Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Issun Dilemma

Across the world, Issuns were going extinct! Thousands, perishing! The entire species, in danger!

World leaders agreed: Something Must Be Done. They created a task force to tackle the problem, armed with the finest minds and most advanced equipment the globe had to offer. The task force was given the designation N-00135, and more: such was the importance of their mission that they were to be given supreme, unhindered power, to do everything humanly possible to save the Issuns from extinction.

N-00135 carefully considered the situation for two days, examinating everything currently known about the Issuns. Having looked at the available information, perused it carefully, and analyzed it thoroughly, they suggested to the nations of the world that they deserved a pay raise.

(The task force. Not the Issuns.)

This was accomplished.

Hooray! The day was saved!

Epilogue: N-00135 members went into a wealthy retirement. They seemed quite pleased with themselves.

World leaders continued to lead the world. The next crisis to attract their attentions involved a rare subspecies of lemur. The Marines were sent in! It was all very exciting, and got excellent ratings. So the world leaders got re-elected and everyone was happy.

The Issuns assembled into a strange, human-like colony-structure (like fungi) and wrote a series of bestselling books about evolutionary biology.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Nikolas and the Octopoids

Nikolas was concerned.

He was being menaced!

Not by the octopoids, mind you. They were perfectly peaceful - friendly, even! They were currently helping Nikolas erect a barricade. With their many arms and queer, glowing tendrils, they were quite swift in their work - faster than Nikolas himself!

(What are the octopoids, you ask? Why, they're much like octopuses. They have eight arms, colour-changing skin, and eyes that are the right way around, unlike ours. The only difference is that they migrated to the Pripyat area shortly before 1986, and therefore stand eight feet tall (on average) and are covered in strange, glowing tendrils.)

(Lovely people, really.)

But Nikolas was still quite concerned, being a Nikolas. The main reason for this was the squid. It had been harassing him for some days, provoking his move to take shelter among the noble octopoids. Right now, it was breaking down the barricade in the entrance to the cave.

"All right," Nikolas said, steeling himself for battle. He picked up an aluminium spear in his hand, clumsy in the armoured diving suit with which he had equipped himself. "It'll break through in moments, so we'll all have to mob it at once, or we'll all be eaten. Giant squid do that, you know."


The octopoids fanned out, forming a half-circle around the barricade. Glowing spores drifted from their tendrils. (This meant they were nervous.)


"We attack on three."




Crash - and the squid was in, hideous face clear, tentacles and arms whipping wildly behind!


Nikolas and the octopoids charged, weapons upraised. Their courage was unmatched, even in the face of their abject terror at the sight of the Giant Squid - but then a cry - one single word - halted them in their tracks. (They skidded.)

"Love!" the Squid shouted joyously.

Why, it wasn't a squid at all!

It was a Kelsey!

Who could have guessed?

Nikolas was very embarrased afterwards.

Then they ate scones and hamentashen.

The End!

Friday, March 20, 2009

the return of the nikoulous

10 year ago, niko-las went down to sea to become fisheman of octopusse. he go to store and buy a boat that was 2 times a big of his head. then he buy some string, and a hooke at the end which he tie up. Then he took the straing and wrap it wround this hand, and he thrown into the watter, until some octopusse eats it, then he puled it up. then he repeated this every day, and the takes some to the market to sell it, and one day he becomes very prospero, and he buy a house on the beache, and he sell it at 2 times the price, and he took the money, and he build a big boat. He used this boat to smoke exotick herbes. then he went underground

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nikolas Smoke Marijuana And Has Promiscuous Sexual Intercourse

(By request from Mr. Zhang.)

Once upon a time, there was a great big train.
It was called Theodore.
Now, Theodore wanted to conquer Cuba.
But he knew he'd need a pretext.
Then it came out in the news: the Spanish were imprisoning Cuban rebels in concentration camps and abusing them terribly!

(David: no
tell about
your promiscus
nick: Patience!
All will come in due time.)

This was all the reason Theodore needed.
Now, Theodore was very excited.
He hooted and hissed and made all kinds of noises!
And attracted by the clamour, a bunch of men - mean men, rude men, men who really needed a shave and a shower - climbed right onto Theodore!
(He greeted them politely and called them the "Rough Riders". They didn't mind.)
Then, with one final blow of his steam-whistle, Theodore was off.
He travelled and travelled and finally got all the way to Cuba!
"Right over this hill," he told his passengers.
"We only need to get up this hill, and then we'll be in Havana!"
"Havana!" cried the Rough Riders. "All right! Then we'll be able to smoke Cuban cigars, and go to nightclubs!"
They were very excited by the news.
But the hill was very steep!
It was very tall and not very long - its slope was tremendous!
Theodore was concerned.
Still, he pressed on - for how could he conquer Cuba if he never even got to Havana?
He steamed and tooted and whistled until his boilers glowed red-hot - but he still couldn't get up the hill!
It was too steep!
"Help!" he cried, and with a merry will, the Rough Riders swung right off Theodore - and pushed!
They grunted and sweated, and Theodore pushed and steamed, and - bit by bit - he made it over that darn hill!
(This was the "Charge of the Rough Riders".)

(David: ugh
i knew it
nick: As well you should have.)

Now, Theodore had made it into Havana. All the Rough Riders got off, and Theodore made his big announcement. "Hello!" he said. "I am conquering Cuba! Please give me your respect and fealty."
But hardly anyone paid attention to poor Theodore!
He felt very sad.
One man came up to Theodore, and patted him reassuringly.
"It's all right," he said. "Hey - I was thinking of conquering Cuba, too. Why don't we team up?"
"All right!" Theodore said, his spirits uplifted once more. "What's your name?"
"They call me Fidel Castro," said Fidel Castro, tipping his hat at a rakish angle.
And then they conquered Cuba!
Later, I smoked marijuana and had promiscuous sexual intercourse.
The End!

(David: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaghj)

(nick: success)


Hello, Leigh Alexander!
Hello, Kieren Gillen!
I have muffins!
Wow! You have muffins!
Would you like to eat my muffins?
Oh, I don't know...
They are delicious muffins.
Oh all right then
om nom nom nom
oh no now there are crumbs everywhere!
It is all right, I will use my Roomba
Oh wow you have a Roomba!
Mr. Roomba, will you clean up the muffin-crumbs?
Oh no, it is an evil-roomba! Run away!
Oh hooray it is the good roomba!
Stop the bad guy, Roomba-I! And then clean up the muffin crumbs
Now we can eat muffins any time we like!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Harmonious Concordance

(As in years past, the week of the finals has arrived (in Nikolasland, at least) - so, as the seasons turn and the leaves fall, the posts of Nikolas become short. Forgive him.)

Citizens of the Harmonious Concordance: pay heed. This is an official announcement from the People's Committee for the Forwarding of Minor Purposes, per Diktat Thirteen.

Previous business: the reorganization of the womens' washrooms is proceeding at 96% of its projected optimality potential. We appreciate your assistance, and will therefore unlock butterscotch rations for the next five days. Never cease to Further the Purpose, in ways small or large!

The matter at hand. Our Citizens-At-Large have reported dangerous levels of degenerate activity in the population at large. This is a rise in a specific activity: goat-slapping. It must end.

Statistics indicate that goat-slapping has increased 32767% over the previous quarter. At least 1 goats have been slapped, with known perpetrators including: [null].

This increase is intolerable! All citizens are hereby directed to devote their fullest attentions to the eradication of all goat-slapping, across the entirety of the Harmonious Concordance! To do otherwise is to risk the fate of our civilization.

Failure will be punished by mass enucleation.

People's Committee for the Forwarding of Minor Purposes Automatic Coordinator, signing out.

Remember: Always brush your teeth!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


(With all due credit to the Hon. T.S.G., for subject if not style.)

Oliver was a moose. His attributes, primarily: glossy fur. Big, strong antlers. And an insatiable hunger for clover-leaves. And in that last lay the trouble: for, you see, there wasn't a single clover, anywhere around.

Had this once been the case? Had Oliver once enjoyed the sweet taste of clover, but terribly lost it - perhaps due to the evils of industrialization, perhaps, perhaps? Not at all. He'd never even seen a clover-leaf! But he read about them in a book.

Another attribute: Oliver was quite clever, especially for a moose.

So then. Oliver considered. He really would like some clover to eat. It would be delicious. He could tell!

But, you know, he was pretty happy where he was.

So he never did go looking for any clover.

The end!

nikolas: in 20 yers

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Srijita and Jimmy


10 Her name was Srijita. His name was Jimmy.

20 They encountered one another; their eyes met.

30 They felt nothing, and moved on.


10 They met for the second time at a party.

20 "I know you!" Srijita exclaimed.

35 They spoke for some time.

40 Jimmy and Srijita became friends.


10 Srijita had a boyfriend.

15 She knew him from high-school.

20 Jimmy met him later; they spoke amiably.

30 Jimmy got a girlfriend, later.

35 She didn't like Srijita much.

37 Perhaps that's why the relationship went the way it did.

40 It didn't last.


10 Time passed.


10 Srijita and Jimmy became entangled.

15 Moving with the program.

20 Srijita's old relationship ended.

30 Hormones and feelings and stranger things became entangled.

40 Srijita and Jimmy spoke, late at night.

50 A decision was reached.


10 then they had sex



This has been a Nikolas and David collaboration; try to guess which part was written by which editor!

The Doom of the Demon Princes

The following is speculation on the series The Demon Princes, which Jack Vance finished writing in 1981. I have, thus far, completed three out of the five books in the series; my speculation will be based on that, but will endeavor to avoid 'spoilers' for those who have not read the series. (I believe this can be accomplished.)


The year is roughly 3500 AD, though the Gregorian calendar is no longer in use. Humanity has expanded into the stars; civilization spreads over hundreds of worlds across a hundred star-systems. The reasons for war are undone; living-space and resources are vast and plentiful, and it is easier for a planet that has exhausted its own resources to find and exploit an uncolonized world than to attack their neighbors. There is conflict, tyranny, greed; but only on a smaller scale, a human scale, created by the weaknesses of men, not the necessities of nations. This is life within civilization.

But humanity does not live within civilization alone. Beyond the bounds of the civilized worlds, the so-called Oikumene*, there stretches a vast, sparsely-populated frontier: the Beyond. Lawlessness runs rampant there: slavery, kidnapping, murder, and any of a hundred other crimes accept no punishment. Most of the crimes of the Beyonders are directed towards each-other; but some find their way back to the civilized worlds, to raid and plunder inhabited planets. This is a matter of some concern.

There are three great powers in known space. The first is the Institute: a queer and secretive academic institution, with a twofold purpose. Their members seek knowledge for themselves, and seek to keep knowledge from the rest of humanity. Their mindset is Luddite: if they had their way, interstellar travel would be abolished, and mankind would revert to a utopian, agrarian state. This has not yet occurred.

The second power is the IPCC, a sort of interstellar police force acting outside the control of any government. They have a tremendous hatred for the Beyond, and would destroy it if they could, placing it and all of its inhabitants within the bounds of civilized space: that is, within the IPCC's control. But they have not the power to do so; their attempts to extend into the Beyond have resulted in the formation of tremendously strong reactionary forces, the so-called 'Deweaseling Corps', whose viligance make any IPCC agent's jaunt into the Beyond virtually a suicide mission. So their ambitions, too, remain unfufilled.

The third power - or, perhaps, powers - are the Demon Princes. Five men, some of whom have lived for centuries, and who have divided the Beyond into pieces, each Demon Prince controlling one. Their power and wealth is vast; their evil scaled to match. (And there is no better word than evil for the atrocities the Demon Princes commit.) They share no great love for one-another, but maintain a truce of sort: while they remain in power, no organized venture from civilized space can hope to tame the Beyond.

But they will not remain in power.

Some years ago, the Demon Princes united - remarkably! - for a raid on a small colony world. They enslaved the inhabitants, slaughtered any who would not obey, and stole the rest away into the stars. This might reasonably be expected to provoke some degree of ire from the survivors; but, being enslaved, this mattered little.

Except that at least one person - Kirth Gensen - escaped the Demon Princes. He fled into the hills when the great ships fell from the sky; watched, just a boy, as everyone he had ever known were taken into slavery or killed. Time passed; he trained, becoming expert in the arts of melee combat, subterfuge, and poison, all the while searching for the identities of those who had so terribly wronged him. He became a self-described monomaniac, with the sole purpose in life of killing the Demon Princes. One man - clever, skilled, and resourceful, but still terribly alone - against the leaders of the most powerful criminal organizations in all of human space.

Remarkably, he is succeeding.

One after another - with terrible difficulty, over the span of at least a year's time since he concluded his training and discovered the location of the first - Kirth Gensen has killed three of the five Demon Princes. They were secretive, paranoid men; their organizations had no strong chain of command, and their closest associates often died in the process of Gensen's assassinations. In all likelihood, their holdings are falling into chaos; a vast power vacuum is being created. Whoever seizes it will determine the fate of mankind.

The surviving Demon Princes are the obvious candidates to take up the reins of their former peers' holdings. They are creatures of the Beyond, and have no compunctions against theft; so why would they not take all they could get? Because they are creatures of deceit - and they know that the other Demon Princes were, as well. What if the deaths were feigned; a trick, to get the other Demon Princes to overextend themselves, with lethal consequences? This becomes less likely with each succeeding death - the extent of the cooperation and conspiracy required would be phenomenal - but the Demon Princes do not know that Kirth Gensen is seeking their lives. They have no idea why anyone would attempt to hunt down the Demon Princes, one-by-one - well, why they would have motivation, skill, and courage enough to try the feat - and in the absence of such, all becomes uncertain. They will move slowly; and open up opportunity. (For by the time they would act, it is very likely that Kirth Gensen will have killed them.)

Next is the Institute. They are perhaps the greatest power of all, posessessed of untold knowledge, and utterly unified: were they to seize the wealth of the deceased Demon Princes, it could prove the lever they need to seize final control over the fate of mankind, enforcing their own strange societal-shaping ideas. But they are, fundamentally, a reactionary organization. Academic; bureaucratic; slow. By the time they come to any decision, the matter will be over and done. If they are to achieve their aims - which they may yet - it will be through the slower means through which they have proceeded so far.

So the IPCC is the last great organization which might potentially act on the matter; and their involvement is the most likely of all. They are a large organization, but not nearly so cumbersome in movement as the Institute; they have been looking for an opportunity like this for generations. It is not Kirth Gensen's intent to give the IPCC control over known space, to destroy the Beyond; but by killing the Demon Princes, he may indeed have done just that. Human expansion will slow to a crawl, governed by the IPCC, now ruler of all mankind; the many institutions of the Beyond, alternately evil and simply free, will come to an end. The terrible, magnificent evils of the Demon Princes will give way to the mundane, everyday evil of any tyranny; all across the stars. In all likelihood, this will be the future of mankind, thanks to the actions of Kirth Gensen.

Unless - perhaps - Gensen does something more. For in the process of his attacks upon the Demon Princes, he has acquired a tremendous amount of wealth - the result of one specific event, which I will not go into further detail here. Ten billion SVU**; the wealth of worlds. Kirth Gensen invested it in various ways, leaving himself with a 'meagre' million SVU per day for a stipiend; but if he wished to, he would have the power to take up the power the Demon Princes no longer hold. And after all - he is the person most familiar with their organizations, now that they are dead; he is the only one who can be truly certain of their deaths. Kirth Gensen is not a man of ambition; he is not a leader of men, by nature. But - when and if he succeeds in killing the remaining Demon Princes (as seems increasingly likely) - he will be in need of a new purpose. And what better purpose than to become a power over all the worlds of the Beyond; a shaper of the fate of mankind?

It's a thought.

*an abbreviation, for something along the lines of 'Ordered Interstellar Community'.
**'Standard Value Units'. Space money.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Walrus-Bears and the Interactions

Fact: Bears are awesome.

Fact: Walruses are only somewhat less awesome. (Also, they have tusks.)

What could possibly go wrong with combining them?

Well, firstly, you can't just 'combine things' like that. Genetics is a really complex science! Amazingly complex. You might be able to combine a horse and a donkey - though you might not get exactly what you wanted out of the combination (unless you wanted a mule, I guess?), but you can't really get much farther away than that, genetically, without having a great deal of difficulty making combinations. This is especially true of complex life-forms; it's much easier to transplant genes from bacteria, say, to multicellular organisms than from one multicellular organism to another. There are too many potential side effects!

But I'm rambling, and beginning to make no sense. (Unheard of, I know.)

So let's make a long story short:

The horde of cybernetically augmented walrus-bears ate Toronto.


That might've been too short.

But trying to add the backstory now (especially the bit about the platypi and the spider-goats) would probably just make things worse.

Ah well.

Happy International Nikolas Day!

Wellsley and his Marvelous Notion

"Well, what's this then, Wellsley?" Professor Otto I. Cip asked, swinging the door wide open as he entered. "I hope you've - "

He stopped. His eyes opened wide.

"Great God's Guns," he gasped. "You've built a time machine."

"Yep!" Wellsley agreed. "It moves forward at the rate of one second per second. It's a miracle of modern science!"

Professor Otto looked at him.

"I thought we'd agreed that you were going to build me a time machine," he said. "I would give you one month's time, and when I came down here next, I would see a time machine."

"Sure," Wellsley agreed. "We both upheld our end of the bargain."

"But what's that, then?" the Professor asked. "It's large, ornate, complex, and occupies the vast majority of the room. If it's not the time machine, then...?"

"It's a fluid-state computer," Wellsley told him. "I finished the time machine by the end of the first week, and have been spending the rest of my time on this. I've gotten it up to ten kiloflops!"

"Oh," he continued nonchalantly, "The time machine's in the corner."

It was small; unimposing. The Professor entered it with some trepidation.

"How does it work?" he began to ask; then it activated.

"My god!" the Professor cried, staggering out of the machine, his legs limp. It seemed as though no time had passed at all; yet he remembered it all, his two-year-long odessey through history! "Amazing! But - no! The butterfly effect! How can you still be here?" he demanded of Wellsley. "How can you still exist, as you were?"

Wellsley shrugged.

"But - you have changed!" the professor declared. "Look - this thing you're working on - it's not at all the sort of computer that became popular in my timeline! It's a divergence - a sign that I accidentally changed my own history! I'm doomed!"

Wellsley decided that he should probably explain things.

"Well, first," he said, "Water-computers aren't really popular in this timeline, either. It's just a student project. (I'm hoping it'll get me some action with the lady-engineers, as a bonus.)"

"And second?" Professor Otto asked, politely ignoring the parenthetical.

"Well, you never left this timeline," Wellsley said. "You never even went back in time. The time machine just gives you the subjective experience of travelling through time - memories and all! - without actually, you know, violating the laws of causality and all that. A marvelous job, if I do say so myself."

"So, where's my money?"

Wellsley did not get his money.

Nikolas-Game: Status update!

So, how's my game going these days? That one I was programming in Python, for which I gave a link to an early version some time ago, and later a link to an early version of the map editor? (In each case accompanied with short, yet delightful, stories.

I'm glad you asked!

Matters have proceeded quite far in both cases. At the time of my previous post, the game itself had progressed to the point of including:

  • Units you could command to move, attack, or follow, which would shoot at each-other automatically
  • Sound (not music)
  • Explosions

Since then, I've:
  • Changed the way in which weapons work, so that units can reload weapons, switch weapons, and even pick up new weapons, (somewhat) intelligently responding to their circumstances
  • Added many new types of projectiles, such as instant-hit rounds (simulating things like railgun-rounds and lasers), homing missiles, and the mysterious 'swirlers'
  • Added new weapons and units to use the aforesaid projectiles - like the Super Rocket-Turret, and the Invincibot (who is only slightly invincible)
  • Added unit names (randomly generated!) and portraits
  • Switched the game to 3D (though it still displays on a 2D canvas)
  • Added terrain, including collision for both units and projectiles
  • And a number of other bug-fixes and improvements.
"So marvelous!" you cry. "Surely he cannot have so much to say for the map editor!" We'll see about that.
  • Doubled terrain resolution
  • Added automatic .gif exporting on saves (still a work in process)
  • Added noise generator
  • Added 'snow' terrain
  • Fixed a rather startlingly inefficient function
Huh. I guess you were right, hypothetical naysayer.

But still - so much accomplished? How much can possibly remain to achieve?

The world remains. Imagine - victory conditions! (Campaigns! Music!) Pathfinding algorithms! (Aeroplanes! Zeppelins!) Multicomponent units! (Tanks! APCs! Battleships!) And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Though I really need to get pathfinding done first. It's going to be tricky. (C.f. this recent post.)

In any case - thanks for all the support and offer of help! I really appreciate it; this project has been immensely satisfying for me, and it would have never gotten as far as it has without you. (With the exception of the Hon. Rebert.)

Just wait until next time; you will be stunned to death by how nifty things will have become by then. I may have even gotten terrain shadows - or - gasp - 3D rendering working!

(Also, I may at some point get this thing into an executable, so that could theoretically run on a computer which is not this one.)

(No promises.)

P.S.: Add your own requested features in the comments!

The Rainbow Bridge

"I would destroy it, if I could," Madeline noted.

"Why?" Jacques asked, startled. "It's magnificent! It's beautiful! It took ten thousand men working for ten years to build it!"

"And now it is insurpassable," Madeline said. "Every architect looks up to it and thinks: "How could I ever make anything half so grand as this? How could I ever compare to its creator, the genius Armand? It is the apex, the completion of our profession, with all that entails. It casts no shadow, yet we are always engulfed it in all the same"

"So you would wreck it," Jacques said.

"I would burn it to the ground and pee on the ashes," Madeline told him. "So it is just as well that I shall never be given the power to do so."

Jacques took a moment to collect his thoughts.

"All right," he said. "So - just to remind us of what we're doing. We're off to Saint-Sylvie-of-the-Cross, there to survey a site for a new church. We'll do that, we'll finish our other business there, and we head back. Right?"

"You think that because I confessed that I hate the Rainbow Bridge, I'm going to give up on architecture forever," Madeline said.

Jacques made no response.

"It's not a new dream," Madeline said. "I've been thinking about it for months and months - from before it was even completed. But - I already knew I wasn't the best, wasn't going to be the best. Never going to build the next Fallingwater. It's just - galling, to be faced with it, so bluntly. That's all."

"You know, Fallingwater wasn't structurally stable," Jacques replied.

"Really?" Madeline said, intrigued. "Back at Uni, I took a class that seemed to be half about it, and I never heard that."

"Oh yes," Jacques affirmed. "It's a fairly recent result, from maybe two, three years ago. The guy doing the renovations re-did the numbers, based on the orignal plans, and found that the cantilevers were unstable - as Lloyd designed them, that is."

"Fascinating," Madeline murmured. She looked up at the Rainbow Bridge again; perhaps there was a thin smile on her face. Or perhaps there was not.

The travellers arrived at Saint-Sylvie-of-the-Cross; did the surveying, which found fairly favourable terrain for the erection to come; completed their other task. Then they returned, five days after they'd set out. Thick smoke wafted over the horizon as they drew near.

To the end of his days, Jacques would wonder: was Madeline somehow behind the fire that burned the Rainbow Bridge? Surely not. She was with him when the fire occurred, a full day's journey away from the city. The authorities ruled it an accident, a combination of a careless workman, a storeroom of flammable chemicals at the base of one of the main spans, and inadequate fireproofing on certain of the structural elements. And even if she could have planted some kind of timed firebomb, somehow, before they left; would she have? Would she have, for all her talk?

Surely not.

Jacques never asked.

And Madeline never answered.

Regarding W. D., Edsger

The cacti walked.

Their spines were long; their platyclades were thick, possessing a dark green hue. Great clouds of dust rose from behind them; their ranks were so vast as to resemble an army.

"Hm," Dr. Washvanpelt said, watching one of the cacti neatly avoid a rock. "Quite decent pathfinding. But what happens when I do this?"

He arranged a series of logs so as to block a large area, and then stood well back.

"Ha!" the good doctor laughed, watching the cacti bump into each-other and press themselves uselessly against the barrier as they slowly, inefficiently moved around it. "Pathetic! I could code a better algorithm in my sleep!"

"But could you write one that would efficiently handle ten-thousand cacti moving at a time?" came a question from behind. "When you're pathfinding for half-a-dozen units, the efficiencies are quite different - there is a necessity to economize on these scale!"

"Economy, yes, yes," Dr. Washvanpelt said dismissively, watching the cacti. "But this behavior - it's worse than poor. It's positively inexcusable! Surely you can have simpler algorithms operating for cacti moving without problems and more complicated ones for those which have encountered trouble, which you'd downgrade again only if too many began to encounter obstacles and overtaxed the..."

"Wait," he said.

"You're not my grad student."

"Indeed I am not," came the hissing reply; and there was something very cold against Dr. Washvanpelt's throat. "And I think you are in no place to criticize my algorithms: for your pathfinding was very poor indeed when it led you here, Doctor, to the place you will die."

"Why?" the doctor wailed, watching the cacti come nearer and nearer. "Why would you do this thing?"

"You should not have meddled in the affairs of Opuntia," cactus-Dijkstra hissed vengefully in Dr. Washvanpelt's ear;

and for the sake of the more tender of our readers, who might easily be offended or distraught at the graphic scenes which followed, our tale ends here.


This is Iji.

Iji is a platformer. It's closest to the old 2D Metroid games - you jump around, shoot enemies with an ever-growing collection of weaponry, hunt to find hidden rooms and items. (There are a lot of those.) The big differences come in the structure - it's a fairly linear platformer, moving you between distinct stages, although (in the later stages especially) the areas grow large enough to allow you a significant amount of freedom to roam - and the RPG elements. As you kill enemies and collect 'nanites'* (mostly, though not always, harvested from said enemies' corpses), you 'level up', letting you advance any one of a wide range of statistics. You could improve health, or attack, the affects of which are fairly self-explanatory. Or you could improve 'assimilate' - which lets you store more ammo - or 'strength', which lets you kick down tougher doors and tougher foes. Or you could improve 'crack', which lets you hack more advanced doors (and enemies!) and synthesize superior weapons; or you could improve either of the weapon skills, which let you acquire fancier and better weapons' from your opponents' arsenals. You get one and only one point per level, and no more than four levels per stage. The stages can be quite long.

What I am saying here is: there are tough choices to be made.

So - mechanically, as I described above, the game is quite good. There are a few, fairly small problems; you only move at one speed (which can make backtracking a small ordeal), and you can't fire while crouched or jumping; the latter, especially, being a significant hindrance. These do not overweigh the good in the game design - and it does so much right! - so if there were no plot at all to the game, I would still recommend that my reader have at least a brief look at it.

But, of course, that is not the case.

The key things about the game's plot are these:

  • It's somewhat sterotypical - especially at first -but very well-written, and moves beyond stereotype fairly quickly.
  • It forks.
There's not much more I can say about it without spoiling things. The nature of plot. But it's quite good, trust me.

But perhaps the plot isn't what I meant at all. Here is the thing: the game evokes emotion in me. Not rampant joy - 'Ha, ha, I have slain you all, monsters!' Ah - sometimes that, though rarely. More often, I feel - pity. Regret.


Because I know that, for all the many weapons the game grants you, there is a choice not to kill; the game can be won without ending a single life, an achievement the game recognizes. Because I have this choice, and because of the journals scattered around the levels, giving some element of personality to my endlessly butchered foes - my choice to kill has meaning. There is a weight to it - a rather evil weight, to be honest - that simply does not exist in a simpler game.

And something more - perhaps a spoiler -

At the beginning of the game, the protagonist is extremely reluctant to kill. With nearly every enemy death she causes, she cries out in some way - "Why?" or a sob.

As the kill count rises, she falls silent. And then, eventually, she begins almost to celebrate the killing - "Just die!" she shouts.

She is losing her humanity - becoming a sort of killing machine. And it was my choice that determined that.

That affected me.

In any case! It's a very good game, and well worth a look, especially as it's free. Download from here. Windows only, sadly.

I started on Hard, but this was probably a poor choice. I would advise others to begin on Normal, especially as the manual hints that certain unlockable-things are only to be found on that difficulty level.

Beware the grass-mud-horse.

*This is probably the game's greatest weakness: technobabble. I mean, really. Nanites?

It's only really intrusive at the beginning, though; there's less reference to the nano-nonsense later.

In compensation, there are laser-daggers.

Nikolas Essays (to Save the Day)

Nikolas rode through the snow-filled mountain pass, his trusty grass-mud-horse Crabkiller as swift and silent as the wind. "Ride, Crabkiller!" Nikolas urged. "Ride! We must be through the pass before nightfall."

The weather was cold; the air's chill, carried on a stiff mountain breeze, seemed to pierce directly through the many layers of scarves and thick clothing Nikolas wore. He shivered, put his head to Crabkiller's neck for the warmth; then, startled, he looked up. Had he seen something just there, masked by the snow carried on the wind? He had. It was a guard!

Armoured in blue, the guard stood square athwart the center of the pass. A long polearm of some sort - perhaps a pike - occupied his hands; this he turned sideways as Nikolas approached, blocking the trail. Matching his helmet admirably, the guard's face was also a lovely shade of blue; but this did not stop him from calling out in a deep, booming voice. "You Shall Not Pass!" he proclaimed; and Nikolas, feeling it to be the path of politeness, obligingly came to a halt just short of the guard's pike.

"Why?" Nikolas asked.

The guard examined him for some time. It is possible that this question had never been asked of him before.

Crabkiller tossed her head and snorted. Snow was starting to collect above her nostrils.

"I don't like you," the guard finally decided.

Nikolas was somewhat perplexed. "I've known you for a span of thirty seconds, now, and said one word prior to this," he said. "What possible reason could you have for this distaste?"

The guard considered the matter again.

"I don't like your face," he clarified.

Nikolas frowned. "That is a remarkably poor reason," he said. "Nonetheless: let me attempt to mollify you. I notice that you seem to be suffering from some form of hypothermia; and I currently possess a surplus of scarves, certainly far in excess of your tally of zero. I will give you one, and you will kindly allow me to pass."

"No," the guard replied.

"Fine," Nikolas sighed. "Two. But that's the limit of my kindness."

"I want your horse," the guard said.

"What?" Nikolas said. "You can't be serious."

"I want your horse," the guard repeated.

"Look," Nikolas said reasonably. "Firstly, Crabkiller is not a horse. She's a grass-mud-horse, a species of alpaca. Secondly, she's my only means of transportation; were I to give her to you, I would be forced to travel on foot, utterly dooming my mission. (I'm carrying a message that will save the Kingdom, by the way.) Thirdly, you don't even have any use for her. You're a guard. You stand around all day. What would you even do with her?"

The guard was unmoved.

"All right," Nikolas sighed. "Enough. I want you to consider some facts. You see your pike there?"

"Yeah," the guard grunted.

"How long would you say it is?" Nikolas asked.

The guard looked at it.

"About ten feet," he decided.

"It's closer to twelve, but whatever," Nikolas said obligingly. "Now, let's look at this path. About how wide is it?"

The guard looked around. His eyes widened. "Hey!" he cried and turned back to Nikolas -

- but Nikolas was already gone, off and away on noble Crabkiller's back.

Yay for Nikolas!

Now he'll save the day!

The ghoste of Nikkouloulse

One night aboarde the steame shippe Lussitinia, There was a strange man whos name was Nickoulas, and he wore specktacles, and a darke grey bearde, and long eye-browes, and a vest upon his bosome. Next to him was a dressre, which was laden with trincketes, and hobble-hobbes, but the moste treasured posseision was a compasse, which was made of a strange metal, given to him by his comrade in the War, and who told him that it was from the North Landes, and that it conteyned magick powers. 

Suddenle, upon the rocking of the shippe in the night due to the moone's strange prowesses, Nikous awoke suddenly, and he was drenched in a colde sweate, much like that of an oignoin. He glanced at his pocket-watch, and he saw that it was foure in the mourning, hardly a tyme to go to the biscuite-hole, but never the less, he ventured out of his bedde, for lacke of the sleepe in his eyes. He navigated across the tourtous pathes of the shipps decke, until he reached the librarie, whereupon he commenced his travailes, which entailed a most elabourate diagressione of his life, as a traveller, and a marchante. However, the ills which shook him to the bone forbade any such werke, and, seeking to balance his humours, went to the out skirtes of the galleye, on which he gathered some sausages, and some hard tack, and some millet pouder, and he ground them up into a paste, which he moulded into ingotes, and which he boiled in hott watter, and which he ate with mustarde, which he pilffered from the cup board. 

It was at this pointe that a most strange thing happened to Mr Nikkoulase, so strange such that were I to describe it to you nowe, you should hardly believe itte, being a man of rationel means, and logickal thingking, and I should not blame you for that, being a gentle-man. Instead, I shall account only was establisshed to be true by latter investigitators, and also what was discouered upon analysing the contents of Mr Nikols note-booke. Indeede, it is true that upon that very nighte, the captaine of the shippe noted a severe rocking of the maste upon the houre of five, so too did the man-upon-the-deck, and the night-watch-man, and did the cheife praetor concurr, so we may establiche it as the truthe. However, it is at this pointe that Mr nikoulasse did sweare upon the bybel, that he did see, by his very eyes, a phantasm, or an apparitione, if you wille, that was most manifested upon the corridores to the vessel, and which he said to irradiate with a strange lighte, which was purpel, and bleue, and strange in its eminense. 

The forme of this emininse was that of his depareted comrade, Mr Kesslere, who was slaine at the battle of Inglethorpe, and who, on all accountes, was a skilled spear-man, indeede, the recorde states that he was slaine by a barbarien, or a brigande, from the mountaines, who wielded an axe, which is stronge to the speare, by the currente modele of battel. The recordes of Mr Nikolas reportes that the ghoste of Mr Kesler did speake to him, and he said to take the compasse from his roome, and to turn the diales and knobbes upon it in a very specifick fashion, which is far to complexe to detaile here, however, Mr Nikous complied willinglie, and when the werke was finished, there was no visible effect of his labour, and the phantome of Mr Kessler disapeared as sundelny as he came aboute, and in a puffe of purpel smock. 

The incidente was dismised as a wilde dreame by all those abouad the vessle, and Mr Nikoulas thought little of itte for the next few whiles. However, one nighte, as he was werking on his monlouges, he noticed something strange about the compasse, and the waye the diales and knobbes were arranged upon the surface, as if they spelled a massage, and he traced the lines in the sande, and he looked hard at them, and he saw the foundationes of logick, and the equationes of the al-gibres, and he re-named himselfe the visconute of Boole, and he called the equationes the Boolean al-gibres, and he became very wealthy and he drank porte wine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Kronikel of Desmonde: Chaptorre 40

Desmonde wasse bern in the lande that wee know nowe as Isse-launde, tho 't was once a greate clearing the the bushe, whence inhabeted many savage trybes, one of which was the Trybe of Ni-Ko-Las, who ate the bounes of small birdes, but, that is besydes the pointe, indeede, it is the tymes after Isse-launde was inhabited by Gentle-menne, that is the most interesting, and yea, it shalle be discussed in lengthe henseforthe, in this mannere.
In a tyme, before Desmonde weielded the greate Sweorde Durendal, againste the Ratte-Kinge, and use it to cutte off his haires, and his moustaches, and his bearde, he was a man of Greate Learninge, most notably of the rhetorick, and the oratorie skilles, and indeede, he was a estudiante of the locale universitie, and also was there the Kinge Kesslere, who was a small man in That Tyme, and also the younge Nikoulasse, who was unclean, and smelled of the chambre potte. 
Thusly, did Desmonde attend many Classes, and Seminaries, and discussiones, and debates, and quorums, and effigies, and effusiones, and egestiones, and were there divers peoples in those locationes, and did he speake oft to themme, and did he often have dinner parties, in which he would go upon the earthe, and hear the steppes of a lizarde, and sette a trape upon the earthe, and capture the lizarde within, and cut the lizard into smalle pieces, and boil them in hotte watter, and cutte it uppe further, and serve it with salte, and pepper, and juniper barries, and the parties were very populaire, especially with the younge ladies of the towne, and indeed, on one occasion Desmon was tempted to take of of those yonunge ladies up to his bedchambre, and copulate with her, but he was a kinghte, and he should not do such a thing, for it would staine his honour, but, this is besides the pointe.
Yea, one daye, upon the learning-tyme of Desmonde, when the willowe trees shook peasefully, and violently againste the winde, did Desmond sit in his chambre most disconcerted, and he could not imagine the raison why, and he pondered upon his scrolles of the byble, and he remembered the intimate encountre that he had with the nunne, who was from a exotick lande, and who spoke in tongues, and who endeavoured to teach Desmonde the tounges on oft occasines, and who was most blessed with earthlie beauteie, and who was plasante, and kinde, and who, despyte this, Desmonte thoughte of whom was a monke, and not a nunne, at firste, and in which she was very close to taking himme up to the bedchambres and copulating with himme, and the thought of this excited himme, and he stirred in his troussers, however, he resolved not to let his minde wondere, and indeed, he remembered that he had forgoutten his mail-shirte upon the lecture halles of the monastery, and he resolved himme selfe to retreive itte.
And so did he go upon to the monastery, and did he looke upon every shelfe, butte alase, 't was notte there, and he did become most upsette, and distressed, and did he take his dagger, and stabbe the walles repeatedly, and did he consume a possume, and a stick of dried beef meate, and a spoone of larde, and did he curse the divel, and his divers trycks upon the soule, and his decetefulle nature. 
Thusly he resolved him selfe to venture upon the cave of Ke-Se-Ler, who was inhabited by a trybe of savage men, who ate the bounes of smalle birdes, but that is besydes the pointe, and he wente in, and he saw crystales which were azure, and turqiousse, upon the walles of the cave, and upon the floore, such that it glowed with a bisare glowe, and hisse eyes were shined, and it was most extraorniady, and then he entered the sanctumme of the cave, whereupon there was a pedestale, and there was a mail-shirte, and it was made of crystales of azure, and turquoisse, and it glowed with a bisare glow, and Desmonde reached out to picke it uppe, however, there, beheined the poedestal was the Ratte-Kinge Nikoulasse, who saide unto himme, thou shalt not tacke the maile-shirt, for it is myne, and I shall weare 't to cause musch paine and suffereninge. 
Then Desmonde tooke the swerorde Durendall, which was in his pockete, and he slay the Ratte-Kinge Nikoulasse, and he take the Shirt from the pedestale, and he wear it proudly.
Then he wente back to the habitte of the nunne, and he showe her the maile-shirt, and she was very impresed, and she took him upp to the bedchambre, to copulate with himme, but Desmonde, being a kinghte, said that he should not doe thisse, for it would staine his hounour, however, he did aske her to drawe many pictures of her selfe, which were lewde, and lasciviouse in nature, such that he may take of them, and enjoy them in his house, and she did such, and it was goode. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Sweatshirt and the Night

Synopsis written beforehand:

A man attempts to retrieve his sweatshirt from the physics-lab; it ends poorly.

And the events shortly preceding said missive and continuing thereafter.

The air grew chill.

Nicolas looked about for his sweatshirt.

But it was nowhere to be seen.

"How curious!" he remarked and stood up to look. He looked on his coat-hooks; he looked on his bed, above and below his covers. He looked on the floor, he looked on the closet-shelves, he looked in every place he could think of. But the sweatshirt was nowhere to be seen.

Now a dread apprehension overtook him. "I recall," he mused, "Noting that my sweatshirt was not upon me when I departed from my physics lecture, two hours ago. I took a quick look about me and, seeing it not, departed; but perhaps it was there after all. I shall have to sortie out into the night and - hoping that the lecture-hall is not locked, and that my sweatshirt has not been purloined or misapprehended in the time since I left it - retrieve my belongings."

He set out.

The darkness was not overly profound; lights glittered, from the white glow of residential-windows to the yellow glow of street-lights to the blue-and-red, shifting pattern of lights from the giant neon signs facing the great Warren Mall. ("Mall" in the sense of an open space. It's quite pleasant. The neon signs are art, you see. Art.) Nikolas biked steadily uphill, occasionally seeing other travellers wandering the dark. He conceived of a tale in which he mistook his own shadow for a pursuer, perhaps inspired by the excess of cheese he had consumed that night at supper; but he dismissed it.

Then he arrived at his destination. Dismounting his bike, he hurried into the lecture hall, finding it lit and unlocked. Eerily, all was as he had left it; trash littered the aisles, the professor's scribblings still covered the chalkboards. Nikolas went to the seat in which he has resided - looked - looked again -

- there was nothing.

Nicolas, indulging himself, swore repeatedly.

Then another thought came upon him. He knew that he'd worn his sweatshirt earlier that day; but he had another class not too long before his physics lecture, a class on logic. And thinking about it further: in the intervening time, when Nikolas had gone to supper, he had taken his book under his arm, not in his sweatshirt-pocket, as he would have were his sweatshirt still on his body. The recollection was as a thunderbolt; and the hall in which his logic-class was held was not too far off. Again, Nicolas set out.

The doors were locked.

Again he indulged his baser impulses, cursing most foully, shaking his fist in the air. "The lights are on!" he cried. "Why should one lecture hall be locked while another stands yet open!" Having nothing better to attempt, he went to a side entrance, this one even brighter lit than the other. He reached for the door-handle -

- and it swung wide open, revealing a brightly-lit classroom, entirely empty.

Nikolas ventured in. He was somewhat trepidatious, concerned about whoever else might be using this place (why were the lights so bright? And what was that noise he heard - or thought he heard?), but his mood swiftly changed to one of rejoicing. There it was - draped across the teacher's podium like a ceremonial garment - his sweatshirt - his, his, not stolen at all!

Swiftly, Nicolas grabbed it up. He considered matters for a moment - his own pockets, which contained solely a cell-phone and a wallet - the table before him, which seemed to be piled with essays, one demarked with NSFW. (Nikolas was intrigued, but reluctant to dally reading it.) His eyes darted forward; moving to the chalkboards, he wrote a message upon them. "To whoever put my sweatshirt on the podium," it began, "Thank you!" Beneath this, he added after a moment's hesitation: "(I was quite worried.)" Then he was off again, into the night.

But now, he had his sweatshirt with him.

Fishgun Travails

The adjuntant kneeled before his superior, and proceeded to wail hideously. "We are undone!" he moaned. "The fish-guns pound relentlessly and destructively, the abalone-cavalry carve a path through our ranks like off-white scythes - of death! We are undone!"

"Have courage, young Aftlieutenant," the superior said consolingly, his chin jutting firmly outwards. "This battle is not over yet. Behold: my secret weapon!"

There was a moment's pause.

"Oh, right," the superior remembered. "I don't actually have a secret weapon." He shrugged. "Ah, well. Run away!"

They scampered. Just like little mice. So adorable!

Unfortunately, this didn't work very well either.

"So we meet again, cowardly Kupo-general," the enemy commander said with a booming laugh. "But this will be the final time!"

"No!" the adjunant cried out. "You can't!"

The enemy commander bit off the Kupo-general's head.

He chewed.

He swallowed.

"Mm," he said with relish. "That was delicious!"

And he and his fish-army lived happily ever after.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Plans (for Apparel)

Those of you who know me may be aware that I once wore a fedora about town; a lovely little item, purchased on a whim at an REI (it was on clearance!), which I wore steadily until it vanished into the cavernous depths of our home. It has been nearly a year since I have seen it; so perhaps it is time to seek a replacement.

But why just that?

Why not more?

Any gentleman knows that the fedora does not go alone. Indeed, any person who attempted such a dreadful violation of common sense would be arrested for public indecency! Many clothes have a natural complement: the T-Shirt goes with the Shorts, the Slacks go with the Buttoned Shirt, etc, etc, ad infinitum. So then: what is the fedora's natural complement? The answer is intuitively obvious: it is the trenchcoat.

But that is not the end of it. Now let us imagine me: bold Nikolas, beardedly standing atop a high hill. His hat is in hand, his trenchcoat flutters in a stiff breeze. Surely he strikes a noble figure, even more than he does now; but there must be something more. Something is missing. "What is it?" you cry in desperation. "Tell me, tell me; I cannot bear my ignorance for even one moment longer!"

Generously, I permit your enlightenment:

I must also have sunglasses.

"Shades," if you will.

For on this subject - the manner of my new dress code, which I shall adhere to forwith, and which shall bring unbounded joy to me in every respect, I may only say this:

My future looks bright!

(The preceding link is very strange. Be warned. But do not shy away.)

The Hon. Dr. Zhang's Hon. Physics Tale

i will tell you
a physics

Do, do!

one day
in the land
of nikolas land
nikolas went to class
and the teacher was like
that german guy

(This bit is based on real life! Look, he's got his own web-site!)

and he said
you need to know
about the static

(Here he means 'static equilbria'. This is correct.)


(This is not.)

suspension bridge is the best kind
that is all you need to know
class is dismised

(A very typical class period for me!)

but niokolals was not satisfied
with this
he was
and he need to know how
to build bridge

(I'm not quite sure that I'm that kind of engineer.)
(Obviously, I need to know how to drive trains.)

so he go to physic department
and he went into like
the office
and there were a hot young womon

(How startling! Everyone knows there are no women of any sort in Physics.)

and like
she was professeur

(Excellent spelling! Very Romantic.)

but like
she was only out of
graduate schoul
for like
1 yerar
and like
she was hot
nikolas did not notice this
he is

(Okay, this characterization of me is completely accurate. It is the curse of being engineer.)

he came up to her
and he said
i am engineer
i need to know hot to make breadge
so she said
well you can ceom into my office hours
and we can talk about it

(I mentally groaned when I read this. But in a good way. You know. Like how some movies are so bad they're good? It's like that.)
(Still in a good way.)

nikolas looked like this

(There is a nikolas for every occasion, I suppose!)

so he went
into the office
of professeur
and like
she was nacked

(Good call. That might have been coming on a bit too strong. I should have been frightened right away!)

she was wear
he said
if i am bridge
how is there forces on me
to behave

(I assume that I'm emulating my German professor's speech patterns here. It makes sense.)

and he went up on his back
and so he was sticking his steomock
up in the air
a bridge
to demonstrate

(This is how engineers demonstrate everything. Naturally, there's a strong cross-over between skilled engineers and skilled contortionists.)
(My father can tell you all about it - he's a veteran engineer, after all. A master of bridges and trains.)

and professeur
i will show you
and she sit on top
of him
but like
she acdeintaly touch
his peins
and he wa saroused

(Perfectly natural.)

and he said
he fell own
because he was shochek

(Also because he was not a suspension bridge, which is the strongest kind! See, it's a callback.)

and she land on top of him
and then like
they had sex
the end

(What a plausible and satisfying conclusion!)

Yet another masterpiece of modern literature, from our very own Prof. Zhang. Give him a hand of applause, ladies and gentlemen. It's not every day that you get something like this.

(Even if he only does write about sex.)

Shadow of Intent

An old woman sits at a sputtering fire, her disciples at her feet. Her face is shrouded in darkness.

"What is life?" she asks.

"What are we doing here?'

"The philosophers debate. Some say that we were put here by some demiurge, a δημιουργός, shaped to perform Its divine will. Others argue that there is no such thing; that we are made and molded only by natural, impartial forces, alone in a universe utterly uncaring about our existence."

"This does not matter."

"What matters is life as we live it. So I ask again: What is life?"

"Some would simplistically say, 'Life is as we make it.' We may choose to be farmers, or merchants, or acolytes to a strange old woman who rambles on endlessly about subjects that will put food in no-one's belly. Save for that last, each has its own route to personal prosperity, or at least subsistence; that latter being all that is really needed. This is wrong."

"Others will say, 'Life is beyond our control.' They will point to the many queer and extraordinary things that have happened to men, some even of their own experience. Paupers have stumbled upon hidden fortunes, and become kings; lightning has struck from a blue sky; crucial battle plans have been found carelessly in the middle of the road, and changed the fate of nations. Even in everyday life, any number of extraordinary things shape our existence: we may come down with illness, meet a friend (or an enemy) by chance, fall in love. This may be the action of a supernatural force (deities or devils), the workings of fate, or pure and undiluted luck; but either way, in this philosophy, our life is utterly beyond our own control. This is wrong."

"A demonstration. Disciple to my left, raise your arms, and then lower them. You see? You plan, and your plans are made reality."

"Now, disciple on my right. Raise your arms, and then lower them. You see? You planned, but your plans were not made reality; I seized your arms and immobilized them. This was something beyond your control."

"What is life?"

"We plan, we act. The results are sometimes, even often, not as we intend them. But they are still different from what would have happened if we had chosen differently. You may walk into the street, attempting to cross it, and be struck and killed. This is not your intent! But were you to go back, and choose to cross at another intersection, you would suffer no such gruesome death. Your actions determine what you see. They may not do so directly, or in a form that you recognize; they are twisted, diffracted through a maze as complex as the environment around you. But the results are still yours to own."

"So, I will finally give you my answer:"


The Imperial warship Shadow of Doubt cruised through the waters off Trivandrum, green-and-black flag flying high. A small floatilla cruised behind it: a crescent of lesser warships, surrounding an even larger assembly of troop ships. Their guns were loaded; their sails were trimmed for battle. In short: they anticipated trouble.

But none appeared.

The hours wore on; the waves moved endlessly onwards. The commanders of the fleet grew restless; they sent semaphore-signals back and forth, then messengers in row-boats, then at last came to the decision to meet aboard the Imperial flagship, the Shadow of Doubt. Their heavily-laden boats cast dark shadows into the water as they converged.

Far beneath the water, giant creatures stirred; much like turtles, but the size of a frigate, and with queer, metal-and-glass bubbles mounted at the neck of their shells. Men inside the bubbles looked up, pointed; the turtles rose.

The Shadow of Doubt was struck from underneath; began, slowly, to sink; then snapped in half and sank rather more rapidly. The entirety of the Imperial command died in moments; without them, the rest of the fleet panicked, began to fire wildly, and fled in every direction. The carnage was abominable. The world changed.


"Life is the shadow of intent."

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Hot Ojmons

Clad in dark rags, the servile-caste worker slumped his way into the Archraja's palace, ignored by the smartly-uniformed guards drilling out front. He made his way through the wide, well-lit, sumptuous corridors of the palace; until a steward saw him. Furious, the steward cast foul curses at the servile, demanding his name - which the servile gave as Rajpal - and hustling into the servants' passages before any high-ranking noble saw him. Reprimanding him harshly, the steward assigned Rajpal to dishwashing in a nearby kitchen; after seeing him (rather clumsily) begin the task, the steward departed - promising an eventual return to judge Rajpal's success - and shortly thereafter, so did Rajpal.

Now he walked briskly, carrying himself with a different air, holding a wrapped package (which he had purloined from the kitchen) under his arm; other servants flattened themselves along the walls of the cramped servants' passages as Rajpal went by, sensing in him the air of a Man on an Important Errand - no doubt in the employment of some powerful mover within the palace, whose purposes were best left unhindered for any servant desiring to retain his or her head. Rajpal cut a surprisingly indirect and, occasionally, circular passage through the palace for a man possessed with his air of purpose; nonetheless, he descended steadily. Through the basements he went, through the servants' quarters and perishables' storage and any number of other things stored in the capacious space beneath the Archraja's palace; and arrived at last to the deepest layer of all, far below the light of the sun; the Archraja's dungeons.

He was not long there before he was challenged by a guard. Rajpal explained himself with surprising erudition for a servile-caste: he was here to bring alcohol - that being the contents of his package - to a prisoner of the Archraja, who still had (very generous) friends within the Archraja's court. Rajpal had been instructed to bring the prisoner the liquours without delay, but certainly he might spend some short time drinking with this fine figure of a guard, who was so obivously willing to show him the way to complete his duties for his (very generous) patrons. The guard, initially suspicious, became remarkably amicable in demeanor; he approached Rajpal. Rajpal promptly thumped him on the head, twice, with the package he carried, which in reality held nothing more than a box filled with assorted silverware. The guard fell, comatose; Rajpal dragged him out of the light of the torches.

Presently, a guard emerged from those shadows, dressed the same as the one who had been abducted into them; he proceeded at a lazy pace through the dungeons, making small talk with the other guards. (Guard duties in the Archraja's palace were changed regularly, and so the guards were used to seeing unfamiliar faces in their ranks; there were too many of them for a mass familiarity to grow.) At length - again taking a rather circuitious route - this guard stopped at a dim-lit cell. He looked, with no great appearance of caring, both ways along the corridor in which he stood; seeing no-one, his appearance of attachment fell away, and he pressed himself to the jail-cell's bars, taking a torch from the wall to light its confines. Two pale, naked figures lay inside, motionless and seemingly insensate. "Gupta - old friend, old companion?" the guard whispered. '"Is that you?"

One of the figures, slowly, rose. "My name is Gupta," he said with difficulty, "Though it has been long since any has asked it - who are you? What do you want?"

"Don't you recognize me?" the guard asked, doffing his plumed hat with his off-hand. "It's me - Prince Khurram Shihab-ud-din Muhammad, Shabhi! Surely - they haven't blinded you, have they?"

"No," Gupta said, staggering towards the prison bars. He moved with the crippled gait of an arthritic ancient, yet when viewed closely, he was clearly nonesuch - indeed, he appeared to be scarcely older than Prince Khurram himself! "Not yet - but why have you come? To take such a risk, just to rescue me?"

"I am more responsible for your capture than you likely know," the Prince admitted with a look of sorrowful regret upon his face, "but even with that aside, that and the friendship that we shared, there are real strategic reasons to justify this risk. (Which is less than you might think - I did plan this expedition for some time!) You are invaluable, Gupta; your military insight is essential to our efforts, invaluable. You are the only man alive who can say that he defeated the Archrajah in battle even once - and you have done it twice!"

"You exaggerate," Gupta said with something resembling his old spirit, "but I will tolerate it, somehow. But - how do you plan to rescue me? Surely the sight of my battered carcass wandering the halls will draw no little attention."

"I have a plan," the Prince said excitedly, "and we have allies here, too. I have been in communication with certain elements of the Archraja's court-"

Gupta interrupted, his eyes wide. "Nobles? How much have you told them? Do they know that you're here?"

"Nobles, yes - but why this sudden concern?" the Prince asked, surprised. "They know that I plan to visit them soon, with a companion - though I did not specify that it would be you! - and might need assistance leaving - but no more than that. Certainly I did not tell them of our other allies, our efforts in the East - I am more cautious than you give me credit for, Gupta - but they are real friends, Gupta, our foothold into the lair of the Archraja himself! Once we have secured their trust, they -"

"They will betray you," Gupta said.

"You suspect?" Prince Khurram asked.

"I know," Gupta replied. Behind him, the other occupant of the cell was beginning to rise. "She knows, too," Gupta said, turning and pointing; "It's what she's here for. She was part of the cabal in the court, the false conspiracy against the Archrajah, designed to lure you into a trap; but she had a change of heart, and attempted to send warning to you. She was caught; and so arrived here at much the same time as I did."

The Prince was looking at her over Gupta's shoulder. "What happened to her?" he asked, his voice hushed. "She's burnt - scarred - her hand -"

"The Hot Ojmons happened to her," Gupta said.

Reflexively, Prince Khurram took a step away; he looked each way to be sure that no other guards were approaching, and then turned back to Gupta. "The Black Hands of the Archrajah? The Devils of the West, the Men Who Know Not Compassion?"

"That and more," Gupta agreed grimly. "They tortured her while I looked on; they forced me to watch, and told me that I would be next. They had no purpose in it; there was nothing to be gained from her pain. It was all intended to break - me."

"But you did not," Prince Khurram said, plucking keys from his belt. He employed them; the cell door swung open. "Now, we're getting out of here; all three of us. Come on, I think I've got a plan."

Gupta looked at him.


"We have infiltrated the heart of the Archrajah's domain," Gupta said. "We are here, unsuspected, hidden. If there ever was a time to strike at the Devil himself, now is it."

Prince Khurram looked at him; then, slowly, he shook his head. "No, Gupta," he said. "You are too weak now; you must recover your strength. And no one man can penetrate to the Archrajah's throne. His paranoia is too deep; he allows no-one close. We cannot strike now; we must retreat, first, and prepare."

"He is a child!" Gupta exclaimed, a look of wild desperation in his eyes. "Surely - "

"No," the Prince said, laying a hand on Gupta's shoulder. "The Archrajah may not have yet seen his tenth summer, but his depravity and cunning exceed that of men ten times his age. He will suffer for what he has done to you; but not here. Not yet."

"So," the Prince continued to muse, "How shall I leave, with both you and this lady (to whom I have not yet been introduced) in tow, without raising all the Archrajah's men against me..."

It took cunning; but that Prince Khurram had in plentitude, and with Gupta by his side, no obstacle could surpass him. Two guards were ambushed; a small vault was plundered; a small procession co-opted; and the three companions won free from the Archrajah's palace. When he discovered it, the Archrajah would curse their names; for they alone dared to fight against the tyranny, his tyranny, that had cowed half the world.


One day, in a rain-socked plant laden ground campus of a University in the South part of the State, a young lad, with his blackbeard, and moustache comb in his pocket, ventured out into the storme, and came to the local night-club, where he saw meny strange things. Now, such a list it too long to say to you, in the time of hour, before we must eat the rice pilaf. But on of this things he saw was the face of a lovely maide, who caught his eyee, and hocked his hearte with hoops of steele. 

Several montes passed withouth him seeing her lovely face, and her breastes, however, he disckevered her presence in the class which he did sit upon, when the sun was upon the highest point in the sky. He was dismay by the fact that she was his upper-classmen, however, this did not detter his hearte. He said to him self I must know la fuerza de mi corazon

Thus he went to parties, and he liquifeid his liver on the spirits, and he went to the scolar's reunion, at her biddinge, and he played card games with her, and he ate the rice-pilaf with her, and she grew closer and closer to him. 

Thus, the man, not wanting to make a dreadful mistake  at this point in his relationshippe, he went up to appathalos, to consult the oracle upon the mountaine. 

He saith, O Oracle, I have loved a young maide for two monthes, and paid the dowry to her father, my last goate, and a egg from a ducke, and I shall not lose her yet, what shall I do, O Great Oracle.

Saith the Oracle unto him: "Young man: you are a pure of heart, and you can unlock the key of the underverse. You shall not be deterred by strange women."

The man saith: "O great Oracle, what dost thou promineinse"

Saith the Oracle: " Young Man, I dreamed a wondrous dream in the night, and her name came unto my mind, and I saw her forme, and I must reveal to you a deadly secret, she is not the right girl for you"

Then the young man becometh very angry, and he pounded his fists upon the ground, and he ripped off his cloth above his loins, and they spilled forth in all its glory, and he ran off weeping and bitter. The Oracle saith to him as he run "Heed the oracle! You shall be greately missappropriated" The young man, feeling greatly la fuerza de mi corazon, and I must profess my love. 

And he did so, while they were in the courtyard, and he touched her gently, and she became in love with the man, and they were to be wed. And so they were, and the ceremony was attended by many of his disciples, and his hovel-mates from the university, and it was a grand and joyous occasion. And the young man tremoloed with the exceitement, as he was about to take the verginity, of his wyfe. But the wordes of the Oracel echoed upon his braine. Then he ripped off the cloth above his wyfe's loins, and they spilled forth in all its glory, and he was extermely suprised. He gasped and looked up. "Oh my ," she said.  

Tobe continue

Friday, March 06, 2009

Events of the Evening: Game Night

My mission: to retrieve the card games which I had stored at my dormitorium: Fluxx, Chrononauts, and The Works. (This last perhaps not being up to the standard of the others - but hey! It was small enough to carry in my sweatshirt-pocket.) To bring them to the Game Night which would presently begin at the place they called "Dogg House", in the shadow of the Gilman Parking Structure. And there to eat, drink, and be merry. (I had heard there was pizza.)

My first course of action, upon returning to my room, was to play the video game that I had left paused there. I dallied thus for a few minutes - first rejoicing, then staring blankly in disgust, for reasons recorded elsewhere - then fetched out the card games and set out. It would be a long walk up the hill to Gilman Parking Structure - but I had made the walk before, and was entirely confident that I could beat the others there, as I expected they very probably would take a more circuitious, scenic route. In this mood I set out.

Roughly fifteen minutes later I left the dorm room, I arrived at the top of the hill.

Roughly sixteen minutes later I left the dorm room, I began to suspect that I was in the wrong place.

Roughly twenty minutes later I left the dorm room, after a failed call to N. Konopliv (it went straight to voice-mail, suggesting the futility of further attempts), a search for signage, and several minutes of iPhone googling, I realized that I was adjacent to the wrong parking structure. More specifically, I was exactly on the wrong side of campus, the correct location being diagonally across the length of campus from me.

I hoped they would still have pizza left when I got there.

En route, I crossed the path of two Oriental girls, one slumped over the shoulder of the other. One spoke to the other: "We have to talk tomorrow." "Why?" "Because we can't talk tonight." "Why?" "Because you're drunk." "Is this going to be a big talk?" "Yes." "Why?" "You have become..."

Their conversation faded out of earshot.

With no great difficulty, I found the Dogg House, deep within the shadow of the Gilman Parking Structure, as had been fortold - though the sun had long since set, and the light upon it had a yellow-red sodium tone. Food was heaped in piles inside - candy, chips, even pizza, that last hardly touched! - music played loudly, popular music, though nothing noxious to my senses - and people sat around two tables, playing board games. I could not at first see Mr. Konopliv, but Ms. Chandler was present, and so, after fetching a slice of pizza, I went to sit near her. "Should we play Taboo?" one of the others asked.

Triumphantly, I pulled Fluxx from my sweatshirt. And the people rejoiced.

So we played Fluxx for three rounds - M. Konopliv making an appearance - while the other table played Taboo, and then passed them Fluxx while we played two rounds of Chrononauts. (I don't know how many rounds they played - but the number was not small. Chrononauts is a longer game.) It was an intimate gathering, no more than a dozen people present - two or three prospective scholars, the rest present students? - the candies and sodas flowed freely, and all were of good spirit. Only two persons present had played Fluxx before, and none of them had heard of Chrononauts, so I had to teach them the games. But they were simple games, by and large, and this was no difficulty to speak of. Certainly they were swift learners: I won not a single round of either game! At this I felt no sadness.

We played and played, and hours rolled past; but at last the time came to retire. As was the custom in these affairs, we were invited to take all the food present, for any left-over would be summarily discarded. Most of the others left without indulging in this; but Mr. Konopliv and I together made away with a true hoard. Eleven cans of soda (six coca-cola, five sprite), a vast bag of candy (kit-kats, milk duds, Hershey's), and an 'XL' pizza. Our return was greeted with unanimous delight by our suitemates, and we were deluged with gratitude. No better a conclusion to this long evening could I have hoped for; and so we end our tale here.

Events of the Evening: Reception

Today is Scholar's Day at UCSD. The most academically proficient of accepted applicants are named Scholars, should they attend, and given a special tour of campus, in smaller groups than would be available for the later, less discriminating Admit Day. One year ago, I myself attended this event. Emails invited me to greet potential students; I felt uninterested. But there was another event, too. A reception for Jacobs Scholars - those given a full scholarship based on academic prowess, limited to a small number of students in the Engineering school, paid for by the founder of Qualcomm. (If I understand correctly.) This was a group I was one of; I was invited to attend, and greet prospective scholars.

I had no such intent. It sounded like it might involve social interaction - and oh, oh, how I do despise that! So when the calls for RSVPs (via email, of course) came, I declined to reply. But my opposition was largely based on inertia - so when a certain lady of my acquaintance spoke to me on the matter, suggesting that she would attend, I readily agreed to do the same*. The day came; several hours before, one of my suitemates (N. Konopliv, a fellow Jacobs Scholar) knocked upon my door, asking about the time and the dress code. "Casual business attire?" he moaned as I read the event details to him. "I don't want to change clothes!" We agreed to compromise on polo shirts.

I played a video game just up to the moment of departure - then, leaving the game paused, I set out. I hadn't RSVP'd for the event, and Mr. Konopliv had; yet they had a nametag ready for me, and not one for him! This provoked some amusement. We observed the buffet prepared and ready for use - this being a primary reason for Mr. Konopliv's attendance - snuck into the auditorium where a presentation was just finishing, listening to a few minutes of Q&A - and then returned to the buffet, filling out plates with shrimp, cheese, bread, chocolate-covered strawberries, ordinary strawberries, m&m cookies, and what I can only describe as "meat on a stick", among other things. (The meat on a stick was quite good.)

The hall filled with people; parents, professors, students, alumni, and a few prospective scholars. With some amusement, many of us noted that the prospective scholars - for whom the event was intended - were four or five times outnumbered by current students and faculty present. (There were perhaps so many as eight prospective scholars present, though I saw no more than four.) We ate, we spoke, we made merry; it was a good time. The lady who had (unintentionally) persuaded me to attend made her appearance; I spoke to three of the prospective scholars, providing useful information to one, accidental disinformation to another (I misunderstood what she was saying!), and participated in a tour of the CS dungeon with the third, alongside the lady and three others. I feel that I handled myself well; if anything about my person terrified the potential scholars away, it was my beard, and, well - that simply cannot be helped!

Also, this fellow seemed to acquired a collection of nametags, from this and events past. He initially had them arranged in a line along the center of his torso; I helped him create a superior arrangement. He tells me that I should tag him on facebook. Senator Ted Stevens, I believe the nametags read? Something along those lines.

At any rate, somewhat over an hour after it began, the reception came to a close. The organizer began to speak, noting this fact and suggesting that those attending a succeeding event, the Game Night, should gather together to be led to the location of said event. ("Dogg House". I'd never heard of such a thing before, and... well. It wasn't as bad as it sounded.) I was planning to attend this event - I had RSVP'd for it, which might explain why my nametag was present earlier. And the lady who I persist in mentioning** had related to me, somewhat earlier, that no-one at all had volunteered to bring video-games - there were only board-games! This was startling - but there was nothing I could do about the lack of video-games. I had no party games! But I did have a collection of card games, exactly suitable for the occasion, which I had been waiting to use. I rushed back to the dorm to fetch them...

*This sentence is slightly misleading.

**I must note here that I am not Mr. Zhang, and so I shall give forth her name: J. Chandler. I hope that all present meets with her approval.

Events of the Evening: Hill Fort

Playing Empire: Total War, a quite lovely game which I purchased on an impulse last night. (Not on Impulse, mind you. On Steam.)

George Washington, under my command, marches on a French fort in the northern Ohio Valley. The French, along with their native allies, are waiting for me - but my troops outnumber them four to three, and are of far superior quality besides. I expect nothing but victory.

As the map loads, I behold a rather impressive sight: a wooden fort, in itself unintimidating, perched on the crown of a very tall hill. Two roads wind up the hill, and there is an open clearing outside the fort and somewhat further down the hill; the rest of the map is enveloped in thick woods. The French may be cowardly scum (and in the game), but this could be tricky going.

I arrange my cannon on the top of a smaller, opposing hill, and leaving George Washington there, along with a guard. The rest of my soldiers I divide into two groups, both converging on the base of the closer road up the hill, one with lighter infantry and cavalry, the other with the bulk of my heavy infantry. There is little opposition as I first begin to move; the French seem to have huddled into their fort at the top of the hill, with the exception of their cannon, which they have left in the middle of the lower clearing, utterly unprotected. As their cannon trade volleys with mine, I advance.

The first opposition comes at the base of the road; Iroquois musketmen, lurking in ambush. They surprise the infantry column that stumbles upon them, caught in loose order, but I swiftly order them into line formation; they blast the Iroquois with volley after volley of musket-shot, pinning them in place. I order my cavalry forward from the other column, hoping to catch the Iroquois on the flank and break them; but another formation of Iroquois appears before them, felling fully a quarter of their number in a single volley. The only choice is to flee or to charge. I order the latter.

The charge stuns the Iroqouis, for cavalry strike with a strength many times that of their numbers; but it does not break them. The fight in the woods becomes a bloody stalemate, but as more Iroqouis arrive to relieve their struggling brethren, so does my second column. I order Washington's Rangers into the fray.

The fight lasts a little while longer; but the Iroqouis break, as I know they will. The cavalry, now much diminished in number, I send to hound them down - for if given any respite, they will regroup and cause more greviance to my men - and then to disable the enemy artillery that still duels with my own. (My cannon I reassign to reduce the walls of the enemy fort, so that their shot will not hit my cavalry by mistake.) The infantry marches up the hill.

The next events pass quickly. One unit of cavalry, having lost two-thirds of their number in the fighting in the woods, breaks and flees when striking the enemy artillery. (Of all things to be put to flight by - unarmed artillerymen!) The artillerymen abandon their guns regardless, and my infantry, approaching behind the cavalry, put an end to their threat. One wall of the fort falls, leaving a traversable breach in the resulting debris; then another wall tumbles. Smoke billows blackly upwards. My infantry attack.

But progress is difficult to make. My infantry are twice the number of the foe, but attacking through the narrow breach, their greater numbers cannot tell. It becomes a bloody battle of attrition; melee fighting through the breaches, French marines (finally I fight the foreign foe!) firing from the surviving battlements, my own redcoats butchering soldiers in the courtyard with musket-shot from above. (They scaled the battlements with grappling hooks.) The battle swings back and forth, back and forth; then one of my units of colonial militia, pushed beyond the breaking point, flees. The enemy pursues, following through the breach; and my waiting men, five times their number, blast them with musket-volleys from three sides. The enemy wavers. Then - at first just one unit, then two, then nearly all - they rout. Their flags flutter white in the air, and they flee.

It is nearly over - but I must go - I have delayed too long already. Regretfully, I pause the game.

It sits for an hour's time.

I return. Within two seconds of my unpausing, victory is mine.

(This causes some chagrin.)

I wait for the campaign map to load; observe statistics; consider the reshuffling of my damaged units. I combine the remainder of my cavalry, to make room for a fresh unit coming in from the south.

The game crashes to desktop. All progress is lost.

But at least it makes a good story.