The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Christmas Star Protocol

The following little SF piece was originally posted in 2012 when there was rampant speculation about Mayan Calendars and the End of Times. 

The Dreamship moved along the outer band of the Mobius curve of the universe at one hundred times the speed of light. Reaching the point at which the outside became the inside, the ship slipped into time.

The Pilot was of necessity asleep and would remain so until the end of the mission when he brought the Dreamship back out of the universe and into eternity. His mission was simple: transport the Judges to the developing world in question and bring them out again. The Judges' mission was the difficult one; amongst themselves they frequently called these missions "End Times" missions.

As always, there were three of them. In current binary terms, they were 101, 111, and 000. In ancient nomenclature, they were two men and a woman. We'll call them Sam, John, and Ruby.

Most often their missions took them to the fourth planet from the local sun, but in this instance, it was the third planet out, a waterworld class planet which meant that at least 65% of the surface was covered with water.

The beings on this planet had reached a stage of development where it was necessary that the Judges make a determination regarding the beings' future existence. If the Judges judged wrong and allowed these beings or those on any "developmental" world who were following the wrong path to continue to live, the entire harmony of the universe would be destroyed and chaos and eventually total destruction would ensue.

The Boss would not be happy because that would mean starting the whole "universe" experiment over again from scratch, beginning at the point of the initial creative explosion. And that took an enormous amount of planning and engineering.

Only about one in ten worlds met the Judges' strict criteria for survival. The other nine were eliminated, swiftly and efficiently. The Dreamship was outfitted with a simple sonic device designed by the Boss which allowed the Judges to eliminate the world instantly if that was their decision.

A highly sophisticated and hidden monitoring system was in place and had been recording data since the beings on the planet had evolved to a certain level. That level included a strong and positive value system and organization into a cohesive society which permitted the maximum amount of individual freedom. There were several thousand other points of measure that the Judges considered too.

When the invisible Dreamship achieved an orbit around the world in question, the Judges moved to the observation room to examine the records available. It was clear that many of the societies on the planet were moving in the wrong direction, but there were a few which seemed promising. The Hebrews had introduced basic morality and worshiped a single deity. The Greeks, as they were referred to, had developed a democracy, and the Romans, though lacking in some areas, were bringing organization and order.

On the first vote, John and Ruby were split. Ruby voted for elimination. John voted for continuation. Sam wavered. It was a most unusual situation. After a spirited discussion, Sam convinced them that the necessary evidence was sufficient to allow the use of the rare and infrequently used "Star" stimulation to push the world's beings along the right path. "The Boss created the Star Protocol," he said, "for just this kind of situation." Besides the helpful stimulant, the Star Protocol provided a time extension which allowed the world in question a fixed but generous amount of time to reach a level of satisfactory development.

Because they had been split in their vote (which rarely happened), John and Ruby saw the logic of utilizing this extreme measure. They were fully aware that they would have to fully explain and justify their decision to the Boss but felt confident in their reasoning.

All three immediately  touched their screens to implement the Star Protocol.

An artificial "star" was instantly created outside the orbit of the planet's moon; the star would move along a pre ordained path for three years and would be visible to all beings on the planet. On a specified date, a special human would be born with selectively coded DNA from the Boss himself. This individual would be a divine but human teacher who would bring a new morality. The three judges hoped the beings on the planet would embrace the morality and use it to build a viable society that would endure. 

At the end of the designated time the "star" would disappear and the special individual would reach maturity. The Judges were hopeful that the appearance of such a star and a divine teacher could possibly stimulate development along a positive path.

The Judges telepathically interacted with the Pilot; the invisible Dreamship quickly left orbit around the waterworld and almost instantaneously reached the outer band of the Mobius curve. It slipped seamlessly back into eternity.

Once they were outside time, John and Ruby maintained their objectivity about the world in question. But Sam was pulling for the little planet and its people. He liked their grit. And they made really good beer.

The Judges would return 2200 solar years later to make the final decision about the planet's survival.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Outlaws and Desperadoes

Over the last few decades, many country singers have been classified as "outlaws." Some say that this "outlaw country" music developed from an opposition to the "Nashville Sound" of the late '50s, '60s, and early '70s which had been shaped by producers like Chet Atkins. Atkins and his contemporaries favored "'smooth strings and choruses,' 'sophisticated background vocals,' and 'smooth tempos.'"

Some writers believe Waylon Jennings started the revolt while others argue that it was wild man David Alan Coe whose singing and behavior led to the now coveted outlaw label. Certainly Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams, Jr. were part of the "revolution" as well.

The photo to the right ("Kris Willie Waylon" by Bozotexino, Licensed under Public Domain via Commons) shows young Kristofferson, Nelson in shades, and clean shaven Jennings at Willie's 1972 4th of July picnic.

But there's an earlier use of the term "outlaw" in music. Historically, many ballads have been written about outlaws, enough to call the outlaw ballad a sub genre. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature mentions outlaw ballads written and sung at the end of the Middle Ages (the 14th and 15th centuries) about Robin Hood and suggests that the outlaw tradition is even older.

Country music writers and performers have kept that tradition alive in modern times. There are many examples of outlaw ballads in country music. This link leads to two John Dillinger ballads, the first sung by Joe Smith (the Colorado Cowboy), the second written by Tom T. Hall and performed by Billy Grammer.

There were songs written about other outlaws too, famous in their own time, but not as well known now. Back in the Bronze Age, when I taught a second year college Intro to Poetry Survey, I used the outlaw Otto Wood as an example.

1926 cover from UNC Libraries
Otto Wood, a notorious Depression era desperado, was
born in Wilkes County, N.C. in 1894. He began his life of crime at an early age, stealing a bicycle from a boy in North Wilkesboro, N.C. He was quickly caught and spent time in the Wilkes County Jail. He was subsequently sentenced to serve on a chain gang, but the foreman sent him home to his mother due to his age...He suffered from a foot ailment (a birth defect) and lost his left hand when he was a teenager...Repeated scrapes with the law, mostly involving thefts and bootlegging, led to numerous incarcerations in jails in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. He is credited with a total of 10 jail breaks throughout his criminal career. In 1923, Wood was charged with the murder of A.W. Kaplan, a Greensboro, N.C. pawnbroker. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to serve 30 years in N.C. Central Prison in Raleigh. After that conviction, Wood made four escapes from the state prison. During his time in that prison, Wood wrote an autobiography.
 A year after his death, the Carolina Buddies recorded the song Otto Wood on Columbia RecordsFollowing his last escape, Wood was spotted by police officers in Salisbury, N.C., on Dec. 31, 1930. They approached Wood, killing him in the ensuing shootout.
Walter "Kid" Smith of the Carolina Buddies wrote they lyric.

They put him in the pen, but it done no good
'Cause it wouldn't hold a man they call Otto Wood
It wasn't very long till he slipped outside
Drawed a gun on the guard, said, "Take me for a ride"
Otto, why didn't you run?
Otto's done dead and gone
Otto Wood, why didn't you run
When the sheriff pulled out that 44 gun?

The version of the old outlaw ballad I used in class was from Doc Watson's album, "The Best of Doc Watson, 1964-1968." But the following is the original recording of the song by the Carolina Buddies.