Part 10Apparently taking screenshots for the conversation would amount to about 100 screenshots an update, which I don't think your browsers would enjoy too much. So carpal tunnel wins!
Going through Quasispace is awesome. In 13 fuel units, and I got to that region of space from Sol. And, well, there're hints that that's where you're supposed to go, such as from the Zoq-Fot-Pik. Note how way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere it is.
There's not much in the system, except for a few meh worlds and a Gas Giant. However, unlike other gas giants, this one isn't completely pointless, because you meet
Slylandro: Hello visitor! We are the Slylandro. I am Content to Hover, a Slylandro Speaker. Your presence here fills us with excitement! We have gotten so few visitors over these many Drahn. We hope you can stay to talk with us for a time.
Captain: I am Stubing, Captain of the Earth starship LoveBoat. What the heck are you?
S: Oh, this is terribly exciting! We will be happy to tell you about ourselves, if you will please, please do the same. You see, we Slylandro have been extremely interested in learning about the galaxy, but our physique makes us incapable of leaving our gas home. Therefore, we are totally reliant on our infrequent visitors to keep us informed about events outside this planetary system. And visitors usually only show up every few Drahn. We hope that our newly deployed exploration probe fleet will not only gather information for us, but inform other races of our presence here as well!
C: Pardon me, but who exactly are you again?
S: We are the Slylandro, a race of kind, curious gas bag people.
C: What are those glowy bits inside of you?
S: Oh my! I forgot! You creatures see in the visual range and can see our...well our, er...well WE can't see them...Ehhh... Ahem. What I mean to say is...they are...well we use them for when the male and the female...ahem... Look, I'd rather if you didn't ask about them, okay? (especially not in front of Sullen Plummet. She's shy.)
C: I said...WHAT ARE THOSE GLOWY THINGS INSIDE OF YOU!?
S: Great. Now you've done it! Just look at Sullen Plummet. You've embarrassed her so badly that she can't even regulate her ballast.
C: Look, I'm sorry I asked about your...glowy bits.
S: That's okay. Actually, your explicit questions have put Sullen Plummet in an unusual and intriguing mood. I will explore this change more fully when this conversation is over.
C: Tell us about your home...this giant gas planet.
S: Our planet, which we call Source, has no solid surface as yours likely does. Our "world" is the five hundred kilometer band of atmosphere in which we can survive. Below this are the Depths, a dark hostile region, which grows increasingly darker, and more hostile, the farther one goes. A typical feat for Slylandro juveniles is to sink far enough into the Depths so that the juvenile's gas bag is almost ruptured by the pressure. The tissue scars left by the trip last for many rotations and are thought to attract comely mates. Above our world is Void. When we travel up too far into Void, we grow giddy and behave inappropriately.
C: What can you tell us about your culture?
S: We have an egalitarian society here. All are equal. Of course, that doesn't stop some people from being stupid fools or jerks. But on a world as huge as Source, where there are no barriers to restrict your travel, if someone is bothering you, you simple go somewhere else.
As you might have guessed, we have no physical technology. In our long history, several of our people have tried to work with objects, constructing weapons and tools from the carcasses of dead animals, but eventually, whatever it was they were building got too heavy and dragged them down to the Depths.
C: What about your history?
S: Since we possess no technology, we have no permanent way to record the passing of events. Instead we use the History Chants, long songs whose rhythms and patterns help prevent the introduction of error into the record. When the Shaggy Ones first arrived over 41 Drahns ago, we had no word for aliens or ships, for stars or planets. Our skies are an opaque swirl of colors. We knew nothing of the universe outside Source. The Shaggy Ones taught us most of the New Words and after they departed we remembered them for the many long Drahn until ships from the Sentient Milieu arrived.
C: Tell us about your biology.
S: Our world, which we call Source, has been home to our species for many thousands of Drahn. We evolved from simpler, unimodular beings who thrive in atmospheric convection cells. At first, we were little more than mindless consumers who glided at the edge of windwalls straining the air for small animalcules. But even then we were social creatures, who invented language so that we could better cooperate when herding food into dense concentrations. There are many hundred of species here on Source: producers, consumers, hunters and parasites, but so far, we are the only species here to achieve intelligence.
C: Exactly how long is a "Drahn"?
S: The Drahn is our primary unit of time. It lasts for an interval equivalent to four million rotations of our planet. A Drahn is subdivided into two-thousand Drahnasa. Now please...our turn! Will you tell us about yourselves?
C: Most of us come from a large, rocky world called Earth.
S: Yes! That seems to be the pattern. Just about everyone that comes by here says they developed on a world a lot like that. As far as we know, we're the only sentient species who's ever evolved in the atmosphere of a gas giant. Of course, from what we know, most Travelers like yourselves don't have much interest in gas giants, so maybe there are others like us Slylandro out there somewhere.
C: We travel the galaxy in starships, seeking knowledge and contact with other sentients.
S: That must be great! To leave your planet and roam the stars! You don't know how monotonous living on a gas giant for three or four Drahn can be. Clouds, clouds, clouds. Wind. Lightning. Clouds, clouds, clouds. That's it!
We know a LOT about clouds. If you've got any cloud questions, ask us. We have eight hundred different symbolic references just to describe them! Most of the time, when we aren't eating, we hover around and talk about what the clouds look like. Of course, the only things we know about are clouds, food, and other Slylandro, so generally, that's what we think the clouds look like.
C: We are particularly interested in studying unusual planets and life forms.
S: Oh! Then you should go check out a planet orbiting a blue star not too far from here. I think there is another blue star right next to it. We can't describe exactly where it is, but the people who told us about it, the Ur-Quan, I think, said that it was one of the rarest worlds in space, and that as far as they know, there were only ten of the planets in this part of the galaxy.
C: Our primary objective right now is to free ourselves from the Ur-Quan.
S: The Ur-Quan?! The long brownish guys from the Milieu with all the eyes and arms? They used to come visit us regularly about three Drahns ago. They told us about all the interesting things they found from their scouting missions. They were really nice! Why do you fight them?
C: I think you are confused. Those aren't the Ur-Quan we're talking about. Ours are green.
S: But the Ur-Quan were such good guys! They had lots of interesting things to tell us about and they never got impatient with our questions. Hmmm. Well, I guess a lot can happen to a species in three Drahn, like turning green and evil.
C: Tell me about the other races who have visited you over the years.
S: Years? Oh...you mean Drahn. Well, let's see, there was the Melnorme just a few rotations back, then we go all the way back over three Drahns ago to the Ur-Quan, and the other Milieu guys, the Yuli and the Drall, I think.
C: Milieu? What is the Milieu and who are the Yuli and the Drall?
S: Hmm, let me remember, that was a long, long time ago. I was only a nymph then...ah, yes, that's it! The Sentient Milieu was a cooperative association of sentient alien species: The Yuli, the Drall, the Taalo, the Mael-Num, the Faz, and the Ur-Quan, who lived across a wide section of the galaxy. They talked with us fairly frequently for almost half a Drahn, then suddenly the visits stopped and we haven't heard from them since.
C: Were there any other visitors here besides the Melnorme and Milieu races?
S: Yes, there was another race, a highly sophisticated species of shaggy giants, who made repeated trips to our world over a period of several Drahn. They even installed a broadcasting satellite in orbit around our world which let us talk with them whenever we wanted. They were called the...the...I'm sorry, I can't remember their names. It was a long long time ago.
C: Yow! That sounds like the Precursors! What else can you tell us about this race?
S: I wish I knew more of the information you seek, Traveler, but we last saw the Shaggy Ones just over 39 Drahn ago, and very little from that era has remained intact in our history chants. Hold on a minute, let me consult with associates Joyous Lifting and Sullen Plummet.
Joyous Lifting, who has a better memory than I, recalls that the Shaggy Ones were described as being...worried. They were always hurrying from place to place, seeking knowledge as though they were in a desperate search for some important secret, some answer to a question they never shared with us. Sullen Plummet remembers that the last time the Shaggy Ones visited our world, they came aboard a great circiular starship, one even larger than your own. They had discovered their Answer and were leaving to go somewhere, and they didn't tell us exactly where "somewhere" was.
C: This is EXTREMELY important to us! Don't you know any more?
S: No, I have told you...one moment, Joyous Lifting transmits.
Joyous Lifting has remembered something else, though it does not relate to the Shaggy Ones' Question, Answer, or Departure Destination. What my associate communicates is the description of a set of ten worlds, unlike all others. The Shaggy Ones either discovered these planets or, this is garbled, assembled them? We were told the planets were, again this is confusing, organized (?) in some pattern, which in some way alluded to the Shaggy Ones' ultimate fate.
One of the worlds was described as orbiting one of a pair of blue stars not far from here. Another of these worlds circled a large white sun. That is all we can remember.
C: Probes? What probes are you talking about?
S: You know, it's funny. We hadn't heard from the outside galaxy in a whole Drahnasa, and then the Melnorme come by and sell us a probe, and just a few hundred rotations later, YOU show up!
Oh, the probes? Right. Well, like we said, just a short time ago, a race called the Melnorme stopped by. They said they had acquired some information revealing our existences and they wanted to study us, if we didn't mind. In fact, the Melnorme said they would PAY us for the right to do so. I guess they are biology nuts, or something. Anyway, in exchange for our information, they gave us a probe vessel.
C: Can you give me details about your probes?
S: Sure, if you are interested. In exchange for information about the life on Source, the Melnorme offered to give us a remote exploration probe. It would roam the galaxy gathering information and contacting alien races, and when it had filled its data storage units, it would return here and reveal to us everything it had learned!
C: Where exactly did you say you got your probe from?
S: From the Melnorme Traveler-Traders. It was catalog item 2418, Remote Self-Replicating Robot Explorer Probe, the economy model.
C: Why did the Melnorme sell it to you?
S: The Melnorme traded it to us for data on the life on Source. They said the information was unique, and was worth, oh, I don't really understand their units of exchange, something like 10,000 Gree-dots, or something like that. Fortunately, that was EXACTLY the price of their catalog item 2418, Remote Self-Replicating Robot Explorer Probe.
C: How long ago did you get the probe?
S: Two or three hundred rotations, I guess.
C: What was the Probe's program?
S: It was sent on a 500 rotation mission! To seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no catalog item 2418, Remote Self-Replicating Robot Explorer Probe, had gone before!
C: Can you explain the probe's replication ability?
S: Well, we're not hardware people, so we only know the theory. What happens is that while the probe is exploring space, whenever it's not doing something more important, it hunts for asteroids and similar space junk, zaps it into its component parts, absorbs the debris, and when it has enough raw materials stored inside, it manufactures a perfect replica of itself. So even though we only bought one probe, by now there should be hundreds of probes, maybe even thousands!
C: Well why then do your probes attack our ships?
S: Our probes DO NOT attack! They have only defensive capabilities. Offensive behavior is NOT part of the instructions we programmed into the probe. To do so would be reprehensible!
C: Can we talk a little bit more about the probe's program?
S: Sure. What would you like to know?
C: You mentioned the probe's defensive capabilities. Elaborate.
S: That behavior was hard-coded by the Melnorme. We couldn't mess with it. Essentially, the probe only fired its weapons if it has been attacked and cannot communicate with the attacker.
C: And when defending itself, it uses its lightning weapon?
S: No. The probe is armed with a battery of missiles. It doesn't use its electrical discharge device in combat.
C: What missile batteries? It always attacked us with lightning bolts!
S: That's impossible! It's inconceivable! The electrical discharge device is only used for breaking down raw replication materials into their component compounds for easy gathering.
C: Would you tell me about the "Replication" behavior?
S: I'd be glad to! You see, the probe has the capability to seek out raw materials, process the raw materials into component compounds, collect the compounds, and when it has a sufficient supply, it can build a duplicate of itself. We decided that since we only had one probe, we should change the Replication priority and crank it up so that there would be more probes sooner.
C: Would you explain the general outline of the probe's program?
S: Sure. It was a difficult task for us, since we'd never done anything like that before, but for the most part we just adjusted its standard program which went something like:
SCAN (for targets, as defined in Target List).
IF (no current target).
THEN (select New target from Current Targets list, using specified priorities)
IF (Current position is AT Current Target)
THEN (Set Current Behavior to New Behavior, based on Behavior Priority Settings).
PERFORM (Current Behavior)
Okay, that's the basic program. I said it was simple. And here are the tables used by the program:
TARGET LIST (with associated Target Priority).
Space Vessel (5)
Transmission Source (4)
Astronomical Anomaly (3)
Planet Bearing Life Signature (2)
Raw Replication Materials (1)
PROBE BEHAVIORS (With assigned priorities)
Record Data (4)
Analyze Data (3)
Seek Replication Materials (999)
Move to Current Target (1)
C: Uh...what priority did you assign to replication?
S: Well, the factory setting was two, in etween Movement at one and Analyze Data at three. I told Joyous Lifting to set it a bit higher, let me ask him what he set it to...Oh! My! That was a bit extreme wasn't it? Joyous Lifting told me he changed it to nine-hundred ninety-nine, the highest setting on the dial.
C: What is the effect of the Priority Settings on Behavior?
S: I'm pretty sure the way it works is that every time a behavior is completed or interrupted, the program selects a new behavior based on the defined Behavior Target Priorities and what kind of Target is currently selected, I think. A really high priority would cause a probe to focus its attention on that behavior.
C: Your probe DOES destroy ships and I can prove it!
S: No! It cannot! It is not programmed for hostile behavior! What is your reasoning!?
C: Think about a probe's Replication behavior.
S: The probe seeks out raw materials, and process them in preparation for Replication.
C: Think about the effect of changing the replication behavior's priority.
S: The answer is simple, it would spend more of its time seeking raw materials for its replication process. So what?
C: Now, what will it do to a ship, given that its Replication priority is set to maximum?
S: I don't see what you are getting at, but I'll play along with you. Like I said, alien ships are THE top priority target. Once a probe scanned a ship, it would instantly move toward it. Then, when it got to the ship, it would initiate communication automatically. When communications were terminated, a new behavior would be selected and...
A new behavior would be selected, and since the Replication setting was set to maximum, the probe wouldn't get time to pick a new target, it would use the current target...the ship...for raw Replication materials...it would process the ship...break it into component compounds...with electrical discharges.
Oh no! What have we done? Traveler! You must tell us what we can do! How can we stop the probes from destroying all life in the galaxy!?
C: Couldn't you broadcast some kind of recall signal?
S: No, not catalog item 2418 (Remote Self-Replication Robot Explorer Probe). The model with the recall transmitter was catalog item 2419, and the Melnorme said it was out of stock.
C: Someone is going to have to hunt them all down and destroy them.
S: No, that would never work! The probes replicate too fast! As soon as you destroy one, two would take its place!
C: Well, to begin with, if I were you, I'd sue the Melnorme.
S: Sorry. The Melnorme made us agree to a formal Waiver of Damages, in case something like this happened.
C: I don't' suppose you have some kind of Mega-Self-Destruct Code, or something?
S: WHY YES, THERE IS!
You're a genius, Traveler! Why didn't we remember that!? Oh, there's a problem, though! How are we going to transmit the code? Well, while we ponder that problem, at least we can give you the code sequence. That way, if you run into a probe, you can destroy it without getting shot at.
After channeling the spirit of Phoenix Wright (or insert your favorite detective/attorney/whatever), and with self-destruct code in hand, we say goodbye to those fun bags, and investigate one of those twin blue stars they alluded to.
There's the first of ten Rainbow Worlds. I never bothered actually finding them all, but each of them nets you 500 Credits with the Melnorme, which is worth 3 techs, 6 factoids, or 500 units of fuel, which is a 10000 RU deal. As you can see, the worlds themselves are pretty rich in radioactives, which are actually worth a pretty penny on their own, as well.
We head back to base, do the usual of unloading minerals, resupplying, and modularizing the ship in whatever whimsical fancy I want. The Commander also analyzes the Slylandro code:
SUBJECT: Slylandro Probe Destruct Code Sequence.
DATA: This is a complex sequence of program instructions, using an encryption sequence similar in some ways to the Rolling-Phung algorithm.
SUMMARY: When a Slylandro Probe approaches, open a hailing frequency, wait for a response, and then transmit the code.