Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

Science ain’t what it used to be.

Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’

I’m not surprised.

I’ve read a few scientific papers in my own field (computer science) and there are a lot of times when I can’t make heads or tails of what they specifically did. It’s not because I lack the skills to understand, but because the papers are couched is so many references, and often obscure the specific algorithms tested (because the researchers wish to monetize their results) that it is nearly impossible to replicate the results because it is impossible to know that the hell they did in the first place.

Remember: if a paper cannot be reproduced, it is not a scientific paper. It’s a press release.

Answering questions that are painfully obvious.

Why is Democratic Governor Outraged That Trump Ceded Power To States

The answer, of course, is painfully and blindingly obvious.

Because without the fig leaf of a mandate from the Federal Government, the Governor of Minnesota would be directly responsible for any policies he promulgates that his voters dislike. Notice how carefully he phrases his “disagreement” with Trump basically hanging him out to twist in the wind if he decides to be a state-level champion of transgender rights:

“I strongly disagree with the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the protections that his predecessor provided for transgender students in being able to use school bathrooms which match their gender identities,” Dayton said during a news conference Thursday.

But remember: the Fed only offered guidance, not federal-level protection. The States provide the actual framework on which to protect (or not) gay and transgender rights. But the federal guidance does provide political protection for state-level politicians who fail to split the proverbial baby–and in this case, the problem of transgender rights is a very slippery one.

Let’s be entirely clear. I have always been a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, precisely because I believe people need more economic and social liberty, not less. Unfortunately economic freedom means you lean conservative on economic issues, and liberal on social issues–and I say “unfortunately” because it just illustrates how hypocritical and dysfunctional our political parties have become.

I am also a strong support of LGBT rights, in part because I believe that we all should be able to determine our own path, to cut our way through the jungle as we so choose, without interference from others.

Up until “transgender rights” started showing up on the radar, we’ve been handling the problem posed by transgendered individuals in an informal and ad-hoc way. A man but well on the path to becoming a woman? Just slip into the bathroom at the restaurant and ignore any busy-bodies who inevitably intrude. A woman but well on the path to becoming a man? Just wait until you get home before using the gym so as to avoid any unfortunate stares in the changing room.

And we allowed these things to slip on the understanding that busy-body nosy assholes exist for everyone, who seem to find perverse pleasure making others miserable on technicalities and by enforcing some sort of code of moral conduct only they seem to believe in. This applies well beyond transgendered individuals. (By the way, I always hated using the shower at the gym, so I’d slip home to use the shower at home instead. So the price to fail to accommodate a transgendered individual is a price many of us voluntarily pay for other reasons.)

Now that there is a push to codify our interaction with transgendered individuals in a single and uniform set of rules, we’ve hit a series of roadblocks. Advocates of those rights seem unwilling to address many of the issues which arise, thinking that in some utopian world sexual behavior can be regulated and normalized to the point where co-ed showers (like that in the film Starship Troopers or in the TV show Legion, episode 3 are social norms. (Though notice that even though they are supposed to be normalized and thus, non-sexualized, non-the-less they are portrayed in the most lurid sexualized manner possible. How many screen minutes were devoted in the Legion episode on a woman rubbing soap on her body?)

We aren’t there yet, as the irony of how we depict co-ed showers demonstrates.

That’s where the transgender rights folks are running into trouble: not with private bathroom stalls in a restaurant, but with group showers in high school gyms. For example, in 2015, in an debate over the rights of a transgendered girl (a boy seeking to become a girl), the state of Illinois was cited for violating the law by not allowing the transgendered girl (again, a boy who is seeking to become a girl but who still has boy plumbing parts) from using the girl’s locker room. In Arcadia, a transgendered boy (a girl with girl parts but seeking to become a boy) was granted the right by the Fed to use the boy’s locker room and showers.

Because as we all know, teenager boys are the most enlightened and self-aware and kind human beings on the face of the Earth.</sarcasm>

This is the battle line. And this is what social conservatives are complaining about: under-age naked gender mixing in the showers in public schools.

It’s not to suggest that transgendered individuals should be discriminated against. But the issue of high school shower use is a delicate one, and unfortunately it would take the wisdom of King Solomon to figure out how to split the baby. Certainly our more mortal politicians lack the skill, though ironically the way it had been handled prior to President Obama’s intervention (in an ad-hoc way with individual coaches permitting the use of their personal private showers or making other ad-hoc accommodations) were generally more sensitive to the needs of students on the ground.

Because, in an ironic twist to the entire progressive-liberal experiment, in general individuals are far more sensitive to the needs of their fellow men than are faceless bureaucracies controlled by an out-of-touch elite thousands of miles away.

This failure–the desire to take the theoretical ideals of protecting transgendered individuals and turn them into practical policies that actually can be implemented without unexpected consequences–requires local and state-level leaders the political protection of Washington. Because inevitably any implementation will create serious problems, if for no other reason than our current infrastructure was designed for a binary world, and deliberately wedging in a third case is like trying to push the square peg through the round hole.

So it requires local politicians to have the fig leaf that “they had no choice but to implement the guidance of the Federal Government.”

Because their inevitable failures and the inevitable problems that will arise require political protection.

I am well aware, by the way, that one of the basic arguments for transgendered individuals is that, like gay rights, like equal rights for blacks, like women’s rights, like calls for acceptance of muslims, that we need to expand public acceptance and encourage people to afford equal acceptance for minority and disadvantaged groups.

And by forcing a school district to allow a teenage girl undergoing hormone therapy to be able to use the boy’s locker and shower room, it somehow “forces” acceptance.

But, unlike racism or sexism or religious acceptance, this intrudes beyond cultural issues and starts impinging on sexual issues. It’s why even the most famously accepting countries in Europe, where nudism is legal and accepted, generally tend to be limited to specific parks or zones. (Germany has its “Urban Naked Zones”, for example.) It’s akin to nude beaches in the United States: if you go there, you will see naked people, so only go there if you are willing.

The level of acceptance we would need in the United States to allow transgendered children to use the locker room and shower with people whose plumbing are different than theirs would require a far greater shift in cultural acceptance than we see even in famously liberal Europe.

Besides, even after decades of supposed “women’s rights” and “civil rights for minorities”, we still see significant problems in those areas. Even in the most famously liberal-progressive places like California, in places like Silicon Valley, areas which believe themselves the most progressive, the most culturally advanced in the world, sexism is still a significant problem.

So, Governor Dayton, you want to step up to the plate and navigate the minefield?

Have at.

Maybe you’ll even get it right.

But put your own damned neck on the line. Don’t pretend you had no choice, and hide behind that lack of choice if and when you fuck it all up.

And another writing prompt about super-heroes

Writing prompt: In a world where most of the population has gained superpowers, you are one of the few who didn’t. You now spend most of your days being kidnapped and held hostage by supervillains and its getting reeaally tedious.

“You know you can’t kill me, right? Because then who would you hold for ransom?”

We were inside the basement of the home of the Fire Master, or at least that’s what he called himself. Mid 40’s, a little bit of a paunch, he looked like an accountant. If it weren’t for the red glow in his eyes, you’d think he was one of the lucky few untouched by powers.

“What do you mean I can’t kill you? I am The Fire Master!”

“Oh, please.” I rolled my eyes. I took a seat in the chair he had positioned in the center of the room, undoubtedly to tie me up so I could be found in the most dramatic spot in the room by one of the endless numbers of so-called “super-heroes.”

This was a nice little city before the meteor fell and changed everything.

“Don’t you dare take that tone with me! I am The Fire Master!”

I sighed. “Look, this is not the first time I’ve been kidnapped for a ransom.”

I held up my right hand and started ticking off fingers.

“Two days ago it was Megathought. Last Saturday it was Beast Woman. Thursday it was Cherry Blossom. Wednesday it was Alpha Man. Counting you, that’s five, five times I’ve been kidnapped, and that’s only in the past week.”

“Erm,” the Fire Master replied.

“At least Cherry Blossom gave me cookies while I waited to be rescued.”

“But I am the Fire Master, the greatest evil superpower in all the city!”

Pity crossed my face. “Dude, not only are you not the greatest evil superpower, hell, you’re not even the only Fire Master. I’ve met two other guys who called themselves the same thing.”


A pause.

“But can they start fires with their eyes!” To emphasize his point, the Fire Master’s eyes started glowing, and one of the tables along the wall started glowing a reddish color.

“Yeah, one of them can. The other one sets fire to things he touches.”

The Fire Master looked a little surprised. “Wow. Okay.”

Another pause.

“Well, what about the others? I bet you I’m more powerful than they are.”

I laughed. “Megathought can move things with his mind. He actually tied me up in the chair in the center of the room using telekenesis, even though I told him I wasn’t going anywhere. Alpha Man has super strength and was able to throw his house at the guy trying to rescue me. Beast Woman turns into a large bear, and Cherry Blossom can control plants. She had a couple of weeds spring up out of the cracks of her basement and wrap themselves around my ankles.”

“But none of them could start a fire, could they?”

“Come on,” I replied. “Anyone with a lighter can start a fire.”

The Fire Master sat down in a chair on the other side of the room and got a little thoughtful. “Alpha Man throw his house? That’s pretty impressive.”

I shook my head. “Yeah, but do you know where Alpha Man lives now? In the streets. He’s homeless because he literally. Threw. His. House. Away. Strong but really, really stupid.”

“And Beast Woman can turn into a bear?”

“Yep.” I smiled. “But when she turns back she winds up nude, because her clothes get destroyed in the transformation. She’s now sort of limited by the number of outfits she has left in her closet.”

A pause.

“You really get around, don’t you?” the Fire Master asked.


“Soooooo, hmmmm. So who do you think will rescue you and pay your ransom?”

I thought for a while.

“Well, first off, I don’t think you’re going to get any ransom.”

“Why not?!”

“Because,” I replied, simply, “the city is out of money. There just isn’t anything left to pay a ransom.”

“Then they can get it from some other city or from the state!”

I shook my head. “Nope, because the same thing is happening all over the world. Everyone is out of money. And besides, even if you got your ransom, have you been in any of the grocery stores? The malls? There isn’t anything to buy.”


“No, it’s true.” I looked the Fire Master in his red eyes. “While all you super heroes and super-villains are out playing super-games, the few of us who are left don’t even get to go to work. I mean, look at me; I’ve missed five days out of seven at work, because I’m always in someone’s basement waiting to be rescued. Have you thought about what this does to the economy?”


“Yeah. I mean, there are precious few of us left who do things like drive trucks or make things for sale, or stock grocery store shelves. And we’re all being kidnapped all the time because you guys are fighting over money.”

The Fire Master looked down at the floor.

“And who is growing the food we need to survive? I mean, where are the farmers? The farm workers? The guys processing the crops? Do you know the world only grows enough food at any one time to last perhaps six months or a year? And it’s been, what, three months since the meteor struck?”

I drove my point home with the Fire Master. “Did it ever dawn on you that we may eventually starve to death because you’re all playing the super-version of cops and robbers?

“You’re all a bunch of children, with your super-powers. A bunch of super idiots.”

At that last comment the Fire Master looked up at me angrily, but then stopped, and looked thoughtful.

“Alpha Man…” the Fire Master started.

“Threw his damned house away. Who is going to fix his house? Who will rebuild it? Not me, I’m stuck here in the basement with you.”

“Beast Woman…”

“Either she’s going to have to get a job, steal more clothing, or get used to being a nudist. Which I personally wouldn’t mind if she were a 20-something cute young woman, rather than a pot-bellied grandmother.”

“Ewwww.” The Fire Master made a face.

“Look,” I started, “you all are going to just figure out a way to grow up, and work together, otherwise it could be the end of the world…”

Before I could finish my thought, the roof above us shattered and flew upward. Hyperman, a flying, super-strong self-stylized “super-hero” had torn the top of the house off the basement, and before I could say anything, flew down and grabbed The Fire Master by the throat.

“You shall go to jail for your crimes”, Hyperman said in a well-practiced sing-song voice. I could imagine him standing in front of a mirror practicing his “I’ve rescued you” speech until it was pitch perfect.

“Wait, wait, wait” I tried to stop the commotion, but before I could do anything, Hyperman’s sleeve got red hot, the Fire Master dropped to the grown, and with a well-practiced evil cackle, ran off into the distance.

I sighed again.

“Are you all right, citizen?” Hyperman said, in a voice that seemed more suited for a Saturday morning kid’s show than for a grown-ass adult.

“God, you are all a bunch of idiots,” I said as I picked my way out of the rubble. “I’m late for work, assuming you guys haven’t destroyed my office complex yet.”

Continuing the story about Genies: a flashback.

Jerry was one of those annoying people who could only exist in today’s modern world. Two or three hundred years ago, unless he was a member of the landed class, he simply could not afford to take so much time being an introspective narcissist. In today’s world, however, with the amazing levels of wealth allowing so much free time, even the poorest of the working class can afford to spend the time “working on himself” and “trying to find himself.”

From a distance such people amused me and were evidence of just how far we have come as a civilization. Up close, however…

“Trust me, Jerry,” I complained, “if you want to find yourself, buy a mirror. Or go see a shrink. Or go run off to an ashram in the hills of Santa Cruz. But ask the genie for platinum or gold or silver; don’t ask him to help you with your psychological issues. You won’t like the results.”

Jerry was having none of it. “But money is the root of all evil, and for me to ask for money would violate my spiritual journey!”

I shook my head.

Never did I think that a group of failed writers and hacks who gathered at the cafes in Paris in the 1840’s, self-stylized “philosophers” whose real goal was to sell books so they could pay for their apartments overlooking the Champs-Elysées, would create so much havoc a hundred and fifty years later.

Genies don’t have a monopoly on chaos.

“Look,” I replied. “Money is just a tool, like a hammer or a screw driver. With the right tools you can build your life the way you want it.”

“You’re just some capitalist tool, and I don’t know why I ever came in to see you!” Jerry stood up and prepared to storm out of the room.

“Wait, wait, wait, sit down. Let’s try this again.” I pleaded. Jerry stopped and turned back.

“Genies are not what you think they are. They are evil, obnoxious, and are looking for any way to turn your wish against you. They will nit-pick language, use obscure definitions, and use any gaps in the way you phrase your wish in the worst way possible.

Jerry smiled. “I’ll prove you wrong.”

From underneath his coat he pulled out a small brass oil lamp. “Oh, shit!” I exclaimed and shoved my chair back from the desk as hard as I could to get as much distance as I could find.

Jerry rubbed the lamp. The old familiar shadow emerged, and a booming voice similar to the one I remembered nearly a millennia ago rattled the walls of my office.

“For setting me free I will grant you three wishes!”

Jerry looked up into the great evil darkness. “I wish to find myself, to bring those things that are inside me to the surface so I can reveal my true self!” he confidently replied.

A great bellowing laughter, which sent chills down my spine. I pushed myself off the chair and ducked under the desk, afraid of what would happen next.

“Your wish shall be granted, fool!”

Jerry smiled at me, then a sudden pained look as he grabbed his stomach. It started to enlarge in a sickening way. I could see his mouth start to form an O shape as his stomach erupted, and a sudden explosion as Jerry’s body was ripped apart, turning inside out. Blood splattered everywhere, coating my desk, the walls, the carpet.

Chunks of red meat splattered sickeningly to the floor.

The shadow spoke in a deep voice. “I see you, Frank. Know that we’re watching you. And someday we will get our revenge for the things you have done to us these past 120 years.”

Another prompt, not involving Genies.

Writing prompt: “You live in a “Truman Show” but you are unaware of it. The world depends on you because you are the smartest person. They keep giving you super-hard science questions and equations because only your brain is smart enough to solve it. They want to save the world but they know they’re too stupid.”

“Okay, Beth, this is the last time I help you with your homework.”

Who am I kidding? So long as Beth keeps wearing low-cut tops and bending over and fawning over me, I’ll probably keep helping her. I don’t know what classes she’s taking, because some of the problems she gives me at my desk at Exosoft were pretty strange.

I mean, she’s cute and all, but what sort of classes do you take that ask you questions ranging from nuclear physics to logistics optimization to control theory? Sometimes we would chat over lunch about her course work (she was taking night classes apparently), but she would always change the subject when I asked about her major. But she seemed smart, she was always nice to me, and those low-cut dresses…

After working for a couple of hours on her latest problem while she sat across from me and smiled that cute smile of hers, I finished this problem. Apparently it involved finding the optimal critical mass of a pile of nuclear fissionable material, and the minimum geometry necessary in order to make the critical mass sub-critical. Strange problem, but I appreciated something involving geometry, and I liked problems that required me to write a short computer program to help verify the answer. I sketched the solution to Beth, who then smiled, bent over, kissed me on the cheek and with a “thank you” bounced off into the distance.

I sighed.

I took the job at Exosoft right out of college, even though it involved me moving to a strange town out in the middle of Kansas, because I really liked how they reimbursed college for its workers. Not because I needed the college training, naturally. We weren’t that far from Wichita Sate University, maybe an hour away, which I heard was a pretty good place to go to school.

I was also very impressed with the town when I got here. Clean, it looked almost as if it were built yesterday. And of course I couldn’t refuse the salary; it even allowed me to buy a brand new home on a large lot just a short walk where I work. After seeing how people lived in places like Silicon Valley or in Boston, I just couldn’t see myself living in such cramped quarters, though it was a shame that somehow all those promising job interviews never came to anything.

During the first two years, all sorts of people would come up to me and ask me to help them with their homework. Given the homework questions they were asking me to solve, I guess I had seriously under-appreciated the depth and complexity of the coursework at WSU. Over time, the more abrasive people stopped asking me questions, and I found myself exclusively helping one or two girls–always ones that made me smile.

Which was okay with me.

A control center deep underground.

A dozen or more people watch video monitors in front of them in a darkened room showing street scenes of an unidentified city. One monitors a camera inside the Exosoft Corporation building. Behind them, a window leads into another room where another group of people watch video monitors showing news reports.

One shows a video of a nuclear power plant with reporters in front. Behind them, a series of robots roll into the building, one with a drill bit, another carrying a lead rod. Police try to shove the reporters off camera; it had become too dangerous and they were asked to evacuate with the entire population.

Into that room, Beth walks in, and approaches the day manager, John.

“Did his solution work?”

“We’ll find out.”

Deep inside the basement of the Pentagon, a group of a dozen men meet in a situation room labeled “External Crisis Operations.” Three monitors show in the background of the round table where they meet; one of the monitors show John, the day manager from Kansas.

At the head of the table, one figure stands up and bangs a gavel. “I call this meeting to order. First on our agenda is an action item to review the results of the nuclear meltdown at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant outside Raleigh, North Carolina. I’ve invited John Whitman to speak about the solution, and Harry Fuller to give us an update from the ground.”

John clears his throat on the video monitor. “At 11:32 hours this morning our operative approached the resource with a statement of the problem, which he was able to solve by 13:47 hours. We monitored the progress of his work and all of his internet searches, and we’ve also tapped his computer to download his computer simulation for archival and study. From what we can tell his solution has a high degree of confidence in working to reduce the elephant mass caused by the spill in Unit 1 at the Raleigh plant, and we have high hopes this will reduce the radiation levels enough to allow sealing of the nuclear plant.”


“Here at the plant I just received word that the lead rod has been inserted into the mass, and as predicted, reaction levels have declined to below subcritical levels. We have teams with telepresence robots now measuring radiation levels, and if all goes well, we believe by nightfall we should be able to send in suited men to verify the levels and start construction of the containment well.”

“That’s great news. Thank you Harry for your work in Raleigh. I move to add a motion to the agenda giving Harry Fuller recognition for his work. Do I have a second?”

“Seconded!” two others piped up simultaneously.

“Motion carries, and the agenda item has been added as item 7 B of our agenda. If the secretary could take note, that would be great. Next on our agenda, item 2 A, an open discussion as to the next problem to be resolved by our resource.”

While fiddling on my software project for the company (something about simulating advertising revenue; it just didn’t seem all that interesting), I started to daydream about traveling. I never seem to have a lot of work to do, but my boss keeps insisting that while I was given three weeks of vacation a year, there is never a good time to take them.

Besides, he insists, as they never expire, those vacation years will amount to a lot of cash someday. As if I’m not being paid more than enough to live comfortably.

I never seem to travel. Oh, sure, I always have someone to talk to, and certainly the girls with their homework problems catch the eye. (And Beth was just cute as a button.)

But I want to someday visit Paris.

Paris always seemed like a great place to relax. Sipping coffee by the Notre Dame Cathedral, or wandering the Louvre. I daydreamed of meeting the right person, perhaps sharing my house, a coffee at a small cafe near the Cathedral. Somehow, however, I never seemed to meet someone I hit it off with at a deep level.

Sure, Beth was eye candy, and she always made me smile. But she never was available, nor were the other girls I met. Plus, it just seemed a little unseemly, someone of my age dating someone a decade and a half younger.

Paris would be nice.

My daydreams were broken when Beth came bouncing back to my desk. She bent over again, low cut dress and all, smiled that great smile of hers, and asked for my help with another homework problem. She must not do anything else all day, but my questions about her work day were lost in her eyes.

This time it seemed to be a problem of finding the optimal construction geometry of a sea wall.

Beth gets the weirdest homework problems.

Continuing the story.

Part 1 is here.

“For your first wish, remember: we need to state what you want, from where it will come, and to where it will be delivered, all in one clear sentence.”

It was about ten days later. Bob sat across the table from me and Amy, an acquaintance of mine. During those ten days I learned in fact Bob had two dogs, Lucy and Ethel, both labradors. Like most of them, Bob wanted the three wish package.

“Okay,” Bob replied.

“By the way, how is your public speaking skills? Do you have any experience presenting on a stage or performing in front of an audience?”


Before Bob could complete his sentence, I cut him off. “It doesn’t matter. I want you to meet Amy. She’s an acting coach, and she’ll help you rehearse the first Wish so you can recite it perfectly regardless of the circumstances.

“Wait, why would I need a coach?” Bob asked.

“When you rub the lamp to present your first Wish, the Genie will appear larger than life. He will present himself with a booming voice, tower over you and do anything he can to intimidate you. His goal is to make you stumble, to stutter, to make mistakes, so he can have any leeway he can find to spin the wish the way he wants to.

“They don’t have your best interest at heart.”

“You keep saying that,” Bob replied, “but why is that?”

It was the year of our Lord 1271, in a dusty little town called Qaqun, perhaps a day’s march from Jerusalem. At the base of the Cacho castle, a small encampment of Crusaders seeking to bring the light of The Lord to the lands of the infidels sat. One of the Franks originally sent by His Lord Louis the Ninth, may he rest in peace, and led by His Lord Edward, son of Henry the Third, eventual Hammer of the Scots and rightful representative Our Lord Jesus Christ, dug through the muck of the refuse mound just outside the castle walls.

He found a small brass oil lamp, which he thought may make a nice little souvenir to his wife and children, waiting thousands of miles away on a small farm north of Paris.

He shined the brass lamp with the sleeve of his dirty tunic, hoping to clear some of the manure off of it.

Nearby a deep booming voice sounded from the shadows, seemingly emanating from the lamp. “For setting me free, I shall grant you three wishes!”

I looked straight into Bob’s eyes. “I wish I really knew. But as far as I and my colleagues can figure, they hate us for the curse that imprisoned their race, and while they are forced to grant wishes, they really want to kill or torture the entire human race in the worst possible way.”

Leaning forward, I lowered my voice. “I personally think this is how World War I originally was started.”

Bob stared back in disbelief. “Next you’ll be telling me they also caused Hitler to rise to power.”

“Oh, no!” I laughed. “They don’t have a monopoly on evil, you know!”

I sat back in my chair. “The good news is that we have the wording of your first Wish ready. We’re still researching the second and third Wish, but that will take some time.”

“Why is this taking so long? After all you said it’d take a week, and it’s ten days later.”

“In the Wishing business,” I told Bob, “patience is the most important thing.”

“I wish for my children to be well taken care of when I am dead.” the Frank immediately spat out, overcome by the impressiveness of the sight before him. Demon or devil, he didn’t care. He’d seen too much death, destruction, starvation and disease on this journey to last him a lifetime, and all he cared about was his wife, two kids and his farm back home.

“Okay,” the dark figure said. “Your second?”

“For my wife to find happiness when I am gone.”

That elicited a chuckle from the demonic figure. “Done. And your third?”

“I’ve taken the liberty to write down the monetary wish on a piece of paper so you can practice it. You need to spend the next week rehearsing the Wish so you can speak it word perfectly, in a calm voice, regardless of the pyrotechnics your Genie displays.”

I slid a piece of paper across the paper to Bob.

Bob read it. “Why are we asking for two hundred pounds of platinum? I thought we’d ask for gold.”

“Well,” I replied, “it’s been our experience with the wide varieties of gold alloys, and the presence of things like plated gold objects and even iron pyrite, or fool’s gold, that just asking for ‘gold’ gives the genies too much wiggle room. Platinum costs just as much per ounce as gold, but it is not as commonly traded, so we have a higher level of confidence you won’t get a hundred pound brick of worthless fool’s gold showing up in your living room.”

“Really,” Bob asked, incredulously. “You have to be that precise?”

“We believe,” I replied, “that the genies are colluding, learning from each other, and figuring out new ways to get around the wording of various Wishes. Otherwise, you could just Google for a bunch of standard wishes and call it a day.”

“I wish to live long enough to see the Word of Jesus Christ fall across this land, and for the lands of Israel to be ruled forever by a Catholic King and the rightful representative of the Holy See.”

The demonic figure bellowed out deep laughter. “Done!” he cried, then disappeared in billowing smoke. The Frank dropped the small lamp to the ground, a sense of dread clutching his heart.

“So what do I do with two hundred pounds of platinum?”

“Don’t worry about that. I have people who can test the purity of the metal in case the genies find a new loophole our people didn’t think about, and at current exchange rates, that amount of metal should fetch around $4.4 million on the metals markets. Minus our 30% fee, and that will leave you with around three million.”

Bob contemplated that for a moment then asked the question I always hear everyone ask. “Why not wish for more?”

“The goal here is not to wish for the world, but to keep your wishes relatively modest. They should be large enough to be life changing for your family, but not so large as to cause a severe backlash by your genie. Further wishes can explore or push the boundaries–but I’d be careful wishing for anything grandiose. Those sorts of wishes have a way of backfiring.

“Besides,” I said, “with that sort of money and help from a financial advisor I can recommend, that should allow you to retire with some degree of comfort.”

The year of our Lord 1862. Nearly 600 years before the Frank had returned to France only to learn his wife had taken a lover–the neighboring farmer had fallen in love with her while he was away overseas. She was quite happy, he saw.

Just as he had accidentally wished.

He watched from afar as his children grew up, had children of their own, and died. After the passing of his older son, he made the journey to a little town of Cambridge, where he had heard some scholars from nearby Oxford had settled century before and opened up shop. At the time anyone with some money could sit on lectures given by these socratic professors, and fortunately the Frank had a love of learning.

It was a way to pass the time until the arrival of Armageddon, and the final trumpet call which the Frank believed would wipe away clean the curse of the Genie he encountered. The earth, he believed, was more than 5,000 years old–and on the first day of the 6,000th year, he had believed, the Four Horsemen would ride and wars would wipe the world clean.

And on that day he hoped to finally rest.

But that day failed to come over the centuries, and the Frank spent his time alternating between scrabbling for food in the dirt, and wandering the newly constructed lecture halls of the colleges of Cambridge, learning what he could. Over the years his hatred of the Genies grew and his faith fell, for what righteous God would condemn him to walk this earth, alone?

The final straw came with the publication that year by The Lord Kelvin of his theory that the earth was not 6,000 years hold, as the Frank once believed. It was at least 100 million years old, a calculation arrived by assuming the Earth started as a molten ball of lava. This was how long it would take the Earth to cool and for the fires of hell to recede below the surface.

And it was on that day, reading Lord Kelvin’s papers on the subject, that the Frank resolved to become a Barrister.

Not just a barrister. But a very special kind of barrister.

Bob replied, “Okay.”

“Remember,” I reminded Bob, “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one which you will never get again. If you decide to take all three wishes–and you don’t, by the way–then let’s take the time to do it right, so you don’t wind up losing your family or cursed to wander the earth.”

Amy turned to me. “Frank,” she asked, “when should we get started on his performance.”

“Well, that’s up to Bob,” I replied. “When do you think you can get started?”

Another writing prompt.

Another writing prompt for practice: “Genies exist. However, they are all evil wish genies who try and interpret wishes disastrously. You’re a lawyer at a Wise Wishing Firm, who helps their clients word their wishes as safely as possible.”

“First, remember that your wishes must be a single simple sentence. Additional clauses or run-on sentences give most genies a lot of wiggle room.”

I sized up my client. Mid 30’s. Married man. Two kids. House, mortgage, probably a dog. He seemed like a dog person to me.

He had a lot to lose.

It was my job to make sure that, if he decided to go through with his three wishes, that he didn’t wind up losing his house or kids or marriage. Or worse. I remember one time, a client of mine who walked out without taking my advise. The mental image of him being turned inside-out, blood everywhere, was just too much for me. I flinched.

My client apparently noticed.

“What is it?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just remembering a former client of mine. Are you sure you wish to go through with these wishes? You can always walk away.”

My client, let’s call him “Bob”, looked me straight in the eyes.

“I feel like this is an important opportunity, and I just don’t want to pass it up,” Bob said.

“Okay, I have a team of linguists professors who can help you with the phrasing of the Wish. As well as a crack team of word historians who can help trace the history of each word used in the Wish so we can make sure there are no historic interpretations that can be used against you.”

Bob shifted at the table. “Why do we have to do that?”

“Because the Genies don’t have your best interest at heart.” I leaned forward. “For example, suppose you wish for a nice family. Did you know that the word ‘nice’ once meant ‘silly’ or ‘foolish’? One guy, not a client of ours, wished for his family to be ‘nice’ and now spends all his time caring for his wife of 10 years and 3-year old son whose IQ are no higher than a cocker spaniel.”

Bob’s eyes widened.

“Or think of how other words have changed over time. Naughty used to mean the same thing as nothing, so wishing for your wife to be naughty in the bedroom, and boom! no more sex life. Hardly the thing to wish for, I’d say.”

“Okay,” Bob said, “so what else should I watch out for?”

“Related to word history are homophones; words that sound like other words. One guy I know of who ran a local collection of shops made the mistake of wishing to run a world-class bazaar. Now he’s bankrupt and is just too weird to look at.”

“Oh, dear.”

“So,” I asked Bob, “what sort of goals do you have with your wish?”

“Well,” Bob replied, “I guess I’d like to have a long life, more money, and more time to spend with my kids.”

“I have to stop you right there, because you really need to be careful when wishing for a long life.”

“How so?”

“Ever think of the consequences of outliving your wife? Or your kids? Or worse, outliving your grand kids? We all wish we could live a long life, but for the few folks I know who found themselves living for centuries, they all have become nearly suicidal out of boredom.

“Genies seem to take a perverse pleasure out of finding the ones who are least suited for immortality.”

Shaking his head, Bob asked, “Unsuited for immortality?”

“Sure,” I replied. “There are some of us who are genuinely curious about the world, who spend our time learning, reading, growing our minds; those are the best capable of coping with a life span of over two or three hundred years. Even confined to a wheel chair we would find pleasure in learning more about life.

“But some of us lack that basic curiosity. And for them, immortality becomes a burden rather quickly, as they age, become more frail, and watch their friends die off around them. Imagine being confined to a nursing home for a hundred years, with no friends, nothing to do, and not able to kill yourself.

“Those are the worst wishes. I’ve met a few. It’s really sad.”

“So what do you recommend,” Bob asked.

“I would make one of the wishes about money, so you can pay for my services. My standard contract is 30% of the net value of any monetary wish, and we require a monetary wish as part of the three wish package. If you don’t want a monetary wish, then we would need a standard deposit of $50,000, which we would bill against in order to do the research.”

“Wow, that’s a lot.”

“Yes, it is, but if you can suddenly have a million dollars in your bank account overnight without any strings attached, our standard fees are quite reasonable.

“The good news is that unless someone else picks up the lamp and rubs it, the wishes are yours, and you can wait as long as necessary in order to make them. So I would recommend you buy a safe, and put the lamp in there for safe keeping. Don’t wrap it in a rag or towel; that could accidentally rub the lamp and whomever was holding it would get the wishes. And give us a week to research your case so we can phrase the three sentences correctly.”

“Well, what if I just wished for a million dollars without any strings attached?”

“See, that’s why you need us,” I replied to Bob. “Because the phrase ‘strings attached’ would be interpreted literally, and you may find yourself with a million dollars in your house, and cops at your doorstep wondering how you robbed the local bank.

“No, give us a week, and let us sort out the wishes that meet your goals for you.”

More writing practice: in response to a new writing prompt.

Writing prompt: “When alien ships were seen heading towards earth many flee to escape. Many years later they return to liberate earth only to dsicover the aliens weren’t hostile”

It’s been nearly a hundred years since The Fall of Earth. We even reckon our calendars now by the Great Exodus, the year when They were spotted above our planet and the year we left for Kepler-452b, some 1400 light years from Earth.

It was fortunate that we had just discovered the principles of hyperspace travel a decade before, otherwise all would have been lost. As it was, the invasion happened so quickly that only the asteroid miners as well as the workers on the Mars orbital platform and the mining way stations on Ceres, Ganymede and Europa were able to escape with the hyperspace researchers on Callisto. Less than 10,000 humans survived The Fall, and with only a third being female, barely enough to maintain the genetic variety necessary to allow us to create a new civilization.

A hundred years of surviving the harsh environment of our new home made us tougher, but stronger, and after building a stable civilization in orbit around that harsh planet, we felt we were strong enough to send an expedition back to Earth to find out what had happened.

“Day 112, 103 GE,” Captain Huxley spoke into his comm mike, the computer transcribing his words into a computerized log designed to survive everything but the core of a star. “We have reached the jump point and are about to make the jump back to Earth.”

A hundred ships of various sizes made up the fleet; the largest, a battle cruiser named The Lafayette and containing perhaps a thousand men, was at the center. Most of the ships were just large enough for a hyperspace drive, a few guns, and a computer core; unmanned drones capable of interstellar flight. Their job was to meet the threat before the threat reached the battle cruiser. Aboard the battle cruiser were smaller drones, too small for more than a reactionless drive, a few lasers and a computer core. A few, however, were manned, because sometimes computers just can’t deal with the weirdness of battle, and sometimes decisions needed to be made locally due to the lag of light-speed communications.

“Jump!” Huxley spoke into his mike and to his bridge crew. In front of him, the screen turned a strange shade of magenta…

High above Saturn, a hundred specks of light flashed, turning into a hundred space ships of various sizes. Instantly two of the smaller ships flared up and started moving forward of the rest of the fleet, in an accelerated fall towards the sun. They focused a communications laser back to the battle cruiser in the center, sending their automated findings back to the crew who poured over the results. While it would take nearly six months for the main fleet to fall towards the third planet of this solar system, the two smaller probes would make the trip in a matter of a week, giving the crew time to assess the tactical situation.

Almost immediately the probes started receiving results; leaked radio communications between various worlds and moons, which the signal analysts aboard The Lafayette. They plotted the results on a large computerized map on the bridge.

“We show communications between the Earth and orbital stations around Venus, Mars, all four Galilean moons, and Titan.”

Huxley looked worried. “Do you think we’ve been detected?”

“We haven’t seen any movement around Saturn to suggest anyone is moving in to meet us, so I suspect not.”

“Very well. Continue monitoring and let me know if the tactical situation has changed.”

“Day 149, 103 GE. We have spent our time analyzing the signals from Earth and the inner planets. The encryption used on the signals is making it harder for us to understand the tactical situation, but from what we can tell, the Others have apparently entrenched themselves and expanded throughout the solar system. We also believe humans must be completely subjugated, as Earth remains a major communications hub with all of the other settlements.”

The two smaller forward scouts had been in orbit around the Earth for nearly two months. If it weren’t for the fact that their masters had been absent several generations, they would have immediately recognized something strange–or rather, a lack of strangeness: everything seemed perfectly normal.

It had taken several months for those aboard The Lafayette to realize the so-called “encryption” being used on all communications channels was simply a new form of data compression which made transmitting video even more compact. But once they figured this out they were finally able to decrypt the signals–and noticed, well, that everything seemed quite normal. Television broadcasts of entertainment shows, runway models showing off the latest fashions, movies transmitted to theaters around the solar system. A few showed strange tall slender aliens in them, but in all of those movies they were shown as kind and benevolent, though a little–well, “stoned” seemed the best word for it.

It all seemed quite insidious to Captain Huxley, a way to help subjugate a population of nine billion humans by making everything seem normal.

Day 205 of the sunward fall seemed quite like any other day; the black ships of the Kepler fleet practicing war games while trying hard to remain undetected. But during the war game practices (mostly involving coordinated maneuvers to protect the Lafayette from any conceivable situation), a new ship popped into existence just a few hundred kilometers behind the Lafayette.

Support ships scrambled in confusion.

The new ship, garishly painted in bright florescent colors, made no attempt at hiding itself; instead, started radiating radio transmissions on a variety of frequencies.

The analysts, realizing it was an attempt to talk, finally decoded the signals and figured out what they may need to broadcast in order to respond.

“Captain Huxley, what should we do?”

Huxley, covered in sweat from working out at the gym, emerged onto the bridge. “They know we’re here. Let’s talk to them and see if we can’t understand the tactical situation better.” Despite his training was quite nervous. “Can we arrange a camera up here on the bridge so we can talk face to face?”

An hour later, a camera plugged into the network (but pointed slightly upwards to make the captain look larger than life) began broadcasting Huxley to the alien ship.

“This is Captain Huxley of the Lafayette. Identify yourself.”

The video screen popped to life, showing a human being aboard the other ship’s bridge. He suddenly smiled expansively.

“Duuuuude! Hey, how are you?”

They arranged a meeting aboard the Lafayette. A small troop transport aboard the Lafayette was converted into a shuttle of sorts; benches were installed so people could sit down. It took a day to jerry rig a pressure seal to fit the other Earth ship so it could take on passengers, and it departed, picked up a handful of representatives, and returned to the bay in the Lafayette.

At an improvised meeting room in someone’s crew quarters, the representatives of the Kepler fleet sat at one end. In through the door stepped the representatives of Earth: two humans, and a tall spindly alien.

Immediately two of the officers of the Kepler fleet shoved their chairs back and drew guns. The alien flinched, holding his hands in front of his face. One of the humans at the other end waved his arms, and started yelling. “Woah, dudes, chillax! He’s our friend. Stop it!”

Another of the Kepler crew stepped up, and gently placed their hands on the gun arms of the two officers. The guns were lowered.

Captain Huxley stood up. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

“Look, dudes. A hundred years ago these dudes from, oh, hell; what did you call it?” he turned to the alien, who shrugged, “Well, they call themselves the Huan, the Huon, the …”

The other human piped up “the Huonan?”

“Yeah, the Huonan, yeah, dude, that’s it!” Beaming smile. Captain Huxley shifted, uncertain.

“Yeah, dudes, they came by and scared the living shit out of us. But dude, all they wanted was to trade for our chronic.”

Captain Huxley asked, “Your what?”

“You know, our chronic. Our weed, Mary Jane?”

The other human piped up, helpfully. “Marijuana.”

Captain Huxley repeated, more incredulously this time. “Your what?!”

“Our weed. They think it’s the best chronic in the galaxy, and dude, for about a hundred years we’ve been making serious bank!”

“Yeah,” the other human piped up. “How do you think we paid for our bitchin’ ride out back? Dude, we’ve been following you now for nearly three months, and we thought you were just part of the Kethral fleet, because those dudes know how to trick out a black ride, but when you kept hanging out, we thought we’d drop by.”

The first human spoke up again. “So, we got about a ton of Mary Jane in back. How much do you guys want to buy?”

I don’t think I’ll be banking with SunTrust.

Abysmal service, waiting for ever just to see a manager, and as far as I can figure with a 5 to 3 employee to customer ratio no one can help us but they’re quite pleasant in telling us it will only be a moment.

It’s not as bad as Bank of America, whose assholes, due to their error, closed down my credit card years ago–and even after authorizing a transfer to completely pay off my card shut the card off, telling me I couldn’t afford to take a vacation so I should cut it short. (All this took place the first time I traveled over seas.)

But it is pretty sad, especially because good customer service is easy–and is about helping people do things and solve problem, not just pleasantly (or not so pleasantly) blowing them off.

A short story in response to a Reddit writing prompt.

The writing prompt:

[WP] Among Alien species humans are famous for prefering pacifism but being the most dangerous species when they are forced to fight.

A dark room, hazy with the smoke that made the Brill comfortable. Shorter than humans and with four arms instead of two, they were otherwise similar to humans: bilateral symmetry, two legs, two eyes, a mouth. Instead of a nose two slits extended alongside the neck; formerly gills but adapted to breathing air.

One side of the room is elevated and topped with a long podium, behind which seven Brill are seated. In the center a Brill is seated, behind his own table. If it weren’t for the strange decor it could be a congressional hearing room, and in fact it was, of a sort: members of the ruling caste were asking questions of the surviving Grand Master of the Brill invasion fleet.

The First was seated center of the podium. He was the only one permitted to ask questions; the others were there to observe.

“What went wrong?”

The Grand Master squirmed, a slow motion imitation of a fish caught in a bear’s mouth.

“We underestimated them. As pacifists we believed the Humans would make an easy catch.”


“When we first heard of the Humans we started standard infiltration to eventually annex their resources. But we were misled by what we discovered.”

Quietly two satellites finish a trajectory that brings them into orbit about the Earth. Sent along a parabolic path that took them by the sun and around the moon, the trajectory was designed to allow them to take orbit without detection by the residents below. Extending antennas they start picking up what radio frequencies they could find, sophisticated computers learning what is being transmitted and translating the information into a format the Brill could understand. Most chatter was automated; timestamps, transactional information. Some was positional data for floating boats on the oceans of this water world, or transmission between the planet and small mining ships in the asteroid belt, around Mars or on the various moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

There appeared to be a lot of entertainment as well, in a variety of different spoken languages. But there appeared to be no central database or informational source detected, no mechanism to query databases below. One of the satellites launched a small probe towards the oceans of the planet where a data transmission line was detected; hopefully it would tap into the computer networks of this world and gather more information.

But everything these two satellites detected indicated what other races had reported: that this was a single species, wealthy in resources, with a single world government. All the programming received confirmed that they were a peaceful race, prizing pacifism. They had multiple religions but all which spread the same message of peace. They were a capitalist species, but capitalism seemed to be in its final stages of evolution for a world such as this: goods have become so cheap due to wealth and automation there was little left to buy beyond land and influence. And unlike most other species, most of the residents of this world engaged in pacifistic rituals every 7 days, engaging in group meditation and prayer.

The conclusion of the Grand Master and his advisors: the world was ripe for capture. The residents of this world were surprisingly peaceful, having only one world government. They were surprisingly wealthy due to the natural resources of an astroid belt comprised of a failed planet which they were just beginning to exploit. They appeared to have no military caste beyond peace keepers, and little crime for those peace keepers to fight. There was no need in this case to wait for the surface probe to return the results of the history of this planet.

The invasion force popped into existence on the far side of the Sun: thousands of points of light turned into thousands of ships of various sizes, with the largest, the Brill command post, in the center. The UN SOHO 3 platform saw them wink into existence, but never reported its findings: a single shot from a coherent laser cannon guaranteed that.

The standard invasion process devised by the Grand Master of the Fleet was simple: first, destroy any ship yards farthest from the target, then press inwards: a standard plan successfully used on several other worlds annexed by the Brill. They expected little resistance, and in fact they encountered none as they approached the Europa shipyards.

They did receive a series of transmissions from the shipyards in orbit around Europa and from a base on the surface of that moon of Jupiter, which they ignored. A squadron of ships was dispatched, and met no resistance as they destroyed the orbital platforms and the space elevator, a small thin structure which tied the surface buildings to the platforms in orbit.

The Europa asteroid mining repair base was destroyed.

What happened next was entirely expected: the two orbital satellites around the Earth reported an increase in traffic, chatter which was repeated via a tight transmission laser to the central command ship. All was going very well, the Grand Master thought.

Meanwhile the lone surface probe sent to tap into the computer networks of this world finally gained access, and started trying to learn the protocols used by the Humans on their home world, then downloading and analyzing any history stored in any connected databases.

And it transmitted upwards a dire warning, one which was lost in the flux of transmissions to the Brill command center.

The First stopped the Grand Master’s story.

“Why was the warning from your ground probe ignored?”

The Grand Master looked directly into the eyes of the First, an aggressive gesture he almost instantly regretted: “When our technicians finally found the warning in the millions of teraquads of data we received from our orbital satellites, it was already too late.”

Tens of thousands of astroid miner ships suddenly stopped their work, using high powered coherent lasers to tear apart and pulverize asteroids, and started heading towards their repair base at Europa. Peaceful observatory telescopes in orbit around the Earth, previously trained on various stars and receiving various scientific observations around the universe, now trained themselves on Europa and started tracking the thousands of incoming alien ships. The far more developed orbital construction yards in orbit around the Moon and around Mars, where thousands of peace-keeping enforcement ships and two UN fleets of military ships were stationed, mobilized and started a sunward fall to quickly pick up speed and meet the incoming alien invasion force.

None of these had been detected by the orbiting satellites, who had dined on a diet of entertainment, local news, and movies whose stories centered around romantic love and physical comedy and the occasional televised religious prayer service.

They had been discovered by the surface probe, but far too late.

The battle that followed was one of the bloodiest ever experienced by the Brill. Tens of thousands of civilian mining ships brought their mining drills–more powerful than many military weapons–to bare, coordinating amongst themselves with a ferocity unknown through the local sector of the galaxy. They made short work of the forward battle cruisers of the Brill, much to the shock of the Grand Master, who was used to fighting species with strict military castes and whose civilian populations never fought.

They were then caught by surprised when this supposedly pacifistic world deployed not one or two, but fourteen complete fleets centered around half-mile long command ships which seemed to double as small ship carriers: a strategy the Brill had never seen before, preferring to keep command and control strictly separate from the fighting ships. And while these ships were much smaller than the mile-wide Brill command ship, they were far more heavily fortified and proved themselves quite agile.

The final straw seemed to come when one of the Human command ships were destroyed: a disabled Brill cruiser collided with the Humans ship, destroying both. But the Humans surprised the Brill by quickly redeploying the support ships, easily merging them into another fleet with a degree of coordination almost impossible by Brill standards: the strict hierarchy of Brill military tradition would have prevented it.

Worse, rather than demoralizing the Humans, the destruction seemed to make them even more aggressive.

Unknown to the Brill, two nuclear weapons were heavily shielded behind a lead apron and placed into a passive orbital path around the Sun. Quickly equipped with some improvised steering jets, they were then passively kicked off into an intersecting path which would eventually come within a few thousand miles of the largest ship of the invading alien force. The steering jets would do the last bit of navigation.

The Brill continued to press forward, despite losing a third of their fleet. Projections indicated heavy losses, but the Grand Master seemed convinced that he could reach the home world of these Humans and eventually pacify them with ground troops. Suddenly, however, the Grand Master found himself engaged in something new: a race to the center with twelve remaining fleets about a quarter the size of his own. His hope was that by taking the home world of these Humans he could entrench himself and fight a defensive fight. The thought he’d have to win a similar fight first never crossed his mind.

Tens of thousands of civilians of the most famously pacifistic species the Brill had yet to encounter, slaughtering his troops as casually as one steps on ants. It just didn’t make any sense.

As he looked outwards towards the central star of the Human’s solar system, he spotted two flairs go off. A radiological alarm sounded on the bridge–a sound he hadn’t heard except in training. The humans had nuclear weapons.

The humans had nuclear weapons?

These pacifists had nuclear weapons?

The Grand Master just stood there, gasping, as one of his body guards tackled him and shoved him into an escape pod.

From the escape pod he watched as two balls of light erupted, larger than his ship, reducing his command post to scrap metal and sparks.

The First glared more intently at the Grand Master, a pose made more intimidating by the height of his podium. One of the other six flanking the First seemed caught up in the information on the display in front of him, and quietly dismissed himself from the hearing.

“So what did you learn of these Humans from your ground probe?”

The Grand Master sat very still for a minute, then reported:

“These Humans are a singular species without caste. Both genders share similar cultural and philosophical attributes: a desire for peace born not out of a natural predilection for peace as was previously reported, but out of a necessity from generations of wars. Unlike any other species we’ve encountered where a world government evolved from growing tribal unity, these Humans seemed to fight each other for the most unlikely of reasons, and histories showed they seemed to greatly enjoy these battles.

“We found histories of nation-states fighting each other, and sometimes–shockingly!–fighting themselves. In one war in a nation state called ‘America’, they fought a civil war–that’s a war within a nation-state–four hundred years ago which claimed the lives of one out of every 20 adult male. Even our worst wars would generally stop with losses of around 1 in 100–but they now tell stories of the glory of those battles!

“We found another war which they called ‘World War Two’–they had four of these so-called ‘World Wars’ though several prior to the first also qualified as World Wars–where that same nation-state of America was drawn into a war they didn’t want to fight.

“A master of one of the military forces for another nation-state called Japan apparently said of them that you cannot invade because behind every blade of grass would be a weapon.”

“We seriously erred in our intelligence gathering and should have waited for the histories to be uploaded. But we had no reason to believe this spiritual and pacifistic race would become so violent. We thought we were dealing with a herd, not a race of warriors.”

During this speech the commotion continued; several of the Brill flanking the First had left the podium, panic on their faces. They were violating decorum. They didn’t care.

The First simply asked in response: “So what do we do now.”

The Grand Master gave out a guttural noise of indecision. “In the four years it took my emergency escape pod to make its way back here, we believe the Humans have discovered the secret of interstellar travel from the wreckage of our ships. And we believe that, because the Humans are a singular, non-caste species, if the entire species cooperated on a response fleet, they had enough time to construct a fleet larger than any we have ever encountered before.

“How large?”

The Grand Master looked down, knowing his answer would mean his execution. “We have no choice but to surrender when they arrive.”

High above the Brill home world, nearly a million lights started to glitter, each turning into space ships of various sizes.