Category Archives: Micro-Stories

Close Encounters

CloseEncounters

DISCLAIMER: What is documented in this article represents a summary of all that transpired at the recent Little Woooden Houses presents Watch the Skies! (which took place on 06/06/15 in Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire [UK]); told from the perspective of one of the Alien players.

It is published in the form of a semi-fictional battle report; hoping to provide some entertainment as well as semi-accurate documentary of what transpired up on the Aliens’ balcony.

If you are planning on playing the megagame of Watch the Skies! at any point in the future, then I would recommend refraining from reading this – and any related posts –, as it is possible that some clues as to the (clandestine) operation of the Aliens may be inadvertently revealed through the telling of this fictional short story.

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this semi-fictional account of LWHpWTS! and all that it brought. Godspeed!

Intercepted communications, bound for Zeta Reticuli.

Intercepted communications, bound for Zeta Reticuli.

 

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PRAISE ZETA RECULI

To: Great Minds [Alpha], [Beta] and [Gamma]
From: Commander <xx.zx/A2>, Alien Conclave One.

Dear Great Minds,

The programme of Earth Crisis Intervention [ECI] was initiated, as planned, on the first diurnal cycle of the Earth year 2020. Expeditionary ships from Moon bases Alpha and Beta, consisting of abduction agents and a number of decoy (hologram) shuttles, were despatched to Earth Targets 1-4 (“Angola”, “Antartica”, “Arabia” and “Australia”) and to establish a greater understanding of the local flora, fauna and intelligent life on Earth.

Our agents were instructed to limit operations to isolated areas of Earth, and to ensure the safe return of any life samples following the preliminary (intrusive) physical examinations. These endeavours were proceeded on the basis that our incursion would be broadly unopposed, and that the relative scale of the landing target countries would allow our teams a greater opportunity to land unnoticed at their target destinations of scientific interest. Henceforth, extraction units were despatched to major landmasses in Earth’s southern hemisphere for collection of plant and animalian DNA for delivery to our Earth Research Laboratories on Moon bases Alpha & Beta.

As soon as our scout ships were deployed, a high level of resistance was encountered from a number of the observed Earth divisions of Gene Splice XII bipeds [designated ‘Humans’], with multiple military factions responding with airborne interceptors and movement of ground troops. Many of these interceptions were successful in eliminating, or rallying, our – peaceful – expeditionary force; however, a small number of extraction units were successful in their mission, and landing successfully in their target areas. A number of life samples and rare Earth metals were extracted and transported to Moon Base Alpha for scientific study, as well as a small quantity of rare Human artefacts and technologies which were despatched by hyper-shuttle to the Great Library on Zeta Reticuli for Cultural Curation.

Captured Human foodstuffs, revealing liittle or no nutritional value for Reticulan needs.

Captured Human foodstuffs, revealing liittle or no nutritional value for Reticulan needs.

From the outset of the programme, it was universally agreed by all nine Reticulan Select Commanders that our command structure should form one, single, unified mind-unit aimed at locating efficient resolution to the Earth Crisis. In the spirit of true Reticulan values of peacefulness, pacifism and co-operative thinking, Conclaves One to Three formed coalition of expertise; effectively deploying our great Reticulan power of Mind-Meld.

The initial phase of the initiative was pre-planned to be a two-forked strategy of “passive offense”: firstly, to instil an effective operation mild terror and panic among the Human herds such that they would descend to outright madness among themselves; supported by B) a programme of capture of Human and animal DNA to progress with our primary ‘solution’ to “The Earth Crisis”: that of genetically engineering (“geneering”) the human populace towards pacifism and calm.

Our early phase of the conquest focussed on extraction of DNA samples from mammalian subjects that were returned, unharmed, back to Earth. Research programmes on all three bases (Moon bases Alpha and Beta, and the primary Cydonia base on Mars) were steered towards projects associated with eradicating the virus-like Human genomes responsible for destruction and betrayment, and instilling civility and compassion to their pre-developed minds. An additional, secondary, scientific programme of sample return and delivery of exploitative Earth materials to Zeta Reticuli, which appeared to show considerable success in further understanding the nature of the Earth rock and its current occupants.

It became clear, though, that Humanity was intensely suspicious of our activities; being inherently paranoid about sightings of our ships at various airspace incursions across the Sphere. Before it was possible to capture Human communication equipment and relay broadcasts of our non-threatening activities in Earth airspace, acute hostility against our presence (both in orbit and on ground) was experienced. The Select Commanders of the Earth Crisis force were deeply saddened to have our fears (of Humanity being a mistrustful and traitorous society, hell-bent on turning to violence at unnerving rapidity) proved so distressingly correct.

Following the hostile first contact experienced in the preliminary phase of the initiative, our commanders were forced to maintain a DEEP-Thinking (Direct Extrasensory Engagement Procedure) communication panel throughout the Initiative in order to effectively utilise our species’ superior grasp of collective consciousness. Efforts were made to demonstrate our peaceful presence on Earth – from our gifts of traditional Reticulan food cubes to the nation of “Japan” (which, we understand, shows great similarity to their energy source known as “Soo-Shee”), to our repeated communications to almost all nations throughout the period encouraging peaceful operations.

Reticulan food cubes, presented as gifts to the combined Human nations.

Reticulan food cubes, presented as gifts to the combined Human nations.

As our primary geneering mission demanded constant supply of abduction subjects and/or DNA samples, our Select Conclave Commanders came to agreement to sacrifice minor aspects of our advanced Reticulan technology and resources (including the highly-sought after Red Mercury) with select Earth colonies, in order to establish a routine supply of prime Human samples for our geneering research programmes. While these tradings were not explicitly sanctioned by the Great Minds before departure of the ECI force from Zeta Reticuli, the Select Commanders arrived at unanimous decision to commence communications with key Human elements; the aim, to encourage Reticulan values of pacifism and agreement through direct engagement with certain members of the Earth conglomerate.

Private communications were transmitted to a number of host colonies; however, it became apparent that our transmissions were being intercepted by one or more nations and either undelivered; or delivered to their recipients in modified form, portraying us to have different intentions for Earth. For these actions we suspect the nation of “Japan”, who appeared to demonstrate considerable enmity to our sub-galactic intrusion.

The Select Commanders observed intense mistrust from the combined Earth colonies regarding our visible actions of civility; suspecting, instead, a programme of subterfuge distracting from a militarised coup of their blue planet. However, targeted communication and infiltration of a number of minority nations showed a considerable success; particularly in the famine-filled landmass of “Africa”. Efforts to develop a local Reticulan facility on Earth were assisted by the political and military leaders of the inter-oceanic colony of “Madagascar”, where our infiltration agents had observed significant success over the preceding Earth demi-year.

Following our preliminary expedition to Southern Hemisphere landing sites, our research on animalian samples revealed breakthroughs in the DNA geneering required to make Earth life flourish; a science that was delivered to the puppeteered political leaders of “Madagascar” as a gesture of goodwill in return for building a permanent station within their territory. A series of Infiltration agents aided in convincing dissentive voices and quashing political resistance. Our efforts in this vein were prosperous, and an underground Infiltration facility and landing zone was put into operation, from which Agents were deployed across the territory of “Africa” using their modified sub-orbital personal shuttles to infiltrate neighbouring colonies.

Human resistance was intense across both the “Africa” and “South America” landmasses.

With a fully-operational scientific research facility functioning at 100% capacity, the primary goals of PHASE ONE of the Earth Crisis Initiative were considered finalised and preparations for PHASE TWO were swiftly assembled among the Select Commanders.  The Humans appeared confused by our interest in “Madagascar”; being unaware that a peaceful ground station and scientific facility had been constructed and, instead, assuming a far more aggressive incursion. Spies from all primary Earth nations were despatched to investigate our operations there, although our cloaking technologies and convincing puppeteering of local officials of “Madagascar” succeeded (with a success rate of 83.71%) in directing attention from our geneering research activities on the island.

However, a number of Human spies – dressed in the traditional Reticulan clothing of black-and-red robes, grey overwear and breathing-masks – were able to bypass our grunt security and access the facility; in the process, conducting minor sabotage operations and theft of key Reticulan technology. All guard units responsible for the breach of security were immediately transported back to the primary Cydonia ECI headquarters on Mars for re-instruction and “re-deployment”, and all electronic and physical weaknesses were re-assigned with doubled security measures. Despite this, the attacks continued.

To further promote our image of peace, and to display of our advancements in science such that the Humans may be convinced of our non-threatening envoy, our PR divisions devised a convincing promotional montage of the prosperity now inherent across “Madagascar”. In tandem with an Infiltration raid on the streets of “Paris” (in which an elite strike agent succeeded in obtaining temporary acquisition of the media barracks of Reuters/Global News Network in the primary conurbation of the “France” territory of the Northern Hemisphere), a moving picture transmission was broadcast globally; depicting “Madagascar” as a rich, famine-free nation of prospering fauna, Humanitarian aid and hoverbikes. The Humans appeared to show considerable interest in Reticulan hoverbike technology from both a scientific and commercial interest, and intense radio chatter was intercepted which discussed ravenous Human excitement at obtaining such fantastic science.

However, the Human condition is one of suspicion and mistrust (escalating to outright betrayal) and it was, at this time, that extreme hostility was experienced arising from the slanderous nation of “France”; perhaps, in response to our operations within their garlic-smelling colony. Military forces from “France” appeared extremely interested in our activities, leading the charge to intercept any and all of our landing or transport craft, whatever their mission; peaceful or otherwise. Other forces in the Northern Earth hemisphere also displayed considerable aggression towards the presence of our ships in Earthian airspace, despite our efforts to limit extraction activities to Earth territories far from the jurisdiction of the G8 Conclave of Nations. As we understand it, the Humans became suspicious that we were building an Ark for extraction of their endangered, or protected wildlife within the “Madagascar” facility.

A Human impression of the so-called "Grey Ark" being constructed by Reticulan operatives on "Madagascar".

A Human impression of the so-called “Grey Ark” being constructed by Reticulan operatives on “Madagascar”. [http://maronski.deviantart.com/]

Early in PHASE TWO of the ECI, a full-scale invasion of our “Madagascar” base was processed by a united Human coalition; led, we are to believe, by military units belonging to this, so-called, “France”. Our facility was breached from multiple entry-points, converging on our main research facility with the apparent aim of halting our scientific geneering of “Madagascar”-based fauna and animal life. During the breach, the Human forces were successful in disabling our escape ships, as well as effectively destroying our nutritional supplies and Reticulan culture-chambers. The last communication we received from the Local Commander before transmissions ceased was a single-line radio message, repeated over and over: “Of course. Of course. Of course.” We mourn for the demise of the brave Reticulan operators who perished during the assault.

With an apparently-united Human front leaving us decimated upon the planet’s surface, we were forced to re-evaluate our position regarding the Earth Crisis. In the face of advanced hostility towards our presence (despite no hostile manoeuvres on our part – it is believed that inter-nation conflicts and espionage were incorrectly attributed to our presence rather than subterfuge on behalf of the treacherous nations of the “United States”, “France” and “Japan”), a simultaneous strategy of terror and extraction was defined and motioned by the Select Commanders. Simultaneously, consultation of Great Mind Alpha was initiated in the second half of the programme: reinforcement troops were despatched from Zeta Reticuli by unanimous agreement among the Great Minds, on the basis that our initial efforts to tackle the Earth Crisis were showing significant signs of success, despite some resistance.

Evidence seized of Human attempts to reverse-engineer Reticulan propulsive technology.

Evidence seized of Human attempts to reverse-engineer Reticulan propulsive technology.

Reinforcement units were deployed, at great cost to our remaining stocks of Resource Discs, across a number of sites in the Northern Hemisphere. Psy-Ops teams were positioned in target metropoli in partnership with infiltration and espionage using our elite agents, deploying a range of psychotropic drugs and steroids to directly influence the minds of the population. Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to us, the Humans had partially agreed a ceasefire with respect to landing craft, in response to our global radio broadcast expressing our deep disappointment at the outright conflict aimed at us in the preceding Earth Quarter-Year. Our terror attacks were extremely successful in significantly elevating the level of Global Terror to unprecedented levels; our aim, to spread mistrust among the primary Northern Hemisphere factions and to generate inter-nation conflict such that their focus would remain internal to the Earth solar system, and not on the broad expanses of peace and political civility existing in the Reticulan Galactic Sphere.

During the terror strikes, a successful threat operation of the “United Kingdom” helped to inspired a national panic which succeeded in psychologically damaging the moral fibre of the populace – our terror agents planted convincing seeds of doubt in the leading minds of the nation; alluding to Extra-Terrestrial eggs being lain across the countryside, waiting to ‘hatch’ and deliver physical and chemical harm to the terrafirm. Furthermore, a Human female spy from the “United States” conclave was intercepted and smuggled to Moon base Beta aboard a Heavy Shuttle to be questioned and probed by the combined Select Commanders stationed at Beta. Such an asset was interpreted as a significant resource for facilitating Human-Reticulan discussions, as well as an opportunity to progress our geneering technologies focussed on creating Hyper-Pacifistic Human sleeper drones using our high-Reticulan science of biotechnological implantation.

Not wishing to openly reveal the existence of our species to the Human populace, information about our existence among the sentient Earth lifeforms was kept tightly-controlled. Instead, our policy was one of coercion: to covertly instil our vision of peace such that it would be assimilated by the unified inhabitants of Earth. However, despite our initial Paris incursion and continuing Infiltration attempts, it appears that efforts to position puppeteer agents within the GNN – to subvert and scatter the Human populace through their exposure to disturbing and incorrect factual information – showed limited, long-term success.

However, during a broadband global announcement broadcast, the “United States” colony formally acknowledged the existence of [our] Extra-Terrestrial activities on Earth; rather unsettlingly referring to the entire Reticulan species as “The Gray Menace” and alluding to our existence as hostile enemies.

Mass-produced, hard-copy communications produced by the Humans, formally acknowledging Reticulan presence on Earth.

Mass-produced, hard-copy communications produced by the Humans, formally acknowledging Reticulan presence on Earth.

Such outright discussion appeared to unite the Humans more strongly together against us, and our efforts to pierce the coalition displayed outright failure. In response, a Mind-Meld between the Select Commanders resulted in unanimous decision to focus on one key nation of the G8 conclave who had shown minimal hostility to our presence: that of the “Brazil” colony. In the psyche of the democratic heads of the “Brazil” conclave, we found a vision of Earth close to that of true Reticulan ideals; demonstrating a sense of Universe-wide peacefulness and cooperation that appeared absent from hostile, splintered and conflict-focussed attitude of the other primary Earth factions. Initial efforts at establishing a private communication channels were positive, and an effective dialogue was constructed which would eventually show significant results.

Whilst direct alliance with any individual Humans (or governmental Human sects) was not condoned directly by the Great Minds during the initial ECI planning committee, the infrastructure heading the “Brazil” regime demonstrated sufficient enmity towards all species (both Human and Reticulan; along with the myriad other lifeforms existent on Planet Earth) that the Select Commanders elected to covertly encourage its primary leaders further towards Reticulan ideals, such that these attitudes may spread throughout the rest of homo sapiens. Our primary mission, in this respect, was to establish a routine supply of Human and animalian test subjects to ensure the success of the Geneering solution to the Earth Crisis: all of which would, of course, be returned unharmed (aside from some minor genetic and biotechnological enhancements) back to Earth soil.

Reticulan shuttle operations observed over  "Europe", as observed by Human picture-box.

Reticulan shuttle operations observed over “Europe”, as observed by Human picture-box.

The governmental conclave of “Brazil” demonstrated acceptable Reticulan principles throughout in the exchange, which concluded an with agreement for continual delivery of four-limbed Earth beasts to be Moon bases Alpha and Beta, to fuel our Gene Splice XII research programmes (although, it was necessary to disguise these programmes from the Humans; instead, convincing them that our research was associated with ‘Bovine Enhancement’ to solve the dual Human problems of famine and climate change. In exchange for this resource supply, an agreement to enhance key units of the “Brazil” military column with biotechnological implants was delivered upon which, unbeknownst to the Humans, would not enhance their battle abilities but – instead – accelerate the units’ personalities towards that of pacifism and diplomacy. Our perception of “Brazil” as a pseudo-Reticulan ally on Earth eventually escalated to a successful diplomatic meeting on Moon Base Alpha, where the Lead Minister of the “Brazil” faction was provided with a guided tour (making sure not to reveal our more sensitive research facilities and barracks) of our so-called “Bovine Analysis and Research Facility” [BARF].

It must be emphasised that our entanglements with Human subjects were, at all times, maintained with a stoic Reticulan vision. Any concerns of the united Great Minds that our involvement in Earth’s matters was in any way reflective of a softening of the Select Commanders’ Reticulan principles, or of Human sympathisation, should be resisted.

In spite of the great work of the “Brazil” initiative in undermining the Human genetic leanings towards conflict and treachery, attempts at creating disorder among the united Earth factions were nullified by the continued resistance experienced in the Northern Half-Sphere. With unanimous approval of the Great Minds, the Great Reticulan Orbital Mind-Laser (which was deployed with such efficiency in our last campaign on Threxil IV) was despatched with immediacy from the Cydonia Mars base and placed in a highly-elliptical diurnal orbit around Earth. At 0100 (local time) over the densely-populated landmass known as “Europe”, the Laser was activated; targeting a number of key metropolis in the nations designated “Spain”, “Italy” and “Germany” and instilled a vast disorder among the local populace. Reports of extreme psychological unease were intercepted from a variety of these conclaves where intense, riotous panic was observed due to terror of a perceived insectoid plague. Minor unrest was seen to spread to neighbouring nations, adding to a rise in Global Terror and minor tension among the major states in the upper half-sphere.

Humans discuss global conflict matters. Discussing global conflict matters requires huge stocks of biscuits, apparently.

Humans discuss global conflict matters. Discussing global conflict matters requires biscuits, apparently.

At this time, the genetic modifications imposed on the captured agent from the “United States” were finalised, and our efforts to geneer a perfect Hyper-Pacifist agent were completed to the satisfaction requirements of our science personnel. The operative was returned to a Human ambassador from the “Brazil” conclave during a diplomatic exchange on the Earth landmass of “Antartica” under the illusion that the operative had undergone considerable, invasive biotechnological enhancement to improve battle capabilities. To exploit this progress towards Gene Space XII Hyper-Pacifism subjects, a programme of pacifistic-branch Human breeding (using a two samples acquired from the “Brazil” initiative) was commenced which, it was hoped, would allow more control of the populace via highly-geneered, rapid-growth Human sleeper agents deployed among key personnel. While this particular project did not see full completion during the extent of the ECI campaign, the Great Minds should regard the significant advance[s] in this field as an encouraging preliminary experiment which would likely form a strong core of any future engagement with the Humans of Earth.

In the face of the pre-planned withdrawal of ECI units and the Select Commanders in Earth year 2023 should a resolution to the Earth crisis not be found, efforts in all areas were escalated in order to conclude the campaign in our favour. With continuing difficulties in completing our goals according to spread of terror and/or infiltration of local governments (the ‘Terror’ and ‘Puppeteer’ Policies), our final opportunity for a timely resolution was to divert all resources towards the Gene Splice XII project and enact the ‘Geneering’ Policy; genetically modifying the entire Human populace towards more peaceful enterprises than petty conflict and treachery, and reducing their capabilities (and desires) towards exploring the rest of Galactic Space.

Poor-quality image transmitted to Conclave One from "Russia", identifying the captured Commander.

Poor-quality image transmitted to Conclave One from “Russia”, revealing identity of the captured Commander unit from Moon base Alpha.

All research facilities were programmed to operate at maximum capacity, using the remaining supply of gene samples and those subsidiary specimens collected from the cooperative “Brazil” science conclave. However, it was during a penultimate incursion into Earth airspace (as part of a targeted specimen harvest led by elite infiltration commanders) that a Light Shuttle was downed in an isolated area of the Northern Hemisphere – of the Human designation “Siberia” – and the head agent (itself, one of the Select Commanders who personally undertook escort with the team) received into custody by military officials from the “Russia” territory. Communications, offering a trade for the intercepted Commander in return for resources and intelligence, were received in Radio Frequency form (and arising, our defence analysts were able to verify, from the ice-crusted colony designated “Moscow”) with immediacy and displaying a convincing promise of honour.

With the prospect of full withdrawal of all Reticulan units from the Earth system within the remaining Earth quarter-year should a secure resolution to the Earth Crisis not be enacted, the remaining Select Commanders were unanimous agreement to extract all remaining Reticulan operatives from Earth space, leaving no Reticulan behind. As such, a full exchange was initiated with the “Russia” leadership, and all seized units were immediately escorted to Moon base Alpha). With the sacrifice of significant Resource Points diverted to the re-patriation of our captured Select Commander, operational efficiency of our research facilities was compromised. It was discovered, during the final cycle preceding the end of the campaign, that our remaining key research projects (focussing on both bovine and Human subjects) had become infected with the harmful effects of a reactor leak. The results of all projects were lost, scuppering our remaining hopes to ensure the completion of the Gene Splice XII programme within the timeframe of the campaign.

Despite the eventual failure of the Geneering Policy in solving the Earth Crisis, the Select Commanders wish to commend the crucial efforts of the Reticulan Science Facility for the valuable genetic research on Earth-based lifeforms which, while not bringing an explicit solution to the Human problem, have vastly improved our species’ understanding of the Human condition and lay down the basis for future endeavours enacted by the Great Minds and the Larger Reticulan Council. Whilst the ECI task force displayed an honourable failure in bringing a resolution to the Earth Crisis, the Select Commanders wish to emphasise the success of the experiment in validating the need for interference in the matters of Humanity; especially from the perspective of Galactic peace and civility.

Puny humans gather to listen to another strategic report regarding the current global situation. Look at their miserable, puny faces.

Puny humans gather to listen to another strategic report regarding the current global situation. Look at their miserable, puny faces.

As Reticulan units prepared to withdraw from Earth and tactically destroy all operational compounds on Mars and Earth’s Moon, Humanity demonstrated the exact behaviour we had feared: with the final military and political resolution phase of our incursion in Earth’s skies, “China” and the “United States” progressed to outright conflict with our terrestrial allies; using heavy, atomic missile systems to terraform much of the “Brazil” territory. Almost in tandem, it was discovered that the Select Commander recovered from the deceitful “Russia” organisation had been, akin to our own -technological developments, been modified at a genetic level; making him a bio-organic weapon levelled directly at infecting our Moon base Alpha and obliterating one-third of our ECI defence force.

Our greatest fears were proved distressingly correct: Humanity is not yet ready to join the Galactic Alliance and it is, with significant displeasure and regret, that we must report the full withdrawal of all Reticulan ground- and air-units following unsuccessful resolution to the Earth crisis. Humanity is a corrosive bight that will, if unchecked, infect Galactic Space with its primitive attitudes to conflict, order and civilisation.

As this transmission reaches you, all Reticulan ships are in transit to Zeta Reticuli for debrief, decontamination and decommission of the Earth Crisis Initiative. We must prepare for invasion: it may take Humanity two Earth-years or two-hundred, but make no mistake; they will come, and – even in the face of unrelenting civility – they will destroy. All we can hope is that, before that time, they destroy each other first.

Be ever watchful.

Until our next meeting, ALL HAIL THE GREAT MINDS.

[xx.zx/A2]

Let us return to the stars. There is nothing for us here. [http://magicland70.deviantart.com/]

Let us return to the stars. There is nothing for us here.
[http://magicland70.deviantart.com/]

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All in all, I had an awesome time at Little Wooden Houses presents Watch the Skies!. In terms of running a full-scale, all-day event, the combined efforts of Mac and Charlie (as well as the rest of the ‘control’ team and helpers behind-the-scenes) were monumental: both deserve a massive, massive, round of applause.

The game itself was unique, engaging and – most importantly – a whole bunch of fun. Without the passion of the LWH organisation team, as well as all the Human and Alien players, it wouldn’t have felt anywhere near as enjoyable as it did so, in reality, everyone deserves a mega round of applause. *claps*

Here’s a short timelapse I made of the game’s setup and first couple of turns, as observed from Aliens’ balcony. Well done to everyone!

Also, following here are a bunch of other reports of the day from the perspectives of Game Control, a GNN journalist and the Russia Minister of Defence, respectively. Hopefully, with this (in retrospect, ill-advised) undertaking to orbit a fictional narrative around the happenings of the Little Wooden Houses game of Watch the Skies!, I can add in some minor way to the overwhelmingly positive experiences of the day; and perhaps raise a chuckle along the way. With that, I must now sign off.

Watch the skies, always.

[Zinar7]

 

[Additional Reports] ~

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Special Delivery

SpecialDelivery

I’ve been playing a new game recently.

It’s called “When Will My Package Arrive?” and, for almost three weeks, I remained locked in battle with a deliveryperson from MyHermes in a conflict as old as time. But, after a rollercoaster of emotion and a tidal wave of confusion, the battle is finally over.

 

The game had been going on for over three weeks, ever since I ordered a package from Ebay not long after Christmas from a very pleasant Man in The North. However, despite the best efforts of The Man in The North, my beautiful parcel-child seemed destined never to materialise at my doorstep due to an array of factors that I’m still yet to comprehend. Like many of the problems that exist in my life, the source of bother was board game-related; although, unlike most of said board game-based problems (i.e. that I don’t have enough), it was one caused mainly by the wrath of the Gods themselves.

This all started on Christmas Day 2014, when I decided to try and remedy the ailment of ‘Not Receiving Any New Board Games For Xmas’-itis by picking up a copy of the third expansion to Dirk Henn’s Alhambra from Ebay because, by happy coincidence, someone (the aforementioned ‘The Man in The North’) was selling a German copy of the expansion and I need a version of it in German so that it fits in with my German copy of the original Alhambra game. So far, so straightforward.

Fast-forward a few days, and it’s New Year’s Eve 2014 and I’ve popped out at lunchtime to go and grab some food and coffee. Upon my return, I discover a ‘Sorry I Missed You’ card from the MyHermes person waiting for me, jammed in the metal shrouding surrounding the buzzer system to my block of flats. The truth is, I wasn’t expecting my package to arrive so soon (estimated delivery placed it at around the 4th-10th of January), and so had I known there was a chance of it arriving then I would’ve probably stayed in to receive it. Never mind, though; surely they would try again on the next working day to bring me my package, and I’d soon be whisking myself to Gametown to build my Alhambra with a few friends.

Alas, the next working day was New Year’s Day 2015; a national holiday in the UK. Friday came and went without an appearance from my package [snigger], and the weekend proved equally fruitless. With the coming of Monday, though, I felt sure that the days of my package being neglected [snigger] were numbered and that I would soon be fondling my package [snigger] in the comfort of my own home.

However, Monsieur/Madame Hermés seemed to have a difficult time in finding my house. Despite the fact that they had found it successfully once, I discovered that they had a penchant for listing the parcel as ‘Out for Delivery’ on the MyHermes tracking facility, but never coming to my flat to attempt delivery. Quite naturally, I took to social media to express my frustration, in an open letter:

Dear MyHermes delivery person,

I don’t wish to tell you how to do your job or nothin’, but I think you’ll find that the easiest way of actually delivering my package is to just come to my house and give it to me, rather than listing it as ‘Out for Delivery’ each day and then not bothering to come anywhere near my flat.

I know that it’s likely not that big or bulky, but it’s still going to get pretty boring to see that same package in the back of your van every day. Plus, think of the pennies of fuel consumption and tyre wear you’ll save by it not being in there and having a van that’s 250g lighter.

I appreciate that my package probably hasn’t seen enough of the world, and that you’re doing a sterling job of driving it around and letting it see the sights of Southampton – I imagine the postcards of its exciting trips to St. Mary’s, Millbrook and perhaps even Chandler’s Ford will be something to show the grandchildren.

Perhaps it is simply that you have forgotten where I live, and can’t remember where you were supposed to be bringing my package to after it’d been on its round-the-world adventures. An easy mistake, we all do it sometimes. If that was the case, if you look on the back of my package, there should be – somewhere – a little tracking device called ‘An Address’ that you pop into this thing called ‘A Map’ and where it tells you where my flat is.

I know that that’s not as fun as playing ‘Hot or Cold’ with my package as you drive around Southampton for days on end, trying to get closer to ‘Warm’, but my package is late for his tea and he’s got school in the morning so it’s probably best that he come home now and do all his homework and everything. If you’re having trouble convincing him, tell him his mum said that if he comes home now then he can stay up for another hour and watch another episode of “Monsoon Poultry Hospital” as a special treat.

Anyway, sorry to bother you, hope to see you soon,

Si x

A day or so then passes before I once again remember to check the MyHermes tracking service, and realise that the courier had apparently tried to come round earlier in the day whilst I was briefly out meeting a friend for lunch. Confusingly, the MyHermes tracker lists as being “Not Del’d – 3rd and Final Attempt” (despite it being only the second try) and, even more confusingly, neither did the courier leave a ‘Sorry I Missed You’ card (nor on the imaginary second delivery attempt) so there was no way of contacting the deliveryperson to re-arrange the delivery for a more convenient time or to arrange to collect it myself from somewhere.

Because it’s fairly usual in these circumstances (after, say, 3 deliveries have been attempted to no avail) for the parcel to be returned to the sender, I leapt onto Ebay to message The Man in The North in order to explain the problem and to let me know if/when it turned up at his house so that we could re-arrange a different way of delivery. Speaking to His People™, he was informed that the parcel was – once again – listed as ‘Out for Delivery’ that day, and that I should wait and see if it turned up that day.

I waited in all of that day. I did not leave the house.

Granted, at one point I put one foot outside of my back door to lean out to see if there was someone in the car park because I’d heard a van and wondered if Captain(ess) Hermes had appeared but the door buzzer hadn’t worked for some reason [SPOILERS: they hadn’t]. But no, I waited in all day; driving myself slightly mental and paranoid in the process. And no-one came.

Nor did they come the next day. Or the next day. Or the next day after that.

“This is it,” I thought. “All is Lost.” Gone forever. Swallowed into the void. Fallen over the precipice. I would never see my beautiful package again. I would never know its loving caress. With a tear dribbling down my cheek, I wrote to The Man in The North, explaining that the fruits of our union would never be savoured, and that it was likely that our charming offspring would probably be returned to his address. Since The Man in the North was a lovely man, he immediately refunded my PayPal payment, and promised that he would re-arrange another delivery (via a more reliable carrier) once it turned up with him again.

It was with immense surprise, then, that I returned from a brief shopping trip yesterday afternoon to find a “Sorry I Missed You” card from Hermes, apparently from a driver called ‘Andy’. Was I dreaming? Was this merely a hallucination? Was there going to be a happy ending after all?

Well: this lunchtime, ‘Andy’ dropped by again with a sparkling blue package nestled in his grasp. There was no fanfare; no chorus of angels. I looked to the sky, in case a beacon of light was deigned to shine down from the heavens, but I didn’t see one. Perhaps the Gods had forgotten to set their alarms. ‘Andy’ and I stood, staring at each other, in the rain outside my front door. Looking in each other’s eyes, we both knew that we had found each other. The harsh reality of the modern world may place many obstacles in the way of progress but, in the words of the great Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Out of the darkness, my package had burst forth, bringing light and hope to hitherto black corners of existence. As I cradled my long-lost package in my arms, the tear once again materialised on my cheek and I felt my lips tremble like the legs of a baby deer as it struggles, hopelessly, to open the blister packaging of a new Black & Decker cordless drill.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

And, in that moment, we both knew that everything would now, forever, be all right. The game might now be over, but a spiritual connection would forever exist between the both of us; a product of our combined journey and our growth as people. With nary a parting word or goodbye embrace, we went our separate ways; destined for diverging paths but always retaining the memories of our beautiful game.

We entered the arena as but footsoldiers, but left as generals. Let’s hope we never have to do battle again.

[Zinar7]

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Dear Secret Santa

SecretSanta

Later this month, I will be attending a Fake Xmas Day with a few friends, in which we will be participating in the years-old tradition of giving gifts to other people in a clandestine and covert fashion according to the official rules for International Secret Santa-ball.

Since one participant has already remarked upon how I deserve little but coal this Christmas, I write here a heartfelt letter to my Clandestine Claus to discuss and develop the consequences of getting me nothing but some lumps of black Carbon this Wintermas festival. If you’re up for the journey, I’d love for you to join me.

 

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Dear Secret Santa, 

According to housefuel.co.uk and their standard coal sale price of £0.24/kg (based on a rate of £240 for 1 tonne), for my Secret Santa present of up to £10 value, I can be looking forward to (at best) 41.67 kg of coal from you this Christmas. This is, of course, assuming that you spend the whole £10 allocation, and that you also purchase this in the context of another £230 worth of coal – let’s say that you don’t like me quite that much or I’ve been annoying to you recently, so let’s round that down to 40 kg of coal for my £10 gift.

According to euronuclear.org, 1 kg of coal burns to give 8.13 kWh so with my 40 kg, I can look forward to getting 325.20 kWh of electricity for my money (or, more accurately, my Secret Santa’s money). Of course, I don’t have an coal-burning generator, but there’s teething troubles with any plan.

Given that my living room has two primary lightbulbs, each using 42 W (energy-saving equivalent of 60 W), then I can use my 40 kg sack of coal to fully illuminate my living room for 3,871 hours; or 161 full days. However, since I don’t generally need to have the lights on for at least 8 hours a day, I could afford to fully illuminate my living room for 16 hours a day for 241 days. Assuming that I don’t need to heat my flat (it’s okay, I’ve got lots of jumpers), eat anything (I guess if I get hungry, I could start eating the coal) or provide any additional entertainment or amusement (I have books and board games that don’t need any power), then my £10 sack of coal would likely keep me basking in photons until at least June, depending on solar conditions. I guess I could burn the empty sack as well when the coal runs out, to give me an extra hour or two of brightness.

Of course, the coal-burning generator will probably take up a significant amount of my living room and make it very difficult to invite guests over (the noise and heat and smoke will also not be good for dinner parties), but since I will want to be saving all the available photons for myself, it is likely that I wouldn’t be inviting friends around anyway. Given that using some of the coal to heat water would also be an extravagant waste, I likely wouldn’t be able to take any baths or showers anyway, so guests may not want to be in my company in any case. The diet of cold beans and Ryvita crackers that I would have to embark upon would also probably not help to endear myself to those around me.

How will £10-worth of of coal compare with my standard electricity tariff though, I hear you ask? Well, according to average electricity tariffs from ukpower.co.uk, 1 kWh would cost me approximately 10 pence, therefore the equivalent coal price would equate to an extra 14 pence per kWh; or £1.14 more than simply using the standard National Grid input for 8.13 kWh. I suppose that this is an added expense for my Secret Santa that accurately embodies the festive spirit and goodwill to all men.

But what about wrapping? Either my gift-giver wraps the entire sack of coal (which contains the 40 kg of coal itself), or wraps each lump of coal individually. Let’s take a look at the relative expense of doing each option:

1. Wrap the Entire Sack

– For this, I am going to assume that the coal is going to be held in a 50 kg jute/hessian sack, along the lines of (http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Jute-Hessian-Sacks-25kg-50kg-Potato-Storage-Sacks-Easy-Carry-Veg-Storage-Bags-/231381893840?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_3&var=&hash=item35df6f82d0). This sack is 43×23.5″, or 109x59cm. Theoretically, this would then require a minimum of 0.64 square metres of wrapping paper to wrap the sack; perhaps more if the sack bulges/stretches due to the weight of coal. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you need 0.7 square metres.

According to amazon.co.uk, one 2×0.7 m roll of wrapping paper (1.4 square metres) costs approx. £1; therefore to wrap the sack itself, you would need to use half a roll, at a cost of around 50 pence. In this calculation, I have not included the cost of sellotape and/or bows/ribbons, which I assume that everyone keeps in bulk at home and close-at-hand for any wrapping emergency.

The gift is now complete.

2. Wrap Each Lump Individually

– To investigate this, I went to my parent’s shed and looked at their stocks of coal. Taking a single lump at random, I found that it was approx. 4.5 cm in diameter (assuming roughly spherical, which is a big assumption) and weighed approx. 52 g. Extrapolating, this would mean that there are approximately 770 lumps of coal in the sack, each with a surface area of (6.36 x 10^-3) square metres, giving a total surface area of 4.9 square metres.

Using the same maths as for Option 1, this would require around 3.5 rolls of wrapping paper, costing £3.50. Naturally, I have not taken into account the wrapping time taken to embark upon this endeavour, which would of course be considerable, unless my you are able to delegate this task to your resident House-Elf. I would, of course, rate how much my you like me as a friend based upon whether you decide to wrap the sack or wrap each lump individually, and base all future gift-giving to them on this observation. The quality of wrapping will, of course, also be ruthlessly judged and scrutinised and a total score returned to you at some point in the New Year.

 

So, what’re the conclusions?

Well, the primary one is that – for the purpose of making use of my gift of 40 kg coal – I will be required to invest in a coal-burning electricity generator. In conducting this research, I had considerable difficulty in finding any available power plants for sale. Apparently Battersea Power Station was last sold for £400Million according to Wikipedia, but since Battersea is out of commission and would require significant refurbishment in order to make it coal-running again, I would estimate that a cost in excess of £500Million would be necessary in order for me to translate my 40 kg of coal into available electricity. Since Battersea could apparently consume over 1 Million tonnes of coal per year, this gives a hourly coal consumption rate of 114 tonnes. This would mean that it would take approximately 1.26 seconds to burn 40 kg. Therefore, your very kind gift of £10-worth of coal would take the same amount of time to be consumed by heat as it takes for light to travel from the Moon’s surface to the Earth.

Of course, you could just buy me Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ glorious soundtrack for Gone Girl instead, which would provide me with many more hours or entertainment and amusement, but I guess it’s really up to you.

Yours tediously,

[Zinar7]

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