Scurmune

It is not. I repeat, it is not okay. "Scurmune" is not a fucking name. It just doesn't fucking mean anything. I'll have you give me something different or else, well... I have something against the villains who take nicknames. They believe they live in comic books. Comic books with stupid cover pictures they hope to get away with. Stuff like "What if Rick Jones had become the Hulk". And then these villains, they get mad when you forget their nickname, and you have to put them down, the righteous ton of brick in your face way, as if you were the fucking Hulk and you had managed to track down the guy who did the Rick Jones Hulk.
Know what I mean? I am not the Hulk, not a villain, and I don't fucking need nicknames. But it's all a parable, and you've got to abide by the principles. So, I have this rule and I am a man of principles, but sometimes you've got to make exceptions, and did you just shoot me? My speech was not over. Oh man, not the torpor again.

Last words of this other guy who was kind of loud and could never shut his mouth off

How you get to know her
At first, Scurmune is just a figure on the fringes of the Anarch Movement, of the city, even of her own coterie. What she does on a nightly basis is barely legal but then, no one cares about yet another paranoid weakling. She remains largely unnoticed. When Kindred first meet her, she might be part of the generic nondescript white trash surrounding some minor player. Just another no name extra.
Years pass by and Scurmune manages to survive when many of her first mates in the life after the Embrace do not. Yet no urban legend, she is at least identified and her weird ass nickname rings a bell for most regulars in Anarch hangouts.
Then she loses it. Madness? Joan of Arc syndrome? At some point, in front of most of the Anarchs of Los Angeles, she steps up on the stage and launches herself into a rant that leaves the audience half-bored and half-intrigued. What she proposes is to actually create a new sect on top of the other ones, a hidden democracy, unlike the brave Anarchs, an organization that its very secrecy would make impervious to destruction at the hands of the pigs, until the Great Night of Freedom arrives.
The neonate has no charisma and nobody jumps into her ship. But she does not give up and stays true to her words, all of a sudden possessed by a sense of destiny only a former nobody could muster.
She gives her sect a comic book name: the Republic of the Night. She drafts a Constitution and organizes it the way old school Communist cells used to do it: citizenship needs not be open and cells do not communicate between each other. Most of the energy of the undisclosed number of recruits has to be spent finding new holes to hide in at all times. Scurmune becomes the iconic figure for the Republic of the Night, its one and only spokesperson. She remains a joke for the few semi-real friends she has in the Anarch movement. However, those same rebels do not forget her phone number when the time comes to defend the city against Camarilla or Sabbat. The young City Gangrel is no great fighter in sustained combat, but she survives when others do not, always instants away from a speedy retreat.
She learns the hard way that you do not recruit Kindred into a group without opposition by those who would consider them their pawns; she loses half a dozen recruits, slaughtered in their sleep by unknown enemies. After that episod, Scurmune pushes the paranoia to 11. By then, she is utterly committed to her vow and envisions herself as one of the movers in the game, nevermind that she holds no actual influence over any mortal institution.

Modus operandi
To defend her Republic, she will pull a Jack Bauer on you and, if that proves insufficient, she will drive the Rambo road. She will crash an truck full of oil on your Haven. She will endanger the Masquerade. She has learned how to plant explosives and shows no compunction using this knowledge.
On the face of her actions, she should not survive, but she does for two reasons.
One, she knows how to flee very, very well and she will do so anytime she has not initiated the attack. She will not stay in a brawl. Faced with a modicum of opposition, she splits. She is a slippery nimble athlete, and that is before she uses Celerity and Obfuscate. You can always fight another day. Nine times out of ten, she prefers to fold.
Two, when she initiates a fight, she’s like overkill on steroids. Once she feels confident about the place, the time and the protagonists, she goes overboard with grenades and spectacular attacks. She has all the subtlety of a teenager endowed with the capacity to rip her opponents with magical claws. If she has not prevailed by round 2, she runs away.
Once again, if she believes that “shock and awe” ain’t going to work, she does not leave the protection of whatever bunkerized sewer or underwater hole she uses as her secondary or tertiary backup Haven.

How she interacts with you
Scurmune monitors the Kindred in the city and tags the most progressive ones as targets for recruitment. In the event the current body count of the Republic exceeds her own self, she can send fellow citizens do their best to convince the prospect to join their democracy. If not, she will do it herself. She can make phone calls and has been known to mail pamphlets. She is careful to use innuendo and not to breach the Masquerade blatantly. She also uses Elysium events as an opportunity to proselytize. Since she is officially nonviolent, definitely not an imposing figure and does not claim mortal influence, she can even find a place as “loyal opposition” in Camarilla cities held by lenient Princes. The Constitution of the Republic of the Night specifically authorizes membership in other sects, so Camarilla pundits who have heard about it discard it as some kind of ineffectual, hence tolerable, intellectual movement.
But then, something happens. Maybe some vampire gets killed in some crossfire, and the loss of a fellow “citizen” angers Scurmune beyond description. It’s as if the weak Marron Shed from Shadows Linger becomes Omar from The Wire, shotgun included. The worst part is, Scurmune can sometimes succeed in recruiting powerful individuals, even though the intentions of these recruits do not always match their words. And these individuals, probably bent to control this small organization, can strike behind the scenes against those who would threaten it.
And then, there is the revolution. The Republic is a revolutionary organization structured to avoid initiating any aggression, but circumstances are everything. Scurmune creates the sect, but she does control it only as long as her fellow “citizens” vote for her propositions. Some citizens belong to the Republic only for the fun, or worse, the lulz. Scurmune keeps pushing forward her vision, however deluded it might be. Her master plan includes the propagation of the Republic on all continents and the construction of James Bond-like secret bases with submarines and airplanes...

A girl from potato country
What kind of mortal was this turbo-propelled revolutionary? The end result of decades of Dunwich-grade isolation in a small settlement in some forested area of America. The kind of perturbed young girl who uses menstrual blood to write love letters. Destined to end up as an abused runaway, she is instead taken into a coven of insane Sabbat vampires. That is when she loses her mortal name, a name she does not remember to this day. The priest of the pack uses some dipshit homebrewn version of the Vaulderie ritual on the pack. Problem is, it does not function that well, a bit like cut coke flavored with random shit. Scurmune runs away, once again. First to New-York then to Los Angeles, traveling by train and treading the path of the hobo, following a bunch of desperate nobodies like her.

Appearance
Though no prom queen, Scurmune was decent enough to have been an abuser magnet when she was a teenager. She seems to be about 20 and wears the kind of nonsexual clothes girls from the projects use when they just want to be invisible. That is a disguise; back when she had a real name, Scurmune looked more like a country girl and she did enjoy dresses.
Now, however, what with all the frenzies she underwent after mishandling fire, she looks like a freak cousin of Catwoman meets Chewbacca.
Mostly though, you do not get to check on Scurmune, because she is nowhere to be seen. You can post a message to an Internet board, or leave a message in the crack of a pavement under a specific lamppost, or speak to a friend who knows a friend who knows how to get in touch with the Republic, etc. And when she first contacts you, nowadays, she also uses technology and intermediaries to protect herself the best she can.

The characteristics below reflect the power level of Scurmune when she transitions from “known Anarch” to “this chick with the crazy ideas” and before she graduates to “full-blown lunatic, please hand me the straitjacket”.

Clan: City Gangrel
Generation: 13th
Sire: Unknown
Nature: Survivor
Demeanor: Architect
Concept: deluded revolutionary
Embrace: 1988
Apparent Age: early 20s
Physical: Strength 3, Dexterity 5, Stamina 4
Social: Charisma 3, Manipulation 3, Appearance 2
Mental: Perception 4, Intelligence 3, Wits 3
Talents: Alertness 3, Athletics 4 (Acrobatics), Brawl 3, Empathy 3, Leadership 3, Streetwise 2, Subterfuge 2
Skills: Crafts 1 (Traps), Etiquette 1, Drive 1, Firearms 2, Melee 2, Stealth 5, Survival 4
Knowledges: Computers 3, Medicine 1, Politics 2, Science 1 (Chemistry)
Disciples: Auspex 1, Celerity 5, Dominate 4, Fortitude 3, Obfuscate 4, Potence 1, Protean 4
Backgrounds: Allies 3, Contacts 2, Resources 3
Virtues: Conscience 3, Self-Control 3, Courage 5
Humanity 5
Willpower 9
Merits: Acute Sense (hearing and smell), Catlike Balance, Language (Spanish), Sabbat Survivor

[I toned down the characteristics from my veteran character, could be toned down more. Also, I have 40K+ words of history and notes about this character.]
Written in 2012.

Lockstep

Category: Novel
Page count: 351
Language: English
Author: Karl Schroeder
Publisher: Tor
Year of publication: 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3726-9
Toby McGonigal wakes up from hibernation and apparently a whole lot of time has passed by and there are whole civilizations based upon hibernation technologies first pioneered by his family. These societies live in lockstep, harvesting resources for thirty years while everybody is sleeping, and spending them all in the span of a month. To other human societies, these lockstep cities and worlds are the stuff of legend, a bit like old stories about the fairies. This system simulates faster than light travel by having everybody sleep while people travel from one planet to another, enabling interplanetary trade and civilization. Will 17-year old Toby find friends to cope with this bizarre environment? Young adult novel ensues.

Review
The lockstep idea is really interesting and I bet there will be plenty of other writers to explore its possibilities.
- The novel relies on a series of unspoken assumptions, the first of which is that a whole lockstep civilization can survive thirty years of various historical, geological and astronomical events unscathed. There are workarounds - for example, the 360/1 lockstep could have made symbiotic deals with other lockstep civilizations, everybody watching the others while they sleep. But really -in this future, is there no violent species or civilization that would be glad to invade sleeping worlds?
- Ever since Timothy Leary had cryonic suspension enter into the public consciousness, there has been no shortage of people who wanted to be cryopreserved, if that is really a thing. Let's imagine a world where the 1% decide to skip the next two hundred years, leaving only enforcer bots in charge and teeming masses of scientists working tirelessly to revive them. The world would be ruled by dead people waiting to be revived and made immortal.
- Let's say you are old and lonely. You could skip time between visits from your relatives. Just be alive when your children come and visit you. Yes, that is creepy.

Outsourcing Paradise to the cold poisonous clouds of Planb

Dear newborn comrade,

It is considered appropriate to deliver important news, such as your recent birth, by means of a direct address. As a fellow proto-citizen and a graduate of the Baron Bodissey School of Life, it is my duty and honor to introduce you to this underground world where you have been born. I do not presume of your quality. You may be a newling (a new ‘soul’) or you may be an oldling. You will only learn whether this life is your first on the day you graduate to the immortal existence down below.

We stand on an island above an ocean located a mere 3 kilometer under the surface of a small, tidally locked moon orbiting Planb, a cold giant gas planet. This is not our cradle; our species came into existence on Unspiek, a smaller planet, closer to our class F main-sequence star, Farmera (1). Unspiek lies in what we call the habitable zone of the system - the orbit range at which surface water can stay in a liquid state. We evolved there from primitive forms of life to a spacefaring civilization.

In the long run we are all dead” quotes (2) do not hold sway on us hyper-advanced civilizations. People were functionally immortal, and there were thousands of billions of them. How did it work? We developed a system where new babies could be born while the entirety of individuals from past generations would remain alive, though functionally not at the same time (3). Babies were few and far between, but death had all but disappeared.

For millenias, our government accommodated our growing population, managing to handle it with great machinery to harvest the energy of our white star and efficient resource allocation.

This dynamism was somewhat cancerous. Outliers happen more easily in large data sets and some of them are bad news. Such a black swan happened on Unspiek and all but wiped out Unspiek-kind. The survivors concluded that centralized authority carries too much risk. It has an entropic quality: on the long run, it turns into the social equivalent of a black hole. There was something rotten on Unspiek, with compromised machines all over the place and corrupt authority embedded in the very stones. We needed a clean slate. To make sure of it, we scourged the place and put the emptiness of space between us and our home planet, still forbidden to this day, 45 million years later. We scattered our civilization between this moon, the planet below and a few asteroids.

With our new ethos of not allowing the past to dominate the present and not allowing the one to dominate the many, we moved to distributed life technologies. We rebuilt our civilization around the discrimination between the different stages of life and a lack of individuated government. Our focus on personal autonomy and redundancy ensures resilience to internal and external threats.

On this moon, we live like in the old days. Our tidally-powered systems provide us with comfort and energy. The surface of the moon is too small (radius: 460km) for all of Unspiek-kind. Thus, when their alloted time runs out, graduates of the School of Life design themselves a new extremophile frame, able to cope with the pressure and the atmosphere of Planb, and they dive down below.

The people from generations past live in the dihydrogen layers dozens or hundreds of km down below, in the planet’s own habitable zone, a range of altitudes dependent on individual frame specs, peculiar biochemistries and focus on resistance to stellar radiations or pressure, etc. They hold on to networking organisms that they bioengineer themselves to provide support.

Hostile to life as usual, Planb, given the proper hardware and operating system, has proven to be a decent environment for a computing system -with easy cooling (110K average in the stratosphere). The frames I told you about earlier are autonomous units that participate in what is essentially a computer the size of a planet. Soon, my own consciousness will be uploaded into one. As I integrate into the network, I will host even more pieces of (crypted) data. Mostly oblivious of my surroundings, I will be confined to virtual world environments, shared or not.

The whole society down below now revolves around earning access to bodily life by helping maintaining the system. Data is redundantly hosted, making the destruction of one or even a billion of units without lasting consequences for the individuals. Here on the moon, death is final. For an oldling, dying might be the very purpose of incarnation, while passing away in an untimely fashion could just mean that a new persona fails to be added to its expanding mind.

Was your birth just an expression of nostalgy? Are you a shared soul, the fruit of two minds’ love? Whatever the truth of your personal condition, enjoy your individuality. It will last until it is time for you to dive down below, comrade!

***

This story proposes one possible scenario for intelligent life on an exoplanet outside the habitable zone of a solar system. Dr. David Spergel, in his discussion with theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson about the circulation of life in the universe (4), remarked that, when talking about life in the Universe, the time scale is all-important: “life has probably started a billion year before than it did on Earth (or a billion year after)”, hence the necessity to consider the avenues of action open to “technologically advanced life”.

Also, as SF writer Sarah Newton puts it, “the very concept of ‘habitable zones’ is humanocentric” (4). When you plot on a graph the range of different temperatures to be found in the environments of the Universe, the 0 to 100C space is a thin line. Technology-enabled extremophiles thriving in other environments than liquid water might very well be the main form of life thoughout the Universe.

On Planb, life found its way to an extreme environment, thanks to intelligent design.

(1) Philip José Farmer-A ;)
(2) John Maynard Keynes
(3) example of such an idea with Dayworld - for a different take on hibernation see also Lockstep by Karl Schroeder
(4) Other Earth MOOC!
(5) Mindjammer RPG

*** *** ***

The 1,000-word text above was my third assignment in the Imagining Other Earths MOOC. I agree with the evaluations below (story is fun, science is weak).

Evaluations:
self → Some sentences are a mouthful and the science could be better. Otherwise, I am pretty happy about the end result. It was not at all what I envisioned at first, but I followed the idea, not the other way around.
peer 1 → Very entertaining and imaginative. My only query would be the use of Tidally powered systems on a tidally locked moon.
peer 2 → The scientific idea of examining a non humanocentric idea of the habitable zone and life on an exoplanet, but it was only made really clear to me by the foot note. The idea of this transplanted civilisation is strongly imagined, but I did find it quite hard to read and understand as the ideas were very densely packed in there!
peer 3 → Nice and creative work, enjoyed reading it.
peer 4 → Interesting thoughts presented here, I like this.
peer 5 → Obviously from a SF fan. It was clever and well-written but I just found it had too much fiction and not enough science. I really didn't see the "inventing a planet and solar system and describing it".
peer 6 → Very good work, thought-provoking,