blincoln (592401) writes "Last week I noticed four unauthorized charges on my credit card. I went through the standard process of having the card canceled and a new one issued. Oddly enough, in two of the cases the thief actually had the product shipped to my mailing address — I received flowers from FTD and five DVDs of various genres from Columbia House. Both companies told me to keep the packages even though they were refunding my money. I can only assume that this was done as a sort of "thanks for letting us use your stolen card number", but as someone with a bit of interest in criminal psychology I'd be curious to know if anyone on Slashdot has a more informed take on the situation.
As a side note, I'm reasonably sure that the information was stolen from or by an online merchant (or from my bank, I suppose), given that the thief obtained my mailing address as well as the card information."
Scorpio's thoughts drifted to the hypometric weapon moving in its shaft, a corkscrewing, meshing, interleaving gyre of myriad silver blades. Even immobile, the weapon felt subtly wrong, a discordant presence in the ship. It was like a picture of an impossible solid, one of those warped triangles or ever-rising staircases; a thing that looked plausible enough at first glance but which on closer inspection produced the effect of a knife twisting in a particular part of the brain - an area responsible for handling representations of the external universe, an area that handled the mechanics of what did and didn't work. Moving, it was worse. Scorpio could barely look at the threshing, squirming complexity of the operational weapon. Somewhere within that locus of shining motion, there was a point or region where something sordid was being done to the basic fabric of space-time. It was being abused.
That the technology was alien had come as no surprise to Scorpio. The weapon - and the two others like it - had been assembled according to instructions passed to the Conjoiners by Aura, before Skade had stolen her from Khouri's womb. The instructions had been precise and comprehensive, a series of unambiguous mathematical prescriptions, but utterly lacking any context - no hint of how the weapon actually functioned, or which particular model of reality had to apply for it to work. The instructions simply said: just build it, calibrate it in this fashion, and it will work. But do not ask how or why, because even if you were capable of understanding the answers, you would find them upsetting.
The only other hint of context was this: the hypometric weapon represented a general class of weakly acausal technologies usually developed by pre-Inhibitor-phase Galatic cultures within the second or third million years of their starfaring history. There were layers of technology beyond this, Aura's information had implied, but they could certainly not be assembled using human tools. The weapons in that theoretical arsenal bore the same abstract relationship to the hypometric device as a sophisticated computer virus did to a stone axe. Simply grasping how such weapons were in some way disadvantageous to something loosely analogous to an enemy would have required such a comprehensive remapping of the human mind that it would be pointless calling it human anymore.
This is another excerpt from an Alastair Reynolds novel. He's really quite good, but almost unheard of here in North America. I had to import his latest (Absolution Gap) from England because it won't be out here for another four months. This quote and the last one are funny, but the stories as a whole are very serious and interesting. Any sci-fi fan owes it to themselves to pick up Revelation Space, and go from there.
"I'm an artist," Quirrenbach said. "Actually, a composer. I'm working on a symphony cycle; my life's work. That's what brings me here."
"Yes, Music - though that contemptible little word barely encapsulates what I have in mind. My next symphony will be a work inspired by nothing less than Chasm City." He smiled. "It was going to be a glorious, uplifting piece, celebrating the city in all its Belle Epoque splendour; a composition teeming with vitality and energy. Now, I think, it will have to be a darker piece entirely; Shostakovichian in its solemnity; a work weighed down by the crushing realisation that history's wheel has finally turned and crushed our mortal dreams to dust. A plague symphony."
"And that's what you've come all this way for? To scribble down a few notes?"
"To scribble down a few notes, yes. And why not? Someone, after all, has to do it."
"But it'll take you decades to get back home."
"A fact that has, surprisingly, impinged on my consciousness before you so kindly pointed it out. But my journey here is a mere prelude, occupying a span of time that will become inconsequential when set against the several centuries that I confidently expect to elapse before the work nears completion. I myself will probably age the better part of a century in that time - the equivalent of two or three whole working lives of any of the great composers. I shall be visiting dozens of systems, of course - and adding others to my itinerary as they become significant. There will almost certainly be more wars, more plagues, more dark ages. And times of miracle and wonder, of course. All of which will be grist to the mill of my great work. And when it is polished, and when I am not utterly disgusted and disillusioned with it, I will very probably find myself in my twilight years. I simply won't have time to keep abreast of the latest longevity techniques, you see; not while I'm pouring my energies into my work. I'll just have to take whatever's easily available and hope I live to finish my magnum opus. Then, when I have tidied up the work, and achieved some form of reconciliation between the crude scribblings I have set down now and the undoubtedly masterful and fluid work I will be producing at the end of my life, I will take a ship back to Grand Teton - assuming it still exists - where I will announce the great work's premier. The premier itself won't be for another fifty or so years afterwards, depending on the extent of human space at that time. That will give time for word to reach even the most distant colonies, and for people to begin converging on Grand Teton for the performance. I will sleep while the venue is constructed - I already have something suitably lavish in mind - and an orchestra worthy of the event is assembled, or bred, or cloned - whichever the case may be. And when that fifty years is done, I will rise from slumber, step into the limelight, conduct my work and, in what little time remains to me, bask in a fame the like of which no living composer has ever or will ever know. The names of the great composers will be reduced to mere footnote entries; barely flickering embryo stars set against the gemlike brilliance of my own stellar conflagration. My name will ring down the centuries like a single undying chord."
There was a long silence before I responded.
"Well, you've got to have something to aim for, I suppose."
He looked at the ships again. The twelve black shapes were larger, fatter versions of Nightshade, their hulls swelling out to a width of perhaps two hundred and fifty metres at the widest point. They were as fat-bellied as the old ramliner colonisation ships, which had been designed to carry many tens of thousands of frozen sleepers.
But what about the rest of humanity? What about all the old ships that are still being used?
[We've done what we can. Closed Council agents have succeeded in regaining control of a number of outlaw vessels. These ships were destroyed, of course: we can't use them either, and existing drives can't be safely converted to the stealthed design.]
Into Clavain's mind Skade tossed the image of a small planet, perhaps a moon, with a huge bowl-shaped chunk gouged out of one hemisphere, glowing cherry-red.