Explaining China, Part IV: A Response to “War with China” Hysteria

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[Note: the “Explaining China” series began here, and the source for the map above is given there as well.]

A persistent worry in the Western world, particularly among the political right, concerns a supposedly-coming-soon war with China, as if China were harboring ambitions to take over the world. Evidence for this idea’s existence can be easily obtained; simply enter “coming war with” into Google; it will supply China as the top choice with which to end the phrase.

People should stop worrying about a war with China. It isn’t hard to avoid one, and we have nothing to gain from such a war, anyway.

First, as with other nations, China will defend itself if attacked. Therefore, to avoid being at war with China, the first step is to refrain from attacking China.

The next step is to realize that China has a long history with invasion, particularly  from neighboring countries, and tries to maintain a “buffer zone” of controlled (or at least influenced) territory surrounding China — for defensive reasons, and with a rationale not unlike the one for the Monroe Doctrine in the Americas.

Since Deng Xiaoping changed the direction of China’s economy (“To be rich is glorious” is one of his famous quotations) from Maoist Communism to nominal-Communism, Chinese leaders have also become concerned about staying rich, and getting richer. To do this, they need markets to sell their stuff. Politically, what the Chinese want is simple: stability. Why? Also simple: China has had more than its share of instability, and this has often been fatal for millions of people. The Chinese have no desire for more instability. Therefore, they aren’t looking for a fight. They’ve let Hong Kong and Macau do pretty much what they want, relative t0 the rest of China, and they’ve tolerated their situation regarding Taiwan for decades. 

The only place where there has been outright war between the People’s Republic of China and the West has been the Korean peninsula, which is, of course, still a global “hot spot.” At the beginning of the Cold War, Korea was partitioned between the victors of World War II, as the USA and USSR, each with their allies, squared off against each other. This brought American troops into Korea. China did not become involved at first — not until Western forces were nearing the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. At that point, hundreds of thousands of Chinese “volunteers” crossed that river, pushing American forces back. Ultimately, a stalemate similar to the war’s starting point was reached, and is still there today, DMZ and all.

North Korea is dangerous, but that doesn’t mean China is seeking war there. Since the death of Mao, China has moved ever closer to the goal of political stability. The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the DPRK, or North Korea’s absurd-but-official name) is a destabilizing force. If necessary, the governments in Beijing and Seoul can deal with Pyongyang. It would be best if the West did not get involved, unless (and this is unlikely) our assistance is requested.

It is a fact that we (the USA) have treaty obligations all over the place, and that is a problem we should fix. World War II is long over, as is the Cold War. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea can now afford to pay for their own defenses. We should let them do this, and renegotiate the various treaties which would make it difficult for the United States to stay out of East Asian conflicts, on the grounds that these treaties (in present form) are no longer necessary.

The Chinese aren’t looking for a fight; they are quite busy, and have been for decades now, making lots of money by making things we need, and selling them to us. That might anger some people who bemoan the associated movement of jobs to China, but it is certainly no reason for war. The Chinese certainly won’t seek out war with us, for, without us, they can’t sell as much stuff, and would therefore make less money.

The people of China want stability, wealth, and more stability. They know, from their own history, that the opposite of these things often results in millions of deaths. Overt war is not on China’s agenda, nor should we put it there, by indulging in ill-considered American military (mis-)adventures in East Asia. There is no good reason for war with China to ever happen again. To avoid it, we must only do two things:

  1. Don’t attack China.
  2. Don’t get into violent conflicts with lands which share a border with China.

It would also help if the American political right would tone down the saber-rattling, but that’s probably not going to happen. On the other hand, as long as the rhetoric is not mixed with actual military actions, it can be safely tolerated. We have been doing that for decades, anyway, after all.

The American Historical Clock of War and Peace

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The yellow years are ones in which the USA was getting into or out of major wars — or both, in the case of the brief Spanish-American War. The red years are war years, and the blue years are years of (relative) peace.

The sectors are each bounded by two radii, and a 1.5° arc. The current year is omitted intentionally because 2016 isn’t over yet, and we don’t know what will happen during the rest of it. 

How the Homunculus War Begins: A Short Story

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Detective Bruce Kelley put out his cigarette, took a sip of his nasty-tasting, long-cold coffee, made a face of disgust, swallowed the sip of old coffee anyway, and took his time lighting a second cigarette, carefully watching the suspect every moment, as he did each of these things, without saying a word. After taking a long drag from his latest cigarette, he broke the silence. “Murdock. Mr. Peter Murdock. The crimes in which you are the prime suspect are serious, but I don’t think you’re taking this investigation seriously — at all — and I want to know why.”

“Detective, I haven’t committed any crimes. I have only been accused of killing two people, whose names I don’t even know, but as I have told you, repeatedly, I’ve never killed anyone, and never would. I’m not that kind of person.”

Kelley snorted. “Let’s talk about something else, then. Do you enjoy reading comic books, Mr. Murdock?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Why do you ask?”

“I used to read them myself, when I was a kid. Spider-Man was my favorite, but I also liked Daredevil. And, I gotta tell you, of all the fake names I’ve ever been given by people with obviously fake IDs, ‘Peter Murdock’ has got to be the most pathetic fake name I’ve ever seen or heard . . . but maybe that’s just because we’ve both read a lot of Daredevil and Spider-Man comic books. So, here’s my next question: what’s your real name?”

“What? I don’t understand. Are you sure that isn’t my name? Hold on a second — I’ll consult my homunculus.”

“Your what?”

“You know — the little guy inside your head. The one who sees through your eyes. The dude behind the steering wheel, and at the control panel. You know, the one who decides what you do. Don’t you ever talk to yours? I wouldn’t know what to do with my life without the help of my homunculus.” He then gave the detective a huge, childlike smile.

Image source: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8844

A Man, and His Homunculus

The detective said nothing, and was still processing these words when the suspect spoke again, roughly a full minute later. “My apologies, detective. My homunculus was apparently playing tricks on us both, but I don’t know why. He now tells me my real name is Reed Stark.”

Detective Kelley put his unfinished cigarette out, right into the cup of swill which, two hours ago, had been half-way decent coffee. The cigarette hissed, as the lit end hit the liquid. “Reed . . . Stark. Of course he did. Are you quite sure about that name, though? Why not ask him if he meant to say ‘Tony Richards,’ instead? I thought we had already established that we’ve read the same &%$#ing comic books, you lunatic!”

“No, he says he’s sure it’s Reed Stark. Absolutely certain. If you can’t trust your own homunculus, detective, well, then, whom can you trust?”

“Well, ‘Mr. X,’ you’ve already been thoroughly searched, so there’s no point in asking for ID that says your name is Reed Stark. Look, Mr. Stark, Murdock, Richards, Stan Lee, or whatever your name is, I think we’re done here — at least for now.”

The detective picked up the handset-part of the old-style, land-line phone on the desk between them, in this small room which was so barren that the suspect had, until the detective picked up part of it, and talked into it, thought of this shiny black telephone as the room’s sole piece of ornamentation. Speaking into the phone, Kelley said, “Yeah, have the guard take Mr. ‘Murdock,’ here, back to his cell. We’re not getting anywhere with this, and there’s no point in my wasting any more of my time questioning him.”

“Um, detective, that’s not ‘Murdock.’ I told you, my name is Stark. Reed Stark. I don’t know why my homunculus –”

“Shut up. Just — just shut up.”

The suspect did not argue, and the guard arrived quickly, removed the restraints holding the suspect to his chair, but did not take off his handcuffs. As the guard left with the suspect, Kelley spoke once more. “Guard — don’t take him back to the same cell. Put this man in isolation.”

“Yes, sir.” They left. The door closed behind them. Detective Kelley picked up the phone again.

“This is about the murder suspect with the obviously-fake ID — the one who claimed his name was Peter Murdock, and had poor-quality fake ID to match. Change the name on his intake records to ‘John Doe.’ Run his fingerprints again, just in case the system missed a match last time. Also, get in touch with the psychiatric unit at the state hospital. Tell them we’ve got a dangerous head case coming their way, and to be ready to receive him — and warn them that he is the prime suspect in a double homicide — which he claims not to remember . . . . What was that? Yes, actually, I do believe him — the part about him not remembering killing those two men in that blind alley, anyway — that much I believe. This guy thinks there’s a little man in his head who tells him what to do — a ‘homunculus,’ he called it. I’m about to go google that word right now. No, I’ve never heard that term, but I know a psych case when I see one, and this guy’s definitely nuts.”

Once locked in his isolation-chamber, the suspect asked his homunculus what to do next, but heard no answer — so, instead of just asking silently, he asked again, aloud. To that, he heard a response, sort of: snoring. His homunculus was, apparently, asleep.

“I guess I’m supposed to sleep, too, then,” he said aloud, to no one in particular, and with that, he stretched out flat, right on the floor (ignoring the small, hard bed which was attached to the far wall), and instantly fell asleep.

Soon, the suspect was dreaming. He heard the voice of his homunculus, and it sounded oddly, subtly different than normal — and familiar, also. He finally recognized it, for he had heard it in multiple superhero movies: it was the voice of Stan Lee.

Trans-dimensional portal now open for transfer of both powers and equipment. Begin transfer immediately. Matt Murdock, code-named “Daredevil,” with two billy clubs — complete. Peter Parker, code-named “Spider-Man,” with web-shooters, and extra cartridges of web-fluid — complete. Reed Richards, code-named “Mr. Fantastic,” with unstable molecules for uniform-purposes — complete. Tony Stark, code-named “Iron Man,” with latest version of Extremis-augmented, body-integrated bio-armor — complete. Files containing knowledge regarding the use of new abilities, and equipment, now being transferred through trans-dimensional portal — complete. Begin extraction and installation of all files . . . wait . . . processing . . . processing . . . complete. Peter Reed Murdock Stark, it’s time to wake up now. You have important work to do.

The suspect woke up. He spent a few minutes using his newly-enhanced hearing to listen to conversations going on in every room in the building, until he was certain no one was nearby, except for those locked behind bars. He smelled for the distinctive smells of gun oil, ammunition, and gunpowder — and again, found none that were too close. His homunculus then told him, silently “This may seem a little strange, at least the first time,” and then flipped the newly-installed ‘armor’ switch, at which point the suspect saw his body and jail-inmate-uniform quickly covered with red-and-gold armor familiar to many fans of comic books, around the globe, although those same fans would have found the presence of billy clubs and web-shooters unusual, attached to Iron Man armor. “The unstable molecules will let the armor stretch with the rest of your body, so don’t bend the bars to escape — just stretch between them, instead, for that will make much less noise.”

As always, he did as he was told by his homunculus, without question, nor hesitation. His armored and elastic form slipped through the bars easily. Once out, though, his amplified hearing and enhanced sense of smell warned him that someone, probably a guard, was approaching. Spider-sense then confirmed imminent danger, so he jumped to the high ceiling — and stuck there. He held his breath as the guard strolled casually down the corridor. The guard was nearing the end of his shift, and was sleepy — but he would have noticed bent or broken bars to a cell. Due to his fatigue, however, he did not notice that the number of empty cells in this particular corridor was one more than it should have been — and he had no reason to look up.

Once this guard exited the far side of the corridor, the escaped prisoner crawled along the ceiling, and then noticed a ventilation shaft. It was covered by a metal grille, but the elastic powers of Reed Richards nullified that obstacle, as he simply oozed through the small holes in the grille, web-shooters and all — thanks to those unstable molecules from which the Fantastic Four’s uniforms are made. Within seconds, he was completely inside the ventilation shaft.

From inside his head, he heard the next instructions from his homunculus: “Head for the roof.” He did so, soon finding his way completely out of the ventilation system, and on the roof of a police station, in a small city in a world without superheroes. On this particular Earth, superheroes existed only as copyrighted characters in comic books, movies, television shows, and the like.

He spoke quietly: “Homunculus? What should I do now?”

“You need do nothing but accept our gratitude. Your mission is now complete.” The homunculus flipped the armor-switch back to the ‘off’ position, and the red-and-gold armor retreated from view. He then flipped another switch, and the escaped murder-suspect fell to the ground, able to see and hear, but unable to move. He heard four separate voices in his head say, “Thank you,” one after another. During his escape, the homunculus had reproduced by fission, splitting in half once, then each half splitting into two parts again — a new means of reproduction their species’ scientists had only just developed, and was only being used by experimental prototypes, such as these four particular homunculi.

A pair of small, green-skinned homunculi then crawled out of each of the murder-suspect’s ears, causing red blood to pool under his head, on the roof. “Ugh, human blood is so nasty,” one of them said. “Red is such a sickening color for blood!”

“Get used to it,” said another, “for I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of it in the next few weeks.”

“Weeks? More like just a few days,” said a third of the green-skinned quartet. “In this universe our scientists recently discovered, no super-powered humans exist at all, except in what the humans call ‘fiction’ — stories about things which never actually happened, at least not here. The problems we have repeatedly encountered with these super-powered humans, every time we try to take over the Earth, will not exist here, with this Earth, at all. No one here will have the power to oppose us!”

The green homunculi were now marching, in a triumphant circle, around the paralyzed human. Although he could not move, their walking finally brought one of their faces into plain view, so he could see the strangely-shaped, green chin of his homunculus — and then he knew his planet was as doomed as he was, as he slowly bled out, unseen by any other human, on the rooftop of a police-headquarters building.

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A Skrull. Four tiny Skrulls, in fact. They didn’t even see the need to kill him before they activated tiny versions of Iron Man’s armor, and flew off, in four different directions . . . each to become someone else’s new homunculus, no doubt.

His last thought was relief, for he was blacking out, and knew he would not personally have to witness the destruction of his world’s civilization, and the enslavement of its people . . . but he saw no way either one could be avoided. Right now was, he thought, a much better time to die.

# # #

[Image credit — the “homunculus” image, above, was found at this website: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8844, and the picture of the head of a Skrull was found at http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Skrulls.]

[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. No similarity to any living nor dead person, nor institution, is intended, nor should it be inferred. This story is not being sold for a profit, but is a work of fan-fiction available on the Internet, for anyone to read, for free. No copyright infringement involving characters owned by Marvel Comics is taking place, since this work is not being sold for a profit. If a representative of Marvel Comics requests it, this blog-post will be deleted, but it is expected that having this story available on the Internet will only increase, not decrease, that company’s sales and profits.]

For John Lennon’s Birthday, the True Story of How I Observed This Holiday in 1983

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I’ve been a fan of John Lennon for as long as I can remember, and October 9, his birthday, has always been a special day for me. In 1983, when I was a high school junior, celebrating his birthday changed from something I simply did, by choice, into what, at the time, I considered a moral imperative.

In October of ’83, I was a student — a junior — at McClellan High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and October 9th happened to be the day that all juniors were, according to that school’s administration, required to take the ASVAB: the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. While this is a standardized test, it isn’t like other standardized tests — it is actually a recruitment tool for the United States military.

At the time, Ronald Reagan was president, and we were in one of the many scary parts of the Cold War, with the threat of global thermonuclear war looming over us at all times. If you are too young to remember the Reagan era well, it may be hard to understand just how real, and how scary, it was to grow up with a president who did such things as making “jokes,” like this, in front of a microphone:

Reagan made this extremely unfunny “joke” the next year, in 1984, but the climate of fear in which he thought such a thing would be funny was already firmly in place in 1983, and I was already openly questioning the sanity of our president. My own anti-war attitudes, very much influenced by Lennon and his music, were already firmly in place. For the few unfamiliar with it, here is a sample of Lennon’s music.

So here I was, a high school junior, being told I had to take a test, for the military, on John Lennon’s birthday. I reacted to this in pretty much the same way a devout Jew or Muslim would react to being told to eat pork chops: I absolutely refused to cooperate. “Blasphemy” is not a word I use often now, and it wasn’t then, either, but to cooperate with this would have been the closest thing to blasphemy which I was capable of understanding at that age (I was 15 years old when this happened).

The other juniors got up and shuffled off, like good, obedient soldiers, when the intercom told them to go take the ASVAB. I simply remained seated.

The teacher told me it was time to go take the ASVAB. I replied, calmly, that no force on earth could compel me to take a test for the military on John Lennon’s birthday. At that point, I was sent to the office. Going to the office posed no ethical nor moral dilemmas for me, for I wanted the people there to know, also, that it was wrong for them to give a test for the military on October 9, of all days.

The principal, a man already quite used to dealing with me and my eccentricities, knew it would be pointless to argue with me about the ASVAB. He simply showed me a chair in the main office, and told me I could sit there that day, all day, and I did. To the school, this might have been seen as a single day of in-school suspension, but I saw it for what it really was: a one-person, sit-down protest for peace, in honor of the greatest activist for peace the world has ever known. It was an act of civil disobedience, and I regret nothing about it.

I will be sharing this story with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, a woman I very much admire, and the greatest living activist for peace in the world today. Yoko, I do hope you enjoy this story. You and John have done great things, and they will not be forgotten, as long as people remain alive to tell about them.

Peace to all.

[Credits: photo from rollingstone.com; videos from YouTube.]

A Timeline of the Major Wars of the United States of America, in Our Brief History

Because it was, in some ways, a precursor to the American Revolutionary War, this timeline begins with the pre-American-independence French and Indian War. American independence was formally declared during the Revolutionary War, in 1776.

war1Light blue areas are for pre-American involvement in wars which ultimately ended in some form of victory for the USA, with dark blue areas representing American involvement in wars that ended in a victory for the side containing the United States, alone or with allies.

Each new part of this timeline contains the end of the previous one, and all wartimes within a single portion of this timeline are shown to scale. The white areas represent periods of peacetime, and are also shown to scale. Yellow wars are those that ended in stalemates, or conditions that could simply be called a tie.

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war6Beginning in 1945, things get complicated, with an ideological war (the Cold War) occasionally turning “hot,” as it did in Korea and Vietnam. A similar “it’s complicated” situation appears later, during the ongoing War on Terror. Also, the Vietnam War makes two new colors needed:  orange, for pre-USA-involvement in wars that ultimately lead to a defeat for the USA, and red, for the period leading up to a loss for the USA which actually involved American personnel.

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When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, ending the Cold War, some actually wrote of “the end of history,” as if the world had suddenly became uncomplicated. Subsequent events proved this idea to be premature.

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Since the War on Terror, as well as its component in Afghanistan, is unresolved as of now (2014), a new color, green, is used here for ongoing conflicts.

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Finally, it should be pointed out that the administration of George W. Bush tried to sell, to the American public and others, the idea that the 2003-2011 Iraq War was part of the War on Terror. Many Americans, however, myself included, do not accept this rationale, for no connection has been established between Iraq, on the one hand, and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against multiple targets in the USA, on the other.

How Richard Feynman Saved Eastern Tennessee from Getting Nuked

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I’m reading the book shown above for the second time, and am noticing many things that escaped my attention the first time through. The most shocking of these items, so far, is finding out that history’s first nuclear explosion almost occurred by accident, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II. One person prevented this disaster, and that person was Richard Feynman, my favorite scientist in any field. If you’d like to read Feynman’s account of this, in his own words, it’s in the chapter “Los Alamos from Below,” which starts on page 107.

Feynman, a physicist, was one of many civilians involved in the Manhattan Project, doing most of his work in New Mexico. At one point, though, he obtained permission to visit Oak Ridge, in order to try to solve problems which existed there. These problems were caused by the American military’s obsession with secrecy, which was caused, in turn, by the fact that it was known, correctly, that at least one spy for the Nazis was among the people working on the Manhattan Project. The military’s “solution” to this problem was to try to keep each group of civilians working for them in the dark about what the other groups of civilians were doing. Most of them had no idea that they were working to develop a bomb, let alone an atomic bomb. In Tennessee, they thought they were simply working on developing a way to separate uranium isotopes, but did not know the underlying purpose for this research.

The military men in charge knew (because the physicists in New Mexico figured it out, and told them) a little bit about the concept of critical mass. In short, “critical mass” means that if you get too much uranium-235 in one place, a runaway chain-reaction occurs, and causes a nuclear explosion. The military “brass” had relayed this information to the civilian teams working in Tennessee, by simply telling them to keep the amount of U-235 in one place below a certain, specific amount. However, they lacked enough knowledge of physics to include all the necessary details, and they deliberately withheld the purpose for their directive. Feynman, by contrast, did not share this dangerous ignorance, nor was he a fan of secrecy — and, as is well known, the concept of respecting “authority” was utterly meaningless to him.

While in Tennessee, Feynman saw a large amount of “green water,” which was actually an aqueous solution of uranium nitrate. What he knew, but those in Tennessee did not, is that water slows down neutrons, and slow neutrons are the key to setting off a chain reaction. For this reason, the critical mass for uranium-235 in water is much less than the critical mass of dry U-235, and the “green water” Feynman saw contained enough U-235 to put it dangerously close to this lower threshhold. In response to this, Feynman told anyone who would listen that they were risking blowing up everything around them.

It wasn’t easy for Feynman to get people to believe this warning, but he persisted, until he found someone in authority — a military officer, of course — who, although he didn’t understand the physics involved, was smart enough to realize that Feynman did understand the physics. He was also smart enough to carefully listen to Feynman, and decided to heed his warning. The safety protocols were modified, as were procedures regarding sharing of information. With more openness, not only was a disaster in Tennessee avoided, but progress toward developing an atomic bomb was accelerated. It turns out that people are better at solving problems . . . when they know the purpose of those problems.

Had this not happened, not only would Eastern Tennessee likely have suffered the world’s first nuclear explosion, but overall progress on the Manhattan Project would have remained slow — and the Nazis, therefore, might have developed a controlled nuclear bomb before the Americans, making it more likely that the Axis Powers would have won the war. Richard Feynman, therefore, dramatically affected the course of history — by deliberately putting his disdain for authority to good use. 

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The Origin of an Interplanetary War: Itaumiped vs. Almausoped

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The Origin of an Interplanetary War:  Itaumiped vs. Almausoped

Itaumiped and Almausoped are artificial rogue planets, each an identical member of a double-planet system bound into orbit, and tidally-locked, by gravity. The energy source used by the planets’ inhabitants, which uses a radioactive isotope with a very long half-life, causes the faces of these hollow polyhedral planets to radiate heat and light, both on the inside and outside, which is why you can see them here, but do not see a “night” side on either planet.

Long ago, the common ancestors of the Itaumipedeans and the Almausopedeans, living on the natural planet Loorohmude where their species evolved, built each of these planets as a heavily-populated, multi-generational, interstellar colony-ship. They built two, using materials from large asteroids, and launched them together, for a perfectly good reason: if something happened to one of the planet-ships, the survivors could find refuge in the other one. A large pentagonal hole was even built into each planet’s polyhedral design, and set to face the other one, simply to allow ease of communication, and travel, between them. Their journey was to last “only” twelve generations . . . but things don’t always go as planned.

An idea took root, and spread during the long journey, that viewed the old stories of Loorohmude as primitive, dangerous superstitions, with no evidence to support their veracity — other than ancient written records, which the anti-Loorohmudeans viewed as dangerous fabrications. Civil war broke out on each planet, and the anti-Loorohmudeans achieved two of their goals: they killed a lot of their enemies (who returned the favor in kind), and they destroyed the ancient records, despite the attempts of their enemies to save them. On each planet, some of the inhabitants on each side survived — but, on both, the old records were utterly obliterated.

The information lost wasn’t all mere history for history’s sake, but also included essential technical material, such as instructions for building the device, while in transit, which would allow Itaumiped and Almausoped to slow their velocity in time to achieve orbit when they reached their destination, the distant planet Stidennatio. For this reason, this planned deceleration never happened, and the twin war-ravaged planets flew right past Stidennatio at a high fraction of the speed of light. Inertia carried them right through Stidennatio’s solar system, and into the uncharted space beyond. With civil wars still raging on each planet, however, the combatants took little notice of the solar system they rapidly flew through, and those few who did notice any of it did not understand what they were seeing.

The reduced populations of each planet, simply due to their smaller numbers, now had supplies for a much longer journey, and eventually, the civil wars stopped . . . because both sides ran out of long-range weapons. They could have continued fighting without weapons, or with such things as knives and clubs . . . but by that time, the population was so reduced, so dispersed, and so war-weary, that hostilities on each side simply dwindled slowly away.

It took a long time — just under three generations — for the smoke to clear, and the population to start to rebound. By this time, no one thought of themselves as pro- or anti-Loorohmudeans anymore, but simply as the descendants of the survivors of a terrible war.

Naturally, and gradually, everyone started looking for someone to blame for the atrocities that always accompany warfare. By this time, the ravages of war had rendered the exterior surfaces of both Itaumiped and Almausoped uninhabitable, so everyone lived in the hollow interiors of each planet-ship. From this inside vantage point, thanks to the pentagonal holes which were part of the original design, everyone could see one convenient scapegoat: the other planet, always in view, and close enough that evidence of habitatation could be seen with telescopes.

Lasers aren’t all that difficult to make, and so the first shot fired in the new, second period of warfare, between the planets this time, took the form of an intense pulse-laser blast exiting one pentagonal hole, and entering its counterpart. It destroyed the top of an abandoned building, and killed no one . . . but it was noticed, and so a retaliatory strike soon took the same path, but in the opposite direction. This time, there were fatalities. More weapons were built, and immediately deployed. Soon, full-scale interplanetary war was raging.

This new war won’t last forever. It may stop when supplies run out, to be followed by famine, or the supplies might hold out until everyone simply kills each other. Does it matter which of these outcomes happens? No, not really. Itaumiped and Almausoped passed their destination generations ago, and now they’re going nowhere, at a high rate of speed . . . in more than one way.

Unlike their inhabitants, though, the planet-ships Itaumiped and Almausoped, soon to be devoid of life, will continue much longer. Just as they have since their construction, they will keep orbiting their common center of mass, and keep getting further away from their original, long-forgotten launch point, as well as their intended destination, until the heat death of the universe finally catches up with them, as well.

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Notes: Itaumiped (anagram for “I made it up”) and Almausoped (anagram for “also made up”) have different characteristics every time they appear. This is one of the nicer things about having my own imaginary astronomical objects — I don’t have to memorize things like planetary radius, mass, etc., because, since they’re mine to play with as I please, I can change their features according to my whims. For example, Almausoped was always previously depicted as the star orbited by Itaumiped. In this incarnation, however, there’s no star around. Also, Loorohmude is an anagram for “our old home,” and Stidennatio is an anagram for “destination.” The image that accompanies this story was created using Stella 4d, which you may try or buy at http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.