Tales of the Aggregate

October 21, 2012: 8:41 pm: Tales of the Aggregate

Kelby heard screams and what sounded like someone moving furniture. It had been like that all night. Or what counted for night in the perpetual twilight of Armstrong base on the Moon.

After the announcement, Everyone had broken up into small groups to deal with the fact that they had been abandoned by Earth and would have to figure out how to make it without any resupply.

A few groups had gone off to party, reasoning that alcohol would all have to be homemade so there was no reason to conserve the good stuff. Others started planning sessions right away on how best to recycle what was irreplaceable and mine refine and make what wasn’t.

Kelby had heard some fights broke out and even a rumor of a suicide. It would be the first of many. Armstrong was populated with reasonable and intelligent people drawn from science and business. Some of them reasoned that the base could only support a limited number of people and felt they were old enough or lacked enough value that rather than drain the resources they should politely kill themselves.

So Kelby had broke up from his group of engineers who had spent some time half-heatedly discussing tweaks to the ventilation system that might make it even more air and resource tight, then went back to his room.

He had a shift in 10 hours, and figured other people would have figured things out by then. He wasn’t essential to that equation. But he couldn’t sleep. He doubted anyone could. His mind kept racing back to t he announcement. He kept wondering if there was some way to get back to Earth.

His group had briefly discussed the idea of a catapult.

“Heinlein wrote about it centuries ago,” said Ken the ventilation chief. “In Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.” It was a cargo delivery system that was then turned into a weapon and finally used for transport”

The engineers had combed over the idea until the agreed that centuries old fiction made a bad template of rather engineering and resource realities of the real Moon.

But his mind wouldn’t give up on the idea. Or some other alternative. It just couldn’t be the end, from the shrieks and laughs and noises in the hallways, he barely thought the Armstrong staff would last through the night much less on their own for decades.

Someone rang his door chime. He thought about ignoring it but noticed without moving that it was Telfer, his QA crewmate. He dragged himself from the catatonic position he’d been in for hours on his side and punched open the door.

“Ken killed himself,” Telfer said by way of a greeting. “I guess the Moon really is a harsh mistress.”

Kelby grunted. “Beer?”

“Crazily no. Too many already. With Ken. He started getting maudlin then said some weird stuff and headed out. I got it into my head to follow him. Caught up with him at the airlock. Think he saw me but he never acknowledge. Just trotted outside without a suit and froze quick. Shitty way to go if you ask me. But he didn’t.”

Kelby sat down with two beers in his hand. “Guess I’ll drink both.”

“Nah. Give me one.” No use saving them. You aren’t thinking about offing yourself are you? Heard about 20 or so have already. That have been reported anyway. Kay told me that when I reported Ken.”

“Too curious how it turns out,” said Kelby. “You?”

“Nah. Too chickenshit,” He took a big swig of beer. “Have a good idea for QA on the ventilators too. I’d like to see if it works.”

“Let’s hear it.”

Telfer began lining out his ventilator system. It was a good system. It also likely saved them oth from following in Ken’s footsteps.

August 31, 2012: 10:38 pm: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

Ji lay on her back staring at the Moon. She had picked this place because it was high up and away from everyone. It had the majestic desolation and gigantic skeletons of buildings that Estellay had, but without the crowds.

Stories of poisonous mutant reptiles kept the idle curious out of the Empire Desert. Around her sat miles of ruins, once homes and shops a long time ago. Most were just crumbling cement foundations now, most likely harboring a few reptiles. Some were poisonous, she doubted any were actually mutants.

when she heard the news, she headed straight out to her favorite spot in what was once known as Ontreo. The building she climbed had resisted the crumbling and wreckage of time that had taken down so many other of the ruins. Large orange letters from the ancient alphabet still clung to the side. She translated them once but it made no sense to her. House-Train Station? Something had definitely been lost in the translation.

But whatever it had been, it was now a solid steel structure that somehow hadn’t rusted into collapse. She had grabbed a bag of her traditional M&Ms, hit the road and here she lay, staring up into the night sky.

She loved M&M’s. They gave her a sense of history. “Brand names” had been a big thing in the pre-Delian times and though many had fallen int he delian age sophistication and the following collapse, M&M’s somehow had survived. The product had changed much over the centuries. It was odd to her to think that the lightly candied pretzel bits, nuts and cherry balls she enjoyed were not at all what the snack had been like even 100 years ago. She had researched the matter and found a historian who claimed the original M&Ms had been hard candies with a bean paste inside. She wasn’t sure she believed that but she accepted that the brand hadn’t always meant the food she loved now. And yet that was part of the reason she loved them. She felt like she was eating history.

The nostalgia brought back to a poem she learned as a little girl that had always stoked her fascination with the Moon.

Up on the Moon you cannot fall
Up on the Moon to wait in the hall
Up on the Moon untillen we call
Up on the Moon come back to us all

And now they were.

August 28, 2012: 12:48 am: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

The last of the special council’s members shuffled across the plush red carpets and took their seats. Councilman Go nodded for the bailiff to bring int he guests.

Three scientists in impeccable clothes that were utterly wrong for their complexion and bearing were accompanied by a much more accurately dressed pair of lawyers. They walked to the long authentic oak table in the center of the chamber and took their seats facing the council.

A bailiff recited the ancient litany of a council opening complete with 18th century “oyehs” and all and the Council Chief banged his gavel.

“This meeting of the complete council of the city of Los Angeles and all its districts, dependencies and aligned municipalities is called to order. The council will yield its opening time to the Mayor of the Citadel and Supervisor of the Hall of Justice.”

The Mayor rose quickly and mechanically recited. “The citadel recognizes the City Manager and yields the floor for the business of the department.”

And thus the real leader of the Citadel of Ellay as it was styled in more modern terms, began the actual meeting.

She did not rise or speak a word of ceremony, but directly addressed the scientists.

“You are the members of the mathematical sociology department at UCLA?” they nodded their agreement. “Thank you for coming. We called you hear to discuss your recent published and reviewed paper, “Rise of the Anti-Citadel Movement and Best Practices for City Management.” I think it would be best if one of you summarized your findings of rthe benefit of those int he council who may not have had a chance to read and or understand the paper in question.

A slightly built researcher named Miu took the lead.

“Thank you Mr. City Manager. Our paper very simply put, lays out the mathematical basis for the finding that the current Anti-Citadel Movement will be the most effective one yet, and will likely disrupt the governing ability of most citadels. Our paper also lays out the benefits and deficits of several considered responses the Citadels could take.”

The City Manager nodded, “Succinctly put. And what does your paper say is the best course, and why?”

“With respect, Mr. City Manager, it doesn’t choose a best option. There are an array of positives and negatives that are beyond the realm of science to discern as an objective best. Some leave the citadels in ruins, but create conditions for a swift recovery. Others smash the movement, but replace current stability with a rising dictatorship. Others lead to wars of varying fatality, or climate events, and other such negatives. It is up to government to choose what course seems best. Our job was to lay out the choice. ”

She continued before the City Manager could finish interrupting. “That said, two of our scenarios have proved most popular and seem to carry the most effectiveness. The so-called ‘Branding’ option, recasts the Anti-Citadel Movement as heretical and relegates them to a persecuted class. This would lead to the fall of the citadel system but has the benefit of a quick return to prosperous civilization within a few hundred years.

“The other option is the “Reed-bending” plan which sees the citadels accede to most of the demands of the Movement but not all, thus depriving them of momentum and support. This will significantly slow the decline of the Citadel System at the cost of some social stability. However it raises the probability of a long period of low prosperity and organization went he citadel system finally does decline.”

“So dump the problem on our descendants and give them little hope for a quick recovery, or rip the bandage off and hope for the best. Do I have it right?” Asked the City Manager.

“Yes sir,” the scientist nodded.

“Questions for the team?” The City Manager opened his time to the chamber. He knew nobody would ask a thing. All the discussions and debates were handled on public forums in front of any interested citizens long before this meeting.

“In that case we would like to–” Councilman Go raised his hand.

“How many will die?” Go asked without waiting to be called on.

The scientist didn’t pause in her answer. “In the branding scenario, over 945 million in the interim between fall and restoration. A few hundred years. In the “Reed-bending” plan 15 billion total at the end of the decline.”

Her colleague a young sandy-haired researcher added “Those are weighted numbers of deaths attributed to cause above the standard churn at a current baseline.”

The chief scientist smirked. “He means those are the deaths that wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for the upheaval. Not total deaths for all causes.”

The City Manager barely heard the answer. Councilman Go had just performed a coup. It was unheard of to ask a question in these cases, because it made the council member look unprepared. But Go had risked it in order to gain this moment. Now the council could not vote for reed-bending because in every summary, report and truthful edit of the proceedings, it would look like a bot on how many people should die. They were now locked into the distasteful religious option.

The City Manager did not bother to dismiss the guests, but moved straight into a vote. The bailiff escorted the. Scientists out anyway. The vote began and the age of the Citadel ended.

August 16, 2012: 12:34 am: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

The Lonely Tower of Ellay

Outside the great salt plains of western Nortemerica stands a beautiful brick tower of unknown age. Estimates range from two to five thousand years old but it is in perfect condition. No hints to the purpose of the tower can be found inside. A curving ramp, punctuated by openings just large enough to stick an arm out, wraps around the interior. The ramp levels to create platforms by the openings, just wide enough for a person to stand. At the top is a circular spot with a 360 degree view of the surrounding plains.

Archaeologists best guess is that the tower was built for defense, but there the theory ends. There is nothing to defend. No settlement exists and no natural resource worth defending sits nearby.

Surviving records only refer to it as an outpost of the Citadel of Ellay.

However what may have been there in the past is largely unknowable. All that can be found near the tower are traces of a huge explosion that would have incinerated everything within several kilometers. However the tower itself appears to have been unaffected by the blast.

And that leads us to the strangest detail of all. The brick of the tower can be dated and is certainly several thousand years old. But it is in fine condition. Too good. The entire tower, sometime after it’s construction, was sprayed with a complex carbon polymer that protects the brick from degradation. It protects it so well, that only in a few rare places can scientists even get to the brick to analyze it. I these few places where the sealant was either misapplied or worn away, the slightest cracks reveal an aged and crumbling brick. But everywhere else the brick appears merely old but in excellent repair.

In one case the sealant gap was big enough to allow an entire brick to be eroded, but the sealant around the brick was not, yielding an almost invisible case. This technology would seem to have been perfect for windows, but was never used in that way. The gaps in the tower are wide open to the air, and there is no evidence here was ever any covering.

The concrete used inside to make the ramp and platform, reveals little more information. It too was sealed and without gaps. That means it has been impossible to date it to see if it is contemporary with the brick or a later remodeling. The polymer seal is impenetrable to any modern solvent or force. Only lost Delian technology could have moved or broken it.

Still, archaeologists continue to comb over the site, hoping for a sealant crack, or a tidbit of material that escaped destruction to give them a bit more information on the lonely tower of Ellay.

August 15, 2012: 11:42 pm: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

Warren looked at Rida as they bobbed up and down, their capsule tossed by the currents.

“We’re alive,” he said. “We did it.”

“No turning back now,” she smiled.

A sound like destruction of every metal thing you ever knew interrupted them and then ceased.

“Hey!” a voice yelled. “This is Boatman Tira Sukjat. Welcome to Earth?”

A polite way of asking if they were alive or burned to a crisp.

“We’re alive!” shouted Warren. “Thanks for the recovery! It’s nice to be here. Can’t wai to get outside and see what it looks like up close.”

That’s when Warren realized he could barely move. His arms felt like 100-kilogram bar weights as he tried to undo his straps.

“Thank goodness,” yelled back Boatman Sukjat. “Don’t move much OK? The gravity might break a bone. We’ll get you out.”

They had been prepped on the intense gravity on Earth but the reality was much worse than they imagined. The crew of the recovery vessel lifted them out like invalids. They had to sleep in water to reduce the strain on their lunar bred bodies.

When they met with the folks who first contacted them, they did so lying down. Doctors assured them they would adapt enough to stand eventually but they both just wished they could go home.

Most of their mission could have been done without them physically there. They delivered copies of all the data preserved on the Lunar Citadel. They received a briefing and data copies of all the important info preserved on Earth. They would sift through the data and compare notes. This went much faster in person. But one thing they couldn’t have done remotely at all. They couldn’t have conducted a search.

They finally informed Earthside officials of this after the data exchange.

“We notice a lot of data missing from the Earth history’ especially in the post-Delian heretical period,” Rida began.

“Yes, we were hoping maybe you could fill in some of those gaps. You certainly do up until contact was broken,” said the Doctor. “But… That wasn’t very far into post-Delian society, in fact some date the end of the Delian age from that loss of contact. Not that your data isn’t helpful it’s just…”

“You thought there would be more.”

“Yes, especially of late Delian science. There are still things they did we cannot even fathom how. Things as simple as sealants up to advanced cures for diseases and well easier ways to get tot he Moon.”

Rida shrugged off this casual generic for Luna. “You saw our records indicated an Archive capsule was supposed to be sent to us preserving the types of info you speak of. It contained a recent copy of the Internet at the time.”

The Doctor laughed a bit. “Yes, our legends tell of a similar thing. Of course we’ve never determined what the Internet really was. All the records we have are exaggerated, and it looks like yours talk about it in the same vagaries.”

“We think it was real and pretty much as described. We have a small version of it at Amstrong, as you may have seen in our records. We also believe the Archive capsule was real and we think we know where to look for it.”

The Doctor looked skeptical. “If you hadn’t risked your life to be the first people to travel between the Earth and the Moon, I’ll be honest. I wouldn’t listen to a word of this. But setting my prejudices aside. What evidence do you have for the capsule?”

“No more evidence than you have seen that it exists. I think we just have a hater trust and respect for our records than you do, since we never had a period of anarchy to seed them with false data. However observing Earth for signs of life has been an obsession for us. And in a few hundred years we got good at noticing things.

“There is an area in the western region of North America that has a uniform blast radius. It also seems to have a structure preserved near its center. The capsule communications we have all came from a team working feverishly in a region of the LA Citadel called Utah, to preserve records and get the, to the Moon.

“If they tried to launch the records and failed they may still be partially there and there may even be a copy.”

“I know the area you’re speaking of,” The Doctor said, shaking his head. “It’s an odd artifact out near the great salt flats. We have studied it and found nothing like that. I’m afraid it’s just another ruin. The structure in the middle is an empty defensive tower, not a capsule.”

“What was it defending?” Warren finally spoke.

“We don’t know,” the Doctor admitted.

“Will you let us try to find out?” Rida asked.

August 14, 2012: 12:17 am: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

When he crawled out of the tunnel at headquarters nobody was there. Rida had confirmed the issue and hall had been repaired. He found her standing on the railing overlooking Docking Bay.

Docking bay. He thought Bout the literal meaning of it and how shocked he’d been when he learned that as a young boy. A place for ships to dock. Ships from Earth, the big blue ball that shown down on them from time to time. Intellectually he knew they all had begun there, but for him it was a legend. A myth. An unattainable mystical dream to tell stories and dream about but nothing more.

Docking bay to him was just a name for the large open area below central command where all the fans were installed. When the originals had given up on redness from Earth they had begun using Docking Bay to construct the machinery they would need to subsist. Fabs to process raw materials an minerals into tubes and hoses and gears and silicon. Cyclers to take waste products and break out the molecules into reusable growth media, water and even air.

The originals had begin the strict regimen of zero degradation that he had grown up in. Everything was re-used. Anything lost outside the hatches was lost forever. What they had could not be replaced. Each molecule could be re-used, recycled, reformed and refitted, but if they couldn’t find it outside in the Lunar dirt, it could not be replaced.

The originals began an index to track the degradation of materials over time and make sure they could stop leaks and losses quickly. All values started at 1. Recently a few had dropped perilously close to zero. When those ran out it would cause hardship. Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon were the most important. Their indexes were perilously low. He had argued with Rida about whether they would approach zero in their lifetime. She was convinced they would.

And now instead of meeting him at the exit hatch to comb over the data of the repair job and how it would effect cycle rates and nudge the indexes, she stood quietly looking out over the machines chugging away in Docking Bay.

“We’ll have to clear it,” she said as he got close to her.

She had been pessimistic before but this was ridiculous. What had set her off?

“Oh come on Rida, don’t be melodramatic, even if you’re right in a decade or so, the machines are what keeps the index–”

“No,” she turned and showed him a bloodless face painted with fear. “We’ll have to clear it for them, Warren.”

“Who?” he asked concerned. He wasn’t sure she was OK. Should he call Infirm? “Who’s them?”

“The Earth-men. They answered,” she began to sob.

He dropped his tools, as his brain attempted to reconcile his understanding of everything.”

August 2, 2012: 6:34 pm: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

Warren cracked his helmet against the wall of the crawl space and yelped.

“I told you not to wear that stupid thing,” Rida laughed over the coms.

Warren just grunted. Rida, and most others mocked him for putting on the helmet when he went to repair vents in the carved crawl spaces of the station.

Mostly they laughed because he didn’t wear pants. Or the suit top. He wore regular clothes and a pressure suit helmet sealed at his neck and attached to air. His reasoning was that the vents didn’t lead outside so were unlikely to lose pressure. But they could spit all kinds of nasty stuff at him and suffocate him. This had never happened to anyone, but Warren sure as hell wasn’t going to be the first.

He got to the vent and saw one hose hanging limp, twit hint occasionally like a sleeping cat. Air was flowing out the side into the crawl space.

“Found it. Outbound hose rotted through. Spitting CO2 out into the CS. Good thing I have this helmet on or I’d have to keep backing out into clear air every five minutes. Should have it done pretty quick.”

“As always, Warren, you’re a genius. Let me know when it’s done and I’ll confirm.” Rida replied in her snottiest tone.

July 21, 2012: 3:03 pm: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

Five of the robe-wearers crested the ridge, riding in a tall wooden wagon pulled by a treadmill horse and spouting smoke from a steam assist mounted on the back. They wore dusty brown robes and an air of importance that Kalem felt didn’t seem deserved.

They stopped a few feet from Kalem and his two assitants and descended from their wagon.

“Are you Kalem of the Bay?” the tall brown-skinned woman in the center of the group asked?

Kalem nodded.

“We are the emissaries of the citadel.”

He had heard the robe-wearers called themselves that. He’d also heard they brought trouble that didn’t end until they moved on. He hadn’t heard much else.

“What citadel are you emissaries of?” he asked in an even tone.

“The seven master citadels.”

Kalem kept his face blank at this nonsense answer.

“I see you labor still under the propoganda of the heretics here. You are not to be blamed. Most have. I assume you know of the 31 citadels of the aggregate, correct?”

Kalem nodded again and folded his arms. This ought to be good. She might as well have started with “I assume you’ve heard that there was once a country called England.”

“The citadels were real, of course, but they were ruled by seven master citadels. That truth was hidden by the heretics when the Aggregate fell. They wished you to believe all 31 citadels were equal, and that when one fell they all fell. But it was not so. Some of the seven master citadels did fall out of sight, it is true. But the citdael at Beijing did not. We and those like us have been traveling to revive the master citadels. London, Jerusalem, and Delhi have all been restored. We have come to restore San Francisco.”

That was enough to goad Kalem. He wasn’t a genetic. He knew history from tale. “Jerusalem was no more a citadel than San Francisco. Our city was the museum city of the Autonomy of Los Angeles. I’m afraid your histories have misinformed you. You are welcome to pass through the highway. Good day.”

“STOP!” the woman shouted.

Kalem stopped more out of curiosity than response to the woman’s brash tone.

“It is you who have been misinformed. We will give you pass for your ignorance, but if you close your ears to the truth, we will hold you on the side of the heretics!”

Heretics. The heretics had disappeared decades ago. It was a meaningless term but it still raised fears. Kalem was a deep student of history and he knew well how this woman was using the term and how dangerous it could be. Words like barbarian, infidel, communist and terrorist had been used just like this to cause much trouble. He realised he had dismissed the woman too quickly. She meant to endanger him and his.

“Then I shall leave my ears open. I am Kalem, Proctor of the Museum City of San Francisco and leader here. We know only of the citadel in Los Angeles.”

The woman smiled benignly. “Of course. And it is sad that the heretics evil have hid your proper heritage. The master citadels were often hidden so. The Beijing citadel survived by its master Citadel being located in Tianjin. We hold the secrets of the true locations of the master citadels. If you will take us to the TAP building, we will show you.”

More nonsense piled up on nonsense. Tianjin was a citadel in its own right, and aligned with Guangzhou not Beijing in the Regionate of Panyu. Beijing was aligned with Shanghai. The woman had looked on a map and noticed Tianjin and Beijing were close and made up her story.

“As you say. But I am marveled by your journey. You say you come from Beijing?” Kalem stalled.

The woman smiled, eager to answer the question. “We took the land bridge at Bering and journeyed down from Anchorage. Our journey has been long but it is unending. We must restore your citadel and the citadels in Mexico City and Atlanta as well.”

Something wasn’t right. Not only was she mixing in real citadels with fake ones. Atlanta had no citadel. But she implied that the Bering sea was dry. Somethign that was unlikely. Either she hoped that kalem was ignorant, or she felt like mixing in enough untruth would distract him from whatever real deception she planned. Either way she wanted him to underestimate her. Nobody who wanted to appear knowledgable would make these kind sof mistakes.

“So the Bering Strait is dry! This is wondrous news,” said Kalem, smiling. Kalem did not ever smile. His assistants shifted uneasily. “And with your long journey, you must be ready for refreshment. Come I will take you to the Proctor’s place and when you are rested, show you the TAP building.”

He turned and made the hand signals not to attack yet, as they were outnumbered. This woman was cunning, he was sure, and they would have to lull her before acting. Otherwise they would be dead and she would set up rule of San Francisco. This he knew.

July 9, 2012: 12:34 am: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

“Once there were 31 citadels strung out around the world like lights on a festival tree. They glowed with the enlightens of humanity. In those days there was no war. No crime. No want. It was more than a golden age, it was a perfect age.

“But humans are not good at perfection. And even though we achieved so much, we wanted more. We complained of stagnation and stasis, and the heretic movement was born and soon, the citadels fell. Torn down by those who stood to benefit most from their guidance.”

“On this episode of ‘Secrets of the Citadels’ we look at the ongoing excavation of the New York Citadel and how the discoveries there defy explanation.”

A man with a grey beard appeared on the screen.

“These are not magical items, but they undeniably prove that the science of the Delian age was farther advanced than we once suspected. I repeat it is not magic, but technology advanced enough that for us, it certainly seems magical.”

The narrator ‘s voice returned. “And we’ll speak with the staff of the Lunar Communications Office, and how their ongoing conversations with the survivors on the Moon may shed light on Delian artifacts.”

A younger man in a LCO uniform was shown.

“They have evolved their society independent of our own, with no heretic movement to destroy records. They’ve faced their own challenged up there and have lost much of course. But what they’ve preserved has been irretrievable until now.”

“It’s all coming up as we reveal the Secrets of the Citadels.”

June 17, 2012: 4:33 pm: Tales of the Aggregate, writing

Dariel Lin concentrated on the roster as if he was defending his thesis again. Somehow this felt more dire. A thesis could be reconstructed and re-defended. A fantasy team could not. He felt good about his offense, defense and utility choices, but who to put at Big Man? Everyone would place Tam there. He knew that. So he felt he needed to be more brilliant than to do the obvious.

He began to look over the eastern division teams again when something began to distract him.

What was that buzzing?

ACK! It was an alarm. No. THE alarm. The whole reason he sat in this empty shack night after night agonizing over his fantasy team alone. In case the scanner found something. And by bush it had found something.

He fought back the panic who h had been driving him to throw switches, and pull levers, and pull up screens. But there was nothing like that to do. He had one job. Verify the software hadn’t made an error and call the boss.

The verification was an automatic process that had spooled as soon as he sent the alert into the non-networked server. This insured someone on the Mesh hadn’t spoofed them. He had his hand on the phone and waited for it to run.

Green light.

He called.

Within four hours the shack was crammed full of officials, scientists and unexplained hangers on, all listening to the repeating message that had set off Dariel’s alarm.

“Hello Earth, this is Citadel 32 on the Moon. We have been out of contact for an undetermined amount of time. Several hundred years. Our colony has survived but only now recovered communications, please respond.”

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