Cometary Tales Blog Sunday at BayCon 2013

Sunday at BayCon 2013

The last full day of the convention is truly the moment when plans and results can be expected to diverge the most.  One must combine shifts in plans from the ORIGINAL plan with adjustments in expectations resulting from events of the first few days.  Here is how this instance worked out:

Time Frame What the Plan was What really happened
Sunday morning See if there’s something different to do in the Arduino II workshop and if not, go to the Dr. Who birds-of-a-feather (BoF) get-together.  Sit in on the panel discussion on how to differentiate among various dragons–if that is boring, go on to the live podcast of Poe’s “The Raven”.

Trish Henry's Butterflytastic Arduino Organ Housing

Trish Henry’s Butterflytastic Arduino Organ Housing

And My Own Finished Arduino Project

And My Own Finished Project

 

 

Costume Swap find, ready for Regency dancing.

Costume Swap & Dealers’ Room finds, ready for Regency!

 

Actually made it to the Arduino workshop at 9:30.  They were still getting things organized for the second session, so maybe that counts as being on time.  It was the same projects, but with fewer participants (it being 9 a.m. on Sunday), so there was plenty of room for me. 

I joined a table where two others had chosen the same project–a master-crafter who put together her project in half the time I needed and an astronomer from Reno who had watched the annular eclipse not far from where I had been.

 

In time, I got my software downloaded, wiring connections made, taking advantage of help from Arduino Labs’ Larry Burch & his friend Tim Laren & the soldering wizard whose name I failed to get.  Got all my decorations done and even sort of got it working.  The mapping of the connections isn’t quite right on the scale, but I can reprogram at home.  Yay!

The costume swap took place in the back of the DIY room while we were hot-gluing our hardware.  When the swap was over, the person-in-charge called out, “Last call!  If you want something, take it!”  We tech DIY’rs were stalled waiting for turns to get software downloaded at the time, so several of us rummaged through the pile.  I found a long dress that was part of someone’s costume for something & one of the other women encouraged me to give it a try.  Hey, I could squeeze into it—so now I have a dress to wear for Regency dancing tonight!

 

And by the time we were all done, it was after noon.  I carried my prizes out to the car and ate lunch.  More peanut-butter-or-jelly, but with salad today.  Forgot to pack chips.

 

Next:  plenty of time for a purchasing visit to the Dealers’ Room.  Found a piece of jewelry (a necklace in a vaguely steampunk style) within my budget and bought it.  Sweet.  Finally feel “dressed for SF”.

Sunday afternoon Go to session on getting the “swords” right in Swords and Sorcery, then to the Cassini Mission panel–the ONLY real science panel at this con.

American 1890's belly-dancer "Little Egypt"

American 1890’s belly-dancer “Little Egypt”

 

 

NASA-CassiniTitan

Cassini at Titan? Missed this panel!

 

 

 

What the youngsters don't know about kaffeeklatsch

Can you believe what  youngsters don’t know about kaffeeklatsch?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember WorldCon 2002?

Remember WorldCon 2002?

 

 

 

 

 

 

LMB signs my copy of her first appearance in Analog! Yesss!

LMB signs my copy of her first appearance in Analog! Yesss!

 

And Installment IV--signed, too.

And Installment IV–signed, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ewww.  The Swords presentation turned out to be extremely in-your-face (literally) factual, with photographs of people with cuts and blood and so on.  Double-icky.  I exited swiftly and dashed to Mary Cordero’s belly-dance workshop.

 

Oh, now, that was so much super-fun!  Learned basic belly-dance techniques, picked up some dance history, practiced and played with movement, and had fun in a roomful of women.  Well, let’s be honest, two of the drummers were  guys and one brave man was trying the dance himself.

 

Most people think belly dance is only for women, but clearly Mary is not one to put up barriers–and there’s a strong tradition of men (and not just gay men) involved in the art form.  Check out “Whose dance is this anyway?”  I have also since learned about Tahtib, which is stick-fighting, like Eskrima, and would be a totally cool addition to this con, as it blends boffers and belly-dance.

 

This “women’s dance” is real exercise, so I pulled off my overjacket and scarf, to discover I’d put on my butterfly shirt backwards.  Oh, well, I pulled my arms in and switched it around.  We’re all “girls” here, right?  Mary kept the workload light, so we ended up a little sweaty but not exhausted.  She passed out random badge ribbons and encouraged us to come to her party later.

 

Luckily, I was already prepared for my first change-in-plan, which resulted from my stumbling into signing up for the Guest of Honor Kaffeeklatsch.  The deal is “bring your own coffee” so I took time to cool down from belly-dancing and then sought out a cup of tea (using my Inner Gail to persuade the store clerk to rummage in a drawer for more English Breakfast teabags). Others brought drinks, but coffee was not a popular choice.  While waiting to begin, the key discussion item was whether “kaffeeklatsch” is  a real thing (from which I discover I am now on the “other side” of the generation gap) and whether the activity should be renamed because no-one brings coffee.

 

It was a pleasant group “visit” with Lois McMaster Bujold, though likely it was on the torturous side for our hostess.  My suspicions that she is a member of our society of introverts was confirmed, even as she was peppered with questions about the Vorkosigans and the culture Chalion and her other novels.

 

We were a very mixed bag of folks…but we had more in common than admiring “LMB”.  One guy went to ConJose for his first SF con and he described the line I was standing in to get Bujold to sign a book for me at my first con.  The “girl” across from me was also in the Arduino workshop with me–she tried to get Lois to accept her glowing Arduino badge as a gift, and succeeded in getting her to keep it for the session.

 

Bujold had already announced that she’s rather tired of working in the “Vorkoverse” but attendees were brimming with ideas of stories they’d like to hear.  Near the end of our allotted time, however, the talk ranged more freely, and the participants chatted more among themselves about television and science and child-rearing and books, so at least Bujold had a chance to not talk a little.

 

When it looked as though the session was ending, she agreed to a photo with Ruth (my fellow Arduino-ist) and to sign my Analogs. Mysteriously, (or not-so, with Analog’s mid-month issues), I was missing an issue.  But, as she puts it, I could choose to make my life mission to find that last issue and get it signed.  Or not.  I’d only asked her to sign one, and she offered to do them all.  Like me, she regrets doing the three-name routine, as it makes her name soooo long to sign.

 

But six o’clock rolled around and the last few deep fans were still reluctant to set her free.  I made my exit hoping that would provide a route out for her.  She’d taken the head-of-table chair, which left her with a difficult path to make a graceful retreat.  I nearly knocked down a one-year-old who was toddling about right outside the door, but her mother was reassuringly calm for both of us.  I have to mentioning this, as she’s one of the people I have kept meeting all weekend!

 

When the rest finally emerged, I walked along with them and we exchanged some info, as we clearly have some interests in common.  I met Ruth’s sister and daughter and the daughter’s friend.

 

Oh, well, time to go get dinner and go to boffers.  It’s a bit of driving, but I made it to a Subway and scored a tuna salad.  I was so hungry it was a challenge to not tear into the salad box on the drive back.  And then I nearly left my sword in the car!

Sunday night Go to the Firefly LARP and then do Regency Dancing, and listen to concerts if any run that late.

Who's Boffer, eh?

Who’s Boffer, eh?

 

 

 

 

Why "Lena" is already so good--this is her dad!

Why “Lena” is already so good–this is her dad!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Cordero (right), shares the fun and treats at her Belly Jam Party

Mary Cordero (right), shares the fun and treats at her Belly Jam Party

 

Tech meets Tambour at Belly Jam

Tech meets Tambour at Belly Jam

 

 

 

 

Regency dancers take over

Regency dancers take over

Representatives of PEERS turn out in the best costumes.

Representatives of PEERS turn out in the best costumes.

Our Dance Master takes a turn at the waltz.

Our Dance Master takes a turn at the waltz.

 

 

Thirteen--original artists...on Amazon.

Thirteen–original artists…on Amazon.

Well, the kids were at boffers.  That is, Ruth’s daughter and her friend.  Or their clones, anyhow.  I ate furiously, anxious to get in on the action while there were still some kids around willing to teach me how to play.  There was also an older tween-aged girl there with her mom, impatiently waiting for her dad or one of her dad’s friends to come and battle with her.  She clearly felt not well-matched with the younger kids.  So I said I’d play as soon as I finished.

 

“Lena” gave me a basic lesson and then thrashed me soundly.  So the other girls’ main battle became over who had dibs on playing the newbie next.   If memory serves, I did manage to beat one of them once.  Maybe twice.  There was absolutely no way I could have won against my tutor.  It is a very energetic game and not as violent as it might be.

Here are the rules, as taught by the Kids of Boffers:  1) No trying to hurt the other person 2) No head shots, at least not on purpose 3) If you’re hit on the arm or leg, you’ve lost that limb and have to do without it, so hop if you lose a leg, kneel if you lose both, switch hands if you lose your sword arm  4) Hits to hands or feet don’t count.  5) Torso hits are deadly.

 

I did my best performances when killed, of course, as death scenes are generally fun to do.  They all knew the old Monty Python Black Night routines and a few random Shakespeare quotes were tossed about.  These people were all around the age of 10-13.  The first girl’s dad (aha!  He’s a professional sword-fighting instructor!) finally appeared and played a couple of rounds with her.

Another of the skilled adults gave one of my smaller opponents a good lesson in using her dagger-and-shield.  She was a lot fiercer after that!  There were older (bigger) people there, kindly not taking me on.  Two members of the Silicon Valley Screwts, the quidditch team, spent the hour bashing one another.  And several were more eager to play boffer baseball.  When the kids who were battling me headed out, so did I.

I had intended to go to the Tucker and Tinney concert, but then remembered about the belly-dance teacher’s party.  She’d be disappointed if her students didn’t come.  So I found my way to the “Party Floor” (another first) and stayed a while.  She had snacks and drinks and music and drumming.

 

It was another hour of re-meetings.  The professional-swordfighter family was there–their daughter is also good at drumming.  Turns out the family is from the town next to mine.  And the Arduino guys were there.  And a writer from one of the panels I went to….whose reading I missed because I had to leave early.  And another woman from the class.

 

We all did some dancing.  Mary handed out some “Bellyrina” ribbons.  The swordfighter dad used me as a demo model to describe to the writer how traditional dance positions matched up with swordfighting moves and also how he and his wife would act out dramas in which the lady would join the fray and surprise the opponent.

 

I finally slipped out with my shoes and dress and boffer, explaining that I really wanted to do some Regency dancing, now that I even had a dress to wear.   And so spent the next three hours doing country dances.  The dance master would teach one set, guide us through the full dance, and then announce a brief waltz for a break.

 

There were plenty of people to ensure we could all appropriately switch partners around each time and, given the predominance of women in the group, to allow the women to switch genders from gent to lady and vice-versa.  We did a half-dozen or more dances before the dance master called “time” at 12:30 after his group’s signature piece, the Congress of Vienna waltz.

 

There was supposed to be open filking in the main music hall, so I slipped in there just as they were starting a new song.  The Bohnoff’s sang a couple of pieces, someone sang something I can’t name but which went up very high indeed while accompanied by Betsy Tinney playing “the flute part on the cello”, and someone else did the old silly song about writing a science paper and stuffing it with drivel to get published.

 

There was a request for something within the theme, so Maya sang Vixy & Tony’s “Thirteen”.  Someone’s daughter jumped up to sing one her own favorites from the same album (“Emerald Green”) and then two of the adults did their parody versions, one of which was a gentle bit of humor about the Emerald City but the other one upset the first singer as “horrible”, being a song about Soylent Green.

 

The musicians all had their computers and tablets out, pulling up lyrics and chords.  I even got to make a tiny contribution, rescuing from under a chair a small accessory the guitarist dropped under his chair.

 

But then it was nearly 1:30 and boffers would close at 2.  I ducked into a restroom on the way downstairs and swapped from dress to pants again, but the doors to the convention center were already locked–to my disappointment and the sharp dismay of one of the boffer organizers who wanted to get their stuff out of the room.  I followed her back to the lobby, where she sought help from the hotel staff and I added a contribution to the Welcome To BayCon whiteboard.  “Allons-y” has 2 ells in it, kids.

 

Time to grab a Coke from the Gaming Room’s Charity Soda Machine and get home.

 

You might also like to read:

Chasing CometsChasing Comets

As a  re-entry activity, let’s fall right into the project which inspired the overarching theme for this so-called blog:  cometary tails.   That is, in this instance, we’ll be “studying” the behavior of the tails of actual comets falling along their orbits about a star.    But of course, this is a “Messy Monday” project, so it  involves running, arguing, and playing with scissors (not all at the same time).

So far, the only star whose comets we’ve observed have been those of our own Sun, but as our star is not particularly unusual, it’s likely that comets ply their trade throughout the cosmos.  We’ll not be delving too deeply into astrophysics, instead we’ll be building fun models of comets and playing games which illustrate the apparent motion of a typical comet’s tail.  If you’re running this project as part of a school science program, you can double-count the activity as a P.E. session, as the central game involves more than a bit of running, though not likely moving as fast as a comet.

Just as a reminder, what I want to give you in these “Messy Monday” project descriptions is 1) enough background on the science that you’ll be prepared for questions and have resources to draw on if your own curiosity is triggered, 2) a play-by-play description of running the project with a group, recognizing that your time and resources are limited and your participants will vary in both interest and prior knowledge, and 3) a shopping list detailed enough to help you minimize your costs as well the time you have to spend assembling supplies.

Shoemaker-Levy panoramic (courtesy NASA-NSSDC)

Fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy heading for Jupiter (courtesy NASA-NSSDC)

So, What Do You Want to Know?

For thousands of years, humans have wondered at the strange visitations of comets.

Natural philosophers of the middle ages studying comets.

Natural philosophers of the middle ages studying comets.

In our time, people now understand that comets are not harbingers of doom or annunciations of the births of kings but fellow travelers in our solar system, icy bodies wheeling in towards the sun and shedding a fraction of their substance as they approach the sun.  However, a key aspect of the comet’s tail remains counterintuitive to us earthbound air-dwelling creatures.  The tail of a running horse flows behind her as she gallops, so we naturally expect that the tail of comet simply flies behind it as it plunges along its course.  But a comet’s behavior plays tricks with such expectations.

Where do comets come from?  The Solar System is a big place, but for most of us, the territory ends with Pluto, the Object Formerly Known as The Ninth Planet.

Great_Comet_of_1577 by Georgium Jacobum von Datschitz public domain

The Great Comet of 1577

However, if you’re a fan of Cosmos (either Carl Sagan’s or Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s version) or if your school is lucky enough to have new textbooks, then you’ll know about the Oort Cloud , that sphere of orbiting material from which most comets emerge.  Do you realize how much farther out this region is? On a scale of one inch per 100,000 miles, in which the orbit of Pluto would be one mile across, the distance from the Sun to the Oort Cloud would be the length of the state of California.  It’s even been hypothesized that the Oort clouds of neighboring stars may physically interact, exchanging comets.

The Oort cloud is a long way out, but it’s still a part of the Solar System, because the objects there are still subject to the Sun’s gravity.  Occasionally, a piece of this clutter is jostled from its orbit and begins the long fall towards the sun.  Depending on the path it takes as it zooms around the sun, the comet may slingshot out of the solar system entirely or it may settle into a new orbit, returning to loop around the sun on a regular schedule.   For instance, Comet Halley returns every 86 years.  The last time round, it actually came in ’86–1986 that is.  I was lucky enough to visit New Zealand that year, so I can confirm that Comet Halley was extremely unspectacular that year–only just barely visible.  Fortunately, New Zealand itself is spectacular every single day of any given year.    NASA was more successful, having a noticeable advantage in telescope access.

Babylonian Astronomers Wrote Down Their Observations of Halley in BCE 164

Babylonian Astronomers Wrote Down Their Observations of Halley in BCE 164

Comet Halley's Appearance Dooms King Harold in 1066

Comet Halley’s Appearance Dooms King Harold in 1066

Comet Halley in 1910

Comet Halley in 1910

Comet Halley in 1986 (Courtesy of NASA)

Comet Halley in 1986 (Courtesy of NASA)

                                                                                                                                                                                        But why do comets even have tails?  We don’t see shiny tails glowing in the wakes of our planets.  Well, it all has to do with the change in environmental conditions as the comet moves towards the Sun.  Comets are composed of water ice, frozen gases, rocky matter, and even traces of organic compounds.  As this frozen jumble approaches the sun, it warms up enough that the various ices in the outer layers of the comet become gaseous—water vapor, ammonia, carbon dioxide.  These gases bubble and boil into a misty cloud, so the comet will have an atmosphere of sorts, called the coma, for the duration of its passage through the inner Solar System.  The gas expulsions may even shoot out of the comet’s rocky layers like jets, causing the comet itself to tumble as it falls along its inward path.  At the same time, very small-scale “dust” particles are swept from the cometary nucleus.  This is not the heavily-organic dust we find under our furniture here on Earth (if you really want to know what’s in household dust don’t use “Google images”;  stick to text searches or just ask your friendly neighborhood allergist).  What we mean is that the particle size—a few microns—is extremely fine, about the same size as the particles in cigarette smoke.

We get our fabulous cometary tail once these newly-ejected gases and dust of the coma approach the sun just a bit closer, enough that the various solar emissions can have their ways with the comet’s atmosphere.   First, there is sunlight itself, which acts in several ways to provide us with the visual spectacle of the comet’s tail.

The simplest role of sunlight is to shine on the cloud of dust ejected from the nucleus.  That’s the main tail we see.  But that still doesn’t explain why the dust forms a tail at all:  the secret is that light, as electromagnetic radiation, actually exerts pressure on objects, and with tiny objects like cometary dust this radiation pressure force is enough to fan that  material out from the core.  Plus, there is a cool bonus “secret”: that most comets actually have two tails—one formed by the gases and one formed by the dust.  The ultraviolet radiation in sunlight blasts the gas particles, stripping away electrons, and so creating a mass of ionized gas, which fluoresces (mostly blue) in sunlight. Then those glowing blue ions are blasted in a straight line away from the sun by the solar wind, a stream of high-energy particles hurtling at supersonic speeds through the solar system.  The solar wind is a wonderfully intricate system in its own right, but for our purposes here it is most important to convey that, like earthly winds, it consists of particles moving at high speeds and that its direction is away from the Sun.

The result of all these combined forces is that a complex, continuously shifting cloud of gases and dust streams out from a comet during its time in the inner solar system and that tail—or, rather, pair of tails—points away from the sun, even when the comet is on its way back out to its origin.  (If you’re a die-hard comet enthusiast, you’ll know that the dust tail does curve inward a bit, as the small particles of dust battle with the solar forces, striving to curl into their own individual orbits about the sun, but from our earthly perspective, the outward forces have the upper hand.)

In the next installment, we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of building our own comet models and playing a game of As the Comet Tail Flies.

Oh, yeah, and I’m not making things up about radiation pressure.  Consider the prospects for spaceflight under the power of light!

The Japanese IKAROS spaceprobe in flight (artist's depiction by Andrzej Mirecki).

The Japanese IKAROS spaceprobe in flight (artist’s depiction by Andrzej Mirecki).

Walking to Pluto: Step 2Walking to Pluto: Step 2

Step 2: The List of Requirements:

Don’t worry.  This is one of the least expensive major science projects you’ll put together.

You’ll need:

Note that

I found a sunny yellow ball for my Sun.

1) Any ball roughly 8” (19mm) in diameter—a basic playground ball is likely to work, as will a standard soccer ball. FIFA size 5 works for the English-units model; the SI model is slightly smaller, so a youth-sized FIFA size 4 is appropriate—but don’t get bogged down in the details. Visually, when compared with the planet models, all of these ball sizes look the same.  It’s most likely that you already own or can borrow a ball for this project; if you simply must buy a ball, you should be able to find one for under $10.

 

 

2)  A set of eleven objects to represent each of the eight planets, our Moon, and two of the dwarf planets:

Mars or Venus

Mars or Venus

Pluto or Ceres

Pluto or Ceres

a)  four pins (two pin heads represent Mars and Venus, two pin points represent Ceres and Pluto),

The Moon Is Made Of Green Candy

The Moon Is Made Of Green Candy

b) one tiny candy nonpareil (cake décor or “sprinkle”) for the Moon

Earth Gets Spicy

Earth Gets Spicy

c) two peppercorns or allspice seeds for Earth and Venus

 

Having a Ball with Jupiter

Having a Ball with Jupiter

d) one jacks-size ball (Jupiter)

This jellybean could be Uranus or Neptune

This jellybean could be Uranus or Neptune

e) two jelly beans (or coffee beans) for Neptune and Uranus

 

Saturn represented by a large swirly peppermint

Saturn represented by a large swirly peppermint

f) and a ¾” (19mm) “shooter” marble or a big round piece of candy (also 3/4″ or 19mm) for Saturn.  (It’s just so nice to have something extra-cool and colorful for our most spectacular planet.)

 

 

Total cost: less than a dollar US; ideally, rummaging about an average home or allowing participants to bring contributions should turn up most of these objects for free. To splurge, pick up a whole jar of fresh peppercorns for around $5 and share them out among the students.

2) Eleven inexpensive holders for your objects, with the object names written on them. Empty clear yogurt containers or plastic drink cups work very well (see photos), as the pins can be pushed through the cups and others attached with glue to the cup bottoms…such that the cups then serve as mini-pedestals for the model objects. However, don’t feel bound by guidelines here—a set of index cards will do the job if that’s what you have handy. It does help to secure each object to its support. However, be sure that students can see the actual object clearly so that everyone has a feel for the scale. Cost: as much as 10 cents

3) A few signs printed on regular-sized paper to leave with objects that will be waiting for your return, such as:  “Please Leave This Experiment Undisturbed — (Teacher’s Name).”   Cost: 10 cents

4) Weights to keep each sign from blowing away in a breeze—anything from a handy rock to a water bottle to an actual sports-field marker from your supply closet.   Cost: negligible

5) Your basic first-aid kit and/or other equipment required by local protocols for a field trip.

6) Water as needed (Up to $10 if you need to buy each student some bottled water; negligible if students can bring refillable water bottles.) You may choose to make the walk as short as a half-mile (kilometer) or as long as twice that. For a short walk, you should only need modest supplies; for a long walk, snacks and water will be welcome.

7) A printout of your “Cheat Sheet” for either the English-units or SI-units version of the project Walk to Pluto, Miles or Walk to Pluto, km   (Just click to download the desired document) Whichever measurement system you’re using, it’s just one sheet, front & back, and includes short comments you can make as you take your trek. Cost: 15 cents, if your printer ink is expensive, because it does have colors.

Total cost of essential supplies: normally about a dollar, assuming most items can be gathered at home or borrowed.   For bottled water, if needed, budget an additional 50 cents per student

If you purchase all new supplies, you could spend as much as $40 for a brand-new soccer ball, a jar of nonpareils, a jar of peppercorns, a packet of pins, a jacks game, a bag of marbles with a shooter, and a package of jellybeans.

Interested in more details about the project calculations?  Here are copies of the complete worksheets:  Walk to Pluto Databank, miles and Walk to Pluto Databank, km

(For workbook copies in Excel format, ready for editing, I can send you a copy via Facebook messaging.  Just connect to one of my pages, Pixel Gravity or Cometary Tales.  Say, while you’re there, “like” the page.  Either way, you’ll receive the file in a return message.  The beauty of this approach is that you don’t even need a copy of Excel to use the workbook—Facebook will prompt you to choose whether to open it in Office Online or to download it.  The alternative is to email me via cometary@cometarytales.com.)

 

 

 

 

Marichka Explains Etheric EngineeringMarichka Explains Etheric Engineering

Explain etherics? Hah!

Nobody can explain etheric engineering. Or the stuff that makes it work: aether.

The best anyone can do is describe aether. To our faulty three-plus-temporal-dimension senses, aether is nothing but a dark brownish fluid. It seems to bubble, giving off flashes well into the UV end of the spectrum.

That’s why one’s advised to wear goggles (or install UV-protective mods if you’re likely to encounter the stuff regularly). Relatively cheap, those. Even I have ’em, and you know what my finances are like! If you get the stuff on you (I strongly advise against it!), it tends to adhere.

так.

Is sticky. You don’t want it stuck to you, trust me.

If aether gets loose, you want to corral it fast. Every compartment at risk of an aether spill (that is, any compartment etheric conduit passes through) should be equipped with an aether net. When deployed, it becomes a fine, gauzy web that attracts aether. Not to worry, it’ll draw off whatever’s stuck to you as well as gather up the globules floating in your face. So, no, it’s not a “net” so much as an “attractor.” I’d be happy to argue semantics with you any day.

Don’t get in my face about why it’s pronounced ay-ther in Standard. Open your chem reference, search for (C2H5)2O, and shut up already.

A swril of orange with a black ball at the core, and a bright blue jet

Aether’s the stuff that wormholes tunnel through. So no surprise that aether’s about as safe to play with as your average gravitational singularity. Aether is all places at once. That is, it knows only one where and one when.

The aether in the conduits of my ship is the aether flowing in yours. That’s why our comms people can talk to each other in real time. That’s why skipships don’t get lost, navigating the galactic byways, why the big ships that barge through gate-boosted wormholes don’t crush us as they pass. We’re all floating in the same ocean of aether.

There are…entities…out there who can perceive and manipulate aether directly. Some of them invented devices that make use of it. We lesser beings—humans, our allies, our enemies, our uncanny neighbors—have taken it on ourselves to copy those devices. Nobody knows what happens when you make a mistake copying Ancient etheric devices.

Nobody knows, because nobody comes back from those experiments. I like to think they’re gently transported to a parallel universe, given a kindly lecture on interfering with things they know not of, and sent off to some alt-universe pastoral countryside to learn…I dunno, painting, country dance, noveling, harmless little hobbies.

It’s nicer to imagine that than the alternative. Aether is dangerous stuff. A seemingly innocuous ball of cute fizzy brown goo can happily float straight through your ship’s hull. Try breathing vacuum sometime. Not fun. Not fun at all, no matter how well trained your crew is or how good your mods are.

And that’s just for starters.

So take it from me: don’t mess with aether without proper training. Even then, keep all the tools you might need right handy. You never know when you might need them.

Image Credits:

  1. Detail from cover of “Coke Machine,” by Niki Lenhart.
  2. Artist’s depiction of a black hole at the center of a galaxy. NASA/JPL-Caltech. (Modified for effect)

In certain portions of this timeline, Marichka Zelenskyy (no relation) may be found fixing things at the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. In other portions of the timeline, she is busy elsewhere.

© 2012-2024 Vanessa MacLaren-Wray All Rights Reserved