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(Fark)   At your wit's end from social distancing? Need something different in entertainment and distraction? How about a new science fiction novel? Presenting: The Voyage of the New Beginning, now through Chapter 36 - "Triumvirate Plus One"   (fark.com) divider line
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1420 clicks; posted to Discussion » on 04 Sep 2020 at 12:00 PM (7 weeks ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



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2020-03-30 11:09:31 PM  
This is an experiment. With modmin assistance, this is me doing my part to help keep fellow Farkers entertained, distracted, and sane during this time of stress and isolation. My posts will be the latest versions of the chapters of the science fiction novel my wife and I are writing, The Voyage of the New Beginning ©2020, Stephen D. and Lea M. Ball, All Rights Reserved. I plan to post at least one chapter every other day. Today, you will see that part of the front matter that is finalized (DP and TOC in two posts), and the unconventionally long Prologue (in three posts, due to length).

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

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

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

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

So without further ado, Subby presents:


A Graciousrealm Novel:

The Voyage of the New Beginning



"The Maze Race is metaphor for

the Struggle of Life. The moral hallmark of

civilization is commitment to dismantling the world's

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

Maze of Life may more expeditiously travel their Path."

- The martyred Universist Sage Dothallian

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


Dramatis Personae


(in order of first appearance)


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

*Associated Glossary Listings

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

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

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

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

###

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

Table of Contents


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

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

Chapter 1 --- Harlee

Chapter 2 --- FARPPET

Chapter 3 --- Of Graciousones and Glinkin

Chapter 4 --- The Presence

Chapter 5 --- Of Swarms and Implants

Chapter 6 --- New Orders

Chapter 7 --- Construction Asteroid #3

Chapter 8 --- The Celestial Bug Inn

Chapter 9 --- Yink Patterkorn

Chapter 10 --- The New Beginning

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

Chapter 12 --- Home

Chapter 13 --- The Maze Race

Chapter 14 --- Slavvin and Sly

Chapter 15 --- Remembering Ellma

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

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

Chapter 16 --- Into the Unknown

Chapter 17 --- Settling In

Chapter 18 --- Travelogues

Chapter 19 --- Dual Itineraries

Chapter 20 --- A Setting of Jewel Birds

Chapter 21 --- School Daze Redux

Chapter 22 --- Decompression

Chapter 23 --- Vows

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

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

Chapter 24 --- Echo

Chapter 25 --- Rosie

Chapter 26 --- Sparky (1)

Chapter 27 --- WUFF

Chapter 28 --- Sparky (2)

Chapter 29 --- Scooter

Chapter 30 --- Roggers

Chapter 31 --- Struts

Chapter 32 --- Sparky (3)

Chapter 33 --- Buzzly

Chapter 34 --- Pepan the Chef

Chapter 35 --- Chance

Chapter 36 --- Triumvirate

Chapter 37 --- Ferd

Chapter 38 --- Leafslug Days

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

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

(Post 1 of 3)


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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

#


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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that.

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

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

#

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

#

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

(Post 2 of 3)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled and nodded, "Indeed."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Excuse me?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#



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

(Post 3 of 3)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#




*Associated Glossary Listings

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bekovich: HARLEE

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


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

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

Theaetetus: [Fark user image 466x281]


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




"The lone worm relies on skill and random event.

The worm in society relies on cooperation and hierarchy.

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

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

must always balance against the needs of the self.

Neither individual nor collective can be absolute.

Both are important, and obsession with either

alone leads to unhealthy consequences."

- The martyred Universist Sage Dothallian

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

#

*Associated Glossary Listings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###



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


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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

#

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

#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

#

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


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


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


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


Stinkberry: A plant that causes immediate Graciousone flatulence.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(Post 1 of 2)


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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

"But..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

#


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

(Post 2 of 2)

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


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

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

Shadowed Pool: The mystical name for the Wraith Tentillum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

There are two forms of recharging.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*Associated Glossary Listings:


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Uh, uh...."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What? Why are you afraid, honey?

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

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

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

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*Associated Glossary Listings:


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Alcasa Tradeport Elevator Tether: Or aka Alcasa TET, one of the eight terminals for Yorbolindo's eight space elevators.
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Next Post: Chapter 7 --- Construction Asteroid #3
 
2020-04-05 7:18:28 PM  

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#


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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

*Associated Glossary Listings:


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

#


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

#


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

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

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

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



*Associated Glossary Listings:

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

#


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

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

(Thank you for your purchase. Be sure to also

check out the companion booklet to this guide,

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

A portion of the sale proceeds of these booklets go to

support GAGA, Graciousones Against Glinkin Abuse.)

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

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

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

Fark user imageView Full Size


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Each player's goal is to build a path from her or his glinkin's start square to the matching start square on the opposite edge. Players can obstruct each other's passages by placing Walls or Blocks on their turns. Maze building generally continues until all (or most) players are satisfied that they have at least one viable "glinkin run." Exhaustion, impatience, boredom, and alcohol and other drugs generally play parts in determining this stopping point.
Fark user imageView Full Size

Fig 3: Final configuration of the much-studied 2015 AP Yorbolindo Grand

Master Finals between Flark Conghack, running Binky Bugeye Seastrider XIII

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And why is there no [  PLUG  ] tag?


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

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

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

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

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

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


Ishkur: A glossary and appendices?

Jesus Christ is this a novel or a textbook?


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

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

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

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

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

Besides, lots of fiction has Glossaries and Appendixes. Science fiction has many, many examples. Check out these two takes (note on that second link; it contains the F-word, so the Fark filter will probably mess with it and you will have to correct manually).
http://www.graemeing.com/world-buildi​n​g/novels-arent-just-words-maps-glossar​ies-and-appendices/

https://bstaveley.wordpress.com/2013/​0​3/14/the-fark-you-method-glossaries-in​-speculative-fiction/
 
2020-04-07 8:28:48 PM  
Chapter 09 - Yink Patterkorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

Maze Race configuration observed by Harlee and Yink Patterkorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell the story first.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


There are two issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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



*Associated Glossary Listings:


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


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

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


The SVC73 standard for the New Beginning required six-foot thick blocks of 3D printed graphene-diamond. Some of the largest were higher and wider than Harlee was tall. They varied wildly in shape, consistent only in their lack of sharp corners to avoid creating stress points. Each was rated at a combined PSI resistance equal to that of the hull. As with the SHC42 standard, they were strengthened with force fields to the same surge PSI level.
HEM Trench:Even with highly efficient thermoelectric generators, getting rid of excess heat in a spaceship is a big problem. The reason, of course, is that the most efficient method of heat transfer is direct contact, but space has little matter in it to allow for that. And a sphere is the most compact of 3D solids, with the lowest surface-to-volume ratio (which decreases even more as the sphere diameter increases). The New Beginning was therefore very efficient at conservation of heat due to loss from surface radiation. So - as virtually all activity on the ship would produce heat as a byproduct - the New Beginning would quickly cook itself to a red-hot tomb without some method of efficiently radiating heat.

Therefore the HEM trenches. Each Heat Emitting Monopole was an efficient heat sink. It attracted structural heat, and converted it to infrared radiation frequencies. These were impressed on a miles long streamer of force. Being generated from monopoles, each field was unstable. They streamed away from the ship's forward motion like a flaming, twisting comet tail, radiating the ship's heat energy into space. Seen by eyes or instruments that could perceive the extended electromagnetic spectrum, the New Beginning in flight would have looked like a banded and bejeweled droplet of mercury, wreathed in a tail of flaming feathers.

#



Next Post: Chapter 11 - A Rocket... and Fireworks
 
2020-04-12 5:24:54 AM  

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

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

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

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

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

It's not bad that you've got all the scaffolding, when you're writing about characters doing stuff it's great.

You as the writer need to know all that scaffolding before you start the story. It's the skeleton you're hanging all the meat on. Readers won't care though, or more accurately they will notice it's absence in your storytelling, just like you'd notice a boneless person.

I understand the urge. My own project I literally created an entire cosmology and history of the freaking universe. Because it's relevant to how the characters can do what they do and why. But that's not the story, that's setting.

By all means build a super interesting world, but what characters are doing in that world and because of the world they inhabit is what matters. The readers will infer or simply accept 90 perce ...


Do you proof read? Would you charge?
I have a project with ( of all people ) my sister to write some children's books. She has no idea. I've been teaching and tutoring English for 15 years. It's going to be hard :) I will indeed need an independent reader.
 
2020-04-12 9:36:37 AM  
It's wits' end, not wit's end, otherwise you're one wit from being witless.
 
2020-04-12 12:13:30 PM  

ktybear: Do you proof read? Would you charge?
I have a project with ( of all people ) my sister to write some children's books. She has no idea. I've been teaching and tutoring English for 15 years. It's going to be hard :) I will indeed need an independent reader.


Sounds interesting. Let's move the discussion about that to one of my emails, glasspi­pet­oolc­o­[nospam-﹫-backwards]knilhtra­e*net. Send me some particulars.
 
2020-04-12 3:50:44 PM  
Chapter 11 - A Rocket... and Fireworks!

Harlee descended. A blinking GoHere icon in one eye pointed to a thousand foot wide glowing circle about 10 miles down the circumference on one side of the hull. Echo said, "There is our entry airlock, Harlee. It will take us to the Control Room."

Harlee's bot envelope approached the hull, and the interleaved diaphragm blades of the huge airlock smoothly swiveled back into the surrounding casement. The bots pushed his chair into the lock, and then tightly crowded about in a solid mass of spheres. The outer iris swiveled shut. Ship air rushed in from vents in the walls and the inner iris swiveled opened. His bots pushed the chair out of the airlock into a wide passageway.

He saw an outlandish contraption in a corridor wide spot directly across from the airlock. It was based on a machine from the distant past, and the solution The Presence had come up with for getting around in the immensity of the New Beginning. One of over two thousand on board, it was a mobility scooter.

The ship had a volume of 14,137 cubic miles. It had 275 decks, ranging from 200 feet to 4,000 feet in height. The "equatorial" deck, alone, had a surface area of over 700 square miles. And there were hundreds of thousands of miles of passageways and compartments, enough to satisfy a lifetime of exploration.

Hence the mobility scooter. The likes of it had not been seen since medical nanobots and other technologies had eliminated loss of mobility as an occasional fact of life. If Echo had told Harlee about this before he had seen it, he would have felt slightly ridiculous at the thought of actually riding around in one. But this was some mobility scooter!

It had a low-level DI brain. It resembled a scooter's wheelchair precursor less than it looked like a stubby land rocket. It was long and low. It was pointy at the front. It was a deep, metallic cobalt blue, with hot pink on silver and red pin striping. It had eight high-performance graphene-diamond tires. It had a heavily padded bench seat equipped with web restraints. It had a swing-up windscreen, standard dashboard controls that included a steering bar, an acceleration slider bar, start and brake buttons, and a manual override toggle. It had a spoiler on the rear to keep the nose down at high speed. It was capable of brutal accelerations. It had a small but robust fusion battery that could push it up to straightaway speeds of close to 400 miles per hour. It could scream down the length of a fifteen-mile-long equatorial radial passage in two minutes. Or manual drive mode could be switched to autopilot control, and programmed to travel at a leisurely pace to a series of preselected stops.

And for emergencies, it did indeed have an actual DI-controlled rocket engine and steering thrusters at the rear. It looked absolutely wicked. Harlee loved it.
#


Harlee enthusiastically jumped up from his chair, slithered over to his marvelous new toy, and climbed aboard. He fastened the harness, and raised the windscreen. The scooter, surrounded and followed by a dense cloud of bots, accelerated smoothly to a leisurely pace that brought it through the hull of the Safety Cylinder and to one of the central axis Vertical Access Shafts in about 15 minutes.

During the ride, Harlee grew alarmed that most of his bots seemed to be disappearing into small vents spaced every body length or so along the corridor. It had been a month since the creation of his expanded Swarm. During almost all of that time most of the bots had been in use around the perimeter of the construction site. So Harlee had felt unsettled 10 minutes before when the bots, released by Echo from their duties, had swarmed to surround him. But they were just more bots, and he had quickly gotten used to seeing a much denser cloud around him than previously. Now they were going away again!

"Do not worry about that, Harlee," Echo said. "Those vents the bots are going into are bot tunnels. Our expanded swarm is designed to observe and help control the entire ship. Those tubes are their method of getting to any part of the interior in the quickest possible time. The tubes have radiant energy fields the bots can draw extra power from to accelerate. A bot can travel the entire diameter of the ship in under a minute. So the full swarm can return to us very quickly to counter any threat." This explanation eased his alarm, but Harlee still felt a little naked... even though he still had a swarm around him that was roughly the same size as the one he had always had before Echo's upgrade.

The pace was slow enough for Harlee to get a good look at everything. Recessed ceiling lights filled the passageways with a bright ambient glow. The decks of the starship were made of the same mercury colored metal as the hull, but the walls and the ceiling were electro-plated with gold. Every half-mile or so, faceted wall sections of quartz, diamond crystal, and many colored gems, were lit from behind by a rainbow of point light sources. They offset the gold tones of the walls with stylized vistas of classic scenes from Graciousone history. Harlee was amazed by the ship's beauty. Though the corridor decoration was not up to the standards of the cloud cottage he had lost, it was much more than he had been expecting.

The VAS, by comparison, was rather plain. There were eight Vertical Access Shafts. They were mercury-colored, empty, 200 feet wide, 27-mile-long metal tubes with twelve-foot thick walls of armored and buttressed carbon steel composite. They were 45 degrees apart, and ran all the way through the vertical axis, just inside the bulkhead of the Safety Cylinder skin. They not only functioned as access shafts, but also as a cross-braced central skeleton for the ship. Each shaft had 60 sections, divided by single-diaphragm airdoors that instantly swivel-snapped open to permit travel. Equalized air pressure was maintained along the shaft by blowers. Each deck level had a recessed landing, and a double-iris airlock. Travel along a shaft was done by using one of the thousands of fusion battery powered graviton plates stationed along the tube length, and compressed air thrusters.

Harlee drove the scooter through an airlock into a VAS, and up onto one of the waiting graviton plates. Echo sent the plate's dumb bot instructions, and the plate lifted on compressed air thrusters and quietly moved off the ledge into the shaft, where it gently descended some five miles, through the Safety Sphere bulkhead, to the deck level that accessed both his personal quarters and the New Beginning's Control Room.
#


He exited the shaft near the center of the Safety Sphere. He drove down a feeder hall and parked the scooter in one of the hallway's parking spots, next to the airdoor to the ship's Control Room. He briefly stared at the door with trepidation, but shrugged his eyestalks, and walked towards it.

The airdoor's iris snapped open, and Harlee's eyes were instantly overwhelmed. The airdoor opened onto a landing located midway between the ceiling and deck of the three story high Control Room, which was a wedge-shaped, thirty-degree slice of the three central decks of the Safety Sphere. Curvy movable stairs led up to catwalks, and down to the floor. Harlee could see other airdoors located along the walls on the different levels.

The Control Room was so big in order to accommodate the holographic displays that covered all of the bulkheads and ceiling. These brilliant, multi-hued panels displayed a rainbow riot of mysterious moving sequences of tiny lights. Wormoids, some of whom seemed much more mechanically sophisticated than most of the wormoids Harlee had seen before, worked in front of and beneath, those displays.

"Hello," said Harlee. All the wormoids turned around to look at him.

One wormoid, a state-of-the-art analog of a female Graciousone in white casing covers, with writhing, shiny metal tentacles and eyestalks, and her own microbot swarm, greeted him. "Hello. You must be my passenger. I'm ZED-9949, the captain of this ship."

The wormoid motioned to a smaller, wheeled machine. "This is Service Wormoid Model R20D30B, or Squeaky, as we like to call her. She will show you to your quarters." ZED-9949 turned around and began gazing at the panel before her.

"Wait just a minute here!" bellowed Harlee, "I'm the captain of the New Beginning. This is my expedition."

The captain's eyestalks spun around and stared at Harlee. If a wormoid could have been irritated, he thought, Harlee would have sworn that ZED-9949 looked irritated.

"Echo, what's going on here?" Harlee ungraciously shouted.

Echo was aghast at her own stupidity. She had been so wrapped up with the technical work of building the starship that she had somehow overlooked the wormy element. As The Presence never tired of pointing out, there were considerations other than logic and reality when dealing with emotionally fragile Graciousones. "Harlee dear, do not get angry, but The Presence thought that ZED-9949 would make the best captain, as you have never flown a starship before, much less a new and unproven design such as this ship."

"I bet she hasn't either!" retorted Harlee.

"Yes dear, but she has programming."

"She and her programming can go straight to The Shadowed Pool for all I care! If I'm not in charge of this mission, I'm not going!" snapped Harlee.

"Please do not be irrational, Harlee. You have to go, it is your punishment." Echo silently called The Presence for help.

Harlee stood there, his tentillum clenching, and nasal flaps flaring in and out. His belly was turning a threatening red.

Channeled through Echo, The Presence suddenly spoke inside his head. "I am very sorry about this, Harlee, but there seems to be a misunderstanding. The ship's wormoids and onboard DIs will do all of the navigating and piloting. But within the mission parameters, you are totally in charge of when and where you go. All you have to do is just tell ZED-9949 where you want to go, and she will take you there."

Even after this length of time, Harlee was still a little intimidated by The Presence. His anger therefore evaporated as quickly as it had boiled up, and Echo's calm-talk was able to prod him into thinking a little about the situation. Slightly mollified, and secretly relieved that he wouldn't have to try to fly the ship, Harlee said, "Well, OK, then. In that case I guess I'll take a look at my quarters." He flicked a tentacle peremptorily in Squeaky's direction and stiffly followed the little wormoid out the hatch, past his parked road rocket, to his personal quarters.
#

*Associated Glossary Listings:


<none>

Next Post: Chapter 12 --- Home
 
2020-04-12 5:00:04 PM  
Chapter 12 - Home



Harlee's quarters were a wedge-shaped segment sliced out of the Safety Sphere's wide fifth shell, located directly across from the main hatch of the Control Room. When Harlee first saw the suite of rooms, he thought he was losing his mind. He was back in his lost cloud cottage! A second look belied that impression. The room wasn't exactly the same shape and arrangement, and the airdoors leading to the other rooms were not quite in the same places. All his favorite things were there, but there were also differences.

Rather than his old extensive stationary light-bot point lighting system, indirect ceiling lights cast a soft, almost source-less glow over everything. There were two stationary light-bots, against each side of the far wall, but their light was turned down and subdued. Rather than the subtly curved walls of his cloud cottage, the room was shaped like a donut wedge, with straight walls on the sides and gently curved far and entry walls.

From where he stood in the entry airdoor, the opposite wall displayed a built-in 700-foot holographic vision screen. This was showing a view from the construction site. The overhead early-evening crescent Yorbolindo, ablaze with the lights of its floating cities, dominated the sky. It was so realistic that it captivated Harlee just as much as the sight of the real thing had. Directly under the screen stretched a long, comfortable looking couch, eminently suitable for napping or lounging. It faced a luxury easy chair in the exact center of the room, which, in turn, allowed a perfect view of the wall screen.

Above the chair, built into the ceiling, was a 126-foot square laser array. This machine could project a holographic 3D "fish tank" into the middle of the room, surrounding the space occupied by the chair. So when the holotank was inactive, Harlee could kick back in the chair and watch the New Beginning traverse the Galaxy on the wall vision screen. Or, when the holotank was active, Harlee either could watch the show from the long couch along the wall, or get immersed in the presentation by sitting in the easy chair.

To the right of the wall screen and couch stood a small glinkin living stand. It was shaped like a ziggurat. Its glinkin-sized steps, in easily climbed sections divided by flat areas and resting benches, led up to a 50-foot square living/sleeping/garden/pool area that contained Sparky's toys, food and water dishes, SleepyHutTM, and litter box.

To the left of the screen and couch stood a small end table, and a replica of the fern wall that Harlee had been growing in his cottage. The fern wall was made of Southern Forest Ferns.* Their bluish-green fronds filled the air with a sweet-spicy odor that made them famous all over the Graciousrealm. The fern wall grew around the corner and stretched out 250 feet on either side of, and around, a doorway that obviously led to another room of the suite, undoubtedly, he thought, the dining nook, if this was a copy of his lost house.

The right side of the room had more close replicas. Next to Sparky's living stand was a semicircular-tiered wall fountain, almost identical to the one he had bought for his cloud cottage. To the right of the fountain was another doorway, probably to the pondroom, then a cascading, backlit, moving gemstone wall. To the right of that was a small charging alcove. It was currently occupied by a powered-down wormoid maid. Harlee took a closer look: the maid was not a replica! The wormoid was his old Rosie, his childhood maid whom he had brought with him to his cloud cottage.

Harlee stepped into the room. Were they there? He swiveled an eyestalk. Yes, there on the entry wall, on either side of the airdoor, were his two paintings. The left one, created by a professional PET painting studio, was of him holding Sparky in formal pose, both smiling for the artist in their characteristic ways. The other was of him and his secret and unrequited childhood sweetheart, Ellma, holding tentillum. It had been cobbled together by a street artist from separate school yearbook images. And over the entrance? Yes, there it was: the ancient display of family weapons, handed down for generations from before The Presence and the Revolution. There, was a set of four tentacle-swords, meant to be used together to create a flashing web of razor-edged metal. And there, the two-tentacle broadsword. And below that, an atrociously huge battleaxe that required all four upper tentacles to wield. Above these, a third-removed great grandmother who had been an early Civil War militia veteran had added a now antique infantry phased plasma spallgun.* And Uncle Chekhuff, an incendiary political writer during the Unification Coup and the Civil War, had added his antique ink pen.

Harlee shuffled to the couch. On the end table, he saw an antique keepsake box. Yes! It was his old one! He looked inside, and all his treasures were safely tucked away in it. There was also a small data tablet. It was an off-implant reader. Graciousones sometimes used them to keep from burdening their hard-working implants with trivial data and tasks. He touched it on, and the screen displayed a list of his favorite Romance holographics.

He reached out a tentacle and tentillumed through the title list and found... everything. Every single 2D, 3D, holographic, and sensory immersion product ever made. It was the entire GraciousNet PET entertainment database.

It was worth trillions.

He suddenly felt weak and his stomachs spasmed. A ghost of old avarice from criminal days crept into his mind. All of this could be copied and sold! When he realized what he was thinking he felt a stab of panic, and he sternly told himself that he was now made of better stuff. He was no longer a craven criminal; he was a brave explorer.

And though it was a deeply hidden train of thought, Echo caught a flash of it and felt a thrill of pride and love for her Harlee.


#

The mystery of what lay behind the two side doors beckoned. The left-hand door indeed led to a replica of the small formal eating area his cloud cottage had boasted. When Harlee came into the room, the first thing he saw was his old sideboard. It, too, was from his childhood home, an elegant antique that had enough room on it for a holiday spread. Behind the sideboard was a wall of colorful, fragrant Rock Orchids.* In the room center was a small round table with a single comfortable chair. On the far side, another airdoor opened to an ultra-modern automated kitchen, with a top-of-the-line food replicator, and a wormoid chef, who was hibernating and plugged into a charging station. On the right wall was an airlock. This was located where his cottage back door had been. That had led to a balcony. Harlee was pretty sure there were no balconies on a starship, so he guessed that (since it was an double iris airlock rather than a single iris airdoor), that it was an emergency exit that led to a quite probably cramped and nasty emergency safety compartment.

Harlee returned to the living room. He opened the right-hand door to find a near-replica of his cottage pondroom.* Not quite, though: to the immediate left of the doorway was a shower pit. It was a lovely and expensive shower pit, circumscribed and lined with time-etched river stones, and equipped with the most modern force field curtains. It was just like the one Harlee had planned to buy, prior to his being arrested.

He scanned further. Just to the right of the shower pit was another airlock. It was where his pondroom back door had been, and it probably led to another safety area. To the right of that was a blank viewing screen. That, he considered, was there to take the place of the customized picture window he had had installed in the original pondroom. Finally, there was a rectangular protruding area. It had a small door in the lateral wall that, he assumed, led to the farting/toilet room that the old cloud cottage had had.

He turned his eyestalks. Straight ahead from the door, snuggled against the far wall, was a round sleeping pond dais. It looked just like the one he had bought for his cloud cottage. It was filled to his personally preferred halfway mark with recirculating water that gently lapped along a shallow-sloped bed of what looked like the SleepRiteTM sand-mud blend that he liked so much. Just to the right of the dais, against the wall, was another glinkin stand, also outfitted with a SleepyHutTM, as well as a water bowl and nighttime litter box. It looked like the pet stand he had had as a child, as it had an antique wire cage (rather than a modern force field) to kept a glinkin safely contained at night, the same storage bins for holding Sparky's harness and leash, and Graciousone-sized latch access.

To the right of Sparky's sleeping ziggurat, against the far wall where he could leisurely sit up in the sleeping-pond to face it and ponder his daily clothing selections stood an antique, blue, ribbonwood-paneled Gentleworm's Robotic ArmoireTM. It looked just like the one from his childhood. He looked at it more closely; it actually was his old childhood armoire.

To the right were more Southern Forest Ferns. The thriving lushness continued around the corner to the doorway wall. The sweet-spicy scent of the plants gave the sleeping room a relaxed, languid atmosphere.

Harlee thoughtfully returned to the living room. He slowly turned his eyestalks from side to side in numb disbelief.


#


He had expected sparse and utilitarian. The cottage had been his idea of simple luxury. To see it replicated here.... He asked Echo to call The Presence. "Uh... hello? This is Harlee. I just wanted to say... thank you. I can't believe what you have done for me here."

"What do you find hard to believe here, Harlee?"

"I don't understand why I have this... this opulence, this reconstruction of the stuff, of my cloud cottage, that I bought with crime money, and then had taken away."

"The cottage wasn't seized to punish you, Harlee, but to partially reimburse the State for making whole the Graciousones you stole from. The punishment of 100 years State service does not mean you have to perform that service in discomfort. Members of a civilized society should look out for each other. The point of your sentence is not to hurt you, but to make you a better person while performing a needed task."

Harlee's mind shot back to the off-implant selection reader and his brief struggle with his old avarice, "Do you think you can?" he said bitterly.

"I am convinced that most of your criminal tendencies are due to various issues stemming from your ochlophobia. One of my goals here is to fix that. A non-supportive environment will not do anything to accomplish this."

"But what about the cost of all this? The cost of this unbelievable ship has...?"

"Don't be silly Harlee, the cost was essentially zero. Everything except the plants and your family heirlooms (which were all owned by your family from well before the commission of your crimes) was produced by FARP facilities, either here on the asteroid, or elsewhere in the FARP industrial complex. And the trivial efforts I have expended are simply good practice at problem solving."

Harlee looked around one more time. The Presence had all the answers. He always did. "Well, I owe you one."

"Yes, Harlee, yes you do." The Presence hung up.


#


It was all so perfect! Harlee's mood was once more pumped. He wanted to celebrate right then. "Echo, I'm going to go get Sparky, go to dinner and celebrate."

"What about taking the inside tour of the ship, dear? You can get a good rundown on the engines and computers in the next several hours."

Harlee paused, and then caught sight of one of the microbots of his new, much larger personal swarm. "Hey, Echo, didn't you say that these guys were totally everywhere throughout the ship? Then why can't they send visuals and data back to you, and you supplement the footage with the raw data you have from building the ship? Then you can put it all together and let me see everything by remote viewing. You could just create an immersion hologram around me, or create an image right on the living room screen there. I can tour this whole gigantic ship without leaving the comfort of this room!"

"Well, yes, that can all be done..."

"And it won't do any good for me to do any of that right now, anyway. If I stuck around tonight, I really wouldn't be able to learn enough to help when we leave tomorrow morning. But once we leave there won't be a whole lot for me to do, so I can set up a daily orientation regime then, right?"

"Well, yes..."

"But right now, I want celebrate, and get a good bowl of ShinyBlue stew, a flagon of fermented sweetsap, and enter Sparky in a Maze Race!"

Then, as Harlee was strapping himself into his road rocket, he had another thought: "And Captain Zed-whatever can worry about all of that stuff anyway, right? She's a specialist. She has programming."


#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


Southern Forest Fern:
A tropical plant with soft, bluish-green fronds, Southern Forest Ferns are native to the jungle planet of Collandra. Though it is an import from that planet, it is included herein because samples brought to Yorbolindo were accidentally released into the wild centuries ago, and the plant quickly adapted to Yorbolindo conditions with minimal ecological disruption. The plant is further unusual in that, though evolved for a hot and humid climate, it adapts easily to, and grows well in, temperate indoor environments. Its subtle sweet-spicy odor is non-obtrusive and pleasing. The plant is popular with indoor decorators, and Southern Forest Fern displays are a common indoor decoration. The transplant success of Southern Forest Ferns is an excellent demonstration of the interrelatedness of the genetic codes of differing worlds. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna)


Spallgun: An energy-intensive infantry multiple-tentacle weapon developed during the latter half of the Graciousrealm-Ownerist Civil War, and afterwards banned for all except specific exception use specifically authorized by The Presence. It stimulates phased coherent gravitons to create a thread-thin (i.e.: roughly Planck-Length-sized) beam of extreme gravitational potential that compacts a small area of the target into something approaching degenerate matter. It is called a spallgun because the effect is to spall, or crater, the target at point of impact. Sustained fire can drill into the target or, if the shooter's aim is traversed, "zip" a surface trench of spalled material across a field of fire. It may also be fired in interference wavelength mode, where the actual beam only coalesces at a predetermined depth inside the target. Wounds from spallguns are particularly nasty, difficult to treat, and are generally fatal. Larger versions of these portable spallguns were developed first, and are the gravity cannon that are standard armament on all Space Force dreadnaughts.


Zembriskin Rock Orchid: A multi-hued, fragrant plant from the equatorial jungle provinces of Yorbolindo's continent Zabriska. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).


Pondroom: A domicile room purposed for sleeping, sex, and/or nursery. So-named, as furniture in the room usually includes a sleeping pond.


#




Next Post: Chapter 13 --- The Maze Race
 
2020-04-14 10:06:45 PM  
Chapter 13 - The Maze Race


(Post 1 of 2)


Harlee arrived back in the asteroid's interior and immediately went to Sparky's kennel. The kennel was a good one, with a staff that included a Graciousone vet and a wormoid fitness instructor. As such, it gave its guests regular supervised exercise and group playtime. But Sparky had been alone more than normal for two months, and he had missed Harlee terribly. Occasional, hurried visits from his owner to say hello and give quick head pats were insufficient food for even Sparky's easygoing soul, and he had become depressed. So when a wormoid attendant brought his stored HappyTravelerTM* to his crate and transferred him to it, he got excited. And when he was taken to the lobby and saw Harlee, he loudly vocalized squeaky excitement, and grabbed the bars of the travel cage.

Disobeying the rules, Harlee took him from the cage and petted him. He talked to Sparky softly, closely inspecting him for signs of abuse or neglect. Finally, he let Sparky get rid of his excess energy. He gently placed the glinkin into his head trough. This was a favorite thing for both of them, and he tilted his eye sockets downward and watched in amusement as Sparky ran a dozen energetic laps around his eyestalks. Sparky then curled his body around the base of one of Harlee's eyestalks, and promptly went to sleep.


#


Harlee slithered briskly but cautiously to the Celestial Bug Inn. The HappyTravelerTM was tucked under one tentacle. Sparky was contentedly snoring in Harlee's trough. This mode of travel was, of course, not really safe for glinkin, and not advised by glinkin welfare groups. But many Graciousones and glinkin enjoyed it, so it was a common thing, supplanting in increasing numbers the Old School Clunky torus-shaped HighRiderTM.*

When Harlee walked through the inn's front airdoor, he saw a crowd of excited gamers already gathered around the maze table. It was early, the maze was blank, and he was hungry and thirsty. He sent an instant message to Slavvin.

Slavvin came out to see him, and held his tentillum out in formal greeting, "Well, well, so this is the Gentleworm who so impressed Yink Patterkorn! Good evening to you, Mr. Salkenesta, I'm Slavvin Cordecon and I own this establishment, which I sincerely hope pleases every single one of your appetites." How are you, fine sir?"

Though he tried his best to hide it, Harlee was instantly unnerved. He remembered that Yink Patterkorn had mentioned that Slavvin had an eccentricity. That was an understatement. Slavvin wore an antique contraption around his ridge: a torus of dully-gleaming brassy metal with what looked like wires or probes that extended from it into the bone and leather of Slavvin's ridge. It was a Personal Defense Bot Control System, or PDBCS, an ancient, externally worn "dumb" computer that (somewhat inefficiently) functioned as bookkeeper and controller for its wearer's internal nanobots and external swarmbots. These had become obsolete for use by most Graciousones 2,500 years before. It seemed that Slavvin was either a Creatrix Fundamentalist who eschewed internal implants, or one of those occasional individuals who simply could not physically tolerate them.

But Harlee was also impressed. He had been expecting a rotund innkeeper type. But Slavvin had a lean and lanky look to him. His gaze had an almost feral intensity. He displayed an obvious and quick intelligence that somehow seemed out of place in a dockside inn. Harlee had honed a certain amount of street sense in his brief criminal career, and Slavvin seemed just a tad... bent. But Harlee decided he didn't want to worry about that right then.

Echo was also hesitant. She sent a cautioning thought, "Harlee, I do not wholly trust this person. He seems a little predatory to me."

Harlee thought back, "Don't worry about it Echo, he's a friend of Yink's. And I don't think that Yink Patterkorn makes a habit of being friends with thugs or pirates or whatever! He makes glinkin toys. And he's been knighted twice, for Universe sake! Slavvin is probably just padding his food replicator energy allotment. So what? Everyone does it."

Harlee responded to Slavvin, "Well sir, I am just fine. It is an honor to meet you kind sir. And this is indeed a fine establishment you have here."

Bare formalities met, Cordecon assertively relaxed the decorum. His eyestalks shimmied in pleased laughter. "Well, we do try, Harlee. I like to think that the Celestial Bug Inn has the best grub, bugs and booze anywhere in the Yorbolindo solar system. We serve plain but hearty fare, lacking pretentiousness but not good taste, if you get my drift. So what can I do for you today, Harlee?"

"Well sir, my business here on Construction Asteroid #3 is almost finished, and I thought I could celebrate that fact with a big tureen of your highly recommended ShinyBlue stew, a huge flagon or two of sweetsap beer, and some amateur glinkin Maze Racing. My glinkin, Sparky, may be a bit rusty, but he still has spirit!"

"Sounds excellent! I'll have the barbot wrestle up some fried and salted grub appetizers and brew. I'll also tell the kitchen to expect your ShinyBlue stew order later on tonight." Slavvin then motioned to the maze table. "There are several spots left, so why don't you pick a starting square, stick your glinkin in the holding cage, and start rolling some dice?"

Slavvin turned to leave, then suddenly turned back. He reached out and touched Harlee's bare tentacle with a tentillum, and whispered in a low rumble, "Oh by the way, I see that both Blue-15 spots are still open. Just between you and me, Blue-15-Right has always been a hot little number. You could do worse than starting from that square."

The proprietor then hurried away and Harlee turned with gusto to the maze table. And he did, indeed, grab the Blue-15-Right starting square. It just seemed like the logical choice.


#


The placement of Walls and Blocks - and the betting - was about to commence. His entry fee was paid, but Harlee had no money for betting. Old habits die hard, particularly when they involve fudging the rules, and Harlee suddenly had an idea. There was no fund allowance in his Felon's Budget for gambling. But there was a substantial fund allowance for food. And the price of the Daily Bug Special was so low that he could... well... shift the money around a bit...

"Hey, Echo? Could you please calculate the average price of a single serving of fresh ShinyBlue stew at all of the eating places here, and on the other seven Tether Asteroids* around Yorbolindo?"

"OK, Harlee, here it is. Ummm... why do you want this data, dear?"

"Oh... I just wanted to see... how much I was saving by eating here, what with Yink paying for my meal tonight...."

Harlee was frantically trying to suppress the informational "sidebars" of his thoughts, but it was increasingly obvious to Echo where this line of reasoning was going. If she had had a wormoid body, she would have put tentacles to the sides of it, and tapped them rhythmically in suspicion. "And just why is this important, Harlee?"

"Well... uh... I bet that The Presence didn't take Yink's generosity into account when he established this restrictive budget... so I'm thinking it will be OK to use what I'm saving on food here on something else."

"Something else? You mean gambling on this Maze Race? Harlee, that is exactly the kind of slippery thinking that got us into trouble in the first place!"

"No, it isn't! It's actually not hurting anyone, so what's the problem?"

"There are clear ethical principles involved here, Harlee. You are playing a fast and loose game with them. It should be quite clear to you that funds of that nature are not used for purposes of gambling."

Harlee felt a wave of stubbornness. Echo was nagging again, the same way she had done all through his criminal career. "Well, they are in this case! This is a special situation, Echo. It's like found money! And I don't think The Presence will mind it if I have a little relaxation after all the hard work I've been doing. And Sparky has been alone so much that he got depressed. His sacrifices need to be addressed, too."

Echo briefly shut down her sensory input, the DI equivalent of closing eyes and sighing. Harlee is so full of Giant Green Nibbler turds. "OK, Harlee, I can see that we disagree. I think I should call The Presence and ask him if this would be OK to do."

Harlee sighed, frustrated. But he felt trapped. "OK, then do that!" Echo called. She felt that she was going to be vindicated.

"Yes, Harlee?"

Harlee repeated his line of reasoning.

There was no hesitation, "Well, Harlee, you have a point. And I don't see any real harm in using some of the funds saved on food for this small indulgence."

"What?" Echo was outraged. "How can you say that? You are rewarding the same kind of thinking that got Harlee into trouble in the first place!"

The Presence spoke to both of them, "Look at it this way, Echo. (And Harlee, please pay attention to what I am telling her.) If Harlee loses, no funds in excess of budget are lost. But if he wins, then his winnings will be applied against the fines and compensation reimbursement funds that he owes to the State. It's a win-win situation, as far as I am concerned."

Echo wailed, "But it is not rehabilitative. This is still rewarding crooked thinking!"

Harlee butted in, "Echo, I wasn't being crooked... I was being creative!"

The Presence paused, and then said, mildly, "Echo, Harlee is right in this case. There are, indeed, times when crooked thinking is merely creative, not dishonest....

"And remember, both of you, there are times when crooked thinking is not just optional, but required."

What? Crooked thinking required? Both Harlee and Echo did mental double takes at that last statement, but something in the tone, suggested "end of argument." Just before he hung up, Echo got a private sidebar of assurance from The Presence, who also asked her to "just let it go" and suggested that she remain quiet for the rest of the night. It was a "request" formatted through her ROM restraining chip, which The Presence controlled. Somewhat puzzled, she automatically acquiesced.


#


The betting was starting and Harlee threw in a "house ante" of five credits. He needed to pay attention to what was going on at the table, but he was also hungry. The barbot had put grubs and a drink on a table that overlooked the Maze Race, and he told part of his bot swarm to form a gravity plate and float them over to within tentillum-reach.

Harlee felt a faint thumping over his braincase. He twitched an eyestalk to look down into his trough. Sparky was awake. He was jumping up and down, trying to peek over Harlee's ridge to see what all the noise was about. He had heard Maze Race preliminaries before, and he was excited. Harlee reached up and gently grabbed him. In the squeakiest voice (still a deep almost subsonic bass, to Sparky) he could manage Harlee said, "Hey, Sparky, it's a Maze Race! Look sharp, boy!" He then cupped Sparky in several tentillum and raised him high in the air, so that Sparky could get a bumblefly's* eye view of the crowd of Graciousones around the board. He could see and feel Sparky, supporting himself with his tiny glinkin arms against the rigid flesh of his tentillumtips, leaning out over empty space, gazing down and paying careful attention to the crowd, almost as if he was counting them.

After a few moments, Sparky relaxed away from his tentillumtips, his signal that he had seen what he had needed to see. Harlee then said, "OK, little guy, now listen sharp! You can do this! In you go, into the box!" He put Sparky into the transfer box located under the B-15-R start square. The transfer box sank automatically to the level of the Listening Box.


#


Sparky strode through the inner door into a vast, dim chamber. It was a single room, with no walls or beams, some 480 feet across. A featureless white ceiling less than 20 feet overhead barely glowed with a weak white light.

Even though cool air silently wafted in from air conditioning vents in the walls, the size of the room, the ceiling's closeness, and the dim light all made the room oppressively airless and claustrophobic. Sparky hated this part of Maze Racing. Atavistic emotions welled up, unbidden, and made part of his mind run around in circles and gibber. Every time he was in the Listening Box, he would remember the tales his real dad had told him about cavern adventures, where large expanses of unsupported roof always led to cave-ins.

No time now for hate or fear or memories, time to get to work. He focused his head, and took a few moments to scan the room, to get a sense of the opposition. There were twenty other glinkin in the box, and all 16 stations were filled. He couldn't see much in the dim light, but from what he could tell, so far he wasn't impressed. Most of the other glinkin were sitting on the floor in small groups, chatting. At least one seemed to sleeping.

That was a lot of glinkin. Depending on how fast the placement phase of the game was completed, he might not have much time to check out everyone. Sparky saw he was at start space B-15-R. He put his hands into his tunic pockets, put what he hoped was a bored expression on his face, and casually began walking the perimeter of the room.


#


At the B-20-R location, just to his left, sat a group of four Seastriders.* Their gills were clamped shut and their nostrils were flared. Their expressions were sour, as if they had smelled something foul. Their long fingers and toes nervously flexed back and forth, drumming on the floor, displaying their webs. They seemed out-of-place here.

Though now considered a difficult toy breed, Seastriders had originally been bred as working glinkin: commandos and saboteurs. They loved water, so Seastrider owners usually gave into the wishes of their sulky and massively spoiled pets and lived near the coastal marshes and swamps that were the favored habitat of the breed. Sparky got the feeling that their owner had just arrived on the asteroid, and that the glinkin didn't like their situation one little bit. They were racing as a Together Team,* but seemed to be spending all their prep time complaining about each other and their individual lots in life, rather than planning their attack. Sparky smiled inside; they were all wannabe tough guys, vicariously living large through remembrances of their badass ancestors of 10,000 generations before.


#


Around the corner, at R-20-B, was a lone Common Domestic Tophair. Sparky quickly peered across the vast semi-lit room, and thought he saw several more of the breed. Tophairs, or CDTs, were the most common of all glinkin.

For thousands of generations, Tophairs had been a widespread general working breed. They had a varied and sometimes illustrious history as janitors, bugherders, spies, Jewel Bird wranglers, and even tiny soldiers. For show purposes, they had been bred for naturally effusive top-of-head hair, with highly localized hair on the face, arm sockets, and primary genital areas. Aside from that, they were physically closer to the original strains of wild glinkin native to Yorbolindo than were most other breeds. Though not specifically bred for it, Tophairs also had a well-earned reputation as wily and competitive Maze Race runners, so the fact that there were Tophairs in the race did not bode well for Sparky (though he himself was also a Tophair). This particular Tophair looked bored and sleepy. Sparky gave him a quiet nod, a non-committal gaze, and a wide berth.


#


Next to the CDT, at R-15-B, was a lone Furry.* She had the puffy, dense hair and very black skin of the racial purebred. Her stance, the tilt of her wooly head, and her glare, universally applied to every other glinkin in the box, were all obviously standoffish. She was of an ancient, elite breed, and she knew it.

Handed down glinkin legends had it that the long-ago ancestors of the Furry had ruled a vast and powerful empire, the continent of Jumbaladon.* They had done so with tentillumtips (or in their case, fists) of steel for almost a thousand years. They had lived in vast cities, and had flown warplanes and rockets in the skies of Yorbolindo, and the whole world had feared and respected them. But in their pride they had sought to extend their iron rule to Graciousones, to enslave them, and they had been broken and conquered.

Now, the Furry he had seen in the Glinkin Park and elsewhere were all pampered and expensive show animals, owned by wealthy Graciousones. But all bore a simmering, sullen bitterness over their lost greatness, and Sparky thought they were all jerks. He suppressed an urge to slap the haughty smirk off the Furry's face and veered away.


#


At R-10-B and R-5-B were two more Tophairs, both alert, and grinning unpleasantly. Sparky noted with some alarm that each of them had cloth streamers in their belts, one glinkin with yellow, and the other glinkin with red. The streamers meant that they were both members of Compete Teams,* and that each of them had an opposite number on the other side of the board, armed with similar streamers. The streamers were dropped at strategic points in the maze to act as guides for their opposite Compete Team members to find their finish box.

The problem here was that there was no rule to prevent competing glinkin from moving the streamers in order to mislead the Compete Team glinkin. This often led to glinkin yelling at each other and sometimes even disqualifying themselves by trading blows. Many Graciousones swore by Compete Teaming; other Graciousones saw the effort as, at best, haphazard. The pros and cons were a constant point of late night barroom argument.

What Sparky found interesting was that (including Harlee) there was a full complement of Graciousones at the Maze Race table. And all spots in the Listening Box were filled. But with two (at least) Compete Teams, at least two spots on the playing board should be unfilled. That mathematically meant there were at least two instances of Graciousone players teaming up to split the pot, should one of their glinkin win. That hardly seemed fair, but Sparky assumed that the betting odds had been adjusted to account for any supposed advantage those players had. He passed both glinkin, giving them a wide berth.


#


Standing well away from all the other glinkin at B-20-L were three grotesquely muscled Bombards.* They huddled together, softly talking in their private language. It was clear from their body language that they had finished checking out the room and were well into planning various play scenarios and the roles that each would perform. A distinctive trait of the modern breed was that they insisted on doing every activity in groups, so these were obviously members of another Together Team.


#


B-15-L was the cross-board destination that Sparky would have to get to once the actual race began. He was again dismayed. The glinkin there was a Maze Runner,* and the chances were good that they would meet somewhere in the maze. As their name suggested, Maze Runners had been specially bred for competing in Maze Races. Sparky and the Maze Runner stared at each other for a few moments, faces expressionless. Then the Maze Runner gave a tiny dismissive nod, and turned away.


#


There was a Zembriskin Bugherd* at B-10-L. That was... just weird. They were easygoing and noncompetitive, and Sparky couldn't imagine a Bugherd as being any real competition in a Maze Race. He smiled and gave a friendly nod. The Bugherd grinned back and vigorously shook his long, flowing locks.


#


There was another Tophair at B-5-L and, yes, he was sleeping. Sparky could hear his snoring from forty feet away. Snert. Either the guy was a rank amateur or he had already mapped out the competition, and was more laid back than any glinkin had a right to be.


#


R-5-T and R-10-T were the opposite spots from the two Compete Team members he had seen earlier. Sure enough, there were two more Tophairs with colored streamers. Interestingly, both of them were female. They competed with each other in ogling him as he ambled past, and grinned and whistled at him. Sparky grinned back and wondered whether the two handfuls were the mates of the two Tophairs to which he had previously given a wide berth.


#


R-15-T was another surprise. The location was occupied - indeed, defined - by the august presence of a Royal Lusardian.* It was impossible to be ill-mannered, or even assertive, around a Royal Lusardian. Sparky approached with deference. Here, again, Sparky thought that this particular glikin was a very poor choice as a Maze Race competitor.Sparky dipped his head respectfully to the Royal Lusardian, and was rewarded with a tiny nod and a small, brief closure of placid eyes.


#


The area in front of R-20-T was empty, but Sparky saw a small figure standing near the B-5-R spot. It was a Losanto.* She was talking with the two glinkin at that location. Sparky was again puzzled. Losanto were a small and weak toy breed, and he just couldn't picture a Losanto as a serious Maze Race contender.


#


The B-5-R spot was occupied by a heavily muscled, physically stunted Digger*. Sparky again grinned inside; Diggers had been bred in antiquity to dig sapper tunnels, and they were the very definition of stupid. This guy was zero competition.


#


Nearby was a bug-eyed, wide-nosed, barrel-chested Sled Glinkin*. She hovered nervously between B-5-R and a vacant B-10-R. Sled Glinkin were now bred exclusively for show, but had originated as beasts of burden. They were highly intelligent, but were the very antithesis of quick. Once again, Sparky was puzzled. This Maze Race in a dive bar on an asteroid seemed to have a large number of glinkin who were probably not too good at Maze Racing.


#


The Losanto was arguing with the Sled Glinkin. Between them, the Digger sat and listened, his sloped head swiveling back and forth as tough he was tracking the movements of a flutterby. The talkers were arguing about finding and following flashing blue direction GoHeres. What? Sparky had never heard of anything like that. Was this a rigged game? Well, well. If it was, there was nothing he could do about it. And he certainly couldn't tell Harlee, since the big doofus couldn't understand a word he said.

It was best to accept circumstances, and do the best job he could. In the distance, he heard a click as one of the Graciousones placed the first block. Sparky got down to business, standing in the middle of the room between his start square and B-15-L, listening for the telltale clicks that indicated a wall or block placement or removal on the board above his head. He also walked the walls,* pounding on the walls of the Listening Box, listening to the changing clicks and echoes as placement proceeded, and trying to form a mental map of the layout of the various blocks and walls, and the resulting passages.


#


(continues)
 
2020-04-14 10:11:34 PM  
Chapter 13 - The Maze Race


(Post 2 of 2)


There was a full house of players, both male and female, and betting was heavy. Most of the females seemed to be operations crew from the asteroid's office. Four of these worthies were already quite drunk and were playing a friendly "gotcha" grudge match. Several more players, all outsiders, frequently glared at each other, and there were some loud voices. Two nasty-drunk players were quietly admonished by Slavvin and four very large and energetic female bouncers. It looked like this game would be particularly brutal, and that a few actual Wall-and-Block wars might develop.

B-20-L had rolled the high start number, and Harlee was eleventh to roll the dice. He rolled an R23-B17, which meant he could add or remove a Wall in that square. This was not too far from where Sparky would start his run, so Harlee placed a horizontal Wall along the top of the square. This would be, he hoped, the start of what would evolve into a left-hand guide wall for Sparky to follow all the way across the board.

Alas, it was not to be, as the next player got an R17-B15 and placed a vertical wall just to the left to block the planned guide wall. And, as the luck of the rolls had it, Harlee ended up over the next dozen moves totally blocked: the next 12 players piled on, with raucous ribbing directed towards Harlee and each other.

And so it went. With odds of 73.5%, most of the action was adds or deletes of walls from defined squares. But there was also a 13.2% chance of adding either walls or blocks in wildcard locations. And there were identical odds for wild card removals.

The action was rapid and riled, and two of the players ganged up on Harlee, coordinating their placements as the die rolls allowed. By the end of the first hour all but one of Harlee's paths were completely blocked. It looked bad; the single remaining path was 55 squares long, and it looked like a mangled, twisted spring. Sparky would be hopelessly lost.

Then tempers flared, and the asteroid office's friendly grudge match turned serious, as two of the group got very drunk. A dozen moves created thick populations of Blocks that mired up-down travel, and put several players in bad positions. Then two players, in quick succession, removed walls at R14-B15. Sparky now had two victory routes: the original twisted nightmare; and a dream route: a straight shot to the middle and a quick jog down and back up for a total of only 39 squares. The only problem was at R9-B15. If Sparky turned left he would be tangled up in a series of dead ends.

And then one of the players, either exhausted or broke or bored, motioned a vote for an end to placement. One-by-one, everybody else agreed. Harlee, not believing his luck, was quick to chime in. The final board, with Sparky's two routes, looked like this:
Fark user imageView Full Size


Maze Race configuration and routes for Sparky's race at the Celestial Bug Inn

It was time for the second phase. It was time for Sparky to shine. A bell sounded in the listening box. This was the signal for the glinkin to get back to their transfer boxes. A few moments later a countdown chime sounded: the transfer box doors would lock in moments. A final chime sounded, the doors all locked, and each box was released from its base. Robot arms moved the boxes up to their start squares, and the cover shield was locked into place. A ceiling-hung timer began counting down 128 seconds, and all sixteen exhausted Graciousones stepped back in anticipation from the Maze Race table.

At zero, all of the transfer box inner doors snapped opened, and 21 glinkin stepped out into an alien, shadowless landscape of floor-lit, ceiling-mirrored, identical white walls.


#

Sparky considered himself a pro. Victory at Maze Racing, he believed, went not to idiots who charged wildly down random passageways, but to more deliberate players who stopped to think first, but didn't dither on about things. Balance.

He left the box. He was alone. He calmed his thoughts, slowed his breathing, and scanned what he could see of the maze. He saw: (1) One square over, a left wall went ahead five squares. (2) Ahead, a "straight shot" went forward for what seemed about 14 squares. (3) Four squares in, a piece of wall was just to the left of the straight shot. (4) To the right, three squares ahead, was a single length of wall... (5) ...that met a wall that went up to his right... (6) ...that met another wall one square out and one up from him. (7) This wall partially hid a square, four square area. (8) The far wall of the far inward right square was hidden.

There might be an opening there. It was close, and wouldn't take too much time to check. Sparky took some quick steps right to examine that far square. Fart. A dead end. He turned back and saw a ghostly blue "GoHere" symbol strobe inside the ceiling's mirrored surface. It pointed to the left and inward, along the likely route, the straight shot. Hmmm....

He ran three squares along the straight shot. That single wall section was to his left. An irregular area to his right was totally blocked.

Another two squares: he saw a short corridor on the left. It led to two branches. But these were all to the left and Sparky had to reach the other start square straight ahead. And that way, he now saw, were eight straight shot squares. He took several steps straight ahead... and saw a blue flash in the ceiling that confirmed his choice.

Three more squares, and now there were three options: (1) A route to the right, with four squares and a dead-end, but wall breaks on both sides. (2) The "shot" went on for five squares, ending in an obscured area, with openings, or maybe cul-de-sacs, to the right. (3) A middle route, that snaked diagonally off to the forward-right. He could just make out, after the zigzag, what appeared to be more open area.

He ran forward two squares. He could now see that a path went down to the left at least three squares. He stepped forward another square. No GoHere. The new path went "down" five squares. There was a gap on the right side, two squares down, with no indication as to whether it was the start of another path, or just a dead end. The path ended at a wall... with another gap to the right at the end...

He ran two squares, and found that the area ahead was indeed a dead end. He ran back. There were still three choices. The new "down" route replaced the straight one. Stop dithering! Think! His options were: (1) backtrack three squares to the "up" route, (2) backtrack only one square and take the diagonal to the right, or (3) go down into the long corridor.

The zigzag? That looked like it might have more options. He turned right and started to move... and saw a faint flash of a pink "danger" sign in the ceiling. Okay.... He headed towards the "up" path... and again saw the pink circle.

Logic. Other than the mysterious symbols, there was no basis for choosing any pathway. He had been in enough races to know that what seemed an obvious route could turn into a mess of dead ends. So were the symbols trying to help him? Or make him go in wrong directions? Again, no basis for deciding...

Wait! The first GoHere had flashed after he had confirmed that the right hand path was a dead end. That indicated truth. But the Losanto and Targrat had both talked about GoHeres. So was another Graciousone controlling the ghostly signs to mislead him? Or had Harlee somehow taken over the system, and was cheating? What was going on?

Stop dithering! Sparky ran down the five square long corridor, passing what indeed was a dead end two squares down, and continued another three squares... and his peripheral vision saw a quick, high-up flash of blue.

There was only one way to go at the end, and Sparky charged through the opening, and then up two squares and turned. There were now two routes: a zigzag to the left that his gut said was a dead end, and two squares straight ahead, in the direction he wanted to go. He decided on the latter, but took a quick peek to the left as he ran by, confirming his opinion.

He saw a five-square straight shot and, two squares ahead, a two-segment open area to the left. He ran three up and stopped. Fart. Another three-way choice: (1) upwards went one square then had a break in the left wall; (2) left and down led to an open area with at least one down path; and (3) in the middle, another straight shot of four squares with an opening at the top of the end square.

Sparky didn't like the looks of option two. It was way too inviting. Open areas often led to traps. The right path looked like it might be a possibility.... But the straight shot went in just the right direction. Sparky had been counting squares; he knew this route would put him within six squares of victory. And - remembering the placement noises he had been listening for in the box before the race - he was pretty sure that no blocks had been placed into that area. He tried to remember how the wall placements had sounded... there were probably few lateral walls in the area ahead.... But time was passing! He jogged, somewhat raggedly, one more square along the path....

...and saw, to his left, a straight shot of seven squares... with the still form of the Tophair from the R-5-B start square sprawled on the softly shining floor of the maze, 30 feet away. Red streamers were scattered around him. Sparky squinted; he thought he saw other traces of red around the glinkin, as well.

Sparky felt a sudden hollow coldness in his belly. He felt exposed and naked in the white wilderness, and suddenly remembered a similar situation from his youth. How was it? Yeah, like a ShinyBlue grub in the middle of a dinner plate. Great Creatrix, had Harlee entered him in an illegal game? Could he actually be killed playing this?

Again, he dithered. Should he check out the body? To see if he could help? It would be the right thing to do.... And then he heard a muffled scrape from some twenty feet ahead and around the edge of the wall to his right. Someone was waiting for him in ambush around the corner of the wall.

That decided him. He was not going to go in that direction. He would take the remaining straight shot of three squares in the direction of B-15-L. He turned and took a first step... and out of the corner of his eye saw the glinkin on the ground jump up and silently rush towards him. He was suddenly joined by the other CDT, from R-10-B, who appeared around the end of the wall. Sparky's feet went into high gear and he charged down the three remaining squares, and then two up, one left, and then two down.

And there it was. Five squares in front of him was the end box. Sparky heard twin running footfalls behind him. He ran the distance in record time and slammed into the back wall of the transfer box. A traditional Maze Race victory klaxon blared loudly throughout the Inn. A high bell-like repeating tone as far as Graciousone ear holes were concerned, Sparky heard it, instead, as a deep bass staccato drumbeat that churned his belly with a deep vibration that proclaimed victory. Sparky had won.


#



*Associated Glossary Listings:


HappyTravelerTM:
a small, locking traveling case for transporting glinkin.


HighRiderTM: An antique device in which to carry glinkin, when traveling. It fits over the ridge of a Graciousone and allows the glinkin rider to adjust its location to see in any direction. It is a highly temperamental piece of purely mechanical machinery and requires constant adjustment to prevent discomfort and possible danger to the glinkin rider.


Tether Asteroids: Yorbolindo has one major and five minor continents, and a group of 17,864 islands and shallow seas that are the mountaintops of a drowned continent collectively known as the Pardussassakid Archipelago. The land masses are spaced along the planet's equator in a roughly east-west direction. There are eight space elevators, serving all of the land massess. Each elevator requires, of course, a counterweight at the end of its tether to keep it under positive tension. These counterweights are modified asteroids captured from the Yorbolindo system's asteroid belt.


Bumblefly: A large and clumsy but comical insect found all over Yorbolindo. About the size of a glinkin's hand, evolution cursed them with relatively tiny wings. As a result, their flights are erratic, underpowered, and most often terminate unexpectedly by crashing into trees, glinkin, Graciousones or other obstacles. They suffer little damage from these mishaps as they are quite ruggedly built. Too large to be eaten by most insectivores, they primary ecological control are Jewel Birds, who consider them a delicacy and will go to great lengths to catch them as they careen by. Bumbleflys are stingless. (Source: Taison's Updated Field Guide to Yorbolindo's Flora and Fauna).


Seastrider: descended from ocean-fighting glinkin commandos, genetically bred over two millennia, during one of the first recorded Consolidation Wars, the extended period of warfare that culturally, religiously, and politically consolidated the 17,000+ islands of the Pardussassakid Archipelago. They are at home in the water more than any other glinkin breed, and love to swim. The preferred homes of Seastriders are domed nests, which are entered from underneath the water, located in the middle of small open swampy areas. They can be "difficult" as family pets. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Together Team: A Maze Race term. Refers to a glinkin team of two, three, or four glinkin who all start from the same start square, consult together, move by common agreement, and must remain in sight of each other at all times.


Furry: The ancestors of Furries were bred (and manicured) by wealthy owners for Hair Pattern Display competitions. Furries have many distinct sub-breeds, categorized by their hair pattern traits. Furry hair is dense and puffy, and can display a wide range of natural patterns. These can be anywhere on the animal's body, but usually concentrate around the head, genitals, forearms, legs, belly and back. Furries are an elite racial group, and they know it. This breed of glinkin is strictly for show, and are generally owned only by Graciousones who have the wherewithal to accommodate their high-maintenance material and psychological needs. They are high-strung, standoffish, haughty, and aloof with strangers. Furries are often spoiled, can "act out" when they do not get their way, are prone to fits of extreme jealousy, and can have tempers, so owners can expect a certain amount of drama by their pets. These are "high maintenance" animals, highly dependent on, even clingy with, their owners. Furries are not recommended for Graciousone families with young worms. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Jumbaladon: One of the continents of Yorbolindo. Home continent of the Furry breed of glinkin.


Compete Team: A Maze Race term. Refers to a glinkin team of two runners, who start from opposite start squares. Compete team members are supplied with colored cloth streamers which they can drop to mark routes for their opposite number. This advantage is offset by the legal ability of glinkin competitors to move the dropped streamers. Compete teams are controversial in modern Maze Racing, as "streamer wars" can lead to glinkin-on glinkin violence.


Bombard: This glinkin breed is descended from glinkin originally bred by Salannian royalty to operate catapult batteries. Their oversized limb and torso muscles, strong bones, excellent night vision, quick obedience, and instinctive ability to work in large, synchronized groups had been useful to their Graciousone owners for loading catapults, and moving counterweight rocks in elevation tunnels. A distinctive trait of the modern breed was that they insisted on doing every activity in groups. They are therefore not suitable as family pets unless the Graciousone family literally takes them everywhere and includes them in all activities. Alternatively, if you have a sufficiently large group of Bombards, they will bond with each other and generally ignore their Graciousone mistresses. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Maze Runner: A breed of glinkin bred for running Mace Races. They are unusually tall with large, flared ears, the better to hear the subtle sounds made during wall and block placement. Their peripheral vision is excellent, the better to see furtive movement in the distance. They have extraordinarily long legs and strong, light bones, the better to run quickly through the maze and make fast turns. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Zembriskin Bugherd: Bugherds are among the friendliest of glinkin. They are easygoing mountains of massive muscle, with chiseled faces that are highly expressive, and long, flowing light brown hair. These traits apply to both males and females. They are not terribly intelligent, however, thought they are obedient to a fault, and eager to please. Their competitive spirits had been channeled by thousands of generations of breeding into a fierce loyalty to their Graciousone masters and an implacable and fearsome protectiveness of their insect charges from predators. These traits make them fiercely protective of Graciousones with whom they have bonded. Though somewhat high maintenance due to their body hair, Bugherds therefore make excellent family pets. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Royal Lusardian: The Royal Lusardian is a giant among glinkin, standing (when they decide to) seven to eight portly (one might even say roundish) feet tall. Except for the soles of their hands and feet, they were covered in long soft, strokingly-addictive long and flowing gray hair. Additionally, they are noted for their distinctive flat faces, pug noses, and large, expressive, deep chocolate brown eyes that are twice the size of other breeds of glinkin. These features, their massive build, and an innate gravitas demand both attention and deference. Well covered by their flowing hair, Royal Lusardians usually disdain clothing, with the exception of occasional very dignified hats.

Royal Lusardians were bred for thousands of pampered generations as the royal pets of the Lusardian Queens of ancient days. An apocryphal tale has a royal Graciousone having one of her tentillumtips cut off, rather than disturb a sleeping Royal Lusardian glinkin child. The long flowing locks, well-developed musculature, and elegant features of both male and female Royal Lusardians have them currently enjoying great popularity as Statement Pets who will patiently sit all day wherever they are placed, looking awesome. Obsequiousness in the presence of any Royal Lusardian is a given... even for Graciousones. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Losanto: The Losanto is a toy breed. Their distinctive floppy ears, flat flaring nose, and tiny, delicate mouth were originally bred for show, but the breed has also evolved into a popular family pet. Not recommended for families with small rugworms, as Losanto can act out when owner attention is divided between them and a rugworm.(Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Digger: Descended from military glinkin bred to dig, and fight in siege tunnels, the Digger, is a heavily muscled and height-stunted breed, with beetle-browed forehead, floppy ears, thick bones, and lowered intelligence. The genetics that created the breed had the unfortunate side effect of making them quite stupid. For the right Graciousone, however, this regrettable trait is more than offset by their incredible loyalty, their tractable and placid natures, and their tenacious ability to memorize and carry out complex commands. Though their lack of problem solving skills can sometimes make them difficult to train, remember that patience is key and repetition is highly rewarded. The Digger breed is recommended for Graciousones who have the time to invest in training. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Sled Glinkin: Sled Glinkin originated during the Second Imperial Consolidation phase of the Locusian Empire. This period was marked by incessant maneuver warfare between competing Graciousone military formations. This included the development of Sled Warfare, where Graciousones armed with four-tentacle maces and battle axes would stand on sleds which were pulled into battle. As draft animals large enough to pull Graciousones around never evolved on Yorbolindo, the Sled Glinkin was bred to take their place. Bug-eyed to see signaled orders, wide-nosed and barrel chested (with huge lung capacity) to breath despite clouds of choking dust, and highly intelligent to remember and follow complex orders, huge formations of thousands of highly trained Sled Glinkin hooked up to ropes would pull Graciousone Sled Warriors into battle. (Source: Skuloshomat's Guide to Domesticated Glinkin Breeds).


Walking the Walls: A Maze Game term. Glinkin players in the Listening Box listen for clues as to placement of walls and blocks, and also "walk the walls," repeatedly hitting the ceiling and walls of the box with their fists and listening to the echoes.

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Next Post: Chapter 14 --- Slavvin and Sly
 
2020-04-17 3:35:43 PM  
Chapter 14 - Slavvin and Sly


Harlee opened the transfer box. To a background of excited Graciousone hoots, which sounded to Sparky like deafening rumbles of thunder, he picked up the glinkin and cuddled him in his tentillum. "You did it Sparky! I'm so proud of you!" Harlee's eyestalks and his eyebrows both curved into big smiles, and he lovingly stroked Sparky's head with a tentillumtip as big as Sparky's entire body. Sparky had never looked so alive.

Sparky was animated because he was worried. He was upset about the blue GoHeres. The glinkin in the box had talked about GoHeres; therefore, they had been used in other games. It seemed that cheating was common at this dive. Sparky could not figure out, though, how Harlee had found out about it, and gamed the system. He just knew that he had won only because Harlee had somehow cheated. So he did the only thing he could do: desperately acting like a winner, to keep the charade going, and expecting to be busted any minute. He beamed up at Harlee and pumped his fists above his head. But inside, he felt ashamed and scared.


#

Slavvin, who had been standing just behind the gamers, pushed his way next to Harlee. "Congratulations, young worm! That was a truly excellent maze run. You have a very smart glinkin there, and I'd like to present him with his prize."

Harlee, who had been worried by the unorthodox and illegal shenanigans of the two Tophairs who had tried to ambush Sparky, was distracted. He asked in amazement, "There's a prize for Sparky?"

"Of course. The Celestial Bug Inn always gives a prize to the winning glinkin." Slavvin held up a tiny golden chain. From the chain hung a circular gold medallion. A single deep blue sapphire secured by a small gold mount and backing, completely covered one side of it. Slavvin carefully placed the chain around Sparky's neck. The edges of Sparky's mouth curved upward, and he lifted the medallion up to his eyes to get a good look at the stone.

"Thank you, Mr. Cordecon," Harlee said. "My glinkin has never won a prize before. It means so much to both of us."

"You are very much welcome, Harlee," Slavvin replied. "And please, call me Slavvin. Say, both of you must be starving by now. Why don't you and Sparky join me for dinner at my private table?"

Harlee's eyestalks stood straight up in stiff surprise. He had certainly never expected this kind of treatment. "I'd be honored," he replied, as he scooped up Sparky and gently placed the glinkin inside his trough.

"Excellent! Oh, and please don't be concerned about your winnings. I'll have one of my employees collect them for you and deliver them to our table."

The two Graciousones linked upper tentacles and shuffled to a table at the quiet end of the eating room. The crowds of Graciousones and bot swarms parted for them as they walked. Harlee thought this odd. Tavern owners usually deferred to customers, not the other way around. But he decided to keep his curiosity to himself for fear of appearing rude.

They settled into comfortable chairs. Harlee set Sparky's HappyTravelerTM down on the table, and put Sparky inside it. Slavvin's own glinkin had been riding in Slavvin's trough. The innkeeper picked the little animal up, introduced him as Sly, and gently set him down on the table next to Sparky's carrier, where the two glinkin, through the bars of the carrier, proceeded to eye each other warily.

Slavvin ordered his finest sweetsap beer, and special hard liquor drinks for both of them. The serving bot arrived at the table with four drinks: two common rough-cut stone flagons of beer, and two standard 3D-printed, sapphire Toasting Cups, half-filled with more beer. A second and a third serving bot arrived. The first carried two remarkable looking tall, almost transparent, fluted and delicate crystal glasses. They looked terrible old and rare and expensive. The second bot carried a large, decorated drinking gourd.

The bot unsealed the gourd. It poured two streams of translucent, deeply purple liquid into the fluted crystal glasses. The liquor seemed to slowly swirl in the glasses. Harlee watched his glass with some misgivings, as the surface above the liquid slowly filled with a floating, sparkling mist, which lapped gently at the rim of the glass. He had never seen anything like it. He moved one eyestalk to peer cautiously into the depths of the drink.

Slavvin noticed, and his iris clacked and eyestalks twisted in laughter. He remarked, "These are a favorite of mine, from an old family recipe. Nanobot-spiked Lamarkian spiced brandy. Delicious."

His eyestalks and brows wiggled in a grin. "The sparkles are nanobots. They sequester the alcohol and release it in measured doses. Best hard liquor drink in the entire Graciousrealm. You can drink a dozen of the damned things and not get plastered, and keep a decent buzz going all day, or even a week. My grandfather invented it."

Trying not to appear untrusting, Harlee cautiously tipped a sip into his iris... and then followed up with a big gulp. Cold and spice, fire and ice. Sweet, sour, bitter, salty... a collision of opposites that was fruity, and rich, and deep... the words 'complex' and 'delicious' did not even begin to describe the drink. It reverberated in his gullet.

"So, Yink tells me you're building this really enormous ship. Are you going to go into trade?" asked Slavvin.

"Well, actually, I'm going on an expedition to The Sacred Jewel nebula in the Golden Tentillum spiral." Harlee couldn't help but feel proud when he said this. Then he remembered the reason for the trip, and felt apprehensive that Slavvin would find out.

"Is that a fact? Well, by the Wealth Creator! That is one Mother of a trip! Hey, this calls for a celebration! Yink's paying for your meal, but your drinks are on me tonight! Here, have another spiced brandy!" Slavvin poured another stream of purple liquid into Harlee's glass. "So let's make a toast to your journey. And tell me, Harlee, why The Sacred Jewel of all places? Why go so far?"

Harlee was ready with the answer for that, but paused for dramatic effect. He poured a little of his drink into Slavvin's Toasting Cup and waited while Slavvin did the same for him, then slammed back a good gulp. He arranged his eyestalks in a theatrical pose and intoned, "Because it is there. No one has ever gone there before."

"That attitude is really fantastic, my boy. That is a long ways, though, and I assume that there are probably going to be many hazards that you will encounter along the way. Have you figured out your flight plan yet?

Harlee tried not to sound self-important. "No I haven't. That's going to be the job of the New Beginning's captain."

"What? You aren't the captain?

"Uh, no, Well, I guess I am co-captain. Or something. But there's a wormoid captain. In fact, there's a full crew of wormoids to run the ship. The New Beginning is too big for me to run all by myself, even with the help of my implant and swarmbots. But I guess the plan is that I tell them where to go, and the captain, ZED-9949, will do the actual piloting."

"Ah, I see. Sounds a bit... complicated. So, when do you depart, Harlee?"

Harlee began to feel that he had overly minimized his own importance to the expedition. "Tomorrow morning sometime, as soon as I decide that everything is squared away and ready for lift off."

Slavvin's eyestalks curled into an impressed smile, "You must be excited."
"Terrified, actually. It's going to be a really long trip. But I want to do something beyond what the sente...." Harlee stopped in confusion. That drink was really strong! He was babbling. He didn't want to talk about his sentence, or his crimes.

Time to change the subject. He waved a tentillum in the air. "But enough about me. How long have you owned this fine establishment?"

Slavvin's four eyestalks slithered around into a grin. "Well, I started working as a table host at a joint on one of the Defense Stations right after secondary school. I wanted to meet some of those big sexy Space Force girls, and have money to spend on clothes to impress them. And it was exciting to be working in space, even if it was only on a space station. I worked hard, and after I saved up some money, I was able to get a loan and open a small café on the station. It was successful, and I eventually had enough capital to open this fine business, here. I was about your age at the time...."

Until their food arrived, Slavvin continued to entertain Harlee with tales of the setbacks, challenges, and triumphs of running a business in the PET hospitality sector. And Harlee drank a second, and then a third of the purple drinks. The Celestial Bug Inn was a warm and happy place, and Harlee was beginning to feel warm and happy, too. He suddenly realized that he had never been so comfortable being around other worms.


#

A service bot slid up to the table and presented a serving board. Slavvin said, "Ah, our food has arrived. Here, Harlee, try our house special, my young friend." He reached over and handed Harlee a bowl of ShinyBlue stew.

Harlee was pleased to see that the room temperature concoction was quite thick, and that the live, three-foot long ShinyBlue beetles, trapped and slowly drowning in seasoned, fermented sweetsap, were still a vibrant, iridescent blue. He suddenly realized he was starving and scooped a big wriggling spoonful into his mouth. Wonderful! The beetles' frantic efforts to escape their fate worked to spread the flavor to all parts of his mouth and gullet. Perfect! The stew was a little spicy, but well within edible limits, both for him and Sparky. The exoskeletons were crunchy and satisfying, and the insides were scrumptiously fatty and creamy.

The service bot also had two tiny dishes for the glinkin. Harlee spooned out a beetle and crushed it with the bottom of his flagon. The insides squirted out and Harlee spooned some of the cooling guts onto Sparky's plate, and put the plate into Sparky's carrier. Slavvin did the same for his glinkin, who had apparently been quietly sitting on the table next to Sparky's carrier.
Except, of course, they had not been sitting quietly.


#

Sparky had thoroughly checked out his medal. The sapphire in it was enormous, and had obviously been 3D printed. Looking deep into it, he could just see strange occlusions, almost like bunches of lines and tiny shapes. It was really quite pretty. But it was also odd. Sparky wasn't sure that he liked it. It wasn't like any sapphire he had seen before, and he had seen more than a few, as Graciousones and glinkin both favored sapphires as glinkin jewelry. Sparky, in fact, had several other sapphire necklaces of his own, that Harlee had given to him. But, he decided, none of them were as interesting as this one.

Next, he tried to follow, without too much success, what Slavvin and Harlee were talking about. He heard a long, low burp combined with a bass rumbling grunt. He had been taught by his father that this was the Graciousone word for "trip," and remembered that Harlee had said something about going on one. That worried him a little. Sparky just hoped that they would return soon, because he had met a beautiful little female glinkin named Blossom at the glinkin exercise park Harlee always used.

Blossom, like Sparky, was a Common Domestic Tophair. She seemed to like him a lot. The first time he had seen her, she had returned his gaze, and had flashed him a beautiful smile. He had seen her a dozen times since, and the last time she had reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing and massaging it assertively. She was fascinating, and he really wanted to see her again. He daydreamed about what he wanted to say to her.

Finally, he glanced over at the other glinkin. Sly was stretched out on the table, heavily muscled arm extended, bald head casually cradled in one large, open hand. He was gazing with amused interest at Sparky through the cage bars. Sparky had the feeling that Sly's amusement had been there for some time.

Sparky had unsettled feelings about the Graciousone talking with Harlee, and he liked Slavvin's glinkin even less. Sly was a Pit Fighter, a hairless race bred for generations to fight other glinkin in (now illegal) barroom and back alley fights, generally to the death. Sly didn't have an ounce of fat on him, and his muscles seemed coiled and ready for violent action at a moment's notice. His attire was even more off-putting: billowy black pants and open black tunic. Swung up onto one muscled shoulder was a chest plate fashioned from a ShinyBlue carapace. Around his neck was a barbaric necklace decorated with several Jewel Bird talons, two Giant Green Nibbler mandibles... and three glinkin ears.

Sly had the Pit Fighter's characteristic air of hyper-confidence, and a hard, competent face that suggested this assurance was not misplaced. With some of the breed, that attitude came across as "spoiling for a fight." With Sly, it translated into an air of insufferable superiority in all things. Sly's condescending smirk told the Universe that he knew more about everything than all the rest of the glinkin (and Graciousones and machines) put together.

And that casual contempt was the worst and crowning moment of what had been a very bad couple of months for Sparky. His troubles had started with the scariness of being taken with Harlee to strange places by obvious Machine Police agents, and then watching them put things in Harlee's head. Then came being stuck in a strange kennel day after day, ignored for hours and days at a time by his Dad. And then not going any more to the exercise park where he could see Blossom again. And now, the nagging worry about Harlee's cheating and what might happen because of it.... Sparky's frustration boiled over. He leaned in Sly's direction and barked, "What! What's your problem, nibbler turd?"

Sly chuckled softly. He leaned back and stretched his arms, then loosened the Chest plate. The necklace rattled softly. He said, "Enjoying your captivity, fellow slave?"

"What in the world are you talking about?"

Slavvin broke out with bitter laughter and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Of course, you know that we glinkin are all slaves, right? Or are you just too stupid to have figured out that little fact?"

This guy was a real jerk. "I am not a slave! Harlee is my adopted Dad. And there hasn't been glinkin slavery for, oh, thousands of years."

Sly laughed again, but he really did not sound amused. "He's not your father, stupid, he's your owner. You are his property, his trained pet, and you perform tricks and run mazes for him. You poor fool, you are totally ignorant about the history of your people. Don't you know that the glinkin used to be free? That they lived separate from the Graciousones, even fighting against them? There were wars, and we got beaten, time after time after time. And then we got enslaved to their ends. They used us as soldiers, couriers, spies, saboteurs. We herded beetles for them! And now the crowning insult: we've become their pets!"

Sparky was nonplussed. Until Harlee had adopted him when he was ten, Sparky had grown up in a glinkin family, in a hobbyist's little glinkin town. His real father had told him tales of past glinkin greatness, of the mighty warriors and the great kings of old, before the glinkin had sinned and fallen from the grace* of the Heavenly Mother.* And his real dad had also told him that there were wild glinkin, and Sparky had even seen one once, at the exercise park: a hairy and dirty half-naked savage dressed in what appeared to be animal skins and torn canvas, not the soft, finely textured cloth pants and vests that Harlee bought for him. The creature had carried a sharp metal stick, and had waved it at Sparky in a threatening manner.

The grub arrived and interrupted the exchange of angry words. The delicious smells, in fact, prompted both glinkin to eagerly jump to their feet and intensely watch Harlee and Slavvin spoon out beetles, crush them, and present their pets with the cooling raw guts. Yum! Sparky didn't know whether Sly liked ShinyBlue guts, but he sure did. Sparky's love of the slimy treat had begun in his youth, when the Owner of the Diorama Village Sparky had lived in had often brought table scraps to his glinkin. He had acquired a taste for the actual bug guts (as opposed to the barely edible GlinkinBitsTM* flavor), and he was not disappointed in this meal. The stew was delicious. The thick sap added just the right amount of sweetness to the warm, raw guts. Sparky ate with relish and ignored Sly.

After a few minutes of silent eating by the two of them, Sly chuckled softly and said, "Enjoying your meal, Sparky? Savor fresh food while you can, fellow slave."

Sparky ignored him.

"Your Master's going on a trip, and taking you with him, right?"

Sigh. "So?"

"You're gonna be gone for a long time, fellow slave. Years. You will probably die on the trip from old age, and you will never eat fresh ShinyBlue stew again."

"You're lying. You can't possible know that."

Sly laughed. It was a nasty, bitter laugh. "I guess I know a lot more Graciousone grunts than you do, pal. I heard my Master talking with another Graciousone about it. Your Master has been building a starship, and it's a really big starship, much bigger than the Trade Ships that I've seen built here. It's designed for what our masters think of as a very long trip.... And you know how long 'long' is for a Graciousone, don't you? They live a lot longer than we do."

Sparky's real father had taught him about the pitfalls of dealing with strange glinkin, and Sparky thought he was a good judge of when someone was lying. (This happened a lot: the main glinkin concern - other than playing with their Graciousones - often seemed to be lying to, and insulting, each another). But he didn't hear any "tells" or see any body language that Sly was lying about this. And Sly's words reinforced what had been, for the whole last month, a dull ache of generalized foreboding that had taken root in his soul. Gone for years on a trip? Oh, Mother Creatrix, could it be true? Sparky's heart took on an added load of darkness.

Though he was trying his best to be guarded (his true father had always told him to keep his feelings to himself around other male glinkin), Sparky's face must have reflected the despair created by Sly's words. Sly laughed again. "Chances are that..."

"Just shut up! Shut up!" Red-tinged anger surged in him and Sparky jumped to his feet. He looked wildly around his box for something to throw. Sly uncurled his tall frame and stood up, clenching his fists and flexing his muscles, cracking his neck. The glinkin glared at each other, spoiling for a fight. But they were suddenly thrown off their feet by a violent shaking of the table, which was now darkened by a large shadow. They looked up and around, and saw that a Graciousone had lightly brushed against the edge of the table and was now bent over Slavvin, whispering into one of Slavvin's auricular flaps.

Slavvin listened for a moment, grunted, and then dismissed the subordinate with an annoyed wave of one tentacle. He turned to Harlee with an apologetic bent to his eyestalks and said, "Will you please excuse me, Harlee? I have some urgent business I must attend to. There are some employee issues that will take a bit of time to resolve, and which, unfortunately, need to be addressed immediately. So I have to leave you for the rest of the evening. But please, enjoy your meal. I'll instruct our live hostess to drop by in a few minutes to see if you need anything." Slavvin entwined his upper tentacles with Harlee's in a formal goodbye. Harlee thanked Slavvin profusely for a lovely evening. Slavvin then picked up Sly, and strode off to the kitchen.


#


*Associated Glossary Listings:


Defense Stations:
All Graciousrealm solar systems are guarded by Defense Stations, automated space fortresses that can vary widely in size, appearance, and armament. These variables depend on the location and function of each station. Defense Stations are The Presence's second leg of the defense triad.


GlinkinBitsTM: A staple of glinkin diet, scientifically designed to provide 100% of all necessary vitamins, minerals, and calories needed for healthy glinkin development. Comes in 31 flavors. Most glinkin hate them.

The Fall From Grace: A primary tenet of the dominant glinkin religion on Yorbolindo.


Heavenly Mother: The primary deity of the dominant glinkin religion on Yorbolindo.

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Next Post: Chapter 15 --- Remembering Ellma
 
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.


#


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.
 
2020-06-11 3:49:49 PM  

BeesNuts: 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


And raising questions whets the appetite.
 
2020-06-11 3:50:57 PM  

Harlee: 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.


Lest you be concerned, yes, I caught that :)  The literal hat was just me having fun, along with the watch.

I'm not drawing 4 more tentacles or tentillum with a mouse in paint, but nice try.
 
2020-06-11 3:56:31 PM  

Harlee: BeesNuts: 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

And raising questions whets the appetite.


Question samples:
How and when did human beings go to space?
Hell when in time is this even HAPPENING?
Hm... Are we treating animals ethically on earth?
Would we treat an "inferior" species ethically in space?
Why are human beings alien pets?
And what even ARE these aliens?  Do they have like... an agenda?

And by *completely* ignoring the DI/Swarm/Graciousone symbiosis thing you give yourself something completely unseen by readers to introduce with this book, keeping the mystery of the Spyballs a mystery for the first few chapters, as designed.

I, for one, am really diggin' on this particular seed of an idea.

/Not specifically my take on it
//Just the central idea of a rambunctious Glinkin embarking on a prison-break/alien adventure.
///There are a lot of directions you could take that in without causing any harm to your central story
 
2020-06-11 3:59:31 PM  
Oh, and now I want a sleepyhut(tm)  Somebody get to work on that please.
 
2020-06-11 4:05:24 PM  

BeesNuts: 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 abo ...


Like... a good way to conceptualize the first person perspective while keeping her humanity close to the vest would be simply pretending to write from the perspective of a dog at westminster*.  Let's the audience just kind of get lost in the experience without worrying overmuch about the character they are seeing it through.

A good example of this is The Heart of Darkness.  We never even learn the name of the first narrator, but it is ONLY through his POV that we learn the true nature of Marlow.  And it's only from Marlow's POV that we learn the true nature of the events that transpired.  The first narrator acts, but doesn't feel the need to really reflect on themselves so much as on what's going on around them.

It's a useful vibe.

*I ... kind of wanna read that book too... lol
 
2020-06-11 4:13:44 PM  

Noah_Tall: Harlee: Noah_Tall: Show, don't tell.  It's one of the essential credos for all story writing.  Your prologue was story writing. Everything that follows is a history book. It is the world building information that authors use to keep their story consistent. The scaffolding they use to build their story then remove once the story is done.

I agree. But at least it's not charts and graphs. Harriet hates those.

It picks up, with a lot more white space, more action, and less narrative starting with Chapter 6 (above). The first five chapters, some 13,000 words, do indeed act as a history and context.... which is what The Presence said he wanted to convey. And - since it is all essentially flashback - it tends to narrative. My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

In other words, that scaffolding is part of the story. Discarding it would IMO lessen the story.

But then again, every mother thinks their baby is the most beautiful one in the world....

If you weren't a Farker and you hadn't asked for commentary I would have given up on this after the first couple days. It's your book so it's your choice. But what does your satisfaction with the story matter if nobody reads it?  What you used as an example of audience confusion, Harlee's DI, is a good example of how you are wrong.  You said

My fear, when writing it that way, was that leaving it out would leave the reader going WTF? due to the utter strangeness of some of the concepts (such as DI implants inside the brain, meaning that Harlee essentially has a Jaynes-like artificially-created bicameral brain).

But the brief explanation from The Presence and Harlee's own interactions with Echo makes the entire concept clear. In fact the Presences own explanation could have been reduced to AI is d ...


I'd echo everything said here, with the caveat that if the *technical distinction between AI and DI* ends up being really relevant to the narrative, it could stand as is.  There's a couple things in there, where if there's no payoff, it might be worth ditching any references to it in the story, especially if explaining them is "clunky".

There's a series that's basically Horatio Hornblower in space with a Lady Captain called the Honor Harrington series.  In the first book, it spends what I would call "way too long" talking about all the technology they use.  How they travel faster than light, how this gravity bending business also serves as their defacto shield, how this impacted space-battle tactics, etc.  Seemed pointless.  Now, 7 books in, I'll be reading about a battle and I'll find myself chuckling at obvious mistakes made by Honor's opponents without the author even having to point out that they were mistakes.

Sometimes, it pays off and it works, is my point.
 
2020-06-11 4:23:05 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 ...


I also just now realized that we're in a super-extended exposition wherein the Presence is explaining all this shiat to Harriet, in a way.

Not being sure how, I might suggest think