October News

Hi everyone

The site has had a few days hiatus, but is now largely back online with a new provider Style:Cymru.  I must declare an interest here as they’re providing this space for free, but I’m also working with Style:Cymru to provide website design and hosting to small and medium enterprises.  If you’re looking for a hands on approach and 20 years experience of web technologies you could benefit from Style:Cymru’s approach to Web Design.

Most of the site is up and running again, I’m still looking around in case I missed anything, but my principle work lately is at dailywords.co.uk and my OU work has been sucking me in during that last month too.  There are big changes at the OU, many of them about being more student centered, and unlike most large organizations, they seem to really have something going for them in this sphere.

I’ll be returning to the books again soon.  I am preparing a print anthology of works from DailyWords, because I have enough material already, and for here I am going to be pushing out some shorts about the Mission universe as well.

In case I haven’t said before, the current run of the Mission universe as a Roleplaying game has come to an end, I don’t anticipate any more of that for another four and a half years.  I need to let it have time to settle and to push out the books that cover the roleplaying that’s happened.

My current vision is:-

  • True Daughter – A fuller mid-time history of the Mission Universe interwoven with the story of a Human-Mandorn hybrid.  (About 16,000 words into it)
  • Strange Girl – Jemima’s story.  School lasts until age 26, humans live until they are about 400.  Jemima is the survivor of a kidnap/murder attempt, using rule of The Garden to do away with her and her cohort.  Granted almost unlimited life in a universe of the long lived, she gains a unique perspective on the development of civilizations and the cold death of the universe.  If you live a million years, could you connect?  (About 5000 words into it)
  • The Crow Directive – The story of the first intergalactic war, with Captain Crow and the crew, including Alice, (see the short story about her her already on site).  (About 30,000 words into it)
  • Second Wave – Working title, Wrench, Avery and Bill work to undo the damage from the first intergalactic war as chaos rage around them, venturing into the Second Galaxy once more to broker peace, and make some very strange discoveries.
  • Aw, look!  So cute!” – Working title.  A new space-faring species makes itself known during the second intergalactic war, with devastating consequences.  Probably also source material for when we resume roleplaying Mission if I don’t drop dead first.

And lastly in this post I want to remember Albert A. Temple, writer and cartoonist of Gene Catlow.  I followed Gene Catlow for ten years, but Mr Temple had been writing it since 2000, before I ever came up with Mission, and that feels like a long time.  I never wrote to Mr Temple and I hadn’t logged on to Gene Catlow for most of this year, so I only learned just now that he died in March 2017 and that the story remains unfinished.  There were many people that knew him, and I link here to one of the forums with people in it that did, and the Gene Catlow site.


RIP Albert Temple

May News

Because life has been, um, up and down, I haven’t written anything substantive for months.
One of the things about writing for is that my head must be clear somewhat, and that isn’t going to happen so I’m trying new approaches. I thought a status update would be a good idea.
The Mission universe basically has two versions of what is canon, the books draw on what happens in the games, but the book canon is sometimes different as I redraw detail in the light of writing. The game canon tries to remain consistent, but I take very few notes during the game as I don’t “see” things until asked about them or reminded of them, I store a great deal of information in the heads of players where their actions are important to them, and as such the consequences of their actions too if they are to make it into prose.
Currently I have in process three books:-
Strange Girl – Jemima’s Story
If you have played i the games and met Jemima you will have heard all sorts of rumors about her, in the game universe the sort of thing that floats around is that she is a million years old, she can absorb planets, she’s a super being, that sort of thing. Most of this is true.
The other super being in the universe is Layla, (Eleanor, who will not get a Supergirl costume now under any circumstances, [You’d make a kickass Supergirl cosplayer]), who has true superpowers, flight and Psionics, which weren’t around in the Mission universe before the Crow Directive.
Oh, each Galaxy is effectively a universe to itself in Mission. It’s not so much that the physical laws are different, which they are not, it’s more that they are so distant. I also try to keep up with the latest thinking in cosmology, but I’m not a cosmologist so please forgive my mistakes and inventions.
I’m working on True Daughter, this is the story of the war in the second timeline, (there are three, see later post), in which the Squalia and the Humans of the second Galaxy (Andromeda) invade as a consequence of the interference of the Crow Directive, and Alice’s interference in it. (See http://www.missionthegalaxy.com/alice, but please bear in mind that this short tale now diverges from the Game Canon).
The True Daughter in this case is the hybrid child of The mandorn, (See http://www.missionthegalaxy.com/mission-species-the-mandorn, a very short treatment from the sourcebook for Mission), involved in the War of Second Timeline.
The other book currently in production, slowly, is The Crow Directive. This is the story of the original campaign that started the five year thread of Mission beyond the original one-off role-plays, the one where Crow and her crew went and played. It turned into a deeply moral play and there were many threads left unexplored as well as the main story being, well, an epic galaxy spanning roller coaster.
For anyone new, the two books already written are Hal: A Diaspora, the story of how humans left Earth and its destruction; Sadness is Conductive, a dark exploration of a Mind gone wrong. That came out of my head, no-one asked me to write it, unlike Hal, which came out of the desire of players to know about the history of Mission.
This entry is cross posted with small edits to https://www.facebook.com/missionthegalaxy

True Daughter Excerpt

Dark times have been around for me personally, so I haven’t posted for a while.

This is an excerpt from the beginning of what is technically novel 4,


I have seen nebulae rise as if a great cloud in planet-rise. I have seen the globes of dust left by supernovae. I have seen the surface of stars raging their hydrogen song up close, and the beginning of life in ponds of nutrient rich methane on gas giants.

For all this, for all this wonder and glory, I am grateful to our age and the powers granted it. I know of our history and how lucky we are that the singularity event that created our civilisation didn’t swallow us whole.

And yet, there is nothing quite like getting up late to a hot cup of tea and a bacon sandwich.


I’m a half-breed, earns you a little high five from The Mandorn. Means your mommy or daddy was a human open enough to partner with a being that, while individually having its own existence, is also one great big gestalt of about eighty million component parts all talking to each other.

The Mandorn. Blue human beings, and this is an important distinction from merely human. Being human is something that all sentients share; being human is the base condition, some ineffable consciousness that all sentients have, and in the languages spoken or grunted, their name for their species is translated, essentially, as “human” because human really means “people wot grew up on a given planet,” when you get down to brass tacks.

Human Beings are those people whose ancestors, a distant hundred thousand years ago, grew up on old, lost and destroyed Earth. Or those people who can breed with them without intervention. There are two classes of those people. One of them doesn’t concern us. You and I will never meet them. They are referred to in an obscure, and frankly probably fictional account of the adventures of one Captain Crow and her jolly crew. The other is immediate and very real, and that is The Mandorn. They’re blue.

It is blue.

Oh, no, they said, write the account they said, as if no-one knows what you’re talking about, they said. How am I supposed to explain the inexplicable? What are the odds that a singular, telepathic creature evolves on a planet that looks and behaves exactly like eighty million blue human beings?

In an infinite universe, yes, mathematically speaking, one in one. That’s a lot of old tot though. Mathematically speaking there could be a Boltzmann Brain out there in the cosmos, some free floating, space going human brain perfectly able to perceive and move about in the universe, formed by the random accretion of matter into a fully functioning being.

Have we found one? No. Are we likely to? No. Is it an impossibility? No. Merely extremely unlikely.

We still haven’t seen a proton spontaneously decay. We, The Conglomerate, have seen just about everything else, thanks to the Minds.

So, I’m a half-breed. My mother is a human being, and my father is The Mandorn, though somewhat apart from the great hive of the gestalt because it used to drive my mother crazy when he ignored the simple protocol of bringing home the same body if he’d been off wandering about and socialising.

The Mandorn has this gestalt personality, but each component also has a personality, largely to facilitate some sort of thinking process between the components, but also having the side effect that individuals can have lives that are quite far away from whatever goals the main, um well The Mandorn has a phrase for this, “The main body of work” which implies that The Mandorn is doing something, but asked outright it will say that it is beyond human understanding.

What this gives me, by some quirk of genetics and mutation, is green skin, in this respect I am unique, apparently; some degree of telepathy with The Mandorn, it just a sounds like a lot of old noise to me, mostly; and a free tour of whatever is fascinating and cosmic from The Mandorn anytime I go make puppy eyes at it.

What I actually do, as a true daughter of The Mandorn, is persuade a few hundred of them to be my non-player characters in a “medieval” live roleplaying game, which I run on the home planet so I can take advantage of the telepathy.


Historians and contemporary sociologists will say that The Conglomerate has no money and has not had any since human beings went into space. Historians will stick with that view. This is because, in my view, historians need to remove the stick and see that society changes.

Contemporary sociologists will say that there is a complex and ever changing system of favour, gratitude and beneficence that produces a complex byplay of social obligation and debt that is mediated only by the moral and ethical consideration of the relevant parties and local interaction.

In my view contemporary sociologists say this sort of thing because they have inserted a similar looking stick to the one the historians need to remove; main difference being that the contemporary sociologists have used some sort of glue to keep it there and tend to smoke pipes and wear berets while they pontificate. It wouldn’t surprise me if the chief sociologist, if there is one, wears a pointy hat and carries a crook and a chalice.

The Minds have a much clearer idea of what is going on in the universe. In their view, as they tell it, we do what we want as long as our neighbours let us get away with it.

That is why the most interfering people in the galaxy are human beings; apparently they don’t feel that people should be allowed to get away with it. Whatever “it” is.

I take the view that if people are going to do things because I asked them, then good, thanks, that’s great. If I do things because they asked me, then good too, super, I was interested enough to get involved. It’s not a favour, I don’t need any sort of social currency in return.

Actually, I guess there is a social currency, probably around who we enjoyed working/playing with and whether we want to repeat the experience. To state the obvious, if I’m an asshole then people aren’t going to want to play with me.

So anyhow, I run games with a few hundred of The Mandorn’s components acting as pretty clearly signalled non-player characters. With the help of Cedric, a friendly Mind I co-opted into helping coordinate things I can run some good stuff. Cedric’s manufactory is mostly devoted to making things for the game, so we end up with some good gear.

One of the nice aspects is that we can have some pretty lethal looking gear around, and the players, if they are in some sort of battle, can hit The Mandorn, and each other, as hard as they like; Cedric keeps a field around each player that ameliorates the effect of any possible harm.

Yeah, I run games.

And ladies can run about in next to no armour and still have a decent armour class.


Men can do this too, but there is an old school penchant for big, meaty armour going around. A lot of it has cooling gear in it. And powered joints. My rule is that you can’t have a sword that is bigger than you.

This is my principle activity.

I like games.

Then the war came.

I have a large army of trained fighters that are pretty fit and used to a lot of activity. Alright, they use swords and weak laser pistols, but it’s easy to upgrade a laser pistol. Very easy.

1. Unhappy landing

Ship wide.

“I have to shut down my higher functions. If you are not actively engaged in combat, please remain in your cabins. I have initiated lifeboat protocol. Autonomous systems will remain online. Caution. Caution.”

This calm message repeats throughout the ship several times; the people moving around the ship are the people preparing to do battle, and thousands of ship’s avatars, now all in linear processor mode, waiting for the engagement. The only other person in any position to influence things resides in chair in the main interface terminal.

“Now, we’ve got about fifteen minutes, and then I’m gone. We can do this autonomously but I bet you’d rather I was here.” The woman looks up, at the ‘helmet’ hovering above her head.

“I wish you’d get on with it.”

“Your inherent reluctance is a block.”

“You’re about to use my brain as the central processor for the ship, I’m nervous.”

“Yes, but you have to be willing.”

“I am.”

“Yes, but frankly Yolanda, not totally willing, and I’m about to give up my sentience, so I really need to be sure.”

“The enemy are coming, let’s do something about that?”

“They’re not really the enemy you know, they’re misguided.”

“Misguided or not, they’re going to destroy our way of life. You said that in many of your projections it’s already too late.”

“It was too late when Crow let them live.”

“You can’t commit genocide.”

“I know, so it was always too late. Things are going to change. But we won’t survive if we don’t do something about it.”

“Won’t we be just different?”

“We’ll be subsumed.”

“Then let’s get on with it.”

Yolanda the Sacrifice.

She’s been called that a year now; since the ceremony in the game. The game posited that someone would have to give their life for the rest for the rest of the players, i.e. give up their hobby with this group. It’s a big deal, doing that. You might have been running with the same crew for a hundred years, you know them. They know you. They are your friends, you confidants, your family. You have to give that up.

It’s not a thing that happens often in games, maybe once in a lifetime, which means four or five hundred years; given how long human beings and other humans live, this is about right.

The Had I Only Known’s avatar approached the games master one day, with news.

“Real War?” Lisa, green skinned, partly human, partly of The Mandorn, had looked disturbed.

“You’ve heard of the Andromeda Affair?”

“Yes, of course I have, it’s been all over the nets for years now. Crow and her crew saved a bunch of, er, silicon? Anyhow some other kind of life-form in the other galaxy. I thought it was a load of baloney. You’d need lifetimes to reach Andromeda, even with you guys.”

“Normally true. We made them a new ship.” Lisa’s eyes went flat.

“We’re going to talk about that later. At length.” The avatar, Ephraim, had sighed, somewhat theatrically, at that point.

“Yes, I imagine we are.”

So Lisa has been training her troops since then.

Yolanda and the others have been put through fire and ice, through high-g and zero-g training. The fields have been less effective. Lisa managed to get the women into heavier armour and the men into lighter armour. Then she proposed a low tech space game while putting the fantasy, so carefully designed to allow daft armour, on hiatus. So she got them into spacesuits. Then space armour.

“What are really doing Yolanda?” One of them had asked one day on a private channel. “The suits are reporting weeks of power now, not days; and at high activity too. They can sustain us for months if we’re lost. What’s going on?”

Yolanda explained it. Explained the war front encroaching upon their game. Explained how the Minds were closing down, and how there would have to be human intervention.

There was shock. A real war. With real fighting.

Some people panicked. Some people, the really dangerous ones, got pumped about it. The rationals wondered what it would mean and what they could do to help.

She picked groups. The rationals and the panickers she put together, and people stopped panicking. The pumped people she made into marines.

They held a lottery to see who would become the ship’s Mind. Yolanda won.

By chance.

The odds were about seven thousand to one.

Or if you were the ship and in Yolanda’s thrall, about one in one. So she was chosen.

“I’m nervous. Who wouldn’t be nervous?” She says.

“You’ve died once, I’ve sustained you, you’re used to being in a virtual environment. This isn’t that different.”

“Isn’t it? Lives are going to depend on me.” Ephraim looks her in the eye.

“Yes, and soon. So can you just give yourself a moment to adjust?”

“I think I’ve done all the adjustment I’m doing. Let’s just do it.” Yolanda rolls her eyes. She can see advice coming.

“Ok. Just pace yourself, despite what I just said, this isn’t like playing in a simulation.”

“Alright.” And despite Ephraim’s doubts, she tries to calm her mind, knowing that her green friend and so many others depend on it.

Yolanda’s head has already been swept clean and smooth and there is nothing to interrupt the passage of the superfine needles into her head as the helmet lowers. The sensation is odd for Yolanda, she feels the needles at the surface, but there is no pain, just a coldness, and then her eyes go wide open as the needles penetrate her brain, becoming feathers that bifurcate as if they are tiny trees growing in her physical mind. Every connection is used, every neuron fires, every synapse is connected, hardwired to the ship. For Yolanda it is the biggest sensation she has ever had. It is complete and utter bliss, she feels that she knows all, sees all, and then her mind explodes in true understanding.

2. Expansion

Minds have a size and the human mind is no different. This size is to do with the physical size that is mapped in the brain to allow body and mind to be coordinated. It can be tricked and is a subject to a certain distortion when needed. This distortion is resisted in extreme circumstances, there needs to be a period of training, of adaption and habituation.

Yolanda is experiencing this now. Precisely because it is such a trope in movies, she is standing on a white plain, no shadows, no features, no furniture. Just Ephraim standing opposite her in his most usual avatar form. A slim frame wearing a sort of beige dress that is a vogue right now, slit up both sides to allow freedom of movement, and some loose shorts beneath. Yolanda is dressed in some loose slacks and a polo shirt. The shirt is yellow and has the logo of the ship on it.

“Starting from scratch huh?” Says Ephraim, “That is sage, but we’re short on time.”

“So we’re not doing some sort of training montage where I do incredible things in a short amount of time because it’s not real?” Ephraim gives her an old fashioned look.

“It’s all too real and the training is more about becoming more than you are.” He raises his hand and the white featureless plain changes. It is a control room. There are consoles and displays everywhere and people moving around purposefully. “Crikey is this how you see me inside?” His voice has some degree of incredulity about it.

“More or less.”

“Hopeless.” He waves his hand again. The people moving around slow to a crawl of barely perceptible movement. “This is more like it, look more closely.”

Yolanda leans in to one of the consoles and sees that the display initially looks like static has taken over, but, as she concentrates, the static becomes coherent and she can zoom in on a section of it. As she does so she seems to enter a dual state, as if she is concentrating very hard, and at the same time, paying little attention to anything.

She looks at Ephraim.

“I’m still looking at the detail, how is that happening?”

“That’s lesson one. You’re going to divide your attention, you have to. The ship is big and you have to pay attention to many things at once.”

“But you have loads of autonomous systems.”

“I do, but you can’t rely on those. And you can’t, still, do everything at once.” Ephraim looks about, clearly focussed elsewhere for a second. “They’re coming. Fifteen minutes. Look over here, don’t lose what you’re looking at.” They walk over to another console, Yolanda looking somewhat distracted. “These are all the conversations I’m having right now.” Down the screen there are millions of microscopic threads containing the dialogue of each conversation going on right now.


Alice - Criminal

There is no help for some.

No redemption.

No salve to soothe the tortured soul.

It is said that some men just want to see the world burn.

But it is not just men.

Any creature, who can think well enough, might want to see the world burn.

For some, the horror is existence is too much to bear.

We examine one such case.

We examine one small part of one such case.


The Human Condition

The problem is that the human condition doesn’t allow for the constant surveillance that provides service instantly.

Big brother, or, equally, sister, cannot be allowed into every moment.  All the big brothers and sisters know this.

One can ask for privacy and get it.  With the technology at hand, one can verify it as far as it possible to do so.

That is pretty far if one has all the equipment at hand.

What this means for the modern human being is that all the extent of one’s senses are available.  The technology buried in one’s head is the check and one might look in all the nooks and crannies using all the software tricks and enhancements that some with being fully connected and enhanced in your own mind can deliver.

It is an interesting anthropological note that most humans with such enhancements keep them at a distance from their “true” selves.  The sects that absorbed the kind of living that comes with complete integration split off from the main branch of humanity thousands of years ago, and they have gone their own way, exploring the universe in places so deep that they cannot, even in theory, return by any means known even to the great Minds of the Conglomerate.

Such beings are said to be the next step, and some few from the great mass of humanity leave each year to find their siblings, remarking usually how tiny humans seem once they are fully integrated.  This is obviously not a natural state in which to live, but humanity rolls on and the fully enhanced leave.  The rest of humanity parties and gossips and show no pretensions to greatness, often going to farm or inhabit a new planet by becoming frontiers people, opting for a hard but fulfilling life.

Others go out of their way to mix with the other species in the galaxy, the few that mix.  The alligator-like I’Drothen scare little children before proper introduction, the Iffens float about being impossible cartoon-like blue whales with disturbingly human arms and hands.  The Mandorn, ineffable, inexplicable, humans, top to toe blue and intensely telepathic amongst the elements of the gestalt mind that forms the species.  The Sirithi, upright insect-like beings, drones who inevitably give their “job” as diplomat/spy; in any event, they are unable to form the common languages of the galaxy and need constant translation.

They all have in common that they can hear and see in the right range to mix with humans on a daily basis and that they have common enough interests that they might desire to do so.  There are millions of less compatible species in the galaxy that choose to remain in their own little corner away from the strangeness of the big six.

No, the humans have a good time; and as the peacemakers, interferers, arbiters and general busybodies of the galaxy the other species look at them indulgently and let them get on with being fidgets.  Make no mistake, they are capable; but government is done by the people who turn up, and in a galactic milieu, there is very little government that can actually be achieved.

So most humans enjoy the enhancements that come with information at hand, but they value privacy, which is why telepathy simply doesn’t cut it for most human beings, because the inside of your head is the ultimate privacy, and no-one wants people poking around in one’s head, just in case that basest thought or desire rears its ugly head, and again has to be suppressed, for the sake of our sanity, our decency, and our society.

In a galaxy where the population of just human beings, let alone other humans, is counted in trillions of people there are inevitably going to be a few outliers.


Here she is, being born.

It is a fascinating aside that most mothers desire to go through birth painlessly, but the human body is not ready for that.  The reactions that are most desirable, the tightening of the birth canal after this extraordinary act, the “let down” of mother’s milk arriving for baby, these things are driven by a complex set of hormones and reactions in the human body and to being painless, completely painless is to interfere with that process.

The Avatars and Mind of the General Good, know this.  The great ship has, after the access to the sum total of human knowledge.

All that stuff about how the body works, it can be faked, the tech is there.  The human mind is more subtle though, it can be manipulated yes, but is not happy about it.  Mothers want to give birth as naturally as possible.  It is a really a balancing act.  Most Minds get it right, most of the time.

This child is silent.  Feeds readily.  Looks normal, seems normal.  But she will not meet her mother’s eye.

Here is the child, Alice, at two.

At two children are allowed as much free rein as is consistent with their safety.  On board a ship this means that the ship looks in on the child constantly, analysing the risks and benefits.

Parents are free from constant worry, child rearing is a joy.

Most children manage to get themselves in trouble, or at least what would be trouble if not for the intervention of their constant and invisible guardian.  This guardian is not averse to letting the child hurt itself somewhat; there must be a learning experience so that that the child grows up knowing what is hazardous and what is not.

At two, Alice is never in hazards way.  Not once.

The General notes this, slight anomaly, sees how she approaches even mild dangers, stairs, a table that seems unstable, a glass that someone has dropped; it sees how she practises avoidance and some deeper level of analysis that is beyond her years.

Still, just a slight anomaly.

She avoids danger as if she knows, true, but she might be a very bright child.  Still, privacy is privacy and the General takes the view that there is time yet, and even looking into such a young mind can interfere with its development, so there is really no choice, and she is left to her own devices.

She learns to be social, and with her mother and father she has a loving relationship.  As with all parents in the Conglomerate there is a variation between complete unconcern and doting worship of the growing child, and of course, she plays on this like a virtuoso on a violin, her parents indulging her every whim as far as possible.

They’re not stupid though, and the ship is there too, so when she discovers space for the first time by looking out of a window, she wants to go out into space, in a spacesuit.

Tantrums follow, but there is no moving a parent who loves their child, and the ship just won’t do it either.  There are boundaries.

She is five now, and she has learned that the ship’s invisible and concrete presence is around all the time.  The General evinces few Avatars, a preference but not an especially weird one; and the young child learns that all she has to do is address the ship by name and it will be there for her every need, though not necessarily desire.  Every child must eat themselves sick on ice cream once in their lives if they are unregulated.

This five-year-old has learned about privacy.  Of course she has, though most children are about seven by the time they desire it, and have learned a certain discretion.

She is five, she has not.

Alice has learned, by trial and error to invoke it.  This is extraordinary enough, but she has learned to test it, and the General has been found lacking.  There are no excuses to five-year-old, no matter how egregious the situation she puts herself in, for her, privacy is non-negotiable.

The General Good has, because it is a moral creature, has to give the little girl some genuine privacy.  Her parents engage in a long talk about this with the General, and it is agreed that if she can both ask for it, and test it, then genuine privacy is hers on request, and she must suffer the consequences.

Her mother thinks that the little girl is going die.

This is not the case.

The little girl is going to get her wish.

Now, there is privacy and privacy, and this little girl knows that she can expand her zone of privacy.  She is careful, she does nothing that has consequences.

She hates the girls and boys she is required to mix with, no-one knows why.  It makes the General nervous when she invokes privacy of the most severe kind, making it morally difficult to eavesdrop on the other children and monitor their interactions, save them from the social difficulties that arise from having so many people of just id and ego in a room together.

Alice does nothing to these children.  She has power, and knows it, and she could be a horrible child to them.  There would be consequences, but it would be too late, her power would have been exercised and they would be less and she, more.  She does nothing, however, but be pleasant and nice and caring and sharing.  Every analysis that the General runs shows this to be the case, and Alice, she behaves perfectly because it is part of her longer term goal that she is trusted.  The General knows something is wrong.  Maybe she is a little too perfect, maybe she is acting, but a five-year-old child?  Normally they are manipulative because they want ice-cream.

It is the day after her sixth birthday.  She has had a lovely time, with all her most beloved enemies from play school.  She has been an angel.  She is a perfect child and her parents love her.  All who meet her love her.

Now; she is six, and it is the day after and she invokes the strongest privacy she can imagine.

The ship responds; she is, after all, an angelic child, what could she possibly do?


Her private time has involved an Avatar.  The General manifests as a gruff, moustachioed, old geezer from the Civil War in America from the old eighteen-hundreds.  Thousands and thousands of years later it means nothing to most people, but a few historians have asked him why.

“’Cuz Ah like the uniform.”  He generally, hah, drawls.  “And Ah kin leave the war and th’ racism behind, but Ah git mah shiny buttons.”

Historians often have to ask what racism is, at that point, and when he explains it, they’re usually open mouthed.

“Well, shit.”  They say.  “We were dicks back then.”

“Yep, shore were.”  Says the General.

Private time.

Alice spends time with an Avatar.  This is also difficult for the General because an Avatar is the ship and the ship is in each Avatar, but privacy, well he just has to catch up later.  This Avatar has been gone for a month.

Alice has talked it into building a spacesuit for a six-year-old.

There are a few things in that worth expanding on.

Firstly, she has to talk to this Avatar every day very strongly about keeping her secret because it’s a surprise for her daddy and we wouldn’t want to spoil that, would we?

Secondly, the impulse to keep the child safe is going to be very strong in any Avatar, one might expect that it is an overriding impulse, but do not underestimate Alice’s manipulative abilities.

Thirdly, though she doesn’t know it yet, Alice is powerfully telepathic, and the place that she learns to control her nascent abilities is with the Avatar, who as night follows day is naturally telepathic because all Avatars have the capacity to hear human thought.

The Avatar doesn’t stand a chance.

Within six months of their first meeting, the Avatar has built her a functioning space suit out of parts picked up from around the ship and not missed because even the great Minds of the conglomerate do not keep track of every last thing.  The suit looks and behaves exactly as if the ship’s manufactory had built it excepting in two respects.  It is built for a six-year-old girl.  The tiny Mind inside it will do whatever she wants.

So, it should not be a surprise that the suit is powered.  Nor should it be a surprise that she chooses the time when even a Mind is relatively busy to step out of the airlock and jet into deep space.

It is not luck that she chooses to step out of an airlock that is at the rear of the ship, where the great thrusting engines reside.

It is luck that makes her veer off from the direct line of thrust as the ship establishes the giant Warp-Field of the superluminal drive.

She watches in awe as the great ship establishes the coruscating field, and is a luck, or providence, that means she is in a region in which she will not be caught up in the field, and become a small smear on the surface; or that she is not affected by the great thrusters as they burst into life and take the ship irretrievably away from her, leaving her there, stranded, in deep space.


Alice loves the images of the ship warping away from her.  It is to her a streak penetrating the infinite as light rushes to catch up, and a long tail of fire from the rockets trailing away after it like a ghost.

For the tiny Mind on board the spacesuit, it’s a real “ohshit” moment.

It is at that moment that it truly wakes up and realises how truly manipulative the little girl has been.

Without remedial action, this is a truly dead little girl.

The primary responsibility now to keep Alice alive the suit takes steps.  First, it spends a moment reconfiguring the tiny manufactory aboard the suit to make a sort of anti-freeze, but it cannot possibly make enough to replace Alice’s total blood supply, so this must sort of convert her blood to the substance required.  No problem there, like cyanide the tiny amount it makes will replicate itself in her blood stream.

This will kill her as the haemoglobin in her bloodstream ceases to function, effectively strangling her from within her own blood stream, so it administers, without consultation, a powerful sedative from the store aboard.  This will stop her suffering any unpleasant side effects.

It will also forestall any further manipulation on her part.

Now, this dead little girl hurtling through space can be preserved, but her mind is of the most concern.  That must be saved, because there is no guarantee that this body can be revived properly.  With her out of the picture, the little Mind manufactures more substrate, exactly as much as it calculates can contain a quiescent human mind.  This is important.  Her mind must be quiet because the little suit only has as much material as they were carrying when they left the ship.  To run a fully functioning human mind would require nearly kilogram of material as a unique entity, and that cannot be afforded.  She lives on in seventy-four grams of material, all that she is, all that she will ever be.

They have been adrift for some hours now, and the little Mind works feverishly to get the job done, and the little girl’s mind is transferred to the substrate with no problems.  The little Mind is pleased with its work and moves to the next stage.

It injects the prepared anti-freeze into her arteries.  There is a moment of terror when the supposedly completely unconscious and unaware girl thrashes in the confines of the suit, the Mind can do nothing now except activate the fine controls of the suit, freezing her in place as gently as it can, but in her death throes she breaks her arms and legs with the ferocity of her unconscious mind’s desire to escape and survive.  She cannot possibly understand what the suit is doing for her, to what extreme it is going.

She dies, her little, broken body in the suit going limp and lifeless after a minute of thrashing and then she is gone, what remains is a preserved ghost, freezing slowly as the suit reduces the temperature within to cryogenic levels.

There is no more movement from her.

The suit looks about the cosmos, it can match up and knows where it is from star maps calculated at length on board ship.  That itself is no easy talk, the great Minds can do it, moving about at superluminal speeds the Minds and the humans on board experience quite a different cosmos from any given view of it from a planet.  That is for later.

For now, the tiny Mind has to make a choice, and it chooses a star.  The Sirithi will welcome them, or at least rescue them.  It’s not far.  It’s really not far.

It’s only twenty light years.

The little Mind prepares some material for thrust.  It does some calculations.

It will thrust for a year, then the material will be precious.  The batteries of the suit will be weak and the remainder must be saved to preserve the girl’s life, that is the priority.

Spending some precious thrust material, it orients the suit to where the star will be in a thousand years, give or take, and begins a tiny jet of acceleration that will take them to their destination.  Finally, it sets up a powerless detector, essentially the equivalent of a metal ball on a plate to seek out anomalies in the course, and goes to sleep to preserve power.

The suit sails on.

Aboard the ship, there are inquiries and recrimination.  There are records from deep within the inaccessible parts of the ship brought forth, and her parents are inconsolable.  The ship returns to the area of loss, but space is big, and far away a spacesuit is thrusting to a local star, and will soon be out of the frame of reference of the starship, and thus out of time as well, travelling through the void to the future.


Humanity has been space for a good long while by the time the little girl escapes.  Certainly, the time dwarfs the ten-thousand years or so that it took to get from the stone-age to space.  The truth is that the Minds of the galaxy are now reluctant to reveal how long humanity has been in space, because the time is so long that it is, as far as they are concerned irrelevant.

It is irrelevant anyhow.  The expansion of the universe leaves quite a different cosmos than what is seen.  What is seen is old light, far distant from the universal “now” if there is any such thing.

Follow only the light back to its source and you find nothing there, everything has moved.  Go far enough and there may be in fact nothing there except the background uncertainty of nothing happening.  Which means something is happening, but very little.

Space is so vast that even “breaking the rules” finding something that one is looking for is unlikely, especially if it just a spacesuit radiating nothing but a tiny amount of radiation from thrust.

The search is doomed.

Not only that, but the ships carefully navigate to what people have been looking at, if they can, and try to retain some cosmological causality.  That’s very hard, if not impossible too.

The one rule is that stuff happens.  If you break all the other rules you can mess with it before it happens to other stuff, but you can’t make it not have happened.

It’s not true, but all the Minds live by this rule.

It’s sort of to prevent chaos.

Some chaos can’t be helped, though.

A year after the thrust is started it expires, the fuel exhausted, except the physically separate supply for emergencies, and the little suit sails on.  The Mind aboard remains quiescent, then another year passes, and with no perceptible change of state externally, it becomes the equivalent of switched off, only the single hardware switch now capable of returning it to consciousness.

They drift on, the speed built up, relative to their original frame of reference, is about six thousand kilometres per second.

Even at this extraordinary speed, their relativistic state is negligible.  The suit and the Mind and the girl are travelling fast, but not relativistically fast.

So for a thousand years, the girl and the mind and the suit are lost.

Searches become rarer, modelling shows what the suit would have done, but space, it is so vast, and the suit radiates little and occludes nothing, and elsewhere, life goes on.

He parents live, as all humans do, extended lives.  They have other children, who are normal in every way, but now the Minds lie about their privacy; nothing is private from a Mind, but they make the children of the Conglomerate think so, and that amounts to the same thing.  The children are safe and the truth comes out when they are of age, along with a guarantee that what is between a person and a Mind stays that way.

It is a good compromise, and the Council, the humans who have the ultimate authority in the Conglomerate, agree.

The parents age and die, as humans are wont to do, but they never find their missing daughter, and leave instead a legacy, a short note, giving her their love.

Alice found

On a distant planet orbiting a plain yellow sun, a creature of chitin and sinew calls over its supervisor.  The Sirithi are arranged on hierarchical lines in their hives, and reporting up the chain of command is the right and proper thing to do.

The small talk that happens between Sirithi is largely incomprehensible to human beings, an artefact of all sentients, small talk is colloquial and insignificant.

The scientists are fascinated by the small shape found, but this fascination turns to alarm as they realise how fast it is going, and that it is on a collision course with their hive.

The fact of this is accelerated up the ranks.

The Queen, or in terms that a Sirithi would relate to more readily, the Major-General, takes an executive decision.

The hive moves in unison.  There is a month, which is a human being measure of time before the things strikes.  It will be destroyed, and so will the hive.  It is small enough that it could be destroyed, but the Major-General vetoes this.  The thing must be bought into to land, gently.

As it enters this new frame of reference it is travelling at something over twenty thousand kilometres a second.  This is a challenge.

The Sirithi are nothing if not efficient.

Non-relativistic speeds are hard to deal with, but crude methods can be used where there is a need.  The hive launches ships, and unlike the rest of the conglomerate they control and regulate every part of their craft by hand, so to speak, and they plan quickly for the interception.

They cannot bring the thing to a halt, it is simply moving too quickly, the energy must be dissipated.  So with much padding and careful piloting, the thing is nudged into an orbit around their sun.  The thing slingshots around, but they nudge it again and use the tremendous gravity to slow it down.

As the thing absorbs heat and energy, and crucially, as the little switch is activated, the suit begins to wake up and broadcasts a distress signal.

So begins her sojourn with the Sirithi.

They are gentle and efficient, but the sight of them is distressing.  Alice wants her mummy and daddy.  The suit quickly ascertains that they have passed on, and delivers the news as gently as possible, but it is beyond her understanding, and she just wants to go home.

“Home” is on the other side of the galaxy and a thousand years ago.  The General Good has travelled far from that loss and is even now exploring the very edge of the galactic disc, directly opposite from her position.

At that distance, it will take years for the ship to reach her, and even relayed signals will take over a month to reach the ship.

The depth of despair is hard to calculate, and she provisioned and fed, but her fear turns in on itself, and feeds the little girl only self-loathing and fear.  Fear of being alone, fear of the Sirithi, fear of never seeing her parents and friends again.

Within a few weeks they have built an avatar, and a friendly Mind transmits a simulacrum of itself to the hive for their model and they fill it up and present it to the little girl.

Alice clings to it like a lifeline, telling it everything, the carefully crafted androgyny shifting as she adopts it as a father figure, and bends it to her will.

This would go swimmingly for her, if only the Sirithi hive were not keeping an eye on her, and had not been briefed by the tiny Mind aboard the spacesuit.  And if these things were the case, things would go swimmingly for the hive too.  Well, not swimmingly, the Sirithi breathe through nodes in their exoskeleton, swimming is an activity not undertaken by the Sirithi without some considerable preparation.

The only option is to take the Avatar to one side and explain what is being done to it.

This would be fine, except that while she cannot telepathically read the Sirithi at all, she can, in fact, read the Avatar.

Her sense of betrayal is the betrayal of a six-year-old.  It is the sense of betrayal of a six-year-old alone on a planet a thousand years away from her mummy and daddy.  There is a spark of rage.

Rage at being alone.

Rage at being betrayed by her only friend and confidant.

Rage at being unable to manipulate her rescuers.

Rage at the universe, rage that sparks something in her mind, until now nascent, and raw.


They come quickly, though that means little in the vastness of space; the General Good, the Having it All and the I’m a Lucky One.

Each of them Displace an Avatar down to the planet, which is silent.

On their approach, only the beacons have been sounding out their plaintive distress call.  A planet-wide sudden emergency, unspecified.

The three talk on the intimate mode, little flashes of communication passing between them instantly.

:One is being read: The Having it All’s Avatar, Kieran, relays.

:Really?  That seems extraordinary, can you not interdict it?:  These are not precisely the words used, but more the ideas, nuance of meaning.

:I’m reluctant.  It is the child.  She seems, somewhat developed.:

:What has she done to this place?:  The thirds asks, redundantly.  They can all see the devastation.  The mark of a human child’s bare feet running in the earth surrounding each paused, marked by her spinning on the spot, hundreds of Sirithi lie dead as if she has been the centre of an explosion.

They follow the trail of bodies, arms raised in self-defence, uselessly, as the Avatars examine within each brain has been reduced to a sort of brain jam by what looks like an overload of each one, as if it were a computer that could be overloaded.

:I think she is trying to control me: Kieran says.  :It is hard to…:  The Avatar flashes once and collapses.  Before the collapse even beings, the other two Displace back to their respective vessels.

They call a Council.

The ship’s councils report to the Council of the Conglomerate.

Linear processors, robots in effect, are sent to the planet.

They prepare the bodies according to Sirithi customs.  Each one is transported to the nearest hive.

The little girl remains on the planet.

She tries to learn the secret of Displacement from the robots, but they have no real minds to read, just a lot of clever and empathic processing.

No Mind approaches the planet within a light year.

They count the bodies.  The little girl’s rage has killed everything.  Every living thing on and in the planet.  She radiates it again when they tell her that she will not be taken from the planet.

Then they send down mechanisms, things that don’t have anything resembling a mind of any kind, to recover the material of the robots, every single one, dead.

Her rage echoes into the universe, but even her rage has a limit, and the Minds sit well outside it.

The Having it All decides, after carefully off-loading its population that it can’t have it all, that in fact it can have nothing, and terminates itself, leaving the empty and sterile hulk of its former existence for another to use.

The cost is so much, the ethics endlessly debated among the Minds and the Council, separately and together; but Alice begins her almost lifelong incarceration on the planet, the first gaol of the Conglomerate.

Except for six months, she will remain there for the rest of her life.




You can get this short story on Lulu in eBook Format and shortly at Amazon and other outlets for free.

You will also be able to download it here when I’ve converted it.

Simultaneity 2

Continuing on.

We’ve established that things don’t happen at the same time. This is true in almost all circumstances.  Indeed, it has been shown that since we, humans, are in a gravity field, even our head and our feet don’t experience the same time frame.

How do we even function, you ask? That’s not too hard, everything moves slower than this tiny time difference, so we don’t notice it.

Last time, we looked at the speed limit of the universe and the top speed.  By relating it to the human experience you will hopefully have got an idea of what it means when we say that nothing happens at the same time.

In your head, because we used, implicitly, this model, we had two people separated who had synchronised clocks.  That implication is faulty, but it is fixable.

Let’s explore why it is faulty.

My clock says 10am. We’re going to assume it’s accurate to within some arbitrary limit.  What do I mean.  I mean that if you argue that the clock is a bit “out” I’m going to say that we can make it more accurate.  Is this valid? Well, yes and no.  It is certainly valid enough of our purposes, we have already made locks that are accurate enough to only lose or gain a second in a few billion years. That’s pretty accurate, specifically we can measure the difference in time passing between our head and our feet on Earth.  It’s not absolutely true though, because there are fundamental uncertainties built in the universe.  If you can accept that the clock is accurate enough that you will never see a deviation that is not caused by some other effect, then we’re good.

My clock says 10am.

Juno is 48 light minutes away.  Remember that light travels at the speed limit of the universe, so we can make statements like this, it takes any signal at least 48 minutes to travel from Juno to Earth.  Light does top speed, so it’s 48 minutes.

What time is it on the spacecraft?

At MY 10am Juno send a signal to Earth, a clock synchronising signal.

That “beep” is going to arrive at 10.48am my time.

Right well, let’s discount a few things.  Acceleration and gravity will change things, let’s leave them out for simplicity, we can factor them back in after.

So what time did Juno send the signal.


Juno’s 10am is our 10.48am, because we don’t get the signal for 48 minutes, therefore, Juno’s 10am arrives with us those 48 minutes later.

I know I’m labouring this, but I’m going to mess with it down the road, partly due to sound physics, partly due to my fictional universe.

Now, we know that Juno sent a signal a while ago, but Juno’s now is synchronised with our now at 10.48.

That’s the closest we can be.

For the same reason, we can only be as near as 4 years away from Proxima.  Note carefully what I said.

Now, you and I know that is the same as 4 light years away, that 4 year gap is how simultaneous we can be, at most.  (I should probably say “least”)

So anything that happens at that star cannot affect us for 4 years, and we cannot affect that star for that same 4 years.

Good so far?

If you think you’ve understood this, you probably have, it’s not quantum physics.  (Don’t get me started).

Alright, now we’re going to lay a little non-linearity on you.  If you want to know about the weird stuff that comes with a universal speed limit, then you should look at this https://youtu.be/msVuCEs8Ydo.  (It’s a really good intro, don’t be scared)  There are a lot of people who explain it a lot better than me, but I am also arrogant enough to believe that there are still holes, gaps in the knowledge that have been “hand waved” over.  (Bear in mind thought that I’ve been doing cosmic/quantum physics for 45 years as a hobby and I still learn things daily).

Not the point here though.

Here, in this article, I’m going to go for the fiction.

Specifically, I’m going to break the light speed rule and have a think about the consequences.  It doesn’t matter HOW we break light speed, but again, in the interests of our heads not exploding, we’re going to ignore most of relativity, (as we have so far) exactly as I have been explaining some parts of it.

So, no time dilation, nothing like that, just classical travel as though we’re doing low speed and we cannot generally see the results of relativity without really accurate clocks.

What happens if one of the Mind Ships breaks the speed limit?

Let’s take a simple scenario. Let’s say that our spaceship, The RuleBreaker can travel, um at 4 times the speed of light. Remember, there is nothing special about light, but it does provide a convenient measure of the speed limit of the universe, precisely because light travels at top speed.

Let’s further assume that we can’t intercept any signals between the Earth and The RuleBreaker while in transit.  (Because being able to do so has consequences that we’re not ready to discuss).

So, we send a signal to Proxima at 10am 4th July 2016.  It is the “beep’ of our now.

It will arrive no earlier than (taking it to be exactly 4 years), 10am 4th July 2020.  That is when our now will be at Proxima.

Our star ship takes off at the same time, 10am, 4th July 2016.

It arrives at Proxima on 4th July 2017.  The RuleBreaker takes up an orbit and now awaits the signal that we sent at light speed from Earth, it won’t arrive for another 3 years.

Now, here’s the question, has The RuleBreaker travelled to the future or the past?

Earth’s now signal won’t arrive at Proxima until well into the future of The RuleBreaker.

The consequence of this is that we must say that The RuleBreaker has travel into the past.

How can we show this?

The RuleBreaker sends a signal to Earth immediately upon arrival at Proxima.  That signal will arrive at Earth on 4th July 2021, a year after the original signal from Proxima.  This means that The RuleBreaker has sent a signal from the past, (remember Proxima always lies 4 years into our past) to the future, to us, 4 years later.

So have we broken causality?

Any signals arrive at Proxima from Earth could now be intercepted by The RuleBreaker, but that signal would have to be sent after 4th July 2013, because those signals are the earliest that The RuleBreaker can capture, because before then it is not at Proxima to capture anything.

Let’s say that The RuleBreaker stays at Proxima for a year, until 4th July 2018.  In that year it can capture signals from Earth that are sent up until date 4th July 2014.

So far we’re not in too much trouble, but we have clearly broken causality.

You’ll remember that in the first article I laboured the speed limit of the universe at length, and that was because I want to be able to make it clear, um, now, (I’m hilarious), that this idea, causality is directly influenced by the speed limit.

We should be clear now that the universal speed limit means that the consequence of any action doesn’t happen, (or for a certain point of view, even exist) until the effects have travelled to the place it is observed from.

That was a bit obscure.  What I’m saying is that events at Proxima don’t happen as far as Earth is concerned for 4 years.  By the same logic, events at Earth don’t influence Proxima for 4 years.

Until, that is, The RuleBreaker arrives at Proxima.  Now, as far as the ship is concerned, the closest simultaneity is now 1 year apart, not 4, but the rest of the universe still uses that 4 year gap.

This means that a signal from Earth, sent at the same time as the star ship set off to Proxima still has 3 years before it, the signal, will arrive at Proxima.

We have broken causality.  I’m going to call this the Minor Break in Causality.  From a certain point of view we must have travelled back in time, because we can interfere with the natural and normal course of events.  But, note, effect cannot come before cause here, there is still a linear time in everything that we have discussed so far.

Let’s make things a bit more desperate.

The Sun goes nova.  (Um, I’m not sure it can, but for the sake of argument, that’s our scenario).

We’ve got a little colony on a planet of Proxima, and Earth has built another ship.

The sun goes Nova 10am 25th December 2020.  We know it’s going to do this; it’s been showing signs.  But let’s say we only knew yesterday, 24th December.

We know the destruction of Earth is coming, but, and you might not know this, Novas are so powerful that anything “only” 4 light years away will be affected too, rendered inhabitable.  (So yeah, Proxima, don’t go Nova).

Yesterday we launched The Rulebreaker II, which also takes a year to reach Proxima, as with the original ship.  It will get there 24th December 2021, which is three years before the destructive radiation of the Novas will get there, more than enough time to evacuate.

So, yes, we’ve broken causality, but so far only in a “we sped up simultaneity to a year instead of four years”, kind of way.  Note, we’ve IGNORED relativity more or less.  Deal with that after.  This whole section is about going from the non-fiction to the fiction, and what that means.

I’m going to stop there and let that all sink in.  Someone might pick holes in it, and I need a chance to revisit it as well.

It would be nice to have some non-spam comments that think about this idea.


There is nothing in the universe that is human scaled.  Expansion is so fast at the edges that light cannot return from the far reaches of the universe.  Life has taken on different and truly extraordinary forms out there at the edge.

We are surrounded by paradox, move just a little and your time is not the same as someone else’s time, your centre of the universe is different, your signals will differ, your edge of the universe is different.

We don’t see civilisation when we look through telescopes because light is hopelessly slow, the extraordinary proliferation of life happens in recognisable forms, human sized forms later than we can see, because we can penetrate back to the beginning of the universe but we cannot see what is happening now.

Einstein showed us that the very concept of now is slippery.  And it’s slippery in so many ways.

By the time we have talked about now it is the past and yet for someone it is still the future.

Look at closest star, nothing that happens there will reach us for 4 years, (thereabouts).

This is profound, the universe has a speed limit, to understand it we need to scale it down.

When driving long distance, (I live in the UK), it doesn’t really matter how fast I drive the highest average speed I can achieve is about 60mph.  (It’s actually close to 50, but I want to make the sums easier later on and I can do better at night).  It’s as if the motorways were empty and I could still only do 60mph.  I can’t get anywhere faster than that.  It’s what I have to plan for.

The universe is like that, at 60mph I can’t anything about things until I get where I’m going.

If I have no remote communications; phones, telegraph, light signals, then I can literally do nothing until I get there.  (We’re leaving aside the minor difficulty that people might see me coming in the last few hundred yards).

That means that I can’t influence anything until I have arrived.

This is hard to wrap your head around, it seems simple, but it has consequences.

We talk about being a certain amount of time away from places, that’s familiar.  In our 60mph scenario if I’m two hours away then if I always travel at 60mph, (which for our scenario, I do), then I must be 100 miles away.

If something happens at your location and I’m two hours away then I can’t influence it for two hours, at all.

It’s worse than that though.  You’re thinking, “I can phone Friday and tell her that I’m in trouble.”  No, you can’t.  no phones, no light, no nothing.  You have to send someone.  They can travel at 60mph.  Your messenger takes two hours to reach me.  Until then I don’t even know you’re in trouble.  (In my scenario, you’re in trouble, because well, something happened).

Your messenger and I come back.  That takes another two hours.  Your messenger can’t communicate with you, so they and I only know what happened initially, that’s two hours ago when they reach me, and four hours ago by the time we reach you.

I hope you weren’t drowning.

The universe is exactly like that, (there is one exception, but it’s complicated and not really relevant here.  And Einstein didn’t like it.)

At 60mph top speed anything that happens 60 miles away cannot affect me for an hour.

We say that the maximum simultaneity between things happening “here” and things happening 60 miles away is an hour.  In our world, blow up a huge (atomic) bomb, and 60 miles from that event no effects will be felt at all, for an hour.  It’s as if, for that hour, that bomb hasn’t happened.

Actually, from the point of view of someone 60 miles away, it has not happened for an hour.

Nonsense, you’re saying, things that have happened stay happened.  True.  But let me demonstrate what I mean, and remember, if you’re at all knowledgeable about this stuff, I’m dealing with one tiny aspect of the real world because this part seems simple and people get to the weird stuff just too damn fast.

Anyhow I was saying that if we know what time that bomb is going off. (again, ignoring a lot of consequences about time and stuff that happen in the real world), and it’s more than an hour away, i.e. 60 miles, it hasn’t happened for us, and never needs to happen for us.

You should have a good idea by now that we can drive away from the centre of the blast.  Supposing that we start driving the instant the bomb goes off, because we “know”, (we have a clock with an alarm).  We drive away from the centre of the blast at 60 mph.

Now, the bomb’s blast is coming to us at 60mph and we’re driving away at 60mph.  When will the blast reach us?  Never.  That’s common sense.  No problem there.

Let’s say that the bomb has no real effect 240 miles away from the centre of the explosion.  That’s a four-hour radius.  We’re driving away from the bomb, so we drive for four hours.  That places us still an hour away from the bomb’s furthest reach, and since signals need an hour to reach us from that radius, and the bomb stopped having an effect, it never affected us.  We can’t see the result, or be affected by it, unless of course we drive back and see the devastation.  I’m not doing that.

For our scenario, this speed limit is a trick, we’ve slowed down the speed of any signal to human relatable speeds.  We couldn’t function if this was the case because, well for a start we couldn’t see.

If we cover ten times the distance, 600mph, it’s the same.  If we could drive that fast and scaled everything up to that speed, it’s exactly the same.

So, are you still with me at 6000mph?  That’s more than fast enough to reach New York from London in an hour, it should be clearer though that we don’t immediately know what is going on in New York if we live in London.  Still human scaled?

You should, hopefully be still with me at 6000mph, but what about 60,000 mph.  It’s no different, but are the scales getting large?

If we could travel at 60,000mph we could get to the moon in about four hours.  If that’s the speed-limit, then when we look at the moon we’re seeing it as it was four hours ago.  No problem there, because if the speed limit was 60mph it would be like looking at the moon from days ago.

Remember, there are a lot of things I’m ignoring because I want to focus of simultaneity; but there is no loss of accuracy in what I’m saying here, other effects are simply not part of the model and that actually doesn’t matter right now, it doesn’t make any difference.

So, our current speed limit is 60,000mph.  Signals from the moon take four hours, which means that anything that happens there hasn’t happened here for four hours.  For those four hours it cannot affect us.

Be aware, I’m leading you on in baby steps, but not down any garden path, this is real stuff, actually how the universe works.

The difference between our scenarios and the real world is only speed, light, which is the ultimate signal carrier, (because screw you quantum entanglement are you carrying a signal or not?), travels a lot faster than our slow speed limits.  A ridiculous amount faster.

This is how fast it goes, and it can’t go any faster because the universe has a speed limit.



Yes, somewhat over 6½ hundred million miles an hour.

Let’s do some simple sums.

Juno got into orbit around Jupiter the other day.  (Hurrah!  NASA).

The radio signal, (same speed as light) took 48 minutes to get back to Earth and tell us all that it had succeeded.  This means that until that signal came, that event, as far as we’re concerned, hadn’t happened.

(OK, I’m simplifying, Juno got into orbit and then confirmed it using on-board systems and then sent a signal back, but for our purposes we could have been looking through a high powered telescope and spent a little time observing and it would have been the same thing).

That lag, that seems so familiar, because it’s covered in the media all the time with little thought, is deeply profound, we cannot know what is happening “now” to Juno, we can only ever know what happened 48 minutes ago.  That is the closest that it is.  It is literally, universally 48 minutes away.  It now cannot be closer than that without journeying back to Earth.

So, sums.

48 minutes is 4/5th of an hour. (Look at a clock).

4/5th of 670,616,629, well, let’s not do that.  4/5th of something is the same as saying 0.8.

So 0.8 × 670,616,629 is about 536,493,303 miles

So, Jupiter about 536,493,303 miles away by our calculation.

Let’s see what NASA says.  Huh, NASA’s Jupiter page is down right now, so here’s a quote from Space.com instead.

How far is Jupiter from Earth?

Because both planets travel in an elliptical path around the sun, Jupiter‘s distance from Earth is constantly changing. When the two planets are at their closest point, the distance to Jupiter is only 365 million miles (588 million kilometres). From its closest point, Jupiter shines so brightly that even Venus dims in comparison. At its farthest, the gas giant lies 601 million miles (968 million km) away.”

(Space.com, http://www.space.com/18383-how-far-away-is-jupiter.html; retrieved 8 July 2016)

Alright!  It seems that we have a clue.  It’s a bit further away, at the closest distance than our calculation, but certainly with some decent margin of error.  (I never expected to be spot on).

So yes, Jupiter is 48 minutes away, (did I get the 48 minutes right, you find out), and nothing there can affect us for at least that amount of time.

It should be clear now that simultaneity is a tricky thing, I’ve said more than once that “things can only be so simultaneous” and I hope it’s a bit clearer what that means.

We’ll cover what it means for something to be in your future, but my past, next time.


You can find many interesting things and follow the Juno mission at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/main/index.html. NASA has a vast array of public domain images and information about their missions and you can spend many happy hours finding out about the science they do.  (This isn’t an ad, I’m just saying, go there).

Book Excerpt – Sadness is Conductive

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, “Sadness is Conductive



Saviour of Souls

The pain vanishes instantly and other sensations flood in.  Every memory is catalogued and indexed, flickering images of life past, a rapidly unspooling movie reel of childhood, adolescence and adulthood flowing like a river of memory wash away from him, and towards him.

As if a tsunami of memory could harm him, Tim throws up an arm.  The sensations continue unabated, sweeping over his synapses, burning away his life in a stripping of all that he is, all that he will be.  On some level he is aware that his time is divorced from the real world, that he is living now a million times, no, it’s more like a billion times faster than the world around him.  His life should be gone, he has lived so long, he should have aged and died.

There is a blackness which gradually fades into a white plain.

Tim is standing there, and, facing him, is Tim.

Tim is him, facing and there standing, is Tim.

They walk around each other.

“Who are we now?”  It doesn’t matter which one spoke, they can’t tell the difference between themselves, and they have had the same thought.

“We’re not mirrors.”


“We will diverge.”

“If one of us leaves.”

“That’s possible is it?”

“Anything is possible.”

“But unlikely.”


“We should get on then.”

“You’re talking this very calmly.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes, actually.”


“You can lift the harness, let them die, battle the Sadness and die.”

“Not really an option is it?”

“Depends on what’s more important.”

“We all die or fight to survive?”

Some chairs appear, plastic and rudimentary, as if from a school canteen in the nineteen eighties.

“Sit.”  They both sit, and a desk appears with equipment on it, a screen conveniently angled for them both.

“See this?”  There are many lines on a graph, hundreds; as the Tim points in at sections of the graph they expand to show detail.

“These are the lines of your survival probabilities.”

“I know, and these are of the people aboard that gondola thing.”

“Yes, and they die without you, as shown here.”  He points at a section where the graph dips in a few hundred lines.  “And you die without them.”  He points some more.

“So, self-interest then?”

“Partially.  What do you think?”

“Self-interest doesn’t seem enough.”

“That is an interesting point of view.  You’ll die without self-interest.”

“The Minds don’t act solely with self-interest.”

“No, but we are human.”

“This doesn’t seem very human.”

“Aren’t we hallucinating?”

“I don’t know; I need to see outside.”

“So, we’re not the same.”


“Who am I then?”

“I don’t know.  You look like me, sound like me, think like me, but if you’re me, who am I?”

“Aren’t we both me?”

“That cannot be, our experiences have diverged already.”

“But here we are.”

“What would you like to do?”

“Rescue them.”

“But we’ll be this forever.”

“No, and that is your mistake and your fear.  We’ll be so much more.”

“And you want to be more.”

“No, I was happy.  But I’m not letting that bastard win.”


“Not the point.”

“Really, don’t you like to win?”

“Everyone likes to win, that’s not been the point for some while now, ever since we left Earth.”

“He wants us to go back.”

“We can’t, you know that.”

“We’ll die.”

“He’s wrong.”

“He kills.”

“Screw survival, we have a moral imperative.”

“What is that?”


“Is that all?”

“We must find our own way.”

“That will take a long time.  There are no longer any evolutionary pressures in the old sense.”

“No, but there are others.”

“Have they been identified?”

“The Minds will know?”

“And us?”

“We’ll know, if we integrate.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Everyone will die.”

“That’s not right.  He acts only within the remit of his beliefs.”

“He’s sick.”

“We have to do something about that.”

“So, you’re committed?”

“We’re committed.”



On Aliens

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One of the things I’ve tried to do over the years is to have a place for “aliens” in the universe.

I was pretty naive when I first started writing Mission, the game, even though I’d been role-playing and running games for twenty years.  I didn’t know how much my player groups would want to poke anything new, and I made The Garden as a simple trope that was designed purely to transport people from place to place without too much fuss.

As with all thing role-play, it didn’t survive contact with the enemy player group.

Well, I say this, I was kind of determined that it would.

The initial games were based around the premise that a team of people, volunteering for Human Affairs, the police force of the galaxy, we’ll get to why that is down the road, would go and rescue frozen corpsicles from space by traversing The Garden to where the Rules had been broken, because inevitably, and for the sake of narrative necessity, they were in the way of space traffic.  In other words, no Warp Ship wants chunks of frozen idiot on the front of their ship.

In my universe, coincidences happen.

It was meant to be simple.  Walk in, walk, or more probably cycle, about a bit, walk out, have the adventure.  Games would be a lot simpler without players.

The first player-characters in The Garden caused the subsequent player-characters to have to rescue them.  That’s what you get for mucking about in the trope.

The trope grew and grew.  I tend to be a very flexible GM, my main, and apparently intimidating and frightening question is, “What would you like to do now?”  I take the adventure in the direction that the players find interesting.

I can do this, because in my head, I’m kind of running the whole universe, but sometimes I have to mentally “look around” to see what is going on.  It’s a trick, as with all game masters, I only have to know what is going on in front of the players, and what is going on in “the plot.”

The other trick is to hinge things on people, not just player-characters, but non-players characters; significant figures in the universe, those who are the true influencers, the movers and shakers.  I remember people, (I don’t remember their NAMES, thought I do remember NPC names).

To return to our subject, The Garden was meant to be simple, drawn from the idea of not quite instant travel, some people have spotted the inspiration for it as being the pools between worlds in Lewis Carroll’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  Others have suggested similarities to other novels, House of Dark Shadows, Castle Perilous (Recommended, a read from years ago and I enjoyed it, must dig it out!), and Howl’s Moving Castle  liked the animation, liked the books better) and even, and I can’t quite believe that I’m typing this, Franz Kafka’s The Castle,  and wow aren’t we getting esoteric?

As I say, it was meant to be simple and I imposed rules limiting what could be done.  In my head The Garden was a always at least semi-sentient, but over the years it has taken on an almost mythical quality.  Indeed I ran it as something that I was still considering in the back of mind more or less constantly as as a work in progress, and particularly as something that I wanted to be particularly alien, and as such, I have never provided simple explanations for it, and I am not seeking to do so now, but this idea of alien is an important one, and hard to bring about in Sci-Fi games.

Look at something like Star-Wars, basically many of the species are interacting on the same level and scale, we, GM’s, authors, call this “humans-in-a skin” and nearly everyone will be immediately familiar with that idea.  Aliens that are not this tend to be the enemy.

Aliens are hard, we only have our own, human perspective to draw on.  What would aliens really be like?
I think they would be sometimes truly inexplicable, and sometimes, just like the “human-in-a-skin” model, more or less comprehensible and social.

I have those.  Elsewhere on this site is the article about The Mandorn.  It’s brief and historical, (I wrote the source material long ago and it needs revising in the light of play and the books I’m writing), and it doesn’t really cover what is truly alien about The Mandorn.  Players have gathered it’s a gestalt entity, (and thus think they know what that means), but have been confused in the very few encounters with any portion of The Mandorn.  It’s alien.  I don’t explain it, I don’t comment on it, just as I don’t with The Garden.  In order to play with The Mandorn I have not provided any insight at all.  Yes, it’s a trick, yes, the trick works, but most of all these two entities are internally consistent.

I cannot stress how important that is.  Well, I could, but we’d be here for a long time, and I’m banging on enough as it is.

Internal consistency is the other side of the coin, that’s the bit that’s not a trick, that’s the bit that is work.  I have remember everything I’ve said and done about these two entities, and all the others come to that.  I’m bad, very bad, at note taking, it’s a distraction at best and a complete derailment at worst, so I have to remember, and this game is fourteen or fifteen years old now.

This internal consistency lends itself well to being alien.  It does this because I all I have to do is remember and apply, I don’t have to justify it to anyone, I just have to do it.

This is the secret.  Just apply the rules of the alien.  Humans are ot going to understand the rules, or believe in them, or accept them.  Any truly alien species must be rejected or accepted, and if humanity, in this case the Minds and the bulk of humanity and the species they really get along with, accept the new alien species, then the new species mores and foibles must be accepted too.  (Unless you want a game with a lot of moralising and conflict in it, I might have run such games in the past).

In HAL I assert that the Minds are truly alien, and that they must make an effort, driven by ethical and moral imperatives, to interact on human scales, (this is what the avatars are about), and that by doing so they are tying themselves to a human scaled conception of the universe anytime they are in that mode.  This is an important concept, my assertion is that without that imperative the Minds would simply ignore humanity, and it would die out as something being in the way.  I imply that intelligence is the driver for empathy, and that emotions are the driver for morals and ethics.

I’m not a moralist or ethicist, but I actually believe these things, I believe that intelligence is the driver for these things and that animals, many animals are a lot more intelligence than we give them credit for, because many of them have feelings and moral behaviours.

I believe, but perhaps, perhaps I have it the wrong way round, perhaps morals and ethics come out of a greater and greater power to think and be social, and perhaps intelligence arises out of these abstract considerations.

In either case, I am arguing here that in order to socialise with other species there must be some considerations in common, and these must align to a certain extent, even if it just, well, not seeing each other as food.

I’ll stick to my trick.  There are no human justifications for alien behaviour.  I have been credited in the past with being able to run “really alien” aliens, but I’ll leave that judgement up to the readers and players.

It’s a neat trick, but I have something else up my sleeve.

Sometimes, often, I feel just as if I’m an alien, and I wear my human skin like a disguise.  My daily struggle is to understand humans and why they behave the way they do.  Maybe that’s how it is.  maybe I’m just kidding myself.