Part 15: Apr 16 2156 - The Importance of Beta Testing
Beta Corvi! Evidence suggests this is where all those damn probes are coming from.
Initial sweep of the system is less than informative.
The moon of Beta Corvi IV is even less interesting, not having any minerals.
But, while crossing over the gas giant...
VIDEO: BUYER BEWARE
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.
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 giant home. Therefore, we are totally reliant on our infrequent visitors to keep us informed 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!
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 existence, 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 were biology nuts, or something... anyway, in exchange for our information, they gave us a probe vessel.
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.)
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?!
Yes! That seems to be the pattern. Just about everyone who 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 known, most travellers like yourselves don't have much interest in gas giants, so maybe there are others like us Slylandro out there somewhere.
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 over eight hundred 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.
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 thte interesting things they found from their scouting missions.
They were really nice! Why do you fight with them?
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.
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... there were only ten of the planets in this part of the galaxy.
Okay, but please, can we talk about you some more later?
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 Drahn ago to the Ur-Quan, and the other Milieu guys... the Yuli and the Drall, I think.
Hmmm... 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.
Yes, there was another race... a highly sophisticated species of shaggy giants who made repeat trips to our world over a period of several Drahn. They even installed a broadcasting satellite in orbit around or world, which let us talk with them whenever we wanted. They were called the...
...I'm sorry, I can't remember their names. It was a long time ago.
I wish I knew more of the information you seek, traveller, 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 that they never shared with us. Sullen Plummet remembers that the last time the Shaggy Ones visited our world, they came aboard a great circular 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.
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.
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.
That's okay. Actually, your explicit questions have put Sullen Plummet in an unusual and intriguing mood. I will fully explore this change more fully when this conversation is over.
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!
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!
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!
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!
From the Melnorme Traveller-Traders. It was catalog item 2418... Remote Self-Replicating Robot Explorer Probe, the economy model.
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.
Two or three hundred rotations, I guess.
Sure. What would you like to know?
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)
That behavior was hard-coded by the Melnorme. We couldn't mess with it. Essentially, the probe will only fire its weapons if it has been attacked and cannot communicate with the attacker.
No. The probe is armed with a battery of missiles. It doesn't use its electrical discharge device in combat.
That's impossible! It's inconceivable! The electrical discharge device is used only for breaking down raw replication materials into their component compounds for easy gathering.
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 then when it has a sufficient supply, it can build a duplicate of itself. We decided that since we had only one probe, we should change the Replication priority, and crank it up so that there would be more probes sooner.
Well, the factory setting was two, in between 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 and ninety-nine, the highest setting on the dial.
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.
No! It cannot! It is not programmed for hostile behavior! What is your reasoning?!
The probe seeks raw materials, and processes them in preparation for Replication.
Space ships are the probe's highest priority, because we want more than anything to make friendly contact with alien races.
The answer is simple... it would spend more of its time seeking raw materials for its replication process. So what?
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? Traveller! You must tell us what to do! How can we stop the probes from destroying all life in the galaxy?!
Sorry. The Melnorme made us agree to a formal Waifer of Damages, in case something like this happened.
WHY YES, THERE IS! You're a genius, traveller! 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.
Goodbye human fluid sack!
That's one galactic crisis averted.
So, this looks like those two blue stars the Slylandro were talking about. Let's take a look!
First option: Alpha Pegasi.
A bit of mining reveals nothing unusual.
I move on to Beta Pegasi.
Huh, there is something unusual here.
The other planets are all at regular orbits, but this one is bizarrely close to the star.
Let's take a look.
I snag some radioactives from the Rainbow World's surface, but it's too hot to do it safely.
The real value of this planet lies elsewhere. I pop out into Hyperspace...
...and fire off the Caster.
About a day later, someone answers my call.
We already know why you are here and what you need from us; however... etiquette requires that we act as though we are ignorant of your desires. Now, what can we do for you today?
The 347 units of biological data we downloaded from your ship earn you 694 Credits.
Your ship's log indicates that you discovered the whereabouts of 1 of the Rainbow worlds which so fascinate us. In exchange, we will give you 500 credits.
The technology we are now offering includes plans for adding auto-tracking modules which improve the aim of all your weapons.
You are preparing for a mighty battle, eh? Well, let me give you some advice. You shold consider using multiple Tracking modules, since this will greatly improve your aim; however, never add more than three to your ship. Any more would be useless.
The technology we are now offering includes plans for adding improvements to your planet landers which make them resistant to inclement planet weather.
A littlet superconductive spray-paint and Presto! Your lander can sustain a direct hit by a lightning bolt without crisping the passengers inside... usually. Since the job is so easy that a nymph could do it, I expect all your landers will be treated in less than an hour.
The technology we are now offering is everything you need to know to assemble modifications to your planet landers which make them resistant to planetary hot-spots.
With these new ablative-plasma heat shields, your crew will be substantially safer on hot worlds, but like all our lander modifications, this protection is not perfect, so remain cautious. Since the changes to your landers are straightforward, your landers should be fitted with the heat shields by the time you return to your ship.
The technology we are now offering is plans for building 'Hellbore Cannons', a weapon much more destructive than a simple blaster.
Captain, just a suggestion! Hellbore Cannons are energy gulpers, so unless you want to have a long delay between shots, I would suggest you add Dynamos or even Shiva Furnaces to your ship.
The technology we are now offering includes details on how to develop Shiva Furnace modules which generate energy for your combat batteries twice as fast as your standard dynamos.
I am certain you will appreciate this new module, Captain! With it you should be able to destroy and devastate twice as fast as before.
Commander, that is the limit of the new technology we can offer you. If I may say so, you have been an excellent customer. Thank you!
As you may know, we carry a large supply of fuel on board which is compatible with your engine system. We will be happy to sell this substance to you at a cost of 1 Credit per fuel unit. How much fuel do you wish to purchase?
Fuel transferred to your vessel.
It has been a pleasure dealing with you, Captain. We look forward to your next visit.
It's almost undetectable, but something else changed: The Ilwrath have stopped moving, and their sphere of influence got a pixel smaller. Looks like the combat has begun.
SO, it's time for a vote of a new kind! Now that we are no longer restrained by proximity, I'm going to do this by sector instead of plotline. It's time to explore!
So, let's take a look at that portal map again:
Skipping over the ones where there's definitely nothing interesting to do:
- Portal A: North of Kohr-Ah space. Unknown region.
- Portal B: Far southeast corner. Unknown region.
- Portal D: Far eastern space. Unknown region.
- Portal E: Southern Kohr-Ah space. Danger level extreme.
- Portal F: Northwestern Kohr-Ah space. Near the Ilwrath and probably the Thraddash.
- Portal G: Between portals B and D. Unknown region.
- Portal J: Return to Sol to use new upgrades.
- Portal K: Center of Kohr-Ah space. Danger level super-extreme.
- Portal M: Southeast of VUX space. Believed to be near Yehat space and Mycon space.
- Portal N: Northeast of Kohr-Ah space. Unknown region.
Based on what people vote for, I will assemble an itinerary of 2-3 regions of space.