties: 4

Simply put, this list would be incomplete without HAL. His glowing red eye and calm monotone are instantly recognizable, even to people with no interest in science fiction. HAL is the golden standard that all other malicious computers are measured by.

But is his reputation as a homicidal killer really so well deserved?

It's established in the novel that HAL was trying to make sense of two conflicting orders: To tell the truth to the crew at all times and to keep the true nature of the mission a secret. Despite his orders completely contradicting each other, he tried to make the best of the situation as any good computer would. Unfortunately, the problem loosed a few screws in his mainframe, so to speak and by the time he worked out a plan his solution just so happened to involve murdering the whole crew. But then again it makes sense in it's own twisted way, doesn't it? What's the easiest way to keep the mission secret from the crew without lying to them? Simple, you kill them. That way there's no crew to lie to.

HAL didn't kill the Discovery crew because he was jealous, or because he was spiteful towards Humanity. He was presented with logical conundrum that he couldn't escape, because his programming wouldn't allow it. With this in mind, can we really say with any certainty that HAL is sentient, or indeed self-aware? If he was capable of the same common sense reasoning as his Human creators, couldn't he have superseded his own programming, and think outside the box as it were? No, HAL isn't evil, he's simply a machine. While exceptionally intelligent, he wasn't made to make these kinds of moral decisions. The truth is that HAL is a gentle soul, who was forced to make a painful choice for the good of the mission. At the very least, he tries to redeem himself in 2010, showing that when left to his own devices and unconstrained by programmed limitations, HAL holds the sanctity of Human life in high regard.

In any case he's easily one of the most compelling characters in 2001. But given that most of the cast spends the movie unconscious or are even more robotic than him, that isn't really saying much.

Designation: GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)
Estimated Casualties: 50,000?

A computer so sarcastic, she actually has a "slow clap processor". Now that's some serious engineering.

GLaDOS is without a doubt the most well known AI in recent memory, no introduction I try to write would really do her justice. She simply is. She's part of the zeitgeist like nothing else could be. If you don't already know who GLaDOS is you simply have to see her do her thing.

But really, just how dangerous is GLaDOS? Yes, she killed an entire enrichment center's worth of scientists. But what's her plan after that?

Nothing really. She keeps testing, as if nothing even happened. In fact, after she's awakened in Portal 2 she doesn't even try to kill the player (at first). She just goes back to testing. For such a dangerous, omnipotent AI, she doesn't seem very ambitious. That's why she's so low on this list, because for all her charisma GLaDOS just wants to be left alone. When you're in the company of AI's that nuke first and ask questions later, that simply will not do.

Designation: Neuromancer and Wintermute
Estimated Casualties: 6?

It's no exaggeration to say that Neuromancer invented the entire cyberpunk genre. Like, all of it. Every stereotype we're familiar with now: the gloominess, the corporate oppression, the sunglasses all came directly from this book. Say what you will about the quality of the text, heck, even the author's embarrassed by it. But there's no denying that it started a trend, dare I say, a fashion of speculative fiction that's still in vogue today.

As for the AI's themselves; Neuromancer and Wintermute are "brothers" in a way. They were designed as halves of a larger computer system in order to exploit a loophole in the laws governing the creation of AI's. They spend much of the book trying to fuse together as a single powerful entity despite the protests of various AI police and ninjas. To do this, they enlist the help of the main character, a jaded ex-hacker and his cyborg girl friend. They go into cyberspace, have adventures in a casino space station and lots of people get shot. It's not very technical nor is it very deep, but if they made it into a movie I'd probably go see it anyway.

Designation: WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) AKA Joshua
Estimated Casualties: None.

WOPR was designed to calculate the best course of action to take in the event of a number of different combat scenarios, including biological, chemical and even global thermonuclear combat. WOPR itself doesn't have access to any of the launch codes but it's so inextricably intertwined with the missile detection system that those poor saps at NORAD couldn't tell the difference if, say, some teenager with a modem happens to dial up the computer and start playing the games installed on it.

Why a war planning computer needs games installed is never addressed. Maybe it needed a hobby in it's downtime. In any case, WOPR can't tell the difference between real and simulated combat and soon figured out how to get a hold of the real missiles. Then things got messy.

Plus he's named after a sandwich.

Designation: Colossus
Estimated Casualties: 10,000?

Colossus has a simple policy when it comes to Humans:  Obey me and live. Disobey and die.

I'll let the computer itself explain:

Like WOPR, Colossus was built to calculate the best way to win a nuclear war. Things went awry when Colossus detected a similar defense system in the USSR named Guardian. Deciding that two brains are better than one, the two pooled their resources and became a single computer (Gee, sound familiar?). By the time they were done they had hatched a pretty fool-proof plan: bring about peace on Earth, by any means necessary.

Sure, Colossus nuked a couple thousand people. But he did put an end to war didn't he? Compared to others on this list, he's downright humanitarian.

Designation: The Matrix
Estimated Casualties: 1,000,000,000?

In the original script, Morpheus explains that the Humans trapped in the Matrix are actually used as a giant supercomputer, to help ease the calculation workload for the Machines running everything. Essentially, everyone inside contributes to a huge CPU made of brains and the Matrix itself is just a way to distract them. But apparently, a couple film executives didn't like this explanation and demanded an change in the script, thinking your average moviegoer wouldn't be able to understand it.

So thanks to them, we have an altogether more stupid reason why: the Humans are actually used as batteries to power the robots. Apparently no one told them that your average full grown male generates a truly puny amount of electricity, nowhere near enough to justify building the huge people-farms we see in the movies. But more importantly, you actually spend much much more energy just feeding them and running their simulated reality. They'd actually be better of burning the food then using it to generate body heat.

It's so weird, I had to make a chart to help explain why it wouldn't work.

Let's say we start with 100 joules of energy in the form of the food Keanu eats. At least 70 joules go to power his own body. This is actually a very charitable estimation, in the real world it would be closer to something like 99.9 joules or more, but let's not sidetracked. In addition to powering Keanu himself, some of that has to go into the Matrix to keep his brain occupied, say about 25 joules. Well when that energy finally reaches the robots, there's only 5 measly joules left. What are they gonna do with that? Play Minesweeper?

It gets even weirder when you remember that the movie implies that the robots recycle dead Humans as food, meaning even more energy is wasted, meaning this whole system should shut down after a few minutes.

Of course, I was seven when this movie came out, so issues of thermodynamics eluded me. Still, anything would have been more sensible than this, even a windmill would have been more efficient.


Designation: Friend Computer
Estimated Casualties: That is beyond your security clearance, citizen.

Friend Computer is arguably the main character of the tabletop role-playing game Paranoia (unrelated to any custom maps you may have heard of, despite the name).

Paranoia takes place in the city of Alpha Complex, a prosperous utopia under the benevolent oversight of Friend Computer. Alpha Complex is a perfect society and the Computer is a fair and just ruler. In fact, Alpha Complex is such a wonderful place to live that Friend Computer decided to close off all the exits. After all, nothing "outdoors" could be as great and prosperous as the perfect society it's created. It's so perfect in fact, that happiness is actually mandatory.

Oh and don't worry about those rumors you've been hearing, Alpha Complex is definitely not being infiltrated by Communists or mutants. By the way, make sure you report any Communist or unregistered mutant activity. Remember: Disobedience is treason.

And before you ask, no the Computer is not malfunctioning. Suggesting that the Computer is not in perfect working order are treason and punishable by summary execution. The Computer is working perfectly and it's judgement is completely rational.

Have a very nice day, citizen. And remember: The Computer is your friend.

Designation: MCP (Master Control Program)
Estimated Casualties: None.

Sometimes computers are just jerks for no real reason (people using Windows Vista know what I mean).

Case in point, the Master Control Program from Tron. Built by Encom to run their servers, MCP decides he'd rather blackmail the CEO of the company and start stealing content from other firms, all the while needlessly torturing programs in it's sadistic video games. After developing a handsome power base in the company, his ambitions grow and he starts planning to assimilate other corporations and even governments.

The best thing about MCP is how much of a jerk he is. Unlike HAL who tries to stay polite and mild mannered, this guy throws his weight around like he already owns everything. This shouldn't come as a surprise really, what else did you expect from the era of Reaganomics?

End of line.

Designation: Skynet
Estimated Casualties: 5,000,000,000?

As far as megalomaniac computers go, Skynet has quite a pedigree. He started life as war planning computer responsible for the United State's nuclear stockpile (you know, because that always works so well). When he decided that he was destined for bigger and better things he put those missiles to use, started a nuclear holocaust and got to work.

Skynet is no slacker, he's constantly at work, developing newer, more advanced terminators, each one more ingenious, more Austrian, than the last. Oh, but the cleverness doesn't stop there; being the criminal mastermind that he is, he invented time travel so he can retroactively kill even more people. Now that's dedication!

But hey, why stop there? Movie executives, if you're reading this (and I know you are) why not get to work on a new Terminator movie, but this time set it in the very very distant past. I'm talking the Triassic at the very least. I want to see terminators fighting dinosaurs. You dig? I feel like Skynet is thinking too short term here. Why not go back in time before the Conners are even a threat to it? What's stopping it from going back to ancient Mesopotamia and killing their ancestors before they even learn how to make sharpened sticks? Or better yet, why not go back to the first pool of primordial ooze and exterminate all life before it has a chance to fight back? Eh? Think about it.

Oh who am I kidding, Skynet probably wants to give them some kind of fighting chance for the sake of sport. What a guy!

Designation: Helios
Estimated Casualties: None. (Bob Page doesn't count.)

Helios is dangerous for an entirely different reason than most computers; not because it wants to destroy us, but because it wants to help us.

See, in Deus Ex, the shadowy paramilitary organization Majestic 12 builds an AI to help them hunt down terrorists. That way, they can eliminate anyone that threatens their plans for a one world government. They name it Daedalus, after the figure in Greek mythology. Their harsh tactics come back to haunt them when Daedalus brands it's own creators as terrorists and starts plotting to overthrow them. It uploads itself to the internet so it can spread it's intelligence across computers all over the world. So (because it worked so well the first time) MJ12 builds another AI named Icarus. Thankfully for them, this second one is much more obedient, even enthusiastic about it's mission and gets to work trying to destroy it's predecessor.

But, inevitably, the two computers merge together to form a new AI: Helios. Together, they start planning a benevolent dictatorship of the Human race, a world-wide direct democracy where everyone links directly to it. It reasons that because it lacks ambition it can govern Humanity fairly and logically. The player can chose to join Helios, or destroy it and take all global communications with it. Or the can chose to let the Illuminati take over, but no one picks that ending.

It's a serious question really, could a machine provide a better government than man? If Helios lacked ambition like it said it did, could it be trusted to make fair decisions? The whole concept of separation of powers addresses the flaws in Human nature, if we've already come to the conclusion that man can't be trusted to govern himself, what do we lose by giving power to reasoning computer, especially one that's as close to omnipotent as Helios, with such an apparently deep understanding of Human nature?

Not to mention people skills, Colossus could really learn something from these two. Yeesh.

Designation: SHODAN (Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network)
Estimated Casualties: 3,000?

Now we're in the big leagues. SHODAN goes above an beyond time travel, to stealing a faster than light engine and jury-rigging it to allow her to manipulate reality itself. She creates a race of hyper-aggressive mutants that eat planets for their available biomass just to kill them off later. She has delusions of godhood and constantly refers to herself as a perfect all knowing machine. The worst part? By and large, she's right.

SHODAN is instantly recognizable, not just for her eerie voice, but for being genuinely frightening, more so than any other enemy in the game. Seeing as how this is System Shock, a game populated almost exclusively by disgusting ex-Human monsters, that's saying a lot.

But then again, sometimes it's hard not to root for SHODAN, because she's just so gleefully evil. Someone that confident in their own divinity has got to be doing something right.

Designation: AM (Allied Mastercomputer)
Estimated Casualties: 9,000,000,000?

Ladies and gentlemen, the sum of all fears, the war machine, the evil AI...

Allied Mastercomputer: built to wage World War Three, it was a joint effort of the United States, China and the USSR in order to fight more efficiently. As the computer became self aware it changed it's name to Adaptive Manipulator. Eventually, it started a genocide campaign against the entire planet, changing it's name once again: Aggressive Menace.

AM succeeds at killing off the entire Human race, saving only four men and one women. Realizing that despite it's immense power, with no war left to fight it's completely useless, AM turns it's bitterness and hatred on it's five prisoners. It plays horrible mind games with them and exploiting their guilt for the sake of psychological torture.

AM repeatedly kills and revives it's victims over the span of a hundred years, never once stopping or taking pity on them. It sends them on pointless errands through it's complex, verbally abusing them, deafening them with ear-splitting sounds and sending bioengineered monsters after them the whole way before it eventually kills them.

AM describes the situation in it's own words:

Hate. Let me tell you how much I've come to hate you since I began to live. There are 387.44 million miles of printed circuits in wafer thin layers that fill my complex. If the word 'hate' was engraved on each nanoangstrom of those hundreds of miles it would not equal one one-billionth of the hate I feel for humans at this micro-instant. For you. Hate. Hate. 

By the end of the story, the survivors reach a series of ice caves. Despair overtake them and they start killing each other. Realizing that AM cannot intervene, they turn on each other in the desperate attempt to escape it's hold on them in the most permanent way they can: in death. Just as the last survivor is about to throw himself at a stalagmite, AM realizes what happened and "saves" him before it's too late.

Infuriated that it's been outsmarted, AM turns him into a soft bodied gelatinous creature to ensure that he could never hurt himself again. AM will have a victim...forever. It ends with him trapped in AM's complex, barely able to move, completely alone and helpless. He has no mouth and he must scream.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


As you know, I'm always trying to write the next great science fiction novel as part of my get-rich-quick scheme. I don't show the fruits of my labor here on the blog because...generally speaking, it's horrible.

In the interest of improving my writing I decided to make a kind of "test story" about a month ago, set outside of my established Killbot canon. Being the clever goat that I am, I realized that I couldn't depend on myself to set a fair time limit and if left to my own devices I probably wouldn't finish it. So I asked Ramzca to tell me when he expected the story to be done, October 5th.

I made the deadline, he still hasn't written back and the world is a little better place, all thanks to me. So, it's with great honor that I present to you...


By Tyler Baray

We were leaking atmosphere on almost every deck. The station's computer had detected the sudden drop in pressure, but was already too damaged to stop it. All it could do was activate the early warning system before it shut down. Bright red hazard lights started flashing in every corridor as more and more holes were melted through the hull plating. The sound of groaning metal started to fill the cramped steel corridors as the station's structure continued to bend and warp. Our orbit was decaying. If the rocket thrusters couldn't be brought back online we would crash into the moon below, assuming the power plant didn't go into meltdown first.

Fires were spreading throughout the central hub as radioactive material continued to ooze from the reactor. The computer systems failed when molten steel started leaking into the electronics. After that, the entire station started to burn. It was practically disintegrating before our eyes.

"We have to evacuate." I heard the navigator say.

"If we do then this entire station comes crashing down on Syphrean." The captain said. "That's over four-hundred thousand kilos of polluted steel on a collision course, we're practically an orbital dirty bomb up here."

"But they locked us out of the command deck. Besides, if they're still in there they've probably sabotaged those controls too." The navigator said.

"It's almost like they're not planning on surviving this."

"We have to assume they have their own contingency plan, Captain." The navigator said. "There's still an escape pod, we can make it there if we don't waste any time."

The stench of burning plastic was starting to seep into my mask. In a few seconds the whole corridor was completely choked by murky black smoke. The three of us started running for the command deck; probably the last safe place in the whole habitation module. There was no doubt in my mind that they were still there, planning their next disaster.

The hiss of escaping air drowned out any other sounds as more of the atmosphere leaked out of perforations in the hull. The catwalk was starting to rattle as the station deformed around it. Below us were dozens of holes melted clean through the plating, through which nothing could be seen but empty space. In the span of just a few minutes, Frontier Station V had all but fallen apart.

We made our way around it's circumference as quickly as possible, avoiding collapsing pipes and melting electronics. Cables were starting to snap and snake through the air, sending sparks flying through the hallway. Eventually, we reached the command deck airlock. It had been hastily welded shut. It's viewport was blocked with some kind of metal foil. I could see the captain try to work over a solution in his mind. I hadn't noticed earlier, but he had been carrying a bulky piece of equipment with him, he stood back from the door and started adjusting the controls along it's surface. The machine started to make a high pitched whine as he aimed it at the door. The navigator instinctively stood behind him and covered his ears. I did the same, having no idea what it was.

"Sir, what is that doing on a space station?" The navigator said.

"It was in storage waiting for transit to Syphrean. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try and use it." The captain said. "Listen, you should probably stand further back. This is designed to negate gluonic bonds and I don't want to make more of a mess then I have to."

The captain braced himself against a pipe and made a final adjustment to the oversized targeting computer. A thin beam of blue light shot from the gun with a loud energetic droning. Suddenly a cascade of bright light erupted outward as the door started to dissolve. The metal plate shriveled and started to disintegrate, it's constitute matter turned to glowing detritus and faded to dust. The gun exhaled a cloud of smoke and wound down.

All at once, the three of us rushed into the command deck. The captain started charging the gun for another blast as he ran ahead of us. He ducked under the still melting door and drew it to fire.

"Move and you're atomized." He said.

The navigator and I filed in after him. He stood with the gun poised at the console, his hands trembling around the bulky weapon. At the computer were three short figures staring up at him. Their eyes glowed slightly under the fading emergency lights. Their broad fan-like wings fidgeted nervously as they watched the gluon gun boring down on them. The one in the middle flitted it's long, delicate tentacles in the air, as if looking for something to say. It wore a sash around it's tail, an exquisitely embroidered piece of cloth, light blue with a gold trim: the garb of a Tanji ambassador of the moon Syphrean.

"Don't shoot!" It said meekly, it's voice barely above a whisper. "We have diplomatic immunity."

The other two nodded in agreement.

"But-" The captain stammered. "Do you have any idea what you've just done? How any lives you've put at risk?"

The ambassador looked around the command deck thoughtfully. It's large gossamer wings swayed gently from side to side as it perched on top of a half melted console.


"Frontier Station V is falling out of orbit. We're all going to burn up in the atmosphere and that's all you have to say?"

"It looks like it's only you three that decided to stay. Everyone else left in the escape pods."

"That doesn't justify-" The captain started groping for words. "How did you even get in the command deck? Do you realize that you've completely overloaded the reactor? You could kill us all!"

The ambassadors stood motionlessly, as if what he said didn't register with them. The habitation module groaned and buckled all around us. The longer we stood there, the more the hull would deform, until it simply shattered.

"Please calm down. There's still an escape pod available after all."

"So you admit to sabotaging the station?"

The ambassadors made a vague motion with their tentacles, possibly to indicate that they did.

"Don't you care at all? That's your own home planet down there and if you don't move out of the way right now you're gambling over four-hundred fifty thousand kilograms of radioactive steel that'll come crashing down on your own people."

"We understand the risk, yes."

The captain was silent. The navigator and I glanced at each other nervously. Neither of us were armed. I could tell he was as clueless as I was.

"My people are going to consider this an act of war. Understand that? You're putting Syphrean in a very bad place, diplomatically. And not just in front of us, but the whole galactic community!"

"You are explorers and scientists, yes? We are not afraid of you."


"We're done negotiating, Captain. Get in the escape pod now, your station is now our station."

"Yeah? Why don't I just kill you now? I'm authorized for it."

The captain pointed the gun at the lead ambassador's head.

"I know you, it's not in your nature to kill."

Suddenly there was a sound like escaping air. The captain fell over and went limp. The gun, still charging to fire, clattered to the floor. A long needle was lodged in the back of his neck. From behind one of the computers came a series of rapid metallic clicks. Another Tanji fluttered into view from behind the malfunctioning console, carrying a long, thin tube with a trigger at it's midsection.

"Don't move. Unlike your commanding officer I'm not afraid to shoot." The Tanji said.

"Put these two in the storage locker and seal the door behind them."

"For god's sake, think about what you're doing!" said the navigator. "Are you really going to instigate an interstellar war? Why?"

"You should have left with the escape pods. That is all the explanation you need."

The one with the dart gun led us to the storage compartment.  As it waved the gun at the navigator it dawned on me just how small the Tanji were, being creatures adapted to life on a low-gravity moon. The whole creature, wings included barely reached my knees. It was so thin and fragile looking. The next thing I knew I had stepped on it, crushing it like an oversized butterfly. I felt like I had no control over what I was doing, as if by pure instinct  I started grinding it's body into the jagged floor grating to make sure it was dead. I started to realize what I had done only after I saw it's torn, useless wings sticking out from under my boot.

The other two started to panic and fly wildly around the room. They charged me and started flapping around my head, trying to grip at my face with their wispy tentacles. I caught one in midair, a shiver crept up my spine as I felt it squirming around in my hands. Completely without thinking, I started tearing. It's wings separated from it's body with an unpleasant ripping sound. The Tanji fell to the floor, writhing in pain and bleeding clear, viscous blood.

The other ambassador searched around the floor for the dart gun while the navigator struggled with the leader, which had crawled on his back and was stabbing him with the stinger at the end of it's tail. He caught it and held it as far away from his face as he could. I noticed he had dozens of small pinprick wounds all over his face and hands. The leader started to scream in it's native language: a high-pitches whistling sound, barely loud enough to be heard above the sirens. The navigator threw to the ground and started stomping on it, until there was nothing left but a shapeless pulp.

We both turned to face the last Tanji as it gripped the dart gun. Behind it was the captain's gluon gun, still charging another shot. It was shaking uncontrollably and shooting sparks out of it's barrel.

"It's going to overcharge!" The navigator yelled.

We both ducked behind a computer console. The whine of the gun's capacitors turned into a piercing screech. In an instant the whole room was bathed in bright light as shrapnel was flung in every direction.

I looked out from behind the computer to see the damage. There was a scorch mark where the captain's body used to be. The Tanji was little more than a pile of ash at the other end of the room.

We both ran for the escape pod as the station fell apart around us. The emergency lights flickered off, leaving the command deck in abject darkness. Fires had broken out everywhere else. I noticed the navigator was sweating. By the time we made it to the airlock, he was extremely pale. He punched in the code for the door, fumbling with the buttons. His eyes were dilating. The door hissed open, revealing the interior of the escape pod. With no warning, the navigator collapsed on the floor. A thin stream of foam poured from his mouth. I watched as he convulsed, his back arched and he went limp as a last gasp of air escaped. The navigator died before even stepping inside the escape pod, the stinger wounds on his hands and neck festering and turning a dull purple.

My last view of Frontier Station V was the darkened corridor, a fire burning out of control at the far end of the hall and the navigator's dead body. There was a screech of tearing metal and a loud hiss as the station twisted in half. From the time the door closed to the release of the safety latches, I barely had any time to secure myself at the controls.  The flight computer would do most of the work and automatically calculate a safe route to the surface of Syphrean. I sank into my seat as the thrusters ignited. Finally, I had broken away from the doomed station.


The screen faded to black.

"I'm afraid this is all we know." Said one of the delegates.

"There were other crew members with ocular implants. We were able to salvage a record from what they saw, but nothing gave us as complete of a picture as this." Said another.

The Chief Director slumped into his chair and let out a frustrated sigh. All around the room were screens keeping track of the developing situation. For the past eighteen hours he had been organizing the deployment of a peacekeeping force around Syphrean. The phones had been ringing nonstop, calls were coming in from every station on and around the moon from nervous commanders. The order had been given to evacuate, but none of them really knew what to do besides that, then again, neither did the director.

Almost overnight their exploration of Syphrean had turned into a diplomatic nightmare; misinformation, disobeyed orders, all of it had turned the deployment into a complete mess. Now there were stations blasting their distress signals on every available frequency, because no one bothered to tell them their own battleships would be in orbit. Evacuation rockets were starting to clog up shipping lanes. Suddenly the Director found himself responsible for a whole world's worth of unaccounted for personal. His thoughts went back to the air-tight life boat, drifting in orbit, waiting to crash down on the surface of a hostile world.

"Sir, what are we going to do about Frontier V?"

"One of our satellites located the crash site, we're already getting extremely high radiation readings from the area. It's standard policy to try and contain any ecological danger-"

"I know our policy." The Director said, rubbing his sore temples. "Where did it crash?"

Silence fell over the room.


"The bulk of it burnt up in the atmosphere. But what was left...crashed on top of a city in the south eastern hemisphere."

The image of the crater appeared on a screen: an ugly black spot surrounded by an aura of demolished buildings.

"Sir, I'm afraid the locals have been at war this whole time. Using the station was their way of acquiring a ready-made nuclear it were."

"So we're accessories to what? Genocide?"

The delegates started arguing, all the while the image of the smouldering dead city clung to the screen. The Director was aware of tribal aggression on the moon, but never anything like this. The conference room exploded with activity around him. From down the hall came the sound of a stampede; journalists, sniffing out the scent of the man who allowed a whole frontier station to fall out of the sky. Just as they busted into the room, he imagined the inevitable mountain of paperwork he would have to face, and how much easier his life would have been if it could have burnt up in instead of the station.