Sunday, December 28, 2014

Class Assignment: Character

I'll put the assignment here, in progress:

Part 1: Physical description, one page.

Kallo had been twelve years old for twenty years now. She would always be twelve.

When her Earth father had mapped her with Adapted features that he would never have: her silver irises that reflected radiation, her smooth, thick copper skin, her fine bones and coarse black hair, he was thinking of more than her comfort. He wanted her to have the advantage of self-selection. At twelve when her gift for flight was clear, he offered her the chance to stop growing. She could stay at optimum size, weight and build for flight. Kallo had said yes to the gene modification immediately.

She stood, and would for her entire life stand just over four feet, with long, ropy legs and large feet, and arms that were too muscular to be gangling. Her face was appealingly triangular; her mercurial eyes were wide-set, her nose a classic wide, flat Adapted nose with broad nostrils, her cheekbones broad and rounded and her chin a delicate point. She kept her blue-black hair, the texture of a cleaning brush, chopped short for convenience but it would never be neat. It was always frilled at the crown where her helmet jammed it upwards, and matted at the temples where the helmet strapped down. When out of her suit and on the ground she gave off a faint funk from having no time to shower, and she walked with a hesitant, pigeon-toed mince on her wide feet. She moved, in “ground clothes” a bit like a tiny black bird that had fought its way out of a storm-ruffled, lost and vulnerable.

In flight she was a ballerina, a gymnast, a wonder. Her spiraling ground takeoffs, her precise glide form, her gravity-defying banking skill, like a slow-motion pause in the air just before descent, were all the very best on the world. No other flier was her equal. Her father made sure of that. Kallo knew that half of her grace came from the suits her father designed and her wings, her always-improving wings.

At first they were polymer prototypes, smoothly opening and closing on a series of ball joints, but they were fragile and shattered in sand storms. Her next set were made of biocomposite, lab generated feathers and bones derived from bird DNA and engineered over sized, but these also were not strong enough. Finally her father devised a matrix of overlapping electrostatic and gravitational fields so dense that it could support weight, steer through air currents and generate thrust. These wings were powered by ambient radiation, the main source of power for infrastructure on Mars and limitlessly available. With the wings made of shimmering electrical fields came the cloak, and with the power of flying invisibly and silently using electrostatic fields came the realization that she could hear thoughts from the ground.

Part 2:  What Kallo thinks about when she's alone:

Weather is alive. It's one thing nobody understands. Ground people see pieces-one dust devil, one storm at a time. They aren't pieces. They're parts of one thing, like one great mind that's always changing, with thoughts always churning and dancing. Weather never stops dancing, we just jump in and out of it.

I can smell the first breaking of the ground, if it's a mine or another trench steppe or even just a foundation. I can tell how far away and what it is. Daddy designed my mask so I can harvest and taste unique particles as soon as they enter atmo. I know when a lab has shipped waste off to reclamation and I know whether it's silk worm waste or ore tailings. I know when half a herd of sheep was electrocuted on the steppes. I'm so used to the dung ovens starting up at sunset and sunrise that the scent is familiar and marks out the day.

But I have to be within the right altitude range to hear them thinking.

Usually I stay just above the frequency range. Hearing too many thoughts can make you crazy. Sometimes, though, I dip down just to catch a few.

I have my favorites. There's the Bowl, with all the universities and art colonies. There's a lot of petty conflict in the Bowl, but they know how to give themselves to fun. Welcoming Days are my favorite, when Bowl citizens are born. On those days there are love feasts and drunken memory parties and the baby pictures and action captures are all around; on those days you hear everybody’s life stories and they get all sentimental and cry and laugh and sing. They have nice life stories in the Bowl. And there's a shepherdess on the steppes in New Khan. She's a weaver, so her mind is always chatting about colors and textures and designs. One day I listened to her thinking about rain drops, and what if each one was a being and how would she weave their faces. I could have listened to her all day, but I had work to do.

Daddy and I decided it's time to start a Guild of fliers to keep the people of Mars safe. It's a very great responsibility to be able to hear thoughts and to do it unseen, so we must set down regulations for ourselves and for those we recruit. We need to protect our independence, and we need to protect the vulnerable. The Bowl military is fierce but they can't always interfere-or intercede, as Daddy would rather say-when they should. But Mars needs this. Aside from Earth interference we have our share of predators of every kind, so the vulnerable especially need protection. And we must be the ones to do it.

Part 3:  Kallo in interview (250 words).

My father gave me the mutation at twelve. I will never be older than twelve. I wanted it then and I never want to change it. I'm exactly the right build to fly and I can fly better and longer than anybody and I don't miss any of the stupid stuff people think I should miss. How is growing up so great?

My mother died on the ground. She hated me flying and I will tell you, she didn't like me. And I didn't like her. She was mean to me and mean to Daddy and she killed herself in a stupid ground accident.

Sometimes people pity me. They look down on me, well, guess what? I'm the one looking down on them. I look down on them from so many kilometers up they stop even looking like bugs and they're too small to see. That's all I want. I want to be so far up that they disappear.

Well, not everybody. Especially not my Dad. And my flying, that's mostly Daddy. He made me. He gave me the mutation at the perfect time. He's always building me better suits and better wings. My Daddy is a genius like no one else will ever be. He's such a genius that he made himself even more of a genius. Who else on both worlds ever designed their own brain upgrades? Nobody.

We don't know how long I'm going to live. I might never even die.

All I want is to fly.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

On Being a Time Lord

Jocks who track radio shows (that is, to record them ahead of time) might as well be referred to as Time Lords.  Even the chicks.*  We sure earn the title.

On Wednesday when I went into work, I had already recorded the first two hours of that show the day before.  This was a strategy to help me keep the energy up and stories as fresh as possible for my Christmas show on Thursday (which is a tracked show rather than live for the holiday) and sustain the energy for the first two hours of my day-after Christmas Friday show, since I had to record all of these in a six hour period if I wanted time off on the holiday weekend.  Also, with a winter storm coming in on Thursday night, I wanted to avoid driving to work in up to eight inches of fresh snow and icy roads, and the possibility of a wreck or not making it in to work at all.

When I leave for work, it's 1:00 AM.  Snow plows don't hit the road until about 4:00 AM.  So the driving conditions when I must leave for work are always the very worst of the whole day and night, and my vehicle is not great in the snow.  Due almost entirely to these factors I wrecked my truck last year.  So I'm jittery about driving in snow storms.

After tracking the last two hours of my Wednesday show four hours early, it was time to track my Christmas show.  I had pre-loaded a folder with links and audio clips for bits; I opened the folder and my document titled "Christmas Show" with links to news stories like the stolen "leg lamp" (a replica of the lamp from the essential holiday movie "A Christmas Story", which was stolen from a liquor store couple days ago).  I built the story into a bit that ended with an audio clip from the movie: "It's a leg!  It's a lamp!  What a lamp!" and other similar topical bits with added value from holiday movies and TV shows well known and well loved by my audience.  Hopefully it made entertaining, relevant, fresh and compelling listening.  This is my dearest hope every single day. 

For the time you are tracking a certain day, you put yourself in that day.  You imagine that you are there.  You open the mic fresh on the day after Christmas (in your imagination) and announce, "Well, we survived another Christmas.  I dumped the leftover eggnog in my coffee.  Should have checked it for rum, though.  Well, hey, this will be a fun show if I don't pass out!"  It's crucial that the show sounds real and grounded in the very day and time the show will be heard.  We are exacting about our topics, our references and our energy and mindset.  We want it to be real.  So we have to be time travelers. 

It's not unusual to travel ahead in time to cut two shows and then backtrack to do the first couple hours of a show that occurred three days prior to that.  It's very common on holiday weekends and during snowstorm season.  As a result we're in a constant state of disorientation.  Most tracked air personalities have no idea, on any given day, what day it is. This is a time traveler problem.
And-all this is a dirty secret.  We must never let the curtain blow back to show the pulleys and levers. Nobody wants to hear that radio personalities pre-record shows or worse, pre-record in bulk.  We're not just Time Lords-we're undercover Time Lords.  And, we have limited time in which to execute all this genius.

Unlike The Doctor, we Undercover Radio Time Lords are at the mercy of snow storms, the news cycle as we delve for topics, busy engineers who forgot to send shows into the system or to send us the codes to access those shows so we can record them, sudden overloads of extra production work which put us even further behind, and crowded studio schedules. In the winter months when weather broadcasters throw the dice, we have to ride the numbers.  Will we get four inches of snow or eight?  Will we be able to make it to work, and/or make it without losing life and/or limb?  Should we record the first two hours of Monday on Friday?  Can we get enough studio time to do the shows when we can get into work?

We don't have spinning blue police boxes, but we do have temporal vertigo and generalized anxiety.  It's all part of being an Undercover Radio Time Lord.

It sounds so cool.  But, that's radio.  While it is a very cool job, it sounds cooler than it feels.  And it would be a lot easier with a TARDIS.

*According to wikipedia: "...the Lord of Mann, a title currently held by the Queen, and female Lord Mayors are examples of women who are styled Lord."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

500 Word Setting

Kallo stepped off the edge of the mesa. She pitched head down, hitching her left shoulder to engage the cloak; her shadow on the cliff face flashed and then blurred, rippling before it disappeared.

She held the fall too long before inching open her wings and pulling up, barely clearing the final foundation of the construction site in a failed attempt to catch an updraft. Wheelmules and ore carts to the east of the ring of circular foundation digs zipped away under her; she stalled for a ponderous second before her feet jammed into the mound of gray sand at the very end of the tailing piles. Her knees screamed as she went onto her face.

She rolled down the steep dune, throwing herself off a ledge, and finally thudding into the deep shadow of a rock shelf.

She looked up, gasping. The exchange winds surrounding the mesa howled and tore at the true Martian desert, lashing ribbons of rusty sand, but here it was calm. The storm currents dropped off under the field of a centralized atmospheric processor, or CAP, as they were starting to call them. The CAP's kilometer-high stalks loomed, barely visible in the haze as they poured the moist nitrogen/02 mix, but she could make out the rims of the stalks glittering with the new radiation harvesters, like metallic petals. Through her mask she tasted the acidic humidity of expensive processed water; this would be a posh installation.

"Puffin?" her father's voice shrilled in her ears.

Kallo watched overhead, trying to spot mirror-sparked edges of cloaked fliers. She'd counted five chasing her before diving into Hematite Canyon. "Daddy, can you get a bio count from a construction sensor? There were five-"

"No, just four,"

Kallo coughed, looking down from her ledge into the deep layers of vermillion shadows, edged with delicate crystals of frost. She smelled the dank tang of...native moisture? She lifted her mask, drawing a gulp of the frozen atmo into her air mix and huffing on it like a lioness, nose and mouth open to get a real taste.

"Puffin, what have I told you about raw atmo in these impact sites? The radia-".

She ticked her head to left, muting the comm so she could think. She'd apologize later. She rolled the stinging alkaline, and some grit, around her tongue with saliva. It was Mars water.

She began creeping along the edge of the ragged little shelf;  just below, green fluorescent markers outlined what could only be a site for another new cistern. A hidden, illegal cistern. She looked back up at the gray sky bordered with the russet wall of rushing sand. She did not want to be cornered here.

She lifted her mask again to spit and crawled to her feet, crouching.

"Daddy, I gotta go,"

"Kalleano, no. Let me send-"

Kallo pushed off the ground, wings humming with the kick of takeoff. She slammed into something invisible and was thrown back onto the rock, unconscious.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hard Sci-Fi and a Girly Plot

I've recommitted to writing practice by signing up with the first of  David Farland's writing courses.

So for the next week (at least), I'll be working on the first assignment: Setting.

Though I'm dropping "The Shepherdess" (and compulsively going back to it now and then) for now, this work will help me finish it. 

I've chosen a setting that requires a decent amount of hard science, so it looks as if I'm heading toward Hard Sci-Fi, which is defined on TV Tropes as, "...firmly grounded in reality, with only a few fantastic flights of fancy not justified by science, or with the technology being nonexistent in today's world but probably scientifically possible at some point,"

I LIKE hard science, so this will probably end up being my direction, and I'll stick to it.  My world building sessions are half spent on NASA and other science sites.  I want to get a plausible picture of Mars in 350 years.

I'm going to post my work, assignments and feedback here.  It's a good place for it.


In 350 years Mars has several human settlements, mostly nestled in craters, but the next stage of creating a viable atmosphere on the Martian surface is also in progress.  CAPS, or Centralized Atmospheric Processors, are the hub of every established human population.  As the processors were set up, weather was created by the changes in density, humidity and temperature, and wind currents began cycling between communities, creating an ever-changing and sometimes violent system of jet streams called the "exchange winds".  These winds are violent, laced with sand and ambient radiation and create a hostile territory between borders. 

The CAPS are central installations of ambient radiation harvesters, atmospheric processors, and shields.  They are constructed of stalks a mile or so long that are flexible enough to move slightly in the exchange winds without shattering, but are grounded centrally so they provide the community below with a constant supply of processed air.  While the ends of the stalks pour the processed air, on the rims of the stalks rotating and shifting ambient radiation harvesting cells greedily draw on the limitless supply of various forms of radiation from space and from the surface of Mars.  Other cells, also located on the rims of the stalks, emit a shield wavelength that reflects even greater amounts of radiation. Below ground batteries store the energy to run the energy grids of the communities.  Also below and above ground, all over Mars, a system of cisterns and aqueducts keeps and continually cleans the water supply. 

Above ground for over a century colonies of bacteria and lichens enjoyed an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide and populations of those organisms exploded; the next stage saw adapted Earth organisms of the high desert environment begin to establish.  Soon after, the trench steppes were constructed, developing adapted grasses as the first grazing crops for the first herds of Adapted sheep.  With them came the first nomadic surface settlers, an alliance of Navajo and Mongolian herders bent of creating a new, intercultural civilization combining the strengths and resiliencies of both.

More soon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Krampas and Accountability

The world is in a dearth of accountability.

Corporate CEOs abscond with entire economies, but we don't punish them.  We refuse to even control them.  We protect their freedom to siphon funds from the entire world like pampered giant ticks.

Rapists and domestic abusers are excused and their victims blamed for their crimes.

Terrorists change the way we fly, watch the news and shop; their movements spin our lives.

We love our bullies and sociopaths and celebrity offenders.  We love our "baddies".  But the human moral soul can't exist in this mire of victimization forever.  We require something that resembles an authentic human code.

I think this is why we also love revenge movies.  Most of our action movies and many of our drama stories are about revenge.  In a culture where serial killers sell paintings and their victims and victims' families get no justice, there's a deep stirring, a need for the real, the true, and the just.

For decades our winter saint has been the jolly businessman in Coke can colors.  But this was willfully ignoring the other half of the paradigm.  We shut our eyes and forgot about Krampas.  We left him back in Europe, came to America and told ourselves everything would be perfect now.  Everything is jolly and sparkly and technology will fix everything eventually.  We don't allow people to die when they want to because that would be sad and we don't talk about it because it's icky.  Our celebrities are all starting to look alike in an eerie, Barbie-doll way.  We've cleaned up the fairy tales.  We've fallen into a worship of physical and philosophical safety, and that has made cowards of us. We are so cowardly that we allow human predators to dominate our culture.

But wait...still in the dark, northerly countries of old Europe, here comes good old Krampas, his horns swaying as he thumps past in parades, his fur flopping in the snow as he rushes children with threatening roars.  Krampas comes to punish you if you're bad, if you act wrong, if you refuse to be kind or close the door to keep the heat in the house.

You may get away with acting like a complete demon at home, but your parents have a helpmate at Christmas time.  They've got the scary punisher to remind you that being alive isn't enough.  You've got to act right.  You've got to participate in society to enjoy the benefits of society.

The Hopi have a similar kachina figure who goes out around the winter solstice and shows up at pueblos and other homes to scare the kids.  Kids with conscience have nothing to fear except owning up to mistakes.  But little sociopaths are food for the punisher.  

We need this force on planet earth right now.  We need internet trolls to be prosecuted.  Rapists need to serve real time at the very least.  Predators need to be taken out of the human context completely.  The vulnerable, the victims and the poor are the ones who need kindness and help.  Not the assholes.

That's why I love Krampas.

Krampas won't let you be an asshole.

Krampas card from