Sunday, August 28, 2016

Interview with a Sangendrian

The 2016 modern summer Olympics is over and the concept is truly wonderful: nations gathering to compete in peace and amicability. There is one problem with the Olympics that was recently illustrated to me by a citizen of the country of Sangendria.


Sangendria is a very old and small country nestled in the far north eastern part of the Himalayas. Their country was not arable enough to sustain them so they became great traders, craftsmen and diplomats. They imported raw materials and exported finished goods. Disputes were brought to them and they adjudicated. Treaties were brought to them: and they edited and negotiated. Many trade routes went through their country because of ease of passage as well as splendid way-stops. They were known as far back as Roman times.

They have maintained their traditional culture through to modern times and it includes two peculiar aspects: their religion, a pantheism based on tree veneration, and a completely lacking distinction of genders or sexes.

It is this last aspect of their culture that has kept them out of every modern Olympiad, they can neither compete in the men's events nor the women's.

I recently spoke with Choris by Skype because I had been doing some research about countries that have not or do not participate in the Olympics. I found Sangendria in Wikipedia and then on facebook. Choris is the moderator of the Sangendria facebook page and was delighted to grant me an interview and quotes for this blog.

Choris is a young adult whose long hair is pulled back in a braid and has no facial hair. I couldn't say if Choris was clean shaven or just had no dark hair on the face. There really were no characteristics I could see to indicate any gender role nor physical sex. Choris never indicated a physical sex nor gender role to me.

Me:        Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I'm sure there are many people who would be interested in learning about your culture.

Choris:   I'm very happy to do it. I'm sure the thing that is most interesting to you is what is most interesting to me about your cultures, the idea of gender roles and sexual categorization. I think we Sangendrians may be unique in this.

Me:        I don't know of any other culture that does that. First I have to ask, and please don't think I'm rude, but are their no physical genders in your culture group? How do you reproduce? Are you physically different from other Homo sapiens?

Choris:  [laughed] That is really three questions, but I know the confusion that underlies all of them. We are no different physically from any other Homo sapiens. We do reproduce sexually just like everyone else, but we don't categorize people by their physical sexes. When two people have sex they might produce a baby and they might not. Some couplings of people are more likely to produce offspring than others. Sexual intercourse has many functions and reproduction is only one of them.

Me:       There is no mandate in your religion to be fruitful and multiply?

Choris:  No.

Me:       Do you have marriage?

Choris: We do have an institution that is very similar to your marriage. Two people pledge allegiance to each other completely, exclusively and in perpetuity. This includes sexual rights and responsibilities.

Me:        Do you have things like homosexuality?

Choris:  That is rather meaningless to us. Each individual has a preference for what they like sexually, this includes physical attributes as well as intellectual and emotional attributes. We see everyone as having many aspects and each of these in many varying degrees. I have studied other cultures and your categories interest me greatly. I do see some advantage in, "packaging" people with many predominantly similar features. Women have breasts, and female reproductive organs; and are generally smaller. This is true of a large majority, perhaps over 90% so it makes a lot of sense to make a category so people can use it as a sort of shorthand. For instance a person can say, "I like girls sexually" and find others who also have this preference to discuss things with and find appropriate mates with. It is much more flexible for us, but also more difficult.

Me:        Because no one can make assumptions.

Choris:  Yes. This is a great disadvantage most of the time, but does allow for things that your cultures have trouble with, like "alternative lifestyles" and intersexed people. You really have no easy way to address or deal with people that don't fall into the categories you set.

Me:        You see sexual categories as too limiting, but you also see a lack of them as limiting as well.

Choris:  Yes. It is my culture so I have a bias toward it, but humans do tend to categorize things, we do it for everything. If I tell you I'm looking at a bird, what characteristics do you think the thing has?

Me:        It probably has feathers and wings and flies.

Choris:   Right, but and that's true of most birds, the vast majority in fact. But, of course there are flightless birds that don't fit the category. It works the other way too. If I see a new animal I would look at its characteristics and try to categorize it. This works very well usually, and makes things a lot easier in many cases. There are exceptions and people can go too far, like Diogenes' chicken.

Me:        Or the Olympics.

Choris:  Yes. We cannot participate in the Olympics because we can't really draw the line grouping people into men and women.

Me:        You can't just take the characteristics and apply them, assigning your athletes at least temporarily?

Choris:  We can, we aren't stupid, but we are very uncomfortable with it. It just doesn't sit well with us. We neither want to categorize people that way nor do we want to be categorized.
Me:       What makes it so uncomfortable? If it is someone else's category you don't have to feel that you are that category.

Choris:  It is so ingrained in your cultures that it is really what you see those people as. It is who they are. I am me, not a man or a woman or something else. If someone tried to take away your individuality you would be very upset.

Me:        Yes I would. I hope you don't take offense.

Choris:  I don't. I know this is a very difficult concept to understand.

Me:        And we haven't even discussed gender roles!

Choris:  Of course gender roles stem from the physical sexes so it makes sense to talk about them first. They are very closely related.

Me:        The whole topic can be confusing and I wonder if it is more confusing with the categories or without. I have run out of space for my blog post thought so I'm going to split the interview at this point. Can talk about gender roles when we come back?

Choris:  I'd like that very much.

Me:        Thank you for your time.

Choris:  Thank you.

This was of course a fictional interview. I wanted to conduct a thought experiment with the idea of a culture that has no sexes nor genders. I thought the idea of an interview would be a good way to do it. I have no formal training in gender studies. My background is a BA in Anthropology and autodidactic reading. I meant no offense to anyone.

I hope you found the concept interesting and I apologize if I have offended anyone. If you would like me to post the second part of the interview let me know and I would be delighted to.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Young Mad Scientists in Love: "The New Team" - Part 2

Part 2 – Congratulations Doctor Neal You Do Not Get Tenure

”Doctor Neal, may I speak with you?"

Fredrick Neal was standing in his lab, examining a microscope.  He was well built and athletic without being bulky.  He had perfect skin, perfect teeth and a fantastic head of hair.  He looked up with his glorious golden eyes and smoothed his magnificent mustache.


Cassandra Jones was thin and tall, not thin and tall like a wire guided antenna, but more like Seattle's Space Needle.  Her exoticness extended to her voice.  It reminded Neal of a predatory bird's scream or a German dive-bomber.  The woman made him flinch whenever he heard her voice.

"Yes, Ms Jones," Neal shuffled on his stool, fear obvious in his voice. 

"Doctor Neal you may be the most intelligent person in the university, and that is saying quite a bit," she sauntered toward him.  For a moment his fear took a back seat as he marveled at the giraffe-ntile way she moved.  The pendulous swing of her legs was almost hypnotic.

"Well, thank, thank you very much, Ms Jones."

"Oh please stop calling me that."  She took a few steps to stand across from him and leaned over the table like a cantilevered crane.

"What would you like," he said as she put a finger on his chest, "What would you like me to call you?"

"You know, you are really the most adorable little man, perfection in miniature."

"It's more efficient, and adds in life extension.  I, uh designed the treatment myself."

"I could just eat you up," she licked her lips and he hopped off the chair backwards.  Though this left him a straight-line view just below her breasts, it also made use of the stool as a barrier.

"It is a rather complicated procedure.  It involved genetically modifying virus RNA, not just to cause the desired effect in the patient, but to modify the behavior and propagation of the viruses.  If you would like I could-"

"Cass," she said as if she were putting a finger over his mouth with only the word.

"Um, excuse me?"

"You asked what you should call me. You should call me Cass."

"Oh, um thank-"

"Often, and immediately."

While his mind worked at that she held out a long hand and helped him back onto his stool.

"I would love for you to give me, the treatment.  That's not why I came down her though." She turned away and hung her head.  He said nothing as she took a few steps down the table to retrieve her clipboard.  She looked at it and composed herself.  When she turned back to him she couldn't fight the smile that spread across her face.

"Oh, you are just too adorable the way you shrink back in terror like that."

"You're a very-"


"Stunning?"

"Intimidating woman."

"Yes, power can have that effect."

"Right, power, that's exactly what it is."

"I mean, as the Dean and head of your department I hold a lot of power over you."

"Yes."

"Like I could come in here and tell you that you don't have tenure and you won't be getting it," she forced a chuckle and batted at his shoulder, feigning playfulness.  He was quite surprised she could reach that far as she was several steps away.

"Wait, are you telling me I'm fired?"

"Let's call it an opportunity for us to take our relationship to a more personal and maybe intimate level."

"What?"

"Well, as the head of your department I am your boss so it would be conflict of interest and maybe sexual harassment for us to, I don't know date."

“So I’m fired, after all this time.  Thank you very much.  How long do I have to get my stuff and get out?”

“You’ll have to finish teaching your classes.”

“The whole rest of the semester?”

Jones opened and closed her mouth twice.

“Well, Ms Jones, you know what?  You can just screw yourself.”  He stepped off his stool as dignified as anyone could and stormed off.  Actually, given his size it was more of a gentle sun-shower.

At the door he paused and looked back at her.

“But-”

“Screw yourself.”  He slammed the door.

“But that’s what I wanted you to do.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" Part 2

See this link here for part I.


"The Case of Reverse Engineering"
Part 2


I took a long look up at the head table.

"Only six out of thirty seven survived?"  Winkle said.  Gottschalk nodded.

"And brought out the technology everyone was fighting over?"  I asked.

"I don't think Blair's diary went that far.  After what I think was a few days it eventually all became unreadable gibberish and then what I think was alien language.  That all would have been within the timeframe before the USAF was alerted."

"Then how do you know?"

"I got curious so I asked.  For my trouble I was told to shut up, mind my own business and then they took the materials away.  After that, I put in a few calls to some buddies of mine from the Army Air Corps days.  I got records of Air Force signals traffic reports.  The way I figure it, they were sending dummy signals for about a week before they put in a distress call.  That matches the Blair diary.  Then there was some normal traffic that started being more and more couched and cryptic until right before the flyboys got there to find half the place burned.  They never reported any fires or any additional deaths."

"Excuse me again, gentle people," Ferrini was speaking again.  "There will be two parts to our presentation today.  The second part will be a question and answer session for everyone to participate, but before we begin that part we will have a, well I hesitate to call it a lecture, a slide show from our honored guests.  I'd like to go ahead and get that started while everyone is enjoying desert and coffee.  Could we please draw the curtains?"

The same phalanx of porters who had surreptitiously locked the doors moved over to the giant windows and closed out the midday light.  The room was momentarily lit only by the exit signs, the centerpiece Jacob's Ladders and a sliver of light coming under the kitchen door.  There was a shuffle at the head table before a small light was turned on at the lectern.  It barely illuminated Professor Melitene's pudgy face and shoe-brush mustache.

"Erm.  Thank you President Ferrini, ladies and gentlemen," he began with a voice a full octave lower than I expected, "You can go ahead and start-"

He was talking to the porter handling the projector who turned the machine on and a huge screen against the wall lit up with a white and black photo.

"Uh, thank you.  This is Antarctic Research Facility Number Four."

"Before the fire," Gottschalk hissed.

"Last year Professor Allouez and I had the privilege of conducting some magnetic research at this facility.  In the process of our studies we discovered a magnetic anomaly, er next slide please.

"This anomaly turned out to be a structure we believe was a mode of transport capable of traveling in space, a spaceship if you will.  You might even call it a starship, because, as I'm going to try to show it was most likely capable of traveling the immense distances between our solar system and the planetary systems around other stars."

There was quite a bit of mumbling around the room.  Several more photos clicked in procession.

"As you can see from these photos the craft was extremely large.  In an effort to excavate the starship we inadvertently caused a fissure to open in the ice structures in which it lay.  It slipped irrevocably into the crushing depths of the crevice, well beyond anyone's ability to even reach let alone study, I'm afraid."

There were several outcries including, how do you know, why did you bring us here then and couldn't it have been a submarine.

"I know what you are all thinking.  Please rest assured we are completely certain this was not an artifact of earth.  We also know it could not have been any less than ten million years old; more likely twenty, million years old."

Silence fell.  There was probably nothing more shocking than this news, except the next thing Melitene said, "We also found the body of one of the starship's occupants."

This led to gasps around the room.  Gottschalk gripped the table with white-knuckle intensity and her eyes looked like they would fall out of her head.

The photo changed to one with a block of ice a dozen feet long and more than a yard on the other sides.  It was surrounded by men, including Melitene.  If Allouez was in the picture he wasn't recognizable.

"This is the creature we found."  There were several more shots of the ice block from different angles and eventually in a storage room.

"In an effort to study the remains more closely we thawed the carcass slowly for over twenty four hours.  The creature we found was determined to be of a life form and a biological system utterly alien and distinct from all life forms on earth."

"Bullshit!"  Lon Vandergriff stood at his table.  He was one of the most prominent alumni from Pattell.  He had made his own fortune from mining and steel.

"Pardon me?"

"You're talking about aliens and spaceships, but where is the proof?  You lost the ship.  Where is this alien body?  What technology could you have gotten if you lost the ship?  What did you do, wake the alien up and ask him?"

"Yes, yes we did."

The room went dead silent.

"What?  What did you just say?"

"I realize this will be difficult to believe," he stopped and pushed his glasses up.  He glanced at Allouez who nodded.  "You must understand that the creature was a lifeform completely different than any earth lifeform, apparently not subject to some of the limitations of earthly life."

"Are you implying you found a twenty million year old alien carcass and it was still alive?"  Vandergriff roared with laughter, then reached down and pulled his wife to her feet.  "Sybil we are leaving and canceling any monies we had allocated to this sham of a school."

A photo of a vertical and moving alien body appeared on the screen, larger than life.  A woman screamed.  Another appeared and a third.  They weren't the best quality, with the fire, the dead dogs and the men fighting for their lives.

"We had some trouble bringing the, sample, back for a more thorough examination and continued research."

The slide show had to be stopped for a few minutes because several attendees fainted.  The screen went blank to reset everyone's brains.  The room was still dark otherwise and many other attendees made their way through the gloom to the bar, insisted on getting drinks, downing them and getting another before returning to their seats.  

"What the hell is going on?"  Winkle asked us.  "This can't be real."

Gottschalk was no help.  She was moving her eyes around, reading some imagined script while her lips moved and her hands trembled in their grip on the table.  "Could this possibly mean..." was all that I got from her.

"I would be inclined to think this is all an elaborate hoax of some sort, but why something so far-fetched?  The starship wasn't even saucer shaped.  It looked more like a zeppelin."

"I assure you, Mr. Richman this is no hoax."  Allouez was standing behind me and spoke with a smooth, silky voice.  It sounded almost as if it were coming from inside my own head.  I turned to look at him, trying to use the light from the white lit screen to see him as well as possible.  He was an unremarkable man, middle fifties and average in every way.  He even wore the plainest suit and tie possible.  The man could have blended into a crowd of two.  He smiled and walked away.

"There are some forms of life in Antarctica that are viable during the brief summer months and freeze most of the rest of the year," Melitene was continuing the slide show.  The screen showed a series of microscopic life, algae, lichens and fungus.

"We suspect the alien creature had a similar method of coping with the extreme cold.  It was most likely the cold that allowed it to maintain some integrity through the eons.  The cold and length of stupor may, however have contributed to the, rather inhospitable manner in which we interacted with it.

"In the end the creature perished, and unfortunately so did a good number of our party."

The screen went blank again and there was a long pause.  In the silence I heard Gottschalk muttering, "No, no, that's just not possible.  There must be some other explanation," then she went back to her internal review.

"The next part of my briefing is extremely confidential.  I must ask that anything I say or show you going forward not leave this room."

"This next part?"  Winkle whispered.

"During our far too brief encounter with the interstellar visitor, some progress was made in recreating part of the creature's technology, namely a small model of the propulsion unit, or engine if you will, and the power-plant to support it."

The photo on the screen showed a man in a backpack clearly floating several feet above the floor of a shack.

"The model, built with the help of our visitor, was fully functional when found, unfortunately there was an accidental fire and, along with more loss of life the machinery was damaged beyond repair."

Allouez and two porters had brought a large wheeled table from behind the dais and unveiled it as the lights came back up.  On the table were the charred remains of the same backpack in the photo and some sort of generator or projector.

"We have started the process of analyzing this technology with help from some of the good people in this room, but we have a long way to go."

Ferrini stepped up and bent the microphone away from Melitene.  "This is why we invited all you marvelous benefactors.  We ask that you-"

He was giving his usual spiel for money and I tuned him out.  "Wink, what do you make of this?"

"If this weren't your alma mater I'd say it's all snake oil."

"It's not snake oil," Gottschalk pushed herself away from the table.  "I've been going over all the times and dates, everything I know from the documents and the Blair diary.  I can't make it add up.  I don't see how it could have been done."

"It sure as shit didn't look like cooperation in those photos," I said.

Most of the room was either in shock or awe.  There were many who gathered around the table of technological remains and others who clung to the bar like a life raft.

"I want to talk with Melitene, by God," Gottschalk said.  He was near the table, surrounded by a throng of question askers.

"I'm after Allouez," Winkle said and moved off.  The invisible professor was near Melitene but being ignored.  Winkle smiled at him and got him to the side, near a still curtained window.

"Professor, I have some questions, if you please."

"Certainly," he smiled.  Of course he smiled.  He had just unveiled the scientific find of all time and he was talking to the prettiest girl in the room.  Gottschalk slid up behind her.  He glanced at us and returned his gaze to my partner.

"Professor," Winkle began, but Gottschalk interrupted.

"How did you two pansies get out of that camp alive?"

"I'm sorry?"

This clearly wasn't the tack Winkle was going to take, but she got the weather gage and drove on.  "What Doctor Gottschalk is referring to is the fact that only six men from the original complement of thirty seven were rescued from the camp and a good deal of it was on fire when the Air Force finally got to you.  That must have been quite a struggle for you."

Allouez's smile broadened, "It certainly was quite a story."


"Spill it," I suggested.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A Quick 20

I was visiting a facebook page for the 133d Signal Battalion of the Illinois Army National Guard today (it's a private group, but I can send the link if you are interested in joining).  It reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad.

One day in my junior year of high school I came home from school and Dad was in his room getting dressed or undressed (with his rotating shift it could have been either).  He called me up and asked me how I was expecting to pay for college.

I was sixteen at the time, but there had never been any question about whether I was going to college or not, I was going.  I don't remember ever deciding that, I just always knew it.  What I never considered was the cost.

I had always known I was going to have to pay for it.  I don't remember it myself, but Dad always reminded us that the day we each came home from the hospital after being born he took us around the house and showed us the place.  He then told us the rules and baptized us in the kitchen sink.  Among the rules was the fact that he would not pay for our college.

My answer to Dad that afternoon was, "I dunno," with a shrug.

"Well, you could join the Guard.  The Illinois Guard offers a full scholarship to  any state school."

To this I responded, "Yeah.  That's what I'm going to do."  Done deal, decision made.  No problem.

"You can just do  a quick twenty and get out."

A quick twenty?!  I was only sixteen.  I hadn't even seen twenty years yet.  I was far less committed to that idea than the idea of enlisting to pay for school.

"What do you want to do in the army?"  Dad asked.

"Drive tanks or fly helicopters," I said with a mighty, manly grunt of youthful testosterone.

"Well Illinois doesn't have any armor units, but I'll check into finding you an aviation unit."

True to his word of course he found me a unit, the 1903d Helicopter Maintenance Company.  The main part of the unit was based out of Midway airport and they had a detachment in Decatur.

In November of that year I turned seventeen and on January 14, 1984 Dad and I got in the car to drive to the recruiting center on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  A few blocks after leaving our house we stopped off and picked up  Jac Charlier.

Unknown to me Dad must have had a similar talk with Jac.  He and I enlisted together that day and in 2007 I retired after doing a, "Quick" twenty three years.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Young Mad Scientists In Love: "The New Team" - Part 1

Whew, that's a long title.  The first part is the series title, the next is this story title and then I've broken this story up into six parts.  I hope you enjoy.
Young Mad Scientists in Love
"The New Team"

Part 1:  Guard, Guard This

“Nic, I know you're new here so I want to show you some tricks I've picked up over the years," John Smith was a round bald man who's patchy mustache was his pride and joy. 

"Yes, John," Adrian Nicomedia had only been working for Consolidated Securities Inc. for a week, but Smith's script was already starting to replay sections.  They were part of the night shift and were walking their rounds at Acme High Tech Industries.

“When you’re patrolling the grounds you gotta be on your toes."

Nicomedia was internally saying, “Blah blah blah.”

Acme was a huge company with a wide campus of several buildings and their own network of roads.

"You gotta look in every nook and cranny.  Someone could break in and be hiding in every or any shadow.  I mean a burglar could be,” he shrugged and swept his flashlight over the sidewalk and over the curb into the shadow there, “hiding in the shadow of the curb right there.”  The flashlight shined on a young man lying in the shadow.  “Like that one!”

The man leaped to his feet, waved at someone in the shadow of a nearby building and ran off.  The man in the shadow was a huge hulking mountain of a man who could easily hide in the shadow of a multi-story office building, but not a curb.  He lumbered off in the same direction as the smaller man.

“Freeze!”  Smith shouted and let loose two shots after both men.  They seemed to have no effect.

"Get the big one," Smith said as they began the pursuit.

The smaller man kept looking back as he ran to check on the big man. 

“Yes sir.”

Suddenly the big man darted right.  The smaller man sensing they were going their separate ways slipped up a few gears and flew off straight up the street.

Nicomedia turned to follow her man, “Don’t lose yours,” she said.  Smith groaned at his choice and tried to pick up his pace.

The big man ran to a nearby building, Nicomedia followed.  Inside the first door was a second door with a key card scanner.  The man turned to face Nicomedia with his hands up to fight.

“Crap,” she breathed.  “Come with me quietly now, sir.”

In answer he gave a massive roundhouse.  She saw it coming and ducked under it.  Bent over she took the two steps the vestibule afforded and hit him in the gut with her full weight.  He staggered back until he was against the inner door and folded.

She took a step back and said, “Come quietly with me now, sir.”

He started to rise, fists held out in the ready.  She knew if he got up and was able to land a few good punches he could finish her in no time.  As he lifted his head she had to make a split second decision.

She slammed her right fist into the side of his face.  He groaned and his head fell.

“Will you come along quietly now, sir?”

Up he came again, hands and head rising.

She gave him another massive shot.  He flopped back down.  Her hand hurt.

“Come quietly now, sir.”

He grunted louder, more angry and started to rise.  She hit him with her left hand.

He flopped back down, this time to his knees.  She hit him again, “Stay down.  Put your hands behind your back and lay down.  Sir.”

He collapsed completely.  His arms flopped at his side and he grunted quietly in a high pitch.  Nicomedia was breathing heavily; she looked down and saw blood all over the back of the man’s shirt.  She bent down and pulled his shirt up.  There, just above the belt was a gunshot entry wound.

He whimpered on the floor.

“Did you get shot in the back?”

He nodded with snot and tears running down his face.  He moved his mouth but only noises came out.

“Sir, are you alright?”

He shook his head and tried to talk again.

“Can’t you talk?”

The man whimpered and slowly shook his head.

“Oh shit,” she grabbed her radio and called for help.  Eventually Smith and the ambulance showed up.

“What the hell happened?”  Smith asked bewildered.  Nicomedia was tall and broad.  She was older for a new hire because of prior military service.  Still Smith was surprised the thirty seven year old amazon could take the mountain of a man.

“Seems one of your shots hit home.  When I pushed him against the inner door the handle pushed the bullet against his spinal column.  Every time he tried to surrender he could only lift his hands a little and couldn’t rise above waist level.”

Smith guffawed, “So, you beat the crap out of a paralyzed man?”

“How was I supposed to know, wait, where’s your guy?”

“I’m calling the boss,” Smith pulled out his cell.

Later that day Nicomedia and Smith sat outside the guard commander’s office awaiting their fate.  The Duty Sergeant, Lieutenant and the commander had been talking for ten minutes before they called her in.

“Adrian Nicomedia,” the commander began, “Twenty year Army MP veteran, several tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, Purple Heart and Bronze Star.  You are a natural for this job.”  She closed the personnel file and opened a file containing a single sheet of paper, the beginning of the report of the night’s activities.

“Two men compromised the security of our facilities, stole highly sensitive data as well as several small but very valuable pieces of equipment.  You and your partner lost one of the men and you assaulted a badly wounded man, further wounding him,” she looked up at Nicomedia, “I had such high hopes for you.”

“Had?”

“Well.  Mr. Jones, the wounded man you beat senseless, has already begun proceedings to sue our company.”

“He’s suing us?”

“This is true.  Unfortunately you know what else is true?  John Smith is the nephew of Consolidated Securities CEO, Matilde Smith.  He’s also the grandson of the chairman of the board of Acme High Tech Industries Inc., you know, the company our company is guarding?”

“I know who they are.”

“Look, Adrian, I like you.  I think you should be working for a guard company somewhere, that’s why I’m sending in a recommendation to a headhunter that contacted us about you for a company they are working for, MSL Inc.”

“You want me to be working somewhere?”

“Someone has to go down for this, you do understand?  We need a goat.”

“Baa.”

Friday, July 15, 2016

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" Part 1

This is the first of three parts of a story I wrote.  It is a horror homage to John Carpenter's The Thing, the movie The Thing from Another World and the John W. Campbell story "Who Goes There."

It is set in the Lovecraftian 1950s world of Richman and Kostka.

"The Case of Reverse Engineering"


I walked into the outer room of the upstairs offices of Richman and Kostka Investigations.  The desk and the whole room had everything in its place, except my partner, Periwinkle "Winkle" Kostka.  At ten on a Thursday morning this was something of a surprise.  I hadn't been by the office in a while, but I was sure she didn't have case at the moment.


I walked to the door leading to the inner office, nominally mine.  I swung it open with no warning.

"Hey Mister Moneybags, you can't just waltz in here like you own the joint," she glanced over her shoulder with a smile, but kept facing away.

"I do," I said, and I did.  Although mine was the name was on top on the door I was just the bankroll and the license, Winkle was the sleuth.  She had a mind like no other, and the determination of a bulldog.  She was beautiful, no lie.  She had brilliant violet eyes and her curly, butter-yellow hair had been wrangled into a ponytail.  She was about five seven with an athletic build.  I don't know where she hid them, but she certainly had muscles to spare for anyone who got on her wrong side.

"I was just changing," she opened a file cabinet that was really a wardrobe and pulled out a satin aqua top.  "Could I have a minute?"

"Sure," I backed out of the office.  "I just came by because I have a gala luncheon I have to attend and Elle is out of town."

"And you want me to sub for the Mrs. as your escort?"  She asked, looking over her shoulder.

"Technically, I would escort you, it's a society thing."

"Where is this gala?"

"My alma mater, Pattell."

Both her eyebrows shot up, "I seriously doubt anything at that pile of bricks could be called a, 'Gala.'"

"Well, it'd be a safe bet everyone there voted for General Eisenhower last November.  It's a fundraiser and Allah knows they could use the money."

"What time is this gala?"

"Eleven to two."

"You wearing that?"

I was wearing one of my better double breasted gray suits with a blue paisley tie, "Yes."

"I should just be able to get ready in time, if you shoo."

True to her word, in less than fifteen minutes she met me in the outer office.  Her hair was up in a wide brimmed hat.  She wore an aqua suit dress with cream satin shirt and a turquoise choker.

The lunch was catered from the University President's own staff at the Student Union main ball room.  The food was top notch and the room was bright and gay.  It was decked out in the school colors of scarlet and orange with yellow accents.  There were a dozen round tables of eight.  The centerpieces were some sort of penguin ice sculptures and Jacob's Ladder machines.  The theme was a complete mystery to me.  The head table was on a dais across from the entrance.  A jazz quintet was hopping in one corner and the bar was in another.  Most of the guests seemed to be in the bar quadrant and I made my way there.

I was wrong about the Ike supporters because there was a good representation from the academic staff too.  I spotted the University President and Chancellor, the Deans of the College of Science and the College of Medicine, the heads of the Physics, Engineering and Biology Departments; all heavy hitters in the school.

I also recognized the money, several of the other regular supporters and some others I knew by reputation and or the Stock Exchange.  All the brains, beauty and power were represented.  I was sure Winkle and I were bringing up the caboose of this money train.

"Captain Viktor Richman," thin hands clamped my shoulders.  "You shouldn't have come.  This is a very dangerous time," a woman's voice rasped in my ear.

I turned to face Doctor Judy Gottschalk, PhD Anthropology.  Bone thin in a black dress, she took a drag of her cigarette.  "I have a very bad feeling.  Why are you here?"

"We're not attending this soiree as detectives if that's what you're asking.  I'm a sustaining contributor to the school."  

"Hello Doctor Gottschalk," Winkle said, "What's the problem, Vik?"

I grunted and pointed at Gottschalk.  She looked back and forth at us while taking long drags.  When she exhaled she said, "Do you know why they threw this fundraiser?"

"The usual reasons?"

She sucked in a visible amount of her cigarette, held it and exhaled the smoke through her nostrils, "It's something specific and I'm not at all comfortable with it."

Just then the bell rang for us all to take our seats.

Gottschalk put out her cigarette as I helped her with her chair, "Have you heard anything about Antarctic Research Facility Number Four?"

Winkle and I shook our heads.

"Apparently they had some trouble last year, several men died and they were stranded for almost a month, by the time the Air Force got to them all but a handful were dead and half the base was a smoking ruin."

"Was it a disease; mental illness; natural disaster?"

"It was a disaster all right.  I don't know how natural it was.  The Air Force started an investigation and salvaged some documents and samples.  They think the expedition dug up, found something," she whispered.  "Only six out of the original staff of thirty seven survived and two of them were committed to a mental hospital when they got back.  Two of the physicists were from Pattell, Earnest Melitene and Claude Allouez.  They're at the head table."

"Physicists, Antarctica; how are you, an Anthropologist connected to this?"

"I was brought in to work on the language."

"Language?  What was it the expedition found?"

Gottschalk leaned in because some of the others at the table were starting to eye us, "Extraterrestrials."

"Extraterrestrials or evidence of them?"

"Both."

"Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please," University President Ferrini said.  "We have so very much to talk about and I'm so very excited.  While they are getting the salad ready I just wanted to let you all know a few things.  Some of you already know what our lunch today is all about, but for most of you this has been a mystery.  I am excited and proud to tell you now exactly why we are meeting today."

Between Ferrini's speech, the clinking of the salad plates and the nearly silent execution I almost missed it.  The porters shut all the doors except those that led to the kitchens.  It was only the mistimed click of one lock that alerted me as they secured the room.  My head spun.  When I turned back I noticed Winkle had heard it too.  She gave me a look of heightened guard.

"We are here to celebrate and support our wildly successful Antarctic mission of last year, headed by Professor Melitene."

Melitene stood and waved at the crowd who applauded politely.  He was a small man with a very large moustache.  He was rather round with a round body, round head and round glasses.  He looked in no way capable of wintering in Chicago let alone Antarctica.

"Wildly successful," Gottschalk muttered.  She gulped her champagne and clandestinely reached for her neighbor's.

"Professor Melitene and his colleague Professor Allouez made the most remarkable discovery while studying magnetism.  I don't want to spoil their presentation but let me just say there are implications the discovery of two of this university's staff will no less than change our entire world and way of life.  We are here to learn about their discovery and how we at Pattell University can support the further developments of technology that will revolutionize transportation and energy, as well as open an entire universe of opportunities."

The room applauded as madly as those stuffed shirts ever got mad.  President Ferrini took a short bow before sitting down and letting us hit the feedbag before the main briefing.

"What was that?"  Winkle asked, "Alien technology?"

Gottschalk nodded and looked around the room, at the sealed doors and the floor to ceiling windows streaming in golden sunlight, melting the centerpieces.  "You're armed right; please tell me you're armed."

She only really mouthed the words, no sound came out.  Only Winkle and I were aware of what she was asking.  We both pat the locations of our pieces.

"Pft, for all the lot of good it will do," she forked her salad and shook her head.  Winkle and I shared a shrug and ate in silence for a while.

Judy Gottschalk and I met when she was a nurse in the Philippines during the war.  Not only was she a combat nurse, but she was working for the OSS, having taught herself just about all the languages in the Pacific.  She was one of their most valuable sources of information coming from patients; both enemy and civilian.  She had seen things out there.  If she was shaken by whatever we were talking about today, then it had to be well worth shaking.

I didn't know just what it was so I started making plans for gathering intelligence through the subterfuge, fighting, escaping; or maybe all three.

Winkle looked around the table at the other guests, two couples of elder school supporters and old Professor Joseph Douglas of Mathematics who kept falling asleep.  She leaned in to Gottschalk, "Was what you were translating alien?"

"They gave me a box of all sorts of things, most seemed like notes and schematics drawn by hand, although there were a very few pieces of metal with markings on them."

"Did you figure out what they said?"

"Mostly it wasn't a human language, but there was part of a diary I think by a scientist named Blair.  That seemed to be a mixed bag.  I got the furthest with that."

"What did it say?  What did they find?"

"Like I said, it mostly wasn't about their find, more like notebooks for machinery, and some math notes, I had to hand that part off to someone like old Joe here."  

"It was very interesting too," Professor Douglas chirped in.  He was to my left while Gottschalk was on my right.  I don't know how the old bird heard, because I was having a hard time following.

"What was it, Professor?"  Winkle asked.

"Engineering, almost entirely engineering calculations.  The notation was strange, different, but I recognized some of the basic universal calculations.  I saw no reason whatsoever to conclude aliens were involved," he ended the sentence snoring at his soup.

"Old codger doesn't know what he was looking at.  The language I saw was like no other on Earth."

"What were the schematics for?"

"I couldn't tell, but I think it was this Blair fellow who wrote them.  What concerns me most is that I think Blair was communicating with the alien."

"You mean there are aliens on Earth now?"

"I couldn't tell.  I do think they found alien bodies and alien tech.  I have no idea how Blair could have been communicating with them, but I'm sure he wasn't the source of the calculations or the schematics.  He must have just been transcribing them."

"Why?"

"He was a pathologist.  What really frightens me most is from the time the Air Force was alerted until the time they made it down to relieve the camp was when the bulk of the killing and damage was done.  At first there may have been accidents, but that second part, that was all anthropogenic."

I looked at Winkle.  She opened her mouth to talk, but Gottschalk explained, "Man-made."

They swapped out our salads for entrees.

"They killed each other over this alien and technology," I asked.

"Yes and it was our two boys," Gottschalk nodded her head toward the head table, "that came out on top."

"Those two?"

"Unbelievable, right?"

(to be continued)

Friday, July 01, 2016

On the Road Again, Again

Remember a week and a half ago I posted a picture of a school bus?  Now you will finally find out about that school bus.  

Weigh Over
It is yellow like a bus


When we were getting ready to leave Fort McCoy to fly to Afghanistan we had to get on a bus to go to the plane.  Most of us got on a school bus with our "carry-on" gear and were sent to the scale.  There was some worry that we would be over our weight limit, but our S4 kept reassuring everyone that we would run out of space before we went over weight.  He would say, "We'll cube-out before we weigh-out."

I have to mention that this S4 worked for the Illinois Army National Guard full time, was a Major and was eventually convicted of a felony involving embezzlement.

We packed everyone below the rank of LTC onto the bus each with a very full duffel bag, personal weapon, helmet, body armor, mask and LBE.  I was stuffed at the back, immobile under my bags and equipment.  I slide the window down to breathe,

On the scale we paused and several people were getting on and off, walking around.  The members of our unit that didn't have to do through the weigh-in were full timers, O5 and over, and Sergeants Major.

Some supply NCO got on the bus after a little while and said we had gone over our weight  limit.  He told everyone to pass their magazines up to be collected into a box.  I don't know how these loaded magazines were going to get to Afghanistan, if not on our plane, but I didn't question it.  We all helped them collect our ammo.

We waited again.

After another little while the Sergeant got on the bus again and said we were still over our limit,  Now their solution was for us all to empty our canteens out the windows.  This seemed ridiculous to me, so when I saw one of our LTCs walking bay I shouted out the window, "Sir, how far over the limit are we?"

He responded, "About seven thousand pounds."

More than three tons, we were over by more than three tons and someone thought we could make it by emptying our canteens?

I decided I was not going to bother to try to get to my canteen, unhook it and figure out a way to reach the window to hold the canteen out and empty it.  I told everyone on the bus of my intentional procrastination.  The NCO had already left the bus so I couldn't tell him.

Several minutes later someone got on the bus and said we were fine and were moving out.

I guess someone had a very large thumb on the scale.  Maybe.  I'll never know what happened, but it was probably somewhere between incompetence and corruption.

Do you hate school buses as much as I do?