To Boldly Go To Where No Avatar Has Gone Before

“Gwyneth,” Commander Au said to me, twirling his moustache behind the floating desk at HQ. “We have, uh… an issue.”

I dropped the pad on my lap and looked up to him. His mischievous smile was getting on my nerves. Sighing, I scratched my head, and mumbled: “What issue?”

“Well, the guys at the old asteroid mining station in Epsilon Eridani told HQ that production has dropped dramatically. We don’t know why, but we suspect the worst. It could be only laziness. It could be something unleashed in those tunnels — a new form of radiation, a biohazard, who knows. That mine is old, Gwyn. They’ve been working at it for centuries. Eons. Who knows what’s down there… Well, it’s your assignment. Talk to the locals. Get clues from them. There is a bar or diner on the mine, see what people are saying. The CEO of the mining operation fears a strike or even worse.”

I thought what would be “worse than a strike”. Come on, boss, this is an asteroid mine! What possibly can go wrong there, except someone dropping a charge and blowing themselves up by mistake?

Nevertheless, I saluted (which got a chuckle from Au), grabbed the pad, and, shoulders dropping, went to the Quartermaster to pick up my old suit. Time to get the old, rusty Spacebug ready.

“Llewelyn here, requesting permission to jump through.” I punched the comms button and waited for Neva to reply. As usual, he was muttering something about “these rookies that think they own the universe”, and barely managed to conceal his disdain about them. But that was ok. I was used to him; deep inside, he loved his job as stargate controller, and he was not that bad as people painted him.

“Come on, Prok, it’s Gwyn… let me through, please. There is nobody around but the cargo vessel.”

“Always in a hurry, you guys are. Think you own the Universe, huh? Well, you’re wrong. You don’t think you can get in front of everybody just because you’re Space Patrol. You’ll wait like everybody does,” he rambled on, warming up. I could almost see his smile, but the video was off, so I just imagined his expression. “The cargo vessel goes through first. Interstellar trade is more important than anything else. They have priority. But I guess that you fascist patrollers think otherwise, huh?”

“Whatever, Prok, I’m not arguing with you.” I sighed. And waited. But at last, after an hour or so, with a chuckle, Neva cleared me to jump.

I never liked those jumps. Sure, we all learn at school how the strange physics with wormholes actually work, and how they’re the most natural thing in the universe — if you do the math right. Well, I never trusted my math, and in my dreams, I always imagine that the universe is going to completely blow up and get all out of proportion, like this:

Ugh. No. Definitely not something to be thinking about. I hoped that Neva got his math right (he usually does) and delivered me safely to Epsilon Eridani.

“Patroller Llewelyn to Mining Complex, request clearance to land.” I pushed the blinking comms button. Nino, the manager, was already tracking me — I saw her signature on the radar. That was good. Nino’s ok — calm, wise, and knows everything and everybody. I asked her to meet me at the diner, a level below the landing pads.

She greeted me with her always friendly smile. My old suit felt clunky, dirty and old, compared to her lovely deep blue Victorian dress, which she always wore on special occasions. I noticed a touch of formality there — we were friends for ages, when we worked together on those complex cases about interstellar fraud and she did the heavy number-crunching proving that someone was drawing insane amounts of credits from the economy. Commander Au was delighted at that time. Why Tateru Nino picked up this desolate spot to work was anyone’s guess — I never asked. She had her reasons, and I respected those.

“Hi Tats! How’s the mining?”

She just smiled at that. “Glad to see you again, Gwyn. Well, I guess you’re not here for tourism.”

Nino always looked through me. I frowned. “Well, Au told me that there are some troubles on the old mines…”

“Not really ‘troubles'”. She scratched her chin; I knew that meant she was going to enter her ‘lecturing mode’. She always did that — even in her days as teacher at the Tau Ceti University. Old habits die hard. “Just, well, strange happenings. The robots on the mining sites misbehave. The people going down for repairs come back with hallucinations. But they take a few days of rest — the medscans never show up anything — and they are fine as before. This has been going on for weeks. It’s not really worrying. But I suppose that productivity has dropped a notch or two.” She showed me her pad, full of statistics and charts and graphs. Sure thing, the mining operation was a bit down. Well, only Nino would have found it out, or Professor Charming from our own statistics team. But if both worried about it, Au would worry, too.

I briefly explained I wanted to have a look. By myself. Nino warned me to take care and keep in touch. “I’d hug you, dear, but not on that rusty suit… make sure you get Mera to check you up first before you go down there.”

Shrugging, I complied. And then, it was back to the Spacebug, load the coordinates into SignpostMarv Martin’s incredibly complex tracking software, and pick the right asteroid where the first mine was.

A navigational nightmare! Epsilon Eridani has almost no planets, it’s all clumps of asteroids all over the place. Sure, a few are big enough to be called “planets”, but, well, it was at times like this that I always told myself I should have played more videogames when I was a kid. The cadets these days just love flying around asteroids. I don’t. I hate it, I get nervous with all those blips on the radar…

But finally the time came to approach the mine I’ve picked to check up first. Au had told me this was the first one where they registered a drop in production. First I’d do a quick flyover and check for the many entrances. I launched the scanning routine, looking for radiation, energy leaks, even gas or water that might be vaporised into outer space.

Nothing. Everything looked well from the outside. Of course, the rocks can shield a lot of what’s going beneath them, so I had no choice but to check my helmet and land on the surface.

The trouble with those robot mines is that nobody is around to greet you — almost everything is remotely controlled. Humans only come here for maintenance mostly. My scanner did not show any human being around. Well, Gwyn, I told myself, there is no other way but to go down the tunnels.

It was clear from the looks that this was abandoned in a hurry. Things were floating wildly around, although even the microgravity of the asteroid made some papers stick to the ground… Well, the mine had power, the doors were mostly working, the generators were humming… but, no clues on why this was abandoned. I checked my scanners: no lifeforms around. I was unarmed (Au never trusted me with a gun, and this was just an information-gathering mission anyway), so I made sure that Nino got my feeble signal through all those rocks if something really happened to me, and walked around the dimly lit tunnels.

There was noise ahead… mining was going on.

“Hi, carbon unit.” The metallic voice of one of the mining robots greeted me. Well, at least this guy was working.

“Hi there… is anybody around?”

The robot never stopped mining while he made the equivalent of a shrug. “No idea, carbon unit. I just keep on doing my job.”

“Sure, that’s ok… mind if I take a probe?” The robot complied, and I plugged my pad into its port, downloading all the data for a full dump. Maybe Morgaine Dinova and Extropia DaSilva, our robotic engineers, could make any sense out of it. I had no clues on what was going on.

I walked around for a few hours. There were a few more robots around, no humans though. The mine was still being used here and there. Production did not stop, it was just at an absolute minimum. Why? I frowned behind my helmet. There was certainly something going around here, but I had no idea of what it is.

It was time to talk to Nino again. Au wouldn’t be happy — my mission was mostly a failure so far.

All pictures above are from the amazing Privateer Space sim, built single-handedly by the immensely talented Aley Arai. 

More reviews on Privateer Space can be found here:

Many many thanks to Aley to do this fantastic sim which certainly made me dream 🙂 and spend over an hour to see perhaps a tiny fraction of it. Thanks to my friends who insisted that I should spend some time exploring it — they were right, this was one of the most fun experiences I had in SL since the old Numbakulla sim went life 🙂

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About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I’m just a virtual girl in a virtual world…

  • Uau! Loved the story! Must be a really wonderfull sim. (cant see the pics from Mars here ;))

  • Note those chairs, They must be, what, 2003 vintage? Everyone has them, everyone uses them (these in your pictures with a nice new texture).
    I am not criticizing the maker of these spacecraft – quite on the contrary, I use those vehicle chairs all the time. What I mean is that whoever made them, can be really proud of himself. One of the most useful humble freebies around.

    Oh and I will pay this sim a visit. It’s been too long since I’ve seen new stuff.

  • Corcosman

    During her “spare” time while assembling some of the component parts for her sim, Aley Arai also designed The Kessel Run Challenge for those who are fond of flying vehicles. It has no prizes or awards but just the challenge of being the fastest with the fewest number of crashes on sim crossings. It begins at the one of the southernmost of the snow sims on Sansara or the Old Continent and ends at one of the northern sims.

    The last I heard, Miss Arai did 65 sim crossings in 19 minutes with no crashes.

  • Oh, the suspense is killing me, I hope this is ‘to be continued’. My bet is that the borg have a hand in this mystery. 🙂

  • Goodness, I never knew that you were so good at creative writing. That was lovely, if a bit random…

  • Loved your comment in Expresso.

  • Sleazy

    “I was unarmed (Au never trusted me with a gun)”

  • Ah well. Except for the ever-watchful Prokofy Neva, it seems that most of the satire was missed… which was what prompted me to write a story, instead of just posting some pictures of Privateer Space and leave it at that.

    So the fun thing is when you know all these characters in real life, I mean, in Second Life, uh… hmm… ok, I hope you got what I meant!

    I apologise in advance to all my friends if you didn’t appreciate the irony 🙂 Well, after you read the explanations, you’ll might be even more furious with me, of course…

    ‘Commander’ Hamlet Au, of New World Notes fame, is our former-Linden-turned-editor. He’s criticised for never getting his own ideas for writing about them. Instead, he assigns ‘friends’ some ‘assignments’, which they gladly will do, and then posts these on NWN. In this story, he sends Gwyn around to “find about the news on the mines” — he never bothers to go there himself. And obviously, forget about “background”. That’s for them to find out 😉

    We then meet Prokofy Neva as Stargate-keeper. Well, he’s always furious because the FIC — specially the friends of Hammie, of course — always want to be at the forefront of everything, even if really there are more really important things than what the FIC want or not (that’s why the trade ship goes through the stargate first — commerce and economics, in SL, exist in spite of the FIC, and are far more important than them). We all know about that, of course, but Prok’s always prone to lecture us ad nauseam. This is what he does here. Also note that here, at least, he is in charge. 😉 Worth thinking about what that means — or why he actually just makes the FIC wait, but at the end of the day, they’ll let them through.

    Tateru Nino’s character was particularly naughty. Tat’s a wonderful friend whom I’ve met when she was drawing a lot of attention as a community leader among the many helpers and volunteers in SL. In fact, one might argue that she was the community leader, at least of the helpers in SL. In this story, she’s a manager of a whole mining complex — that is full of robots (“[…]almost everything is remotely controlled. Humans only come here for maintenance mostly.[…]”).

    So she’s down a few notches, isn’t poor Tateru? 😉 Now she just orders robots robots around to do exactly what she wants. But… they’re breaking down… and require human maintenance teams to get them working again 😉

    There is a hint at the statistics and metrics, something very dear to Tateru indeed, as probably SL’s oldest statistician. Frans Charming has recently joined the group of stats-and-graphs providers, so I thought to mention him too (he’s certainly FIC enough!).\

    On the secondary roles, Mera Pixel is mentioned, but just “to fix things up”. Mera and Tateru used to be very close (sadly, not any more), but Mera behaved as she were only Tat’s sidekick. And, well, since BanLink opened, Mera’s shown her talent at putting incredibly powerful and complex projects out, so it’s naturally with irony that she is barely mentioned here — in real life, I mean, in the real Second Life, Mera’s probably done quite more for SL than most people I know. She just never gets the credit for it.

    You’d have to know how SignpostMarv Martin codes to appreciate the irony here. Let’s just say that if you want to have something simple, easy-to-understand and remember how it works, user-friendly, and, well, working, you should not look at his projects. On the other hand, that’s how SL looks under the hood — and that’s probably why he’s campaigning to get hired by LL.

    Morgaine Dinova (a strong critic of LL’s grid architecture and a leading member of the Architecture Working Group) and Extropia DaSilva (who is an extropian — now, how did I know that before I met her? 😉 and a fellow Thinker) make a short apparition here. I’m sure that both would delight in getting those dumps from the robot brains. Extropia, for instance, managed to host a meeting today just about warbots. So, yes, I knew she would have fun tinkering with robots’ memory dumps…

    And of course, there is the star role. I’m amazed that no one commented on that; perhaps you guys are too used to my own persona and were too polite to comment.

    I think it pretty much resumes how I truly am:

    – I tend to run errands for anybody that asks gently, even if I have no clue of what’s all about
    – I underestimate the complexity of problems
    – Any job that gets me to talk a lot, has to be fun!
    – I do things way beyond my level of knowledge and never ask how to do them, or try to learn how they work (beyond, well, reading on Wikipedia). See, I’m sure that if someone gave me a spaceship I’d behave exactly like that — “oh, I’ll figure it out somehow”.
    – I disregard people’s snarky comments
    – Fashion/design/looking cool is often more important than function. Yes, I like pretty graphics and nice outfits — why do cool things have to be ugly? Look at the Mac! It’s just plain old FreeBSD beneath, and hardly anything to get excited about, but looks so cool!
    – Note that in the conversation with Tateru I have absolutely no clue of what she’s telling me. But she says that to figure things out, I should talk to people and robots. That’s cool! I can do that!
    – Still, I’m lazy. Maybe there are better ways of doing things? Like hmm, don’t starships do scans of everything while in orbit? Why do I have to go down the mines? Arrrgh… well, ultimately, procrastinating leads to nothing, but I usually realise that too late.
    – Thus people never trust me with anything important (aye, that’s why Hamlet Au has a Space Patroller… who goes around unarmed. Who knows what would happen otherwise??)
    – I delegate everything. Talking to robots is not fun, so, well, I just dump their memories into a stick and get the experts to look upon it. Did I fix anything? No, but I was great at pushing work to others. Specially boring work. Who wants to have philosophical discussions with robots, anyway??
    – The most obvious answers always elude me. I was never good at “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.
    – And most important of everything: I never finish my tasks. Either there is someone else to finish them for me, or everything will, ultimately, fail. Unless it’s open-ended.

    So there is actually not going to be a “sequel” 🙂 since the fun part of the ending is that the main character never “ends” anything 😉