The Freefall Backstory Archive

Compiled by Selden

The following information was recovered from the Wayback Machine (Internet Archive), most files dated September 2007.  These are compilations of information scattered around the Freefall Forum on The Nice, and anthologized by Selden, preserved here as a sort of backup pending the restoration of The Nice.

Text in Italics are comments by Selden.

Timeline   Robots    Florence Ambrose (Overview)   Florence Ambrose (Details)   Sam Starfall   The Savage Chicken

Freefall Timeline (As of September 2007)

Day one: 1-15
Day two though day five: 16-22
Day six: (Tuesday)23-27
Day seven: (Wednesday) 28-33
Day eight: (Thursday) 34-50
Day nine: (Friday) 51-64
Day ten: (Saturday) 65-74
Day eleven (Sunday) 75-95
Day twelve (Monday) 96-152
Day thirteen (Tuesday) 153-404
Day fourteen (Wednesday) 405-638
Day fifteen (Thursday) 639-936
Day sixteen (Friday) 937-1157
Day seventeen (Saturday) 1158-present Top

Robots  

As noted in other threads where I heavily quote Mark, anything in italics is my comments.

Robots in general:

Robots have an entire society going. I wanted to have them as an actual life form, even if they are non organic in origin. There are a few safeguards on their behavior, but most of the time they are free willed. So what keeps them in check? I haven’t put this in the comic yet because I’m still searching for a cross reference, (If I only have one source, that source could be wrong.) so take this with a grain of salt. I came across a Japanese concept of On. A debt so great that it can never be repaid. For the robots, humans creating them created this debt, which they refer to as “The Great On”. (Okay, so it’s a pun too. Couldn’t resist.) Robots prefer worlds that humans don’t. Planets where a near universal solvent falls from the sky (water) and have hot, corrosive atmospheres (oxygen) are not considered prime robot real estate. There is an informal agreement between humans and robots that the numbers will be equal, so if robots want to increase their numbers, the humans need to increase their numbers. Robots on asteroids and non Earthlike planets count for two/thirds. If a group of robots decided that they wanted to take over and rule, their first opposition wouldn’t be from the humans, but from the other robots. There are also two “classes” of robots. Robots made for a purpose (like Helix, who was made to work in a warehouse), and “Free” robots who were made as the offspring of other robots. (Robots made for a purpose have to work off their production costs.) A lot of the background for robots and how you can set them up like this came from “Artificial life” by Steven Levy. There’s also Hogan’s nifty book “Code of the lifemaker”.

I think one of the reasons the “Three Laws of Robotics” have remained so popular is that they are open to all kinds of interpretation. In the aforementioned “Caliban”, there were “Wreckers”. People who would destroy robots. But just ordering them to rip their own heads off (Second law over rides the third) wasn’t any fun. They would try to get the robot to see its very existence as a first law violation. Things like “You do all the work for your owner, therefore he is missing the exercise of that work. Exercise is healthy, therefore you are harming your owner.”

There is also the other side. Forgot the name of the person who sent me this line of thought (Alan Foreman?), but it’s obviously too clever to be one of mine. If a robot sees its existence as necessary to help humans, then allowing itself to be destroyed or harmed would be a first law violation, since it would now no longer be in a state to carry out the first law.

There was a sci fi series of books that dealt with humanity trying to flee the “Black robots” who were out to put people into nice safe rooms with no sharp corners and generally trying to keep humans so safe that they couldn’t do anything even remotely dangerous.
I guess the bottom line is that there is no way to make a perfect set of laws that work in all situations.

Origins: With interstellar travel being expensive, the cheapest way to do it would be with Von Neumann machines. Send robots capable of making a factory that makes other robots. These robots start the terraforming process and by the time humans arrive, things are fairly well along. Great plan when it works. Where the story takes place, the factory was built, but the robots didn’t work. They came off the assembly line brain dead. That’s when you send in a troubleshooter.

There are many ways to solve a problem. Like the old joke “When all you have is a nail, everything starts to look like a hammer.” You can carefully research a problem, find out exactly what is happening, then make the changes needed to fix it. Or you can “kludge” the problem and if your fix works, good enough. The robots in Freefall were “kludged”. The neurons weren’t connecting properly, so the troubleshooter started extending the neuron length and connectivity. Eventually, the robots started to work. If you were to dissect the brains of the robots on the Freefall planet and a “normal” robot, you’d find neurons about five times normal length in the Freefall robots.

Neural nets. Not really digitial, but working much more like human brains with massive parallel processing. Same type of weighting factors that are used in human brains (one synapse fires, puts out neural transmitters that “prime” nearby neurons. That synapse fires again, the neurons next to it fire. Very short version, since I doubt if this is the right place to delve deep into neurochemistry with all the feedback systems, neurotransmitter reuptake rates, etc.) Robots use a weighting factor rather than neurotransmitters, but basically the same effect. There are significant differences, because human memories are all over the brain, and robot memories are all in one place accessed through a parallel bus.

Neural density does not seem to be the hallmark of mental flexibility. Neural connections seem to be the key. How many other neurons can a single neuron connect with? Can’t find the paper now, but seem to remember that rats have about 10,000 neurons per Cubic Centimeter, humans have about 1,000.

The robots are seen as tools. The people of the planet Jean haven’t really caught on yet on the gut level what is happening with the robots. It’s been a slow, incremental (but accellerating) change. When someone from outside the system shows up, the difference is much more visible than to someone who’s seen the system change slowly and isn’t really aware of it.

I don’t know if [holographic memory] could be combined in neural nets, but it would probably be simpler to keep it separate.

The 'net: Robots are a little more connected than organic folk. Each time one of them takes an action, if successful, it gets stored and added to their individual behavior. It can also shared. (Modeled on how Long Term Potentization works in laying down memories in the human brain.) So the more robots that greet her as “Doggy!”, the more chance that other robots will think it’s the thing to do.

The database is dynamic, and works a bit like a neural network in that items that are constantly reinforced tend to become more prevalent, while items that are not accessed get archived and pulled off line. There are a few negative feedback factors in this, because if you don’t have negative feedback, you run into “runaway” problems. (Same thing happens in organic brains. After a point, it becomes harder to repeat an action, and the action only gets repeated if there is a reward (successful food gathering, etc.) to overcome it. Keeps organisms from getting locked into behavioral loops.)
Having a world database is good, but being able to directly access it like robots do, you have to take a few precautions to ensure that new robots don’t just start downloading and basing themselves on other people’s memories rather than forming their own. For the first few years of life, robots can’t access the net directly at all. This gives them a chance to develop on their own and form their own memories and personalities. Then, as they grow older and develop more, they are allowed more and more access. (Rather like the Roman’s “Degrees of citizenship” idea.)

Helix, for instance, doesn’t have much access to the database. His inputs are minor compared to the other robots on the planet, and are greeted with a degree of skepticism. In short, the data base is reacting rather like if someone you met on a bus told you stories about how he strapped a JATO pack onto a truck and jumped a canyon. You’ll remember the story, but it’s not something that you’re going to believe without some good second source verification.
And yes, it was actually the forum that came up with soaking Florence for Triac's scanner. Chrysolithos, to be specific... you still lurking around here?

A “back up” replacement robot starts with a new neural net and the memories of the old robot. Normal robot neural nets are pretty much lockstep in their development, and the back up is not that much different from the previous version. Freefall robots have much greater mental flexibility, and the assimilation of memories can produce a person very different from the original.

To me, it’s like saying if you could clone the brain and download previous exp, you could make people immortal. I still consider the brain to be the person. If it dies, the person dies, even if there is another copy out there that thinks it is the original. Being an I&C tech, I know from personal experience that machines are actually pretty delicate, and a little sand in the lubricating oil makes an awful mess. Depending on philosophy, if the robots consider brain death to be the death of an individual, they may not even live as long as humans.

Near immortal robots would have the same problems as if near immortal humans were common. Elizabeth Moon covered this angle in several of her books. Company presidents no longer move on. Companies become set in their ways. People don’t retire from jobs. There’s no room for new people to find work. Society as a whole starts to stagnate. This brings us back to the “life on the edge of chaos” bit again, for stagnant societies don’t deal well with changes if circumstances require rapid adaptation.

Memory is what is backed up on the robots. From what I’ve read (highly speculative), sleep and dreams are memory compression. Memory storage and cross connects is based on delta from previous experience. If you see a bunch of cars in a parking lot, you don’t really remember them because you’ve seen cars before. It there was an elephant in the parking lot, you would remember that because it’s different enough from your previous experiences to warrant notice. Level of Detail also plays a factor. If you drove today, not only don’t you remember the car in front of you (unless he did something that made him stand out), you certainly don’t remember what his license plate was. (There are probably people out there who CAN tell me every license plate they’ve ever seen, but I’ll consider this enough of an exception to be outside the normal envelope.)

When the robots “sleep”, they are attached to a larger computer system which organizes and cross references their memories for the best speed and compression. Dynamic Compression is used, where the most recalled events are towards the front of the memory stack, and memories that are not used go towards the end. Get too far to the end and they fall off into the bit bucket. The robot “forgets”. Certain areas of memory can be “protected” and are not subjected to this upload, compress, download process. A back up of a robot is different from its normal temporary “memory” files by including the protected areas.

Robots and religion: If you have been dealing all your life with programming telling you what is right and wrong, and starting to find ways around such programming, where would be the first place you would go looking to establish the rules you should live by?

Helix is such a simple sort; there's not really all that much to him.

I’m using a “cheat” of high temperature superconductors, which as well as being good at generating magnetic fields, can also be used to store large amounts of electricity and can be used to block magnetic fields as well. I’m probably off target with this, it looks more likely our “superconductor” will be bucky tubes, which can be made into “zero resistance” conductors, but since they don’t levitate a magnet, are not considered a superconductor.
Helix’s power supply is a superconductive torus, essentially a battery. While fusion is a great energy source, I can’t see any way to make a small plant with enough shielding to be safely used in something the size of a human. It’s possible to make a nuclear plant small enough to fit in a robot Helix’s size; shielding it is another matter. Not to mention that dense packed electronics are more susceptible to radiation than living cells are.

Robot dreams take up more processing power than Helix carries on board, one of the reasons for the plug in.

Helix is air cooled, and his chips aren’t designed for vacuum or huge temperature extremes. To go out in space, Helix would need a space suit to keep him pressurized and cooled.

Helix has no spine to provide the “flex” used by running mammals. His locomotion is more bug-like. When he moves faster, he has a more bouncing gait.

Miscellany: Helix would like comics, and has mentioned he likes Godzilla movies.

Cooking comes under “Picking up heavy objects, moving them, then putting them down.” when it comes to Helix’s recipe for soufflés.

Helix has a very good imagination, and tends to get a hold of an idea, then start to draw in facts to support his idea. If he stopped and thought, he’d realize he has nothing to worry about from vampires (or about being one). But he tends to skip the logical thought part of things along the way.
I have tossed Helix into a trash compacter. It was for a sketch book themed “Three feet or under”. He came out in a flattened square shape with a big thumbs up happily exclaiming “It was painful, but I made it!” Top

Florence Ambrose   (Art: Mark Stanley   Color: Old Wolf)

Overview

I should probably just leave this until I've finished working with the raw data, but that looks like it might take all week. This is basic information on Florence; the in-depth stuff will be added later.

Subject: Ambrose, Florence
Species: Bowman's Wolf
based on Canis Rufus, the red wolf, with some bear DNA to prevent bone deterioration in microgravity
heavily modified from the shoulders and arms up, plus the hips.
No human DNA, but many areas of brain (vocal, for instance) are copies of human equivalent
brain chemistry better able to handle changes in temperature than humans
very susceptible to chemicals-one gulp of alcohol means lights out
capable of going four days without sleep
Gender: Female
Age: 26 years old, estimated life span of 160 years (just under human norm)
Parentage: Unknown
3 mothers-genetic (red wolf), surrogate (domesticated dog), and the one of the family that raised her.
Planet of Origin: Unknown, probably Earth
Qualifications:
Expert mechanical and nuclear engineer (theory and practical)
Expert hunter (can kill with a chunk of road, if necessary)
Expert at dismantling and repairing robots
Occupation: Repairwolf for Sam, also runs communications while he pilots
Height/Weight: 1.6 meters (5 feet)/41 kg (90 lbs)
Description:
bipedal wolf
white chest fur and her tail the same color as her body fur
slightly nearsighted (20/20 at objects closer than 10 meters, 20/50 beyond), with amber eyes
eyes slightly modified, but still mostly colorblind (moreso than standard dogs)
jaws-not as heavy as a normal wolf, because she didn't use them as much while growing up
permanent ear tattoo of Dr. Bowman's signature and her number
usually wears kevlar jumpsuit (probably treated to eliminate erosion from solar radiation)
unable to whistle (her face isn't built for it)
Diet: Carnivorous
Background:
started to talk at age 5, started to walk on hind legs (and become more intelligent) at 13.
'owned' by human named Scott
species considered property until grandpups come along
1 of 14 Bowman's Wolves-low numbers encourage them not to seek freedom from creator, Ecosystems Unlimited.
wearing clothes mostly a psychological thing-means she is following appropriate human behavior Top

Details

(Please, no joking about de-tails.)
Took me a bit longer than I'd hoped, but I did manage to finish with Florence's info by the end of the week.
*EDIT* Yes, this is all quotes from Mark Stanley, aside from what I've put in italics.

Florence was cargo on the starship, in that the ships make a run by several planet systems, not just back and forth between two. Florence’s departure point was supposed to be a couple of stops down the line.

Florence knows she’s not where she anticipated waking up. She thinks she’s been “bumped”, being a minor member of the team she was on. The rest of the team is still in cold sleep, so she’s left messages for them. Being “bumped”, she assumes Sam had bought her contract.

Florence first showed up in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I ran (Well, sort of. We used rules from Runequest, Gamma World, and everything else that we thought was neat.) and made the jump to Freefall from there. John Bowman was one of the people who played in the campaign and really helped flesh out the character, which is the reason I named the species after him.

I had the chance to read Sirius a couple years after I started Freefall. (It was recommended by a friend.) So can’t claim that Sirius was any influence in Florence’s creation. She was also already in existence before I came across “The Watchers”.

A lot of influence for Florence comes from Richard Feynman and how he approached life. (Richard Feynman has been considered to be “The smartest man since Einstein”, though I really think that John Von Neumann has to be mentioned since he was in all likelihood smarter than Einstein.) It wasn’t that Mr. Feynman was smart, it was that he approached life with a great sense of having fun. Feynman painted, played the bongo drums, and just generally had a great time in life. I don’t know about you, but I really can’t picture Einstein on the bongos.

I also loved Footrot Flats, and picked up a lot of his books while I was down in Australia. One of the big influences in changing Freefall from a “Star Trek” like comic (as seen in the “older stuff” pages”) to one based more planet side.

I wanted a character that would fall into the “Helpful hindrance’ category. Florence’s ethics make things hard for Sam, but she’s too valuable to get rid of. Her canine loyalty keeps her from just walking out on him, too.

I didn’t want a human because that would tilt the tables against Sam a little too much. (He’s operating in the human controlled area of the universe.) Florence needed to be a bridge between the two.

My first sketches were of a centaur. But that soon fell through after learning how much of a contortionist a tech has to be. You have to squeeze into some pretty tight spots. The creature will have to be human sized, or a bit smaller, to be able to work well with human machines. A canine had the traits I was looking for. A dog was too tame. A wolf was much more in line of what I was looking for.

Florence goes through some rough and tumble times. I guess my influence here was Rachel Welch’s character in “The Three Musketeers”.

In order to keep “creeping features” out, I “froze” Florence at when I started the comic. If I didn’t know about something, then the designers missed it too. Obviously, life threatening errors I would have to fix.

Florence was based on the species Canis Rufus, or the Red Wolf. I figured she would be on the upper end of the weight scale when at normal weight, and then some. Florence would stand about 1.6 meters tall, and weigh about 41 KG at normal weight. (Or about 5 feet and 90 pounds). The average length (tip of nose to tip of tail) of an adult red wolf is 4.5 to 5.5 feet. The average height (at the shoulder) of an adult red wolf is about 26 inches. Adult females weigh from 40 to 75 pounds. Anyone who accuses Florence of being overweight will probably be lynched by anybody who hears them.

Wolves are kind of neat socially. The alphas back each other up against challenges from the pack. I don’t think Florence can help herself against trying to make Sam the best alpha she can. Whether or not Sam cooperates is another matter.

I did some reading on wolves to try to understand how they acted and thought. Pretty amazing animals, really. One thing I wish I had recorded was a nature show that followed a wolf pack killing a buffalo. They didn’t rush in and try to take it down. Buffalo are HUGE! They separated one from the herd and drove it away. The wolves then worked in shifts. Some would sleep, one or two always alert. Whenever the buffalo tried to eat or sleep, a wolf would move in and harass it. After a few days of this, the buffalo was dead on its feet. It got bogged down in some mud, THEN the wolves moved in and killed it. It was the first inkling I’d gotten that wolves could think ahead and plan a kill that took days instead of hours. It was also pretty clear that this was a learned behavior, being passed down from older wolves to young. In short, wolves had mems.

Can genetic safeguards really be made? To a degree, yes. One of the reasons I chose a wolf is the pack structure. As long as another wolf is the alpha, the subordinate wolves will pretty much follow along. Given the degree of genetic engineering needed to produce Florence, I would not think it unreasonable to be able to tweak in the response of a Bowman’s wolf to a human to be that of a subordinate wolf to an alpha. This is scent based and feeds right into the limbic system for emotion. Florence is more aggressive around Sam and Helix than she is when humans are around. When growing up during the puppy stage, Florence was much less aggressive. If a human yelled at her or tried to hit her, she’d assume the submissive canine position. Her owner didn’t think this was at all the way his wolf puppy should act and worked hard to get her to stand up for herself. He wasn’t able to get her to stand up on her own. But if someone went after him, he had a wolf puppy at his side ready to tear the other guy’s spleen out. (Wolves work as a male/female pair to maintain alpha status in a pack.) This gave him what he needed to build on for Florence to be able to go into “protect” mode even without him around.

Florence is a bit more restrained than her siblings. Hit a Bowman’s wolf and it will cower. Hit Florence and she may decide to hand you your liver. She knows she’s operating without a net. Whether ALL the other Bowman’s wolves are in the “proper” mind set from Ecosystems Unlimited’s view, or if more of them have broken programming like Florence, I haven’t decided. In all likelihood, Florence (and perhaps her pups) will be the only ones I develop. If other people want to play in the world and run with their own story (Like Ensign Ro), I don’t want to make too many “Ultimate” laws that will straightjacket their stories. I guess I was just tired of seeing the same old “Creature breaks its programming and goes on a killing rampage” stuff. If a creature is intelligent and ethical, why wouldn’t it choose to act ethically even after it found ways around its programming?

Humans and canines are the only animals that can jog.

I still have not found anything saying outright why canines seem to be so little affected by inbreeding. A wolf pack is basically a family tree that doesn’t branch. There is a rule saying that a species needs at least 50 members for short term survival and 200 for long term survival, but the Red Wolf was brought back from near extinction with just 14 members. (There were more than 14, but many were Red Wolf/Coyote mixes. Genetic testing was done to isolate the 14 that were still full Red Wolves, and those were used as the nucleus for the breeding program.)

There are currently 14 Bowman's Wolves (down from the 20 originally created).

In writing, every author suffers from “tunnel vision”. You’re too close to the work to really be able to see things well. One of the reasons that feedback is important, because the writer really doesn’t know if he’s going off track without it until he’s WAAAY out in the boonies. I think I got my first e-mail from a non friend about a month into the comic. It was about Florence. In the e-mails that followed, I found more people were interested in her than Sam or Helix.

Even though she was supposed to be a minor character, I wanted Florence to be an intelligent wolf, not a human with a funny looking head. Staying with Sam and Helix, she was destined for a rough life, so I needed a rough and tumble design. The most common comment I got about her early on was, simply put, to make it more obvious she was a mammal. To me, this would have ruined the character, so she stayed like she was. I’ve gotten better at drawing her, and her proportions have gotten better. But even with “tunnel vision”, I knew how I wanted her to look.

Florence’s Birthday is Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17. She's currently 26 years old, and estimates she’ll live a bit less than a human, or about 160 years.
She was named after the Italian City, but the Red Wolf wasn’t native to the area where Romulus and Remus were raised.
As far as flaws go, the easiest one to spot is she’s too trusting. As already pointed out, she has a temper. A more subtle one is that she considers herself the alpha female of the ship and Sam wanted an engineer, not a co-captain.

Florence has pads on her hands. Looking at puppy feet, the pads are soft and pink until they start walking on them. The black pads develop from this. Florence no longer uses her hands for walking, and while I don’t have any data to back me up on this, I think it’s reasonable they would lose the thick skin pads and go back to a more “puppy like” state. She drops things more than a human would, but that is more to a less developed “Brain/hand” neural development than lack of grip.

Florence is seen as a second class citizen. Her security system can't even keep out a five-year-old until the ship decides to voluntarily give her orders the same priority as a human, and most humans probably don't have the same problems Niomi does with thinking of her as property.

I draw Florence with white chest fur and her tail the same color as her body fur. But that’s just me. I feel that if anyone wants to take the time to color the comics, they should be free not to have to worry about someone looking over their shoulder saying “No, not those colors!”. Its their choice of what they think look good.

Florence reads more [than Sam], and reads everything from technical manuals to her guilty pleasure of romance novels.

Florence’s Big Toothy Grin debuted in 1997.

Florence has three fingers [and the thumb] per hand, each of which has two digits. Of course, so do the humans-hands are almost impossible to draw with the right number of fingers; just ask anybody who’s ever tried to draw them.

Florence has a permanent ear tattoo of Dr. Bowman's signature and her number. As for other ear tattoos, I don't think she'd like permanent ones, but wouldn't mind the wash off type. Please note that this doesn't mean she's met Dr. Bowman; at least, not in any meaningful sense. How many people have meaningful memories of godparents they only saw when they were two?

Florence is far more complex than is needed for the current story line, but if I had decided that the nuts and bolts of genetic engineering was where I wanted to go, that path was open to me.

Florence had three mothers, the genetic one (who provided the pre modified gene pattern), the gestational one where the embryos were implanted and brought to term (regular dog), and the mother of the family who raised her. Luckily, only one can read, so it keeps Mother’s Day cards to a minimum. Her genetic parents were probably dead before she was born, given all the testing they'd want to do before trying to create life from the DNA samples. By now her gestational one is almost certainly dead, too. But she did live a very long life for a Saint Bernard.

Florence’s owner raised her more than anyone else, but his parents were her parents. The mother is Italian, and the father from Thailand. (Picked countries I knew about, both very interesting places. I’ve been to Thailand, only read about Italy, but met and talked to lots of folks from Italy.) Cooking skills were picked up from the mother, Florence cooks by smell since a lot of the foods aren’t good for canines, and I won’t even go into what happens to dogs who eat cheese. The father was a factory location planner. He was the one who looks at what infrastructure is available in the area, rail lines, water supplies, etc, and decides if a factory can be built there without needing a lot of additional investment. I know there’s an actual term for the job, but I can’t think of it at the moment. He was the one who bought Florence when they moved to a new planet for his son to make the transition less painful. New world, but he gets a new puppy. Asian culture doesn’t have quite the same attitude towards dogs as European. Dogs are sometimes pets and watchdogs. Sometimes they’re on the dinner menu. Florence is quite close to her adopted Mother, but is working to be respected by her father. She’s very devoted to her owner. Too devoted, actually. Wolf families don’t split up below a certain size, and it’s rare a human family ever gets that big. It was with her owner’s prodding that she did leave the family and go to college, and from there the wider universe.

Florence did surprise her family when she started to talk at the age of five. She surprised Ecosystem’s Unlimited even more. Florence’s owner considers himself to be more of her big brother than anything else, and is responsible for getting Florence an early start in education (at a school for the handicapped. No hands, canine body, best place.) But he is legally Florence’s owner because she has greater legal protection that way.

She does have some rights under the Artificial Intelligence Act, but hasn’t made that an issue because it brings in a set of problems of its own. (The robots in Freefall are a species to themselves, and one of the reasons Florence has not had a really hard time in being accepted is robots have already knocked down a lot of the barriers she would have faced.) There are also the alien races humans have met, and though only Sam has really been shown, the Bowman’s Wolf is more appealing to humans than any of the alien races met.

Florence started to stand on her hind legs at about the age of 13, and also got smarter at that point. (For the technically minded, she underwent her first neural pruning process at that age. Human neural pruning occurs about the age of five.)

Essentially, the quad-to-bi shift is a “built in domestic animal” for a hunting species. The pups on four legs would be able to chase and locate prey faster than the two legged adults. Part of this comes from what I’ve learned of wolves and why other canines, like African Hunting Dogs, were never domesticated. That part comes from pack structure, and you can call off dogs from a hunt. African hunting dogs, with no clear pack leader, can’t be called back once they take off. In a primitive situation, children are needed to help with the work. For a carnivore, herding and hunting (rather than planting and gathering) would be where the help was needed.

Florence doesn’t have any human genes. Legally, that opens a whole can of worms. Far better to change the instructions for wolf genes to mimic human characteristics. If you want a dividing line, Florence has been heavily modified from the shoulders and arms upward, everything down from that is pretty much canine. (Though had to change the hip structure to accommodate human stance. The human pelvis forms a bowl that provides support to the internal organs-the shift in internal organ weight from being suspended from the spine resting in the pelvic bowl was one of the more uncomfortable parts of shifting from quadruped to biped.)
Some sections of her are direct copies of the human equivalent (for instance, the Broca’s and Wernike’s area of the left hemisphere in order for her to form and speak thoughts in a way familiar to people), other sections of her brain like the eye have been modified. (The eye is an amazingly bad design. Nerve cells on top of blood vessels with the photosensitive sections having to poke up through. The squid has an eye that is designed correctly for the function it has to perform. Human eyes are thought to be modified brain cells while squid eyes are thought to have evolved from skin cells.)

What I hope to portray is a two legged wolf. Being human, I know I’ll never think “wolf like” enough to really do it, but it’s fun to try. Emotions are pretty universal, and social species also have to be able to read the emotions of others.

Florence, while a female, does not have the hormones turned on at all times. (The endocrinology of wolves and canines is pretty nifty in how different it is from most other mammals, and one of the many reasons why canines are so hard to clone.) The hunter mind set is also considered more “male” than “female”. The bonding needs (pack forming) are still there and running strong, but it doesn’t have to do with sex or femaleness. Society exerts its own kind of pressures, which modify how the character acts on what it feels. Florence has a different mind set than human, but it’s one of the things that makes her fun to write.

Florence would look more “human” due to brain size. Larger brain means you got to have someplace to put it, giving a higher domed forehead. You can’t anchor the jaw muscles on the top of the skull any more. Like humans and apes, human and Bowman’s Wolves would need to anchor the jaws on the side of the skull. Florence would look more puppy like than an adult wolf, just like humans look more baby like than an adult ape. A puppy in a wig.

There is zero chance of a human/bowman’s wolf crossbreed, and until some pups start running about, there’s not even proof yet that the Bowman’s wolves are fertile with each other.

If you get around the telemere shortening, you can keep the cells dividing and healthy for a long time. Big problem with any reasonable way I can see of extending life that way is the cancer problem. Of course, you can also go the other way, slow down the cell division rate and make the existing cells last twice as long. From reading, the real upper limit on any time of life extension is the brain. It quite literally runs out of neurons to move about to lay down new memories. Florence’s brain is not that different from human in capacity, so life span can be made roughly the same. There would need to be a number of small tweaks made to extend canine life span this long, things like a more robust ubiquitin system for removal of old proteins, but that’s getting WAAAAAY too deep under the hood.

The shedding cycle being controlled by external factors is actually pretty simple. It’s light, with the hormone (can’t remember the name off the top of my head) being produced to match exposure. It’s mildly persistent, so will build up as days get longer and decrease as days get shorter. Really a very neat and simple system. And if you wanted to slow down a breeding cycle, very easy to circumvent.

Florence does have some pretty hefty muscle structure and anchoring bones, but not as heavy as a normal wolf. That is simply because of how she was raised, she doesn’t use her jaws as much as a normal wolf. If anybody is wondering, an adult gray wolf has a biting capacity of 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch. Humans can only exert 300 psi.

Florence has some of a bear’s genetic code in her. (Bears don’t lose bone mass when hibernating, where a human would if they were idle the same amount of time.)

Florence’s brain chemistry is better able to handle changes in temperature than humans. (Canine’s don’t maintain a steady body temperature, they vary in a range depending on the canine’s heat load. Variation can be five degrees each way from the normal body temperature of 100.2 F) Not as bad as a sloth (who’s body temperature can vary between 76 to 96 degrees for the Hoffman’s Two Toed sloth, the most of any mammal), but enough so that human neurochemistry can’t be used. But you never get something for nothing, and in Florence’s case, it’s a chemical susceptibility. It might be possible to get her drunk with a small amount of alcohol, but she usually goes from the “So what’s in this?” to the unconscious position in one step. Alcohol works by upsetting the water balance in the cells (they dehydrate). As a safety feature, Dr. Bowman has the brain go into “shut down” mode whenever neurotoxins are detected in the bloodstream.

She can also stay up for far longer than humans or wolves without adverse effects; it took four days of hard work for her to look tired enough for Sam to notice back at the colony ship.

Her hind legs are now longer than her arms, so walking on all fours requires more bend in the back legs, or keeping her head lower than her hips.

Why Florence would like Barry White: Mick Collins (writer) also thought that Florence would have an affinity for Barry White. Since he’s also a musician, that kind of spun off onto what kind of music a carnivore would like. (I think a slower section (the stalk) followed by a much faster section (dash and kill) for feline types. Wolves, being endurance hunters, would probably like Mozart. Fairly fast paced and constant.)

As for their own music, the Sawtooth wolf pack studies determined that the most beautiful howl was being done by the omega wolf. Maybe attractive, but no measure of how a wolf ranks in the pack. At least not by how we judge the howl.

Unlike sight and hearing, scent is slow and persistent. Rather than having the “buffer” cleared on each new word or sight, scent piles the new right on top of the old, giving a “layered” effect. Scent molecules are volatile, so “age” would have to be guessed at by the strength and decay rate.

Neurologically, scent is kind of interesting. It doesn’t cross like sight (ie: the left nostril feeds into the left side of the brain), and scent goes directly to the limbic system, the fast route to the brain’s emotional center.

Florence's eyes are amber, and she is a little nearsighted. Her vision is 20/20 at objects closer than 10 meters, and 20/50 beyond that range. She's also even more color-blind than an average red wolf.

Color coding for wires isn’t used much now, and the standard 3 pin connector (Hot, neutral, ground) is being talked about being phased out for a five pin connector that contains hot, neutral, ground, signal positive, signal negative for communication purposes with appliances. In America, household wiring, Hot is black, neutral is white, ground is green. Florence would see the green wire as a sort of yellow.

Hard to say if advanced systems causes senses to decay. Reading and writing require sharper vision than would be needed without it. Hearing has to adapt to pulling voices out of a high noise environment. The stresses are still there, just pulling from a different direction.

Speaking of hearing, Florence's is nothing short of amazing. Smell may be her dominant sense, but she can hear a whisper from beyond the range where a human can hear a normal conversation.

One thing I wanted to avoid in Freefall was uniqueness. It takes so much pressure off when a being is unique, as it’s only responsible for its own actions. There are no consequences to others of its species from anything they might do. Being part of a species means that you can’t just look out for yourself. Florence also fully intends to have children. This kind of crosses into the “property” area, because the Bowman’s Wolf is not a living species. (A living species is defined as a species that contains males and females capable of producing fertile offspring. New species, no offspring yet, therefore is not a living species. The Bowman’s wolf will become a living species when there are grandpups.) It costs a lot to change laws, and you’re not going to invest a lot of effort into it for a species that might not exist beyond one generation.

Florence is still in “Proof of concept” stage. It was Dr. Bowman who sped things up a bit. Generation Zero critters were supposed to stay in the lab. Dr. Bowman wanted to speed things up and released them before they were certified safe, essentially going to Stage Three (can these live well with humans?), skipping two stages. (Are they viable, and Can they live well together?)

The “race fighting for its freedom” has been done to death. Part of the “wiggle room” I had in the comic was setting poor Florence up in a situation where there weren’t enough of them for long term survival. Going for freedom means no financial motivation for the company that made them, guaranteeing extinction. This looked like something I could have fun with. It didn’t even require much of a change, just upping Florence’s aggression. It fit in the “alpha” model, and being aggressive doesn’t mean you have to be cruel. It just means you’re active in pursuing things that you think need to be done.

Besides the obvious genetically engineering, humans did a rough form of selective breeding on wolves when they expanded west. Bold and aggressive wolves didn’t last long. Only the wolves who were very cautious or very shy survived. This shows up a bit in Florence’s actions as well, and she's not the shy type.

As well as the wolf psychology, Florence was raised as the family pet during her first few years. After housebreaking, the first thing a dog is taught is to obey. Florence knows there’s some funny business going on. But to work directly against Sam? The one who has her contract, and in effect, the one she has sworn to help? Unthinkable.

Then there are the frontal lobes. The section of the brain that keeps thoughts from becoming actions. The thought “That person who cut in line, I want to bite his kneecaps off!” may go through, but not the actual biting. This is where the poor genetically engineered chimps lost out. Almost no frontal lobes. If they think it, it’s probably already half way translated into action. Florence has a well developed forebrain, probably to the point where she overthinks her actions.

Compatibility. Definitely important for the Bowman’s wolves to get along well with humans. But to pop open the hood a bit, it’s also important before creating a new species to know how humans are going to react to it. The social experiment of putting Bowman’s wolves in the general population cuts both ways. If they get along peachy with humans, but humans don’t get along with them, they’re a failure. Something as big as starting a new species on Pfouts will need public support, and the confidence in the general public that a species that may become a rival to mankind is not being created.

Emotions. Oliver Sachs, who writes the stories of folks who have suffered brain injuries (such as “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”) wrote one of a person who lost his emotional responses due to an accident. Rather than becoming a logical Mr. Spock type, he was unable to prioritize. Sorting his socks became as important as paying his bills when the electricity was to be cut off. He was taken in scams because he couldn’t judge if they were right or not. The uptake, emotions seem to be VERY necessary in determining what gets top priority. Vulcans in Star Trek would run into this problem if they ever truly suppressed their emotions.

I left a lot of “wiggle room” in the comic so that if I wanted to explore in different directions, I’d have the flexibility to do it. The other Bowman’s wolves sit in this “gray” area. I have one of the other females as an actress (Children’s show.) and one as a geneticist (Mostly because Ecosystem’s Unlimited is being so secretive about them, they’re trying to figure out a few things for themselves). The other eight females, no idea of what they’re up to.

Florence can, in theory, drink from a straw. Whether or not she's even considered it yet is another matter.

Another matter that's being left to our imagination for now is whether Florence learned ventriloquism from Scott or if he learned it so he could better advise her on how to make certain sounds. My bet is on the latter, but you never know... she just might surprise us some time by throwing her voice. She might already have done it to avoid shouting.

Part of the game plan for survival is to uphold a high moral standard, so humans know the species is safe to be around. One of the males quickly came to the realization there’s not a lot of males, and if they want his genetic contribution, he wants to be paid for it. Enough so that he doesn’t have to work again. Ever. You can see why this might cause some dissent within the species. Of the other two males, one is 'married to his work' and the other is quite happy to live a monogamous life with one of the other females.

Right now, Florence is legally a “genetic prototype”, which means she is property. She was sold mostly because Ecosystem’s Unlimited didn’t realize what they were selling-Bowman's Wolf embryos. Embryos of just a few cells can be frozen, and don’t require any complicated life support other than liquid nitrogen. Dr. Bowman sold the embryos, which were implanted in surrogate mothers at the destinations. In short, it was relatively cheap for him to ship them and get them well spread out, but once they became puppies, it would be prohibitively expensive for Ecosystems Unlimited to issue a “recall” on them. While she was sold for the equivalent of five dollars, the value of a potential Bowman’s Wolf puppy has gone up considerably since then.

If the Bowman’s Wolf were intentionally released, Ecosystems Unlimited would be responsible for them and their actions. (They may be organic, but they’re still A.I.s. Product liability and all that stuff.) But if they were accidentally released, that would take the legal liability off of them as long as they had made reasonable efforts to recall the product. And if you put those two together, you’ll see that Dr. Bowman was using EU’s greed against them to give the Wolves a chance to do that same thing themselves.

[Bowman's Wolves are] an untested, first generation, self replicating artificial intelligence, released unsupervised into the environment. You can imagine what most regulators would think upon hearing that. Florence considers it lucky the Bowman’s Wolf did not have its “self replicating” features removed entirely. Some of this goes into the safeguards. With only 14, there are not enough to form a stable population and will die out unless a conscious decision is made to ensure the survival of the species. Florence hopes they’ll be able to buy their own kids. She’s also aware that she might not be able to, or even allowed to buy all of them. Which is why she bought her first through her legal owner. If you go by the analogy of human slavery, he'd automatically own any offspring of his BW; however, insisting on that would only cause problems between Ecosystems Unlimited and Scott, and by extension, Florence. EU would probably take it as the entire species trying to swindle them, and you could kiss any more planned 'series' of BWs good-bye.

Bowman’s wolves are slow breeders. But even if they could outbreed humans, there’s the food problems, and how well they can get along with each other in large groups. There’s all kinds of novels where what man creates gets out of control. Frankenstein. The Terminator. Colossus, the Forbin project. Common sense says that if you’re going to make a self replicating A.I., you BETTER have a way to shut it down. Something I’m sure that has crossed Florence’s mind from time to time.

She was not made with right-handed amino acids, and would die on Pfouts just like any human. The prototyping was to make a non intelligent non humanoid animal into a human like one. That was the “proof of concept”. Then you’d be in a better position to argue with the funding folk about being able to do it with right handed amino acids several star systems away. (Florence was expensive to design, but a drop in the bucket compared to the amount that would be needed to move people and equipment to the Pfouts.)

On why they’d engineer-up creatures from Pfouts, which is why the Bowman’s Wolves were made in the first place: Why not just limit our numbers here and stay on Earth forever? Pretty obvious. All our eggs are in one basket. Something happens to the Earth, everything’s gone. Better to spread out a bit so that no one localized catastrophe can take out the entire species… [but culture] is really the bottom line. So if you had a choice, and could only choose one, which would you consider more important? Our genetics destroyed, but our culture goes on, or our culture destroyed and our genetics go on? Earth’s near-miss with destruction from a meteor taught them the importance of being prolific on a galactic scale, and so they made many ships to explore and colonize any inhabitable world. Natives were destroyed so that each planet could be claimed by the growing Empire, which could not shake the paranoid fear of centuries past. Ever their ships went onward, their motto (insofar as they had any such things) always the same: We will survive. –The beginnings of Dark Trek’s Empire.

Also, all question of ethics aside, they need a ship dock there and total sterilization of the planet has an even more prohibitive price tag.

Perhaps one day I’ll go into some of the details of Florence’s “safeguards”, but like so many things, its nature and nurture which controls the final result.

Florence worries more about her modesty than is physically necessary. Becoming a teenager (puberty) for her resulted in going from a quadruped to a biped, and the rules about what she should wear changed with it. For her, clothing shows she is following appropriate human behavior, and can be trusted to uphold human standards. Rather like there is no physical reason to wear a three piece suit, or to be embarrassed to be seen in our underwear, but those things affect us anyway.

Tight fitting clothes are a bit of a problem, but there are a number of advantages that outweigh loose fitting clothes when you have a furred creature working on a space station. (Where Florence was before she came to work for Sam and Helix.) First off, it keeps the fur from becoming airborne in an environment where gravity effects (Centripetal force from the station spinning) are light and ventilation is on all the time. The arms would bump into things more to hold your position (especially near the station access), and it keeps the fur from being caught in what you’re working on. It also helps the body with its water management, since in low gravity, you get a bloating effect. And while you hope it will never be used, it gives some extra protection in the event of explosive decompression and allows you to get into a spacesuit much faster than if you had loose fitting clothing.

Another item to consider with fur is that you don’t need to have “tube” designs. Like hair bows, you can have clothing that attaches to the fur. With Bowman’s wolves being such a minor species in the consumer market, it’s not something I would expect the designers to pick up for a while.

And it's probably obvious, but Florence's shirt size is smaller than Sam's. She's taller, but Sam's spacesuit is wider.

The Kevlar suit: Kevlar is great stuff. It doesn’t burn. It’s resistant to most chemicals. Electrically non conductive. Not bullet proof (except in multiple layers), but cut resistant. It also doesn’t cause friction burns, which lead to a rather unique high rise escape system of a kevlar tube that you would use your arms and legs to press against the side to slow your descent to the ground. Problem is the average tenant didn’t read how it worked, and would keep their arms and legs close, making the tube a guide for the falling people, and causing them to injure people who were using it properly. Ah, well, Good idea, but too easily defeated by those who didn’t know what they were supposed to do.

The “medallion” is the pull tab for the zipper on the front of her shirt. The black patches help define Florence’s rib cage, and are velcro strips. Yep, for micro gravity work.

Florence’s black suit: It is a thermal liner for her spacesuit. I was tempted to go even a bit further and use the micro particle idea for increased radiation resistance, but figured that would be used in the outer suit rather than an undersuit. (Pretty sure this is how they’re doing the “radiation reducing clothing” that appeared a little bit ago, but the folks who make the cloth aren’t talking.)

Carbon Nanotubes would have been easier, but I’m starting to see the word “Nano” being used as the equivalent to “magic”. So I’m trying to avoid using that word. A lesser concern is that buckytubes are zero resistance conductors (not superconductors, they won’t levitate a magnet), which would add to the skin sensor complexity by needing insulation. Diamond is an insulator, which avoids all that. To actually make such a thing work, it would probably have to be a combination of diamond and bucky tube to get both heat conduction and flexibility.

The waist padding. Had to think about if I should even put that in, or leave a pure black body suit. Reading about how space suits work, they are made more for the comfort of men than women in regards to sanitary systems. The “There has to be a better way” part of my mind started working. Using a plastic “harness” instead of a catheter would seem to be much more comfortable, and lessens the chances of a “tube pull”. The tubing from the life support pack can then connect to a secure plastic harness in the back using quick disconnects rather than having to thread a plastic tube in all the way. None of the details of this are going to show up in the comic. Just more “under the hood” stuff that in this case wouldn’t be appropriate to explain the workings in the regular comic.

The white shoes on the body stocking are nonskid, and are just there for mobility both in and out of the suit.

To make a suit tough as well, you’d want to put Kevlar over the top of it. The sensors that control temperature in Florence’s space suit are in the backpack. Greatly simplifies things to only have to take one temperature that is representative for the entire body.

It’s gotten to where I’m starting to appreciate simplicity in design. I still have a little to show on the airlock and how it works, but I tried to make as simple a workable design as I could. Suit is on a docking collar. Person gets in the suit, backpack goes on. Shut the little door (which fits over the backpack), very little air left between. No need for pumps. Undock, open the door to the cargo bay (maintains two air barriers.) and you’re good to go. Getting out is the procedure in reverse. The “airlock” the suit is in is about the size of a closet. Catastrophic failure? The engineering space is big enough for the closet size airlock to be filled in no time. Of course, I do have it easier than today’s designers. I’ve postulated high energy storage mediums for the robots, and suits are also easier if you have lots of energy. You can cut down a lot on those bulky gas bottles.

The suit uses the good ol’ electric algae that I had listed back in comic 574. Pack still has to be pretty big, because no matter how you look at it, you at least need a volume chamber for pressure control. (I went the cheap route and just used a pressurized oxygen cylinder.) Like today’s suits, it’s low pressure and high oxygen. One problem with that is the hair becomes oxygen saturated. Spend a good amount of time in the suit and you come out with hair that is highly flammable. While getting more in detail than the comic is ever likely to see, the switches are “sip and puff” switches. They work in conjunction with voice controls. The visor is an active component, and can show menu items, pictures, manuals, etc.

Sweat. I simplify where I can. Canines don’t sweat, (except for their paw pads) so I didn’t need to worry about it. For clothing that is designed to wick away sweat and keep you warm, there is Gortex. Layered material, haven’t owned any gortex items myself, but I hear it works well. For low tech, a material that keeps you warm even when wet is wool.

Thinking about actual work in space, the little reaction guns are fairly tricky to use and the MMU’s (Manned Maneuvering Units) are huge and bulky. The “I can do better” thoughts started going. A base with a strong permanent magnet and an electric motor would make a nice simple scooter for getting around. Magnetic fields can’t get through a superconductor, so a “shutter” can be used to turn off the magnetic pull for lifting it over the airlock hatchway. The tool bag is a patch of cloth that unrolls with the tools attached to it. The “grey bit” on Florence’s glove is just a piece of soft plastic with holes in it. It’s used to push a plug into it that is attached to a string (Lanyard for you navy types) which tethers the tools. Easy way to keep tools from floating out of the cargo bay when you need to put it down for a second.

There’s really no reason for separate legs in a microgravity environment. If I need a suit with legs, well, that is why I mentioned that there were two suits in that big box which arrived some strips ago. The legless version is the economy model. It also removes a suit weak point. Thinnest areas on a suit are between the legs and under the arms. Can only add so much cloth there before it starts to interfere with movement.

I use lots of superconductors on the ship, which would actually levitate the magnet rather than hold it down. For the cargo bay and the outside, there are “highway strips” run for the use of the magnetic scooter. It would have been simpler to use an iron core for the scooter and used the superconductors of the ship to generate the field, but that means losing power lets your scooter loose. I prefer passive systems for anything that keeps you from floating off into space.

There are two tethers on the suit. I’ve had the opportunity to work high without a net wearing a parachute like harness. You have two tethers that you move with you as you progress, so you’re never without an attached line. For a cargo bay, I would think you would want one always attached to where you can pull yourself to the airlock. A second short tether would be attached at the job site so you don’t go flying far if something should happen. Top

Sam Starfall  

Finally managed to get an hour leeway in my schedule, so here's something on Sam. Again, everything not in italics is quoted from Mark.

Any similarity to a sock puppet named Lamb Chop is purely coincidental, and thinking about it too much has caused multiple instances of hearing her voice whenever reading Sam’s lines. It’s probably a good thing I have no idea who she is.

I think part of the reason I like the Sqid name is because of the spelling. Squid, except U don’t want to be anyplace near Sam.

I should explain a little bit on why Sam is like what he is. To give him a personality, I had to sit down and work out where he came from. I used the Earth Octopus as the jump off point. Tentacles are good for pulling, but have almost no push strength at all. There’s always evolutionary pressure. What would happen with an octopus that was forced to move onto land to survive? With no internal skeleton, hydraulics could be used (Like spiders do, using blood pressure to make the legs extend), or they could start to use tools to make their own “artificial” skeletons.

In the beginning, tools would be “foraged”. No real work, just whatever natural stones or sticks in the right shape they could find. Like penguins with limited rocks, an advantage would go not only to those land squids who could find good tools, but also to those who could take the tools others had already found. Where as humans had to worry about theft once they developed agriculture, the land squids evolved with theft from their earliest evolution.

Octopi have big brains, good motor skills, but short lives. Both sexes die shortly after mating. So another little tweak was involved. If a number of the squids were sterile and didn’t try to reproduce, they would have longer life spans. The society would split into those that would produce young and die young, and those that would grow to be old codgers, but not produce any offspring.

There are never enough kids to go around. Imagine how things would be here for child labor if you could go out and grab unclaimed kids. (And claimed ones, if the parent isn’t looking.) It’s a bit more chaotic to raise a child on Sam’s world than on Earth. The ones who survive do get wiser and trickier.

Now you have some competition. The shorter lived squids competing with their longer lived brethren. Life is always about scarcity of resources. Even in abundant places, life will expand to make resources scarce. The sterile squids don’t contribute to future populations, they don’t have their genes carry on. There’s no reason for them to act for anything but their own short term gain. (Okay, there is the “altruism” factor that works in sacrifice for closely related beings. But that occurs in species that produce a few offspring, not thousands.) So how could it ever be an advantage to have squids like this around?

For this, the answer is dispersal. If the sterile ones have “wanderlust” and go to other squids’ areas and mess them up, the fertile squids that produce these sterile “saboteurs” would have the advantage just by messing up their neighbors. As for the wanderers, skills to blend in and avoid detection for the saboteur squid would be necessary. But you don’t want them to blend in to such an extent where they are helpful to the community they go to. That would undercut the whole “Move and sabotage” advantage to the original colony. It also gives the weird sort of pride that if you have a particularly successful saboteur, he’d be a home town hero, even if the home town didn’t want him back.

It was from this that Sam’s personality came out. My own opinion of him isn’t as an evil being. From a comedy stand point, Sam is the easiest character to write for. His goals and motivations are close enough to human that people can figure out what he’s up to, but they don’t fit well into how we think society should go.

Sam is probably closest to an octopus combined with a lamprey. I will have to show a shot of an arm or a leg with the suit off so the armatures are visible that Sam manipulates with his tentacles to give the appearance that he’s humanoid. Physically, he’s cool blooded (My own word. Maintains body temperature within 10 degrees Celsius of a setpoint), requires a 40 percent oxygen atmosphere (his suit isn’t air tight, and the backpack is an oxygen concentrator), and the species evolved in a wetter climate than humans.

Sam’s race is a bit like the Lungfish in that they can encyst themselves in harsh times. (In their own society, this also gives the ability to lie low for a decade or so.) It’s dangerous, and fifty percent of the ones who encyst don’t survive. Sam did sneak on board the human ship, encysted due to lack of oxygen (Only 21 percent oxygen in human atmospheres, too low for Sam’s race to remain conscious), and was found when the ship was already back in human space.

Anything that shortens reaction time is usually a good thing, and putting the sense organs near the brain is has been a sound survival tactic. I haven’t decided if I should go “squid evolution” where the eyes evolved from skin cells or “mammal evolution” where the eyes evolved from brain cells for him yet.

Sam’s real name is a modulated electric signal. His species uses vocalization for simple warnings, but they need to get close to communicate beyond that. (In having fun with alien designs, figured why should ever intelligent species use modulated sound waves to communicate?)

Sam’s filters are foam. Air filters need to be dry to work. Water or oil clogs the filter by not allowing air flow through those points. Sam’s biology isn’t as efficient as a mammals, and with water exhalation in a semi closed suit, dehumidifying is needed more than a humidifier. (Its pure guesswork if an intelligent dinosaur would have arisen without Mr. Asteroid coming to visit. But it did allow another 65 million years to practice cellular biochemistry. Sam’s planet never had a “killer asteroid” hit, and is dealing with less advanced cellular systems.)

Oxygen is common, and a pretty good energy source. Sam’s chemistry needed to be fairly close to Terran if I didn’t want to have all the complications of different amino acids. Keeping things simple, the suit doesn’t have to be tightly sealed. Just keep it as a positive pressure.

Sam’s biochemistry is not as efficient as a mammals, and has less strength with even more oxygen available to him.

Sam’s survival chances increased greatly by getting off [his home] planet. The royal family is not too happy with him due to an incident involving a zeppelin, a “Loop the loop” maneuver, and pudding. Lots and lots of pudding.

Sam sees more in the blue green end of the spectrum, better for seeing under water.

Sam’s race is a long way removed from the sea creatures he evolved from. They can’t even swim any more, unless they have something inflatable, or a set of “Swimming bones”, they sink. There are still a lot of them who ply the sea trades, but the closest thing they have to swimming is like our kayaking.

Sam enjoys the eating far more than the cooking. His choice of ingredients is about the same for a meal, he just likes them aged a bit more. This was in response to a question on if Sam would like the Vet’s cooking.

Sam’s planet is considerably more primitive than where he is now. About Victorian steam age. So the 50 kg of diamonds he conned Niomi and Tangent for would be valuable on his planet.

Beekay (The sounds the initials B.K. make when you say them. Short for bunny killer, since he goes under the furniture, and like a living dust mop, kills all the dust bunnies) likes biting Sam more for the noises he makes than the taste. (Cheap environment suit.)

Sam’s suit is wetter on the inside than the outside normally. The suit isn’t airtight, but concentrates oxygen like the previous post says. But mostly he was wearing it because he’s less identifiable in a rainsuit (at least when running away) than his normal blue environment suit would be. Why Sam was wearing a raincoat during the hurricane.

If you saw Sam’s “bones” when he wasn’t in them, they would look a bit like a jointed stick man. He has to pull on all the parts with his tentacles to get them to move, and they run through all the parts of his “body”. (Though he can withdraw them if he chooses.)

The “bones” that make up Sam’s acquired skeleton are the things that are most stolen among his species. Sam may be able to better navigate in micro gravity without them, but he would never willingly give them up.

Why does a squidlike alien need underwear and socks? Because it’s funny. He also needs a type of underwear to keep his external “skeleton” from chafing, and to help keep him from sticking to the inside of his environment suit.

Sam wears a scarf because his helmet seal leaks and it hasn’t been fixed yet. From a “under the hood” look, it’s because he looks more like a WW1 pilot that way.

Like anything else, Sam occasionally needs to clean off, and that is why the shower stall was there. (Just needs a breathing mask, and showers at night.)

Swiping things is Sam’s normal state. He has to work against his nature NOT to borrow unattended objects.

Sam also likes bad movies, but would also read rap sheets, and would keep up on the latest scams to see what he could adapt for his own use. Top

The Savage Chicken  (Art by Patch)

I decided I really should finish this before winter break, so here's the final set of quotes from Mark. There's about ten pages of miscellany, too, but people would get lost in that no matter how much I organized it. As noted in other threads, everything not in italics is from Mark.

It will be some time before the ship gets sold. I just wanted the ship to have some more motivations in life other than killing Sam. Now its got a goal to work for, and enough free will to take its own actions in reaching that goal.

The SC is a general purpose ship. Used for atmospheric work as well as orbital (and when the second fusion reactor gets repaired) and light in system work. The ejection seats are for work in the atmospheric stage, and are disabled when atmospheric pressure drops too low.

Being one of the initial ships in system, it was designed to be fairly robust, and operate even if all the systems weren’t up. When a planet is being terraformed and initial industry still isn’t in place, sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got. As a system gets more civilized, the rules get tighter.

I’ve done what I can to make the ship look primitive and workable. Big flat plates instead of the smoothed curved plates that high tech finished products have. Valves, pumps, motors, circuit breakers. I also needed to keep the bottom of the ship pretty flat for both stability during re entry and to get a good coupling on the magnetic launch system that runs up a mountainside.

I had originally wanted to use the NASA type idea for Olympic Mons on Mars, where the volcano is so high, it actually sticks out of the atmosphere. But discussing it with a few folks, you just can’t build a mountain that big under Earth Gravity. (Sides slide down the mountain due to the weight, and if they didn’t, it would tend to sink into the crust.)

I used the Space Shuttle to get a rough idea of the size and thrust and weight [of the SC]. Basically, it’s a two times scale up of the space shuttle, but with fusion rather than chemicals providing power. I’ll have to look a bit closer to see if the numbers work out. After all, a two times scale up of a bumblebee can’t fly, and I'm REALLY good at making stupid mistakes with my numbers.

The ship’s A.I. is much more focused than Helix. If it doesn’t affect how the ship will perform or its mission, it doesn’t care. Though it could be argued that the ship is just as flexible as most of the robots; not only did it once think it could ignore orders, it’s started working on getting Sam hurt ever since Florence convinced it it couldn’t kill him.

The SC has a three stage engine system. For intra-atmosphere flight puopulsion is provided by turbofans which is the turned into vectored thrust, providing both lift and thrust. A system the same as a Harrier jump jet.

For that transition stage where the air is too thin for the air turbines, but still deep enough in the gravity well for the low thrust constant boost methods, I went very simple. Water. A steam rocket with a fusion reactor as the heat source. It’s also used in space to give extra thrust. Downside is that it is reaction mass, and thus rather limited.

The ship “wings” contain a lot of water. The most energy costly part is getting the ship out of the gravity well, so designed that the maximum amount of water is between the reactor and the cockpit at this time. As the steam drive goes into effect, water is lost and shielding goes down, but not to any unsafe levels. In space, the reactors can be operated at lower power and less shielding is needed. (Yes, spent way too much time with some of the details of the ship.)

For re entry, the ship can just drop into the atmosphere until the air is thick enough for use as reaction mass.

The other way than FTL to get things around is to build them in a system that has factories and then just give them a push and let them drift to the next star system for pick up. When starting terraforming, this is the cheaper way of getting things there until local manufacturing can take over. Takes decades to go from point A to point B, but it’s cheap. That’s how Sam’s ship arrived in the system.

For preservation of the ship’s interior, it helps to hold a magnetic field around the ship to deflect charged particles. You don’t want to leave a reactor running on its all that way, and with superconductors, you can make some really good power storage cells. The Savage Chicken has one fusion reactor down (500 MW reactor), but still has the 1500 MW/HR of storage capacity that was used during its long slow trip from the system that built it to the system its in now.

Iron Jets. Here I’m using another idea from Nasa. Earth is in the Arm of Orion, a big cloud of iron dust. Once you have nuclear fusion, your problem isn’t energy, it’s reaction mass. (Yep, keeping it primitive. No reactionless drives here.) Once in space, you can use a set of magnetic scoops to pull in the iron and accelerate it out the back. Free reaction mass. The thrust for this wouldn’t be very great, since the iron dust even in heavy areas (like where Earth is) is still pretty diffuse.

By projecting a magnetic scoop in front of the ship, iron and other magnetic materials are pushed in the intakes, accelerated by a magnetic induction driver, and squirted out the back, thus providing low power, but constant thrust. Since this is a ramjet arrangement scoop the ship has to be moving at a sufficient speed to obtain enough 'reaction mass' to work. The teakettle provides that initial thrust. Notice also the exhaust port is located inline with the intakes. Important to obtain maximum acceleration. As for Stardrive, the SC is a purely in-system ship. The D.A.V.E. Dangerous and Very Expensive-Mark named it DAVE when questioned about what he calls his ‘warp drive,’ but it was left as just an acronym until Arc Nova ‘named’ it. dilation drive is only used on massive transport ships.

Ben Bova pointed out that objects in space acquire a slight negative charge (due to photons removing electrons by Compton Scattering.), so while iron is the stuff I'm interested in for reaction mass, other particles would work too.

The ship is highly compartmentalized. I had thought about the “launch suits” that a shuttle crew wears, but Sam doesn’t have a vacuum suit, and Florence went up without one to show unity with the Captain. (Only time it would be faster to suit up than to change compartments would be during the boost phase.) Any accident large enough to take out so many compartments that this is no longer true would take out the ship.

Ships are always a little bit noisy. There’s the ventilation fans constantly running, the pumps to keep the reactor cool, the life support systems. Just as long as there are no loud bangs or complete silence, things are usually working as expected.

In micro gravity, leak sealing is kind of neat. Since pressure forces everything to the leak, having “blow out” packs with something as simple as 10 cm by 10 cm thin pads of rubber could seal most expected leaks. Some of the “messier” versions I’ve seen from NASA use hardening foam.

Most engineering spaces are built with the expectation that only people who know what they're doing will be in there. Not only are things not fitted with “Molly guards”, covers over stop/reset switches or, in this case, things like the self-destruct or power trip buttons a certain amount of Darwinism comes into play. Those are spaces that will little effort, you can open things up that will allow you to kill yourself.

Metal fatigue. This becomes more detectable using superconductive cermets, since cracks would show up as no conductive points to high frequencies. (Same way a Time Domain Reflectometer works.) So ship hull integrity is easy to check. Seal integrity? That’s a bit harder. I made the ship with double doors every place where there is a vacuum on the other side, and guess I need to show the “pull down” door that fits on the cargo bay door inside the ship.

Interstellar space is pretty sparse pickings. (Average density of matter in space being 1x10e-27 grams/cubic centimeter). But about a thousand or so years ago, the Earth moved into the Arm of Orion (or Orion Arm, depending on which site you look at). The Arm of Orion is mostly made of iron, nickel, and silicates. To cut to the chase, our solar system is now moving through a dust cloud with an average density of 1x10e-19 grams/cubic centimeter, or 100 million times denser than average interstellar space. We should be in the Arm of Orion for about another 50,000 years.
I would love to say I came up with the idea, but the folks at NASA beat me to it with ideas on collecting this dust for station keeping reaction mass for satellites. Just about everyone is familiar with Bussard Ram Jets that scoop up interstellar hydrogen. With the dust available, it becomes possible to get decent amounts of reaction mass without having to go ludicrous speeds.

I used [a size of] 100 kilometers (50 Km radius, or area of 7854 square Km) [for the iron jets]. Now to do a simple trip to Mars using a Hohmann Transfer Ellipse for our path, the distance is 1.43605x10e9 Km. That gives (assuming you can catch all the mass there) 1.128x10e6 Kg of mass. Not a bad haul, really.

So essentially there are not 'thrusters' visible on the outside of the ship, only the common exhaust port.
Now since one gets maximum thrust in a linear type mass driver one assumes that the 'acceleration tubes' are straight. This puts them in line with the intakes and the exhaust port. A smaller section of the intakes (which basically cover 80% of the front quadrant of the ship no there is plenty of 'space' are the air intakes for the turbines. By piping off some of the plasma from the fusion engine a MPD turbine connected to a compressor could easily provide the necessary airflow. The high power of this flow would allow it to be ducted into the main thrust tube. The teakettle engine is a bit more tricky as it requires the water to come into close proximity of the fusion core to be superheated. This would mean that it would have to be close to the reactor and to prevent damage to the thrust tube would need to be shielded. All from Ashe, but Mark didn’t object, so I’m assuming I just missed it somewhere.

For the Freefall universe, I’m trying to keep the science pretty much what we have today. Easier to write when I understand the underlying physics. So no faster than light communications. If you want to send a message from one place to another, you have to do it by sending a ship.
I [also] decided to go with known technology (Cermets, like the armor on the M1 tank) and use “good enough” stuff [for ship construction]. I also like things that are simple, and big ol’ diamond plates are simple and effective. (Diamond over titanium. With fusion, power is cheap, and titanium is the seventh most abundant element in the Earth’s crust). The hull of the Savage Chicken is a type two superconductor sandwiched between cermet plates.

Fermi One used liquid sodium for coolant. It was a fast breeder reactor run for Uncle Sam and long since decommissioned. For non-breeders, water works great. What you are looking for in a thermal plant is an atom about the same mass as a neutron. Then a collision transfers about half its energy, and slows down the neutron in the minimum number of collisions. (Thermal neutrons in this case are considered to be moving at the same speed as the other molecules at the same temperature.)

The Asimov’s reaction mass is expelled from the four small pipes on the outside of the general equipment cylinders. It was a rough design, and I was still kicking around in my head if it would be better to have it self propelled or to use a strap on rocket pack that would be jettisoned before the DAVE drive went on. They’re not more obvious because I was leaving myself wiggle room.

Almost every science fiction story has one “magic” bit, usually a faster than light drive. But even with science, we have our bits and pieces that no one knows WHY some things occur, like quantum tunneling and quantum non locality. Must be due to the Cheese Sandwich drives.

The DAVE drive in Freefall is essentially a low grade wormhole. Taking the Einstein/Rosen bridge and combining it with Hawking’s theories on time, a perfect wormhole would be timeless since there is nothing to degrade. No entropy, no time. But put matter into it, now you’ve got time. At least until the matter within reaches thermal equilibrium.

There is a sort of FTL in Freefall. I took what Stephen Hawkings said about time, and put that together with the standard Einstein/Rosen bridge. (1935, Einstein and Nathan Rosen suggest that separate parts of space may be connected by timeless bridges. Otherwise known as a wormhole.) So I played around with this for a bit, and came up with what happens if you lower space time density in an area. Light speed goes up, and to preserve relativity, the rate of time increases. This is where I have to use a bit of “magic”, since while we have dynamic vacuum theory, we currently don’t have anyone even making guesses on how it can be manipulated.

To make a long story short, the starships in Freefall make pockets of lower space time density, increasing the rate at which they go through time. From their point of view, they never exceed light speed, and it takes them years to travel from point to point. From the planet based observer, they make the trip in a much shorter time. (Such as a week.) The ships have to be overhauled at their destination, and cold sleep is needed for the passengers to keep supplies down to a reasonable amount. (And also to make them less susceptible to radiation, since cell vulnerability is based on reproduction rate.) Kind of an odd way to make an “FTL” drive, but only one I could even come close to getting the physics to work for.

Mass/energy equivalence causes the rate of time to slow down. If you could do it without being ripped into tiny pieces, the same effects can be done by lowering a person towards a black hole. Gravitational effects, acceleration effects, the theory doesn’t care which causes it. On the other hand, less mass energy in an area, the faster time goes. (Stephen Hawkings explains this in “A brief history of time” in far more detail than I can do in a forum.)
An easy way to think of it is to take a box made of a material that matter or energy can not pass through, and has no mass or energy of it’s own. Make the box one meter by one meter by one light year long. Now take all the matter and energy out from the inside of the box and seal it. This is our old friend, the Einstein/Rosen bridge, in a box for convenient handling and to wave about at birthday parties. Nothing to it, really.
The nifty thing about the box is that all the points on the inside of the box are touching. Not because they’re actually touching, but because there’s nothing inside the box to define space/time. If we were to shoot a photon into the end of the box, it would come out the other side instantly. (This is assuming it hits at the right angle, doesn’t tunnel out or collapse into background radiation, etc.) The fun begins when you start to let energy and matter leak into the box.

For all practical purposes, this box can be considered a separate universe. Okay, it’s a pretty boring universe, nothing in there. So we’ll let a single electron in. Fills up the entire box. (Big electron, but only mass/energy in there.) Now Hawkings has said that time is a measure of entropy, and in order for time to progress, there has to be order going into disorder. With just one electron, there is no interaction, and still no time inside the box, even though something is there. So we’ll add another electron with a bit higher energy. Photon exchanges, entropy, we now have time in our little universe. But it soon reaches a stable state, heat death has occurred, and time stops again. But if you add more particles, there is more and more room for interaction, and “time” moves at a slower rate.

Distance will have to wait for another day. I have to admit I’m still a bit confused about some of the aspects of distance. Einstein has said mass creates space/time, but there is space/time where there is no mass. When you accelerate an object, it gains mass equivalence. So can energy be a component of distance, and removing energy remove space/time? Guess it’s still the simple questions like “Why is there distance in interstellar space?” still stump me. Top