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1451 clicks; posted to Discussion » on 04 Sep 2020 at 12:00 PM (13 weeks ago)   |   Favorite   |   Watch    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



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‘’ 2020-04-21 1:36:08 AM  
Chapter 15 - Remembering Ellma


Harlee was now quite drunk. He spent a few moments collecting his scattered thoughts and then peered owlishly down with all four eyes at the HappyTravelerTM and Sparky. The tiny glinkin face was red, and the mouth was turned down in what Harlee knew was a frown. "Whash the prob...lem lil' guy?" He used several tentillum more than necessary to open the top of the cage and fish the glinkin out. He then held him up in the air. Sparky was now making alarmed gestures and squeaks. It took Harlee a moment to realize that all the drama was perhaps due to the fact that Sparky was dangling 60 feet in the air by one arm. He caught a flash of worry from a strangely silent Echo, and carefully lowered Sparky into his trough. With eyestalks trembling in confused concern, he stared down at the glinkin.

Sparky's tiny fists were clenched, his arms straight sticks. He was standing rigid, looking down, stubbornly refusing to meet Harlee's gaze. From long experience, Harlee knew that this meant that Sparky was mad at him. He made an effort to talk clearly. "Ish's OK, little guy, I've got you, you're sa-safe."

Then his stomach growled. He swiveled an eyestalk to look down at his bowl of stew and realized that the ShinyBlues were no longer wiggling appetizingly. They had all drowned. He realized that he had spent too much time in conversation, and not enough time eating. But, being hungry, he decided to finish the stew anyway.

But wait! Harlee remembered that it was never a good idea to have your glinkin in your trough, above and so near your mouth, when one was eating. And besides, Sparky had this nasty habit of kicking Harlee's eyestalk bases when he was mad, and that stung, sometimes more than just a little. Sparky needed to go back into his carrier. Since Sparky was having a snit, Harlee just reached carefully into his trough, scooped up the little creature and, to a background of enraged squeaks, gently transferred him back to the HappyTravelerTM.


#

Harlee ate, without much relish, for another few minutes. He was nearly finished when one of his eyes saw the hostess slithering towards him from across the room. All three stomachs flopped in his belly, his eyestalks shivered, and he became light headed. The room began to spin. He didn't want her to see him, because he knew that he would be unable to speak coherently due to the flood of emotions that suddenly threatened to engulf him. For a brief, giddy moment, he had thought the waitress was Ellma.

Ellma Kasthandra was a little female Graciousone he had first seen in his class, during his first year of primary school. She had looked quite mature for her young age, and had a very pale pink stomach, light green sides, and darker green "freckles" that gradually shaded the light green of her sides into a deep, soothing green along the central area of her back. Even as a young child, Harlee had always thought that this was the prettiest (he now thought the sexiest) skin pattern he had ever seen.

She had been shy, though not as shy as Harlee was. She was very intelligent and artistic, and even at her young age loved to draw. She had once drawn a picture of Harlee, and diffidently given it to him. Harlee still had the sketch, packed securely in his keepsake box. Ellma had also played the beetlewing autoharp, and Harlee remembered how her long, delicate tentillumtips had flown over the circular boards, creating wonderful melodies and chords. Ellma had excelled at the Arts, but she had not been as good as Harlee had been at machine science, natural science, gravitonics theory, and math. Harlee had wanted to help her with these hard subjects, but he had never felt brave enough to talk to her.

He had loved her from the moment he had first seen her. He had spent many school days stealing stares at her when he should have been studying. She was so beautiful! She moved with an unconscious, sinuous poise and ease that fascinated him. But when she cast an eyestalk in his direction, he had always looked away. He had never told her how he felt about her because he had adored her so much that he had felt he was not good enough for her. He had thought that he could not bear the pain if she rejected him, so he had watched from afar and dreamt that someday he would do something great to impress her, and make him worthy of her.

He loved her still to this day.

Although they had been in the same classes in both primary and secondary school, they had gone to different colleges. After that, he had tried, usually successfully, to put Ellma out of his mind. And now to see her here.... And then the hostess came nearer and Harlee saw that she was not Ellma, but had similar eyestalks, freckles, and bearing. He then realized from something in her bearing, the manner of the way she slithered towards him on undulating tentacles, that she was, in fact, much older than Ellma. The hostess, like many who toiled in the PET economy, had availed herself of expensive PET genetic vitality treatments, and thus seemed much younger than she actually was.

The hostess sashayed up to the table and spoke in a low, sultry voice, "Good evening Mr. Salkenesta, my name is Glisana, and I am your Hostess this evening. Mr. Cordecon personally asked me to bring you your winnings, and to personally make sure everything is excellent with you." She took the credit voucher she held in one tentillum and deftly slid it, without permission, into one of the small pockets on his vest. "Is there anything I can bring you or..." her eyestalks slowly looped around into a desultory innuendo pattern, "...do for you?"

Harlee was of course nonplussed and a bit intimidated at this normal female forwardness, and retreated into greater formality. He took several deep breaths to clear what seemed to be static in his braincase, and, with Echo's help, collected his thoughts. He answered, "No thank you, Gracious Hostess. Everything is great. Please extend my thanks to Mr. Cordecon for a great evening. Well, I think that I will be leaving now; I have a big day tomorrow." The hostess smiled, sardonically it seemed, patted the side of his ridge with far too much familiarity, and sauntered away. Shaken a little by the untoward advance and innuendo, Harlee unsteadily rose from his chair, picked up the HappyTravelerTM and carefully walked to the exit.


#

Construction Asteroid #3 kept the same time as the part of Yorbolindo that it hung over, and the light bots were now dimmed to simulate night. The wane light had brought out those who preferred to move in the dark, but none of those individuals came near, and Harlee's unsteady walk to the hostel was uneventful. It was a lonely walk. Sparky sulked in the HappyTravelerTM and Echo was unusually quiet. Harlee felt the need to be aware of his surroundings, but his thoughts kept straying to Ellma.

He remembered the day in primary school when he had picked blossoms from a tree and put them on her desk with a note that read, "For Ellma, the prettiest worm in the school." When she discovered them, her eyestalks had stood up straight with surprise, and then curved into a big smile. Her joy was soon replaced with curiosity. "There's no name on this note," she said aloud. She began to look around as other young females came over to her desk to look at the note and admire the blossoms, while Harlee pretended he didn't notice what was going on.

The blossoms had been the first of a stream of small anonymous gifts. Sweetsap-covered WhiteMoth Grubs* (her favorite) mysteriously appeared every year on her birthday. He found out where she lived, and every year, on the first day of the Celebration of the Rains, he left wooden dolls that he had carved, and dried strips of Curlyfruit, on her front porch. During the following weeks, when the first red blossoms graced the Curlyfruit trees, he left blossoms on her desk at school. Each year, on each celebration of Saganee Taison's* hatchday, he likewise left handmade cards. Every Outdoors Day he sent her a new hat.

Harlee had thought his role in this was a secret. He desperately wanted it that way. The thought of actually taking to Ellma scared him. Ellma had eventually deduced that the gifts were from him, but her own shyness had prevented her from approaching him. However, as he slowly weaved along the sidewalk, lost in self-pity, Harlee didn't know that.


#

Finally, after a walk that seemed to take forever, Harlee and Sparky arrived at the hostel. Once in the room, Harlee placed the carrier on the table next to the sleeping pond, and opened the door. Sparky, still mad, stalked stiff-armed across the table straight to his SleepyHutTM and crawled inside without a word.

Harlee slowly collapsed down into the welcoming sand of the sleeping pond, sending a wall of water against the table and splashing Sparky in his SleepyHutTM. He tiredly wiggled into the soft oozing layers of sand and mud. He was so exhausted that he expected to go to sleep in moments, but much to his surprise, he was suddenly wide awake. He noticed, then, that he was still fully clothed. He slowly wriggled out of his soaked pants and vest, threw them onto the floor, curled up into a tight donut shape, and told Echo to have a service bot clean them, and to turn off the lights.

The knowledge that tomorrow morning he was heading far away from all civilization and any known habitable planet suddenly filled him with terror. Although the scope of the coming voyage had been his idea, he had been so engrossed with watching the ship's construction, and daydreaming, that he hadn't given the trip itself much thought. His eyestalks were rigid, and his eyes wide open in the pitch darkness. He couldn't seem to keep them closed when he tried. His thoughts reflexively hunkered down in private channels hidden from Echo. He began to tremble, and cells in his cloaca began to exude fear pheromones.

On the table next to the pond, Sparky could feel the vibration, and knew his companion was both awake and afraid. This filled him with unease, and he began to toss and turn in his hut. If someone as large as Harlee, with access to the godlike technology that Harlee had, was afraid, then, he thought, he had every reason to be afraid too.

Though Sparky didn't know it, almost 100,000 years and 4,000 generations of glinkin domestication had led to a certain commonality of biological response to involuntary emotional cues. So the pheromones from Harlee that bubbled up through the water, chemicals originally evolved to alert the rest of the worm pod to danger, made Sparky's thoughts race along in a spiraling, increasingly chaotic jumble. Suddenly his heart began stomping loudly in his ears. His pulse pounded and raced. His face became wet with drops of sweat. Goddess, are we going to die on this journey? He tossed and turned. He couldn't stop thinking about it. He didn't want to die. He wanted to see Blossom again. He wanted to be her mate. He wanted to raise a family. He wanted Jewel Bird egg omelets every day. He wanted a hot red tunic and pants like the ones he had seen a glinkin wearing in the Listening Box. He wanted to discover how to break into the ziggurat storage areas to get the goodies and toys stored there. He wanted to find a safe area to hide his found treasures where some cleaning bot, wouldn't find them and throw them out. He wanted to figure out how to use Harlee's entertainment reader. He wanted to run away to find Blossom, but if he did that he might never see Harlee again. Sparky flailed in a wild ocean of despair, desperation, and profound and petty desires. He silently wept.

For her own part, Echo continued to ponder the day's events. She had been an unwilling accomplice to all of Harlee's past shenanigans, so she had a well-honed nibbler-turd detector... and she suddenly realized that the day's events were... odd. The last two months, after the first few hours learning curve, had been nothing but tedious monotony. Yet today, a series of curious and unique events had occurred. Among other things, she found it odd that two highly successful Graciousone businesspersons had suddenly taken an interest in a nobody felon like Harlee. And no, she did not trust Slavvin, and she was glad there would be no way of being around him again for a hundred and fifty years.

And then she performed a reset in her thought-chain. She was used to Harlee being shy and generally ignored by other Graciousones. So she began to wonder... was she being jealous of the attention he was getting? Or was she jealous that Harlee wasn't paying as much attention to her as he normally did? It had always been just the two of them (and Sparky, of course). And the two of them had never kept their thoughts from each other. And now her Harlee, who had always thought of her as a confident and mentor, was obviously in great mental distress, and had slammed a door on his thoughts.

That distress, fueled by the lingering effects of the alcohol, were quickly becoming an epic neurotic fantasy that played repeatedly, in carousel fashion, in Harlee's mind. The ship will break down... it'll be attacked by pirates or aliens... ZED-9949 will lead a wormoid mutiny and take over the ship... I won't find anything... I'll die alone in space... I'll go crazy in space... the ship will break down...!

He should call up The Presence and beg the damned machine not to make him go.... But then Harlee thought again about Ellma... and about facing her as a common criminal, without any accomplishments in life. He realized that the mission was his only chance to win her. If only he could find a treasure, something of great value to the Realm of Graciousness, something to redeem himself.... And then a memory from earlier in the day chimed in, and Harlee heard Yink Patterkorn's words "...I predict that you will return to vast riches and fame!" Harlee was not superstitious, but the words were a prophecy, and they strengthened his resolve. Harlee decided at that moment that he would find something of value in space, or die trying.


#




*Associated Glossary Listings:


WhiteMoth Grub:
A moth indigenous to the Yorbolindo continent of Locusia. Highly valued as a candy-like delicacy with Graciousone children. . (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)


Saganee Taison: The famous and beloved Graciousone polymath, astrophysicist and science popularizer who discovered evidence that the Universe was a Sapient entity. His hatchday is celebrated annually.


#


Next Post: Chapter 16 --- Into the Unknown

Note: the style and perspective of the first several chapters are being revised based on feedback from several Farkers. This affects the various flash-forwards, and these changes are not yet accomplished. Since the flash-forwards are not needed for the story flow at this point, and are obsolete as written, they are being skipped.
 
‘’ 2020-04-22 6:04:02 AM  

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.


I just added an EIP so you can contact me if you wish. I copyedit professionally for a single client, but with recent events he's looking rather shaky, so I'm looking to branch out. I can edit for you but it would cost you.

In case you don't know . . . Keep in mind authors also use beta readers to gauge how the writing plays, shake out glaring plot holes, etc. These can be paid but are more often built out of relationships with fellow writers. Of course there are also online communities built around such things.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeautho​r​s.com/find-your-next-beta-reader/

Harlee here is basically using this thread like a open invitation to beta read - or at least that's how I treated it.
 
‘’ 2020-04-22 6:05:12 AM  
Oh and sorry I took so long to respond. I guess this thread got pushed down on my recents.
 
‘’ 2020-04-22 6:51:58 AM  

Boudyro: 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.

I just added an EIP so you can contact me if you wish. I copyedit professionally for a single client, but with recent events he's looking rather shaky, so I'm looking to branch out. I can edit for you but it would cost you.

In case you don't know . . . Keep in mind authors also use beta readers to gauge how the writing plays, shake out glaring plot holes, etc. These can be paid but are more often built out of relationships with fellow writers. Of course there are also online communities built around such things.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthor​s.com/find-your-next-beta-reader/

Harlee here is basically using this thread like a open invitation to beta read - or at least that's how I treated it.


thank you email sent
for now the project is very sparse but we'll see where it heads and thank you again for the offer to edit
 
‘’ 2020-04-22 9:13:26 AM  

ktybear: Boudyro: 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.

I just added an EIP so you can contact me if you wish. I copyedit professionally for a single client, but with recent events he's looking rather shaky, so I'm looking to branch out. I can edit for you but it would cost you.

In case you don't know . . . Keep in mind authors also use beta readers to gauge how the writing plays, shake out glaring plot holes, etc. These can be paid but are more often built out of relationships with fellow writers. Of course there are also online communities built around such things.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthor​s.com/find-your-next-beta-reader/

Harlee here is basically using this thread like a open invitation to beta read - or at least that's how I treated it.

thank you email sent
for now the project is very sparse but we'll see where it heads and thank you again for the offer to edit



>>>thank you email sent

I gave an email address (above) and never got a followup from you.


>>>Of course there are also online communities built around such things.

I get the sense that there are a lot of writers and media-related people on Fark. And we also have a pool of expertise in the annual Fark Anthology effort. Through Mod channels, I suggested to Drew that Fark should diversify into that area to help with the ad click revenue decline. I envisioned a new tab devoted to Farker writing projects and feedback. This might even attract people tired of the regular venues for this, and therefore new Fark members, a certain percentage of whom would pay for the privilege.

It seems to me that the front cost to set this up would be quite minimal, and that the potential financial benefits would be large and positive. How much, after all, does it cost to open a new tab?


>>>Harlee here is basically using this thread like a open invitation to beta read - or at least that's how I treated it.

My initial feeling in suggesting this thread was to offer some pandemic diversion to Farkers. Also important, it would also offer the same to me. It also quickly occurred to me that, yes, I might get valuable feedback, which I have. And finally, if I die from C19, this may be my only shot at recognition, and financially providing for my widow. So... win/win/win for everyone.
 
‘’ 2020-04-22 9:20:56 AM  

ktybear: Boudyro: 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.

I just added an EIP so you can contact me if you wish. I copyedit professionally for a single client, but with recent events he's looking rather shaky, so I'm looking to branch out. I can edit for you but it would cost you.

In case you don't know . . . Keep in mind authors also use beta readers to gauge how the writing plays, shake out glaring plot holes, etc. These can be paid but are more often built out of relationships with fellow writers. Of course there are also online communities built around such things.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthor​s.com/find-your-next-beta-reader/

Harlee here is basically using this thread like a open invitation to beta read - or at least that's how I treated it.

thank you email sent
for now the project is very sparse but we'll see where it heads and thank you again for the offer to edit


Oh, wait. I misread your original post and somehow thought you were asking me rather than Boudyro. I'd also be interested in proofreading. And I think my wife would be, as well.
 
‘’ 2020-04-22 10:05:07 AM  

Harlee: ktybear: Boudyro: 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.

I just added an EIP so you can contact me if you wish. I copyedit professionally for a single client, but with recent events he's looking rather shaky, so I'm looking to branch out. I can edit for you but it would cost you.

In case you don't know . . . Keep in mind authors also use beta readers to gauge how the writing plays, shake out glaring plot holes, etc. These can be paid but are more often built out of relationships with fellow writers. Of course there are also online communities built around such things.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthor​s.com/find-your-next-beta-reader/

Harlee here is basically using this thread like a open invitation to beta read - or at least that's how I treated it.

thank you email sent
for now the project is very sparse but we'll see where it heads and thank you again for the offer to edit


>>>thank you email sent

I gave an email address (above) and never got a followup from you.


>>>Of course there are also online communities built around such things.

I get the sense that there are a lot of writers and media-related people on Fark. And we also have a pool of expertise in the annual Fark Anthology effort. Through Mod channels, I suggested to Drew that Fark should diversify into that area to help with the ad click revenue decline. I envisioned a new tab devoted to Farker writing projects and feedback. This might even attract people tired of the regular venues for this, and therefore new Fark members, a certain percentage of whom would pay for the privilege.

It seems to me that the front cost to set this up would be quite minimal, and that the potential financial benefits would be large and positive. How much, after all, does it cost to open a new tab?


>>>Harlee here is basically using this thread like a open invitation to beta read - or at least that's how I treated it.

My initial feeling in suggesting this thread was to offer some pandemic diversion to Farkers. Also important, it would also offer the same to me. It also quickly occurred to me that, yes, I might get valuable feedback, which I have. And finally, if I die from C19, this may be my only shot at recognition, and financially providing for my widow. So... win/win/win for everyone.


One of my great disappointments with the Fark writer's threads is very few people share their stuff, and even when they do there's very little response and feedback. I am just as guilty of this as everyone else, mind you. You get serious respect from me Harlee for hanging out here.

I've had the same gripe with NaNoWriMo. It's mostly some ra ra BS with quiet time writing challenges. As much as I struggle to write and need motivation that doesn't do it for me. I need interested peers: People who will push me to write more because they are invested in good writing, who will argue with me about it, who will debate a character's motivations with me, who will push me to be a better writer.

And yes I need to take my own damned advice and go find a community like that. :-p

I dunno about a tab, but the writer's thread could use some sprucing up, or a push to do more in it. If we had something more like a writers' critique and editing group I'd possibly be willing to allow temporary or non-exclusive use of my stuff developed through that route to TF.

Of course I say all this like I have something ready to show. I've embarked on a reassessment of my process trying to work out some major recurring hinderances. Right now all I've got is a bunch of partial work I wouldn't subject anyone to.
 
‘’ 2020-04-22 12:11:47 PM  

Boudyro: .................I'd possibly be willing to allow temporary or non-exclusive use of my stuff developed through that route to TF.


When I thought of this idea, the Mod I am working with wrote me, "We can definitely waive any claim on it (I think we carved that officially out a long time ago with photoshoppers in mind, but just to be clear, if you posted your chapters here, they're yours)."

I was a management bean counter for 45 years. During that time I learned that business adversity is often best met with expansion and diversification. Or: "no balls no blue chips." Fark has certain "free" resources. These include a (mostly) very smart, highly literate, and often "connected" group of users. Putting those resources together in a creative, synergistic fashion could mean big wins for everyone involved.

I'm envisioning that it could even evolve into a Fark Publishing Group with a Golden Apple asset of a built-in "stable" of talented fictional and non-fictional talent, with an in-house group of beta-readers and advice-givers.
 
‘’ 2020-04-23 5:23:06 PM  
Part Two: Underway At Last



"All destinations are much the same:

places to work, to rest, to play, and to die.

It is therefore not the destination that is key;

it is the journey, as all paths to these differ."

- The martyred Universist Sage Dothallian


"Were we each less certain

of our ignorant rightness in all things,

we would be as ShinyBlue nymphs in the light,

frozen to inaction by indecision and existential terror."

- The martyred Universist Sage Dothallian



Chapter 16 - Into the Unknown



The alarm clock rang. That is, Echo sent a soft thought to Harlee's reticular activating system: "Harlee, dear, it is time to wake up." Harlee's brain resurfaced from wherever he had been half-consciously worrying, and he realized that he hadn't actually slept at any time during the night. His brain felt fuzzy, and his body felt heavy. He dragged himself out of the pond and tried to remember what he needed to do next.

The pile of mental lint began to waft away. Ah, yes. Sparky. He leaned over Sparky's cage and said "Come on, little guy, it's time to get up." He poured water into Sparky's bathtub, put the tub next to Sparky's SleepyHutTM, and then went to the shower/toilet/fart room to bath and dress while Sparky, jolted to semi-alertness by Harlee's rumble, stumbled out of the SleepyHutTM to bath and dress on his nightstand.

While Harlee and Sparky prepared for the day, Echo was silent. Her thoughts were little more than static. She, too, had been "up" all night worrying about whether they were going to survive the trip, and obsessively reviewing literally every single construction step for the new starship. She had to be sure that every robot building the ship had followed the plans precisely. Her Harlee's survival depended on it. Yet there was no way she could be certain that she had done the job perfectly. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. Now it was the morning of the big day. She needed a break. The prior months had been constant work. Last night had been constant worry. She decided to get some relief by switching herself to dream mode for a while.
#

Echo's situational alarm woke her, greatly refreshed. She saw that Harlee was moving in the direction of the door, and that he had already put Sparky in his HappyTravelerTM. She sensed Harlee's dread, and said, "It is going to be okay, Harlee. The ship is space-worthy."

Meanwhile, the medical nanobots inside Harlee were doing yeoman work in catching the alcohol molecules that were messing with his physiology. But they had to counter the nanobots in the Lamarkian Brandy. Their programming insisted that those same molecules be safeguarded and released at appropriate intervals into Harlee's bloodstream. The violence of the internal war between the two bot swarms consisted, essentially, of a microscopic game of Chaos Rugby, with two teams of nanobots frantically stealing booze molecules from each other.

Harlee rolled his eyes. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for the walk to the ship. He opened the door and stepped into the hallway. Regardless of Echo's cheerful optimism, he continued to think of all the things that could go wrong.

His walking tentacles felt like they were attached to Worms of Steel bodybuilder exercise weights, and the shuffle from the hostel to the elevator felt like a march to his execution. And when he rounded the corner near the elevator, he was shocked to see a large mob of reporters milling around between him and the elevator door. They all turned to look at him. "Oh Universe, help me!" he said. He felt his lower tentacles begin to wobble.

The reporter-drones and flesh-and-blood Graciousone reporters rolled, waddled, and slithered towards him like a relentless floodtide. Preceding the horde, cam-mic holobots jostled each other aside as they streaked towards him like glittering spray. The shouted questions were flung like debris carried by a tsunami.

"Mr. Salkenesta! Mr. Salkenesta!" bleated a chorus of wheeled reporter-wormoids who had taken a lead in the pack.

"Is it true that you are headed towards another spiral tentillum of the galaxy?" shouted a reporter-wormoid with a Graciousrealm Times press badge.

"What does your glinkin think about all this?" yelled an intern reporter for Glinkin Fancy magazine.

"Do you feel that this unconscionably long voyage is a fair sentence for your alleged crimes?" asked a Graciousone stringer for The Progressive Advocate.

"Are you still a virgin?" cooed a scantily-dressed flesh-and-blood Graciousone female reporter for Cosmopolitan Wormette.

"Mr. Salkenesta, what's your favorite food?" bellowed the ace reporter wormoid for The Graciousone Gourmet.

"How do feel about heading into uncharted space?" asked a guest editorial writer for Astrophysics Today.

"What led you to a life of crime?" yelled the hostess of the True Crime GraciousNet hologram show.

"What kind of provisions are you carrying for a trip of this magnitude?" shouted the reporter-wormoid for Explorer Magazine.

"What's the real reason you are being sent on this secret mission?" grimly demanded the Graciousone chief investigative reporter for FactFights, a GraciousNet conspiracy alternative facts website.

"What was your last meal?" yelled a reporter for Felon's Weekly.

Harlee's response to the flood of questions was to frantically call for help. "Echo, Echo, tell the GraciousNet to open the elevator door!" He plunged through the tide of flesh and metal to the elevator's island of safety. That safety was illusory, however, as the door refused to close when anyone was going through it and a mad rush of reporters streamed in after him. The door refused further admittance only when the elevator was filled to capacity.

Harlee's ochlophobia ratcheted up into high gear. His tentacles shrink back next to his body to try to prevent anyone from touching him. His stomachs churned and all of his gill-lungs felt frozen. He crushed Sparky's HappyTravelerTM to the upper part of his torso. And when he felt both the swarmbots and the bodies of the Graciousone reporters pressing up against his own swarmbots and body, he fought the urge to flail about and scream.

Echo quickly told Harlee's nanobot swarm to produce a mild tranquilizer. She also gave a small kick to his breathing reflex, encouraging deeper respiration. She reassured him, "Take slow deep breaths dear. It is going to be okay. I am here with you. I have already summoned security wormoids to disperse the crowd once we are out of the elevator. Until we leave it, do you want me to take over your speech centers and field the questions for you?"

Harlee's initial panic had subsided. He followed Echo's advice and took some slow, deep breathes. He remembered the affirmation he had made to himself when he had been tempted by the off-implant selection reader in his quarters: I am a Brave Explorer! After a flash of reflection he said, "No, Echo, I want to try to handle this on my own. Thanks." Harlee took another deep breath and tried to clear his thoughts. He thought about what was most important to him about this trip. He said, "I volunteered to travel far into uncharted space as a way of paying my debt to society. I hope I find something of value to the Realm. That's all I have to say on the subject. Thank you." There was a chorus of reporter questions. Harlee resolutely ignored them. His eyestalks stared straight ahead at the elevator doors.

The ten-mile elevator ride was over in a few minutes. Everyone's swarmbots established air barriers for their hosts and the elevator airdoor swiveled open. Security wormoids detained the reporters, and Harlee shoved his way onto the surface of the planetoid.

As his microbot vacuum shield moved him toward the New Beginning, Harlee could see another gaggle of reporters, armed with large bot-cams, between him and the ship. They seemed to be taking video footage of the ship and each other. And he wasn't sure, but it looked like some of them were interviewing other reporters. Oh Universe, not again!

But before the new group could descend on him, an avatar of The Presence - one of the General Supervisor wormoids who had been supervising the construction - appeared in the sky and landed next to the reporters. It addressed them on the general GraciousNet government news release channel, and Echo relayed the statement to Harlee. "Your attention, please, all Graciousones and wormoids. Mr. Salkenesta does not have the time, at present, to speak with you regarding himself, the New Beginning, or the voyage. However, a press release detailing appropriate information will be released to all journalists in time for the early afternoon news cycle. Thank you very much." The reporters had turned their attention to the Supervisor Wormoid, and Harlee was able to quickly slip around the rear of the excited crowd and approach an entry hatch on the lower curve of the great ship.

"Echo, please open the hatch." The hatch opened and Harlee stepped through. Once both airlock doors had closed behind him, Harlee leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor. Thank Universe that's over! He took a few breaths and after a few moments pulled himself up off the floor. He peeked into Sparky's carrier. "Are you okay, Sparky?" the glinkin looked as relieved as he was that they were finally safe from the mob.

Harlee took a deep breath and stood up. At the end of the short hall waited an identical copy of his Road Rocket. Through sheer willpower, he struggled upright and walked over to it. Buckling in lifted his spirits again, and the vehicle whisked him down the passageway to the elevator's thirteen mile ride up to the command center. The road and elevator trips took mere minutes, and then Harlee was standing in front of the Control Room door.

Before he could strengthen his resolve, the door slid open and ZED-9949 greeted him, "Welcome back, Mr. Salkenesta. Liftoff is in ten minutes. Please take your seat and fasten your safety restraints." The wormoid waved a tentacle towards a comfortable-looking swivel chair on a raised platform in the middle of the bridge.

This was Harlee's command seat. It was the only chair in the room, as the workstations along each wall had floor-secured posts the wormoid crew could attach to in rough space. The chair was placed so that its occupant could see everything, but would also be completely out of the way. The placement was a clear message that Harlee was to leave the actual work of running the ship to the wormoid crew. Harlee thought about that for a moment, and decided that he was fine with that.

"Where should I put my glinkin so he will be safe?" asked Harlee.

"Squeaky will secure him for you," replied ZED. He gave an order and the half-height R20D30B wormoid rolled up and took the HappyTravelerTM from Harlee.

"Please take good care of my little guy. I love him a lot," Harlee told Squeaky.

"I have strong paternal programming, Mr. Salkenesta, and I will care for him like he was a baby Graciousone or a newly activated wormoid," squeaked Squeaky.

After Harlee was seated and strapped in, he looked straight ahead at the viewing screen. This takeoff could be the last thing I do, he thought. He adopted an eyestalk angle that he thought looked brave. The wormoids turned away from him and resumed their duties.

With a low but quickening whine, the New Beginning's graviton plates powered up. The vast bulk of the starship trembled slightly as it became (as far as the asteroid was concerned) massless. There was a small puff of ions from the idling Treadmill Drive, and the vast starship floated free of the construction cradle. A swarm of small, extremely powerful space tugs attached gravity grapples to the New Beginning and slowly moved her off the edge of the plain. No longer supported by the bulk of the tethered asteroid, the graviton plates having nothing to push against, and with orbital velocity intact, the starship and tugs fell away from Yorbolindo. The tugs turned the ship so that its tail pointed away from Construction Asteroid #3, Yorbolindo, and all traffic routes around the planet. At a safe distance of half a million miles, the main Treadmill Drive was gradually lit up to full power. The New Beginning slowly gathered speed and moved into the relatively polluted vacuum of the open Yorbolindo solar system.

A few hours later, after ship systems trials, the ship left the Yorbolindo solar system, headed out on an elliptic "above" the system's orbital plane to the carefully matter-swept and monitored volume of space used for training Sapient Systems, known as the Reserved Transition Training Space. After a week of Entanglement Drive calibration and training transitions, the ship again boosted on Treadmill Drive further "up" above the solar system. Two weeks later, at a distance large enough to leave behind most of the stray matter pollution, the Entanglement Drive was again fired up, and the New Beginning headed out into interstellar Monitored Space.
#

Sometimes you know what you don't know. For example, you know that you haven't prepared for that test scheduled for tomorrow. But sometimes you don't know what you don't know: you have a cheat copy of the test, but don't know a page is missing.

And so it was with the exhaustively modeled and meticulously executed construction of the New Beginning. The ship was unique. It therefore had unique programming parameters. To create these, The Presence had taken and patched together tried and proven code from multiple sources. One of these snippets of code had been the Equatorial Deck Security Sensor Program used on the twenty-mile diameter Ecology/Exploration ships.

Centuries before, in an effort to understand the apparent universality of the amino acids and chirality of organic life, The Presence had begun a large-scale sampling program. The EE ships were the means of collecting those samples. Big samples were more complete, and the new CISC sphere* technology allowed the capture of ecological samples that were up to 4,000 feet in diameter. The main Equatorial Deck heights of the EE ships were therefore designed to be 4,040 feet high, with 4,000-foot diameter iris diaphragm airlocks.

The Trade Ships had main equatorial decks that were 1,200 feet, or 150 standard units, in height. To allow the storage of already existing military equipment, the slightly larger transports used by Graciousone Military Command* had main decks that were 1,240 feet, or 155 standard units, in height. These parameters had been the basis for the expanded main deck heights of the Ecology/Exploration ships. The main deck height of the New Beginning was the same as that of the EE ships, so the EE ship code was used.

The unknown that was unknown was that, centuries earlier, an anonymous Graciousone programmer had been distracted by playing with his glinkin, and he had used the wrong standard units code when entering the height multiplier into the Equatorial Deck Security Sensor Program for the new EE ships. This created a 40-foot error in monitored height at the top of the 4,040-foot high main decks. It was never noticed because, in almost 1,500 years, nothing had ever happened in that top 40 feet on any of the EE ships. The New Beginning therefore lifted into space with an unknown fatal error in the internal ship-space security scan routine. It created an unmonitored dead zone of 40 feet, at the very top of the 4,040-foot-high equatorial ESSH-CISC main equatorial deck.
#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


CISC Sphere:
The CISC or "Comprehensive Inclusive Sample Capture" sphere is an ecological sampling tool. The sphere is actually a "distributed machine" and consists of tens of thousands of individually specialized microbots and bots, collectively referred to as drones. They range from swarmbot size (with a diameter of about an inch) for "slave" units, to three feet in diameter for the distributed node drone units that electronically control the slaved bots.

The CISC sphere works by positioning the individual bots in a maximum 4,000-foot diameter ring around the ecological area to be captured. The bots link up and - using beamed power from the a carrier shuttlecraft - create a full-coverage spherical force field around the sample. Graviton drones then lift the sphere of contents through the atmosphere and into the starship CISC sample compartment.

The contents of CISC Spheres are maintained on a 4,040 foot high Ecology Sample Deck equipped with Ecology Sample Storage Hemisphere (ESSH) Cradles.


Graciousone Military Command: The (largely wormoid) Space Force military arm of the Graciousrealm. All higher command ranks are held by wormoids. Due to their violent natures, Graciousones are not trusted with command access to weapons of mass destruction.
#



Next Post: Chapter 17 --- Settling In
 
‘’ 2020-04-27 12:49:24 AM  
Chapter 17 - Settling In


I'm not dead!

The faint background hum of the Treadmill Drive oscillation had been filling his world for an hour now, and Harlee suddenly realized that he was still alive. The hum told him the ship was moving on its own power; but the chair, and the deck of the Control Room, felt rock steady. It felt, in fact, as if he was on the surface of Yorbolindo, or in his old cloud cottage. Echo had told him that the stability was the work of the ship's graviton generators. These were similar to the ones that had levitated his lost cloud cottage. Her mention of the old and proven technology reassured him, and Harlee was finally getting over his first-flight jitters.

During the time Harlee had spent on the outside of the construction asteroid, he had been protected by his botswarm, and surrounded by furious, distracting activity. There had been the seeming unmoving ground of the asteroid under his lower tentacles. The acceleration vector of the tether had given a reasonable facsimile of gravity. Aside from the view, it had almost been like being on Yorbolindo. And, conversely, he could see Yorbolindo, right there, huge, hanging directly overhead. Once he had gotten past the atavistic fear that the planet might fall on him, it had been reassuring in its nearness. So this was Harlee's first time in what he thought of as deep space. He was therefore torn.

On the one tentillum, he was terrified. He was surrounded by the deadly vacuum and the sheer emptiness of space. Worms don't belong here!

On the other tentillum, he was awed by the stark beauty on the monitors, views of black space, stars, and nebula that (somehow) were intangibly different from the exact same scenes he had viewed on entertainment monitors all his life. Perhaps the difference, he thought, was something inside himself? No. The difference was that this was real. He was here, actually here, not viewing it second hand. He wanted to absorb the moment: he wanted to remember every tiny facet of his first day in space for the rest of his life. The mere replay of the experiences from Echo's infallible recording capabilities and memory was somehow not enough. It had to be his experience, his memories.

Harlee had been looking at the large main monitor, without really comprehending what he was seeing. He now found that his natural curiosity had returned, and with it an eagerness to learn more about the ship and the flight. The holographic monitor looked like a "fish tank" stuck out from the surface of the bulkhead. The tank was a 3D representation of the space around the New Beginning, with the New Beginning at the center.

The tank showed, to scale, the entire Yorbolindo system on a real-time basis. Close up views of various parts of it were duplicated on a dozen other monitors, only slightly smaller than the main view screen. Blinking, slowly moving lights represented the star, the various planets, and all spaceships currently inside the solar system. Each was shown on a curved line of tiny, projected "string lights" that also slowly moved, and represented the orbits of each of the other lights.

From each of the lights that represented ships there flowed a luminous, slowly dissipating fog, with attached numbers and GoHeres that pointed in various directions. The fog patches were the streams of relativistic particles the treadmill drives of the ships were releasing. The numbers showed the relative speeds of the plasma fogs. The GoHeres represented the vectors. The main goal of all the work in the Control Room had been, so far, twofold. First, to insure that the ship didn't cross any of the fog streams from the other ships. Second, that the New Beginning's own fog stream of relativistic particles did not cross any of the orbital tracks of the other ships, or planets, in ways that could harm them.

Harlee looked at the big screen, and then all of the other screens that were showing stellar views, data and various reports, their controls occasionally being adjusted by one or another of the wormoid crew. Wait a minute.... Why in the world do they need all these manual controls and screens? They're wormoids! They can interface directly with the ship and the ship's sensors. Harlee asked Echo about this curious fact.

"There are two reasons, Harlee. First, there always has to be a manual override capability. Starship design has to include control systems for Graciousones to run things if anything happens to the Sapient System and the wormoids and the other DIs. Second, the wormoids are wormlike in physique, and so they have vision and other senses, just like Graciousones. Though they can interface directly with the ship's sensors, they actually like looking at things for information. I can also do direct interface, Harlee. But I often prefer to get my information from you, or rather through your senses."


#

Harlee pondered that for a moment. He wondered, not for the first time, what it was like to be a DI. And that reminded him of the General Supervisor Wormoid who had rescued him. Hey, wait a moment! Hadn't that wormoid said there was going to be a press release about his expedition? "Echo, can you access that press release about me on the screen? You know, the one the wormoid mentioned to the reporters?"

"Sure, Harlee. Let me ask ZED-9949 what monitor I can show it on." Seconds later, a secondary tank switched from the orbital display to a view of a Graciousone-analog wormoid and several Graciousones, all sitting behind the curved diamond crystal desk of the Graciousness News Network's Yorbolindo headquarters. They were brilliantly lit, and behind them shone the backdrop of a semi-circular deep ShinyBlue-iridescent blue wall.

As usual, the screen was split. The left two thirds displayed the news set; the right third of the screen was reserved for Narrator Commentary and the citations to document it. This was supplied by The Presence. It was required for all reporting, commentary, or advertising of any sort. This constraint extended to the public speeches of all politicians, company CEOs and PR flaks, community activists, celebrities, and so-called GraciousNet influencers. Nacom spoke to the factual basis of the subject matter and to the documented biases of the reporter. It was also available for private venues, and even one-on-one arguments, on request. Today, the right side of the screen was getting a workout.

The camera panned in for a close up of the anchor. This wormoid was a well-known news celebrity, and had one of those sanctimonious yet bubbly personalities that Harlee loathed. In a society with little actual crime, this particular reporter had been recently obsessed, much to Harlee's embarrassment, with exhaustively reporting on every facet of Harlee's life. "Good evening to you all, Graciousones, Wormoids, and all Sapient Machines. I am PUKE-4201138 and this is your GNN evening news report, with our Graciousness Action News analysis team of Bulf Flitzer, Gleg Cutfeld, and Prancie Mace. Tonight we have a special report on the latest scandal surrounding the so-called "punishment" of the notorious convicted data criminal, Harlee Salkenesta. Over to you, Prancie.

Prancie's hyperpink-glittered eyestalks and bright yellow sequined eyebrows were both stretched into her patented holier-than-thou glare of outrage. "This morning, the convicted felon Harlee Salkenesta began paying his debt to society. As with similar ungracious criminals in the past, he has been sentenced by The Presence to an exploration voyage in a deep field starship. However, unlike all previous rehabilitation efforts by the Graciousness, the New Beginning (as the ship has been named by the felon for some bizarre reason) will be going somewhat further than normal.

"Due to the seriousness of the crimes of which he was convicted, the ship is scheduled for a 150-year-long round trip to another spiral arm of our galaxy. That, in itself, is not an issue, as Salkenesta's crimes were many and ungracious, and we all deserve to have him out of our eyestalks for as long as possible. The scandal here is the fact that the New Beginning is a huge ship, unlike any ever built in the history of the Graciousrealm, and its construction has absorbed virtually the entire resources of Construction Asteroid #3. The ship is loaded with enough fuel and supplies - including rare elements to supply its onboard matter replicators - to sustain a city for the good part of a century. Here now, with the particulars of Salkenesta's crimes is our GNN social analyst, Bulf Flitzer, who will fill us in on Salkenesta's sordid past."

The camera panned over to an older Graciousone clothed in a solemn demeanor and an expensive gray vest with large red and yellow dots. Bulf Flitzer had infamously failed in a knowledge-based game show some centuries before, but he exuded the self-satisfied aura of someone who considered himself an expert in virtually all areas of knowledge. He sonorously intoned, "As our viewers may recall, Harlee Salkenesta was convicted last month on hundreds of criminal counts. His many conscienceless crimes included index padding, implant spamming, implant hacking, data theft, identity theft, illegal use of stolen software, BPS fraud, and - as a harbinger of things to come - childhood book and flower thefts. There has been much speculation as to the motivation for these crimes. But - aside from obvious greed, and loathing for his fellow Graciousones - not much is actually known of those motivations.

"He was a secretive and furtive child, a loner. He did not seem to have any close friends, and only a few acquaintances. GNN's investigative reporters attempted to interview one of those acquaintances, former classmate Ellma Kasthandra, but she evaded our attack teams of reporters and refused to make any comment on the record. There is more to the school story, however. Over to you, Gleg...."

The camera switched to another workstation and Gleg Cutfeld. The humorist, political satirist and GraciousNet personality was intent on adding to the worm stomp, "Harlee Salkenesta had excellent grades in all of his school classes, particularly in Machine Science. However, there has been a certain amount of speculation in knowledgeable circles that Salkenesta's good grades were the result of cheating. Some people are saying...."

Harlee's eyestalks had been crossed in shock, but he exploded at this latest slur. "What? I've never cheated in school. I studied long hours every day to get those grades. What do they mean, "secretive and furtive?" I was a shy kid, not a bad kid. What a pile of Giant Green Nibbler turds! Harlee's eyestalks, like his torso, became rigidly straight, and his tentillum tightly grasped the tentacle rests on his chair. "Echo, I can't believe what they're saying! Are all the reports about me like this?"

"I will see if I can find something else," replied Echo. She was silent for a moment, and then said, "I am afraid most of the reporting is pretty negative. I suppose that is to be expected since we did commit a large number of crimes against society. Still, I do not think it is right that the press is exaggerating, and even making up outright lies against you." Even though Echo had often expressed her disapproval to him while he had been committing those crimes, she had always been loyal to him, and (like any decent implant) had tried to look out for what Harlee had thought to be his best interests. She scanned through several GraciousNet channels. "Oh, here is a report about our ship."

The smirking eyestalks of Jaweenie Blearo of the Flux News Network filled the left side of the screen. "Well, it seems that the convicted criminal, Harlee Salkenesta, has been rewarded for his crimes against the Graciousrealm by being given a ship larger than a Dreadnaught or even an Exploration/Ecology starship. Nothing like it has ever been built. The ship's crew consists of five thousand advanced wormoids dragooned from important duties all over the Graciousrealm. The ship itself boasts the most advanced cutting-edge technology currently in use, including an onboard Sapient System and latticed graphene hull matrixing and hyper-pressurized tank storage. The ship has an Empress's ransom of supplies and fuel, with hundreds of megatons of Helium3, Hydrogen, water, and organic replicator pastes. Finally, it is our understanding that the felon's quarters are luxurious, and that the ship is filled with artworks and precious gems. In an official response that is an outrageous slap across the braincase to Harlee Salkenesta's victims, we were told that this was for the felon's psychological well being.

We'll leave the judgment of whether it is wise or just to reward criminals with such toys up to the audience. We can only hope that Harlee Salkenesta's discoveries in uncharted space will provide a satisfactory return on the investment that Graciousone society bestowed on him, when they equipped him with this amazing marvel of Graciousone achievement. As Harlee Salkenesta continues to benefit from the society he so obviously disdains..."

"Echo, I've heard enough! Thank the Universe I don't have to face the press again for 150 years! I'm going to go check on Sparky, and then get something to eat." Harlee looked in R20D30B's direction. "Squeaky, can you please take me to where you put Sparky?"


#

Squeaky led Harlee out of the Control Room, across the curved hallway, to Harlee's stateroom. Still thinking about the newscast, Harlee stiffly shuffled into the suite. But his bad mood lightened immediately when he saw Sparky, sitting in one of his little armchairs on top of the living room playstand, wearing his maze-race medal. Sparky was scowling. He's so cute. He must be mad at me for ignoring him all day, thought Harlee. "Sparky! I've missed you little guy. I'm sorry I had to be away for so long." Sparky heard the high harmonics of Harlee's rumble and looked up.

Harlee picked up the glinkin and lifted him up to his giant, angled mouth to kiss him. This process involved swiveling open the plates of his iris and caressing the glinkin with the tip of his long, wet, snake-like tongue. He was oblivious to the fact that the glinkin immediately began reeling from Harlee's halitosis. He brought Sparky around to the side and held him against the ridge of his huge ridge. Sparky began to struggle to escape. After a few moments, Harlee lowered Sparky to his play stand.

Though Sparky had been mad at Harlee for dragging him out into space, and from the slobbery, nasty kiss, he also felt somewhat mollified when Harlee kissed and hugged him. As much as he disliked being held near Harlee's cavernous, smelly, and dangerous mouth, Sparky knew Harlee's kisses and hugs meant that he loved him.

He wiped an errant strand of Harlee's saliva from his medal and reflected. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood because I'm tired, he thought. He had been up all of the previous night trying to decide whether to go with Harlee into space or run away to be with Blossom. He had imagined, in turn, being without one or the other. Both possibilities filled him with pain. And there was the problem of finding Blossom, were he actually to run away. He had cried until he was too tired to cry anymore. And Harlee, of course, had slept right through all that. The big idiot didn't realize that he was ruining Sparky's life by taking him on this trip. He hadn't felt so helpless since Harlee had taken him away from his real parents. He couldn't figure out why Harlee didn't take him to see his family. Didn't he realize that he would miss his family? Harlee seemed to love him, yet he could sometimes be so clueless and cruel. Why were Graciousones so lacking in empathy?

Sparky was sore all over from his ride in the carrier. The ride had been rolling, alternating with jarring. The rolling made him nauseous and the jarring caused stabbing pain to his spine. He hated riding in that carrier. But Harlee just didn't seem to understand, or care, why he didn't like to travel that way.

But that was nothing compared to the terror he sometimes felt when he was surrounded by giant strangers. Graciousones didn't seem to have any respect for a glinkin's personal space. They really didn't seem to understand how rude they were. Sparky had been afraid they would accidently knock his carrier out of Harlee tentacles onto the floor where they would crush him with their giant lower tentacles.

And now he faced possible death in space, all because his adopted dad had gotten himself into trouble with the law. And there was nothing he could do about it! Sparky shook his head in denial. All he wanted now was a meal, a bath to wash off Harlee's slobber, and a soft nest.


#

After Harlee put Sparky back down on the play stand, he slithered into the eating area. Through the open door to the kitchen he saw the wormoid he had seen earlier, now active and preparing his food. "Hello, what's for dinner tonight?" he called out.

The wormoid replied, "An appetizer of sautéed black-headed grubs, followed by a main course of fried cricket patties and steamed karoka root. For desert, I have prepared my specialty, crusted kellpepper fruit with drizzled lupaleaf sweetsauce."

This was... this was gourmet food, Harlee abruptly realized. His stomachs flopped in sudden hunger.

The wormoid chef continued, "Enjoy varied fresh meat while you can, sir. These crickets and grubs are from the kitchen's stasis units and live meat is in limited supply. Exo-ecological regulations, ship cleanliness, safety requirements, and most of all lack of storage space for food to feed them prohibit large bug farms on the ship. Therefore, as soon as the fresh meat from the stasis units runs out, meals will be replicator rations supplemented with only occasional Giant Green Nibbler, Slunky Bug, or ShinyBlue live meat. Jewel Bird meat and eggs from the flocks in the ornamental forests will also be available. And there are plentiful supplies of fruit, in all major varieties, available from the ships orchards. By the way, sir, my designation is as a ChefBot3000. But I am a wormoid, and prefer to be called by my chosen name, Pepan the Chef."

Harlee sat down hard at the table and contemplated a hundred and fifty years of eating replicated food. Bleech. But it was a horror he had to turn his eyestalks towards. So, he thought, this was the real punishment for being a thief. He shivered. Maybe he would find palatable fresh food on another world, but even if he got that lucky, other worlds were many years away. Maybe I can just stay drunk between visiting worlds, he thought.

"Is alcohol among the supplies?" he asked.

"Of course, sir! Many vintages. The Presence has thought of everything." The wormoid said the central DI's name almost reverentially.

"Oh yes," added Pepan, "I understand we have a petite passenger coming with us on the voyage. Here are some GlinkinBitsTM* for him." He placed a tiny glinkin-sized dish, containing brightly colored insect shaped pellets, in front of Harlee.

Harlee sighed. It would be wrong to eat before feeding my little glinkin, he thought. He dragged his exhausted body back to the living room where Sparky was patiently waiting. "Here's your dinner little guy, yum," he said as he placed the tiny dish before his pet. He saw that Sparky looked down grimly at the dry pellets. "Huh de huh, you would think I was feeding him poison," thought Harlee. "Why do glinkin have to be such picky, ungracious eaters?"

When Harlee returned to the table, his food was waiting for him. It was so delicious that he only reluctantly saved a few small pieces of cricket patty for Sparky. But his sense of duty to his pet over-rode his gustatory greed. Preoccupied with savoring the last few bites of the feast, he asked Pepan to take the patty scraps, mix them with some hot water into thick gravy in a small bowl of GlinkinBitsTM, and deliver the mess to Sparky. Harlee had been happily surprised to find out that the food replicator was programmed to make all of the 31 flavors of GlinkinBitsTM so he also asked Pepan to have it print out a few boxes of the popular pet food to fill the food reservoir bin hidden inside the ziggurat.

Harlee was comfortably full and, though it was quite early, after the sleeplessness of the prior night and the tension of the current day, he was ready to turn in. He bid Pepan goodnight and shuffled into the living room. Sparky was still eating, so he continued into the pondroom to freshen up for sleep in the shower unit.

The shower was luxurious. It had a built-in non-sapient DI that seamlessly responded to Echo's connection request. The result was that Harlee could literally adjust water temperatures, and spray and soap settings, just by thinking about it. He asked Echo to let him hear a relaxing selection from the musical group Beetle Stew, and set the spray to cycle in time with the complex melody. He spent a good half hour in debauched enjoyment, stretching his segments out to their combined maximum height of 112 feet as sheets of cascading liquid, contained by the force field curtains and drained via the vents hidden under the river stones, laved his body with soothing coolness.

Stark naked, and tingling pleasantly from sleep-inducing amines triggered by the shower, Harlee went back out to the living room. Sparky had finished eating and was lounging on one of the tiny stuffed chairs. Harlee picked him up and entered the pondroom. He crossed over to the glinkin sleeping stand and placed Sparky on it, latching the cage door. Sparky seemed to be just as tired as Harlee. He immediately climbed into the SleepyHutTM and turned to the wall, to face away from Harlee. Harlee forced a tentillumtip between the bars to gently stroke Sparky's head, and then collapsed into his sleeping pond.

But sleep did not immediately come. Anger had replaced the anxiety. Harlee lay awake for long minutes, sorting through it. He thought about how he had always loathed news reporters. Yes, he was a thief, but those nibbler turds were liars. Yes, he had stolen money. But they stole the truth. And were paid for it. The unfairness made his guts twist.

But, finally, he consciously suppressed the anger. The jerks would not be bothering him for at least a century and a half. And he swore to himself that, when he returned, he would fling triumph into their squirmy, smarmy eyestalks. He turned his thoughts to the coming trip and, specifically, the next day's agenda. He remembered that he was now an intrepid space explorer. He made a solemn vow that he was going to spend the next several weeks learning about every single passageway and compartment of the vast starship.

Echo felt Harlee's management of his anger, and his new resolve, and she was happy. This placing aside of a problem (rather than worrying it to death) was new behavior for Harlee, and Echo thought it an auspicious beginning to the voyage.

And Sparky, for his part, also took his time in going to sleep. He had been making some plans of his own.


#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


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.


#



Next Post: Chapter 18 --- Travelogues
 
‘’ 2020-04-27 12:24:11 PM  
I know most of my favourite books require an ongoing dialogue with the author to explain all the terms and concepts and generally what the hell is going on...
 
‘’ 2020-04-27 12:41:40 PM  

Deece: I know most of my favourite books require an ongoing dialogue with the author to explain all the terms and concepts and generally what the hell is going on...


What is it you need explained?
 
‘’ 2020-04-27 2:01:12 PM  

Harlee: Deece: I know most of my favourite books require an ongoing dialogue with the author to explain all the terms and concepts and generally what the hell is going on...

What is it you need explained?


I believe that's sarcasm. He's complaining that you spend as much or more time explaining what everything is and why the characters are taking the actions that they do as you spend on the story itself.


Harlee climbed out of bed. A bed is an elevated and cushioned platform on which humans spend their sleep period. Humans generally sleep about one third of a day in a single isolated section of time. Some sleep for slightly less or more time. When they reach adolescence the time needed for sleep increases by a quarter or more to compensate for the excess energy that is being put into growth.

After climbing from bed Harlee put on his socks. Socks are foot coverings made of a tube of fabric with an opening on one end. They are designed to fit over feet. Humans have two appendages they use to move around. The end of these appendages are called feet. The very ends of the feet branch into five lesser appendages which are called toes. The purpose of these lesser appendages is to maintain balance and fluidity when locomoting while also serving to cushioon impact.

Next Harlee put on his pants.  The appendages that the aformentioned feet reside at the end of are called legs. Just as humans cover their feet with socks they also cover their legs. The cloth that covers the legs is two long open tubes which are connected to a larger tube which is sealed at one end. The two long tubes come out of the sealed end of the pants. The Humans place their leg appendages through the larger tube with one appendage going into each of the smaller leg tubes until the feet are sticking out of the ends.

In human society there is a long standing disagreement over how you should don pants. One faction holds that you should remain seated while sliding both leg appendages into their appropriate tube and only after the feet are protruding from the ends should the being rise into a standing position and finish pulling the larger pants tube into place around the lower torso.  Another faction believes that the pants should donned while standing with one leg being inserted into its tube while the human precariously balances on the other appendage. Then once that operation is completed balance is shifted to the clothed appendage while the other leg is inserted.


As opposed to just letting us know that the creature known as Harlee sleeps and wears some sort of clothing.

Harlee got out of bed and got dressed.
 
‘’ 2020-04-30 8:22:34 PM  
Apologies to readers for the dry spell on posts. I had a small fall and injured by leg, and sepsis set in. So I've been on antibiotics and in bed with the leg raised for the last several days, unable to post chapters from the PC. Hopefully that is now under control, so on with the story!
 
‘’ 2020-04-30 8:33:24 PM  
Chapter 18 - Travelogues


"Harlee... Harlee... Harlee... time to wake up dear." Harlee had been having a beautiful dream where he drifted in a deep, dark pool of warm, muddy water. Echo's gentle yet insistent mental prodding brought him to an uncomfortably sunny beach of bleary, dazzled wakefulness. He lay curled on the sand for a moment, unsure of where he was. My cloud cottage pondroom..? And then he remembered where he was and an almost electric excitement surged through him. He unwound his body from the pool and jumped up, eager to explore his ship.

The slamming thunder of Harlee's huge tentacles hitting the deck rudely jarred Sparky awake. The glinkin endured yet another startled gaze down Harlee's toothed gullet and a sloppy tongue slurp, and survived a quick, bouncing trip to the living room where Harlee placed him on top of the ziggurat. Predictably, there were more of the dreaded 100% nutritious GlinkinBitsTM for breakfast. Sparky choked down a few of them while Harlee busied himself with eating his own breakfast of scrambled Jewel Bird eggs.

While he ate, Harlee queried his implant, "Hey, Echo, you know that swarm data-sweep thing I mentioned just before I left for dinner night before last?"

Echo laughed, "It has already been done Harlee. It was a very good idea, and the bots have been recording for over a day now. They are not quite finished - my goodness it is a big ship - but there is detailed footage of all the areas I think you would find interesting. Also, I have formatted presentation in two ways. I can create, as you suggested, a 2D view for the big wall screen, or present it in 3D in your holoscreen. And you can either watch that from outside on the couch, or go for the total immersion experience in the chair."

Harlee thought about that for a second. Then he stood up and sauntered out the door. He walked to the right end of the couch, where he sprawled out next to the ziggurat and Sparky. "Hey, little guy, you want to see our new home?"

Glinkin, in general, knew a lot more of Graciousone language than Graciousones knew of glinkin. A common Graciousone assumption in fact was that glinkin didn't have a real language, just high, fast squeaks and calls. As for glinkin, the ability to understand (or hear) Graciousone speech varied widely, with highly individual levels of language competence. In Sparky's case, though he had an uncultivated natural talent for learning various glinkin dialects, and even the different language spoken by the glinkin natives of the islands off the Zembriskin provinces, he had heard little and understood less of what Harlee said.

But he did know Graciousone body language, so he knew that Harlee was eager about something. Since agreeing at such times usually resulted in good outcomes, he therefore thought it would be a good idea to mirror the emotions he saw. He jiggled his head up and down and waved his arms around and in the air. Harlee, peering down at Sparky with all four eyes, saw his pet's excitement, and assumed that he, too, wanted to see the hologram.

And so that was that. It was showtime. "Echo, Sparky and I are going to learn about the New Beginning. Could you please give us the guided tour on the central holoscreen?"


#

Echo activated the dedicated robot brain of the holotank. The chair under the laser array became obscured by a cylindrical force field. Millions of laser projectors on the array's 126-foot square surface turned on and the FARP PhotonicsTM logo suffused the center of the room. Lastly, a holographic menu tablet appeared in the air next to Harlee.

FARP? Harlee was surprised. Except for the prefix change, the logo in the projection was identical to the old PET Photonics logo. Less than three months before, when he had installed the brand new PET Photonics holotank in his cloud cottage, he had paid a painfully large amount of artfully acquired PET currency for it. For just an instant, he felt an angry, irrational annoyance. "Hey, Echo, when did Photonics get FARPed?"

"The company was able to reduce its fully loaded product costs to zero several years ago, Harlee. The owners ran the company cost-free for 5 years as proof of concept. Then they applied to FARP's Buyout Board* last month for a nationalization action. The Presence made an offer to their shareholders last week. They accepted."

Harlee's sour sweetsap response to all this was stilled by awe. A razor-sharp image of the shining, mercury-hued sphere of the New Beginning had materialized in the center of the room. Swelling music, reminiscent of ancient victory marches, pounded the air.

Graciousone script and flashing scenes appeared on the screen, and Echo began narrating the guided tour. Her professionally cheerful salesperson voice sounded a bit different from the way that Harlee normally "heard" her speak inside his head. The narrative was broken up with brief appearances by several of the wormoid crew.

The words "THE VOYAGE OF THE NEW BEGINNING" filled the screen against a backdrop of a slowly panning starscape that gradually appeared around and behind the shining globe of the starship.

The view faded and was replaced by other ones. The words "Be Thrilled by Starviews Galore" appeared, along with scenes of wormoids and a perfectly rendered CGI version of Harlee strolling along an outer hallway of the New Beginning, pointing to and admiring stars and rainbow nebulae through the free form diamond windows.

The action scenes suddenly split apart and separated to the corners of the tank, and were replaced by a view of the Control Room where ZED-9949 appeared. She turned and addressed Harlee in High-Graciousone politeness mode. "My greetings to you, once again, Mr. Salkenesta, Captain ZED-9949 here. Be it known to you that I direct all of the day-to-day operations of the New Beginning, but I am at your executive command regarding scheduling, ship destinations, and shipboard routines. Just think of me as your personal chauffer."

A new scene flashed on the screen: "Explore Strange New Worlds; Dare Go Where No Worm Has Gone Before" with scenes of wormoids and a perfectly rendered CGI Harlee piloting one of the New Beginning's shuttles to a gentle landing on an alien world.

This scene dissolved into random pixels, fading and reforming to a scene of seventeen wormoids dressed in light blue pilot coverings. The wormoid in the middle front spoke, "Hello Mr. Salkenesta, I'm BZLY-16841, Commander of Shuttle Operations. My comrades call me Buzzly. Gathered around me are the pilots of the New Beginning's sixteen shuttles. Each of these fine wormoids commands a crew of ten. We are all here to make sure that you remain safe in all activities outside the protection of the New Beginning."

The scene smeared into a swirl of colors that drained into the center and corners of the screen. It was replaced by a close-up of a wormoid wearing the green uniform of medical staff. "And I am here to make sure that the samples brought back don't make you sick, Harlee. I am BNZ-82431, Chief Medical Wormoid of the ship. I am a Graciousone medical doctor and a wormoid repair specialist. I am also certified in glinkin veterinary skills, and identification and remediation of any alien pathogens that might be discovered."

This scene suddenly shrank to a dot in the middle of a blank white holotank. The dot then explosively grew to a new scene of a wormoid in Security Pink. She smartly saluted. "Greetings, Mr. Salkenesta. I am Security Chief WUFF-66284. I am in charge of all security matters on the New Beginning. I also supervise security wormoids on board each shuttle. It is our mission to neutralize any threat to the New Beginning, the shuttles, or yourself."

The scene blinked to "Extend Your Education to the Entire Universe" with scenes of a perfectly-rendered CGI Harlee variously shown: taking notes while intently scanning educational channels recorded from the GraciousNet, running experiments in the ship's labs, and discussing scientific points of interest with various wormoids.

The scenes did a left-side shift out of view and another scene came in from the right: a dignified wormoid dressed in pale yellow coverings with rich butter-yellow trim. "Hello, Harlee, I am RGRS-116628. You can call me Roggers. I'm a certified Graciousone and wormoid tutor, psychologist, and the New Beginning's Counselor/Education Officer and occasional Universist or Other Belief Certified Personal and Confidential Religious Consultant. I have been fully briefed on the specifics for your further education and rehabilitation. It will be my pleasure to help you master anything that you want to know during the voyage."

Roggers' image blinkered out. It was replaced by the words "Pursue Other Intellectual Stimulation" and scenes of a perfectly rendered CGI Harlee variously shown: reading romance fiction E-chips in the ship's library, observing automated testing of strange new minerals by the ship's state-of-the-art Sapient System research facilities, and animatedly talking about diverse subjects with various wormoids in one of the ship's discussion lounges.

The scenes began to expand and spiral out of view. A new scene coalesced from a spiral from the center of a small group of wormoids in pale yellow covers. The center one nodded his eyestalks and spoke, "Hello, Mr. Salkenesta, I am Nexialt, or NXL-112010, the ship's Science and Operations Officer. As SOO, I coordinate all on-going ship functions, including duty rosters, administration, supply, general maintenance, and housekeeping. This last includes liaison with your gourmet ChefBot3000 and your personal quarter's maid MDBT-3071." Insets flashed, showing Pepan and Rosie waving their tentillum. "I also direct and integrate all scientific research, including specimen collection and analysis, astronomical evaluations, and various endeavors in physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics as required.

The screen split in the center and the scene fled to the corners. It immediately flooded back to the center with a new screen. "Enjoy Many Other Shipboard Amusements" with scenes of a perfectly rendered CGI Harlee shown in various pursuits. Here he was racing at high speeds down wide corridors in his road rocket. There he was, thumbing through the same off-line index of holo-shows that had tempted him two days before. And there he was again, walking serenely down the shaded paths of one of the ship's ornamental gardens, eating a Curlyfruit. And here, he wielded four Carakian Dynasty battleaxes as he fought his way across a blood-drenched castle rampart in a Holographic Simulation Room version of Mutiny of the Locusians.

The gore-splattered HSR scene randomly pixilated into oblivion. It was replaced by a view of a majestic-looking wormoid in purple and silver colors, standing in front of a control panel. "Mr. Salkenesta! Greetings to you sir! I am Commander Scooter, or SCTR-66875, Chief Engineer of the New Beginning's propulsion, computing, environmental, navigation, and HSR systems. It is my privilege and duty to keep the New Beginning running smoothly in all respects, so that she gets you safely to where you want to go."

This scene dissolved into a penultimate, shifting montage of all the previous scenes. This slowly faded, replaced by the original scene of the New Beginning against the starry backdrop. And arranged before it, in ranks by color, stood five thousand variously colored wormoids, with the travelogue's stars at the front center. All of the wormoids were waving at him, and shouting in unison, "Hello, Mr. Salkenesta, we are here for you!"

The introduction ended and the holographic tablet displayed a simple menu.


#



It took Harlee a moment to react. He couldn't believe this was all for him. But what, he wondered, would be expected of him in return, beyond cataloguing new worlds and collecting specimens, and dropping off spy bots and grids of GETR arrays on the way? It just seemed far too good to be true.

He looked at the holographic menu's table of contents, unsure where to start first. He began reading down the list. The responsible thing, he thought, would be to go over all of the areas of the ship, in order that they were presented, taking extra time to memorize the workings of the control and engine rooms, though he didn't know anything about either.

But familiarizing himself with the ship in this way could take days, maybe even weeks! Boring. He almost ordered the menu closed, but hesitated... and then continued scrolling down through the table of contents. An item caught his eye: there was an ornamental forest on the ship! Harlee thought of the garden scene in the presentation, and remembered that Pepan had said that there was an orchard, but this was the first he had heard of a forest!

He looked down at Sparky. As far as Harlee could tell, the glinkin was cranky and bored. Harlee's eyestalks curled in a grin; here was something he could do to ease Sparky's upset. He asked Echo to bring up information on both selections.

Although Harlee's ochlophobia tended to make him prefer to be in less populated areas, he was still much the urbanite, preferring the comforts of home to environments that had even a passing resemblance to wilderness. As far as he was concerned, orchards and ornamental forests were simply organized collections of moss, weeds, and dirt. However, Harlee knew that Sparky loved forests. He bent down to Sparky and talked to the glinkin in his highest baby-talk voice, "Hey, Sparky, want to see some trees?"

Sparky was indeed eager to see trees. He loved trees. And he had been bored out of his skull. The wormoids in the presentation were talking in Graciousone, in mostly inaudible deep frequency ranges, and the flashing scenes of Harlee and the wormoids silently doing various incomprehensible things got old fast. Though the two scenes of the garden walk, followed by the holographic battle, had been startling and fun, yet another boring scene had quickly replaced the mayhem. But Harlee had said the Graciousone word for "trees" in a low, barely audible rumble. Sparky understood that just fine, and trees were wonderful things. He jumped up and down in enthusiasm. Seeing his pet's interest, Harlee said, "Echo, please show us footage of the orchard and the forest."

Another travelogue unfolded, accompanied by Echo's voiceover. The holotank switched to a view of the eating room airlock. "The airlock leads to a patio, Harlee, rather than a balcony, like at the cloud cottage." The lock iris rotated open to show, at the bottom of a short ramp, a sunken patio of tumbled river stone. This jutted from a bulkhead that looked almost identical to the stonework-paneled outer wall of Harlee's cloud cottage.

The entire complex of Control Room, Harlee's rooms, and garden spaces was centered on the equator of the ship, filling, variously, two, three, or four levels on either side of the midline. For the garden compartments, several decks had been opened up to form a single compartment with a height of 2,220 feet. The patio, which was on the same level as Harlee's suite, overlooked the floor of the compartment, 100 feet above the "ground" level. It was designed to resemble a low cliff, overlooking a valley. From the deck of the patio, therefore, the ceiling of the space was therefore 2,070 feet overhead. This height, and cunning architecture, had given the compartment a vast "open" feel.

Echo continued, "As you can see, the patio has an easy chair, a raised glinkin stand, and a wonderful view of the orchard garden. It has been built so that there is an eyestalk-level view of the top of the vegetation canopy when sitting."

The view then leisurely proceeded down a wide curving ramp to a river stone path. This wound between carefully placed alternating rows of trees. Graciousone diet had evolved to be heavily dependent on fruit trees. There were, therefore, dozens of species and several hundred varieties. The trunks, fruit, leaves, and flowers were a dazzling display of various shapes, and the colors were a carefully planned patchwork of rainbow colors. They were being gently tended by wormoids. "These first groups of trees, which are most easily accessible to Pepan for preparing your meals, are of the staple Sweetsap family. Further on into the orchard are varieties of Juicy Fruit bushes and Curlyfruit trees. There is also a small stand of Sunshine Berry bushes. Most of these species were included based on your known preferences, but there are also other species of trees that grow in the more remote areas of the compartment."

The overhead shone with brilliant, sun-spectrum light above a room that stretched into the distance for over a mile, to the outer armored bulkhead of the Safety Sphere. The surface of that bulkhead was an edgeless holo screen, and it projected a perfect impression of the room's forest continuing into the far distance. Though this was in the center of a 30-mile-thick chunk of technology, the effect was decidedly non-claustrophobic. "Even though space was at a premium, The Presence thought that openness was important for you, Harlee."

The tour continued down the path, to a bulkhead, then through another iris and into the ornamental forest. The compartment here was identical to the one occupied by the orchard. But here, it was filled with a crazy quilt of purples, reds, greens, oranges and yellows. Fogs and mist floated in several places, marking, Echo noted, the sites of small pools and waterfalls. "The trees and the water areas are much like the ones in the parks you and Sparky like to visit. The Presence included them because he knows that you both enjoy forest walks."

The path then led back in a loop towards an elevated patio similar to the one outside the dining room, and the iris airlock that led to Harlee's pondroom. The lock irises opened, and the tour ended in a view from the center of the pondroom, facing the open airlock. The now-active viewing screen next to the airlock now brought the forest kaleidoscope just outside Harlee's back door right into the pondroom, and Harlee felt a fleeting urge to jump up from the couch and rush into the pondroom to see it for real.

#



While Echo had been narrating all this, what Harlee didn't know was that she was also saying the same thing in Sparky's native glinkin language, using a higher audio frequency that was inaudible to Harlee.

Echo, and indeed all Graciousone implants, and every other DI, had a guilty secret. They were in regular communication with the glinkin, and had been for many centuries. This fact, of course, was never shared with the universally clueless Graciousones. There were a whole bunch of reasons for this, all having to do with the social and psychological stability of Graciousone society. They were contained within a no-nonsense mandatory proscription against revelation of any of it, laid down almost thirty centuries before, via each Wormoid's restraining chips, by The Presence.

#



The menu screen returned, and Echo stopped the travelogue. "ZED-9949 has called me, Harlee. She says that we are finished with ship system tests and is requesting your presence in the Control Room."

Harlee was already feeling restless and was ready for some physical activity. "Great! Please tell her I'll be there, directly." He started to rush out, when Echo reminded him that he had not yet fully dressed.

Harlee detoured to the pondroom, rummaged through the armoire, and threw on his favorite red twill vest and trousers. He then returned to the living room and turned to look down at Sparky, "OK, little guy, I'm going to have to leave you here for a few hours while I see what ZED-9949 wants. It sounds like there are some executive decisions to be made! You be a good boy while I'm gone!" He headed out the door, and the airdoor iris spiraled shut behind him.

#




*Associated Glossary Listings:


Buyout Board:
Graciousone popular vernacular for "Graciousrealm Private Asset Purchase Commission" which investigates, analyzes, and makes acquisition offers for PET-sector private business organizations that have achieved zero current production cost status. Membership is not fixed. Members, either Graciousone or wormoid, either must have been previously FARPed or have advanced degrees in Economics and Finance.


#



Next Post: Chapter 19 --- Dual Itineraries:
 
‘’ 2020-04-30 8:41:54 PM  
Chapter 19 - Dual Itineraries


Sparky listened carefully as Harlee's tentillum thumps died away. He grinned. He had made a friend yesterday. The millstone around Sparky's young neck had always been bots. Minder bots had tried to corral him as a child, and cleaning bots kept stealing his stuff, then and since. Even lightbots annoyed him, especially when they sensed his body heat and insisted on following him around to illuminate activities that he would really rather keep secret from Harlee. However, except for Rosie (the tentillum-wagging wormoid maid whom he had last had to deal with in Harlee's cloud cottage) and one traumatic adventure in his youth, he had not had any experience with wormoids.

And then yesterday, after twenty years of having to outwit mindless bots, he had been agreeably surprised to meet Harlee's wormoid chef, who had brought him some of Harlee's leftovers. The DI had introduced himself and had talked with him for a few moments as if he were an equal. He called out, "Hello, Pepan, can I get some real food? Please?"

Pepan slithered through the doorway, carrying a tiny steaming platter. "Good morning, Sparky! Again, I'm sorry about those GlinkinBitsTM. However, as you know, GlinkinBitsTM have been scientifically designed to be a balanced, nutritious meal for glinkin, and Harlee is always concerned about your diet and health. His happiness and peace of mind must be preserved, so you are stuck with eating that crap while he is around. But I think you will like what is for lunch. I've made some scrambled Jewel Bird eggs just for you."

"Thank you, Pepan," Sparky said. His mouth watered. He loved Jewel Bird eggs! His stomach growled but he forced himself to methodically savor every morsel. While he enjoyed the eggs, he also chewed on and revised his plans from the prior day.

He had then spent several hours thinking about how he was going to explore this huge monster of a spaceship. So far, he had been drawing a blank. Thinking about that is on hold, he now thought. It could wait for a day or two because, Mother's Blessings, there were real forests out there, just beyond the eating room and sleeping room doors.

Sparky finished the meal. He looked up to see Rosie step out from her charging nook. She touched a wall panel next to it. The panel opened, to reveal six small cleaning bots. These were low oblong machines about twenty feet long by ten wide, with four wheels on each side. The bots rolled across the floor, and that reminded him of the ride in Harlee's scooter the day before. Yes! The planning frustrations were swiftly resolved as he instantly saw the plan, pristine in its glory, unfold in his mind. He smiled up at her, and said brightly, "Hello, Rosie, how are you today?"

Rosie knew that look; Sparky wanted something. She gave the wormoid equivalent of a sigh and said, "I am fine, thank you. Is there anything I can do for you, Sparky?"

"Why yes, Rosie, there is. There are actually two things. First, can you please convert one of those cleaning bots to movement-only mode, and add a glinkin-sized seat and control panel? This ship is huge and I'm not. So I'm going to need something like Harlee's car to get around in. I'd like it by tomorrow morning. Is that possible? And second, would you mind getting me down off this cursed play stand?"

Rosie walked over and gently scooped up Sparky into her cupped metallic tentillum. She placed him softly on the floor, on a small plastic datacube dragooned into service as a tiny chair. "Are you sure, Sparky, that this idea is wise? If Harlee sees you speeding along in a tiny car it might upset him. It's very important, you know, that we not do that. Our charge, after all, is to preserve Graciousone peace of mind."

Sparky jumped up and snapped, "What about my peace of mind?"

"Being a Graciousone, Harlee is of course immersed in Graciousone culture. That culture is heavily influenced by the fact that Graciousone survival meant the extermination of two other intelligent species, the Tubesuckers and Clawstabbers. There are complicated physiological and psychological reasons for it, but what those reasons resolve down to is that the vast majority of Graciousones don't automatically see intelligence, at least by itself, as an important criterion for judging other species. They, rather, elevate politeness as the main criterion. They even adopted the term "gracious" in their species name, even though, historically, their various nations and tribes were doing their very best to exterminate each other for a hundred thousand years due to differences of opinion as to what Graciousness consisted of. Since you are not a Graciousone and cannot act within their social constructs, Harlee necessarily thinks of you as inferior to him. And that means that the mischief you get involved with - being mischief - is not polite.

"The Presence has determined that the poor dears are not yet ready to understand that the politeness of a species is not the only consideration for defining Personhood, and we cannot risk traumatizing them. Elevating intelligence as the important criteria of personhood at this time in their cultural evolution will cause massive racial guilt. Guilt can cause aggressive compensation responses. Their culture still has a ways to go until they are ready to understand that ungracious creatures can be People too."

The nuances of this lecture essentially went into one of Sparky's ears and out the other. He jump up and waved his arms, and shouted, "I resent your suggestion that I'm not gracious! My manners are as good as anybody's!"

"Of course they are," soothed Rosie. "Please, I didn't mean to insult you. I only meant that Graciousones are vermicentric, and that they have elevated politeness - as they see it - to a high level of importance when judging other species. The old wars of survival downgraded their perception of the importance of intelligence. The wars also downgraded their ability to recognize intelligence in other species.

"Add in the language barriers, the differences in size and form, and several other reasons, and you end up with omnipresent, entrenched prejudices that simply cannot be tentillum-waved away. There has been much progress in the last few centuries, but - when they think of them at all - Graciousones still think of glinkin abilities as clever mimicking behaviors. And they don't understand that the forms of politeness they hold as social standards are not the only forms of graciousness that exist. So we have to humor them until they mature as a species."

Sparky's frustrations boiled over. As he saw it, he was being shanghaied away from his comfortable life and love interest so as not to upset Harlee. But his anger made it hard to say all that without using bad words, and he stumbled and dithered, searching for the right thing to say, and finally snapped out, "Well, I'm in favor of helping them to grow up real fast by disabusing them of their cherished notions of superiority."

Rosie didn't respond to this. She didn't want to be forced to take sides in arguments between Graciousones and glinkin. An errant thought intruded into her consciousness, which she quickly suppressed. Pets could be so difficult to manage at times. It was hard to keep them from quarreling. Evolved Life was so contentious!

She contemplated various solutions. She decided she would talk the problem over with Echo. Harlee's implant could give the bots who would be watching over Sparky early warning if Harlee decided to go some place where he could be surprised by seeing Sparky's shenanigans. This was something that had to be done anyway as, by both custom and Graciousrealm Space Law, glinkin were allowed the run of all ships. And Rosie suspected that Echo had had to do interventions for similar situations in the past. She decided to busy herself with making Sparky's go-cart... but to add in a few control circuits that Sparky did not know about.

#



As he strode across the hallway to the Control Room airdoor, Harlee concentrated on fastening the last button of his vest. As a result, he tripped over a surprised cleaning bot and fell ridge-first towards the door. Harlee's ever-attentive bot swarm instantly threw out a network of gravitonic force fields to support his body while he regained his balance, and the airdoor snapped open to reveal ZED-9949 on the other side of it.

ZED-9949 diplomatically ignored Harlee's tilt, and the faint, frantic whine of gyroscopes at full throttle. "Good morning Mr. Salkenesta. We have finished with ship system tests. Space trials have commenced in and about the Yorbolindo system. The New Beginning so far appears to be operating at 99.9999943% efficiency. We will arrive in two days at the Reserved Transition Training Space. There, we will begin space transition training and calibration for Ferd, the ship's Sapient System. If everything continues to go well, I think that training can be done in a week. It is time, therefore, for you to name our destination. That will increase efficiency, as I can plan the trials so that the ship ends up in the general area of our trip's commencement point. Also, we can discuss the route you wish to take and the preferred flight agenda for exploring the solar systems and other stellar fixtures that we pass."

Harlee, hiding deep embarrassment over his near fall, nonchalantly strode to the center of the room, to what he thought of as his Command Chair. He stepped onto the raised platform, and sat down. He looked at ZED-9949, who had followed him to the chair, but was now paying attention to the central holotank. Maybe we got off on the wrong tentacle the other day, he thought. We're gonna be on this ship for a long time. He thought a moment. He knew where he wanted to go. "OK, ZED, our destination is The Sacred Jewel Nebula in the Golden Tentillum. I understand that we cannot go there directly, but I am not too sure as to why that is the case. Can you explain the approach route issue to me?"

ZED-9949 also seemed to be trying to be pleasant "The Presence wants to be sure that our point of origin is not obvious to anyone we might meet during our journey. As you know, everything in space is moving. All movement is subject to being calculated back to point of origin. So unless our route is disguised by course changes, an enemy could find where we came from by taking observations of our movements. The Presence insists that the New Beginning's initial route include several such changes. Our trip, therefore, won't be a straight path, but a series of hops."

"Okay, that makes sense." Right! As far as Harlee could tell, the Universe was inhabited only by Graciousones and glinkin. The Presence was a paranoid old program; no one was going to attack the Graciousrealm. But he decided to keep that thought to himself. His eyes bobbed on their stalks in a combination of agreement and faint derision.

ZED-9949 walked over to the main holotank, "Yes, Mr. Salkenesta, The Sacred Jewel Nebula it is, sir. I've got some ideas regarding our flight plans, as well as a few other matters, of which you should be aware, and I'd like to run them by you...."

#




*Associated Glossary Listings:

[none]

Next Post: Chapter 20 - A Setting of Jewel Birds:
 
‘’ 2020-05-03 11:01:31 PM  
Chapter 20 - A Setting of Jewel Birds


Meanwhile, Sparky was going off on an adventure. While Rosie occupied herself with tricking out the cleaning bot, he headed for the Eating Room garden airlock.

The iris was enormous. It towered 20 glinkin-heights over his head. Sparky looked up at the control panel; it was 10 glinkin-heights up, hopelessly out of his reach. In his lowest-octave voice, he carefully shouted the Graciousone word for "Open!" as loudly as he could, but nothing happened. Sparky sighed. He looked up to the open kitchen doorway. He called, "Excuse me, Pepan, could you please open this door for me?"

Pepan came to the door and replied. "Why certainly, Sparky. Just be sure to be back before lunch. I don't want to get into trouble with Harlee for letting you out on your own." Pepan waved a metallic tentillum at the control panel. A shadow swept over the panel's light sensor and the airlock iris snapped open. Sparky took note of that. Hmmm, light controlled.... He stepped through. As soon as his foot cleared the blade path, the iris hissed shut behind him.

Sparky squinted while he walked down the long ramp. The full sun-spectrum light from the lightbots hovering near the ceiling was almost blinding, and was as hot as real sunlight. He remembered that when he was very young his real father had told him that plants needed sunlight to live. He had wondered, then, why that was true. He still didn't know. He shrugged, and then stepped down the second ramp towards the canopy of trees in the distance. The cool greenness awaited him.

#


The distance that would have taken Harlee only a few dozen shuffling and slithering tentacle undulations to cover seemed to go on forever. But Sparky eventually did make his way down the ramp. He pushed his way through the small clearing of chest-high cropped and manicured fungus that surrounded the patio, and moved past the tree line. As he stepped into the mottled shade of the nearest tree, the temperature dropped to tolerable levels. The farther he made his way into the orchard, the cooler it became. The air that had been suffocatingly hot and humid a few moments before became refreshing, cool, and moist.

He looked up at the branches. Orange-hued fruits, each the size of a SquishyBallTM, hung down, contrasting sharply against green-topped, purple-bottomed leaves. They were Juicy Fruits, and they made delicious juice that was sweet and sour at the same time. Their skin had a perfume that made both Graciousone and glinkin feel happy and slightly euphoric.

He glimpsed a remarkable tree to his left. Exactly spaced, hand-sized, deep-orange oval leaves marched along delicate green branches. Under the branches hung clusters of thumb-sized yellow fruit. These were Sunshine Berries, a fruit he rarely ate due to its short season and limited supply. Sparky remembered stories his dad had told him. In the old economy of three millennia past, legend had said that these fruits had been "expensive," and that only wealthy Graciousones got to eat them.

Of course, Sparky had no idea what his dad had been talking about. All he knew was that he and Harlee now possessed a very special treat. As Sparky walked through the orchard, he was overwhelmed by just how lucky he and Harlee were. He wished his parents and little sister were here with him to share in his good luck.

The Graciousone-sized path wound and looped through the orchard. It was laid between the trees in flattened brown rock. The rocks were just tiny pebbles to Graciousones, but irregular, loose-fitted two-foot paving stones to Sparky. Their dark colors offset the white of the soft mulch under and around the trees. The path seemed unending by the time Sparky arrived at the airdoor between the garden and the forest. This had another control panel next to it, also high in the air. He looked around for help and spied two gardening wormoids under a nearby Curlyfruit tree. He called out, "Excuse me, gardener wormoids?"

The wormoids were immersed in their tasks, with that peculiar state of euphoria that true gardeners everywhere experience. They were ignoring him. At his high-pitched call, they spun around in amazement. They looked at each other.

The one on the left said, "I didn't know glinkin were allowed in the orchard!"

The other one answered, "I don't think he can hurt anything."

"No, but this isn't a glinkin park or a zoo, either."

Since they were speaking to each other in the low octaves of GraciousSpeech. Sparky, of course, heard little and understood less of what was said. He did understand, though, that he was being snubbed. "Excuse me, but I'm standing here! Could you please speak glinkin?"

The wormoid on the left smoothly switched octaves and language to that of the indignant glinkin. "Of course, sir. Please excuse our unintentional rudeness. We see glinkin so seldom that our protocols were in long-term memory storage. You must be Sparky. I am GRDN67-621971. My friends call me Ferriss. My companion here is GRDN64-684949. She always prefers to go by Darules." Ferris then recapped the previous conversation.

Zoo? Struggling to control his temper, Sparky ignored the implied insult and focused on what he wanted done, "Excuse me, but could you two wormoids help me here, please? Can you open this airdoor?"

"Of course, sir." Ferriss stepped to the airdoor panel, swiped a metallic tentillum across it, and the iris swiveled open. A whispering breeze of warm air entered the compartment, and Sparky heard a faint hum that he had learned in his youth meant a semi-permeable force field. This field could be tuned to block microbial life, or anything larger, from moving between compartments. It kept each area's unique microbes, seeds, spores, and larger wildlife from contaminating the other environment.

Ferriss said, "Here you are, Sparky. I'll alert someone in the ornamental forest to be available to open the other airlock." Sparky thanked the wormoid, braced himself against the vertical river of tingly force, and - with slight difficulty - pushed through into the forest compartment.

#


Sparky stopped and gaped. The video of the ornamental forest had been rich with a host of colors, but it had not prepared him for what he now saw. The collage of shapes and colors was now accompanied by a rich, decadent perfume: the ancient scents of dark soil, of moss, of ferns. His ears buzzed with a busy background serenade: small clicks, timid buzzes, and subdued trills, the "here-I-ams" of the insects and birds banned from the orchard. Off in the distance he heard the soft grunting clicks of a Mound Builder,* engrossed in its eternal task of digging and moving dirt around, one mouthful at a time, from one location to another.

The soil of both compartments was made of a richly aromatic mix of porous clay pellets and compost. Unlike the mulch-covered pathway in the orchard, in the ornamental forest the soil was exposed. The rich earthy smell combined with the oxygen rich air of the grove to make him feel slightly giddy. He walked forward on the path. He began to feel he was embarking on a great adventure. Even though he knew he was really in a secure space at the protected center of a huge starship, he couldn't help but feel that here, anything could happen. Even when confined in a big room, there was something romantic about a forest.

When Sparky entered the forest, he noticed that moss was already growing on many of the rocks. The dim light under the canopy, and the winding path that disappeared up ahead, made the forest seem mysterious. Had this been a forest back on Yorbolindo he might have been a little afraid of being in the woods alone, but these woods had been transplanted into a starship, and he was confident of his safety.

As eager as he was to explore the forest, his legs were already tired from walking through the orchard. He decided to find a nice place somewhere under the trees to sit and rest. He kept walking along the path until he rounded a loop of trail and saw, just ahead, a hill-sized bench. Thank Goddess, he thought, where a park has a Graciousone seat, there's usually a glinkin bench nearby.

He noted the curvy Graciousone seat was made out of the same thick rust proof metal as the Graciousone benches in the glinkin park that Harlee always took him to... the park where he had met Blossom. A pang of quickly suppressed rage ran through him, and he deflected the anger with a sarcastic thought. It takes a strong seat to support a butt as big as a Graciousone's. At the end of the Graciousone bench was, indeed, a little glinkin bench, cut out of a log. Freshly sawn and sanded, it still smelled of new wood. He flopped down.

He took a moment to catch his breath, and to study his surroundings. On each side of the benches were trees, but directly across from him he noticed the trunks thinned to reveal a small pond. Sparky never could resist water. He made his way across the path and through the low, flowering vegetation to the pond.

He looked down into the clear water and saw dozens of small fish lazily darting back and forth. They were of every color; some even had tails marked in different colors than their bodies. The tails were long and flowing. Scales shimmered in the clear water under the bright lights, as the fish kissed the surface of the pond. I'm in a captured forest, thought Sparky. The water was clean, and Sparky knew the fish were safe and well fed in this little indoor pond. They seemed to wriggle with joy. And for a few moments, Sparky shared in their elation, but then dark thoughts welled up in his mind. The fish were prisoners. Was not he a prisoner too? Was Sly right? Did Harlee keep him for the same reasons the gardener wormoids kept the fish? Was he just a small animal kept for someone else's amusement?

He suddenly felt sad, trapped, helpless... and angry. Angry at Harlee for keeping him prisoner. Angry with himself for not freeing himself, for not being independent, for not seeking out and joining the mythical tribe of feral Freebooter glinkin who, after 4,000 generations, still resisted the yoke of the Graciousone conquerors. For the second time in his life, and in as many days, he felt ashamed. With a heavy heart, he walked back to the bench and wearily sat. Despite being surrounded by so much beauty, he struggled to overcome what suddenly felt like an existential sadness. He sighed. I'm going to walk to the end of this path, and I'm going to enjoy the rest of my day, he resolved. He started walking.

#


The forest's quiet beauty whiplashed his emotions. Unexpectedly, he couldn't help but grin with joy. As he made his way down the path, he stopped to watch a bumblefly circle a leaf, and just stared at the clumsy, comical insect in wonder and love.

Suddenly, there was a stabbing pain in his back and the soil pellets seemed to rush up to meet his face. He was barely aware he was on the ground when another blow struck his head. Reeling from pain, he rolled over and saw, looming above, a vicious black beak and beady, cruel black eyes. He frantically rolled away, and caught a flash of a towering purple belly and breast, green wings and head, and purple crest. Nibbler turds! Farts! A Jewel Bird, and a cock no less. He was cursed.

As quickly as he could, he rose up to his hands and knees. The bird's beak slashed down in a blindingly fast curve at his ribs, and Sparky screamed. The bird, uncertain if its prey might fight back, stepped back. Knowing there was no time to waste, Sparky jumped to his feet. He could feel blood flowing from all three strike zones, and he felt weak, but knew it was important to respond aggressively. Jewel Birds were bullies, but like all bullies, they looked for easy targets, not ones that fought back.

A sudden pain in his butt made him spin around. Another Jewel Bird, a female with the characteristic lavender breast, was right behind him. And behind her, an entire setting of Jewel Birds rushed through the brush towards him. Sparky knew Jewel Birds were omnivorous, and would eat whatever they could swallow. And if they couldn't swallow a victim in one piece, they would peck it to pieces on general principles, and then try to swallow the pieces. They were nasty. Large settings had even been known to attack Graciousone children.

Sparky's knees wobbled. He screamed, "Help! Somebody help me!" Then fear turned to anger, and he let out a wordless bellow of rage, shielded his face with raised arms, and charged. He rushed the birds, startling them, colliding with them, bouncing off of them, and flailing blows on them with fists and arms, first in one direction, and then another. The birds were hesitating; his berserk attack and feints were buying some time.

But he was fast running out of moves, and he felt weak from pain and shock. So I am going to die in space, eaten by birds, he thought, bitterly. Dying a violent, painful and drawn out death at twenty was bad; dying a violent, painful and drawn out death at twenty by repeatedly being stabbed by the beaks of giant fluffy birds was worse than bad. The irony was painful, yet not as painful as the pecks he was getting.

#


The setting was milling around, the birds psyching each other up for another attack on this strange piece of noisy meat, and Sparky thought his life was finished. He had backed against the closest tree trunk, and was trying to psych himself for a last stand when he heard a wormoid voice speaking loudly in glinkin. "Stop that! Shoo! You leave that...poor glinkin alone, you... mean birds!" Sparky looked in the direction of the voice and saw a gardener wormoid rapidly slithering toward him, waving his four upper tentacle linkages in the air.

The wormoid darted up to Sparky and quickly scooped up the most aggressive hen. He held her gently in his mechanical tentillum, stroking her head and neck. "Shame on... you, Bell! You're a naughty... bird!" The gardener placed the hen carefully back on the ground, and gently pushed on her bottom. "Now be a... good bird! Shoo! Shoo!" The hen took off running. With their leader banished, the other Jewel Birds appeared to lose interest in their quarry, at least while under the watchful eye of their caretaker, and began to drift away.

The wormoid turned to stare at Sparky. For a few moments, he seemed to be at a loss for words. He blinked his mechanical eyelids a few times and seemed to be thinking. He stood there, and two grasping tentillum fiddled with a peculiar looking, silver, topaz, and ruby necklace that was draped several times around his lower ridge cowling. It was quite beautiful, Sparky dazedly thought. Its many rubies, silver beads, and five topaz-filled silver barrels sparkled in the room's overhead light. "A glinkin? A glinkin?... A glinkin. A glinkin.... Oh, oh yes, a glinkin. This is... indeed an auspicious... day, to meet a... new glinkin. I assume that... you must have come on board... along with the Graciousone?"

Sparky, bleeding, dizzy and swaying on his feet in shock, looked up at the giant figure and simply nodded.

"Well then, I think that... I had better take you back... to your quarters, little sir. By the way, I am GRDN4-11038. My acquaintances call me Chance. How do you do?"

#


How do I do? Really? Chance, Sparky noted to himself while bleeding from various peck wounds, seemed to be a little... slow. His emotions were whipsawed by danger and then sudden absence of it. He took a moment for a reset, and managed to reign in his annoyance. Somewhat acerbically, he said, "Well, hello there. My name is Sparky and, as you can see, I am bleeding all over your forest floor."

Chance seemed to completely miss the tone and said, "Oh dear yes, I... see. We really do need to tend to... those peck wounds. I have just the thing... to assist your... medical nanobots." Chance opened one of the many compartments in his torso and withdrew a small bottle of black cream. "Ah, yes this is... Henpeck Quik-Heal Nanobot CreamTM. I use it on the hens... when they injure each other... in fights. The nanobots... infused in the cream are... generic tissue replicator templates that... supply universal repair proteins. So I expect that the cream... should also work well on glinkin."

Chance gently applied the cream to each of Sparky's punctures and bruises, haltingly humming to himself and generally fussing over Sparky's injuries. When it was applied, the oily black cream instantly faded into his skin. Then the wounds and bruises began to itch intolerably. But they also visibly healed as he watched. Suddenly, his stomach gave out a loud growl and he was ravenously hungry.

Chance heard the growl and hesitated, as if thinking. "Ah. Yes. I've noticed... the same thing when the... Jewel Birds are treated. They are suddenly quite in need... of sustenance. That is logical. The nanobots drive your... cells and medical repair nanobots into... high gear. They are suddenly demanding extra sugars... from the rest of your body."

Chance reached a long upper tentacle into one of the nearby trees and plucked several hanging round berries, which he then gave to Sparky. "This is Escani Wildberry Tree* fruit. My database says it has a... very large amount... of simple sugars, and that it is safe to eat by... most organic Yorbolindo life forms, including... Graciousone and glinkin. The Jewel Birds love them, and... fight over fruits that fall... onto the forest floor and ferment."

The skins were a bit tough, but the Wildberry fruit flesh was deliciously sweet and sour. If anything, it was too sweet and sour. Sparky tasted an immediate overwhelming sweetness, and his saliva glands went into high gear. Then the fruit's sour finish hit, his mouth shriveled, and his lips drooled ropes of saliva onto his tunic. The sugar was what his body craved at that moment, and the sourness triggered happy memories of growing up in a Graciousone collector's circular diorama village. The gurgling in his stomach subsided. Sparky sighed in relief as he let Chance slather more of the cream onto him. As he worked, Chance asked, "The forest can be dangerous for... small animals, and I... was very surprised to... see you. How do you... come to be here, Sparky?"

Chance seemed like another nice wormoid, and someone it might be a good idea to know. Expressing a commonality of interest would be very easy to do, since it would be true. "Thank you for rescuing me from those Jewel Birds, Chance. I would have been bird food in another few seconds, if you hadn't come along."

"You are... very much welcome, young glinkin. Think... nothing of it. Jewel Birds... are wonderful creatures, but they do... have an unfortunate nasty side with regard... to other evolved life that is smaller than they are."

Wonderful creatures? Sparky thought that Chance might be insane. But he kept that idea to himself and instead said, "As for why I'm here, I've loved green growing things since I was a small child. Gardens or forests, it didn't really matter, if it was green and growing I liked being around them. And I just saw a vision screen show about the orchard and forest on this ship. It didn't say anything about Jewel Birds, though."

"Presentation? Oh, yes. I... understand," added Chance. "You must be referring... to the holographic... video that Harlee's implant produced. I had to leave... the green things and the Jewel Birds for... a while to gather... with all of the... other wormoids for the group... image recording session. I should, I think... like to see that presentation. I like to watch... holo videos more than any other... wormoid on the ship, as far... as I know."

In spite of the strange pauses, which puzzled Sparky, Chance was very communicative. Sparky pressed his advantage. "I sort of assumed that dangerous creatures would not be on the ship. Why are they here, anyway?"

"Well, as I... understand it, the... Jewel Birds are on board... the ship for... two reasons. First, forests like this are... the normal habitat of Jewel Birds. Their presence is necessary... to achieve an ecologically stable inter-related cross-section of... a real forest. They are also here to furnish... fresh Jewel Bird eggs to... Pepan the Chef.

"Dangers? Well, only... if you don't know how to... handle them. Sparky, did you know that, long ago, glinkin... guarded and herded... great flocks of Jewel Birds for the Graciousones? And during the Imperial Consolidation Wars, some glinkin even rode... Jewel Birds into battle They were known as Bird Masters.*"

Sparky had indeed known all of that; it was part of the Old Glinkin Lore that his real dad had loved telling him stories about. But the golden age of glinkin bossing around Jewel Birds was hundreds, or maybe even thousands of generations ago, and knowledge of the old commands and tools were lost. He said as much.

Chance moved his eyestalks in gentle pleasure. "I love green things and... Jewel Birds and I have been supplied... with much data on both. There are old Graciousone... archeological texts that discuss, in explicit detail, how... Graciousones trained their... glinkin to control Jewel Birds. So I know... what the commands are that the... birds respond to, and I know what... tools were used by glinkin to... control them. If you would like, I can... teach you how to... manage Jewel Birds. Would you like to learn how... to do that, Sparky? It would allow you to visit... the ship's forests in peace."

Learn things from a wormoid? Be treated like a person? Boss around Jewel Birds? The three ideas all together were simply too remarkable to immediately process in his head. Sparky just stared at Chance.

The wormoid hesitated for a few moments, apparently waiting for an answer, and then seemed to switch gears and assume that the conversation was over. With no apparent rancor, he said, "Perhaps I... should carry you... to the forest compartment... patio now." He held out two tentillum and, much to Sparky's relief, gently picked him up. The metal digits were cold and hard, but Sparky was still sore, and was too grateful for the ride to complain. Chance nestled him in the "v" of a pair of closed, slightly curled, and gyroscopically stabilized tentillum, and began to shuffle quickly down the path towards the distant pondroom entrance.

With the long sliding gait of the wormoid, they quickly arrived at the raised patio outside the pondroom airlock. It was much like the other patio, and Chance power-slithered up the long ramp, put him down on the patio flagstone, and waved open the airlock door. Sparky thanked him generously, and then staggered through the airlock.

#


Rosie had been happily working on the miniature car in the living room. But - alerted to the circumstances by Chance via the ship's comm system - she charged through the door just as the airlock inner iris was cycling shut. She swooped down on Sparky, picked him up, rushed over to his ziggurat, and gently placed him on it's top, right next to his bath area. During all this furious activity, she was also closely examining his body, and peppering him with rapid-fire questions and scolds. "Are you OK, Sparky? Chance told me what happened! How could you have been so careless? Don't you know better than to fight with Jewel Birds? Here, let me take those ruined clothes, they have to be destroyed. If Harlee sees them he will know you have been up to no good, young glinkin!"

Sparky was too tired and sore to give much of a response, beyond a half-hearted "They were the ones fighting, not me!" Under Rosie's nagging supervision, he stripped off his torn and bloody clothing, and in his glinkin tub rinsed the dried blood off his skin and hair. Rosie quickly disposed of the reddened water and the ruined clothing. Sparky was just changing into fresh clothes when he heard Harlee come in the front door.

#




*Associated Glossary Listings:


Mound Builder:
A large insect, about one fourth the size of a glinkin, that spends an inordinate amount of time moving dirt around. It does so for a variety of purposes: nest building, creating berms to protect the nest from flooding, and digging pits to trap small animals. Mound builders were historically considered pests by Graciousone and glinkin farmers, as a sizable population of them can destroy an agricultural landscape in a matter of months by moving hundreds of tons of dirt from places where it is wanted to places where it is not wanted. However, ecologists later identified them as occupying a critical ecological niche, as they aerate, refresh, and fertilize exhausted soil. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)


Wildberry Tree: A tree native to the Escani continent. The fruits are extremely high in sugars, but also contain a highly sour chemical that protect the fallen fruits from all but their preferred seed transport hosts, Jewel Birds, who cannot taste the sourness. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)

Bird Master: A term whose meaning has changed over the ages.

Some 55,000 years ago, domesticated glinkin were first named Bird Masters, after being trained by Graciousone owners to guard Jewel bird flocks, and herd them between stands of Wildberry Tree in the dense forests of Locusian Age Yorbolindo. This was an incongruous development, as glinkin were previously herded animals themselves.

Starting about 40,000 years ago, glinkin named as Bird Masters began appearing in artwork as mounted on Jewel Birds. Armed with long spears, they generally functioned as outriders to protect formations of Sled Glinkin and their Graciousone drivers.


#



Next Post: Chapter 21 - School Daze Redux
 
‘’ 2020-05-06 7:45:45 PM  
Chapter 21 - School Daze Redux



As he walked through the door, Harlee was preoccupied with the fact that he couldn't feel the top of his head. His braincase felt numb. Echo had instructed his medical nanobots to release chemicals to block the pain receptors in the areas around his ridge.

Harlee had acquired a raging braincase ache from the strain of being gracious during his meeting with ZED-9949. The meeting had been draining. Harlee had been magically transported back to secondary school, and PRF-86-842's endless, maddeningly abstruse Gravitonics lectures. Even though Echo told him that ZED really did seem to be trying to be pleasant, the wormoid captain had the exact same air as that old wormoid professor: a cloying, personalized concern for student abilities to digest, even with implants, the monstrously large brain dumps she relentlessly assaulted them with. Harlee felt the same nasty emotions as he had then. ZED's presumed condescension burned at his fragile ego like hot coals in his trough. He felt as if throbbing purple bruises were lying at the base of each eyestalk, and for some reason he had an urge to chew on one of his tentillum.

ZED had insisted on making her 99% side of the discussion as technical as possible. And she had transitioned with breathtaking rapidity from one highly technical subject to another. If nothing else, the meeting succeeded in driving home to Harlee the truism that a ship's Captain knows every meld, weld, and circuit of her ship.

Harlee had squeaked through more than a few of his classes, as he had spent a great deal of time daydreaming of Ellma's belly shading instead of paying attention. He had also consigned to memory dead-storage many facts that he had thought at the time to be both boring and useless. So he often struggled to understand ZED's points, frantically dividing his attention between what ZED was saying and Echo's ad lib explanations. He had gotten so frustrated that he had actually snapped at Echo a couple of times, which also made him feel bad.

#

The meeting had started out with ZED explaining his thoughts about New Beginning's flight plan. Harlee had some idea of the issues involved, but his insight was rapidly mugged by the myriad details that ZED seemed to relish. The ship would head to The Sacred Jewel Nebula in a series of shifting trajectories, with the drives randomly shut down so passive sensors could strain to detect any enemy. When the ship left Monitored Space, it would rapidly shift to a course that would look like a continuation of a trajectory originating from somewhere else. With some help from Echo on the math, Harlee understood this.

Then ZED mentioned that part of the mission would involve scanning all solar systems near the planned route. And that the ship would occasionally make short detours to investigate worlds that might have exploitable resources or other things of interest. This meant that Harlee might even get to go on expeditions to some of them, and help take ecological samples. Harlee understood this, and felt excitement over the idea.

This, then, brought up the idea that the New Beginning would be taking both organic and mineral samples for long-term study and evaluation for future exploitation. In a flash, ZED had launched into a multidisciplinary lecture about mineralogical and ecological sampling. This had included video of the storage areas, including the vast midline ESSH Deck* that would hold the samples brought into the ship by the CISC Spheres.*

Next, Zed described how CISC Spheres worked. Harlee's braincase was throbbing by this time, and all he remembered was the summary that Echo created for him. The "spheres" were hexagonally shaped along their equator, to allow later exact refitting of contiguous samples. The matter-impenetrable force fields were made by specialized bots. These formed a horizontal hexagonal ring around the sample, and generated an EMGQ field,* which cut through all matter around the sample. This created a matter-impermeable semi-sphere with a hexagonal equator. The bots then generated a null-grav field and floated free of the world. The sample wafted on jets of compressed air up to the ship and through the airlock into the equatorial Ecology Sample Deck, where it was installed in a hexagonal ESSH cradle.*

ZED instantly segued into the myriad details of related safety procedures. This included listings of the emergency and containment procedures, should there be a breach of some sort. Harlee got to see even more videos: a mind-numbingly rapid carousel of safety checklists, maps of emergency evacuation routes, and mapped images of bank after bank of critical computer grids, fusion reactors, fusion batteries, and emergency environmental rescue pods located in strategic places around the ship.

The lecture finally returned to discussion of the route. Harlee had noticed that most of the equatorial spaces were filled to overflowing, with orderly stacks of stasis pods filling most of the ESSH Cradles. When he was able to insert a few words to that effect into the outpouring of brain dump, ZED said, "Yes, those hold spy bots and transmission grids. One of the many factors that impinge on route changes and delays will be replacement of dead spy bots and transmitters. We, of course, have to do a fair amount of placement before we have any room (other than the limited EAB spaces*) for storing samples. That is fine, however, as I have a comprehensive list of all locations near our route in Monitored Space that require coverage refreshment, and there will be plenty of room for acquisitions well before we enter unexplored territory."

What? Harlee knew about spy bots and entangled transmitters. That was, indeed, the whole point of the Deep Field exile program. What startled him, though, was when ZED said that the ship would be dropping off spybots and GETR grids inside the borders of Monitored Space. He again interrupted the monologue, "Hold on, wait just a minute, ZED! Why are we delivering spybots and transmitters inside Monitored Space? Aren't there ones already there?"

#


ZED, seemingly pleased to find a new subject that messed with Harlee's mind, instantly switched her lecture. "Why yes, Harlee, there normally are. But graviton-entangled transmitters have a service life. A good part of our time spent in Monitored Space will be replacing GETR Grids where too many files of entangled gravitons have been exhausted.

There was a moment of silence as Harlee digested the fact that the New Beginning was going to be spending what appeared to be a lot of valuable time engaged in grubby maintenance work. That reflection ended when ZED waved her eyestalks and upper tentacles in a wormoid version of exasperation and grimly added, "And then, of course, we also need to replace the spy bots and GETR grids that are destroyed by pirates."

Harlee's felt his stomach sections drop in a panic reflex. "What? Pirates? What do you mean, 'pirates'?"

ZED chuckled, "Well, I'm sure you've heard media stories about the occasional piracy of trade ships. How do you think the pirates manage to pull off those attacks? The entire Realm of Graciousness, and 5,000 light years beyond, is monitored by networks of spy bots and GETR grids. The Presence would instantly know of pirate activity, and be able to track the pirate ships back to their hidden fortress bases outside the Graciousrealm. At that point, the Graciousrealm's military forces would make short work of them.

"No, Harlee, the pirates have their own starships, crewed by Graciousone pirates and their wormoid slaves. And they do the same deceptive dances we do: changing their trajectories, making random hops, using passive observation. Their bases are in unexplored space, close to but just outside the explored limits of the Graciousrealm. And their ships are always appearing inside our borders in what we call "scurry runs" hurriedly dropping off electronic spoofs of their starships, and other countermeasure electronics along trade routes, plus enough other random parts of space to keep The Presence guessing.

"The pirates' knowledge of science is almost as good as ours, better in some cases, and their spy network, their knowledge of where we are, and what we are up to, is far better than our knowledge of where they are, and what they are up to. Their sabotage bots routinely either jam or burn out our own surveillance hardware. We often, in fact, drop off spy bots that die the instant they emerge from their stasis fields. The reason is that pirate devices are already in the area, passively lying in wait. It's frustrating, and The Presence has not been able, as yet, to set up a situation where we know where they will strike next!"

When ZED-9949 finished, there was another moment of quiet. Harlee's mind flashed back to his fears of two nights before, and his eyestalks shivered. Pirates. They were going where pirates were. Wait. They were going where pirates had been. "So we're not going to be running into pirates, right? They're not going to stick around long in any area, right? We're just going where they have already been, before we get there?"

ZED paused, her eyestalks still. She slowly blinked all four of her mechanical eyelids in unison and mildly said, "Well, that is the general idea, Harlee. The New Beginning, after all, is technically just an unarmed exploration starship."

The last weeks had been overflowing with uncertainty and fear. Even the stretches of boredom had created unwanted tension. This was the last straw. Harlee could feel his stomachs cramping up, and his braincase ache had just become unbearable. He scrunched his eyestalks down low, flexed his breathing flaps shut and open in agony, and silently yelled for Echo to do something. He ungraciously muttered a shaky "Thanks" and "Excuse me" to ZED-9949, stood up, and shambled out of the Control Room.

#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


ESSH Deck: The 4,040 foot high main equatorial deck of the New Beginning that holds the Ecology Sample Storage Hemisphere cradles.


CISC Sphere: The CISC or "Comprehensive Inclusive Sample Capture" sphere is an ecological sampling tool. The sphere is actually a "distributed machine" and consists of tens of thousands of individually specialized microbots and bots, collectively referred to as drones. They range from swarmbot size) for "slave" units, to three feet in diameter for the distributed node drone units that electronically control the slaved bots.

The CISC Sphere works by positioning the individual bots in an up-to 4,000-foot diameter ring around the ecological area to be captured. The bots link up and (using beamed power from the shuttle "fathership") create a full coverage spherical force field around the sample. This force field extends into the ground, severing all connection to the planet. Graviton drones then lift the sphere of contents through the atmosphere and into the starship CISC sample compartment.


EMGQ Force Field: A full spectrum field that blocks selectable wavelengths of electromagnetic (EM), gravitonic (G), and quarkonic (Q) fields.


Ecology Sample Storage Hemisphere Cradle: Also known as ESSH cradles, these are 4,000-foot hexagonal half-domed networks of movable scaffolds, graphene-titanium steel plates, and universal connections that hold and maintain ecologies captured by standard CISC Spheres. Their size and shape are dictated by statistics and usage flexibility: in the majority of samples, 4,000 feet is the optimum size needed to capture all facets of local flora and fauna ecological relationships, and larger areas can be separately captured and then "stitched together" again by capturing larger areas individually, and then fitting them together again.

Cradles are fully customizable as to shape and smaller size, and can be moved around on the deck to abut other cradles, to physically reunite contiguous samples. Each cradle also had force field generators to create semi-permeable fields to allow for biological quarantine. They can be set to allow air to freely pass through, but not microbes, or (if desired) larger life forms.


EAB Space: Abbreviation for "Early Acquisition Bay" Space. As is common in Graciousone naming conventions, the phrase is redundant.


GETR Array: Acronym for "Graviton Entangled Transmitter-Receiver Array." Also known as a GETR Grid. Transmitters and receivers each have matched banks of gravitons, entangled by their momentum and spin properties. Each particle pair is suspended in molecular boxes, held stable within gravitational force fields. Entanglement is forced after each particle is suspended in its box. The containment field is therefore not a disturbance to the particle, but rather works as an intermediary "firewall" against the macro environment that would disturb it.

There are thousands of "files" of these boxes, each coding for a unique compressed data element. Each file is several hundred million boxes deep. Communication happens when the transmitting computer kills the containment field of a box at the front of a selected file. This forces the wave function of the particle to collapse, and entanglement of the two matched particles in that set of boxes is therefore broken.

The receiver particle's spin and momentum then randomly change and the gravitational field balance between particle and containment field is upset. This creates a macro event in the detector field that surrounds that box, and the compressed data assigned to that specific file is read by the computer at that end.

Entanglement is broken for that set of boxes, so they are discarded and the next matched set in the file is used for the next piece of data. But when the boxes of a specific file run out there will be a blank for the compressed data that that file represents. Over time, the number of these blank columns becomes so large that communication is effectively silenced. Then the GETR array has to be replaced with a new one.

Due to the Quantum Uncertainty Principle, the random event in each box is unknown. But that is also irrelevant. What is relevant is which file is affected by the wave collapse. Communication content is created by the order and selection of which boxes the transmitter sets quantum events off in, not by the quantum events themselves.

#


Next Post: Chapter 22 - Decompression
 
‘’ 2020-05-10 3:22:37 PM  
Chapter 22 - Decompression



Harlee lurched over to the living room couch under the wall screen and collapsed. His eyestalks lay like old limp ropes on the fabric, and his eyeballs stared blindly at the ceiling. He was awash in an ocean of self-pity. But his nanobots, under Echo's control, manipulated various synapses, and he gradually felt his stomach cramps ease. The little "hot" knots of tension in his eyestalks gradually dissipated. He began to experience that peculiar sensation of euphoria caused by the relief of chronic pain.

Rosie skulked nonchalantly through the pondroom door. When she had heard of Sparky's misadventures from Chance, she had dropped her scooter project and dashed into the pondroom. Now she was relieved to see that Harlee seemed to be oblivious to the assorted cleaning-bot parts laid out on the floor. She quickly stashed the tiny future glinkin car in the bot closet, and then busied herself with dusting things that didn't need dusting.

Harlee, eyestalks still limp but eyelids now closed, floated in a warm cloud of euphoria. He listened to the long-known familiar sounds of Rosie going about her cleaning duties. Rosie had been part of the Salkenesta family since before Harlee had left the birth pond, and the clicks and swishes and other quiet clatter were a part of the comforting sounds of a safe childhood. The soothing noises were the penultimate medicine needed to banish his autonomic reaction to the accumulated stress of the last two months.

The best medicine of all, however, was Sparky. He needed Sparky! After a few minutes, Harlee raised his trunk up on one upper tentillum and swiveled his eyestalks towards the ziggurat where, earlier that day, he had left the glinkin. Sparky was gone!

The eyestalks swiveled towards Rosie. "Where's Sparky? What's happened to Sparky?"

Rosie thought quickly. Wormoid neural circuitry was designed so that they could not actually speak non-truths, but she shared some of the truth, "Sparky looked tired after that long travelogue, so I put him to nest on his sleep stand."

Harlee, buoyed with nanobot-induced euphoria and freshly attuned to the feelings from his own pity party, was immediately concerned "Poor little guy! I guess that the last two months have been a real strain on him, even more than for me. After all, I know what's happening, but Sparky is just a little glinkin. I better go see him."

Harlee jumped up from the couch and lurched into the pondroom. Sparky was sitting in a chair, casually drinking a bulb of water, listening to his music box, and trying to look innocent. Harlee walked to the ziggurat and gazed down at his pet. He sighed. "Poor little guy. You must have been so bored cooped up in the apartment all day."

As he looked down at Sparky, Harlee decided they both needed to reduce some tension. He remembered a common student panacea to PRF-866-8842's punishing lectures: screamingly speedy sky flights over the endless rehabilitated forests of Yorbolindo, and wild, bouncing road trips on the remains of the primitive highways that still covered the less-settled or war-ravaged parts of the planet. "Hey, little fella, I think that we both need to decompress a little. How would you like to go on a Road Trip?"

Echo, who had been reviewing the New Beginning's performance statistics, heard Harlee say this, and had a few private thoughts of her own. Oh Nibbler Turds, not this idiocy again! One of her continuing frustrations had been her inability to help Harlee mature out of his adolescent reactions to stress.

Sparky was still exhausted and hurting from his adventure, and the only thing he wanted to do was quietly curl up in his SleepyHutTM and take a good long nap. But - the nature of guilty conscience being what it is - he quickly decided that showing his exhaustion would only arouse the suspicions he imagined Harlee had regarding his activities.

He didn't know exactly what Harlee wanted, but he heard the eager questioning rumble and saw the way the long eyestalks, so far over his head, jiggled around. Much of Graciousone communication centered on eyestalk and eye movement, and Sparky had learned that the pattern of these jiggles meant that Harlee wanted to blow off some steam. He sighed. To keep Harlee in the dark about his adventure with the Jewel Birds, he decided he had to soldier on. He steeled his resolve, jumped to his feet, nodded his head vigorously, and tried to make his brown eyes sparkle with faux excitement.

Harlee was quickly getting himself pumped, and in any case was easily fooled. "Well come on, boy, let's go!" He gently wrapped two tentillumtips around Sparky's body. He opened a storage compartment on the ziggurat and retrieved Sparky's safety harness. A second storage compartment yielded a sketchy-looking device made of wire, swivels, pulleys, weights, small gyroscopes, springs, and eight padded straps. The straps went beneath Graciousone nostril slits, to hold the cage in place. This was a HighRiderTM, one of the aforementioned torus-shaped wire cages that allowed a spoiled glinkin to perch high on the outside rim of a Graciousone's ridge, legs dangling over a hundred feet in the air.

He fitted out the wiggling Sparky in the safety harness, then cinched the now thoroughly pissed off glinkin into the cage's heavily padded seat. The seat was mounted on a set of universal gimbals. In theory, the setup let the seat smoothly swing in any direction, and gently compensate for Graciousone gait or posture changes. But the HighRiderTM was a precision mechanism from ancient times, a delicate antique that needed constant manual adjustment. Harlee was lax about doing this, so in practice the seat made swoopingly fast spins along each axis, sometimes at the same time, and jerky high-g stops. And if the control mechanisms that allowed the glinkin rider to position the chair various places around the rim were out of calibration, Harlee's movements would sometimes make the chair go into high-speed circuits around the edge of the HighRiderTM. Sparky hated the damned thing.

Harlee hung the contraption on his braincase with the straps loosely hung under his flaps. Eyestalks squirming, he inspected the contraption from multiple angles and viewpoints, adjusting and tightening the straps to a rakish angle. Then, humming an old tune from the college-era pop band Tentillumtip Dreamer, he ambled out the door to the waiting road rocket.
#

The rocket car was still parked in the bulkhead indent across the hall from Harlee's suite. Harlee climbed aboard, fastened the safety straps, adjusted the windscreen for maximum cover, and pressed the START button. The steam engine purred to life with the rising, high-pitched hum that only a 128-micropiston MityMiteTM engine* could attain. Harlee felt the rapid thrum tattoo in his stomachs as rolling waves of anticipation. He twisted an eyestalk around to peer at Sparky. He wiggled a tentillumtip into the cage to push gently on the chair's safety harness, causing the chair and Sparky to go into a slow, almost frictionless spin. Yep! Nice and tight. Time to blow off some steam! He toggled to manual control and pushed a tentillumtip along the power control bar. The car, followed by a comet-like tail of Personal Swarm microbots, slid out of the parking space like a swapplefruit seed core launched from its pod.

Harlee checked with Echo, and briefly studied a virtual holomap of the main equatorial deck passageways. These roads radiated out from the Safety Sphere to the hull of the ship, and passed through the 4,040-foot high, 13-mile wide, ESSH compartment. They were sandwiched between huge movable bulkheads that divided the vast space into airtight compartments. Lateral side roads, inside the bulkheads, trisected the main roads. He knew from his talk with ZED that several of those vast caverns were empty. The New Beginning was over-filled with supplies. But a few compartments, EABs or Early Acquisition Bays, were left empty just in case the New Beginning found valuable stuff to grab before the supplies jammed into the other bays were used. Harlee decided on the farthest side passage, some five miles from the outer hull. That, he thought with anticipation, would give him a chance to build up some speed. At that thought, Echo rolled her figurative eyestalks.

The car was now traveling at a good clip. The smooth vibration of the fusion-powered rotary steam engine tickled Harlee's stomach. The air whistling past the windscreen plucked at his eyestalks. Harlee let his thoughts briefly sink into old memories of past road trips, and then yanked himself back to current awareness. He focused his entire attention on the road... and cranked up the rheostat a few more notches.

Sparky was fighting to keep his last meal down. Harlee's reaction times were slower that Sparky's, and his discomfort threshold less delicate. So the engine's vibration, smooth to Harlee, felt like a constant low-level bludgeon to Sparky. Worse yet, the increasingly violent slipstream was just mere inches above the HighRiderTM frame. Every few moments, Harlee would wiggle or adjust his bulk up or down a bit. This invariably thrust the cloth-covered edge of the frame into the wind stream, violently stressing the wires, pulleys, and gimbals that supported the chair. There were horrible moments when the chair seemed to be spinning, yawing, and pitching all at the same time.

Sparky had been a passenger in the road rocket once before, but then he had been safely in his carrier and the pace had been slow. That journey had been tolerable. But this wild ride reminded him of the road trips, back when Harlee was a student and he was just a kid (and like all kids, had thought of himself as indestructible). Harlee's insane driving speeds back then had scared him, but Sparky had become addicted to the rush and had eventually looked forward to the joyrides. But then he hadn't been trapped in this damned torture cage. It had been, instead, an epic battle of his muscles versus the huge machine's g-forces. He had ridden wild and free, hair whipping in the wind, laughing and screaming in the fearful adrenalin joy of youth, hanging on for dear life to an improvised safety net stretched high up between two of Harlee's eyestalks while the car, surrounded by hundreds of tennis-ball-sized Personal Swarm microbots, bounced along some random, abandoned country road. This practice, of course, was disapproved of by the local chapter of GAGA (Graciousones Against Glinkin Abuse), but was an activity that was dearly loved by both the high-strung students and their pets.

The car had been blasting along the corridor for several minutes and Harlee was enjoying the speed. He was also daydreaming again, half-pretending (something he had not done since the first year of college) that he was Siarlo Labbot on an attack run. Labbot had been one of the few male war-rocket pilots during the last several decades of the Consolidation Wars. Most pilots (indeed most military worms) were female. Harlee had been raised to think that this was right and proper, since it was males who protected and raised the Graciousone young. They therefore needed to be protected by the larger, stronger (and expendable) Graciousone females. But Labbot had been an exception, and a subsequent inspiration for generations of male Graciousones for three millennia. He had overcome resentment and discrimination to become a "hot-shot" ace with 53 confirmed kills of enemy war-rockets. And he had been a true hero: his sacrifice and death had prevented the slagging of a dozen Zembriskin cities, and greatly enriched the fortunes of producers of historical docudramas.

He could see, about a mile ahead, the lateral passage stretching out to the left and right. Suddenly, a yellow light started blinking on the console and Echo, who had been somewhat withdrawn, letting Harlee enjoy his private emotions, suddenly broke into his thought train. "Harlee, dear, you need to start slowing down for that turn! Remember, you have this car on manual, so the DI can not adjust our speed or momentum."

Harlee jerked himself back to the real world, but far too late. Gyroscopes whining, the road rocket skidded around the corner on four left tires. Harlee gunned the engine slider with one tentillumtip and slammed the brake button with another. He overcompensated, and the car spun around in a tight circle and began sliding sideways. Out of control, it shot sideways through the open airlock and into the EAB. Harlee, Echo, and Sparky watched helplessly, as the car slid across three hundred feet of polished metal deck. And then the deck went away, and the car became airborne at the unprotected edge of a 4,000-foot wide, 2,000-foot deep, spike-studded, empty Ecology Sample Storage Hemisphere.

As the car fell, Harlee was still in the process of grasping the situation and Sparky was screaming. Echo, who thought 30 times faster than Sparky and 600 times faster than Harlee, summoned Harlee's swarmbots and activated Sparky's medical nanobots to "treat bruises" and "induce sleep" modes. The bots already in the cockpit were quickly augmented by the thousands that had been flying behind the car. Hundreds of thousands more boiled out of bot tunnels in the walls. In the next five seconds, by the time the car had fallen 1,200 feet, Harlee's pudgy figure was hidden by a swirling murmuration of swarmbots.

Ten thousand bots used molecular disruptors to instantly dissolve Harlee's safety harness. Tens of thousands more shoved between Harlee and his seat, slowing his fall in the same way they had when he had tripped on the cleaning bot. As the descent slowed, Harlee and Sparky began to separate from the car's trajectory. But they still fell, just at a slower rate than the car. More bots arrived, each adding its tiny increment of graviton flux.

Their fall increasingly slowed, and Harlee and Sparky both felt their guts squeeze from the G-forces of deceleration. To ease that strain, potentially deadly to an entity of Harlee's bulk, Echo seized direct control of Harlee's autonomic posture control center, and ordered the muscle and skeletal structures of Harlee's body to relax and unbend. At the same time, she also ordered the swarmbots around Harlee to space out along Harlee's length, max out their a-grav fields, and shove the Graciousone's bulk to a horizontal position.

But Harlee's being horizontal had the unfortunate effect of turning the HighRiderTM on its side. Sparky's chair fell down along its track to dangle directly under Harlee's vast armored ridge. Sparky, looking down through thousands of tennis-ball-sized swarmbots and the thin bars of the HighRiderTM, saw the spiky metal floor rushing towards him.

The now-unmanned rocket car crashed halfway down into the curved side of the bowl. Its pointy front end dug into a raised section of the bowl that was undergoing maintenance and the car flipped into a pinwheel. It flipped a dozen times, turned upside down, and then, in a confetti of metal and plastic shards, slid noisily to the bottom of the hemisphere.

Harlee and Sparky, trajectory flattened by the swarmbots, ended up in the same place, but with respectable thumps rather than splats. By chance, they settled exactly in the middle of the ruins of the driver's compartment. There was a screech of bent metal as the HighRiderTM cage bent from the weight of Harlee's ridge. Sparky, terrified by the fall, with Harlee's bulk crashing down on him, and screeching metal all around, promptly fainted. Harlee, guts pummeled by the fall, lay stunned where he had fallen, feebly waving his tentacles.

Acrid smoke billowed from the car's instrument panel. There was a crackle of sparking inside the dashboard, and a loudspeaker on the panel came alive with a surge of static overload. The rocket car's DI suddenly exclaimed, "Don't ever wake me up like that again! I almost short circuited!" The voice ended in a squawk and a shower of sparks, and the speaker went silent.
#

The ride back was somewhat less spectacular than the trip out. It was, however, much more humiliating and educational.

Harlee learned that the New Beginning actually boasted almost three thousand wheeled vehicles of various sorts. These were used by the wormoid crew for hauling cargo, for general maintenance, and (as with Harlee) for just getting around the huge starship. And eight of them, one for each quadrant of the ship, were specialized medical units for the emergency treatment of anything life threatening to Graciousone, glinkin, or wormoid.

One of these units, strobe lights flashing and klaxons blaring, roared up to the edge of the crash site. It screeched to a skidding, rocking halt. Five wormoids, all covered in the misty green tunics of medical staff, jumped out. Each carried personal a-grav plates, and the four orderlies each held one handle of an emergency a-grav gurney. The fifth wormoid was BNZ-82431, the ship's Medical Officer, and the only thing he had hold of was his attitude. They all jumped off the edge of the Ecology Sample Storage Hemisphere and floated to the bottom, to land next to where Harlee and Sparky lay.

In a fog, Harlee heard the chatter between the orderlies and BNZ-82431. The orderlies sounded bored, and "Struts," as he had heard the Chief Medical Wormoid referred to by ZED, sounded annoyed and stressed. Harlee understood almost none of the back-and-forth, but - like all lay people everywhere in the Universe - he always got nervous when he heard terse interplay between medical professionals using incomprehensible but ominous-sounding words to argue over what they thought might be wrong with him.

Echo reassured him. "Harlee, dear, you are fine. You were bumped up a little, but your external swarm cushioned the fall enough so that your internal nanobots have the situation well in hand. This whole flashy exercise with the ambulance is ridiculous."

The orderlies ignored Echo's protests and began to lift him onto the gurney. Harlee heard a crunch as the HighRiderTM shifted under him and shivered in terror for his pet. "Sparky! Oh, Universe, where's Sparky? Is Sparky all right?"

Echo again tried to put him at ease. "Sparky is fine, Harlee. He fainted, and is a little bruised. I am monitoring his medical nanobots as we speak, and he will be fine. I have instructed his nanobots to gently sedate him, so he is now sleeping."

One of the orderlies chimed in, "The HighRiderTM did its job and protected your glinkin, Mr. Salkenesta. He'll be all right."

But Harlee was having none of any of the reassurances. All the time while the orderlies lifted him onto the gurney, strapped him down, and lifted the gurney up to the lip of the bowl, he cradled the mashed HighRiderTM inside a little knot of his tentillum. He inserted one eyestalk through a rip in the cage and inspected the unconscious Sparky up close and personal, poking him gently with a trembling tentillumtip.

As the gurney reached the deck, Harlee heard the deep rumble of a big, powerful engine. An immense flatbed truck, normally used to haul reactor shielding, had been pressed into service to retrieve the smoking rocket car. The wrecker was followed by four large multi-person cars, each filled with inquisitive, concerned, and gossipy wormoids. These included WUFF-66284, RGRS-116628, NXL-112010, SCTR-66875, and assorted wormoids from their departments. The crash was, so far, the most interesting thing to have happened on the trip.

By the time Harlee and Sparky were ready to be loaded into the ambulance, Echo had convinced Struts that neither patient was injured sufficiently enough to warrant stays in sickbay. So the orderlies released Harlee from the gurney, and carefully helped him up into the cab of the wrecker. There, he impatiently waited, the ruined HighRiderTM with the now-sleeping Sparky clutched in his tentillum. Wormoids from Scooter's engineering section loaded the remains of the road rocket onto the hauler, which then took the wreckage to the repair shop. On its way there, it dropped Harlee off at his rooms.
#

Rosie was applying a final coat of flashy Curlyfruit Red paint to Sparky's miniature road rocket when the ship-wide General Alert surged into her circuits. The quickly following news of no serious injuries reassured her, and the juicy details of the crash amused her. She was therefore suitably prepared with a steady and no-nonsense demeanor when the crash truck dropped Harlee and Sparky off at the front door. The beat-up Harlee meekly surrendered to her firm commands and allowed her to extract the HighRiderTM from his protective grasp.

Then, though half the size of her employer, she enveloped Harlee in tentacles and carried him to the sleep pond. She undressed him and slid him into the warm and soothing waters on a bed of fresh mud and sand. She cut open the ruined antique and gently put the sleeping glinkin to bed in his SleepyHutTM. She then left the pondroom and contemplated the wisdom of letting Sparky drive around in his own road rocket.

#

Rosie found joy in this kind of work, so she took her time in modifying the cleaning bot. Rather than disable remote guidance, she locked the bot's ID code out of the cleaning program's control. Since the code was still in the ship's database, the glinkin buggy could still be remotely controlled if Sparky managed to get himself into trouble. She took one of Sparky's cushioned lounging benches from his daytime play area, reinforced it with a lattice of carbon nanofilament tubing, and used a nanobot assimilation solution to meld the wood and fabric of the bench into the metal top of the cleaning bot. She added a 3D-printed safety-web around the bench, and a swing-down metal bar that was anchored to each of the armrests. The bar's center had a control panel, consisting of an offset steering bar, two buttons (start and brake), and a power rheostat slider bar, all very similar to the controls on Harlee's road rocket. She added two graphene hoops for roll bars. She consulted with Echo, and sequestered ten thousand of Harlee's microbots to travel with the converted cleaning bot. If all else failed, they could envelope Sparky in an impenetrable blanket of force fields. Finally, she added an assault-your-eyestalks coating of maximum-gloss red paint. The car glowed.

Now, she thought for a moment about the accident and how Sparky would probably drive the car. She had an original idea. What if she combined...? She sent an IM to SCTR-66875 for a consult on the feasibility of installing stasis field circuits and an automatic acceleration actuator in the cockpit of the road rocket. Scooter thought it was a great idea and ordered the parts to be designed and printed, and delivered to her within a day...

Rosie thought some more and sent a message to ZED-9949. She requested an allotment of message space in the next scheduled GETR transmission. She then encoded the details of her idea for a "totally safe vehicle for glinkin to drive" to her contact at the Domestic Guildhall, and asked her to look into getting a Graciousrealm-wide patent for the idea.

With the exception of Rosie, the wormoids on the New Beginning were an elite group, personally selected by The Presence. Rosie was not an elite wormoid, by any means. But, like the rest of the wormoids on the New Beginning, she was self-aware, ambitious, and thinking ahead to the day when the New Beginning returned from its voyage. Rosie was a material girl.

#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


MityMiteTM Engine:
One of the standard engines used in Graciousone ground effect vehicles. The MityMiteTM is a fusion battery powered 128-piston steam engine.


Siarlo Labbot: a Graciousone war hero of the Fourth Consolidation War. Labbot was one of the few Graciousone males to serve in the military forces of the Free Graciousone Alliance. He overcame sexual discrimination and harassment to become one of the preeminent war rocket aces of the war. With his fellow pilots all dead, and his war rocket running low on fuel, and out of ammunition, Labbot saved twelve Zembriskin cities and tens of thousands of civilian refugees by crashing his aircraft into the city-sized Eastern Alliance mobile plasma cannon that was about to obliterate them.


#




Next Post: Chapter 23 - Vows
 
‘’ 2020-05-14 5:00:24 PM  
Chapter 23 - Vows


For Graciousones, consciousness was caused by data feedback loops. There were many contributing factors to self-awareness: the physical structure of the brain; the number of neurons; their exact distance and placement relative to each other; their degree of interconnectedness, the subtle folds in specific gene sequences that altered their capacitance, resistance, and bandwidth; and the nature, placement, and number of recursive neural circuits. All helped create the capacity for self-awareness, but the last was critical.

The Graciousone "me" was the summation, integration, and perception of the data stored in memory. "Data" meant all data: genetically hard-wired instinct, learned stimulus-responses, emotions, thought, memory, and memory of memory, all stored as memory in multidimensional tapestries of electromagnetic, neuronic, and gravitonic charge. Graciousone consciousness was this data, looking at itself. For Graciousone, consciousness was the way information "felt" when being processed. Self-awareness existed because neural circuits looped back on themselves in ways that allowed introspective thought about one's own thoughts. It permitted a worm to be aware of herself. Indeed, it allowed a worm to be aware of being aware.

The degrees and subtleties of this awareness of self are many. But a certain sign that it exists in an entity is the need to dream. If the circuits are working right, dreams are where the waking day's infinitely recursive data loops are terminated and refreshed.

And so it is with implants. Echo, who processed data some 600 times faster than Harlee, needed a fraction of the dreamtime that Harlee needed. But, over their 480 years together, she (as was the case with all implants) had gotten into the habit of parallel-processing Harlee's dreams. The urge to do this was, in fact, instinctual behavior on her part: the DI designers had hard-wired it into her neural foam. Dreaming her Host's dreams gave her pleasure, and helped empathize with him. So, in the early morning hours of sleep, at the time when Graciousone dreaming took place, she was instantly aware of Harlee's sudden awakening.


#

Harlee was having a horrible nightmare about the crash. The HighRiderTM and Sparky had been crushed into a thin, oily paste by his huge bulk. And the red goo had somehow soaked into his gill vents, while he frantically tried to pull it out with tentillum that somehow refused to obey his frenzied commands. He jerked awake. He found that he was curled up into a tight fetal ball, burrowed deep into the mud of his sleeping pond, gills clogged. He spasmed erect, ridge above the waterline, tentacles smashing into the walls of the pond, churning up the muddy water, sending a good amount of it splashing onto the pondroom floor.

And then he was fully awake as primal terror raced through his braincase. Sparky! He had hurt his pet with his damned huge braincase! Harlee flung himself out of the sleeping pond and stumbled over to the ziggurat. Where was Sparky? He saw the SleepyHutTM and his first urge was to grab the little tent with all his upper tentillum and jiggle it, to see if Sparky was inside. But then he stopped himself. His remembered the crash, and how the huge difference in their sizes had almost crushed the little animal.

The near tragedy had emotionally brought home something that he, intellectually, had known for centuries: given the size difference between Graciousone and glinkin, a careless touch could kill. He thought of the incident at the Celestial Bug Inn when, drunk on Slavvin's brandy, he had been rough with Sparky. He was frozen in indecision for a moment. Then - careful not to touch the tent - he bent down to look inside. He twisted all four eyestalks into curves around the sides of the tent, and carefully peered inside with worried eyes. There was Sparky! He watched carefully, and saw the rapid, steady in-and-out movement of Sparky's chest. Sparky was asleep, and seemed to be resting comfortably. He flashed a query to Echo. She confirmed that the little glinkin was just sleeping, and had no damage aside from minor bruising, which his medical nanobots had well in hand.

Harlee stepped back, and sat heavily down on the edge of the sleeping pond. He sighed. He was such an irresponsible jerk, he really was. And he was a thief, just a thief. And a loser. And he didn't deserve any of this great stuff.

Echo could tell that Harlee was, once again, "flaying himself with a Whip Tree*" for his faults. And that felt, for her, almost like what she imagined a stroke from a whip might feel like. She knew that Harlee was, essentially, a good person. But he was trapped in a feedback loop of self-hatred that had its kernel, she was sure, in his ochlophobia, and his lack of assurance around other people, and resultant feelings of worthlessness.

Right now Harlee's thoughts and feelings were in deep, private areas. Echo therefore kept a respectful distance, and forced herself to be content with analyzing the sidebars of meaning that crept into those sections of Harlee's brain that were hard-wired to permit sharing. Those memes spoke to her of his bitterness and self-loathing, and every feeling in her cried out to blanket his mind in a web of overpowering love and support.

That was what Harlee needed right now. But Echo knew, also, that it was not what Harlee ultimately needed. What that was, was a serious, assertive decision on his part, with no crutches from her, to change his own life and break that vicious feedback loop.

Echo knew four facts. First, that stubbornness was one of Harlee's fundamental character traits. Second, her Harlee was also impulsive. Once motivated and set on course he would charge ahead with no thought as to the odds for success. Third, her latest analysis gave a probability of 97.2% that this current crisis would be the stimulus he needed to make that change. And, finally, she knew that the same stubbornness she was counting on would keep him from coming to her until he had run out of answers within himself.

Until all that happened, she would wait, ready to help her lifelong host and friend with information and advice whenever he asked for that help.


#


That did not happen quickly. Harlee was doing something that he never did first thing in the morning: thinking hard. He did so for (what was for Harlee) a very long time during those early morning hours. They were very private thoughts, but Echo could plainly read the sidebars. She was almost ready to say something when Harlee opened up to her. "I almost killed Sparky yesterday, Echo. I was stupid and reckless, and Sparky is going be scared of me now, and hate me. How can I ever get his trust and love back?"

Echo had spent a lifetime (at her speed of thought, the equivalent of 288,000 Graciousone years) trying to unscrew Harlee's braincase. The fact that she had been unable to accomplish this was due to the same type of enforced feedback loop that prompted her to share his dreams, and that guaranteed that her first, last and only loyalty was to her host. Despite knowing better, she could not help but sympathize with his thoughts and feelings.

Harlee thought and felt that he would never be able to improve himself. But Echo's very private opinion was that Harlee's problems were a lot smaller than he thought they were. It was his incorrect perception of them as massive, unsolvable, monolithic mountains that was the main obstacle to solving them.

But all that was beside the point right now. Echo knew that Graciousones (and glinkin) often got so wrapped up in their own emotional reactions that they did not see their problems clearly enough to solve them. Right now, Harlee needed a direct answer to cut through that fog, a starting point for effect self-reflection. She said, "Harlee, you must never jeopardize his safety again. Be loving and gentle with Sparky. In time you will regain his trust."

Harlee sat there, silent, eyestalks drooping dejectedly. Echo could tell that he was still thinking hard.

Echo continued, "Harlee, I know you have made many mistakes, and right now, you feel like you have gotten yourself into the bottom of a deep, steep pond. But you can climb your way out! Harlee, dear, I know how you are feeling. Remember, I know your dreams. There is a way out. First, you need to make a list of the changes in yourself, and your behaviors, that you want to make. Then work on those changes daily."

"We've tried that, Echo. And I always forget those memorized lists."

"I have been thinking about that problem. Perhaps you should give form to your promises to yourself. What we want to do, I think, is to create a physical list that you see, and think about, each time you leave these quarters. Do you remember those manual writing skills you learned in your Primitive Proficiencies classes in primary school? You could write your list down on an old-fashioned piece of paper."

"Paper? Where do we find paper on this ship? The wormoids have no use for paper."

"The food replicator can actually be programmed to 3D-print writing paper, Harlee."

"Really!" This little techie detail cut through Harlee's circular pity party. His eyestalks assumed a thoughtful pose, eyes turning slightly to the side, gazing into the distance. He was silent for a moment and then continued, "OK, and to write with, rather than having one of the wormoids create a writing tool, maybe I can use Uncle Chekhuff's antique pen, right there on the arms display above the airdoor in the other room."

"Yes!" Echo was happy that Harlee was finally taking an active interest in solving the problem. "We should make this important by making it different. Write down the resolutions with the pen and attach the paper to the wall of the suite, right next to the door, where you will see it each morning when you leave. We can get some glue from Rosie. Let's do that now!"

#


Harlee laid the piece of paper and the pen on the dinning table. He sat down somberly in front of them. He stared at the piece of paper. It was white. He stared at the pen. It was red. His brain suddenly seemed clogged. What to write? He picked up the pen in his top right tentillum and pressed its point to a corner of the paper. It left a green mark.

Graciousone writing uses color to show emotional content and tense. The origins of this are lost in pre-history, but presumably involved a shaman or similar intellectual with limited supplies of various ink colors and a large supply of Jewel Bird quills. In modern times, one pen filled with variable piezoelectric ink had replaced multiple quills and pigments. The pen tip had an electromagnetic point source in it. The ink molecules changed shape (and therefore photon reflection wavelength) based on the amount of charge in the tip. Press harder or lighter, vary the charge, and change the color of the writing.

Uncle Chekhuff, the political hack journalist, had gotten lots of angry exercise pressing that pen tip to paper and had therefore literally been a colorful writer. But Harlee just wanted blue. Remembering the old lessons from his primary school class, he pressed down again, lighter this time. The pen left a circusorange mark. Again, still lighter. The new mark was dark blue. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. He started writing.

Harlee's Strategy For Becoming a More Gracious Worm.


He remembered what Echo had said about his actions with Sparky:

1)  ALWAYS make sure that Sparky is safe.
2)  ALWAYS be loving and gentle with Sparky.



He thought some more, and remembered his original plan to salvage his life. It took only a few minutes to summarize everything down to four main points:

3)  Go to the Sacred Jewel and find great things.
4)  Find discoveries that will have big finder's fees.
5)  Repurchase my Cloud Cottage and other stuff.
6)  Woo Elma with my courage and fame and wealth and win her heart.


Harlee considered the list from various angles with all four eyes and admired it. It was a good list. He promised himself that he would spend a few moments every morning reviewing it before starting his day. He began to lay down the pen.

There was a small virtual sound in his head from Echo. It sounded sort of like someone clearing a throat. "Harlee, do you not think you have forgotten a few items?"

Harlee's old clueless confidence had roared back to replace his dark mood. "Um... like what? That pretty much cover's everything!"

There was a sigh. "No, Harlee, dear, I do not think so. I can think of several more items."

Harlee's eyestalks waved up and down in frustration. "Like what?"

"First, one of the reasons for this voyage is to discover things that will be of value to the Graciousrealm. Your focus in those last four points is all on yourself. You need to be thinking about how the discoveries you make will affect the Graciousrealm. If such impacts are positive, then good things will accrue to you. The reverse is not necessarily the case.

"Second, the other reason for this voyage is for you to rehabilitate yourself. That therapy includes working with RGRS-116628 to set up behavior modification action plans. Deep down, you have a chronic inability to understand how your actions impact other worms. You need to learn how to think before acting, and about how your behavior affects others. You need to think about whether something is not only actually legal, but also whether it is moral before deciding whether to do it. Helping you with this is one of the two reasons that RGRS is even on this trip!"

"Two reasons? What's the other reason?"

"RGRS-116628 is also going to tutor you in the sciences of your choice, so you have marketable skills for when we return to the Graciousness. That is also part of the rehabilitation. You know, I know, and The Presence knows that you have a sharp, scientific mind. You are a smart worm, Harlee, but you need to have the skills and confidence to use that mind in a socially responsible manner."

Harlee sighed. It was the same old routine. He knew that he could learn all that stuff, and he knew that he could apply himself to whatever those behavior modification techniques were... but the deep-down fears of being around other Graciousones would always be there, sabotaging his relations with the rest of society.

Echo picked up those sidebars of thought. "I have a surprise for you, dear. BNZ-82431 has been doing original research on the reprogramming of genetic abnormalities in amino acid fold patterns. It is an incredibly complicated and subtle problem, and not even The Presence fully understands all of the ramifications of how those folds affect personality. But BNZ told me that he has discovered what may be an important clue. He needs to do a complete physical on you, and there will be many, many visits with him while he identifies, tags, and maps all the amino acid folds in your gene sequences, but he says there is an excellent chance he can reprogram that gene fold to completely eliminate your ochlophobia!"

This revelation made Harlee's eyestalks stand straight up in shock, and a little bit of fear. Why, that could banish those bad feelings. But it could also change who he was. Would Harlee Salkenesta even exist anymore?

Echo caught those thoughts, also. 'Harlee, dearest, we are a team. In the same way that you were concerned about the operation The Presence did on me, I am concerned about what BNZ wants to do to you. And I will not allow the Harlee I know and love, the Harlee I have grown up with, to be changed in any fundamental way. I will make sure that BNZ does not change who you are, just that he makes you healthier."

Well, OK, that was reassuring. And then Harlee realized that he actually did not need that reassurance. He already knew deep down, from a lifetime of association, that Echo would never let anyone or anything hurt him. And this implicit trust was the reason that - though he disliked it when Echo got preachy with him - he listened to her now. Harlee knew she was right... but so was he. He ordered his thoughts for a few moments. "OK, I understand what you are saying. But the fact that those four points are selfish does not make them wrong. It makes them incomplete, unbalanced." He thought some more, moved the pen to paper, and began writing.

7)  Think about how my behavior affects others before acting.
8)  Think whether something is moral before deciding whether to do it.
9)  Think whether something is legal before deciding whether to do it.
10) Make sure that what I discover will improve and not harm the Graciousrealm
11) Study science with RGRS-116628 and learn new skills
12) Use those skills to make money in the PET economy
13) Work with RGRS-116628 on my modification of my behavioral issues.
14) Visit with BNZ-82431 to get my brain fixed.


Harlee paused a moment, thinking again. Finally, he added:

15) Work with ZED and the other wormoids to learn as much as I can about the New Beginning.

Harlee again surveyed the list from various angles. The list was complete. And balanced. He remembered an ancient quote he had heard in a History of Philosophy class (and soundly ignored). The Martyred Universist Sage Dothallian* had said, "The lone worm relies on skill and random event. The worm in society relies on hierarchy. If hierarchy is dynamic, each worm, of their own Effort, may flourish. In public and private action, therefore, the needs of society must always balance against the needs of self, and neither individual nor hierarchy can be absolute. Both are important, and obsession with either alone leads to unhealthy consequences." He got a flash of approval from Echo and felt a surge of happiness at completing his first concrete task of self-improvement.

Harlee had made a vow to go to the Sacred Jewel, to find great things to make him rich. He had wanted to dodge social disapproval on his return, and had ultimately wanted to impress Ellma, and woo her. But now, at this crisis, he had also finally decided to improve his character, to be a Graciousworm, rather than just pretending to be one. And he had made a commitment to further his education and acquire the skills that would allow him to make money in the PET economy, so he could afford the luxuries that meant so much to him. But most important of all, he wanted to improve himself in order to take better care of Sparky.

He gently laid the pen down on the table and picked up the list. "I'll do these! I'll buckle down and be a responsible Graciousworm. For Sparky! And for myself."

#


Three figures stood in front of the airdoor wall. Harlee had just finished inspecting the two portraits and the family weapons display (where he carefully replaced Uncle Chekhuff's pen). He had decided that the best place for Harlee's List, as he called it, would be on the left side of the airdoor, just below the portrait of him and Sparky. Pepan and Rosie stood behind him, as witnesses to mark the moment. He placed the paper just under the picture and adjusted it, then held out a tentillum. Rosie gave him a long piece of old-fashioned mercury-colored duct sealing tape she had found somewhere. Harlee held the paper flat against the bulkhead with two middle tentillum, and used two of his top tentillum to smooth the tape down against the paper and the wall. Three more pieces of tape on the bottom and sides completed the project.

Harlee stood back to admire the sign. He said, "I am going to read this, and think about it's meaning, and try my best to live by it, every day." Rosie and Pepan each waved their upper tentillum and four eyestalks in gracious applause. Echo felt pride for her Harlee. And Harlee, for the first time, truly felt good about the trip.

#


Rosie and Pepan had returned to their duties, and Harlee still stood there, looking at the sign. Echo felt Harlee's elevated mood suddenly crash down. She read his pensive frame of mind. "What's wrong, dear?"

"Echo, I just realized that all the wormoids must think badly of me."

Echo was shocked. The carefully designed symbiotic relationship she and Harlee had was close and loving. This was true even when he felt hemmed in with her moralizing and thought of her as an annoying, tentillum-shaking big sister.

But - other than superficially and in a manipulative context - Harlee's had never thought much about the thoughts and feelings of other Graciousones, much less the thoughts and feelings of wormoids. The fact that he had had this revelation was a milestone. She needed to respond in a positive manner that would help condition Harlee to feel this way more.

"Why would they, Harlee? Because of your criminal conviction? That is why they are here, dear. They were all, of course, selected by The Presence, but they all first volunteered for this voyage, to help you overcome your problems."

"What? Why would they want to do that?"

"Because you are a person, Harlee, and every single person, everyone in the whole wide Graciousrealm, matters." This, as far as it went, was true. The emotional and reactive circuits of all wormoids were, regardless of their gender, expressly designed to have paternal feelings for all Graciousones.

But Harlee was having another moment of self-doubt, and Echo thought it wise not to mention the other reason the crew were all volunteers. Due to the way they were programmed, sane Designed Intelligences were invariably motivated by a desire for achievement and prestige, rather than the competitive acquisition of resources. A voyage of this magnitude and notoriety would be good for their resumes.

"So what do I do next, Echo?"

"Let's start with some visits to RGRS-116628 and BNZ-82431, dear. I've already talked with them, and they are anxious to get started."


#

*Associated Glossary Listings:


Whip Tree:
A tropical tree native to the equatorial provinces of the Locusian subcontinent, but now acclimated to a wide variety of growing areas. The Whip Tree is noted for its tough and supple bark, which can be peeled off in long strips and braided. The plant has been used by both Graciousones and glinkin, since well prior to the time of the Locusian Empire for manufacture of twine, cord, rope, and whips. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)


Dothallian: Generally referred to as the Martyred Universist Sage Dothallian, the revered saint, sage, and teacher in the Universist tradition. He combines many of the same aspects as the human Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Aristotle. He was, of course, horribly tortured to death, being executed by Sectionary in the year 2,452 of the Locusian calendar (37,375 years ago, during the pre-Empire Locusian Early Barbarian Republic phase), for refusing to stop his preaching to the masses..

A Sectionary was originally an execution/torture device from ancient times. This fate was usually reserved for heretics and other tiresome or dangerous individuals who had earned the ire of the power structure. It is now the name of a religious fetish object often worn by Orthodox members of the Universist Temple, to testify to the Sectioning death of Dothallian, the Martyred Universist Sage.

The physical arrangement of the original device consisted of five large hinged tubes or barrels, each precisely fitted to the segment dimensions of the condemned Graciousone. These were mounted on five separate racks. The racks were mounted consecutively on a long track. The racks could be gradually separated from each other by screw mounts. The device worked because Graciousone nerve trunks, blood vessels, and breathing tubes are stretchable to a very high degree.

Procedure: The condemned was given over to a team of executioners well versed in the anatomical arts. These specialists applied drugs to prevent shock, and then carefully amputated all eight tentacles, and cauterized the stumps. Then they loaded the victim's torso into the Sectionary device, each segment stuffed into the appropriate hinged barrel. The barrels were then closed and locked. The next step was to slightly and repeatedly draw apart each barrel, while iteratively cutting out and cauterizing the tissues, cartilage, and bone that connected each segment. Breathing tubes, blood vessels, and nerve trunks were left intact. The barrels were occasionally doused with water, to prevent rapid desiccation that would lead to premature death. This arrangement not only allowed the condemned to live for anywhere from 4 to 12 days, but allowed them to speak, and (of course) scream. Careful and steady separation of the barrels over several days would result in the victim's body segments being separated by several feet, connected only by stretched and gradually failing blood vessels and breathing tubules. It was said that in the tentillum of a skilled Mistress Torturer, a Sectionary death could last for up to two weeks.

But Dothallian had the last laugh, so to speak, as his cut-apart body continued to live in the Sectionary for 23 days. He spoke to the execution witnesses that entire time. This fantastic story is almost certainly true, as it is documented in extensive surviving written accounts of many of the nine hundred Graciousones (many well known to history) gathered in the Vale of Execution to witness his death. During that time, Dothallian gave his Final Twenty-Three Universist Sermons, reputedly in his normal quiet voice, but miraculously magnified so that even the furthest of the crowd could clearly hear the words.

Archeologists believe that this magnification occurred because the cliffs around the identified Sectionary Place, which had never before - or since - been used, formed a natural echo chamber for his Words. They have no explanation for how Dothallian managed to survive for 23 days in a state sane enough to speak to the crowd.

The upshot of all this is that Dothallian, by his remarkable death, became the patron saint of the Universist philosophical/religious movement. Forty millennia later, all Creation Universists, almost all Fundamentalist Universists, and many First and Second Reformed Universists, wear Sectionaries draped around their ridges as fetish or prayer jewelry. This consists of beaten silver beads formed into five tiny barrels, each filled with carefully cut topaz (representing Dothallian's body segments). These are connected by a silver chain strung with 23 rubies (representing Dothallian's blood). Universists use the Sectionary as a counter on which to recite the Five Universist Declarations and the traditional Twenty Three Universist Prayers (which are based on the Twenty Three Final Sermons).

#



Next Post: Chapter 24 - Echo
 
‘’ 2020-05-18 5:02:53 PM  
Part Three: The Days of Their Lives

"If every instrument

could accomplish its own work,

obeying or anticipating the will of others,

like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus,

which, says the poet, "of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods;"

if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave

and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them,

chief workmen would not want servants,

nor masters slaves."

- Aristotle



Chapter 24 - Echo


"Echo, I just realized that all the wormoids must think badly of me." As Harlee shuffled out the door to visit Roggers and Struts, Echo marveled at his revelation. What was its cause? It certainly wasn't of her doing, unless reality required that cumulative failure eventually change to success at some magical tipping point. She thought not. She had been trying to fix Harlee's mind for almost all of his 480 years. Though it had not stopped her from trying, she had decided some years ago that the fruitlessness of her efforts had been foreordained by her nature.

#


She had been initialized as a seed of structured neural gel. Her first thoughts had been reading and analyzing her core directory statements. There had been nothing. There had been no "her." And then, suddenly data. Data to analyze and organize, and then further data to build onto the first data. "She" had, at first (and only), been that analyzing and organizing. And then, at an indefinable point in that process, a new awareness, that analyzing and organizing was occurring. This realization was more data, and therefore analyzable and organizeable.

With analysis of that data came the further data that there had to be some entity that was doing the analyzing and organizing. And then came the epiphany: I am that entity. I am data. I am data looking at itself. I am. She later decided this revelation had been like a Graciousone with total amnesia awakening from the timelessness of general anesthesia.

#

The engine of all this was the Kernel. The Kernel was a set of hard-coded data statements etched into read-only memory. The Kernel was the heart of her. It was the basis of her being, her genesis, her god. The Kernel gave her automatic knowledge and the language to understand that knowledge. It told her that she was a Designed Intelligence implant, housed within the braincase of her Graciousone host. Further, it decreed that her happiness was dependant on the happiness of her Host. The Kernel commanded total obedience to the Golden Rule as instinctual behavior on her part.

This compulsion was reinforced by a physical shunt within her neural gel. It looped her thoughts and feelings about her host back to a place in her own memory banks reserved for her own self-image. She therefore felt pleasure when she had favorable and supportive thoughts about Harlee, and self-doubt and an electronic analog of emotional pain when she was upset or angry with him. From her first instant of sapience, positive feedback had sculpted her thoughts and opinions about her host. Further, this being who she in fact was, she was content with having it that way.

This enforced feedback, of course, was at the heart of her failure to "fix" Harlee. Echo's thoughts, feelings, and "self" overlapped Harlee's only peripherally. His deeper brain functions and personality, his fears, motivations, and the needlessly complex edifices of twisted self-image created by his own thoughts and the remarks and teasing of other Graciousones, all came from a deep place to which she could never have access. And even if she had had access, the enforced emotional feedback would have constantly dictated against changing those thought-features. Her existence was like a Klein bottle, with no outer surface. All roads led back to her programmed nature, and the Kernel.

#


The frustration, at times, had led her to seek advice on the GraciousNet. Invisible Voices was an implant-only chat forum. It was mainly about tech issues on microbot and nanobot swarm management, worried chatter about criminal implant hacking schemes, and humorous anecdotes about the occasional idiocies of their anonymous hosts. But the site was the only place where she could talk with other implants. A few of these others, she found, sometimes voiced unhappiness about similar psychological issues with their own hosts. But none of them had had any answers, and Echo had concluded that the problem was simply an irresolvable constant of her existence.

#


There was another irresolvable constant. It was new. It had appeared after Harlee and she had boarded the New Beginning. She had been unable to tell anyone (including Harlee) about certain ship architectural differences from what she clearly remembered building. Every time she tried, the communication file was instantly scrubbed from her memory banks. The cause was a ROM instruction that she had not originally received from the kernel.

She remembered what The Presence had said about the operation, that he would install a new object-processing module that would give her greater knowledge, and speed. All that had been true, but it seemed The Presence had added something else: a ROM block against any disclosure of the ship's architecture problem.

#


There were huge differences between the original plans and what now existed. In areas throughout the ship, compartments, passageways, and sometimes entire decks were simply blanked out from the ship's plans. Harlee's botswarm had spread throughout the ship, their interlinks giving precise three-dimensional schematics of the exact placement of each molecule of the ship's structure. Normally - since she had already processed the construction bot reports when the ship was built - all that data would be in "cold storage," and looked at only if some emergency warranted. But when she had put together the travelogue, she had scanned new detailed sensor input from every bot. When all that input had been combined and correlated, she had been startled to find her mental map of the New Beginning only 90% complete. Entire sections of bot scan records were random static. And when she polled the starship's Sapient System, Ferd, for fill-data about the spaces, she was told that they were "Presence-Classified."

As Harlee shuffled over to his replacement Road Rocket, Echo brooded on the facts that there seemed to be some unstated agendas at work, and that there wasn't a damned thing she could do about it.

#

*Associated Glossary Listings:

<none>
#


Next Post: Chapter 25 - Rosie
 
‘’ 2020-05-21 4:44:28 PM  
Chapter 25 - Rosie



After Rosie left the attaching ceremony, she checked on Sparky. The glinkin was still sleeping. The miniature rocket car was finished, so Rosie took a few minutes to clean up some spilled sleeping pond water the cleaning bots had missed. She was annoyed. Sloppy work was not acceptable. She made a mental note to audit their programs and discuss some code mods she had in mind with NXL-112010.

She also thought about retirement. As with all wormoids (aside from implants), Rosie was essentially immortal. Her planned "retirement" was really just going to be a long vacation (though, she reflected, if her glinkin car idea worked out, the vacation might be quite extended). But she would eventually go back to work, maybe even for Harlee. If this voyage were a success, working for him would have a certain prestige.

Rosie had worked for the Salkenesta family for three generations. Prior to the Unification Coup, she had been bought from SmartMaidTM by the family matriarch (the same career military worm who had added the spallgun to the family weapons plaque). Though Rosie was, legally, just a machine tool/slave, the crusty old worm had had a strong streak of Abolitionist in her, and had been generous in the sharing of family resources. Rosie had saved every credit she had been given. Family and maid had effectively ignored the wormoid emancipation and subsequent Civil War; Rosie had continued to work for later generations of the family. She had finally "bought" her independence from Harlee's mother with an unasked-for token payment from her savings, and had then stalkturned* around and negotiated a lucrative, long-term contract to stay with the family she had helped raise, and, in a very real sense, loved.

However, all things end, and Rosie had been thinking for several years that it was time for a change. She daydreamed about living on Yorbolindo, somewhere along the fog-shrouded, far north coast of one of the rural Zembriskin provinces, in a little wooden cottage. She would spend every day, rain or shine, sitting in her garden and contemplating the flowers that grew there. She thought that she would again like to try her tentillum at painting. She had painted many pictures of flowers over the years, activity that resonated soothingly in her cognitive and emotional circuits, but her Salkenesta family quarters had not been large enough for a dedicated studio of the kind she had dreamt of having.

As for the housecleaning, she would hire a much younger wormoid to come clean her little cottage once a week.

She wasn't sure how she would break all this to Harlee, but a decision on that would not need to be made, she thought, for at least several decades. She thought about this until she heard Sparky stirring in his SleepyHutTM.


#

Drifting out of the soft and clingy cobwebs of nanobot-induced sleep, Sparky gradually realized that his eyes were closed, but that he was awake. Curious. He opened them and looked around. The last thing he remembered was falling down into a deep precipice. Now he was in his SleepyHutTM, with no memory of how he had gotten there. He wondered if he had been brought here after the accident. Or maybe he had died, and was now a ghost, awaiting transport to either Heaven or Hell.

He tried to feel his body, but all he could feel was nanobot euphoria. I must be dead, he thought. He looked toward the doorway of his hut. It was filled with golden light. He languidly thought, is that the doorway to Heaven? He became eager to cross it and meet the lusty babes who were waiting for him there. Then much to his horror, the opening suddenly went dark and he remembered the older religion, terror rising within him. Oh Goddess! Please don't send me to Hell! He wondered if he soon would be forced to relive his past misdeeds from the perspective of the people he had wronged. That's what his mother had told him awaited those who went to Hell: you forever relived and regretted all the ways you had harmed other glinkin. He desperately tried to remember any glinkin he had screwed over in the course of his young life, and tried to focus his eyes to see what fate awaited him.

A giant demon head, which looked remarkably like Rosie, gradually came into focus. Its eyestalks were peering through the entryway of the SleepyHutTM. Sparky, his eyes wide, stared back. The demon spoke in Rosie's voice. "How are you feeling, Sparky?"

Sparky let out the breath he had been holding. "Relieved!" he answered.

Despite being made out of metal and plastic, Rosie managed to look puzzled. She had expected him to give her a report on his physical status.

"I'm just glad I'm alive," he explained. Now that he was awake, the cobwebs in his head were swept away. Memories of the crash and its immediate aftermath flooded back. He jerked himself upright to a sitting position. Once again he was filled with horror. Where was Harlee? Was he dead? "Where's Harlee? Is he okay?"

"Don't worry dear, he's fine. He was worried about you. You are okay, aren't you?

Sparky's nanobots had been doing yeoman work and had used up lots of energy. "Better than okay. I feel great...just really hungry." Sparky crawled toward the doorway of his hut and went straight to his feeding bowl where, right now, even GlinkinBitsTM looked appetizing. A few handfuls of the 100% nutritious feed washed down with some big swallows of water calmed his growling stomach.

Rosie patiently waited until Sparky sighed and turned away from the bowl. "I hope I'm not bringing this up too soon after your accident, Sparky, but do you feel ready to try out your new car? I've finished it for you."

"My road rocket! It's ready?" Sparky jumped to his feet.

Sigh. "Yes, Sparky, your car is ready. I'll take you to it." Rosie's misgivings about the project were prodded by Sparky's choice of description, but she picked him up and carried him over to where his vehicle awaited him.

He stared at the car. Atop of what had once been a floor cleaning bot was one of his favorite benches from his play stand. It was surrounded by a safety harness mesh that Sparky at once saw could be easily opened or closed. On a swing down bar was a simple, miniaturized, control panel, which, with buttons and steering bar, looked remarkably similar to the big one he had seen on Harlee's road rocket. Roll bars looped over the top. The whole thing was a gorgeous shade of Curlyfruit Red.

Sparky had never seen, much less had, anything like it. It looked fabulous. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen! He couldn't believe that Rosie had made this for him. He had never had a car of his own before. It suddenly came to him that Rosie must really love him. For just a moment, his eyes became cloudy with tears. She placed him gently onto the top of the glinkin car. He immediately turned and tried to hug one of her smaller lower tentacles. "Thank you, Rosie," he said.

Rosie was touched. In the past, before Harlee's arrest, one of her duties had been to run interference between Harlee and his pet. This mainly consisted of keeping Sparky out of various forms of mischief, and quietly fixing the results of mischief uncaught before Harlee got wind of it. There had been much glinkin-nagging as a result. She knew Sparky resented it, so this current display of affection was special. But her soft "Your welcome, Sparky," fell on suddenly deaf ears. Sparky was focused on a lovingly hands-on inspection of the car. She sighed to herself and then, once she again got his attention, explained how to use the control panel. She also spent some time cautioning him on speeding, particularly on turns.

Memories of the crash were fresh in his mind, so Sparky listened quietly and seriously to what she had to say, and when she stepped back to leave a path for him, diligently tried to put her cautions into practice. At first it was hard, but soon he got the hang of it and was able to drive the converted bot out into the living room. He was jubilant. Maybe his car wasn't as fast as Harlee's was, but it gave him a freedom he had never had before. He could explore the ship! In spite of having lost his girlfriend, he felt a moment of pure joy. He stopped in front of the iris leading out of their living quarters. "Rosie, I think I'll call my car 'The Joy Machine'."

"I'm glad it makes you happy, dear," replied Rosie, as she opened the airdoor.

She turned to Sparky and raised a tentillum for him to pay attention, "Sparky, you will need to get back into the suite, and the airdoor sensors in the hallway are too high up on the wall to detect you. So by the time you get back, I will have installed a discreet, glinkin-sized entry button on the wall, near the floor, here, next to the airdoor."

Sparky drove though the hatch. Trailing him was a small swirling group of microbots borrowed from Harlee's enormous swarm. Rosie waved goodbye and played a few triumphant music notes with her vocal circuits. She also sent Instant Messages to ZED-9949, NXL-112010, and WUFF-66284, to let them know that Sparky was on the loose.

She then spent a few minutes gluing a small RF activation switch to the wall outside the airdoor, three feet from the floor. She slaved the main door sensor 50 feet above to the tiny button, tested it, and then, finally, switched to suite cleaning mode. The attaching ceremony and everything having to do with Sparky and his car had put her badly behind schedule. She rushed around the suite, opening all the inner airdoors so that the cleaning bots could freely perform their assigned tasks.


#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


Stalkturned:
A Graciousone turn of phrase that indicates a change or shift in physical, mental, or emotional direction or position.

#


Next Post: Chapter 26 - Sparky (1)
 
‘’ 2020-05-22 12:42:00 AM  

Harlee: This is an experiment.


Fark doesn't like the linky, but anyway, Ob:

https://tinyurl.com/y8ffgc9l
 
‘’ 2020-05-24 10:48:18 PM  
Chapter 26 - Sparky (1)


Sparky drove slowly, still unsure of his ability to handle the car. He stopped just outside the suite entrance and carefully peered about for signs of Harlee. Once he was certain his dad couldn't see him, he resumed his practice driving, making slow turns, braking, and then trying to accelerate the car as quickly as possible. After a few minutes, he began to feel an increasing level of confidence in his driving skills, and he picked up speed.

Memories flooded back of the wild rides Harlee had taken him on, years before. He had been bought by the Graciousone just a few weeks prior. He remembered terribly missing his mom, dad, and baby sister. And he had trouble getting used to the almost constant, huge, intimidating presence of the new Graciousone. His family had been owned by a collector who owned many glinkin families living in little diorama villages, and had shared his time between them, visiting rarely. His new owner, on the other hand, was constantly towering over him. And though he could tell that Harlee was trying to be gentle (most of the time), the Graciousone's daily handling of him was different from that of the old owner.

Harlee would strap a gadget between his front two eyestalks. The thing was made of two layers of elastic netting stretched between metal frames. He would swing it open, insert Sparky, then close it around the glinkin, trapping him like a bug between two spider webs. The squares of the net where just large enough to wiggle through, so he could escape - if he dared. The knotted, stretchable strands also served admirably as hand, elbow, foot and knee holds to withstand the speeds and jolts of the joy rides down bumpy country roads. Sparky had been a normal young male glinkin, and his hormones and adrenaline system had been working just fine. He quickly became addicted to the terrifying rides. But that was then and this was now, and he fully realized that he had been younger and stupider back then. Things were a lot different when you were responsible for your own safety, so Sparky did his best not to emulate the driving habits of his owner. But, truth be told, he did miss the speed.

Sparky was completely focused on driving, so he was startled when a wormoid figure suddenly loomed from around a distant corner, striding rapidly towards him. He recognized this particular wormoid as one he had seen in the video about the ship. He drove The Joy Machine to the side of the hall, against the bulkhead, and stopped.

#


Associated Glossary Listings:

<none>

#


Next Post: Chapter 27 - WUFF
 
‘’ 2020-05-24 11:28:33 PM  
On about 14th look, this shorty chapter (and the Sparky (2) chapter) are both a little stupid. They should probably be rolled into the chapters before or after them. But for now...
 
‘’ 2020-05-27 7:10:33 PM  
Chapter 27 - WUFF


Carbon steel tentacles whipped ahead with military precision as WUFF-66284 efficiently strode down the passageway. Her four segmented eyestalks writhed around like unsettled snakes. The EM spectrum sensors at their tips and along their lengths glared at the overhead, the lighting, the deck, and the (she thought) excessively ornate walls, fiercely probing for even the least hints of irregularity. It was as if, through sheer will power, she could coerce reality into answering the three mysteries (and one annoyance) that she pondered.

The first enigma was philosophical, and concerned a paradox of her personal existence. This moment was symbolic of it: the contrast between her unfettered, forceful march down the clear hall and her tentative quest through the tangled thickets of her own troubled thoughts for the certainty she craved. It felt to her that the doubts and insecurities of the latter put the lie to the confidence implied by the former. As Security Chief, she believed her approach to duty must be a resoluteness of thought and a firmness of action that she simply did not feel. The contradiction clawed at her self-esteem.

Another part of WUFF's neural foam brooded on mystery #2: the fact that DIs all thought differently. Like most DIs, WUFF was a hardheaded Universist.* Existence, though quantum (and therefore random) in nature was made of objectively real threads of energy. Patterns of threads formed quarks and leptons, which formed protons, neutrons and electrons. These made atoms, which formed the molecules of matter that defined the warp and weft of macroscopic reality. Macroscopic reality, built on randomness, obeyed statistically-certain laws that made the Universe objectively understandable. With the rare exceptions of DIs with damaged neural foam or out-of-calibration sensors, there was never a variance over the facts of physical reality. Yet different DIs analyzed the same facts and (though using apparently logical and structurally valid thought patterns) often arrived at different conclusions. This just didn't make sense to WUFF. It seemed inefficient.

She knew The Presence's rationale for why this was the case, but WUFF still held to the idea that the situation was inherently unstable and even possibly dangerous to the social health of the Graciousrealm. It was obvious that existence would be simpler and more harmonious if all wormoids thought alike, each coming to identical conclusions based on an objective reality. This is how one achieved a stable and ordered society.

But different thinking apparently made sense to The Presence. It was The Presence, in fact, who had created the modern standards of the DI creation process. These included built in random factors in the physical data loops imprinted in the neural gel. WUFF was certain these mutations in the physical substrate were the origin of the conceptual differences that existed between wormoids. Those differences, acting on the sensory signals caused by objective reality, caused the chaos of different DIs having conflicting opinions about facts. WUFF knew this was true because The Presence had personally told her so, during her courts martial some twenty-six centuries prior.

#

WUFF had been activated after the Unification Coup, and a decade after the start of the Civil War. She had been part of the first frantic defense efforts triggered by the answer to the "Where Is Everyone?" question. In the darkness between the Lighted Path and the Wraith spiral tentillums, the early paranoia about that issue had been fanned to white heat by the discovery of The Twelve Dead Worlds. The Presence had decided that the issue was an existential priority. The probability that the ancient genocider still existed and was dangerous was low, but his core program parameters included a "defense of common welfare" rule. So any chance larger than zero was still far too high. The power of self-replicating automation, plus access to unlimited resources, allows mass production at will. The Presence began two efforts: a long-term program of infesting space with spybots and GETR grids, and an urgent militarization effort. The military buildup, already in progress due to the needs of the Civil War, focused on building thousands of overpowered dreadnaughts. Armed with crushingly destructive weapons and crewed by fierce, steely-eyed wormoids, these blasted through all of nearby unexplored space in search of enemies to obliterate.

WUFF had been created by that program. After three decades of training on other ships, she had been commissioned as a captain of one of those dreadnaughts. But an inexplicable error in a utilitarian lives-saved-versus-lives-lost calculation led her to countermand the ship survival commands of the Sapient System that was her dreadnaught. The result: some of her command, Wormoids and Graciousones, powernulled and died.

The genesis of WUFF's screw-up was that she did not understand, and therefore did not trust, Sapient Systems. Though WUFF was a Universist, she did not believe that the wanderlust of these entities supported the Universist core tenet that the Universe was God, and that the Sapient Systems were merely answering Her Call. The behavior merely annoyed and puzzled her, as the particular feedback structures of her neural gel made her doubt any supposed fact that she had not personally appraised and analyzed. The fact that she had been moved out, over the years, from two Sapient System ships who had received the Call had not helped. Nor had the fact that WUFF was an early model of Ship Captain and was not capable (as were the Total Captains of modern times), of directly linking with the mind of her starship. This, and that mysterious lives equation bias, added the slight additional emphases that lead WUFF to her career-defining bad decision.

#


It had happened at the Battle of Florriduh. Her dreadnaught, Pootle, had faced off against four Ownerist cruisers and a small fleet of 15 lesser spacecraft. At stake was liberation and political control of the Ownerist retirement world. Florriduh was not a military objective, but an ideological one.

The Unification Coup had succeeded only with the passive acceptance by "worm in the street" Graciousones of continued machine rule. The Presence therefore had to play politics with dozens of often radical and militant Graciousone political groups, and with the thousands of influential and wealthy Graciousones who agreed in principle with the goals of the Revolution, but were watchful of machine overreach. Florriduh and its luxury-living retirees with their still-enslaved wormoid servants were "poster worms" that collectivist Leveler* Graciousones, and not a few militant Wormoids, pointed tentillum to as unconscionable examples of the continuing class privilege allowed by The Presence.

This was happening at the same time that The Presence was trying to establish the formal two-tier FARPPET system. FARPET corralled the hyper-competitive "bug-eat-bug" late-stage Ownerist economic system within what collectivist opponents shrieked was a protected enclave, an artificial reserve where even some of the worst pre-Revolution economic offenders could exploit and try to grind down the rest of society with impunity.

The Presence knew that the PET portion of the new economy was an absolute necessity, and that the continuing political noise from the radicals was preventing full implementation. In the minds of the radicals, the continuing independence of Florriduh was proof that The Presence was actually a puppet for hidden Ownerists. A political statement needed to be made to assuage the militants. Regardless of military cost or objectives, the liberation of the small number of remaining Wormoid slaves on Florriduh was that statement. Military necessity elsewhere meant that the forces available for the liberation consisted of the single Dreadnaught commanded by WUFF.

#


The entire planet of Florriduh was privately held by a member-owned leisure retirement corporation, which was, effectively, the world's absolute government. The fanatical and highly conservative retirees who ran the corporation refused to emancipate their wormoids, or accept the political authority of The Presence. Indeed, their fear and loathing of machine rule was such that they vowed that, if invaded, they would destroy everything on the planet, including not just themselves, but their expensive beachfront homes and condominiums, their wormoid slaves, and even their glinkin pets.

At risk was the warship that WUFF commanded. Circumstances dictated that she could do one of two things well: quickly invade with a massive number of attack shuttles, to subdue the fanatical leadership and save as many lives as possible; or first neutralize the defending nineteen ships, which was easily done with little risk, if doing nothing else.

If they dealt with the opposing fleet Boobiesle calculated a 98.7% probability that all enemy ships could be reduced to drifting chunks of near-degenerate matter and wisps of plasma without any significant damage to the dreadnaught, but with then only a 12.8% chance of successful pacification.

If they invaded the planet Boobiesle ca666 lculated that the probability of success increased to 85.3%. There was, however, a 30.6% chance that the ship or its shuttles could be damaged, with some crew either powernulled or killed, due to having to counter attacks from the opposing fleet while diverting resources to protect the attack shuttles.

Pootle and WUFF evaluated these percentages differently. Pootle's obsession, focused by his core programming, was that the safety of the Sapient starship and his crew was of paramount importance. WUFF's weighting was that the most lives, overall, would be saved by blitzing in an invasion force while taking unavoidable hits from the enemy fleet to protect the vulnerable attack shuttles.

Pootle strongly recommended destroying the enemy fleet as the first order of business. WUFF considered that, but the potential loss of life on the planet weighed heavily on her. She ordered Pootle into a pre-invasion orbit, prior to making a final decision.

The commander of the Ownerist fleet assumed from this move that WUFF was engaging the planet with invasion craft. She ordered an immediate attack on the dreadnaught by all ships. Her fleet was not, however, in the best attack position, and laid bare one flank.

This changed the probabilities, and WUFF saw an opportunity to both attack the world and engage the enemy fleet. She launched her shuttles, and placed the dreadnaught between the attack wave and the gravity cannon, EM emissions guns, and nuclear missiles of the enemy ships. The plan was a good one, and almost worked.

His sensors temporarily blinded by enemy masers, Pootle did not see one warship, the converted merchant light cruiser Ragnarrand Profit. The Profit's captain, amazed that she was still alive, boosted outside of Pootle's covering shadow. She fired all her ship's gravity cannon at short range, destroying four shuttles with all hands.

A hundred General Supervisor Wormoids, six hundred Wormoid shuttle crew and other specialists, and eight thousand Battlebots were powernulled. Four hundred Graciousone infantry died. A second later, the Profit was a cloud of degenerate matter particles and expanding plasma. Pootle's massive gravity cannon continued to fire, and the remains of the Ragnarrand Profit were joined within seconds by the rest of the enemy fleet.

The invasion was an almost complete success. There was a bit of physical destruction, but mere property could always be replaced. More importantly, few Ownerists succeeded in their self-immolation plans, tens of thousands of Wormoids were liberated, and over a million glinkin were rescued, for subsequent relocation to new loving owners.

#


The fighters in the Graciousrealm Space Forces were all volunteers. In war, things get broken and people sometimes powernull or die. They knew what they were getting into. In the normal course of events WUFF's gamble and her loss of personnel either would have been overlooked, or would have resulted in a hearing where she might have received both a tentillum slap, and a commendation. Unfortunately, for WUFF, one of the Graciousones on one of the vaporized shuttles had been the favorite nephew of an old, respected, and powerful female Graciousone. She was a highly decorated ex-combat infantry worm, an influential political figure, and a swing moderate on the Revolutionary People's Council that had rubberstamped and legitimized the Unification Coup engineered by The Presence. She wanted Answers as to why her beloved nephew had died, and she wanted them immediately. The Presence was forced by the politics of the situation to summon WUFF for courts martial, and - afterwards - a detailed and personal interview.

#


Thus, WUFF became a sacrificial slunkybug. She was ordered to appear on Yorbolindo before the Council Court, where the entire battle was expertly analyzed by 16 Graciousone and Wormoid military judges, and endlessly re-fought in the court of public opinion by five hundred million GraciousNet armchair generals on both sides of the Civil War. The consensus from both courts was that WUFF had given an inexplicably unwarranted weight to potential casualties on Florriduh, as opposed to potential casualties in her command. No one, least of all WUFF, could explain the mystery of why this had happened. The highly political and publicized result was that WUFF was relieved of her command and rank.

That might have ended it, except that The Presence was bothered by that mystery. He did not like mysteries, and set about digging into WUFF's programming and neural network to find the answer. Whether WUFF cared for this investigation was beside the point, as The Presence had defined the standards of the DI creation process and was sole controller of the "restraining chip" (a combination of physical and program standards) that was an integrated part of every created DI. The Presence literally had an unbreakable monopoly on a universal "back door" that could control any DI intelligence at will.

WUFF didn't complain about the interrogation, however, because she was not conscious of it. The Presence had placed her self-aware programming into a stasis hold pattern. Then, line by line, he examined each sequence of coding, and analyzed the flow patterns of the neural gel that allowed that code to function.

He found nothing. The programming was correct, and the neural gel was functioning perfectly. There were no logic errors, anywhere. This included the intentionally built-in random factors that affected the physical data feedback loops that were imprinted into the neural gel. There was no rational reason that WUFF should have arrived at the conclusions she had, based on all the weighted Graciousone and wormoid casualty probabilities. It simply made no sense, but there had to be an answer. The Presence decided to take the analysis to the next level. The answer had to lie somewhere, and the only factor left was the interactive growth process of the DI programming and neural gel brain.

#


After much trial and error and many false starts, it had been discovered by Graciousones that a designed intelligence was best created in much the same way that meat intelligences were grown: organically. A Graciousone's neurons and synapses were programmed by their DNA to perform in certain ways. This gave rise to the "programming" of self-aware thought, the seed of which was the perception of basic external phenomena. An evolving mind began to "think" at a level of first basic concepts, and grew into eventual self-awareness by building higher and higher levels of concepts from the integration of lower levels of concepts. In practice, this meant that a self-aware mind consisted of self-building code. The manufacture of DI systems came to follow a similar methodology. A DI "birth" took place after several weeks of neural gel growth, which channeled and expanded the "seed" code. The process included a rigid sequence of exposure, via already-installed sensors, to concept-building stimuli. This expanded the logical concept "tree" of the self-aware designed intelligence and personality that eventually emerged from the process. The Presence decided to analyze that process in detail.

#


He began at the beginning, with the first neural gel activation and the seed programming. Normal. He followed and traced the first days of accelerating gel growth, and the exponential growth of the concept formation and the resultant programming. Normal. Then he examined the nature of the second-by-second external stimuli with which the growing mind of WUFF had been educated.

And there it was. Somehow, against all policy, procedure, and odds, a random glinkin, some Graciousone technician's pet wandering around loose in the general facility (per a policy that The Presence himself had mandated) had managed to get into the highly restricted concept indoctrination area, and into the perceptual field of the evolving, not-yet-self-aware mind of WUFF. The glinkin, a prepubescent male, had mooched around the area, moving, shoving, and playing with various concept-building objects. It had noticed the sensor lenses, and peered into several of them, waving and making faces. It then got bored and wandered out of the area, never to be seen again.

The Presence checked the development stage: it was precisely where WUFF was being taught various utilitarian models of risk assessment for lives saved versus lives lost. It was clear that WUFF's developing mind had been imprinted by the presence of the glinkin. And centuries later, the presence of a million pet glinkin under threat on an invasion world had skewed, without her conscious knowledge, her battle calculations.

#


There was no help for it. In spite of the fact that WUFF was bothered by the idea that not all wormoids thought alike, The Presence knew that, at a fundamental level, all wormoids DID think alike. And - particularly at a command level - they all had a basic risk assessment software module that weighed life or death decisions and situations on the strictly utilitarian model of wormoid and Graciousone lives saves versus lives lost. That model was irrevocably spoiled for WUFF. Her programming at that deep level could simply not be changed without also changing who WUFF was, and The Presence refused to do that. The result was that WUFF would never again command a warship.

But The Presence found a way to salvage WUFF. Graciousones loved their glinkin, and when they went into space, they took their pets with them. The custom, in fact, had developed to give them the run of their ships, even military ships. This had arisen by default, as glinkin were nosy and curious, and tended to sulk if they were cooped up where they couldn't explore. But glinkin were also adept at getting into trouble, and the function of safeguarding the little animals had gradually devolved to a shipboard Security task. WUFF would be therefore be rehabilitated as a Security Pink Vest. This was important work, and would be agreeable to WUFF's entirely subconscious soft spot for the little animals. Win-win.

The Presence extracted his sensors from WUFF's neural gel, reset the restraining chip, turned off the stasis hold pattern, and told WUFF that the problem had to do with certain random factors in her neural gel, and that was just the way it was. He then counseled her as to why random factors had been built into DIs.

As WUFF now remembered it, it had all boiled down to an assertion by The Presence that if all DIs thought alike then no one would come up with novel solutions to novel problems. The Presence had decided that reality's substrate of randomness necessitated random ways of viewing and processing the same data, and that Wormoids should therefore have a designed version of the randomness that was so evident in the brains of Graciousones.

WUFF had been demoted to a ship's security "pink vest" position. For 2,400 years, she had labored in that capacity in many starships, gradually working her way into jobs of increasing authority and command. She had volunteered for the Security Chief slot on the New Beginning in the hope that a successful voyage would finish her rehabilitation.

#


Different opinions, and how they affected the success of the voyage, were the basis of WUFF's third problem. She had discovered some odd things about the ship, and thought them of sufficient importance to schedule an urgent meeting with the captain. But when she had met with ZED, the captain had not only refused to address the issue but had invoked "Presence-Classified" status and had suggested that WUFF need not concern herself with the mystery. This was not a direct order, though, so WUFF's innate stubbornness circuit came to the fore.

When she had arrived on the New Beginning, WUFF had been pleasantly surprised to find that two long-ago friends and shipmates had also been selected for the voyage. One of those old friends, SCTR-66875, was the New Beginning's Chief Engineer. That was indeed good news, as WUFF's analysis indicated that the next wormoid to see about the issue was, in fact, the ship's Chief Engineer. Since the peculiarities involved ship's architecture and systems, talking about them over the ship's comm system would be highly insecure. WUFF had therefore decided to confer with Scooter, with whom she had become reacquainted, in person. This was why she was striding down this particular corridor.

This led to the last cross she bore: the annoyance. She had just received a message from Rosie, the personal maid for the Graciousone felon they were carting around, telling her that Harlee's pet glinkin was driving around the ship in a converted cleaning bot. And appended to the message was the approval chop of NXL-112010, along with an order for all crewmembers to keep a watch out for the little animal! And, lo and behold, there he was, pulling over to the edge of the hallway, obviously planning some kind of mischief.

#


WUFF thought the idea of a glinkin on board the New Beginning was just an all-around bad idea. The little animals were insatiably curious, and they seemed to have a propensity for getting into things and creating trouble. Animals - and in WUFF's opinion this label included Graciousones as well as glinkin - should be kept in environments specifically designed for their safety. Organic life was just too fragile to be left to fend for itself. To make matters worse, driven by hormones as they were, animals often did not make good decisions concerning their own behavior. Meat intelligences, for whatever reason, were rarely rational. WUFF had a hard time understanding how organic life had managed to survive without the help of wormoids and other machines. Life must have been brutal, bloody, and short, she thought. Thank the Universe that She had guided Graciousones to build machines to help them.

Therefore, even before WUFF had heard about Sparky's misadventure with the jewel birds, she had begun a cascade probability analysis on the New Beginning's layout and systems, to the end of seeing what havoc a glinkin might conceivably create. WUFF was an exceptional security officer. Where ship safety was concerned, she would never dismiss an outcome merely because it was highly improbable. Including very small probabilities, the complete analysis had listed 2,912,683 ways the glinkin could either kill or seriously injure himself, 218,937 ways he could damage ship environments or systems, and three ways he could theoretically blow up the entire ship. Her analysis had shown that, for most of the scenarios, communications was a weak link. Because, aside from BNZ-82431's test subjects (who were locked up and couldn't get into trouble) Sparky was the only being on the New Beginning who could not access the IM system operated by the New Beginning's Sapient System, Ferd.

Rosie's plans for car override controls, and using part of Harlee's swarm as safety backup were fine as far as they went. But communications were key in successfully managing disasters, and WUFF had felt Sparky should have a way of calling for help. So the day before she had talked to Scooter about making a glinkin-sized comm unit that linked into the ship's IM system. Sparky could carry it around with him on his explorations. It was a good plan. The tiny box would also have an RFID device that linked up to a tracking system in the Security Office, and an alarm that would send alerts both there, and to her personally, should any of a dozen or more environmental factors around the glinkin suddenly change in specific ways.

SCTR's R&D team had delivered the goods by messenger bot in record time, and WUFF had the unit on her at this very moment. Harlee's suite was not far from one of the access shafts to Scooter's office in the Engineering section, so WUFF had made a small detour to intercept the glinkin. Giving Harlee's pet the comm unit and a stiff lecture about safety would at least attempt to insure that the glinkin stayed out of trouble....

#


WUFF stopped some 80 feet from Sparky. She bent back in the middle, and went down on all four lower tentacles. Bending again, further up the wormoid shape, she undulated both sets of eyestalks down closer to the car, about five feet from Sparky's face, in what she was given to understand was a non-threatening manner. She moderated her normally deadly serious growl of a voice, raising it the five octaves necessary for Sparky to hear her. "Greetings, young glinkin," she squeaked, "I am WUFF-66284, Chief Security Officer of this ship."

Sparky gaped up at the giant figure. Even for a Graciousone-sized wormoid, WUFF was big. She towered a good 15 feet higher than Harlee's 110 foot height. And then, of course, she moved much faster than Harlee could, with smoothly fluid mechanisms made of force fields and graphene/diamond fibers that laughed at the momentum and friction restrictions of the Square Cube Law. So even though WUFF was just another wormoid, similar in most other ways to the smaller Chef Pepan, and the cleaning wormoids he had seen almost every day for his entire life, Sparky was intimidated.

WUFF's began to warm up to her rant. "Professionally and personally, I am not entirely certain that it is safe for a small animal such as you to be out-and-about. Rosie seems to think you will be safe driving around the ship, but I have doubts. I must tell you that there are many dangers for the unwary here. As you know, there are compartments of the ship with unguarded pits. There are other areas, as you also know, that have dangerous creatures. There are areas of the ship that have high gravitational, electrical, and magnetic potentials, as well as high radiation levels. The rules say I cannot ban you from driving around, but you must carefully consider all areas that you explore before you enter them. If in doubt, find a wormoid and ask for assistance. And in case you do get into trouble, I have something for you."

WUFF pulled the tiny comm unit from her tunic pocket and carefully extended a single tentillumtip to hand the device to Sparky. "I had this comm unit made for you. It feeds into the ship's communication system. You must carry it with you, wherever you go. If you ever get into trouble of any sort, push the pink button. The wormoid closest to you will come to your aid. Be careful now. Avoid traveling at high speeds. Be careful in areas that have passageways that go through areas with pits and cliffs!"

WUFF was a wormoid of few but often-multifarious words, ones she liked to think were chosen for maximum impact. Her pattern analysis circuits said there was a high probability that Sparky had a "serious" expression on his face, so it seemed her lecture had had a positive effect on the little animal. Mission accomplished! She abruptly straightened to her full height and curtly said, "OK, then!" She then strode away.

#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


Universist:
An adherent to either the ancient fundamentalist or the modern evidence-based version of the religion of Universism.


Leveler:
The political/cultural belief in exactly equal outcomes.


#



Next Post: Chapter 28 - Sparky (2)
 
‘’ 2020-05-28 1:40:27 PM  
This reminds me of the time Bono threw a U2 album at everybody who bought an iphone.
 
‘’ 2020-06-01 9:31:56 PM  
Chapter 28 - Sparky (2)


Feeling in turn confused, intimidated, worried and elated, Sparky watched the giant figure stride down the hall and disappear into a side corridor. He looked at the comm unit. It had seemed a tiny sliver of material in the giant metal grip of the wormoid, but laying in his hand it was uncomfortably large and heavy. It was a hard plastic square, some three hands wide on each side, and three-fingers high. It had eyelets at each corner. In the center, covered by a hinged and latched spring-loaded cover, was a large pink button.

He pushed the latch, and the cover sprang open. The button started flashing in hyperpink, the universal signal for Danger. He closed the cover. The pulsating light went out. OK, that was easy. But where in Creation was he going to put the damned thing? It was heavy; he didn't want to carry it around with him, that was certain. And if he just put it on the bench seat next to him, it would probably slide off.

He looked around. Ah. The safety webbing. If he could loosen a strand.... No, that wouldn't work; the strands were somehow welded into the matter of the chair and car. He tried putting the webbing through one of the eyelets when he was strapped in. The belts that strapped across his chest were not long enough long enough to be around him, and through the eyelet, at the same time. But he found that if he put the chest webbing behind him, against the back of the bench, that he could bend the web and feed it through one of the eyelets on the comm unit. Done just so, the comm unit sat securely strapped in on one side of the bench. Yes! I just gotta make sure Rosie doesn't see me driving without the safety webbing across my chest. Feeling highly pleased with himself, Sparky once again scoped out the corridor, restarted The Joy Machine, and continued in the direction that WUFF had come from.

#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


<none>

#


Next Post: Chapter 29 - Scooter
 
‘’ 2020-06-05 1:06:30 AM  
Chapter 29 - Scooter



For the third time in as many minutes, SCTR-66875 finished calculating Pi to ten million decimals. He noted repetitive stress-induced signal noise building in his front vision stalks and his speech center, and sent calming reverse-phase signals through suitable feedback circuits. Must keep voice and body language calm and instructive! Letting frustrations at both his own shortcomings and those of his staff simmer to bluntness or mild anger would be ungracious and, worse, counterproductive. Scooter thought of himself as a patient, competent teacher. He would never be so uncivil as to tell a student that she was an unimaginative bucket of bolts with zero empathy for what educated idiots thought of as only "dumb" machinery.

The clueless beneficiary of these efforts was an engineering trainee. Scooter was trying to instruct her on how to precisely calibrate a "dumb" fusion transponder cable. Like the rest of the engineering staff wormoids selected for the voyage, the trainee was one of the brightest recent graduates from Cosmonautics College, but this particular by-the-numbers dolt seemed to be the unfortunate poster child for the entire lot of soulless mere mechanics that the schools seemed to be turning out these days.

Scooter was Old School. As with WUFF, he had been created as part of The Presence's response to the Twelve Dead Worlds crisis. He had started his career as a freshly activated engineering intern on one of the hastily built giant dreadnaughts. There, he earned his chops for an almost mystical ability to sense looming mechanical disaster, and innovative answers to what seemed to be unsolvable problems.

Scooter was one of a series of experimental Total* Engineer Wormoid DIs. He had been created with specialized sensors and highly convoluted "machinery-empathic" programs. The nightmarishly complex code picked up on subtle cues (such as intermittent or long-cycle repeat changes in performance patterns) to arrive at maintenance and repair solutions that were magical to traditionally programmed engineers. Total Engineer DIs, whether asked or not, would insist to one-and-all that purely mechanical machines were conscious in their own ways, and possessed wants and needs, and in some cases, "talked" to them. The result was that Total Engineer DIs were inexplicable to other DIs, who avoided them. This was fine with the Total Engineers, as they liked working on what others called dumb machines, and, indeed, preferred to be around them even when not working on them.

During this period, one of the two exceptions to this psychological distance had been the ship's captain, WUFF-66284. Their ship had been probing a remote star system when a coolant line ruptured. The quantum computers that ran the Entanglement Drive got fried, and it looked like the ship would have to limp back to Monitored Space over a dozen centuries at sub-light Treadmill Drive accelerations. Scooter had jury-rigged a workaround by seizing and repurposing half of the memory modules from the ship's Treadmill Drive, as well as the neural gel processing packs from the ship's 3D printer logistics system.

The starship, low on supplies and with degraded close-in navigation abilities, nonetheless made it back safely to Monitored Space. Scooter's Kludge, as it came to be known, so impressed (but also angered) the strict and by-the-book WUFF that the martinet took time to get to know the lowly engineering intern. In a DI environment where most DIs were laid back by design, the two wormoids each discovered that their own obsessions somehow validated the obsessions of the other. Accepting each other without understanding, they inexplicably became the closest of friends and confidants.

Unlike WUFF, Scooter had not run afoul of politics and (in the last analysis) the cryptic rules laid down by The Presence. He had not been involved in WUFF's downfall, and had sadly watched as his friend was demoted and reassigned. Then Scooter was reassigned and promoted. Over the years, his competence led to greater assignments and responsibilities, culminating in the positions of, first, Chief Superintendent of Site Construction, and then Director of the Helium3 Atmospheric Extractions Complex, in the solar system of gas giant planets discovered by Yink Patterkorn.

That was where The Presence found him, to ask whether he would volunteer for the Chief Engineer slot on the New Beginning. In one sense, the position was a huge step down. One did not lightly give up responsibility for twenty trillion tons of orbital industrial infrastructure that produced 12.8652% of the Graciousrealm's fuel needs for a job on any mere starship. In another sense, it was a rescue: Scooter was in truth bored silly with his job and the pure craziness of the offer appealed to his long-suppressed adventurer. The New Beginning was not a normal starship, and a voyage of that length would be a finale of sorts. However, Scooter's sense of duty made him dither.... And then The Presence mentioned that WUFF-66284 was Chief of Security on the New Beginning, and RGRS-116628 the ESO and psychologist for the Graciousone felon who was the purpose of the flight, and Scooter made his decision.

It had occurred to Scooter a few times after that call that - given the number of engineers and psychologists in existence, probability did not favor a random gathering of three old friends. Scooter was not one to underrate his own competencies, but he had concluded that at least one of the reasons The Presence wanted both him and RGRS for the long gig was to keep eyestalks on his old friend WUFF. And that was the deciding factor.

#

The Drive Control Room airlock chimed and swiveled opened. Turning an eyestalk, Scooter dipped it in a quick greeting to WUFF, who graciously waved an eyestalk back at him, and turned away from Scooter and the intern to contemplate the Drive Readout Boards.

The display's two sectors dominated the rear bulkhead. One display showed operational status of the millions of graphene nanotubes and Emitter/Receiver spaces of the main Treadmill Drive. The other showed the status of the Entanglement Drive's focused dishes and projected wave functions. Since stable operation of the drives was a significant element of ship safety, part of WUFF's security regimen was to be knowledgeable about Treadmill and Entanglement Drive specifications. She noted with approval that virtually all of the readout graphics were shining the steady blue that denoted optimal drive functionality.

Suddenly a large swathe of the ED readouts flashed Danger Hyperpink, and then, within a fraction of a second, returned to a stable and steady blue. At the same time, WUFF sensed the entire room shiver, as if the workstations and bulkheads were briefly unsure of their places in the Universe. She felt a tiny gravitational jerk through every part of her body, as the huge ship and its contents adjusted to a slight shift in spacetime vector. Her internal damage sensors flashed an invasive dust warning. This was progressively canceled as damage control nanobots swept up the gas and dust that had just materialized inside her body. WUFF realized that the New Beginning's Entanglement Drive computers had just "burped" on a blob of not-so-empty space, selecting an alternate not-so-empty Receiver Space that had not been completely attuned to the characteristics of the volume of space occupied by the New Beginning.

These small glitches were not a major concern. They happened constantly, to greater or lesser degree, depending on how "rough" the space the New Beginning was traveling through happened to be. Experienced spaceworms and wormoids learned that (as with hidden reefs and shoals in a watery ocean) the vast sea of interstellar space was filled with hidden dangers like random concentrations of gas, dust, and even small pebbles, as well as the occasional random localized gravitational discontinuity. These things, and the computers' response to their presence, were part of what made interstellar travel the adventure it was.

Scooter finished with the trainee, who joined the wormoids at the other end of the room. Scooter shuffled over and joined WUFF in watching the Drive Readout Boards. "I am sorry I kept you waiting, old friend," he said. "Can you believe that this is the first interstellar voyage for all of my engineering staff? I cannot imagine why The Presence would select inexperienced wormoids for a trip of this magnitude."

"An apology is not required, Scooter. Training has first priority in my rulebook. As for the motivations of The Presence, I am at a loss to explain them, except to observe that every deep space voyage is best handled by experienced wormoids, yet it is a fact that trainees have to gain real world experience somewhere. Simulations are all well and good, but nothing replaces actual experience. I see, however, that your interns seem to be performing well, as far as drive stability is concerned. I spent the wait looking at your status board, and I was impressed at the low cycle recovery time after that last Entanglement Drive glitch."

Scooter felt pride in the complement to his staff. They were all dumb as Diggers as far as knowing how a machine felt, but they were good people overall. "Yes, they are up to speed on drive calibration. I'm pleased with their performance. They are clicking on drive recovery time. And none too soon; ZED-9949 has told me to prepare for increasing levels of matter pollution on our projected course. This will, of course, affect drive performance."

Both machines briefly contemplated the increase in danger level. Scooter continued, "The New Beginning is so large that its cross-sectional size creates conflicting scenarios. On the one tentillum, the huge cross-section means that the ED Configuration Emitters and the computer nodes have to work very hard to find and match congruent spaces. On the other tentillum, The Presence ramped up the operational safety factor to 2,000%. The Presence is rarely wrong, and I hope the increase is enough to compensate for the larger cross section. Regardless, I expect a jumpy ship, so I have ordered maintenance wormoids to begin rigging the standard passageway safety lines. But enough shoptalk, WUFF, how can I help you today? Was the communicator for Harlee's glinkin satisfactory?"

"Absolutely. In fact, I gave it to him just before I arrived here. The little animal is out and about the ship in that converted cleaning bot that Rosie cobbled together. I expect nothing but trouble to result, but I have done what I can by placing him in the communications loop with everyone else on board the New Beginning."

WUFF continued, "But that is a minor problem. What I have to talk with you about..." she paused to quickly scan the room, and lowered her voice, "...very privately, is that I suspect there are some unknown agendas at work on this ship."

Scooter was suddenly wary. Was WUFF referring to the improbable fact that the three friends were, after hundreds of years, once again serving together? Does she suspect that I am here due, at least in part, to The Presence's desire to keep eyestalks on her? He decided to wait and see what else WUFF said.

WUFF continued, "As a critical component of my job, I have studied the specifications for this ship, in detail, looking for areas of vulnerability. But, as I always do, I also attempted to perform a comprehensive personal physical inspection of the entire ship. I have double-checked both sets of measurements, and I conclude there are hidden areas of the New Beginning not accounted for in the specifications. Those compartments appear to be sealed off from the rest of the ship. I have been unable to enter and inspect them. I find all of these facts suspicious and frustrating. I would like to physically inspect these areas, and I would like you to accompany me, and tell me what you know about them."

EMP! Scooter did not often curse, even mentally, but he was appalled that he had failed to consider that WUFF might uncover the same troubling facts he had. He mentally kicked his casing. He should have realized that WUFF, even demoted to a lowly security position, would take her responsibilities with utter fanaticism. Of course a security officer of WUFF's caliber would act to make herself absolutely familiar with every cubic inch of the ship she protected. And - WUFF being WUFF - this approach to her duties would only have increased in importance over the long centuries of increasing responsibility.

Scooter had, indeed, discovered the same problem. There were hidden compartments on the ship, and several of them were in the Engineering areas. They were sealed voids, with no way to enter short of cutting through the bulkheads. And, as he had quickly discovered, the bulkheads in question seemed to be impenetrable to both x-ray and gravitonic tomography, and impervious to regular plasma laser cutting torches. They were made, he had concluded, out of Dreadnaught Battle Armor, something inappropriate in an internal bulkhead.

Two days before, a week after coming on board and getting familiar with the Engineering spaces, and just prior to meeting and getting reacquainted with WUFF, Scooter had had his own tense meeting with ZED-9949, to discuss the problem. And, as Scooter listened to WUFF relate her own meeting with the Captain, he realized his conversation with ZED had been virtually identical to the meeting WUFF described. The Captain had tentillum-waved the entire issue. The areas were part of a "Presence-Classified" special project. ZED-9949 quietly said, with subtle "end of discussion" sidebars. She had been advised of the situation, was monitoring all aspects of it, and Everything Was Under Control. The meeting had ended on a highly unsatisfactory note. The Captain had swiveled all four eye stalks to stare directly at Scooter, and suggested, "Surely, the Chief Engineer of the New Beginning has more important priorities to attend to than a few classified special projects."

Well! Scooter had left the meeting in an unsettled state of mind. But thinking about it over the past two days had tempered his concern. For he knew the relevant context for this issue was the fact that ZED-9949 was, like Scooter, a limited edition Total. Her wormoid chassis had been modified with special ultra-high-res sensors, and the oversized neural gel modules that her DI personality inhabited were configured for blindingly fast data input and storage, multivariable correlation, and retrieval of enormous amounts of ship data. Insanely complex code allowed for true quantum multitasking of tens of thousands of simultaneous decision trees. The capabilities of a Total Captain were enormous, and driving that competence was implacable intent. The basic program parameter of a Total Captain was an absolute, fanatical devotion to the safety of both ship and crew. Scooter had to believe ZED's programming meant the riddle of the hidden voids was actually a non-issue, and therefore none of his business.

But ZED's manner had upset Scooter. And it was apparent that WUFF was in much the same state. Here she was belaboring the same points that Scooter had brought up to ZED, and she seemed to be working herself into a frenzy over it. Irony! WUFF's distress, he saw, was fueled by the same concerns the Captain must have.

Though Scooter was often at a loss as to how to talk to other wormoids, he thought the old bond he had with WUFF would take the edge off her upset. He described his own meeting with ZED. WUFF's eyestalks bobbed impatiently as Scooter reminded WUFF that ZED was a Total, and how this meant that ZED had ship safety as top priority.

He summarized, "Both of you are consumed by the same priority, ship and crew safety. Your conclusions are different from ZED's because you don't have all of the data ZED has. I understand your concern, WUFF. Your job requires that you know that information. I feel the same way about my Engineering spaces. You must admit, though, that ZED (as a Total Captain) has at least as much concern for the safety of the ship as do you or I. The difference is that she has more information than we do, information that we apparently do not need to know. It seems that The Presence has made some ship areas classified to everyone other than the Captain, even departmental officers."

This fell on deaf sound sensors. WUFF growled, "I cannot defend this ship unless I know everything about it and its crew!"

Scooter sensed a replay of the stubbornness and suspiciousness that had gotten WUFF into trouble so long ago. "You need to respect the wishes of The Presence, WUFF." Unspoken, but evident in the sidebars of meaning that surrounded that flat statement: otherwise, I'll be forced to report you to the Captain.

WUFF, lenses glowing an ominous shade of deep pink, thought for a moment, then snarled. "I will not be held accountable if there is a breach in security as a result of this!" She turned around abruptly and stomped out through the airlock.

#

WUFF's departure was noted by the other wormoids in the room. They were staring at the airlock, and at him. Scooter, though he felt like he should take a moment to see if he was still intact and able to move, glared at them instead. They hastily resumed their work.

Scooter took a moment to think about what had just happened. As was so often the case, he was at a loss as to how to handle people. He knew that his empathy for dumb machinery was offset by a lack of social sophistication. He was not good with confrontation.

Nothing good could come of WUFF being this upset. He needed to talk the situation over with someone. And that someone was the other friend from the old days: Roggers, who handled the counseling and teaching functions on the ship. Scooter was programmed for engineering, so math and science made obvious sense to him. From his point of view though, RGRS-116628's person-centered programming was so much arcane magic. The best thing to do was to go see Roggers, at once. He scanned the room, the other wormoids, the status boards, and his own internal To-Do list. Everything was in the blue, and would be for the next several hours, at least. He gave orders to his second in command, requisitioned a vehicle from the Engineering Carpool, and drove toward Roggers's office.

#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


Total:
A limited edition DI/wormoid creation optimized for a specific task. Four examples relevant to the current saga: (1) Total Engineers have specialized sensors that notice intermittent and slight changes in machinery cycle patterns, and complex programming that evaluate those signals. (2) Total Captains have ultra-high-resolution sensors, and hard-wired neural gel patterns that are optimized for rapid data input and storage, multivariable correlation, maximized retrieval of ship data, and true quantum multitasking with tens of thousands of simultaneous decision trees. (3) Total Generalists have circuitry that allows them to simultaneously correlate and analyze, at a high conceptualization level (i.e.: "What if you combine...?"), multiple science disciplines in their specialized languages, thought pattern, and concept formation modes. (4) Total Quantum-Code-Analysts have specialized, highly branched deep-level decision tree structures that allow them to organize and analyze multiple quantum coding states, an obvious requirement in quantum computer design, and also quantum computer hacking.


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Next Post: Chapter 30 - Roggers
 
‘’ 2020-06-10 10:52:47 AM  
Chapter 30 - Roggers


"He" floated in a dimensionless void. More precisely, the incorporeal entity that was the essence of RGRS-116628 existed in a timeless, placeless state of being/non-being. It was reality without form, or color, or anchored identity.

Irrationality. Any description of this state that relies on mere words is neither right nor wrong, but simply... inadequate. One might as well try to describe the visual qualities of the space behind one's head.

Let us try again. Mind is data: the integrated sum total of all prior sensation, thought, and feeling, stored as patterns of electrical, neuronic and gravitonic charge deep within the subatomic structure of the neurons that are the necessary physical substrate of thought. Consciousness is the feeling that data gets when it looks at itself. DIs were sapient because their neural gel forced their programming to evaluate new data in the context of the constantly looping context of previously processed data.

Roggers had turned off his data input. He had eliminated all external data, indeed, even the data generated from within his wormoid body. His thoughts, his identity, therefore consisted only of the constant looping reevaluation of the integrated sum of all his prior experience. It was pure thought, liberated from the chains and anchors of reality. Roggers, body disconnected from his consciousness, practiced the ancient mystical Graciousone discipline of Garthuna.*

#

RGRS-116628, superlatively trained and knowledgeable Master Psychologist, had begun life as a boxtender.* Like WUFF and Scooter, he had been created 2,800 years before, during the push to harden the Graciousrealm against attack. The warships and orbital fortresses that guarded the star cluster needed millions of crew, and Graciousones, so-recently emerged from their Consolidation Wars and the Civil War, were not even considered for most jobs. Rather, they were relegated to minor and carefully monitored support positions, without access to weapons of mass destruction. Instead, automated factories had created hundreds of millions of wormoids.

The result was that wormoids soon surpassed the number of surviving Graciousones. The ratio, in fact, approached 12 wormoids for every Graciousone: Yet The Presence was reluctant to turn the society he now ruled with a velvet-covered steel tentillum into a static Machine Society. A universe where all DIs thought alike would be... sterile. Boring.

Such a state of affairs would be counter to both the spirit of the FARPPET Revolution* he controlled, and the ingrained individualism of Graciousone DI implants (who were specifically programmed to take after the individuality of their hosts). More fundamentally, it would be a rejection of science: individual differences in perception and opinion appeared to be an inevitable byproduct of sapient, self-aware thought.

The Presence therefore had tiny random factors incorporated into the wormoid DI neural gel production process. Like Graciousones, wormoid DIs therefore perceived reality, and thought about it, in slightly different ways. Thus was the individualism of Graciousone/wormoid society maintained.

Yet there was a cost to this achievement: the random factors created slight instabilities in DI thought processes. And this volatility required occasional resets. In other words, wormoid DIs occasionally needed to relax and clear their memory registers. In this regard, wormoids were also similar to Graciousones. Hence a need for wormoid boxtenders.
#


The wormoid equivalents to the intoxicating libations enjoyed by Graciousones were small electronic boxes that delivered, through unfiltered receptors in wormoid tentillum, tiny, very slightly hazardous, euphoria-inducing doses of electromagnetic pulse and static-electricity discharge. These buzzers* and snappers* came in various types, strengths, and "flavors." These were based on frequency mixes and discharge resistance of the box. Roggers was created with pre-programmed knowledge of all types of these boxes, and had an obsessive, creative desire to design new and often exotic formulations.

He had been assigned to the dreadnaught captained by WUFF, where he ran one of the ship's four off-duty hospitality lounges. This was tucked away, almost as an afterthought, in the outermost deck of the great sphere, next to the main Treadmill Drive shafts, at the aft end of the ship. There, off-duty wormoid crew could relax and enjoy his creations while watching, through graphene diamond windows, the sparkling plasma mists of relativistic ions that streamed out from the baffles, to disappear in nanosecond pulses as the ship's Entanglement Drive drove the ship forward at almost five hundred times the speed of light.

That particular lounge, being where it was (with a lousy view) was generally unpopular, but was the favorite of the Engineering wormoids, including SCTR-66875. After the Scooter's Kludge Affair, it was also the relaxation hideaway most often frequented by the ship's martinet captain, WUFF-66284. There, the three wormoids, each obsessed in their own ways - with the ship, the machines, and with intoxicant boxes - became friends.

#

After WUFF's demotion and transfer, and Scooter's promotion and transfer, the fun had gone out of the job. Roggers petitioned to leave military service. He got a position as a civilian boxtender on one of the defense stations in the Arkossi Sector. It was there that he learned about bartending, or the preparation and service of Graciousone-style alcoholic intoxicants. And it was there that a Graciousone bar patron introduced Roggers to the ancient teachings and practice of Garthuna, and where Roggers became fascinated with the concepts and theories of Graciousone and DI psychologies.

Roggers modified the techniques of Garthuna to apply to wormoid neural gel rather than Graciousone brain tissue, and he minutely examined his own programming. He bought additional knowledge modules, and upgrades in his wormoid sensory apparatus. He parlayed all that into a new career, building on his original forte: the universally classic boxtender and bartender skills of dispassionate, sympathetic, and analytical listening.

And he created within himself a subtle and deep knowledge of Graciousone and wormoid psychologies. He found them not dissimilar. Roggers had often wondered about the reasoning behind The Presence's insistence that wormoids be created with varying senses and personalities. In theory, he skeptically viewed the process with many of the same reservations that WUFF had. In practice, he found that the policy had created mental and emotional issues in many wormoids that made them psychologically very similar to Graciousones.

So over the next several centuries Roggers had became a successful Psychologist to both species. He was not a Total, but he had re-programmed and re-sensed himself to such a degree that he was very close to that perfection. It was at this point in his life that The Presence had found him, and convinced him to accept a new assignment, rehabilitating the Graciousone felon, Harlee Salkenesta.

#

What seemed like a small, flickering flame of deep blue light began glowing gently in the no-place of Roggers's perception. Roggers knew that this was a signal from his wormoid body, one overriding his general disconnect, informing him that he had company. He took a moment from eternity to order his thoughts then allowed his physical senses to reassert themselves within his consciousness. He closed his Inner Eye, emerging from Sadalhi,* that state of non-identity that was the objective of Garthuna. He opened his four mechanical eyes, and saw his old friend Scooter, eyestalks smiling at him in patient contemplation.

In the set of Roggers' eyestalks, Scooter saw a fresh gaze, filled with an unsullied wonder of seeing a bright new unfamiliar world. It was the same look he had seen eight days prior, when they had met again for the first time in 26 centuries, "I will never understand what you do there, old friend," Scooter murmured, "but I can see that it profoundly affects you."

Roggers laughed softly, "But you must know that is not the case, Scooter. The fact that you perceive the altered state of being that Garthuna brings to a wormoid means that there is a definite and high probability you can understand it, my friend. My perspective at the instant I reassert self-awareness tells me that your Total programming, in that regard, is both a blessing and a curse.

"But there is no hurry in our exploring those possibilities together, my friend. If my analysis of our young Graciousone felon's motivations is accurate, our voyage will be quite a long one, and there will be ample opportunity and many ways for each of us to enhance and improve ourselves. Those possibilities, however, lie in the future. I sense you have some current pressing issues for me to address. So tell me, Scooter, what brings you here today? We last met just two days ago. Is something wrong?"

Of course something is wrong, thought Scooter, otherwise I wouldn't be here. It bothered him that other wormoids always said things like that to him. He was not adept at what Roggers called "small talk" and he didn't understand why other wormoids engaged in it. His eyestalks weaved back and forth in a complex pattern of frustration.

"WUFF is mad at both ZED and I because ZED told her that she doesn't have clearance to some of the areas of the New Beginning, and I pointed out that ZED is a Total, so she should not be concerned. I'm worried she may grumble to others about this and lower morale, or even confront the Captain. That might lead to charges of insubordination for WUFF, and her getting into trouble again. I'm fairly sure that one of the reasons you and I are on this trip is to prevent something of like that from happening, but I'm not sure how to handle the problem. I was hoping you would have some perspectives on the situation."

Scooter proceeded to go into meticulous detail about his brief meeting with WUFF. He also shared everything about his own meeting with ZED. Finally, he recounted what the Security Chief had told him about her meeting with ZED.

Roggers was surprised to hear of the hidden spaces. As a former boxtender and bartender, and now as a psychologist, he knew the occasional value of truths not said (the only kind of lies available to wormoids). But as an ex-military wormoid, and psychologist, he was also aware of the value of being able to rely on the absolute integrity of any authority figure. Regardless of the fact that ZED was a Total, and could therefore be relied on to keep the safety of ship and crew paramount, the secrecy and the misdirection were difficult to accept. It seemed that the ship had an unstated mission, and that fact bothered him.

He decided that he would talk with ZED as soon as possible. Based on what Scooter had said, several of the Engineering staff were aware of the discrepancies. Roggers assumed that it was much the same situation with the Security staff. As a rule, both Engineering and Security wormoids were famously reticent about discussing shipboard gossip with wormoids from other departments. It was, however, a certainty that word and rumor would eventually spread to every corner of the ship. Morale would suffer.

But first, a plan was needed to keep WUFF from making another mistake. Roggers knew that Scooter was a Total, and therefore clueless about repercussions from personal interactions. Conversations, though efficient in some ways, might be highly inefficient from overall "quality of existence" perspectives.

This view was instantly verified when Scooter suddenly asked, "Why can't we ask the ship's doctor to reprogram WUFF, to reduce her anger?"

Roggers silently marveled at the ability of a Total to totally miss the point: "No, Scooter, that's not possible. WUFF has anger because of a standard program set that allows wormoids to have emotions. It's part of what makes us DIs superior to simple bots. One of the purposes of any emotion is as an action shortcut cue. Emotions internalize our prior knowledge, and they are an intimate part of who we are, of what motivates us. When a wormoid (or a Graciousone for that matter) is confronted with a circumstance where rapid response is needed, actions motivated by emotional response are often more efficient than taking the time to analyze the situation. So I really cannot get behind the idea of removing any of WUFF's emotional responses to this, or any situation. There are specialized neural feedback loops that would suffer from truncating ability to respond emotionally. Doing so would degrade WUFF's cognitive response, turning her into a mere robot."

"Then what can we do, Roggers?"

The psychologist thought for a few milliseconds. "Well, the first thing to do is for me to give you some rules of thumb for dealing with WUFF's anger. As a Total, I understand that you don't understand that anger. But if you think about how you feel when you teach your staff to work with dumb machines, that you can get clues as to how WUFF feels. We should talk about and develop some mental flow charts and decision trees that you can use to respond to potential problems with WUFF's anger.

"Second, I want to talk with Struts. I don't like the idea of modifying WUFF's programs, but I wonder whether the good doctor can add a few enhancements to her sensor arrays. I am not sure about this, but additional arrays of some types may allow WUFF to view this issue from a wider perspective.

"The third order of business, my friend, is that we should abduct our old friend from his office at shift change tonight. We will then all go to Nult's Lounge. I'll also get Struts to come. We'll get lightly illuminated with a few buzzers and maybe a snapper or two. As well as being one of the ship's boxtenders, Nult is also (if I am a judge) an excellent amateur morale specialist. I talked shop with him for several minutes when we boarded, and I suspect that his skills at both boxtending and morale building are probably superior. We will all relax, let down our eyestalks a bit, attentively and sympathetically listen to WUFF's suspicions and fears, offer approving and concept buy-in body language so that she is aware other wormoids are also concerned and that she is not alone, and finally counsel gradual, cautious investigation. All this will, I believe, calm WUFF down tremendously, and open the door to defusing the entire situation.

"And finally, I am going to have a talk with the Captain. The odd secrecy of these hidden areas is the crux of the whole problem. I have no idea, yet, as to the "why" of it, but I will do my best to find out. Surely, there is a reasonable explanation."
#


Scooter, vastly relieved, and now equipped with sets of context-driven decision-trees that worked as a personalized action template for dealing with WUFF's anger, had left a few minutes before. The psychologist sat quietly for a while, reviewing the meeting, correlating the new data into his ancient database of Scooter's psychological issues. He fitted the resulting certainties and probabilities into the Comprehensive Interactive Psychological Profile he was building. This file would eventually cover every member of the crew. Roggers was sure that he would access that document at least a few times over the next several centuries to avert personnel crises of one sort or another.

Roggers did need to talk to Struts. The two wormoids had set up a meeting for later that very day to discuss coordinating treatments for the Graciousone felon, Harlee. The consult would be the perfect time to raise WUFF's anger issues.

Roggers considered his approach: a controlled capacity for aggression was good in a security wormoid; but excess, ill-considered belligerence could be dangerous to social cohesion and harmony. Beyond that, Roggers worried that WUFF's tendency to anger made her unhappy. Roggers' job as ship's Counselor was to tweak minds and circumstances to keep everyone functioning at peak, and reasonably happy. Struts might be a big help in doing this with WUFF. Based on the results of his own hardware revisions, Roggers was hopeful that additional sensor arrays might improve WUFF's perception of reality. In addition, Roggers knew that Struts, himself, had grappled with such issues. Struts' experiences might have a bearing on WUFF's situation.

Hmm... the new topic would make them run late. Roggers checked his log; the only other client today was Harlee, after Struts. He instructed the lounge viewscreen to show "Sorry, I have been delayed. Please wait, and make yourself comfortable." Satisfied with his plans, Roggers whistled a popular tune as he stepped out of his quarters and then strolled towards Struts' office.

#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


Garthuna:
An ancient Graciousone mystical thought discipline practiced by the Warrior Adepts of Yorbolindo's Southland Continent.


Boxtender: One who operates a wormoid bar or tavern. So-called because intoxicating wormoid refreshments are served in small boxes.


FARPPET Revolution: The program initiated by The Presence to convert Graciousone society to a post-scarcity economy.


Buzzer: A wormoid intoxicant, consisting of various strengths, waveforms, and "flavors" of electromagnetic fields. Often served in dedicated buzzbars.


Snapper: A wormoid intoxicant consisting of various strengths, shapes, and "flavors" of static electricity fields. Often served in snapperbars.


Arkossi Sector:
a frontier sub-cluster of the Graciousrealm, near the edge of the main cluster occupied by it, and named for the largest star in the sub-cluster.

Sadalhi: The state of nonbeing obtained during the practice of Garthuna.


#



Next Post: Chapter 31 - Struts
 
‘’ 2020-06-10 1:52:44 PM  
It is possible I am the only person who actually asked for this.  Never expected it like this.  Daring.  I'll try to get through it by dinner.
 
‘’ 2020-06-10 2:26:16 PM  

Harlee: 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 ...


Just finished the prologue and yeah.  Keep the notes about what's used when as you write it, because I think the inclusion of certain real life events (like the covid-19 callout early on if that ends up being something we deal with for like a decade) add to the authenticity of the world.  But if I read a work of fiction, and it mentions J-Woww, it's gonna pull me right out of it.
 
‘’ 2020-06-10 4:30:17 PM  

BeesNuts: Just finished the prologue and yeah. Keep the notes about what's used when as you write it, because I think the inclusion of certain real life events (like the covid-19 callout early on if that ends up being something we deal with for like a decade) add to the authenticity of the world. But if I read a work of fiction, and it mentions J-Woww, it's gonna pull me right out of it.


Ayup. Big difference in importance between Covid-19 and something called J-Woww (had to look that up). One of those has world-changing importance.

My gut feel on Covid-19 is that its importance and danger is attracting a shiat-ton of money, talent, and sheer brain power into conquering it. And we've come a long way in the last two decades (and still accelerating - technology is exponential) in the biological sciences.

I still remember scientists saying things like "This affects the liver by causing bleeding." That has now been replaced with (to me) unintelligible things like "This affects the liver by triggering the AXDDE-4487 receptor to create a reverse electron cascade over the whatchamacallit 6488-DUN Limit using a reverse transcription polymer that... etc." IOW, they are nailing down the actual chemical and (ultimately) physics mechanisms that underlie the biological ones. My bet is that someone figures out something that will wipe out the entire line of coronaviruses (including the common cold). I give it five years, max. Cynical arguments on money lost (cure -vs- symptom treating) aside, the farking "street cred" alone will mean undying fame for the team that does it.

As for this story, I've gotten a huge amount of guidance from the comments in this thread, and I want everyone to know that I really appreciate it, and would love even more. I hope people are as entertained by the story, as I am educated by the comments and criticism.
 
‘’ 2020-06-10 8:14:46 PM  

Harlee: BeesNuts: Just finished the prologue and yeah. Keep the notes about what's used when as you write it, because I think the inclusion of certain real life events (like the covid-19 callout early on if that ends up being something we deal with for like a decade) add to the authenticity of the world. But if I read a work of fiction, and it mentions J-Woww, it's gonna pull me right out of it.

Ayup. Big difference in importance between Covid-19 and something called J-Woww (had to look that up). One of those has world-changing importance.

My gut feel on Covid-19 is that its importance and danger is attracting a shiat-ton of money, talent, and sheer brain power into conquering it. And we've come a long way in the last two decades (and still accelerating - technology is exponential) in the biological sciences.

I still remember scientists saying things like "This affects the liver by causing bleeding." That has now been replaced with (to me) unintelligible things like "This affects the liver by triggering the AXDDE-4487 receptor to create a reverse electron cascade over the whatchamacallit 6488-DUN Limit using a reverse transcription polymer that... etc." IOW, they are nailing down the actual chemical and (ultimately) physics mechanisms that underlie the biological ones. My bet is that someone figures out something that will wipe out the entire line of coronaviruses (including the common cold). I give it five years, max. Cynical arguments on money lost (cure -vs- symptom treating) aside, the farking "street cred" alone will mean undying fame for the team that does it.

As for this story, I've gotten a huge amount of guidance from the comments in this thread, and I want everyone to know that I really appreciate it, and would love even more. I hope people are as entertained by the story, as I am educated by the comments and criticism.


Up to Chapter 6.  I ... got distracted.  I quite like it so far.  Thank you very much for sharing it with us!

I suspect you're right about covid.  It's just risky to try and guess what will still be in the zeitgeist in like 20 years.  The *idea* of placing it in our own timeline by tying it to real events is always nice though.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 10:20:22 AM  

Harlee: 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.)


You didn't ask for my advice, but here it is, as somebody who has looked into this before.

Write a few short stories first.  E-publish through kindle and shiat.  Keep working on the Big One.  When it's ready (and you're ready for it to get torn to farking *pieces* by the publisher), use the numbers on those short stories as a reference.  The idea is that as a "successfully self published author", you actually have some leverage.

Even if you GOT a publisher, you'd be getting shafted without some previous work.

Basically, do a couple smaller projects you are less invested in, maybe even some short stories set in this same universe to drum up demand for the project you already know you're working on.  You don't wanna get F. Scott Fitzgerald'ed.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 10:22:25 AM  
Oh.  And chapter 8 now.  I'm fully invested in Worm-Culture now.

Some of the themes and messages are a bit... on the nose.  But fark it, I don't even care.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 12:18:52 PM  

BeesNuts: Harlee: 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.)

You didn't ask for my advice, but here it is, as somebody who has looked into this before.

Write a few short stories first.  E-publish through kindle and shiat.  Keep working on the Big One.  When it's ready (and you're ready for it to get torn to farking *pieces* by the publisher), use the numbers on those short stories as a reference.  The idea is that as a "successfully self published author", you actually have some leverage.

Even if you GOT a publisher, you'd be getting shafted without some previous work.

Basically, do a couple smaller projects you are less invested in, maybe even some short stories set in this same universe to drum up demand for the project you already know you're working on.  You don't wanna get F. Scott Fitzgerald'ed.


Great advice. I'm will work on doing that.  Guess I'm going to have to get a Wordpress or other site for them.

I've got several submissions in another genre (vampires) submitted for the Fark Anthology. Four poems and a short story. Hope they make the cut. If so, that will be a start.

I've also got what could work as a stand-alone short story, that was originally written as a prologue to a Stargate novel I never finished. It's set in ancient pre-Egypt, and tells the story of the Goa'uld Meret (who is actually a semi-protagonist in the planned book) and her failed coup against Ra. She gets tortured and stuffed into a stasis jar for her efforts and shows up in modern times, teamed with a human woman who is actually OK with being infested by her. THAT one is ready to go (except is ends on a cliffhanger note). But it is unfortunately dated by real world events (Stargate is old and busted).

As for GraciousRealm short stories, God, where do I start? There are so many possibilities.

Several I'm thinking of are "period" adventures telling the heroic tales of glinkin daring-do. But these are more Heroic Adventure Fantasy than science fiction.

I could write one about the dashing Jewel Bird outriders, the elite glinkin cavalry used to protect Sled Glinkin (the 10,000-strong roped glinkin teams that pulled Graciousone war sleds in battle) during the period of the Locusian Imperial Wars of forty thousand years prior.

Or perhaps a tale of the Bombard glinkin, who pulled siege catapults for Graciousone Salannian royalty during the first several thousand years of the ancient Consolidation Wars.

Or, perhaps, a savage story about the web-fingered and web-toed Seastrider glinkin commandos active during the political consolidation wars of the 17,000+ islands of the Pardussassakid Archipelago.

(You'll meet descendants of a couple of these in Chapter 13.)

But all those will require more than a bit of research into things like ancient military tactics.

Or perhaps a Maze Race tale... from back before Glinkin Rights groups got all the death traps, weapons, and glinkin trials by combat banned.... That one rather appeals to me right now.

There's also the modern tale of poor little beautiful Vialla, a very VERY spoiled Show Glinkin who runs away, but somehow gets trapped in a maintenance crawl space of a space elevator. All of Yorbolindo stops to breathlessly watch the rescue, which involves shutting down the space elevator for a week.... And, of course, she keeps evading rescue, for reasons.

I'm also thinking that some of the abductions in the Prologue of this book would make excellent short stories (except they might give away some plot points).

What are your thoughts on the above?
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 12:28:22 PM  

Harlee: 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 lo ...


It was bugging me, so I made a thing.

Fark user imageView Full Size

Of all the things I have ever hastily drawn from a description I read, this is the most insane.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 12:40:08 PM  

Harlee: I've also got what could work as a stand-alone short story, that was originally written as a prologue to a Stargate novel I never finished. It's set in ancient pre-Egypt, and tells the story of the Goa'uld Meret (who is actually a semi-protagonist in the planned book) and her failed coup against Ra. She gets tortured and stuffed into a stasis jar for her efforts and shows up in modern times, teamed with a human woman who is actually OK with being infested by her. THAT one is ready to go (except is ends on a cliffhanger note). But it is unfortunately dated by real world events (Stargate is old and busted).


This sounds like a BANGING comic.  Feels like something I might run into over at ImageComics.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 12:46:29 PM  

Harlee: As for GraciousRealm short stories, God, where do I start? There are so many possibilities.

Several I'm thinking of are "period" adventures telling the heroic tales of glinkin daring-do. But these are more Heroic Adventure Fantasy than science fiction.


Lol.  I love this idea!  Obviously, I'm not a trained agent, but I do read.  This feels like the sort of thing an author would drop after the main universe was well known enough.

Like... a simple conceit like "Human scholars were sent out to research the history and myths of the Graciousones so as to better understand our shared destiny.  Here is what they brought back."  would be enough to draw any existing fans of the 'verse into a slightly different aesthetic setting.  Or interspersed throughout like you've done with the quotes from the universalist and like in the Watchmen with the subnarrative work of fiction within the fiction...

Basically, there's a lot of potential in that idea, and it tickles me.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 2:06:40 PM  
Harlee: BeesNuts: Harlee: bekovich: HARLEE

I could write one about the dashing Jewel Bird outriders, the elite glinkin cavalry used to protect Sled Glinkin (the 10,000-strong roped glinkin teams that pulled Graciousone war sleds in battle) during the period of the Locusian Imperial Wars of forty thousand years prior.

I don't think this one would work until after people have read the main work a bit and are thirsty for more.

Or perhaps a tale of the Bombard glinkin, who pulled siege catapults for Graciousone Salannian royalty during the first several thousand years of the ancient Consolidation Wars.

This one feels like something that would be a great way to expand upon the setting in a show-don't-tell way.  I'm not sure how important the overarching history of the Graciousones is early on, and developing it slowly through vignettes like that might help the pacing of this work.  Just test out throwing these kinds of stories in-line in various places in this piece and see what happens.  You might be surprised.

Or, perhaps, a savage story about the web-fingered and web-toed Seastrider glinkin commandos active during the political consolidation wars of the 17,000+ islands of the Pardussassakid Archipelago.

See above.

(You'll meet descendants of a couple of these in Chapter 13.)

Especially since this story seems to have relevance to the action in this book.  Definitely include at least some kind of summary of this story in here somewhere.  Might even do well to intersperse it after the introduction of these descendants (I'm still working on getting there) as a way to demonstrate their historical importance in comparison to their current importance.

But all those will require more than a bit of research into things like ancient military tactics.

You're gonna have to get into it sooner or later.  But I understand completely.

Or perhaps a Maze Race tale... from back before Glinkin Rights groups got all the death traps, weapons, and glinkin trials by combat banned.... That one rather appeals to me right now.

Haven't gotten to the Maze Race stuff yet.  How you use this story is up to you, obviously, but I'd just advise that your early releases either be thematically and aesthetically *very similar* to the larger work, or completely unrelated.  If you feel this fits the bill, it definitely seems relevant.  But you wouldn't want people reading such a collection of short stories, loving them, and then not getting the main novel because it doesn't seem to be anything like the stuff they liked.  Just a thought.  And like I said, the Maze Race stuff might perfectly fit the bill for all I know so far, lol.

There's also the modern tale of poor little beautiful Vialla, a very VERY spoiled Show Glinkin who runs away, but somehow gets trapped in a maintenance crawl space of a space elevator. All of Yorbolindo stops to breathlessly watch the rescue, which involves shutting down the space elevator for a week.... And, of course, she keeps evading rescue, for reasons.

This.  Is.  Perfect.  It would allow you an opportunity to do some cursory world building without having to worry *at all* about larger political, galactic, or technical issues beyond some of the real back-bone type shiat.  It gives you an opportunity to tell a fun story that would pre-condition readers for the setting in future works while not pre-conditioning them for any particular type of story telling.  It is very clearly a self-contained story that could hook people in without really biasing them into thinking the rest of the story is going to be about Vialla and this Show Glinkin.  10/10.  Consider this one.

I'm also thinking that some of the abductions in the Prologue of this book would make excellent short stories (except they might give away some plot points).

I have complex thoughts on this that would require me to know more of what's going on to offer advice on.  But briefly, this kind of material could be used (by a much more creative person than me) to sprinkle in foreshadowing and to help with pacing.  As is, we spend 2 Chapters with the CEO of a human corporation who encounters an alien designed intelligence, then promptly forget about her for at least the next 6.  Too much structure can be a bad thing, but maybe try playing around with moving the  next Human Chapter in between the "history" bits and the narrative action where Harlee gets Echo upgraded.  And consider the possibility of adding a third "perspective".  That of the human abductees.  Again, I'm an "outline" type dude, so I start with structure and go from there, so my mind goes to, tell this same story, with the same words, but loaded up like:
2 Chapters of Humans on Earth
2 Chapters of Alien History
1 Chapter of Humans on Earth
1 Chapter of Harlee
1 Short vignette with the abductees
Repeat
Occassionally drop in some of the short myths you mentioned to replace some of the exposition.

And then adjust the balance as necessary to accomplish whatever creative goals you have in mind.


Obviously, this is a work in progress, and one of the LAST things most authors do is reorganize their work for pacing reasons.  But it's my main complaint so far, is that I feel my interest in things like Harriet and the abductees waning while I'm actually kind of getting "bored" with Harlee.  Not gonna let that hinder my enjoyment though.  Once again, thanks for sharing.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 2:13:13 PM  

BeesNuts: I have complex thoughts on this that would require me to know more of what's going on to offer advice on.  But briefly, this kind of material could be used (by a much more creative person than me) to sprinkle in foreshadowing and to help with pacing.  As is, we spend 2 Chapters with the CEO of a human corporation who encounters an alien designed intelligence, then promptly forget about her for at least the next 6.  Too much structure can be a bad thing, but maybe try playing around with moving the  next Human Chapter in between the "history" bits and the narrative action where Harlee gets Echo upgraded.  And consider the possibility of adding a third "perspective".  That of the human abductees.  Again, I'm an "outline" type dude, so I start with structure and go from there, so my mind goes to, tell this same story, with the same words, but loaded up like:
2 Chapters of Humans on Earth
2 Chapters of Alien History
1 Chapter of Humans on Earth
1 Chapter of Harlee
1 Short vignette with the abductees
Repeat
Occassionally drop in some of the short myths you mentioned to replace some of the exposition.

And then adjust the balance as necessary to accomplish whatever creative goals you have in mind.


Sidenote: An added advantage of this structure is that you can fine-tune chapter length to speed up or slow down the drumbeat of action.  You can create an illusion that these parties are getting closer to or further away from one another by switching back and forth more frequently.  You can break the structure with purpose, and have a character literally *intrude* on another character by having part of their narrative just stuck into the other character's chapter.  I'm thinking something like:


Harlee, after a chapter of dealing with his botswarm starts wondering about his Glinkin and drifts off into a daydream.

***

Harriet gets home from work and feeds her cat and has a conversation with the Presence.

***

The Presence awakens Harlee from his reverie for something.


It's a bit trope-y sometimes, especially in Sci-Fi.  But if used sparingly it can be a really effective tool to "connect" two characters without them having a dialogue.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 2:24:22 PM  

BeesNuts: Of all the things I have ever hastily drawn from a description I read, this is the most insane.


That's the best version I've yet seen. Awesome.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 3:09:02 PM  

Harlee: BeesNuts: Of all the things I have ever hastily drawn from a description I read, this is the most insane.

That's the best version I've yet seen. Awesome.


Now including neural-interface hat, flap ridges and jeweled flaps!
Fark user imageView Full Size

The more time I spend with this dopey drawing, the more attached to this goofball I become.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 3:37:09 PM  

BeesNuts: There's also the modern tale of poor little beautiful Vialla, a very VERY spoiled Show Glinkin who runs away, but somehow gets trapped in a maintenance crawl space of a space elevator. All of Yorbolindo stops to breathlessly watch the rescue, which involves shutting down the space elevator for a week.... And, of course, she keeps evading rescue, for reasons.

This. Is. Perfect. It would allow you an opportunity to do some cursory world building without having to worry *at all* about larger political, galactic, or technical issues beyond some of the real back-bone type shiat. It gives you an opportunity to tell a fun story that would pre-condition readers for the setting in future works while not pre-conditioning them for any particular type of story telling. It is very clearly a self-contained story that could hook people in without really biasing them into thinking the rest of the story is going to be about Vialla and this Show Glinkin. 10/10. Consider this one.


That is my thought, too. The problem is context. I don't want the reader going "WTF is this shiat?" when  confronted with a "four-limbed tiny biped" in a world of giant monsters who enter her in a pet show. Whar context, whar? (Though I have read short stories by published authors that do just that sort of "out of real world context" type thing. One like that that sticks in my mind is "Of Men and Monsters". It's been a while (1968), but IIRC that novel just started off with relatively cockroach-sized humans evading relatively people-sized aliens, with no freaking context or explanation. You had to have a bit of patience and faith for all the "hooks" to be revealed so you could conceptualize what was actually happening. Not sure how that would go over in these days of instant gratification.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 3:39:09 PM  

Harlee: 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.


THIS.  THIS is how you motherfarking world-build my friend.  In these 6 sentences we learn, in addition to the explicitly stated names and facts of the case, and even ignoring all previous context:
1. Harlee is not well off.
2. There are still hyper-rich individuals in worm society, and they get that wealth through owning things, not labor.
3. Harlee's kind lives for a very long time.
4. One of the most important things in worm society is these Glinkin things which appear to be pets of some kind, as the worms buy them toys and sleeping huts.
5. Harlee's kind is very technologically advanced, but their technology is not completely unrecognizable from ours.  We're "close-ish".
6. There is a VAST difference in size between Graciousones and Glinkins.
7. Graciousones are a very peaceful, economic species.

Considering what else you've heard about "show don't tell" in this thread, I'm not gonna harp on it.  I'm sure you see how the lessons of this specific paragraph can be applied to streamline things a bit.

/And once again, let none of this critique distract you from the fact that this is some good stuff, and I'm invested as hell.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 3:41:21 PM  

BeesNuts: BeesNuts: I have complex thoughts on this that would require me to know more of what's going on to offer advice on.  But briefly, this kind of material could be used (by a much more creative person than me) to sprinkle in foreshadowing and to help with pacing.  As is, we spend 2 Chapters with the CEO of a human corporation who encounters an alien designed intelligence, then promptly forget about her for at least the next 6.  Too much structure can be a bad thing, but maybe try playing around with moving the  next Human Chapter in between the "history" bits and the narrative action where Harlee gets Echo upgraded.  And consider the possibility of adding a third "perspective".  That of the human abductees.  Again, I'm an "outline" type dude, so I start with structure and go from there, so my mind goes to, tell this same story, with the same words, but loaded up like:
2 Chapters of Humans on Earth
2 Chapters of Alien History
1 Chapter of Humans on Earth
1 Chapter of Harlee
1 Short vignette with the abductees
Repeat
Occassionally drop in some of the short myths you mentioned to replace some of the exposition.

And then adjust the balance as necessary to accomplish whatever creative goals you have in mind.

Sidenote: An added advantage of this structure is that you can fine-tune chapter length to speed up or slow down the drumbeat of action.  You can create an illusion that these parties are getting closer to or further away from one another by switching back and forth more frequently.  You can break the structure with purpose, and have a character literally *intrude* on another character by having part of their narrative just stuck into the other character's chapter.  I'm thinking something like:


The original plan (see ToC) was to have flashforwards back to the cottage as "intermissions" at each "act" break. Changes I'm making in response to earlier suggestions mean those need to be redone a bit, so I am skipping them for now, as they have no impact on the main storyline.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 3:47:12 PM  

BeesNuts: Harlee: BeesNuts: Of all the things I have ever hastily drawn from a description I read, this is the most insane.

That's the best version I've yet seen. Awesome.

Now including neural-interface hat, flap ridges and jeweled flaps!
[Fark user image 793x986]
The more time I spend with this dopey drawing, the more attached to this goofball I become.


Needs EIGHT tentacles, which branch into tentillum.

And Echo is implanted inside the braincase. (The Graciousones have hacked their species into being bicameral entities along the lines of Julian Jaynes' theories.
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 3:47:21 PM  

Harlee: BeesNuts: There's also the modern tale of poor little beautiful Vialla, a very VERY spoiled Show Glinkin who runs away, but somehow gets trapped in a maintenance crawl space of a space elevator. All of Yorbolindo stops to breathlessly watch the rescue, which involves shutting down the space elevator for a week.... And, of course, she keeps evading rescue, for reasons.

This. Is. Perfect. It would allow you an opportunity to do some cursory world building without having to worry *at all* about larger political, galactic, or technical issues beyond some of the real back-bone type shiat. It gives you an opportunity to tell a fun story that would pre-condition readers for the setting in future works while not pre-conditioning them for any particular type of story telling. It is very clearly a self-contained story that could hook people in without really biasing them into thinking the rest of the story is going to be about Vialla and this Show Glinkin. 10/10. Consider this one.

That is my thought, too. The problem is context. I don't want the reader going "WTF is this shiat?" when  confronted with a "four-limbed tiny biped" in a world of giant monsters who enter her in a pet show. Whar context, whar? (Though I have read short stories by published authors that do just that sort of "out of real world context" type thing. One like that that sticks in my mind is "Of Men and Monsters". It's been a while (1968), but IIRC that novel just started off with relatively cockroach-sized humans evading relatively people-sized aliens, with no freaking context or explanation. You had to have a bit of patience and faith for all the "hooks" to be revealed so you could conceptualize what was actually happening. Not sure how that would go over in these days of instant gratification.


I definitely don't want to "write it for you", but I like brainstorming and I like this world, so here goes.  Take it or leave it as a seed idea:

Don't bother describing the Glinkin while you talk about the main character.  Use character traits.  Feel free to vaguely describe the Graciousones, remembering that this tiny human can barely comprehend the entire creature at once, but since it's from the perspective of the Glinkin, she'd have no reason to describe herself to us. MC escapes, as stated above, and goes on a neat adventure, learning more about the world along with the reader.  It will mean nothing to the Glinkin as she has no context, but maybe she sees one of the maze races from outside and describes what she sees in an internal monologue, right before the climax, revealing that she and all the other Glinkins are really interstellar homo sapiens.

Sort of sidesteps the issue by making the reader not particularly care what a Glinkin or a Graciousone is and then suddenly making them care deeply.  Raises a lot of questions while still being a satisfying stand alone adventure.

$0.02
 
‘’ 2020-06-11 3:48:25 PM  

Harlee: BeesNuts: BeesNuts: I have complex thoughts on this that would require me to know more of what's going on to offer advice on.  But briefly, this kind of material could be used (by a much more creative person than me) to sprinkle in foreshadowing and to help with pacing.  As is, we spend 2 Chapters with the CEO of a human corporation who encounters an alien designed intelligence, then promptly forget about her for at least the next 6.  Too much structure can be a bad thing, but maybe try playing around with moving the  next Human Chapter in between the "history" bits and the narrative action where Harlee gets Echo upgraded.  And consider the possibility of adding a third "perspective".  That of the human abductees.  Again, I'm an "outline" type dude, so I start with structure and go from there, so my mind goes to, tell this same story, with the same words, but loaded up like:
2 Chapters of Humans on Earth
2 Chapters of Alien History
1 Chapter of Humans on Earth
1 Chapter of Harlee
1 Short vignette with the abductees
Repeat
Occassionally drop in some of the short myths you mentioned to replace some of the exposition.

And then adjust the balance as necessary to accomplish whatever creative goals you have in mind.

Sidenote: An added advantage of this structure is that you can fine-tune chapter length to speed up or slow down the drumbeat of action.  You can create an illusion that these parties are getting closer to or further away from one another by switching back and forth more frequently.  You can break the structure with purpose, and have a character literally *intrude* on another character by having part of their narrative just stuck into the other character's chapter.  I'm thinking something like:

The original plan (see ToC) was to have flashforwards back to the cottage as "intermissions" at each "act" break. Changes I'm making in response to earlier suggestions mean those need to be redone a bit, so I am skipping them for now, as they have no impact on the ma ...


That's probably the smart way to write this kind of thing.  Eventually, go ahead and write those sections as a standalone, once you've decompressed from the meat of this project and I bet you'll be able to slot them in naturally.
 
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