The Space Between

Busby paces along the corridor, PDA clutched in his hands as he mumbles to himself.

Kristine clutches her battered notebook under her arm as she strides back toward the labs after her lunch break. She moves quickly and determinedly, like a woman on a mission.

The boss stops in front of the lab entrance, eyebrows knitting together as he looks toward the spacecraft engineering facility. He releases the grip of his right hand on the PDA, runs fingers through his tousled hair, and strides in the direction of the big engineering area. “It’s all wrong, man. All wrong.”

Kristine dodges around the scruffy fellow in her way, glancing over her shoulder as she goes. Mid-maneuver she recognises the face of Mr. Busby and comes to a sudden halt. “Er, hello, Mr. Busby,” she says. “What’s all wrong?” She trails along after him, frowning.

Busby waves his right hand in an all-encompassing gesture at the spacecraft engineering section. “That. Ships. We’re thinking about this all wrong, man. Starships. Big, ungainly, clumsy things. But also fragile. Unspeakably fragile.”

“Well, any vehicle put into space has to deal with its dangers, Mr. Busby,” Kristine replies. “And the early prototypes are liable to be clunky-looking while we get the main functions down.” She smiles faintly. “It won’t help to have a sleek, shiny craft that doesn’t go anywhere.”

The CEO rubs his palm across his forehead, sighing. “No, no, no, man. You don’t get it. You don’t GET it. I’m not saying we need to make them pretty. I’m not sure we should make them at all. A starship is nothing but limits. Limited air. Limited food. Limited water. Limited speed.” His voice trails off.

Kristine gives Busby a look of deep concern bordering on disbelief. “Not make them at all? Mankind can’t simply step out into the farthest reaches of space.” She cants her head to the side, smirking. “I hope you’re not considering teleportation technology. Talk about untenable…”

“Why not?” Busby muses, activating his PDA. “I mean, it’s only a trillion trillion atoms per human translocation. We still have to get past the light speed barrier for all our accompanying information to make the journey. And I’m pretty sure that it would require creating a new copy of the passenger while effectively ‘murdering’ the original, but, man, totally worth it if we can bridge the gap between the stars, right?”

“The barriers to developing a truly successful translocation system are well-known, Mr. Busby,” Kristine replies, her voice taking on a lecturer’s tone. “Our capability to store data is much greater than it was when such a thing was first seriously proposed, but it’s still quite an obstacle. Then there’s also the question of, as you mentioned, information transfer, and if /it/ can be made to exceed light speed. And the philosophical and moral issues involved in deconstructing and reconstructing a physical being have been worked over for hundreds of years.” She frowns. “Not to mention it’s a totally different goal that was originally set out. We’ve done a lot of work on the Kasmarkin Drive, Mr. Busby, a /lot/.”

“Oh, yeah, lots of work, man, I know,” Busby agrees. He shrugs, tapping out a sequence on his PDA. “Is the goal that different, though? Whether we’re trying to break the light barrier to send a starship and crew or just a single person, the goal seems identical to me.”

“The ultimate goal of transporting someone faster than the speed of light is the same, of course,” Kristine admits, “but the method is entirely different. Our project has been to develop a FTL drive to be incorporated into a starship’s design. To change tacks now would be to toss aside much of the work that’s already been done. We’re proud of our work.” She presses her lips together, still frowning.

A soft ‘beep’ from the doors to the research wing as the General applies his ID badge to it. As they open with a soft hiss he steps in, Kinako trailing behind him. “Hmm.. no Mr. Harrison here today.” he mutters.

Busby is standing outside the spacecraft engineering bay with Kristine.

“Ah… well, that is all right. I am certain he must be attending to something important,” Kinako says, most certainly trailing behind the General, at a space indicating she is being mindful of keeping the appropriate distance; neither too near nor too far. Her careful pronunciation is a likely sign that English is not her primary language. She blinks briefly in vague recognition at both Mr. Busby and Kristine. “Ah, that is the miss from the lounge the other day… and that is the gentleman from the technological presentation.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Busby replies to Kristine. “Plenty to be proud of, man. Not saying otherwise.” He waggles the PDA. “But if we can make this work, we can forget dealing with all the dangers that go with dealing with the hassles of starships. The murder thing, though, that’s gonna be a tough sell to the pope. And my mom, man. Christ.”

“Mr. Busby.” Kristine’s tone turns decidedly more hostile. “After all the time and effort that’s been put into the FTL project, now you want to throw it away and start something new?”

Jensen raises an eyebrow at this comment as he approaches the pair. “Sometimes a change in strategy can be a good thing.” he offers simply. “Especially when you’ve got people with a less than friendly interest in your plans.” he says, looking to Busby. “I’m sure you heard of the device your test pilot located on his craft. Seems to be some sort of recording device, though the damn thing is proving hard to crack. Infected half the lab systems before they could even begin decoding. Whatever it was, it’s apparent it was intended to be retrieved by someone other than your test pilot, as it was recording only.”

Kinako pads along to keep up with the General, pausing to bow at the waist to both Busby and Kristine, although she stays quiet. Her expression is pensive; either she’s not following the conversation at all, or she’s following it well enough to pick up on the tension.

Busby tilts his head, rubbing at his cheek with his mouth in a twist before he smiles and says to Kristine, “Well, yeah, man, that’s kind of what I was saying. I mean, I used more words, man, but that’s a thing I do. No shame in what you said, though. What you said was okay. But, uh, yeah, the way you put it, you make it sound, like, irrational and all, uh, not sane, right? But work’s work. Money’s money. If another’s way better, maybe another way’s good to go. I’m just thinking out loud, man. Thinking’s fun. I mean, if I could walk to Alpha Centauri simple as walking through this door -” he gestures to the archway leading to spacecraft engineering, “then I think that’d be kinda keen, man.” He cuts a glance at the general. “But if you *like* the idea, something tells me I need to backpedal at about eighty miles an hour.” He smirks, then says, “I want to put Harrison on the case, man. He’s a solid thinker. Tenacious, too.” He considers for a few moments, then adds, “Maybe it worked as designed. You say it infected our systems? Maybe it didn’t record anything from the prototype, man. Maybe it got left so we’d find it and it’d get in our wires, man.”

“Of course it sounds insane: discarding years of work on a whim /is/ insane.” Kristine pauses to take a slow breath through her nose. “There is a difference between thinking about what’s “keen” and what’s practical. And yes, of course I like the idea. It’s been my focus even before I came to work for Spark.” She seems about to say more on the subject when she catches on to Jensen’s report. “Someone’s trying to steal our data?” She bites her lip angrily to keep from saying something someone will regret. “Or if not steal it, destroy it,” she adds, looking back at Busby.

Jensen chuckles at Busby’s comment, offering his own smirk in return. Quickly, however, he gets back to the more serious matter. “I haven’t ruled out sabotage. The infection appears to be one hell of a firewall. Whoever built this thing is no slouch when it comes to programming. My gut feeling is more towards making sure if anyone found it they couldn’t trace it to the source.” the General replies. “I’ve doubled the guard on any further test flights undertaken by our pilots. I’d recommend similar procedures for yours as well.”

Kinako edges just slightly over so that she is now more behind the general than previously. She is looking at Mister Busby with a -very- polite sort of disbelief mingled with incredulity. After a cautious moment of nervous pondering and a low-key throat clear, she speaks up. “Ahh, sumimasen, many pardons, but is Mister Harrison sir available? This is of course possibly not as important as the present discussion but if someone could kindly give him a message I would be most appreciative.”

Busby nods. “All right, man. Already done.” He turns toward Kristine and says, “Relax, man. I fell off the caffeine wagon this morning *and* I ate three doughnuts. With chocolate icing. And candy sprinkles. Last time I did that, I got this great idea for an immortality machine that ran on lemming-squeezings.” He deactivates his PDA, then says, “I’m gonna go sleep this off before the twitches hit, man.”

Kristines mouth falls open slightly as Busby speaks. She stares at him, mumbling, “Lemming…” Her eyes squinch shut and stay that way for a long moment. When she opens them again she manages to give Busby a helpless grin, then clamps her lips together.

Jensen chuckles. “Strangely enough, I have been there. During the Texas border skirmish of ’21…” he says to Busby, his expression taking on one of reminiscing. In a moment, however, it vanishes back to the stern face.

Kinako blinks. Once, twice, three times. Carefully, she withdraws her PDA and taps a couple of things. “…lem-ming,” she murmurs under her breath, and reads what the PDA produces. Once, twice, and once again for good measure. “…nani ga?” She turns a great gray doe-eyed expression upon General Jensen, and hushed-whispers, “…what did he say? Is he unwell? What did he say? It… sounds like he may have squeezed small rodents into a caffeinated drink, and that cannot be correct.”

Sharpening my scythe

We’ve got a lot of characters that have been inactive for 90 days or longer.

As of June 1, they’ll become potential targets for a new round of “narrative landscaping.” I’ll start writing them out of the OtherSpace story in episodes of death and destruction that’ll put a close on the character’s story and perhaps generate RP hooks for the friends and enemies they leave behind.

Idle characters may have automatically changed passwords over the months. If you want to log in to save your character but cannot seem to connect to that character, please notify me at jointhesaga@gmail.com and I’ll change the password for you.

No dice?

Writing about my past tendencies to slaughter the occasional character back in the day and thinking about my desire to take OtherSpace truly back to basics got me wondering: maybe we should just abandon the premise of a stats/skills system. Eliminate dice. No rolls. Just see where the narrative rolls and let the players and referees manage the outcomes, even if they sometimes lead to character deaths.

If it seems reasonable for a character to try something, regardless of whether they have X level of Y skill on their sheet, let them go for it and consider whether it makes sense the way they present the narrative. If it makes sense and helps the story flow, it works. If it doesn’t seem plausible (or if the story might benefit from extra tension by throwing in a complication), the referee can decide it doesn’t work – or it works, but with unintended consequences.

Consider “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” as an example. From a narrative standpoint, Indiana Jones cleverly switches a bag of carefully measured sand for the idol on the altar in the Peruvian temple. So, he succeeds in grabbing the idol. The unintended consequence, of course, is that he misjudged the sand just enough that it triggers the trap that starts the big stone ball rolling.

We did this sort of thing a lot in the early days of OtherSpace, before we introduced a skill system and taskrolls. It does come with the potential for unintended behind-the-scenes consequences, such as rages against the ref. But it certainly would streamline the process of running a scene – especially those roll-intensive combat activities that we now seem to avoid like the plague because they can take hours to run.

Greeking out in Durham

This column appeared in The Herald-Sun in May 2014:

I haven’t started spritzing everything with Windex.

Yet.

But I’m thinking about it.

It’s been a wild year since I took the unprecedented (in my life) step of getting baptized, joining the Greek Orthodox Church so that I could marry into a (very) Greek family.

Genetically, I’m a mix of Scotch-Irish, Dutch and German. I’m about as Mediterranean as a polar bear. So, I could definitely relate to John Corbett’s character in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Here are things I’ve observed about this new culture I’ve plunged into:

  • Lots of talking, emphatically, often repeatedly about the same things.
  • Much gesturing. Don’t just say something when you can also wave your hands around to drive home the point.
  • Family drama. They may drive each other (and me) crazy sometimes, but they remain tight-knit and (yes, OK, maybe grudgingly at times) loving.

Wow. That sounds a little negative, I guess. I’m not sure it is, though. Maybe in the past I’ve just been too quiet, too repressed, too restrained with my emotions.

I confess this much: They’re rubbing off on me.

In the past year, I’ve gotten more on-the-sleeve with my feelings. I’ve caught my hands flailing around when I’m particularly frustrated about something. And I’ve been known to reiterate complaints.

I wonder if eventually I’ll mimic Michael Constantine’s character in the movie, squirting Windex as a cure for everything from psoriasis to poison ivy.

Even if I don’t go that far, I’ll probably grow more vocal.

Maybe it’s a healthier way to be. One thing that’s never in doubt is where anyone stands within the family network. I don’t see a lot of Deep South “bless-your-heart” sweetness with an undercurrent of sarcasm. When they like you, you know it.

One amazing thing about my adopted culture:

The food. They love to cook. My godmother’s husband – an Athenian transplanted to North Carolina – keeps a pit in the back yard where he turns fresh lamb on a spit.

My brother-in-law John makes a delicious spanakopita.

My wife cooks for us at least three or four times a week, from Greek fish dishes such as plaki to feta-stuffed chicken breasts.

But my favorite time of year is now upon us: Greek festival. Next weekend, I plan to volunteer at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, where they’ll serve everything from gyros to baklava sundaes.

I’ll help and help and help and help until they have to wheel me away.

Wes Platt can be reached at wplatt@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.