Monday, December 19, 2005

A couple of downloads

Celestia is a free, interactive 3D space simulation program that lets you roam around the solar system and beyond. It's great fun and full of features. You can save images and videos.

Decades of Darkness is a chronicle of an alternative history that you can download - there's a lot to read. The point of departure for this scenario is that Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States dies in office from natural causes in Jamuary 1809. His successors in this timeline do not repeal the Embargo Act, a law restricting trade with France and Britain. I hadn't heard of this act before, but in our timeline it had the New England states seething as it was bankrupting their merchants.
James Madison, the 4th President , keeps the Embargo Act in force and New England (plus New York) eventually secedes from the union. The end result is that the rump of the United States recovers by expanding south-west, and without the influence of New England , remains committed to slavery even into the twentieth century...

29 January 1909
Fremantle, Western Australia
Kingdom of Australia

Life, it seemed to Brian McMahon, could be described as a series of journeys between pubs. Sometimes you saw good things outside of the pub, so you wanted a drink. Sometimes you saw bad things outside of the pub, so you wanted a drink. Sometimes, you went too long without a drink, so you wanted a drink.

This time, he just felt like a drink. When he entered the pub in Fremantle, he took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“You look like you could use a drink,” the bartender said.

“Sure could,” Brian said. “Your best beer, please.” He’d learned from painful experience never to ask for anything stronger than that in an Australian pub. “Vodka’s for Russkies, wine’s for Poms, rum’s for Jackals, sake’s for slant-eyes and beer’s for men,” or so he had been told.

“There you go, mate, a nice cool glass of Swan. That’ll be ninepence,” the bartender said as he handed the glass over. He raised an eyebrow at the one-pound note, but eventually passed back a handful of shiny silver coins.

Is it always this hot here? Brian wondered. Though tempted to press the glass to his brow, he settled for drinking it.

“You a Yank?” the bartender said, after a moment.

“Canadian,” McMahon replied. He’d noticed plenty of Australians had trouble telling the difference between the accents [5].

The bartender shrugged. “Yanks, Canadians, you both sound the same, you both burn the same.”

Brian held up a red hand. “Seems to be that way, yes. Never known heat or sun like this before.”

“You get used to it,” the barman said. “But beats being back in Canada these days, I bet.”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” Brian said. The newspapers from Stirling [Perth, WA] spoke of little from elsewhere in Australia, let alone North America, but life anywhere in Canada sounded harsh. What the Jackals were doing in British Columbia, now... Some things, he’d thought, were beneath even Americans. He’d been wrong there.

“Why’d you come for, then, if not the sun?” the bartender asked.

“I’m from Vancouver Island,” Brian said. That got him only a blank look. “Now full of Nephites and lemonade.”

The bartender laughed. “So you’re just another godless heathen like the rest of us?”

“Yup. I’m amazed they didn’t stone me for buying a drink.”

“I heard about that,” the bartender said. “No beer, no smokes. Hell of a boring way to live.”

“No tea or coffee either,” McMahon said. “The only thing which keeps them interested is seeing how many wives they can get.”

“Bloody hell, isn’t one mother-in-law bad enough?” the bartender asked, which made Brian spray beer across the bar. “”Scuse me, mate,” he added, as he went to serve another customer.

Brian sat alone for a while, watching people come in and out of the pub. It was a spacious building, certainly bigger than any bar he’d seen back on the Island. So close to the docks, he heard a variety of accents from across the Empire, and even some from outside it. The humidity still clung, despite the westerly sea breeze which came in every afternoon. McMahon didn’t want to stay here for very long; his interest lay more in the giant trees which were reported to be found to the south-west of here. For now, though, he enjoyed being here.

Until he heard two voices speaking in drawling accents. He turned to see four men walking into the pub. They looked like any other merchant sailors, but what were Jackals doing here?

Before the Jackals could reach the bar, two bouncers and the bar manager smoothly intercepted them. “Americans are not welcome here,” the manager said.

“We’re just after a drink, mate, not a fight,” the lead American drawled.

“Americans here will cause fights whether they want them or not,” the manager replied.

“Throw the shits out!” a voice called from somewhere behind Brian.

“You see?” the manager asked.

The American scowled. “You damn cons forget who won the war.”

“Australians made it onto American soil. None of your lads made it to ours any time in the war. Now, will you walk out or be thrown out?”

The lead American spat at the bar manager’s feet. “Fine! We’ll find somewhere else to drink.” The Jackals walked out, ignoring the taunts aimed at their retreating backs.

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