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  • 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

  • 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.

    ###

  • 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....
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • HARLEE

    can you please please try to publish a book?
    I would pay alot to view it
  • 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"
  • 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.
  • This is a bookmark...and a bad pun
  • 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.)
  • Theaetetus: [Fark user image 466x281]


    I agree.
  • 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

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • Chapter 4 - The Presence

    (Post 2 of 2)

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

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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

    #

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

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

    #


    *Associated Glossary Listings:


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

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

    Shadowed Pool: The mystical name for the Wraith Tentillum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    There are two forms of recharging.

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

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

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

    #



    Next Post: Chapter 5 --- Of Swarms and Implants
  • Chapter 5 - Of Swarms and Implants


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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    #

    *Associated Glossary Listings:


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


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

    #


    Next Post: Chapter 6 --- New Orders
  • 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.
  • Chapter 6 - New Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Uh, uh...."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

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

    "What? Why are you afraid, honey?

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

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

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

    #


    *Associated Glossary Listings:


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


    Next Post: Chapter 7 --- Construction Asteroid #3
  • 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....
  • 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
  • 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.
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