Sunday, November 30, 2014

Politics of the United Terran Republic in 2259

UTR flag by Oculus Orbus
This is how politics work in the United Terran Republic milieu of my Traveller setting, Visions of Empire, in 2259, right after the victory over the Reticulans. In this period, there are four factions on two axis.

Axis I - Hawks vs. Doves. Hawks favor military solutions, Doves favor diplomatic solutions.

Axis II - Universalists vs. Nationalists. Universalists focus on the rights and future of all sentient species, Nationalists seek to focus on Terran matters.

So you have:

Dovish Universalists - desiring gradual change and transformation of the Reticulan Empire into a more democratic state through peaceful and diplomatic channels, towards a galactic commonwealth; supporting sophont rights, cultural exchange, and the rights of sentient species for self-determination. Opposed to re-militarization and strongly supporting the de-mobilization of Terran military. Highly popular among intellectuals, professional diplomats and certain parts of the 'new' middle class.

Dovish Nationalists - focused on Terran interests in the current Terran space. Uninterested in expansion; willing to abandon the cause of galactic revolution for a Terran sphere as an independent state focused on local economic matters. Typically also support economic liberalization and the privatization of the UTRs many state-owned industries. Strongly opposed to military spending. Rapidly growing in popularity due to the promise of much lowered taxation and focus on local economy and quality of life. Considered almost treasonous by almost any Hawk, as this means essentially abandoning the Grand cause people fought and died for during the Terran Liberation war for shorter-term economic benefit. Popular among the 'new' middle class. Official ideology tends to this direction right now. This short of views eventually were used to justify the foundation of the Terran Empire in the 2340's.

Hawkish Universalists - supporting a Universal Republic, and the dismantlement of the Reticulan Empire in the favor of such a Republic. Willing to use military force to carry forth the Revolution. During the early-mid Terran Liberation War, the UTR government, and the majority of population, supported this position. Now it is more and more becoming the province of the Old Guard, as Dovish politics, especially Nationalist ones, are gaining ground. This view is typically viewed with nostalgia, but is less popular today. AS common view among veteran soldiers, older politicians and the industrial working class.

Hawkish Nationalists - desiring a Terran dominion over all of known space, with Terra and the Terrans on top rather than the more egalitarian commonwealth or republic proposed by the Universalists. Popular among younger military officers, especially those who enlisted well into the war (rather than at its start), who see Terra's strength much more than her weakness. Considered highly cynical by Universalists.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Back to Programming!

I'm slowly learning my way back to Python - a simple, intuitive programming language, which, unlike Turbo Pascal (and, to a lesser degree, QBASIC) with which I learned to program in my childhood (mid-1990's), is very forgiving and easy to write, and the code is very readable. Sure, the basic toolkit does not compile to EXE files (though py2exe can do that), but this is a great way to learn how to script, and, as I hear, a very useful language in the industry. My main reason for trying to learn it is for various role-playing-game-related generator scripts (like the one I wrote for Classic Traveller world-generation a while ago), it might prove useful in the profession I'm currently studying, Information Librarian/Information Management/Competitive Business Intelligence.

So here I am, learning how to program once again, with Python. Wish me good luck!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Therapeutic Embrace (a short story about PTSD and psychotherapy)

Forward: I'll interrupt our regular schedule of sci-fi and fantasy for some more realistic fiction I have written. While the characters and events depicted here are fictional (and not necessarily realistic), they are inspired by my experience of several years of psychotherapy to treat my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (which I suffer from due to being bullied and sexually assaulted by other kids while in elementary school).

Therapeutic Embrace

Abigail's lips moved into a frown, and she asked me, in a flat, though inquisitive tone:

"But why do you want to kill yourself?"

"Because…" I hesitated for a moment "Because I feel empty, worthless. Because I have no talent to speak of. Because I look back at my past and all I can see is pain, pain, and pain. Because Irina left me, and no other woman will ever want me."

Abigail, the therapist, drew herself back into her chair, then leaned again towards me over her desk. "You go from zero", she whistled and raised her finger high in the air "- to hero". She landed her raised hand on the desk with a thump, then spoke to me at a tone one could imagine a kindly, if annoyed, schoolteacher using to reprimand a beloved, though misbehaving child: "You make such a fine jump in your thought, from Irina leaving you, to no other woman wanting you. Have you spoken to each and every woman in our world? Did they all tell you they do not want you? You have many redeeming qualities. Many things most women will find attractive. What you are doing now –" she was now shaking her finger at me, completing the picture of a schoolteacher scolding an errant child "- is bullying yourself. You always do that when you are upset, if I think about that; you always act like such a little bully to yourself. Time after time. Well," she said in a harsh tone which could sour milk, and with a half-smile, "I do not think you should do so. I do not allow this. Or hurting yourself for that matter".

"Clang!" I could hear in my head. The trap has sprung. So finely set up by Abigail. Her logic was so perfect; so well-resonating with my past, but also with parts of my past I found difficult to come to terms with. Bullying, indeed, was an issue; and, in a sense, I was bullying myself, copying the actions used against me fifteen years ago by my classmates. Thinking, however, the pain began to rise in my heart, like a searing flame, like a flow of lava. For a second, I spaced out; I was back at 4th grade, standing next to this wall – I could not bear the thought. I blacked out for a moment, fear and anger rushing and drowning me in a sea of blackness.

Abigail's soft voice brought me back to her office. "Aharon," she spoke softly, "what are you thinking about?". I opened my eyes, to see the kindly therapist, no longer at her previous angry posture, giving me a warm, if somewhat worried look. "What is this that, from time to time, floods you like this?" she paused, touching my fingers, which were placed on her desk, with a soft touch of her palm "You do not have to tell me. But you can. I am here to help."

I hesitated. The very thought of what was done to me so many years ago was unbearable. But, on the other hand, I was here, at Abigail's office. Seated behind a desk strewn with papers, like some powerful official, her hair so tightly woven into a braid, her glossy purple blouse so neatly tucked into her dark-blue skirt, looking so formal, official, so authoritative… Yet, as I knew her, so soft and warm-hearted. Maybe, I thought to myself, I can hide behind her, bask in her authoritative power, and be safe? Safe enough for me to spill out the black tides of my heart?

I started to speak. "As I told you," I began with a steady, trusting voice "I was weak back when I was a schoolboy. I used to cry. To be afraid of people. I never hit anyone back. So I was…" at this point my voice began to tremble "an… easy target. For monsters. For bullies. But what I did not tell you yet…" My voice began to shake, and so did my hands "is that… This was no ordinary bullying. Not just being picked on, ridiculed, humiliated, beaten up… This was beyond that…" I began stuttering, but then spilled it out, like a hail of molten lead bursting out of my aching lips "I was sexually assaulted and humiliated by a gang of several boys". That was it; the black wind was blowing, no longer as a breeze, but as a terrible storm. I screamed; my thoughts and memories were no longer bearable anymore. As if struck by a nightmare, as if sleepwalking, I got up, walked to the door, opened it and walked down the corridor from Abigail's office, not going anywhere in particular, just going away, or at least trying to go away, from the storm boiling in my mind.

Suddenly, as I slowly approached the clinic's main door, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I slowly turned around. Abigail stood there, one hand on her waist, the other on my shoulder, giving me a worried stare. "Going anywhere, are we?" she asked me, and I could not decide if in her voice I could hear sympathy, or anxiety, or anger. "Come," she said, her voice sounding crisp and sharp like an order "Let's walk back to my office". She then grabbed my right arm, one of her hands grabbing my by the elbow, the other by my wrist, giving my arm a tug in the direction of her office. Struck by my emotional storm, I resisted for a moment; Abigail responded by squeezing my arm, then tugging it again, purposefully. "Come here" she said, softly, but also very sharply and finitely. I yielded to her. Slowly, she walked me through that corridor, towards her office. I could hear her heels clicking on the floor, her jewelry jingling in a soothing rhythm as she led me, willing or not, alongside her.

She brought me into her room, and then, still holding my elbow with one hand, she retrieved a key from her pocket, and locked the door with an audible 'click', then pocketed it again. "You are safe here", she said, softly but firmly, "No one will get you. I'm watching". With this, she walked me to my chair, and motioned me to sit. I sat there, my inner winds slowly calming, as Abigail walked to her own seat, then sat across the desk from me, leaning forward and watching me intently. "They will not get you here", she said, with a smile, "I won't let them".

A surprising sensation of safety spread through my mind like a warm breeze. It was strange – Abigail saw my painful feelings, felt them well enough, but did not turn my back to me, as everyone else in my life did. Instead, she held on to me, tightly, in some sort of motherly embrace, the kind of motherly embrace I did not receive from my own mother, at least figuratively so, when she did not recognize my horrible distress during my adolescent years. All authority figures, all teachers, my parents, even the school principal, the police – all of them never lifted a finger to save me from abuse, from bullies and thugs… And from sexual assault. All of them. Even the ones who knew. I was betrayed, once, and twice, and again, and so on… And yet, suddenly, in front of me sat Abigail, as authoritative as an authority figure could be, and not only did she not abandon me to my inner bullies, but, to the contrary, held me tighter and tighter the more I was in distress. This was a new, fresh feeling for me: that of being watched, and accepted, by a person whom I perceived as an authority figure. I felt so safe, so secure, under Abigail's warm gaze.

"I am… surprised you didn't just let me go away. This is… strange for me. This feels… Unusual." I stuttered.

"How do you feel?" asked Abigail, "Can you be more precise?"

"I feel watched, guarded." I started putting my feelings to words "There are two sides to this coin. On one hand, you are guarding me, as if protecting a treasure. On the other, you are watching me… Like a jailor watches a prisoner. But this is a pleasant sensation, being regarded as a treasure, that is. Or maybe I am both the treasure, and the thief who tries to steal it? But anyhow, the harder my feelings are, the tighter you seem to embrace me… With your eyes alone."

Abigail put a soft hand on my own hand, which I placed on her table. "Now," she said "that you know you are safe, you can tell me, if you want, about what happened back then. Don't worry; I am watching."

I felt uncomfortable for a moment. "May I… Go now?" I asked, hesitantly "I have… a lot to think about".

"We still have 30 minutes ahead of us." Abigail said in a finite, authoritative voice. "Why don't you tell me what you are thinking about?"

So I told her, and cried, and the more I cried, the tighter Abigail's mental embrace felt.

Monday, November 3, 2014

[Traveller] The Reticulans

Reticulan in Vacc Suit
Reticulans, a major alien race in my Visions of Empire setting for Classic Traveller, are small, slender humanoids similar to the archetypal "Grey Aliens": standing approximately 140cm tall, with large heads and almond-shaped multifaceted eyes, little or no nose and a small, toothy mouth. They exhibit both mammalian, reptilian and insectoid characteristics, and are typically dressed in a utilitarian harness carrying tools.

The Reticulans are shaped by two main biological facts about their species: they reproduce asexually through parthenogenesis (similarly to aphids and certain species of whiptail lizards on Earth), and, originally, were scavengers who ate prey long after the predators killed it and ate their share.

Reticulan Legionnaires in Cloth Armour
All Reticulans are "female" - each lays eggs several times in "her" life, each egg eventually hatching a Reticulan hatchling. No sexual contact with other individuals is required for this form of reproduction. This creates relatively less genetic variety than sexual reproduction, but the hatchlings are not exact clones of their "mother" (though they are pretty similar to "her"). This led to the initial hypothesis (by Humans when they first encountered them) that the Reticulans are all artificial clones - but, in reality, they are not. The implication of this is that all the social constructs based on sexual reproduction, such as family, love and so onm found in Humans, are alien to Reticulans. The basic social unit is the "mother" and her "daughters", and, eventually, a genetic "line" tracing back to a single progenitor "mother". There is never a question put to a Reticulan's parentage: whoever laid the egg is the "mother". It also means that a single healthy Reticulan can colonize a planet in several generations' time.

Originally, the Reticulans were scavengers, eating remains of the prey of bigger predators. They never fought the predator, or the various hijackers, but rather waited for them to finish, then moved to feed on the remains. This made them relatively un-adapted to physical fighting; lacking a reason to fight over mates (due to a-sexual reproduction) made even less evolutionary reason for them to be efficient physical fighters. Tool use allowed them to chase away predators from prey, and thus get a bigger part of the carcass, and, eventually, hunt themselves, and, later on, raise livestock. But poor fighters they remained - except for using various machines to fight the sporadic wars between groups. But, generally speaking, if possible, Reticulans see tools and technology as a solution to things, and their rulers are typically "tool-makers" (in modern times, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs) rather than warrior-types. As a spacefaring civilization, they fight using robots, as well as alien auxiliary troops and mercenaries. They can fight, but lack the instincts or muscle mass to be efficient soldiers (they are better as spies or as behind-the-scenes tacticians).

The archetypal Reticulan government is a technocracy; their Empire, was led by monopolist mercantile-industrial Great Houses (each controlled by a genetic line), and, on top of that, an Imperial line controlling the biggest corporation. In their later Technate, they are ruled by scientists and engineers, and usually order their society "logically" for maximum efficiency. A certain level of caste differentiation is common in most of their societies.

There is only one psionic "line", or caste, and these serve the Technate in this function, and also as "priestesses" of a sort.