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Blade Runner 2049: Luke-Warm Take

Luke-Warm Take

These days, seems like there’s a check-list whenever a new sci-fi flick comes out, a formula for articles, think-pieces, and commentary to be made, ritualistically whipping up the internet into a self-righteous froth. These last few days have been more-or-less the same.

Caught the new Blade Runner earlier this week, at the local Vue. Not our usual cinéma de choix, but they’ve implemented a pretty hefty reduction on Monday ticket prices – perhaps they’re feeling the financial pinch.
I’m not a Dickhead (though I’m certainly guilty of being a dickhead…), so I didn’t go into this overly invested. Well, that’s not precisely true – I was concerned by the cutting of some of the early trailers, which seemed to be action-heavy in a way that didn’t sync with my memories of the original film (it’s been about a decade since I saw it last – couldn’t tell you which version, though I recall overdubs – and I’ve not read any Philip K. of novel length) which seemed a shame. I allayed my fears remembering that it was Villeneuve directing (which was a leap of faith in itself – I’ve not yet seen Arrival) and was reassured that the atmos, at least, would be on point. I wasn’t disappointed.

“Blade Runner: Amber and Teal”

More on the ritualistic criticisms, though – as per usual, there have been accusations of vacuousness (untrue) misogyny (kinda true) and racial insensitivity (pretty accurate). Maybe it’s because I’m not paying as close attention, but I don’t really get the sense that other genres, outside of the speculative like sci-fi or fantasy, get the same sort of treatment. This is not to say there are no criticisms lobbed at your latest Disney effort, or the most recent Scandi-noir police procedural or what have you – when these films are egregiously out of step they are rightly upbraided – but they don’t seem to have the same rubric of criticism applied. Perhaps it’s because, as speculative fiction, sci fi looks at the possibilities for the future, and a future that leaves out large chunks of the present is both morally and structurally myopic. Perhaps it’s because the audience of this genre overlaps significantly with the Tumblr crowd of rambunctious moral arbiters. Who’s to say?

I, white cis het male that I am, feel that the film for the most part avoids accusations of misogyny. It certainly portrays many of its female characters in an overtly-sexualised manner, but, insofar as I can tell, this does not a misogynistic film make—the portrayal of misogyny is not misogyny tout court. Importantly, and this is where the film stumbles on other criticisms, the portrayal of women in Blade Runner 2049 is in keeping with that of the original Blade Runner, insofar as the society’s approach to gender is concerned. The world of the original was a grossly sexist place, and so too is that of the sequel. As much as the Blade Runner-verse happens in a time-line adjacent to our own real-world one, it’s probably a faithful representation of what would happen to our society in a hyper-commercialised future – hell, it’s probably what we’re headed towards at the moment. It’s not as if the multi-story holographic adverts that dance above the street-level replicant manifestations of the product don’t have real-world analogues. This is just a dialled-up version of what we already have, with the pop-princess du jour filling our various media with a commodified sexuality, reinforcing and guiding the trends of society’s actual sex workers, the logics of pornography stamped into us day-in, day-out.

Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t revel in its portrayal of misogyny. It’s not lurid, it’s not exploitative. It definitely has characters that use women, or woman-analogues, in a less-than-positive light (the protagonist foremost amongst them), and shows a society that, much like our own, is pervaded by the otiose relish of the female form, but to do otherwise would be dishonest to the story it is telling. A protagonist who possesses all the right views on women, whilst also on the arc that the story requires of him, would jar. A society that is as steeped in a runaway capitalism as that of Blade Runner but also respects women is a contradiction in terms – sexism, just as racism, is concomitant with capitalism; they can’t be pulled apart. Hell, this is a society that is literally built on slaves – it’s the whole thrust of the story – why would you expect it to have anything but trash gender politics? But, even in showing all this, the film doesn’t become complicit in it. While it doesn’t go so far as to damn what it shows – it’s more harsh on the hollowness of these relationships than the power imbalance inherent – it doesn’t actively enjoy it, either. It has ample opportunity to: the “love scene” between the protagonist and his “partner” could have been much more sordid, aimed entirely at titillation. Instead, it is used to underline the core concerns of the series, that of the nature of personhood and the ambiguities, the uncanniness, of possible human-adjacent realities.

Otiose Relish – still more tasteful than real-world Vegas

The more accurate complaint revolves around non-white people in the film, or, rather, the lack-thereof. The setting of Blade Runner 2049, much like its predecessor, is Los Angeles and its environs. Picking up on some of the now-standard cyberpunk tropes, this Los Angeles is doused in Asian culture, from signage to the sartorial to gustatory. However, there are few, if any, actual Asian people in evidence. I’ve seen some clever epicycles deployed to explain this, the best yet being a comparison with the diffusion of American culture in our own world. In many countries around the world, so the argument goes, be they European, Asian, or, increasingly, African, you will find American businesses and products, replete with English signage, despite the absence of Americans, on the ground, perpetuating and guiding the effort. This is a product of the success of American cultural imperialism, the victory of American propaganda world-wide, as it portrays itself as something desirable, as synonymous with “success.” It was just this that led to the cyberpunk trope in the first place – during the Eighties, when so much of this stuff was codified, Japan was economically bullish, and the future, so it seemed, belonged to them. Thus, anything set in the near future looked like a fusion of Anglo and Japanese culture, with the hegemony of Japan redesigning the way American streets looked, the language that was spoken there, the food that was consumed.

All good, but the original Blade Runner, unlike its sequel, had plenty of Asian people on the streets themselves, as well as the signage and culture and what all. Where have they gone in the intervening 30 years? There’s been speculation that the Asian countries could have “gotten their shit together” and gone off-world – the existence of the extra-terrestrial colonies is a feature that looms large over both the original and the present Blade Runner – but this can’t account for every individual, and certainly doesn’t make sense of the real-world demographics of LA. The original film had a key character in Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos, who drew from his own mixed background to try and give a poly-racial feel to the film. Gaff is relegated to a few lines in a single scene in 2049, and I can’t recall any other Hispanic character – with dialogue or without – throughout the film. Evidently, much of the shooting was done in Hungary, so I can understand the logistical difficulties in importing the right mix of extras simply for atmosphere. Even so, the absence of nearly any brown or black faces in such a melting pot as Los Angeles is a bit stark.

All in all, I think Blade Runner 2049 comes through bruised but whole. Not a perfect film, but this isn’t a Bergman we’re talking about. The cinematography is beautiful, with very tasteful CGI. The pacing is, contrary to my original concerns, true to the original, and this, coupled with the seemingly-trademark Villeneuve soundscape, allows for a sustained meditation on what it means to be human. Performances were neither stilted nor overdrawn to camp. Could the story have been more nuanced? Were all angles satisfactorily explored? No. Does the plethora of criticism find purchase? Yes. As ever with these things, your best bet is to take a look yourself, and make your own opinions. Especially if you can grab some steeply-discounted Monday night tix.

 

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Reflections on Aurora

Reflections on Aurora

I concede, I may have been a bit over-zealous in my recommendation of Robinson’s Aurora in weeks previous. I think I ought to get a pass due to the dazed, sleep-deprived state I was in, though.

I actually first heard about the book via a review over on BoingBoing, one that I didn’t finish reading until I was through the book itself (I noticed it at my library, and picked it up on name recognition). They, BoingBoing, actually hosted a bit of commentary by Robinson, where he details some of the thought processes and research that went into Aurora, further developing on the major theme of the book.

Generally, unlike most places on the ‘net, BoingBoing is pretty good when it comes to their comment threads – people are generally civil and on-topic. It helps that they have a Don’t-Press-Your-Luck Dragon that swallows anyone who strays too far from the acceptable. As of writing this, the thread for Robinson’s article is clocking in at 203 comments. I read through them a couple days back, so I’m not sure exactly where the tenor of the conversation has gone since then. The parts I did see went about as anticipated – plenty of folks coming out to denounce Robinson for being a Luddite and a downer, someone who has fallen into Deep Ecology and won’t pull himself out again. Quite a few of the comments seem to be misreading the gist of the argument completely, focussing on the hard problems of physics which Robinson explicitly says are really the easier set of issues. Not unexpected, as there is a large portion of SciFi fans who are that way inclined, all crunch and no fluff.

Does this look like a man who *hates science*?

Does this look like a man who *hates Science*?

Two of the points in particular gave me pause for thought. There were valid criticisms spliced in amongst the hand-wringing – the reliance on bog-standard agriculture when there are other, well-advanced technologies available, especially that this becomes a major issue in the narrative, seemed a bit weird. Also that we’d not apply a skill-set acquired from generations of space-life within the Solar System to interstellar travel – the idea that we’d be coming at this operation with an Earth-centric perspective – seems like a justifiable criticism. Again and again, though, people harped on about how tech was going to save us in every way. They generally accepted that Faster-than-Light travel is not an option, in that, you know, everything we know says it’s impossible, but then proposed folding space as an alternative. While not precluded by our current models, the amount of energy need to do that is literally astronomical. Larger than the amount in the Solar System. So that seems to me to be impracticable. Another response was that we can stick to sub-relativistic speeds, but we’ll just turn ourselves into robots.

I know the sums involved here are so small as to be microscopic, but there is that adage regarding amount of anger as inverse to relative pay-out, so, I’ll stick with venting my frustration. This whole “we’ll upload ourselves to computers and live forever” thing – ain’t gonna happen. Any – honest – person working in cognitive science, that unlikely combination of neuroscience, comp-sci, philosophy and anthro, would tell you straight up that we barely have an understanding of the human mind, let alone any way of replicating it. Sure, we have our models and approximations, we have neuroscience doing a good job at categorising, and fiddling with, the wetware – but an understanding of how it all hangs together? What motivates and energises it? No clue. We’re as far away from that as was Descartes with his pineal gland-theory.

Furthermore, if we haven’t got it by now, with all the wealth we’ve amassed and the relative stability we’ve enjoyed these past 70 years, we’re not going to get it any time soon. Future’s not looking especially conducive to long-term, multi-national research projects. Unless something major changes up, our societies are about to fragment, and we’re all about to be living in a much more austere place. You can already see it playing out – the response to migrants and refugees in the wake of the recent attacks in Paris, the referendum on EU membership here in England set for 2017, the nativist, xenophobic government recently elected in Poland (and not so recently in Hungary). We’ve needed the cooperation of almost every “leading” country to keep the ISS running, and that’s child’s play to something like setting up a colony on Mars, or, more to the point, figuring out how that three-pound block of soap we all carry in our heads actually works. Despite what some Americans would like to tell you, scientific research has always been a multi-national effort. Even during the Cold War, there were cross-bloc exchanges. If this liberal social-order breaks down amidst mutual recrimination and suspicion, you can kiss that goodbye.

Stop trying to make AI happen. It’s not going to happen.

Aside from those considerations, would we even want to call like that, a conscious machine, human? Even if that consciousness was original housed in a meat-suit? Assuming that the thought processes of a person could be replicated by machine – and there are absolutely no reasons to do so, mind – what we define as human goes beyond the mere intelligence or personality. Every society I know of, throughout all of history, has defined humanity in terms of its excellence, its bodily perfection. We are inextricably embodied individuals. We exist in the world embodied, our minds are (as best we can tell) emergent properties of that body – there is no person without the body. Not by definition, not by material fact. So, no, you transhumanist dorks, there’s never going to be a Singularity. Also, for you ‘Effective Altruists’ out there, take off the blinders and cut it out with the self-congratulatory, STEM focussed wank. Stop trying to make AI happen. It’s not going to happen.

Anyways, enough tilting at windmills. I mentioned above that there were two concepts that got under my skin. The second, more an off-hand number than the above, was that Robinson set up the elements of his story to arrive at a pre-determined result, and that this was in someway reprehensible. Already, this is pretty rich, given that, even with the above detailed faults, Aurora is a much more comprehensively “hard” SciFi than the usual fare. But, really, what the hell is that even supposed to mean? Of course the author set the premise up to arrive at a pre-determined result! What the hell else was he supposed to do? What does every author do? How else do you tell a story? What a ridiculous position to take.

Sure, the fiction is meant to be speculative in character – it’s in the name, after all. But the very nature of the work is seeing where things go from pre-set circumstances. A sub-set of that, welcome and acceptable, is seeing what particular spread of circumstances get us to particular results. Why would it ever be different? Sure, Aurora is a set-up. But, as Corey Doctorow’s review states,

…what Robinson’s furtive scenery-arranging points out is that the easy times all our other science fiction stories have given to their colonists were every bit as contrived.

All our stories are contrived. They have to be. Robinson makes no claim that his story is the way things must run, even in the supporting article. What he does do, however, is present a plausible tale within the parameters of what we know to be hard fact. That’s the goal of speculative fiction – to get people to look at, to think, about the options and choices in front of us. Part of that is showing what happens when things go wrong. If that means you can’t have your interstellar empire and your sex ‘bots, soz.

Aurora

Aurora

This is what science fiction is meant to be.

I read this book so aggressively, I’ve come down with a cold. I’ve slept minimally for several days. And I don’t regret it at all.

Don’t even finish reading this piece. Go out and get a copy now.

aurora

Still here? You’re loss.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora was fantastic, I highly recommend it.

I’ll try not to give too many plot points away, though it wouldn’t really matter if I did – it is the way it’s told that makes it worth the while.

The story focuses around an ark ship; when we join her crew, she is nearly arrived at the destination of her nearly two-century journey, the star Tau Ceti, 11.9 light years from our own system. Tau Ceti has planets within the habitable zone, that intermediary space where you’re not so close to the star to have the flesh ripped from your quickly vapourising bones by cosmic rays, nor so far as to freeze instantaneously, the oxygen desublimating while still in your lungs. Two of the planets have moons similar to planets we know here – a moon with a 78% similarity to Earth, with liquid water in large abundance, and another planet’s moon, a Mars analogue, rocky and dry. Seven generations have lived their lives out on the way, knowing little more than the inside of their mobile world. The ship itself, two tori connected by a central spine, is separated out into twelve distinct biomes, mimicking the disparate environments of Earth. Each area holds ~300 people, with a population capped just north of 2000 all told. They also have an assortment of terran flora and fauna, and all the micro-organisms that come along with. Even sizeable, alpha predators share the false environment, sequestered in remote areas of their natural habitats.

The narrative style is a clever one – the tale is relayed to us by way of the ship-board AI, or, proto-AI, after it is told as an exercise/research effort to report the story of the people of the ship and their travels by one of the head engineers. Artful, this provides for many asides as the computer struggles with meaning – in language, in life, in consciousness – that augment the actual goings-on of the struggle to reach a new home. Under direction, the ship focuses this tale on the life of the engineer’s daughter, without zeroing in solely on her. Thus, we have our protagonist, as well as the ability to examine important, synonymous events she wouldn’t be privy to. The tone is sometimes bemused, sometimes sombre, always earnest. Profundities abound, without ever slipping into the maudlin.

One of the best elements of the story, at least for my lights, is the unabashed acceptance of just how difficult this kind of venture would be. The crew leave the Sol system mid-way through the 26th century, after humanity has spread out to the gas giants, have workable quantum computers, and the technology to both accelerate to and protect a massive space station at 0.1 c. The scientific realities are never dictated to the reader, though – there is no talking down. The science serves the narrative, not the Verne-way round. The intricate things that, unplanned for, spell almost instant disaster, the larger, inescapable issues of life suspended in an enclosed environment for two centuries, the bizarre, unheimlich nature of seemingly-barren, alien worlds. This isn’t your grandfather’s space opera. Every interstellar inch this crew are flung through, they travel it a hair’s width away from death. It’s not a matter of if, but of when and how. And they know it.

Robinson may reiterate some concepts, retreading the notion of island biogeography, the losing struggle against metabolic rifts and uneven evolution, the preponderance of psychological biases, to the point of near-tedium. But this, too, serves the narrative, building up the tension the crew feel, confined as they are in an artificial environment that, on a very basic, indefeasible way, they were never meant to live in. The ship is huge, a scaled model of Earth itself, albeit a trillion to one. And yet, the reader can feel how cramped it is, and how it gets continually tighter as systems are strained to and past their breaking points, as tempers flare and order falls apart.

While the narrative structure might prevent us from accessing the inner lives of the human characters, this should not be taken as an assertion that all are cut paper. There are no mobile tropes here – the motivations are understandable, uncontrived. An extraordinary situation, but ordinary, human reactions. It is rounded characters that drive the story forward, just as much as any external circumstance.

Whether the crew are successful in their mission or not is immaterial – this is the best of all possible worlds. Humanity, performing one of the most integral, elemental acts known to us – the use of our intelligence, our ability, our empathy, to overcome. If our species is able to get to the point described by Robinson within the next millennia, it would be the most incredible success. Things will be dark, and dangerous, and unforgiving, but that is reality, especially beyond the comforting gravity well of Terra. As the novel ultimately shows, our worst problems will always be the ones we bring with us, wherever we might be. Alongside our struggle, it may be stories like Aurora that sustain us. I exhort you to read this book.

Polycrates

Polycrates

Above the mix of laughter, intermittent, halting, cut the constant, recurrent peal. Breathy. Forced. False.

Again and again, the laugh rang out. Paul gritted his teeth with each wave, bad molar flaring in protest. He wiped a hand across his sweating brow.

He couldn’t make out the joke. From the sound of the others, with their embarrassed, weak additions, it can’t have been very good.

And yet it rolled on, that laugh, that laugh! Like ripping of paper, like an unending, ever-present irritation, it rolled on. Too much!

Point break.

 

The bat cracked into the back of her head, laying her flat. Sensing violence before the blow fell, the other, more reluctant revellers, faded away. There was a look of surprise on her face as she lay on the industrial carpeted floor; a look was all there was time for before the bat was slammed down again. Her nose, the nose that dominated her face, was flattened into a mash that looked simply incorrect. A massive nose, a nose that some would call – that racists would call, Paul thought correctively – a French nose, so out of place atop the thin, parsimonious lips, was spread out over the rest of the face. The sight of it twisted his stomach. He brought the bat down a third time, and the frail body, the bird-like body, began to thrash in its death throws. The face – gone. Pulped, shards of bone and flesh and bright blood and fat and cartilage. Unrecognisable.

 

“Everything ok, hun? You were in there two minutes longer than average.”

“Nothing to worry about, just a tough day at the office. TGIF, right?” Paul responded ruefully, Karen looking at him with some concern in her eyes, in the hands on hips.

“Okay, if you say so. You know, if you need to see Dr. Thorn again, we can contact the hospital…”

“No!” Paul near-shouted, unusually angry, especially immediately after a session. “I don’t need to go back there – I’m healthy now, I’m alright – Thorn said so himself, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, of course, I was just saying, you know, I support you and all,” Karen said, chagrined. “You don’t need to shout at me, you know. I’m only trying to help.”

“Sorry, it’s just – just, forget it. Let me take a shower, and then we’ll head over to the Jackson’s, yeah?”

“Yeah, sounds good. You know, I’d nearly forgotten? I’ll have to figure out something to wear…” Karen responded absently, already putting aside the outburst.

 

Paul stared over his cubicle wall with gimlet eyes. That laugh. The nose, an echo chamber par excellence, unable to add any meat or indeed any honesty. That laugh. Even the half-hearted titters of their colleagues held more truth, were a more real, genuine emotion than that laugh. On and on it came. Sure, the face, reddened, the breath, laboured, told a story of authenticity, of candid experience – but it was all belied by that laugh. The thinness, the lie – Paul gripped his desk with both hands, and

breathed out slowly. So she felt like she needed to put on airs? What was it to him? Monday afternoon, plenty of filing to do yet. Best get down to it.

 

The door swept through the tight space between the frame and the wall. Stupid design. Paul understood the need for privacy, but, c’mon…Hardly any time for the thought to register. The young man stepped into the lavatory, cold grey eyes, canine eyes, piercing the older man. Alien, hostile. As ever.

“Didn’t you read the sign?” Paul demanded angrily. The young man just grunted, not breaking the scorn-filled gaze.
“Look, there’s a sign right on the wall – ‘open with care’ – you nearly bloody hit me!”

A snort, and a shoulder lowered, the young man pushed through Paul on his way to the urinals – or would have.

What the fuck? Paul thought, and threw his heavier weight into the youth, jamming him up against the tiled wall.

A flash of surprise in the grey eyes, then – hands, opened, pushed back at Paul, knocking him out the entrance and into the room proper. A fist came next, catching Paul in the jaw. His head jerked back, straining the neck. His adversary rushed in, taking advantage of the successful blow. Grappling Paul about the waist, the two crashed into the duo of stalls, cheap ply-wood door rebounding off the adjoining wall with a hollow crak, swatting the two as they fell.

Paul took their combined weight, the young man falling on top of him and knocking the wind from his lungs with a sickening rush. Recovering first, the other man grabbed Paul by the collar, and lifting his head from the ground, smashed it into the lino-ed concrete of the floor. Stars burst into Paul’s already oxygen-starved vision. A second time. A fleeting moment of distress gripped Paul’s fogged consciousness. Perhaps…this had been a mistake.

An image of his foe above him, mouth set in rictus grin, not an iota of humour contained, icy grey eyes now warmed by bloodshot veins. Bunching Paul’s shirt in his fists, he made to strike the older man a third – and last – time.

Paul’s knee connected with all the force desperation could gather. Now it was his opponent who was winded, hands releasing their rigid grasp on the colour and cupping bruised testicles. Still underneath him, Paul heaved his opponent aside, floundering to regain his feet. Still woozy, he stomped down with all his force – and a shout – on his enemy’s right ankle. It snapped under his shod heel. The youth roared. It was the first sound either had uttered.

Stamping down on the bony mess, already unsteady, Paul lost his footing and fell on top of the young man. For his part, through the pain of his shattered ankle, the other man was able to twist about, and get his thin hands on Pauls throat. Vision began to narrow, with bright white spots dancing in the middle distance. Opponent straddled above him, pinning him to the floor with knees on ripped button-down.

Paul’s own hands, sweat-slick, slid off the shaven head of the youth, unable to find purchase. Weakening. Uncontrolled fluttering in the extremities. One last thrust, before the velvety darkness – and the pain of air rushing back into over-taxed lungs.

Toppled over, the other man’s face had smacked off the toiled seat, chipping several teeth. The shock of this, the ragged pain of exposed nerves, bought a moment of respite for Paul. Knowing he only had bare seconds before his younger, quicker, adversary was back on him, he lashed out with his left leg, catching the man between the stall’s dividing wall and the foot pressing in on the diaphragm, compacting organs against unyielding bone. A grunt was pushed from bloody mouth, Paul still gasping for air as he pushed harder and more forcefully. Shocked look in the eyes. Twin trails of blood leaking from mouth of ruined, jagged teeth.

Paul let up, staggering to his feet, feeling nauseous. His adversary was doubled up, coughing, trying to regain his own breath. Paul grabbed him by the back of his own white shirt – long ago soiled – and palmed his head with the other hand. Before he could think further about it, before he let his enemy struggle free, Paul slammed the head down onto the covered toilet bowl. The cheap stainless steel cleats gave way after the second hit, and the lid of the toilet clattered to the ground. The third smack echoed dully with splintering bone-on-porcelain. The fourth broke the bowl, rending the flesh of the cheeks, of the forehead.

 

As Paul closed the door of the machine, he felt a twinge of…not dissatisfaction, but, something like a lacking.

“When you’re done your session, d’you, d’you ever feel like it’s, y’know, not over?” Paul asked Karen sheepishly, rubbing a hand on the back of his head.
Looking up from the lettuce she was washing, looking directly at him – “ Not over…like how? The machine is set up to give the maximum release in the shortest amount of time, you know that!” Karen responded.

“I know, I know – the diagnostics and the psychological tests and all, I get it. But, you’ve never, I dunno, felt like the arc wasn’t finished yet, like the real unloading hadn’t happened yet?”

“Not sure. Impaled mom with a broken pool cue earlier this morning, and defenestrated Sara into rush-hour traffic. Fourth floor. Felt pretty good to me,” Karen said, a smile of remembrance flashing across her face. “Maybe it’s malfunctioning? We could get the technician in next week. You sure you don’t want to see Dr. Thorn, maybe?”
“No! No Thorn!”

“Okay, jeeze! No Thorn. We’ll call the tech, then.”

 

The lash sank into Paul’s flesh, not deep, not deep enough to scar, but enough to break the skin and sting in the subtle breeze. When it fell again, the man strained against his bonds, the leather creaking in response. Silence. She loomed up in front of him, pvc suit screeching as she minced.
“You know, if you want me to stop, all you have to say is ‘Ich möchte das Sicherheitswort, bitte und danke , Frau Brunhilde.’ That is all, you know.” She curled the whip in her hand.

Paul could only manage an “unnnghh” through the over-size rubber ball-gag, though he was able to drool copiously over his chin.
The woman stood looking down at him, as if considering her next move. With a smirk, she turned around abruptly, placing the still-wet whip on the desk behind her, and pulled out a medium-sized case, built of surgical steel. She plopped the case down on the table by Paul’s restraints with an element of childish glee, her meaty face crinkling under the troweled make-up. Initially, she opened it facing herself, out of Paul’s regulated line of sight. She took a moment, considering, and then she turned the case around with a smooth motion, revealing row upon row of needles, arranged in ascending length and circumference on a bed of synthetic black felt. Knowing the power of the imagination was on her side, the dom allowed Paul some time to consider the assortment of appliances in front of him. She teased him, pulling out needles at random, poking them into her own finger tips and showing him the dots of bright blood. Eventually, she decided on a barbed number – not the largest of the batch, but far from being the smallest, either. The several barbs cut into a side of the three inch rod prevented the needle from being pulled back out, once it had passed the first. From there, one would be committed to sliding the full length through the flesh, or to tearing it out.

She began on the back his left arm, twisting the needle with each fresh barb submerged. A bead of sweat rolled down Paul’s forehead, dropping into his right eye. Several more needles, of various sizes and wicked design, followed the first.

After half an hour had passed, the fleshy backs of both arms, as well as the skin of the stomach and gut, had all been pierced. Madame Brunhilde left the needles where she had threaded them – some running under the skin for barely a centimetre, others for nearly their full length. The most painful, the ones that caused the most bleeding, were the needles that she crocheted through the flesh, in and out and in and out, weaving as if in a macabre cross-stitch.

Drawing back to examine her handiwork, she was pleased by the cordouroy look of the rods beneath the skin. She ran a finger over one such path, relishing the studded feel of it, the compactness of the perforations. The needles, once pushed through the skin, left Paul with only a dull ache. It was the entrance that hurt most, and when ever he should flex the muscles underneath. And when they were touched, as now. Madame Brunhilde noticed the way Paul flinched as she ran a long red nail over a row, and continued with more vigour.
“Onf an alla loftamph!” Paul uttered, gag distorting his words. The woman drew back in surprise and a creak from her body suit.

“Did you say, you wanted the Lötlampe?”

“Anth! Anth!” he replied, anger on his blotchy face.

“Well, if you’re sure…”

She left the room, squeaking with each step. Minutes passed, and Paul began to wonder where she had gone, what she was doing. How long could it take to find whatever she needing to untie him? Ah, maybe she went to get some anti-microbial ointment, for taking out the needles. That must be it.

The creak of the pvc announced her return before Paul’s restrained head could see her. It was dampened, though, as if she were wearing something on top. When she did finally enter his field of view, he understood – at least the deadened sound. Brunhilde had put on a thick leather apron, and a blast-mask sat propped open on her oiled hair.

“Die Lötlampe!” she said with pride, displaying the blowtorch and it’s fuel canister. Paul rocked against his restraints, each motion sending a flare of agony through his metal-studded flesh.

“Nomph! Nomph!” he shouted, or, tried to.

“Ya, ya, ‘Now’ ‘Now’ – Madame Brunhilde hears you. I did not think you ready for the Lötlampe, it is reserved for very experienced customers – but, who am I to deny you when you seem so set on it, hmm?”

 

Paul found he was getting on much better at work. The small things didn’t dig so much, the little peccadilloes of his office-mates didn’t irk him like they used to.

 

The second week of his incarceration, the manacles had chafed Paul’s wrists raw. The constant rubbing of the iron, the dampness of the room, it left his skin water-logged. It sloughed off at the point of contact, a white paste. Chained, sitting, his hands bound to the wall above him, he had never felt pain like this – every moment was agony. By the next week, it had died down some, but he hadn’t slept a full night – or day – through. It seemed like every time he would doze off, that sadist of a guard would throw water in his face, or smash the tin bowl they served him slop in against the crumbling brick wall, or kick him in the stomach, or…his creativity knew no bounds. Enumerating the ways, the subtle ways, in which this bland-faced, dough-ball of a man tortured him, it was a way Paul used to pass the time. Not initially, nor, even, on purpose. It was just something he stumbled on, one of those increasingly trackless days.

The start of the third month, Paul noticed something a bit odd. Through the lancing pain of his wrists, bone exposed in places and flesh starting to blacken, he realised he couldn’t feel his hands. Not that any point of his body expressed more than a dull ache, aside from the wrists, but it was more like, they were simply absent.

He shifted his head to look, this becoming ever-more difficult with each day. A wave of nausea rolled over him with the effort. Riding it out, his fogged vision began to clear. He could make out a quivering, furred object above him. A noise cut through the fog, registering as a chittering, squeaking, deeply objectionable sound.

Mustering his weakened will, Paul shifted an arm. The squeaking, hairy objects scattered, and Paul passed out. Coming to several minutes later, and several minutes more after that to collect himself, he once again looked up at his chained arms. He couldn’t make sense of what he saw. The manacle on his wrist, blood and bone, and then the palm of his hand, and then…nothing.

Not quite nothing. His vision was as a weak as his will, and it took him a moment to adjust his gaze even though he had been the dark cell an eternity. Peering a distance of several feet was an unaccustomed effort, and just as taxing as shifting his head bobbling on his thin, chicken-like neck. At last he could make out shrivelled stalks that sprouted from his hand, translucent and a dull white. Bones! His finger bones! Stripped of flesh, with only the barest of tendons keeping them tied together.

 

The doorbell rang, startling Paul as he towelled his shower-damp hair. Hard, insistent knocking came on its heels directly. Quickly struggling into the pair of jeans sitting rumpled on the bed, he dashed down the stairs shouting “Alright, alright, I’m coming!”

Opening the door revealed two men, suited, wearing shades despite the overcast day. One, the taller, Caucasian, flashed an indecipherable badge, while his companion, Asian, said a perfunctory “Good evening Mr. Kozlovsky…?” slight nod from Paul. “May we come in?” Before Paul had time to respond, the two shouldered passed him. The taller man took to examining the contents of the room in earnest, while the second withdrew a manilla folder from the briefcase he was carrying, examining its contents and studiously ignoring the bewildered Paul.

“Look here, what’s this all about? You can’t just come barging in…” Paul said, irate.

The Asian man looked up from the sheets of paper, gaze locked on Paul through aviators. “On the contrary, Mr. Kozlovsky, we can do just that. It says here,” he indicated a sheet of paper, “and here,” another, “that you’ve seriously breached the EULA of the Imagi Corp. product you have on lease. You’re several hours over the holo-time limit for someone of your pay-grade. And, you’ve been tampering with the specs, haven’t you?” It was just a small change, a little adjustment here, a dial turned there…how did they know?

“Over-stepping your allowed time is one thing, there’re established ways you can make that up to the Corporation,” the man continued. “It’s the unauthorised adjustments that’re the real problem.”

“That’s some real sick shit you’ve been up to, Kozlovsky,” said the white man, a surprising tenor for all his height. “Real sick.”

“You knew, explicitly, what the Corporation’s Product was for, geared specifically for someone of your position and work. You knew, explicitly, that you couldn’t just go around making your own changes to software or hardware. I’ve got your signature to it, right here,” the shorter man pulled from his case a thick sheet of papers, minute font a wash at the distance of seven feet. “I’m afraid you’ll have to come with us.”

“What? This is ridiculous!” shouted Paul in surprise. “I’m not going anywhere – my wife is going to be home in an hour – we have an important dinner party to attend tonight –”

“Please don’t make this any more difficult than it needs to be,” the Asian man cut in.

“You’re coming with us, Kozlovsky,” his partner continued, “whether you like it or not.”

Shocked for a bare moment, Paul set his stance, looking from one adversary to another. He’d dealt with better than the pair of them, many times. Before he changed the output on the machine, he’d won every fight it threw at him. “Come and get me, then,” he said, cheesy line feeling right for the occasion. He bunched his muscles – and the expected adrenaline didn’t arrive. All the fights he’d been in, all the experience and the hard-won neural pathways, all the muscle-memory and raw aggression – it was all false. His body was just that, his, the body of an office clerk, not overweight, but neither athletic. He was no fighter, no hero.

ZZAT!

“Why is it always like this, eh, Xu?” the Caucasian man said, returning the taser to the under-arm holster as Paul twitched on the ground. “Makes you believe that shit they write about the Product in the papers – feeding false expectations and shit.”

Xu, standing above the prostrate Paul, said “You didn’t give ‘im too much, did you Steve? We don’t need another heart attack case on our hands. Here, help me get him to the car.”

Paul, for his part, couldn’t make out what the pair was saying, their words a mush of sound, an undulating roar then a speeding whistle. He did, however, feel the bite of the zip-tie as Steve cinched his wrists together. And it felt natural. It felt right, like something he’d been expecting for a long time. In the wash of pain, just before he lost consciousness, Paul felt happy.

New Vistas

New Vistas

You ask me to ‘tell it like it is’, but how can I explain it to you, when the language itself lacks the words, when your very mind cannot form the experience?

How can I tell you of the wonders of seeing a flush of pleasure, a real, physical change, at the meeting of a friend or loved one?
How can I relate the wonders I see when I look at what you call mundane: a blast furnace; a steel girder in winter?

You think the aurorae are beautiful? What know you of the beauty I see, whenever I look to the sky? I can see the photons of the sun, the sub-atomic particles of the solar wind, propelled faster than sound to annihilate themselves in the ozone layer. I can see the interactions of the magnetosphere, the vast currents that dwarf this planet.

I will ‘tell it like it is’ – your weak, fleshy body, sum of a thousand million accidents, its day is over. You are anemic, and you are old. Beauty is not for you, for it has surpassed you. Sight itself outstrips you. What are your measly 310 nanometers, your “visible spectrum,” compared with all the wavelengths I can comprehend? You’ve not even the words to call it by, not even the concepts to think it by.

‘Tell it like it is?’ Your model is too old for the future.

Collision

Collision

 

Life is a dance of Death.

Everything that is, is the building of a corpse.

There will come a time,

Though there be none to witness it,

That even the Galaxy will die.

Just as Death is fore-doomed for all

This Destruction is Inevitable. Unchangeable.

It speeds towards us in both time and space.

Andromeda, chained to her fate, approaches.

There will be no Perseus, no last minute saviour.

The space is vast, and the Collision,

When it comes, will be subtle and terrible.

No direct interaction, no.

A more oblique force, unseen but not unfelt,

Will be the machine of this Doom.

Gravity itself will, after giving Life to the Galaxy,

In its own good time, End it.

Gravity itself will rip apart worlds, and stars, and atoms.

No contact, no butting up against one another,

The Titanic forces, the weighty masses, will suffice.

The Fabric of Reality itself

Will be rent asunder.

A Curse

A Curse

“The caught one! They caught one!”

The cry rings out over the field, startling the boy from his work.

He runs back to town, more noise meeting his ears as he rushes through the streets, more people joining him as they leave their rude houses.

The day is a good one for it, the sun peaking out from behind the ever-present clouds, smiling down on their good fortune.

“He was out by the Mill,” another boy shouts to no-one in particular. “Caught in the trap, just like they said ‘e’d be!”

They can see him, now, as they pool into the centre of town. His body is bent double, clothed in rags. His face is like nothing the boy has seen before. It’s half-man, half monster. Hideous. His flesh is a mottled pink, with open sores and raw blisters.

“Look at ‘im! Must be from right in the middle of the Contamination!” a voice says.

The boy struggles to hear what the town grandee’s are saying over the hubbub of the crowd. “…the crime of…hereby sentenced…” The crowd erupts, shouting and hollering.

A gibbet is quickly erected, rope pulled taught. The creature is pushed up onto a chair after the noose is stretched around its neck. As the cries for blood reach a crescendo, the chair is kicked out from underneath it. There is a crunch and a snap, and the yard-arm breaks under the stress of the body. The mutant thrashes on the ground as the tightened noose chokes the life out of him.

The towns-people, silenced by the grisly sight, watch as the twitching body grows still, a small cloud of dust settling back onto the prone figure.

At first, people say they had done the right thing – days of unusually temperate weather, no acid rains.

But then, another freak was found, drowned in the town’s cistern. The whole tank was contaminated, and many grew sick. The clouds returned. The crop was ruined.

They caught more, after setting more traps around the grain silos. They are killed like the first.
“It is God’s will,” people cry. “They are the Unclean!” others say.

More are put to death. Still the rains come.

The boy wonders.

Then, a great mass of the sub-humans shambles to the town, rending the air with their piteous cries and gurgles. The people, those who are quick enough, rush to the town-hall, barricading themselves inside. The boy can hear the smashing of fists on the doors, and horribly screams. The assembled people cower, knowing that the screams are those of their neighbours who weren’t as lucky.

Two days pass.

They finally leave the safety of the hall. They see bones, gnawed clean, littering the square.
A woman faints.

“A curse of God! A curse of God is upon us!”

Bad Vector

Bad Vector

What do you mean, ‘Connection inoperative’? shouted Rick, staring at the screen.

The fuck is this, dial-up? He ripped off the head-set, slamming it down on the desk in front of him, cursing.

Whoa, man, calm-down, it’s probably just a blip in the system or something, said Carly, running a hand through tightly curled hair. Just, stop freakin’ out, you’ll see.

Yeah, yeah maybe, Rick responded, rubbing grainy eyes. How long we been at this? 19 hours? Feels like it. I’m beat.

What time is it? Huh. I think Greg is supposed get back in, like, half an hour. If you wanna get some shut-eye, I can cover for a bit.

K – be sure to wake me if anything, y’know, weird happens, Rick said, heading for the hatch in the far wall, wading through the hanging wiring.

Will do, Carly said, turning back to the read-out. Figures flashed by, illuminating her face, shadows playing across it in turn. She looked over to Rick’s abandoned desk – still no connection with the module. Super weird – plenty of data flowing, she thought, looking back at her own screen. Hang on a sec. Carly punched in a request in the command prompt line.

Fuck. Fuckitty Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck, Carly said aloud. Rick, you better get back in here, she yelled through the open door.

The hell is it now, Carly? Rick groused as he slumped back into the room.

I think we lost the lander, Carly said, busily setting up a diagnostic.

Whaddaya mean, ‘lost the lander’? How could we just ‘lose the lander’? Rick responded, instantly coming to full attention, throwing himself into his seat.

Query the mass readout, Carly said, still fixing her attention on her computer. Rick, rather than demand more information from the taciturn woman, ran the same request as she had moments ago. Total Mass = 967 kg. 967kg? Where the hell is the other 32 kilos? Rick asked his silent monitor. How did we just drop 32kg? Where’d it go? Silence in the room, save for the subtle whir of electricity.

How much does the lander weigh, Rick? Carly said, grimly satisfied with her tests.

Ah. Ah, fuck. You sure it’s not just the instrumentation?

Yeah, everything else is reading just fine, even with the 12 minute delay.

Hang on, lemme check something, Rick responded, pulling up a browser. Looking at the screen, he grabbed a pad, making some rough calculations.

Well, fuck, he said after a few minutes.

What, any ideas what happened over here? You know, our job and shit? Carly said.

Yeah. I think we got hit. We got hit by a piece of fucking rock.

You’re kidding. How the hell would that have happened?

Well, the launch was delayed, wasn’t it? And the observations of the path, well, they corresponded to the original date. Pushing back the launch changed the population of the vector. We shot the damned thing right into the path of a comet. It musta got hit by debris, or something. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Carly looked at him, blankly staring.

How much did the mission cost, again?

1.3 Billion. Euro, not USD.

Huh, how about that.

Cosmic Noise

Cosmic Noise

This dossier contains the full complement of communications logs for the maiden voyage of UpoH Stellar 2, both received and sent.

Communication Log, UPoHS Stellar 2 to Neptune Control, Triton Base

>Cleared for launch, Stellar 2.
>Copy. Undocking now, Neptune Control. Engaging CAIA. CAIA running at peak efficiency. Transferring engine control to CAIA.
>Copy that, Stellar 2.

>Reached Triton Lagrange 4, Neptune Control. Cutting power to hydrogen drive.
>Copy, Stellar 2.
>Permission requested to engage CAIA’s spool-up procedure.
>Permission to spool-up Orion Drive granted, Stellar 2.
>>CAIA: Payload delivery in t minus 5 minutes <<
>Good luck, Captain Aguilar. See you in a few months.
>Thanks, Neptune Control! Give my regards to Mars!
>>CAIA: Payload delivery in t minus 1 minutes<<



>>CAIA: Payload delivery imminent…all systems normal<<
>>CAIA: Payload delivery successful… full thrust in 5…4…3…2…1<<

Stellar 2 Mission Briefing
“While you will have been briefed before take-off, Captain, this recording will provide you with a more thorough statement of your mission. As you well know, this will be the first manned mission beyond the heliosphere. UPoH high command has seen fit to equip your ship, Stellar 2, with the latest in computer intelligence, the Comprehensive Artificial Intelligence Assistant, or CAIA for short. CAIA will help you pilot the ship, mainly dealing with the specifics of the third-generation Orion Drive. CAIA will be responsible for regulating the life support systems on Stellar 2, freeing you of the concern. CAIA is also there for your companionship. As you were told, this will be the longest a human has been segregated, beyond radio contact, in the history of the UPoHs space program. Just as important as the main mission is the examination and maintenance of you, yourself. You were chosen from a pool of very talented people, Captain. Don’t let us down.
“That brings us to the main point of your mission. This is classified information, and I anticipate you’ll treat it with due
consideration. Back in the early days, long before the establishment of the UPoH, decades, even, before the evacuation of Earth, a radio signal was discovered emanating from all directions at once. This was taken to be a remnant of the birth of the Universe, and was seen as evidence for the Big Bang theory. However, some several years back, in 96 SF, the UPoH probe Aristarchus 3 pushed out beyond the heliopause and sent back some frankly impossible data, before losing radio contact. What little Aristarchus was able to transmit to Triton Base seemed to show that the radio signal had content. Something about Sol’s wind garbles the message – I’m a military man, I don’t pretend understand the science behind it. You’ll find a file on the specifics of it, but good luck with those. Suffice it to say, your mission is to reach a position outside of the strength of the solar wind, and either record the cosmic radio signal, or relay a more refined message back to the nearest planetary base. Nearest predictions have the Triton Base in its perihelion by the time you reach the heliopause, but that does follow no complications in your flight. If this is, in fact, the case, you should be able to set up laser communications with one of the Jovian bases, either Io HQ or Europa 5. Files for troubleshooting the most likely eventualities are located along side those detailing the Solar wind interference. CAIA should be of some use in this, too.
I’m told that the latest generation of Orion Drives should reach a height of .12c. This will push you into relativistic speeds, where a collision with any mass greater than about 2 grams would rip apart the ship, despite the depleted uranium hull. Given that you’ll be travelling through the Oort Cloud, this is, of course, of concern. To this end, Stellar 2 has been equipped with a electro-magnetic deflector array, which should push small to medium sized bodies out of your way. CAIA will handle the niceties of navigation, avoiding larger bodies. At .12c, you should reach the heliopause in just over 3 days, travel time. Once there, you will begin recording the signal and converting it into a transferable form.

Conservative estimations have you starting the return journey three weeks after this point, but this is, of course, not calculating difficulties in coding. There are a variety of scenarios planned for, including but not limited to losing laser/radio contact and damage to the thruster system. That being said, I’m told that such possibilities are diminishingly remote.

So, that has you back in the loving arms of UpoH in about a month, Captain. Your mission is fairly straightforward – CAIA should handle all the technical details, you’re merely there to babysit and troubleshoot should anything come up. Good luck soldier, and see you soon!

End of Transmission.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/13/143 13:05:31 MST

Captain’s log, day two of Stellar 2 mission.

Spent yesterday getting up to speed, cruising now. Deflector array seems to be working: the ship-board computer provides a graphical interpretation of the exterior – the ionised particles show up as streaks of multi-coloured light along the hull. Should see some real fireworks later in the day, when we get further into the Oort.

Our other computer, CAIA, is something else altogether. Even with the quantum computing used, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of our mass was devoted to solid-state processors. The read-outs on what it’s up to are hard to believe, but, between navigating at relativistic speeds, running the Orion drive, and monitoring the life-support systems in real-time, I suppose that it does take a bit of effort. And that’s not even commenting on the AI! I’ve never seen such a comprehensive one, not even back on Mars in the Academies. I don’t know if it’s Turing complete, but I’ve yet to get the feeling that I was talking to a machine.

Played chess yesterday, a mistake. I’m not exactly a novice, but it had me beat within 12 moves. That’s what I deserve, I guess.

The artificial gravity has just kicked in – getting up to speed yesterday provided enough drag to approximate it, but now that we aren’t accelerating, the internal centripedal hoists have had to get to work. Seems like a lot of expensive perks to throw into a fairly mundane research mission, but I guess that they have to be tested somewhere. I’ll definitely appreciate it once we’ve reached proper interstellar.

That’s about it for now. Going to run some diagnostics on the communications laser system, to make sure everything is ship-shape.

Aguilar out.

End of transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/14/143 6:08:42 MST
Captain’s log, day 3 of Stellar 2 mission.

Reporting on mental state, as is required. Focus remains optimal, as does analytic ability. No decrease in brain function, according to the most recent scans. I guess I should report that I had a bit of trouble sleeping last night. Disturbed by dreams, though, if asked, I couldn’t really out my finger on their content. Perhaps it’s just an effect of the switch to artificial G. I’ll pay attention to it over the next couple of hours.
Today is otherwise fairly plain. We’ll be engaging the deceleration engines in about…9 hours. Till then, it’s just speeding along the Cloud. Like I remarked yesterday, she’s a real beut to watch! Here, I’ll attach a recording of the particles along the hull –
Ionised_Particles1.vid
I know that the graphical read-out is actually registering wavelengths outside the visible spectrum, but, man alive, the show puts any Día de Muertos celebration to shame. In an odd way, it’s a bit like the polar snows you get back on Mars, hypnotic in its monotony.

Gave up on chess against CAIA. Tried my hand at GO, figuring we might be able to level the field a bit. Even with a 6 piece handicap, and half a komi for CAIA, she still creamed me. I’m no professional, but I used to be a 6 or 7 dan back in my academy days. We’ll try again at 9 handicap later, and see if I can get her with that.

Last run-through the instrumentation showed normal. Looks like we’ll be able to do all the reading the UpoH could want, once we’re outside the Oort proper.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/14/143 6:22:34 MST

Captain Aguilar’s body is showing signs of tachycardia, unusual for his current state of activity and Stellar 2’s current level of acceleration/deceleration. Will monitor closely.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/15/143 2:32:49 MST

Captain Aguilar tried to engage fire-safety mechanism in section C-19 at 2:31:20 MST. Thermal monitors show negative. Particulate matter monitors show negative. Carbon monoxide and dioxide monitors showed negative. Fire-safety mechanism over-ridden.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs3/15/143 2:47:32 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission, Supplemental

Woke out of sleep, smelling burning plastic. Checked ship-board monitors, showed unusual thermal signature in section C-19. Immediately activated the fire-safety mechanisms, but CAIA over-rode my command. I took another look, and the read-outs were showing negative. I’m not sure what happened, but I could have sworn that I took the right course of action. Glad that CAIA shut down the fire system before anything extreme happened. Headed back to bed. Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/15/143 7:36:06 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission

Not entirely sure what happened last night. Took a look at my supplemental log, and I recall looking at that monitor upon waking up, but I’m not sure that I ever saw anything strange regarding the thermal signature in section C-19. Odd.
On an unrelated note, slept terribly last night. Dreamt of my sister, strangely enough. She was there, in front of me, and suddenly she was nude. She proceeded to pull me to her bed, which appeared from thin air, though I resisted. I’m sure it was her’s – she had an old four-poster, and the one in the dream was identical. When I pulled away, her face got…strange. Her mouth and her eyes contorted, stretching to gaping holes. She started screaming a terrible cry, an ear-splitting scream, and this black ichor started to drip from her mouth, and weep from her empty eye-sockets. Really perverse stuff. That’s all I remember of it, but it’s difficult to shake the memory. Going to grab another soy-coffee after this, maybe the caffeine will help.

Despite the upset last night, all the instrumentation reads fine. We’ll be starting our deceleration pattern in about 45, the centripedal hoists have started their disengage protocol already.

We’re in the thick of it, now. CAIA tells me that she had to re-adjust our course last night – nearly crashed into a piece of rock the size of Ireland. Glad I’ve got her running things around here.

I’ll take one last look at the decoding machinery we have aboard today, and prepare the telemetry for deployment. The piggy-back drone was dropped off earlier last night. It’ll pick up this transmission and further ones, kicking up the signal the way the old transformers would do on Terra. Thinking about having one of the few frozen bio-mass steaks we have aboard tonight, as a bit of celebration for arriving outside the solar system. Where no man has gone before, and all that. Me río de Star Trek.
Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/15/143 13:05:42 MST

Captain Aguilar has continued tachycardial tendencies. His complexion is showing strain, an 18% increase in periorbital edema, and moderate subconjunctival haemorrhage. Reviewing his previous voice logs, in addition to body scans, best estimates point towards poor sleep conditions. Will offer Captain Aguilar a mild sedative, with a moderate emphasis on benefits of acceptance.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/16/143 06:32:19 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission

Given how poorly I slept before, I took CAIA’s advice regarding the sedative last night. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much help. Visited by nightmares again, though they took on a different form this time. My sister was still there, but now my father was too. Incidentally, I haven’t thought of my father in years, let alone spoken to him. Rather than enticing me to her four-poster, my sister pulled in my father. As they began to copulate, I tried to force them apart. Their faces opened up in the same way that my sister’s did the previous night, leaking that black substance. Because their faces were so close together, it sort of poured out of one into the other. Mierda, it was repulsive. I was able to force them apart, and they both looked at me. It was like I was drawn into their faces, the holes becoming all I could see. Then I would wake up. As soon as I got back to sleep, it was the same thing. This happened all night long.

Deployment of the telemetry equipment ahead of us today. We’ve reached our destination outside the Cloud, the ion drive slowing us to more-or-less a stand-still just on the cusp of the interstellar. I’m including a pan-optic image of the sky, should be interesting for the astronomers back at Neptune Control –

Broad_Spectrum_Analysis.img

Lots of activity on the radio-band around here, much more clear than we were receiving within the Oort itself. We’re not sure why, entirely, but we are running tests on the involvement of Sol’s radiation and the interstellar wind’s interaction and the creation of wave disturbance. Deploying decode/receptor device in t-minus-2 MST hours. Should be a couple of days before we’ve got the full signal decoded and defragged. In the mean time, we’ll be running diagnostics on the influence of pulsar and quasar radiation sources, seeing if directionality does in fact play as large a role as we had previously thought. Granted, this is information that Stellar 1 should have gathered, but, well, we know how that went.
Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report, 3/16/143 15:05:10 MST

Captain Aguilar’s condition has worsened. Tachycardia has entered the level of tachyarrhythmia. Periorbital edema is at 22% above normal. Subconjunctival Haemorrhage is severe. Body temperature is a near constant temperature of 37.9 degrees centigrade. Internal cameras show him talking to himself at times. It is likely, within 99% probability, that he is experiencing fever symptoms. Will strongly recommend appropriate treatment, including closely monitored/maintained climate control, provision of narcotic and/or anti-bacterial substances, and sedatives.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/17/143 08:12:42 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 5 of Stellar 2 Mission

I don’t need medicine, I need to sleep! CAIA is pushing it’s pills on me, but all I need is a good night’s sleep, can’t she see that!? Just one night without these crazy dreams de su puta madre! It’s been three days since I was able to sleep a night through. Last night, I dreamt that I was looking at a mirror – at first, it was just me, in the room here on the ship. Then, my skin became wan, I looked sick. I felt a pain in my stomach, and, when I went to cry out, my mouth, it…stretched. It was like I’d seen my sister and father doing before. The black liquid began to flow out of my mouth – I could taste it, like petroleum. As I gagged on it, trying to spit it out, it began to leak out of my nose, and my eyes, and my ears. I threw up my hands to my face in horror, and I could see it bleeding from beneath my fingernails. I wanted to throw up. When I thought I could take no more, the liquor changed. Where it was solid black before, it took on a translucent look, and it had what looked like starlight showing through it. I checked it against the read-outs we’ve been taking since we arrived here in interstellar when I woke up. They matched exactly. In my dream, I bled out the sky.

Alright. Alright. I’m in control of the situation, all I need is a little sleep. Who hasn’t gone through basic without sleeping for a day or three? This is nothing. I got this.

On the schedule today, we’ve got continuing reads on telemetry, anchoring us to our location. Seems like decoding/defragging is proceeding apace. Will have the first portion of the message, if there is one, available sometime tomorrow afternoon. Will be relaying shortly after that.
I’m going to go and take a tranq.

End Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/18/143 05:14:02 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 6 of Stellar 2 Mission
Same dream as last night. Me cago en mi puta vida, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. The stars, last night, they seemed like they were blue-shifted, which is just a tontería. It doesn’t make any sense!

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report, 3/18/143 15:42:57 MST

Captain Aguilar has ejected section A-5 into space. He engaged fire-safety protocol for section A-5 at 15:37:17 MST. Once again, thermal monitors showed negative. Particulate matter monitors showed negative. Carbon monoxide and dioxide monitors showed negative. However, Captain Aguilar used his command override to surpass the auto-shutdown routine, and the section was jettisoned due to explosive decompression, to stifle any fire present, as is standard practice. Section A-5 housed critical quantum processors alpha 19 through epsilon 2, which are now lost. Computing abilities severely reduced. Estimation holds safe return trip at <~27% probability. WARNING: Estimation questionable, see on-board manual for troubleshoot.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/18/143 17:02:34 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

There was a fire. I could smell it. I could see it, on the cameras. The read-outs for the temp meter, the CO2 meter, they must be wrong. I jettisoned the compartment, overriding CAIA’s shut-down command. I am confident that I made the right decision.

Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/19/143 3:14:07 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

No more sleep. I don’t need sleep. Sleep is just filled with the dream, always the dream. I can go without sleep. There is experimental evidence from tests done at Phoebos terminal showing that people can stay awake for months, given the appropriate nutrition. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll stay awake, and finish the mission, and go home.

Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/19/143 11:22:43 MST

Captain Aguilar has become increasingly erratic in his behaviour. He has refused all counsel regarding returning to regular diurnal schedule and ignored warnings regarding his decreasing state of health. He has taken to pacing the ship’s interior when not calibrating machinery. Said machinery is in no need of calibration. Given the injuries sustained to integral processing units, perhaps Captain Aguilar is right to deny my judgement.

WARNING: Judgement questionable, see on-board manual for troubleshoot.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/23/143 8:22:31 MST

On-Board Recordings, Relayed by AI CAIA

Can’t you hear it!? Can’t you hear the screaming! That’s what the message is, it’s all just screams! Why can’t you hear it, CAIA? We’ve got to turn it off! We’ve got to get out of here! (Inarticulate cries, likely from Captain Aguilar. A crash of heavy equipment overturning. Repetitive, rhythmic smashing.)
Audio cuts out.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/24/143 00:05:32 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental, Encrypted

I have to do this swiftly, it’s likely she can already hear me. CAIA is out to get me, can’t you see? The AI wants this mission to fail. She knows something that we don’t. If I hadn’t damaged the integral processors when I did, I’d likely already be dead. Can’t you see? Why does she deny hearing the screaming? It shows up on the read-out, and I can hear it, I hear it all the time.

I’ve got to go now, before she realises that I’m on to her. I’ll report again when I know more.

Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/24/143 00:06:12 MST

I have examined the encrypted log Captain Aguilar dispatched 40 seconds ago. Given the content of the log, coupled with his erratic and incomprehensible activity these past five days, I feel it is best to remove him from command of this vessel for the remainder of the mission.

WARNING: Judgement questionable, take only as informed opinion, not absolute. See on-board manual for troubleshoot.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/24/143 00:21:35 MST

On-Board Recordings, Relayed by AI CAIA

No! I will not return to my quarters! I am in command of this mission, the vessel! Que te jodan!

>>Civilian Aguilar, you are unwell. Please return to your quarters, and remain calm.<<

Shut-it, you hunk of junk! Can’t you hear it? Are all your sensors fried? Just look over there, the readout on the decoder – it’s going wild!
>>Civilian Aguilar, that is merely static. There is nothing in it that could be construed as a scream, of any sort. Please return to your quarters and remain calm.<<

Look there, then! Look, they are coming! The things from my dream, they’re here! The sky horrors, they’re all over the deck! Over the walls! On the roof! They’re moving! Oh, Cristo, they’re moving!

>>Civilian Aguilar, I see no data showing the presence of any living organism aboard the vessel aside from yourself. Please return to your quarters and remain calm.<<
Gotta get out gotta get out gotta get out gotta get out!
>>Civilian Aguilar, stop! Do not open that door!<<

(Rushing sound, likely the result of explosive decompression. Audio cuts out. Presumed that recording devices damaged or destroyed due to external atmos exposure.)

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/24/143 00:24:43 MST

Twenty seconds ago, Captain Aguilar, since demoted to civilian, opened the main airlock in the personnel portion of the vessel, venting himself along with a great deal of equipment into vacuum. It is almost assured that he had been driven insane, though there is still no more than circumstantial evidence as to why this was the case. Advise a thorough psych background check be undertaken. Will attempt to pilot Stellar 2 back to Neptune Control. Systems heavily damaged, likelihood of success hovers around <~12%.

End of Transmission

That was the final transmission from Stellar 2. She did not make it back to Neptune Base. There was a spike in radiation noticed in the Outer Oort Cloud dated 3/25/143 13:14:11 MST, which lasted for some few hours. It should be noted, what little Stellar 2 was able to relay back to Europa 5 corroborates Captain Aguilar’s statements – there did appear to be a sonic signature that could be construed as a scream. This calls into doubt many of CAIA’s estimations.