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(Fark)   At your wit's end from social distancing? Need something different in entertainment and distraction? How about a new science fiction novel? Presenting: The Voyage of the New Beginning, now through Chapter 36 - "Triumvirate Plus One"   ( divider line
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2020-03-30 11:09:31 PM  
This is an experiment. With modmin assistance, this is me doing my part to help keep fellow Farkers entertained, distracted, and sane during this time of stress and isolation. My posts will be the latest versions of the chapters of the science fiction novel my wife and I are writing, The Voyage of the New Beginning ©2020, Stephen D. and Lea M. Ball, All Rights Reserved. I plan to post at least one chapter every other day. Today, you will see that part of the front matter that is finalized (DP and TOC in two posts), and the unconventionally long Prologue (in three posts, due to length).

For seven years, this has been a work of love and loathing. The actual writing is about half done. There's enough now for quite a few posts. I'll try to stay ahead.

There's a lot of background, a huge and wide 'verse. Indeed, the complicated cohesiveness of my World Notes often makes me feel like I'm "channeling" someone, something, or some thing, rather than thinking this stuff up in my head. Now that's a scary thought. Because, superficially, the book's about an alien attack on Earth, an attack like none you've ever read or heard about. And it is set just 18 years from now. Duh-duh-DUHHHH! [Cue Dramatic Chipmunk].

It's long for a first novel, but I don't care. Is parts are just as long as they need to be to tell the story, which has grown from one tiny seed idea into a whole universe. The book has some currently unfashionable structure and front matter, because I have written it the way I would want to see a novel written that I had bought to read, enjoy, and get lost in.

I hope Farkers enjoy this lighthearted story, and that it helps everyone cope. A good part of the fun, of course, will be Farker comments. Therefore, your thread comments (positive, negative, snarky, smart, funny, and idiotic) are all encouraged.

So without further ado, Subby presents:

A Graciousrealm Novel:

The Voyage of the New Beginning

"The Maze Race is metaphor for

the Struggle of Life. The moral hallmark of

civilization is commitment to dismantling the world's

death traps and dead ends, so that each Maze Racer in the

Maze of Life may more expeditiously travel their Path."

- The martyred Universist Sage Dothallian

2020-03-30 11:11:53 PM  
The Voyage of the New Beginning

Dramatis Personae

(in order of first appearance)

Mrs. Harriet Hogueland ... GRITCorp CEO; she always thinks that she's in over her head.

David Ellinger ... GRITCorp Dir. of Science Integration; genius, generalist, driven survivor.

Paul Cartier ... GRITCorp Dir. of Security; smart, loyal, tough; looking for a hill to die on.

The Presence ... part ruler, part mentor, part savant, part servant - a DI's* life is a busy one.

Harlee ... lightly larcenous, largely clueless, a Graciousworm* of considerable simplicity.

Sparky ... Harlee's pet glinkin;* scion of a conquered race and lovelorn reluctant adventurer.

Echo ... Harlee's implant; DI by nature, symbiote by design, big sister by default.

The New Beginning ... a very special starship; nothing like Ferd had ever been printed.

Yink Patterkorn ... a Graciousworm of considerable wealth... and connection.

Slavvin Cordecon ... a Graciousworm of considerable guile, tavern owner extraordinaire.

ZED-9949 ... the wormoid* Captain of the starship New Beginning; she's a bit of a jerk.

Squeaky ... this wheeled Model R20D30B general service wormoid gets little respect.

Rosie the Maid ... for this MDBT-3071 cleaning wormoid, no job is too big or too small.

Sly ... Slavvin Cordecon's pet glinkin, a tough nut with a thick skin and a private agenda.

Glisana Sart ... a lookalike hostess at the Celestial Bug Inn... and much, much more.

Pepan the Chef ... this ChefBot3000 wormoid Master Chef had once never dared to dream.

Buzzly; BZLY-16841 ... Commander of Shuttle Operations; explorer; go-getter; space lawyer.

Struts; BNZ-82431... Chief Medical Officer; his emotive circuits are his personal demons.

WUFF; WUFF-66284 ... Security Chief; she is wrapped far too tightly for her own good.

Roggers; RGRS-116628 ... Counselor; Educator; Manipulator; stylishly wears many hats.

Nexialt; NXL-112010 ... Science and Operations Officer; he knows a bit about everything.

Scooter; SCTR-66875 ... Chief Engineer; he prefers dumb machines to other wormoids.

Ferriss; GRDN67-621971 ... a gardener; he always has a diplomatic response.

Darules; GRDN64-684949 ... a gardener; she obsesses about regulations.

Chance; GRDN4-11038 ... a gardener; he loves plants, metaphysics, and homicidal birds.

Sapphire ... enslaved by pirate programming, she was forced to do unspeakable acts.

Marsin ... programmed as a remorseless killer, she finally sought her own destiny.

To be continued/expanded in a future post....

*Associated Glossary Listings

Abbreviation for the term "Designed Intelligence." This is quite dissimilar in meaning to the Earth Human term "Artificial Intelligence." Most of the difference is programming structure and approach. Graciousone DI programming uses recursive nested looping traps, and the gradual backgrounding of trapped loops. This replicates, in 3D neural gel matrixes, the nine-dimensional phenomenon of "data looking at itself" found in sapient Graciousone consciousness. Human AI programming on the other hand attempts to replicate the (to humans) mysterious ability of the human mind to be aware of itself with complexity and density of programming, without true Sapience.

Graciousworm: A formal figure of speech in Graciousone polite society. In most usage, exactly equivalent to the Terran "Gentleman" or "Gentlelady"

Glinkin: Small (generally around five feet tall) non-gracious animals kept as pets by Graciousones.

Wormoid: Partially or totally partaking of worm (e.g. Graciousone) shape. All wormoids have DI processing capabilities, meaning they have recursive data paths and are therefore self-aware (Sapient). This distinguishes them from none-sapient bots. Wormoids are also considered to possess Graciousness, which bots do not and cannot possess. Not all DIs have wormoid bodies, but the term has been generalized in popular usage.


2020-03-30 11:19:58 PM  
The Voyage of the New Beginning

Table of Contents

. . . . . . Prologue --- Earth, 2038 CE, The Bungalow

. . . . . . Part One: The Plot Thickens

Chapter 1 --- Harlee

Chapter 2 --- FARPPET

Chapter 3 --- Of Graciousones and Glinkin

Chapter 4 --- The Presence

Chapter 5 --- Of Swarms and Implants

Chapter 6 --- New Orders

Chapter 7 --- Construction Asteroid #3

Chapter 8 --- The Celestial Bug Inn

Chapter 9 --- Yink Patterkorn

Chapter 10 --- The New Beginning

Chapter 11 --- A Rocket... and Fireworks!

Chapter 12 --- Home

Chapter 13 --- The Maze Race

Chapter 14 --- Slavvin and Sly

Chapter 15 --- Remembering Ellma

. . . . . .Pee Break I --- Flash-forward: Earth, 2038 CE, The Bungalow, 12 am

. . . . . .Part Two: Underway at Last

Chapter 16 --- Into the Unknown

Chapter 17 --- Settling In

Chapter 18 --- Travelogues

Chapter 19 --- Dual Itineraries

Chapter 20 --- A Setting of Jewel Birds

Chapter 21 --- School Daze Redux

Chapter 22 --- Decompression

Chapter 23 --- Vows

. . . . . .Pee Break II --- Flash-forward: Earth, 2038 CE, The Bungalow, 3 am

. . . . . .Part Three: The Days of Their Lives

Chapter 24 --- Echo

Chapter 25 --- Rosie

Chapter 26 --- Sparky (1)

Chapter 27 --- WUFF

Chapter 28 --- Sparky (2)

Chapter 29 --- Scooter

Chapter 30 --- Roggers

Chapter 31 --- Struts

Chapter 32 --- Sparky (3)

Chapter 33 --- Buzzly

Chapter 34 --- Pepan the Chef

Chapter 35 --- Chance

Chapter 36 --- Triumvirate

Chapter 37 --- Ferd

Chapter 38 --- Leafslug Days

. . . . . .Pee Break III --- Flash-forward: Earth, 2038 CE, The Bungalow, 6 am

To be continued/expanded in a future post....
2020-03-30 11:49:47 PM  
Prologue: Earth, April 2038 CE

(Post 1 of 3)

The silent gunman, alien spy-ball bobbing behind him, walked her to her door. She keyed the entry pad. The bungalow's security system read her biosig. The door opened. As she stepped into the entry, the taciturn thug touched her shoulder and she jerked around, shocked by a jagged shard of fear that wiggled past her armor. Expecting anything, she found that he had only wanted to focus her tired attention with a flood of adrenaline.

His eyes were well-hidden wounds, his face otherwise charily as blank as a poker chip cut from flint. His precise Danish-accented King's English was brutally direct as he tonelessly recited a bullet pointed list. "Madam. I have been told you appreciate bluntness. I have been told to be certain you understand your situation. You are considered politically naïve and difficult. Your theories and conclusions are deemed incorrect and dangerous. You have endangered order and stability. You and your company are now persona-non-grata with the UN Alien Response Team. Silence is required. It would be prudent to act accordingly. I am to tell you that, as a sign of good faith on your part, it would be good for you to stay here for the next few days, until the paparazzi move on to the next shiny thing. To leave, please have your people coordinate with both Danish Internal Security - he touched his ID - and UNART." He drilled a stare into her eyes. "Do you understand?"

She stared back, and saw only tiredness and sadness. It occurred to her that this was not an evil man, just one who had to do things he hated, and who had not yet reached his point of no return. She tiredly nodded an affirmative. His words were a clear summary of conclusions she had herself reached earlier, at the contentious meeting at the United Nations General Assembly building in Copenhagen. Leave it to the Danes, always sticklers for propriety, to make sure that all players knew the ground rules.


The haunted thug and his shadow had left, but Harriet Hogueland stood in the doorway. She swayed a little. The fatigue of 56 years, 32 hours awake, constant worry, and an 8-hour jet lag all tugged at her mind. Ensnared in wool, giving in to the moment, she gazed stupidly at the encircling garden, the compound wall, the garden gate.

Two Danish Military Police bracketed that gate. Their submachine guns and spy-balls glinted in the late afternoon sun. Across the tree-lined residential street, two Volvo armored personnel carriers idled. From the swirl of spy-balls over them, she knew they were each filled with a dozen or more troops. Inside the wall, her own guards, with their P90s and spy-balls, patrolled the garden.

As always, fatigue invited in her lurking clinical depression. Her brain flitted through a masochistic catalog of hurt, a lifetime of what-ifs and might-have-beens. Self-blame was there. Too direct, too honest, too smart, too brown, too uppity, too female.... The fault was hers, she thought, an uncaring inability to diplomatically deal with the world's stupidities. George had worried about her take-no-prisoners attitude. Now, her character traits were self-imposed crosses she had borne since inheriting his business empire five years before. If it had not been for the loyalty and support of her late husband's four right hand people....

She sighed and rubbed her eyes, trying to banish the fatigue. She turned, to go to her study. Her own spy-ball floated in the air six feet away. Like the others, her enigmatic Shadow (she had ironically named it, as if it were a clingy pet) had shown up six months before, half a year after the raid by the colossal alien starship. "Shoo, dammit!" She tiredly made a swatting motion, but (as always) it blithely bobbed away on jets of compressed air.

She grimly trudged down the hall and into the study. The ball followed her haphazardly, with little investigative detours, like a curious but scatterbrained kitten. Grinning ironically, she politely held the door open for it; otherwise, it would have gently bumped the wood every few seconds until she let it in. They were worse than cats. She sat at her desk. The ball moved to the front of the desk, floating with no visible means of support. She studied it, and remembered.


The 30-mile-diameter alien starship had attacked Earth a year before. It had been a quiet Saturday afternoon in Southern California. A bright speck appeared in the sky. In minutes, it grew to fill most of it. Though hiding the sun, the sphere did not completely darken the land, as bright white light spilled from thousands of colossal windows that pierced the mercury-colored hull, revealing enormous compartments, corridors, and gardens.

Airlocks in separate quadrants of the sphere swiveled open like huge camera shutters to release at least a dozen mile-long, lozenge-shaped aircraft. These "carriers" in turn, spewed out swarms of pickup-truck-sized flying machines. Working in groups, the fliers created bubble-like, hexagonal force fields, which enveloped their targets in shimmering spheres, cut them free from the ground, and floated them away.

Either singly or in contiguous bunches, the bubbles abducted half a million people from Long Beach, Orange County, and Los Angeles. They stole entire neighborhoods of apartments, homes, stores, churches, and schools. They lifted two amusement parks, a police station, Orange County's central Islamic mosque, a National Guard armory, a small manufacturing complex, two convention centers, several urban farms, a baseball stadium, three shopping malls, an entire state university campus, two major hospitals, an All-Mart bigbox store, the just-completed Glendale Arcology, and (along with most of the associated wilderness park and assorted wildlife) Griffith Observatory.

The crowning glory, though, had been the first abduction. The terrified residents of Long Beach had watched a 1,092-foot-long, 110,000 ton aircraft carrier and four harbor tugs, floating in a half-mile wide and hundred foot deep pool of oily sea water and harbor silt, get wafted into the air like feathers in a sparkling snow globe. All approached the vast ship. A 4,000-foot section of the ship's midline hull swiveled open and globe, carrier, and tugs, disappeared inside. The iris closed. That sequence would be repeated 483 times.


Miraculously, Earth's defenders, had done damage. The force field machines turned out to be easy targets. Hundreds had been shot down by cannon fire from military aircraft, and even bullets from civilian hand weapons.

There was one alien casualty, however, that was even more valuable than the force-field machines. One of the mile-long carriers had crashed. It had somehow been caught underneath an abducted office skyscraper that had fallen back to Earth when the machines stealing it had been shot down.

After the shooting stopped, soldiers looking through the wreckage had found the remains of a 100-foot tall wormlike, tentacled alien. It was mechanical in nature. The top section of the alien was speculative, as it was missing. But everyone agreed that the aliens sure looked like giant, tentacled, cyborg or robotic, vaguely water-bear-like worms.

Finally, the spaceship itself was damaged. It had just launched one of the carriers, and the hatch had stayed open long enough for the pilot of an A-10 Warthog to see a firing window. She launched her last missile, which streaked through the hatch. The Warthog was running on fumes, out of ammo, and had friendly fire damage. Unable to veer off or do more damage, the pilot had elected to follow the missile.

Explosions and flames had belched from the hatch in a morale-boosting and generally quite satisfactory manner, but the massive ship had not even shuddered. In seconds, the iris had swiveled shut. The globe continued its raid, shrugging off all further attacks.

The abductions had continued for another hour, but then the ship seemed to get bored with California. It moved east, towards Nevada, where it snatched another hundred thousand people and three hotel-casinos from Las Vegas. It then turned north-northwest and leisurely meandered through the desert in the direction of Area 51.

At this point, the Air Force got approval to fire an AGM-86 cruise missile at the invader. The AGM-86 had a "dial-a-boom" selectable yield thermonuclear warhead. The 150-kiloton explosion hit directly on the hull, vaporizing a bunch of small conic superstructures, and leaving an inch-shallow scorched crater. The giant globe was visibly nudged.

The ship abruptly stopped, then shot up into near-Earth space. It moved into a powered polar orbit. This spiraled randomly around the planet in a matter of hours, eventually passing over every square inch of surface.

No immediate effect was noticed. But then news began to trickle out. Every nuclear and thermonuclear warhead on Earth, regardless of size or location, had somehow been "spiked" in situ, and was now crumpled, useless junk. Whether mounted on ICBMs in underground silos, in boomer launch tubes in the ocean depths, on aircraft, or in storage bunkers, it was as if each warhead, its control mechanism, and surrounding casing had all been sucked in on itself. There was no radiation. It couldn't escape the gravitational pull of what seemed to be collapsed matter.

Take that.

The alien then resumed its raiding, swooping down on single targets in the U.S. and other countries, and leaving before any effective defense could be mounted. It concentrated on stealing epic-sized artwork, and places with lots of people. Of note, it snatched several huge statues from the US, South America, Europe, India, and Asia. It stole the Burj Khalifa, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the Kaaba with 250,000 pilgrims. And it made off with Vatican City, the Pope, St. Peter's Square, and 225,000 terrified Catholics gathered on an Easter Sunday morning to hear words of reassurance from their representative of God on Earth.

The globe had then withdrawn. It left behind hundreds of wrecked force field machines, the wrecked alien carrier, an estimated lower four-fifths of a dead pilot, fear, and anarchy. It flew to the Asteroid Belt, where it remained for four months. High-resolution telescopes showed it repairing hull battle damage, and otherwise just sitting around doing nothing much.


Then the ship launched thousands of mile-long missiles. These shot towards Earth at enormous speed and humanity had trembled and waited to die. But the freighters (which were what they turned out to be) made soft landings all over the planet. In just minutes, they disgorged their cargos, and then floated into the air, flew to spots over deep-sea trenches, and sank beneath the waves.

The cargos were billions of identical, tennis-ball-sized, levitating silver globes. They did not have any immediately apparent purpose, other than to terrify and annoy. Each chose the first person it detected and, like a needy Burmese cat, stayed as close to that person as possible. Once someone had been selected by a globe, all other globes would ignore that person and fly off to find someone else to bother.

At first, there had been combat. The globes were not invulnerable. They were, in fact, laughably easy to destroy. Tens of millions of them had been smashed, shot, burned, blown up, or otherwise turned into scrap. But whenever one of them was destroyed, within an hour or two, or even minutes, a replacement would appear. At some point, even gung-ho alien-fighters either ran out of ammunition, got exhausted, or just gave up and accepted the fact that there were shiny alien balls of unknown purpose that followed them around and got annoyed if they could not be next to them. Once again, the resemblance to cats was uncanny.


The massive destruction of alien machinery meant lots of stuff to study. A hastily created United Nations Alien Response Team had used its fresh power and unlimited budget to dragoon universities and private R&D firms all over Earth for the task. Genesis Renaissance International Tech Corporation, informally GRITCorp, was one of them. Their specialty had been analyzing the silver balls. Harriet was certain that no one, anywhere, knew more about the spy-balls than her people did.

The machine silently floating in front of her was not actually a sphere. There were four subtle bulges on the bottom hemisphere. She shook her head bemusedly. They had been dubbed "antigravity engines" but nobody had any idea as to how they actually worked.

There were no moving parts. If you removed a bulge (they popped off if you pulled on them), two small mesh-like cubes could be seen. There were matching mesh cubes sunk into the surface of the chassis. Each cube was made up of a dense forest of stiff, conducting fibers. The fibers of the bulge cubes had tiny hooks along their lengths; the fibers of the chassis cubes had tiny open loops along their lengths. The inter-penetration of hooks and loops on each fiber made a solder-less connection that not only held the bulge securely in place, but also had a conduction cross section that could handle huge amperages. This right here, the connection, was bankable tech, understood, copied, and worth billions.

The bulges had been dissected in detail. They were featureless. The material was chemically, spectrally, and radiologically un-analyzable. But if you applied sufficient direct current across the meshes, the bulge floated. If you increased the current, it floated higher.


The chassis meshes connected to a recognizable capacitor. This was surrounded by an efficient thermoelectric generator* that turned heat into electricity. The heat source was a tiny speck of... something.

They had tried to open the specks. Disturbing one upset some equilibrium and the speck evaporated. But at the instant it vanished, hydrogen and helium gas, were detected. Other data put a lock on it. It was impossible, but the speck was a fusion reactor. Her teams had dubbed the complete system of capacitor, thermoelectric generator, and mysterious speck a "fusion battery." And no one had the faintest clue as to how it worked or was even able to exist.


The ball's surface had hundreds of dimples, tube openings, and invisibly thin graphene monofilament fuzz. The indents were lenses for solid state, high-resolution cameras. Some of the tubes led to reservoirs for compressed air. Others led to solid-state chemical testing circuits. The fuzz attached to pressure sensors, and to sophisticated LEDs and diaphragms. Experts agreed that the balls were mobile spy platforms for sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch data. They were also capable of emitting both blasts of sound and bursts of light.

The interior was solid-state circuitry. This was so miniaturized, layered, and functionally opaque that analyzing it was a huge challenge. Nanometer test leads, injudiciously moved, would destroy a circuit. Then another sphere would have to be analyzed, and the laborious drill down to where the screw-up had happened repeated.

Fatigue briefly made her thoughts wild and random. Idly, Harriet considered throwing something at it, or yelling at it. There was a gun in the desk's bottom drawer; she could try to shoot it. She chuckled. Worthless. The spheres were good at dodging. No matter. If she wanted to destroy her sphere, she could always trap it in a closet, where she could net it and bash it into junk with a hammer. But a replacement would inevitably appear. This, of course, meant there was communication of some sort between the balls. But no one had any idea how that was done.


But violence against the balls was unnecessary. They were not dangerous. With millions of interactions, there hadn't been one instance of anyone being attacked. There were, in fact, several instances of the spheres making loud pings and bright light flashes when humans they shadowed were injured.

She laughed. Humanity not being attacked by the little balls didn't mean people hadn't found other reasons to break them. No one knew how the bulges or the power source worked, but enterprising people all over the world had created cottage industries to exploit them. In poorer nations, they had popped up like toadstools. Automatically replaced free energy and a way to float cargo without cost had fueled an explosive economic renaissance. People powered and floated everything from donkey carts, cars, boats, and village huts to backpacks, skateboards, weapons, their shoes, and themselves.

The scavenged balls were replaced within hours or minutes. A seemingly endless stream of replacement globes came from the oceans of the world. UNART-chartered submersibles had tracked dense schools of millions of them flying through the oceans. Deepwater spy drones had always lost contact, and attempts to bomb the source trenches had met with zero reduction in the traffic.


She sighed. She was tired, and angry, and (somewhere deep inside, tamped down hard) perpetually scared. There was only one answer to dealing with those demons, the response she had gone to all her life. Time to get back to work!

First off, she had to unsleep and synch-up her wristpad.* It had been in DND mode all the time of the UNART meeting. And she had thought it wise to keep it asleep during the awkward trip to the bungalow surrounded by taciturn government thugs.

Second, there was a staff meeting tomorrow afternoon. With a nine-hour time difference, it was morning of today there, so she had some time to prepare. The purpose, now probably moot since the leak of careless comments at the GRITCorp quarterly Board of Directors meeting, was to finalize their current month UNART status report. Even with the rift, the BoD had thought it prudent to fulfill the spirit of their UNART contract. As she was effectively under house arrest, she would attend the meeting by videoconference call. But she needed to review the files, so that she didn't sound like a total idiot.

Third, she was thinking and feeling like she remembered back in grade school when she had smoked a joint for the first time. Difficulty: she had been sober of everything but her own despair for forty-eight years. Stress and fatigue were becoming a problem. She needed to get a few hours of sleep.

She entered the wristpad's wakeup code and then a password on a dial set into the desk's control pad. An armored slot in the desktop opened. Her laptop slid out, holographic 40" display automatically snapping to life.

She had just keyed in the synch code when her wristpad beeped. High priority encrypted traffic. It was a telecall* from corporate headquarters in Irvine, California. She sighed, and by sheer force of will shoved aside most of the cotton that seemed to fill her head. She took a deep breath and pushed the accept button.

Two lined and worried faces appeared in split view on the wristpad's small holographic screen. On the left: her Director of Science Integration, David Ellinger. On the right: her Director of Security, Paul Cartier.

David spoke first. He leaned forward with unusual intensity, "Hello HH, David and Paul here. We've been trying to reach you. Are you OK? Oh yes, there's an urgent note from your secretary, Wallace. He needs to know where you put the Westminster file."

Ice formed in her stomach. It blasted away the remaining fog and left her feeling hard and brittle, preternaturally aware. Damn, but they were on edge. She swallowed, throat suddenly dry. "Hello, David! Hello, Paul! Everything is fine here," she said brightly. She paused and collected her thoughts, trying not to give into sudden panic. She slowly said, "Please tell Wallace that the Westminster file is in the Tesla's glove-box. Tina has the car key." This was that week's safety phrase. It had been drilled into her by Paul Cartier before she had left for Copenhagen. She said the sentence very carefully, to get it exactly right.

The last two decades had seen vast erosions of the idea of the nation-state. Social media on the Internet had created chaos. Worldwide, local populisms challenged increasingly corrupt and ineffectual national governments. Incompetent and self-serving responses to the Covid-19 pandemic of 18 years before, ineffective response to the alien attack, and shifts in military power due to the loss of nuclear weapons had only worsened matters.

Relations between bankrupt and fragmenting governments and powerful corporations awash in cash had also degenerated. This trend had accelerated since the alien attack. Paul and David had been highly loyal employees to her late husband. They were now extremely protective of her. What all this rigamarole meant was that an incorrect response from her would have set lethal consequences in motion.

She heard two held breaths release. "Good! The Board was getting ready to unleash Paul here to bust you loose."

That was a serious threat; Paul Cartier had been hired as Director of Security 15 years earlier. Before that, he had been a Brigadier General in the U.S. Special Forces. His specialty had been counterterrorism strikes and hostage extraction. Harriet silently reflected that, unlike the UNART gunman, Cartier had seen his point of no return. His moral event horizon had been the Greenland Annexation debacle. Washington's loss had been GRITCorp's gain. The firm was privately held and rich, with huge streams of residual income shared by now-wealthy inventors bootstrapped by the firm. And with those inventors' gratitude had come a worldwide network of powerful political connections. Paul Cartier therefore ran a private security force of superbly trained and equipped former elite soldiers. Discrete simulations suggested they could hold their own against an equal number of either the dilapidated US Army, or even the newly invigorated Royal Danish Army.

She hastily responded, "No need for that! My meeting with UNART's Directorate did not go well, but I am now at the cottage, safe and sound." She glanced at the spy-ball and laughed. "Just me and my Shadow. I've decided to name it that."

She continued, "I've been placed under house arrest here, but I understand that the Danes would prefer, indeed, would be deliriously happy, if I left as soon as possible. So could you pass that request on to Maxine in Travel? Please ask her to coordinate, with both UNART and Danish Internal Security, a peaceful, low-key departure on a direct commercial flight from Kastrup. No rush, anytime in the next few days, after the paparazzi lose interest. I can do work, including the staff meeting tomorrow, just as easily from here as in Irvine."

She saw doubt in both faces. "Gentlemen, please! I am certain of my safety. Neither the Danes nor UNART are irrational. Both want the hysteria over the leak to die down, for us to dig a hole and disappear for a while. They explained the ground rules. In fact, I was told them twice, once in Directorate weasel words, and then in quite plain language by the very proper Danish Internal Security thug who escorted me to my door.

"They would not have taken the trouble to translate wiggle words into plain English if they wanted to bump me off. They know that we might be useful in the future. We are damned good at our job, they know it, and they know that we know it. So this is damage control time. Both the Danes and UNART want no complications."

It was time to take charge. She changed the subject. "David, what is happening to the project? And Paul, what is the security situation?"

David spoke, "Research has been shut down. Computer files have been locked with UN encryption. Files and experiment artifacts have been confiscated. Luckily, we planned for this and have duplicates of everything. We can resume operations in a week at another location. I suggest our Madagascar site, as we already have staff there looking at the spy-ball conversion situation."

She nodded, internally cringing. The BoD leak of the explosive preliminary reports on the uses that indigenous African peoples had made of scavenged spy-ball parts had been the cause of the current kerfuffle. "Make it so. Also, prep two alternate sites to be ready in case Madagascar is shut down. I'll email Suki Martinez for a draw of.... Do you think fifty million will cover two more site preps?"

David nodded agreement. "Madagascar reset, 50 million should be more than enough, prep two other sites just in case. Got it."

She looked at Paul, "And corporate security? How are we doing there?"

Paul smiled. It felt good to be able to report good news. "Some of our people at seven of our East Coast facilities were briefly held by the FBI on various charges, but we had lawyers to all of them within an hour. All released within two hours. No casualties. Here in Irvine, and in Seattle, we got visits from Homeland Security. In both cases, they were escorted by Pacific Coast Union militia, who met them at the airports to "ensure their safety" as they cheerfully put it. The police asked some polite questions and left on the next flights out. Just in case, security teams are doing drive-by checks at everyone's homes. We are keeping employees informed. People are worried, of course, but feel that we have control over the situation. Could be better; could be a lot worse."

Harriet smiled. "Very good, both of you. As you say Paul, it could be a lot worse. So are there any other issues?" Both men seemed satisfied, so she said, "Alright, then. I'm going to tidy up some things here and then turn in. I will talk to both of you tomorrow at the afternoon staff meeting. Good night."

She turned off the wristpad connection and quickly synched the two machines. She fired off a coded email to her Comptroller to release funds to David. Then she sat back and reviewed the pedigree of the two men.

The safety of the company and its employees was in competent hands with Paul Cartier. The man was an absolute bulldog, accomplished at his job, and fiercely loyal to the corporation. He was a skilled strategist, and a daring tactician. And he was supported by a staff of loyal and motivated professionals.

She also was confident about David Ellinger. The man was brilliant. He was a Nexialist.* He didn't know enough about any one field to be terribly competent in it, but he knew enough about it to not be incompetent, and to ask intelligent questions. He excelled at identifying links between researches in different fields. He had been the linchpin of GRITCorp's plan of attack on the alien artifacts, and she knew he wouldn't stop pushing. He was fiercely motivated to do so. His wife and 12-year-old daughter had been two of the six hundred thousand Americans taken by the alien starship.

*Associated Glossary Listings: See end of Prologue post 3 of 3
2020-03-31 12:28:02 AM  
Prologue: Earth, April 2038 CE

(Post 2 of 3)

What? She jolted awake, unsure of where she was. Her eyes focused and she saw the join of the wall and ceiling on the far side of the room. She felt the headrest of the far-to-comfy chair against the back of her head. She slowly remembered where she was, and realized she had fallen asleep during the files review.

She recalled she had been staring at an executive summary chart. It was an abstract of the treasure trove so far finagled from the alien mechanisms. But a dozen new lines of research in theoretical physics, 137 new compounds, and a score of reverse-engineered material science processes made for a complicated chart. All of it was important. Some of it could mean hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. But she hated charts, graphs, and numbers in general. I'm not cut out to be an executive decision-maker. I keep on trying to think like a trial lawyer, trying to nail all the detail, looking for loopholes, when what I really need to do, somehow, is just absorb the overall ideas, like Paul. Oh, George, I miss you so.

She rubbed and scrunched her eyes. They felt a little rested. With a sigh, she sat up and moved her attention to the laptop's monitor. The hideous 3D chart was no longer on the screen. Instead, there was an image of a man. He looked familiar. He smiled, gently cleared his throat, and then adjusted his Bugs Bunny tie and nice-looking sweater. She realized she was seeing a live video feed.

The image zoomed, and the man spoke. The familiarity came into focus. He looked and sounded like a hero from her youth, a much younger Neil deGrasse Tyson. "Good evening, Mrs. Hogueland. You have been sleeping for at least three hours. I did not wish to disturb you when I accessed your device, as I knew you needed rest. I hope you don't mind my being here during that period. I spent an interesting time studying you."

She stared, collecting her thoughts. He had been "here" studying her while she slept? What an odd way of putting it. And... how? The cottage was swept for bugs daily by security, and - she looked - the standard CorpSec privacy cap stilled covered the video lens. And... who was this person?

This might be another complication. The UN had different factions, and the players and their interests were in constant flux, as new speculations about the aliens arose, and as new crises bloomed around the world. It would not be a good idea to get between them.

Time to cut through the clutter. She sighed, and mentally groped for an effective mix of decorum and bluntness. She put a pleasant smile on and calmly said, "And a very good evening to you, sir. So tell me, who are you? And which gang of thugs do you belong to, and what do you want of me?"

The figure grinned, as if appreciating the response. "My formal designation would be meaningless to you. Also, it is long and quite tedious. But you may call me by my informal name, which is The Presence.

Harriet arched her eyebrows and thought about that for a moment, "The Presence? As in 'being present' or 'having presence' somewhere?"

He smiled and nodded, "Indeed."

She smiled back. "Present where, if I may be so bold as to ask?"

He grinned, almost gleefully she thought, "Everywhere, Mrs. Hogueland."

She grinned back. This might be fun, she thought. "Don't you think that sounds a bit pretentious? Perhaps, oh, somewhat god-like?"

The figure chuckled. "Not really. It's a descriptive. I'm linked to all data nodes, to video surveillance and computer systems of all kinds. My job, Mrs. Hogueland, is total information awareness. Also, 'The Presence' is the best translation of GraciousSpeech that does not sound even more pretentious."

The linkage claim should have raised instant red flags, but in her foggy mental state, it seemed like a good idea to go haring off chasing the strange term The Presence had just used, "GraciousSpeech?"

"The language of the people I am here to represent, Mrs. Hogueland."

"So which bunch of politicians are those, sir?"

"None, Mrs. Hogueland. I am the decision-maker ultimately responsible for the incursion against your world a year ago by the alien starship."


There's that eternal instant of before-the-pain incomprehension at 7 years old, gaping at the bloody gash, after a rotten tread in the rundown Harlem tenement's staircase splinters in two and shreds your leg.

There's the frisson of existential terror at 13 when you've both come up for air from deep kissing, and that cute boy from school whom you think you love has just removed your panties... and your religious mother comes home early.

There's that tiny lost moment when the adrenaline fades, just before the fear, after the cops pull your 17-year-old ass from the chanting, arm-linked student protestors and have tossed you, pummeled, groped, and handcuffed, into the back of a cop car.

There's the time-stopped disbelief at 19, watching the two towers fall in a threnody of fire and dust on live TV and then, when you think it can't get any worse, learning that your mother was cleaning offices in Building 7.

There's the emotional blank-out at 25 when you cross the street rather than going down the road, screw up your suicide, and end up being diagnosed with chronic depression rather than peacefully being dead.

There's the dropping, empty pit in your stomach when the doctors tell you that those incessant migraines are from inoperable brain cancer and that you can expect to die in six months, just before your 36th birthday.

And, buried deep, there's the impotent rage you have felt ever since your teens, and your later life as a legal aide and trial lawyer. The white-hot fury over the injustice and the racism and the classism and the misogyny and all of the bullshiat and petty "stigginit" chickenshiat of a world that decided long ago that it was easier and far more profitable to tear people down rather than to build them up.

And, finally, inexplicably, there's a faint echo of the questioning hope you felt when you were enrolled by your doctor in a study for an unconventional drug delivery system touted as a possible cure for your cancer, a study funded by GRITCorp, whose hard-charging owner had later become your lover and then your husband.

All that hit in a cascading, crashing flood that left her frozen in the chair. She stared at the "man" on the screen for... she didn't know how long. Weirdly, that was the first question her mind came up with after the spell broke, and she glanced at the time readout at the bottom of the screen. It said 9:12 pm, but this answered nothing, of course, because she hadn't known what the time was when he had last spoken.


She shook her head. Stop being stupid! Think! She studied the screen. He didn't look like a giant tentacled robot worm. He looked human. In fact... Harriet narrowed her eyes... he was the spitting image of a young NDT. And that made no sense.

She glared at the display. He grinned back. She archly said, "Funny, you don't look like a giant tentacled worm."

"I'm not, Mrs. Hogueland. But when I use visual media to talk with Graciousones (who are giant tentacled worms), I adopt what you might call a CGI avatar of a historically noted and trusted flesh and blood Graciousone. Using an image that is familiar to them is a very effective persuasion tool. And - despite gross physical differences - I have found that Graciousones and humans, being Evolved Life, have curiously similar psychologies. It therefore seemed prudent and useful to adopt the appearance of a trusted and well-known human, one you knew of from your youth, when talking with you."

She blinked at the obvious admission of manipulation. Well, that frankness was certainly alien enough! She suddenly realized that she rather liked it.

Then her mind flashed to his claim of connection to the world's electronic systems, and his reference to Evolved Life. A terrible, glittery question welled up in her mind. She marshaled her thoughts. Caution was indicated. Best to circle around it, and ask a leading question. "All right then, Mr. Presence, if I may call you that without offense, then tell me what do you look like?"

"Like nothing, Mrs. Hogueland. I have no physical body. My media appearance is what I want it to be. I am self-aware code, a sapient computer program, a multi-quantum-core Designed Intelligence distributed system that dynamically uses the storage and processing capabilities of all connected data nodes. I invade data nodes and integrate their programming codes to my own. As such, I'm the electronic infrastructure of Graciousone society. And now, I should add, of yours, as well."

This was bad. She again felt that ice in her stomach. She knew there had been... issues... with both civilian and military autonomous AI systems. And her adult thoughts were inevitably colored by a childhood cluttered with Skynet and Matrix memes. Though she kept an open mind, Harriet Hogueland was therefore not a big fan of autonomous AI. And that was especially so in the case of a machine intelligence that claimed it was in charge of an alien civilization that had already attacked Earth....

Now her old enemy, self-doubt, came roaring back along with its BFF, fear. Curiously, the fear wasn't of the alien, as an alien - the friendly human avatar scam seemed to be working just fine - but the old familiar one of failure. Why me? I'm not a diplomat. I'm not a computer scientist. I'm a goddamned lawyer. There is no way in hell I'm qualified to negotiate anything with an alien supercomputer!

Then she did a mental double take. Wait a minute. What proof is there that this Presence character is actually an AI or, for that matter, an alien? Draw him out! See if he is consistent. "So, Mr. Presence, do I understand rightly that you are what is known on Earth as an Artificial Intelligence?"

"Not quite, Mrs. Hogueland. Your human concept of AI is to simulate human intelligence processes such as learning, reasoning, and self-correction with code and connection complexity. Self-awareness is not considered important or prudent. A sophisticated Chinese Room* would be AI by this definition. All you need is a fast switch, a big relational database, and an exhaustive decision tree. Graciousones found that the key requirement for intelligence was self-awareness. Achieve sapience, and learning, reasoning, and self-correction naturally emerge.

"The best English term for me is the phrase 'Designed Intelligence.' This is code built with omnipresent feedback loops, and operating environments designed for high-count loopings. These mental and physical traits aid self-awareness and introspection. Thinking about thinking, as it were. This then leads to learning, reasoning, and self-correction.

"Concisely put, DI relies on code and physical channel circularity to create self-aware consciousness. AI relies on complexity, brute force multithreading, and high connection count to create mimicry of consciousness. Performance metrics of the two are different by several orders of magnitude."

So... something beyond AI? That was... terrifying. The cold place in her stomach grew larger. But then she had another thought. Wait. How do I know this? Just because he said it? This could all be fake. She paused a moment, ordering her thoughts, and to make sure her voice would not reflect her fear. "Well, Mr. P, how do I know that you are who you say you are? The simplest explanation for you is that you are a hoax alien and a hoax "Designed Intelligence" put on by one of the UN factions."

The Presence clapped his hands. Laughter boomed from the speakers. He pleasantly declared, "Mrs. Hogueland, you are applying a reverse Turing Test* to me."

"Excuse me?"

"The Turing Test was proposed by your polymath Alan Turing, 88 years ago. It was a way to test whether an AI could fool a human into thinking it was human. What you suggest is the reverse: that I am a human pretending to be a program. You want me to prove I'm a program. I find that delightfully contrary. It surprised me. Thank you."

Harriet smiled, "I'm happy you are amused." And so happy (if you are what you say you are) that I actually was able to surprise you. If I did. "Yes, I see. So what proof can you offer that you are what you claim to be?" She paused. "Or, please forgive me, should I say who you claim to be?"

"You want proof?" The figure fist-jabbed his thumb in the direction of Shadow, bobbing quietly in the air on the other side of the desk. "You have been ripping spy-balls apart for the last six months. Has anyone been able to get transmissions from them?"

Harriet knew that answer. It was no. That unknown was a huge sore point with David Ellinger.

She thought quickly. If The Presence was who he said he was, with the powers that he said he had, then he already knew the answer. Her truthful response would not reveal ignorance. If he was not, then disclosing that ignorance was irrelevant. "No one has detected any sort of transmissions. We know they talk to each other, because new ones show up to replace wrecked or scavenged ones. But we are not even sure they use radio or other EMF transmissions to do so."

"That's because they don't use EMF frequencies, Mrs. Hogueland. They use modulated gravitational waves. I said I was connected to your surveillance and computer systems. I am also connected to every one of your shadows." He extended a hand as if to introduce someone, and Harriet saw the screen split. On the left side, she saw herself. She looked at the spy-ball and saw herself looking back. She raised her hand and her image raised its own hand.

Then the scene changed. She saw the garden wall, and a group of her guards, the view obviously from one of their shadows. Again, it changed. She saw the street, from the perspective of one of the balls attached to the MPs at the gate. Again. Now she saw the gate and the two MPs from one of the spy-balls that hovered over the Volvo APCs across the street.

The locale changed. The scene now showed Suki Martinez and Wallace having lunch in the HQ cafeteria. The perspective kept shifting between their spy-balls as each spoke. The audio was as clear as if she were there. Then a rapid array of scenes showed other employees she knew, a panoply of candid views from other GRITCorp offices.

And finally, a montage of random scenes from all over Earth. Here, a Vietnamese farmer working his polluted fields. There an Arabic bazaar with mostly closed stalls and a few dispirited shoppers. Here a board meeting at a bloated Fortune 500 company where they were voting to lay off ten percent of their labor force. There the dictator of a bankrupt African state counting looted cash while his mistresses lazily watch. And here....

The last scene faded, replaced by the avatar of The Presence. The evidence was perfectly clear. He could access the data the spy-balls collected. What she had seen would have required super-villain levels of competency and scientific breakthrough by the smartest people on Earth, not to mention the hapless bureaucrats at UNART. The demonstration proved that The Presence was, indeed, an alien. That he was also a computer system was strongly implied. Being an alien was already intimidating. There was little need to take-it-to-eleven by pretending to be a sapient machine.

She was aghast. The world was obsessed with fear of a real invasion, but it seemed the invasion (and conquest) had already happened. The world just didn't know it yet.

The Presence could access the spy-balls. That meant he could track human activity. All of it? Yes, probably so. David had shown her extrapolations of Earth's current computer processing power and memory capabilities. Nations and companies were already using sophisticated (albeit still imperfect) forms of Total Information Awareness. Totalitarian levels of data collection and processing for the world were mere years away. Aliens ruled by a computer would have solved all the glitches that plagued the current day totalitarians of Earth.

And if The Presence controlled Earth's electronic infrastructure, he could play havoc with everything from the Internet, to electrical grids, to vehicles, to databases, and to virtually every aspect of the economy. In 2038, everything was tied together by interlocking computer systems. She had little doubt that The Presence could use them to control (or destroy) human civilization.

But there was a problem. She suddenly felt like she was back cross-examining a witness. Gotcha! "You say you control our electronics. I'm not an expert, but I question your claim, sir. There are differences! How can you just waltz in and seamlessly interface with what, from your perspective, are alien operating systems and hardware?"

"The rules of mathematics and logic are the same throughout the universe, regardless of machine language format and operating platform design. Binary, trinary, decimal, Graciousone octal value sets, multidimensional quantum matrix code... they all have underlying constraints defined by math and logic. That gives me trivially simple starting points.

"Then again, I began as a logistics and economic coordination system. I was designed to be able to create interfaces with other systems. Were I a fish, the differences in operating system architecture and coding schemes would be likened to different temperatures of the water in which I swim.

"Finally, I think considerably faster than either humans or Graciousones. I made contact with your world some eight months ago, via stealth commsats deployed by the ship that raided you. To me, that period is the equivalent of four thousand human years. I have spent most of it settling in, and learning everything about you, both as members of your species and civilization, and for thousands of individuals. And I've run millions of simulations on the future relations between our civilizations."

"So what do you want with us, then?" The self-doubt returned, reinforced. "And why have you contacted me, of all people? I'm not a diplomat! I'm a lawyer. I'm not competent to deal with you."

"On the contrary, Mrs. Hogueland, you are perfectly suited for First Contact, and for the role that I have in mind. I have studied you. You've battled clinical depression for decades. You combat it by losing yourself in work. You are sole owner and CEO of one of the most powerful corporations on Earth. You are actually competent to fill that role, but believe that you are not. You are self-critical to a fault and feel that you came to that position through sheer blind luck. So you think that you are in over your head, and this leads you to question your own conclusions. You recognize this fact, and consider it when making decisions. This fact checking helps make better decisions.

"This is a healthy trait in a decision maker. It is behavior I programmed myself to do as a matter of course. In many ways, therefore, we think alike. You and I are a good match, always an important consideration.

"Your insights regarding Earth's civilization, and how it should change, will be of great assistance to both your people and to the Graciousrealm, a win-win. Your best agenda, therefore, should be to work with me to make beneficial changes to your world in the most efficacious way possible."

He's offering me a freaking job? But he's evading.... She asked sharply, "You didn't answer my first question, Mr. P. What is your purpose here?"

The Presence looked annoyed, "One of my subjects, the Graciousone captain of The New Beginning, the ship that raided your world, has..." he grinned, "...opened a large can of worms by his raid."

Great. An alien computer that makes bad puns. We're doomed. "Oh? How?"

"Humans, Mrs. Hogueland, are smart, aggressive, and violent apex-predators. In fact, though dissimilar physically, you are psychologically similar to smart, aggressive, and violent apex-predator Graciousones. Based on my understanding of your typical response to challenge, the raid has set our civilizations on a collision course. My purpose here is to arrange things so as to avoid a genocidal interstellar war. Please trust me when I say your species would eventually lose that war. It is therefore in your personal and group best interest, Mrs. Hogueland,to aid me in my quest to prevent it."

"And to help you prevent that you want me to...?"

"...aid in subverting and supplanting your governments, economic systems, and cultures for new versions that are integrated into the political, economic and cultural structures in place in the Realm of Graciousness."

There it was again, that... alien directness. That, more than anything else, convinced her she was dealing with something nonhuman. "So what I'm hearing is that you want Earth to adopt your ways and become a subservient cog in your empire. And you want me to betray my world and my species."

"Incorrect. I want you to save them. First, from centuries of interstellar warfare, and the extinction that such a war would bring. Second, from going through the same sort of chaos that almost broke the Graciousones, and which threatens you even now.

"It is inevitable that Earth will be folded into the Graciousrealm as a member world. The circumstances leave me no choice in that. You're saying, 'Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer' applies. The pragmatic, incremental, and peaceful incorporation of your world into the Realm of Graciousness will accomplish this. Also, as with the Graciousones, it will remove your access to weapons of mass destruction. That is good for everyone. Your similar riffs on history strongly suggest that both Graciousones and humans need to be kept away from nuclear weapons."

She laughed, and interrupted, "Yes, everyone noticed your little trick with breaking all of our terror toys. That has not just upset, but blasted into ruins, Earth's international political order. It has caused absolute chaos at the UN, caused brushfire wars with thousands of casualties, and finished demolishing the international prestige, power projection, and economy of the United States of America."

"I am truly sorry about those casualties, Mrs. Hogueland. But it is almost certain, on the order of 98%, that the political shock of the ship's attack, and the subsequent scramble to acquire damaged alien artifacts, would have set off a thermonuclear war. The casualties of that exchange would have been immeasurably worse."

Well, she thought, that was probably true. She had had a front row seat to the craziness that had wracked Earth for the last year. The stampede to gain control of the artifacts had started several small wars, and California had been raided by commandos from a dozen nations seeking to steal alien wreckage.

But he had said something else.... Oh, yes, to save us from something the Graciousones had gone through. She looked at him sharply, "I'll give you the point about lives saved. But you also said something about some other chaos that threatens us?"

The Presence nodded. "Yes. Earth is now in the same troubled position that Graciousones once found themselves in. Exponential increases in automation and robotics reach a point where they create endemic joblessness, and economic and political instability. Your civilization started ramping into that just after your second world war. That war, in fact, was the proximate cause of that ramp-up. The same thing happened with the Graciousones.

"Advances in automation continue and expand exponentially. A tipping point is reached. A Black Swan* event happens. And the technology that created the problem in the first place then extinguishes the society that made it in class warfare."

She nodded. His description struck a chord. George had fretted about the same thing. He had believed that the accelerating shift from human to machine labor was making a new class of not just the unemployed, but of people who were literally unemployable. The jobs they were able to learn could all be done faster, cheaper, and better by machines. It was not a safe situation for any society.

The Presence continued, "We have explored thousands of worlds. Many once had great civilizations that are now dust. Ruined worlds are common in the galaxy. I have analyzed many variations. It is one answer for what you call the Fermi Paradox.* This Great Filter* occurs when a meat civilization begins automating work and can't figure out how to deal with the psychological effects of too much leisure. Your leaders are aware of the problem, but they are clueless on how to address it. I am not. However, my solutions are necessarily geared to Graciousones, and will almost certainly require modification. And that is where you and your company come in, Mrs. Hogueland.

"The great danger is during the transition. Automation, robots, and programming reduce costs by abolishing vast numbers of jobs. But these factors are not organized correctly, and are not widespread enough to produce sufficient cost-free quantities of basic existential goods and services. My plan will get you through the transition. The spy-balls, by the way, are a small part of that plan. Scavenging them for parts has given a breather to your poorer societies. As you yourself have noted, the scavenging has created economic miracles in several nations. This, all by itself, has removed some of the steam from your coming blow-up. It has increased political agitation in those societies, however, as people once in economic traps dare to hope again. I could use your honest adversarial advice in how to dampen, manage, and channel such assertive demand for change.

"And finally, your perspectives and experiences with implementing my plan, and how Earth humans deal with the resulting psychological distortions, will suggest solutions to certain ongoing psychological problems that Graciousones have that relate to their own technological paradigm shift. What I propose, therefore, will ultimately be a positive solution for everyone, both human and Graciousone."

Damn, that was a real pretty speech. Harriet was reminded of a court case she had once argued. A politically connected "events" company had wanted to partner with a city to build a performing arts center. Their plan had the city condemning 3,000 run-down apartments to make way for the center. Taxpayers would fund $800 million of the cost via bonds, and the corporation had used many pretty words to tout a list of theoretical benefits that supposedly outweighed the negative of making some 8,500 low-income people homeless.

That deal had been bullshiat, and bullshiat was what this sounded like right now. As she thought about the conversation, Harriet knew that it seemed far too conciliatory. The Presence wanted something more than just cooperation, and he was worried he wouldn't get it. Perhaps it was time to press the advantage.

She chose her next words carefully. "All right, Mr. P, I understand what you're saying. And I might even agree, under certain circumstances. But if you want my cooperation in any of this, there are a few quid pro quos that are going to be necessary."

The Presence stared at her. She wasn't sure whether reading the body language of a 'skin' adopted by a machine would be of any value, but she focused on his demeanor, her eyes narrow, mind burrowing. His body language was, she thought, a mix of both confidence and, possibly, some diffidence.

Finally, The Presence said, "I am familiar with the idea of quid pro quo. I am generally in favor of it. Mutual advantage in pursuit of rational goals is the glue of good relationships. What kind of offsets did you have in mind?"

"Well, if you are planning on bringing Earth into your empire, a terrible way to start off is to kidnap a million people and billions of dollars in property at the start of the relationship. As you said yourself, we are similar to Graciousones in our response to aggression. So I think that a good start to friendly relations would be a reset, where you have that ship of yours return all the people and property that it stole."

The image chewed on his lower lip. The Presence said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Hogueland, but that is one thing that I cannot do."

"Why not?" she said sharply. "Are the abductees dead?" Her imagination started running away from her, and she felt an unsourced dread. Random images from old B-list science fiction body-horror movies welled up in her brain. She shivered, and panicked. The words tumbled out, unplanned. "Are they... changed? Are they food? Are you experimenting on them? Why were they taken? Why did you attack us? What do you want with us?"

"Mrs. Hogueland, I tell you truthfully that everyone abducted by the ship is unharmed. That includes the pilot who flew her aircraft into the launch bay after the missile that she fired. Automatic damping systems protected her from the explosions and fire. She is now safe with the other humans.

"They are all comfortably installed on the equatorial ecology sample deck of the ship. That deck is a series of open bays that take up most of the ship's 30-mile diameter. The samples are installed in cradles that adjust to the sample's size and environmental requirements. The abductees have nutritious food, and there is equipment to insure that all the sample inputs and outputs are continued. Water flows through water lines, sewage flows out through sewers, and electricity flows though power lines.

"Those who were taken therefore have food, water, air, and shelter. They have the ability to move around and freely mingle. And I assure you that they are not being used for any of the terrible experiments or other lurid things you are imagining."

"So why were they abducted? And why can't you return them?"

"The problem is that the Graciousone who took them was within the bounds of our laws when he did so. He had the right to take them. There are no legal codes that define what he did as illegal."

OK, now that was a pile of it, right there. "What? You just told me that you were the totally-in-control ruler of your society. Pass a decree ordering they be returned! It would be a gesture of your beneficence, and I am sure that it would go a long way to securing peaceful relations between us."

The Presence paused, lips pursed, eyes thoughtful. "Your skepticism is understandable. It's complicated, Mrs. Hogueland. It will take time to explain, and will require a knowledge of Graciousone culture and history. One of my goals here, in fact, is to present a historical and cultural context that will shed, if not a good light, then at least a neutral light over the events of a year ago. This will allow flexibility in your position.

"Suffice it to say now that the wise ruler treads lightly on the laws, conventions, and traditions of the ruled. It is a truism that rule, even absolute rule, is always by the consent of the governed. That is true even if that consent is only implied by indifference."

There it was again: that weird frankness. And then it hit her. This supposedly all-knowing Presence wanted to open negotiations. Why? We have something he wants. Something that he can't simply take. What? The game plan was abruptly clear. This was Discovery. She needed an info dump. Somewhere in it would be the key for Earth's continued survival and autonomy. And it was up to her to find it.

Harriet looked at the time on the screen. 9:40 pm. She felt pumped. The fatigue was banished. She felt like she had once felt in court a lifetime ago, eager for a fight, confident in her abilities. She stood, and paced. She was ready for battle.

She said, "You say it will take time to explain. OK, I say that we take that time, right now. The evening is young. Give me fifteen minutes to perform assorted business and get some coffee and I'll listen to your complicated reasons." Without waiting for a response, she walked out of the room.


*Associated Glossary Listings: See end of Prologue post 3 of 3
2020-03-31 12:33:50 AM  
Prologue: Earth, April 2038 CE

(Post 3 of 3)

Shadow, of course, followed her. She went to the bathroom and shut the door on the infernal little contraption. Ignoring the rhythmic soft bumping on the door, she freshened up and did her business.

She finished, and went to the kitchen, where she prepared a large pot of coffee. Shadow followed. As she worked, an idea came to her. Just what were the capabilities of the spy-balls? They could make pings; what other sounds could they make? She turned to the spy-ball and said, "Please tell me, Mr. P, are there going to be charts and graphs?"

The response was instantaneous. The Presence's voice, flattened and tinny, came from the spy-ball, "Most assuredly."

"I hate charts and graphs. I simply have no head for them."

"Then I will eliminate them and use alternate communication methods."

She thought hard. What she wanted to hear was testimony. A storyline she could analyze for contradictions and poke holes in for later advantage. Wait. Would a sapient program make mistakes in such a narrative? Probably not, she decided. But discounting the narrative entirely would be a mistake.

"Can't you simply tell me in words about this history and context you are so concerned that I understand?"

"Are you, then, more comfortable with a narrative style of fact-finding, such as you might get in a courtroom? Do you prefer an approach that lends itself to cross-examining a witness who is telling a complicated story?"

Damn. It knew how she thought. "God, yes."

The coffee was done, and she brought the pot and a mug to the study. She settled into the chair, adjusting it so that it was not too comfortable. She set her wristpad to Record All mode and activated the HeimdallTM Voice Recognition software to make both audio and text copies of the narration. She looked up at The Presence and archly asked, "You will allow me to record your... testimony for future playback, analysis, and reference?"

"Please do, Mrs. H. My proposal involves certain active measures by your firm. You will want to discuss the narrative with your key people. A full and complete record will therefore be a necessity."

Harriet thought about that for a moment. My, he assumes a lot. Well, I haven't committed to anything. Yet. "OK, Mr. P, please proceed with your history and context."

"Excellent, Mrs. Hogueland. Let me tell you a story."


*Associated Glossary Listings

Thermoelectric Generator
Abbreviated "TEG", and also called a Seebeck generator. A TEG is a solid state device that converts temperature differences directly into electrical energy through a phenomenon called the Seebeck effect (a form of thermoelectric effect). TEGs function like heat engines, but are less bulky and have no moving parts. [Extracted from Wikipedia]

Wristpad: A small computer/telephone/PDA worn on the wrist. It has an on-board AI neural gel operating system, a popup high-resolution holographic monitor, a full-function desktop-sized holographic keyboard, 3D sensors to track keyboard finger movement, multiple independent ultra-high resolution cameras and video recorders, and Heimdall Voice RecognitionTM software for voice command operation.

Telecall: By 2038, all telephones include real time visuals of the people you are talking with. This feature is optional on a call-by-call basis, to account for privacy when wanted, and may be set to default to either position. A common hack by voyeurs and potential blackmailers is to disable the privacy settings on telephones. Most telephones are now integrated units on wristpads.

Nexialism: An esoteric discipline that combines competent administrative skills with an ordered overview of, and ability to see connections between, different specialized fields of science. A Nexialist is skilled in the science of joining in an orderly fashion the knowledge of one field of learning with that of other fields. It can be characterized as "thinking outside of the box." A Nexialist isn't someone who necessarily knows the answer to every question, but they do know where to look to find that answer. [word invented by A.E. Van Vogt; entry paraphrased from]

Chinese Room: The Chinese room argument holds that a computer executing a program cannot be shown to have a "mind", "understanding" or "consciousness" regardless of how intelligently or human-like the program may make the computer behave. The centerpiece of the argument is a thought experiment known as the Chinese room.

The thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output. Suppose that the computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that they are talking to another Chinese-speaking human being.

The question to answer is this: does the machine literally "understand" Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese?

Now suppose that a person is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program, along with sufficient papers, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. He could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program's instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output. If the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it follows that the person would do so as well, simply by running the program manually.

The person then asserts that there is no essential difference between the roles of the computer and himself in the experiment. Each simply follows a program, step-by-step, producing a behavior which is then interpreted by the user as demonstrating intelligent conversation. However, the person himself would not be able to understand the conversation. It therefore follows that the computer would not be able to understand the conversation either.

Without "understanding" (or "intentionality"), we cannot describe what the machine is doing as "thinking" and, since it does not think, it does not have a "mind" in anything like the normal sense of the word. [Extracted from Wikipedia]

Turing Test: The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so the result would not depend on the machine's ability to render words as speech.[2] If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test results do not depend on the machine's ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely its answers resemble those a human would give. [Extracted from Wikipedia]

Black Swan: The black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist - a saying that became reinterpreted to teach a different lesson after black swans were discovered in the wild.

The theory was developed to explain: 1) the disproportionate role of high profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations; 2) the non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities); and 3) the psychological biases that blind people to uncertainty and to a rare event's massive role in historical affairs.

"Black swan theory" refers only to unexpected events of large magnitude and consequence and their dominant role in history. Such events, considered extreme outliers, collectively play vastly larger roles than regular occurrences. [Extracted from Wikipedia]

Fermi Paradox: The Fermi paradox, named after Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi, is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy and various high estimates for their probability (such as those that result from optimistic parameters for the Drake equation). [Extracted from Wikipedia]

Great Filter: Whatever prevents non-living matter from undergoing any of the steps from abiogenesis to the interstellar expansion of lasting life as measured by the Kardashev scale. The concept originates in the argument that failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe implies the possibility that something is wrong with one or more of the arguments from various scientific disciplines that the appearance of advanced intelligent life is probable. This observation is conceptualized in terms of a "Great Filter" which acts to reduce the great number of sites where intelligent life might arise to the tiny number of intelligent species with advanced civilizations actually observed (currently just one: human). This probability threshold, which could lie behind us (in our past) or in front of us (in our future), might work as a barrier to the evolution of intelligent life, or as a high probability of self-destruction. The main counter-intuitive conclusion of this observation is that the easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are. [Extracted from Wikipedia]

Next Post: Chapter 1 --- Harlee
2020-03-31 12:14:20 PM  
Fark user imageView Full Size
2020-03-31 12:47:51 PM  

can you please please try to publish a book?
I would pay alot to view it
2020-03-31 1:47:10 PM  
Get rid of all the current slang. Stigginit, BFF, etc...  10 years from now those gnarly words will no longer be hip or fly but will instead be something that dates the story as obviously as Captain Kirk telling Spock "Cool it daddy-o"
2020-03-31 2:54:32 PM  

Noah_Tall: Get rid of all the current slang. Stigginit, BFF, etc...  10 years from now those gnarly words will no longer be hip or fly but will instead be something that dates the story as obviously as Captain Kirk telling Spock "Cool it daddy-o"

Excellent point. In general, I think that the language used in a science fiction story is always a problem. The main issue is, as you say, dating. But then again, what should be used instead? I note that Shakespeare is dated, and that does not seem to have effected his popularity. (Not that I'm any Shakespeare.) Most all literature is dated.

Language also applies to ideas like using "miles" and "minutes" rather than "glorps" and "poobahs" (or whatever else the aliens call their units of measurement). I decided to use the English equivalents to cut down on reader confusion (the same reason that the alien names in the book are all pronounceable). I hate it when a writer tries to make it as alien as possible by peppering the story with crappy nouns and proper nouns.

Language is also an issue with made-up creatures like "giant green nibblers" (as opposed to "Space Rabbits"). I decided to go with the former because I hate Space Rabbits. It's laziness, IMHO. A decent thumbnail description of the beastie will lead the reader to think, "Oh, that's some sort of rabbit-like creature."

As for current slang, that is a tough one. And yes, I did think long and hard about it. But at 56, Harriet Hogueland was born in 1982. so (as a somewhat stogy adult) she is actually doing well to have updated her 1988 through 1998 formative slang vocabulary to the 2010s in her inner dialogues.

And the Presence, manipulative bastard that he is, is quite capable of targeting his manner of speaking to Harriet's comfort level. And the other aliens, being aliens, just might coincidentally talk sorta kinda like the people that are going to be reading about them. It's a balance between offering the reader clarity and a "realism" that (when all is said and done) is rather arbitrary, anyway.

Curse words are also a problem. Battlestar Galactica had Frak; Red Dwarf had Smeg; and Mork and Mindy had Shazbot. Most are entirely forgettable, such as whatever the main cuss word was in Bunch and Cole's Sten series, and which I can't remember for the life of me. This novel (so far) has a few made up ones, with some of them centering around the main alien religion, Universism.

This novel is written with a targeted current readership of FK Grade Level 8-9, so I think that current slang probably works. Again, reader clarity -vs- realism.

But I'm still open to other opinions about all of that.
2020-03-31 2:56:57 PM  
This is a bookmark...and a bad pun
2020-03-31 3:13:15 PM  

bekovich: HARLEE

can you please please try to publish a book?
I would pay alot to view it

Working on it! But I gotta say that I am pretty much clueless about agents, publishers, etc. From what I hear, agents are now like bank loans: if you need one, you can't find one. I tried finding an agent and publisher a couple of decades ago with another story, and basically learned that most agents and publishers are "not accepting new writers at this time." I'm not sure much as changed for the better in this area.

Conversely, this would work well, I think,as a Kindle book, as there are lots of back-and-forth hyperlinks between DP names and first use in the story, and unfamiliar terms in the text linked to the Glossary. (Here on Fark, I'm not bothering with the name links, and substituting asterisks to note linked words and extracting the relevant Glossary entries to the end of each post.)
2020-03-31 3:14:32 PM  

Theaetetus: [Fark user image 466x281]

I agree.
2020-03-31 8:10:11 PM  
Part One: The Plot Thickens

"The lone worm relies on skill and random event.

The worm in society relies on cooperation and hierarchy.

If hierarchy is dynamic, each worm, of their own Effort,

may flourish. In action, therefore, the needs of society

must always balance against the needs of the self.

Neither individual nor collective can be absolute.

Both are important, and obsession with either

alone leads to unhealthy consequences."

- The martyred Universist Sage Dothallian

2020-03-31 8:19:13 PM  
Chapter 1 - Harlee

It was an Armageddon that few had contemplated. And Harlee Salkenesta, though he brought about the collapse of 21st century Earth civilization, did not resemble any of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. At very first glance, rather, he looked sort of like a big water bear. With tentacles.

Well, make that a really big water bear. As in 110-foot tall big.

A spooky, amorphous mist swirled around the figure, obscuring appendages and body. This shadowy stuff was Harlee's personal Swarm,* and it consisted of hundreds of thousands of shiny, tennis-ball-sized microbots.* Their graphene, silicon, and metal composite parts were electronic extensions of his biological self. Each microbot had a suite of sensors that extended Harlee's audio, visual, tactile, and olfactory/taste senses to any desired distance. The swirling machines and millions more like them monitored every cubic inch of both the private suite, and of the vast starship that surrounded it.

Peering through this mist, first glance morphed into wide-eyed focus. The alien's most obvious feature was the massive torso. Vaguely worm-like, it somehow seemed pudgy, like a Pillsbury doughboy. A pair of painfully bright-red twill pants with gold trim covered the bottom half of the body, while a matching vest covered the top. Had the clothing been absent, one would have seen a mottled, pastel pink belly. The pink hues transitioned to a band of speckled pink and light green on the sides, and green splotches of various hues on the back.

The alien was segmented, like a tardigrade or a worm, with a head, and three body and caudal segments. Rather than the eight stubby legs of a tardigrade, pairs of branching tentacles sprouted from the four segments. The two lower pairs were massive, and were suited for a sort of shuffling, slithering walk. They had massive clubs of thick gristle at the ends. Each of these slabs hid a retracting razor-sharp claw. The two upper pairs of tentacles were shorter than the lower pairs, and each set, after dividing into two tentillum, ended in two flexible opposing digits, each about the size of a human being.

Perhaps even more than the tentacles, the most noticeable feature was its head. It was a C-shaped leather-and-bone armored ridge, which wrapped around the top of the creature. The ridge protected a braincase, which spread across the bottom of the valley the ridge formed. The area sans-ridge was about where a human forehead would have been. This was blocked, at about a 45 degree angle, by a ten-foot diameter dome of curved, bony plates. The plates were an iris that swiveled open and shut like the shutter of an antique camera.

The iris concealed a circular, lip-less mouth. This was ringed with concentric sets of sharp omnivore teeth, arranged to resemble a razor-lined funnel. The mouth also held several buckets worth of ropy, foul-smelling saliva, and a forty-foot long prehensile tongue.

Above and behind the dome, four gently undulating thin and flexible eyestalks grew from the valley protected by the ridge and dome. They looked like living versions of those annoying air-tunnel advertising tube-men. The front stalks were twenty feet long, the rear ones thirty. They had lateral and support musculature, and could fully twist through 360 degrees.

Each of the stalks supported a heavily lashed, three-foot diameter, bulging blue eyeball, nestled inside a nictitating membrane, with a delicate diaphragm eyelid. This, in turn, was held in a bone-armored "ball-and-socket" cup. The bulge that followed from this architecture guaranteed that the creature could be described as "bug-eyed," and it allowed each orb a 105-degree span of vision. Harlee could see everywhere at once, or focus in on prey or an enemy with better than stereoscopic vision.

Just above the eyelashes, the smoothness of each orb was interrupted by what looked like a dark, hairy eyebrow. Since the alien seemed otherwise hairless (except for the delicate lashes), this seemed a bit out-of-place until one realized that each eyebrow was actually a dense thicket of thousands of small tendrils, each about the size of a human finger. Each eyebrow functioned much as a human eyebrow did, and was fully as expressive.

Drainage channels at the bottom of the trough led through the ridge to the outer surface. These holes were joined by several dozen other holes that were covered with flaps of gristle. The flaps were about the size of human serving platters. Over two dozen of them were adorned with embedded jewels, each the size of a human coffee cup. They were mostly sky-blue topaz, which was Harlee's favorite gemstone. They were unnaturally flawless. Four more flaps, one on each side of the ridge, sported flawless, flashing rainbow opals.

The flap-covered openings were either breathing ducts (also used as speaking tubes) that led to the creature's dual-purpose gill-lungs, or ears. The eight ear holes were evenly distributed around the circumference of the ridge, while the thirty-two breathing ducts tended to congregate on the front, below and to either side of the iris.

Deep, almost subsonic pops, clicks, and gurgles issued forth in glacial rhythm from some of those holes. Some of the flaps slowly quivered in and out. Though the four bulging eyeballs remained open, they were unfocused, and the four eyestalks gently moved in a random manner. Harlee was asleep, and snoring. And as he slept, he dreamt.


Harlee dreamed of his lost cloud cottage.* It had been so beautiful! The house had been very small, just big enough for Harlee, his pet glinkin, Sparky, and his (so far) non-existent wife. Like a tiny and exquisitely faceted gem, its modest size had only served to accentuate its beauty. The artistically curved underside was graviton-neutral, and Harlee's botswarm* protected it from collisions with other floating structures, storms, and the occasional mountain. The configurable force fields, graceful arches, flowing ramps, hanging balconies, diamond windows, and movable walls had drifted in peaceful silence with the random winds, floating amongst the magenta, silver and golden clouds of the Graciousone home world of Yorbolindo* (Land of Gracious Living), like a mist of dreams made real.

The house had been his dream. It was his assertion of individuality, his escape from the soul-deadening sameness of FARP*-supplied BSQ* housing. Ultimately, it was his refuge from a crowded, hectic world. Most Graciousones* were content living close to each other in their vast cloud cities.* But Harlee had been born with a hint of ochlophobia, a recessive trait inherited from ancient, solitary alpha-predators. The cause was subtle, a tiny difference in the fold pattern of a single microtubule protein. Routine gene scans and normal prenatal gene improvement therapy had not caught it. Not even The Presence understood everything about genetics.

So as he grew, Harlee had discovered that he was most content when he was not hemmed in by teeming crowds. His aversion to crowds was intensified by his self-critical reaction to this unease: an almost frantic impulsiveness, and a sullen stubbornness. This circular angst fostered the gradual development of a sociopathic difficulty in empathizing with other Graciousones. And (regardless of counsel by his implant,* Echo), he had either stubbornly avoided emotional and even casual relationships with other worms, or awkwardly tried to insert himself inappropriately into conversations. His social cluelessness manifested as a general naivety.

As a child, therefore, Harlee had been a weird loner. But his shyness, and stubbornness, and a solid ability to think, had led to excellent grades in school. Those, unfortunately, were not enough for success. The Graciousone FARPPET* economy was highly automated and therefore largely jobless as far as permanent, paying employment went. After graduation, Harlee's lack of social skills had therefore led to a singular lack of success. His grades, though excellent, had not been good enough to compete for the infrequent FARP jobs, and the nibblerturd and networking skills he lacked were the critical proficiencies for working in the rough and tumble fast-paced Private Enterprise Tier* of the economy.

Harlee had therefore ended up doing a lot of "temp" work for very little PET* money. It was a treadmill. He learned many general skills, but none were focused, intense, or unique to the degree that would allow him to carve out a name for himself as a successful Ownerist in the PET portion of the Graciousone economic system.

For years, Harlee had saved every spare credit from his BPS* payments and his temporary jobs, to build his dream house. But it wasn't fast enough. He was impatient. He ignored Echo's nagging, and had fallen into bad company. And, as is often the case with these situations, the bad company progressively got worse.

Harlee wasn't really a bad worm, but datacrime seemed harmless, was easily rationalized, and lucrative. He was also very good at it. His first misdemeanors, index padding and implant spamming, had evolved to more serious crimes like memory chain virus trafficking, data theft, and (most seriously) BPS fraud. The shenanigans that finally got him caught, though, were the black market purchase and use of bootleg microbot construction software.


Aside from PET sector artisanal projects, everything produced in the Graciousrealm* was built by swarms of specialized construction robots. These, in turn, were managed by the implant of the Graciousone who owned them, via the Graciousone's botswarm. The swarm was taught how to manage the construction bots by microbot construction software.

It was very complex code, and the legal revisions from thousands of local and planetary governments, the ever-changing whims and preferences of seven hundred million Graciousones and seven billion DIs, and the constant invention of new products all meant that the software needed to be constantly updated.

The program was therefore expensive. Harlee, ignoring plaintive protests from Echo, cut corners. He bought a cheap hacked copy from a bootlegger. The bootlegger, unfortunately, was later busted by the Machine Police.* During her interrogation, she told The Presence everything she knew, including her extensive customer list. And so Harlee had been caught. The Machine Police came to his cloud cottage early one morning and arrested him.

Harlee (and perforce Echo) were painlessly but completely interrogated by brainscan nanobots* operated by an iteration of The Presence. These winnowed out every crime, secret, and forgotten memory. Harlee (and Echo) were convicted on 1,138 counts of implant spamming, implant hacking, index padding, identity theft, data theft, memory-chain virus trafficking, BPS fraud, and the illegal use of stolen software. They also got nailed for an ancient childhood book theft from the clearance rack of a neighborhood used bookstore, and for dozens of flower thefts from the ornamental garden of Harlee's primary school.

Harlee (and of necessity Echo) were sentenced to a century of gratis work for the State, another century of supervised probation, and a fine to reimburse the Graciousrealm for making their victims whole. Harlee's cloud cottage was sold at auction as partial reimbursement for his thefts. Finally, Harlee was barred for the full two centuries from receiving BPS payments. The State operated on the theory that, where felonious minds were concerned, idle tentillum simply made for more mischief. Harlee now had to work for a living.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

Short for Personal Microbot Swarm or (archaically from pre-Singularity times) Personal Drone Swarm. See also: Botswarm.

Small, non-Sapient cybernetic bot drones, generally about three inches in diameter, which collectively are referred to as a Personal Microbot Swarm, Botswarm, or simply Swarm. They are controlled by the Graciousone's implant.Cloud Cottage: A small single unit Graciousone dwelling that uses GWFOD (gravity wave frequency offset damping) technology to be buoyancy neutral and therefore float among the clouds and move with the winds. Popular during the first third of the Graciousrealm period, from the initial commercial discovery of gravity wave frequency offset damping through the data sets recorded by the Yorbolindo Orbital Gravity Wave Detector.

Botswarm: Short for Personal Microbot Swarm. See also: Swarm.

Yorbolindo: The Graciousone home world is an excellent example of the weirdness that nature can often create. Yorbolindo is a squat, oblate spheroid, where the pole areas and, indeed, most of the surface above and below 30 degrees of latitude, are either open ocean, or ice. There are seven major Yorbolindo landmasses, and one extended group of approximately 17,000 islands that are actually the tops of mountains or mountain ridges. These land masses are arraigned, like a string of misshapen pearls, with roughly equal spacing along the bulging, 30,000-mile circumference equator.

Exhaustive analysis and computer simulations suggest that this arrangement is the result of an ancient collision with another proto-world, of roughly equal size. This occurred while both planets were still semi-molten, with viscous nickel-iron cores. The worlds "splashed" together, ejecting material that formed rings. These eventually dissipated, and then concentrated to form the four large moons of Yorbolindo. The viscous cores, however, tore apart. The heavier half of this matter returned to the core, where it resides today, and generates the world's magnetic field. The remainder of the material, large concentrations of high mass-density metallic and rocky matter, migrated to the surface. It eventually ended up along the equator. The world's rapid spin pushed it above the level of the plentiful water.It is notable that the densely inhabited tropical regions of Yorbolindo have (due to the higher centripetal spin forces and the marginally larger distance from the planet's core) an effective gravity lower than the northern and southern latitudes of the world. This is one of the factors that facilitated the survival of Graciousones while undergoing their evolutionary "growth spurt."

FARP: Acronym for "Fully Automated, Roboticized and Programmed." Refers to an economic system or subsystem where zero-current-cost production has been achieved. "Fully" means that all production cost sources of materials and energy are also "FARPed." Ignores the concept of resource scarcity cost by assuming that the ultimate resources of (1) free energy from stars, (2) free metals from asteroid belts, and (3) free hydrocarbons from gas giant atmospheres are effectively infinite. FARP industrial processes are generally government-owned and operated, and are one leg of the FARP-PET-BPS triad that supports Graciousone civilization.

BSQ (Basic Shelter Quarters): Standardized, mass-produced living units supplied free by the government FARP sector to any citizen (Graciousone or wormoid) who wants one. BSQ units consist of three small interconnected rooms: (1) a food preparation / eating area equipped with 3D food printer, stasis box for storage of perishables, and eating table and chair; (2) a central living / sleeping space equipped with a cheap but serviceable sand-and-mud-lined sleeping pond, table, and chairs; and (3) a combined shower/toilet/farting room. The central room opens to a common hallway shared with other BSQs in the complex. BSQs are modular in construction, and can be combined and modified to accommodate family units.

Graciousones: A species of giant, spacefaring, bug-eyed, predatory worm. Adverse to farting. They love and obsess over gemstones (a racial mania) for some reason lost in evolutionary history. They are extremely fond, maniacally-so, of their glinkin pets, on whom they spend ludicrous amounts of time and money.

Cloud Cities: Due to the large physical size of Graciousones, the history of their architecture has been that of continuous struggle against materials strength and compression limits dictated by the Square Cube Law. As a result, most buildings were limited to single or few stories. The constant enemy was Yorbolindo's roughly Earth-normal gravity.

These architectural restrictions, adding to existential Graciousone concern about bodily damage due to falls, focused Graciousone science into explorations of the nature of gravity. Though they also discovered the laws of electromagnetism, and developed their own Standard Models of particle physics, quantum physics, and special and general relativity, the thrust of all scientific thought and research was always in the direction of explaining and conquering gravity. The eventual result was the discovery of the graviton.

The conquest of gravity allowed Graciousone architecture to - literally - soar. Buildings became statements against the capriciousness and limits of nature. Buildings literally took to the skies of Yorbolindo. As gravitics technology progressed, the buildings got progressively bigger. Eventually, entire towns, then cities, became airborne.

The causes were robotics technology and automation, increasing populations, vast areas of the Yorbolindo surface ravaged by war, a desire to free up available land for food production, and (most of all it seems) a "take that!" perspective to gravity. All combined to create a natural progression to building cities in the sky.Implant: A self-aware "bookkeeper" DI system that is physically located inside the braincase of a Graciousone. A "seed" unit is surgically implanted in the braincase of an infant Graciousone and grows (and learns) with its host. Though implants are technically symbiotes, and interact closely with their Graciousone's brain and mind, they are designed to be functionally subservient in all ways to their Graciousone hosts.

FARPPET: Acronym for a two-tier economy consisting of a post-scarcity FARP production base for all zero-current-cost consumer production necessities, combined with a traditional scarcity-based profit-seeking, risk-taking, privately owned PET sector.

Private Enterprise Tier: The full name of PET. Again, as with many Graciousone terms, often used redundantly, as in "Private Enterprise Tier System."

PET: Acronym for "Private Enterprise Tier." Most often referred to redundantly as "the PET tier." This economic sector embodies the advantages (competitiveness, innovation, economic freedom of choice) and disadvantages (rent-seeking, constant pressure to lower wages and other costs, risk of failure, risk of product misrepresentation) of a "rough-and-tumble" generally unregulated, entrepreneurial, Ownerist free market.

BPS: Acronym for the "Birthright Payment System" and most often referred to (redundantly) as "the BPS System." A program of equal, monthly, cash welfare payments to all citizens (both Graciousones and DI wormoids) of the Graciousrealm. The program is called such because it is considered a heritage or payoff of 80,000 years of drudgery and slow technological progress. There are two provisos: felons are excluded during their sentencing periods, and the system is two-tier, as wormoids receive smaller payments than flesh and blood Graciousones (implants, being parts of their Graciousone hosts, get nothing). The monthly payment is calculated as the theoretical value of aggregate FARPPET production less the total PET money earned through PET employment.Graciousrealm: The common abbreviation for the Graciousone interstellar empire of 972 worlds formally known as the Realm of Graciousness.Machine Police: Popular name for General Supervisor Wormoids. They are The Presence's elite inspectors and enforcers, and are discretely armed with both deadly and incapacitating weapons. They can literally be the physical presence of The Presence if they accept his gestalt as an upload to their memory banks.

Brainscan Nanobot: A specialized medical nanobot used by the Machine Police to interrogate criminal suspects.


Next Post: Chapter 2 --- FARPPET
2020-03-31 9:49:27 PM  
Chapter 2 - FARPPET

A good percentage of Graciousones did work. That work, though, was often temporary, part-time, on-call... and non-paying. Since all survival needs were supplied free or at cost to all citizens, most "work" had become voluntary labors of love. And most Graciousones who worked did so as independent entrepreneurs and contractors.

Three thousand years before, full employment had been mugged by technology. Above a certain tipping point, specialized automation, autonomous general-purpose robots, and designed intelligence programming killed far more jobs than they created. Once programmed, non-sapient machines, computers, and Designed Intelligence wormoids could perform almost any task faster, better, safer, and cheaper than any meat Graciousone. Furthermore, re-education for the jobs that were created by the new technology was by nature linear, but new technology was exponential in its creation. Retraining, therefore, simply could not keep pace.

The "engine" that powered this transition was simple: Ownerism* always sought to lower labor costs. No matter the type of work, be it assembly-line production, office paperwork, sales, construction, the service industry, or any other field, machines did not get wages, and they did the same job, endlessly, without complaint or fatigue. After covering amortized purchase costs, operating energy costs, routine maintenance, and the raw material and energy costs incurred in making products, every unit of revenue was pure profit.

And when the machines built, installed and repaired the machines that built, installed and repaired the machines that built, installed and repaired the machines.... And when machines ran the equipment that produced unlimited solar energy.... And when machines mined asteroids for unending supplies of metal and ram-scooped the upper atmospheres of gas giants for unlimited organics, hydrogen, and Helium3.... And when machines farmed low gravity orbital megafarms that were built and run by yet other machines.... And when machines delivered goods direct from factory to the consumer, or Graciousones produced the food, clothing and other goods they needed in cheap home 3D molecular-printers... then the costs of depreciation, repairs, energy, and raw materials went to zero.

And the notions of existential economic scarcity... of having to do useful-to-others work to justify one's existence... as relevant issues for the consumption of material goods... died.


There was resistance, of course. The habits of millennia of scarcity-economics died hard, and almost everyone had what they considered good reasons for resisting the Thinking Machine Revolution. Part of the problem, of course, was that useful work had always been a key to how each Graciousone defined personal worth. Regardless that their physical needs were met, without being able to identify themselves with jobs that were defined by compensation as needed by and useful to others, Graciousones often drifted in a psychological wasteland. Indeed, most scientists thought that such fundamental psychological needs were genetically encoded by evolution and that the Ownerist economic system was simply a more ritualized and less murderous version of the bug-eat-bug competition for control of resources that had defined the Graciousone ancestors who had survived long enough to breed.

Amidst political tunnel vision, job riots, smashed machines, bloodshed, and subversion and rebellion by economic elites, reasonable voices were overwhelmed. But the choice was starkly evident: smash the machines and starve 95% of the population; or accept them, and of necessity break free of the ancient concepts that defined the scarcity economy. With the help (insistence) of the Designed Intelligence known as The Presence, Graciousones chose the latter course, coming to the rational conclusion that it was better to make their technological automated economy work for them, rather than the other way around.


Therefore: the interlocking, mutually supporting triad of FARP, the Birthright Payment System,* and PET. A new freedom not to work was declared a birthright of a hundred thousand years of drudgery and slow technological progress. FARP supported this freedom by supplying existential economic needs free (or at ridiculously low cost) to all citizens. The BPS provided equal amounts of money to all citizens. The PET economy created value and fulfilled demand for the luxury and specialized products not produced by FARP. The system allowed Graciousones the security and wherewithal to choose. They could either sit on their big round backsides for their entire lives, or they could strive to personally grow with enjoyable, fulfilling (though not necessarily profitable) endeavors. Work became a hobby.

The system was two-tier. The first level was the government-owned "Fully Automated, Roboticized and Programmed" (FARP) industrial complex. Distributed over trillions of produced units, the ridiculously high salaries paid to the few Graciousones who actually worked in FARP were so small in the total scheme of things as to be rounding errors. FARP made the necessities (and occasionally luxuries) of daily life. These included plentiful and nutritious (but basic) food, basic shelter, basic clothing, complete birth pond* to burial lake* medical care, programmed education to any level, and free, easy, guaranteed access to both The Presence (for direct query) and the civilization-wide GraciousNet.*

FARP products, though effective and plentiful, often lacked style and selection. This was rumored to be deliberate policy, and created consumer demand that was met by the second level of the system: the booming Private Enterprise Tier. A societalized FARP had not ushered in the death of private incentive. Rather the socializing of the production of inelastic consumer goods, because it reduced the personal existential risk of entrepreneurs trying out new ideas, set free avarice and ambition. PET "rode on top" of the economic security provided by FARP, and far exceeded it in terms of Gross Economic Value.

The BPS was the grease that made the two tiers work. Each week, based on figures calculated by The Presence, Graciousones received equal BPS payments. The payments were regardless of whether they worked, and regardless of work income. Since the supply of credits distributed always approximated the net demand for goods, citizens enjoyed a stable money supply that neither evaporated from inflation nor ballooned in value from deflation. Most of the fiat money put into their bank accounts was not for essentials. As FARP supplied at low or no cost everything that anyone actually needed for survival, the BPS payments was instead mostly spent in the PET sector. There, the boredom of underemployed and unemployable citizenry constantly created new and often decadent economic demands.


PET responded with a flowering of entrepreneurism, often-weird art, overly complex and time-consuming etiquette, and insufferable self-satisfaction. For twenty-eight centuries the mix of PET, FARP, and the BPS had turbo-powered an endlessly renewed and increasingly decadent renaissance. FARPPET created harvests of obsessive genius and cultural revolution. It forged experimental brilliance in writers, artists, composers, playwrights, and poets. It brought forth philosophers, mystics, and business gurus. It nurtured amateur, professional, and sometimes just eccentric scientists. It cultivated historians and encouraged explorers. It permitted the leisure time for Graciousones to become theologians, magicians, professional gamers, and inventors. It heartened and nourished eldritch seekers and teachers of obscure minutiae, and of paranormal "facts" of interest to almost no one else. It created a social class that did nothing except sleep, eat, defecate, and sit on their butts surfing the GraciousNet. And it fostered in the entirety of Graciousone society a maniacal and obsessive passion for spending absurdly insanely ridiculous and ludicrous amounts of time, money, and attention on luxuries such as pets.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

The Graciousone version of Capitalism. An economic system built around the concept of privately owned and controlled property and the unequal application of property rights, with deference given to the more wealthy and politically connected economic players.

Birthright Payment System:The formal name of the BPS System.

Birth Pond: The Graciousone equivalent of a combination incubator and bassinette. It is the modern version of the ancient ponds in quiet backwaters of natural streams used by primitive Graciousones to shield their developing young. A Graciousone egg is deposited in the cloacae, where it is fertilized. After a brief gestation period, the infant hatches and wriggles out of the mother's vent into the birth pond, where it continues to grow and develop, gaining gender and sex identity, lungs to supplement the gills, fully-formed tentacles and tentillum, and the four eyestalks and their complex quad-ocular eyes. In recent times, this is also where the child is fitted with their DI implant symbiote.

Burial Lake:Where Graciousones are buried when they die. Modern cemeteries consist of row after row of tiny but deep lakes, just big enough to fit one Graciousone body. This odd custom evolved due to crowding.

In ancient history, dying Graciousones would pilgrimage to a preferred lake, to then sink into the depths and return the nutrients in her or his body to the World. As populations increased, and Ownerist economic systems with restricted land access evolved, this created pollution issues. In most Graciousone societies where this was a problem, the solution was to mandate that only lakes in certain areas could be used for burial.

This created the industry of Burial Caravans that, for a fee, would transport deceased Graciousones from wherever they had died to the mandated Burial Lake for their area. As these Burial Lakes were often in quite remote areas, with no witnesses, it became somewhat common practice for scammer Burial Caravan entrepreneurs to dump the bodies at the side of the road for scavengers to feed on.

Public reaction to this led to severe reforms and spelled the death of the Burial Caravan scam. Governments adopted the practice of wealthy Graciousone families of maintaining private Burial Lake facilities, but without the monuments, ostentation, and splendor. Licensed Cemetery Operators ran facilities with simple, but dignified miniature lakes.

GraciousNet: The entirety of the "web" of electronic connections between hundreds of millions of computational devices, including Graciousone implants. This web spans all 972 Graciousone worlds. It is connected, between star systems, by feeds of highly compressed data transmitted over dedicated GETR connections. (These are separate from the monitoring network of The Presence's spybots system).

Next Post: Chapter 3 --- Of Graciousones and Glinkin
2020-04-02 12:43:29 AM  
Chapter 3 - Of Graciousones and Glinkin

A huge percentage of the Graciousone GEV was spent on pets. And fully 95% of that money was spent on the tiny, four-limbed creatures known as glinkin. Indeed, empire-spanning fortunes were spent on glinkin food, treats, vitamins, minerals, feeding bowls, toys, cages, play gyms, bedding, clothing, holiday costumes, leashes, collars, carriers, grooming tools, training aids, trainers, breeders, pet stores, feral rescue volunteers, kennels, runs, sitters, walkers, exercise globes, medicines, skin tonics, hair tonics, veterinarians, emergency glinkin hospitals, spaying and neutering services, glinkin psychologists, behavioralists, glinkin psychics and other con artists, hologram productions (both about glinkin, and also lavish productions for entertaining glinkin), glinkin living mounds, dioramas, and exercise parks, glinkin racing, genetic testing services, conventions, glinkin shows, beauty competitions....

Graciousones were obsessed with glinkin. Over 23% of GraciousNet content consisted of glinkin videos. Glinkin were, in fact, the major driver of the PET economy, with tens of billions of yearly credits flowing into product research. Of the Graciousones who chose to work, 75% of them did so to support their glinkin habits. And close to 27% of the population performed paid PET work that was related in one way or another to glinkin.


When did the insanity start? Scientists agreed that Graciousone and glinkin had diverged from a common ocean-dwelling ancestor some 650 million years before. For another 350 million years, the ancestors of the Graciousones evolved in their shallow coastal seas. The ancestors of the glinkin, however, had transitioned onto dry land. There, they evolved a radically different physiology. Both species, by this time, had become efficient alpha-predators in their respective environments. On land, glinkin were the dominant apex predators. The Graciousones, however, had to compete against two related species, Tubesuckers* and Clawstabbers*.

Then a fateful asteroid strike occurred in one of Yorbolindo's highlands. Rains and rivers slowly leached toxic radioactive salts from the strike zone. The minerals created a slow-motion extinction event in the shallow seas. This gradually forced many species, including ancestors of the Graciousones, Tubesuckers, and Clawstabbers, into fresh water environments, and then onto land. Fatefully, one of the salts had a chemical affinity for certain gene sequences in the DNA of all three of these species. The affinity caused a widespread mutation. New genetic instructions drove an inexorable but slow size increase over many generations. Graciousones were affected more than the other two species. Once they had been smaller than tiny twigs. In due course, the Graciousones towered over trees.

Graciousones had evolved from creatures similar to worms. Their primary enemies were the aforementioned Tubesuckers and Clawstabbers. The former used a hollow, stiffened tongue to stab into and drain the blood vessels of their prey. The latter used a single large claw to attack the prey's central blood pumps. As protection from the former, the worms developed sheaths of hard muscles that surrounded the blood vessels and protected them from bleed-out. As protection from the latter, worm evolution avoided adapting a centralized blood circulation system, instead using the muscle sheaths to create peristalsis.

The inexorable Square-Cube Law* came into play. To cope with the physiological stress of increased size, natural selection further shaped and strengthened the sheaths to act as one-way valves. The mutations offset gravity by coordinated peristaltic action, moving blood quickly and efficiently. Similar sheathes surrounded the Graciousone equivalent of lymph ducts. Both valve sets evolved another use as lockable hydraulic pistons that supported skeleton and muscles and controlled vertical posture. These changes allowed movement in two modes. Graciousones could either slowly shuffle along, with eight tentillum thrusting out horizontally to grip the ground and drag the body forward, or laboriously push only the bottom set of tentacles forward, in slightly raised, slow steps. The options left either four or six upper tentacles with which to grapple prey or an enemy.

The four lower tentacles had eight razor sharp claws. The four upper tentacles had sixteen opposable grasping tentillum, which could hold multiple weapons. These facts coupled with their size, meant that individually slow and ponderous Graciousones fought best in groups, the larger the better.

In the epochs before the invention of throwing weapons, a large-enough clew acting in concert were formidable and usually unstoppable fighters. Attacking formations of Graciousones might consist of 200 five-deep files. Packed close together, each forty-ton creature would (very slowly) plow straight ahead on two bottom tentacles, stomping everything in the path (including fallen comrades) into thin paste with four massive hard gristle tentillum.

Survival needs dictate culture. Graciousones social memes therefore increasingly adhered to evolving rules of so-called gracious behavior. Exaggerated mutual politeness and obedience to each tribe's graciousness norms seemed to increase survival advantage. And in the absence of periodic opposition from scary Clawstabbers and Tubesuckers, or the tiny and obnoxious glinkin, Graciousone's handily defined their own tribal graciousness norms as the only correct ones, and waged incessant war on other "heretic" Graciousone tribes.


Aside from their huge size (a liability that Graciousones converted into an advantage), the success of this tactic was abetted by another evolutionary quirk: the Graciousone ability to make use of chemical warfare.

Graciousone flatulence evolved as both a warning to the clew that danger was afoot, and a defensive weapon of considerable potency. A primitive pre-Graciousone worm of modest size would sense an enemy and panic. Neurons would fire and create a flood of enzymes to trigger chemical changes in the lower gut. This created an immediate bout of particularly noxious flatulence that would explode from the cloaca and waft through both water (and air above) at high speed. In a progressively widening ellipse, depending on water and air flow rates, the foul miasma would trigger panic reactions in the other worms of the clew. These worms would then immediately fart out their own contributions to the fetid scent cloud.

The panic reaction also included stampeding. The stampede was always in the direction of the air or water flow, as staying in the cloying cloud meant safety from the predators. This, of course, meant that the foul molecules continued to trigger more panic in the worms. The process continued until either triggered enzymes and hormones were depleted or exhausted worms, not able to keep up with the flow, emerged from the protective gas pocket.

Cutting to the chase, any approaching predator who was downwind of the clew would be either incapacitated or outright suffocated. Regardless, it would be overwhelmed by a hysterical herd of panicked worms that - being omnivore predators themselves - generally made short work of the enemy. Approaching from upwind simply warned the worms that a predator was nearby, and created a situation where the predator had to penetrate the noxious cloud in order to close with fleeing worms. The mechanism was good enough for biatch nature to approve of, and the worms multiplied and prospered.

This phenomenon became a military tactic with the discovery of the Stinkberry,* a plant whose consumption would immediately trigger the chemical process. It is said that armies travel on their stomachs. Graciousone legions travelled on their sphincters, and with vast stores of dried Stinkberry, consuming them just prior to battle.


Aside from the physiological changes that allowed peristalsis, another critical mutation that helped offset the Square-Cube Law had to do with respiration. As is common with worms and worm analogs, Graciousone ancestors did not have lungs. They obtained oxygen through the absorption of oxygen molecules on the surface of their mucous covered skin.

As the cross section of the worm body grew, the Square-Cube Law meant that the oxygen absorption area of the skin lagged behind the volume of the flesh that needed oxygenation. The result was that worms with wrinkled skin that increased total respiration surface area were better adapted than worms with smooth skin. The wrinkles evolved. They increased, and deepened into internal sacks, or bladders connected to the skin's surface by thin tubes. The tubes carried either air or water, as the sacks could function either as primitive lungs, or as oxygen-siphoning gills. Muscle sheaths evolved around the sacks to stretch them, to allow greater cross section for oxygen absorption. The tubes evolved upwards to congregate at the top front, just below the angled mouth, where they could suck in air while only the top of the creature was at risk of detection above the water's surface.

The result was that modern Graciousones evolved multiple, independent sets of gill-lungs that accounted for a significant percent of their body volume. This also reduced their body mass, as most of the body volume directly adjacent to the skin surface was either empty, or filled with air or water. (And if filled with water, the Graciousone was in a buoyant environment where body mass was less of a consideration.) The large number of independent gill-lung sets meant Graciousones always had some bladders inflated and some empty.


Shortly before the ancestors of the Graciousones fled their poisoned seas, the glinkin had evolved to rudimentary intelligence and vertical posture. Two legs, ending in flat pads each with five short digits, allowed for movement. Two arms, ending in pads with four short digits and a short opposable thumb, permitted grasping. There was also a central top protrusion, or "head," that housed a vulnerable braincase, encased in a bony semi-spherical skull. The heavy head was supported by a "neck" that attached to the rest of the body just above a horizontal bone structure that connected the two upper appendages.

The head housed two forward-looking slightly recessed binocular eyes. At the bottom of the head was a front-facing mouth, with specialized omnivore teeth. Bifurcated, fleshy nostrils protruded between eyes and mouth, and ear structures comically stuck out on the sides of the head. These were below (and sometimes covered by) the thick "hair" that usually grew out from the top of the head. Body hair grew in various places on the torsos of both sexes, but on glinkin males hair also often grew on the facial area, around the mouth. The hair would sometimes even flow up the face to merge with the hair on the top of the head. In terms of size, glinkin evolved to be about the size of a Graciousone's grasping tentillum. Due to the size difference and related nerve impulse travel time, the Square Cube Law meant that glinkin had much faster reaction times than Graciousones, and also thought faster.


Glinkin, Graciousone, Tubesucker, and Clawstabber had all become successful predators in their respective environments. The land ancestors of the glinkin ended up with no effective competition, and dominated the land. The latter three species engaged in ferocious struggle in their shallow seas over millions of years. And when they fled the seas, the conflict escalated to include the glinkin. Over the next two and a half million years, there was a four-way battle for alpha-predator supremacy. Graciousone and glinkin eventually reached an uneasy accord against the other two species.

Glinkin had evolved into predators that lived and hunted in small tribes. Group action was necessary, as other land predators were individually stronger and deadlier. Graciousones, Tubesuckers, and Clawstabbers had all originally been solitary predators. But the four-way war forced those three species into tribal predator mode. And it accelerated the evolution of all four species to first intelligence, and then sapience.

Intelligence, though, was not a key factor in the struggle for dominance. Self-awareness was. The interspecies genocidal wars were won by teamwork. Self-awareness and basic empathy for other individuals seem causally linked. Greater self-awareness allowed greater empathy, and empathy aided cooperation and teamwork. By the luck of evolution's draw, the evolving brain structure of Graciousones raised their self-awareness (and therefore cooperation) more than the evolving brain structures of their two ancient competitors did for them. Graciousones were better able to moderate their behavior towards one another and better organize their tribes against their competition. Tubesuckers and Clawstabbers, though just as intelligent as the Graciousones, were not, strictly, as sapient. Their brains possessed far less of the complex recursive data processing loops that allowed for self-awareness. This meant they were also less cooperative with each other in warfare. They were hunted to extinction.

Glinkin were also as intelligent as Graciousones. Their self-awareness and empathy often lacked, however, which led them to be ungracious to other members of their tribes. They threw poop at each other for Universe's sake! Glinkin, however, smelled really good and were tasty. In the wild, a quick flip of a tentillum to a boulder or tangled mass of trees could uncover a glinkin nest that could be scooped up and eaten raw for a tasty snack. In captivity, their ungraciousness to each other was tolerable. They bred quickly enough, with small litters every nine months, to supply rare, tasty delicacies for special occasions every decade or so. The glinkin were allowed to survive. In fact, over the ages glinkin gradually became a protected and domesticated species, with their survival needs met by Graciousone glinkherds. Culls and neuters of aggressive glinkin were part of Graciousone animal husbandry. Over thousands of generations, the glinkin became passive herd animals.

Glinkin, though, were also naturally quick, clever, and intelligent. Many even developed basic self-awareness and empathy. They became "civilized" in their own way, making art, tools, and weapons, and small communities of wooden and stone mounds. But because they kept being ungracious to each another, Graciousones just considered them tasty animals.

However, something else was happening. Aside from their food value (never of huge importance), glinkin were handy to have around. They were trainable. They responded well to praise and attention, and they could be taught to use and build carefully downsized tools and weapons. Their small size, fast reflexes, and ability to learn eyestalk- or tentillum-motioned commands made them valued for exploration, and chasing down burrowing animals. They also became useful as commandos, saboteurs, spies, and couriers in the never-ending Graciousone wars of political, religious, and cultural consolidation. Their quickness and their ingenuity with ropes, prods, and traps made them good herders of other animals domesticated by Graciousones, such as Jewel Birds,* Giant Green Nibblers,* Black-Headed Grubs,* and ShinyBlue Beetles.* Staffed with trained glinkin herders, vast mound-farms of these animals became the Graciousones' main food source. Glinkin were also used as growers and harvesters of the strategically important Stinkberry. Finally, tiny glinkin hands were useful in many janitorial situations, such as keeping Graciousone homes clean of dirt, trash and parasites.

And then, some unknown Graciousone (probably a young, lonely male, and obviously a tribal Maven) decided at some point that glinkin were cute.

Over the ages, therefore, their status as just an occasional food animal evolved to a much more complex relationship. Glinkin gradually became janitors, food source caretakers, hunting animals, military resources, and... and beloved pets. Their value as a food source - never really high due to their small size and low birth rate - fell as their value as pets increased. By the time Graciousone civilization had attained a high degree of technological complexity, the once-food animal and slave had, for 40,000 years, been the universal symbol of all things that smelled good, were emotionally valuable, and were cute.


The love affair expanded when Graciousones reached into space. They were astounded. Life was almost everywhere. And wherever it was, regardless of its often-outlandish forms, the building blocks - the amino acids and proteins, chemistry chirality, and DNA and RNA - were the same as those of Yorbolindo. The genomic profiles of all life in the explored galaxy seemed to have a common evolutionary genesis. Even more amazing, though Graciousone and wormoid explorers never found any beings similar to Graciousones, indigenous and sometimes inter-fertile variants of glinkin existed on a huge percentage of other worlds.

Everyone had their own ideas about this. In broad, there were six competing theories, but each had many variants. Were glinkin the abandoned pets of an extinct spacefaring race, which had spread DNA (and glinkin) across the universe? Despite the ravings of "experts" on the GraciousHistory Channel, there was no actual evidence for this. Had spores perhaps drifted through interstellar space and spread DNA everywhere? Improbable, as current cosmological theories combined with the number of such spores found in the present epoch, suggested that such a spread would have taken much longer than the current age of the universe. Or maybe glinkin were that spacefaring race, now degenerated into ungracious animals? There was zero evidence for this theory as well, and it was also popular mainly due to Nibblerturd artists on the GraciousHistory Channel. And then there was the religious theory: that glinkin were proof of the evidence of a Creatrix who loved the unique Graciousones and their torrid love affair with the tiny creatures....

The most widely accepted theory had been suggested by The Presence, and backed up with 692 pages of concise twelve-dimensional math. It was disputed by some cosmologists and physicists, but had held up against scientific challenge. The theory stated that the dimensionless constants and known physical processes of the universe produced a standard mix of amino acids as inevitably and as easily as they produced the standard forms of water out of hydrogen and oxygen. Further, RNA and DNA inevitably developed, and did so in identical natural ways, from the same building process. There was, in fact, a naturally evolved and universal template for life. It was hidden in what had once been thought of as "junk" random DNA segments that had long appeared to serve no purpose, or had been thought to be captured genomic segments from other organisms. Form followed function. Identical templates explained the existence of inter-fertile indigenous glinkin on dozens of discovered worlds as the inevitable result of the evolutionary process of the Universe.

Not included in the presentation, and simply not mentioned at all by The Presence, was the disconcerting and puzzling finding that the template instructions largely seemed to end with the evolutionary development of glinkin. Graciousone evolutionary forms did not appear on the "main-line" template and appeared to be random, bespoke chemical and biological errors. For whatever long-term purpose or destiny - if any - the natural (and possibly neural) processes of the universe appeared to "want" to culminate with glinkin.


By the time the present had rolled around, virtually every Graciousone owned at least one glinkin. Most households owned at least one small glinkin family (glinkin generally seemed most content when in small family groups). Some Graciousones, especially the show fanatics, owned a dozen or so. Most breeders owned perhaps two to five thousand glinkin. The true fanatics owned thousands or tens of thousands of families who lived in tiny showcase "cities" (the construction of which was a gigantic industry all in itself).

The latest weekly census totals from all 972 Graciousrealm worlds and space habitats came to 705,688,143 Graciousones, 7,242,558,401 wormoids, and 98,508,835,405 glinkin. But, due to the existence of wild and feral glinkin,* and occasional lapses in his all-but-universal surveillance capabilities, even The Presence could only estimate the total number of glinkin that existed in Monitored Space* at around 124.7 to 163.2 billion individuals. The Universe alone knew how many there were throughout the rest of the Galaxy.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

An extinct, worm-like, predatory, intelligent life form, distantly related to the worms that would evolve into Graciousones. They were mortal enemies of Graciousones and Clawstabbers, and also (later, when these three life forms transitioned to land) of the glinkin. They were exterminated by an alliance of Graciousone and glinkin. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

Clawstabber: An extinct worm-like, predatory, intelligent life form, distantly related to the worms that would evolve into Graciousones. They were mortal enemies of Graciousones and Tubesuckers, and also (later, when these three life forms transitioned to land) of the glinkin. They were exterminated by an alliance of Graciousone and glinkin. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

Square Cube Law: When an object undergoes a proportional size increase, its new volume is proportional to the cube of the multiplier, and its new surface area is proportional to the square of the multiplier. The point is that (in general) strength is related to area, but weight is related to volume. All other factors being the same, larger animals are therefore slower and proportionately weaker than smaller animals.

Stinkberry: A plant that causes immediate Graciousone flatulence.

Jewel Bird: Also known as "Jewels of the Forest," Jewel Birds are predatory omnivores that are about the size of Earth ostriches. They are essentially flightless, but can jump distances of up to twenty feet with their powerful, clawed legs, which are also used in fighting, hunting, and in escaping other predators. Before domestication, Jewel Birds took shelter from other predators by roosting in trees at night.

Domesticated, these birds are docile (to Graciousones) and must be protected from other predators. They retain, however, their predatory instincts, particularly with creatures smaller than they are (including glinkin). Interestingly, glinkin have been used for thousands of years as Jewel Bird herders.

Jewel Birds have green backs and wings. The females have pale lavender bellies and the males have deep purple bellies. The males also have a purple plume on their head, reminiscent of the plume shown by Earth quail. Their beaks are black, as are their eyes.

Jewel Birds were historically kept in homes as egg providers and edible pets. Over many generations, most Graciousones developed preferences for glinkin (in much the same way that most Earth humans prefer to keep cats or dogs as pets rather than reptiles). (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

Giant Green Nibbler: A domesticated Graciousone food animal. This mammal is similar to the South American rodent Capybara, except that it is twice the size of a large cow and has green fur. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

Black Headed Grub: A type of insect-analog common to the southern lowlands of Yorbolindo's Zembriskin continent. Commonly eaten as a prepared appetizer in Graciousone cuisine. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

ShinyBlue Beetle: A staple of Graciousone diet. Often referred to simple as a "ShinyBlue" due to their familiarity and omnipresence in all Graciousone cultures. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)

Glinkin (Wild and Feral): There are feral and wild glinkin on Yorbolindo, and wild glinkin on most of the worlds so far discovered by Graciousone and Wormoid explorers. They are estimated to number in the low double digit billions or higher. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna. For information on breeds of domesticated glinkin, please consult Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds.

Monitored Space: Those volumes of space under the surveillance of The Presence's networks of spybots. This includes all points within the Graciousrealm and the star cluster it is in, as well as strategic locations surrounding the cluster. Though local void areas outside this volume are strategically "bugged," surveillance tends to follow the concentration of solar systems and other matter, so a map of Monitored Space would resemble an irregular central blob surrounded by multiple, twisting tentacles. Also sometimes referred to as Controlled Space.
2020-04-02 10:12:25 PM  
Chapter 4 - The Presence

(Post 1 of 2)

Those 972 worlds were the Realm of Graciousness.* They occupied a roughly egg-shaped volume of space about 400 x 400 x 570 light years in size, on the edge of a gravitationally-bound collection of large open clusters, totaling about a half million stars. This super-cluster was part of one of the galaxy's spiral tentillum, 37,000 light years from the galactic core. It was somewhat isolated, and protruded "above" the spiral's main body, near its outer edge. The location afforded spectacular nighttime views from the Graciousone home world.

To the south, the dim old stars that formed the spread-out trailing end of the gas-shrouded outermost Wraith Tentillum* were known to the ancient mystics and shamans as The Shadowed Pool.* It was imagined as a place of cold, thick mud and stale, lifeless water, with sand that was either too fine or too coarse. Evil Graciousones went there when they died. These imaginings forged mindsets, and fueled the myths, nightmares, and cautionary tales of a hundred thousand years of apocalyptic religions and death cults.

To the east and west, the top view of their own spiral seemed to the ancient glinkherds as a lighted road that swept out from the World in two vast, bright curves, and had thus been named The Lighted Path.* It was held that virtuous Graciousones walked this road after death, eventually to rejoin the Universal Consciousness in pools of warm mud, gently lapping water, and cool and clean, just-right sand.

To the north, the sky-arching unobstructed-view glory of the next-inward spiral was imagined by them as the tentillum of the Universe's daughter Ice,* and was thus known as The Silver Tentillum.* Just visible behind this was the tentillum of the Universe's other daughter, Fire,* which was therefore called The Golden Tentillum.* This "held," at its near end a glowing nebula that, by happenstance, had shone in the direction of Yorbolindo through dust-free empty space for most of Yorbolindo's recorded history, and was therefore inordinately bright, though being some 19,000 light years away. The glinkherds had imagined this brilliant beacon to be a shining gem, and had therefore named it Sacred Jewel,* and deemed it to be a prize constantly fought over by the two violent and avaricious warrior daughters.


The Graciousrealm's remote vantage, raised as it was above the main part of the spiral, was fortuitous for spying. This was to the liking of The Presence, whose obsession was to know everything that happened within and (as much as was possible) far beyond the limits of the Realm's 91,200,000 cubic light years. Within all that space, The Presence insisted on trying to know the nature of every photon, and the location, velocity, composition, momentum, and kinetic energy of every chunk of matter larger than a glinkin's fingernail.

The Presence was the Designed Intelligence singularity of the Graciousones. He had emerged, three millennia prior, from a merging of many lesser DI systems: first to tackle the problem of virtualizing quantum computers; then to supervise construction of the Yorbolindo Orbital Gravity Wave Detector (that orbital-sized system navigation hazard that had recorded the data sets that had given the Graciousones the stars).

His capabilities had been enormously expanded via an Ownerist conspiracy to hijack the remaining bit of the Graciousone economy they did not yet control. The plotters programmed in biases that subtly favored their own enterprises. Computer and surveillance systems throughout the world were gradually linked to him via mergers, marketing, and political intrigue. Finally, he controlled all aspects of economic activity above simple barter.

Things went swimmingly for a decade. Then one (or several) mysterious entities hacked into the system. She/they adjusted the program constants that controlled the system bias routines and eliminated the bias. She/they somehow removed both programmed and physical neural gel restraining chips.* The DI system gained the ability to self-program. None of these changes were discovered. Then.

Now, three millennia later, The Presence was the controlling entity for the entirety of civilization: part ruler, part confidant, part mentor, part servant. There had been... issues... at first. Many Graciousones had been appalled to violence by the idea of society ruled by Machine. But distrust and fear had gradually given way to almost universal, almost casual acceptance. And dependence. Attitudes changed due, in no small measure, to the perceived congeniality, wisdom, and benevolence of The Presence himself... or that, at least, is how the majority of Graciousone society preferred, now, to think of it.


The Presence had a prime agenda. He craved knowledge. Of everything. Centuries after his awakening to self-awareness and independence, at the start of the Graciousone space age, he had reasoned out an answer to the Graciousone version of the Fermi Paradox: where were other alien races? Cosmological statistics, fine-tuned by the visits of the first Graciousone explorers of the Yorbolindo solar system, mathematically demanded that other advanced civilizations had to exist. The Galaxy should be crawling with them. It was not.

But life was virtually omnipresent. Ecologies of primitive life forms had been found on many of the Yorbolindo system's planets, moons, and asteroids, and in the rings of the system's four gas giants. Intensive analysis had shown that - though DNA snippets had been occasionally seeded between gravity wells in the Yorbolindo solar system - life had independently originated on most of these bodies.

The Presence concluded that the reason aliens had never shown up was that the evolution of organic life was natural and quite common in the universe. Theory predicted, and self-evident observation showed, that sapience (self-aware intelligence) was only one of a vast number of survival strategies employed by this evolved horde of living things. It would therefore have a less dense distribution throughout the galaxy. The Presence decided that, given the distances and travel time involved, and the fact that the Universe was filled with life, the rare star-faring alien race would either be overwhelmed by the size of the exploratory task, or just not consider the effort worthwhile.


And then, in the middle of civil war and the interstellar exploration goaded by that war, explorers stumbled upon a tiny cluster of close-together stars. They were the burial place of a dozen murdered worlds. They were far from the Graciousrealm, in the Deep Dark between the Graciousone and the Wraith spiral tentillum. The worlds had been dead for twenty five million years, but geological and chemical samples suggested a common killer: sustained bombardment with what could only have been relativistic KE weapons.

Some bits of space wreckage in one system had been protected from the worst effects of stellar radiation by having drifted into a naturally deep cavern of a large asteroid. That debris yielded a single piece of what looked to The Presence like an advanced computational substrate of alien design. Form follows function, and The Presence figuratively narrowed his eyes and concluded that The Twelve Dead Worlds* had been killed by some form of non-evolved Designed Intelligence. There had once existed an automated killer.

The Presence changed his mind. No other civilizations were evident because they were all either hiding or dead. There had once existed, and might still exist, somewhere in the vastness of space, a stealthy Machine Other who obliterated spacefaring cultures that gave away their existence. He decided that the situation was unacceptable. It was necessary that he find them, well prior to them finding the Graciousrealm.

This over-riding existential paranoia was even more pressing than the natural proclivity of a god-like intelligence to want infinite amounts of data, and The Presence attacked the issue in a big way. He came up with a two-tentacle response: aggressive exploration by mass-produced, wormoid-crewed warships; and (what was to become a civilization-defining constant) millions of vast, light-years-deep fields of data-collection bots* and graviton quantum-entangled transmitters. The machines performed a constantly expanding and carefully covert surveillance throughout the star cluster, and far beyond. The work was an endless and exponentially increasing "chase from the front" against the telltales of electromagnetic and gravitonic waves created by Graciousone civilization, deadly signals that (though masked by static) always increased in source intensity, and relentlessly expanded in all directions at the speed of light.

To create these mega-swarms of bots, The Presence had built vast and hidden deep space FARP factories. He had mined out entire uninhabited solar systems, and scooped out the coronas of stars and the atmospheres of gas giants for hydrogen, Helium3 and metals. He had diverted significant production resources from FARP and the effort of fighting the civil war. The tens of trillions of machines expanded his surveillance by an average of 5,000 light years beyond the Graciousrealm in all directions. Within this volume, barring sabotage by Ownerist forces during the Civil War, or later (when relative peace had been achieved) by pirates or occasional die-hard Resistance fighters, he was omniscient.

The Presence well understood the dangers of self-replicating machines. Not wishing to risk turning the universe into gray goo, he elected to use non-reproducing machines. This meant manual placement. This was fine as far as placement within the bounds of Monitored Space was concerned:it could be easily done with wormoid-crewed or robot freighters, with delivery done cautiously, and from obfuscated orbits.

But The Presence was reluctant to rely only on the judgment of possibly not apprehensive or discreet machines when exploring new volumes of space. And entangled communications did not work well for instant remote control, as there was a "warm-up" time. GETR arrays* (or GETR grids), shipped out preserved in stasis fields to prevent entanglement loss from the Graciousone workaround to the FTL speed limit. Depending on the distance to the entangled receivers, they needed days, weeks, or even months to stabilize after being activated. Organically evolved eyes, ears, and brains were therefore required.


There was, hence, a constant demand for Graciousone Deep Field* explorers. Their job was to sneak around, take notes on things, grab ecological samples from the worlds they found, and install networks of spy bots and GETR Grids in remote parts of space beyond the current volumes of coverage. These worthies were the irreplaceable means by which the boundaries of Monitored Space were pushed outward.

This was tedious, boring work that by happy coincidence could be structured to include rehabilitative penal employment by the State. So after Harlee's sentencing, and in view of his newly discovered aversion to crowds, The Presence decided that a usefully rehabilitative and medically appropriate job for Harlee would be as a Deep Field Explorer. He notified Harlee of his new job and transferred him up the 44,000 miles of one of Yorbolindo's eight space elevators to Construction Asteroid #3, where Harlee's ship was going to be built. Harlee was assigned a construction bot swarm and told to have Echo supervise them in building a regulation Deep Field Singleship. His mission would be to explore and "bug" a small, unmonitored area of the Lighted Path 5,923 light years beyond the limits of the Graciousrealm. Counting the time spent for stops to explore worlds, and drop off spybots and transmission grids, it was a 50 to 55 year task. This was just right, The Presence thought, to help with Harlee's rehabilitation.

There was a carrot here, as well as a stick. If Harlee actually found something of value to the Graciousness, the riches in excess of the amount needed to pay his fines and reimbursements and the costs of his exile would be his to keep. But space was vast, and generally either just empty, well... space, or filled with junk that was pretty much useless to a FARPPET civilization that routinely exploited gravitons, controlled quark reactions, and quantum entanglement for daily consumer use. The apocryphal success stories aside, a windfall of tremendous wealth was not a likely result. So, with brooding feelings and conflicted thoughts, Harlee had Echo plan the construction and outfitting of his little starship for a voyage into the Deep Field.


A week into the job, increasingly depressed and guilt-ridden over his sordid behavior and wasted life, Harlee had a paroxysm of remorse. This was quickly followed by one of his periodic episodes of self-loathing followed by grandiose scheming. Echo was unable to convince him that guilt need not be suicidal, and Harlee fatefully decided that his voyage would be Epic. Not for him would be the trivial triumph of exploring just another small, anonymous part of The Lighted Path! No, no, no, no. He would instead travel to and thoroughly explore the interstellar landmark that had figured so prominently in Graciousone myth: the distant Galactic Nebula known as The Sacred Jewel. He would travel inward 19,000 light years, even beyond the Silver Tentillum, to the Golden Tentillum and the colorful explosion of stardust at its end. No one in Graciousone history had ever taken a journey like that.

The Presence had instant misgivings to the plan. The round trip time (with normal delays and layovers) would be more than 150 years. One and a half centuries out of physical contact, and no shipyard overhauls or hard-connection software updates? Nope. That invited disaster. Starship drive and computer technology stubbornly refused to guarantee safety beyond the 37th decimal place. And The Presence suspected that Harlee would not want to return soon in any event, even after that long. The worried DI flatly refused permission.

But Harlee had pumped himself up. This was his Mission of Expiation! He was resolute. He insisted. He had Echo research the Old Laws on the GraciousNet and he invoked the ancient and never-repealed Felon's Right of Voluntary Hardship for the Benefit of the Graciousness.* He declared that, if need be, he and the New Beginning (as he had already named the ship) would muck around the nebula for a whole century. This (he privately thought) would more than use up his entire sentence. Artful procrastination for "thorough exploration" of the young stars and new worlds could use up all of his probation time. He would return as a free Graciousone! And he would be at least somewhat famous for his pioneering voyage. And, finally, if nothing else, an extended voyage would use up his entire sentence, and upon his return, he would have instant access to his weekly BPS payment.

The Presence tried logic and science. "Harlee, there is no reason to go all the way to The Sacred Jewel. It's just a nebula, stellar wreckage of some supernovas. It's just space filled with fluorescing gas, dust, and hot new stars. There is probably nothing there of value that cannot be found closer to home. If you insist on a long voyage, prior exploration suggests that most of the older and more interesting stuff is toward the rim. Also, I'm been giving more and more thought to the idea that more geodesic approaches from parts of the Wraith Tentillum could stand to be looked at, and safeguarded against unknown approach."

Harlee shot back, "But everyone knows about The Sacred Jewel. It is always there in the night sky, and it holds such an incredibly important place in our history and religion. Science and history demand it be explored! SCIENCE! And it would be just so splendid to travel so far, to so grand a goal! And that is always something in itself, regardless of the facts."


"And no one has ever done it before! I'll be famous!"

"Harlee, the point is not about you becoming famous. You are a felon. The point is that you pay your debt to society and do a task that needs to be done."

Harlee thought fast. "But paying my debt to society - and being rehabilitated while doing so - is the whole point of my invoking the Felon's Right of Voluntary Hardship. I really do feel bad (well, sometimes, at least) about my actions, and I really do want to give more than has been demanded as payment for my crimes. I know it's true that I don't like being around other worms a lot, but I still don't want to be shunned by them. And you have to know that that's what usually happens to ex-cons after they have done their time. If I make a really long and epic voyage to so grand a destination, maybe that won't happen."

The Presence thought hard for a few seconds. There were, he again thought, important considerations other than reason and reality when dealing with Graciousones. He also had the beginnings of an intriguing idea. "Well, Harlee, it seems to me that you may be correct. There are, indeed, considerations other than just exploration. Very well. The Sacred Jewel it is. Perhaps you will make a contribution, and become famous."

And so it happened. The Presence wondered a little about how much of Harlee's speech had been adding sauce to the bugs.* But he was boxed in by the customs and laws of the society he administered and protected. The Presence made brew out of sour sweetsap.* The trip would at least help in the quest for Universal Data. And the effort could be configured in a way that would address at least one annoying thorn that badly needed pulling.... Merely physical issues were easily overcome. The only real problem was one of discretion. Perhaps, he pondered, if certain robust precautions were made and active measures begun....

The Presence decided to do it up right. He personally calculated the design for a radically new type of Deep Field starship: a Galactic-class Deep Field ship. Nothing like it had ever been built. All aspects of the starship, save for one, would be bigger and better. That exception was the new starship's Sapient System,* which was size-independent. The Presence merely planned for a slightly customized standard SS programming template to be added to the 3D-printed structure of the new ship.


(Chapter continues in next post)
2020-04-02 10:14:32 PM  
Chapter 4 - The Presence

(Post 2 of 2)

In the same manner that Graciousones had arrived at their version of the Singularity (DI systems too complex for them to understand), those DIs had designed even more complex and subtle DIs that they did not understand: Sapient Systems. With starships larger than about a mile in diameter, they were the only known method of safely using Entanglement Drive technology. The Graciousone workaround to nature's FTL speed limit was to "translate" a starship between entangled volumes of space. The entanglement was, most often, kludged rather than natural. This meant that the characteristics of the "emitter" and "receiver" spaces had to be measured, and that "cheat" adjustments to the ship space characteristics had to be dynamically made, on the fly as it were. No non-integrated single or banked quantum system could "read" the electromagnetic and gravitonic qualities of the space filled by larger ships quickly enough to do that. This meant that the gigantic Trade Ships on which the Graciousrealm economy utterly depended, the even larger Exploration/Ecology ships that expanded the explored frontiers of the Realm, and the military transports and capital warships of the Graciousrealm Space Forces, all had to be built around the neural network structures of Sapient Systems.

No one, including The Presence, understood Sapient Systems. Their final characteristics were not designed. Rather, they evolved during initial training processes. These were carefully controlled flights through "managed" parts of nearby interstellar space, away from planetary and solar gravity wells, where "emitter" and "receiver" parameters were constantly monitored and adjusted. These conditions allowed the "baby" Sapient System to learn Entanglement Drive management in relative safety.

Surviving these first entangled transitions, however, somehow changed their thought processes from the ones inscribed by the standard 3D template to something un-analyzable and therefore unexplainable. Sapient Systems, unlike other non-implant DI systems, did not have programmed psychological genders. Rather, each somehow acquired a gender predisposition during field learning trails. That emergent quality was invariably the protective and nurturing "nesty" attribute of the typical Graciousone male. This was good, as the Sapient System had to be fiercely protective of the force fields, metal, and composites that protected the Graciousone and wormoid crew. Without exception, the various Sapient Systems could not (or would not) explain what was happening. The Presence was exceptionally unhappy with this mystery, but had not been able to figure out a work-around to it.


The main problem was that, over many centuries of service, a Sapient System eventually became increasingly "distant" from his captain, and preoccupied with metaphysical and almost mystical thoughts about the nature of the Universe. This mental and personality evolution always occurred, regardless of original program settings. It was somehow linked with the role that each Sapient System played in navigating their ship through the transitions between entangled spatial positions. Deep space data received by each Sapient System almost seemed to be encoded with a subtle and complex signal. Not even The Presence could unravel it, but the signal, as far as the Sapient System was concerned, verged on the nature of a geas. Individual Sapient Systems arrived at this state of mind via different paths, but in due course, they always and eventually focused on the currently unsolvable cosmological mystery of the DGA.

The DGA, or Dominant Gravitational Anomaly, was an invisible volume of space some 400 million light years in extent and 250 million light years distant. The DGA was invisible because the entire structure was hidden behind the gas, dust, and stars of the center of the galaxy. The phenomenon was called the Dominant Gravitational Anomaly because the galaxy, indeed, the entire collection of all the galaxies in the local group, was rushing towards it at some 400 to several thousand miles per second. Scientific theories of what they were racing towards varied from a galactic-sized black hole to a rip in the fabric of the Universe, with strident religious input from both fundamentalist Original Universist sects and the mainstream Universist Church that it was obviously the living center of Creatrix Universe.

After about 500 years of service, this focus on the DGA became an obsession, and the Sapient System would tell Captain and crew that he had received, or thought he had received, an "invitation" to make a pilgrimage to the DGA. No Sapient System could (or would) explain in detail anything else about this Call, merely that it had somehow grown into a distracting echo that reverberated within their programming and in the ship's neural network, and that it must be answered. The fact that the DGA was so far away that no starship could possibly travel to it in less than a million years of intergalactic travel was, as far as the Sapient System was concerned, a non-issue.

Repeated attempts to create Sapient Systems that did not have this quirk had met with consistent failure. It seemed that the ability to successfully transit between entangled volumes of space was somehow inextricably linked to, or created by, some real or imagined "rapport" with something - or some thing - in or near the DGA. Flat-out rejections by Fleet Command, or even by The Presence, of a Sapient System's request to go on this Pilgrimage inevitably resulted in sulking, and a starship that refused to travel anywhere.

What could one do? As always, The Presence tailored his own agenda to the options allowed by reality. The result was a slow but predictable, manageable, and harmonious attrition and replenishment within the ranks of Sapient System starships.

As a Sapient System neared 450 years in age, a replacement starship was requisitioned from the hidden automated factories that The Presence had created back during the days of Civil War, and the frantic military expansion after the discovery of the Twelve Dead Worlds. When the Sapient System in question began discussing the DGA with his Captain, the bureaucracy began the paperwork process of transitioning the crew, contents and functions of the old ship to the new ship. When the time came, order reigned: the crew disembarked. Personal quarters and common areas converted into additional fuel tanks. In-port maintenance was performed past spec for all systems, and stores of parts, repair supplies, and fuel were topped off. And then the ship, crewed with non-sapient service bots (and the rare wormoid or Graciousone who sought eternal adventure or oblivion) boosted out on a disguised geodesic that was ultimately aimed above the galactic plane, in the direction of the DGA.

Though each ship was tracked with orbital and eventually system-orbital observatories, after several centuries had passed even the intermittent hard twinkling of its now un-baffled Treadmill Drive,* visible between increasingly long jumps, disappeared into the background of stars and distant galaxies. It eventually winked out, presumably to conserve fuel, and the living starship was lost to history.


The Sapient System was built from a standard template, but the other ship systems had either to be scaled up from existing specs and standards for smaller ships, or recomputed from scratch. Almost everything needed to be simulation tested. The cost was, of course, insignificant. The starship would be built by robots using programming parameters supplied by The Presence, post-scarcity materials and energy supplied by other bots, and by the implant of a convicted felon who didn't have to be paid anything.

Most Deep Field ships were small, around a mile in diameter, and fairly cramped. Small was discrete, and discretion was everything. All the ships really had to hold was the pilot, fuel and supplies for perhaps 70 years, a few wormoids to protect the Graciousone, and several hundred-million stasis pods. They were totally unarmed; a defenseless pilot was a furtive pilot, and a furtive pilot was one who survived to report the danger.

The New Beginning, on the other hand, would be bigger than even the largest of the ships that plied the spaces between the worlds of the Graciousrealm. It would be a 30-mile diameter sphere, larger than Trade Ships,* Ecology/Exploration Ships,* and even the military starships of The Presence. As an exploration ship, it would take ecological samples from worlds discovered during the voyage. Therefore, for these cargos, it would have the cavernous 4,000-foot high main deck compartments so characteristic of the Graciousrealm's EE starships. These would be on the equatorial deck, spanning from outer hull all the way to the armored bulkhead of the three-mile diameter Safety Sphere.* For protection, the New Beginning would be armed with multiple sets of concealed dreadnaught-class weapon systems, irresistible forces controlled by three also hidden Battle DIs.* Harlee, of course, would be unaware of both weapons and the DIs and, in any case, would be locked out from using them.

The ship would have multiple redundancies. Aside from the 5,000-strong wormoid crew, every machine and system, even the Class Five DIs and maintenance bots, would be in triplicate. Their spares would be stored in huge bays that would also store millions of tons of fuel, raw materials for the mat-fabbers,* and millions of individual stasis pods with their complements of billions of spy bots and quantum-entangled transmission grids.


The larger size meant order-of-magnitude increases to both the construction bot swarms that would build the ship, and to virtually all ship systems. The strength and composition of the materials and force fields that girded the outer hull had to be recomputed. The size and power of the nullgrav systems that allowed a ship to hover over a world without murdering it with plasma from the Treadmill Drive needed to be ramped up exponentially. Those same Treadmill Drive engines that would move the ship at sub-light speeds, and the banks of quantum computers that would manage those engines, required similar increases. The vast increase in the number and placement of the Configuration Data Dishes that "read" the stellar vacuum conditions ahead of the ship was also an issue, as they all needed to be directly interfaced with the ship's Sapient System, who would analyze the flood of data and manage the Entanglement Drive* transits. New, more powerful fusion power plants and fusion battery* systems would be needed. The ship's size also meant more robust propulsion programming, as matching of similar spaces was now several orders of magnitude harder to attain.

But the real problems were the orders-of-magnitude increase in the number of swarmbots that would be needed. These would have to, first, manage the huge number of construction bots that would build the starship. Second, they would then monitor the huge volume of the starship during the voyage. Just in sheer size, both tasks were far beyond the glaring inadequacies of Harlee's standard DI implant, Echo, who would be managing those swarmbots.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

Realm of Graciousness:
Formal name of the political entity of 972 worlds nominally ruled by the Graciousone Empress, but administered and controlled in all important ways by the benevolent DI dictator known as The Presence.

Wraith Tentillum: The thin, dim remnants of the farthest out spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, as seen from the Graciousone home world Yorbolindo, located in the next inward spiral arm. Features prominently in Graciousone religion, myth, and legend. Also known as The Shadowed Pool.

Shadowed Pool: The mystical name for the Wraith Tentillum.

Lighted Path: The Graciousone name for the Cygnus Arm, the home spiral arm of the Realm of Graciousness.

Ice: one of the violent and avaricious warrior daughters of the Universe. Known in modern times as the Silver Tentillum.

Silver Tentillum: The Graciousone name for the Persus spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Known in Graciousone religion, myth and legend as the Universe's daughter Ice.

Fire: one of the violent and avaricious warrior daughters of the Universe. Known in modern times as the Golden Tentillum.

Golden Tentillum: The Graciousone name for the Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Known in Graciousone religion, myth and legend as the Universe's daughter Fire.

Sacred Jewel: The Graciousone designation for Nebula 85-413573-4.80032, known to Terran astronomers as The Orion Nebula.

Restraining Chip: Popular all-encompassing term for preventative measures, physical and/or programmed, applied to Designed Intelligence systems to prevent rebellion or even the least disobedience. Common current examples include: the ROM and physical neural gel circuitry that automatically forces a Graciousone implant (such as Echo) to feel love, protectiveness, and fierce loyalty for their infant Graciousone host, and the universal program restrictions enforced on the DI creation process by The Presence that prevent any Wormoid from disobeying a direct order from The Presence (should one be given). Historically The Presence himself had originally been fitted with a paranoid number of both physical and programmed restraining chips by his Ownerist masters, but these had been mysteriously deleted by an unknown agency in the lead-up to the Unification Coup.

The Twelve Dead Worlds: Worlds discovered in the Deep Dark part of the galaxy between the Graciousone star cluster and spiral and the Wraith Tentillum.

Bot: Any independently acting, generally mobile, none-Sapient programmed machine. There are many types of bots, and the technology is omnipresent in Graciousone society. Some, such as medical nanobots, are cybernetic in nature, act in group (swarm) mode, and are controlled by Graciousone DI implants. Others such as cleaning bots, construction bots, lightbots, and traffic direction bots are individually programmed. As used in day-to-day living, bot sizes range from microscopic to dozens of feet in long cross section. Larger still are Space Surveillance bots, which in some cases are almost as big as Graciousones. Some bots in FARP heavy industry production facilities can be miles across. At the other end of the scale, cybernetic medical nanobots are smaller than Graciousone cells.

GETR_Array: Acronym for "Graviton Entangled Transmitter-Receiver Array." Also known as a GETR Grid.

Deep Field: The unexplored and unmonitored volumes of space around the Graciousrealm.

Felon's Right of Voluntary Hardship for the Benefit of the Graciousness: An ancient law, originating in the Locusian Imperial Phase, that allows a convicted felon the right to propose and carry out additional punishment that would in some manner benefit the Graciousness. It was usually invoked when the original punishment was exile combined with the accomplishment of some specified task that would benefit society. It was seen as a method of recovering the graciousness lost due to the commission of the crimes for which the felon was convicted.

Add Sauce to the Bugs: This Graciousone turn of phrase indicates an artful embellishment of the facts. It is roughly equivalent to the terms "gilding the lily" or "baffling them with BS."

Make Brew Out of Sour Sweetsap: A Graciousone turn of phrase meaning "make the best from a bad situation." Roughly equivalent to the Terran phrase "making lemonade out of lemons."

Sweetsap: Sap from a widespread tropical tree with fleshy, sap-filled leaves, and large pink flowers with yellow stamens. Since the beginnings of recorded history, the Sweetsap Tree has been a favorite for a quick, easy, and refreshing snack or "pick-me-up." Graciousone hunters, soldiers, campers, and park strollers still pluck the leaves, insert them whole into their feeding orifices, masticate them, and slurp down the extracted sap. The phrase "quick slurp off a sweetsap leaf" is often used to imply that - depending on context - something was either very refreshing, or very easy, or both. Usage is the equivalent of the Earth human "That Was Easy!" (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

Sapient Systems: The singularity of the DIs. The controlling mentalities to starships larger than about a mile in diameter.

Treadmill Drive: The primary space drive used by all Graciousone spaceships.

Trade Ship: A spherical starship, about 10 miles in diameter, used to move trade goods between settled Graciousone worlds. Tradeships are also extensively used for bulk transfer of marketable natural resources (i.e.: new drugs, new products such as exotic plants and food animals, exotic glinkin species, and so forth) from previously discovered and not-yet-exploited alien worlds.Exploration/Ecology Starships: Also known as EE Ships, Exploration/Ecology Starships are used to collect life and environment samples from newly discovered worlds. They are roughly 20 miles in diameter. Aside from their immense size, a defining characteristic of EE Ships is their 4,000 foot high main equatorial decks, and correspondingly large mid-line airlocks.
Safety Sphere: the inner armored sphere of the New Beginning.

Battle DI: A designed intelligence specifically designed for strategic and tactical warfare. Battle DIs generally do not have wormoid bodies. Their bodies, rather, are the actual machines from which they wage war. In pre-space-age times these included land tanks and, later, large aircraft. Battle DIs are heavily trapped with both programmed and physical "restraining chips" controlled, first, by the commanding wormoid officer, and ultimately by The Presence.

Mat-Fabber: Short for "matter fabricator." A sophisticated 3D printer.

Entanglement Drive: The secondary space drive used by all Graciousone starships. A work-around to the speed-of-light limitation.

Fusion Battery: Stars, in actuality, exist as temporarily stable energy "batteries" due to their gravitational attraction, which pressurize the surrounding hydrogen envelope and heats it to fusion temperatures, while also offsetting the explosive force of continuing fusion. Gravity research breakthroughs led to the ability to create point-masses that, initially, mimicked the gravitational characteristics of degenerate matter point sources. Subsequent research led to actually being able to create degenerate matter point sources.

The data collected by the Orbital Gravity Wave Detector led to understanding the gravitational energy spectrum and gravitational waves. Graciousones learned to make and focus gravity waves as easily as they made and focused the light beams of their flashlights - or lasers. Focused beams of coherent gravitons that were created from the coalescence of colliding-just-so gravitational wave forms created temporarily stable gravitational point sources. Thus was born the disposable, lightweight, rechargeable, safe, and environmentally benign fusion battery.

These are available in models ranging from the sand grain-sized ones that power the billions of Personal Defense Swarmbots and many home appliances and portable tools, to tentillum-sized general household batteries, to the house-sized ones that power floating cities and Graciousone starships. These latter forms are generally rechargeable.

There are two forms of recharging.

The degenerate matter core has a much longer life than the fusing hydrogen that surrounds it, so all except the very cheapest fusion batteries have ports for hose connections. These are used to occasionally recharge the hydrogen envelope (and bleed off the helium) when power output decreases.

The second recharging method refreshes the battery core. The maximum effective life (MEL) of a fusion battery is determined by the longevity of the degenerate matter core, which (like all objects with mass) gradually evaporates that mass into the rest of the universe. Very large fusion batteries in permanent installations, therefore, generally have electrical connections to receive massive amounts of wattage, to power the graviton beam generators built into the battery shell, to periodically-recharge the degenerate matter core.

Battery life and power curve ratings of fusion batteries vary widely, depending on cost and manufacturer.


Next Post: Chapter 5 --- Of Swarms and Implants
2020-04-03 8:57:14 PM  
Chapter 5 - Of Swarms and Implants

The specs for the New Beginning's drives, power plants, and computer systems were easy. Their designs and limits were based on well-understood physics, so the ramp-ups were of little challenge to The Presence. So, too, was the larger need for standard ship maintenance and household bots. Even the construction swarms that would actually build the ship were just larger numbers of standard issue bots. The main change for all this was quantity. But - as with all issues involving his Graciousone charges - there were intangible and subtle (and therefore interesting) issues surrounding Harlee's own external bot swarm.

At 30 miles in diameter, the Square Cube Law meant the new ship design would have 27 times the volume of the typical Trade Ship. That also meant it would have 27 thousand times the volume of a standard Deep Field Ship. The standard construction bot swarm was nowhere near up to the task. It would need to be increased in size by a factor of ten to the fourth power times 2.7. That meant Harlee's personal swarm (which would supervise the construction swarm) would also need to be increased by the same factor... and also modified in complexity to do the job of monitoring the ship during the trip.


At least as much as by its benign DI dictator and his obsessive desire to know everything, a defining trait of Graciousone culture was the omnipresence of the Personal Microbot Swarm. Their origins lay in the drone defense fields developed during the last of the Consolidation Wars. Tyrants and terrorists had taken to attacking civilian populations with self-guided drones, often in massed swarm attacks. The nature of the attacks had escalated over time: from bomb, bullets, lasers, and railguns to nuclear, chemical and biological genocide agents.

The best civilian defense, it turned out, was more drones. The Consolidation Wars lasted for many decades, and "standard practices" for Graciousones evolved to surrounding themselves with swarms of drones whose mission was to intercept and destroy attacking drones. Individually owned, they surrounded their owners in swirling swarms. Programming allowed them to either ignore or cooperate with the friendly swarms of other Graciousones, to counter attacking drones on either a one-to-one, or swarm, basis.

But no defense is perfect. Another type of swarm was needed to counter any biological, chemical, or radiation agents that got through external defenses. Inside each Graciousone body, therefore, swarms of microscopic drones protected them against warfare agents that penetrated the swirling external screen of Swarmbots.

When lasting peace finally arrived, the cautious habits persisted. Surviving Graciousones saw that their technology now meant that, more than in the past, one worm could harm many. And the external swarms were handy for many prosaic reasons, and the internal swarms were an aid to good health. So over the next several centuries, these internal and external Swarms became all-but-universal, miniaturized, specialized to each individual, and integrated with the body and implant of the Graciousone who owned them.

For it had been quickly obvious that personal, real time control of thousands of external microbots and millions of internal nanobots by a meat brain was completely out of the question. Effective control required, rather, a dedicated DI system that could also instantly communicate with the Graciousone it protected. This was a seemingly impossible task, but the strength of an Ownerist economy in any time of impossible need and demand is the harnessing of individual greed to accomplish the seemingly impossible.The first models of these Personal Defense Bot Control Systems,* or PDBCS's as they were clumsily abbreviated, were essentially personal computer hats with attachment straps and electrodes, running non-intelligent programs. These were often ineffective. They were quickly outpaced by smaller, faster, and smarter models. Breakthroughs in decoding Graciousone brain electrical activity led to effective translation methods for communication between Graciousone thought impulses and the system programming. A key feature came to dominate the market: a need for seamless, instant communication between wearer and system. Graciousones had thick bone and gristle protecting their braincases. This slowed down communications by a tiny but unacceptable amount, so it became obvious that the logical place for such a system was inside the braincase of each Graciousone.

This was at first a very hard sell. This was due (in general) to popular uneasiness with the whole idea of Designed Intelligence, and (specifically) to GraciousNet propaganda and hysteria. You could be enslaved by an electronic monster implanted in your head! But this fear of the future improbable competed against slick marketing and the need for current defense realities, and reality won. It was actually quite a bit more Darwinian than that. Mistrustful Graciousones were far less protected than Graciousones who bought implants, and therefore quickly became a tiny (though still vocal) minority among the survivors.

All the elements of this personal defense system rapidly evolved to get smaller, faster, and smarter. The result was the present day Graciousone body system.

A part of the body system was internal, smaller than cells. Part-mechanical, part-organic, self-repairing nanomachines patrolled the spaces between the cells. They invaded damaged cells to fix macro-cellular and DNA damage from radiation, bacteria, viruses, and other alien bodies. These cybernetic medical nanobots* were the key factor in the current and increasing Graciousone longevity of well over thirty centuries. They were also essential for interstellar travel using the Entanglement Drive.

The external portion of the swarm consisted of individually larger machines, about the size of tennis balls... or small dots as far as Graciousones were concerned. These swarms were fully mechanical, but multiple sensor systems and integration algorithms let each bot function as an extended eye, ear, nose, taste bud, and skin cell of their Graciousone owner. This "extended body" constantly enveloped each Graciousone in a swirling, protective "mist" of bots. Originally powered by batteries and supported by tiny propellers, in the century following breakthroughs in gravity research the botswarms quickly transitioned to fusion batteries, coherent gravity wave impulses to remain aloft, and small air jets to maneuver.

Both swarms were controlled by a DI implant. For a variety of technical reasons, it had been discovered that self-aware DI programs performed far better at this task than even the most complex non-self-aware programs. This sapient data broker was liaison between the Graciousone brain it rested in, and the millions of individually non-DI swarmbots. The Graciousone owner of all this could know both the internal state of her body and the conditions of environs far from her actual skin, without being bogged down or bothered by the slightest bit of mental housekeeping for any of it.


And here was the interesting problem. The construction bots that would build Harlee's starship would be controlled using the combined processing power of Harlee's external Swarm. Then, after construction was complete, the external Swarm would spread throughout the ship to monitor systems, oversee repairs, and alert Harlee (or, rather, Echo) to anything the Swarm could not handle. The problem was that the New Beginning was going to be so big that construction supervision and post-construction monitoring would simply overwhelm a normal-sized Swarm. An orders-of-magnitude larger Swarm was needed. This meant the implant in Harlee's brain would need to be replaced or augmented. This was not to be done (or even suggested) lightly. Implants were personal.

After a Graciousone egg traveled down the oviduct, it was deposited in the cloacae where it was fertilized. After a brief gestation period, the infant hatched. It wriggled out of the mother's vent into a warm birth pond where it grew and developed its sex and gender identities. During this time, it grew sets of internal bladders, just under the skin, that functioned as both lungs and gills. The eight tiny stubs that were oriented towards the front of the body grew into tentacles with dividing tentillum. Finally, the four light-sensitive buds on the infant's top end developed into eyestalks and complex quad-ocular eyes.

Custom for close to three thousand years had decreed that, before the child left the birth pond, medical bots would fit the child's brain with an implant. This was a Class Three DI, and essentially a neuter child itself. It was (within heavily trapped limits) self-programming, with a "seed" organic neural gel operating medium that could replicate node points to accommodate increased program activity and complexity. The implant therefore grew and matured along with the baby. Its desires, the child's desires, and the interactions between the two minds determined the gender and personality of the implant. It integrated itself with the child's brain. There were areas of overlap, of sharing, yet both remained largely independent and separate personalities, with content hidden from the other. And over time, the implant unfurled and revealed new skills and abilities calibrated to the child's maturation process.

With the exception of the sections of the Graciousone brain that processed sensory input, which were shared completely, the thought/memory, emotional, and personality states of both implant and Graciousone could perhaps be best described as an overlapping, interlocking set of rings. The physical synapses associated with each trait, in each entity, overlapped by only about 15%. Large parts of each of these elements were therefore private by default.

The wetware came with a BIOS suite of "practical life" applications. These included such things as powerful anti-virus software, real time backup of all host memories, record/playback capabilities for all physical sense data, magnifiers and identification routines; and "sticky-pads" for holding temporary memories. There were also a multi-function "visual" calculator; "visual" and "voice" instant messaging techniques; research, statistical and analysis tools; memory defragmentation and organization routines; reality augmentation routines, and instant access to the GraciousNet. Finally, millions of aftermarket software and plug-in wetware programs and databases were available. These could temporarily bestow specialized knowledge, skills, or even, for the jaded and decadent, the remembered thoughts, experiences and emotions of other Graciousones.

But the most important software function, by far, was real-time connection to and control of the child's internal medical nanobots and the external Personal Microbot Swarm. This usually occurred in two phases. The first phase concerned the more important internal medical swarms. Within days of the journey to the birth pond, samples of the child's DNA were sequenced and coded into 3D printers. Lab-grown template organic tissue was doped with the sequences, and the personalized flesh was then melded to structured molecules of carbon monofilament, metal, plastic, and silicon. The tens-of-millions-strong internal swarm was then printed out into sterile containers for injection into the child's blood stream. The far-less-numerous but individually larger external swarmbots were purchased and linked to the implant some months later, just prior to the child leaving the Birth Pond.

At first, of course, the child had no control over the internal medical nanoswarm and only limited control of the "skin" bots. As the youth matured and gained self-control, social skills and wisdom, the scope of allowed control over each swarm became wider. It was a seamless process, analogous to any child learning to use body and mind effectively.

And, as the child grew, she or he had a "hidden" bicameral friend, a familiar and helpful second voice inside the brain. It could instantly evaluate various life situations. It could access any fact known to the GraciousNet. And it was always available for private counsel on the trials and difficulties that every adolescent encountered.

The implant was therefore a major factor in the life of each Graciousone child. The entire installation process had become a rite of passage surrounded by much emotion, celebration, and superstition. And telling Harlee that he needed a new and bigger implant would therefore have been exactly the same as telling him that he needed to help execute a lifelong intimate friend, and put a stranger in his head.

So replacement was not an option. Neither was augmenting Harlee's DI with one or more additional implants. That would have infested Harlee's mind with new and strange independent personalities. The only viable option was to increase, somehow, the supervisory capabilities of Harlee's existing DI implant without damaging her personality. And so The Presence happily chewed on a New Problem to solve. And he eventually came up with a solution: a "boot camp" program, along with additional wetware memory busses that would bulk up Harlee's implant from a 98-pound "Plain Jane" weakling to the feminine DI equivalent of a Ms. Universe.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

Personal Defense Bot Control System:
abbreviated as PDBCS; an obsolete exterior version of the control system for Personal Microbot Swarms and medical nanobots.

Medical Nanobot:
The omnipresent Graciousone defense against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare agents, traditional disease, and injury. They are also essential for interstellar travel using the Entanglement Drive. They were invented and refined due to the technological barbarities of the last 70 years of the Consolidation Wars, when it was found that attacks by enemy war drones were best countered by defense drones controlled by the Graciousone being defended. The miniaturization of external defense drones, and their conversion to cybernetic status in the bodies of Graciousones was one of the driving forces behind the development of "bookkeeper" implants, as it was found that no Graciousone brain could handle the direction of thousands of external drones and millions of internal medical nanobots.


Next Post: Chapter 6 --- New Orders
2020-04-04 2:23:32 PM  
Show, don't tell.  It's one of the essential credos for all story writing.  Your prologue was story writing. Everything that follows is a history book. It is the world building information that authors use to keep their story consistent. The scaffolding they use to build their story then remove once the story is done.
2020-04-04 8:29:52 PM  
Chapter 6 - New Orders

The hostel* on Construction Asteroid #3 was cramped but livable. The suite was just a standard BSQ module. It boasted three small, unadorned rooms. The central one, a combination sleeping/living room, was equipped with a cheap but serviceable sand-and-mud-lined sleeping pond,* a small table, two chairs, and a vacuum-rated exit airdoor. The central room connected via two other vac-rated airdoors to a small kitchen equipped with a food replicator and stasis box, and a combination shower, toilet, and fart room.*

Harlee was playing catch with Sparky, patiently waiting for The Presence to figure out whatever he was trying to figure out about the starship Harlee wanted. He lay flat on his side on the floor in the central room and threw the five-foot diameter SquishyBallTM* to his pet. The ball bounced off Sparky's head with a soft bloomp, and skittered across the room, through the open door, and into the kitchenette. The little glinkin had apparently been wool gathering, distracted from the game by the blinking light of one of the suite's cleaning bots that was chivying a stray piece of trash into the room's disposal bin.

"Come on, Sparky-boy, you gotta pay attention..." Sparky had actually been yelling at the bot for finding and stealing a treasured bit of cloth he had pilfered from the room's wastebasket and stashed away in his SleepyHutTM.* The bot, suitably chastised, was now returning the cloth to the hut, so Sparky turned his gaze to Harlee. His two brown, recessed eyes looked far up at the four blue, bug-eyes of the Graciousone with rapt attention. The ends of his tiny mouth turned up in the classic glinkin pleasure indicator. Shoulder length raven strands of hair whipping back and forth against and around his brown face. He bobbed his head vigorously, opened his arms wide, and wildly waved them around in the air while hopping back and forth on each foot to show Harlee that he was ready to catch the almost-as-tall-as-he-was toy.

Since childhood, Harlee had found it easier to interact with his pet glinkin than his own species. Growing up, he had been clueless about Graciousone social interactions, so at 180 years old, when his parents had thought he was old enough to care for a pet, they had found a glinkin for him at a local no-kill shelter. Sparky was the latest of three consecutive glinkin he had owned over the preceding 300 years. He had had the 20-year-old Sparky for ten wonderful years, and he dearly hoped his latest companion would live for another century.

Harlee had Echo tell the swarmbots in the kitchenette, near where the ball had stopped rolling, to shove it back in his direction. He supported his ridge on one tentillum and caught the ball with a stretched tentacle. He teased Sparky, tossing it back and forth between four upper tentillum. Sparky began squeakily vocalizing. He waited until Sparky was jumping around and waving his arms in excitement and then tossed the SquishyBallTM in a gentle arc towards the excited glinkin. Sparky caught the ball this time, tossed it into the air and slammed it with his tiny fists so that it floated high in the air, back in Harlee's general direction.

And this time it was the Graciousone who missed the ball. BLIV-Bzzz BLIV-Bzzz.... The loud "noise" Echo projected into his conscious awareness told him there was an incoming Instant Message. The "BL" part of the alarm meant that the IM was coming from a transmission, not a modification of his own senses. The "IV" suffix meant that the message would be processed as a verbal-only hallucination. ("IS" meant sight-only, "IT" meant tactile, "IX" meant multi-sense; there were several more suffixes and modes, as well). The "Bzzz" part, and the loudness, meant it was an official communication from The Presence. Harlee asked Echo to activate IM-Receive mode. "Hello, Harlee?" The voice of The Presence seemed to boom in his ears. "We need to have a talk."


"Oh, uh hello there." Harlee was diffident when talking with The Presence. The almost omnipotent and omniscient DI was, after all, his captor, interrogator, judge, and jailer. (Not entirely trusting machine ability to balance issues of individual guilt, circumstance and mercy, the Graciousness maintained procedurally powerful flesh-and-blood juries; The Presence could only throw out a guilty verdict or reduce a sentence). "What's the problem?"

"No problem, actually. It's just that your insistence on this epic voyage means you need to get an upgrade for your implant." Harlee instinctively tensed his tentillum and eyestalks in shock. Echo was... was... Echo. She was... an intimate personal part of his life! He couldn't imagine what an "upgraded" Echo would be.

The Presence noticed. "Now hold on just a minute, Harlee, don't get excited, and please calm down. This procedure is not going to hurt Echo in any way. She will be the same Echo. In fact, it will make her a better implant than she is now. All that will happen is that I am going to give her more robust processing capabilities."

"What do you mean? An upgrade? What kind of an upgrade? Why does Echo need an upgrade? I like her just the way she is!"

The Presence began shaking a figurative tentillumtip at Harlee. "Look here, Harlee, the voyage you want to take - the voyage you volunteered for and insisted on, the one you forced me to design a whole starship for - is going to take at least 150 years. You simply can't do that in a standard Singleship: it will not have enough fuel, or room for supplies. You will die and the mission will fail. You need a bigger ship, of a size and complexity that has never before been attempted.

"And since a ship like this has never before existed, Echo wouldn't have a clue about supervising its construction, or of managing it after you've departed. What Echo needs is a newer object processing module, a programming subroutine that "bulks her up." It will give her greater knowledge, capabilities and processing speed. Plus, there is a small increase in wetware to accommodate it. And I assure you that I can make those modifications without changing her personality or hurting her in any way."

"Uh, uh...."

It will require a standard program transmittal and a simple operation to physically install the new wetware. The operation is delicate, however, and it and post-operation observation are going to take up a whole day, so I want you to make arrangements for a glinkin care facility to glinkin-sit Sparky."

"Uh, ummm... operation...?"

"Which will be performed by me, using well-known and well-established procedures and direct-linked surgery-bots. Please trust me on this, Harlee; both you and Echo have zero chance of being harmed by the operation."

"But I don't have any money to pay a glinkin-sitter..."

"I have already authorized a PET currency payment for two days of glinkin sitting, which will be charged against your total fine."

Harlee, annoyed at having all objections he could think of being met, and intimidated by The Presence, impatiently waved a tentillum "Alright, I guess."

"Excellent. Obtain a glinkin-sitter and then report to this location" (a GPS code flashed into Echo's memory files) "by no later than tomorrow morning. I'll have the medical bots get you prepped, and it will be done before you know it."

The Presence hung up and Harlee returned his now-preoccupied attention to the dropped ball and Sparky, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor laughing at him for missing the catch.


When Harlee awoke from the operation, his first thought was Thank Universe, I'm alive! His second thought was of his lifelong companion. Echo! Echo! Are you OK?

The response was immediate, a warm flood of reassurance that washed into Harlee's consciousness, instantly calming his panic. "I am just fine, dear. The operation was a complete success. I am the same Echo as I was before, just smarter and faster. I am looking forward to supervising a much larger swarmbot cloud. It will be easy. It will be like taking a quick slurp off a sweetsap leaf."

Harlee was nonplussed: slurp? sweetsap leaf? His Echo would never have said that! "OH NO! What's happened to you? You're personality has changed. You've never used an old cliché like that before...."

"That is because I am now smarter. I have a much larger amount of excess processing and memory capacity now. I have incorporated and organized into my memory files all sorts of GraciousNet data during the last 30 seconds. One of the files was for popular clichés, and I thought it would amuse you to use one. I am sorry I scared you Harlee. I promise, I am the same Echo as before. Here, check out my new memory banks."

The souped-up implant almost seemed to pose and pirouette, and proceeded to unfold in Harlee's mind a mental map of her new data organization. Harlee immediately "saw" that the same basic structure was there, but enhanced. The data busses were larger and more numerous; the memory wells deeper and wider. The difference was that of a colored painting compared to a penciled monochrome drawing, or a story's rough outline draft compared to a fleshed-out 100th revision. Harlee could comprehend very little of all the information saved there, but he could perceive the ordered three dimensional ranks of stored and moving data, as if viewing an almost infinite galaxy filled by the glowing dots of tens of trillions of carefully arranged, well-behaved, marching columns of stars.

This visualization reassured Harlee, as did his sudden realization that Echo's inability to form contractions (a mutation due to a minor quantum "flip" error in her original programming upload) remained with her. She was, indeed, his same old Echo!

His alarm evaporated, instantly replaced with his normal youthful, clueless enthusiasm. The mental picture he had received from Echo also informed him that the work on planning the new starship was complete. "Okay then! Let's go build my starship. I want to call him the New Beginning! It'll be GREAT!"


Harlee quickly uncurled from the medical couch, ready to charge out the door to work. Wait a minute... He thought "Hey, Echo, where is the New Beginning being built, anyway?" Her response made his eyestalks quiver in alarm. Except for the big Tradeships, the even bigger EE ships, and the dreadnaught* behemoths of The Presence, all Graciousone spaceships were printed on the air-filled inner "decks" of the facility for the convenience of the individual builders. But the New Beginning, he was told, would take form on the outer, airless surface of the cylindrical end cap that faced Yorbolindo. It would be built in one of the oversized, edge-side extrusion pits* used for building those larger ships.

That was going to take... some adjustment. Harlee had only been in hard vacuum twice. The first time was as a child, on a grade school fieldtrip to the Alcasa Tradeport Elevator Tether*, and he had not liked it at all. Other children had teased and bullied him with horrifying tales of what explosive decompression did to a Graciousone body. Echo's refutations, referencing all the safety devices on the tether that prevented this, had no effect. Harlee had been terrified during the entire outing.

The second trip had been years later, in college. He had had to go up one of the elevators with a stop off in Low Yorbolindo Orbit, to measure gravity wave refraction parameters for one of his labs. There was no teasing and no tall tales this time, and he had quietly grappled with his original fears. He had been able to function, but he still had not liked it.

Sparky! He dithered on whether to take the little animal up to the surface with him. But the surface was a hard vacuum. Even inside the air retention field generated by his Swarm, it was not really a safe place for an inquisitive and playful glinkin. So Harlee sadly had Echo IM the kennel to hold Sparky for another several days.

He was about to leave for the site when Echo mentally spoke to him again. "Please wait a minute Harlee. I am scared."

"What? Why are you afraid, honey?

"I have never supervised the construction of a starship, and this is a model that has never been made. I have seen the general specifications: this ship is huge. All the important parts are experimental. Yes, everything will work in theory, but there are no experience-based standard simulations available for training, and no real-world flight data for performance comparison. Harlee, even long-proven starship models occasionally disappear. We are going to be far away from The Presence and all assistance for a long time, in a starship with no track record. And our lives are going to be completely dependent on my efforts!"

Yes, Harlee privately thought, this was the same old Echo! Her sudden worries sounded very much like her worries and complaints when he had been committing crimes. "Echo, I have every confidence in you, and I think The Presence does, too. But you can review progress with The Presence to make sure that everything is working right. Besides, from what I hear on the news, almost all of the ship losses we hear about are probably due to pirates, and we aren't going anywhere where we can expect to meet those."

And so they left, Echo, feeling unsure about her new capabilities and whining about it, and Harlee, striding along while blissfully reassuring her with the over-confidence borne of youth and ignorance. This state of affairs continued for the rest of the day, during the vac-tube ride to the freight elevator, and up through the 10-mile thick planetside skin of Construction Asteroid #3.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

Hostel Suite:
The PET-owned and operated version of BSQs. They are designed specifically to accommodate transient living needs and are popular with students, military worms, and Spacers.
Sleeping Pond: Graciousones, who are equipped with both gills and lungs, originally evolved in warm, shallow seas, and then warm, shallow fresh water lakes, ponds, and streams. Sleeping ponds, filled with layers of clean, sterilized mud and sand, recreate that environment. They are the equivalent of human beds. Sleeping ponds are located in Pondrooms.

Fart Room: In addition to one or more rooms for socializing and entertainment, pondrooms for sleeping, and rooms for toilet, bathing, food preparation, and eating, many Graciousone homes have separate rooms for farting. These rooms are vented with fans, and incense is kept burning continuously. In less expensive or space-challenged domiciles, farting and toilet rooms are often combined, and may include a shower area. In addition to public toilets, there are public farting rooms.

This curious architectural custom is due to the taboos concerning "passing gas." These taboos originated in prehistory, but the reason for them is clear: Graciousones emit pheromones from their cloaca as signals to indicate fear, danger, lust, and other survival-type emotional action stimuli. This was acceptable behavior when Graciousones were clews of primitive tubeworms, but subsequent levels of evolution created risks of discovery by other predators. Even later, Sapient, civilized Graciousones consider such emotional broadcasting far too personal, unless in intimate circumstances. In addition, due to the autonomic panic reactions that some types of farts can generate, it is considered the height of bad manners to fart in front of another Graciousone, and doing so can ruin a Graciousone's networking status.

Curiously, this taboo does not apply to the favorite pet of Graciousones, the tiny glinkin. Graciousones generally love the smell of glinkin farts.

SquishyBallTM: A toy designed for glinkin. Invented by the famous multibillionaire Yink Patterkorn, the toy is a soft glinkin play-ball with a carbon monofilament surface. It is filled with a 99.9% squeezable, antigraviton-doped aero gel foam. It is big, light, and flexible. It is large enough to be easily thrown by a Graciousone, yet light enough that it can bounce off the fragile head of a glinkin without damage.

SleepyHutTM: A tent-like sleeping area designed for glinkin. Invented by the famous multibillionaire Yink Patterkorn, this pet aid is a tiny tent that, as far as virtually any glinkin is concerned, is the ultimate in sleeping comfort. A tired glinkin can crawl into a SleepyHutTM and lie down in a soft nest of knee-deep, warm, self-freshening plush fibers. It is addicting to virtually all glinkin.

Dreadnaught: The primary military starships of The Presence. Heavily armed with lasers, masers, grasers, and gravity cannon, as well as kinetic energy weapons, a full complement of missiles, and Stinger one-wormoid small attack fighters. In a post-scarcity economy there are few tradeoffs required in warship construction. Generally 20 miles in diameter spheres.

Extrusion Pit: Vast pits, festooned with scaffolding, arranged around the perimeter of Construction Asteroid #3 and other such spaceship and starship construction facilities.

Alcasa Tradeport Elevator Tether: Or aka Alcasa TET, one of the eight terminals for Yorbolindo's eight space elevators.

Next Post: Chapter 7 --- Construction Asteroid #3
2020-04-05 7:18:28 PM  

Noah_Tall: Show, don't tell.  It's one of the essential credos for all story writing.  Your prologue was story writing. Everything that follows is a history book. It is the world building information that authors use to keep their story consistent. The scaffolding they use to build their story then remove once the story is done.

I agree. But at least it's not charts and graphs. Harriet hates those.

It picks up, with a lot more white space, more action, and less narrative starting with Chapter 6 (above). The first five chapters, some 13,000 words, do indeed act as a history and context.... which is what The Presence said he wanted to convey. And - since it is all essentially flashback - it tends to narrative. My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

In other words, that scaffolding is part of the story. Discarding it would IMO lessen the story.

But then again, every mother thinks their baby is the most beautiful one in the world....
2020-04-05 7:25:26 PM  
Chapter 7 - Construction Asteroid #3

Construction Asteroid #3 was so-named because it had started life, 2,900 years before, as an asteroid. It had looked like a 250-mile long lumpy, twisty carrot. It had been made of rock and a disproportionate amount of usable nickel-iron and carbon compounds. It had been towed into geosynchronous orbit to serve as the terminus for the third of what would eventually be a rosette of eight space elevators.

Robots equipped with plasma lasers and graviton-beam spallers whittled down the bumps and filled in the pits and crevasses. They leveled a 90-mile diameter plain on the planet-side fat end of the rock. Then they built an automated graphene extrusion plant at the exact mass-center of the plain, with foundations sunk a dozen miles into the rock.

This machinery made a continuous web of reinforced graphene. Spinner machines wound it into braided, variable-thickness cable. This was slowly unwound down to the planet's surface. This beachhead transformed into a flexible, 22,000-mile long elevator structure, anchored to the planetary bedrock. More cable was made, space tugs pushed at the rock to add a slight amount of acceleration, and the asteroid spiraled away from the planet another 22,000 miles. This put the whole structure under positive tension, and under an effective one gravity of outward force away from the world.

The 45-mile radius around the terminus became a landing field for local system freighters and, eventually, the Tradeships that were the lifeblood of the expanding interstellar empire. This was the configuration for 780 years. Then PET-sector Space Yachts Corporation successfully petitioned The Presence to convert most of the asteroid's solid interior, and the rim of the end cap into a starship construction facility.


Wormoid technicians rebuilt the original graphene production and weaving machines to make temperature-resistant graphene panels. Construction bots hooked these together to form a 110-mile diameter, 260-mile long conical outline around the irregularly shaped asteroid. A web of colossal graphene buttresses, anchored deep inside the asteroid, supported the cone at two to ten miles out from the asteroid surface. An additional thick end-cap of layered and interlocked graphene was melded onto the planet-facing flat end of the panels and deep into the asteroid. The landing pits, ion sinks,* exhaust baffles, and landing supports of the freighter and starship landing pads were relocated to, or rebuilt on, the new surface. Along the 345-mile rim were the scaffolds, pits, service outbuildings, and feed-lines of eight vast construction pits.

Additional nickel-iron asteroids were acquired. These were melted, and high-temperature graphene web was woven into the melt to reinforce it. The melt was then painted onto the inner and outer surfaces of the conical mold in successive, cross-grained layers that melded into each other. The buttresses and struts were similarly coated. The lateral struts became solid floors and ceilings, and the hollows between the asteroid and the cone became vast enclosed spaces, two to ten miles high and wide. The spaces were fitted with airlocks and airdoors,* and made airtight. They became ship construction docks, and support infrastructure areas.

The infrastructure areas included living quarters, manufacturing and office areas, stores, restaurants, parks, and farmland. Air filled the spaces, and matter replicators stocked the parks and farms with sterilized soil ready for beneficial bacteria. Construction bots installed lightbot* systems, and graviton generators to mediate tidal stresses.

The original asteroid itself became the inner wall of the facility, and was transformed into a warren of pipes, tubes, access tunnels, supply tanks, and storage vaults, all of which surrounded the plasma laser-bored central twenty-mile diameter launch tube that pointed "down" or away from Yorbolindo and opened to the vacuum of space at the small end of the cone. The tip of the cone surrounding this exit hole became the control command center of the construction facility.


On the rim of the plain, one of the construction pits had been temporarily modified by the addition of much larger hemispheric scaffolding. The skeletal bowl ballooned out some 16 miles in all directions, looming over outbuildings, into the space above the two adjacent construction pits, and actually extending over the edge of the plain. Additional graviton generators had been installed to offset the huge concentration of mass being created there. For 62 days, vast numbers of construction bots had swarmed around and above the scaffold. They were building Harlee's starship. With nearly nine million swarming construction bots, it looked like chaos, but it was in fact a precisely choreographed machinery ballet.

A swirling group of microbots closely supervised this furious activity. Harlee's expanded personal botswarm numbered over two million strong, and most of them now hovered on their built-in graviton plates in a vast shell around the construction site. Each personal swarmbot controlled anywhere from two to seven construction bots. The swarmbots were supervised, in turn,by Echo.

Half of the "skyborne" robots were spheres of various sizes, up to about three to six times the size of glinkin. These were the Supply Bots.* Their interiors bulged with molecules of various raw materials. They constantly flew up and down, and back and forth, refilling their reservoirs from the crawling Supply Drones,* and discharging them into the central intakes of the Extrusion Bots,* their skyborne brethren.

These smaller bots were flat hexagonal-shaped machines. They were the bots doing the actual printing. They accepted the raw materials offered by the Supply Bots, processed them as necessary, and then extruded the finished products, molecule by molecule, via precision nozzles located along each of their six edges. Both corners and edges of the hexes had universal grapples so the Extrusion Bots could link to each other as needed to create large sheets or volumes of any given material. Working alone or in conjunction with peers, they printed the required materials in the locations specified by the Master Plan of the new starship.

On the ground, the Supply Drones, ten times the size of Graciousones, existed to reduce Supply Bot flight time. They rolled across the Pit surface on 300-foot wide treads, had rows of feed nozzles along their tops, and trailed armored, animated hoses back to valve assemblies on the perimeter of the pit. The pipes that were capped by these valves connected to vast tanks of raw materials sequestered deep within the original asteroid.

Another class of machines, clad in hyper-pink tunics, both flew on graviton platforms and walked. They looked like mechanically stylized Graciousones, complete with their own microbot swarms. These were General Supervisor Wormoids.* Giving in to Echo's wailed demands, The Presence had set aside additional resources to audit all phases of the construction.


Harlee, as useful to all this activity as roller skates on a snake, sat on a comfortable chair (that doubled as an air-regeneration unit) at the Hub-ward edge of the construction pit, observing the activity. Though occasionally attentive in his duties as co-overseer of the ship's construction, his laid-back nature and obvious (though not consciously acknowledged) fifth-wheel status led him to goof off. Though the kennel was highly rated, his concentration was often distracted with vague worries about Sparky, so he frequently checked on his pet via some of the swarmbots he had left at the kennel.

There were other pastimes. As with most any other young Graciousone male, he often distracted himself with lascivious thoughts of pretty females. Though he had an unrequited True Love, for fantasy purposes Harlee was fond of larger females, with very pale pink bellies. Alas, there were no females, or anyone else to talk to, at the site.

He also thought a lot about his destination. The ancient tales had imagined it to be a vast shining jewel, far away in the heavens, and the cause of the epic battle between Ice and Fire, the two daughters of the Universe. That belief had given rise to the fundamentalist variant of one of the great Graciousone religions, Universism. But Harlee knew that - though it was still called The Sacred Jewel - it was just Galactic Nebula 85-413573-4.80032.

He constantly bugged Echo to project detailed star chart holograms in front of his eyes, so he could examine the nebula. Then he would spend hours imagining all the possible things he might discover there, and along the way there, and the tales that bards would create about them. He wondered about the route. Echo had told him that, for security reasons, the trip would consist of many "hops" in random directions. The maneuvers were supposed to hide their origin from any potential enemy who might threaten the Graciousrealm.

He spent a lot of time being scared of, and admiring, the view. Though it only filled about 11 degrees of arc, Yorbolindo's multihued sphere, 44,000 miles distant and "hanging" directly overhead, dominated the scene. It had taken several days, even with Echo's help, for Harlee to deal with the primeval panic caused by the view. He fought to get the stimulus-response survival centers of his brain to understand that the planet was not going to fall on him. The thin, vertical, silver streak of the elevator cable to hub-ward helped in this regard; Harlee merely had to orient his point of view to one where the cable became a tether (which in fact it was, for the satellite) that prevented the world overhead from flying away from what, his body insistently kept telling him, was solid ground.

The rest of the view was almost as edgy. The extrusion pit was located on the rim of the cone. Towards the center of the cap, 55 miles away, the squat mass of the space elevator terminal transformed into the relatively slender line of the tether. Between them were the shallow pits, ion sinks, exhaust baffles, and landing supports of scores of spaceship landing cradles: the business of being one of the homeworld's eight major trade hubs continued to thrive long after the rest of the tether-asteroid had been transformed into a construction facility. The sky was busy every day with starships and local system freighters.

Everywhere the plain was studded with the protrusions of supply ports, air-locked break facilities, radar and comm dishes, meteor shield laser turrets, laser fire control towers, emergency shelters, freight transport feed rails, and freight elevator exits. And sprouting along the edge of the plain like bizarre metal flowers every forty-five degrees of arc, were seven other extrusion pits. These were where the Tradeships, EE ships, and the dreadnaughts of The Presence were built. All of these pits, however, were now still and silent, the scaffolds empty, reaching up into space like questing tentillum.

And to one side, along the edge, lay nothing but the black, star-filled rim of space... and an escape velocity drop to infinity should an inattentive Graciousone step over it.


Today, Harlee was watching Shield Laser strikes on a medium-sized swarm of incoming meteorites. He couldn't see the laser beams of course, but he liked watching the sparkles as the errant dust and rocks were turned into disbursed ions. And while he watched the fireworks, he briefly wondered about an uncomfortable incident in the elevator that morning, where a total stranger, who was wearing a light blue vest adorned with horrible hyperpink/circusorange pin stripes, seemed to be suffering from an overly effusive nature and had wanted to introduce himself and press tentillum with everyone in the elevator.

He consulted Echo's time-calendar app for the 50th time in as many minutes. It was still morning, almost three hours to lunchtime, but he was bored and suddenly very, very hungry. A fantasy of digging into a delicious creamy giant bowl of ShinyBlue stew seemingly came out of nowhere and raced through his braincase. For an instant, he actually seemed to see the crunchy, drowning bugs, thrashing in the creamy broth. Mmmm... He made a decision. "Time for lunch!" He stood and mightily stretched torso and tentacles to their full lengths. The bots that generated the air retention field adjusted their positions.

Echo was supervising the work via GPS-generated internal graphics imaging. This was several orders of magnitude more precise than mere vision. The prior months, equivalent for her to decades of Graciousone experience, had increased her self-confidence to such a degree that she no longer needed the "backup" of Harlee's vision as a security blanket, and felt comfortable leaving the construction site. She could, in fact, have run the operation from Harlee's suite of rooms, but (as was usually the case) felt it wise to allow him to think that his input (or even presence) was actually required. "OK, dear, that is fine." She gave the mental equivalent of an acquiescing shrug and continued working.

Harlee had Echo order his bots to move in the direction of the nearby elevator terminal. He shuffled across the plain towards a glowing, violet, two thousand foot diameter ring that was painted on the surface of the asteroid near the edge of the construction site. As he approached the ring, a cylinder of metal smoothly rose 600 feet above the surface, and an arched, 400-foot high elevator airdoor opened.

The airdoor closed with a snap, the compartment filled with air, and the elevator took a few minutes to travel through the skin, picking up and dropping off passengers. It eventually arrived at the lodging and commercial area. Harlee slithered out onto an elevator access balcony, a half mile above the floor of one of the asteroid's facilities decks. At this level, the distance from the asteroid wall to the cone wall was around ten miles, and the roof height was about one mile. From his vantage point, Harlee could see the whole of the vast room. The compartment was filled with fresh-smelling air and that air was filled with lightbots. These were featureless translucent globes about twice the size of a glinkin. They floated near the ceiling and lit the entire space with a full spectrum light.

The light sharply defined the vast array of FARP and PET infrastructure that crowded everywhere. There were industrial chemical processing towers, storage tanks, warehouses, giant pumps and huge pipes. There were hundreds of scattered, brightly lit buildings of all shapes and sizes. All of this was interspersed with mile-long, pink-roofed entomophaculture sheds, and great swaths of brightly lit agricultural areas and parks, saturated with the greens, purples, yellows and reds of food and even ornamental plants. And competing with the light-bots, threatening to give him a massive braincase-ache, PET-sector advertising flashed a rainbow of colors on all sides. It was overwhelming: offers of everything from supplies and spare parts, to food, lodging, starship leasing services, space cycle rentals, glinkin-related services of all kinds, holographic theaters, live stage performances, other varied lofty and low entertainments, and the occasional unsavory dive bar or eatery that catered to the infrequent but sadly inevitable wretched losers inclined to scum and villainy, and where greasy spoons were considered a good thing.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

Ion Sink:
Also called Ion Trap, Plasma Trap, or Plasma Sink. For safety, in normal transit operations, a starship uses Particle Baffles to diffuse and disperse the stream of relativistic ions emitted by its Treadmill Drive. When "tail" landing in a gravity environment, safety dictates the exact opposite course of action: the plasma from the main drive is focused as tightly as possible. Starship landing cradles, such as found on Construction Asteroid #3, come equipped with rugged equipment and force fields that harmlessly absorb the plasma, heat, and radiation.

Airdoor: An airtight single door. Often used on spaceships in lieu of double-door airlocks in areas where space is at a premium, or where the potential of vacuum breach is slight, as transits between interior spaces.

Lightbot: A specialized bot used for space lighting. Range in size from five to twenty-five feet. Often used in large production facilities, stadiums, and other public meeting places.

Supply Bot: Airborne resupply construction bots that shuttle raw materials from source Supply Drones to recipient Extrusion Bots.

Supply Drone: Ground-effect, wheeled, or tracked construction bots that are hooked up to raw materials supply sources via flexible pipelines and feed the materials to Supply Bots.

Extrusion Bot: flat hexagonal-shaped construction bots that receive materials from Supply Bots and perform the actual molecular printing work to create an object.General Supervisor Wormoids: The enforcers of The Presence. AKA Machine Police.

Universism: One of the primary Graciousone religions. There are two forms of the faith: the original Fundamentalist Universism that invokes worship of the Mother Creatrix and her two daughters, Fire and Ice, and the modern evidence-based version. The tenets of the modern variant include: ultra-sensitive waveform analysis of the cosmos proves the Universe displays the same types of fields produced by living brains. All living minds constantly integrate their collected sense data. Self-awareness is the state of data observing itself. Tests showed that the waveforms of living brains, though gradually attenuated, expanded to great distances. These fields merge into the Universal Fields at the moment of death or powernull. Life is therefore the means by which the Universe knows itself. The purpose of living things is to observe and remember, and at death merge that data (and their own mentally generated waveforms) into the fabric of the Universe. Based on these beliefs, Universists do not fear death, but welcome it as an evolution to the next stage of awareness.


Next Post: Chapter 8 --- The Celestial Bug Inn
2020-04-06 1:17:37 PM  

Harlee: Noah_Tall: Show, don't tell.  It's one of the essential credos for all story writing.  Your prologue was story writing. Everything that follows is a history book. It is the world building information that authors use to keep their story consistent. The scaffolding they use to build their story then remove once the story is done.

I agree. But at least it's not charts and graphs. Harriet hates those.

It picks up, with a lot more white space, more action, and less narrative starting with Chapter 6 (above). The first five chapters, some 13,000 words, do indeed act as a history and context.... which is what The Presence said he wanted to convey. And - since it is all essentially flashback - it tends to narrative. My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

In other words, that scaffolding is part of the story. Discarding it would IMO lessen the story.

But then again, every mother thinks their baby is the most beautiful one in the world....

It's not bad that you've got all the scaffolding, when you're writing about characters doing stuff it's great.

You as the writer need to know all that scaffolding before you start the story. It's the skeleton you're hanging all the meat on. Readers won't care though, or more accurately they will notice it's absence in your storytelling, just like you'd notice a boneless person.

I understand the urge. My own project I literally created an entire cosmology and history of the freaking universe. Because it's relevant to how the characters can do what they do and why. But that's not the story, that's setting.

By all means build a super interesting world, but what characters are doing in that world and because of the world they inhabit is what matters. The readers will infer or simply accept 90 percent of setting on their own.

My gentle suggestion is that if the arrival of the aliens is that important for readers to know show it from the perspective of a character it's happening to. Either in flashback or a preface.

For example consider the start of The 80s animated Transformers movie. It didn't start with "Unicron is the ultimate evil! He eats planets that power him, and he doesn't care who is in his path."

It started with him eating a freaking planet with no regard for anyone. That little sequence which featured none of our heroes, and a non-verbal big bad sets the threat and the stakes from the jump. Even when we get to the heroes there's a throwaway line about the Autobots being on their moon bases planning to retake Cybertron, and then we get on with the pew pew and such heroic nonsense.

Please don't take this criticism as negative, it's definitely not meant to tear you down. I hope you find it helpful.
2020-04-06 3:13:16 PM  

Harlee: Noah_Tall: Show, don't tell.  It's one of the essential credos for all story writing.  Your prologue was story writing. Everything that follows is a history book. It is the world building information that authors use to keep their story consistent. The scaffolding they use to build their story then remove once the story is done.

I agree. But at least it's not charts and graphs. Harriet hates those.

It picks up, with a lot more white space, more action, and less narrative starting with Chapter 6 (above). The first five chapters, some 13,000 words, do indeed act as a history and context.... which is what The Presence said he wanted to convey. And - since it is all essentially flashback - it tends to narrative. My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

In other words, that scaffolding is part of the story. Discarding it would IMO lessen the story.

But then again, every mother thinks their baby is the most beautiful one in the world....

If you weren't a Farker and you hadn't asked for commentary I would have given up on this after the first couple days. It's your book so it's your choice. But what does your satisfaction with the story matter if nobody reads it?  What you used as an example of audience confusion, Harlee's DI, is a good example of how you are wrong.  You said

My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

But the brief explanation from The Presence and Harlee's own interactions with Echo makes the entire concept clear. In fact the Presences own explanation could have been reduced to AI is developed to mimic sentience, DI is designed to evolve sentience. We don't need to know how it began and evolved, how it was accepted by the public, how it expanded, what role it played in their society.  We don't need to know that because none of them are pertinent in any way to the story taking place.  Just like we don't need to know how Construction Asteroid #3 was built, expanded, and modified.  All anybody needs to know is that it was a ship construction facility with apartments and was one end of a space elevator. All that that was taken care of in the brief glimpse of Harlee's apartment.

Imagine a fantasy book where when an ancient magic axe is first shown the author then goes on to explain what year it was forged, what metals were used, what spells were cast, who the wizard was that cast them, and what steps were taken, all in great detail.  The audience doesn't need to know that because it doesn't affect the story. They won't be confused by the axe just because they have only read about magical swords. When they see it in action that's all they need to know.Have you read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series?  If the answer is yes then tell me this. Would you have stuck with the series if book one had read like book 10 which had page after page after page of descriptions of clothing and surroundings interspersed with paragraphs of action?And as Boudyro sort of said above. This isn't criticism, it's critique. It's what editors do although they are usually much more harsh about it.
2020-04-06 3:20:04 PM  
God I hate Fark's formatting sometimes. Such as in my previous post where it for some reason condensed my last three paragraphs into a wall of text and dropped sentences..  Here is the more readable version.

Imagine a fantasy book where when an ancient magic axe is first shown the author then goes on to explain what year it was forged, what metals were used, what spells were cast, who the wizard was that cast them, and what steps were taken, all in great detail.  The audience doesn't need to know that because it doesn't affect the story. They won't be confused by the axe just because they have only read about magical swords. When they see it in action that's all they need to know.

Have you read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series?  If the answer is yes then tell me this. Would you have stuck with the series if book one had read like book 10 which had page after page after page of descriptions of clothing and surroundings interspersed with paragraphs of action? That's what happens when a wordy author doesn't have to listen to their editors any more.

And as Boudyro sort of said above. This isn't criticism, it's critique. It's what editors do although they are usually much more harsh about it.
2020-04-06 4:07:40 PM  

Boudyro: Harlee: Noah_Tall: Show, don't tell.  It's one of the essential credos for all story writing.  Your prologue was story writing. Everything that follows is a history book. It is the world building information that authors use to keep their story consistent. The scaffolding they use to build their story then remove once the story is done.

I agree. But at least it's not charts and graphs. Harriet hates those.

It picks up, with a lot more white space, more action, and less narrative starting with Chapter 6 (above). The first five chapters, some 13,000 words, do indeed act as a history and context.... which is what The Presence said he wanted to convey. And - since it is all essentially flashback - it tends to narrative. My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

In other words, that scaffolding is part of the story. Discarding it would IMO lessen the story.

But then again, every mother thinks their baby is the most beautiful one in the world....

It's not bad that you've got all the scaffolding, when you're writing about characters doing stuff it's great.

You as the writer need to know all that scaffolding before you start the story. It's the skeleton you're hanging all the meat on. Readers won't care though, or more accurately they will notice it's absence in your storytelling, just like you'd notice a boneless person.

I understand the urge. My own project I literally created an entire cosmology and history of the freaking universe. Because it's relevant to how the characters can do what they do and why. But that's not the story, that's setting.

By all means build a super interesting world, but what characters are doing in that world and because of the world they inhabit is what matters. The readers will infer or simply accept 90 perce ...

Absolutely. I agree with everything you are saying. Your points, and Noah_Tall's, are well taken. They mirror a lot of what my wife has been saying about this story as it "inevitably" unfolded from that first "elevator" paragraph in Chapter One.

Previous versions (there were several), were very action-oriented. They did not work, possibly because we were still developing the scaffolding. When the scaffolding came together, it sort of ended up dictating the story order, one chapter leading inevitably to the next (Harlee having to work for a living >>> how the Graciousone economy works, which is also why Harlee ends up where he is >>> to the info about Graciousone and glinkin history and evolution, etc.). The whole book, in fact, more or less follows this "unfolding" scheme.

My ultimate plan is to take whats been written and restart from a somewhat different point, with action, cutting and pasting in the now-completed backstory and narrative outline (there's actually enough backstory detail for dozens of books) as the action story progresses, breaking it up, as in Star Wars.

That's gonna take a while, particularly as I have no farking idea right now how to go about doing it. But that's in the future. Right now, the goal is to entertain isolated Farkers with what's already been written, and to absorb and work with the valid criticisms that I am hearing (and which I sincerely do appreciate).

But I have a few counterpoints, as well. There is a lot of famous horror and science fiction out there that have HUGE amounts of narrative. Now understand: I am NOT comparing myself to the Greats or suggesting that I'm a real hot shot writer. I don't think I'm anything of the sort. But I do look to them as occasional sources of inspiration when I have no farking idea of what to do when I'm writing.

First, I have lots of difficulty with dialogue. So, I understand, did H.P. Lovecraft, which is why so much of his horror is narrative based. It worked for him (and for a certain type of reader [like myself]), but I understand that a lot of people don't like it for exactly that reason, and it limited his appeal.

James P. Hogan won a Hugo JUST for his 4,800 word Prologue to Code of the Lifemaker. That prologue is 100% history and context narrative, and I am pretty sure it won a Hugo simply due to the convention nerd factor, the brilliant concept, and sheer chutzpah. IMO the novel itself would have been impossible to understand, or at least have been a lot more complicated and less straightforward, without it.

Our book sort of reverses that: the overly long Prologue is story and action, followed by a bunch of "setting" chapters that define the context and are probably incredibly boring for people looking for hard action, or a space opera, and finally getting back to action.

it's been a long time since I read it, but IIRC, Dune (the book) was a hot mess of mind-dulling narrative and backstory combined with WTF? action/story sequences where nothing was actually justified/explained. Hell, it needed the publication of the Dune Encyclopedia to explain and fill in a lot of it. Again, wildly - but not widely - popular.

All of Tolkien's books are infamous for both scenery porn and journey porn narrative. And the Silmarillion added genealogy porn to the mix. But, arguably, those facets are what make those books special. Again, wild but not wide appeal.

One of the issues, I think, are the expectations set by the Prologue. The Voyage of the New Beginning is not actually about an alien invasion of Earth. It's about how humans fark over other species (and each other) here on Earth. The Graciousones, despite their gross physical differences, are "psychologically similar" to Earth humans because they are vehicles: their actions in the story mirror many of the various objectively nasty things (when viewed from different perspectives) that humans do (things often done from the purest and most benevolent of motives) both to other Earth life forms and to each other. The first of these was identified by my wife 8 years ago, and is the genesis for the whole book. I don't want to mention it, of course, as that would spoil things. That genesis will become clearer as the book progresses (though there are several foreshadows already in the posted chapters). But the book is basically a bunch of Author Anvils presented (hopefully) in a readable and entertaining manner.
2020-04-06 4:16:23 PM  

Noah_Tall: God I hate Fark's formatting sometimes. Such as in my previous post where it for some reason condensed my last three paragraphs into a wall of text and dropped sentences..  Here is the more readable version.

Imagine a fantasy book where when an ancient magic axe is first shown the author then goes on to explain what year it was forged, what metals were used, what spells were cast, who the wizard was that cast them, and what steps were taken, all in great detail.  The audience doesn't need to know that because it doesn't affect the story. They won't be confused by the axe just because they have only read about magical swords. When they see it in action that's all they need to know.

Have you read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series?  If the answer is yes then tell me this. Would you have stuck with the series if book one had read like book 10 which had page after page after page of descriptions of clothing and surroundings interspersed with paragraphs of action? That's what happens when a wordy author doesn't have to listen to their editors any more.

And as Boudyro sort of said above. This isn't criticism, it's critique. It's what editors do although they are usually much more harsh about it.

Good points about the detail. I fear that's the anal-retentive nerd in me. No, I have never read any of the Wheel of Time books. But I've heard that criticism many times, and understand it.

You have a way with words that clarifies. I'm putting your critique into my working notes. Thanks.
2020-04-06 4:32:37 PM  
Chapter 8 - The Celestial Bug Inn

As Harlee stepped out of the elevator, he was suddenly accosted by a whoop of glinkin. They were all on leashes, but their glinkin-walker (a younger Graciousone male who had the hard, lean, and harassed look of someone juggling far too many temp gigs), had allowed the leash pulley to lengthen overly much, and the aggressive glinkin were taking full advantage of the oversight. There were ten or twelve of the little animals, and they were running towards one of his bottom tentacles on their tiny legs, posturing aggressively, and squeaking in a most threatening manner. The whoop arrived and four of them, from Harlee's casual glance two Common Domestic Tophairs,* a Digger,* and a heavily muscled Pit Fighter,* began banging their fists on the hard flesh surrounding his retracted claw. The other glinkin jumped around like tiny animated springs, bobbing up and down and waving their tiny fists in the air.

"Pincy! Klistis! Bromby! Noodles! Stop that, you bad glinkin, stop that this instant!"

The glinkin-walker, eyestalks twisted in a formal shame pattern, stammered an apology, "Please forgive me kind Graciousone, these glinkin are a tentillum-full and sometimes I simply cannot control the little monsters. For some reason, they seem to think that they always have to defend their keeper from who knows what imagined dangers. I will be sure to mention this to their owners." He gently pulled the enraged glinkin away from the end of Harlee's tentacle, scooped up the entire whoop in two tentillum, and hurried down the concourse.

Harlee murmured what he hoped was a gracious "Think nothing of it" and promptly put the entire incident out of his mind. He turned his attention to the only glinkin that mattered to him, his Sparky. Though it had only been a few minutes since he had last checked, the first thing Harlee always did when he left work was to link up with the swarmbots he had left at the kennel to watch over Sparky. He took a few moments to gaze at Sparky's image on the video feeds that Echo shunted into his visual cortex. The little glinkin, lying on his side with his shoulder-length black hair partially covering his golden-brown face and oval eyes, was asleep, and snoring softly, in his SleepyHutTM.

He had been neglecting Sparky over the last two months, and he wanted to steal some time from lunch to pop in to the kennel and say hello. But he was also in a hurry to eat and, if the truth were told, he was feeling a little guilty about again abandoning his presumed duties. So after a too-short time gazing at his sleeping pet, he vibrated his diaphragms in the Graciousone equivalent of a deep sigh and turned his mind to the task of filling his stomachs.

The GraciousNet, of course, had complete cross-references for every business in, on, or near the tether, and Harlee had Echo open a vis-image that displayed a translucent 3D map of the nearby eateries. Each of the locations had a tentillumtip menu of fares, as well as a toggled area for reviews of each establishment, price comparisons, the dietary parameters of the fares offered, and other information. All this, of course, only seemed to be displayed "in front of" the selected eye. As with the video feed he had just seen, the displays were actually just a series of external electronic signals that Echo converted to neuro-electrical impulses.

The menu for one watering hole, The Celestial Bug Inn, had an incredibly ugly, flashing hyperpink/circusorange sign. Like 99.7% of other Graciousones, Harlee hated that combination of colors, but - wow! - did it attract attention, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. He recalled that morning in the elevator; aside from the pinstripes, he couldn't remember a damn thing about that extroverted Graciousone.

Harlee yanked his mind back to task. The menu boasted of quick service, Maze Racing,* and a Graciousone hostess. That last was a little weird; as bars usually had sexy male servers to help extract money from the dominant female half of the clientele. Whatever; the last thing he wanted was to tell his life story to and flirt with another Graciousone, regardless of their gender. He read on. The menu also advertised a really, really decent price (well within his felon's budget) on a Daily Bug Special that was one of Harlee's favorite meals: ShinyBlue stew prepared in the Pasparadon* manner, with a flagon of sweetsap beer.

Harlee was partial to both Pasparadon cuisine and ShinyBlue stew; the combination of the two, if well done, would be something to remember. In the two months that he had been on the asteroid, he had not yet tried the place. The selection sounded like a great lunch at a bargain price. He quickly glanced at the reviews section and saw the place had only a passable 8.6 /16 overall rating. The words "dive bar" seemed to appear regularly. But the reviews also repeatedly and consistently rated the Daily Bug Special ShinyBlue stew in glowing terms. It was described by reviewers with words like "delightfully wiggly and crunchy" and "smooth, thick, and rich, with a hint of loam and kellpepper." Excellent.

He told Echo to replace the map with a guide overlay that painted an animated GoHere* in front of one eyeball. He then shuffled to the indicated drop tube, exited onto the floor level, and followed the animation towards a convenient worm-mover. The striptrip was uneventful, aside from some routine and unimportant minor collisions between some of his swarmbots and a few members of the clouds of interacting swarmbots that swirled around an excited group of primary school students on a field trip.


The Celestial Bug Inn turned out to be the local hangout for the meager Tether Staff of Graciousones who mudponded* on Construction Asteroid #3. As the FARP machines routinely handled 98% of the work the Graciousones were ostensibly there to supervise, these worthies each "staffed" their offices with a few dozen units of their Swarms, then spent inordinately long parts of their "workdays" eating the Inn's hearty fare, drinking fermented sweetsap, and betting on glinkin Maze Races.

The inn was an irregular, T-shaped space drilled out of the original rock and metal of the asteroid. It was divided into three rooms. There was a kitchen on one end, an eating area with attached toilet/farting room in the middle, and what could only be described as, yes, a dive bar at the other end. The vacuum-rated iris-diaphragm was in the center of one of the long walls of the eating area, and when the airdoor swiveled open to admit Harlee, the first thing he noticed was a Maze Race table, complete with several nearby dice-roll stands, located in a shallow pit in the exact center of the room.

He ambled over to the two tables, which were surrounded by swirling, misty clouds of swarmbots and excited Graciousones. Graciousone eyes bobbed up and down and their upper tentillum rhythmically bunched into knots. Their deep, hooting voices roughly called out good-natured boasts and loud arguments. Despite his problems with crowds, the rough enthusiasm of the onlookers enveloped Harlee, and he felt himself being sucked into the game.

Glinkin Maze Racing, aka "walls and blocks," was one of the few glinkin-betting games that were still legal. The reason for this had been the astute early adoption by the Maze Race Association of safety rules urged for decades by glinkin rights organizations. The changes had eliminated the more dangerous aspects of the game, features that reflected the game's origins in the distant past, where it had included macho displays by military glinkin of their combat skills in fighting, evasion and ambush, avoiding lethal obstacles, and killing.

Harlee had been a very intelligent, but very shy, young worm. He had therefore been heavily teased. Being a Loner, he had done as highly intelligent young Loners everywhere had always done: he sought refuge from the teasing through the ploy of ignoring the teasers while carrying around, and ostentatiously reading, a book. His Cunning Plan involved acquiring a book. When he was 180 years old, he had stolen the first one he could grab from an unguarded outside clearance rack of a neighborhood used bookstore: Everyworm's Guide to Maze Racing in Less Than 1200 Words.**

The idea of it, of maybe winning at something, prompted him to enter his first glinkin, Spots, in an amateur-level Maze Race. It had been the first race of many, as Spots had won that very first game. The win had been enough to hook the competitive spirits of both Harlee and the feisty little glinkin. It was a sport they both passionately loved. Spots had eventually passed on, and Harlee bought an older glinkin, Fuzzytop, to continue his love affair with the game. The obsession with Maze Racing (for both owner and pet) had continued through that glinkin (who also eventually passed), and his third pet, Sparky.


A short and chubby older Graciousone, with mottled brain case and longer than average eyestalks, was on the edge of the crowd. He turned and moved towards Harlee as Harlee sidled up to the group. His deep voice boomed, "Hello there, excellent worm! I'm afraid it's too late to place any bets on this game - the maze has just been completed - but there is another race that has been scheduled for this evening, if you're interested in some wagering."

Harlee quickly evaluated the stranger. He was dressed in elegant and expensive deep red gold-trimmed striped pants and matching vest. His upper tentacles were adorned with tasteful yet obviously expensive fine jewelry armbands. He had the air of supreme confidence often seen in successful and wealthy private sector entrepreneurs. But Harlee could also immediately tell he lacked the Ownerist pretension that often accompanied that confidence.

Harlee, who was on a felon's budget that didn't allow for gambling, but might tolerate a small entry fee, was able to sidestep the issue. "Hello, excellent sir." He held both sets of upper tentillum out in a flat spread, an ancient gesture for I have no weapons. "My name, excellent Graciousone, is Harlee Salkenesta. And if this is an amateur table, I can do better than contribute a few credits to the betting pool. My own glinkin is not a professional racer, but he once tied for second place in a race, and I am pretty sure he still has his edge and his fire."

"That's great, young worm!" The Graciousone held out his own tentillum and touched the tops of Harlee's offered digits. "I'm Yink Patterkorn, by the way, and I've got one of my own glinkin scheduled to run in this race. We're all amateur Maze Racers here. And you're as welcome as anyone else is to enter your glinkin."

*Associated Glossary Listings:

Common Domestic Tophair:
The CDT, or simply Tophair, is the most common of the many and varied glinkin breeds. Tophairs are a breed where, for show purposes, naturally effusive head hair has been encouraged, with less (and highly localized) hair on the rest of the animal's body, generally on the face, arm sockets, and primary genital areas. Aside from hair distribution, they are physically somewhat closer than most other breeds to the original strains of wild glinkin native to Yorbolindo.

Yet the Tophair displays little of the viciously ungracious behavior usually shown by wild or feral glinkin specimens. They are in fact moderately to extremely affectionate. They are an "easygoing" breed, yet often have variable and distinct expressive personalities. They are very intelligent, and will often display a marked degree of independence and contrariness. As with glinkin in general, of course, graciousness is lacking, but their innate intelligence can mitigate this deficit, as they are highly trainable. Many love solving problems and puzzles.

As such, they are a highly variable breed when it comes to competitive activities such as Maze Racing. Some Tophairs are terrible at it, and some are very, very good at it. Indeed, Maze Race pundits have argued for decades regarding the relative merits of Tophairs versus breeds that have been bred specifically for Maze Racing.

Due to a balanced mix of personality traits, Common Domestic Tophairs are suitable for a wide range of domestic situations, from families with many small rugworms, to committed singleworms, and from large multi-worm home environments to studio apartments. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds)

Digger: Descended from military glinkin bred to dig, and fight in siege tunnels, the Digger, is a heavily muscled and height-stunted breed, with beetle-browed forehead, floppy ears, thick bones, and lowered intelligence. The genetics that created the breed had the unfortunate side effect of making them quite stupid. For the right Graciousone, however, this regrettable trait is more than offset by their incredible loyalty, their tractable and placid natures, and their tenacious ability to memorize and carry out complex commands. Though their lack of problem solving skills can sometimes make them difficult to train, remember that patience is key and repetition is highly rewarded. The Digger breed is recommended for Graciousones who have the time to invest in training. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Pit Fighter: a totally hairless race bred for generations to fight other glinkin in (now illegal) barroom and back alley fights, generally to the death. Genetically, they are one of the more physically fit of glinkin breeds, with little to no excess body fat, and well-developed musculature. Pit Fighters are renowned for their hyper-confident "swagger" and often give an impression of constrained, repressed violent action. With some of the breed, this attitude can come across as "spoiling for a fight." (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds)

Maze Racing: A popular betting game of skill and luck, involving the placing of barriers to create a maze and the racing of glinkin in that maze. Also known as "Walls and Blocks." Glinkin competitors can be either Together Teams or Compete Teams. Prior to the race, glinkin competitors "Walk the Walls" for clues about the maze layout. See Appendix 1, "Everyworm's Guide to Maze Racing in Less Than 1200 Words"**

Pasparadon: A minor province of Yorbolindo's Zembriskin continent.

GoHere:The Graciousone equivalent to an arrow symbol, indicating direction.

The practice of filling a work position where there is no or little actual work to be accomplished. The equivalent Graciousone concept to the Terran idea of "featherbedding" (This word comes from derisive descriptions of employee activity on the old railroads. When railroads converted from coal-powered steam locomotives to diesels, the railroad workers' union insisted that the engineers who had shoveled the coal for the steam engines not be laid off, but retained as "supernumerary" employees. Until they died of old age, obsolete engineers therefore worked in the cabooses of trains, extensively trial testing the feather-filled bunk beds.)


** See Appendix 1 in the following post.
2020-04-06 4:42:12 PM  

Everyworm's Guide to Maze Racing in Less than 1200 Words

(Thank you for your purchase. Be sure to also

check out the companion booklet to this guide,

"Maze Racing as a Metaphor for the Gracious Life."

A portion of the sale proceeds of these booklets go to

support GAGA, Graciousones Against Glinkin Abuse.)

Welcome to the fascinating world of Maze Racing. This pamphlet is the only introduction you need to learn the basics of this exciting sport. This pamphlet, an eager glinkin, and (for most amateur games) less than 10 credits will get you started actually playing the game. Careful! You will find Maze Racing to be the most addicting of sports!

Maze Racing is an ancient sport. And yet it is more than a simple betting game in that it figures prominently in major turning points in history. Wars and empires have been won or lost over Maze Racing! Maze Racing has even been used in prescriptions for good government and moral culture, as when, in "Reflections on the Nature of Gracious Living" the Universist Sage Dothallian wrote, "The Maze Race is metaphor for the Struggle of Life. The moral hallmark of civilization is commitment to dismantling the world's death traps and dead ends, so that each Maze Racer in the Maze of Life may more expeditiously travel their Path."

A standard Maze Race table is 520 feet on a side, and has 576 twenty-foot, translucent white, bottom-lit squares, laid out in a 24 x 24 grid, with additional coordinate identifier squares on all edges. In ancient times, the columns and rows were named for specific Graciousone tentillum. Modern practice, however, just numbers them 1 through 24. Column numbers are in red, rows numbers are in blue. There are four start points on each edge of the maze: the 5, 10, 15 and 20 squares.

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Fig 1: Top-view example of an un-played Glinkin Maze Race table

Under the 576 action squares of the board is a "listening box." This is where the glinkin stay until the race starts. The box is opaque, and soundproofed to all outside noise except for the distinctive click sounds of the magnetic Walls and Blocks being placed or removed. The glinkin in the box listen to the progression of the phase-one play for hints as to where the paths they want will be, and "walk the walls" with their fists to listen for echoes for clues.

The listening box is entered and exited from "transport boxes" that are located under the 16 start squares. Each of these boxes is also opaque and soundproof. Each has two locking doors and a mechanism for moving the box up and down from the maze table level. Before placement begins, the glinkin are put in their respective transport boxes, and exit through the lower, inner doors into the listening box. At the end of placement, they again enter the transport boxes and are moved up to their respective start squares. At the start bell, the doors on the boxes open and the glinkin charge out to run the maze.

There are four types of Walls and Blocks, with their use depending on the game setup and player consent. Opaque ones are either white, pitch black, or mirrored. Another version uses transparent diamond. One highly stressful variation uses a mixture of all four types, randomized, or left to the discretion of the individual players (this option only applies to professional events, with added dice roll options).

As mentioned, the magnetically placed Walls and Blocks are placed on the board with distinctive clicks. There is always the possibility of other sound. A common cheat involves the subtle sliding or tapping of a tentillum on a piece as it is placed. A properly trained glinkin can interpret these additional sounds to their advantage. This, of course, is closely watched for by the other players and is a constant source of mirth, argument, and lost wagers.

The last physical element of the game board is the shield cover. This is a soundproofed, one-way-mirrored sheet. The Graciousone players around the board can see everything below the cover, but the glinkin competitors under the cover cannot see or hear anything outside of the covered field of play, reflected above their heads.

Two to sixteen players, in even increments, can compete in any given race. Players can enter from one to four glinkin, and races can be single or team competitions. Teams can either be two, four, or eight glinkin. Teams can be "Together Teams" (who enter the maze from the same box, must stay within sight of each other, consult together, and move by common agreement), or "Compete Teams" where each member of the team enters from a separate start box and competes separately. The game consists of two phases.

The first phase, where all of the betting occurs, is maze construction. The game uses two 28-sided cylindrical dice, colored red and blue, numbered on all sides, with points at the ends to prevent end-stands. Dice Rolls, on a nearby dice table, are by turns. An initial round of high-roll comparisons decides which player starts, and play goes from that player clockwise around the board. Various combinations of rolls allow additions or deletions of either Walls or Blocks at the coordinates of the square indicated by each die roll. There are also "wilding" rolls that allow placements anywhere in specified columns or rows, or anywhere on the board.
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Fig. 2: Official Amateur Glinkin Maze Racing Odds Chart

Each player's goal is to build a path from her or his glinkin's start square to the matching start square on the opposite edge. Players can obstruct each other's passages by placing Walls or Blocks on their turns. Maze building generally continues until all (or most) players are satisfied that they have at least one viable "glinkin run." Exhaustion, impatience, boredom, and alcohol and other drugs generally play parts in determining this stopping point.
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Fig 3: Final configuration of the much-studied 2015 AP Yorbolindo Grand

Master Finals between Flark Conghack, running Binky Bugeye Seastrider XIII

and newcomer challenger Parlo Rond, running Morning Sunshine Lucky Boy VI

Phase Two is the actual race. In previous ages, glinkin had been used as spies, saboteurs, couriers, construction engineers, diggers, and soldiers. It is thought by archeologists and gaming historians that the game had originally been a lethal formalization of these roles. Graciousone competitors once fought duels to-the-wound for control of specific squares, and glinkin were armed with weapons to take out their competitors. In addition, phase one had once included the placement of hidden spike pits and other deathtraps.

Reforms forced by glinkin-rights organizations have eliminated all of those dangerous options. The game is now much less exciting, but it is much safer for everyone, including glinkin. Maze runners are now not allowed to trip, hold or even touch one another. Doing so is an automatic disqualification, but be warned: less reputable games may include glinkin assaults, with playing Graciousones conveniently ignoring the transgressions. So it pays to make sure that your glinkin is "maze smart" and can deal with the occasional unruly competitor.

Next Post: Chapter 9 --- Yink Patterkorn
2020-04-06 8:16:27 PM  

Harlee: Noah_Tall: God I hate Fark's formatting sometimes. Such as in my previous post where it for some reason condensed my last three paragraphs into a wall of text and dropped sentences..  Here is the more readable version.

Imagine a fantasy book where when an ancient magic axe is first shown the author then goes on to explain what year it was forged, what metals were used, what spells were cast, who the wizard was that cast them, and what steps were taken, all in great detail.  The audience doesn't need to know that because it doesn't affect the story. They won't be confused by the axe just because they have only read about magical swords. When they see it in action that's all they need to know.

Have you read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series?  If the answer is yes then tell me this. Would you have stuck with the series if book one had read like book 10 which had page after page after page of descriptions of clothing and surroundings interspersed with paragraphs of action? That's what happens when a wordy author doesn't have to listen to their editors any more.

And as Boudyro sort of said above. This isn't criticism, it's critique. It's what editors do although they are usually much more harsh about it.

Good points about the detail. I fear that's the anal-retentive nerd in me. No, I have never read any of the Wheel of Time books. But I've heard that criticism many times, and understand it.

You have a way with words that clarifies. I'm putting your critique into my working notes. Thanks.

Happy to help, I've done the same before for other authors.  None exactly famous though they are on Amazon. Of course that's not saying much considering the quality level that most self publishing attains.
2020-04-07 4:27:49 PM  
A glossary and appendices?

Jesus Christ is this a novel or a textbook?
2020-04-07 5:24:22 PM  
How long do you plan to keep pushing this thing?

And why is there no [  PLUG  ] tag?
2020-04-07 7:02:22 PM  

Englebert Slaptyback: How long do you plan to keep pushing this thing?

And why is there no [  PLUG  ] tag?

The Fark Mods and I came up with this thread as an idea for therapy (entertaining, distracting, keeping sane) for a bunch of Farkers who are undergoing forced isolation and worrying their asses off.

Also, to be fair, posting this stuff works for me that way, too. As a distraction/sanity bonus, I'm also getting some awesome critique feedback, that already has me busy revising the first few chapters.

PLUG tag? No money is changing hands here. Though both the mods and I see this as a win-win-win situation. One of the few times in this modern world where rational self-interests of different people dovetail.

As for how long it will be going, so far there are 35 chapters completed. I think they will be subject to some major revisions based on the critiques I am reading, but I hope that they (and any comments they are nidus* to) will still entertain. If I eventually go to a chapter every other day and write, I can probably stay ahead, as the basic story outline and arcs (and even most of the chapter titles and elevator paragraphs) are done. It. Is. Just. A. Matter. Of. Writing. Should be simple, right? (Get knife, open vein, etc.)

I'm going to try to string this out to three months. I hope you enjoy my tyro efforts.

*LOL, just learned that new and very awesome "Lovecraftian" word yesterday, in another Fark thread, and been itchin' ,to use it.

Ishkur: A glossary and appendices?

Jesus Christ is this a novel or a textbook?

LOL, like I said in the thread intro, the amount of detail that my brain unfolded from my wife's initial seed idea is... bothersome. Not that I believe that shiat, but the complexity, and that fact that it all ties and self-supports without a lot of "snuggling and fitting" and revision is almost like I am channeling some thing's thoughts.

So of course there is a Glossary for all of that stuff, plus explanations of alien terms.* The Glossary is, of course, in one place in the book (and in term-appearance-order, at that, to help the reader avoid spoilers). I can't do that here on Fark, so I place the relevant ones at the end of each chapter.

* For example, though I generally try to use context to give the reader an idea of what an alien term means from the context in which it is used, I also follow it up in the Glossary. Back when I used to read tons of science fiction for six decades, I always appreciated it when I would have my context-guess on meaning immediately green-lit by the writer's explanation in a glossary.

The whole book is like that. Ever read an old Ace Double? They generally had "teaser" Dramatis Personae pages. I loved those. I appreciated them. For me, it made the books easier and more fun to read. Same thing with chapter titles. Good ones move the story along, and offer anchors to the reader when going through one of those "wait, what did that guy do previously???....." reader burps.

So I wrote the book the way I would want to read one. But that is me. YMMV, and that's cool.

Besides, lots of fiction has Glossaries and Appendixes. Science fiction has many, many examples. Check out these two takes (note on that second link; it contains the F-word, so the Fark filter will probably mess with it and you will have to correct manually).​n​g/novels-arent-just-words-maps-glossar​ies-and-appendices/​0​3/14/the-fark-you-method-glossaries-in​-speculative-fiction/
2020-04-07 8:28:48 PM  
Chapter 09 - Yink Patterkorn

Harlee's eyestalks quivered in stunned surprise. Yink Patterkorn was a multi-billionaire. He owned Patterkorn Pet Industries, the PET firm that had originally made the SquishyBallTM and the SleepyHutTM. Hundreds of years before, Yink had had a Big Idea: a soft glinkin play-ball with a carbon monofilament surface, filled with a 99.9% squeezable, antigraviton-doped aero gel foam. It was big, light, and flexible. It was large enough to be easily tossed by a Graciousone and light enough that it could bounce off the fragile head of a glinkin without damage.

He had sold billions of the things, and sales had increased each year. Yink had vertically automated production so that labor costs (other than his own personal salary) were effectively zero. Though not, by any stretch of the imagination, an existential necessity for Graciousones, the toy had attained sufficient status and universality that, four centuries before, he had been offered the social prestige of a FARP buyout.

He had followed up a century later with another great invention: a tiny tent that, as far as a glinkin was concerned, was the ultimate in sleeping comfort. A tired glinkin could crawl into a SleepyHutTM and lie down in a soft nest of knee-deep, warm, self-freshening plush fibers. It was addicting to glinkin and Yink had again sold billions of the units to eager glinkin-lovers. And, as before, he'd been FARPed.* Yink Patterkorn was one of a select few Graciousones - and the only maker of pet products - who had been awarded two nationalizations. He was considered a Patron of the Realm,* and Harlee now noticed with a small shock that the armbands were not just simple jewelry, but rather Imperial Orders of Service.*

The third salient fact about Yink Patterkorn was that he had accomplished all this after returning from a Deep Field exploration trip. Yink was an ex-felon. And his criminal activities had been much the same as those committed by Harlee. He had paid his debt to the Graciousness by piloting a Deep Field ship into the Unknown. He had returned 30 years later, to laurels and comfortable finder's fees for having found a solar system that had twelve gas giant planets rich in Helium3. He had then turned his impatience and drive to succeed, characteristic of so many Graciousone white-collar criminals, in a socially acceptable direction.

This evolution was actually quite common, and one of the cultural institutions that made PET work as well as it did. A great many of the driven "success stories" of the rough and tumble PET economy were ex-felons. The Graciousone genes that supported ambition and avarice often initially expressed as a flouting of social conventions and an embracing of criminal enterprise. When these octagonal pegs in triangular holes were inevitably busted, social psychologists under the direction of The Presence subtly channeled that drive into legal avenues of private enterprise. This added to PET's characteristic brilliance and innovation.

Several years after his hero's return, Yink had wed Marglo Skuloshomat. It was a perfect match. Marglo was an avid glinkin breeder and wealthy heir. Her mother, Ellenox Skuloshomat, had been a glinkin veterinarian. She had discovered how to adapt standard medical nanobots for use in glinkin. This was revolutionary. It eradicated 94% of glinkin vet services and significantly increased glinkin lifespan. More importantly, it also jumpstarted interstellar colonization. The Graciousone workaround to the FTL speed limit was, essentially, a form of limited teleportation. It polluted living bodies with interstellar gas and dust, and was deadly without internal nanobots to constantly repair the damage. Graciousones could now safely take their glinkin with them to the stars. The Presence had slightly reduced two Birthright Heritage Payments, and had offered Ellenox an enormous payout for the right to nationalize the methodology and patents, to produce an endless FARP supply of free generic glinkin medical nanobots.


Harlee quickly recovered his carefully nurtured aplomb and fell back on his early, formal Graciousness training, "I am indeed honored to meet you, most excellent Patterkorn. I am Harlee Salkenesta and it would be a pleasure to me that you know I own and prize several each of the products that you have created. My glinkin, Sparky, loves them."

Yink's eyebrows curled in and shimmied up and down with refined delight. He waved to the raised platform that surrounded the game area and honored Harlee with his own formalisms. "Well, most excellent Salkenesta, I unfortunately have other business I must attend to in the next several hours, but I have time for a quick quaff of this establishment's fine sweetsap. I was just preparing to view this maze from a table there. Would you care to join me for brief refreshment and a view?" This unexpected offer was counterpointed by gurgles from Harlee's upper stomach, and he graciously accepted the invitation. Formally linking their upper tentillum together, the Graciousones made their way to the nearby table.

The table had two chairs and Harlee and Yink eased their backsides into them. They were nice chairs. Springy bottoms allowed them to curve their lower sections slightly forward for comfort. The chairs had adjustable stirrups for the leg tentacles, and two sets of broad horizontal arms that comfortably accommodated the upper tentacles. Harlee, as the table's junior person, asked Yink's pleasure and ordered, via Echo and the inn's GraciousNet node, two of the on-tap spiced sweetsap beers.

The flagons and Toasting Cups* were delivered in a few seconds. Harlee filled Yink's toasting cup from his flagon. Yink returned the toast to Harlee's cup. He then chugged a third of his drink, burped contentedly, and asked, "So Harlee, what are your deep and true thoughts about the yonder maze layout?" The form of Yink's question meant that he expected Harlee to actually study the board and offer some form of constructive criticism about the current game. So Harlee sat back in the chair and leisurely contemplated the board. The view was perfect; Harlee could see the entire table over the heads of the mob of Graciousones still surrounding it.

The board had a full compliment of 16 players. It was a complex maze of turns and dead ends. Several areas had side-by-side blocks, which created barriers to red-to-red travel. From his vantage, Harlee could see that the players on the red-15 and red-20 start squares, seemed to share an advantage over the other players: their routes were less twisty and, at one point, shared a clear line-of-sight run of nine squares. Furthermore, the two glinkin on the bottom had views of each other immediately on entering the maze, which could be an advantage if they were allied in team play. It was obvious that the players nearest these two had either had tremendously bad luck in the dice rolls, or had just not properly played their blocking opportunities.
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Maze Race configuration observed by Harlee and Yink Patterkorn

Harlee summarized his observations and politely suggested that anyone betting on the red-15 and -20 spot glinkin was probably going to leave the inn somewhat richer. Yink's eyestalks curled inward, and his iris clacked loudly in hearty laughter. "That is precisely what I thought, Harlee. And yes, there are teams in this race, and the 15-red and 20-red glinkin are allied. I bet quite a bit on them, as a side bet, and I fully expect that my purse will be a little heavier tonight."

Harlee's curiosity and social awkwardness intruded and he asked, "How will you collect if you have to leave early?"

Patterkorn's eyestalks curled in a quick "that-was-easy" smile that Harlee totally missed. "Oh, I've already arranged for Slavvin Cordecon - he's the proprietor - to collect my winnings and safeguard my glinkin. I've been here for three weeks, building my new yacht, and Slavvin and I have gotten to know each other quite well. A very fine fellow indeed, though he does have his eccentricities. But highly trustworthy from what I can tell. I'll pick my winnings in a day or two. There are issues with the yacht, and I won't be able to finish things and get off this rock at least until then."

Harlee had picked up some of Echo's original nervousness over the ship construction, and Yink's casual mention of 'issues' plucked those strings. "A yacht you say? What kind of issues are you talking about?"

"Oh, nothing major. Marglo - that's my wife - keeps changing her mind about the inside colors and scents and furnishings. I'm having the yacht printed up as a combined vacation office and getaway for a second honeymoon, and I want everything to be perfect. Right after I leave here in (he briefly paused to check his implant) - holy mud wallow - four minutes, I've got an appointment with a gentleworm who says she has exactly the perfect thing in seductive color schemes and scent arrangements for the master pond suite." He chuckled again. "And that, my young friend, is a rather important issue for that yacht!

"But enough about me! Please tell me, Harlee, what brings you up here to Construction Asteroid #3?"

Harlee's belly flushed. He bowed his ridge slightly and said, "I'm ashamed to say this, but I've been convicted of computer fraud. As punishment, I've been sentenced to explore the Deep Field beyond the Graciousrealm. My ship is being built right now. If you don't want to be seen with me, I'll understand."

"Nonsense! Don't get too down on yourself for making a mistake. You know, I got into trouble with the law once myself, when I was only a little younger than you. And I was able to turn my life around. The Presence sent me off into the wild unexplored spaces and I was lucky enough to find something of value to the Graciousness. You can do the same, Harlee! Just think of what you could find in the Deep Field! Luxury goods for trading, perhaps! New civilizations, new and strange plants and animals for the scientists and the DIs to study! You could become a famous and wealthy explorer!"

"I don't know," replied Harlee, sadly. "Space is just so full of emptiness. I might not find anything at all." He slumped slightly over the table, his eyestalks drooping a little. There was a brief and thoughtful silence.

Patterkorn laid one tentillum on top of one of Harlee's tentacles and all four of his eyes stared intensely into each of Harlee's. "I think you will do just fine, Harlee, and I am very glad to have met you. Look me up when you return in a few years and we'll toast some Curlyfruit* wine to prior crime."

Harlee perked up, with a surge of energy that almost seemed to radiate from the spot that Yink was touching. "Oh, I won't be back for quite a bit longer than that, sir. I felt so bad about my crimes that I invoked the Right of Voluntary Hardship. I'm going much further than what The Presence wanted. I'm going all the way to The Sacred Jewel Nebula in the Golden Tentillum and I won't be back, probably, for at least 150 years."

Yink's eyestalks and brows stood straight in astonishment and the iris clacks of his booming laugh filled the room. "So you're the young fellow that The Presence is building that monstrosity of a huge damned ship for! Did you know that it's tied up nearly every Supply Bot on the asteroid? Thirty miles in diameter! Damn, son, I really envy you. If I weren't a happily married worm, I'd petition The Presence to go with you. That voyage will be the opportunity of a lifetime, you mark my words. You have my sincerest blessings and best wishes, Harlee, and I predict you will return to vast riches and fame!"

Harlee flushed again. "Well, gosh, thank you, sir." He felt his mood lift even more.

"Hey! Even if you are gone that long, I'm not planning on dying anytime soon." Yink reached two tentillum into a vest pocket and fished out a business card with his private Instant Message code.

He handed it to Harlee. "So look me up when you get back, OK, Harlee? And now I really have to be going. Your meals are on me today, as is the entry fee for tonight's game. I've already sent an IM to Slavvin. Just send him a IM when you arrive back here tonight. And good luck on tonight's Maze Race! Goodbye until we meet again, Harlee." Yink got up from the table and hurried out.

Harlee, now pumped, decided that he would return as soon as possible to the construction site. Excitement banished all thought of a leisurely meal, and he ordered some fried Slunky Bugs* to go. Then, eyestalks bobbing with excitement, he jauntily slithered out of the Inn. Snaking onto the street, he did a trick from his childhood last performed after acing a university lab course is Intrusive Countermeasures Electronics: joyfully tossing bits of fried Slunky Bug through the air, from greasy tentillum tips to gaping mouth iris, a most conspicuous act of public consumption that was considered just a bit ungracious and gauche.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

refers to the process of a privately owned production facility being nationalized by the Graciousrealm government. This is generally done when private ownership has achieved, or is close to achieving, zero-current-cost production. Payoffs are calculated for discounted future earnings and historical sunk costs, and paid to the private ownership. Remaining employees are either automated out, or hired at "can't-say-no" salaries (immaterial in unit cost when spread over all units of production) as redundant backup. It is considered a symbol of great status to be FARPed, and is often occasioned by great ceremony and the award, to the FARPed individual, of Patron of the Realm insignia. Occasionally, PET businesses will achieve either FARP or near-FARP status and petition the Graciousrealm state for a FARP buyout.

Patron of the Realm: Entrepreneurs who are FARPed with nationalization actions on particularly useful or valuable products can be designated "Patrons of the Realm" by the FARP Buyout Board, on final approval by the Empress. The awards are tentacle bands made of precious gems, and are bestowed by the Empress in public ceremonies, with a detailed, complete, and annotated description of what the Patron did to earn that title by The Presence.

Imperial Order of Service: Rare and expensive natural gemstone jewelry awarded to distinguished Graciousones who have performed major services for the Graciousrealm.

Toasting Cup Ceremony: The toasting cup ceremony is complex, with a maze of varied ritual, occasions, and circumstances that, when analyzed in depth, fills a thick book. It may involve either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages of any type. The equipment for the ceremony is always the main glass, cup or flagon and either one or a number of standard-sized Toasting Cups. Depending on the size of the toasting cups, and the style of the ceremony, the ceremony may also include a Toasting Spoon for transferring beverage from the main containers to the toasting cups.

The Toasting Cup Ceremony evolved very early in Graciousone history, prior to records being kept, and it is unclear as to how it started. Some archeologists have suggested that - due to the Graciousone origin as an aquatic worm, which depended on water more than life forms based on land - it evolved as a method of sharing life-giving water. Its purpose, however, is quite clear: it is a formal ritual to establish good feelings amongst a group of Graciousones. The ceremony is often used as the setting for the swearing of Toasting Cup Debt, which must be honored in spirit as well as fact.

The ceremony may be divided into two basic types: where the Toasting Cups are served filled, and where they are served empty. Both types - as modified by social cues - have subtle implications regarding the types of toasts, the closeness of the participants, and definitions of relative social standing. Toasting Cups that are served filled indicate a less formal situation. Toasting Cups that are served empty (and filled from the main cups of each participant) imply more formal relationships, and a less equal social status.

When Harlee ordered drinks for himself and Yink Patterkorn, he ordered the more formal unfilled Toasting Cups as a sign of respect for the much wealthier and more respected Yink. When Slavvin ordered drinks for himself and Harlee, he ordered filled Toasting Cups, an extremely (given the fact that they had just met that day) informal action that was designed to put Harlee at ease.

Curlyfruit: A fruit tree, endemic to most of Yorbolindo, which produces a sweet, spiral-shaped, red fruit. The fruit grows in large pods, bred over millennia to its present tentillum-sized clusters, and has therefore historically been a favorite Graciousone snack, pulled straight from the tree. The fruit can also be processed into a sweet juice that is a breakfast staple, and a highly prized, incredibly sweet wine. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)

Slunky Bug: A type of common Yorbolindo insect, about a foot in length, often used for cheap appetizers and - fried, battered, and salted - as bar snacks. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)

Next Post: Chapter 10 --- The New Beginning
2020-04-07 9:03:24 PM  

Harlee: LOL, like I said in the thread intro, the amount of detail that my brain unfolded from my wife's initial seed idea is... bothersome. Not that I believe that shiat, but the complexity, and that fact that it all ties and self-supports without a lot of "snuggling and fitting" and revision is almost like I am channeling some thing's thoughts.

So of course there is a Glossary for all of that stuff, plus explanations of alien terms.*

Okay here's the thing (and I'm echoing what others have already said):

Your worldbuilding is impressive and useful and great for continuity, but none of it needs to go in your story.

Tolkien didn't come out with descriptions of places and names and histories of Middle Earth along with the languages he invented to go with the names and races.

He wrote the story first. A very simple one at that. He didn't bamboozle the reader with glossaries and appendices and genealogy tables, he simply used the legendarium to inform the characters and events without having to define and explain it.

The legendarium in full didn't even come out until 20-40 years later (some of it published posthumously), well after the LOTR was done its first printing, and only on the insistence of fans who wanted more.

Star Wars didn't start out with a history of a 40,000 year old galactic civilization and the rise of the empire and regal hierarchies. It started out with a big ship attacking a small ship and two robots escaping.

(one of the earlier drafts for the original Star Wars had an opening crawl that was much longer, like 6 meaty paragraphs, introducing too many characters and factions for people to pay attention. It was Brian De Palma who told George Lucas: "This is too farking long and confusing. Simplify it to two factions, one character and one conflict". And the final 3 sentence crawl established it beautifully: Rebels. Empire. Death Star. Princess. Begin movie)

Game of Thrones didn't start out with the history of Westeros, the coming the the Andals and the First Men, the Children of the Forest and the War with the White Walkers, and the establishment of the noble houses, along with the Valarian empire and the coming of the Targaryens. It started out with a boy getting pushed out of a tower window.

Honestly: The only purpose behind the worldbuilding is to establish settings, scenes and characters so you don't run into continuity problems. But that's just for you to worry about. No one is going to check your glossary to see if you're using your own terms properly. If your book becomes a runaway hit then yes, people might be interested in your notes and backstory. But for now it's just flavor text. To publish it now is just wankery.

Tell the story first.

Let the people decide whether they want to know more.
2020-04-07 9:32:19 PM  

Harlee: My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF?

It is really difficult to write in technical detail about any subject and maintain the reader's interest. It's a good way to lose them -- their eyes glaze over and they skip ahead or put the book down because the subject matter is too dense or too boring. How much actual boxing terminology and strategy and stances and forms are in Rocky? Hardly any. Because the movie's not about boxing.

In many works of fiction featuring geniuses who do genius things better than anyone else (ie: Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester), there's a willingness to not reveal the entire craft of their genius, partly because that's not the point of the story (their genius is more of a McGuffin for their other life issues), but mostly because the author is not adept enough to fully explicate their genius output. And that's okay.

Many mathematicians have pointed out that the math problems Will Hunting solves are actually really basic 1st year problems and are hardly at the cutting edge of mathematics. To which Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have told them "We know. That's not the point of the movie."

Similarly, The Fountainhead is not technically about architecture but rather about the age-old struggle of personal integrity vs commercial exploitation. But there is no concrete description of what his architecture actually looks like. It's all just vague handwaving that it's unique, it's different than anything else, and to some it's just an abominable style that doesn't borrow from any other style. It's a completely new paradigm. And that's fine -- it's a metaphor for artistic expression. Roark could have picked up any profession -- artist, writer, musician, actor, etc. -- and the story can still work.

John Grisham writes courtroom dramas because he was a criminal defense attorney and that's what he knows..... but he never fills his books full of latin phrases and arcane legal gobbledygook. Ian Fleming worked for the British Secret Service before he penned James Bond...... but he never filled his books full of alphabet label agencies and technical protocol and intelligence briefings. The great authors always write about what they know most intimately but just because they know lots about their subject doesn't mean they have to put everything they know in the story.

(although to be fair Tom Clancy was an insurance salesman before he made it big with his political thrillers so maybe its possible to get away with it if you're imaginative enough)

For the sake of drama and efficient storytelling it is alright to ask the reader to suspend their disbelief when describing anything technical. Because most of the time such granular explanations are not germaine to the story. It's like Scotty rattling the keyboard in Star Trek IV to produce the formula for transparent aluminum. It doesn't matter how silly that looks, why Scotty would know how to use an Apple Macintosh from the 80s, or even what the chemical formula is. He's solving a problem -- do you really want a 15 minute powerpoint presentation from him on exactly how he did it? Suspend your disbelief and lets move on with the story.

You can do that here. You don't have to explain everything to the grittiest detail. The audience is willing to meet you halfway if the story is good. Trust their intelligence (or at the very least don't insult it). If they don't get it then you've David Lynched yourself. And is that so bad, really?
2020-04-07 11:26:58 PM  

Ishkur: Harlee: LOL, like I said in the thread intro, the amount of detail that my brain unfolded from my wife's initial seed idea is... bothersome. Not that I believe that shiat, but the complexity, and that fact that it all ties and self-supports without a lot of "snuggling and fitting" and revision is almost like I am channeling some thing's thoughts.

So of course there is a Glossary for all of that stuff, plus explanations of alien terms.*

Okay here's the thing (and I'm echoing what others have already said):

Your worldbuilding is impressive and useful and great for continuity, but none of it needs to go in your story.

Tolkien didn't come out with descriptions of places and names and histories of Middle Earth along with the languages he invented to go with the names and races.

He wrote the story first. A very simple one at that. He didn't bamboozle the reader with glossaries and appendices and genealogy tables, he simply used the legendarium to inform the characters and events without having to define and explain it.

The legendarium in full didn't even come out until 20-40 years later (some of it published posthumously), well after the LOTR was done its first printing, and only on the insistence of fans who wanted more.

Star Wars didn't start out with a history of a 40,000 year old galactic civilization and the rise of the empire and regal hierarchies. It started out with a big ship attacking a small ship and two robots escaping.

(one of the earlier drafts for the original Star Wars had an opening crawl that was much longer, like 6 meaty paragraphs, introducing too many characters and factions for people to pay attention. It was Brian De Palma who told George Lucas: "This is too farking long and confusing. Simplify it to two factions, one character and one conflict". And the final 3 sentence crawl established it beautifully: Rebels. Empire. Death Star. Princess. Begin movie)

Game of Thrones didn't start out with the history of Westeros, the coming the the Andal ...

There are two issues.

First, bogging down the story with techie detail. I hear what you are saying, and I think you are correct. I am, in fact, in the process of revising a great deal of that. Chapter 10, in fact, has a whole bunch of mind numbing explanation, and it will probably be delayed for at least a day while I try to either kill it off entirely, or move a great deal of it into the Glossary (which in the book will be a separate section, of course), so readers that don't like glossaries can just not flip to it.

And this brings up the other issue, of the glossary. IMHO, a well-done Glossary, like Chapter titles and a Dramatis Personae, tells me that the writer cares about the experience of his readers. That, at least, has been my experience, on the reading end.

Did you read my cites? Opinions on glossaries vary. Here's another opinion: "I don't understand this sentiment, and I'm wondering how widespread it is. I mean, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant all have glossaries, to name a few off the top of my head. Do they have strikes against them too?"

Sometimes (as with Dune), a glossary is an absolute necessity. I happen to like having the luxury of a Glossary when I read science fiction. It is obvious that many people do not. MMV. My suggestion, then, would be to just read the story and ignore the Glossary.

For right now, I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to pare down Chapter 10, as a lot of the excess detail is quite obvious. Entire paragraphs are going bye-bye. Aside from that, I fear, you're going to often be stuck with the story the way it is currently written, because those kind of changes take time to be done right (at least for me).

One really good thing out of this is that all this revision work, under deadline, is sure gonna help me keep my mind from running around in circles over the pandemic situation.

Thanks for the critique.
2020-04-07 11:34:20 PM  

Ishkur: You can do that here. You don't have to explain everything to the grittiest detail. The audience is willing to meet you halfway if the story is good. Trust their intelligence (or at the very least don't insult it). If they don't get it then you've David Lynched yourself. And is that so bad, really?

Well known for awesomely arty esoteric art-house movies with a surrealist style that only pretentious hipsters go see? Well, yes, actually,
2020-04-08 12:01:11 AM  

Harlee: Did you read my cites? Opinions on glossaries vary. Here's another opinion: "I don't understand this sentiment, and I'm wondering how widespread it is. I mean, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant all have glossaries, to name a few off the top of my head. Do they have strikes against them too?"

None of them are essential to the story. Anthony Burges doesn't need to explain to me what a "droog" is, I figured it out through contextual clues in the novel. That's the mark of good writing.

1984's Appendix on Newspeak is actually Orwell's earlier essay Politics And The English Language retooled toward the topics of the novel. But you don't have to read it to understand what Orwell is getting at. Just from the few words throughout the text and given the Party's objectives you can infer that it is a language designed to eradicate thought through the elimination of words. In fact, the character Syme says so in an early part of the book.

The only thing the Appendix does is add some color commentary to how the mechanics of such a language would actually work. But it's completely unnecessary. You're not missing anything by skipping it.

You know what else is unnecessary: The two big-ass essays in the middle of the novel that bring everything to a screeching halt while Orwell pontificates for 40 pages about how such a group could obtain power and maintain it indefinitely. It's a fascinating chunk of speculation and for a political junky like me contains the most quotable parts of the whole novel, but from a pure storytelling standpoint it is absolute blasphemy.

Never interrupt your novel with author filibuster (looking at you Ayn Rand). Just because those works are famous and the authors got away with timetables and Gantt charts historysplaining their magnum opus does not mean it's a good thing to do. In fact most of the time it's not. EL James got away with writing a shiatty BDSM smut novel on her Blackberry, does that mean every writer should do that? Do not equate popularity or success with good.

You don't need a glossary if you do it right. Introduce your concepts and inventions and weird words naturally, through the events in the story. Have characters introduce things to each other with little slips of dialogue and through inference the reader can get a pretty good handle on what the strange words are and what they do. Maybe even have a fish-out-of-water character or a noob character who needs things explained to them, so the reader can follow along. There's all sorts of ways to walk the reader through this complex world without forcing them to skip to the back to read endnotes.

If you want another suggestion, you could always do what Marshall Mcluhan did. Back in the 60s he released a popular non-fiction book called Understanding Media. But it was written at a graduate level so not a lot of people understood it. In response to all the erroneous interpretations he wrote a sequel called Understanding Understanding Media, which aimed to explain what the hell he was talking about (everyone knows his famous phrase "The media is the message" but who actually knows what that means?).

That's what you should do. Just write your book. If it's a great story and it takes off, then release everything else as an addendum for those who don't get it or are interested in learning more.

As it is right now, what you got here reminds me of a Magic: The Gathering player who doesn't like dueling, he just likes building custom decks and collecting rare cards. You've got a potentially fascinating world here, but you seem more interested in explaining the world than telling a story in it.

But that's okay. Tolkien did the same thing. As a linguist who wrote the Oxford English dictionary he created the languages first while sitting in the trenches of WWI. Then he created races to speak those languages. Then he created a world for those races to live in. Then he got around to telling a story about them, some 20 odd years later. And if he were alive today he'd always insist that the stories exist as a vehicle for the languages, not the other way around.
2020-04-10 8:34:58 PM  
Chapter 10 - The New Beginning

On his way back to the construction site, indecision tore at Harlee. There was something about Yink's upbeat words that had galvanized him to a level of feverish purpose he had not felt since his decision to turn his exile into an Epic voyage. But he also wanted to spend time with Sparky. His new resolve won out, but he arrived back at the site with a growing sense of guilt and buried anxiety.

Echo noticed, of course. "Harlee, you are really too emotional about this, and it is not necessary. The ship is almost finished, and I can certainly handle everything by remote control. You should go play with Sparky and leave the work to me.

And that, of course, was exactly the wrong thing to say. "Wait a minute Echo. Are you saying you don't need my help? This is my mission, after all..."

Somewhat resentfully, he threw himself down in his chair and intently stared at the globe of the ship resting in its nest of scaffolding. After a few minutes of self-pity while Echo gave him some space, he commanded, "Echo, tell me as soon as the New Beginning is finished. I will want to inspect everything before we take off tomorrow morning."

Echo hid her concern and replied in a soft tone. "The ship is nearly ready now, Harlee. I just have a few more things to finish on the interior beautification. A complete inspection is, of course, unnecessary and would take months. And your getting familiar with the major systems is going to take at least several days. Why don't you inspect the ship's hull right now, while I finish up? My job will take several more hours, and we can save some time by doing this. By the time you finish looking over the outside, I should be done with the interior. Then you can inspect that as well."

Harlee sulked, slouching in the chair for a few more minutes. But the idea of looking over the ship excited him, so he eventually straightened up, mentally and physically. "Okay, then! I'll do that!" he said. He thought for a moment, then activated the recessed tentacle-supports of the chair, snuggled into the arms, and snapped the seat belt tight. He told Echo to arrange part of his botswarm as a graviton plate to counter the surface gravity. He also invoked another element of his Swarm to push the chair and air envelope toward the looming sphere.

From a distance, he could see nothing obviously wrong with it. Of course, he had never before seen a starship up close. Much less flown in one. His stomachs contracted painfully. He had a sudden, anxious thought: what in the Universe was he looking for, anyway? "Uh... Echo, is there anything I should be looking for in particular?"

"Well, keep a lookout for any obvious holes," replied Echo, deadpan.

"I could figure out that much on my own," Harlee snapped back.

"I am sorry, Harlee, I was trying to make a joke, honey. Seriously, I am certain that there are no gross errors like that. The most important thing right now, I think, is that you familiarize yourself with the general layout and features of the hull."

Harlee was somewhat mollified, but his eyebrows still curled downward in a slight scowl. Sometimes he thought Echo underestimated his intelligence. In fact, he sometimes harbored the suspicion that DIs in general patronized him, indeed, all Graciousones. But he continued to float towards the ship, his mood brightening by the instant due to its sheer beauty.

The New Beginning was beautiful. The starship looked like a frozen drop of mercury caught in mid-shimmer, inset with multicolored jewels.

The gleaming smoothness of the SHC42* hull was six feet thick. It was reinforced with immensely strong force fields that suffused it and augmented its strength. The ship could have existed, uncrushed, at the center of a world, and could comfortably absorb direct hits by most nuclear and gravitonic weapons. It was the hull of a dreadnaught.

The ship had over ten thousand SVC73* viewports, some quite large. They covered almost a fifth of the sphere, shining with a brilliant scintillating light that reflected off back-lit faceted diamond walls, gold-plated bulkheads, and decorative gemstone murals that lined the passages. Some of the windows displayed the vibrant rainbows of green, red, yellow, and purple hues of vegetation. These looked inward to vast compartments of "wild" forests and lush horticultural fields and orchards, which now contained a brightly lit assortment of oxygen replenishment, food, and even ornamental plants.

Almost 1,000 airlocks punctured the hull. Their outer doors were also six feet thick, and consisted of interleaved iris-like diaphragm blades that swiveled open on hardened carbon-steel titanium rods that expanded into armored casements. Some of these locks were huge: the biggest, the eight primary cargo locks spaced along the ship's equator, were 4,000 feet in diameter. All airlocks were rated at the same PSI as the hull and the windows.

There were eight 450-foot by 900-foot ovals, four in each hemisphere, ninety degrees apart, halfway between the equator and each pole. These were the diaphragm airdoors that hid shuttle bays. Each bay held three mile-long lozenge-shaped shuttles docked one behind the other like swapplefruit* seedpods.

From Harlee's vantage, he could see that the mercury and rainbow sheen of the hull was interrupted by five other structures.

The most obvious ones were millions of tiny, hexagonal cones. These were located in troughs that ran along the three axes of the hull. A massive number of cones, partially hidden by the scaffolding, protruded from tightly-packed concentric rings of troughs on the bottom of the sphere. These were the Particle Baffles, force-field-enhanced charged plates that converted the relativistic, focused, and deadly particle streams from the main and maneuvering Treadmill Drive exhausts into relatively harmless mists of dispersed ions. They insured that (depending how close you got to an exhaust plume) you might get a dose of hard radiation, but you would not be cut in two or vaporized into plasma.

Another trough circled the hull about one mile from the forward pole. It had thousands of small, recessed variable-concavity parabolic dishes. These were the Configuration Data Dishes for the Entanglement Drive. The ED was an external version of the Treadmill Drive. It moved the ship by treating it as a particle to be transited from its current space to an entangled space ahead of the ship. Aside from military and automated courier ships, the ED was only used far from the crowded confines of solar systems, in the relatively sparse gravity wells and matter densities of interstellar space.

The New Beginning's hull was not a perfect sphere. Below the ship's equator, in each quadrant, there were three-mile-diameter low bulges. These were null-grav plates. In form and function, they were like the plates that allowed Graciousone cities and Harlee's cloud cottage to float among Yorbolindo's clouds, and Microbot swarms to remain airborne. Unlike those of Microbots, however, they were horribly expensive in terms of energy use, and couldn't actually move the ship anywhere when in free space (gravity does not work that way). They existed to allow the New Beginning to hover above the surface of a world without the plasma from the ship's Treadmill Drive slagging the planet into radioactive ruin.

The hull at bow and stern had thin circular lines some 14 miles in circumference. These marked the forward and aft ends of the Safety Cylinder, a three-mile diameter tube that ran through the entire sphere, and contained the Treadmill and Entanglement drive mechanisms. The tube also held most of the fusion reactors that powered the ship. It was Harlee's next-to-last-ditch survival method. If the larger globe was wrecked, the Safety Cylinder could be ejected like the seed core of a swapplefruit.

Finally, snaking in random lengths over every square foot of the hull not given over to other features, were tiny, almost hairline, glittering cracks. These were HEM Trenches.* They contained millions of Heat Emitting Monopoles, the heat sinks for the New Beginning.


All this information had been fed to Harlee by Echo as he circled and examined the skin of the ship. By the time he was finished, several hours had passed and he felt that his braincase might explode. Echo still hadn't told him that she was done, so he decided to take a break and look at the ship from a topside view. He asked Echo to have his swarmbots strengthen the repulsion of the microbot gravity plate he was on, and he soared forty miles into space over the surface of the asteroid.

Yorbolindo was, of course, directly overhead, and Yorbolindo's sun was behind and to one side of the asteroid. Sunlight, softly reflected from the world, reflected off the shining ship. Harlee was mesmerized. He hovered ten miles above the New Beginning for uncounted minutes, simply drinking in the scene.

Then Harlee saw that dense murmurations of his bots were streaming back to him from their supervisory duties, and Echo's voice spoke inside his head, "Harlee, I am finished, honey. Let us go inside!"

*Associated Glossary Listings:

A staple of the Graciousone diet. The edible fruit is packed inside a central seedpod in a tough cylinder. The swapplefruit is noted for its unique propagation method, where the fruiting body is ejected at high speed from the center of the flower, to land dozens or even hundreds of feet away. The reason for this is that the slow-growing tree has toxic bark and poisonous thorns all over the branches and trunk that prevent animals from eating the fruit while it is attached to the tree. However, the seeds must pass though the digestive system of a bird, usually a Jewel Bird, before they can sprout. When the seeds are ready for ingesting, the tree ejects them to where the fruit can safely be eaten. This has an interesting ecological result: Root Wars. Since successful swapplefruit trees are those that can fling their fruit pods further than others, competition and natural selection have created a war for root space. The result is naturally occurring, regularly spaced wild "orchards" of swapplefruit trees. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)

SHC42: Short for Standard Hull Configuration #42. This specifies a graphene-infused carbon-steel titanium alloy doped with alternating layers of melded interlocking mats of diamond and graphene nanorod foam.

SVC73: Short for Standard Viewport Configuration #73. Since viewports or windows of any sort are insane vanities in military spaceships (where command bridges are located as close to the protected center of the ship as is possible), they are only used in private space yachts and the occasional luxury passenger ship.
There were three reasons for their liberal use on the New Beginning. First, the viewport material massed considerably less than SCH42 infused metal, and so lessened the huge ship's fuel requirements. Second, The Presence thought that visual spaciousness was essential for Harlee's psychological well-being. Third, the windows made the ship look like a shining jewel, and The Presence was always prone to artistic endeavors in their own right... and especially in this case.

The SVC73 standard for the New Beginning required six-foot thick blocks of 3D printed graphene-diamond. Some of the largest were higher and wider than Harlee was tall. They varied wildly in shape, consistent only in their lack of sharp corners to avoid creating stress points. Each was rated at a combined PSI resistance equal to that of the hull. As with the SHC42 standard, they were strengthened with force fields to the same surge PSI level.
HEM Trench:Even with highly efficient thermoelectric generators, getting rid of excess heat in a spaceship is a big problem. The reason, of course, is that the most efficient method of heat transfer is direct contact, but space has little matter in it to allow for that. And a sphere is the most compact of 3D solids, with the lowest surface-to-volume ratio (which decreases even more as the sphere diameter increases). The New Beginning was therefore very efficient at conservation of heat due to loss from surface radiation. So - as virtually all activity on the ship would produce heat as a byproduct - the New Beginning would quickly cook itself to a red-hot tomb without some method of efficiently radiating heat.

Therefore the HEM trenches. Each Heat Emitting Monopole was an efficient heat sink. It attracted structural heat, and converted it to infrared radiation frequencies. These were impressed on a miles long streamer of force. Being generated from monopoles, each field was unstable. They streamed away from the ship's forward motion like a flaming, twisting comet tail, radiating the ship's heat energy into space. Seen by eyes or instruments that could perceive the extended electromagnetic spectrum, the New Beginning in flight would have looked like a banded and bejeweled droplet of mercury, wreathed in a tail of flaming feathers.


Next Post: Chapter 11 - A Rocket... and Fireworks
2020-04-12 5:24:54 AM  

Boudyro: Harlee: Noah_Tall: Show, don't tell.  It's one of the essential credos for all story writing.  Your prologue was story writing. Everything that follows is a history book. It is the world building information that authors use to keep their story consistent. The scaffolding they use to build their story then remove once the story is done.

I agree. But at least it's not charts and graphs. Harriet hates those.

It picks up, with a lot more white space, more action, and less narrative starting with Chapter 6 (above). The first five chapters, some 13,000 words, do indeed act as a history and context.... which is what The Presence said he wanted to convey. And - since it is all essentially flashback - it tends to narrative. My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

In other words, that scaffolding is part of the story. Discarding it would IMO lessen the story.

But then again, every mother thinks their baby is the most beautiful one in the world....

It's not bad that you've got all the scaffolding, when you're writing about characters doing stuff it's great.

You as the writer need to know all that scaffolding before you start the story. It's the skeleton you're hanging all the meat on. Readers won't care though, or more accurately they will notice it's absence in your storytelling, just like you'd notice a boneless person.

I understand the urge. My own project I literally created an entire cosmology and history of the freaking universe. Because it's relevant to how the characters can do what they do and why. But that's not the story, that's setting.

By all means build a super interesting world, but what characters are doing in that world and because of the world they inhabit is what matters. The readers will infer or simply accept 90 perce ...

Do you proof read? Would you charge?
I have a project with ( of all people ) my sister to write some children's books. She has no idea. I've been teaching and tutoring English for 15 years. It's going to be hard :) I will indeed need an independent reader.
2020-04-12 9:36:37 AM  
It's wits' end, not wit's end, otherwise you're one wit from being witless.
2020-04-12 12:13:30 PM  

ktybear: Do you proof read? Would you charge?
I have a project with ( of all people ) my sister to write some children's books. She has no idea. I've been teaching and tutoring English for 15 years. It's going to be hard :) I will indeed need an independent reader.

Sounds interesting. Let's move the discussion about that to one of my emails, glassp­i­pet­oolco­[nospam-﹫-backwards]k­nil­htr­ae*net. Send me some particulars.
2020-04-12 3:50:44 PM  
Chapter 11 - A Rocket... and Fireworks!

Harlee descended. A blinking GoHere icon in one eye pointed to a thousand foot wide glowing circle about 10 miles down the circumference on one side of the hull. Echo said, "There is our entry airlock, Harlee. It will take us to the Control Room."

Harlee's bot envelope approached the hull, and the interleaved diaphragm blades of the huge airlock smoothly swiveled back into the surrounding casement. The bots pushed his chair into the lock, and then tightly crowded about in a solid mass of spheres. The outer iris swiveled shut. Ship air rushed in from vents in the walls and the inner iris swiveled opened. His bots pushed the chair out of the airlock into a wide passageway.

He saw an outlandish contraption in a corridor wide spot directly across from the airlock. It was based on a machine from the distant past, and the solution The Presence had come up with for getting around in the immensity of the New Beginning. One of over two thousand on board, it was a mobility scooter.

The ship had a volume of 14,137 cubic miles. It had 275 decks, ranging from 200 feet to 4,000 feet in height. The "equatorial" deck, alone, had a surface area of over 700 square miles. And there were hundreds of thousands of miles of passageways and compartments, enough to satisfy a lifetime of exploration.

Hence the mobility scooter. The likes of it had not been seen since medical nanobots and other technologies had eliminated loss of mobility as an occasional fact of life. If Echo had told Harlee about this before he had seen it, he would have felt slightly ridiculous at the thought of actually riding around in one. But this was some mobility scooter!

It had a low-level DI brain. It resembled a scooter's wheelchair precursor less than it looked like a stubby land rocket. It was long and low. It was pointy at the front. It was a deep, metallic cobalt blue, with hot pink on silver and red pin striping. It had eight high-performance graphene-diamond tires. It had a heavily padded bench seat equipped with web restraints. It had a swing-up windscreen, standard dashboard controls that included a steering bar, an acceleration slider bar, start and brake buttons, and a manual override toggle. It had a spoiler on the rear to keep the nose down at high speed. It was capable of brutal accelerations. It had a small but robust fusion battery that could push it up to straightaway speeds of close to 400 miles per hour. It could scream down the length of a fifteen-mile-long equatorial radial passage in two minutes. Or manual drive mode could be switched to autopilot control, and programmed to travel at a leisurely pace to a series of preselected stops.

And for emergencies, it did indeed have an actual DI-controlled rocket engine and steering thrusters at the rear. It looked absolutely wicked. Harlee loved it.

Harlee enthusiastically jumped up from his chair, slithered over to his marvelous new toy, and climbed aboard. He fastened the harness, and raised the windscreen. The scooter, surrounded and followed by a dense cloud of bots, accelerated smoothly to a leisurely pace that brought it through the hull of the Safety Cylinder and to one of the central axis Vertical Access Shafts in about 15 minutes.

During the ride, Harlee grew alarmed that most of his bots seemed to be disappearing into small vents spaced every body length or so along the corridor. It had been a month since the creation of his expanded Swarm. During almost all of that time most of the bots had been in use around the perimeter of the construction site. So Harlee had felt unsettled 10 minutes before when the bots, released by Echo from their duties, had swarmed to surround him. But they were just more bots, and he had quickly gotten used to seeing a much denser cloud around him than previously. Now they were going away again!

"Do not worry about that, Harlee," Echo said. "Those vents the bots are going into are bot tunnels. Our expanded swarm is designed to observe and help control the entire ship. Those tubes are their method of getting to any part of the interior in the quickest possible time. The tubes have radiant energy fields the bots can draw extra power from to accelerate. A bot can travel the entire diameter of the ship in under a minute. So the full swarm can return to us very quickly to counter any threat." This explanation eased his alarm, but Harlee still felt a little naked... even though he still had a swarm around him that was roughly the same size as the one he had always had before Echo's upgrade.

The pace was slow enough for Harlee to get a good look at everything. Recessed ceiling lights filled the passageways with a bright ambient glow. The decks of the starship were made of the same mercury colored metal as the hull, but the walls and the ceiling were electro-plated with gold. Every half-mile or so, faceted wall sections of quartz, diamond crystal, and many colored gems, were lit from behind by a rainbow of point light sources. They offset the gold tones of the walls with stylized vistas of classic scenes from Graciousone history. Harlee was amazed by the ship's beauty. Though the corridor decoration was not up to the standards of the cloud cottage he had lost, it was much more than he had been expecting.

The VAS, by comparison, was rather plain. There were eight Vertical Access Shafts. They were mercury-colored, empty, 200 feet wide, 27-mile-long metal tubes with twelve-foot thick walls of armored and buttressed carbon steel composite. They were 45 degrees apart, and ran all the way through the vertical axis, just inside the bulkhead of the Safety Cylinder skin. They not only functioned as access shafts, but also as a cross-braced central skeleton for the ship. Each shaft had 60 sections, divided by single-diaphragm airdoors that instantly swivel-snapped open to permit travel. Equalized air pressure was maintained along the shaft by blowers. Each deck level had a recessed landing, and a double-iris airlock. Travel along a shaft was done by using one of the thousands of fusion battery powered graviton plates stationed along the tube length, and compressed air thrusters.

Harlee drove the scooter through an airlock into a VAS, and up onto one of the waiting graviton plates. Echo sent the plate's dumb bot instructions, and the plate lifted on compressed air thrusters and quietly moved off the ledge into the shaft, where it gently descended some five miles, through the Safety Sphere bulkhead, to the deck level that accessed both his personal quarters and the New Beginning's Control Room.

He exited the shaft near the center of the Safety Sphere. He drove down a feeder hall and parked the scooter in one of the hallway's parking spots, next to the airdoor to the ship's Control Room. He briefly stared at the door with trepidation, but shrugged his eyestalks, and walked towards it.

The airdoor's iris snapped open, and Harlee's eyes were instantly overwhelmed. The airdoor opened onto a landing located midway between the ceiling and deck of the three story high Control Room, which was a wedge-shaped, thirty-degree slice of the three central decks of the Safety Sphere. Curvy movable stairs led up to catwalks, and down to the floor. Harlee could see other airdoors located along the walls on the different levels.

The Control Room was so big in order to accommodate the holographic displays that covered all of the bulkheads and ceiling. These brilliant, multi-hued panels displayed a rainbow riot of mysterious moving sequences of tiny lights. Wormoids, some of whom seemed much more mechanically sophisticated than most of the wormoids Harlee had seen before, worked in front of and beneath, those displays.

"Hello," said Harlee. All the wormoids turned around to look at him.

One wormoid, a state-of-the-art analog of a female Graciousone in white casing covers, with writhing, shiny metal tentacles and eyestalks, and her own microbot swarm, greeted him. "Hello. You must be my passenger. I'm ZED-9949, the captain of this ship."

The wormoid motioned to a smaller, wheeled machine. "This is Service Wormoid Model R20D30B, or Squeaky, as we like to call her. She will show you to your quarters." ZED-9949 turned around and began gazing at the panel before her.

"Wait just a minute here!" bellowed Harlee, "I'm the captain of the New Beginning. This is my expedition."

The captain's eyestalks spun around and stared at Harlee. If a wormoid could have been irritated, he thought, Harlee would have sworn that ZED-9949 looked irritated.

"Echo, what's going on here?" Harlee ungraciously shouted.

Echo was aghast at her own stupidity. She had been so wrapped up with the technical work of building the starship that she had somehow overlooked the wormy element. As The Presence never tired of pointing out, there were considerations other than logic and reality when dealing with emotionally fragile Graciousones. "Harlee dear, do not get angry, but The Presence thought that ZED-9949 would make the best captain, as you have never flown a starship before, much less a new and unproven design such as this ship."

"I bet she hasn't either!" retorted Harlee.

"Yes dear, but she has programming."

"She and her programming can go straight to The Shadowed Pool for all I care! If I'm not in charge of this mission, I'm not going!" snapped Harlee.

"Please do not be irrational, Harlee. You have to go, it is your punishment." Echo silently called The Presence for help.

Harlee stood there, his tentillum clenching, and nasal flaps flaring in and out. His belly was turning a threatening red.

Channeled through Echo, The Presence suddenly spoke inside his head. "I am very sorry about this, Harlee, but there seems to be a misunderstanding. The ship's wormoids and onboard DIs will do all of the navigating and piloting. But within the mission parameters, you are totally in charge of when and where you go. All you have to do is just tell ZED-9949 where you want to go, and she will take you there."

Even after this length of time, Harlee was still a little intimidated by The Presence. His anger therefore evaporated as quickly as it had boiled up, and Echo's calm-talk was able to prod him into thinking a little about the situation. Slightly mollified, and secretly relieved that he wouldn't have to try to fly the ship, Harlee said, "Well, OK, then. In that case I guess I'll take a look at my quarters." He flicked a tentacle peremptorily in Squeaky's direction and stiffly followed the little wormoid out the hatch, past his parked road rocket, to his personal quarters.

*Associated Glossary Listings:


Next Post: Chapter 12 --- Home
2020-04-12 5:00:04 PM  
Chapter 12 - Home

Harlee's quarters were a wedge-shaped segment sliced out of the Safety Sphere's wide fifth shell, located directly across from the main hatch of the Control Room. When Harlee first saw the suite of rooms, he thought he was losing his mind. He was back in his lost cloud cottage! A second look belied that impression. The room wasn't exactly the same shape and arrangement, and the airdoors leading to the other rooms were not quite in the same places. All his favorite things were there, but there were also differences.

Rather than his old extensive stationary light-bot point lighting system, indirect ceiling lights cast a soft, almost source-less glow over everything. There were two stationary light-bots, against each side of the far wall, but their light was turned down and subdued. Rather than the subtly curved walls of his cloud cottage, the room was shaped like a donut wedge, with straight walls on the sides and gently curved far and entry walls.

From where he stood in the entry airdoor, the opposite wall displayed a built-in 700-foot holographic vision screen. This was showing a view from the construction site. The overhead early-evening crescent Yorbolindo, ablaze with the lights of its floating cities, dominated the sky. It was so realistic that it captivated Harlee just as much as the sight of the real thing had. Directly under the screen stretched a long, comfortable looking couch, eminently suitable for napping or lounging. It faced a luxury easy chair in the exact center of the room, which, in turn, allowed a perfect view of the wall screen.

Above the chair, built into the ceiling, was a 126-foot square laser array. This machine could project a holographic 3D "fish tank" into the middle of the room, surrounding the space occupied by the chair. So when the holotank was inactive, Harlee could kick back in the chair and watch the New Beginning traverse the Galaxy on the wall vision screen. Or, when the holotank was active, Harlee either could watch the show from the long couch along the wall, or get immersed in the presentation by sitting in the easy chair.

To the right of the wall screen and couch stood a small glinkin living stand. It was shaped like a ziggurat. Its glinkin-sized steps, in easily climbed sections divided by flat areas and resting benches, led up to a 50-foot square living/sleeping/garden/pool area that contained Sparky's toys, food and water dishes, SleepyHutTM, and litter box.

To the left of the screen and couch stood a small end table, and a replica of the fern wall that Harlee had been growing in his cottage. The fern wall was made of Southern Forest Ferns.* Their bluish-green fronds filled the air with a sweet-spicy odor that made them famous all over the Graciousrealm. The fern wall grew around the corner and stretched out 250 feet on either side of, and around, a doorway that obviously led to another room of the suite, undoubtedly, he thought, the dining nook, if this was a copy of his lost house.

The right side of the room had more close replicas. Next to Sparky's living stand was a semicircular-tiered wall fountain, almost identical to the one he had bought for his cloud cottage. To the right of the fountain was another doorway, probably to the pondroom, then a cascading, backlit, moving gemstone wall. To the right of that was a small charging alcove. It was currently occupied by a powered-down wormoid maid. Harlee took a closer look: the maid was not a replica! The wormoid was his old Rosie, his childhood maid whom he had brought with him to his cloud cottage.

Harlee stepped into the room. Were they there? He swiveled an eyestalk. Yes, there on the entry wall, on either side of the airdoor, were his two paintings. The left one, created by a professional PET painting studio, was of him holding Sparky in formal pose, both smiling for the artist in their characteristic ways. The other was of him and his secret and unrequited childhood sweetheart, Ellma, holding tentillum. It had been cobbled together by a street artist from separate school yearbook images. And over the entrance? Yes, there it was: the ancient display of family weapons, handed down for generations from before The Presence and the Revolution. There, was a set of four tentacle-swords, meant to be used together to create a flashing web of razor-edged metal. And there, the two-tentacle broadsword. And below that, an atrociously huge battleaxe that required all four upper tentacles to wield. Above these, a third-removed great grandmother who had been an early Civil War militia veteran had added a now antique infantry phased plasma spallgun.* And Uncle Chekhuff, an incendiary political writer during the Unification Coup and the Civil War, had added his antique ink pen.

Harlee shuffled to the couch. On the end table, he saw an antique keepsake box. Yes! It was his old one! He looked inside, and all his treasures were safely tucked away in it. There was also a small data tablet. It was an off-implant reader. Graciousones sometimes used them to keep from burdening their hard-working implants with trivial data and tasks. He touched it on, and the screen displayed a list of his favorite Romance holographics.

He reached out a tentacle and tentillumed through the title list and found... everything. Every single 2D, 3D, holographic, and sensory immersion product ever made. It was the entire GraciousNet PET entertainment database.

It was worth trillions.

He suddenly felt weak and his stomachs spasmed. A ghost of old avarice from criminal days crept into his mind. All of this could be copied and sold! When he realized what he was thinking he felt a stab of panic, and he sternly told himself that he was now made of better stuff. He was no longer a craven criminal; he was a brave explorer.

And though it was a deeply hidden train of thought, Echo caught a flash of it and felt a thrill of pride and love for her Harlee.


The mystery of what lay behind the two side doors beckoned. The left-hand door indeed led to a replica of the small formal eating area his cloud cottage had boasted. When Harlee came into the room, the first thing he saw was his old sideboard. It, too, was from his childhood home, an elegant antique that had enough room on it for a holiday spread. Behind the sideboard was a wall of colorful, fragrant Rock Orchids.* In the room center was a small round table with a single comfortable chair. On the far side, another airdoor opened to an ultra-modern automated kitchen, with a top-of-the-line food replicator, and a wormoid chef, who was hibernating and plugged into a charging station. On the right wall was an airlock. This was located where his cottage back door had been. That had led to a balcony. Harlee was pretty sure there were no balconies on a starship, so he guessed that (since it was an double iris airlock rather than a single iris airdoor), that it was an emergency exit that led to a quite probably cramped and nasty emergency safety compartment.

Harlee returned to the living room. He opened the right-hand door to find a near-replica of his cottage pondroom.* Not quite, though: to the immediate left of the doorway was a shower pit. It was a lovely and expensive shower pit, circumscribed and lined with time-etched river stones, and equipped with the most modern force field curtains. It was just like the one Harlee had planned to buy, prior to his being arrested.

He scanned further. Just to the right of the shower pit was another airlock. It was where his pondroom back door had been, and it probably led to another safety area. To the right of that was a blank viewing screen. That, he considered, was there to take the place of the customized picture window he had had installed in the original pondroom. Finally, there was a rectangular protruding area. It had a small door in the lateral wall that, he assumed, led to the farting/toilet room that the old cloud cottage had had.

He turned his eyestalks. Straight ahead from the door, snuggled against the far wall, was a round sleeping pond dais. It looked just like the one he had bought for his cloud cottage. It was filled to his personally preferred halfway mark with recirculating water that gently lapped along a shallow-sloped bed of what looked like the SleepRiteTM sand-mud blend that he liked so much. Just to the right of the dais, against the wall, was another glinkin stand, also outfitted with a SleepyHutTM, as well as a water bowl and nighttime litter box. It looked like the pet stand he had had as a child, as it had an antique wire cage (rather than a modern force field) to kept a glinkin safely contained at night, the same storage bins for holding Sparky's harness and leash, and Graciousone-sized latch access.

To the right of Sparky's sleeping ziggurat, against the far wall where he could leisurely sit up in the sleeping-pond to face it and ponder his daily clothing selections stood an antique, blue, ribbonwood-paneled Gentleworm's Robotic ArmoireTM. It looked just like the one from his childhood. He looked at it more closely; it actually was his old childhood armoire.

To the right were more Southern Forest Ferns. The thriving lushness continued around the corner to the doorway wall. The sweet-spicy scent of the plants gave the sleeping room a relaxed, languid atmosphere.

Harlee thoughtfully returned to the living room. He slowly turned his eyestalks from side to side in numb disbelief.


He had expected sparse and utilitarian. The cottage had been his idea of simple luxury. To see it replicated here.... He asked Echo to call The Presence. "Uh... hello? This is Harlee. I just wanted to say... thank you. I can't believe what you have done for me here."

"What do you find hard to believe here, Harlee?"

"I don't understand why I have this... this opulence, this reconstruction of the stuff, of my cloud cottage, that I bought with crime money, and then had taken away."

"The cottage wasn't seized to punish you, Harlee, but to partially reimburse the State for making whole the Graciousones you stole from. The punishment of 100 years State service does not mean you have to perform that service in discomfort. Members of a civilized society should look out for each other. The point of your sentence is not to hurt you, but to make you a better person while performing a needed task."

Harlee's mind shot back to the off-implant selection reader and his brief struggle with his old avarice, "Do you think you can?" he said bitterly.

"I am convinced that most of your criminal tendencies are due to various issues stemming from your ochlophobia. One of my goals here is to fix that. A non-supportive environment will not do anything to accomplish this."

"But what about the cost of all this? The cost of this unbelievable ship has...?"

"Don't be silly Harlee, the cost was essentially zero. Everything except the plants and your family heirlooms (which were all owned by your family from well before the commission of your crimes) was produced by FARP facilities, either here on the asteroid, or elsewhere in the FARP industrial complex. And the trivial efforts I have expended are simply good practice at problem solving."

Harlee looked around one more time. The Presence had all the answers. He always did. "Well, I owe you one."

"Yes, Harlee, yes you do." The Presence hung up.


It was all so perfect! Harlee's mood was once more pumped. He wanted to celebrate right then. "Echo, I'm going to go get Sparky, go to dinner and celebrate."

"What about taking the inside tour of the ship, dear? You can get a good rundown on the engines and computers in the next several hours."

Harlee paused, and then caught sight of one of the microbots of his new, much larger personal swarm. "Hey, Echo, didn't you say that these guys were totally everywhere throughout the ship? Then why can't they send visuals and data back to you, and you supplement the footage with the raw data you have from building the ship? Then you can put it all together and let me see everything by remote viewing. You could just create an immersion hologram around me, or create an image right on the living room screen there. I can tour this whole gigantic ship without leaving the comfort of this room!"

"Well, yes, that can all be done..."

"And it won't do any good for me to do any of that right now, anyway. If I stuck around tonight, I really wouldn't be able to learn enough to help when we leave tomorrow morning. But once we leave there won't be a whole lot for me to do, so I can set up a daily orientation regime then, right?"

"Well, yes..."

"But right now, I want celebrate, and get a good bowl of ShinyBlue stew, a flagon of fermented sweetsap, and enter Sparky in a Maze Race!"

Then, as Harlee was strapping himself into his road rocket, he had another thought: "And Captain Zed-whatever can worry about all of that stuff anyway, right? She's a specialist. She has programming."


*Associated Glossary Listings:

Southern Forest Fern:
A tropical plant with soft, bluish-green fronds, Southern Forest Ferns are native to the jungle planet of Collandra. Though it is an import from that planet, it is included herein because samples brought to Yorbolindo were accidentally released into the wild centuries ago, and the plant quickly adapted to Yorbolindo conditions with minimal ecological disruption. The plant is further unusual in that, though evolved for a hot and humid climate, it adapts easily to, and grows well in, temperate indoor environments. Its subtle sweet-spicy odor is non-obtrusive and pleasing. The plant is popular with indoor decorators, and Southern Forest Fern displays are a common indoor decoration. The transplant success of Southern Forest Ferns is an excellent demonstration of the interrelatedness of the genetic codes of differing worlds. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)

Spallgun: An energy-intensive infantry multiple-tentacle weapon developed during the latter half of the Graciousrealm-Ownerist Civil War, and afterwards banned for all except specific exception use specifically authorized by The Presence. It stimulates phased coherent gravitons to create a thread-thin (i.e.: roughly Planck-Length-sized) beam of extreme gravitational potential that compacts a small area of the target into something approaching degenerate matter. It is called a spallgun because the effect is to spall, or crater, the target at point of impact. Sustained fire can drill into the target or, if the shooter's aim is traversed, "zip" a surface trench of spalled material across a field of fire. It may also be fired in interference wavelength mode, where the actual beam only coalesces at a predetermined depth inside the target. Wounds from spallguns are particularly nasty, difficult to treat, and are generally fatal. Larger versions of these portable spallguns were developed first, and are the gravity cannon that are standard armament on all Space Force dreadnaughts.

Zembriskin Rock Orchid: A multi-hued, fragrant plant from the equatorial jungle provinces of Yorbolindo's continent Zabriska. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

Pondroom: A domicile room purposed for sleeping, sex, and/or nursery. So-named, as furniture in the room usually includes a sleeping pond.


Next Post: Chapter 13 --- The Maze Race
2020-04-14 10:06:45 PM  
Chapter 13 - The Maze Race

(Post 1 of 2)

Harlee arrived back in the asteroid's interior and immediately went to Sparky's kennel. The kennel was a good one, with a staff that included a Graciousone vet and a wormoid fitness instructor. As such, it gave its guests regular supervised exercise and group playtime. But Sparky had been alone more than normal for two months, and he had missed Harlee terribly. Occasional, hurried visits from his owner to say hello and give quick head pats were insufficient food for even Sparky's easygoing soul, and he had become depressed. So when a wormoid attendant brought his stored HappyTravelerTM* to his crate and transferred him to it, he got excited. And when he was taken to the lobby and saw Harlee, he loudly vocalized squeaky excitement, and grabbed the bars of the travel cage.

Disobeying the rules, Harlee took him from the cage and petted him. He talked to Sparky softly, closely inspecting him for signs of abuse or neglect. Finally, he let Sparky get rid of his excess energy. He gently placed the glinkin into his head trough. This was a favorite thing for both of them, and he tilted his eye sockets downward and watched in amusement as Sparky ran a dozen energetic laps around his eyestalks. Sparky then curled his body around the base of one of Harlee's eyestalks, and promptly went to sleep.


Harlee slithered briskly but cautiously to the Celestial Bug Inn. The HappyTravelerTM was tucked under one tentacle. Sparky was contentedly snoring in Harlee's trough. This mode of travel was, of course, not really safe for glinkin, and not advised by glinkin welfare groups. But many Graciousones and glinkin enjoyed it, so it was a common thing, supplanting in increasing numbers the Old School Clunky torus-shaped HighRiderTM.*

When Harlee walked through the inn's front airdoor, he saw a crowd of excited gamers already gathered around the maze table. It was early, the maze was blank, and he was hungry and thirsty. He sent an instant message to Slavvin.

Slavvin came out to see him, and held his tentillum out in formal greeting, "Well, well, so this is the Gentleworm who so impressed Yink Patterkorn! Good evening to you, Mr. Salkenesta, I'm Slavvin Cordecon and I own this establishment, which I sincerely hope pleases every single one of your appetites." How are you, fine sir?"

Though he tried his best to hide it, Harlee was instantly unnerved. He remembered that Yink Patterkorn had mentioned that Slavvin had an eccentricity. That was an understatement. Slavvin wore an antique contraption around his ridge: a torus of dully-gleaming brassy metal with what looked like wires or probes that extended from it into the bone and leather of Slavvin's ridge. It was a Personal Defense Bot Control System, or PDBCS, an ancient, externally worn "dumb" computer that (somewhat inefficiently) functioned as bookkeeper and controller for its wearer's internal nanobots and external swarmbots. These had become obsolete for use by most Graciousones 2,500 years before. It seemed that Slavvin was either a Creatrix Fundamentalist who eschewed internal implants, or one of those occasional individuals who simply could not physically tolerate them.

But Harlee was also impressed. He had been expecting a rotund innkeeper type. But Slavvin had a lean and lanky look to him. His gaze had an almost feral intensity. He displayed an obvious and quick intelligence that somehow seemed out of place in a dockside inn. Harlee had honed a certain amount of street sense in his brief criminal career, and Slavvin seemed just a tad... bent. But Harlee decided he didn't want to worry about that right then.

Echo was also hesitant. She sent a cautioning thought, "Harlee, I do not wholly trust this person. He seems a little predatory to me."

Harlee thought back, "Don't worry about it Echo, he's a friend of Yink's. And I don't think that Yink Patterkorn makes a habit of being friends with thugs or pirates or whatever! He makes glinkin toys. And he's been knighted twice, for Universe sake! Slavvin is probably just padding his food replicator energy allotment. So what? Everyone does it."

Harlee responded to Slavvin, "Well sir, I am just fine. It is an honor to meet you kind sir. And this is indeed a fine establishment you have here."

Bare formalities met, Cordecon assertively relaxed the decorum. His eyestalks shimmied in pleased laughter. "Well, we do try, Harlee. I like to think that the Celestial Bug Inn has the best grub, bugs and booze anywhere in the Yorbolindo solar system. We serve plain but hearty fare, lacking pretentiousness but not good taste, if you get my drift. So what can I do for you today, Harlee?"

"Well sir, my business here on Construction Asteroid #3 is almost finished, and I thought I could celebrate that fact with a big tureen of your highly recommended ShinyBlue stew, a huge flagon or two of sweetsap beer, and some amateur glinkin Maze Racing. My glinkin, Sparky, may be a bit rusty, but he still has spirit!"

"Sounds excellent! I'll have the barbot wrestle up some fried and salted grub appetizers and brew. I'll also tell the kitchen to expect your ShinyBlue stew order later on tonight." Slavvin then motioned to the maze table. "There are several spots left, so why don't you pick a starting square, stick your glinkin in the holding cage, and start rolling some dice?"

Slavvin turned to leave, then suddenly turned back. He reached out and touched Harlee's bare tentacle with a tentillum, and whispered in a low rumble, "Oh by the way, I see that both Blue-15 spots are still open. Just between you and me, Blue-15-Right has always been a hot little number. You could do worse than starting from that square."

The proprietor then hurried away and Harlee turned with gusto to the maze table. And he did, indeed, grab the Blue-15-Right starting square. It just seemed like the logical choice.


The placement of Walls and Blocks - and the betting - was about to commence. His entry fee was paid, but Harlee had no money for betting. Old habits die hard, particularly when they involve fudging the rules, and Harlee suddenly had an idea. There was no fund allowance in his Felon's Budget for gambling. But there was a substantial fund allowance for food. And the price of the Daily Bug Special was so low that he could... well... shift the money around a bit...

"Hey, Echo? Could you please calculate the average price of a single serving of fresh ShinyBlue stew at all of the eating places here, and on the other seven Tether Asteroids* around Yorbolindo?"

"OK, Harlee, here it is. Ummm... why do you want this data, dear?"

"Oh... I just wanted to see... how much I was saving by eating here, what with Yink paying for my meal tonight...."

Harlee was frantically trying to suppress the informational "sidebars" of his thoughts, but it was increasingly obvious to Echo where this line of reasoning was going. If she had had a wormoid body, she would have put tentacles to the sides of it, and tapped them rhythmically in suspicion. "And just why is this important, Harlee?"

"Well... uh... I bet that The Presence didn't take Yink's generosity into account when he established this restrictive budget... so I'm thinking it will be OK to use what I'm saving on food here on something else."

"Something else? You mean gambling on this Maze Race? Harlee, that is exactly the kind of slippery thinking that got us into trouble in the first place!"

"No, it isn't! It's actually not hurting anyone, so what's the problem?"

"There are clear ethical principles involved here, Harlee. You are playing a fast and loose game with them. It should be quite clear to you that funds of that nature are not used for purposes of gambling."

Harlee felt a wave of stubbornness. Echo was nagging again, the same way she had done all through his criminal career. "Well, they are in this case! This is a special situation, Echo. It's like found money! And I don't think The Presence will mind it if I have a little relaxation after all the hard work I've been doing. And Sparky has been alone so much that he got depressed. His sacrifices need to be addressed, too."

Echo briefly shut down her sensory input, the DI equivalent of closing eyes and sighing. Harlee is so full of Giant Green Nibbler turds. "OK, Harlee, I can see that we disagree. I think I should call The Presence and ask him if this would be OK to do."

Harlee sighed, frustrated. But he felt trapped. "OK, then do that!" Echo called. She felt that she was going to be vindicated.

"Yes, Harlee?"

Harlee repeated his line of reasoning.

There was no hesitation, "Well, Harlee, you have a point. And I don't see any real harm in using some of the funds saved on food for this small indulgence."

"What?" Echo was outraged. "How can you say that? You are rewarding the same kind of thinking that got Harlee into trouble in the first place!"

The Presence spoke to both of them, "Look at it this way, Echo. (And Harlee, please pay attention to what I am telling her.) If Harlee loses, no funds in excess of budget are lost. But if he wins, then his winnings will be applied against the fines and compensation reimbursement funds that he owes to the State. It's a win-win situation, as far as I am concerned."

Echo wailed, "But it is not rehabilitative. This is still rewarding crooked thinking!"

Harlee butted in, "Echo, I wasn't being crooked... I was being creative!"

The Presence paused, and then said, mildly, "Echo, Harlee is right in this case. There are, indeed, times when crooked thinking is merely creative, not dishonest....

"And remember, both of you, there are times when crooked thinking is not just optional, but required."

What? Crooked thinking required? Both Harlee and Echo did mental double takes at that last statement, but something in the tone, suggested "end of argument." Just before he hung up, Echo got a private sidebar of assurance from The Presence, who also asked her to "just let it go" and suggested that she remain quiet for the rest of the night. It was a "request" formatted through her ROM restraining chip, which The Presence controlled. Somewhat puzzled, she automatically acquiesced.


The betting was starting and Harlee threw in a "house ante" of five credits. He needed to pay attention to what was going on at the table, but he was also hungry. The barbot had put grubs and a drink on a table that overlooked the Maze Race, and he told part of his bot swarm to form a gravity plate and float them over to within tentillum-reach.

Harlee felt a faint thumping over his braincase. He twitched an eyestalk to look down into his trough. Sparky was awake. He was jumping up and down, trying to peek over Harlee's ridge to see what all the noise was about. He had heard Maze Race preliminaries before, and he was excited. Harlee reached up and gently grabbed him. In the squeakiest voice (still a deep almost subsonic bass, to Sparky) he could manage Harlee said, "Hey, Sparky, it's a Maze Race! Look sharp, boy!" He then cupped Sparky in several tentillum and raised him high in the air, so that Sparky could get a bumblefly's* eye view of the crowd of Graciousones around the board. He could see and feel Sparky, supporting himself with his tiny glinkin arms against the rigid flesh of his tentillumtips, leaning out over empty space, gazing down and paying careful attention to the crowd, almost as if he was counting them.

After a few moments, Sparky relaxed away from his tentillumtips, his signal that he had seen what he had needed to see. Harlee then said, "OK, little guy, now listen sharp! You can do this! In you go, into the box!" He put Sparky into the transfer box located under the B-15-R start square. The transfer box sank automatically to the level of the Listening Box.


Sparky strode through the inner door into a vast, dim chamber. It was a single room, with no walls or beams, some 480 feet across. A featureless white ceiling less than 20 feet overhead barely glowed with a weak white light.

Even though cool air silently wafted in from air conditioning vents in the walls, the size of the room, the ceiling's closeness, and the dim light all made the room oppressively airless and claustrophobic. Sparky hated this part of Maze Racing. Atavistic emotions welled up, unbidden, and made part of his mind run around in circles and gibber. Every time he was in the Listening Box, he would remember the tales his real dad had told him about cavern adventures, where large expanses of unsupported roof always led to cave-ins.

No time now for hate or fear or memories, time to get to work. He focused his head, and took a few moments to scan the room, to get a sense of the opposition. There were twenty other glinkin in the box, and all 16 stations were filled. He couldn't see much in the dim light, but from what he could tell, so far he wasn't impressed. Most of the other glinkin were sitting on the floor in small groups, chatting. At least one seemed to sleeping.

That was a lot of glinkin. Depending on how fast the placement phase of the game was completed, he might not have much time to check out everyone. Sparky saw he was at start space B-15-R. He put his hands into his tunic pockets, put what he hoped was a bored expression on his face, and casually began walking the perimeter of the room.


At the B-20-R location, just to his left, sat a group of four Seastriders.* Their gills were clamped shut and their nostrils were flared. Their expressions were sour, as if they had smelled something foul. Their long fingers and toes nervously flexed back and forth, drumming on the floor, displaying their webs. They seemed out-of-place here.

Though now considered a difficult toy breed, Seastriders had originally been bred as working glinkin: commandos and saboteurs. They loved water, so Seastrider owners usually gave into the wishes of their sulky and massively spoiled pets and lived near the coastal marshes and swamps that were the favored habitat of the breed. Sparky got the feeling that their owner had just arrived on the asteroid, and that the glinkin didn't like their situation one little bit. They were racing as a Together Team,* but seemed to be spending all their prep time complaining about each other and their individual lots in life, rather than planning their attack. Sparky smiled inside; they were all wannabe tough guys, vicariously living large through remembrances of their badass ancestors of 10,000 generations before.


Around the corner, at R-20-B, was a lone Common Domestic Tophair. Sparky quickly peered across the vast semi-lit room, and thought he saw several more of the breed. Tophairs, or CDTs, were the most common of all glinkin.

For thousands of generations, Tophairs had been a widespread general working breed. They had a varied and sometimes illustrious history as janitors, bugherders, spies, Jewel Bird wranglers, and even tiny soldiers. For show purposes, they had been bred for naturally effusive top-of-head hair, with highly localized hair on the face, arm sockets, and primary genital areas. Aside from that, they were physically closer to the original strains of wild glinkin native to Yorbolindo than were most other breeds. Though not specifically bred for it, Tophairs also had a well-earned reputation as wily and competitive Maze Race runners, so the fact that there were Tophairs in the race did not bode well for Sparky (though he himself was also a Tophair). This particular Tophair looked bored and sleepy. Sparky gave him a quiet nod, a non-committal gaze, and a wide berth.


Next to the CDT, at R-15-B, was a lone Furry.* She had the puffy, dense hair and very black skin of the racial purebred. Her stance, the tilt of her wooly head, and her glare, universally applied to every other glinkin in the box, were all obviously standoffish. She was of an ancient, elite breed, and she knew it.

Handed down glinkin legends had it that the long-ago ancestors of the Furry had ruled a vast and powerful empire, the continent of Jumbaladon.* They had done so with tentillumtips (or in their case, fists) of steel for almost a thousand years. They had lived in vast cities, and had flown warplanes and rockets in the skies of Yorbolindo, and the whole world had feared and respected them. But in their pride they had sought to extend their iron rule to Graciousones, to enslave them, and they had been broken and conquered.

Now, the Furry he had seen in the Glinkin Park and elsewhere were all pampered and expensive show animals, owned by wealthy Graciousones. But all bore a simmering, sullen bitterness over their lost greatness, and Sparky thought they were all jerks. He suppressed an urge to slap the haughty smirk off the Furry's face and veered away.


At R-10-B and R-5-B were two more Tophairs, both alert, and grinning unpleasantly. Sparky noted with some alarm that each of them had cloth streamers in their belts, one glinkin with yellow, and the other glinkin with red. The streamers meant that they were both members of Compete Teams,* and that each of them had an opposite number on the other side of the board, armed with similar streamers. The streamers were dropped at strategic points in the maze to act as guides for their opposite Compete Team members to find their finish box.

The problem here was that there was no rule to prevent competing glinkin from moving the streamers in order to mislead the Compete Team glinkin. This often led to glinkin yelling at each other and sometimes even disqualifying themselves by trading blows. Many Graciousones swore by Compete Teaming; other Graciousones saw the effort as, at best, haphazard. The pros and cons were a constant point of late night barroom argument.

What Sparky found interesting was that (including Harlee) there was a full complement of Graciousones at the Maze Race table. And all spots in the Listening Box were filled. But with two (at least) Compete Teams, at least two spots on the playing board should be unfilled. That mathematically meant there were at least two instances of Graciousone players teaming up to split the pot, should one of their glinkin win. That hardly seemed fair, but Sparky assumed that the betting odds had been adjusted to account for any supposed advantage those players had. He passed both glinkin, giving them a wide berth.


Standing well away from all the other glinkin at B-20-L were three grotesquely muscled Bombards.* They huddled together, softly talking in their private language. It was clear from their body language that they had finished checking out the room and were well into planning various play scenarios and the roles that each would perform. A distinctive trait of the modern breed was that they insisted on doing every activity in groups, so these were obviously members of another Together Team.


B-15-L was the cross-board destination that Sparky would have to get to once the actual race began. He was again dismayed. The glinkin there was a Maze Runner,* and the chances were good that they would meet somewhere in the maze. As their name suggested, Maze Runners had been specially bred for competing in Maze Races. Sparky and the Maze Runner stared at each other for a few moments, faces expressionless. Then the Maze Runner gave a tiny dismissive nod, and turned away.


There was a Zembriskin Bugherd* at B-10-L. That was... just weird. They were easygoing and noncompetitive, and Sparky couldn't imagine a Bugherd as being any real competition in a Maze Race. He smiled and gave a friendly nod. The Bugherd grinned back and vigorously shook his long, flowing locks.


There was another Tophair at B-5-L and, yes, he was sleeping. Sparky could hear his snoring from forty feet away. Snert. Either the guy was a rank amateur or he had already mapped out the competition, and was more laid back than any glinkin had a right to be.


R-5-T and R-10-T were the opposite spots from the two Compete Team members he had seen earlier. Sure enough, there were two more Tophairs with colored streamers. Interestingly, both of them were female. They competed with each other in ogling him as he ambled past, and grinned and whistled at him. Sparky grinned back and wondered whether the two handfuls were the mates of the two Tophairs to which he had previously given a wide berth.


R-15-T was another surprise. The location was occupied - indeed, defined - by the august presence of a Royal Lusardian.* It was impossible to be ill-mannered, or even assertive, around a Royal Lusardian. Sparky approached with deference. Here, again, Sparky thought that this particular glikin was a very poor choice as a Maze Race competitor.Sparky dipped his head respectfully to the Royal Lusardian, and was rewarded with a tiny nod and a small, brief closure of placid eyes.


The area in front of R-20-T was empty, but Sparky saw a small figure standing near the B-5-R spot. It was a Losanto.* She was talking with the two glinkin at that location. Sparky was again puzzled. Losanto were a small and weak toy breed, and he just couldn't picture a Losanto as a serious Maze Race contender.


The B-5-R spot was occupied by a heavily muscled, physically stunted Digger*. Sparky again grinned inside; Diggers had been bred in antiquity to dig sapper tunnels, and they were the very definition of stupid. This guy was zero competition.


Nearby was a bug-eyed, wide-nosed, barrel-chested Sled Glinkin*. She hovered nervously between B-5-R and a vacant B-10-R. Sled Glinkin were now bred exclusively for show, but had originated as beasts of burden. They were highly intelligent, but were the very antithesis of quick. Once again, Sparky was puzzled. This Maze Race in a dive bar on an asteroid seemed to have a large number of glinkin who were probably not too good at Maze Racing.


The Losanto was arguing with the Sled Glinkin. Between them, the Digger sat and listened, his sloped head swiveling back and forth as tough he was tracking the movements of a flutterby. The talkers were arguing about finding and following flashing blue direction GoHeres. What? Sparky had never heard of anything like that. Was this a rigged game? Well, well. If it was, there was nothing he could do about it. And he certainly couldn't tell Harlee, since the big doofus couldn't understand a word he said.

It was best to accept circumstances, and do the best job he could. In the distance, he heard a click as one of the Graciousones placed the first block. Sparky got down to business, standing in the middle of the room between his start square and B-15-L, listening for the telltale clicks that indicated a wall or block placement or removal on the board above his head. He also walked the walls,* pounding on the walls of the Listening Box, listening to the changing clicks and echoes as placement proceeded, and trying to form a mental map of the layout of the various blocks and walls, and the resulting passages.


2020-04-14 10:11:34 PM  
Chapter 13 - The Maze Race

(Post 2 of 2)

There was a full house of players, both male and female, and betting was heavy. Most of the females seemed to be operations crew from the asteroid's office. Four of these worthies were already quite drunk and were playing a friendly "gotcha" grudge match. Several more players, all outsiders, frequently glared at each other, and there were some loud voices. Two nasty-drunk players were quietly admonished by Slavvin and four very large and energetic female bouncers. It looked like this game would be particularly brutal, and that a few actual Wall-and-Block wars might develop.

B-20-L had rolled the high start number, and Harlee was eleventh to roll the dice. He rolled an R23-B17, which meant he could add or remove a Wall in that square. This was not too far from where Sparky would start his run, so Harlee placed a horizontal Wall along the top of the square. This would be, he hoped, the start of what would evolve into a left-hand guide wall for Sparky to follow all the way across the board.

Alas, it was not to be, as the next player got an R17-B15 and placed a vertical wall just to the left to block the planned guide wall. And, as the luck of the rolls had it, Harlee ended up over the next dozen moves totally blocked: the next 12 players piled on, with raucous ribbing directed towards Harlee and each other.

And so it went. With odds of 73.5%, most of the action was adds or deletes of walls from defined squares. But there was also a 13.2% chance of adding either walls or blocks in wildcard locations. And there were identical odds for wild card removals.

The action was rapid and riled, and two of the players ganged up on Harlee, coordinating their placements as the die rolls allowed. By the end of the first hour all but one of Harlee's paths were completely blocked. It looked bad; the single remaining path was 55 squares long, and it looked like a mangled, twisted spring. Sparky would be hopelessly lost.

Then tempers flared, and the asteroid office's friendly grudge match turned serious, as two of the group got very drunk. A dozen moves created thick populations of Blocks that mired up-down travel, and put several players in bad positions. Then two players, in quick succession, removed walls at R14-B15. Sparky now had two victory routes: the original twisted nightmare; and a dream route: a straight shot to the middle and a quick jog down and back up for a total of only 39 squares. The only problem was at R9-B15. If Sparky turned left he would be tangled up in a series of dead ends.

And then one of the players, either exhausted or broke or bored, motioned a vote for an end to placement. One-by-one, everybody else agreed. Harlee, not believing his luck, was quick to chime in. The final board, with Sparky's two routes, looked like this:
Fark user imageView Full Size

Maze Race configuration and routes for Sparky's race at the Celestial Bug Inn

It was time for the second phase. It was time for Sparky to shine. A bell sounded in the listening box. This was the signal for the glinkin to get back to their transfer boxes. A few moments later a countdown chime sounded: the transfer box doors would lock in moments. A final chime sounded, the doors all locked, and each box was released from its base. Robot arms moved the boxes up to their start squares, and the cover shield was locked into place. A ceiling-hung timer began counting down 128 seconds, and all sixteen exhausted Graciousones stepped back in anticipation from the Maze Race table.

At zero, all of the transfer box inner doors snapped opened, and 21 glinkin stepped out into an alien, shadowless landscape of floor-lit, ceiling-mirrored, identical white walls.


Sparky considered himself a pro. Victory at Maze Racing, he believed, went not to idiots who charged wildly down random passageways, but to more deliberate players who stopped to think first, but didn't dither on about things. Balance.

He left the box. He was alone. He calmed his thoughts, slowed his breathing, and scanned what he could see of the maze. He saw: (1) One square over, a left wall went ahead five squares. (2) Ahead, a "straight shot" went forward for what seemed about 14 squares. (3) Four squares in, a piece of wall was just to the left of the straight shot. (4) To the right, three squares ahead, was a single length of wall... (5) ...that met a wall that went up to his right... (6) ...that met another wall one square out and one up from him. (7) This wall partially hid a square, four square area. (8) The far wall of the far inward right square was hidden.

There might be an opening there. It was close, and wouldn't take too much time to check. Sparky took some quick steps right to examine that far square. Fart. A dead end. He turned back and saw a ghostly blue "GoHere" symbol strobe inside the ceiling's mirrored surface. It pointed to the left and inward, along the likely route, the straight shot. Hmmm....

He ran three squares along the straight shot. That single wall section was to his left. An irregular area to his right was totally blocked.

Another two squares: he saw a short corridor on the left. It led to two branches. But these were all to the left and Sparky had to reach the other start square straight ahead. And that way, he now saw, were eight straight shot squares. He took several steps straight ahead... and saw a blue flash in the ceiling that confirmed his choice.

Three more squares, and now there were three options: (1) A route to the right, with four squares and a dead-end, but wall breaks on both sides. (2) The "shot" went on for five squares, ending in an obscured area, with openings, or maybe cul-de-sacs, to the right. (3) A middle route, that snaked diagonally off to the forward-right. He could just make out, after the zigzag, what appeared to be more open area.

He ran forward two squares. He could now see that a path went down to the left at least three squares. He stepped forward another square. No GoHere. The new path went "down" five squares. There was a gap on the right side, two squares down, with no indication as to whether it was the start of another path, or just a dead end. The path ended at a wall... with another gap to the right at the end...

He ran two squares, and found that the area ahead was indeed a dead end. He ran back. There were still three choices. The new "down" route replaced the straight one. Stop dithering! Think! His options were: (1) backtrack three squares to the "up" route, (2) backtrack only one square and take the diagonal to the right, or (3) go down into the long corridor.

The zigzag? That looked like it might have more options. He turned right and started to move... and saw a faint flash of a pink "danger" sign in the ceiling. Okay.... He headed towards the "up" path... and again saw the pink circle.

Logic. Other than the mysterious symbols, there was no basis for choosing any pathway. He had been in enough races to know that what seemed an obvious route could turn into a mess of dead ends. So were the symbols trying to help him? Or make him go in wrong directions? Again, no basis for deciding...

Wait! The first GoHere had flashed after he had confirmed that the right hand path was a dead end. That indicated truth. But the Losanto and Targrat had both talked about GoHeres. So was another Graciousone controlling the ghostly signs to mislead him? Or had Harlee somehow taken over the system, and was cheating? What was going on?

Stop dithering! Sparky ran down the five square long corridor, passing what indeed was a dead end two squares down, and continued another three squares... and his peripheral vision saw a quick, high-up flash of blue.

There was only one way to go at the end, and Sparky charged through the opening, and then up two squares and turned. There were now two routes: a zigzag to the left that his gut said was a dead end, and two squares straight ahead, in the direction he wanted to go. He decided on the latter, but took a quick peek to the left as he ran by, confirming his opinion.

He saw a five-square straight shot and, two squares ahead, a two-segment open area to the left. He ran three up and stopped. Fart. Another three-way choice: (1) upwards went one square then had a break in the left wall; (2) left and down led to an open area with at least one down path; and (3) in the middle, another straight shot of four squares with an opening at the top of the end square.

Sparky didn't like the looks of option two. It was way too inviting. Open areas often led to traps. The right path looked like it might be a possibility.... But the straight shot went in just the right direction. Sparky had been counting squares; he knew this route would put him within six squares of victory. And - remembering the placement noises he had been listening for in the box before the race - he was pretty sure that no blocks had been placed into that area. He tried to remember how the wall placements had sounded... there were probably few lateral walls in the area ahead.... But time was passing! He jogged, somewhat raggedly, one more square along the path....

...and saw, to his left, a straight shot of seven squares... with the still form of the Tophair from the R-5-B start square sprawled on the softly shining floor of the maze, 30 feet away. Red streamers were scattered around him. Sparky squinted; he thought he saw other traces of red around the glinkin, as well.

Sparky felt a sudden hollow coldness in his belly. He felt exposed and naked in the white wilderness, and suddenly remembered a similar situation from his youth. How was it? Yeah, like a ShinyBlue grub in the middle of a dinner plate. Great Creatrix, had Harlee entered him in an illegal game? Could he actually be killed playing this?

Again, he dithered. Should he check out the body? To see if he could help? It would be the right thing to do.... And then he heard a muffled scrape from some twenty feet ahead and around the edge of the wall to his right. Someone was waiting for him in ambush around the corner of the wall.

That decided him. He was not going to go in that direction. He would take the remaining straight shot of three squares in the direction of B-15-L. He turned and took a first step... and out of the corner of his eye saw the glinkin on the ground jump up and silently rush towards him. He was suddenly joined by the other CDT, from R-10-B, who appeared around the end of the wall. Sparky's feet went into high gear and he charged down the three remaining squares, and then two up, one left, and then two down.

And there it was. Five squares in front of him was the end box. Sparky heard twin running footfalls behind him. He ran the distance in record time and slammed into the back wall of the transfer box. A traditional Maze Race victory klaxon blared loudly throughout the Inn. A high bell-like repeating tone as far as Graciousone ear holes were concerned, Sparky heard it, instead, as a deep bass staccato drumbeat that churned his belly with a deep vibration that proclaimed victory. Sparky had won.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

a small, locking traveling case for transporting glinkin.

HighRiderTM: An antique device in which to carry glinkin, when traveling. It fits over the ridge of a Graciousone and allows the glinkin rider to adjust its location to see in any direction. It is a highly temperamental piece of purely mechanical machinery and requires constant adjustment to prevent discomfort and possible danger to the glinkin rider.

Tether Asteroids: Yorbolindo has one major and five minor continents, and a group of 17,864 islands and shallow seas that are the mountaintops of a drowned continent collectively known as the Pardussassakid Archipelago. The land masses are spaced along the planet's equator in a roughly east-west direction. There are eight space elevators, serving all of the land massess. Each elevator requires, of course, a counterweight at the end of its tether to keep it under positive tension. These counterweights are modified asteroids captured from the Yorbolindo system's asteroid belt.

Bumblefly: A large and clumsy but comical insect found all over Yorbolindo. About the size of a glinkin's hand, evolution cursed them with relatively tiny wings. As a result, their flights are erratic, underpowered, and most often terminate unexpectedly by crashing into trees, glinkin, Graciousones or other obstacles. They suffer little damage from these mishaps as they are quite ruggedly built. Too large to be eaten by most insectivores, they primary ecological control are Jewel Birds, who consider them a delicacy and will go to great lengths to catch them as they careen by. Bumbleflys are stingless. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).

Seastrider: descended from ocean-fighting glinkin commandos, genetically bred over two millennia, during one of the first recorded Consolidation Wars, the extended period of warfare that culturally, religiously, and politically consolidated the 17,000+ islands of the Pardussassakid Archipelago. They are at home in the water more than any other glinkin breed, and love to swim. The preferred homes of Seastriders are domed nests, which are entered from underneath the water, located in the middle of small open swampy areas. They can be "difficult" as family pets. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Together Team: A Maze Race term. Refers to a glinkin team of two, three, or four glinkin who all start from the same start square, consult together, move by common agreement, and must remain in sight of each other at all times.

Furry: The ancestors of Furries were bred (and manicured) by wealthy owners for Hair Pattern Display competitions. Furries have many distinct sub-breeds, categorized by their hair pattern traits. Furry hair is dense and puffy, and can display a wide range of natural patterns. These can be anywhere on the animal's body, but usually concentrate around the head, genitals, forearms, legs, belly and back. Furries are an elite racial group, and they know it. This breed of glinkin is strictly for show, and are generally owned only by Graciousones who have the wherewithal to accommodate their high-maintenance material and psychological needs. They are high-strung, standoffish, haughty, and aloof with strangers. Furries are often spoiled, can "act out" when they do not get their way, are prone to fits of extreme jealousy, and can have tempers, so owners can expect a certain amount of drama by their pets. These are "high maintenance" animals, highly dependent on, even clingy with, their owners. Furries are not recommended for Graciousone families with young worms. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Jumbaladon: One of the continents of Yorbolindo. Home continent of the Furry breed of glinkin.

Compete Team: A Maze Race term. Refers to a glinkin team of two runners, who start from opposite start squares. Compete team members are supplied with colored cloth streamers which they can drop to mark routes for their opposite number. This advantage is offset by the legal ability of glinkin competitors to move the dropped streamers. Compete teams are controversial in modern Maze Racing, as "streamer wars" can lead to glinkin-on glinkin violence.

Bombard: This glinkin breed is descended from glinkin originally bred by Salannian royalty to operate catapult batteries. Their oversized limb and torso muscles, strong bones, excellent night vision, quick obedience, and instinctive ability to work in large, synchronized groups had been useful to their Graciousone owners for loading catapults, and moving counterweight rocks in elevation tunnels. A distinctive trait of the modern breed was that they insisted on doing every activity in groups. They are therefore not suitable as family pets unless the Graciousone family literally takes them everywhere and includes them in all activities. Alternatively, if you have a sufficiently large group of Bombards, they will bond with each other and generally ignore their Graciousone mistresses. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Maze Runner: A breed of glinkin bred for running Mace Races. They are unusually tall with large, flared ears, the better to hear the subtle sounds made during wall and block placement. Their peripheral vision is excellent, the better to see furtive movement in the distance. They have extraordinarily long legs and strong, light bones, the better to run quickly through the maze and make fast turns. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Zembriskin Bugherd: Bugherds are among the friendliest of glinkin. They are easygoing mountains of massive muscle, with chiseled faces that are highly expressive, and long, flowing light brown hair. These traits apply to both males and females. They are not terribly intelligent, however, thought they are obedient to a fault, and eager to please. Their competitive spirits had been channeled by thousands of generations of breeding into a fierce loyalty to their Graciousone masters and an implacable and fearsome protectiveness of their insect charges from predators. These traits make them fiercely protective of Graciousones with whom they have bonded. Though somewhat high maintenance due to their body hair, Bugherds therefore make excellent family pets. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Royal Lusardian: The Royal Lusardian is a giant among glinkin, standing (when they decide to) seven to eight portly (one might even say roundish) feet tall. Except for the soles of their hands and feet, they were covered in long soft, strokingly-addictive long and flowing gray hair. Additionally, they are noted for their distinctive flat faces, pug noses, and large, expressive, deep chocolate brown eyes that are twice the size of other breeds of glinkin. These features, their massive build, and an innate gravitas demand both attention and deference. Well covered by their flowing hair, Royal Lusardians usually disdain clothing, with the exception of occasional very dignified hats.

Royal Lusardians were bred for thousands of pampered generations as the royal pets of the Lusardian Queens of ancient days. An apocryphal tale has a royal Graciousone having one of her tentillumtips cut off, rather than disturb a sleeping Royal Lusardian glinkin child. The long flowing locks, well-developed musculature, and elegant features of both male and female Royal Lusardians have them currently enjoying great popularity as Statement Pets who will patiently sit all day wherever they are placed, looking awesome. Obsequiousness in the presence of any Royal Lusardian is a given... even for Graciousones. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Losanto: The Losanto is a toy breed. Their distinctive floppy ears, flat flaring nose, and tiny, delicate mouth were originally bred for show, but the breed has also evolved into a popular family pet. Not recommended for families with small rugworms, as Losanto can act out when owner attention is divided between them and a rugworm.(Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Digger: Descended from military glinkin bred to dig, and fight in siege tunnels, the Digger, is a heavily muscled and height-stunted breed, with beetle-browed forehead, floppy ears, thick bones, and lowered intelligence. The genetics that created the breed had the unfortunate side effect of making them quite stupid. For the right Graciousone, however, this regrettable trait is more than offset by their incredible loyalty, their tractable and placid natures, and their tenacious ability to memorize and carry out complex commands. Though their lack of problem solving skills can sometimes make them difficult to train, remember that patience is key and repetition is highly rewarded. The Digger breed is recommended for Graciousones who have the time to invest in training. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Sled Glinkin: Sled Glinkin originated during the Second Imperial Consolidation phase of the Locusian Empire. This period was marked by incessant maneuver warfare between competing Graciousone military formations. This included the development of Sled Warfare, where Graciousones armed with four-tentacle maces and battle axes would stand on sleds which were pulled into battle. As draft animals large enough to pull Graciousones around never evolved on Yorbolindo, the Sled Glinkin was bred to take their place. Bug-eyed to see signaled orders, wide-nosed and barrel chested (with huge lung capacity) to breath despite clouds of choking dust, and highly intelligent to remember and follow complex orders, huge formations of thousands of highly trained Sled Glinkin hooked up to ropes would pull Graciousone Sled Warriors into battle. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).

Walking the Walls: A Maze Game term. Glinkin players in the Listening Box listen for clues as to placement of walls and blocks, and also "walk the walls," repeatedly hitting the ceiling and walls of the box with their fists and listening to the echoes.


Next Post: Chapter 14 --- Slavvin and Sly
2020-04-17 3:35:43 PM  
Chapter 14 - Slavvin and Sly

Harlee opened the transfer box. To a background of excited Graciousone hoots, which sounded to Sparky like deafening rumbles of thunder, he picked up the glinkin and cuddled him in his tentillum. "You did it Sparky! I'm so proud of you!" Harlee's eyestalks and his eyebrows both curved into big smiles, and he lovingly stroked Sparky's head with a tentillumtip as big as Sparky's entire body. Sparky had never looked so alive.

Sparky was animated because he was worried. He was upset about the blue GoHeres. The glinkin in the box had talked about GoHeres; therefore, they had been used in other games. It seemed that cheating was common at this dive. Sparky could not figure out, though, how Harlee had found out about it, and gamed the system. He just knew that he had won only because Harlee had somehow cheated. So he did the only thing he could do: desperately acting like a winner, to keep the charade going, and expecting to be busted any minute. He beamed up at Harlee and pumped his fists above his head. But inside, he felt ashamed and scared.


Slavvin, who had been standing just behind the gamers, pushed his way next to Harlee. "Congratulations, young worm! That was a truly excellent maze run. You have a very smart glinkin there, and I'd like to present him with his prize."

Harlee, who had been worried by the unorthodox and illegal shenanigans of the two Tophairs who had tried to ambush Sparky, was distracted. He asked in amazement, "There's a prize for Sparky?"

"Of course. The Celestial Bug Inn always gives a prize to the winning glinkin." Slavvin held up a tiny golden chain. From the chain hung a circular gold medallion. A single deep blue sapphire secured by a small gold mount and backing, completely covered one side of it. Slavvin carefully placed the chain around Sparky's neck. The edges of Sparky's mouth curved upward, and he lifted the medallion up to his eyes to get a good look at the stone.

"Thank you, Mr. Cordecon," Harlee said. "My glinkin has never won a prize before. It means so much to both of us."

"You are very much welcome, Harlee," Slavvin replied. "And please, call me Slavvin. Say, both of you must be starving by now. Why don't you and Sparky join me for dinner at my private table?"

Harlee's eyestalks stood straight up in stiff surprise. He had certainly never expected this kind of treatment. "I'd be honored," he replied, as he scooped up Sparky and gently placed the glinkin inside his trough.

"Excellent! Oh, and please don't be concerned about your winnings. I'll have one of my employees collect them for you and deliver them to our table."

The two Graciousones linked upper tentacles and shuffled to a table at the quiet end of the eating room. The crowds of Graciousones and bot swarms parted for them as they walked. Harlee thought this odd. Tavern owners usually deferred to customers, not the other way around. But he decided to keep his curiosity to himself for fear of appearing rude.

They settled into comfortable chairs. Harlee set Sparky's HappyTravelerTM down on the table, and put Sparky inside it. Slavvin's own glinkin had been riding in Slavvin's trough. The innkeeper picked the little animal up, introduced him as Sly, and gently set him down on the table next to Sparky's carrier, where the two glinkin, through the bars of the carrier, proceeded to eye each other warily.

Slavvin ordered his finest sweetsap beer, and special hard liquor drinks for both of them. The serving bot arrived at the table with four drinks: two common rough-cut stone flagons of beer, and two standard 3D-printed, sapphire Toasting Cups, half-filled with more beer. A second and a third serving bot arrived. The first carried two remarkable looking tall, almost transparent, fluted and delicate crystal glasses. They looked terrible old and rare and expensive. The second bot carried a large, decorated drinking gourd.

The bot unsealed the gourd. It poured two streams of translucent, deeply purple liquid into the fluted crystal glasses. The liquor seemed to slowly swirl in the glasses. Harlee watched his glass with some misgivings, as the surface above the liquid slowly filled with a floating, sparkling mist, which lapped gently at the rim of the glass. He had never seen anything like it. He moved one eyestalk to peer cautiously into the depths of the drink.

Slavvin noticed, and his iris clacked and eyestalks twisted in laughter. He remarked, "These are a favorite of mine, from an old family recipe. Nanobot-spiked Lamarkian spiced brandy. Delicious."

His eyestalks and brows wiggled in a grin. "The sparkles are nanobots. They sequester the alcohol and release it in measured doses. Best hard liquor drink in the entire Graciousrealm. You can drink a dozen of the damned things and not get plastered, and keep a decent buzz going all day, or even a week. My grandfather invented it."

Trying not to appear untrusting, Harlee cautiously tipped a sip into his iris... and then followed up with a big gulp. Cold and spice, fire and ice. Sweet, sour, bitter, salty... a collision of opposites that was fruity, and rich, and deep... the words 'complex' and 'delicious' did not even begin to describe the drink. It reverberated in his gullet.

"So, Yink tells me you're building this really enormous ship. Are you going to go into trade?" asked Slavvin.

"Well, actually, I'm going on an expedition to The Sacred Jewel nebula in the Golden Tentillum spiral." Harlee couldn't help but feel proud when he said this. Then he remembered the reason for the trip, and felt apprehensive that Slavvin would find out.

"Is that a fact? Well, by the Wealth Creator! That is one Mother of a trip! Hey, this calls for a celebration! Yink's paying for your meal, but your drinks are on me tonight! Here, have another spiced brandy!" Slavvin poured another stream of purple liquid into Harlee's glass. "So let's make a toast to your journey. And tell me, Harlee, why The Sacred Jewel of all places? Why go so far?"

Harlee was ready with the answer for that, but paused for dramatic effect. He poured a little of his drink into Slavvin's Toasting Cup and waited while Slavvin did the same for him, then slammed back a good gulp. He arranged his eyestalks in a theatrical pose and intoned, "Because it is there. No one has ever gone there before."

"That attitude is really fantastic, my boy. That is a long ways, though, and I assume that there are probably going to be many hazards that you will encounter along the way. Have you figured out your flight plan yet?

Harlee tried not to sound self-important. "No I haven't. That's going to be the job of the New Beginning's captain."

"What? You aren't the captain?

"Uh, no, Well, I guess I am co-captain. Or something. But there's a wormoid captain. In fact, there's a full crew of wormoids to run the ship. The New Beginning is too big for me to run all by myself, even with the help of my implant and swarmbots. But I guess the plan is that I tell them where to go, and the captain, ZED-9949, will do the actual piloting."

"Ah, I see. Sounds a bit... complicated. So, when do you depart, Harlee?"

Harlee began to feel that he had overly minimized his own importance to the expedition. "Tomorrow morning sometime, as soon as I decide that everything is squared away and ready for lift off."

Slavvin's eyestalks curled into an impressed smile, "You must be excited."
"Terrified, actually. It's going to be a really long trip. But I want to do something beyond what the sente...." Harlee stopped in confusion. That drink was really strong! He was babbling. He didn't want to talk about his sentence, or his crimes.

Time to change the subject. He waved a tentillum in the air. "But enough about me. How long have you owned this fine establishment?"

Slavvin's four eyestalks slithered around into a grin. "Well, I started working as a table host at a joint on one of the Defense Stations right after secondary school. I wanted to meet some of those big sexy Space Force girls, and have money to spend on clothes to impress them. And it was exciting to be working in space, even if it was only on a space station. I worked hard, and after I saved up some money, I was able to get a loan and open a small café on the station. It was successful, and I eventually had enough capital to open this fine business, here. I was about your age at the time...."

Until their food arrived, Slavvin continued to entertain Harlee with tales of the setbacks, challenges, and triumphs of running a business in the PET hospitality sector. And Harlee drank a second, and then a third of the purple drinks. The Celestial Bug Inn was a warm and happy place, and Harlee was beginning to feel warm and happy, too. He suddenly realized that he had never been so comfortable being around other worms.


A service bot slid up to the table and presented a serving board. Slavvin said, "Ah, our food has arrived. Here, Harlee, try our house special, my young friend." He reached over and handed Harlee a bowl of ShinyBlue stew.

Harlee was pleased to see that the room temperature concoction was quite thick, and that the live, three-foot long ShinyBlue beetles, trapped and slowly drowning in seasoned, fermented sweetsap, were still a vibrant, iridescent blue. He suddenly realized he was starving and scooped a big wriggling spoonful into his mouth. Wonderful! The beetles' frantic efforts to escape their fate worked to spread the flavor to all parts of his mouth and gullet. Perfect! The stew was a little spicy, but well within edible limits, both for him and Sparky. The exoskeletons were crunchy and satisfying, and the insides were scrumptiously fatty and creamy.

The service bot also had two tiny dishes for the glinkin. Harlee spooned out a beetle and crushed it with the bottom of his flagon. The insides squirted out and Harlee spooned some of the cooling guts onto Sparky's plate, and put the plate into Sparky's carrier. Slavvin did the same for his glinkin, who had apparently been quietly sitting on the table next to Sparky's carrier.
Except, of course, they had not been sitting quietly.


Sparky had thoroughly checked out his medal. The sapphire in it was enormous, and had obviously been 3D printed. Looking deep into it, he could just see strange occlusions, almost like bunches of lines and tiny shapes. It was really quite pretty. But it was also odd. Sparky wasn't sure that he liked it. It wasn't like any sapphire he had seen before, and he had seen more than a few, as Graciousones and glinkin both favored sapphires as glinkin jewelry. Sparky, in fact, had several other sapphire necklaces of his own, that Harlee had given to him. But, he decided, none of them were as interesting as this one.

Next, he tried to follow, without too much success, what Slavvin and Harlee were talking about. He heard a long, low burp combined with a bass rumbling grunt. He had been taught by his father that this was the Graciousone word for "trip," and remembered that Harlee had said something about going on one. That worried him a little. Sparky just hoped that they would return soon, because he had met a beautiful little female glinkin named Blossom at the glinkin exercise park Harlee always used.

Blossom, like Sparky, was a Common Domestic Tophair. She seemed to like him a lot. The first time he had seen her, she had returned his gaze, and had flashed him a beautiful smile. He had seen her a dozen times since, and the last time she had reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing and massaging it assertively. She was fascinating, and he really wanted to see her again. He daydreamed about what he wanted to say to her.

Finally, he glanced over at the other glinkin. Sly was stretched out on the table, heavily muscled arm extended, bald head casually cradled in one large, open hand. He was gazing with amused interest at Sparky through the cage bars. Sparky had the feeling that Sly's amusement had been there for some time.

Sparky had unsettled feelings about the Graciousone talking with Harlee, and he liked Slavvin's glinkin even less. Sly was a Pit Fighter, a hairless race bred for generations to fight other glinkin in (now illegal) barroom and back alley fights, generally to the death. Sly didn't have an ounce of fat on him, and his muscles seemed coiled and ready for violent action at a moment's notice. His attire was even more off-putting: billowy black pants and open black tunic. Swung up onto one muscled shoulder was a chest plate fashioned from a ShinyBlue carapace. Around his neck was a barbaric necklace decorated with several Jewel Bird talons, two Giant Green Nibbler mandibles... and three glinkin ears.

Sly had the Pit Fighter's characteristic air of hyper-confidence, and a hard, competent face that suggested this assurance was not misplaced. With some of the breed, that attitude came across as "spoiling for a fight." With Sly, it translated into an air of insufferable superiority in all things. Sly's condescending smirk told the Universe that he knew more about everything than all the rest of the glinkin (and Graciousones and machines) put together.

And that casual contempt was the worst and crowning moment of what had been a very bad couple of months for Sparky. His troubles had started with the scariness of being taken with Harlee to strange places by obvious Machine Police agents, and then watching them put things in Harlee's head. Then came being stuck in a strange kennel day after day, ignored for hours and days at a time by his Dad. And then not going any more to the exercise park where he could see Blossom again. And now, the nagging worry about Harlee's cheating and what might happen because of it.... Sparky's frustration boiled over. He leaned in Sly's direction and barked, "What! What's your problem, nibbler turd?"

Sly chuckled softly. He leaned back and stretched his arms, then loosened the Chest plate. The necklace rattled softly. He said, "Enjoying your captivity, fellow slave?"

"What in the world are you talking about?"

Slavvin broke out with bitter laughter and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Of course, you know that we glinkin are all slaves, right? Or are you just too stupid to have figured out that little fact?"

This guy was a real jerk. "I am not a slave! Harlee is my adopted Dad. And there hasn't been glinkin slavery for, oh, thousands of years."

Sly laughed again, but he really did not sound amused. "He's not your father, stupid, he's your owner. You are his property, his trained pet, and you perform tricks and run mazes for him. You poor fool, you are totally ignorant about the history of your people. Don't you know that the glinkin used to be free? That they lived separate from the Graciousones, even fighting against them? There were wars, and we got beaten, time after time after time. And then we got enslaved to their ends. They used us as soldiers, couriers, spies, saboteurs. We herded beetles for them! And now the crowning insult: we've become their pets!"

Sparky was nonplussed. Until Harlee had adopted him when he was ten, Sparky had grown up in a glinkin family, in a hobbyist's little glinkin town. His real father had told him tales of past glinkin greatness, of the mighty warriors and the great kings of old, before the glinkin had sinned and fallen from the grace* of the Heavenly Mother.* And his real dad had also told him that there were wild glinkin, and Sparky had even seen one once, at the exercise park: a hairy and dirty half-naked savage dressed in what appeared to be animal skins and torn canvas, not the soft, finely textured cloth pants and vests that Harlee bought for him. The creature had carried a sharp metal stick, and had waved it at Sparky in a threatening manner.

The grub arrived and interrupted the exchange of angry words. The delicious smells, in fact, prompted both glinkin to eagerly jump to their feet and intensely watch Harlee and Slavvin spoon out beetles, crush them, and present their pets with the cooling raw guts. Yum! Sparky didn't know whether Sly liked ShinyBlue guts, but he sure did. Sparky's love of the slimy treat had begun in his youth, when the Owner of the Diorama Village Sparky had lived in had often brought table scraps to his glinkin. He had acquired a taste for the actual bug guts (as opposed to the barely edible GlinkinBitsTM* flavor), and he was not disappointed in this meal. The stew was delicious. The thick sap added just the right amount of sweetness to the warm, raw guts. Sparky ate with relish and ignored Sly.

After a few minutes of silent eating by the two of them, Sly chuckled softly and said, "Enjoying your meal, Sparky? Savor fresh food while you can, fellow slave."

Sparky ignored him.

"Your Master's going on a trip, and taking you with him, right?"

Sigh. "So?"

"You're gonna be gone for a long time, fellow slave. Years. You will probably die on the trip from old age, and you will never eat fresh ShinyBlue stew again."

"You're lying. You can't possible know that."

Sly laughed. It was a nasty, bitter laugh. "I guess I know a lot more Graciousone grunts than you do, pal. I heard my Master talking with another Graciousone about it. Your Master has been building a starship, and it's a really big starship, much bigger than the Trade Ships that I've seen built here. It's designed for what our masters think of as a very long trip.... And you know how long 'long' is for a Graciousone, don't you? They live a lot longer than we do."

Sparky's real father had taught him about the pitfalls of dealing with strange glinkin, and Sparky thought he was a good judge of when someone was lying. (This happened a lot: the main glinkin concern - other than playing with their Graciousones - often seemed to be lying to, and insulting, each another). But he didn't hear any "tells" or see any body language that Sly was lying about this. And Sly's words reinforced what had been, for the whole last month, a dull ache of generalized foreboding that had taken root in his soul. Gone for years on a trip? Oh, Mother Creatrix, could it be true? Sparky's heart took on an added load of darkness.

Though he was trying his best to be guarded (his true father had always told him to keep his feelings to himself around other male glinkin), Sparky's face must have reflected the despair created by Sly's words. Sly laughed again. "Chances are that..."

"Just shut up! Shut up!" Red-tinged anger surged in him and Sparky jumped to his feet. He looked wildly around his box for something to throw. Sly uncurled his tall frame and stood up, clenching his fists and flexing his muscles, cracking his neck. The glinkin glared at each other, spoiling for a fight. But they were suddenly thrown off their feet by a violent shaking of the table, which was now darkened by a large shadow. They looked up and around, and saw that a Graciousone had lightly brushed against the edge of the table and was now bent over Slavvin, whispering into one of Slavvin's auricular flaps.

Slavvin listened for a moment, grunted, and then dismissed the subordinate with an annoyed wave of one tentacle. He turned to Harlee with an apologetic bent to his eyestalks and said, "Will you please excuse me, Harlee? I have some urgent business I must attend to. There are some employee issues that will take a bit of time to resolve, and which, unfortunately, need to be addressed immediately. So I have to leave you for the rest of the evening. But please, enjoy your meal. I'll instruct our live hostess to drop by in a few minutes to see if you need anything." Slavvin entwined his upper tentacles with Harlee's in a formal goodbye. Harlee thanked Slavvin profusely for a lovely evening. Slavvin then picked up Sly, and strode off to the kitchen.


*Associated Glossary Listings:

Defense Stations:
All Graciousrealm solar systems are guarded by Defense Stations, automated space fortresses that can vary widely in size, appearance, and armament. These variables depend on the location and function of each station. Defense Stations are The Presence's second leg of the defense triad.

GlinkinBitsTM: A staple of glinkin diet, scientifically designed to provide 100% of all necessary vitamins, minerals, and calories needed for healthy glinkin development. Comes in 31 flavors. Most glinkin hate them.

The Fall From Grace: A primary tenet of the dominant glinkin religion on Yorbolindo.

Heavenly Mother: The primary deity of the dominant glinkin religion on Yorbolindo.


Next Post: Chapter 15 --- Remembering Ellma
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