December 22nd, 2006

#227: Continuing my thoughts about Battlestar Galactica

I was thinking about the old version of BG and remembered a few things.

The new version has remained remarkably true to the concept of the original series. During the first season, in particular, every once in a while they would pull out some plot point from the original series and deal with it--the ship of criminals, for example, or the Colonial capture of a functional Cylon raider.

In the mini-series/pilot of BG, they dealt with the entire original episode "Fire" in about thirty seconds: the parts of the Galactica which were on fire were vented to space. Score one for rational science fiction!

The original episode "Fire" dealt with the aftermath of Cylon "kamikaze" attacks on one of the landing bays--it started a huge fire which was in danger of reaching the tanks of fuel ("tylium") and destroying the ship, and they had to do all kinds of crazy things to avert disaster...and even at the time--I was ten--I was wondering why they just didn't evacuate the crew and vent to space? I mean, fire needs oxygen, and if you take away the air....

But there are things we have not seen, yet...and one of them is Baltar in command of a Cylon Base Star.

In the original, Baltar was simply a Hollywood villain: he sold out humanity for power and survival. In the new version, it's a lot more complex. Given the choice, Baltar wouldn't have betrayed humanity.

But the Cylons didn't give him a choice. They knew their boy; they knew that if they threw a hot blonde Six-type in his way, he'd fall all over himself to have all kinds of hot sex with her, and do whatever she wanted him to do in order to continue to receive her favors. And so he gave her the backdoor passwords to the entire freaking Colonial defense net; and they were able to make sashimi out of all the Colonial defenses, thus making their surprise attack that much easier to accomplish.

At that point, Baltar is stuck: he knows he has betrayed humanity, but he's far too much of a coward to face the consequences of his actions and own up to what happened. It keeps getting worse; prompted by the Six in his head, he keeps doing things which ultimately lead to his position as President of the Colonies when the Cylons hit dirt on New Caprica.

This is one of the most excellent features of the writing of the new series: Baltar is the focus of, in the classical sense, a tragedy: his story cannot be otherwise, and it's all his own damned fault.

As President on New Caprica we see him wallowing in his wretched excess: a pill-popping whoremonger of a President, a kind of hyper-Bill Clinton. (Only, one who doesn't have to worry about his excesses damaging his public image, since the Cylons invade before the next election cycle.)

After that--and after his collaboration with the Cylons--he cannot remain with the "ragtag fleet" any longer. So he goes with the Cylons--and having wrangled a billet aboard one of their Base Stars, near the end of season three he's having routine menage a trois with "Caprica Six" and one of the type Threes (Lucy Lawless, complete with New Zealand accent).

At this point, Baltar wants to know if he is a Cylon or not. Having seen the clues, he realizes the possibility; if it's so, then he is one of the secret (and sacred?) "final five" types and no longer has to scramble to stay alive.

Instead he will end up in a position of power, probably in command of at least one Base Star, just as Baltar did in the original series...and he'll then bend his intellect to the destruction of Mankind.

As a final note, it's not lost on me that there are five Cylon types which have not been revealed yet; and the temple that has been found is the "Temple of the Five".... Jupiter is the fifth planet in our solar system, and they are looking for the Eye of Jupiter.... Is this crazy or what?

#228: Singularity, Part XI

Two years after their arrival, the Kelv'v'ara prepared to leave. Their ship was repaired and their urgent mission could not wait any longer.

Their ship had darkened since the palladium had begun to arrive; now it was a dark battleship gray. They didn't explain the change in coloration and any questions about it had been answered with a single sentence: "Our hyper-light drive is undergoing repair."

I suppose the reason for the change in color had something to do with the physics of their FTL drive, something they were not willing (or able, considering our knowledge of physics) to do.

Alyssa had disappeared twice, each for a couple of days; both times I saw her coming back from the Sphere. The second time there was something subtlely different about her, but she resumed her seat at her docking station as if nothing was out of the ordinary. When I questioned her about it, she said that the Kelv'v'ara had needed to use her hands.

The day before their departure, she disappeared again, and I wondered if what she had said about them not having any use for "her kind" was really true.

"Cassandra, where is Alyssa?"

The activity lights on her ear pod flickered. "Her IP address does not answer a ping request," Cassandra said apologetically.

"She's aboard their ship, then," I said with a sigh. "Check the countdown. When are they leaving?"

"In one day, four hours, thirty-five min--"

"Okay."

"In one day, four hours, thir-thir-thir-thirty-fi-fi-fi-vvvvvvvvv--"

"What the hell?" I demanded. Her activity lights were full-on and she stopped for a moment, posed like a mannequin, but about to fall over.

"It's coming soon," she said, correcting her balance.

"Encode. System check. Decode."

She stiffened and got that faraway look she got when she was doing diagnostics. "All systems are nominal."

"Encode. Check your error log. What caused your most recent stutter? Decode."

"Access to the Kelv'v'ara web site took longer than expected."

That didn't make any sense. "Cassandra-- Encode...." And I realized that I didn't know what I wanted to do to check her statement. "Ah, hell. Decode."

"Command not recognized."

I was about to comment when Alyssa returned from the Sphere. She told me, without preamble, "They are leaving now."

"Wait--now? I thought they were leaving tomorrow."

"There is a storm forming on the surface of the sun. They assign a high order of probability to it producing a flare which would produce gravitometric interference likely to prevent going to hyper-light drive. Expect to be able to see the aurora borealis in the next three to five days."

"Uh," I said, going outside. The early May air was still a bit chilly, but it was warm enough in the sunlight.

The Kelv'v'ara sphere looked almost black now; and without so much as a whisper it began to rise into the air. By now we knew that the thing moved by changing the local curvature of space; it was some kind of gravity drive which was still very far beyond our technology. But that was why the thing could just hang there like that, without making any fuss at all. (Well, the birds didn't like it.)

It left behind no hole.

"How the hell--?" I demanded.

Alyssa said, "The ground was placed into superposition while their ship occupied that area. A full explanation has been placed on their web site."

"Oh...good." I looked up as the ship rose higher in the sky, and I saw that there was a bulge on the bottom of the Sphere, with a central concavity. "Is that new?"

"The modification was necessary. They lacked the tools to make a proper repair to the existing systems."

"I see."

The ship simply rose, gathering speed as it went, until it was out of sight. And a few minutes later, there was a bright rainbow flash in the sky.

"They have left this star system," Alyssa said.

I felt alone.

<* * *>

Time passed. In June, a new type of fusion reactor, using what the Kelv'v'ara had taught us, went on-line, and it was at least twice as efficient as the former best. Things really seemed to be looking up for the human race, as the realization that we were indeed not alone in the universe was making us re-examine ourselves in a new light.

But it didn't last.

Systems administrators were kept busy all through June trying to stem the tide of computer viruses coming from Europe--Belgium, to be precise. None of them were quite the same, and every day there was a new one percolating through the Internet. The benign ones just printed odd messages on people's computer screens; the really bad ones crashed systems and deleted data. A malignant few actually managed to wipe out some of the Internet hardware itself.

This malware was strange stuff; it was adaptive and compact code, able to do all kinds of odd things.

It all came to a head that July.

<* * *>

It was a beastly hot day in the American midwest; I had been trying to sand down the front fender to a 1976 Harley-Davidson XLCH 1000 Sportster, preparing it for paint, but it was just too hot to work outside. I'd had a shower and then sat down to lunch in front of the TV, expecting to watch the news; instead I got random digital garbage.

I had Cassandra reset the satellite receiver, and that seemed to help; but the news was all about the massive virus and worm infestation that was bringing the Internet to its knees. The east coast telecoms had finally cut their connections to Europe, it was so bad. Europe had been brought to its knees; everything was at a complete standstill as anything that was connected to the Internet just stopped working.

But modern telecommunications systems didn't have hard switches any more. Sync and status signals were sent back and forth across the cables; the only actual way to sever, completely, the connection to Europe was to cut those cables. So malware was trickling through the "closed" connections. Satellite communications links were being strained to their maximum, and even those were starting to get flaky; the telecoms were sure they were going to have to close them even though they had firewalls which were supposedly impenetrable.

By mid-afternoon (Greenwich time) of July 4, Europe was effectively back in the Stone Age. All their infrastructure was shut down. They had no electricity, no communications. Even their transportation system--one of the most highly-connected systems in the world!--was utterly useless. People were being paid large sums of money to bring out their antique vehicles, ones without highly-networked computer systems, because at least they worked.

It was 9 AM in the US, and things were just starting to go bad here.

The phone system went first. Anyone who used a cellular phone--that is, everyone--found that his phone simply would not work, that its display had turned into a random scroll of garbage. Wired phones would not dial; instead of a dial tone one would hear digital noise. Before noon the transportation systems began behaving erratically; that lasted a chaotic half-hour before everything stopped moving.

The TV stopped working shortly afterwards, so at the time I had no idea what went on after that. I just knew that the power went off at two PM, leaving me in a mercifully cool house which would not remain so for longer than six hours.

The military base around my house had been in the process of being dismantled; but the activity changed now. They set up a perimeter and thigns I didn't understand began to happen. Planes were landing--the only ones still flying were military, I noticed!--and supplies were being moved around. I couldn't figure it all out.

My robots seemed perfectly normal until five PM, when Cassandra stiffened, made a choking noise, and fell to the floor, stiff as a statue.

Alyssa helped me move her into a spare bedroom and lay her on the bed. Alyssa herself was unaffected.

"What's happening?" I asked her. "Do you know?"

"I can't access the Internet," she told me, shaking her head. "Cassandra's operating system seems to be corrupted with several virus and worm programs."

"Are they a danger to you?"

"No."

"Why not? Because of the Kelv'v'ara modifications?"

"I think so. These viruses are not of human origin, though."

My skin prickled. "No? What are they?"

Her mauve eyes regarded me dispassionately. "I think they are the beginnings of Singularity."

#229: Politically incorrect thoughts on HIV/AIDS

I was thinking, just a little while ago, about my dead friend, DB.

DB died in July of 1992. He was 26. He was a hemophiliac; he got regular infusions of clotting factor which kept him from bleeding to death whenever he got a bruise.

The common misconception about hemophiliacs is that they'll bleed to death if they get a cut. That's not so; in most hemophiliacs, they have platelets, which are what help to form clots when you get a cut.

When a normal person gets a bruise, there is a chain of chemical events which occur which make the blood clot around the injury. Hemophiliacs like DB were missing a crucial blood protein; luckily he could get that protein from a transfusion. He didn't even need whole blood; he just needed that protein.

In the early 1980s, HIV/AIDS was making its presence known. Gay men were getting the disease, and some were dying of it. The gay men who had had sex with ones who had died kept on having sex; and the so-called "gay lifestyle" includes promiscuous and anonymous sex with literal hundreds of partners per year. HIV spread through the bathhouses and sex clubs frequented by gay men; attempts by the CDC&P to shut these places down were met with vigorous protest. The evil Reagan stormtroopers were trying to eliminate their lifestyle! Many thought that HIV/AIDS was just some kind of propaganda campaign.

In the end, many gay men died. And many of those who died of HIV/AIDS were good citizens (they thought) and regularly donated blood. And so, sometime between 1979 and 1986, when a blood test for HIV was finally developed, my friend DB contracted HIV from tainted blood.

So the first politically incorrect thought I had was this:

--If people who tested positive for HIV were required to have a tattoo which identified them as HIV positive, would that slow the spread of the disease?--

It was suggested in the 1980s. (It need not even be on "public skin". I don't care if the guy riding the train next to me is HIV positive so long as he doesn't bleed on me.) The gay community immediately protested the idea even though--it seems, in retrospect--it would have saved the lives of thousands of gay men! How many gay men are dead today because the "leaders" of their community cared more about having lots of unprotected sex than they did about saving the lives of their constituents?

Even if this had been enacted as law after the test was developed, wouldn't it have protected a great many people? Wouldn't it save lives? We are repeatedly told that banning guns is worthwhile even if it only saves one life. What about saving thousands of lives? Why is it worth one life to eliminate one of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, but not worth thousands of lives to make a dent in a different right? (And, by the way, I'm not even sure it would be a "dent". There are already many constitutional laws regarding the regulation of speech.)

All I can understand from all of this is the other non-politically correct thought I had:

--It seems that the gay and liberal lobbies think it's only worthwhile to save lives as long as they're not homosexual lives.--

Heterosexual AIDS is not the epidemic we were warned about in the 1980s and 1990s. In America, HIV/AIDS continues to primarily be a problem for gay men. Why is that? What is it about the gay lifestyle that makes them such targets?

We've seen that the virus is transmitted via blood and via other "bodily fluids". It can be transmitted via hypodermic needle. Yet many gay men persist in the risky behaviors which killed so many of their antecedents. Some gays deliberately try to become HIV positive. Why?

Very simple measures, applied at the right time, could have drastically reduced the number of AIDS fatalities in the United States; but the very people who were going to die prevented them.

And, in the process, they killed a lot of innocent bystanders...like my friend DB.