Apologies to Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

How queerly beats this heart within mine breast!
My gold is scant, I own no manse nor lands
No sculptor I, nor potion-making blest
My quill’s the loom that weaves gifts from these hands
Upon the roof I sat to write these rhymes
But wroth I grew to scan this self-same verse
Then kindly sun bethought me that betimes
Thy kindled light shall lift my soul’s black curse
Thy pardon, dear! My muddled mind is dark.
Azure or vert, I cannot cozen which
From mem’ry’s vault. It matters not. But hark!
With eyes like thine a pauper’s purse feels rich!
And thou canst tell the world this sonnet’s thine
For all the world’s mine stage when thou art mine.
Just got home from Caladan
Raise the force shields, oh man!
Got to meditate and journey through all space and time;
Soon prescience sets in
Pretty soon I’m singin’:
Dune, Dune, Dune; lookin’ out my mind’s eye

There’s a navigator folding,
A Bene Tleilax molting;
Look at all the Landsraad houses feuding over spice
Rev’rend mums bewitch, and
New machines on Ix, man!
Dune, Dune, Dune; lookin’ out my mind’s eye

CHOAM and Bene Gesserit are playing on the erg
Won’t you take a ride on the Shai Hulud?
Doo doo doo!
Shaddam and Harkonnens
List’ning to Buck Owens,
Dune, Dune, Dune; lookin’ out my mind’s eye.
Big D: Hey man what's up?

A: Hey guy, I'm just watching all the Bourne movies end to end.

Big D: Me too on Bravo! Bourne is such a badass.

A: Yeah, except these super-assassins always do the same weak thing. When they come to take you out, they cut the land-lines. All that really does is send a signal saying HEY SUCKAS I AM COMING TO GET YOU.

Big D: True, and then they should all be whipping out their cell phones and crying at their mommas.

A: BE AFRAID BITCHES I HAVE TOTALLY TAKEN OUT YOUR FAX MACHINE!

Big D: HEY JASON BOURNE YOU BIG SHITBAG, NOW HOW'M I SUPPOSED TO SEND SCANS OF MY BALLS TO THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY??
I've been struggling a lot lately with something, namely that the world seems pretty screwed up and it's getting worse. This may partially be a perspective issue; current crisis situations appear more dire than past ones. However, I think even the space of time will reveal that the American political situation is as fractured as it has ever been, and the ideological divide between the halves of my country is wider than any we have ever seen.

Again, a possible perspective issue: I happen to believe that the side I am on is right, and the side they are on is wrong. I like to think of myself as an open-minded individual, capable of listening to all sides of an issue and understanding where everybody is coming from, but lately I have increasingly felt that there is no possible way that a growing number of conservative Americans have any kind of rational basis for believing the way they do. On issues ranging from disbelief in science (global warming, immunization of children), to a failure to accept the reality of a new and just social order (the fundamental rights of gay people as human beings), to a failure to accept the reality of an old and just social order (I feel an awful lot of Obama-hate stems from discomfort with a black president, even if nobody wants to admit this), those other people think a lot of things that I just can't comprehend. It's not that I don't understand the words they are using, or that I cannot follow the chains of statements intended to support their arguments. It's that I cannot place my mind in any kind of space where I could listen to those words and arguments, and conclude that the opinions they hold are in any way valid.

I refuse to believe that half of the United States is insane. That possibility is too horrifying to contemplate. I prefer to believe that something else is happening -- something wherein people with otherwise healthy minds are exhibiting symptoms of a heretofore underdescribed syndrome.

Read more... )
I thought I would put my thoughts down on dubstep music, in part so I can exchange ideas with friends, but also to embarrass myself decades from now when I go back and read things about music that has effectively evaporated, or is eclipsed by amazing new innovations in 2014, or where I criticize some artist who history recalls as the last great genius to emerge from Earth before the Cyborg Wars.

So: dubstep music. What is it?

Dubstep is a narrow category of synthpop. It is electronic dance music. It has its origins in the London dance scene somewhere around the turn of the millennium, but as is the case with all electronic music, its rate of mutation is very high, and the dubstep of today does not necessarily sound like the dubstep heard in clubs in 2000.

Dubstep is so named because it derives from a 2-step garage rhythm. It doesn't have the driving one/two/three/four of kick drum driving a 4/4 tempo; the kick drum beat goes on the one and the three, and percussion noodles around in between these beats. This gives 2-step a kind of lurching, wandering-around percussive feel. In fact, the percussion doesn't really drive the music at all; the driver is the bass. Dubstep has a driving, throbbing bass that's basically on all the time, and modulations in the base is what winds up generating a constant rhythm that makes the music danceable.

Dubstep also involves a lot of sampling, especially of cheesy electronic sounds such as old school video games. Vocals are sparse and sometimes absent. The original dubstep is dark, brooding music, often in a minor key, and club dancing originally was very thrash, meaning that dubstep is mostly the music of choice of angry young men on ketamine. This is changing and getting more balanced, probably because dubstep producers have tasted some commercial success and are now looking to package products that more people will consume.

Dubstep is being adopted by big-name pop performers left and right who want to latch on to the cool new trend; people like Rihanna and Britney Spears have their high-powered producers developing tracks that incorporate dubstep sounds. However, the way you are most likely to hear dubstep is through remixes of tunes that did not start out as dubstep. A good example is remixes of "Bulletproof" by La Roux. Here are several:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI-D90D4s3o

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FALgfHNErlM&feature=related

These are not remixes where a producer takes the original song and samples it to make a new one. In today's world of electronic music, it's the producers who are rockstars as much as the musical acts. People like Skream and Skrillex sit down with the artists in the studio and cut new tracks with them in collaboration (the duo of La Roux are also their own producers). Skrillex was up for a Grammy this last year as the line between musician and music producer has become so blurred as to be essentially meaningless for some forms of music.

The linked tracks are not the versions of "Bulletproof" that is heard on Top 40 radio (not in America, anyway). However, I listen to a lot more music on internet radio than I do on the actual airwaves, so that's what's in my head a lot more. This last year I spent a lot of time at the computer writing, and I listened to lot of dubstep during that time. I prefer the version that La Roux made with DJ Khrispy to the version my local Top 40 station plays. I like the fact that musical acts aren't issuing just one version of their music; if they feel so moved, they can generate dozens of variants of one song, and because the internet is awesome, it can all be moved out to the ears of listeners even without a distribution company packaging it commercially.

If you like this stuff, try this remix of "Pumped up Kicks" by Foster the People and Butch Clancy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXO-jKksQkM

or Coldplay's "Paradise", which frankly lurches along like dubstep in its original form anyway:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-vN6aqyfBE

Really, putting in 'dubstep popular remixes' into Youtube will generate some fun stuff.
On weekdays when I have my kids, my schedule is pretty fixed. I get up at 6AM and make breakfast. I wake the kids up at 6:30AM, hasty eating and preparing results, and everybody is transported to schools or bus stops by 7:15AM. Then I go to work.

This morning my alarm went off and I blearily staggered into the kitchen. As I fried bacon, my sleepy mind wandered all over the place. This is what I thought this morning.

Read more... )
I've been following the debate over Moonlandia this week. I think President Gingrich makes some decent arguments for admission. Of course he has to try and get the moonbase admitted to the Union as the 51st state; after all, he did run with that as a campaign promise. But in all honesty, they're certainly a separate and distinct territory with their own unique interests, they're already largely self-autonomous, and making them part of America decreases the chances that they'll just become their own nation. It kind of makes sense.

I don't know about this business about admitting them as a slave state, though. I mean, sure, if those loonies want to own human clones because it's the only economically feasible way to mine the regolith, that's not something I'm going to oppose. Gingrich has given us eight long years of prosperity, and I'm not going to buck him just because of some fleeting ethical sentimentality. But we've already seen how disruptive that can be to the national balance of power. Now we have the Undersea Modular Laboratory people clamoring to be admitted as the 52nd state, and they'll allow their clones to vote, and their votes will count for pi divided by four. So of course that restarted the argument of whether that's three fourths or what, and now we're on the brink of civil war again. So I just don't know.

Anyway, I think Moonlandia would make an awesome state. It pokes a stick in the eye of the United Nations, they're willing to take all of our nuclear waste, and you can totally see Russia from there. Depending on the time of day and cloud cover.
[livejournal.com profile] drwex asked a question about how one might teach the development of analytical thinking skills in others. This is not a comprehensive answer, but it shoots in that direction.

When I was a younger person, my first full-time adult-type job was designing automatic fire sprinkler systems. It was an eye-opening and educational experience, and even though the job basically sucked, I learned all kinds of crazy stuff in that job that I use daily in my present-day non-sucky job, so I can't complain.

One interesting lesson was learned at the hand of the Chief Superintendant, Bob. Bob was in charge of installing the systems that me and my group designed. People who put things in, I quickly learned, have a wealth of knowledge and experience about things that people who only design never gain. As a result, when I first started in that job, I wound up going and bugging Bob for answers on a regular basis.

This annoyed Bob. Bob liked to sit in his office and shoot the shit with his buddies on the topics of fishing or hunting. He did not like fielding questions from young designers. This was especially true because, in his opinion, many of the questions could be answered by me, without bothering him, if I would just think about it the right way. At one point he got fed up. When I came into his office and opened my mouth to start asking whatever question I had, he told me to stop.

Bob pointed into a corner of the office. "Over there," he said, "is a stuffed duck. I want you to ask that duck your question."

I looked at the duck. It was, in fact, stuffed, and very dead. Even if it had not been dead, it probably would not have been a good source of design information. I looked at Bob. Bob was dead serious. He was also my superior, and I wanted to keep my job.

I awkwardly went to stand next to the duck and bent my head, as if in prayer, to commune with this duck. "What," Bob demanded, "are you doing?"

"I'm asking my question of the duck," I said.

One of Bob's superintendants was in his office. He was grinning like a bastard around his toothpick. "Andy," Bob said, "I don't want you to pray to the duck. I want you to ASK THE DUCK YOUR QUESTION."

I licked my lips. "Out loud?" I said.

"Out loud," Bob said firmly.

I cleared my throat. "Duck," I began.

"Its name is Bob Junior," Bob's superintendant supplied. I shot him a dirty look.

"Duck," I continued, "I want to know, when you use a strap hanger, what keeps the sprinkler pipe from jumping out of the strap when the head discharges, causing the pipe to..."

In the middle of asking the duck my question, the answer hit me. The strap hanger is suspended from the structure above by a length of all-thread rod. If the pipe-fitter cuts the all-thread rod such that it butts up against the top of the pipe, it essentially will hold the pipe in the hanger and keep it from bucking.

I turned to look at Bob. Bob was nodding. "You know, don't you," he said.

"You run the all-thread rod to the top of the pipe," I said.

"That's right," said Bob. "Next time you have a question, I want you to come in here and ask the duck, not me. Ask it out loud. If you still don't know the answer, then you can ask me."

"Okay," I said, and got back to work.

In the months that followed, I had many questions. I followed Bob's directions and asked the duck my questions. I believe that 50% of the time, asking the duck produced the answer.

Why does this work? I am not sure. I think there is something about framing your question as a verbal inquiry that causes your brain to work on it differently. You turn the question around and see it from another angle -- the angle of the person answering the question. This, in turn, causes your own brain to put itself in the answerer's shoes -- and, because we are basically clever apes, we have the tools to come up with smart ideas all on our own.

Fast forward to my current job. I am no longer a young designer. I am now an officer in a medium-size engineering firm. I do less designing than managing these days. And I get asked a lot of questions.

A few months back, after being interrupted for the sixth time that day by a very smart young engineer who had a question for me, I chose not to answer. Instead, I took the young man down the hall from my office and into a huddle room. Hanging in the huddle room was a photograph of our company's founder shaking hands with a politician.

"This," I said, "is Newt Gingrich, 58th Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and he is generally considered a smart fellow, even by those who despise him." My young engineer looked up at Newt, wondering where on Earth this could possibly be going, just as I had done with Bob and the duck many years ago.

I get less questions these days. But I think my young engineers get better answers, because there is no thinking quite so well-understood as thinking you do for yourself, even if you get a little help from a duck, or a politician, even one I loathe.
This month's word count: 54862. Full project word count: 647685. Success!

At the beginning of this project, I had no idea what to expect in terms of writing volue. I thought I might want to write a little more than [livejournal.com profile] crisper, but I wasn't sure how much that would be. I figured if I could write a thousand words a day I would be lucky. Obviously, that proved to be insufficient for the kind of writing I wanted to do. After the first month I figured it would be easy to do 60k words a month, leading to me ending at 720k total. Obviously that was too ambitious. About 50k words and some change seemed to be a comfortable amount to write in a typical month. Given that in this same interval I held down a full-time job requiring attention far outside the 9 to 5 schedule, managed to stay married, and managed to still have kids who love me and friends who don't hate me, I feel pretty good about this.

When I set out to do this project, I knew I wanted to achieve some things. One, I wanted to have the good feeling that I sometimes get when I write something worth writing and reading. I hadn't done much of that in 2010, and I felt its absence. I think I did okay here; even though it was not an explicit objective to generate good stories, I felt there were a number of moments where I'll still like the finished product, even after I go back and read everything through and do my ritual cringing and self-flagellation.

Two, I wanted to see if I could do it. Here I have to give a giant shout-out to [livejournal.com profile] crisper. About eighteen years ago I publicly said "hey we should do this stupid thing" And then Dan said "yeah this could be stupid awesome we should totally do it" And then I said "Holy cow, we could seriously do this stupid crazy shit, we might actually pull it off!" And then Dan said "JESUS IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN, ISN'T IT!" And then I said "YEAH MOTHERFUCKER YEAH, WE ARE TOO STUPID NOT TO DO THIS INCREDIBLY, DANGEROUSLY STUPID THING!!" So we did something stupid, because we didn't know enough to know that sensible people wouldn't do something like that, and indeed it was stupid, but also awesome, and on my deathbed I will be grinning and nodding to myself about that one time when Dan and I talked each other into great, yet satisfying, stupidity. So when Dan did something else stupid yet awesome by writing every day in 2010, there was really no chance in the world that I wasn't going to do it too. Dan and I are friends, even though years go by where we don't exchange email, precisely because our heads dwell in a similar sick headspace, and because our sick efforts make each other better. Some day I am going to jump off a bridge, and Dan is going to do it too, not because I told him to do it, but because he will be certain that he can jump to his death better and more stylishly than I can, and he'll be right, and my mangled remains will say to his mangled remains, "...best two out of three?"

Three, I wanted to get better at writing. I have succeeded at this in an unexpected way. I don't think the mechanics of my writing have improved. I do think that I have gotten better at writing in bulk. In 2010, you could have told me "write fifty thousand words on a topic. Go." And I would have not known how to proceed. I now know how to proceed. I am likely to not *want* to write you fifty thousand words, but gun to my head, I know I can do it, probably in under a month. I have gotten much, much better at this. I have also gotten very good at committing to writing. I was mostly on time in meeting the deadline, and when I was late, I was not more than an hour or two late in all but a handful of situations. I managed to keep writing when I was vacationing, when I was sick, when I was miserable, when I was drunk, and when I was distracted by a thousand little things. I feel good about that.

Four, I wanted to amuse my friends. My friends are often amused when I write. I like this; it makes me cackle. This year I feel like I have amused my friends often. I also feel that I have made many new friends, and they have been amused too. That's pretty cool.

So, all in all, I feel like I achieved my goals for this project. As mentioned in earlier postings, my goal is not to publish anything, although I reserve the right to change my mind on this subject later. I write because I love to write, and I am certain that writing for publication would suck the joy out of this. So, I don't think you'll be seeing a WEDAY book any time soon. I'll let you know if this changes.

What next? I don't know. I suspect I will not write for a while. Frankly, for 2012 I'm making it a priority to catch up on my health. I'm very out of shape and have a number of health problems that will not get better unless I step up my efforts to live a healthy life. I feel that I can put just a quarter of the energy into exercise and proper eating/drinking as I have put into this project, then I can make dramatic improvements in the quality of my life. That's just as worthwhile as feeling good about writing.

But I'm sure I'll write again, probably sooner than later. I love it too much. So watch this space, and hopefully I'll be amusing my friends again before too much longer.

Thank you so much to everybody for your support! I am especially indebted to those persons (you know who you are) who sent me edits, either through comments or by email, so I could fix things that were stupid. I must also thank my wife and kids; I'll be paying a lot more attention to you in 2012, believe me.

Thanks, everybody! Woohoo! Happy New Year!
I got the call today from the hospice. It certainly wasn’t an unexpected call, but it was jarring anyway; I felt numb as I hung up the phone. Bonnie stood in the doorway, drying a plate. She took in the expression on my face.

“How long?” she asked.

“Not long,” I said. “They’ve…” I struggled to maintain my composure. “They’ve made it as comfortable as they could, but it won’t be long now.” I took off my glasses so I could wipe my eyes. “They told me… I should hurry.”

“Oh, honey,” said Bonnie, coming over and resting a hip on the table. She put her arm around me, and I leaned into her, sniffling a little. Bonnie ran her fingers through my hair and kissed my head.

“I know this is hard,” she whispered.

“It’s horrible,” I said hoarsely. “No writer should ever have to outlive their writing project.”

Read more... )
I was going to write something else here, something fictional, but something happened today that made that impossible. I am therefore going to write this, which is a true telling of what happened today.

Last night was a good night. My wife came back from a long road trip. Because yesterday was the first day in some time that I had both my wife and my kids in my house at the same time, we had our Christmas present opening ritual. Gifts were exchanged and enjoyed.

We had dinner out, and when we came home people were tired. Kids put themselves to bed. Adults did adult things. Eventually the adults went to bed as well. Sexytimes may or may not have occurred. You don’t want to know about that. Eventually, people slept.

In the night, criminals came.

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FOREWARD

In case you haven't noticed, there's a war going on out there. It may not be a war you have chosen to participate in, but guess what: that's not your choice. People and forces are conspiring to drag you into that conflict. You're going to be part of it. Unless you do something.

I'm not talking about military conflict. I'm not even talking about people injuring each other physically. I'm talking about being, and reality. I'm telling you that there are people out there who are going to force you to believe that some aspect of your life has meaning – their meaning. These people, these organizations, these corporations and these governments are going to impose their values on YOU. And there's nothing you can do about it.

That's what they want you to believe, anyway. The truth is, there IS something you can do about it. You can fight back. That's what this book is all about. Contained in these pages is everything you need to counter the artificial construct of social rules, morality, religion and even reality itself.

Fight the power. Deny objective reality. Be a nihilist.

Read on.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1: Time – Tick Tock It Don't Stop. How to reset clocks. Desynchronize cell phone towers. Disrupt Daylight Saving's Time. Vandalize calendars. Work flex hours; patronize 24-hour businesses. Circadian rhythms are your treadmill – get off it!

CHAPTER 2: Space – The Final Affront. Move property benchmarks. Reorient roadsigns. Build bridges to nowhere. Offer guided tours of nothingness. Counter the tyranny of three-dimensional space by dropping acid. Get lost!

CHAPTER 3: Morality – What's Good for the Goose. Be a passionate pervert. Edit ratings on movies and games. Vote for crazy politicians who will enact crazy laws.

CHAPTER 4: Religion – Take This, Job, and Shove It. Edit Gideon's Bibles. Hand out defamatory literature at airports. Again with the crazy politicians. Cultivate nonsensical beliefs that change every day. How to start your own cult, then destroy it from within. Achieving Personal Godhood through Mescaline.

CHAPTER 5: Money – The Fool's Gold Standard. Buy expensive things and resell them below market value. Engage with barter economies. Dispense bad tax advice. Dilute the market with foreign currency. Be rich in your own mind.

CHAPTER 6: Life – It's Just a Cereal. Crush insects. Laugh at Sally Struthers. How to ruin funerals. Disrupt nurseries. Make stem cells in your garage. Breed vermin. How to be a cock-blocker. Is there life on other planets, and should we give a shit?

CHAPTER 7: Culture – Add Agar and Keep Warm. Embrace terrible music and bad movies. Create new rules for politeness. How to get on TV. How to crash parties. Weddings: I Object! Wakes: I Object!

CHAPTER 8: Existence – It's Not That Into You. Deny the reality of the things around you, especially crazy politicians. Bump into things. Ignore people. More acid, please. How to play make-believe. Listen to talk radio. Burn this book.
I admire this Captain Aubrey. He cuts a gallant figure at the rail, this great bluff officer with the ruddy face and a naval uniform from the battles with Napoleon, when my father was a boy. He sees me down on the gun deck, but he does not smile. I am an unwanted passenger aboard his ship, and a woman besides. Superstitious seamen believe it is unlucky for a woman to be aboard.

I wish the Captain would see me, that I might apologize. I did not ask to come aboard _Surprise_; indeed, I have no idea how I came to be on this vessel at all, in a quadrant of the world I have never visited, and in a time long before I was born. But the Captain is too busy to see anybody; there is a crisis at hand. _Surprise_ flees from another ship, a Spanish frigate. The Spaniard carries twenty more guns than our vessel. _Surprise_ ought to be more seaworthy, or so I have gathered from the mutterings of the crew, but for the curious and unexpected burden of passengers and cargo that she carries.

His Majesty joins me on the deck and stands with hands folded behind his back, chin held high, watching the wake of our passage disappear behind us. "A puzzlement," he declares. "Where is steam engines? Western watercraft is modern and technological, we are informed!" The canvas of the sails flap overhead to punctuate his point.

"Your Majesty is correct," I state, bowing my head and curtseying. "Modern warcraft are indeed steam-powered. I am not certain why this ship should be so primitive. However, proper grammar should be to say 'Where are the steam engines?'"

His Majesty bristles. "Grammatical constructs! Rules and regulations, bah! A King decides what is proper!"

A team of seamen brush past us, further arousing His Majesty's ire, but they pay him no attention. "Oi!" shouts one of the crewmen. "We've canvas to raise 'ere! Move yer blasted elephant!"

A man with a queer hat and cigar frowns. "This ain't no ordinary elephant," he declares, jerking a thumb at the enormous beast. "This is Jumbo, the World's Largest. Ain't that right, Barnum?"

"S'right, Bailey," hiccups a man with a string cravat and a striped jacket. "A genuine biological curiosity."

An old man wearing an overcoat bursts out of the throng milling on the gun deck. He attempts to chase down a lean cat that dodges between the legs of the crewmen. "Tonto!" he shouts. "Get back here!"

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"I never said it," said Bill Gates flatly.

"The internet says you did," replied the interviewer doggedly.

"640K was never a ceiling on RAM requirements," Bill insisted. "It was an upper bound necessitated by cost. We always anticipated needing more, eventually."

"Bill," the interviewer said tiredly, "the shared electronic environment that you helped create, and that in turn drives the global demand for your products, says you said it. Citations be damned; it's all over the internet. Are you going to bite the hand that feeds you? Are you calling the internet… a liar??"

Bill swallowed. "No," he said glumly.
I turned _Glom_'s exterior viewers upward and frowned. "Lopez," I said, "is it just an optical illusion, or is the warp interface shrinking?"

Lopez tapped at his keyboard. "Well," he said, "I have good news and bad news."

"I could use some good news," I said.

"There's nothing wrong with your eyes," Lopez reported. "Guess what the bad news is?"

I rubbed my temples. "Please, in these last few moments, let's not resort to strangling each other," I begged.

"Yeah, it's shrinking," said Lopez. "_Golden_Empire_'s warp engines are offline. We're slowly coasting to a halt. When the bubble collapses, we're going to turn into a very interesting contrail spread out over several light-years of empty space."

"Okay, get the engines back online," I said impatiently.

"Can't," Lopez said. "External override. Some sneaky McMillan-shaped bastard has me locked out."

"That's ridiculous," I said. "The only thing maintaining the warp bubble is _Golden_Empire_. If she goes down, McMillan goes down with us. Where's he operating from, anyway?"

Lopez's quick hands flew over the keyboard. "I'm guessing from there," he said, bringing a view up on the big screen.

It was a shot of _Golden_Empire_'s underside, near the fore. The big liner's top was the dome that covered Lido Deck; the bottom was largely flat. A door was opening, and some kind of smaller craft was being dropped down on a boom. It was dwarfed by _Golden_Empire_, of course, but it measured a large enough fraction of the liner's beam that it must still be quite large, capable of carrying hundreds of passengers.

"Lifeboat?" I asked.

"No," said Lopez. "According to the registry, that's a luxury yacht. The Crown Prince owns it."

"Betcha a Crown Prince can afford a warp generator on his private toy spaceship," I said.

"No bets," said Lopez.

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"Christ, Lopez," I accused, "you just coughed up Hoggrid."

"That's impossible!" said Lopez, peering anxiously at the fleshy tadpole dangling from the dome of our vacc suit. "Hoggrid died back on the Pestle! I… I ate him!"

"YES," squeaked the tadpole. "ORGANIC MATRIX WAS PRESERVED. SPORIFIED REGROWTH HAS BEEN PROCEEDING IN LOPEZ-TISSUES."

"I don't know how you Betellians like to do things," Lopez said hotly, "but around these parts, friends don't grow as tumors in friends' bodies!"

"NECESSARY FOR CONTINUATION OF LIFE," said Hoggrid. "I EXPRESS GRATITUDE."

"Wow, Hoggrid," I said, "I'm impressed. That was almost lifelike of you. So you've been germinating in Lopez's gut all this time, just biding your time?"

"NEGATIVE," Hoggrid replied. "HOGGRID-SELF EXISTS IN NON-SPATIAL DIMENSION. ORGANIC/MACHINE INTERFACE IS ONLY PROJECTION INTO YOUR SPACE."

"Nice," I said. "Hear that, Lopez? Hoggrid's been projecting into you."

"Shut the hell up," barked Lopez. "So, Hoggrid, how do we get you into your own machine-body?"

"MUST HAVE JAVANITE," piped the tiny Hoggrid-worm. It oozed its way down the back of our helmet on its way to the collar.

"Wait wait wait!" said Lopez frantically. "This Javanite? The Chain of Office? You can't have this; it's spoken for."

"Also, I don't really want you crawling down the back of my… oh jeez, he's doing it." I squirmed as the tiny creature slimed down my nape.

"JAVANITE," squeaked Hoggrid, barely audibly.

"He's going to eat the loot!" Lopez sobbed.

"Let him," I said. "We're busy."

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Lopez backpedaled away from the vault in horror; I followed suit.

"Up the tube," I suggested.

"Compartment's sealed off," Lopez said.

"We could pinch off the vent tube," I said.

"And let the Fatir gas loose in the compartment, in which case we'll die messily, and then we'll be vented to space anyway because it'll eat its way down through the hull." Lopez looked around. "Well, we have lots of blasters; we could shoot each other."

"We could set one of the blasters on overload and let it get sucked down the vent tube," I suggested. "Won't save us, but might take McMillan out too."

"That's a thought," said Lopez. It was getting difficult to hear. Lopez suddenly convulsed in a coughing spasm. When he came up, one of those weird tadpole parasites was glistening on the carpet. It opened a maw and uttered a piercing scream, almost too high pitched to be audible. I stepped on it.

Swami's voice sounded in my ear. "You have a problem," he said.

"You *are* a genius," I said gratefully.

"Who are you talking to?" Lopez asked irritably.

"I…." I reconsidered. McMillan might not be able to hear me, but perhaps he could still listen in on Lopez. "Nobody," I said.

"Here's a thought," said Swami. "The magnetic bottle in the vault is still working. As the Fatir gas gets drawn out, it'll draw the remaining oxygen on the floor behind it. There won't be a lot of vapor pressure, but…."

"C'mon, Lopez," I said, pulling my friend towards the vault. We peered past the vent tube, the breeze ruffling our hair. The mass of Fatir gas was a billowing cloud, held only a couple of feet off the vault's wall. A thin ribbon of purple spiraled into the vent tube, gyrating lazily in the air.

"Let's go," I said, pulling Lopez. I ducked under the vent tube and pressed my back flat against the vault wall. I started edging my way around the side.

"You're crazy," said Lopez.

"Crazy like a fox that enjoys aerobic respiration," I said. There was a rushing in my ears, but I knew it wasn't a real sound. I'd been decompressed enough times to know the noise your blood makes when there's no air.

I held out a hand. "Come and live," I said. "Or stay and die."

Lopez's whiskers twitched. "Shit," he said, and put his hand in mine.

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I waltzed through the corridors of _Golden_Empire_, tricked out in Space Marine regalia and loaded for bear. Giant, steel-plated, atomic-fire-breathing bear. It wasn't a big deal if anybody saw me. According to McMillan's plan, we wanted people to see me. And what were they going to do, detain me?

People gaped as I tromped down the softly-lit, comfortably-carpeted halls. "Excuse me, ma'am," I said, tipping my beret. "Space Marine coming through. Beg your pardon. One side, please. Have a nice day." Passengers and crew automatically moved aside. I had a blaster rifle and they didn't, but even worse: I was polite.

My teammates called in to wish me luck. "Don't die," Grabsy said encouragingly.

"Thanks, pal," I replied.

"When you kill 'em," said Lopez, "Don't just kill 'em for the money. Kill 'em because they're goddamn space marines."

"And because of the money," I appended.

"Yes," said Lopez firmly.

"Knock 'em dead," said Kima.

"Okay," I replied. "I may have to shoot a few too."

I pushed the button for the tube down to 'R' deck. Near the tube station was a bartending kiosk. An attractive bartender in a silver bikini took me in with wide eyes. "Is there some kind of emergency?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied, "in my pants." I waggled my eyebrows.

One of the bartender's eyebrows rose a fraction. "As a line," she informed me, "that doesn't really work."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm a little distracted. I might die in the next sixty seconds."

"Oh," she said. She squinted at me suspiciously. "Are you sure you're a real Space Marine?"

The tube arrived; I got in. "Watch the news tomorrow and find out," I suggested. The door closed.

Approximately a million years later, the door opened again, and I stepped out onto 'R' deck. There was, for the moment, nobody in sight.

"Initiating Operation Scary Diversion," said McMillan's voice. A second later klaxons started sounding, and alarm lights flashed. THERE IS AN ENVIRONMENTAL EMERGENCY, said a robotic voice. REMAIN IN YOUR ROOMS AND STAY CALM.

"Yeah," I muttered, cocking the blaster rifle. "Stay where you are, and roll over."

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NOTICE:

Seasonal high spirits aside, safety concerns must trump celebrations. Accordingly, station personnel are ordered not to fire the Death Star beam on New Year's Eve.

Stray planet-killing rays account for billions of lives lost every year, some of them not ordered by the Emperor. Well-intentioned troopers see only a collimated beam of high-energy photons shooting harmlessly off into space, but even at long range, the Death Star's power is formidable.

Those responsible for the accidental annihilation of moons, planets or entire star systems will receive fines and a reprimand, which will go on your permanent record. That is all.
"That was some pretty radical plastic surgery that you had," I admired. Swami didn't look anything like the painfully thin little stick-man I had known for a long time.

"I actually decided to do a brain transplant," Swami said. "It was easier. Also, once you've done one, it's easy to just pull up roots, as it were, and move on to another body."

"Yeah?" I asked. "What happened to the other brains? The original occupants, I mean?"

"That's not an interesting question," said Swami. "The interesting question is, how am I going to spring you and your friends?"

"I like that question," I said. "You can start by getting this collar off."

"Nope," said Swami. "Can't do that. I know McMillan and his handiwork; getting that off safely will not be a quick exercise. No, we'll have to play a complicated game. You'll have to remain in his service, follow through with the plan, while I work on getting you free."

"Yeah, okay," I said. The space marines were starting to stare at me, engaged as I was in a conversation with one of the help. I sat down on my bench and resumed pumping iron. Swami removed one of my shoes and started relacing it.

"Well, you better free us before we get off the ship," I suggested. "McMillan's still out there in his Gorelid Deuce; this is probably a lot easier to pull off while he's remote."

Swami shook his head. "I think McMillan lied to you, Jackpot," he said. "I very much doubt that he would do this job remotely. No, I think the odds are excellent that, for reasons of his own, McMillan has chosen not to tell you how close he really is. I'll put five to one odds that he's on board _Golden_Empire_."

"Yeah?" I said. "Staying in one of the luxury suites while we squat in our own stink on _Glom_, eh?"

"Possibly," said Swami, "but he might be even closer than that. I'll give you three to one odds that he's actually part of _Glom_'s crew."

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