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Stories

Another section of the story “The Chiron” kicks off.

“Alright, how about this one,” Odie started as he leaned over the back of Jane’s pilot seat in the cockpit of the Vespertina.  “Military police gets called into a factory after a grisly murder…”

“Malfunctioning adjuntant killed him”, Jane interrupted. She didn’t even look up, speaking in a theatric monotone.

Tau Bellum was slowly rising up to meet them as she banked the left edge of her salvager ship’s wing into the atmosphere. “Really, you don’t have any stories left. Face it, you’ve told them all ten times over.”

Odie, deeply offended, straightened with a harrumph. He was heavier set than most S.C.V. operators, thicker without being altogether round; a brawler if there ever was one. A harrumph like that moved considerable mass around.

“I think I still have a few”, he protested, sticking out his curly-bearded chin out. “There’s one about the ship that jumped and jumped back with all its crew–”

Jane, again, didn’t let him finish. “Dead,” she stated, “The crew went insane and everyone killed each other while they hallucinated they were–”

“Fine!” Odie grunted as he responded to an interruption with another, “Waaay back, there was an explosion on Terra’s moon, because–”

“Mad scientist broke into another universe, invented a quantum reactor”, Jane replied. She let out a full-lunged sigh as she eased the Vespertina into a sharper dive. “Just quit before you strain something, like my nerves.”

The edges of the shuttle began to glow.

Odie glared down from Jane’s shoulder while the glow illuminated the silhouette of her tiny nose and her tinted visor reflected the planet’s fierce shine as they punched through their atmosphere. “I haven’t told you the one about how they finally built the first orbital elevator at the site of an old temple on Terra, have I?”

“Butterflies blew into the temple and forced the monks to leave”, Jane replied, her nonchalance cracking into a mutter.

She smirked when she heard Odie choking on his displeasure. “Do you really expect me to believe that all these stories?” Jane asked. “Half of them seem to involve some kind of superstition, and the rest has some incredible technology.”

“Oh, they’re all true, in their own way!” Odie replied over the noise. The Vespertina began shuddering violently while topographic details of the surface started to become distinguishable. It was desolate, but varied enough; a salt-desert plain, shattered by thermal shifts that formed peaks. Some were several miles high.

“I still kinda want believe some of them were real!” Jane yelled back as she pulled gingerly on the controls, leveling their flight-path to be parallel with the gently curving horizon. The world kept getting bigger, and the edge of their wings became white-hot.

“There’s one I know I haven’t told you yet!” Odie yelled back.

“Not now, Odie!” Jane tapped on her ear. Odie let the momentum force him back into his seat, harrumphing one last time.

“Tau Bellum approach, Tau Bellum approach, this is the D.S.S. Vespertina checking in, do you read? Over” Jane’s tone of voice became all business, speaking into the microphone over the sound of every panel, nut, bolt and wire trying to shake itself loose.

Below them, after the ship’s quaking eased and the engines bit into the sky, counteracting their fall, mountains and valleys rolled past. A metallic gleam flashed over the horizon; it was the highest spire of the Tau Bellum research station.

“Copy that, Tau Bellum approach. Bay Seven. Vespertina will be on manual approach. See you in a few minutes. Over and out.” Jane cut off the connection before any reply could come through.

“Manual approach?” Odie asked.

She replied with a grin over her shoulder, which he could hear in her voice as clearly as having seen it. “You don’t want it to be a boring landing after all that time in transit, do you?”

Just try not to get us shot down, okay?” Odie shot back. He tightened the straps holding him into his seat.

“If they tried to, you’d have a new story to tell!” Jane shot back as she tightened her grip on the throttle and gradually loosened the engines’ reins, which responded with a blue-flamed roar.

“As long as I get to live to tell it!” Odie managed to force out, before the sudden negative gravity from their sudden dive knocked the breath out of him.

The Vespertina tumbled like a leaf out of the overcast Tau Bellum sky, shrieking as it went.

The Prometheus Cycle – Translation

This is a translation of a story I published in Spanish a while ago. The translation was done by Amanda Black: amandita.black@gmail.com (Any fault with the style/language of the document is entirely my own. She is a superb translator)

The Prometheus Cycle

by César Mateo González

In the year 4462 of our era, the Xenomorphological Studies Institute of the Third Capital Planet, which studies alien beings, received a message from the Archimedes Way Station, which orbited the planet Kappa VII. The memo took fifty years to arrive at its destination.

The message stated:

From: Aurelio Bolívar – Archimedes Way Station- Kappa VII Perihelion

To: All institutions interested in Xenomorphology – Imperial Complex

Subject: Analysis of “Golden Disk” artifacts from the D7 species

Professors:

I am a Xenomorphologist at the Royal University of the Centaurian Empire, and I hereby state my purpose for writing to you: I wanted to inform you of certain irregularities identified in an artifact constituting a part of the long-range probe of the Daniel species (D7). The message that the artifact contains is not made up of the usual collection of descriptions of a self-aware species. Attached is my research log:

— Attached text —

Kappa VII is quite a peculiar planet; it is greenish due to its corrosive surface, covered in carbon gas clouds. The apical position of the planet’s star in the intergalactic wind and its orbit are of particular interest. What had previously been observed as a series of small meteorite rings orbiting around Kappa VII are now known to be the remains of artificial satellites. Amongst these remains we have found human artifacts from previous millennia, as well as Xenomorphic species satellites dating back to more than 30 million years ago. The most recent Xenomorphic species is classified as Daniel (D7) in the Encyclopaedia Universalis; this species existed approximately one hundred and fifty thousand years ago.

These crowns of rubble have come to be called “galactic cemeteries,” and each of their satellites, “tombstones.” There are several examples of Xenomorphic engineering in this galactic cemetery that I have recovered over the course of my investigation. All of these examples contain “golden disk” artifacts, in accordance with the tradition established upon the inclusion of the first specimen in the Voyager ship.

These artifacts in particular play visual and audio recordings when certain sound and light spectrum frequencies are applied to them. The planet of origin of the Daniel was able to be determined through the readings recorded in the artifact, and by studying the history of the luminosity of its stars through the use of retroscopes. The results of these observations revealed that the Daniel followed the traditional self-aware model, until the abrupt end of their civilization. All traces of artificial light disappeared from the systems colonized by this race little more than five hundred thousand years ago, according to my observations. Their disappearance was not sudden, although it was fast.

 

I was able to extract several Daniel satellites from the cemetery, and I recorded the age of each one of them. The closest one to the cataclysm, and the last of the series, contained a golden disk artifact that was more complex than the others. Employing the normal protocol, I extracted its content. Along with the usual self-descriptive images, there was also a direct reference to the planet Earth, made through indicators and astronomical maps. The context of the reference was ambivalent, somewhere between a salutation and a goodbye. I was not able to infer the specific nature of the context.

Using the conjectural algorithms of the Archimedes computer, the accompanying artifacts pertaining to the Daniel, and the results of the retroscope, I was able to piece together the events that occurred simultaneously. This video simulation is the result:

–Attached video file–

In total silence, the screen shows two images; one is that of a stooping simian with thick fur, moving on his knuckles and feet through a primitive Pangea; the other figure is erect, with four fingers emerging from two long, slender arms, large, shining eyes, surrounded by a city of light and trapezoidal pyramid buildings.

Both creatures’ eyes, staring at the viewer, reveal how the inner light, deep inside the creatures’ thoughts, sprung into one creature and was extinguished in the other. The brilliance of the Daniel reaches twilight, gradually vanishing, as does the light of their cities. The biological process is slow, but quick in astronomical terms. The countdown in years nears zero with an uncontainable fluidity.

In the simulated image, even the overwhelming desperation suffered by the Daniel is felt. As each biological generation passes, the Daniel is stripped of more and more of their spark. The human being on the other edge of the screen progressively takes the form of Homo sapiens, emerging from their own darkness to brandish the power of Prometheus. The Daniel collapses. They lose more and more of their graceful shape as their fur becomes dense and rough. Their cities disappear in untamed wilderness, victims of entropy itself, erasing all traces of their existence, and the genius of their creators.

When the countdown is complete, the now completely developed human being stares at the viewer, formed by the intellect that now inhabits its eyes. It is the same brilliance that disappeared from the eyes of the Daniel, now a mere jungle rodent, lost in the bush.

— End of attached video file —

As you can see, the rise of the human being is synchronous with the fall of the other species. I do not know the specific cause of that correlation. However, the Daniel are conscious of the connection between their species and ours; this cannot be a simple coincidence. Not when they are so sure that they leave a message like this in an artifact that could be discovered by their successors. I can only imagine that they knew what their fate would be, just as the computer’s algorithms do. Could it be that divine or natural law prevents two self-aware species from coexisting? Is it possible that our rise has been the actual cause of the fall of the other species? I do not have answers for these questions, but I know that I will not be able to rest until I do have them. Until now, we have thought that the semi-eternal nature of our universe was the limiting factor for us finding someone else to dialog with.

However, what we have are engravings on tombstones, this one directed towards us.

There is another aspect of utmost importance to us as a species. It is well known that the natural cycles of life and death, darkness and light, extend beyond the ecosystem of our small stellar cradle. Stars are born, the same as us. Just like them, we must die. But it is possible that we are part of another cycle, another return to our origin. I can only think that we are also destined to return to Eden some day.

The Chiron

Starcraft II Fan-fiction

“One quarter forward, five degrees starboard. Keep her on her axis.”

Captain Farland gave the order while he stood at the Chiron’s command console, in the midst of the bridge’s simmering activity. Captain Farland had only his imperious presence and the chevrons of his sleeve as his marks of station.  The Chiron was not a military vessel after all; it was a scientific cruiser, tasked with studying specific phenomena throughout the fringes of Koprulu Sector.

“Aye-aye. One quarter forward, double-oh-five degrees starboard on the plane”, the helmsman replied. The Chiron responded around them by changing the tone of its hum almost instantly, like a choir shifting the note they held.

“How does it look from your station, Salgado?” Captain Farland asked the officer immediately to his left.

“We’re getting clear readings of the object past the debris field, sir. All sensors are recording across the spectrum and we have a clear transmission to Tau Bellum” Lieutenant Salgado replied crisply, tapping away on the controls at his end of the command console. He brought up an image to the foreground of the holographic display that hung in front of him and the captain.

The Chiron was orbiting around the outer rim of a peculiar phenomenon; it was an almost perfect sphere of wreckage. It surrounded something else, a massive object the debris hid well. The naked eye could only catch glimpses of it.The sensors were doing a better job of it, highlighting a shape past the cloud. Most of the pieces were from Protoss ships. There was charred, desiccated slabs of organic material as well, undergoing a slow, withering decomposition.

The shape inside that sphere of trash was a cluster of towers surrounded by a wall, sitting on a clutch of craggy rock. It was of ancient design.

“Looks intriguing, doesn’t it?” Captain Farland asked.

“Yes sir”, Salgado answered reflexively, before adding “There are no signs of deliberate activity now, but there are remnants of at least one large-scale engagement here…”

“Obviously”, Captain Farland grunted as the Chiron sailed past what appeared to be a massive jawbone, with building-sized molars still rooted firmly in place. “Are there any fresh remains of anything out there, Lieutenant?”

“Everything seems to be fairly old. I think I can recognize some pieces from the older designs we have encountered from other races, but I couldn’t say for sure, sir. At least a few centuries old—” Salgado was cut off by a chirp from his instruments. He creased his brow as he deciphered the new readings “Something just came into our radar scope. I’m bringing optics around on it…”

The hologram shimmered, and finally came into focus, drawing the sleek lines of a Protoss fighter.  Salgado “Contact confirmed! Protoss vessel, Phoenix class. It’s closing in fast from the other rim of the debri field!”

“Have they hailed us?” Captain Farland demanded, throwing a sharp glance towards petty officer La Croix to his right.

She shook her head. “We’ve got all channels open and clear sir. The only activity we have is on our link with Tau Bellum.”

“I guess we’ll have to be the ones with manners here”, the captain replied. “Hail them.”

“Yessir”

“Helm, steady as she goes. Lieutenant, stand by for general quarters,” the captain was still calm, even if tension gripped everyone else in the bridge.

“Aye-aye, sir. Holding present course”, the helmsman replied while Lieutenant Salgado watched the hologram of the Phoenix intently. The image of the Protoss fighter hung there, almost like a knife suspended from an invisible wire in the middle of the room.

La Croix interjected “Sir, the Protoss vessel has established a link, sir. I’m patching it in now.”

Captain Farland began speaking in his conversational tone after the radio tone “Protoss vessel, this is the Terran cruiser Chiron on a scientific mission. We have no military objective, but we will—”

“Terran visitors”, a phantasmal voice interrupted Captain Farland. It was emotionally neutral, a conversion of a psionic transmission into sound. “I am Kurr’Chaza of the Ivory Guard. Your death will forewarn other interlopers. There will be no mercy.”

“Link has been closed,” La Croix informed the bridge.

“General Quarters”, Captain Farland said. The bridge burst into frantic activity.

Salgado couldn’t keep the anxiety from edging in his voice. “General quarters! General quarters! All personnel report to your battle stations! Damage control, on standby! This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill!”

“Full speed ahead, come about twenty degrees to starboard!” Captain Farland didn’t as much yell as speak with such power to his voice that it drowned out the sudden din of running feet and the voices of his officers. The helmsman’s reply was lost somewhere in the noise, but the choir of the ship’s engines raised its voice in a deafening crescendo. Captain Farland’s voice kept on cutting through the cacophony.

“Start calculating a jump back to Dominion space. Salgado, keep transmitting our telemetry data! Keep the main array trained on the object, but don’t let that fighter out of your sight! He can’t bring us down on his own, so more will be on their way! We can make it out before they cripple us, as long as all of you keep our wits about us!”

“Aye-aye sir!”

As the Chiron began its turn away from him, Kurr’Chaza narrowed his eyes, swung around to the cruiser’s flank and opened fire. His weapons did little more than peck at the thick armored hide of the much larger Terran vessel, but it still sharpened its turn as it ran for cover into the broken pieces from previous interlopers. They were inching closer to the center of the debris. He pursued them. If he had had a mouth, he would’ve smiled.

At the center of the sphere, the ivory fortress watched impassively, and waited.

Black, White, Orange, Blue, Green

A scientist monitors his experiment. There’s a picture nearby, on a high shelf, away from all the equipment and loose papers. It’s the photograph is of a woman, holding her hat in the middle of a windy Spring day. She is standing atop a hill covered in flowers. A window next to the shelf shows a dark world, with an endless thundercloud crackling and roiling over a barren hill.

The scientist continues to work with a scowl, marching from an oscilloscope to a set of dials and Tesla coils. He pauses by a petri dish, where an orange goop sits, inert. Exposed wires poke into the goop. The scientist consults his notes one last time and goes over to a crank. He turns it quickly, laboriously. An electromagnetic hum rises in volume and pitch. The Telsa coils begin to spark, sputtering electricity before blue arcs of minute lightning begin to run up their length.

Zzzzap… Zzzzap… Zzzzap…

Gauges begin to light up. The oscilloscope comes alive with a pulsing wave-form in its display, glowing a bright white. The scientist becomes frantic, adjusting valves and turning knobs on his equipment. He goes back to the generator crank and works it furiously. The electric current begins to flow into the orange goop.

Zzzzap… ZZZAP… ZZZZAP!

The scientist runs over to the dish where electricity arcs inside of it. The goop convulses faintly at first. He turns more knobs, pulls on other levers. The wave-form on the oscilloscope becomes regular, compressing, becoming faster. The zapping gets louder, quicker. The goop stops quivering and begins to glow orange.

ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP!

The scientist grins manically. He goes back to the generator, cranking it as hard as he can. The orange glow intensifies. The zapping is almost a continuous sound. The goop begins to swell and bubble. Sweat shines on the scientist’s forehead. He grits his teeth, going for the final effort he needs.

The goop spills from the petri dish, covering the desk, glowing brighter and brighter, almost blinding. It wraps around a vase holding one of the flowers in the picture, wilted, old and dead since long ago. The goop extends a shaky tendril, touching the flower with a trembling orange finger. The flower is rejuvenated, growing an extra inch, unfurling its restored petals.

Suddenly, one of the Tesla coils falters. The generator makes a strained mechanical noise even as the scientist keeps on cranking. The oscilloscope’s waveform collapses.  Surprise on the scientist’s face goes from surprise to anger.

Everything begins to fail; one of the Tesla coils goes dead and begins to smoke. One of the cables connecting the oscilloscope rips out of its socket, flailing wildly while electrical sparks fly from its exposed contacts. The orange glow blinks a few times and begins to dim. The generator’s components break loose.

The glow in the room dies down. The scientist watches in anguish as the goop dies on his desk.

Silence and darkness.

Lightning flashes and cracks outside, lighting the room once for an instant with its blinding glare that spills in through the window. The scientist is leaning on the clear glass dome of his wife’s cryogenic pod. She is there, looking just as beautiful as she did in the picture on the shelf. The image lingers for a few seconds before it fades into blackness.

Lightning strikes again. He is shaking his fists at Heaven, standing over her bed.

Lightning strikes a third time. He’s smashing the remains of his equipment with a massive wrench.

Lightning strikes a fourth time, reaching in through the window, hitting one of the Tesla coils, bouncing off of the oscilloscope, the wrench as it hangs in mid-air, falling from the scientist’s hands. The lightning-bolt wraps around him, and leaps into the inert goop.

A tiny blue bolt of electricity skitters over the cryogenic pod. A tiny, spidery blue spark, before the world goes dark again.

Gradually, the goop begins to glow, this time green. It’s spilled on the floor, pieces of the desk around it. The scientist’s face is once more full of surprise. Rather than horror, it becomes an expression of triumph. He turns back his wife in her pod. He speaks softly, smiling in the green light.

Lightning strikes outside the window. She keeps sleeping, impassive and still. Once the thunder fades away a soft hiss fills the room. The scientist turns away to look at the goop as it continues to expand.

The glow shows the flower melting into the goop. It keeps expanding, melting pieces of equipment, of the desk, spreading out on the floor. The scientist stands back, screaming silently.

“No, no, no!”

The goop eats away at the floor. The cryogenic pod begins to tip over into the goop. The scientist’s hands tremble, frozen. The laboratory falls through the hole the goop has eaten into the floor. The pod teeters at the edge, and the green glow begins to climb underneath it.

Panicked, the scientist hesitates. The cryogenic pod’s panel flickers and goes dark. He cries out wordlessly, opens it, and pulls his wife out before it falls into the hole. Far below, the green glow pulses slowly, rising along the walls.

The goop reaches up from the pit it ate for itself with a thick tendril. It arches, hovering at eye-level with the scientist, pausing, seemingly waiting, while he holds his wife’s still body against his chest. As he inches back, the goop follows, cornering him and his wife against the wall.

Lightning strikes, the flash spills in from the window. The scientist glances that way, runs, and jumps through.

The goop chases them. The scientist is on a fire escape ladder bolted on to the wall outside his window. As he runs down, the goop splashes on the stairs over his head, melting them as he runs down. He manages to stay ahead of the goop for a couple of flights, but it catches up, eating the bolts holding it to the wall.

The fire escape peels away, falling. He’s still carrying his wife as they tumble. The goop falls with them, past them, hitting the ground first. The goop gathers itself into a massive bubble, catching them before they hit the ground.

Immersed, the scientist floats in the goop, mouth open, trying to make a sound, trying to reach through the goop for his wife. She opens her eyes, smiles delicately, and then disappears, consumed by the goop.

The bubble dissipates, thinning out, spreading out of the buildings doorways and windows, spreading around the scientist’s feet. He’s left alone, allowed to watch the goop slip between his fingers.

Time passes.

The hill is green again. The scientist sits atop of it, watching the blooming spring flowers sway in the wind. The building, covered in vegetation, is off in the distance. A few clouds drift overhead.

 

Game Fundamentals

Game design, as I understand itGame Scales

I’ve been thinking about some of the concepts behind game design, boiling them down to their most basic parts. The metaphor that keeps bubbling up is the image above, a scale. The game the image suggests is as simple as I can imagine a game to be: the point would be to use the square in order to bring the ball as close to the fulcrum as possible, and keep it there for as long as possible. In my mind, a game is essentially a balancing act, wrapped in art and presented as multiplanar choices where scales are stacked on top of scales.

Games, essentially, are systems the players influence in a set of prescribed ways with both inherent and arbitrary limitations. The game’s rules describe the ways players interact with the system, in the positive and negative sense. The space left between the boundaries of the negative rules on the plane described by the positive rules contains the legitimate actions a player could make. That space is explored by players, more often than not finding and using moves the game designers never anticipated – bumping pinball machines just short of triggering the “tilt” sensor is an example of player creativity that is later embraced as standard gameplay. As for stacking scales on top of scales, imagine the same scales in the image in the square, where control of the square itself is mediated by the scale within it.

Take a game like League of Legends: the breakdown of the system would be a two-deep stack of scales. The first level would be the players controlling their hero, using their skills to limit the amount of gametime and control their opponents have over their own heroes. This would be inside the square of the game that occurs around the players, in which the team that destroys the opposing team’s palace. There’s a question, in my mind, of the game that’s actually being played here. A team could win, potentially, without ever engaging the players from the opposing team. The same could be said for “conquest” mode in the Battlefield series; the point of the game isn’t to kill the opposing team, it’s to deplete their tickets by holding the capture points throughout the map.

These “scales within scales” games are stacked this way in order to encourage players to engage one another, and to make their engagements significant, while de-emphasizing the players’ skill. A brilliant player could dominate the opposing team whenever he or she comes in contact with them, but they wouldn’t win the whole game easily. The brilliant player can influence the larger-scale game, sure, but he won’t be the only factor. He’s only a fraction of the weight on that side of the scale.

The flip-side of this sort of stacking is that players’ actions are increasingly removed from the outcome of the game – making sure players feel like they have agency within the game, that how they control their square actually matters, is another balancing act, but that is a game the designers play.

I’m sure none of this is new to better-versed game theorists. It’s merely my perspective.

The Astrolabe

Something for a campaign I'm running.

Something for a campaign I’m running.

The Cistern Schematic

I think I’m getting better at these. Here’s another simple map for my Heraklion campaign. The Cistern is the home of the Technicians, who maintain Heraklion’s various systems.Heraklion Underground