Saturday, July 22, 2017

Paleolithic Papers #15

Genus Homo:

Long endurance in modern Humans seems to have arisen in the genus Homo around 1 million years ago.

Humans lost strength relative to chimpanzees due to a need for low energetic cost, repetitive motions.

Different times when people are better awake (night owls, early birds, etc) may have increased the human ancestors' chances of survival.

Did a dog domestication take a wrong turn?

A Mesolithic rock shelter's biomarkers might be useful for studies around the world.

How female chimps differ from male on how they acquire meat may shed light on how humanity evolved gender roles.

Old age insomnia might actually be a survival mechanism.

When did music originate in the human line?

Modern Humans (H. sapiens):

The oldest known fossils of modern humans date from around 300 kya and show the diet of that ancient modern human was very meat heavy.  Additionally, the site is mesolithic, further tying our species to the advent of that level of technology.  The fossil raises interesting questions about how modern humans evolved in Africa.

Examining the Omo-Kibish pelvis, one of the oldest known fossils of modern humans.

In the late Pleistocene, PaleoIndians in Peru had an interestingly advanced culture.

A Mesolithic culture in Ethiopia used ochre for thousands of years at one site.

Mesolithic era human remains have been found in South Africa.

Rice domestication has been pushed back to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary.

The first use of potatoes in North America has been dated to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary.

Upper Paleolithic behaviors changed based on evidence from an Armenian cave.

Late Paleolithic beads made from Ostrich shells in northern China show evidence of different craftsmen.

It appear the Aboriginals reached Australia 65,000 years ago based on new archaeological evidencea.

Neandertals (H. neanderthalensis):

A commentary on the recent paper about Neandertal diet.

The Apidima 2 hominin is a Neandertal from 160,000 years ago.

The transition from Neandertals to modern human occupation in the Czech Republic.

The transition from Neandertals to modern human occupation in Iran's Zagros Mountains took place between 45,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Dating the Mousterian in France.

Neandertals apparently used toothpicks based on tooth wear evidence.

Rabbits may have disturbed a Neandertal gravesite bringing into question the dating of the remains there.

Mitochondrial DNA suggests Neandertals interbred with a close relative of modern humans between 220,000 to 470,000 years ago.

H. naledi:

Homo naledi chipped its teeth an awful lot.

H. ergaster:

How Homo ergaster might have organized socially due to predation.

META:

The evolution of the hominin ankle and knee.

Examining the depositional environment in South African hominin fossil sites that are paleokarsts.

Increasing aridity and hominin evolution may not be as tightly coupled as originally thought.

When did hominins start eating large amounts of meat?


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Chinese Troops are now Based in Djibouti

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has despatched its first troop contingent to Djibouti ahead of the official establishment of the East Asian country’s first military support base in a foreign country.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Stealth Saga #64

Sixth Generation Fighters:

The USAF Sixth Gen Fighter is likely to be a rather different aircraft than the 5th generation, potentially not even being a traditional fighter at all.

Is America facing an air superiority crisis?

The designer of the J-20 embraces and extends Lockheed's OODA 2.0 concept.

KF-X:

Hanwa unveiled a prototype AESA radar for the KF-X.

TF-X:

The decision on where the TF-X's engine will come from is approaching.

FGFA:

The Russians are trying to reassure the Indians the FGFA will not be inferior to the PAK-FA.

PAK-FA:

Rumors Vietnam is buying the PAK-FA are probably bunk.

The Russians will have two more PAK-FA delivered this year (more on the 'news').

PAK-DP/MiG-41:

The Russians will formally start the replacement for the MiG-35 in 2019 and it has been designated the PAK-DP.

PAK-DA:

Other sources are stating the PAK-DA is delayed.

J-20:

The Chinese did some formation flying with five J-20s, seven J-11s and some AWACS.

The J-20 might make an appearance over Hong Kong.

J-31/FC-31:

The J-31 sorta made an appearance at the Paris air show.

China was attempting to market the FC-31 version.

B-21:

Virginia Rep Wittman is pleased with the progress of the B-21 program and the article hints there are or have been flying prototypes.

The USAF is about to conduct a critical design review for the B-21.

A report was sent to the USAF warning not to make the B-21 nuclear capable when it is unmanned.

F-22:

To restart the F-22 line to make another 194 F-22s will cost $50 billion.

The HASC received a secret report on the subject.

Why the F-22 didn't get the Su-22 kill in Syria.

The F-22 is getting a billion dollar upgrade to allow it to last for more than 40 years more.

The F-22 was to participate in France's Bastille Day.

F-35:

The F-35 went from 'zero to hero.'

On the other hand, others still hate the F-35.

The F-35A and F-35B will be flying together at the Red Flag exercise this year.

The House authorizers only put in for 87 F-35s this year.  The Senate put in for 94.  They will have to reconcile.

The Pentagon announced a contract for 91 F-35s.

Due to the smaller buy than planned, the total acquisition costs have gone up.

Colorado Engineering will be developing GPUs for the Block 4 radar upgrade on the F-35s.

The F-35As at Paris showcased their acrobatics for the airshow.  Some are claiming the F-35 is superior in visual range combat (dog fighting).

The pilots that experienced hypoxia in the F-35 at Luke AFB were flying above FL250.  The USAF was still investigating.

The Luke AFB F-35As returned to flight on June 21st.

Hill AFB F-35As will participate in 4th of July celebrations.

The USAF F-35A engine fire is being blamed on a strong tail wind?

Due to problems with the ALIS software system, some F-35Bs were grounded.  That pause has been lifted.  More info.

The USMC would like another 13 F-35Bs ordered.  And they have.

Watch the F-35Bs land in Okinawa.

An F-35C test fired a sidewinder inverted.

Britain has declared the 207 Squadron the third RAF unit to be converted to using F-35Bs.

Britain will also decide on whether to do a split buy on the types of F-35s in the future.

Germany was given a classified briefing on how to buy F-35s (FMS process).

Israeli F-35s will be declared operational in December.

Italy has the first F-35s with special tail markings.

Rumors claim Japan may equip its F-35s with Norway's Joint Strike Missile.  The Japanese MoD denies them.

Lockheed is about to do a bulk sale of 440 F-35s to 11 countries.

Elbit and Harris will be replacing the heads-up display on the F-35.

Raytheon is making progress on getting work from the F-35 program.

Rockwell Collins has a fix for the so-called green glow of the F-35 helmets.

META:

Russia will finally and formally merge Mikoyan and Sukhoi under the United Aircraft Corporation.

Why the European fighter market is worth fighting for.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The INF Treaty is About to Collapse

The situation with the INF Treaty is getting worse pretty rapidly. U.S. Congress is moving to include what is known as "INF Treaty Preservation Act" in the National Defense Authorization bill. Judging by the language of the bill, its authors believe that the best way to preserve the INF Treaty is to join Russia in killing it (and to kill the New START extension for good measure). The current version of the bill would establish a U.S. program to develop an INF-range ground-launched cruise missile development program. Other proposals have been circulating as well - the Senate version of the INF Preservation Act mentions active defenses, counterforce capabilities, or things like "facilitating the transfer to allied countries of missile systems with [INF] ranges" (I am told that the plan is that the missiles would come from Israel). And it's not just Congress -- the Pentagon has already developed a set of five or so options that would address the INF violation (Israeli missiles is reportedly one of them).

In short, the process that would lead to destruction of the INF Treaty has been set in motion and at this point fewer and fewer people mention the option of resolving the issue through a discussion with Russia. In fact, a lot of people do not particularly care about the details of the alleged violation or its real military significance. For them, it is very convenient to start with a "blatant treaty violation" and move on to their favorite cause, be that missile defense, dismantlement of New START, or something else.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Terminator Times #31

Drones/UAVs:

A drone POV of an IED attack in Mosul.

The Chinese claim to have flown the world's largest fixed wing drone swarm: 119 drones vs the 103 flown by the US.

China also just flew a solar powered drone for an extended flight.

Some of China's new drones were shown off at the Paris airshow.

China also showcased its Wing Loong II UCAV.

Because the US is hesitating on selling its armed drones widely, China is stepping into fray.

Germany's Bundestag failed to fund the Heron TP procurement.

India has been cleared by the US State Dept to buy 22 Guardian UAVs from General Atomics.

India has signed an agreement with IAI to transfer UAV tech from Israel to India.

Iran has been flying drones over Pakistan since March.

Israel is developing a new UAV roadmap for its services.

Israel is buying mass market DJI drones for its defense forces.

Israel's Elbit has a rough equivalent of the Gorgon Stare system with their Skeye.

They have also debuted their SkyStriker loitering, suicide drone.

Israel is buying small drones that are armed with firearms.

Italy's HammerHead drone has its future outlined and test flights have resumed.

North Korea's drone that crashed in South Korea was photographing the THAAD location.  South Korea confirmed the drone's origin.

Pakistan shot down an Iranian drone.

The Russians have claimed they have developed an anti-drone laser.

The Russians claim to have some cargo carrying drones.

South Korea is planning on placing UAVs on its coast guard vessels.

Many drones are being shot down in Syria.

Taiwan plans to fire a Hellfire-class missile from one of its MALE drones next year.

Turkey has released an RFI for a new recon UAV.

A USAF F-15E shot down an Iranian made Shaheed-129 in Syria.

The USAF LCAAS will cost $2 to $3 million a piece, have a range of 1,500 miles and a payload of 500 lbs.  It may be stealthy.

A USAF Global Hawk crashed in California.

The data nodes for the USAF Global Hawk are in high demand.

The USAF's newest Reaper drones are deployed to Syria.

War is Boring claims to have found a new USAF drone base in Jordan.

An MQ-9 dropped a JDAM for the first time in combat.

USAF was sent a report strongly recommending the new B-21 bomber NOT be able to conduct nuclear strikes when unmanned.

The US MDA is seeking a High Altitude Long Endurance drone armed with a laser for showing down ballistic missiles in the boost phase.  Initial tests are aimed to be 2023.  The UCAV has performance specs that are greater what any current known UAV can handle.

The MQ-25A tanker drone for the US Navy will fly first from the USS Eisenhower and the USS Bush aircraft carriers first.

The House Armed Services Committee has expressed concerns the MQ-25A ought to have strike capabilities.

The US Navy is building a Triton UAV base in the United Arab Emirates.

Aeronautics has unveiled a 12 rotor Pegasus drone.

COTS quadcopters might be weaponized soon.

Gabbiano radar is being pitched for UAVs.

Kratos' XQ-222 and UTAP-22 will be unveiled at the Paris Air Show.  And they were.

Kratos won a first LRIP contract for the BQM-177A target drone.

Leonardo has launched its M-40 target drone.

Leonardo also flew the latest version of its Hero helicopter UAV.

Raytheon's new ARDS ELINT pod is set to fly on the Predator B next year.

Raytheon is also considering its next generation of Coyote drone.

Textron unveiled its NightWarden drone.

Thales is making advances with their military UAVs.

Xender is putting an elint package into even small commercial quadcopters.

Ogres & Bolos (UGVs):

Milrem has started testing its THeMIS UGV with the Estonian military.

Serbia has rolled out its own prototype UGCV, Milos, armed with a 7.68mm machine gun and a 40mm grenade launcher.

Ukraine has an antitank UGCV called the Phantom.

The US Marine Corps wants self repairing, learning unmanned systems.

Robo Boats (Unmanned Surface Vehicles):

The Chinese have unveiled their first USVs.

USVs will become increasingly important to the LCS program for the US Navy.

Unmanned vehicles will not count for the 355 ship navy Congress and the USN are pursuing.

Robo Subs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles):

Boeing has teamed up with Huntington Ingalls for the XLUUV program with its Echo Voyager, a 51 ft long, 50 ton UUV.

The Boeing Echo Voyager has taken to sea for trials.

The US Navy hopes to fill the gap created by not having enough nuclear attack subs with unmanned subs.

3d Printing:

The US Marine Corps is sending 3d printers into combat zones to speed up repairs on equipment.

META:

Should the Pentagon's bots be able to kill humans?  Maybe.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson: Epilogue

Maven pushed back from her desk.  She looked like she had bitten a bitter fruit.  She was seldom happy these days.  She had not been happy in years.  Not since she had been caught and implicated in the Merry Pranksters' interstellar intrigue.

She had grown angrier.  Grown darker.  Grown Lovecraftian, if anything.

She looked her Derp, Juan, who had brought her the news.  The information.  The prize.  yet, he was still not Tom.  Tom, the one who had evaded her.  Tom, the one who was protected.  Tom, the one who got away.

She looked at Juan very intensely.

"Do they know?  Have the Merry Pranksters found this?"

Juan shrugged that he did not know.  He didn't want to speak.  Not when Maven was like this.  This was bad.  It could be worse.  If his voice cracked when he replied, it would be worse.  And worse was something he feared.  He adored and feared her.  It was heady.  It was terrifying.  Like beijng on the knife edge, constantly.

"Then we are in a rush.  Gather the others.  Let us see what this Elias Evander Estevez put on Jefferson.  BEFORE THEY DO."

Juan whirled and left.  He had the others to gather.  And a Maven's Brood as in a race with the Merry Pranksters.  And the Pranksters might not even know it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 42: And I Know the Answer

Ha!  Arthur!  All you mice!  Zaphod!  I know the answer!  And the question!

I'm 13 now.

I KNOW EVERYTHING!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 41: And all I got was this lousy Tshirt

A week later, my parents let me return to school.  Apparently, all of our parents returned us together.  The whispers and stares at school were pretty intense and freakier than dealing with Captain Li.  More intimidating in their own way.  The kids no longer saw us as one of them.  

We were something else.  Something more like living legends.

That was freakier than I would like to admit.

I thought I wanted to run and hide a lot.  I was only twelve after all.  I was no immortal or demigod.  But I wasn't the same twelve.  I was different.  Too much had changed.  I had seen too much.  Helmet.  Li.  Jaideep.  Too much.

My friends and I finally got to talk.  The story I got was pretty much the same. Everyone majorly grounded. Some parents were cooler than mine. Some were less. Poor Veena! Her parents were considering homeschool and whether or not she'd be allowed to even talk to us, never mind be friends. On the other hand, Rosa's parents were stunned and thrilled and let her off with a light grounding. I guess I didn't get it too bad compared to Veena though.

The adults did ransack our fort.  They took everything from there.  They were considering tearing it down altogether.  Dad counseled caution though.  Once torn down, it would not be rebuilt easily.  The adults grumbled, but accepted it for that moment.   They didn't tear it down, but we didn't get to go back until the next school year.

Everyone felt like we needed to chill out for a while and lay off the pranks. That lasted until the next school year only though.

And then there was Maven.

She showed up a week later with Derplicates in tow.  She made her displeasure known and she would get us back.  Yet, Tom didn't seem phased.  Whatever used to scare him about her was dispelled by the adventure.  She was disturbed.  And turned on me and vented, I just looked at her and dismissed her.  She didn't have anything even remotely as scary as Li did in that moment and I had stood my ground then.  No two bit crabby brat was going to phase me again.

We dismissed her.  She looked shocked.  Our great and terrible enemy - in her mind and once upon a  time - had been dismissed as a nothing more than an annoyance.  

Our message was loud and clear:

Go away kid: you're bothering us.

We went back to the manmade cave where Helmet died.  We erected a marker.  We never knew his name and the BII agents were not saying if they did.  We came for years afterwards.  Even has Shadwell slowly encroached on the site.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 40: And Then We Were Totally Sauteed!

If you had any delusion we were welcomed as heroes, let me disabuse you of that notion right this very second.  We were not.  After all our parents met us for a few minutes of hugs and tears and happiness, we fished away just before they started to kick into the 'WAITASECONDHERE,YOUNGIN! WHATWEREYOUTHINKING! to be quickly followed by YOUAREGROUNDEDINTOTHENEXTLIFETIME!'

When Shadwell's Sheriff saw us, she sighed.  You would almost think she expected us to do something like this at some point and was expected worse, much worse in the future.

Well, she had a point.

The BII agents swept us into separate rooms and our parents followed in.  You are not allowed to grill a kid without their parents present.  I think I might have preferred to be WITHOUT my parents, actually.  This could get ugly.  Too reasonable Dad with uber mama bear Mom and me between with the BII agent across from me.  

Yuck.

I was just thinking I might want to vomit.

I actually think this scenario might actually scare me than when I was facing down Captain Li.  I could only die there.  This was going to be much, much worse.  I wondered for a moment if they had a special prison for kids that caused major international - no, INTERPLANETARY - incidents.  For the thirty seconds before the agent was situated, I became entirely convinced in that brief eternity.

Dad pulled out his booster and up popped a lawyer bot.  The BII agent grimaced.

"Aurora.  May I call you Aurora?  I doubt you are in any real trouble.  This situation is just too bizarre, too out of this world" - that made me suppress a smirk then - "to be real.  yet...here we are.  Would you be so kind as to tell me what exactly happened?"

The lawyer bot interrupted and told me not to talk.  

The agent looked exasperated and pulled out her own official booster.  Her bot and my Dad's bot worked out an agreement faster and more detailed than people could in a week in seconds.  I was off the hook unless I'd killed anyone in any other way than in self defense.

Considering I hadn't killed anyone, I felt pretty confident.

So, I spilled my guts.  The prankster escape.  The defense against the drones.  The trek to the Church.  The body there - the BII agents had found already - the fight with the cockatrice and basilisk.  The Indians.  The Nigerian.  The Chinese.  And the data chip.

That made her sit upright.

I had to agree to take the BII agents there.  Which, duh, I did.  How could I not?  After all this?  What would I do with that chip?!

Even so, I felt grilled.  Like a good cheese sandwich.  or perhaps even a burger or steak.  The BII agent didn't let any detail get away.

With the conclusion of the interview, we were lifted to the spot where I left the chip.  My parents insisted they come.  A squad of the Marines came, too.  Just in case the Chinese were not alone or the Indians were still out there.

We retrieved the chip and I was feeling proud and cocky.

Until I got home to Mom's.

Then I was worse than roasted.

I sauteed.

Badly.

Mom let me have it.  She was in full out rage mommy bear mode letting her cub know the cub'd screwed up.  Beyond screwed up.  I felt I barely survived.  

Dad did too in his own way.  When someone does the same thing as ripping you apart without ever raising their voice, well, it can be just as devastating, if not more.  There's no hiding behind the idea you were being yelled at.  No yelling can be a devastating thing.

But.  I couldn't help it.  I noticed.  There was a hint of pride and a slight smirk on Dad's face.  A bemused one.  Dad!  You dork!  Your rip me up but at the same time!  gah!  Parents!  What would we ever do with them.

Mom was probably just as proud.  She had a certain reaction to things though.  Her pride would be shown later, I'm sure.  

But in the mean time, I was going to be soooo grounded.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A GoFundMe: Helping my mother

Okay, folks.  My mother is in a bind and needs some help.  I'm in a real bind myself for the next few weeks, but my bind will recover shortly.  Then I will start to be in a position to help my Mom.  However, I won't be able to help her as much as she needs.  So I am asking, if at all possible, for you all who read my stories and my articles on my blog to contribute.

Well, what does she need?

She needs a septic system and a well dug.

Because she needs this pretty quickly, she set up her own GoFundMe campaign.  

The problem is she is living on a very tight budget and because of unforeseen problems her finances she might have used have been depleted.  If she does not get her well and septic system, she will have to move off the land she has worked so hard to be able to acquire and given her age, she may have to give up on her dream.  A dream I remember her having since I was knee high to a grasshopper.

I had a personal meltdown when I found out my kids were being taken out of the state by their mother and I am not (yet) in a position to help, but will be shortly.  I am rebuilding my life and then I can help her.

If you have any way to help out, please...

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 39: Then Everything got REALLY Weird

The Chinese surrounded us.  Seven soldiers.  Seven suits of battle armor.  Seven people with the ability to level a city block each.  Seven extremely angry people with five tweens.  Five tweens that kept getting in their way.  Five tweens that kept distracting them from what they wanted to, needed to do.

We clustered together and we quite frightened.

We were twelve after all!  Sheesh.

Captain Li came over to me.  She took off her helmet.  She glared at me.  She obviously knew how her soldier had died.  She obviously blamed us all collectively and probably me in particular.

I thought I was dead.

This woman was going to kill me in revenge for her soldier.

She turned to her soldiers and barked something in Chinese.  My booster translated it immediately: search them,

They did.  Throughly and quickly as they could.  There was not much to search: we'd left our packs and exoskeletons back at the cave.  If the batteries ran out now, we'd have been in trouble trying to run.  We really didn't think this 'adventure' would last this long.  It was supposed to be a fun run and sneak back.  

As I said before, as my Dad said before, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

And we had.  In spades.  Bucket loads.  Asteroid sized.  The one that killed the dinosaurs sized.  No, the one that wiped out the first complex life on Earth and left craters found billions of years later sized.  Chicxulub had NOTHING on this.

And I wondered if this was the end of the adventure.  Not with a fun, but empty return.  Not with a triumphant march into Shadwell.  Not with even a roasting by my parents.  No, something far, far worse.  Here at this moment, at this time, at this very second, my existence was imperiled.  All because of my actions.

She looked at me directly in the eyes when her soldiers found nothing.  That hard, unadorned glare was harsher than anything I'd seen from anyone before and it would take a while before I saw it again.  But again I would see it.  At the time, I didn't know what was going to happen next.  No one did.  I'm not even sure Captain Li did either in that moment.  I fate had teetered on a knife.  

I could have cowered, but I was past the moment of terror.  I was past the moment of fear.  I answered that glare.  I gave her the most direct, dirtiest, nastiest glare a twelve year old can give.  This woman had come to MY world, had come to MY town and starting fighting.  Not with words and nasty phrases, but guns and drones and missiles.  This woman had brought WAR to my world.  It was a shadow war and she had avoided hurting civilians.  But she had brought it all the same.  I realized then I was just as angry with Helmet and Jaideep.  Not just this woman, but this woman was all that was left and I vented, through my eyes, all of my raw fury.

Then, as my life balanced on that knife edge, as I stared straight into the eyes of this woman, this soldier that dared what she had, a buzz zipped past and she broke our glaring contest.

Her soldiers as one raised their rifles, pointing them towards Shadwell, and the ports on their backs filled with drones and missiles opened up.

A swarm of finger sized drones enveloped us.

She snorted and shook her head.

She took out a side arm.  A small emergency pistol from her hip.  This was meant in case she had to abandon the suit and run around without the armor.  She hefted it for a moment and then turned it butt first to me.

"Aurora of Shadwell on Jefferson, colony of the United States of America, I surrender.  I surrender myself and my soldiers."

With that, she handed me the sidearm.

I took it and tried not to let my eyes bug out or my tongue choke me.

I replied, "I accept."

She barked in Chinese for the soldiers to lower their weapons.  They didn't look happy, but that might have been just my impression.  If you can't tell someone's gender through the armor, there was no way facial expressions could be read after all.  The soldiers placed their weapons on the ground and I told her to have them remove their helmets.  They did that as well.

I was all but shaking when Tom took the Chinese pistol.  It was safer that way: Tom practiced these on a regular basis.  I did not.  I pulled out my needler and other Merry Pranksters followed suit.  We had the Chinese soldiers line up and put their hands on their heads.  We didn't want to humiliate them, but we wanted to make sure the Marines that showed up about thirty seconds later would not think the Chinese were a threat.  At their arrival, a misunderstanding by the Marines would be more dangerous than anything the Chinese intended.

Then the Marines did show up and dropped from their VTOL craft.  They sprinted over and surrounded the Chinese.  We stepped back and put away our needlers and Tom lowered the pistol.  The Marines had it well in hand.  The platoon leader, the lieutenant, came over and nodded her helmeted head.

"We'll take it from here."

I can only imagine how it looked to the Marines.  Five twelve year olds pointing needlers (and a pistol) at seven Chinese soldiers in powered armor.  I imagine a few brain cells exploded in the minds of those watching what happened.  This was waaaaaaaay beyond 'Wait! What?!"

Twelve year old super commandoes, I thought.  

No, we were not that.  Some commandoes.  Terrified, running for home, calling for help.  But we made it through just fine.  Mostly.  There were going to be some serious trauma to deal with later.  From our parents eating us alive for doing something so crazily stupid.

But then, well, what could I say...

We were Merry Pranksters.  

THE MERRY PRANKSTERS!

And we weren't even teenagers yet.

After all, we were just twelve!

Be afraid.  Very afraid.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 38: So Close, yet so far...

We continued to run for a while. The boosters finally synced and we linked to the Jefferson network. I am sure every alarm on the planet went off right then.

UNKNOWN BOOSTERS! DANGER! DANGER!

LOCATION FOUND! MEEP! MEEP! MEEP!

I am sure they had locked down the network to only known machines, boosters, computers, etc. but, I'd hardly be a Merry Prankster if I could have hacked around that. I'd actually made sure our "clean" boosters were considered 'known' some time ago. And I built a bot to help with anything the security folks might come up with. Not really intelligent, just ...adaptable.

We all tried to call our parents, but we got BII agents instead. Between gasping breaths and barely breathing gasps, we explained where we were and what was happening and can YOU HURRY UP AND ACTUALLY SAVE US ALREADY!?!

Oh the irony, adults had been trying to save us the entire time we were running around on this adventure when we didn't need it. We'd scoffed and smirked and rolled our eyes even when we were terrified. We didn't NEED saving. Until we did. And here and now, we needed that saving. We wanted out of this insanity. We hadn't seen Helmet die, but he was going to. And this was too much. What could I say? We were 12 and we'd had enough.

Beautiful irony that though.

Delicious even.

Tasty.

That I tried to get through to Mom though and the BII agent had intercepted it was going to be VERY bad for the BII agents later. Mom was going to eat them alive. Dad would have been infuriatingly reasonable. Mom on the other hand...someone had come between her and her scared and endangered beloved daughter. That BII agent might not make it out alive.

We ran and gasped and blurted out everything we could. They had our location and in a calm collected voice replied:

"Stay alive and keep coming towards us. Put as much distance between you and the Chinese as you can. Keep a data stream open and the Marines will be there in ten minutes."

We ran. We fell. We tried. Our lungs were about to burst. Up and over rough terrain, down the other side. We kept going as fast as we could.

Four minutes later, our signals were jammed.

The Chinese had found us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 37: Really, world!?! Really?!

Captain Li fed up.  It wasn't anything fancy.  It was Chinese military rations.  Therefore, like most rations, not the greatest.  She really was trying to show she was sincere and meant us no harm.  Yes, it did occur to me she might have drugged the food, so we did pick at random the different things and tried them.  While American cuisine was pretty worldly, Jefferson had limited options and limited ingredients, since some plants and animals just couldn't be raised.  It meant we had our own cuisine in the making and Chinese, real Chinese, was rather different than ours.

It wasn't bad per se, but not what we were used to.

With a little food and some time to calm down, we were starting to get back into the snarky side.  We were still a little nervous.

Captain Li made one more request then: she insisted on collecting our boosters and the balklavas.  She didn't want us to contact the grownups before she was done with her mission and didn't want us to try to sneak away.  She would never think some frontier kids would ever be sneaky enough to get away and cause problems.  Especially not us.  Oh no.  She just wanted to be sure.  As a precaution, you know.

She was being snarky on top of cuting us AND being honest AND treating us like almost adults even.  This woman was dangerous.  She knew what buttons to press.  And despite knowing this, against my better judgment, I started to like her.

Something inside her battle armor meeped, apparently whatever direct neural link she'd ignored while talking to us and this was the backup talking to her.  Her eyes glazed over for a moment, distracted as she communed with her machine side and then she blinked and gave orders in Chinese.  All the other soldiers save one put on their helmets.

Captain Li turned to us and told us they were off to hunt the Indians.  She was leaving one soldier to watch over us and make sure nothing happened - whether to us or us escaping!  They would be back later, hopefully when their mission was accomplished.

With that, Captain Li and six soldiers left through the cave flap opening and the lone soldier who didn't seem to know English released the bug zapping drone again.  

We sat and sat and waited.  Boredom was killing us.  Worse than leeches and taxitos.  We were going more than a bit nuts.  Then Tom did the only rational thing we could do.  He took a nap!  WHAT THE HECK!

It was rational.  It was actually very smart.  It was also infuriating.  Then Jackie curled up as well and slept.  TRAITOR!

Two hours in, they woke up and Tom gave us is surliest grin I'd ever seen from him.  We returned the looked with the scorchingest glares we could muster.  Jackie we might not talk to ever again, but that "ever again" would probably last a whole two seconds.  But, you know, it was the thought that counted.

We were chatting quietly about nothing of import, trying to stave off death by boredom, when there was a CRACK! 

The soldier's helmet spun around and went bouncing.

She rose so fast it almost seemed like one second she was sitting and then she was standing.  Her gun pointed out the cave. Then somebody swung down and into the cave, totally smashing through the membrane covering door.  The soldier fired and it was deafening in the cave and we ducked to the ground and covered our ears.

CRACK!  CRACK!  CRACK!

She hit the person charging towards her.  The individual staggered, grabbed her and then stuffed something in her face.  We heard the buzzing and started screaming.  It was a bag.  A bag full of TAXITOS!

WE WERE ALL GOING TO DIE!  

She screamed too and when she inhaled...taxitos.  Uber yuck.  

She collapsed and the person who had attacked her collapsed on top of her.  We were cowering in the corner when the attacker pushed himself up and grabbed the zapper drone.  He flipped it on and it went to work.  Given how many seemed to be burned from the air near us, it was not a moment too soon.

The person pushed himself up and we saw: it was Helmet.

He'd come to save us.

Not that we were really in any danger, but...

It seems to me a lot of the danger we've been in on this adventure had been the adults thinking or doing things that got US in danger.  Well intentioned those actions might have been, they made this whole thing far more dangerous than we ever would have faced on our own.

Nonono, I'm not facing the fact WE went out into this situation on our own.  Nope!  Can't Make me!  Nyah!

Helmet moved to sit and looked at us.  He was in very bad shape.  The soldier had fired true.  if not for the armor, he'd be splattered all over the place.  He smiled at us and pushed himself up onto his knees.  Then he rummaged around and found our headgear.  He threw it to us.  We really, really quickly put it on.

He told Jaideep had died in the fighting and he'd escaped to try to flee to Shadwell to turn himself in.  However, he felt guilty about us and came looking.  He found our trail and followed us.  He had to hide like we had when the Marines came through.  Then he followed the rest of the way.  He saw there were too many soldiers to take on by himself, so he ordered his drones to attack the Chinese drones when they got close to the Church again.  That drew the Chinese off. And here he was.  For a little while.  It was obvious he didn't have long.

He removed his helmet.  And, yes, he was definitely not Indian.  Based on his accent and his appearance, probably Nigeria.  Almost certainly given everything we'd heard.  He had me come over and take something.  It was a small data drive and told me to take it home.  I did, but knew I had to get rid of it.  The Chinese were likely to find us and if I had that...not good.

He told us it was time to run again and wished us well.  He prayed something, something quiet and told us to go.  We did.  We ran.  We ran out of the cave as fast as we could and beelined towards Shadwell as fast as our still growing legs could take us.  As we ran, we synced with our boosters.  It takes longer when you are doing something else: we were calling home as fast as we could.

About ten minutes after, I stopped and picked a distinctive rock and hid the data drive under it.

And then we ran.

The boosters were still syncing.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 36: Adventure is...

My father once told me, in one of his pithy bits of Dad wisdom, that adventure was someone far away in deep deep trouble, terrified out of their mind, that happened some time ago and now was edited for the listener or reader.  Normally, he said, it was explaining in far, far more colorful metaphors.  I didn't believe him.  I had, with my enormous wisdom of my then eleven long years, rolled my eyes and basically snarked "Yeah whatever, dad."

Sometimes the grownups had a point.  Sometimes, even my Dad.  

As the Chinese soldier pointed his rifle - we knew it was a guy based on his voice this time despite armor hiding gender - at us, I was afraid.  And while I knew we were in deep sticky brown trouble, I thought we out of it.  But, no, the goddess of adventures, whomever she may be, obvious was not yet done with us and a proverbial tentacle reached out and grabbed us to pull us back in.  Just when we thought we were out.  We were pulled back in.  

We were scared.  No, terrified.  But we availed NOT to wet ourselves.  Ha!  We did better than Aneiren!

The Chinese soldier motioned for us to stand up.  We did.  Slowly and carefully.  No one wanted to be turned into a into a lot of Earthlife jelly.  That would totally poison the environment!  Can't have that!  Snark.

He motioned us to walk.  The fighting had stopped and he was moving us away from the battlefield.  He was also moving us away from Shadwell.  Sigh.

He moved us quite quickly though and in about ten minutes, he stopped us, popped a tent over us and had us sit down.  Weirdly, he didn't even bother collecting our needlers.  I guess we were not really a threat to him with them.  just after the Indians?  Indian and Nigerian? had done so, it felt a little weird.  They MIGHT be dangerous to him, a little bit, if there was some way to explode all the rounds at once, but no manufacturer would have designed it that way.  That was simply stupidly dangerous.  And with software bots now acting as lawyers, it would be an instant fail for the company: sued into oblivion in 3 milliseconds.  Never mind all the people hurt and probably killed.  We all know which of those the company ACTUALLY cared about.

We sat and waited and waited and waited.  We heard the American Marines come and land.  We waited for a day it seemed.  The soldier let us eat and let us sleep and when it was time for other calls of nature, he told us to dig a hole and carry our business afterward.  We did.  It was gross.  

We sat and waited did so for a day and night at least.  

When he seemed satisfied, he popped the tent and had us start marching.  We connected up with the rest of his squad.  We marched for a long time and we were exhausted.  They did not let us stop to rest.  We kept marching on.  Away from Shadwell.  Away from the site of the recent battle.  Away from the Church of the Sky Father Christ.  They seemed to know enough to keep under the Jefflife forest canopy and, eventually,  we made it to a cliff.  It wasn't much of a cliff, but it was hidden by from the sky by trees and there was a pile of rubble and excavations right there.

They had dug into the cliff and made a cave.  

And, yup, that's where we went.

Once inside, they sealed the cave and had a drone fly around with a small laser, burning all the taxitos out of the air.  They did a quick sweep, maybe they were afraid of the loogers?  And then they popped off their helmets.  All eight of them.

Half of the Chinese soldiers were women.  Not really a surprise, but, in a way, nice to see.  In fact, the leader of the squad was a woman.  She knelt before us and smiled.  She was not an American and that was apparently immediately.  Her smile was different.  However, it did seem to be genuine.  She was very polite as she introduced herself.

She was Captain Quon Li.  She was commanding the squad here on Jefferson. She, too, had a tail of woe about her ship crashing, but when she told her story she seemed to leave very little out.  She was part of the crew chasing the Indian ship.  She commanded the ground troops and they were here to catch the Indians.  Apparently, the Indians had been spying on something that they should not have.  The Chinese soldiers and ship were sent to stop them catch them and prevent them from taking whatever it was back to India or her colonies.  It was rather important and she could not allow the Indians to escape with whatever it was.

She explained India and China were not at war.  If the Indians escaped with the information, it might lead to war.  Or at least to the Indians and Chinese joining a war that was already taking place: a coalition of Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil had attacked Europe's colonies when Europe had refused to open up one of its colonies (Othrys) to be an international world like Caerus, Nuwa, Nakshatra and Beira.  None of the great powers - America, China or India - were participating directly, she said, but they often supported different powers for their own reasons while trying to settle the whole thing as quickly as possible through peace talks.

India, it seemed had spied on something, and it might mean China and India might start fighting over it.

When she said Nigeria, I tried to keep my face from reacting, but ... I must have given something away.  Captain Li sighed when she saw.  

She said once they had taken care of the Indians, they would surrender to the American Marines.  They didn't want to fight a war with America and they knew they were in deep, deep trouble - ha! like we were not! - but still had a mission to do.  Too much was too important for this and, she said, she was not sure the American government and military would stay neutral or would not pass on whatever information the Indians had to someone or some government that ought not have it.

She was being really honest with us.  It was making my head swim a bit.  America and China were rivals, if not outright enemies.  America had alliances, I knew from class! with my smaller nations on Earth to help contain China or attempt to.  it was a pattern America had done with many, many circumstances in the past.  India was friendly, but still something of a rival to the US.  Yet her soldiers had lied to us and here the soldiers of our enemy were being honest.

How bizarre...

She then asked what we knew and, honestly, we told.  I didn't mention Helmet might be Nigerian, but I got the feeling I didn't need to.  When we were done, she reassured us we were no danger.  She was angry the Indians had involved us.

She then reached out and in the most incongruous thing I could think of and perhaps one of the most humiliating things she could have done, she booped my nose with her finger and winked at me.

GAH!

What the frak, world!  

Sorry about the language, but, really!  

Friends lie to you and nearly get you killed.  

And then!  And then!  Enemies are honest and try to cute you!  

What the frak, world!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Humanity Lectures (part 3)

After our last lecture, I was accused of being a Humanist and portraying the Humans has gods or the ultimate good. A large number of students came during my office hours and even more virtually complained.

I had no such intention and I am emphatically not a Humanist. I find Humanity to be fascinating in the same way astronomers find supernovas, geologists find basalt eruptions, xenologists find mass extinctions and epidemologists find viruses to be interesting. They are beautiful, horrific and fascinating in their power. Humanity was a force of nature above and beyond what ANY species can comprehend. And, yet, I as an individual do try to do so.

Value judgments have little place here. Humanity is dead and gone a long time ago. We have inherited a galaxy shaped by them. Could they have done better? Certainly. We'd have wanted them to. However, it's a very hypocritical thing to sit here with hindsight and make declarations. It's even more hypocritical when we don't even have perfect hindsight. My job as a researcher is to improve that very fundamental understanding about what Humanity was so we may learn from it. You as students are here to learn what Humanity was...and was not.

They were NOT the gods. yet they towered so much above the rest. They were NOT the devils. yet they committed atrocities that few would dare. They were not perfect. They often changed what they decided. They were not utterly flawed. They often forgave those who wronged them. They WERE an utter contradiction, beautiful and flawed, ugly and perfect within that concept.

Due keep that in mind while we move forward with this series.

Now then. Let us return to the topic at hand:

Humanity.

The previous lecture was on Humanity bursting onto the galactic scene. Since the feel from the class was they were portrayed as The Good Guys(tm) in that lecture. Let us talk of some of the highlights or low points, in Humanity's tread upon the galaxy.

There was a time when Humanity, after its eruption into interstellar space but before its total conquest of the Milky Way, that they were merely one amongst a plethora of powers.

When fought to a stand still once by the Vnon, Humanity signed a peace treaty with them. Officially for centuries, Humans were at peace with them and even made trade with the Vnon. But what had not been realized was as they were signing the treaty, the Humans had launched thousands of asteroids at the Vnon worlds. Even traveling at relativistic speeds, these would take a very long time to impact. But when they did, they shattered worlds. What was not smashed, the Humans occupied. In the name of Humanitarian concerns, of course. And the Vnon became a vassal species until their own extinction later.

However, the war that led Humanity to conquer the galaxy was the one with the brightest memory for the entire galactic whole though.

The war that saw Humanity begin its rise to conquest of the galaxy was one of their greatest wars with the Kalti. It was also one of the greatest crimes against sapients.

The Kalti smashed into the relatively new Union of Human Polities with all the force of a supernova: prior to the Humans' counterattack, the Kalti even reached the outskirts of the now lost Solar System. The Kalti were not merely attacking because they wanted conquest. They were not merely attacking because something small had happened. They were attacking because the Humans had unleashed the Great Terraformers upon the galaxy.

The Humans unleashed von Neumann machines upon the galaxy to seek out worlds within the habitable zone that were not yet human compatible and terraform them. Ever wonder why the majority of sentient species have a compatible biochemistry and breathe oxygen? This is why. Humanity unleashed these massive reproducing bots upon the galaxy to remake it into their home. They were not intending on destroying worlds with life already. At least complex life. And for the most part they did not.

The machines mostly copied themselves almost perfectly. However, in one in a million cases, the machine would have a corrupted program. In this case, in the region of galaxy occupied by the Kalti, that program ignored the 'no terraforming of worlds with complex life' rule. The Kalti were not oxygen breathers. The machines saw their worlds as not being inhabited. Worlds were damaged, millions of lives lost. The Kalti pleaded with the Humans to stop. The Humans mostly shrugged.

The Kalti had Just Cause and attacked.

The Humans rendered the Kalti extinct.

Other races that came to the aid of the Kalti, the Humans often wiped out.

Many of the worlds of these races were utterly destroyed. There are only small evaporating black holes in their place. Consider! Humanity took Total War to its logical extreme and utterly destroyed the worlds which brought to life sophont beings! Not just the entirety of a government or nation, not just the complete species, but even the worlds which the Kalti lived and including the world.

The human fleets would leap into a system, create, fling at relativistic speeds small quantum blackholes that would either decompose at their targets, bathing them in insane doses of evaporative energy or if sufficiently large enough, consume the entire planet.

Even so, the Kalti, stripped of their worlds, dogged fought on. Hiding in protoplanetary disks, asteroid fields and even amongst the free floating planets between stars. it availed them little in the end. They and their kind and their allies, are long since dead.

The Great Greening spread amongst the stars. Each time a new species faced a glitch, Humanity had a new war. A new war that extended their reach. A new war that crushed another rival. A new war that led to extending Humanity's grip on yet more space. And rendered more species extinct. The war that did not end until the last of Humanity's machines had reached ever corner of the galaxy!

Consider. Even though there were far more oxygen breathers than reducing breathers, thousands of species were rendered extinction. Hundreds of thousands of worlds with complex life were wiped out to be remade into redox atmospheres and biochemistries compatible with Humanity's. Even then, there were those that were redox breathers that fought to try to stop the Humans. The humans made their worlds into singularities as well. There is a reason the Galactic Nations have banned such weapons! There is a reason why von Neumann machines are also banned. None could allow such a travesty again.

The Great Greening is also a reason why it appears to be impossible at this point to identify Earth: hundreds of millions of planets within the galaxy are stocked with Earthlife after being terraformed. And none of them have continents that match what we think we know Earth had. There have been candidates, but all have turned out to have fossil records that reach back only to the Great Greening.

And, yes, even to this day, there are outbreaks of the terraforming machines. They seem to lurk in the galactic shadows and burst out upon worlds to terraform them. The local nations do fight back and often contain and eliminate the threat. Locally. Like a retrovirus, the terraforming machines seem to lurk in reservoirs across the galaxy. Ever there. Ever present. Ever waiting for whatever triggers them into action.

No. Humanity was NOT race of saints. They were not gods. They wielded power above and beyond, to be sure, but they also at times lacked mercy. Humanity had and has much to account for.

But seeing them one dimensionally, hating them, does not do any herm any good. It also denies some of the greatest feats the galaxy has ever known. And some of the greatest good.

But, yes, Humanity also conducted some of the greatest evil.

No species before or since has matched Humanity. In evil. Or good.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 35: Complicated, why so Freakin Complicated?!

My father once told me a religion should not set itself up to be testable.  That is, don't make a claim based on something that is easily proven or disproven, if you want people to have faith.  He said it was a problem with many religions, especially newer ones.  The older ones had, either intentionally or unintentionally, learned that rule.

While very different than religions - most of the time - lies are pretty similar in one way.  If they are easily proven to be untrue, then people believing them will be almost impossible.  Those that will believe them are almost assuredly not the ones you really want to buy in to your story.  It's always better to tell the truth.  Either own up to the situation and accept the consequences or be ready for the worse consequences if the truth comes out after you lie.  And it will come out.  It always comes out.  Even if you are the best liar in the world.

And then the payment for that lie will come due.

Jaideep had lied to us.  He thought we were just kids he could tailor his truth for for sympathy and help.  It's not a uncommon story: adults often lie to kids to get what they want.  Sometimes it is because the situation is very complicated and they want to simplify the situation.  They often leave out details make a certain narrative that makes sense.  Sometimes it is to make them seem like the victim or hero or just an innocent bystander that got caught up in something.  Sometimes it is to try to keep them from looking bad.  Really bad.  Sometimes, it is because they fear what the kids will think if they knew the truth.

The truth will out.  Some times it takes a long time.  Sometimes it's really quick as the lies are transparent.  Here and now, I would say the truth was freaking out Helmet really bad.

Cheenee.  Hindi for Chinese.

Wonderful.  Just wonderful.  Just freaking wonderful with whip cream and cherries and yummy sprinkles.

Where we were, captives of Indian soldiers on an American world with CHINESE soldiers looking for them.  Awesome sauce.  Really.  I'm thrilled.  This is my thrilled and happy face.  Don't believe me?  Why?  I'm so cute and amazing!  Really!  

Good.  That was a lie.  Less damaging than Jaideep's but, still, a lie.

Helmet shouldered his/her weapon and was scanning.  Jaideep scrambled and pulled on his own.  There were no lights to tell what was happening inside and he was saying.  Jaideep turned and seemed to be scanning off axis from Helmet.  Helmet then turned to Jaideep and began gesticulating wildly.  No words were heard.  It was pretty obvious Helmet was berating Jaideep.  

The tent popped and Jaideep began to leave.  Helmet gestured at us even more wildly.  Jaideep seemed to just ignore Helmet as far as we could tell.  Jaideep ran for cover and aimed his rifle: he seemed to completely ignore that we existed.  Even without verbal cues, it was patently obvious Helmet was furious and frustrated.  

Helmet turned to us and handed back our needlers and boosters.

Just then a drone the size of my thumb zipped past us.  I didn't recognize it.  Was it Indian?  Was it Chinese?  Was it American military?  I didn't know.  In that instant, Jaideep opened fire on whatever was coming from the direction the drone had come from and Helmet fired something from his or her rifle that chased after the drone.

Then, Helmet turned to us and in plain, accented English, said, "Run.  Do not slow down.  Do not look back.  NOW RUN!"  The words were harsh, but said in as kind a manner as could be. The weirdest thing was, his accent was NOT Indian. It was also not one of the American accents either. I could have sworn it was ... Nigerian. 

Helmet then turned and began popping off his, yes, his own drones from the back of his armor.

With that, we ran.  We climbed up and over a hill and down another and over another and down into an arroyo, a dried up stream.  We were thinking it would work like a trench if explosions started going off.  We ran down the arroyo bed pounding on sand and through Jefflife brush.  Trying to get away.

And as we ran, it hit me.  Helmet hadn't been angry or contemptuous of US.  He had been of Jaideep.  he didn't want us to get hurt because of what they were doing.  He thought Jaideep was risking OUR lives for whatever he wanted: information?  food?  We didn't know.  We didn't have TIME to know.

In that moment, my opinion of Helmet wildly changed.  It was a bit head spinning on top of everything else.

And as we ran, we heard explosions and the sounds of a huge swarm of drones crashing, clashing and exploding.

We had run for what felt like a long time when a really big explosion was behind us.  The explosion was so big it knocked us to the ground.  Stunned, we got up.  After a moment, we franticly checked our leathers and balkavas: we they torn?  Compromised?  Remember, that can be life and death out on Jefferson.  We were ok.

After a second of elation, we realized we were still close enough to get hurt!  We got up and started running again.  We ran up and over the hill and then down into another arroyo.  We ran and ran.

We stopped to breathe, plopping ourselves in a creepy bush again.  PLEASE don't let this one's fruit pop while we're in it!

We were panting and gasping.  

I could feel everyone smile, thinking we were safe.  The explosions had stopped.  We were ok.  All we had to do was contact our parents and we could be done with this adventure.  Not the butt chewing that was coming afterwards, but at least the really dangerous (but not the scary part) would be over.

I reached into my pack and started to fish out the other clean booster when I heard it.

"Ahem.  Excuse me."

I looked up.  We all looked up.  

There stood someone in powered armor.  Again.

It wasn't Indian.

It wasn't American.

It was Chinese.

Or so the shoulder flashing with a red flag and yellow stars indicated.

We were caught.

Again.