Sunday, August 28, 2016

Journey into Darkness: Pitch Black revisited

Journey into Darkness: Pitch Black revisited
By Bobby Neal Winters
Last year about this time, I wrote a review for the Pittsburg Morning Sun of the movie Pitch Black.  It can be found here.  I’ve rewatched it one more time and would like to revisit it. There will be spoilers ahead, but as I’ve seen this movie six times and have liked it better each time, I am not too worried about spoiling it.
This movie is a journey.  It is a journey in a couple of different ways.  We begin in a spaceship, cocooned in  cryogenic sleep chambers.  We are as far from nature as technology can take us.  A meteor hits the ship disabling it and killing its captain.  Carolyn, the docking pilot, is forced from her cryo-chamber into the pilot’s chair.  In a frenzy she is trying to land the spaceship safely because this accident has happened closed to a large satellite of a gas giant.
The computer tells her the ship is too heavy to land safely so she responds by getting rid of cargo.  She does this until the only section she can get rid of is full of passengers.  She says that she is not going to die for these people.  She then pulls the lever to jettison them but it will not work, and she manages to crash land the spaceship.
The survivors include an Imam on hajj, a bounty hunter (Johns) and his prisoner (Riddick played by Vin Diesel) and an epicurean among others. They are now on the satellite of the gas giant.  It current language we would call it a hot Jupiter.  It is in a system where there are two yellow suns closely orbiting each other and another star that is farther out than the gas giant.  For all initial appearances, the sun never sets.  It appears to be eternally light.
In this land of eternal light, the survivors fear the prisoner Riddick who is a murderer. Some would kill him; others would keep him tied up; others would be happy if he were as far away as possible.
Riddick is not well-suited either to the polite society of the civilized travelers or to the world of eternal light.  The journey leads away from civilization and away from light.
As they seek life-giving water, they discover things are not what they seem.  There is something dangerous living on the world that keeps to the darkness. They are not afraid of it as they are protected by the eternal light. They also discover they are not the first humans to have been here.  There were others before.
Riddick, being more suited to Nature than to Man’s protecting mantle of civilization, notices things the others do not.  The previous visitors never left.  They were killed by the things in the dark.  This becomes worrisome because it is discovered that the light is not eternal. There is an interval every 22 years wherein the central suns, the gas giant, the satellite, and the outer sun line up in such a way to bring darkness.
Near the mining camp, an escape ship is discovered that can take them to safety, but they need parts from the crashed ship.  The survivors start this just as the central suns are eclipsed by the gas giant.
It is here that the journey away from civilization and into darkness begins in earnest. The creatures swarm from the caves in which they have been trapped.  Riddick, who is uniquely qualified to see this as he has had a operation in prison to enable him to see in the dark, observes that it is beautiful.  
The group has determined that the creatures will stay away from light as it hurts them.  They begin the journey with electrical lights, which are lost.  They replace these with the lighted whiskey brought by the epicurean.  Members of the group are picked off one by one by the creatures.  In the darkness, the same people who wanted nothing to do with Riddick in the eternal light now hover close to him for protection.
As it looks like they might be able to make one last run for the escape ship, it begins to rain, putting out their whiskey bottle torches, forcing them to seek safety inside a cave, where Riddick leaves them.  In the cave, with even the light of their torches gone, they notice the bioluminescent larvae of the creatures that have been killing them.  They find just enough to fill one whiskey bottle and this creates enough light to keep the creatures at bay.
Riddick, in the meantime, has made it back to the ship. He prepares to leave and to all appearances, is planning to leave the rest behind.  
Carolyn finds him at this point, and entreats him to come back with her to bring the other two survivors with them.  He refuses.  They have an argument which climaxes in a question from Riddick: Would you die for them?  This is, of course a question Carolyn had answered at the beginning of the journey in the negative.  Now she answers differently, “Yes, I would die for them.”
Riddick simply replies, “Interesting.”  But he does go back with her.  They get the other two survivors, but on the return, Riddick is forced to fight one of the creatures again.
Carolyn gets the other survivors to the escape ship, and this time, they are suggesting that Riddick should be left, but Carolyn goes back to find Riddick exhausted having just vanquished a few creatures.  She chides at him to get up and come along, saying in order to shame him that she would die for the others, but “not for you.”  
At that point, she is captured from behind by one of the creatures and taken off into the darkness.  Riddick is left there with an look on his face that almost defies description into words. (Vin Diesel is an actor, not just a set of muscles.)  He is utterly amazed. Someone has given their life for him. He tries to cover this unaccustomed emotion by saying, “But not for me.”  And yet something has happened to him.  He has been saved through her blood.  
This journey from the light into the darkness has brought both Carolyn and Riddick into a different sort of light.  She has found that she could give her life even for someone who appeared irredeemable and the one who thought himself totally self-sufficient has been saved by another.

When Riddick is leaving with the two other survivors, he is asked what will they tell the police when they are found.  He says, “Tell them Riddick died there.”

Pitch Black

Pitch Black

By Bobby Neal Winters
(This appeared in the Pittsburg Morning Sun in August of 2015)
Movies have layers.  Good ones, that is.  A movie can have action, which is good. They are called movies after all. These are better if they have good characters.  A bit of mystery is good. Then add an element of horror if you are into that sort of thing.  To me, if they make you think a bit, that is good too.  The trouble is that that we are not used to that in so many of our action/adventure/horror movies and it might take you several viewings before you realize there is something else going on.  This is the case with Pitch Black, starring Vin Diesel.
There are some who look askance at Vin Diesel as an actor. This is an easy thing to do. Nature has equipped him physically to be an action hero.  So well, in fact, that it would be difficult to believe him in any other roll.  The only time I’ve seen him even put in a slightly different direction was in The Pacifier, which is Walt Disney.  Yet even for Walt Disney he was an action hero.
Those of you who know his work also know that action hero is not a perfectly precise description.  The role that suits him best is that of anti-hero.  And the anti-hero for which he has been perfectly cast is that of Riddick, who is the central character in Pitch Black..
Riddick was introduced in Pitch Black, released in the year 2000 and now available to stream on Amazon Prime.  The character was so good there had to be sequels, of course, and, of course, the sequels are not as good as the original.  This is not to denigrate the sequels. Quite frankly Pitch Black was a perfect blend of Sci-Fi and horror.  Indeed it is difficult to decide whether Pitch Black is horror movie that uses elements of science fiction or a science fiction movie that veers into horror.  Alien would be an example of the first and Predator of the second.  Like the middle choice in The Three Bears (also a horror story if you think about it), Pitch Black is just right.  It is pitch perfect.
It is a story of sin, redemption, faith, and spirituality in the future. The movie begins as the spaceship has been hit by a meteor shower and is crashing. The captain is dead. The surviving pilot decides to jettison the passengers who are sleeping through their interstellar flight so that she might have a better chance to live, but she is unable to do so.  She says, “I am not going to die for them.” Remember that line.
Riddick is among the survivors.  He is an escaped convict who has been recaptured.  Also surviving are his captor; a muslim cleric and his entourage who are on hadj; an adolescent girl traveling in the guise of a boy; and various others who will be killed in horrendously grisly ways as the movie marches to its climax.
Light is, an ancient symbol of God’s wisdom imparted to Man. We see by His divine light.  The spaceship crashes on a planet (actually a large moon of  a gas giant, but lets not get picky) that has multiple suns. There is every indication that there is never night because of this.
Yet, pulling a device from the Isaac Asimov short story Nightfall, our luckless travellers have crashed just before an eclipse of one of the suns. The configuration is such that they will be sent into total darkness.
This would not be so bad, but they are not alone.  There are some particularly nasty creatures which, in horror movie fashion, begin to reduce the number of our luckless survivors, one by one.
Other things begin to happen which one by one removes their technological advantages.  Soon they have been reduced from the god’s of technology which Man to considers himself to be to prey.
Riddick, who was viewed as pariah at the beginning, has become someone they need, but someone who they dare not trust. He makes no bones about the fact that his primary, perhaps solitary, interest is his own survival.
In one of my favorite parts of the movie, Riddick and the cleric have a conversation in which the cleric says, “Just because you do not believe in God does not mean he doesn’t believe in you.” Riddick replies with words to the effect that he absolutely believes in God and absolutely hates him.
But there are moments to make the viewer question whether this is his final state.  Riddick who is of the opinion that everyone is out for himself sees something which might cause him to question this view, as the pilot, who had been on the point of killing all of the passengers to save herself, finds her redemption.
Only after seeing the movie four or five times, do I realize that, regardless of how interesting a character Riddick is, the move is about her.

(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at and He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )

Tuesday, March 15, 2016



By Bobby Neal Winters
I write this as I am just half past my second full day of my current Paraguayan trip.  My second full day but only now am I truly in Paraguay.  Why do I only now consider myself to be truly arrived?  Did I just pass through passport check?  Did I just clear customs?
No, I am only now fully in Paraguay because I’ve just had my first lomito.  
What ask ye is a lomito?  Can I explain color to the blind or music to the deaf?  I might as well try as to explain to the uninitiated the joy of the lomito.  I will try to lay out the rough design of the thing, but this cannot capture the reality.  Take a hamburger and remove the patty.  Now replace the patty with a very thin (very, very thin) piece of fried beef.  Now put a fried egg on it.  There is the physical description of the lomito but one might as well describe a horse as a big dog.  The thing is simply the thing itself and our words are but our poor means to try to capture it.
It is the audacity of the fried egg that makes the thing.  The United States as a whole is no longer capable of this level of genius.  
The Paraguayans do not end their genius with the lomito.  No they do not.  There are other dishes such as the Milanesa a caballo. To those who know a little Spanish, this dish is an opportunity for misplaced culture shock because caballo, of course, means horse.  Milanesa describes a manner of breading a frying a selection of meat.  You can have Milanesa de carne which can be described as chicken fried steak.  They are not exactly the same but if you would eat one you would eat the other.  Milanesa de pollo would correspond to chicken fried chicken breast.  Milanesa a caballo is not chicken fried horse.  It is a Milanesa de carne smothered with fried onions and topped with two fried eggs.
Why a caballo?
I’d thought it was perhaps because the fried eggs looked like the saddle on top of a horse.  Others believe that because this is enough food for a horse.  A hungry and presumably carnivorous horse.  Perhaps that is more frightening than the concept of chicken fried horse.  I leave it to the noble reader to decide.
It is more important, however, that I make the gentle culinary genius of the Paraguayan people better known to the rest of the world.  If everyone like this, I am convinced world peace would follow.  I world peace among carnivores no less.  (Hitler was a vegetarian, you know.)  Even if the urge to kill one’s neighbor survived the joy of the lomito, the armies of the world would be too busy napping to fight.
One finds the best lomitos on street carts, scary looking street carts.   The scarier the street cart, the better the lomito.  Today, however, I was forced to forgo the street cart and ate a lomito made by a chain: Lomitolandia.  (This makes me think of the series Portlandia and wonder what such a Paraguayan series would be like, but I digress.)  It was a serviceable lomito, enough to get me into the country, but I must at some point seek out a truly terrifying street cart to be satisfied.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 11

Chapter 11; The Blinking LED

“I suppose you have looked at the numbers I sent you,” the Governor said from behind his desk.  It was a red stone desk, carved from the stuff of Mars itself.
“Yes I have,” Wang Wei replied. “People are leaving your cold little planet it would seem.”
The Governor screwed his lips at that little remark but did not say what he was thinking.  He had not risen from his origins as the son of mine workers to rise to the bait of a pampered off-worlder so easily.
“Yes, they are leaving,”  he answered again in a deceptively mild tone.  “While there is a little noise in the data because of the usual flux of comings and goings, the trend it steadily downward.  The entire tent city occupied by migrants from the Belt is virtually empty.  It is mostly just very old people who are left.  Within the city itself, the religious of the city are gone.  First the Catholics begin to trickle out, but then the protestants, the Mormons, the muslims.  Each with very slow rates, so slow as to not cause any official notice until the quarterly reports came out.”
The Governor was disgusted with himself.  At one time, he had known the streets of Mars City like the back of his hand, but his administrative duties had kept him behind his polished stone desk.  After he read the report, he walked the city and what the numbers told him was readily apparent to his eyes: People had left. Ethnic restaurants were closed. Churches were empty except for the clergy serving the homeless.   
The rate of the change was the amazing thing.  If it had happened any more quickly, it would have set off an alarm; if it had happened any more slowly, there would have been quite a few more people from these groups left.  It was if someone new the monitoring mechanisms inside and out and had been controlling the flow to get as many of the Belters off Mars as possible in the shortest time possible and still avoid notice.
Having figured out that much, the Governor had investigated why there should be such an exodus of those from the Belt and those who dealt with them.  He knew that, regardless of how well a secret was kept from the authorities, there were always those who knew.  In spite of his having been a prisoner in his office for untold years, he still had connections to those who knew.  
“So,” Wang Wei asked, “Why are they leaving?”
“They are leaving because they’ve been told that if they stay here it is very likely they will die,” the Governor replied. “Some sort of unspecified terrorist act is given as the reason, and--this is the reason I invited you here today--it is said this has been brought on by your, shall we say, overly zealous, collection of taxes from the Belt.”
“Overly zealous?” Wang Wei replied.  “You would call simply enforcing the law to be ‘overly zealous’?”
“Wei,” the Governor let a little edge come into his voice, “Your little roaches rip people to pieces.”
“All fabricated lies,” Wang Wei responded.  “I am surprised you were taken in by those obviously edited videos.  And in any case, the funding stream that has been initiated from the Belt has been most welcome at the highest echelon of the Allied Federation.”
The Governor was now beyond his limits.
“I can’t stand the sight of you,” he said.
“It won’t be long before you won’t have to look at me,” Wang Wei said.  “I have received hints through back channels that I will be promoted and transferred back to Earth from whence I will administer the Outer Holdings through a designee.”
“Well,” the Governor, “that is good news.  Some other news.  You will be waiting for the official notice in jail.  I am putting you under arrest for acts contributing to unrest on Mars.”
The Governor pressed a buzzer on his desk and waited for his police to arrive.  They should have been there in half a minute at most, but no one arrived.  A look of concern was beginning to cross his face and then he saw a smile passing across Wang Wei’s.
“Your police are not coming,” Wang Wei said. “That is because they are now my police.  Nothing you have told me today has been a surprise.  There is nothing you know that I did not know first.  I have reported in back to the Allied Federation and they have put me in charge of Mars and have declared martial law.”
Wang Wei then pulled out his com and pressed the screen.  In just a few heartbeats, the police at last came through the door and took the Governor into custody.
When the room was empty except for Wang Wei he survey the contents.  Seeing the red stone desk, he decided he liked it. He pressed another button on his com.
“Come to the Governor’s office, get his desk, and have it boxed up for shipment to Earth,” he said.  
It would make an excellent souvenir of this forsaken place.

Padre Gustavo examined his cell once again. It didn’t take long. There was a toilet; it was a quite prominent feature of the cell.  Then there was a cot; it also was prominent.  The cell itself was so small, he noted, that he couldn’t see both the cot and the toilet at the same time.  At least he wouldn’t have far to go during the night, the thought.  There is mercy in that.  Then he smiled.
“You smile; good,” came the pleasant, Russian accented voice from the next cell. “We must keep  sense of humor.”   It was Dima, of course. He was smiling himself.
“Well,” Padre Gustavo said, “I am glad you have your humor as well.  What do you think will happen to us?”
Having asked the question, though, he noted that Dima wasn’t looking at him.  He was looking at the security camera that was focused on his cell.  It was a standard camera that had an red LED on the side.  The light was steady; then it blinked three times; it was steady again for a few seconds; then it blinked once more.
“Okay,” Dima said. “We have a few minutes.  Keep your eyes on the camera and when it blinks again stop talking even if it is in the middle of a sentence.”
After Padre Gustavo nodded understanding, Dima continued.
“What happens to us will depend upon where the asteroids hit,” Dima said.  “These cells are not deep enough to save us against a direct hit.”
“So it is asteroids?” Padre Gustavo asked. “They are coming?”
“Yes,” Dima answered. “That is what my source said.”
“And you believe him?”
“He has not given me false information yet.  He is the one who told me that Wang Wei would have us arrested and he was right.  Before that, he was the one who told us that any attempt to warn the population would cause martial law to be declared and to shut down traffic to and from Mars.  He’s never been wrong.”
“Do you know him well?”  Padre Gustavo asked.
“I know him as well as you know him,” Dima said.
Padre Gustavo was confused and was about to ask more, but then he saw the LED blink three times and he stopped talking.
Dima began talking about movies he had seen.  He liked the Sergei Bondarchuk version of War and Peace, but it was not as good as the book, of course.  And he continued from there, talking quite learnedly with regard to the literary devices used.  
Then the LED blinked again, and without missing a beat he switched gears.
“I tried to send Tasha and Kostya away, but she refused to leave,” Dima said.  “She did send Kostya away.  I thought she would disappear in tears before she was done.  She gave Kostya to our bodyguard, who also left.  I ordered him to meet with Jethro and this he will do.  What about Adriano?  Did he go?”
“Yes,” Padre Gustavo said.  “Even though he is a bishop now, he will follow my orders.  He knows his mission.  It is to his people and so he understands it even better than I do.”
“And he will meet with Jetho as well?”
“Yes,” Gustavo answered, “just as the source directed us to.  Which returns us to the question, who is the source?”
As those words came out of his mouth, the LED blinked again and Dima resumed talking about movies. He talked about the old science fiction movies which ranged, in his opinion, from being ridiculously bad to remarkably prescient.  He classified ET as being the former because it was so sentimental, but he still loved it for the same reason.  He thought 2001: A Space Odyssey was good although pretentious.  It was saved, however, by HAL.
The LED blinked again.
This time Padre Gustavo began speaking before Dima had a chance to.
“Dima,” he said.  “Quit playing games with me.  Who is the source?”
The LED blinked again, and Dima again resumed his discussion of science fiction.  Surprising to Gustavo, his knowledge of this area was encyclopedic.  He spoke of an old American TV series Knight Rider about a computerized car and an old movie series Iron Man with a computer named Jarvis.
“These were remarkably prescient in their view of  artificial intelligence.”
The LED blinked again.
“Answer my question,”  Gustavo demand.
The LED blinked again.
This time Dima didn’t began to talk about movies.  He just said one sentence.
“I already have.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 10

Chapter 10: Thy Will Be Done

Jethro had never seen Dima so serious before.  He was never what you would call bubbly. He alway had a businesslike air about him, but he was never dour...until now.
Jethro’s family were at Dima’s hab.  It had become an after church ritual on Sunday. The adults enjoyed each other’s company and the children had a larger space to run around in.  Jethro’s parents were living with Dima anyway because they really couldn’t afford to be seen on Mars, so it all made sense for them to get together.
Today after the noon meal, however, Dima had called Jethro away from Mary Kate and Tasha and the kids and his parents, over the what Jethro thought of as the business nook.  Dima was very serious and when he spoke we was quiet yet clear.
“Jethro,” he began very softly. “I will tell you to do some things now and you must just trust me. If you ask me questions,  I will not answer.  You understand?”
Jethro was quiet and still for a long moment and then he nodded his head yes.  He had learned Dima’s way: Don’t write anything you can say; don’t say anything that can be whisper; don’t whisper anything that can be conveyed with a look.
“Good,” Dima said.  “You and your family must leave Mars as soon as you can. When Mary Kate asks you why, do not say it was because I said; in fact wait until Tuesday to tell her. Tell her you heard something on the news and you need to protect your hab from the roaches. Send me word when you leave, and I will take care of having your parents meet you. But you must go.”
“I understand,” Jethro said.  He was concerned.  He was confused.  He took the drink of vodka that Dima offered and drank it in one gulp like a pro.
“Good,” said Dima.  “Now we do the hard thing. We go back to family and pretend nothing has been said.”
Padre Gustavo was having lunch with Adriano da Silva.  Adriano had come to Mars a few years previously from his home in the Belt to study for the priesthood.  Padre Gustavo could see that he had a good heart and would be a good pastor for some parish.  He was good in dealing with people in the pain that is so much a part of this life.  He was smart, but not so bookish that he would ever be drawn away into scholarly pursuits.  While he didn’t necessarily have any managerial skills, he had more than any of the other of the religious on Mars.
Adriano was due to be ordained as a priest in about four months anyway.  What Dima had shared with Padre Gustavo, however, meant that Adriano’s career would have to be sped up considerably.
Padre Gustavo took a sip of wine to clear his throat.  Then he spoke.
“Adriano,” he said.  He then waited until Adriano finished the bite he was chewing and looked him in the face.
“Yes, Padre,” Adriano said.
“There is much you should know that I cannot tell you now and that you will only learn in time,” Padre Gustavo said.  “Knowledge is often a tool, but there are times when it is a burden and at those times obedience is necessary. Do you understand that?”
Gustavo looked into the twenty year old boy’s eyes and knew that of course he didn’t really understand, but as he was twenty he would think he did.  When he was fifty, he would finally know.
“Yes, Padre,” Adriano answered. “I understand.”
“Good,” Padre Gustavo said.  “Then understand this.  I am going to ordain you as a deacon tomorrow, a priest on Tuesday, and a Bishop on Wednesday.  On Thursday you will leave Mars and you will not look back.  Ask me nothing because I can tell you nothing.  If anyone asks you anything, do not tell them even this much.  Do you understand?”
“Uh,” Adriano stammered. “Yes, Padre.”
Of course you don’t, Padre Gustavo thought, but if you live to be fifty you will.
The lunch finished in silence as Adriano’s thoughts drifted off to the events of the coming week, and Padre Gustavo’s thoughts drifted off to his conversation with Dima.  Gustavo had Dima’s trust, but with that trust had come a horrible responsibility.  Things had to be handled delicately.  While part of him said the government should be informed, a larger part of him said that it would be the worst thing to do.  But the lives of everyone on the planet were in jeopardy. He wanted to save the lives of as many as he could, but saving them too quickly would mean that few would be saved.
One person would have to make the plan, implement the plan, and carry out the plan.  In this case, that meant that the one person would probably have to die in the end.
That’s what we all do, anyway, thought Gustavo.  
“Thy will be done,” he muttered out loud.
“Padre,” Adriano asked. “Did you say something?”
“Nothing that you need worry about,” Gustavo said.
If anyone had shown up looking for Klaus Johansson’s hab in the place where it had always been, they would have been surprised.  It was gone and so were the rocks that had been floating out to the side.  
The roaches had indeed come by.  He had been prepared to wait for years for them to come, but as luck would have it, they had found him quickly.  Actually, it probably had more to do with the proximity of his hab to that of Wild Bill’s than anything else.  In any case, the roaches came, he paid, and they left.  As soon as they were out of sight, he went to the rocks that were floating near his hab and began fitting them with engines.  Once this was done, he began to send them off from their current almost circular orbits into much more eccentric orbits. Orbits that would intersect those of Mars, Earth, and even Venus.
Once all these rocks were set loose, he set his hab on a course for other parts.  In particular, he headed beyond the Belt, out into the uninhabited Trojan asteroids.  

It had only just begun.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 9

Chapter 9: It begins

Wang Wei looked at the video at William McClain’s habitat.  It would incite emotion.  Of that Wang Wei was sure.  He was now afraid though it would be too much and of the wrong kind.  He now wanted to make sure it wasn’t in the wrong place.
“You are sure the filters are in place?” he asked.  “This will not get back to earth?”
“I am sure,” the middle manager said.  “The people on earth will only see what we want them to see.”
“What about the leadership?” he asked.  He tried to keep the nervousness he felt out of his voice.
“They will only see what is taken back physically,” the middle manager said.  “That will take months.”
Months, Wang Wei thought.  Months to plan for the backlash.
Involuntarily the video began to reply in his mind.  It had all begun according to script.  The swarm of roaches had come to William McClain’s hab and issued the warning.  McClain had replied with an expletive.  He clearly viewed the warning with contempt as he couldn’t even read the swarm of roaches on his radar.
The swarm had then, again according to script, begun to confiscate--that is consume and convert--his corn-growing habitat.  It was immediately after this that the plan had gone awry.  McClain had put on his suit and gone over to the corn-hab with his shotgun.  This had not been foreseen by the technicians that had programmed the roaches.  Once he was in the hab with them the roaches--so the technicians had later surmised--had interpreted him as a water source.
These roaches had been designed to replicate themselves in normal space in addition to that around a hab and so a high value had been placed in their programming on the acquisition of water.  The roach swarm turned on McClain with a vengeance and soon had consumed him in his entirety.
It was what happened thereafter the technicians had more difficulty explaining.  Having consumed McClain without leaving so much as a drop of blood, they then left the corn-hab and proceeded to the family-hab. They breached the hull and the atmosphere vented immediately into space.  This was considered a mercy as those inside were rendered unconscious within minutes, and were therefore--for the most part--spared the sensation of being eaten alive by robotic roaches.  
Wang Wei was less certain that they felt nothing, but with the atmosphere gone, at least the sound of the screams was not picked up by the audio track on the video.  The technician had told Wei that perhaps the heuristic learning algorithms of the roaches having found a richer source of water had expanded its search farther to find similar sources.  Wei, oddly enough, had a certain appreciation that matters of programming could become complicated in unexpected ways.  What he was not able to either understand or forgive was what had happened later.
After the McClain compound had been completely devoured and converted into new roaches.  The entire video of what had happened to the McClain family had been immediately uploaded without editing to the part of the Net that was available to the Belt.  No video ever had received so wide a distribution so quickly. There was no getting it back now.
“Retrieve the roaches and reprogram them,” Wei ordered the middle manager.
“We cannot,” the middle manager said.  “It was not foreseen that such would be needed.”
“Not foreseen?” Wei was incredulous to the point where he let a note of near hysteria in his voice. “Things always go wrong.  I thought engineers were one’s who formulated Murphy’s Law.”
“Yes, this is true,” the middle manager responded as calmly as he could.  “But the best engineers do not come to the Outer least not to be in government service.  I think that has been amply demonstrated by this, uh, incident.”
Wang Wei gathered himself, breathed, and slowly formulated a question.
“As best as these technicians can say, what will happen?”
“They say that the programming will continue,” the middle manager replied. “The swarm will divide into standard sized subswarms--two or three, it is difficult to estimate.  They will then seek out other habs that are listed as delinquent on the tax rolls and repeat the scenario.  Now with the, uh,  feature of considering humans as a high value water source.”
“This will proceed geometrically then?” Wei asked.
“Is there anything that can stop it?”
“Only if the settlers choose to pay their taxes.”
Wei did not believe in God, but even he uttered a prayer.

To an outside observer, Johansson's Co-Op would’ve looked like a bunch of rocks floating together in space with a largish hab to the side.  An outsider with a keener sense of observation would have noticed that one of the rocks was mostly made of ice.  To someone from the Belt, they would’ve recognized a veritable gold-mine.   All of those resources in such close proximity to each other.  You could let your herd of crabs graze there and double its size in just a few hours time.
It was the brainchild of Klaus Johansson who was known in various places as store-keeper, organizer, and druglord. He was also a stone killer, but that was less well-known.  Those who had the best knowledge of it simply weren’t around to pass the information on.  He was, on most occasions, a very pleasant man.  He would remember your wife’s birthday; he would remember the names of your children; he would remember every single time you tried to cheat him.  But he would also remember every single good thing you had done for him.  
Wild Bill McClain had been his friend.
Wild Bill had helped him to get staked when he first came to the Belt as a simple grower of the coca plant.  He’d helped Klaus along and shown him the ropes.  He’d “loaned” him a crab in the manner of the Belt-folk.  He’d been a second father--no--a real father to Klaus.
Now Klaus had seen Wild Bill, with his wife, his children, and some of his grandchildren, ripped into nothingness.
Payment for this would be taken.
Klaus had gathered fifty leaders, men and women like himself, who he had grown to respect over the years.  Twenty of them had made it in person; thirty were on their way but were involved in the meeting over secure line-of-sight connections transmitted through laserbeams.  
The meeting had been started and Klaus had reshown the video even though everyone there had seen it a dozen time.  When it ended, a voice came from one of those present.
“What the hell are they?  What are them things that are eating them?”
Klaus turned to the man and talked to the group at the same time.
“We think they are like crabs, just smaller,” he said.  “They self-replicate.  There have been two other attacks.  Each coming from sides opposite of Wild Bill’s.  From the time passed, we figure that the first ‘swarm,’ for lack of a better word, split and went in opposite directions. In the first attack, they paid and nothing happened.  The swarm did take water for fuel we figure, but the water was paid for with some of the money transferred back. In the second attack, the people ran.  They escaped but the swarm devoured their whole holding. It was small, but still big enough for the swarm to double.”  
Another voice came from the group.
“Is there any way to kill ‘em?  Could you blast into them with a shotgun enough times?”
Klaus waited a couple of heartbeats for someone else to speak and perhaps answer, but that didn’t come.
“Well some of us had thought of that, but the problem is it would be hard to get them all.  If even one escaped, he could hide out in your hab and chew quietly away until things were too far gone.  It would be like termites back on earth if any of you can remember.  Termites could eat on your house unnoticed until the damage was done.”  
Someone else spoke.
“To me it looks like they got us by the short and curlies, then.  We either pay or they take everything we have and double in strength when they do it.”  
That was what Klaus had been waiting for someone else to say.
“That appears to be the truth of it,” he said.  “If the swarm comes here.  I am going to pay. I’ll pay regardless of what the rat-bastards did to Wild Bill, regardless of the fact they have no right to one red cent of what we make here by fighting blackness and death.  But after we pay, they will pay all the more.  They will pay back for what they did to Wild Bill and his family a hundred-fold.  They will rue the day they started this.”