Sunday, May 31, 2009

Orbital Warfare Should Not Work That Way

Of course I'm concerned about the future. It's where I plan to spend the rest of my life.

When I first came across George Friedman's The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century in a bookstore, I flipped through it but didn't buy it because 1) I had to get to work soon and 2) I really didn't feel like shelling out $30 CDN plus applicable taxes. Nevertheless, it did intrigue me quickly and the ideas I was exposed to from briefly flipping through it kept nattering at me, and so on Friday I went and paid the $30 CDN plus applicable taxes.

Forecasting is an inherently tricky business. Also on my shelf is Your Next Fifty Years by Robert W. Prehoda, circa 1979, which among other things forecast a barely-averted Malthusian famine and population collapse in 1994 that ended the Cold War because the United States shared its emergency food supplies with the Soviets. Technological forecasting, which is really what much of the field is concerned with, is particularly hard to nail down.

Geopolitical forecasting is something else again. Geopolitics doesn't play by the same rules as technology - regardless of the tools at hand, the overarching goals, drives, and motivations of its players are the same as they've been throughout history. As the founder and Chief Intelligence Officer of the private intelligence agency Stratfor, Friedman probably has access to a wealth of information from around the world that helped him design a possible 21st century.

This is not a review; I won't cover the grand sweep of the book. Honestly I think I may raid it for inspiration myself, as if nothing else it is creative - nowhere else have I seen the 21st century shaped, in part, by a great power war between the United States, Poland (!), Japan, and Turkey (!!). Nevertheless, the way Friedman pulled off that war kind of bugs me.

In Friedman's 2050, the United States has militarized space and keeps watch over the world from three geosynchronous stations called "Battle Stars" - named such "for no other reason than that it's a cool name" - which, in turn, are the nerve centers of the new American remote-controlled military of UAVs and hypersonic missiles. The war begins when Japan destroys the three Battle Stars with, in a page from The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, kinetic missiles hurled from its lunar station.

Friedman did score extra points for acknowledging that, yes, these launches would have been detected by the American orbital awareness system. He likewise explains why that detection does not necessarily mean awareness - computers in his 2050 are of the don't-speak-unless-spoken-to kind, it seems. None of the Battle Star's defense systems are effective at brushing away the missiles, and "at 5 p.m., all three Battle Stars will explode, killing all of the remaining crew members and knocking out the rest of the U.S. space force."

Whether or not a space station with room enough for hundreds of people would explode in the manner to which televised science fiction is something I'm not deeply qualified to comment on, but based on my limited knowledge I'd tend to say "space does not work that way." That's a moot point, though; a kinetic impact would break up the station, and so it may just be a problem of suboptimal word choice.

What really gets me is that, considering that the Japanese-Turkish coalition is banking on its possession of an intact satellite network to pummel the United States into submission, physically destroying its Battle Stars is fucking stupid - but then, when you get right down to it, the same can be said for orbital warfare as a whole.

Humans are spoiled by habits that a gravity field encourages. If we blow something up, we expect the rubble to stay where it is; no fun to clean up, sure, but also something that can be sidestepped and no longer provides any value to the enemy. Space doesn't work that way. Sure, Japan's destroyed the Battle Stars and blinded the American eyes in the sky, but it won't matter because the debris from the destroyed stations, tens or hundreds of thousands or millions of pieces of debris, is now hurling around Earth at 8 kilometers per second on unpredictable orbits that may intersect with yet more satellites. Many of them would, undoubtedly, constitute the intact Japanese-Turkish network with which they can keep an eye on the States.

This is a perfect recipe for a Kessler Syndrome, something I've written about before, where the volume of debris in Earth orbit makes spaceflight effectively impossible. This is also something people aren't really familiar with yet. After all, garbage doesn't last forever - except in space, where it effectively does.

I don't think it's a question of whether space is militarized, but when - the only reason it hasn't happened yet is because spaceflight is still extremely expensive, and presently there's no reason to place weapons in space when they'd just be doing the same things Earth-based ones do, but not as well.

When it does happen, though, for the future's sake I hope they're not all idiots about it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

PDP #48: Knight of Traill

For the five years I spent there, the first week of September was always Intro-Week at Trent University.1 That was the week before classes began, when young undergraduates fresh from high school staggered onto campus full of confusion and fear, adrift and in a new sort of world. One of the standard Intro-Week activities was Clubs and Groups Day, where Trent's student organizations took to the podium outside Bata Library to build awareness among the newbies and get new members.

Today's picture comes from Intro-Week 2005, the last one I was at Trent for. I really wish I remembered the context, but I don't - though this picture, or another one just like it, was also used as a cover photo for an issue of Absynthe back in the day. "Traill" in this case means Catherine Parr Traill College, one of six colleges that make up Trent University.2

Also, doesn't that kneeling dude have an incredible afro?

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

1 I'm not saying they don't still do this. I just can't say that with total certainty, so it's much easier for me to phrase this all in the past tense.

2 Champlain was, and remains, the best. Suck it, OC.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Meus Nomen Est: Strange Names, Inc.

Names are important. After all, even the lowliest wizard knows that to know something's true name gives you power over it. Every one in a while, Acts of Minor Treason takes time to look at examples of names, true or not, of things of various kinds. Despite four years of high school Latin, no guarantees are given on the accuracy of the title.

Even more so than its management slate or share capitalization, the case can be made that its name is the most valuable thing a modern corporation owns. Names inspire recognition and loyalty, and the reputation accrued by a rock-solid name can make or break deals around the world.

Sometimes, though, those rock-solid names are just plain odd. I've come across a few myself in my time. Today, thanks to the company profile listing maintained on SEDAR, the System for Electronic Data Analysis and Retrieval - an online database of regulatory news from publicly-traded reporting issuers on Canadian stock exchanges - anyone can come across them, and wonder.

Orko Silver Corp.: It may be because I'm from the '80s, but when I hear "Orko," the first thing I think is "He-Man's comic-relief spell-slinging buddy who also happens to have no legs and wears a shirt with his initial on it." Nevertheless, Orko Silver has been plugging away in the mining business since August 5, 1983. Seeing as how the character Orko's first appearance was in the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon series, which did not begin airing until September 26, 1983, it seems to be less a case of a startup silver company naming itself after a children's cartoon character and more of a coincidence. There is, after all, apparently an ancient Basque deity also named Orko, though Encyclopedia Mythica is silent on whether he has anything to do with silver.

Canadian Mining Company Inc.: It's shocking, I know, but despite its name CMC does not control the mining industry in Canada. In fact, by the time of its formation in 1987, there were already a bunch of Canadian mining companies - though, I must say, none of them were forward-looking enough to actually call themselves that.

Uldaman Capital Corp.: It is distinctly possible that, prior to November 23, 2004, "Uldaman" already meant something. It'd be pretty damn hard for me to tell if that's the case now, though, as on that day in November, Blizzard's massively-multiplayer game World of Warcraft launched with Uldaman as one of the game's multiple five-player dungeon instances. SEDAR sets Uldaman Capital Corp.'s foundation at January 16, 2006, which makes me wonder two things: first, if it was founded by a group of WoW fans, and second, whether three-manning Archaedas is a prerequisite to getting on the Board of Directors.

D-FENSE CAPITAL LTD.: I can't even tell what this company does; SEDAR classifies it as "other." Seeing as how it was established in February 2005, it is within the realm of possibility that its founders were fans of the 1993 Michael Douglas film Falling Down.

GST Telecommunications, Inc.: This name would have been pretty innocuous when the company was formed back in 1987. Four years later, Brian Mulroney's new Goods and Services Tax gave all Canadians a reason to look at the letters "GST" askance. It says something for their persistence that they haven't changed their name, I think.

While some of these names may be odd, or have unintended connotations, there's nothing particularly wrong with them. That's not the case with this next strangely-named company, the last one I'll be looking at today.

Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc.

Yes, really.

You would think that the negative implications of such a name would be immediately apparent. What's more, SEDAR lists them as having formed earlier than any other company on this list, with their incorporation taking place way back on January 1, 1500. It's comforting to think that well before Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain made their first pioneering voyages to what would become New France, Zero-Knowledge Systems was already making Montreal a center of industrial products, technology, and software. It's since changed its name to Radialpoint, apparently, but... come on.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

PDP #47: Sixty-Two Percent Rally

A few months ago, if you may recall, there was something of a to-do in Canada over the opposition parties' plan to form a governing coalition and, in so doing, push Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government out of power. In the end it was nothing more than a wet paper bag, as Harper managed - possibly through sleight of hand or a complete disregard for the democratic process - to convince the Governor General to suspend Parliament for a month while tempers cooled and, perhaps more importantly, because prospective Coalition Prime Minister Stéphane Dion is about as charismatic as a wet paper bag.

While it was in the news, though, people were interested. This photo is from a pro-Coalition rally held in Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto's City Hall on December 6, 2008. The speakers didn't show up until a bit later - and who can blame them? That was a damn cold day.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Democracy and the Modern Sisyphus

"Huzzah!" said Diane Sowell of State College, PA. "At long last, we are rid of that corrupt, antiquated system of government known as democracy, a system that has done nothing but maintain the status quo of political inequality, economic stagnation, and social injustice. Our good king will change all that."
- "Exiled American King Triumphantly Returns To Washington." The Onion, August 28, 2002.

With the defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the end of Sri Lanka's twenty-seven-year civil war, that country's Sinhalese majority is caught up in the emotional rush of peace. Many of the plaudits for ending the war are being heaped like jewels at the feet of Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to the extent that Sinhalese Sri Lankans have begun saluting him with the words, "Praise our king."

An article by Doug Saunders in the Globe and Mail looks at what may well be an incipient personality cult forming around President Rajapaksa, posters and billboards of whom "are placed on every block... on every street corner, every public building, every shop front," and some of which now read "King Mahinda Rajapaksa: Our saviour."

Not bad mileage in terms of popularity for a man who eked out a relatively narrow victory in the 2005 Sri Lankan presidential election. The question that arises now is whether there will ever be another election in Sri Lanka so long as Rajapaksa is alive, or whether Sri Lanka's fifth President will become a modern-day monarch, the island's first since its conquest by the British Empire one hundred and ninety-six years ago.1

"Why do we need elections any more?" a Sri Lankan university student is quoted as saying in the Globe and Mail's story. "He is the king we need."

For all but the most recent fraction of history, people were ruled by the strong. In ancient days, that's exactly what they were; as time went on and the political power of one strongman was passed down to his descendants, elaborate social constructs came about to justify why this particular man (or, in very very rare cases, woman) was in charge. Democracy was a breakthrough made possible by the outward-looking, inquisitive, exploratory maritime city-states of classical Greece, and after weathering the Persian storm at Salamis their peculiar form of government was transmitted to the Roman Republic and its memory preserved by the Roman Empire.

The United Kingdom and United States became the standard bearers of democracy in the modern age, and with the global influence of first one and then the other since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the concept spread to every continent and flowered in almost every nation. In 2008, of all the states in the world, only four - Brunei, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and the Vatican City - did not at least pretend to be democracies.2 You could argue that as the 21st century dawns, the age of strongmen is nearing its end. Back in the '80s, Francis Fukuyama thought that much.

The idea that liberal democracy represents the end point of human sociocultural evolution is an appealing one, for those who like what liberal democracy represents. Who wouldn't want to believe that there'll be no more wars against the fascists or silent struggles with the communists to darken the future? Liberal democracy, they say, is a pretty good thing; let's stick with it.

What I can't help but wonder is whether democracy is fundamentally in opposition to basic human nature. While humans aren't pack creatures like canines, the evidence of history demonstrates that something in the human spirit lends itself to small groups dominating large ones. To my mind, monarchies, dictatorships, and other forms of government wherein succession is determined by something other than the consent of the governed represent the "natural state" of humanity.

Before the twentieth century, democracy was something that had to be fought for. Whether it was realized in the efforts of American colonists to separate themselves from an unrepresentative Parliament in 1776 or British reformers to abolish the rotten boroughs and extend voting rights in 1832, for most of history democracy was not something that just happened.

Democracy has become the way of the world in the 21st century, but at the same time, familiarity breeds contempt. It's not a perfect system by any means of the imagination, but the lack of any real, vibrant alternative system of government that eschews the concept entirely may create a sort of funhouse mirror effect - not only making democracy seem far worse because of its ubiquity, but making non-democratic government more attractive because of its unfamiliarity, its exoticism.

Entropy dictates that, over time, systems decay from order to disorder. Democracy is like pushing a boulder uphill. It takes a great deal of deliberate effort to just stay in the same place, let alone move forward, and if we lose interest the boulder rolls back down to the bottom. Left alone, without anyone to defend it, democracies inevitably decay into dictatorships and one-man rule.

There's something to be said, in human culture, for a king. The pomp and circumstance and iron certainty of a strong, bold, decisive leader in a palace fills a great many psychological needs; just as gods controlled the parts of the world that the ordinary person didn't understand, kings controlled the parts of the world that they knew themselves. Democracy transfers the responsibility of leadership from such elevated men to the most common people on the street.

For some people, it's easy to see that this would be deeply unsettling. It's no wonder that so many people crave kings.

People crave a lot of things that, in the end, aren't much good for them at all.

1 Not counting the British monarchs, since I don't think any of them were even from Sri Lanka.

2 Even North Korea calls itself "democratic." Which I suppose shows how far just
calling yourself democratic gets you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PDP #46: Day Guard at Lydda

Though I'll readily admit bias, I still don't think it changes anything when I say that my grandfather, Les Parkinson, led an uncommon life. Born in Seacombe in 1916, he joined the British Army in 1930 and managed to skip the Great Depression entirely by carrying the King's shilling in Malta, Egypt, and Palestine. I know the details because he wrote his memoirs in 1994, a book I plan to make available through this site on a Creative Commons license once all the stars are right.

In 1936 he carried a rifle with the 2nd Battallion of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment, raised in 1689 and which endured until its amalgamation into the new Mercian Regiment in 2007. During his deployment he was one of the men responsible for ensuring the security of Lydda (now Lod, Israel), a major railway junction in the British Mandate of Palestine. In his memoir, Me by Me: Memoirs of a Nobody, he described the duty as follows.

We were told that we were responsible for the safety and security of the railways. Lydda was one of Palestine's main junctions, just like Crewe was in England. I was posted to B Company. We learnt that there was to be a twenty-four hour guard on the railway station, the stockyards and the repair shops. Furthermore, every train that left Lydda would have guards aboard. The goods train had a machine gun guard located in the guards' van and two men on the footplate of the engine. The passenger train, the Golden Arrow, ran daily from Haifa to Jerusalem with a guard in the guards' van, a patrol patrolling the passenger coaches, and two more men on the footplate.

We used to volunteer for the train escorts, as it got us out of barracks and off night guards. I was for a while assigned to the night guard. These were scary, for we had to patrol around in the moonlight, clumping around in army boots on stones that advertised our whereabouts, and not knowing who to look for, Arab or Jew. We used to do two hours on patrol and four hours off, but as we had fourteen men on patrol, we left the station with fourteen men as the relief. We dropped two off and picked two up so that at all times we had fourteen men. The whole relief took half an hour for the round trip, and your "time off" was reduced by one hour each time.

This image is in the public domain because the Israeli Copyright law of 1911 section 21 (essentially the United Kingdom Copyright Act of 1911 as it was applied to the former British Mandate in Palestine), as amended to August 2005, specifies that:

1. Photographs become public domain 50 years after the photograph was developed from the negative.

2. Photographs taken by a public authority become public domain 50 years after the date of publication.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Live in the Present, Or Else

While most people just party like it's 1999, I tend to still live that way. Compared to my contemporaries I'm a technological dinosaur. The laptop on which I wrote this post and the digital camera with which I gather photos to release into the public domain are, effectively, my only handholds in the 21st century. I don't have an mp3 player. I don't own a cellphone. I certainly don't think that my life is more hollow now than it would be if that wasn't the case.

I'm not a luddite. I don't begrudge the existence or ubiquity of cell phones; I only see no reason and have no desire to have one for myself. I like being unreachable when I leave the apartment. I enjoy solitude when I go out walkin', solitude that's never interrupted by some jangling ringtone. If I'm in unfamiliar terrain, that's what the map book in my backpack pocket's for. My camera eats enough batteries as it is.

I've made a choice to live without that, to live outside that web of instantaneous communication and text messaging and Facebook-on-the-go. What concerns me is that inevitably, inexorably, unless something's done about it, things like owning a cell phone will cease to become a personal choice and will instead be the result of social compulsion - that you have a cell phone because you must.

This is already going on at the University of Missouri. According to an article by Beverly G. Rivera in the Columbia Missourian, starting with the upcoming school year, students in its journalism program will be required to purchase an iPhone or iPod touch. Why? Apparently, it's so that they can be repurposed into learning enhancers. "Lectures are the worst possible learning format," UM associate dean Brian Brooks was quoted as saying in the Missourian.

That's funny, because in my university experience, lectures were always the best part of the course. I always loathed having to truck my ass out of the dorm or the apartment for some for-the-birds seminar. But then, considering I'm already unusual for not owning a cell phone, I'll jot that down as me being some kind of strange outlier.

The article goes on to elaborate that "the requirement will not be enforced" and students will not be penalized if they don't buy an iPhone or iPod touch. Nevertheless, I can only imagine that this is the first step on a long, downward path. Sooner or later requirements like this will be practically enforced, and people who refuse to go along with them will be punished. How long before being able to be contacted 24/7, regardless of location, ceases to be something that's merely encouraged, however strongly, and becomes an actual condition of employment as necessary as references on your resumé? How many years will pass before these devices, or something like them, become so ubiquitous that not having them will in itself be worthy of suspicion?

Why exercise choice when you can just be swept up by the wave, and left fighting to keep your head above water?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

PDP #45: SkyBus

Yesterday I headed out to take advantage of Doors Open Toronto, a yearly event wherein sites that are usually closed to the public throw their doors open (hence the name) for a weekend. While this year's hot spot appears to have been the Don Jail, my interests didn't quite run to the penitentiary. I went instead to the Toronto Transit Commission's offerings - Eglinton Bus Garage, a bus maintenance facility in Scarborough, and Greenwood Shop, a subway maintenance facility in the larger Greenwood Complex in East York.

Here, bus #7664 is elevated on a maintenance platform that allows mechanics to access the squishy bits on the bus's underside, the sort of things that you never want to see if you meet a bus on the street. It's not exactly, you know, a common perspective.

Greenwood itself was interesting, mostly because I had - and took - the opportunity to report that damned typo to Adam Giambrone, very tall Chairperson of the TTC. Maybe now I can stop getting annoyed when I see it every. single. day.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Short SF Review #7: "Testing... One, Two, Three, Four"

"Testing... One, Two, Three, Four," by Steve Chapman
Appeared in Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact, December 1969

Colonel Rafferty was surrounded by a computer. And he felt it. Little orange lights were staring at him. Plastic buttons were shouting orders at him. "Do not bend, staple, or mutilate." Feet on his desk, Rafferty fingered a heavy paperweight and thought dirt at the machine.

Secret tests of character, for good or ill, abound in fiction throughout history. They're certainly present in modern science fiction, particularly in those stories set during the pioneering days of spaceflight, when the tools are too limited and the environment too hostile to allow anyone but the most capable to test their mettle against it. Determining just who those people are has doubtless been the seed of many stories. "Testing... One, Two, Three Four," Steve Chapman's first published story according to the ISFDB database, is probably one of the more obscure.

"Testing" is centered around Colonel Rafferty - no first name given - and his antagonistic relationship with the MaCoApTe computer, a typically 1960s room-filling monster that runs on punch cards and also appears to have some level of artificial intelligence. The United States, at least, is involved in the establishment of a Mars base, and MaCoApTe's job is to test the applicants and filter out all but the very best.

Trouble arises when the computer abruptly stops working, the frustration of which is far more familiar to the average person on the street in 2009 than in 1969. Two of the Mars hopefuls are locked away in computer-sealed testing chambers where they are exposed to "hypnotically created beasties" and a gradual carbon monoxide leak, respectively, in order to create challenges for them to overcome. With MaCoApTe down for the count, it falls to Colonel Rafferty to save the men (of course they're men - 1969, remember?) on his own.

For its length, the story didn't waste time ramping up the action - always a positive quality. We're introduced to Rafferty and the computer just enough to get an understanding of their personalities before Things Go Flooey and Man must right the wrongs of the Machine. Nevertheless, it on the whole seemed sterile and flat. This may have been intentional, to echo the "institutional testing chamber" setting, or it may not have, but either way it didn't draw me in as well as it might have.

What really grabbed my attention were those asides that are endemic to, and unavoidable in, science fiction; offhand references or window dressing that, while sensible at the time the story was written, contribute to its datedness. MaCoApTe seems almost a refugee from the pre-transistor era, although an unusually intelligent one - even today, few computers have the werewithal to curse at their users, rather than the other way around. Rafferty himself has fond memories of flying an F-104 Starfighter, but Chapman's choice of this aircraft in his character's past turned out to be a good one; even after the U.S. Air Force retired them, NASA continued to use Starfighters in training and testing roles as late as 1994. In 1969, with the world still light-headed from the success of Apollo 11, the idea that there would not be a human presence on Mars by 1994 would probably have been ridiculous.

The only real negative about the story was that I was able to correctly guess its twist ending from a few pages away - though I'll say that the introductory note left by John W. Campbell probably helped with that.


Previous Short SF Reviews:

Friday, May 22, 2009

PDP #44: The North Line

Anime North 2009, Canada's premier anime-focused convention, opened its doors today. I was there this time last year, though when I say "there" I mean "in the parking lot of the Toronto Congress Centre." I only entered the doors once, back in 2003, where among other things I encountered a bearded, somewhat hairy man dressed in a Sailor Moon costume who seemed, from a distance, like he had to be on stilts. He wasn't.

I did, though, take some pictures. Cosplayers are one of the prime attendance groups of a convention like Anime North, and a lot of them put a lot of effort into what they do. In this photo I took of the line to get in, you can see quite a few. That replica of Cloud Strife's Buster Sword is as big as a person on its own, as it should be.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

HisT.O.ry: The Lion of the Way

Every once in a while, between the past and future, Acts of Minor Treason takes time to look backward at some of Toronto's history - preferably the parts of it that haven't been bulldozed already.

If you didn't know to look for it, you'd hardly know it was there at all.

Toronto's automotive age started in 1893 when a local patent attorney, Frederick Barnard Featherstonhaugh1, commissioned an electric carriage capable of the breakneck speed of fifteen miles per hour. The period of prosperity that followed the First World War brought cars into the reach of the middle class for the first time, but even then Toronto didn't install its first traffic light until 1925. It was only in the '30s, in the grip of depression, that the age really began.

The Queen Elizabeth Way was Canada's first superhighway. It didn't come about all at once; its lineage goes back to 1931's Middle Road, which linked Highway 27 in Etobicoke to Highway 10 in modern-day Peel Region. At the time, there was no direct link between Toronto and Niagara Falls, Ontario2, and travellers had to rely on more primitive roads such as the Dundas Highway.

The QEW changed all that when it was dedicated in 1939, the first illuminated four-lane highway in the world. It extended from the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls to Highway 27, and a year later was extended to the Humber River on the Toronto-Etobicoke border, where the Gardiner Expressway would later join it. The highway itself was named in honor of, and opened by, the Queen Consort on the occasion of her and King George VI's royal visit to Canada in 1939, the first such visit by a reigning monarch.

They may have dedicated the highway itself, but the monument that was to be placed at its eastern terminus was later dedicated in honor of them.

The Queen Elizabeth Way Monument, also known as the Lion Monument, was for more than thirty years the "lucky lion" that stood watch at Toronto's western edge while drivers motored past. Designed by Toronto architect W.L. Somerville, whose previous work included the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in London, what might on its own have been a rather phallic pillar of Queenston limestone - the original intention of using Indiana limestone was, in those heady days of Empire, not nearly "patriotic" enough - was enlivened by sculpture and relief by two transplanted American, Toronto-based artists, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle.

While Wyle's efforts were focused on the relief profile of the monarchs, Loring was behind the lion that gave the monument its popular name. The sculpture on the monument is of a lion, one of England's traditional symbols, awakening in the face of war. Despite the patriotic overtones, some work on the monument and its patriotic message3 was done in secret by a German stonecutter, who had replaced an English worker who, it seems, just couldn't bring himself to take orders from women.

In the years after the monument's completion, its lion guardian became perhaps the most well-known of Frances Loring's works, if only because so many people passed by it so regularly as they went up and down the QEW. "Loring herself liked the lion that had become synonymous with her name enormously," writes Elspeth Cameron in a shared biography of Loring and Wyle, "but preferred her Deer Panel at the Oakes Pavilion." The Sculptors' Society of Canada produced a postcard featuring the lion in 1957, and was described by art critic Pearl McCarthy as "one of the finest pieces of outdoor sculpture in Canada."

This popularity outlasted the deaths of Wyle and Loring in January and February 1968, respectively, but not by much. While the sunset of the British Empire in the wake of the Second World War was confined primarily to its colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, even in Canada the ties of Empire ceased to closely bind. At the same time, postwar economic progress led to Canada's reconstruction around the car, and what had been a superhighway in 1939 was had become inadequate to demand as the 1970s dawned.

The issue was simple - the Queen Elizabeth Way had to be widened to accommodate additional traffic. Today, the highway is six-laned throughout Metropolitan Toronto, and parts of it elsewhere are wider still. The presence of the Queen Elizabeth Way Monument was an impediment to this, and the QEW's seamless integration with the Gardiner Expressway made any possible routing-around unfeasible. As ornate as it may have been, the monument was standing in the way of the future.

It was up to the Ministry of Transportation to resolve the issue, and considering that the monument was then a historical object in Toronto, it should come as no surprise that its original intention was to simply demolish it. Thanks to editorials in the Globe and Mail and letter-writing campaigns, in 1972 the Ministry instead made the decision to relocate the monument.

Stone by stone, in 1974 the Queen Elizabeth Way monument was carefully dismantled and, after the official determination that it would not mesh well with its potential surroundings in Ontario Place, transported to the "pleasant surroundings" of Sir Casimir Gzowski Park on the shores of Humber Bay. There, it was reassembled around a newly-built concrete core and unveiled in August 1975. History had been saved.

Or had it?

The preservers of the Queen Elizabeth Way Monument were able to rally support thanks to widespread public familiarity with it; whenever anyone took the QEW in or out of Toronto, the lion was waiting there for them. Once removed to its resting place in Gzowski Park, between the trees and the lakeshore, it became essentially invisible to motorists passing by, and slowly but surely fell down the memory hole.

Today the monument stands alone in a grassy field next to a narrow gravel path, well removed from the road. It's weathered the years well in its isolation, and while it was spared the wrecking ball or the bulldozer, it remains as a solitary reminder of a bygone age. It's a reflection of a time when Canada marched proudly in lockstep with the Empire, and when Toronto was a British city through and through.

Those times have gone, and we're better off for that. Nevertheless, it behooves us to remember them, and it's monuments such as these that anchor the past in the minds of the future.

LOCATION: Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, south of Lake Shore Boulevard West, Toronto.

HOW TO GET THERE: The Queen Elizabeth Way Monument is somewhat isolated from transit routes by its location between the highway and the water. Your best bet would be to take the 501 Queen streetcar to Windermere Avenue or the South Kingsway and walk from there; the 77 Swansea and 66D Prince Edward bus routes, respectively originating from Runnymede station and Old Mill station, also serve the general area.

1 Most likely pronounced, in that interminably senseless English manner, as "Fanshaw."

2 Which is always a fun place to go.



Cameron, Elspeth. And Beauty Answers: The Life of Frances Loring and Florence Wyle. Toronto: Cormorant Books Inc., 2007.

Cotter, Charis. Toronto Between the Wars: Life in the City 1919-1939. Richmond Hill: Firefly Books, 2004.

Duff, J. Clarence. Toronto Then & Now. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1984.

Filey, Mike. Toronto, Then & Now. Ottawa: Magic Light Publishing, 2000.

Sherk, Bill. The Way We Drove: Toronto's Love Affair With the Automobile in Stories and Photographs. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 1993.

Previous HisT.O.ry:
at last, a BA in history begins to pay for itself

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

PDP #43: Maybe They're Trying To Tell Us Something

There are times - often as a result of construction or an unnatural preponderance of goats - where the Toronto Transit Commission is forced to temporarily suspend service at one of its regular stops. When this happens, a temporary marker is affixed to the stop, informing prospective passengers that it's out of service in some of the more widely spoken of Toronto's languages, including English, Chinese, Korean, French, Vietnamese, Greek, and quite a few others.

The TTC website doesn't tell me if anything's off about the bus stop at Sheppard Avenue West and Senlac Road, but for some odd reason, I get the strange impression that waiting there on Sunday might not have been the best move I could have made.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Sun's War on Sense

"Who needs a car in L.A.? We have the best public transportation system in the world."
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988

God forgive me, but over the weekend I bought - actually paid money for - a copy of the Toronto Sun.

I was only ever a casual reader of the Sun at best, and that was nine years ago, and only because its tabloid format fit conveniently on the counter of the gas station where I worked at the time. The only reason I bought their Sunday edition this weekend was that it provoked what may be my first instance of stopping and laughing at a newspaper box, just from the sheer stones its front page exhibited.

"GETTING THE GEARS," the headline goes, a remarkable departure from the ordinary for the Sun considering it does not have anything to do with the Leafs or a murder - a predilection pointed out by James D. Schwartz at Toronto Sun Sucks, who has also commented on this story. It is, in fact, a Sun Media Special Report "on fixing the decline of our great city," bylined by Jenny Yuen. Its subheadline elaborates thus: "T.O.'s war on cars: Transit gets the dough while gridlock's a way of life for city's beleagured drivers."

Because if there's one word that can adequately describe the cultural and political force that has shaped the patterns of urban development in North America for the past seventy years, it's "beleagured."

Yuen and, undoubtedly, the editors-in-charge of the Sun come shooting right of the gate, attacking Metrolinx's 25-year, $50-billion "Big Move" transportation initiative as having "no plans to make it easier for cars to move throughout the city." Gridlock, you see, accounts for two wasted work weeks per year, and the only alternative to that is simple, at least if you're the Toronto Sun: insufficient vespene gas roadways! The city council is described as "anti-car" for its support of the Sheppard East LRT - there's no mention of the Finch or Eglinton LRT, strangely enough - and its projects to expand the city's network of bike lanes.

"It's city policy to put pedestrians, cyclists, and transit ahead of automobiles," Yuen writes. What isn't said, but what the reader is obviously meant to hear, is "and this is a bad thing." The special report, occupying three full pages in the Sun's print edition, does its best to not only cast the issue as "the automobile vs. everything else," but to make the automobile the underdog.

So what is anti-car in the Sun's estimation? Beyond the obvious hot-button issues which already frustrate drivers, such as the potential demolition of the Gardiner Expressway east of Yonge or a lack of parking at their destinations, it appears that anti-car encompasses everything that prevents a driver from getting anywhere he wants as fast as possible. The "What Cars Are Up Against" infobox has every appearance of being directly transcribed from a whiteboard after an editorial brainstorming session; apparently cars are threatened by, among other things, scramble intersections (because those extra twenty seconds at Yonge and Dundas will throw your whole life off kilter, don'cha know), highway tolls (apparently it's written in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that all citizens have the right to use taxpayer-funded multi-lane expressways to their hearts' content, and transit systems shall have to beg and scrape from whatever scraps may fall from the table), transit expansion (because your lonesome self in your car is way more important than the ninety people in the streetcar ahead of you), and speed bumps.

Goddamn speed bumps. How wrong we were to dare to limit internal combustion's roar! Please, charge through this quiet residential subdivision as fast as you like!

The automotive-liberation and automotive-adulthood memes - "a car means freedom" and "you're not really a grown-up until you have your own set of wheels" - have had nearly a hundred years to cement themselves into almost every facet of North American life. What seemed like a good idea in the 1920s, after the Armistice put an end to war and the world was luxuriating in prosperity that would never end, has since become a straitjacket that most of us don't even see anymore. Public transit, by comparison, has to deal with the "only poor people and losers ride the bus" meme that, since the end of the war and the explosive growth of suburbia, has become entrenched outside of major urban centers. It may be that this idea is stronger in the United States than in Canada, but the aggregate effect is the same.

The way I see it, the 21st century is going to be characterized by the realization that we have dug ourselves into a damned deep hole, and it's starting to get dark outside and the rope we have may not be long enough to climb out. One of the best things we can do now is to invest in alternative means of transportation, transportation that isn't predicated on the assumption that everyone has their own set of wheels, and encourage new patterns of travel.

Cars in and of themselves aren't negative or bad - in my mind, it's what they encourage that's bad. Sprawling subdivisions where everything is far removed from everything else, winding roads that cut through forests as cleanly as a lumberjack's axe, rows of cardboard castles groaning between the weight of a return-to-rural ideal that has no place in the modern age. They encourage dependency and they encourage isolation.

I'll admit that the article does have its bright spots. It points out, for example, that a 15% decrease in car emissions by 2031 could result if active measures were taken to reduce congestion and increase transit use. Nevertheless, that's still only an estimate, and I have to wonder if it would take into account the additional emissions that would be produced through the induced demand which new road systems would provoke. "If you build it, they will come" will always be the case so long as our civilization retains its present shape. We will be exactly where we started, except even more land will be buried under asphalt and concrete, and calls to give drivers a break will start anew.

Nevertheless, through this report the Sun is, at its core, agitating for business continue as usual. It would have us continue following the blueprints of a bygone age until they crumble to dust in our hands - and when that day comes, rather than build something new, we'll just redraw them just the way they were.

The worst part of it, though, is that this special report is also available on the Sun's website, and I needn't have laid down my money for it at all. The North York Brain Rays must have got me again.

north york brain rays would make a good name for a rock band

Monday, May 18, 2009

PDP #42: No Help for Robot Buddies

(Excerpted from after action report PMP-75:2009-05-17/E74x18y32z, filed by scout TISIPHONE ESPERANCE)

Limited evidence suggests possibility of sentient cohabitation on line 74x18y32z - apparent medical institution at intersection of SHEPPARD AVE EAST and WILSON HEIGHTS BLVD named "THE HUMAN HEALTH CLINIC" - see attached digital photograph. Metropolitan Toronto known for multi-ethnic nature of population in plurality of lines surveyed; this may indicate presence of non-homo sapiens in residence, should the name be intended as an indication that only homo sapiens sapiens would be treated at this facility.

Thus far evidence does not suggest existence of biogenics programs or interworld capacity of sufficient scale to account for crossworld immigration or uplifted sapience on 74x18y32z. The possibility remains that a small group of nonhumans was transferred in the recent past. Recommend that subsequent expeditions answer this question soonest.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Scrawl the Myriad Ways

"What follows is a brief history of events since the Hellstorm, concentrating on the differences between this world and the path that history might have taken had the Hellstorm not occured. This world is a 'close parallel' of Earth; any event that isn't mentioned (e.g., the Korean War, the assassination of Martin Luther King) is assumed to have occured as in our world, perhaps with minor changes."
- David L. Pulver, GURPS Technomancer

You wouldn't want to imagine what's been lost, and gained, throughout history for want of a horseshoe nail. Lucky breaks like the Battle of Midway, where the US divebombers happened upon the Japanese fleet when it was at its most vulnerable, or the fickleness of nature, such as the Kamikaze of 1281 or the Protestant Wind of 1688, have influenced the course of history in ways subtle and gross. The present is built on an extremely brittle foundation, so much so that if the past was not fixed, nothing would be safe. We're all subject to the howling winds of happenstance, even though we've become so used to them that many of us can't even recognize them at all.

Alternate history is the act of tacking against the wind, of realizing the degree to which we've all built our houses on the sand. As I've said before, history is at the root of all the problems and prospects of the present day, to a degree that's easily unrecognized or glossed over.

Veteran sf author Larry Niven has said that he doesn't like writing parallel-universe stories, because in his opinion, in a "world" where everything happens, no particular event matters, and nor does the effort or sweat expended over bringing any one success to fruition. My own problem with parallel-universe stories, and with the genre of alternate history as a whole, tends more toward failures of creativity and invention. If something happened one way in actual history, the opinion in a great deal of published AH seems to be that there's no reason it shouldn't happen exactly the same way in an alternate history, even if the point of divergence between our history and the alternate history predates it by decades.

This is particularly common with historical characters; there are plenty of alternate history books that include historical figures in their cast who were born long after the point of divergence. Adolf Hitler shows up as an aide to a German general in Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series, even though the specific point of divergence - the security of Special Order 191 - took place twenty-seven years before he was born. To compound this attitude, Turtledove's The Two Georges not only includes Richard Nixon as a Los Angeles steam car salesman but makes Martin Luther King the Governor-General of the North American Union in a history that diverged from ours in the 18th century.

What's the problem? Only that acts of cross-historical pollination such as these greatly compromise willing suspension of disbelief. To suggest that mass movements and guiding philosophies are inevitable is one thing, and on the macro level is defensible - Jared Diamond's thesis that Eurasia was likely to achieve world dominance due to the nature of its geography is a sound one, even if there's no reason the precise shape of its dominance would have remained the same given a divergence far enough back in history.

But to introduce historical figures into an alternate twentieth century that is alternate because the American Revolution or the American Civil War went another way speaks of two things. The first is arrogance - "Martin Luther King Jr. was so important that he would have found a way to have been born even had the Roman Empire never fallen" - and the second is, to put it bluntly, laziness. Works of fiction are already filled with characters who did not exist. To me, using historical characters in a setting where they have no justification for existing doesn't provide verisimilitude, doesn't underscore the connection between that timeline and this one - no! What it does is jerk me out of the narrative and remind me that it's nothing but a work of fiction conjured out of a keyboard in California.

Even Robert Sobel, who with 1973's For Want of a Nail laid the foundation for alternate history to climb to new heights in the 1990s and 2000s, didn't entirely escape this, though the world he created is head and shoulders above all others in this regard. Familiar historical characters are mostly limited to the years immediately following the 1777 point of divergence, and then only because they were already active at the time. Subsequent to that, the only significant actual historical characters who appear in this 441-page alternate history textbook are Abraham Lincoln - himself a subversion of the trend, who is just an ordinary lawyer and is not even mentioned in the index - along with Sergei Witte, who in our history was Prime Minister of the Russian Empire and in Sobel's overthrew it, and Thomas Edison, who in both histories was a renowned inventor.

What really gets me is that, while the presence of Lincoln, Witte, and Edison are really historical in-jokes, their presence is like installing screen doors in a submarine: they don't improve the way the narrative works, and their very presence diminishes its ability to do what it's supposed to do, to be believed.

There's no reason an alternate history writer couldn't, and shouldn't, use historical characters born before the point of divergence and examine how changed history has changed them from what we know, or create her or his own figures of power and glory to fill the vacancies created when our renowned forebears were never born. Of course, the alternative would be - gasp - people actually learning about a previously unfamiliar aspect of history, and we can't have that, can we?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

PDP #41: Main Street Moosonee

"So how far north have you been?" Joe asked, after I acknowledged that, yes, I have in fact left the Eastern time zone. I didn't have to think for long. The north tends to be memorable in its own way.

"Moosonee," I said.


Moosonee is, and has been for the last three eight* years, a town near the shore of James Bay in the far northern marches of Ontario - before then, it was a Development Area, the only one in the province. It's still one of the most isolated significant communities in Ontario. For most of the year, the only real access is by a five-hour rail ride from Cochrane via the Polar Bear Express train, run by Ontario Northland.

My grandfather and I rode the rails up there in July 1989, taking first the Northlander north from Barrie - well before the city government, in an absolutely genius maneuver, tore up the tracks at Allandale station - to Cochrane, well up north itself, and then the Polar Bear Express the rest of the way. Particularly in 1989, when cell phones were just starting to come on the market and the World Wide Web would not even be invented for another two years, Moosonee's isolation made it seem, to six-year-old me, almost like some weird other world.

What really struck me as odd, and which is the subject of today's photograph - taken on July 31, 1989 - is that the streets were unpaved and a lot of the cars seemed to lack license plates.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

* Thanks to commenter Paull for setting me straight on the issue of when Moosonee became a town.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Common Words #4: "Tranquil Fragments"

renamed from "Creative Chunks" because honestly, I don't like that name as much now as I did when I came up with it

The idea behind National Novel Writing Month is simple; write a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. It doesn't have to be good, only done. The entire point is to discard one's internal critic and just produce at a breakneck pace. There's no question that this method produces a hell of a lot of chaff, but that doesn't mean there's no wheat in it either.

I tried my hand at NaNo in 2006 with an effort I called Tranquility, set on Luna and Earth in the late 21st century in the wake of a mystical apocalypse - I was on a significant technomagic kick at the time. Whatever my inclinations, I managed to win through, with a final word count in the neighborhood of 50,100 as December waited on the doorstep. That was the first and, so far, only time I've participated in NaNo - I only got as far as I did then because I was unemployed at the time.

Nevertheless, there are parts of it that stand well enough on their own, scenes that can also work more-or-less independently. This one, in the greater story, was the introduction for one of the two protagonists. It's one of the better things I came up with during the month, I think.

"Tranquil Fragments"
by Andrew Barton, 2006

Zelazny Hakaraia couldn't suppress his glee at the way the cards had fallen. The fact that they were weakly magnetic and thus among the handful of things that weren't falling in the zero-gravity bucket that was the salvage ship Tanstaafl hardly entered into his consideration. He was more concerned with the pile of lucre that he'd managed to carefully guide away from the assistant navigator's oppressive rule.

"You never treat your coins right, Hauser," Zelazny said as he sifted through the pile, dropping particularly shiny or otherwise eye-catching coins into the sack secured to his belt. The others he'd save for a renewed wager and renewed victory. "I told you to listen to me, but you didn't, and look at 'em all keep runnin'. This keeps up, well, I don't even want to imagine what you'll have to do to get fresh ladies between your sheets."

"God dammit, Zed," Hauser said, scowling. Zelazny considered the man an "associate" at best, meaning that he didn't have much compunction against jerking him around when the situation called for it. "This goddamn game's for chumps, anyway."

The assistant navigator chomped on the end of a plastic straw, casting eyes around the rec room. It was fairly empty, being just after third watch, and by all rights Zelazny should have been in his bunk. He'd just come off a fifteen-hour watch, though, thanks to the idiot operations officer forgetting to check for tears in his vaccsuit, and he could never sleep after putting that much work in at once.

"Now you know why I play it with you so much," Zelazny said, grinning an exaggerated grin. "Isn't easy to find another chump this far from home."

It didn't take Zelazny long to finish sorting through his winnings, and by the time he'd finished a little more than half met his approval. The rest he pushed to the center of the table, knowing that it would take the money-hungry vultures about twenty-three seconds to make it disappear. Salvage roughnecks weren't exactly known for their subtlety, either.

"Fine, come on, lay 'em down," Hauser said, with what looked like supreme mental effort. If the navigator had been using his muscles with that much strength, he'd probably have been able to lift the Tanstaafl. "I told you I wasn't going to sign on for another tour without seein' you lose at least once."

"In that case, my friend," Zelazny said, "I hope you enjoyed your time in the salvage business, and I wish you luck in your future endeavours."

He was about to deal another hand when the alert klaxon ripped through the quiet, red warning lights bathing it in a soft but bloody glow. The captain's voice was piped in after that, firm and without a trace of emotion. Zelazny sometimes wondered if the woman could get excited about anything.

"All crew, rouse to action stations," the captain said in raw New Luna City twang. "Mr. Hakaraia, report to the bridge immediately. All crew, rouse to action stations."

"So sorry about this," Zelazny said with a smirk. "I wouldn't hold onto those remob forms if I was you."

The alert continued to sound as Zelazny sailed out of the rec room and down the corridors, throwing himself from handgrip to handgrip like a gorilla in some legendary jungle. Men and women were emerging from corridors, some with eyes blurred by sleep but most already snapped to attention. Alert klaxons were only lit up in situations that tended to get the adrenaline rushing.

Man, all those guys who predicted what things'd be like now were way, way off, Zelazny thought as he hurled himself down a corridor. What kind of wordsmith'd think that we'd have real magic to play with but no artificial gravity?

The only way the Loonies had to generate gravity was the old-fashioned way, through plain old centrifugal force. The Tanstaafl had a small rotating section that was given over to what Captain Desjardins called "improvement facilities." It was a spinning gym, more or less, but meant that once back in Luna he wouldn't have to spend a week learning how to walk again.

When he swung himself into the bridge, a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead, the navigator was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Captain Desjardins had taken the main flight console herself, her eyes and hands moving so fast that Zelazny could believe that the concept of information overload didn't apply to her.

"We've got a situation here, Mr. Hakaraia," Desjardins said before he could announce his presence. After two years on the Tanstaafl, Zelazny had gotten used to some of the captain's more esoteric talents. Sometimes he wondered if she was a mage. "Two ksats came up on the detectors two minutes ago, angling in this general direction. No indications that they've seen us yet, but they're sure to soon enough."

Zelazny was a veteran of the salvage runs, but the captain's dispassionate assessment made him feel chills all over. The killer satellites were a plague on Luna's small spacefleet, and whenever a ship disappeared it was assumed to be the victim of such war relics. Originally confined to Earth orbit, in Zelazny's time they had become bolder, ranging ever further in search of enemies.

"I'll see to getting the work parties reeled in, Captain," Zelazny said, sliding into the thankfully comfortable chair that was his station. Being first mate gave him enough responsibility to drown in, but it also rated a nice chair for him to park himself while gasping for air. The close-in detector screen registered only a handful of friendlies, and none of them had ventured too far from the barn.

Still, L5 was a hairy place, swarming wth debris a century old and more. Things that found their way there tended to stay there, thanks to the laws of gravity. As one of the two really stable Lagrangian points in the Earth-Moon system, it had been the largest center of space construction outside of Earth orbit itself. When the War erupted eighty years back it'd been thick with space stations, from the ten-kilometer cylinder of High Britannia to vacuum-sealed bungalows.

The nukes and bomb-pumped lasers and kinetic killers had shattered them all, and it still wasn't uncommon for salvage teams to run across vacuum-burned corpses, their faces frozen in twisted, terrifying grimaces. From the savage legacy he'd seen sifting through L5, a silent graveyard of ice and metal, he was surprised that Luna had managed to survive at all. Survive it had, though, and now the brave men and women of Luna returned to L5 and other spatial Sargassos, fueling their progress with the wreckage of the past.

"Tanstaafl to all work crews, two ksats on the scope, inbound and weapons hot," Zelazny said. The last wasn't an assumption. Ksats were much like sharks, in that they never stopped moving and were never unready to kill. "All work crews, get back to the barn double-quick."

The dots on his detector screen, each of them representing the workshuttles picking through the field, wheeled about and came streaming for the center. There weren't any rookies on them, not after a tour that had been going for seven months now, but even if there had been the spectre of the ksats wasn't something to be idly dismissed.

All but one, that is. Zelazny frowned at the display and the blip marked "WS-47-CG," Bart al-Jasim's shuttle. The man was a daredevil, and considering his occupation he should have drank vacuum ten times over by now. Somehow he'd survived, but at the clip his shuttle was making, Zelazny couldn't help but wonder how much longer that would be the case.

"WS-47-CG, Tanstaafl," Zelazny barked into the microphone. Those distant blips representing the two ksats were getting ever closer, and every moment he expected the board to light up with a swarm of those damn hunter missiles. "You're lookin' to be a little sluggish out there, Bart. Probably best to get things wrapped up on the way back. You make a juicy target out there."

"Tanstaafl, WS-47-CG, get off my case," al-Jasim's voice crackled through the speaker. "The number-three engine's giving us trouble again. We're making three-quarters acceleration and that better be good enough. That lattice we found out there's been lonely for too long."

"Save it for the hangar deck, Bart," Zelazny said, though he couldn't honestly say that the prospect of an intact lattice didn't fire his excitement. They were still mostly beyond Luna's capacity to reproduce, taking a craftsman and team of apprentices years to make a single one. Still, they were completely worthless if the ship salvaging them got torn apart by ksats before it could unload.

"We're burning the engines hot as they'll go, no question about that," al-Jasim said. "Keep the place warm for us when we get in. 47-CG out."

The transmission clicked off, but the workshuttle weighed as heavily on Zelazny's mind as if he'd been taking a nap on the wrong landing pad. Digging into his pockets he produced a dataslate and a slide rule, and he was quick to start manipulating the latter in a manner that had been mistaken for a magical ritual a few times before. What he was doing was pure mathematics, unencumbered by circuits to tell him what was what.

He ran the numbers twice, and didn't like what he found. If they were accurate, and they usually were, the ksats would have had sufficient opportunity to empty their missile launchers before al-Jasim's workshuttle was onboard. The Tanstaafl was equipped with a full suite of electronic countermeasures - Zelazny knew as well as anyone that to leave Luna's defensive envelope without that sort of protection was tantamount to suicide - but he wasn't prepared to trust his life to them alone.

"Captain, we've got problems," Zelazny said, twisting to face Desjardins. The navigator-on-duty, Emirjon Lezhë, had replaced the captain at the pilot's station, with hints of grease on his uniform suggesting that he'd been busy in the engine room. "Bart's shuttle's got an engine on the fritz, it's lost a good chunk of its acceleration. I've run the numbers and it doesn't look good."

"They never do, not in times like this," Desjardins said. She was peering at the main plotter board on the bridge's starboard bulkhead, the one that made Zelazny's look like a child's toy. "You agree with what I've found. The shuttle will not reach us in enough time to enable a free escape, therefore, our choice is obvious. We must go to the shuttle, rather than have it come to us."

"Captain, take Tanstaafl into that debris field?" Zelazny said, his eyes going wide. They were salvaging the wreckage of what had been an Indonesian industrial station, a huge spinning torus that had left a lot of shards behind. Many of them were big enough to knock a flight pod clean off. "We'd be lucky not to have something ram through the navshields and open us to vacuum. Not to mention that we'd have to find our way out again before those damn sharks light us up."

"Perhaps, but this is the only opportunity we have, unless you'd rather leave Mr. al-Jasim and his workcrew behind for the ksats," Desjardins said. The way she spoke made Zelazny question whether artificial intelligence was really nothing more than a pipe dream. She was certainly calm enough to pass for a robot. "I'll not be leaving any people behind today, Mr. Hakaraia."

Zelazny couldn't deny the captain's sentiment, no matter what he thought of Tanstaafl's chances in that debris field. Desjardins might be as cold and emotionless as a robot, but when it came to leaving men behind she was as human as anyone in the Space Force. She just didn't do it.

"Captain, everyone's back aboard except Bart and his gang," Zelazny said after a tense moment watching the screen, his eyes leaping between the blips representing the last workshuttle and the two ksats. All of them were creeping ever closer, but two would mean death if they were allowed to close much more.

"Very well," Desjardins said, turning to the navigator. "Mr. Lezhë, make your course to rendezvous with workshuttle 47-CG, smartly."

The navigator acknowledged, his fingers played over the console, and Zelazny could feel the deep, rumbling thrum of the engines as they spun up to speed. Lezhë would find a safe route for Tanstaafl through the debris if anyone could, but he still half-expected death to come for him with a scream of metal against metal.

Zelazny was thankful that there were no windows. The bridge was buried deep within Tanstaafl's hull, the better to insulate it from the threat of hull breaches and explosive decompression. He'd read some of the old Earthbound speculative works that talked about spaceships, and he had trouble believing how many of them only had a row of windows separating the captain's chair from the vacuum.

Wonder how much those wordsmiths would've liked sucking vacuum, Zelazny thought. I like being in the middle of it all. Not least because of all the bulkheads I got around me.

He felt the shift in the engines as Tanstaafl edged into the debris field, and within a few moments the sheen of sweat was so thick on Lezhë's forehead that Zelazny could have used it to shave by. Sure, the field was theoretically nothing but broken, twisted metal, but the Indonesians hadn't exactly advertised the whole extent of their space program before the war. Luna's records were patchy besides. There could be anything lurking in there, waiting to gut his ship like a trout.

Activity on his detector board snapped him to alertness, and for a painful instant it felt like someone had dropped ice cubes in his veins. The two ksats had changed their course, switching from a lazy, swinging route that would have skirted the main bulk of the debris field. It was obvious enough from the numbers that their engines were burning hot, giving them all the acceleration they could manage.

"Captain!" His voice was urgent enough that it cut above everything else in the bridge. "The ksats've cottoned on to us, they're vectoring toward us. No missile launches yet, but we'll be within their effective range in a few minutes."

They can manage a lot more than we can, that's for certain, Zelazny thought, returning his eyes to the detector screen. With none of those magic-like inertial nullification technologies that had promised to allow ships to turn on dimes and accelerate to bonecrushing speeds without reducing the crew into chunky salsa, Tanstaafl was limited to acceleration barely above one gravity. That in itself would have killed most Loonies, but roughnecks were trained to be a tougher breed.

The ksats didn't have to worry about biological components to crush. They burned through space with the unchained glee of unrepentant killers, and soon enough they would loose their deadly payloads and try to smash Tanstaafl into flinders.

I'm not about to spend the rest of my life as part of this debris, no sir, Zelazny thought, frowning. The detector registered a section of former hull the size of Zhi Plaza as he did so, uncomfortably close to Tanstaafl. Lezhë avoided it with all the skill that was due his position, but things were still too crowded for Zelazny's tastes.

"WS-47-CG, Tanstaafl," Zelazny said, leaning into the microphone. "We're almost at your position, Bart. I read one more minute here. You ready to get pulled aboard?"

"Just give me the word," al-Jasim answered. "I've got a finger on the button. These engines need a bit of time to cool down, after all the work they've been putting in."

"Good, good," Zelazny said. "Keep your present course, we can't afford jinking through this debris to chase--"

The words fell out of Zelazny's throat as the new blips lit up on the detector screen. Eight of them, four from each ksat, and they flew like unleashed wild dogs, driven half-mad by the scent of prey and thirsty for blood. They were on an arrow-straight course that would tear Tanstaafl apart.

"Missiles, missiles, missiles inbound!" Zelazny called, almost as if he was a human klaxon himself. The original alert warning was still droning in the background, but he'd been able to push it below his attention. Now it took on an even greater sense of urgency. "Detector reads eight missiles inbound, probable intercept in two minutes. I'm spinning up the spoofers and point defense."

The Tanstaafl wasn't entirely unarmed, though sometimes it seemed to be when compared to a ksat. Beyond its range of electronic warfare systems, meant to confuse and scramble the missiles' computer brains, there were a few railgun emplacements in strategic locations around the hull. They were the last line of defense, and would throw out walls of slugs at several times the speed of sound, but Zelazny didn't have much faith in them. Fast-moving shrapnel from a destroyed missile would gut Tanstaafl even more efficiently than a whole one.

It was like trying to dance in a minefield. Even if there weren't any hitches in retreiving Bart's shuttle, Tanstaafl still had to make it out of the debris field before it could swing into full acceleration. The best Zelazny could hope for was that a few of the missiles would be typically overzealous machines and take a straight-line course that happened to intersect big enough chunks of former space station hull.

"Keep her steady, Mr. Lezhë," Desjardins said, and Zelazny could have sworn that she was smiling. He was thankful he had examples of womanhood beyond Desjardins to go on, since he knew he'd never be able to understand that half of the species if she was his only model. It was as if the captain had faced death so many times that it had lost its edge. He didn't have trouble imagining Desjardins in a fistfight with the Reaper.

The only question's whether or not she would win, he mused.

Zelazny stayed on the radio, doing whatever he could to help guide the shuttle back into the bay. He knew that the deck crew was already down there, suited up and waiting with the doors open and the bay itself depressurized. They'd be shutting it as they went, he knew, since Tanstaafl would be turning tail for home the instant the maglocks were positive.

There was a whine and a crash from the other end of the speaker, muffled but no less threatening because of it. There wasn't any response for a few long, precious seconds, and Zelazny was relieved when a harsh-sounding Bart al-Jasim answered him.

"A damn capacitor overloaded and blew," al-Jasim said. "We're still good for as long as we need to be, but I tell you, the second we set down I'm stripping this bastard of a shuttle to its bones."

"Yeah, don't forget the candlelight dinner," Zelazny said. "You're looking good, very good. Hold it steady for another fifteen seconds."

If there had been any windows in the bridge, Zelazny wouldn't need his detector screen to keep track of the workshuttle anymore. The spaceframe shuddered as Lezhë jinked around, ensuring that the workshuttle had a clear route into the hangar, and for a brief parade of instants everything seemed frozen. Even the threat of the onrushing missiles fell away, and there was only the ship in the shuttle.

Then the workshuttle's blip vanished from the detector, swallowed into the mark at the center that represented Tanstaafl. A few seconds later the hangar reported positive maglock, Captain Desjardins nodded to Lezhë and the ship wheeled about, dodging around debris with all the speed it could muster.

Still not enough, Zelazny thought. The spoofers had done about as well as he'd expected, and fully half of the missiles were splitting away to hunt down electronic phantoms. The remainder were still homing in on Tanstaafl, and they were barely half a minute away from impact. Those seconds began to drag as the ship flew on, like relativity in miniature, but Tanstaafl was still lacking the velocity to outpace them.

"Thirty seconds to impact," Zelazny said, frowning at his detector screen. There was a clump of debris up ahead, probably the core of the old station, a tangled mass of wreckage composed of pieces that were often larger than Tanstaafl herself. They were essentially motionless relative to their surroundings, and that gave Zelazny the kernel of a plan. He hoped that the missiles' guidance systems would be uncomprehending enough to oblige him.

"Captain, this debris here," Zelazny said, surging out of his chair and pointing it out on the main detector board. "It looks solid enough, about the same composition as our hull. With the right kind of flying we could bait the missiles into tearing it apart instead of us."

"Yes, and tear it into chunks more manageable for salvage," Desjardins said, spending a second to consider the situation. With that sort of thinking she was a roughneck, true enough. She pointed the debris out to the navigator, who seemed to be in some kind of thoughtless, automatic trance as her piloted. "Mr. Lezhë, I fully expect you to scrape some of our paint off."

There was nothing more Zelazny could do but keep watching the detector and call out the seconds until the missiles struck. Part of him wondered if he would get to zero at all, or if Lezhë would miss some insignificant chunk of metal and reduce Tanstaafl to salvage itself. It wasn't a time for rational thought, not really. Things were moving fast enough that there was less and less time to think about what was happening. There was only time to do.

Lezhë managed to do it. Tanstaafl rocketed past the clump of debris, picking up speed all the way, and jinking behind to make sure the missiles would have to correct their course or fly right through it. With the spoofers still chattering away, the missiles' brains were confused long enough for them not to recognize the obstruction until it was too late. Proximity fuzes fired and four nuclear fireballs cast searing light throughout the debris field.

A few moments later the worst was behind them, and Lezhë poured the acceleration on. The ksats were still out there on Zelazny's screen, but Tanstaafl was too far away and too fast for them to catch before entering Luna's defensive envelope. Once they reported in, one of the Republic's precious few warships would be detailed to deal with them. L5 was far too rich a source of materials to allow the ksats to roam it.

"Good show, all of you," Desjardins said. She had the ship's phone in her hand, and her voice reverberated throughout the hull. "We've evaded the ksats and are on our way back home. Stand down from alert stations. That is all."

Zelazny tried to stand up but collapsed into a slump on the seat, as if all the energy in his legs had flowed out of him with the attack. The exhaustion of his last fifteen-hour watch fell on his shoulders like sacks of concrete, and it was all he could do to keep from collapsing on the detector screen. Facing the prospect of imminent death really took something out of a man, he'd realized.

None of that mattered for now. Luna was ahead, and Tanstaafl and her crew were going home.


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