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Since I still had my old union card, it wasn't too hard to put in as "official" at Jed's outpost, and he gave me a route.
"Nothing special," he said. "You just round up what's ripe and take a look around."
So I'm up amongst the purple skies, skimming the space between the altocumulus and the cirrostratus. I see some small herds of primary red tetra and green octahedrals here and there, and an occasional family of icosahedrons. The sun is going down. Things are wispy and still. I have to admit I have a soft spot for those purple skies.
I round down around the axes to look for strays, find a few and bind them up in the MITB's static wake. Dragging them behind like that gives you more mass and I use the old PUG hauler's trick of banking and sliding to give me more momentum. Which means I need to navigate a wider course, one that inevitably takes me outside my route.
All of us vesper haulers spend time off route like this. Technically we're supposed to report it, but that just counts against your EF rating at the end of a pay period and the paperwork takes time in itself, so it's unspoken vesper hauler habit not to mind it. Or report it. But sometimes you catch a hot stream of air and you find yourself a bit farther off route than you'd like.
This time around that's exactly where I found myself, caught in one of those rip tides in the sky. Maybe I had gotten a bit rusty.
But that's when I spotted the Strange Thing.
It can take a long time before they let you play with imaginary machinery.
My first official job as part of the union was in this very region of the context structure. Jed was new then too, and we became friends on long shifts herding the vespers 'round the sky. Most folks spend some part of every night dreaming out in those reaches, but Jed and I, we were out there doing it for real.
The PUG blimps we used might not have been beautiful to look at, but they sure got the job done. Jed and I were a team, each of us pilots of our own PUGs, using the differentials in charge between our ships to gather up the planars and the pyramidals in a big wide net between us, often times just letting them cling to our hulls while we moved 'em around and sorted them out to their correct sectors in the sky.
Down below -- deeper in -- the creatives and the management types were thick as flies, coupling and rearranging the bonds and torsions, sometimes creating new meaning (which was beautiful to watch), but more often than not just figuring out how to create the same old meanings but in slightly different ways. Always looking for the novelty, but not necessarily originality.
Jed and I preferred our lot, the freedom of the wilderness, working with the fresh raw material. That's got a poetry of its own that few realize, much less get to experience.
But Jed sure wasn't joking when he said things were getting scare. Out here in the perimeter there are no stars. Things are looking mighty barren. Guess things have been getting used up faster than they reppear.
Which is trouble, since we never had an idea about where they come from in the first place.
"So, Jed. How's it been going?"
"Oh, Clive, you know. Same old same old."
Jed pours me a shot from his flask into my coffee. Airshipman's coffee, not one of those grande double whip frappuccinos like they serve at the Walmarts. Which, don't get me wrong, I love a good grande double whip frappuccino first thing in the morning when I'm leaving the parking lot and heading out over the desert to the next blue and gold oasis. Jed makes his coffee airshipman's style on account of limited resources.
"I know you've got limited resources out here, Jed."
"And it's only getting worse, Clive. Now, you didn't hear it from me, but..."
Jed runs an outpost that's off the beaten track, but it's a canary in a coal mine for the entire context structure for this subcluster. He's up in one of the outermost shells of meaning in this world--really holding the whole thing together. At least that's how he and I see it.
"There's a scarcity, Clive. Like nothing I've ever seen. Red tetrahedrals used to be as thick as mosquitos at a swamp rat's rave. Green octahedrals used build up to such a degree we had to pry 'em off an herd 'em to the trade winds. There were so many purple icosahedrons we had to put beacons on 'em so has nobody'd run into them at night. But these days, I just don't know. Oh, we still find what we need to keep everything up to code, but we're gettin' short. Management knows about it and they say they've got some kind of contingency, but I can't see how they'd do it without some major structural changes."
"And shortcuts, I imagine?"
"Well, heck you know they've already been taking shortcuts."
"Gotta keep growing those margins."
"Yup. And I guess they've been getting by. But we're looking at a whole different ballgame if things keeping worse. Like, whole levels of meaning will just have to go."
"So what's up? What's the cause?"
"The brass tells us it's just natural processes. But I don't think so. The depletion seems organized. Like there's a system."
"Let me pour another shot in your mug, Clive."
"Bring it around about 40 degrees!"
Jed, the marshaller, calls up from docking ramp. He's yelling up through the wind, so I'm trying to hear him through the vent window.
"Ok! Here it goes!" I shout back.
The rear end of the Minecraft is the Best bumps into a tetrahedral of the giant red balls.
"Your OTHER 40 degrees!!!"
Yeah, yeah, no I get it. It's good everything is so bouncy here in these parts. And the folks are so good natured.
I get the Minecraft settled in. Nuzzled up between a pair of green octahedrals.
"You're a foreign body, but you're always welcome here, Clive."
"Now let's take a look at that chocolate peanut butter you were talking about."
"Chocolate maple pretzel peanut butter, Jed."
"You had me at chocolate, Clive."
Ah! Got it. This one you're gonna love.
Ah, sorry. That one was the tape I used to record Mermaid Imperium. Boy I loved that show. I’d make sure the VCR was set to record it every episode even if I was traveling for work in another reality. I even have an old @SLYR t-shirt around here somewhere.
Course I got tapes of most everything. Sometimes I put them on the Magnalobe here in my classic 1986 Winneblimpo, moored outside of another nameless Walmart in the endless desert. Hmmm what's on this one I wonder?
Reality generators? Did somebody say reality generators? Well that brings me back let me tell you. I was the number one producer for four years running in the the Northern Presence, Sector B Subcluster. I moved so many reality generators I couldn’t remember which world I was really from. A wife here, a girlfriend there, putting a kid through college there. I squirreled enough money away through offshore accounts — and I mean VERY offshore if you know what I mean — to have a comfortable retirement. I mean, you gotta make it stretch, but I like living on the road, honestly. I’ve got a dependable little airship, and if it means I find myself moored in Walmart parking lots for the free electricity now and then that’s just fine with me. Just fine.
Yes, uh... calling Captain Billy Grave. Come in! Come in! (Is thing on? What? Right now? Oh, ok.)
Dear Captain Grave,
So far, none of our clients (in Faulkton, Henderson, Wuppertal, Miyazaki, Lyubertsy, Aastaurmond, Chauxhall, and Pastoria City) have reported receipt for the spare parts for their Reality Generators. Reality isn't going to generate itself, you know! And it's possible that this lack of spare parts may have resulted in the recent Reality Accident!
Please inform us of your progress, as it is vitally important these parts arrive at their required destinations.
R. Shelton, Proprietor
GEARS OF COGNATION LLC.
We've got another load of spare parts for the Reality Generators in Faulkton, Henderson, Wuppertal, Miyazaki, Lyubertsy, Aastaurmond, Chauxhall, and Pastoria City. Because of the nature of these parts, the actual manifest of delivered items may vary through time, as will the existence of the cities themselves. Ship and Captain must be adept at navigating the edges and holes in maps. Please post resume to this site when claiming job. Our warehouse currently located in Flimsdale, Newark, Metherwaney, and Chide. c/o GEARS OF COGNATION LLC.