Archive for April, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure 24: Getting Out of Dodge

2013/04/29 6 comments

The previous post in this series is here.

Your current choice — hide Dunscher and get out of town.  And pick up a few supplies while you’re at it.

Part 24

This is a nasty problem.  No one in town is going to like you after this — given how Javor seemed to like Dunscher.

With some difficulty, you lug Dunscher’s unconscious form into the best hiding place you can think of — inside the wagon, behind the barrels of alcohol he just purchased.  It takes significant effort, and you bump his head a couple of extra times, but you don’t much care.  You don’t like the guy, after all.

You still check that he’s breathing, which he is.  He’ll have a lovely headache later on.  Looking at him, you realize that he’s about average height for a man, and actually not much bigger than you are.

Not much bigger than you are.  Convenient.  Hidden by the barrels, you proceed to strip him, and appropriate his boots, pants, tunic, leather armor, canteen, knife, and sword.  Berschiss will dress him down, so to speak, but Dunscher will be fine in the end.  Probably.

Your new outfit is a bit large, but serviceable.  As icing on the cake, you also steal the horse that was pulling the cart.  You’ll be riding bareback, but you’re confident you can manage that.

Between the armor and the horse, you know you’re going to stand out.  But you still need a bit more food to take with you, especially since you haven’t decided where you’re going yet.  Riding out of town, you get lucky — someone left out a basket of bread in front of the town’s bakery, which is all too easy to snatch.

Unluckily, as you  ride down the short main road, Berschiss walks nearly directly in front of you from a narrow side-street.  You push your newly-acquired horse a bit, which is enough to get away from his shouting.  Shortly thereafter, you are outside of Vendrik, riding past the farms.  Since this is a good horse, and you know to take appropriate times for rest, you are fairly sure that any pursuit from town is well behind you.  The farmers you pass on this side of town glance at you, but leave you alone.

By late afternoon, you’ve reached the woods again.  You left on the opposite side of town from which you came, but the terrain is similar.

Now that you have some space and time in which to breathe, you need to decide what you’re going to do, based on very limited information.  You could try contacting Fort Kleriv, although given what you just did to one of their men, they probably won’t be happy to see you.  You could also try continuing along this road; your flashback of the Emperor suggests that some of your answers may be there.  Otherwise, you could also strike out cross-country, giving yourself some time to think and find less suspicious gear.  In that case, you’d go west — there’s no point in going east, since you’ll probably just end up stuck against that canyon again.

The Options

Option 25:  Head north-east along the road, towards the fort at Kleriv.  You’ll also want to go around Vendrik, rather than through.

Option 26:  Go south-west along the road.  Based on Dunscher’s ramblings, this probably leads you into the interior of the Ishkaev Empire.

Option 27:  Pff, roads.  Strike off through the woods to the west.


Choose Your Own Adventure 23: No Good Deed

2013/04/22 5 comments

The previous post in this series is here.

You chose to go for help, and maybe find the healer… to help clean up after you beat up Corporal Dunscher.

Part 23

You first move is to duck back into the brewery.  It’s the closest place, after all, and you don’t actually know where the healer is.  “Javor!  Javor!  Hello?”

The man in question sticks his head out the side door.  “Is there something wrong with your… by Alderik, what happened here?”

He pops back into the brewery, and shouts something at his assistant.  The young man comes out the door, stares at the downed corporal for a few seconds, then dashes out the alleyway.

“He’s going to get Gisel.  She’s the healer around here.”  Before adding anything else, Javor kneels down next to the corporal without touching him.  He holds his hand just above the corporal’s mouth, and watches his chest.  “Breathing.  Good.  It’s probably not as bad as it looks, but that nose is never going to be as pretty as it used to be.”  He stands back up slowly, and his knees emit a matched pair of creaks.

He looks directly at you, and asks, “What happened?”

You don’t know enough about this town to come up with a story and somebody reasonable to frame.  If you tell the truth, they may just think you’re slightly crazy, or slightly dangerous if they actually believe you.  For lack of anything better, you start telling a brief story about how Dunscher was showing off, and managed to tumble off the wagon in doing so.  You explain that you tried to help, of course, but he did do a good job of face-planting into the dirt.

“Hm.  You’d better tell that to Gisel when she gets here.  Dunscher isn’t usually that clumsy.  Could be something else is wrong.”

Between his insistence and the onlookers who have started to look to see what the hullabaloo was about, you don’t have a good opportunity to sneak away.  Unfortunately, from the murmurs you hear, most of the folks here know Dunscher a bit and like him.  The truth about your actions and his character is unlikely to encourage them to help you… you hope you can find a way out of this before Dunscher wakes up.

A few minutes later, Gisel, the healer, arrives, puffing.  Her brown-and-gray hair is clearly attempting to escape its intended bounds.  Her face is lined with care, and her hands are stained by some kind of ink.  Her shirt and tunic are plain green and practical.  Just ahead of her is Javor’s assistant, is carrying a bag for her.

And not far behind her is Sergeant Berschiss.

While she tends to Dunscher, Berschiss goes to you.  “What happened here?”  As you tell him the same story from before, his one eye narrows dangerously.  Then he goes to speak with Gisel.

The slowly growing crowd gathers around Dunscher.  Javor waves them back.  You wait for a few minutes, until all seems quiet and no one is watching you.  You try to sneak away. Perhaps you can find some bandages for your feet at the healer’s place, and then…

You never have the chance to finish your planning.  Around the corner, waiting for you, is Sergeant Berschiss, with two other tall men.  The latter two are not dressed as soldiers… but the longbows they carry are suitably dangerous nonetheless.

“I thought so,” Berschiss says.  “Most people who’ve been as close to that canyon as you claim don’t remember how to talk, much less what their names are.  You’re some kind of agent, aren’t you?  Who are you, and why are you here?”

“I’m not an agent of anything…”

Your denials are ignored.  “Right,” Berschiss says.  “And Gisel was wrong about Dunscher having been in a fight.  A very brief fight.”

With the help of the townspeople, Berschiss has Javor lock you in a closet in the brewery.


The door is watched at all times, by Berschiss at the very least.  He asks you questions, and doesn’t believe your honest answers.  The mention of Dunscher’s unwanted advances gets you a moment of sympathy, but not much more than that.  You’re tempted to start making up something… or claim association with the emperor somehow… to get yourself out of this mess.

Unfortunately, you run out of time.  After being stuck in the dim room that reeks of old ale and moldy mop for about an hour, Berschiss leaves the door to someone else’s eyes.  He’s back after only a few minutes.  You can hear him talking with someone else, far outside the door.  You can’t hear exactly what they’re saying, but from the tones, it sounds like Berschiss is interacting with a superior officer.

It’s only been an hour, perhaps a bit longer.  That’s not enough time for someone to send a message to the fort at Kleriv and then come back to Vendrik.  Whoever’s out there must have left the fort much earlier, or have come from somewhere else.

Berschiss returns to the door, and shouts through it, “Stay back from the door.  The soldiers here will be taking charge of you.”

The soldiers Berschiss refers to are still talking, but inaudible until the door is opened.

“… to keep.  I’m sure they’ll find someone else suitable.  She can’t be the only one.”

No one is standing directly in front of the door.  You have only enough time to register this fact and stand up before two soldiers in the brewery proper send a matched set of arrows into your chest.  “Why… who…”  And then the world goes dark.


Oops.  That was a death scene.

But, since this is a story, and not reality, let’s back up and try again, shall we?

The (Remaining) Choices:

Option 22: Leave the scene like you had nothing to do with it, and try to find the healer’s.

Option 24: Hide Dunscher’s unconscious form somewhere, steal some supplies, and get out of town as fast as you can.

Choose Your Own Adventure 21: The Brewery

2013/04/14 4 comments

The previous post in this series is here.

The current choice — selected by coin toss due to a tie — is to visit the brewery with corporal Dunscher.

Part 21

“I think I’d like to get a drink before visiting the healer.”

Sergeant Berschiss grunts his disapproval.  “Fine.  Duscher, once you’ve picked up the beer, meet me at the blacksmith’s.”  He gives you one last glare through his one good eye before walking off down the street.

Berschiss seems displeased by your decision, but Dunscher seems happy enough to have you along.  He waves you up, to take the seat on the cart that the sergeant just vacated.  “I’m glad you decided to come along.  The brewer, Javor, is a bit grumpy, but I’m sure he’ll be happy to let you try a drink.  Especially since I’ll be buying a few barrels.”  He leans in close to you with a smile before he goes back to driving.

There are a few stares and glances en route to the brewery, mostly directed at you.  The soldier may not be very out of place, but you, his passenger, are an oddity.

The brewer’s has a tavern in front, with the main supply of alcohol in the rear.  You go in through the tavern, which is mostly empty at this time of day.  Dunscher says, “Javor, I’m here to get a few more barrels for Kleriv.  A few of beer, a few of mead.”

Javor was an older man, with only so many gray hairs left on his head.  His wrinkles seemed to have wrinkles.  He shouted back to someone in the back section of the building, “Roll out a few barrels!  We’ve got a man from Kleriv here, and we know how much soldiers can drink.”  When he turns back, he looks at you, and asks, “New friend, Dunscher?”

“This is Syndel,” he replies easily.  “We found her out by Oblivion Canyon.  She’s had a hard time of it.  Think you can spare a mug for her?”

“I have to put in so much effort to keep my customers happy,” Javor cheerfully grumbles.  He pulls a wooden mug out from somewhere, and fills it from a container out of sight.  You take a single careful sip.  It’s mediocre mead, sweet and fairly weak.  Which is good.  Although you don’t know how long its been since you last ate, the grumbling in your stomach suggests that it’s been too long for you to easily tolerate strong drink.

“Any for you, corporal?”

Dunscher looks longingly at the mug, then says, “No, thanks.  I’m on-duty.”

“Some other time, then.”

A gangly young man comes out a few minutes later.  Dunscher inspects the barrels, and briefly haggles with Javor over price.  Then Dunscher and the young assistant load them into the cart, which Dunscher has pulled into a narrow alleyway between the brewery and its neighbor.

You leave with your mead only half-finished.  Javor seems disappointed, but you did not want to drink too much without eating something.

It is not until you and Dunscher step back into the seat of the cart that you think this visit to the brewery may not have been the best idea.  Dunscher chatters for a bit about beer before leaning towards you again and making a suggestion.

“No.  Not interested.”

“Aw, come on, Syndel-”  Annoyed at your refusal, he grabs your arm and pulls you towards him.

Your reaction is reflexive and immediate.  Your first move is to punch Dunscher in the face.  Only a few short seconds later, you’re taking a couple of deep breaths, while the young soldier is unconscious on the ground, bleeding from his nose.

You make a mental note that your earlier impression that you could take the two soldiers was probably correct.

But, until you can find some more information, you have a more immediate dilemma:  What to do with Dunscher?  You could just leave him here, and either hope he doesn’t remember what happened or plead some kind of failing of your own memory.  Visiting the healer was on your to-do list anyway.  Or you could try to get help right here, right now.  Or you could just give up on Venbrik and get yourself out of here by whatever means necessary.

The Choices

Option 22: Leave the scene like you had nothing to do with it, and try to find the healer’s.

Option 23: Go for help.  Dunscher’s going to need a healer and, ideally, you can also get some help in keeping him away form you.  (Not that you really need any.)

Option 24: Hide Dunscher’s unconscious form somewhere, steal some supplies, and get out of town as fast as you can.

SciFi Round 19: Star Trek and Transporters

Last time, I mentioned how TRON fails computer science forever by having people be disintegrated and reconstructed after having spent a very long time (at least subjectively) inside the computer grid.  This leads to something else: Star Trek and its transporters.  So I write this, at the peril of Rachel deciding I’m writing Fixer Fic and making Star Trek into something that is no longer Star Trek.

Why Transporters Don’t Work

Gene Roddenberry wrote the transporter into the original series to avoid the complexities of rendering the Enterprise landing on planets with 1960s special effects and the show’s budget.  It became an iconic element of the Star Trek universe.  But as has been noted before, it is impossible to truly teleport anything.  Doing so requires violating numerous conservation laws that are consequences of the geometry of spacetime.  In order to take a person from a transporter room to the surface of a planet, you need to somewhere find the appropriate set of particles at the destination and assemble them into a unit with a close enough correspondence to the information you have conveyed from the room to the surface.  The same applies to real-life quantum teleportation, which works by physically conveying two entangled systems to separate locations and then sending information about the system from one location to the other.  This is not what the transporters in Star Trek do.  So they are impossible.

But what if we tried a disintegrate-and-reassemble, like the TRON example?  Again, that requires impossibly large data storage, impossibly fine measurements, impossibly high bandwidth, and a matter bank at the transporter receive station ready to be assembled into any pattern that comes in.  So even teleportation booths are right out.

But What If The Transporter Did Work?

Consider the disintegrate-and-reassemble option.  Notice something?  This transporter works like a Star Trek replicator: give it a pattern, have it print out two copies rather than one.  This happens in more than one of the Trek series: there have been two Kirks, two Rikers, and so on.  But if you can scan a living person, hold things in memory indefinitely, and make copies of the pattern, why can’t replicators in Star Trek replicate living matter?  (real reason: the writers didn’t want to deal with the complications from that)

And in Star Trek, you can edit a pattern in the transporter memory: take out weapons, scan for bombs, cure diseases, regenerate someone’s body, merge people together.  Given all of this, the societies in Star Trek make no sense.

Guinan and Ro Lauren on the Enterprise-D, before and after a transporter accident puts their current adult brains into 12 year old bodies.

Guinan and Ro Lauren on the Enterprise-D, before and after a transporter accident puts their current adult brains into 12 year old bodies (notice that the accident also conveniently provided them with good-fitting clothes).  This isn’t the only such example in Star Trek: The Next Generation: Katherine Pulaski is restored to her previous calendar age after having been prematurely aged by several decades.  Why isn’t rejuvenation a standard option in the Federation medical system?

An example: why does anyone in Star Trek die or become seriously ill?  Record a person’s pattern, with suitable DRM so that no-one runs off a bunch of copies.  The patient presents with what will rapidly become fatal injuries or illness.  Take them into the transporter and merge their current brain with the healthy and younger pattern in the buffer.  This is a nearly impossible interfacing problem, but no more impossible than the transporter itself.  And if someone’s brain is gone, restore them from the most recent backup.  There are a large number of ethical considerations here, but people in Star Trek should be functionally immortal as long as the transporter is working.  Combine that with the other possibilities of mixing and matching what we would normally consider as distinct individuals, and imagine what such a society would be like.  It wouldn’t be anything like what we see in the show.

Other things are wrong too.  To avoid having things teleported on board when undesired, Star Trek ships have “shields” – some impossible device that sets up an impossibly high gravitational or electromagnetic field gradient in empty space, in defiance of Gauss’ law.  This somehow prevents teleportation, but since transporters are already impossible, let it play.  They can’t launch weapons through shields either, so they rapidly modulate them to let their weapons out while protecting the ship.  But why launch torpedoes directly?   Transport the bombs out and avoid needing a launch system.  If you can’t transport through an enemy’s shield while it is up, keep trying to transport the weapon at the enemy until you get lucky and they drop their own shields for an instant.

And when shields are down, why transport a few unarmored infantry onto an enemy ship you want to capture and not destroy, instead of thirty thousand microdrones?  Or, for the Borg, a few quadrillion nanobots (there are other reasons why nanotechnology doesn’t work the way it does for the Borg, but that would need to be a later post).  The point is that even if the economics and society weren’t going to be so different, Star Trek tactics make no sense.  By extension, neither does Star Trek military strategy.  There are works that have explored what would actually happen given teleportation and a need for fighting.

Star Trek makes no sense as long as it has transporters/replicators in it.  And now Rachel can glare at me.

We Give Links 2: Immortality and Transhumanism

2013/04/10 1 comment

Relevant to my recent piece on immortality in science fiction, PZ Myers describes the problems with transhumanist ideas – including cryogenic preservation, methods to engineer immortality or at least an extension to the human lifespan, and the impossibilities of “The Singularity”:

Video from SkepTech