OtherSpace Reboot: Browndell

The action picks up where Vector Control left off…

Busby walks into the lounge in his usual civilian-style attire, but with buggy eyes and drooping mouth that tend to suggest he’d almost certainly prefer to be in a hazmat suit. Or perhaps in an entirely different city. He settles into one of the booths and watches the guards in protective gear coming and going. And he waits.

Kinako makes a mildly sympathetic face before rising from her seat, where she had remained until the saboteur was escorted out, and then for a time afterwards. She approaches the Spark CEO and offers a bow. “Mister Busby-sir,” she says. “I do not mean to impose, but would you be able to put me in contact with the existing authority here? Also would you happen to have any Himalayan salt lamps, perhaps in your offices?”

Maxwell stretches a bit on his bar stool, and nods briefly at the new arrival.

Busby blinks a couple of times before it finally registers that someone is talking to him. He looks at Kinako and says, “I *am* part of the existing authority, man. More or less.” His gaze drifts to the armed guards. “Less, I suppose, at the moment.” He shrugs. “Anyway. Salt lamps? My shaman swears by them. I’ve got a couple on the bookshelf in my office. Why?”

Maurice watches the goings on and slowly shakes his head. The man whistles “The Yellow Rose of Texas” As the saboteur is marched out. “Crazier than a shit house rat.” He informs everyone within ear shot once terrorist is gone. A soft chuckle and a shake of his head follows.

“Because we need to raise the relative humidity in this building to at least forty-five percent. The beneficial emissions of your lamps will also assist in the inactivation of the virus, if there is in fact one present. If its virulence is based upon the flu virus, which I believe it may be, the humidity and added salts in the air will help mitigate the spread and ease the symptoms,” Kinako says, speaking quickly and quietly. “We will also need black tea, honey – Manuka if it is available, at least plus fifteen UMF, a bioelectric emitter and acupuncture set, and a kinesiotape scanner and printer. Ah, and rice. Also garlic.” She pauses to take a breath. “Are there scientists on staff? I have some minor knowledge of pathology but I am by no means qualified to cure an engineered disease. But what I -can- do is mitigate the spread and prevent further damage to our patients.”

Maxwell listens to the medical chatter, and waves the barkeep over to order a beer.

Busby scratches the right side of his face as he listens to Kinako run down her list. Eventually, his eyes roll and he sighs. “Jesus, man, why bother with salt lamps? We’re, like, three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. Not sure if the commisary has black tea and honey, but they might, man. No pie, though, which is a crying shame. I don’t want to die of ebola without a good slice of pie. A big one. Because, y’know, whatever, man.” He rubs his left wrist, then says, “We’ve got scientists. That’s sorta why this place is here, man. That’s kinda why we ended up with a crazy ass strain of crunchy Texas ebola wafting through the air tubes. Goddamned Texans, man. She might’ve infected my shaman! A good shaman’s hard to find. Shaman Steve is a *great* shaman, man, which is, like, magnitudes harder to come by. He wouldn’t think twice about checking the chakra of some Houston debutante, man, maybe setting her straight. He’s a good guy. A generous guy, man. He doesn’t deserve to, y’know, cough out his lungs and bleed his intestines out of his butt.”

Maurice is his back towards the bar when he seems to hear something he doesn’t particularlly care for. “Well now..” He pushes his hat up a little and glances over at Busby. “Now granted we Texans might all be a little off in the head a little but Mister, it aint kind damnin us all.”

Kinako folds her hands in front of her, and bows again. “Please, Mister Busby-sir, be calm. If we increase the humidity, it may inactivate the virus. This is not to guarantee that no one will become ill, but less will. We can not get to the ocean now, we must be confined here. Please, take a deep breath with me, and clear your mind. If it wanders, gently and compassionately guide it back into calm. One breath… two breaths… three breaths… Now. Can you get me in touch with someone who is in charge of the, ah, H-vac, yes? And to please call for your scientists? We have three days before anyone becomes symptomatic. If we can threaten and weaken the virus in the air, and strengthen the people, we can conquer this threat. One breath… two breaths… three breaths…” She inclines her head to Maurice. “Mister Busby-sir is under great duress. It has, ah, compromised his communication skills. Of course, I would not hold you responsible for the actions of the Delilah woman based merely upon your, ah, similar point of origin.”

Maxwell swivels around to see the others, the ordered beer forgotten for now. “Quite… however off she may be, I’m not gonna blame all of Texas for that.”

The Spark CEO narrows his eyes at Kinako, then slaps his palm on the tabletop and says, “Don’t make excuses for me, man! Shaman Steve taught me to own my feelings, so I do. It’s not miscommunication, man.” He stares at Maurice and proceeds: “Your fellow Texan damned us *all*. She did it because of the hard-on all Texans seem to have for the Consortium way of life. Texans shot down that freighter over the swamp too, I have no doubt. Maybe they brought down my dirigible too! The point is: If General Jensen’s smart, he’ll order every Texan-descended soldier confined to barracks. I’m doing what I can to isolate anyone working for Spark with ties to Texas, too, man. It’s got to stop, one way or another, man. There’s a plague out there a hundred times worse than this special ebola, man, and it’s that unique brand of Texas crazy.”

“Well shiiit.” Maurice grumbles as he shifts some to really give Busby the ‘eye’ “And ya all wonder why we got a slightly paranoid independent streak in us.” He stands a bit straighter the more he talks. “As for all that talk of super virus and all that there bull, could be ya’ll doin one of yer insider jobs like big ole government and business is want to do.”

Kinako heaves a long, quiet sigh, but her tone remains calm. “Mister Busby-sir, if you could please get me in contact with someone appropriate, we could disactivate up to seventy to seventy five percent of this special plague within the next fifteen minutes. Please, join me in the moment and free yourself of your anger and its disruptions to your internal energies. Open your Sahasrara chakra and increase your consciousness…” She continues to soothe, holding up one finger to Maurice. “Kindly reserve any accusations for when the crisis has passed, sir. The reasons are currently not relevant. The threat, however, is more real than any opinions that exist in this moment. If everyone would please find compassion and join me in the moment, you will all live to continue this argument at a later time.” She turns her great doe eyes upon both gentlemen. “Please. I know I am possessed of neither power, nor authority, nor a silver tongue, but I would implore you, please, to be more harmonious.”

Maxwell calms his already fairly calm breathing down a bit.

Busby stares silently at Kinako for about twenty seconds, tilting his head, looking almost as if a wire might’ve popped loose somewhere inside. Ultimately, he says, “I may need to fire Shaman Steve, man. What’s your retainer?” He waves a hand. “Never mind that for now, man. Scientists, right? Yeah, man. Here.” He slides a commlink across the table toward Kinako and says, “Connect 12 to reach the Canaveral lab, man. Tell ‘em you’re working for me.”

Maurice tips his hat in Kinako’s direction. “Sure thing there Mama-san.” He says. The Texan watches Busby for a moment longer then shrugs and turns to face the bar.

Kinako bows to Bob, and takes the commlink, carefully following the CEO’s instructions. “Good evening, I am Doctor Omoiyari Kinako, and I am presently working for Mister Busby-sir. I require the assistance of any available pathologists. If someone would also please contact facilities and maintenance, and have them raise the relative humidity to at least forty-five percent. Your cooperation will be very much appreciated.” While awaiting the answer, she mutes the comm. “Mister Maxwell-sir, if you could please check with the commissary, we will need rice, honey, black tea, yes? Is anyone available who can make contact with medical services for us?” Busby gets a gentle shake of her head. “No fees for now. I do this for the sake of all.”

Maxwell nods at Kinako as he fishes around his pockets for a minute, dropping a number of papers covered with assorted doodles and equations on the bar until he finds his phone. Some poking about later, he finally gets a call through to the comissary “Yeah, uh… you guys have any tea? Yes, black tea. Lots of it. And a goodly supply of honey… orange blossom if you have it… eh, make it a variety. We’re gonna need a bunch of that, too. Um, and rice, apparently. I suspect rather a lot of that. Eh? Um, long grain I guess. Yeah, that should be fine. Just get it over to the Apollo Lounge. I’m sure someone official looking will get it all inside.”

Busby clears his throat, then sneezes into the palms of his hands. He leans back to stare at them, apparently expecting blood or some other foreboding telltales. “Hm,” he says when nothing bad seems to have splattered his palms. “Ah.” He settles back in the booth and waits for the supplies to arrive. “What will the rice do, exactly?”

Maurice watches the cockpit replays along for time with a faint far away smile. “Lucky SOBs.” He murmurs to himself. Once the real world comes crashing back he blinks a few times. “Now.. I aint got nuffin against a bit of rice and tea, differn cultures and all that. But if we are plannin last suppers here I’d rather have me a t-bone and a Lone Star if you are kindly takin requests.” He directs over to Kinako.

Kinako presses her lips together, and bows to Maxwell. “I apologize, Mister Maxwell-sir, for not communicating with you properly. The honey I was looking for was Manuka, it comes from bees that have fed upon the flowers of the tea tree… not orange. But if they do not have it, of course any honey has antibacterial properties… short grained rice is better for porridge. I apologize that I did not specify.” She inclines her head to Bob. “I am not certain which manner of flu she engineered the virus with. If it causes intestinal distress, a slowly cooked meal of rice will provide essential nutrients and ease discomfort.” She turns her gray gaze to Maurice, expression apologetic. “You are free to eat what you wish, sir,” she says, “I would in fact encourage you to do so as we will have approximately three days before symptoms begin. I am merely making sufficient preparations in case I am rendered a casualty.” She gets back on the line with the science folks. “Of course, I apologize for my imposition, but your cooperation is very much appreciated. Security may have the woman’s belongings, if she does not have any samples on her person she has indicated that she is an active carrier. Perhaps they would permit you to take samples directly from her. Please also gather as much colloidal silver as you can. We will need it in the case of skin lesions and other necrotic effects.” A brief chink appears in the calm as her eyes water up. She takes a slow, deep breath. “Arigatou, many thanks again.” She hands the communicator back to Busby. “Your scientists are effective, and hopefully will find what they need from the security forces. The medical staff has also been alerted.”

Maxwell nods at Kinako and continues talking, since he apparently got a rather chatty clerk who never hung up. “Yeah, could we get some short grain rice in there, too? And some Manuka honey if you’ve got it… Yes, in addition to the rest. Yes, yes, I hope your aunt has a happy birthday, too… Uh huh… Yeah, uh… gotta go!” Click. Or as much of a click as modern technology allows a phone.

Busby gets to his feet and says, “If you run into any problems getting those supplies, man, just give me a call or stop by the office or whatever, y’know, man. And let me know what you charge for shaman services because, hey, if you’re competitive, I could suddenly have an opening.” He crosses his arms. “Now if I could just find someone with a head for light-bending physics and interstellar astrogeometrics.” He glances toward Maurice: “Know anybody, Texas?”

“Well.. that’s better than a stick in the eye I suppose.” Maurice nods towards Kinako. The Texan quickly types out an order for just what his heart desires on the old style command console. Busby gets a long look over. “Ya try Houston or maybe McDonald Observatory? Knew a feller down in South New Mexico into that stuff. Always goin on about the Very Large Array.” He slips one finger under the hat’s band and gives his forehead a scratch. “Or ya just askin because I look like a down Texas way redneck?”

Kinako bows to the Spark CEO. “Arigatou, I thank you very much,” she says. “If you are retiring to your quarters, please do your best to drink black tea with honey with breakfast and lunch. Once I acquire a kinesiotherapy printer I will start fitting everyone for ah… The best word I believe would be a sort of brace? To prevent additional damage if the virus presents with painful coughing. Please bring your salt lamps to Facilities and have them placed by the air circulation vent. If anyone else in your office has them, kindly ask that they, ah, provide them for the cause? They will be returned when the threat has passed, of course.” She sighs, quietly, murmuring to herself under her breath. Maurice gets the mildest of mildly reproachful expressions before the woman sinks into a nearby chair. “Three… days. Kami wa watashitachi o tasukete.”

Maxwell puts his phone away again, grabs that beer of his off the bar, and looks curiously at a few of his apparent doodles before taking a sip, whilst watching the exchange between the other guys.

“Look, man,” Busby replies to Maurice. “I was just asking because, y’know, you said Texans weren’t all bad.” He shrugs. “Whatever, man. Whatever.” He wanders toward the door and mutters, “Man, I *hate* black tea. Makes me piss blue rivers.” And out he goes.

Some ripping on the reboot

Not everyone’s a fan of the OtherSpace reboot.

A guest logged on the other day – someone who apped for a character long ago, got approved, played a couple of scenes and then “life got in the way.”

“The post a while back of axing idled characters left a bad taste in my mouth and the recent post made me decide to pop back,” the guest said to other players on the MUSH.

I was busy at home at the time, tending to my baby and a pair of borrowed kids from some friends who were off celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. “Life got in the way,” you see, and I missed this charming visitor.

The guest didn’t like the idea of a reboot to an era that was before faster-than-light travel, before exploration of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. The guest wanted a reboot, I guess, of a straight out-of-the-box, already lived-in cosmos like OtherSpace 1998.

“No offense, I’m not going to hang around for months playing something I don’t want just to pass the time to get something I do want to play,” the guest said.

Well, fair enough. But then the guest said they “honestly feel gipped” by the reboot meaning “we’re taking out [that thing you love] for an unspecified amount of time.”

“Especially since I donated before, too,” the guest said. “I dunno if Wes is even reading this channel, but it’s kind of like enticing you in with the promise of Mass Effect, then pulling the covers away to reveal Kerbal Space Program. Only not as fun.”

A couple of points rankle here. First: NO ONE has donated as much time, effort, or money to OtherSpace during the past 16 years as I have. If someone’s going to get preferential treatment for thematic development based on financial investment, it’ll be me. I’m certainly not lending much credence to someone who professes love for the old theme when they couldn’t stick with it for more than a couple of scenes and can’t even remember who their character was. Sorry to disappoint. Second: I never promised anything remotely resembling the original OtherSpace in the lead-up to the reboot. In fact, I very specifically outlined plans to go back so far in the mythos that player actions – not the game creator – would play a much larger role in shaping the universe, from the technology that breaks the light barrier to the alien worlds they discover.

I fully appreciate that providing a blank canvas full of creative potential – a veritable space opera sandbox – isn’t going to be for everybody.

And they can find something else to amuse themselves. That’s fine by me.

It’s going to be great for others. And it’s for them that we keep chugging along.

The story goes on…

…even if I get too busy with the full-time job or the baby or any of the other demands of real-life that tend to crop up.

In the past week or so, I’ve run a scene via email for Quill in which he worked on satisfying the request of a potential employer. I want all players to understand that I’ve got an open invitation to do this for anyone involved in the OtherSpace Reboot grid. If there’s a storyline you want to explore for your character, let’s talk about it. Real-time on the MUSH is ideal, but if we’re in different time zones or suffering from real-life demands, a more asynchronous option may be best.

I can always be reached via email at jointhesaga@gmail.com.

Letting go

A couple of months back, I announced that I was sharpening my scythe to start tying up loose ends with absentee characters.

I’ve implemented a couple of these and reached the conclusion that it’s just not worth the effort or frustration.

Ostensibly, the goal is to let lapsed players know that their characters are important to the ongoing story of OtherSpace and I’d rather not lose them in the shuffle. It’s supposed to motivate them to get back in the mix.

But, simply put, it didn’t work, it probably won’t work in the future, and maybe it’s just not meant to work at all.

People come and go. That’s life on a MUSH. We can’t drag them back, kicking and screaming. We can only do what we can to keep entertaining the folks who choose to stick with it. Admittedly, it’s probably not a fun prospect for those who remain to embark on plots that drive home the fact that these characters aren’t around anymore, whether it’s a fruitless rescue mission or a forced funeral.

So, we’ll let them go. Sometimes they come back, which is great. Sometimes they don’t, and that’s okay too. We’ll do what we can to keep reaching new storytellers to share in the adventure.

OtherSpace Reboot: A Bad Day to Be Wally

Quill sits alone in his apartment. Holomonitors surround him, displaying real-time code output from his computer arrays. The room is dark, aside from the monitors. He begins by checking his firewalls. Then his proxies. Then firewalls on his proxies. This goes on through several layers of proxies. Next is the anti-tracking software. All data gets broken up, sent to a dozen different servers, fed through proxies, rinse, repeat. Then each piece of data, useless in isolation is sent to ten thousand different servers, his included. Of course, his is the only hardware that will receive every piece of data, which he can reassemble and work on.

“Okay,” he mutters to himself, “Here we go.” With that he reaches out, headed for the Spark server, slowly probing the defenses looking for weakness.

The Spark server network, housed in a fortified bunker under the corporate headquarters in New York City, receives the first querying packets from Quill. The central artificial intelligence entity that monitors the network, known as Chorus, dispatches data analysis envoys to determine the validity of the incoming signal. The AI envoys are identified as Singer 3127, Singer 10245, and Singer 129. Quill’s attempt to gain access to Spark’s server will depend on him successfully bypassing this trio of Singers without alerting Chorus.

Quill begins to send out packets to each singer containing identifying information claiming to be from inside the Spark intranet with a simple request for a ping, typical server-to-server noise.  Meanwhile, he’s analyzing every piece of data he can get on the singers based on what his packets get back, as well as simultaneously looking for similar Chorus-Singer setups elsewhere on the internet that may provide clues. He’s looking for command routines, what they will report back to chorus and what they won’t, general weaknesses, infinite loops

Singer 3127 considers the packet as it arrives: Internal ping request. An inoffensive request, from a server address that appears to be within the local network. In fractions of a millisecond, Singer 3127 passes the request on to Chorus, with the appropriate clearance flags to warrant approval of the request. The ping goes back to Quill, a sort of electronic handshake that includes an assignment of OPEN AND AUTHORIZED FOR BASIC INTRANET CLEARANCE to the communicating server at Quill’s apartment. Singers 10245 and 129 receive identical pings shortly after 3127, but by the time they do, the server making contact already has its basic clearances. The packets are labeled REDUNDANT and disregarded by the Singers and Chorus.

Quill begins to analyze the handshake, looking specifically at the ‘basic intranet clearance’ section of code. He sets his left hand and part of his attention on altering that bit of code to include read/write level access. At the same time, his right hand sends a basic file directory listing request, hoping his current clearance level gives him that ability. “Lets see if I can locate this data before I start spoofing clearance levels,” he says to himself.

The Singers delegated by Chorus receive and then relay the directory request. Quill receives a response with a list of folders open under the basic internal clearances:

  • NEWS RELEASES
  • BOARD OF DIRECTORS ROSTER
  • CUSTOMER SUPPORT FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
  • EMPLOYEE CELEBRATIONS SCHEDULE

That’s what I thought.” He gives his full attention to altering the handshake. Okay, just bumping up the clearance level to engineer/scientist status. Hopefully that won’t raise red flags, not going for top level admin here. He sends the altered handshake along with a directory request, then holds his breath.

It may not be top-level access that Quill seeks, but Chorus is a top-of-the-line reactive AI – part of Spark’s vaunted “evolutionary thinker” series – and when it receives a packet handoff from a Singer that asserts higher clearance than Chorus stored in memory for the requesting site, the AI flags the request. Chorus responds with a query of its own to Quill’s interface: PLEASE PROVIDE STATUS BOOST CONFIRMATION CODE.

“Crap. Okay, okay, umm…”  He cuts the connection, setting in motion his prehacking procedures to prevent tracking. Let’s take a different track. Humans are the weak link in any security system. He pulls up a list of mid-level managers working for Spark, working with public social networking sites, press releases, etc… The scientists and engineers probably wouldn’t fall for this, but managers just might. He quickly sets up a log in page on a website that looks similar to spark, then sends out messages spoofed from Spark technical support. “Your network access password has expired. Please log in to update your password.” The messages link to his copy page, requiring people to ‘log in’ with username and password before changing it to a new password. Again, all with care to prevent it being traced to his location. Then he sits back and waits.

It’s been a long week for Wally Fields. The kids kept him up all night with their screaming about the bedtime story he made up about the aliens coming to Sol System to eat them all up if they didn’t eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, and go to sleep on time. At Spark, he’s behind on not one, not two, but three critical projects – including vital adjustments to the dirigible guidance system specifically ordered by Bob Busby himself. So, he’s not thinking too clearly when he gets the phishing message from Quill. Before he can think better of it, he enters the information as requested.

Quill immediately snatches the data. He knows time is short on such things, so he acts quickly. Spoofing Fields’ home network using data gathered from the phishing site, he sends the request to log in using the stolen username and password data.

Quill is now logged into the Spark intranet servers as Wally Fields. Chorus detects a brief hiccup in communication between the system and the machine operated by Wally Fields. It’s not much, the mere ghost of a signal switch. But it’s enough to put the AI on elevated alert. Chorus doesn’t lock Fields down, but does initiate heightened monitoring protocols.

Quill begins acting like Wally would. He checks on his emails, status on assigned projects, careful not to leave anything Wally would notice as out of place. While pretending to check in on Wally’s projects, he looks for the letter ‘T’ data, going through the directories.

During the search, Quill will discover a directory under RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT – CRYPTOGRAPHY AND SIGNALS labeled PINNACLE.

Before Quill opens the Pinnacle folder, he sends off a quick email along the lines of “As per our conversation, I’ll have some of my guys look over the Pinnacle data. Maybe they will turn up something.” The message is sent to another project manager, however the recipient’s address contains a typo. Meaning it should get bounced back, but hopefully provide some cover to Chorus. That sent, he opens the directory.

The mention of Pinnacle in an email transmission raises an alert flag for one of the Singers, which transmits the issue to Chorus. The AI checks the roster of Spark employees approved to review and study Pinnacle message data. Wally’s not on that list. It is possible that an authorized individual within the company gave Wally an off-the-books assignment, so Chorus doesn’t immediately shut the account’s access to the directory. However, it does alert the Pinnacle project supervisor, Dane Kovacz, that Wally is reviewing that directory and wants clarity on next steps. Luckily, for the moment, Kovacz is in the break room making coffee.

In the directory, Quill finds a distinct list of simply labeled files for each letter and space in the Pinnacle message. He may just have time to download one file before Kovacz returns to his desk and gets the alert from Chorus.

Quill quickly grabs the ‘T’ file. The file is sent through a maze of proxies, split and recombined at different points, all to keep it from being traced back to him. As soon as he verifies a complete download, he logs out, taking care to cover his tracks as best as he is able. As soon as he is logged out, he burns his IP address, switching to a completely new one for all network access.

The file is completely downloaded and, although Chorus has raised flags about Wally and probably landed him in a world of professional hurt, Quill is able to depart the system without detection. Now it’s a matter of unpacking and decrypting the Pinnacle letter data.