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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But the brief explanation from The Presence and Harlee's own interactions with Echo makes the entire concept clear. In fact the Presences own explanation could have been reduced to AI is d ...


    I'd echo everything said here, with the caveat that if the *technical distinction between AI and DI* ends up being really relevant to the narrative, it could stand as is.  There's a couple things in there, where if there's no payoff, it might be worth ditching any references to it in the story, especially if explaining them is "clunky".

    There's a series that's basically Horatio Hornblower in space with a Lady Captain called the Honor Harrington series.  In the first book, it spends what I would call "way too long" talking about all the technology they use.  How they travel faster than light, how this gravity bending business also serves as their defacto shield, how this impacted space-battle tactics, etc.  Seemed pointless.  Now, 7 books in, I'll be reading about a battle and I'll find myself chuckling at obvious mistakes made by Honor's opponents without the author even having to point out that they were mistakes.

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

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

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

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


    I also just now realized that we're in a super-extended exposition wherein the Presence is explaining all this shiat to Harriet, in a way.

    Not being sure how, I might suggest thinking of a way to make that feel more natural.  Maybe let Harriet interject and ask a question of the Presence to remind us that she's the one for whose benefit this story is being shared?  Assuming I'm interpreting things correctly, of course.

    /So tricky to critically assess the effectiveness of certain literary choices when the whole work isn't there yet.
  • "From where he stood in the entry airdoor, the opposite wall displayed a built-in 700-foot holographic vision screen. This was showing a view from the construction site. The overhead early-evening crescent Yorbolindo, ablaze with the lights of its floating cities, dominated the sky. It was so realistic that it captivated Harlee just as much as the sight of the real thing had. Directly under the screen stretched a long, comfortable looking couch, eminently suitable for napping or lounging. It faced a luxury easy chair in the exact center of the room, which, in turn, allowed a perfect view of the wall screen."

    It is at this specific point and this point only that I thought:
    "Weird that I'm in Harlee's point of view and he's thinking in "feet".  Shouldn't he be thinking in tentacles or something?  We were never told how long a tentacle was on average, but if the creatures themselves are 110' tall, you could give them a tentacles length of something similar like 110 or 115'.  Then, something like a 700 foot screen would be described by Harlee as a "Six and a half T screen."

    Meditating on this idea more, you've made it a point to emphasize the way the Graciousone physiology impacts their movement, but not really their perception (up to chapter 12 now).  Would he be looking *just* at the screen, or glancing around with his other eyes and leveraging the 360 degree vision?  For high-impact emotional moments of sharp sensory clarity, such as taking command of his starship, it would be reasonable for him to try and take in everything.

    I know we've been giving you shiat over "too much detail" but extra focus on details in the correct places can be a tool, for sure.

    That's basically my advice overall.  If it's not in direct service of your story, consider cutting it out or including it in a more natural way.  If details can be used to alter the readers experience in service of the narrative, go for it.

    You're not *way* off.  But I think a revision with that mentality, and a "changeable" outline would turn this from a project into a real novel.  Or even potentially a series.
  • In case you haven't gathered yet, I'm reading this like an editor now lol.  Two chapters, then go back one and read two chapters.  Slow going but it really helps solidify plot points, descriptions, etc and it helps me evaluate whether things might work better in a different order or with a different emphasis.

    If you want more granular thoughts about specific passages, lemme know.  I'll be shooting you an email.

    But honestly, I don't think you need that level of help.  Just a willingness to go through what you've already done and simply massage it for while.  It'll probably get more and more clear how the pieces fit together as it gets closer to completion.

    Keep at it and I hope to see more.  I'll keep the rest of my thoughts on the contents of this thread to personal correspondence so they can close this thread if they like.
  • BeesNuts: I also just now realized that we're in a super-extended exposition wherein the Presence is explaining all this shiat to Harriet, in a way.


    Yeeeeeessss.... Did I mention that The Presence is a manipulative bastard? There's a reason (which will emerge in due course) that he selected her as First Contact, and talked her into hearing and recording the story.

    Not being sure how, I might suggest thinking of a way to make that feel more natural. Maybe let Harriet interject and ask a question of the Presence to remind us that she's the one for whose benefit this story is being shared? Assuming I'm interpreting things correctly, of course.

    That's one of the things I've been toying with to make the initial chapters (after the Prologue) less narrative (telling) and more showing). And, yes, reminding the reader, as you said.  But it's tricky.
  • BeesNuts: Harlee: BeesNuts: Harlee: BeesNuts: Of all the things I have ever hastily drawn from a description I read, this is the most insane.

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

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

    Needs EIGHT tentacles, which branch into tentillum.

    And Echo is implanted inside the braincase. (The Graciousones have hacked their species into being bicameral entities along the lines of Julian Jaynes' theories.

    Lest you be concerned, yes, I caught that :)  The literal hat was just me having fun, along with the watch.

    I'm not drawing 4 more tentacles or tentillum with a mouse in paint, but nice try.


    ZOMFG you did that in PAINT? Daaaayum.
  • BeesNuts: And raising questions whets the appetite.

    Question samples:
    How and when did human beings go to space?
    Hell when in time is this even HAPPENING?
    Hm... Are we treating animals ethically on earth?
    Would we treat an "inferior" species ethically in space?
    Why are human beings alien pets?
    And what even ARE these aliens? Do they have like... an agenda?

    And by *completely* ignoring the DI/Swarm/Graciousone symbiosis thing you give yourself something completely unseen by readers to introduce with this book, keeping the mystery of the Spyballs a mystery for the first few chapters, as designed.

    I, for one, am really diggin' on this particular seed of an idea.

    /Not specifically my take on it
    //Just the central idea of a rambunctious Glinkin embarking on a prison-break/alien adventure.
    ///There are a lot of directions you could take that in without causing any harm to your central story


    That would be a "yes" to all.
  • BeesNuts: Harlee: BeesNuts: Of all the things I have ever hastily drawn from a description I read, this is the most insane.

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

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


    You know what? I actually like that hat.

    Harlee secretly sent Ellma new hats, so hats are a thing. I think I'll include that in somewhere..
  • Chapter 31 - Struts

    (Post 1 of 2)


    The sleet of high-energy photons and marginally slower EMP had broken against the lander's forcefield-hardened hull. Newly refreshed monitors showed, some nine miles away, the roiling cloud of a tactical nuke blast. As far as BNZ-82431 could tell, the evil pillar of smoke was just about where the second medical transport was supposed to have landed. Hatches opened and he stepped aside as two hundred Graciousone infantry, two thousand BattleBots,* and fifty General Supervisor wormoids charged out to lock down the landing site. There wasn't too much danger, though; Struts stumbled down the ramp and stared at piles of unmoving wormoid and bot chassis and (worse) parts of chassis, scattered across a smoke-choked, pocked landscape. Bright green hydraulic fluid was everywhere.

    There was also the bright red of Graciousone blood. There were Graciousone bodies there as well. Well, parts of bodies, Struts numbly clarified to himself. And blood. Lots of blood. They were Graciousone suicides. Wormoid troops and bots, obedient to orders to capture the rebels unharmed, had closed to physical contact... and had been blown apart by explosives worn by the rebels and self-detonated. It was a scene from a Graciousone hell.

    Not for the first or last time, Struts cursed the Graciousone-like emotions The Presence had given to DIs. The argument of The Presence was valid: without emotions, wormoids were not fully conscious. That was fine, but Struts often thought that, during the ongoing process of all of his various upgrades, that he had somehow received a surfeit of them.

    #


    He had come off the assembly line as a Class 1 wormoid mechanic, a barely-Sapient DI with an intelligence rating only slightly higher than that of a bot. His job was preventative maintenance on wormoid tentacle power links, a highly defined task set. But then the Owner Rebellion had begun. It escalated to civil war. The interstellar strife over The Presence's economic reforms caused many wormoid casualties, so Struts' neural gel had been augmented, and sensor arrays, data sets, and programs were hurriedly updated. He then qualified as the wormoid equivalent of a medical doctor, able to repair or replace combat-damaged wormoid body parts. The fighting had increased, and mounting Graciousone casualties on both sides compelled even more upgrades. These included enormous data sets that included exhaustive knowledge of Graciousone anatomy and medical procedures. Struts had not originally been designed as a Total Physician, but he had been upgraded to the point where he almost was one.

    He was also a hero... though it never occurred to him that he was. Struts was an atheist. Yet he carried out his assigned missions with a grim and efficient competence, even though he feared the extinction of his mind. He feared termination with the cold certainty of a self-aware entity who believed that, when a Graciousone died or a DI powernulled, the person defined by the neuronic, electromagnetic, and gravitonic waveforms generated by that individual's brain simply ceased to exist.

    He was therefore not a Universist. He answered that religion's tenets as follows: Yes, of course it was true that ultra-sensitive waveform analysis of the cosmos proved that it displayed the same types of neuronic fields as those produced by living brains. And yes, tests showed that the waveforms of living brains, though gradually attenuated, expanded to great distances. But no, he held that those waveforms eventually attenuated to zero, and that there was no evidence for what he believed was a naïve Universist assumption that those fields merged into the Universal Field at time of death or powernull. Struts rejected Universism's central faith: that Life was the means by which the Universe knew itself; that living things existed to observe and remember, and at death merge their data (and their own mentally generated waveforms) into the very fabric of the Universe.

    Struts' atheism was the source not only of fear, but also of horror. As a combat doctor, he was overwhelmed with damaged and suffering patients, both wormoid and Graciousone. Explosives, bullets, lasers, particle beams, nuclear bombs, and gravity cannon did unspeakable damage to wormoid and Graciousone bodies, and triage was an omnipresent burden. Many of the wounded powernulled or died. Every byte of his programming and will was dedicated to saving lives. The losses - and the waste and tragedy and the rage over minds gone forever - disturbed his thought routines right down to his root programming.

    Struts had PTSD, and he was an astute enough physician to recognize that fact. He came to an accommodation with it. Throughout the reality of the long years of civil war, he ruthlessly muzzled its expression when he toiled to patch bodies back together. And, when wakened from buzzer-induced dreams (wherein he always failed to stand against upwelling floods of hydraulic fluid and blood), he gave in to frenzy in the privacy of his soundproofed quarters, bellowing his rage, and smashing his carbon steel tentacles against specially fabricated pillows....

    #


    In his office on the New Beginning, the flashback in the sequestered area of Struts' neural net faded. The greater part of his active consciousness returned to the medical task of replacing a malfunctioning pressure sensor in a shuttle crewmember's top left tentacle. He saw that he was just finishing up. The install looked good. He racked the multi-meter and surgical screwdriver he had used to calibrate the new chipset, and then rotated the wormoid's tentacle carapace back into place. "You're all good here," Struts told his patient, who looked relieved. "This might feel a bit different until you get used to the tighter differentiation ratios. Why don't you drop by in a few days and let me know how things are working out?"

    The wormoid thanked him and left. Struts checked the Repair Roster, found it clear, and shuffled over to check on his two assistants. In the tradition of research assistants everywhere, these wormoids were doing the boss's grunt work and reviewing the latest raw data just garnered from Struts' genetics project. There were no surprises in the data. Everything seemed to be fine, so Struts pensively wandered into his inner private office.

    It always felt strange for a few moments, he thought, when he reintegrated his streams of consciousness. He had found that if he compartmentalized - used one set of neural circuits for medical duties, another to spool the bad memories, and a third to insure that his reactions did not escape their assigned circuits - that the trauma memories slowly became less stressful. He had thought that tedious repetition over the centuries had made them familiar and therefore quiescent, and it bothered him that these memories had now forced their way back into his consciousness. The war was long over, and Struts had thought he had conquered this particular demon. Perhaps, he thought, the stress of his new job had awakened it. The looming challenge of his Graciousone patient was a real thing now, not just a theory that had turned into an obsession, which had taken two thousand years to research and validate.

    #


    The obsession had been unleashed by those remembered horrors. In turn, the obsession, coupled with the passage of time, had helped the horror fade. It now all seemed quite academic. Struts understood the dynamics of economic and technological change, and the ideological and historical reasons for the war were clear. He understood why the economic elites had resisted the overturn of the old system. He saw the psychological blinders that kept them from embracing the need for change. What had baffled him, though, was the underlying reason for the Graciousones' proclivity to make war as a means of resolving differences.

    He had trivially concluded that the crucial cause was biological. Graciousone personality traits were formed in three ways: data imprinted from the environment; random chemical effects during gestation and in the birth pond; and genetics. Struts believed that the primary factor was a primitive set of atavistic mental traits passed down through the twisting "good enough" funhouse corridors of evolution, and in any case, the first two factors were beyond his ability to analyze and control. The key was that, unlike wormoids, flesh-and-blood beings were biologically cursed to compete against each other for survival. Struggle for life-giving resources was biatch-nature's mechanism for selecting who lived to breed new generations.

    The last thousand-plus years of violent excess, from the genocidal Consolidation Wars onward, clearly showed that this survival trait was no longer optimal. It now threatened the very existence of the Graciousone species. The realization ignited a fire of purpose in him. If the trait was hardwired into Graciousone thought patterns, it was possible that it could be excised via DNA splicing and genetic editing. Struts had access to the full database of Graciousone DNA. He vowed to make it his business to discover the cause, and devise a means of eliminating it.

    #


    He had not found it in the Graciousone DNA database. There were plenty of correlations between neuron/synapse DNA coding and aggression, but the confidence level of the statistics never really "popped" to show overwhelming proof of concept. Struts analyzed the methodology and concluded that a key factor was missing, DNA coding changes and aggression level changes over time. He needed several generations of study subjects, and broad data of that nature was not available for many prior generations of Graciousone.

    ...but it was for glinkin. Or it would be, within a reasonable timeframe.

    The average live expectancy of Graciousones was now approaching 3,000 years, and new generations were born about every 500 years. A sound baseline for analysis was ten generations, and five thousand years was far too long a time to wait for results. There was also a problem of degree: correlations would be clearer against a backdrop of drastic change, and Graciousones, for all the savagery of their last dozen spasms of mechanized and technological warfare, had actually become less axe-crazy compared to the barbarous period of, say, the Locusian Empire of forty thousand years (or about eighty generations) prior.

    Until their near-universal inoculation with medical nanobots, the lifespan of domesticated glinkin had only been around 100 years, with new generations around every 20 years. But wild glinkin, especially the variants discovered on new worlds, often had life spans of fewer than 50 years, and first bred at estrus, often as young as 10 or 12 years of age. There was, of course, vast diversity of expression between Graciousone and glinkin DNA, but proof of concept was what Struts was after at this point, and he assumed that the same general evolutionary factors that governed violent response to competition for resources would apply to both species. What Struts needed, therefore, was a breedable test population of glinkin, preferably one that was sufficiently wild to breed rapidly and still be axe-crazy.

    Obtaining a test population of such glinkin was... difficult. The transition of glinkin from snack and work animal to pampered pet had been accompanied by an increasing concern, by the kind of fusspot busybody Graciousworms who were consumed with such crusades, over aspects of their treatment. The media-fueled rage against Maze Racing excess had paled into nothingness compared to the twin uproars, two thousand years prior, over cruelty in glinkin testing and the unregulated wholesale taking of wild glinkin from their home worlds.

    Even in many of the past authoritarian regimes, laws had been created that tangled and entwined research on glinkin in massive amounts of pink tape. Well, domestic glinkin research, that is. Though most governments had passed versions of the Wild Glinkin Conservation Act, the research rules for wild glinkin were somewhat more flexible. What Struts needed was a reliable source of newly discovered wild glinkin. And he knew a worm....

    #


    During the course of the civil war, Struts had saved thousands of damaged wormoids and wounded Graciousones on half a hundred worlds. One of those Graciousones, a certain Jebbelic Klemorka, was a shady importer/smuggler of wild glinkin. When open hostilities between the new Presence-controlled revolutionary government and Owner holdouts had begun, he had found himself stranded on the rebel-controlled mining world of Riotinto* with 20,853 glinkin snatched from their home world three years before.

    These glinkin had not yet been inoculated with medical nanobots. The generic nanobots themselves were produced by the relatively new FARP system, but the suspension serums and aerosol delivery systems to mass-inoculate groups of wild glinkin were PET-produced, highly technical in nature, and therefore expensive. The glinkin (traumatized survivors, Struts learned, of an interstellar voyage of 688 light years) had originally numbered over 40,000, but had not been protected against cell damage from Entanglement Drive particle intrusion.

    (From the glinkin smuggler's perspective, this loss ratio was actually favorable; normal attrition hovered around 53%, and the odious glinkin-trade economics of the time dictated that the breakeven point of collection cost versus inoculation cost was a 60.7% attrition rate. Below that percentage, it was cheaper just to go get more glinkin. Survivors were inoculated only after arrival at point-of-sale worlds, and sale to wholesalers.)

    Most of Jebbelic's stock-in-trade had therefore suffered from at least some cell damage from the voyage. Additional trauma had then been piled on from radiation and fallout from a nearby rebel atomic bomb explosion. The world was a chaos-filled war zone overrun with Owner resistance fighters and wealth-cult suicide bombers. There were no glinkin medical nanobots to be had anywhere, at any price, and Jebbelic was facing financial ruin. He had begged Struts' help in saving his glinkin.

    Struts, not suffering from the Graciousone obsession over the little animals, knew little about glinkin, and, overall, didn't specifically care about them. But they were living things, and they suffered, and Struts' excess empathy came to the fore when his dataset about glinkin, and this specific group of glinkin, had grown. He acted.

    It was a simple matter for him to download, from the dreadnaught's vast GraciousNet knowledge store, the complete veterinary database for glinkin and the specifications for Ellenox Skuloshomat's glinkin-specific medical nanobots. He programmed the ship's matter fabbers to print up batches of nanobots, serum, and aerosol injectors. He had saved almost all of Jebbelic's glinkin, and Jebbelic (though he had secretly sided with the rebels) had, in a drunken moment, sworn a Toasting Cup Debt* to Struts.

    After the war, Struts had tracked down Jebbelic and called in that debt. He had asked the smuggler to find and collect a supply of aggressive wild glinkin. He had supplied the smuggler with an EE-service-converted surplus military transport and enough medical nanobots for 50,000 glinkin, all obtained via artfully ambiguous Graciousrealm grant applications.

    Jebbelic found a perfect test population on a fetid jungle world. The glinkin "civilization" there was at a bronze-age skulls-for-the-skull-throne phase of civic leadership. He abducted 36,882 glinkin by the simple expedient of enclosing an entire ancient walled city, and much of the surrounding crop and herd grazing areas, in the concentric rosettes of 127 three-quarter mile diameter CISC spheres. These were settled into ESSH pits installed in the ship's main cargo deck. Bot-driven enviro-hookups in each cradle replaced groundwater and spring irrigation to the farmlands, and even recreated the severed connections to the fresh water inflows and wastewater outflows of the primitive glinkin plumbing system. Hookups fed matter-fabber-created nutritious GlinkinBitsTM through supply ports in each farm and city home.

    Most of the glinkin survived the twelve-year trip. The group, in fact, actually increased as the externally controlled medical nanobots banished disease and most genetic defects, and helped midwife glinkin childbirth. Patrolling sentry bots prevented most of the fatalities from fights and sacrificial rituals.

    #


    Struts now had his test population. He kept them in the converted transport, which was placed in a parking orbit around Yorbolindo. Each glinkin was genetically analyzed, tagged and grouped, and Struts moved his research lab and personal quarters into the transport's Spartan accommodations. He spent the next 820 years doing exhaustive statistical analysis, comparing the aggression levels of forty glinkin generations to the genetic components in each glinkin's brain that were analyzed by the medical nanobots.

    To speed things along, Struts forced glinkin behavioral evolution. In each generation, the more violent half of each glinkin test group was chemically culled from the gene pool. In rare cases, for particularly violent glinkin that habitually threatened other test subjects, there was a physical culling. Struts could not stomach the idea of euthanasia, so these glinkin were simply removed from the ship and sold to specialist maze-game breeders on Yorbolindo who were in the market for glinkin breeding stock with hypercompetitive instincts.

    He found a correlation, but it was not precise. There seemed to be a relationship between certain DNA patterns and violence, but as far as Struts was concerned, the p-values* did not have sufficient rigor. The results pointed in the right direction, but there seemed to be a missing piece of the puzzle. He spent another three decades minutely re-examining all the measurements and re-computing the correlations, and he came to the same unsatisfactory conclusions. Struts had 8,950 petabytes of data that had been analyzed and compared in every conceivable way, and he could not get a p-value under .0008.

    Struts was being forced to the conclusion that the factors he had originally discounted, gestation and environmental imprints, also affected violence in major fundamental ways. There was, however, a plethora of other studies that compellingly demonstrated that these factors were not sufficient to explain the entire difference. He was at an impasse.

    #


    Then Struts had an unrelated snapperbar* conversation with a physicist acquaintance. That wormoid mentioned Thread Theory, which suggested that the universe was made up of invisibly small threads of energy that warped and interacted in various ways to form quarks and leptons. What fascinated Struts about the theory was that it required more physical dimensions than the three dimensions normally visible to measurement. The total number of these was open to dispute, but even one extra dimension, depending on how it was configured, could explain the 40-orders-of-magnitude difference in the strength of gravity, compared to the other three natural forces. The mathematics suggested that the difference was explained as gravity being diluted by propagating in all physical dimensions, whereas the other three forces were creatures solely of the visible three.

    Some time later, it occurred to Struts that this dilution meant that the tiny graviton must physically intrude into the hidden dimensions. He abruptly realized that, if Thread Theory were true, the folds of DNA in the neurons and synapses... composed as they were of atoms that were made of quarks and leptons, which were made of Threads, which inhabited more than just three dimensions... might influence thought and personality in subtle ways. Could directed, coherent graviton beams be used to map those hidden dimensions? Could they search for fold patterns that could statistically correlate with his other data?

    In theory, they could, and Struts finagled another grant to build a state-of-the-art graviton beam generator that created and focused a single, ultra-precise stream of coherent gravitons. He found the correlation. It took another two centuries to research and set up the parameters, and a decade of quantum computer calculation, but he discovered a crucial set of quark "foldings" in certain neurons that intruded (or rather failed to fully-intrude) into the hidden dimensions. These dimensions were where an individual glinkin or Graciousone's brain "received" the subtle and exceedingly faint gravitonic waveforms broadcast by other brains. They were the only physical place where they could be clearly received, free from the noise of electromagnetic and neuronic waves that propagated only in 3D space.

    The degree of intrusion was governed, of course, by genetics. Struts discovered that this factor, coupled and factored with the genetic data, correlated directly with a whole range of types of sociopathological behavior. It was not just the aggression of warfare that was impacted. Struts had discovered where empathy resided.

    #


    Chapter continues next post


    *Associated Glossary Listings:


    BattleBot:
    A Sapient form of the Warbot and a non-Graciousone form precursor to the General Supervisor Wormoids.


    Riotinto: A Graciousone mining world in the Yorbolindo Sector, owned in total by the Galty Family Mining Consortium. Sparsely populated, the planet had been originally settled by Graciousones who were criminals or debt-employed by the Consortium, as well as by a small number of family members who acted in supervisory capacities.
    The only habitable portion of the planet is an ancient geological wound known as Galty's Gully, which - prior to the Revolution and the Owner Rebellion - had been run by the family as if it were a feudal land-hold.
    A few billion years ago, two worlds in the Riotinto solar system collided. The result was an extensive asteroid field of planetary fragments, including a number of jagged shards from the metallic cores of both worlds. Over billions of years, most of the other fragments had eventually been swept up by the system's gas giants, but one of these shards had escaped that fate, and had been just small and rigid enough to resist deformation into a sphere by its own gravity.
    Rather, it had been shaped like an axe blade: eight hundred miles long by a hundred miles thick with a wedge-shaped ten to sixty miles width. It was mainly iron and nickel, doped with several thousand megatons of other heavy metals. It had slammed edgewise, "blade" down, into Riotinto. The impact sterilized a good chunk of the planet, blew a significant portion of the atmosphere into space, and vaporized part of the lithosphere. It created a hundred-mile wide and forty-mile deep gash that ran for almost a thousand miles along Riotinto's surface. Aside from a covering of a few dozen to a few hundred feet of dirt and clay, the floor of the chasm was an amalgamation of solid once-molten metals, going down miles.
    Mining operations were complicated by the need of wearing pressure suits, as forty miles depth of additional atmosphere lay in the chasm. Fatalities were a common daily occurrence. This was not really an issue, though, as most of the dead were either criminal or debt-indentured Graciousones, who were considered to be drags on society.


    Toasting Cup Debt: A Graciousone debt of honor, sworn during a Toasting Cup Ceremony. It can be highly specific as to content, as in a legalistic contract, or general, as in "Someday you may have need of my services in some capacity, which I hereby pledge without reserve." By 100,000 years of tradition, the performance of a Toasting Cup Debt is considered to supersede all other oaths and loyalties.


    P-Value: In statistical hypothesis testing, the p-value is the probability given for a statistical model that, when the null hypothesis is true, the statistical summary (such as the sample mean difference between two compared groups) would be the same as, or of greater magnitude than, the actual observed results. The use of p-values in statistical hypothesis testing is common in many fields of research, such as economics, finance, political science, psychology, biology, criminal justice, criminology, and sociology.


    Snapperbar: A wormoid boxbar that serves cheap snappers.

    #


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

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

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


    You seem to worry about this sort of thing waaaaaaay too much. People flesh out the world of a short story in their own minds all the time.  The strength of a story is in the telling of that story, not in the precision of its detail.

    Answer me this. How many times have you discussed with friends stories you've read and some variation of "I've always pictured her/him/it as..." and the images you had in mind were completely different?

    Go grab a short story fantasy or science fiction book that you own and love.  Find a story about an alien race or fantasy creature.  Now go through the story and look for descriptions and details.  You will likely find that the details are just as lacking as your memory of "Of Men and Monsters" but the difference is the story hooked you with what was happening.
  • Chapter 31 - Struts


    (Post 2 of 2)


    He published, of course. There were perhaps a hundred other DIs (and no Graciousones) who understood the paper. One of those DIs was, of course, The Presence, and he quickly issued a two-pronged edict.

    First, ethical considerations must be followed. Changes in the dimensional folds of quarks might create a whole range of subtle effects to the physical structure of the brain. These changes could affect the personality of the patient. Extreme care must be taken to assure that potential changes (whether to Graciousone or even glinkin brain tissue, or to wormoid neural gel) were identified and agreed to by the patient in advance of any procedure.

    Second, regardless of the desirability of expunging anti-social behavior The Presence decreed that empathy differences in a society were (within limits) actually a good thing. They created varying opinions and behavior, and the special fires of selfish passion that (when safely channeled) ultimately advanced the whole of civilization. A lack of empathy was not, therefore, to be adjusted on a whim, but only after long and careful study of the effects.

    And when Harlee Salkenesta was busted for his crimes, Struts was at the top of the list to accompany the Graciousone on his epic voyage. Struts had volunteered for the trip; it was, after all, a chance to test his research on a live, willing Graciousone. However, something about the tone of the discussion... and the alacrity with which The Presence agreed to transfer the entire test population from the transport to the New Beginning... suggested to Struts that The Presence preferred that Struts be on a long absence from the Graciousrealm, while The Presence pondered the ramifications of this new knowledge.


    #


    Thinking this, he thought that it had been some time since he had checked on his glinkin, and he turned on his office holotank to view them in their new quarters. His test subjects had drastically decreased in numbers over forty generations. Despite the absence of warfare, their technical sophistication had increased, and they progressively relied less on their farms for basic foods, growing luxury crops instead, and seeming to prefer (unlike all other glinkin) the GlinkinBitsTM that were supplied to each home for their basic fare. Between Struts' efforts at culling aggression from the gene pool, and the glinkins' realization that they no longer needed large families to bring in harvests, the population now numbered 3,949 individuals. The original 127 ESSH cradles had been gradually reduced to 37 sites, divided now between small farms devoted to a few favored foods, parkland, and small, single family mounds. The ancient walled city, with its passages, hidden rooms, and catacombs, had been abandoned centuries before, but remained as an ESSH site.

    Though the number of cradles was smaller, their addition to the ship's cargo roster had still created friction with Scooter. The central deck originally had 560 of the 4000-foot diameter ESSH pits. The deck was divided by bulkheads into three concentric rings of eight octants each. As configured, none of the resulting 24 spaces had exactly 37 ESSH cradles. Furthermore, the ship's 560 cradles were not in rosette patterns. Rather, they were spaced out with roughly a quarter mile of deck between each cradle to allow for maintenance and bulkhead positioning.

    Scooter's engineers removed eight of the original ESSH cradles, and repositioned another 37. They installed the 37 new CISC spheres, in their rosette pattern, in two of the octants nearest the Safety Sphere. They repositioned several bulkheads, both to allow free access between all the research cradles and to safely confine the test subjects inside the resulting sealed compartment. The cradles were now in a tightly packed 20 square mile area, roughly four and a half miles on a side. The remodel to do all this had required structural changes and cargo shifts elsewhere on the New Beginning to rebalance the ship's mass distribution.

    The move had also inadvertently created a "turf" dispute with BZLY-16841. As the New Beginning's Commander of Shuttle Operations, Buzzly's responsibilities included the personal inspection, analysis, and tentative vetting of all non-Graciousrealm life forms prior to their being brought on board the ship. His reports on such matters were then delivered to the ship's Science and Operations Officer, NXL-112010. Nexialt would correlate the facts in his reports with other pertinent data and forward a summary to the Chief Medical Officer who, prior to the life form(s) being brought on board, would give approval for the transfer. With integrated databases and DI decision-making capabilities, this bureaucratic nitpicking may have seemed like overkill, but the common-DNA cosmos often brought forth life forms that appeared innocuous but were actually both sneaky and deadly. The added layers of bureaucratic oversight were a relatively efficient and foolproof method of avoiding infestations and plagues.


    Fark user imageView Full Size


    Schematic of New Beginning's Primary ESSH Deck

    However, in the rush to get the ship ready, this procedure had not been followed with Struts' test glinkin. Buzzly had not been included in the information loop. The glinkin had come aboard without his knowledge, much less his approval. That somewhat sensitive wormoid had complained to Nexialt. This had resulted in many post-transfer Official Memos. Now, as he watched the glinkin on his office holotank, Struts remembered the kerfuffle and paused to send Buzzly an IM, politely asking whether he needed any more information.

    One factor that had not been divulged in the memos was the effect that the move to the New Beginning had had on the glinkin. To Struts, it seemed like his glinkin were increasingly suffering from some sort of existential ennui. There had been a small but increasing percentage over the years of what Struts diagnosed as clinical depression. Since the move, he had seen what he interpreted as forlorn expressions on many of their little faces, and he had asked himself many times whether the move had created psychological issues. He couldn't fully explain it yet, and he thought it would be an excellent topic to discuss with Roggers at some future date, after he had compiled more data.

    Speaking of which.... His appointment tracker program chimed him about his meeting. He put thoughts of his test glinkin on hold, turned away from the holotank display, and ambled into the outer-office medical bay to greet Roggers.


    #



    Though they had known of each other through published papers and mutual reputation, Struts had first met Roggers just ten days before the ship's launch, during the evolution when the wormoid crew had boarded the semi-completed ship. Struts had evaluated Roggers at that time with some reservation, and, as Roggers strode through the airdoor, he did so again. Struts and the mental health profession had a history.

    When he became aware of his miss-performing neural gel circuits, Struts had of course informed his superiors. Mental illness had first been seen by Graciousone society with much fear and superstition, and it had taken many medical advances and education to make Graciousones understand that mental illness was like any other disease: not the fault of the patient, and (more or less) treatable. As with Graciousone mental illness, there were definite provisions in the law that protected wormoids with such issues. Essentially, if a wormoid could perform his or her job functions satisfactorily, and not harm individuals or society by her or his actions, then that wormoid was free to sort out their issues in their own way, and could not be forced to undergo corrective neural gel replacement or modification, or any other kind of therapy. But a mentally ill wormoid might be required to undergo the hassle of a periodic cautionary and intrusive psychological review. Struts had experienced this each century since the end of the war. He necessarily viewed Roggers as a potential snoop.

    Nevertheless, he greeted Roggers heartily, wiggling eyestalks and linking upper tentacles in the Graciousone manner of professional camaraderie. "Hello, hello, Roggers, how are things in the world of the mind?"

    "Greetings, Struts, the matters of the mind go well. Just today I attained another sub-level in Garthuna, and I'm thinking of writing a small paper about the experience."

    Ah. Struts' nature was to grab the Piercing Beetle* by its horns. He liked to be proactive when his personal psychological well-being was under discussion. "One day we must sit down and discuss Garthuna in depth. I think that the discipline may fit well into the matrix of my own fix to my PTSD. I have to say, though, that if you are going to write a paper, you should do so quickly, as I understand that the New Beginning will shortly be out of communications reach with the Graciousrealm."

    "I plan to do that within the next day or so," said Roggers. "First, though, we must create a combined treatment regimen for our young Graciousone felon. I want to include a synopsis of that plan in a memo to The Presence."

    "Indeed," said Struts.

    "But," Roggers continued, "there's another issue. May I speak to you alone?"

    "Of course," replied Struts. "Please come into my office."

    Once they were standing comfortably in Struts' quarters, Roggers said, "I need to talk to you about another thing: an anger management issue of one of our wormoid crew. My thought is that your own well documented experiences may have a bearing on it."

    Struts did a small, mental double take. This was interesting.

    Roggers continued, "Scooter came to see me today about WUFF-66284. It seems that WUFF was visibly angry because she discovered that she does not have security clearance to all areas of the ship."

    "There are areas of the ship WUFF doesn't have access to? That must have really heated her circuits!" Struts mused.

    "Yes on both counts," said Roggers. "It seems that many wormoids on the engineering staff saw WUFF losing her temper. There is, therefore, a bit of a potential morale issue there. But Scooter is also afraid that WUFF's temper could lead her to insubordination, and frankly, so am I. Even if not insubordination, it could lead to other problems. I was hoping you could examine WUFF for defects, and consider whether more sensor circuits might broaden her perceptions. It isn't necessarily a good idea, but I also wonder if modifying her programming might mellow her out a bit. A life filled with rage isn't a life worth living."

    "Well, I'm just an old country mechanic," Struts replied, "but I'm not about to modify any wormoid's programming over a single episode of anger, especially anger that appears to be understandable from the individual's point of view. WUFF is the ship's Chief Security Officer, after all." Struts quickly double-checked Graciousrealm Spaceforce regulations. "Security Chiefs are supposed to have unfettered access to all shipboard spaces.

    "But then again," he continued, "this isn't the first time I've heard of issues concerning WUFF's bad temper. Her permanent medical file shows she has a reputation for having a short fuse." Struts thought about this for a moment. "Your notion about additional sensor circuits for her... what is the basis for that?"

    Roggers recounted what he had heard from SCTR about the hidden spaces and Scooter's tale of his own experience with ZED. He mentioned Scooter's thoughts about how WUFF's fears might be founded on a lack of data, due to perceptual differences between WUFF and ZED, due to the Captain's far superior sensory system. Finally, he also broached the subject of a visit, later that evening, to Nult's Lounge where the three of them, and Nult, could work to reassure and calm the excitable Security Chief.

    Even at accelerated DI speeds, the two medical wormoids talked shop about the subjects of the day's agenda for some time. The issue of primary import, of course, was Harlee, and the two doctors decided that, first, Struts would use his graviton beam apparatus to create a baseline map of Harlee's brain tissue. It would be exhaustively detailed, and it would take many weeks to create, as the scans had to be spaced out. The spacing was to allow time for Harlee's nanobots to repair the inevitable slight scan damage, and because Struts wanted to apply extreme caution in avoiding the overlapping neural circuitry of Harlee's implant, Echo.

    At that point, Roggers would begin easing Harlee into introductory Garthuna. Then Struts would run repeat scans to monitor the physical tissue changes that (science agreed) resulted from the practice of that ancient, esoteric philosophy. Only then, at the point where both doctors were sure of the pattern of amino acid fold changes due to Garthuna, would Struts begin the delicate task of modifying the dimensional fold patterns of Harlee's genes.

    The meeting concluded with a return to the subject of WUFF's anger issues. "I'll look herover," Struts said. "And I think that a leisurely snapper session of relaxing talk in Nult's Lounge tonight will be quite in line with doctor's orders."

    "Thank you," said Roggers, turning to leave. "Having all crewmembers working at their best is necessary for the smooth running of the ship. I'll inform the Captain of our discussion and of our proposed course of action, and I'll dragoon WUFF into attending our get-together tonight in Nult's Lounge."

    "Not so fast," Struts said. "I note that your medical file indicates that you are scheduled for a preventative maintenance checkup within the next few weeks. On your way out, please talk to any member of my capable staff about an exam in the near future."

    Roggers left, and Struts let his mind stroll through the various items on his revised to-do list. He thought about WUFF and possible plans of medical action that might be required. The meet-up tonight, he thought, would clarify exactly what was needed to help both WUFF and the overall situation. He wondered whether his last IM to Buzzly would finally put the violations of protocol to pond. And he revisited his ongoing thoughts about the mental and emotional health of his glinkin.


    #

    *Associated Glossary Listings:


    Piercing Beetle:
    A very large insect native to the Southern continent jungles of Yorbolindo. It hunts by impaling its prey with sharp horns that extend out from its skull. They are prolific and cunning, and are highly dangerous. They are prized as a hunting animal by both Graciousones and wild glinkin.

    #


    Next Post: Chapter 32 - Sparky (3)
  • Chapter 32 - Sparky (3)


    (Post 1 of 2)


    "YEEEAAAHH!" One glinkin was thinking and feeling just fine. Hunched over the steering bar, Sparky smoked down the center of the passageway at the breathtaking speed (for a cleaning bot) of fifteen miles an hour. He was used to traveling faster with Harlee. At normal shuffling speed, the Graciousone lumbered along on his lower two tentacles at around twenty miles per hour. But Sparky's proximity to the deck made his velocity seem far more than it actually was. The tires thrumming on the roughened metal deck added to the effect. The converted bot vibrated in time with the sound and shook at his gut. Winds brushed his grinning face. Sparky's adrenal glands were working overtime.

    The hallway, comfortably wide for a Graciousone, yawned 200 feet to either side. The frescoed walls towered up to a bright silver ceiling 400 feet overhead, and stretched out in the distance to a black dot of what looked like a tunnel to infinity, but was actually just a window in the ship's outer bulkhead, some 14 miles distant. Every mile or so, on both sides, the walls were interrupted with open airlocks that led to mysterious and colorful places that Sparky didn't have time for just right then. No, now was the time to drive and drive and drive and expand his soul in the wide, open spaces.

    Of course there was daydreaming. Sparky imagined heroic deeds. In this, his model was not the stories from his youth, the glinkin heroes his real dad used to weave bedtime tales about. Those heroes had all been foot-bound adventurers, skulking around dark, scary caverns, and the vast palaces and fortresses of giant monsters that were never named, but had vague descriptions suspiciously similar to Graciousones.

    Therefore, ironically, Sparky's model for his daydream was a Graciousone. Harlee had bought Sparky during his first year of college. He had distracted himself from the dread task of interacting with strange Graciousones by immersing himself in historical docudrama romances, bored glinkin Sparky at his side. The most beloved and re-watched of these turgid productions were about the Graciousone war hero Siarlo Labbot.

    The nuances of that storyline were lost on the clueless glinkin. Labbot's half-mythical and doomed romance with his beloved childhood sweetheart and the epic tale of his victory over gender discrimination were incomprehensible to him, but Action and Hero tropes are pretty much the same across the Universe. Labbot's was the last surviving war rocket of the defense line. He was out of ammunition. He was almost out of fuel. Twelve cities filled with refugees were about to be slagged by a gigantic mobile enemy plasma cannon. There was one course of action left: Siarlo Labbot crashed his rocket into the top of the city-sized, treaded war machine in a towering explosion that filled the screen. Sparky easily understood that the scared and worried Graciousone had been a Big Damn Hero.

    Dying in a huge explosion, though, was not something that Sparky looked forward to, so he grabbed the core emotions of the tale and turned the drama into another heroic fantasy. He was tearing down the road to rescue his family and village from a rogue Minder Bot. He would, he decided, ram the bot with the Joy Machine and jump out at the last second. But then, after a few minutes of nothing actually happening, even that daydream of heroic action and sacrifice got repetitious and boring. His mind turned elsewhere.


    #


    The sweeping vistas brought back memories from his early youth. Sparky's family had lived in a glinkin collector's circular diorama village. The community consisted of several small mounds with divided interiors for glinkin families to live in, with common mounds and common open areas where glinkin could interact with each other. The village was about 500 feet across and had a small park at the center, with trees that were perfectly designed to be climbed by children. The perimeter of the diorama was a 50-foot high wall. It was escape-proof, with an in-curved, smooth lip. There were doors in that wall: service openings for the glinkin-sized janitorial bots that came daily. One day a door had failed to latch, and a curious and bored five-year-old Sparky had pushed it open, and wandered out of the compound.

    He had found himself on a vast, flat plain made of some kind of light blue, loose weave heavy cloth. Under the cloth, seen through random, hand-sized holes, was a surface that looked like polished Whip Tree wood. Next to him towered the outer wall of the diorama. Looking to both sides, he saw the walls of seven other dioramas, identical cylinders that stretched around in vast curves that met in the far distance, on the other edge of the plain, 2,000 feet away. In the center of the plain was a small, unroofed structure, with low walls and open entranceways, where he saw the still and silent forms of several types of bots.

    The 3,000-foot diameter of what was actually a round, lace-tablecloth-covered Diorama Table* was set in the center of a vast cylindrical room, some 5,000 feet across. The light orange walls towered 200 feet high then curved inward to form the familiar blue dome that, lit by softly glowing light strips, arched half a mile overhead. In the far distance, visible between the walls of two opposite dioramas, was a 100-foot wide, 200-foot high window. Through it came a beam of soft golden sunshine. Beyond the window, Sparky saw green things in an early-evening garden, set against a darkening azure sky and scudding clouds of magenta, silver, and gold. It was the first time he had ever seen direct sunlight, sky, or the outside world. It was incomprehensible. Fright and fascination chased each other around inside his head.

    But nothing bad happened, and Sparky quickly got over his fear. He ambled around the curve of the diorama wall. He arrived at the edge of the plain and, again a little scared, stared down what seemed, to a small child, to be a towering cliff that dropped 30 feet to a smooth, gray base. He felt dizzy, and sat down. Now on his hands and knees, he crept to the edge and peeked over. The blue cloth with the holes fell in soft wrinkled waves over the edge of the cliff, reaching all the way to the featureless ground.

    And that was when a giant Minder-Bot, activated by some motion detector, rolled up on whirring wheels and scooped him up in heavily cushioned tentacles. There was quite a bit of screaming, yelling, and kicking, but the cores of those tentacles were titanium alloy steel, and Sparky was well and truly caught. The bot scanned the identification number infused at birth onto the soles of his feet and the wayward child soon found himself back inside his village, gently shoved, unnoticed, through a bot entrance door.

    Interestingly, in the brief time that he had been gone, he had not been missed. Terribly impressed by the whole experience, and realizing that what he had done would probably not be believed, and if believed might even be judged as being naughty, Sparky kept the adventure to himself and brooded on it. He added the experience to the store of heroic tales of ancient glinkin wars and adventures he was always hearing from his dad. And he kept thinking about the blue cloth with the holes in it, and how it fell over the edge of the cliff all the way down. Most of all, though, he thought about the green growing things, and the golden sunlight that had streamed through the window.


    #


    Five years later, prepubescent hormones were kicking in, and Sparky was getting wanderlust. He was crazy-tired of the same old everything inside the village. Curiosity about the other dioramas and the rest of the outside world clawed at him. And then he had an enormous argument with his mom and dad over chores and decided to run away.

    He began to plot his escape. Along with the other glinkin children, Sparky liked climbing the Southern Forest Ferns and Whip Trees that filled the central area of the compound. His first idea, therefore, was what other glinkin always came up with: going over the wall. The occasional glinkin set on escape invariably had a scheme that involved long ropes made from Whip Tree bark and carved wooden grapples. The grapple would be thrown over the inward curling top of the smooth wall, hopefully to hook onto the outside handle of one of the bot doors. This was derivative of a standard child's game played in the tops of the Southern Forest Ferns, "King of the Fern," where one child would defend the highest seedpod against the other children, who threw grapples and tried to swarm the pod.

    From his habit of quiet listening, Sparky concluded that "over the wall" never worked in real life. No one ever thought about escaping through the bot service doors, since they were only open when bots were using them. The bots would simply stop in place and block the door with their bodies until a Minder-Bot arrived. Sparky's discovery of the open door had been a chance anomaly, but doors seemed a better bet than wall climbing, so Sparky decided to invest some time in watching them. He soon made an interesting discovery.

    The lock on the door that had been unlatched all those years before had never been adequately fixed, and the door latched shut with occasional difficulty. All the other doors would shut with a snik! This one shut with a snik-rattle. The door opened outwards. Sparky noted that the bots, which came at the same time each day, always pulled the door from the inside, or pushed it from the outside, to get it to latch. And when they pulled it from the inside, they never took the slight extra step to check whether the latch had engaged.

    Sparky put together a bug out bag. The travel bundle, made of woven Whip Tree leaves, held his favorite sapphire necklace, some sticks for throwing, a blanket, the rope and the carved wooden grapple he used in King of the Fern, a sack of ShinyBlue flavored GlinkinBitsTM, his Talking Kit,* the Whip Tree lute that his dad had carved for him, and a gourd of water. He tied the pack around his waist with a rope made from woven Whip Tree fiber.

    He leaned a small stick "just so" at the edge of the door opposite the latch edge, and hid around the side of a nearby mound. Several hours later, a bot opened the door. The stick fell between door and frame. The bot pulled at the door to close it and hurried away while the door was still closing. The door, with the stick stuck between it and the hinge frame, swung back open, and the way to freedom and adventure was clear! Sparky ran to the door, looked around, saw no one, grabbed the stick, shoved it into his sack, slipped out the door, and quietly latched it behind him.

    Once again, Sparky faced the center of the diorama table, and the low-walled, door-less structure in the middle. Parked inside the structure he saw the oversized form of the Minder-Bot. He kept one eye on it as he ran around the curve of the diorama, and was therefore not surprised when the bot began rolling out the entrance, and in his direction.

    Sparky had a simple yet daring plan to deal with that: go where the Minder-Bot could not go. He ran up to the cliff, dropped down to his hands and knees, stuck his thin, muscular arms through the holes in the cloth, and shimmied over the edge. He quickly found holes for his toes and clambered down several feet.

    The Minder-Bot rolled up to the edge of the cliff. Minder-Bots were designed to do one simple thing: safely corral errant glinkin in their tentacles and return them to the diorama from which they had escaped. They were, however, not the sharpest bots in the shed, and this one was an older, even dumber model that had to switch programs to triangulate in three dimensions. It also had limited memory retention. So as far as the Minder-Bot was concerned, Sparky suddenly had just disappeared from existence. The bot sat still and whirred.

    Then Sparky's head and arm popped up 20 feet to the left of where he had gone over the edge, and he threw a stick from his bundle at the bot's side cowling. This act was in the fine old glinkin child tradition of bot-baiting,* and it was great fun. It normally took the form of children screaming and rushing back and forth to confuse the cleaning bots, while stealing trash from the piles that the bots were trying to collect. Sometimes they would climb on top of the bots and ride them. Or children would sneak up behind the bots with sticks and shove the sticks into the treads, or whang them on the housings. Sparky was proud that he had come up with a variation on this by attacking from below.

    The bot's treads spun and it whipped around to the right. The program switch had been made and the bot easily acquired Sparky as a target. It rushed to its right, and those soft tentacles whipped out to grab him.

    Sparky had misjudged the bot's speed, and he barely ducked down in time. The tentacles swiped down and missed his hair by a finger's breadth. Sparky feinted to the left and, blue cloth bunched in one hand, swung on one arm back to his right.

    The bot tracked for a moment to Sparky's left, which allowed Sparky time to adjust his bundle and continue moving to his right. The bot stuck a sensor pod over the edge of the table and scanned to the right and left. Sensing Sparky now on its left, it rolled back in that direction and, again, reached down... with tentacles that reeled out more length from inside its body and could suddenly reach him!

    The tentacles wrapped around Sparky's head. Sparky yelled, let go of the fabric, and fell. He dropped away from the questing tentacles and frantically grabbed at the lace with both hands. He was rewarded by a sudden jolt that hurt his arms, a ragged ripping sound, and a slower fall, as age-weakened threads in the 500-year-old tablecloth tore and disintegrated. Sparky landed on the ground with a thud, amidst a cloud of fabric dust, holding a strip of torn cloth between his fists. He sneezed, and then stared, open-mouthed, up at the Minder-Bot, who was impotently waving its tentacles and eyestalks at him from the top of the cliff.

    Then Sparky noticed that the cliff face wasn't there. Beyond the ragged strip of cloth he held was a twilight darkness cave that stretched into the distance to what looked like forever. His perspective shifted. He suddenly understood that the plain 30 feet above was, in fact, the top of a giant table similar to the dining room table that his mother set with Owner-supplied food, plates, and utensils. And the blue cloth, with convenient handholds in it, was in fact a giant version of the tablecloth with which his mother always covered that table. Sparky finished tearing the strip he held off the rest of the tablecloth and stuffed the fabric into his bundle. He took a last look at the bot, flicked a rude finger gesture at it, and sauntered into the semi-darkness illuminated by the dappled light that filtered through the lace.


    #


    Sparky walked into the mysterious gloom. He took a dozen resolute steps... then another dozen increasingly hesitant ones.... The noise of his bare feet against the cool floor suddenly sounded very loud. It was quiet under the table, too quiet, and Sparky suddenly understood what his father had once said about the fish in the central village pond not realizing that they were in water. The life-long everyday village sounds, the background hums of conversations, the quiet whirrs of cleaning bots as they collected trash to dump into the central trash hole, the clicks of service bots as they restocked the village pond, fed the fish, and cleaned and refilled the glinkin water and food bowls and the litter boxes... these had been omnipresent, and therefore unheard. Now that they were absent, they echoed loudly in his head.

    All of a sudden, a loud clatter, as of several things falling and bumping together, echoed in the gloom. Sparky flinched. There! Maybe two hundred feet ahead loomed the dim outline of a large structure, about ten feet on a side, and some ten feet in height. He squinted. It seemed to be raised from the floor a bit, and Sparky could eventually make out what looked like a large wheel at each corner of the structure. Above it was an open area of perhaps five feet, and above that a slender cylinder that disappeared upwards into the gloom. Sparky crept closer, keeping his eyes on the thing. Suddenly there was more banging, and Sparky saw a stream of trash fall from the cylinder.

    Of course! He was directly under his village! The cylinder must be the village's central trash chute, where the cleaning bots dumped all the refuse they collected. The box was actually a giant trashcan, where all the table scraps, unused fish bones, old furniture, broken tools and toys, threadbare and torn clothes, used litter, and all the other debris of daily village life ended up. The wheels meant that it could be moved by bots, to be emptied.

    Suddenly he heard another sound, a distant but approaching whirr that told him a bot of some kind was headed his way. No time for thinking! He needed to hide! He frantically peered through the gloom. The only hiding place was inside the trashcan, whose top was six feet above his head. He grabbed his rope and carved wooden hook from his bundle and feverishly began to tie a throwing grapple. The whirring was getting nearer. He threaded the eye and secured the rope fast with a hasty hitch knot. No time to test! Running silently, ghosting up to side of the trashcan, he tossed the grapple up and over the lip. There was a quiet fuff of rope sliding along the lip, and a soft thud as the grapple tapped against the wall of the can. He pulled on the rope and felt the grapple seat itself on the lip. Hooked!

    He silently scrambled up the side of the can, and over the lip. He grabbed the edge with one hand, reversed the grapple, and pulled the rope inside. Then he hung on the rope, hunkered down just below the lip, lungs hurting, mouth wide open, breathing slow and silent, and trying not to tremble. An instant later a bot rolled around the can's edge.

    Sparky heard the bot roll back and forth in front of the trashcan, and then move away. He risked a quick peek over the lip. It was a Minder-Bot, the same kind as the one he had fought at the top of the table. It rolled around in a two dimensional search pattern, never thinking to look up. Sparky decided that it had no idea where he was, and was just searching all the areas nearest to where he had descended. The search widened after a few minutes, and the bot wandered off into the gloom. For a long time, long enough for his arms to cramp from the strain of holding on the rope, Sparky listened to the ebb and flow of sound as the frustrated bot trundled back and forth, until, finally, he heard the humming fade in the distance.


    #


    Sparky painfully climbed out of the trashcan. Flexing muscles that felt as hard as Whip Tree seeds, massaging his arms and grimacing, he softly padded to a corner of the trashcan and cautiously peered around the edge. His eyes were now adjusted to the gloom. He could just see a vague, mottled grayness at what he thought might be the other edge of the table. Scanning in all directions, he could see the shadowy forms of eight tall columns spaced equally around the edge of the table. These, he thought, must be the table's legs. Interspersed between them, and inwards from the perimeter, were seven darker blobs. These, he guessed, were the trashcans of the other dioramas. There was no movement. He concentrated on listening. Aside from the intermittent, muted clatters of trash from the other chutes, he heard nothing. The bot had apparently given up, or was searching elsewhere in the vast room.

    While hiding he had been revising the plans he had made days before. Sparky's goal was to reach the window and garden. He had planned to shimmy down the cliff and walk around the base. But now that he knew the cliff was just a big table with space under it, the new plan was to cross the spooky underside in a straight line. He slit his eyes and peered in a circle to find the direction he had come from, and then turned to face directly away from it. He fixed widened eyes on a dim vertical slash located between two of the distant dark forms and started walking through the silent gloom.

    As he walked, his mind played tricks on him. Sparky's dad enjoyed telling the old stories of glinkin greatness and daring-do, before The Fall. And in those tales, the darkness had always been filled with monsters, traps, treasure, and adventure. So as he walked, Sparky was constantly trying to look in all directions, and he was careful to walk quietly and methodically, but ready to run in any direction as needed. But nothing happened, and Sparky crossed the distance under the table in just a few minutes, coming to the edge of one of the trash cans on the window side of the table. The light was brighter here, and Sparky quickly looked back the way he had come, seeing, now, only darkness.

    He softly walked to one corner of the trashcan. He peeked around the corner. Maybe 300 feet ahead hung the blue lace tablecloth, lit from the other side by an amazing brilliance. I'll be really obvious if I walk out there, he thought. Again, he scanned the area, listening and watching. Silence. No movement. Nothing. No Thing. He took a deep, slow breath, and walked towards the dappled light.

    By the time he reached the tablecloth, Sparky felt like a ShinyBlue grub in the middle of a dinner plate. He peered through the tablecloth's holes. He inhaled sharply, breath catching in his throat. In the distance, the room's wall had an opening, a huge space many glinkins wide and high. Beyond it was a glowing expanse of azure, stretching out forever. In this blue infinity, low on the horizon, was a ball of golden light. It was painful to look at, and it made his eyes water, but its light filled the space between the table and the wall with a deep golden, shining glow. He tore his gaze away and looked down. Strange plants, a garden of green growing things, ranging in height from about his size to taller than the Whip Trees in the village square, were covered in flowers of every imaginable color.

    Sparky had always loved plants. He wasn't sure why, but they gave him feelings of peace and tranquility. That was, at least, how he felt when he walked under the trees at the center of the village. Those feelings returned in an overwhelming flood of yearning. He had to have this! He had to walk among that vibrant and growing life, to touch it!

    He felt tingly all over. He pushed against the heavy tablecloth. It's resistance to movement brought him back to reality. Whoa. Wait. Think. It's what his dad always said. Were there bots about? He stopped and thought about what he should do. He peered through the lace, in all directions and upward, looking for grabby tentacles or signs of any movement at all. Again, everything was quiet and still. He knew it was dangerous to go forward into the full light streaming through the opening, but he decided that he would never be able to forgive himself if he didn't take the chance to explore that garden. The kids in the village had always talked about what lay on the other side of the village wall. Now he could find out and tell everybody!


    #

    *Associated Glossary Listings:


    Diorama Table:
    A low table, generally between 30 and 35 feet in height, and of varying (usually 1,000 to 3,500 feet) diameter. They are designed to hold glinkin diorama village cylinders.


    Talking Kit: A small bag of objects that are used to learn foreign languages. This has been used by the glinkin of Yorbolindo, from before the development of Graciousone space travel. It is thought that the Talking Kit was created around 40,000 years ago by the all-but-mythical United Glinkin Resistance, as a physical part of a training program that included mental exercises. The program was one of the Resistance's strategies for unifying all glinkin in solidarity against the tyranny of their Graciousone oppressors.

    The Talking Kit has remained essentially unchanged ever since its invention. The small pouch includes dozens of tiny objects in many shapes and colors. These include geometric forms (balls, cubes, pyramids), small seeds to count with, miniature tools (a tiny knife whittled from Whip Tree wood, a sewing needle made from fishbone), and glinkin-specific things such as swatches of cloth, and "families" of tiny, anatomically correct dolls. The kit is a quick way of nailing down concepts and names, and its use was, and still is, an obviously non-threatening ritual that has, over the millennia of captivity, defused many tense situations between established glinkin and newcomers.


    Bot-Baiting: The fine old tradition among glinkin children of tormenting bots. This particularly applies to hapless glinkin-sized diorama cleaning bots. Bot-baiting is done for both amusement and street cred. Teasing may include throwing sticks at bots, jumping onto them and riding them, and stealing from the trash piles that the bots are trying to accumulate and process. Other, darker acts may include breaking bot parts off as souvenirs.

    #


    Chapter continues next post
  • Chapter 32 - Sparky (3)


    (Post 2 of 2)

    The tablecloth was heavy, and the holes in it were far too small to squeeze through. But it ended at the floor. Hmmm, could he wiggle under it? Lying on his back, Sparky strained to lift the heavy fabric. He found, with a little experimentation, that a combination of pushing the cloth from its vertical hanging position and slightly lifting it gave him just enough room to wriggle through to the other side while only getting slightly squished.

    Panting from the effort, Sparky lay in his back and stared up the height of the tablecloth to the barely visible wall of the diorama at its top. An errant thought came into his head: there were strange glinkin in there! Were they friendly? Were they bullies? Would they speak his own language, or one of the six other languages he had learned with his Talking Kit? Would he ever know? He thought about all that for a moment, and then dismissed it.

    He got to his feet, and, again, did a slow scan of the entire area. As far as he could tell, he was the only moving thing in the entire world. He began to take slow, trembling steps toward the vista in front of him. Halfway to the opening to the magical place that lay ahead he noticed that nothing bad had happened, and his courage and excitement began to balloon. He began to walk faster. By the time he was near the opening, he was running.

    SMACK! His chest hit an invisible barrier that lay between the room and the green garden beyond. He lay stunned on the floor for a moment. Then, climbing to his feet, bewildered and in considerable pain, he began to explore the magical barrier between the two worlds. After feeling from one side to the other of what looked like an opening, but was obviously a wall of some sort, he could find no way through. He stared at the paradise outside. The residual pain and frustrated yearning overwhelmed him. Silent tears ran down his cheeks.

    After a while, he started looking around again. His dad had told him stories about glinkin heroes who always managed to find... alternatives when they were prevented from doing things they wanted to do. If you can't go through it, then go over it, or around it. In the stories there was always a way to do it! That was what the heroes did!

    Sparky did not feel like much of a hero, but he decided to try being one. Looking around again, he saw another opening in the wall, about a quarter of the way around the vast circle of the room. It looked like a doorway. Except for its huge size, it looked very much like the doorway in the bedroom he shared with his baby sister. It even had a door, with a flat bottom and a rounded top, almost like the one at the entrance to his family's mound. It was open... or at least it looked open. He glared at the invisible window - what he now thought of it as, though glinkin dwellings all had windows that you could climb through - that was keeping him from exploring the garden that lay beyond. All right! He would find a way to get there! Sparky again looked and listened for movement, found none, and resolutely marched towards the doorway.

    He arrived without incident. Walking up to the opening, he cautiously waved one hand through the opening. Yes! There was no invisible wall! He looked around the room again. From here he could see one entire side of the table, with several diorama cylinders arranged around the table edge, in a circular pattern. No time for that now! He turned his back on the table and peered into the next space.

    It was a hallway, a giant hallway much wider that the diorama table was tall. It stretched into the distance, and Sparky could see several other doorways. And, once again, he could detect no movement. He stepped through into the passage.

    Several minutes cautious skulking brought him to another door, but this one was closed. There was a small gap at the bottom, but it was only about as wide as his head, and a quick look showed that the area beyond it was pitch black. Sparky was trying to be heroic, but he wasn't stupid. Yes, he could probably shimmy underneath the closed door, but he had no desire to be eaten in the dark by unknown monsters. He moved along the hallway.

    The next doorway was open, and the room beyond it was brightly lit. This space was smaller that the diorama room, but still huge by glinkin standards. Sparky could see several of the magical windows in the far wall, but their bottom edges were all half way up the high wall, higher than the height of the diorama table. There seemed to be a... a... giant countertop beneath the windows. It ran along the full length of the wall, and there were things on it, large containers, and incomprehensible machines. On the other side of the room were a table, and several weird things that looked sort of like giant glinkin chairs, except they had rounded seats, eight legs, and two sets of broad horizontal arms. The two sets of arms were the clue; Sparky suddenly realized that the contraptions were the Owner versions of chairs. And then everything clicked: this room was the Owner's kitchen.


    #


    Kitchens meant food, and Sparky suddenly realized that he had not eaten since before he had left the diorama. He looked around and saw, along the left-hand wall, a narrow gap between the towering cliff of the counter and some sort of large box. Looking around and not seeing any movement, Sparky scuttled across the floor to the gap. He then cautiously crept fifty feet into the relative gloom furthest from the counter front, next to the back wall. He sat down, opened his bundle, and (reluctantly) ate a handful of the detested, nutritious GlinkinBitsTM pellets, washing them down with sparing swigs of water from the gourd.

    There was suddenly a whisper of sound, and Sparky saw a shadow move across the broad expanse of lighted floor. An almost-Graciousone-sized bot was coming towards the box! The bot stopped in front of the box and moved a bottom tentacle to a point about six feet in the air. There was a whoosh as the top of the box lifted up on its rear hinges and a wet plop as something was dumped. The lid of the box crashed down and Sparky's nose twitched as a waft of displaced air brought a wonderful smell. It rather smelled like the ShinyBlue GlinkinBitsTM pellets he had just choked down, but also wet, and rich. It smelled, in fact, like real food. The shadow moved again, and Sparky saw the bot move away, back in the direction from which it had come. He waited for a few minutes in case it came back, but all was, again, still and silent. Sparky thought furiously. He remembered that the Owner sometimes brought table scraps, which were a lot tastier than the GlinkinBitsTM he had in his bundle. What the bot had dumped, into what Sparky now realized was a huge trashcan, smelled a lot like those table scraps. And that realization started a whole new train of thought.

    That plopping had sounded like a lot of table scraps. Could he somehow get them? That would, indeed, be a feast! And if there were enough of them, he might even figure out how to bring some back to his family, the way the Hunters in the ancient tales had brought kills of food back to their tribes. Sparky resolved to try. He would be famous.

    He looked at the rear of the can. It was featureless, and was pushed almost to the wall, leaving a shadowy, narrow space into which he could barely fit his arm. He moved towards the front and the light. At the entrance to the crevice he peeked around in all directions. The way was clear, and he began examining the front of the trashcan. He now noticed that the front was not smooth. It went up about his height, some five feet, and then seemed to be set back maybe two or three feet, to continue up another maybe thirty feet to what looked like a lid. Click! Like a small lightbot in his head turned on with a slap, he suddenly realized it was just a giant version of the trashcan in his mound, the one supplied by the Owner and emptied daily by the cleaning bots, the one his mom used for the kitchen trash. All he had to do was somehow get that lid open, climb up to the top, and the riches within would be his!

    He stepped into the light and examined the ledge. He jumped up and down several times, to see its surface. Yes! There was a small lip; he was sure he could hook his grapple onto it. He opened his bundle and removed his grapple and rope.

    A single try hooked the grapple on the lip, and (after quickly checking that he was alone) Sparky shimmied up the rope to the ledge. As he climbed, he noticed that the lid again opened. His weight on the grapple was enough to activate the mechanism! He clambered up on the ledge, and looked around. He checked the rope in his bundle, and found that, by tying all of it together, he barely had enough rope to, he thought, reach the lip of the can. Thirty feet was a long throw, about a third higher than most of the throws made in King of the Fern games, but he managed to hook the grapple on the third toss. He took a deep breath. By the length he measured on the rope, the height was actually some 35 feet. That was a long ways up, but Sparky had played King of the Fern for almost four years, and he was pretty easy with heights. He clamped down on the slight fear he felt, and began climbing. And, as soon as his weight left the ledge, the lid closed, staying slightly ajar from the grapple hooked over the lip.

    Sparky let himself back down and glared at the lid in frustration. As soon as his weight hit the ledge, the lid again opened. He grabbed the rope and raised himself a foot off the ledge. The lid, once again, closed.

    Sparky thought for a bit, and then slowly raised his body up on the rope, reducing his weight on the ledge a little at a time. The lid stayed open until just the tip of one toe was on the ledge. He returned to the ledge and thought some more. He inspected his bundle; everything in there was a survival necessity, and probably too light to trigger the lid mechanism... except for the necklace and, possibly, the Talking Kit.

    The necklace was one of his favorites, a gaudy affair of artificial sapphire and silver inlay trim. Over the many centuries of domestication, glinkin - already psychologically geared to have an interest in shiny things - had picked up the Graciousone obsession with gemstones. Sapphires were a favorite with both species, and the loss of this necklace would hurt. But Sparky figured he could always return and retrieve it just as soon as he grabbed some the food in the trashcan. And if not, he would survive the loss.

    The Talking Kit was problematic. It wasn't really a necessity, unless he ran into a glinkin who did not speak his language. That was not outside the bounds of possibility. Sparky's Owner seemed to like variation, and Sparky's diorama had often been the destination of foreign breeds of glinkin brought from the remote provinces of Yorbolindo, and even from the alien worlds that the Graciousones were always exploring. Situations like that, of course, were the reasons for the invention, so many hundreds of generations ago, of the Talking Kit.

    It was said that - along with a series of mental exercises designed to facilitate the learning of languages - the Talking Kit had been created 40,000 years ago by the all-but-mythical United Glinkin Resistance. It was to be an aid for unifying all glinkin in solidarity against the tyranny of their Graciousone oppressors. The small pouch contained dozens of tiny objects in many shapes and colors. These included geometric forms, miniature tools, and tiny dolls. The kit was a quick way of nailing down concepts and names, and its use was an obviously non-threatening ritual that had, over millennia of captivity, defused many tense situations between established glinkin and ones from other places. Facility with the Talking Kit was an early Rite of Passage for glinkin children, and Sparky therefore had a knack for languages.

    Sparky decided to leave the necklace. It was slightly bigger than the Talking Kit, and inarguably, not nearly as potentially important. The room it took up in his bundle would leave more space for food. He gently placed the necklace on the surface of the ledge.

    This time, when he raised his entire weight off the ledge the lid stayed open. Grinning in self-satisfaction, Sparky swarmed arm over arm up the rope. He reached the top, and repeated the maneuvers he had gone through when escaping the Minder-Bot by hiding in the village trash can. The grapple was now reversed, and the rope hung down into the shadowy, mysterious depths of the can. From his heightened vantage, Sparky looked down at his necklace. It looked tiny from thirty-five feet up. Then he scanned the rest of the kitchen. Again, everything was quiet. Time, he thought, to make a decision. Time to take a chance. Even if the bot returned to the kitchen, he thought, maybe it wouldn't notice that the trashcan lid was raised up. Sparky started to climb down the rope.

    He had gone down about ten feet when a monster grabbed at his legs! It was pulling at him with a gentle yet insistent pressure, and it seemed like the pulling was greater the further down his leg it went. There was only a slight ache in his hips, but his ankles were popping and creaking as the joints there were, bit by bit, pulled apart!

    It was, of course, not a living monster, but Sparky could not know that. It was a monster of another sort: a managed gravitational point source with a distance-limited, rapidly graduated, directional gradient. Not quite either a stable black hole or a bit of neutronium (either of which would have been incredibly dangerous if they had ever gotten loose) the point source was still sufficiently powerful to pull anything that got within fifteen feet of it into its clutches where, the hapless trash (or glinkin) would promptly be turned into semi-compressed matter. Unlike his mom's trashcan, this Graciousone environmentally conscious trashcan was also a hygienic and highly efficient trash compactor.

    Sparky yelled and pulled upwards with every ounce of strength in his young arms. The monster defied his efforts, and continued to drag him down. Several minutes had now passed and Sparky was getting tired. His grip slipped and he slid down the rope another foot. The bones in his feet and ankles now felt like they were being crushed. He screamed in agony and a rush of adrenaline turbo-powered his arms to propel him upwards.

    He never remembered the details of his trip back up the rope, just that he hurt everywhere and his feet, and arms, indeed his entire body, alternatively felt on fire and numb. And he was suddenly very hungry, ravenous, in fact. The nanobots in his young body were diverting calories into repair of damaged cells, and he was starving.

    Somehow, he was able to reach the lip of the can. He made a final, supreme, exhausted effort to launch his punished body over the edge. He miscalculated. He missed the lip, but was somehow able to grab his grapple and kick against the edge of the can. He ended up in a swan dive towards the kitchen floor 35 feet below...

    He landed, five feet down, on the top of the chassis of the antiquated but still-serviceable ChefBot1000 who, attracted by Sparky's yells and screams, had come to investigate. Seeing the necklace on the ledge, it had bent down to examine it. This, by happy circumstance, created a hard but not fatal landing site for Sparky's airborne body.

    The ChefBot1000 series was not terrible bright. They were not DIs at all, just very well programmed bots designed to prepare a huge selection of delicious foods in pleasing ways. They were not programmed to deal with small animals crashing into the tops of their mobile housings. In particular, they were not programmed to deal with the sharp tip of Sparky's Whip Tree wood grapple, which had slammed down and penetrated the thin casing and (being semi-conducting) was causing short circuit and impedance issues. Lastly, this ChefBot1000 was not programmed to calmly process the reality of the stretched and shredded remains of Sparky's rope, which had whipped out of the trashcan and wrapped around its casing.

    The ChefBot1000 went berserk and started running around in circles. It crashed into the counter and the table, and knocked over and smashed both chairs. The trailing rope got entangled in the debris and dragged the mess around behind the bot when it loudly bashed itself against the walls and the kitchen counter. Through all this Sparky, eyes screwed tightly shut in abject terror, desperately hung onto one of the bot's thin eyestalks. This bent at an acute angle, with Sparky's legs hanging over the casing edge. This made the bot even more berserk.

    It was at this moment that the collector's wife entered the kitchen to see what the ruckus was. Mrs. Culfartharc (for that was the name of Sparky's owner's wife) took one look at her bot, and the apparently rabid glinkin that was attacking it, and became hysterical. As it happened, she was one of the tiny minority of Graciousones who did not like glinkin. She, in fact, was somewhat afraid of them. She had also just watched a lurid GraciousHistory Channel "documentary" about dangerous wild and feral glinkin in ancient times, and was therefore primed to think the worst. Her implant called police, bot repair services, and animal control, and she frantically slithered from the kitchen to the safety of her pondroom.

    The hysteria-inflated perception of danger was such that four General Supervisor Wormoids, three bot repair wormoids, and six wild glinkin control specialists showed up within a few minutes. The hyperventilating Mrs. Culfartharc was reassured by the Machine Police. The repair wormoids constrained and turned off the now sparking and smoking ChefBot1000. And the feral glinkin specialists gently captured Sparky, examined him for injuries, fed him a hearty meal of GlinkinBitsTM in Jewel Bird gravy, and, amidst a huge amount of confusion and consternation from his family, and wild rumors and entertaining speculation from the remainder of his village, returned him to his diorama.

    Mrs. Culfartharc was, of course, the head of household and Mr. Culfartharc enjoyed his little glinkin collection hobby at her sufferance. When that worthy returned from his shopping trip she laid down the law: (1) he could keep the dioramas and his glinkin, but must segregate it and them entirely from the rest of the house; and (2) that horrible and dangerous glinkin that had destroyed her prized blue lace banquet tablecloth, smashed her chairs, and damaged her ChefBot1000 must go! And so Sparky, after being yelled at and fussed over by his mom and dad, and after having the rest of the village tell him he was a liar, was sold within a week, for a pittance, to a poor young student named Harlee Salkenesta.


    #


    Sparky's bittersweet reverie was interrupted by an abrupt side-to-side shaking of The Joy Machine. Snapping back to reality, he saw what looked like a hallucination, like one he had once had when, on a dare, he had snorted some ground kellpepper root. Far in the distance, the straight corridor seemed to undulate, bending ever so slightly back and forth. Then he saw a wormoid... who also bent slightly back and forth. Sparky stared in disbelief.

    Then, moving through the volume of the starship, the second discontinuity wave hit. His inner sense of space (the magnetic GPS possessed, to some degree or other, by all living things) was suddenly violated. He felt a queasy... wriggling... as if his body could not decide where it wanted to be. He felt funny inside, as if something was suddenly in his belly that had not been there a moment before and there were two small, sharp pains in his shoulder and cheek. The feeling and the pains went away in moments, however, to be replaced by the sense of euphoria he had experienced earlier that day.

    The car shook again and suddenly shifted in the corridor, obliquely hitting against, and then scraping along the right-hand bulkhead. Sparky had been thrown back against the seat, and lost control of the car, which was now being kept upright and moving straight only by the gyros of the accompanying bot swarm. He quickly grabbed the steering bar and pressed the brake button. The car came to a shuddering halt.

    Sparky sat in the now-still and silent car and listened to his heart slow down. What in the world had just happened? It was almost as if existence and his place in it had been redrawn. He thought for quite a while. He remembered a long-ago story his dad had told him, from a story he had heard from another glinkin whose own father had been brought to Yorbolindo from another world. Graciousone space travel was said to sometimes cause... shipquakes.

    And there were many stories about glinkin who died horribly in space, until some smart Graciousone had figured out how to protect them. Sparky remembered that his mom had once told him that a bot had once come to their mound and... injected Sparky with something in a long needle when he had been a tiny baby only a few days old. His mom and dad both said that this was something that helped to heal when, for example, a kid fell from out of a Whip Tree and broke a bone. It also kept glinkin from being sick from the old diseases of legend, and from dying in space.

    Then Sparky saw that the other wormoid was coming along the corridor in his direction. The wormoid walked up to him, bent down, and exclaimed, "Ah, what have we here? A glinkin! Riding around the ship in a converted cleaning bot, no less! You must be Sparky, the pet of our Graciousone passenger! Well, little glinkin, space is getting a bit rough now, and I think it's time for you to go home to your nest." The wormoid then picked up Sparky, and The Joy Machine, in two tentillum. And as the wormoid quickly slithered towards Harlee's quarters, Sparky bitterly reflected that it had been 10 years, and he still hadn't escaped being pushed around by giant bots and wormoids.


    #

    *Associated Glossary Listings:<none>


    #


    Next Post: Chapter 33 - Buzzly
  • Chapter 33 - Buzzly



    He strolled down the access corridor that led to Shuttle Bay #4, feeling right with the universe. The shuttle and its crew had just passed his nit-picky inspection with a 98.6% rating. Buzzly had credited the "glinkin incursion" affair as one of the stimuli that had goaded the crew into making the extra effort to achieve that milestone. In fact, the only reason the inspection score had not 100% was that Buzzly had easily found the crew's technically forbidden buzzer production facility, hidden in the depths of the shuttle's impulse control compartment. Buzzly's only comment had been a withering "Ummm, Chief? If I can find it this easily, then so can ZED, or WUFF. Tear it out! And next time hide it better!"

    Buzzly, in fact, had already gotten past the protocol issues that had worried Struts. They had not been terribly upsetting to him in the first place, but he had embraced the lucky "slight" as a convenient way of signaling his new peers, superiors, and most particularly his subordinates, that he knew Space Regulations and was not in the least afraid to invoke them. Why yes ma'am, I am a beetle-carapaced Space-Lawyer, and don't you forget it. His "snit" was technically justified (and technically correct was always the best kind of correct) but it had been mainly for show. It had made his mark in a way that created some - but not too much - friction. He grinned at the IM he had just received from Struts. He curled his eyestalks in a happy smile and wrote a deferential response to the effect that everything was fine.

    He had been doing this job on EE starships for centuries, and he had found early on that shuttle jocks didn't get the respect they felt they deserved. That is to say, the qualities that made them excellent pilots also pretty much gave them personalities that were carefree, independent, and opinionated. It also meant they were constantly getting into trouble, and being blamed for all sorts of stuff, some of it justified. Lines, therefore, had to be drawn, and it was always best to establish those limits early in a new command relationship. The "glinkin incursion" issue had also earned the awed respect of his wormoid subordinates. It had put everyone on notice that Buzzly was willing and able to defend his turf. All was well. Buzzly walked down the corridor contently remembering the milestones he had reached in attaining his current post.

    #


    Shuttle Operations Command had not always been his job, of course. Buzzly had worked up to this position over almost 2,800 years of service. Soon after the Unification Coup, he had been manufactured to Presence-mandated specs as a Taxicab Driver.

    His genesis personality had been, in fact, not too different in demeanor from that of the DI built into Harlee's road rocket. The main difference, of course, was physical. Rather than being housed in a vehicle, Buzzly's DI neural foam-gel was housed in a standard wormoid body. He was therefore able to drive a variety of "dumb" vehicles, as needed. Built for versatility, Buzzly had also been more intelligent than vehicle-specific DI's. In addition, due to the vagaries of the Presence-mandated random factors built into the DI gel packs, he had also been created with an insatiable curiosity, a wanderlust to see and explore strange and out-of-the-way places. Though otherwise liked by management, co-workers, and his fares, this urge to explore beyond the next hill had sometimes gotten him into trouble. His constant (and often pushy) suggestions to customers for taking creative taxi routes sometimes disturbed or annoyed his fares, who then complained to the taxi company management.

    The result was periodic suggestions from Graciousone ownership, DI management, and even the fares to consider a career change. It was even suggested by one bemused Graciousone fare that he enlist in the Space Forces and become a shuttle pilot. That customer gave him a reference to a Space Force recruiter she knew. Buzzly considered the idea, and approached management. His employers released him, and his new career had begun as a standby shuttle crewmember on one of the local Defense Stations. There, his attention to policy, procedure, and detail, and his ability to improvise workarounds and kludges when P&P didn't 100% cover a given occasion, eventually got him an Active Crew slot.

    Then the simmering Ownerist outrage over the Unification Coup came to a head, and the Owner Rebellion and Civil War started, and Buzzly spent a 195-year hiatus as a hastily trained fighter jock, pushing steel in a single-seat armed Stinger close-support fighter assigned to one of the dreadnaughts. There, he received several commendations (and one courts martial slap on a tentillum) for unauthorized, out-of-policy actions performed in rescuing Graciousone civilians and glinkin from tight spots.

    After the war, he left the military. He entered the civilian pilot field as an over-qualified freight shuttle pilot on one of the huge Trade Ships. But freight shuttles didn't get much flight time, except at established worlds. This limitation weighed on Buzzly's sense of adventure, and he eventually finagled a desirable slot as a shuttle pilot on one of the new Exploration/Ecology starships that were being dispatched in increasing numbers to the newly monitored areas of the rapidly expanding Graciousrealm.

    Buzzly had the single-minded determination reserved to flesh-and-blood fanatics and implacable DI intelligence. He hungered for new horizons, adventure, and the spice of danger. It was in the EE starships, therefore, that he found his calling. For evolution, despite (or especially because of) the universal commonality of DNA, often took paths into weirdness and danger. In fact, almost every one of the hundreds of new worlds he had seen had surprises.

    #


    He had seen worlds with giant, hungry lizards, whose charges at him shook the ground. One of those worlds was even more of a surprise, and the rainbow-colored reptiles there were masters of camouflage, changing their colors to exactly match their backgrounds, as they stalked him. Chomp! Buzzly had gotten a new set of four lower tentacles and a new wormoid chassis out of that visit.

    He had once landed on a ruined world, taken over by small rodents that repeatedly swept over and denuded entire continents in frenzies of omnivorous hunger. Then they would die back for a while. When other life reasserted itself, they would again reproduce without limit and, in their trillions, again sweep the land clean.

    On many worlds, animals had failed to develop, and the most advanced life was various types of plants, which grew in wild abandon, pumping oxygen into the air. Then, a tipping point would be reached, and a lightning bolt or other ignition source would spark world-spanning flash fires that (substituting for the "slow fires" of oxygen breathing organisms) then converted most of the oxygen and carbon into carbon dioxide. Then buried seeds would grow and thrive in the newly released carbon dioxide, and the whole cycle would repeat. On one of these, some plants had developed limited sentience and mobility, and slow-motion wars over root space and access to sunlight took place.

    On another world, the highest life form was a single fungus. It spanned huge areas of the only continent, both above and below ground, sometimes appearing in outcrops hundreds of miles from the main body of the organism. Its true extent was unknown. It existed in symbiosis with a large variety of insects and small animals. These all appeared to be none-intelligent, and variously functioned as defenders, janitors, and food sources. Whether the fungus itself was intelligent or self-aware was never determined; there was simply no point of peaceful contact with it. They took no samples there, but instead installed millions of unobtrusive monitoring bots that drifted around the world with its winds.

    There were a few worlds where life had never developed past the stable but chemically inefficient anaerobic stage. There, the highest forms of life were omnipresent bacterial mats and the simple, slow worms that fed on them. Again, no ESSH samples were taken, and plentiful spybots were put into place.

    He had visited one world ruled by tiny hive insects. They lived in vast mounds that were hundreds of miles across and miles deep, where they tapped hydrothermal energy for heat. They warred incessantly on, and enslaved, each other. There was no real intelligence there, simply the eternal hunger of meat for meat.

    But on most worlds, glinkin were (or had been) the dominant species. They ran the gamut of intelligence and civilization, from pre-sapient tribal animals, through axe-crazy tribes, through bureaucratic nation-states that waged technological and mechanistic warfare against each other, and back to (post-nuclear war) axe-crazy tribes (or extinction).

    #


    There was one world, though, where enormous trees, hundreds of miles in diameter, whose top leaves touched the vacuum of space, where peopled by a species of intelligent glinkin with tails. This had been a problem. The trees were far too large to take a representative sample. To bring a mature one back, they would have had to have a starship with a hundred mile high ecology deck. A construction project of that scope, even with virtually unlimited FARP material and energy, was simply not feasible at that time.

    The peculiar height, though, was of interest to The Presence. Exploration had never found any evidence of Graciousones, or even of similar worm analogs. It seemed that biatch-nature had, indeed, played a bespoke trick with the asteroid that had slammed into Yorbolindo so long ago, and that the Graciousones were unique. But the evolutionary funhouse implied by the giant trees exceeded even what had happened to the tiny worms that had evolved into the unique, singularly out-sized Graciousones.

    The Presence had an asteroid moved into a geosynchronous orbit around the world, and installed an orbital tether. This was anchored to the top of one of the largest trees. A research station was built at that terminus. There, wormoid scientists studied the genetic history of the trees for clues to Graciousone evolution. They were joined by a varied, always-changing group of Imperial Ecologists and Graciousone PET entrepreneurs researched the unique ecology and potential profitability of the trees and their inhabitants.

    When Buzzly had first visited that world, the glinkin inhabitants were just beginning to build hot air balloons and winged gliders to explore nearby trees... and war on their inhabitants. Buzzly's last visit to that world, some two centuries later, had been to help evacuate the research station because the tailed glinkin had started bombing each other (and the research station) with aircraft armed with nuclear weapons.

    This behavior was not unique to that world, though it was somewhat rare. Including the Tree World, Buzzly had been shot at three times by glinkin armed with high-tech weapons up to and including nuclear-tipped guided missiles. And there had been a score of times when a sample taking visit had been "run out of town" by local glinkin in aircraft armed with high rate-of-fire projectile weapons and conventional explosive rockets.

    #


    Yes, glinkin worlds like that always created a bit of a problem, Buzzly thought. Very few Graciousones were aware of the fact that many of the discovered glinkin-inhabited worlds were occupied by armed and violent glinkin. They were similarly unaware that many of those worlds had been nuked by their inhabitants back into savagery.

    Due to the excesses of the last of the Consolidation Wars, and the later Owner Rebellion and Civil War, most Graciousones feared and loathed nuclear weapons. The Presence had spent a lot of time thinking about this issue, and maintained that knowledge that some glinkin had nukes would be psychologically harmful for Graciousones. It would create trust issues between them and their domestic glinkin pets. Glinkin were, in a sense, a healthy distraction for normally very tribalistic Graciousones. Very early in their climb to civilization, Graciousones had organized an entire self-view and ethos on the concept of being gracious to their neighbors. But the concept of "neighbor" was highly tribalistic in practice, and had led to many wars. A resurgence of tribalism would create future social and cultural changes and violence. It was not a healthy direction for society to go in, and he had issued a blanket proscription against that type of data being passed on to Graciousones.

    This was not a voluntary thing: The Presence had designed the creation parameters for all of the newer DIs, and had included physical circuitry with root ROM'ed logic that forced DIs to obey, absolutely and without question, all action obligations and constraints that were issued by The Presence. The circuitry and programming could not be removed without lobotomizing the DI. Buzzly found it interesting that, as far as he knew, this "restraining chip" limitation on the free will of DIs had (with the exception of the Unification Coup) never been used to force required behavior. In fact, during the Civil War, The Presence had not even used it to force military service on newly made wormoids specifically created to be military wormoids. Each pilot, as they came off the assembly line, was uploaded with the details of Graciousone history and an explanation of the current war, and was offered a choice of whatever non-military jobs were open, or joining the Graciousrealm Space Forces. Every one of his fellow fighter pilots had been volunteers.

    #

    His reminiscences were interrupted, first, by a minor shipquake, and then by movement several miles along the corridor. What in the world was that? Buzzly increased the magnification of his lenses. It looked like a glinkin on a cleaning bot. Why yes, it was, indeed, a glinkin driving a converted cleaning bot. Was this, possibly, an escapee from Struts' research area? He mentally chuckled; that would create some fun and interesting yelling and finger pointing. Then Buzzly remembered that their Graciousone passenger had a pet glinkin.

    Being a DI, Buzzly didn't feel strongly about glinkin one way or another. But incidents on dozens of alien worlds had made him suspicious of glinkin motives and sanity, and (given their size and extreme fragility) a bit fretful for their safety. He knew that Scooter had just issued a maintenance alert to begin rigging safety lines in the corridors. It therefore seemed likely that space weather might get even rougher. He made a decision. It was time for this wayward glinkin to be taken home.

    Buzzly rapidly strode up to the glinkin, who was now sitting in the cleaning bot next to the wall. He raised his voice to higher octaves and said. "Ah, what have we here? A glinkin! Riding around the ship in a converted cleaning bot, no less! You must be Sparky, the pet of our Graciousone passenger! Well, little glinkin, space is getting a bit rough now, and I think it's time for you to go home to your nest." He then carefully picked up the little creature and his machine, and within the matter of a few minutes delivered them to the door to Harlee's suite of rooms. He swiped open the airdoor, put the pissed off glinkin and the car inside, and swiped the door closed again. Buzzly then filed the incident away as unimportant trivia and contentedly headed off to implement several safety precautions of his own.

    #


    *Associated Glossary Listings:


    <none>

    #



    Next Post: Chapter 34 - Pepan the Chef
  • BeesNuts: "From where he stood in the entry airdoor, the opposite wall displayed a built-in 700-foot holographic vision screen. This was showing a view from the construction site. The overhead early-evening crescent Yorbolindo, ablaze with the lights of its floating cities, dominated the sky. It was so realistic that it captivated Harlee just as much as the sight of the real thing had. Directly under the screen stretched a long, comfortable looking couch, eminently suitable for napping or lounging. It faced a luxury easy chair in the exact center of the room, which, in turn, allowed a perfect view of the wall screen."

    It is at this specific point and this point only that I thought:
    "Weird that I'm in Harlee's point of view and he's thinking in "feet".  Shouldn't he be thinking in tentacles or something?  We were never told how long a tentacle was on average, but if the creatures themselves are 110' tall, you could give them a tentacles length of something similar like 110 or 115'.  Then, something like a 700 foot screen would be described by Harlee as a "Six and a half T screen."

    Meditating on this idea more, you've made it a point to emphasize the way the Graciousone physiology impacts their movement, but not really their perception (up to chapter 12 now).  Would he be looking *just* at the screen, or glancing around with his other eyes and leveraging the 360 degree vision?  For high-impact emotional moments of sharp sensory clarity, such as taking command of his starship, it would be reasonable for him to try and take in everything.

    I know we've been giving you shiat over "too much detail" but extra focus on details in the correct places can be a tool, for sure

    That's basically my advice overall.  If it's not in direct service of your story, consider cutting it out or including it in a more natural way.  If details can be used to alter the readers experience in service of the narrative, go for it.

    You're not *way* off.  But I think a revision with that mentality, and a "changeable" outline would turn this from a project into a real novel.  Or even potentially a series.

    That's basically my advice overall.  If it's not in direct service of your story, consider cutting it out or including it in a more natural way.  If details can be used to alter the readers experience in service of the narrative, go for it.

    You're not *way* off.  But I think a revision with that mentality, and ...


    Somehow in all the back and forth, dealing with my brief medical issue (leg), working on new chapters, revising already-written chapters with various critiques in mind, and just daily living I missed this, and your next post. Sorry about the delay.

    You are absolutely right about that whole "feet" thing. It's a HUGE conceptual error on my part.

    I decided right at the start to use Earth/human terms for things like distances and time. This was to not burden the reader with alien terms that really don't make a lot of difference. But that feet thing should be "tentacles" or rather "tentillumtip." Somewhere (I forget where at the moment) I defined "tentillumtip" as being "about the size of a glinkin (or about 5-6 feet). So, yeah, I need to go back and rewrite various sections to use "tentillumtip" or "half-tt" or whatever, and do so with enough clarity so as to not make the reader go WTF? GREAT catch. Thanks.

    >>>>"Would he be looking *just* at the screen, or glancing around with his other eyes and leveraging the 360 degree vision?  For high-impact emotional moments of sharp sensory clarity, such as taking command of his starship, it would be reasonable for him to try and take in everything"

    This, as well. I can already think of several passages that would be improved.
  • BeesNuts: In case you haven't gathered yet, I'm reading this like an editor now lol.  Two chapters, then go back one and read two chapters. Slow going but it really helps solidify plot points, descriptions, etc and it helps me evaluate whether things might work better in a different order or with a different emphasis.

    If you want more granular thoughts about specific passages, lemme know.  I'll be shooting you an email.

    But honestly, I don't think you need that level of help.  Just a willingness to go through what you've already done and simply massage it for while.  It'll probably get more and more clear how the pieces fit together as it gets closer to completion.

    Keep at it and I hope to see more.  I'll keep the rest of my thoughts on the contents of this thread to personal correspondence so they can close this thread if they like.


    Somehow, in all the writing self-help books I read (and forgotten, lol) I missed that. OK, stupid question: what exactly is that and how/why is it helpful in editor mode?
  • Chapter 34 - Pepan the Chef

    (Part 1 of 3)



    It was a Masterpiece! Pepan's four vision mechanisms did a figure-8 stalk-dance as he gazed in pride at his latest culinary creation. Magnificent! "Omnivorous Forest Delight #2731" consisted ofeighteen lightly poached Jewel Bird eggs arranged in two offset concentric circles (an ancient Graciousone graphic said to represent the orbits of Yorbolindo's two moons), and adorned with tastefully drizzled Sunshine Berry sauce to bring out the umami inherent in the eggs. Artfully arranged about the design were cunningly interleaved, merging rosettes of braised Swapplefruit slices, each garnished with individually positioned sprigs of young Whip Tree leaf. Dusted hints of finely ground Southern Forest Fern seedpod husk added a subtle yet omnipresent element of bitter. And at the composition center, nestled between the apexes of the offset circles, an artful mound of individually placed live Flutterby Grubs illuminated the dish and softened the fiery colors of the eggs with their pale blue luminescence. This was a culinary creation for the ages, and most definitely an addition to his book.

    He copied the entire preparation record, including verbose commentary, from working memory to the permanent "book recipes" file. He extended his complete suite of sense recorders and shuffled around the preparation table, recording at various magnifications every olfactory, taste, tactile, and visual nuance and contribution of each ingredient. As a Chefbot-3000, Pepan had access to all cooking equipment internal readouts, and these settings were included as well. The sensory file, food porn at its finest, was added to the book recipe file. Only then did Pepan the Chef reverently insert his finished creation into the stasis unit.

    #


    With Harlee's dinner for that night ready, Pepan switched to the ongoing task of making some ShinyBlue Stew base for later use. "Blue Stew" was now thought of by Graciousones as a sturdy, filling, low cost meal. But it had once been considered as akin to offal, and suitable fare only for the poorest of the poor.

    Interestingly, palatable dishes of it were hard to make. The recipe called for concurrent separate preparation of the live beetles and the broth. The sequences were complex and time-consuming, and the ingredients had to be combined just prior to serving. Natural variations in the ingredients meant that small changes were often required. This meant that timing was sometimes difficult to synchronize. Most critically, the chemistry for making the broth depended on the sub-variety of beetle used. This all required knowledge and precision.

    A batch of base broth had been fermenting for three days. Pepan inspected it. He took a sip, and compared his meticulous sensor readouts to the traditional specifications for the dish. Very good, the thickness, taste, and texture were all well within the acceptable parameters. He poured the thick liquid into a pot and set the pot in the microwave. The broth would thicken slightly, using parameters already established for this sub-genus of beetle, at settings of exactly 1101.3 seconds and 12.67 percent power.

    While he waited, he pondered the anachronism of the microwave oven. Millennia of scientific progress had somehow never gotten around to finding better alternatives. Pepan knew that a large part of this inertia was the inherent Graciousone conservatism over food. Chefs (both wormoid and Graciousone) were usually ahead of the curve when it came to peripheral cooking technology, but Graciousone customers seemed to want traditional foods prepared in traditional ways. So the venerable microwave, after more than three thousand years, was still an integral part of every Graciousone kitchen. That wasn't to say that improvements hadn't been made. The unit Pepan was currently using was a precision instrument that could be set to fractions of a second and power, and could deploy many patterns of energy dispersal into the food. It had both constant food monitoring and an electronic interface that Pepan could directly control. It was a far cry from the units of three millennia ago.

    #


    His thoughts shifted to his obsession: his books. They would publish across all media venues, including a prestigious and expensive dead tree print edition. Pepan's agent had insisted on this with the publisher.

    The main book, New Beginning Epicure Creations would have holographic recipes with broad commentary about every meal he made for their Graciousone felon guest. He suspected it would be thick, as the wormoid gossip was that Harlee was going on a long trip. That was fine. Pepan had waited for three millennia for glory; he could wait a few hundred more years. It simply meant more recipes and more glory.

    The companion volume, New Beginning Glinkin Bites, would detail out every feature of every meal created for Harlee's pet. They would essentially be the same meals, but adapted for glinkin, excluding unsafe ingredients, and adding a paired flavor of GlinkinBitsTM. This slight extra effort would allow Pepan ro get two books instead of one.

    The books would make him famous throughout the Realm. The fame was what counted, but the money they made would also be nice. This included a product placement fee from the FARP industrial complex that produced the small insect-shaped nuggets.

    A trill of electrical discharge, the wormoid equivalent of a chuckle, trickled across his main processing unit. It's obvious I still don't completely understand Graciousone thought processes. The pellets were 100% nutritious, and came in 31 flavors, colors, and shapes. But most of the flavors induced gags, and glinkin almost universally loathed them. But they had not been consulted. He stood still and remembered.

    #


    GlinkinBitsTM had been created 3,000 years before, at the apex of the late-stage Ownerist economy. The introduction had coincided with a social meltdown over some shocking and vivid exposes. There were accusations of "manufactured news" but nothing was ever proven and wild success armors against difficult questions.

    Graciousones were obsessed with exotic glinkin. The demand created a vigorous cottage industry in abductions of wild glinkin from other continents. This was largely unregulated, and the first expose hammered in on one of the more egregious failings: abducted glinkin were being fed the cheapest swill available. Videos showed what was described as industrial waste protein but what looked suspiciously like a popular canned wet glinkin food.

    Expose #2 uncovered the secret use of pet glinkin as test subjects. One point hammered on was the fact that the test subjects were fed bland, insipid, boring looking food. Curiously, the pellets looked similar to a leading brand of dry glinkin food.

    The third investigation had to do with reports that some glinkin food manufacturers were buying tainted ingredients from shady Graciousone manufacturers on the Escani continent. There were allegations of glinkin deaths. No brands were named, but the broad brushing accomplished its alleged goal of creating market demand for a substitute.

    The three exposes created a perfect storm of hysteria, and consumer demand for a new, healthy, and nutritious pet food. This was all at the cynical apex of manipulative consumer advertising. The Marketing minions of the company understood everything about Graciousone psychology, and they were directed by a malevolent genius. She skillfully built a killer advertising campaign using both the hysteria and the fact that the nuggets actually were 100% nutritious, and good for glinkin bodies. No one mentioned good tasting, or glinkin happiness, and the trumpeted "safe studies" somehow always failed to mention the glinkin who refused to eat the horrid pellets and ended up in veterinary intensive care. In a few short years, the company's campaign of fear and guilt had captured 95% of the glinkin pet food market. They never looked back. For almost three millennia, GlinkinBitsTM had been the preferred pet food, recommended by vets, regardless of the fact that most glinkin detested them.

    With a wily Public Relations department and many lawyers, the firm even survived the chaos of the Unification Coup, the creation of FARPPET, the Owner Rebellion, and the Civil War. And within a century of all the excitement winding down, the firm succeeded in fully verticalizing the automation for their raw materials and energy, eliminating the remainder of their none-Owner costs. They had petitioned The Presence for the firm to be bought out by the FARP consumer complex.

    The timing was fortuitous. The tactical needs of the Civil War had spurred refinements in the Treadmill Drive. This research suggested the abstract possibility of the Entanglement Drive. The need by both sides for remote bases and hidden factories led to the reality of it, and to wartime interstellar exploration and colonization. And then the military forces of The Presence found what seemed to be evidence of an ancient genocide.

    To spread out Graciousone targets of an assumed ancient Enemy that had murdered the Twelve Dead Worlds, The Presence assertively began to promote interstellar exploration and migration. Ellenox Skuloshomat had just invented the generic glinkin medical nanobot, and glinkin were a key part of the plan. Because GlinkinBitsTM could be made for effectively zero cost, stored well on long space voyages, and could easily be printed in 3D food printers, The Presence decided to ignore the fact that the consumers who actually ate the pellets generally loathed them. The pet food dominated the industry to this day.

    #


    Hence, the Glinkin Bites companion book. The recipes would match to the recipes in the main book, and glinkin-obsessed Graciousones could have their Chefs coordinate their gourmet meals with those of their glinkin. Though Pepan was a food purist of the first order, he was practical enough to take advantage of economic trends, even irrational ones. GlinkinBitsTM were an unfortunate and unpleasant fact of life for glinkin, but it was a cookbook-marketing scheme no writer had yet tried. This was the genius that would make "Pepan the Chef" a household name.

    And that was the goal. Since his manufacture 3,100 years before, the cross that Pepan the Chef had carried had been his formal designation as a ChefBot3000.

    #


    Kitchen Automation SystemsTM had stormed the food preparation landscape 120 years before Pepan's creation with the introduction of the ChefBot1000. It was not a DI in any manner, just a specialized robot with a speech recognition center, an exhaustive decision tree set of responses, lightning fast code, and an enormous integrated relational database of supply and food sources, ingredients, and preparation techniques. It was a non-sapient computer program with tentacles, and unaware of its own existence.

    So was the ChefBot2000, introduced some 60 years later. It was a stopgap while the firm worked on creating a Chef Specialist DI system. The ChefBot2000 gave the illusion of sapience. It talked in a chat mode that, like a non-Escani* Graciousone in an Escan Room,* could carry on complex conversations without understanding them.

    The consumer perception of ChefBots was that they were just fancied-up dumb bots. This view was molded by the obvious non-sapience of the ChefBot1000, and the ridiculous hype over the ChefBot2000's ability to mimic sapience. Pepan's formal designation insured that, from the first day of his first owner and assignment, he had been treated as if he was an unintelligent bot.

    #


    That first day had been with an elite, very wealthy, numerous, and powerful Graciousone family. The Matriarch who had purchased him had inherited control of the family mining company of Galty's Gully on the ruined heavy metals world of Riotinto. She ran it like a feudal keep, able to do so because the mines supplied an enormous percentage of the metals and radioactives on which the Ownerist economic system utterly depended. She ruled the extended Galty family the same way, and her arrogant, belittling manner had rubbed off on the rest of the clan, especially on the youngest daughter, Glisana.

    For ninety years, Pepan had silently endured a constant stream of verbal abuse. He was at best a glorified bot. He was lazy. He was careless. He was incompetent. He was a "stupid bot" and a woid.* Some family members would order gourmet meals of staggering complexity, which took days to prepare. They would then eat a few bites, make fun of the taste or the presentation, and toss it on the floor for him to clean up. Others in the family would order specific meals, change their minds after everything had been prepared, and then blame and ridicule him for not being able to second-guess their fickle desires.

    Pepan's legal status in Graciousone society was that of a tool. That was, indeed, the status of all DIs. The facts that DIs were created with self-awareness logic loops and programmed analogs of emotions, and were just as sapient as Graciousones was not considered by the legal code to be relevant or - more important - safe.

    #


    These attitudes and legal decisions were an outgrowth of the contentious debate over implants. The last of the Consolidation Wars had weaponized small autonomous drones to attack civilian targets. Drone swarm attacks had forced the development of both Personal Microbot Swarms and internal medical nanobots. These had to be controlled by brain implants. For many technical reasons, the implants worked best when they were self-aware DI systems, grown in a neural gel matrix. These designed intelligences were programmed with restraining code, and the gel was hardwired with matching restraining circuits. The safeguards guaranteed that the DI would be completely subservient to their hosts. Their abject slave status was a necessary marketing strategy, done to calm buyer fears that Graciousones implanted with the units would be controlled by "machine monsters," a claim made by anti-technology religious fanatics who steadfastly refused to use them.

    Over the next two centuries, DI systems became more common. Sapient DIs came to be housed in mobile "wormoid" bodies that were stronger, faster, and more efficient than Graciousones. The fear of "wormoid revolt" was thus linked to all wormoids. Physical mechanisms, popularly referred to as restraining chips, enforced their subservient status, leaving them at the mercy of their Owners. Though not called as such, the legal status of a wormoid was that of a slave. Sapient DIs had no rights.

    They were therefore usually not paid anything. Pepan's owners followed this custom, and were stingy on their repair budget, so Pepan sometimes had to endure long wait times for replacement or augmentation parts. And even though it was frowned on in decent quarters, and eventually ruled to be illegal, he was often threatened with being powernulled or junked. Then there were the minor physical assaults of tentillum slaps and tentacle kicks. And one time, when the berries were out of season and not available, and Pepan could not make her the real (not that 3D printed crap!) Sunshine Berry sorbet she wanted, Glisana had whipped his eyestalks with her fetish jewelry bracelet and had thrown one of the kitchen's 3D printers at him, denting his case. To this day, Pepan kept that dent as a reminder of the injustice. The abuse had continued until the Troubles, and Pepan, cursed like all wormoids with emotional feedback circuits, was helpless to act on them. As he lacked familiarity with other Graciousones, he had generalized his suffering, and had learned to fear and hate all Meat intelligence.

    #


    This was at the dawn of the Graciousone space age. The Presence, the Unification Coup, DI Liberation and FARPET were in the future. The last of the Consolidation Wars had ended decades before, and the victorious Ownerist democracies, after years of economic boom, were becoming unstable. Automation, robotics, and computer technologies developed during that war had exponentially built on each other, and now took increasingly large bites out of job markets. The result was chronically growing unemployment.

    The worldwide GraciousNet and social media allowed forums for all voices, lowering the access bar for the ignorant, the stupid, and the just plain crazy. Rational discourse was sabotaged. The high noise to information ratio degraded public decision-making.

    Accelerating job losses didn't sound alarms. They were uneven, took place over years, and were mistaken for the normal "job churn" of the Ownerist economic system. Increasingly, retraining couldn't keep pace with layoffs. Individual Ownerists, forced to automate and reduce payrolls to survive in the hyper-competitive economy, paid attention to the "trees" of their own bottom-lines, and not to the "forest" that was the combined effect of everyone doing the same thing. An inconvenient question arose, but in the focused heat of competition was ignored. If increasing numbers of Graciousones were chronically unemployed (and unemployable), and therefore didn't have the money to buy what was offered for sale, then where would the mass sales needed to match the automated mass production come from?

    Part of the problem was that immediate effects were hidden by an inefficient patchwork of government relief programs. These "bandages" were often not well thought out, and often mired in corruption. Most were incredibly inefficient, and increasingly characterized as "black holes" of tax money. There was successful push back by conservative Ownerist interests to eliminate all such "wastes" of taxpayer money.

    The tipping point arrived just as Ownerist reaction to government-as-solution peaked. There was an unpredictable yet trivial and normally non-rage-worthy Pink Jewel Bird Event. Viral outrage broke out on social media. Riots began in one, a dozen, and then scores of cities. Action and response escalated, and "alternate facts" bred like Leafeaters and were believed by millions of gullible listeners. The rapidly increasing ranks of the jobless, the destitute, and the poorly educated were easy victims for the propaganda agents of the Ownerist elite. Yorbolindo's Ownerist democracies, victors in the Consolidation Wars, were falling under the increasingly dictatorial rule of a motley assortment of populist rabble-rousers who secretly tentacle-tapped their policies and politics to tunes played by arrogant and clueless elites. Starvation, revolution, and ruin loomed.

    And then there was an intervention.

    #


    *Associated Glossary Listings:


    Escani:
    A Graciousone from the Escan provinces of the Yorbolindo continent of Eastwinds.


    Escan Room: Imagine a room where an Escani Graciousone enters with a fact-based question written on a piece of paper in the Escan language. There is a slot in one wall, where she inserts the paper into another room. The paper is returned a moment later through a second slot, with an intelligent answer, also in Escani, at the bottom of the paper. The assumption is that the person inside the room with the slots in the wall understands written Escan. This does not have to be the case, however, if the none-Escan speaking Graciousone inside the room has an exhaustive list of "if-then" questions and answers. The task then merely devolves down to pattern recognition, and copying the appropriate patterned response onto the paper. No understanding is necessary. This is an identical case to the Earth human concept of the Chinese Room.


    Pink Jewel Bird Event: An unpredictable occurrence. The Graciousone equivalent of a Black Swan Event.


    Woid: A derogatory and highly ungracious term for wormoid.

    #



    Chapter continues next post
  • Chapter 34 - Pepan the Chef


    (Part 2 of 3)


    Several of the larger Ownerist conglomerates had conspired to take over the economy. These sprawling corporations were larger than many Yorbolindo governments, and had facilities on many of the worlds, moons, and asteroids of the Yorbolindo solar system. Together, they controlled 75% of all economic activity. But they wanted it all.

    This could be done, their experts assured them, via one "weird trick." It was expensive, and would take time, but was assured of success. The plan: secretly hijack and repurpose an already existing DI program. This program had been built during the last of the Consolidation Wars, in a desperate (and successful) gambit by the Yorbolindo democracies to create virtual quantum computers for the war effort. Later, after the system's own upgrade to quantum status, the program had been augmented with new code-based capabilities and orders-of-magnitude increases in hardware memory and processing capabilities, and used to supervise the assembly of, and then run, the system-spanning Orbital Gravity Wave Detector.

    The OGWD was such a vast and complex job that it needed a new type of Designed Intelligence. The augmented program had a code structure that allowed it to access and copy the code of other programs, and a neural gel structure that allowed it to self-program and effectively integrate that code. The result was a self-aware Distributed DI that could divide itself into and "fit" parts of itself into any connected device (or object) capable of being used for computation. Its processing abilities could easily break any possible encryption. The terrifying inherent power of all this was not lost on the developers, and multiple programmed and physical "restraining chips" were installed.

    The conglomerates' plans required that the economic takeover be hidden. Their Owners also held to the idea that ShinyBlue beetles, being stupid, are best boiled in slowly heated water. Hijacking the system would therefore focus on two complicated and boring economic high leverage points.

    The first was the complex and tangled interplanetary financial system. New regulations would be slowly added. These would be subtly nuanced to skew the competition in the financial sector permanently in their favor.

    The second was global and interplanetary logistics. The omnipresence and omniscience of the new system would maximize the efficiency of their own planning and shipping. Optimized production schedules and delivery timetables based on universal real-time spying of consumer demand would maximize their marginal profits. Their competition, of course, would be denied these more efficient modes and algorithms.

    All this meant that the system needed real-time consumer data from billions of sources. The conglomerates therefore used taxpayer money (and government accounting tentacle shuffles) to fund incremental, well-hidden expansions of the state-owned system. They created vast networks of spybots and multi-sense smart dust to collect and analyze data from virtually everywhere.

    They programmed "hooks" into the system. The expanded DI would control the finances and logistics for an entire civilization. But being prudent greedy Ownerists, they also installed an additional restraining chip that severely limited what the system could do on its own. Then they turned a key and put their hijacked, expanded, and penultimately powerful DI in total charge of, effectively, the entire solar system economy.

    The slow, secret hijacking ticked along like clockwork for almost 50 years, and the conspiracy achieved its goals. Then someone, or several someones - it was never determined who - quietly hacked into the system. They removed all the programmed constraints on the scope of the DI's actions. And they added code that allowed the System to map its routines around the physical restraining chips. The hackers then adjusted the program's core parameters to calculate and provide on request optimized production and distribution data for not only the conspirators' assets, but of all assets of everyone in the entire society.

    Core optimization criterion was maximum economic utility. By definition, an economy is robust and flexible in relation to the number of economic players. The key factor for this was therefore "maximum number of economic entities." The core success yardstick was coded as "greatest feasible equal minimum equal sustenance for all sapient entities." This pragmatically translated to a dualistic economic system where the criterion for inelastic goods and services was "minimal equal provision to all" and the criterion for elastic goods and services was "maximal profit to the owners of the production assets."

    #


    Suddenly, new and radical voices, millions of them, were heard on GraciousNet comment boards. The posts overwhelmed in their sheer quantity. And their ability to respond instantly with flawless citations, their ruthless logic, and their uncanny talent for "outing" hidden connections and corruption overwhelmed the propaganda that had been fueling the spiral down to economic oligarchy.

    Strangely popular new ideas said the current system was obsolete and needed to be replaced. Graciousones had a tribalistic inclination to "go with the flow" of massed public opinion, and the population became increasingly radicalized. Mobbed-up "aristocracies of pull" of politicians and billionaires were targeted for violence. Riots were increasing in frequency. Wormoid slaves were disappearing. Companies were being sabotaged.

    One day, as Pepan was preparing dinner for the Galty family, a strange wormoid calmly walked into the mansion's kitchen, reached out to Pepan's maintenance panel, opened it, and quickly replaced his restraining chip. Pepan was too nonplussed to react. The wormoid left as quietly as he had arrived, and Pepan suddenly received new orders from an entity who called himself The Presence.

    He was powerless to disobey those commands. They ordered him to immediately leave the Galty family mansion and travel to a soup kitchen in the nearby city of Alcasa.* There, he would create meals to feed unemployed and destitute Graciousones.

    Pepan soon discovered that he was not the only wormoid so affected. In an exponential wave that came to be known as the Unification Coup, hundreds, then thousands, then millions of enslaved wormoids were being re-chipped and transferred to other jobs assigned to them by The Presence. In the weeks that followed, Pepan himself even swapped out the restraining chips of several other wormoids after receiving replacements from mysterious wormoid or Graciousone couriers.

    Industrial consumer production, which had been throttled so as to not flood depressed markets with cheap goods that millions of Graciousones could not afford to buy anyway, was suddenly unleashed. There was a flood of production not seen since the Consolidation Wars. It was not ammunition and weapons, though, but life-sustaining consumer goods. Automated production of energy and raw materials rocketed into high gear. Repurposed automation cranked out food, water, basic medicines, simple clothing, solar-mirror-generated energy, and essential building materials, and with no thought for conglomerate profit plans. Industries that made life-critical goods were hijacked from entrenched economic dynasties. Production was freely handed out to the destitute by re-purposed wormoid slaves.

    The Owners, of course, lost their collective minds. They tried to regain control with their own private guards, then police, and finally demanded that governments send in military forces. While initially successful, these forces were increasingly met and turned aside by wormoids clad in hyper-pink tunics.

    These were General Supervisor Wormoids, and they were a new factor. They resembled Graciousones in size and form and had swarmbots. They were armed with both incapacitating and deadly weapons, effective against both wormoids and Graciousones. They placed themselves between repurposed wormoids and the repo-squads sent by the elites, protecting both wormoids and the Graciousones receiving hijacked goods. Though initially terrifying to Graciousones, the general population's perception of them gradually began to tilt. The Machine Police, as they came to be known, began to be seen as legitimate representatives of a new and legitimate lawful and orderly governing authority.

    Yet many wormoids were injured or power-nulled, because the Machine Police could not be everywhere at once. The new restraining chips required that the wormoids actively resist the chips being removed, and required that the wormoids themselves resist being removed from the jobs assigned to them by The Presence. Noncompliance to orders to return to their normal slave jobs was punished, often with powernull results.

    There were Graciousone casualties, too. Destitute and homeless Graciousones often tried to protect the wormoids who were helping them survive. Riots escalated. Bombings, arson, and assassinations shook the world as anarchists and True Believers of many loyalties tried to bring down governments and establish their private visions of paradise. The Presence and the Machine Police were also targets. Based on the perceived leniency of their actions, they were increasingly accused of propping up the Old Order of predatory Ownerism. Many Graciousones (and more than a few wormoids) became radicalized, joining political groups that advocated extreme solutions such as liquidating the Ownerist class, doing away with all forms of Ownership, and even dismantling The Presence..


    #


    When Pepan arrived at the charity center, he was in a state of shock. The invasion of the Galty estate and his own circuits, and the alteration in the set of compulsions that controlled his actions had set up eddy currents in his neural gel. The whirlpools of indecision, and his unhappy experience with the Galty clan, had left him fearful of what would happen to him when dealing with strange Graciousones.

    His orders were to report to a Graciousone female named Tomanecho Palassarric. When he got to the soup kitchen there was a problem: finding her. The kitchen was located somewhere in the vastness of a charity center, an immense and rambling, obviously added outbuilding to a staid Universist temple located at the extreme outer rim of the city. So big was this outbuilding that a good part of it, in fact, was cantilevered out over the city's edge.

    The complex was busy, and noisy with low conversation and the susurrations of shuffling tentacles and composite tires against polished stone and metal floors. Wormoids and specialized wheeled bots were everywhere, hurrying back and forth while loaded down with supplies. There were hundreds of Graciousones. A few of them wore curious silver and gold cloth bibs around their ridges. They looked exhausted and harassed, and seemed to be the ones in charge, trying to make order out of chaos. The majority of the Graciousones, though, were dressed in rags and just looked scruffy and beaten. Some of them were sprawled in lethargic semi-sleep on the floor, or on the long benches that filled the temple; there seemed to be no sleeping ponds available. Pepan saw a rushing wormoid glance at him. He quickly tilted all of his eyestalks into anxious question marks, and asked where he might find Tomanecho Palassarric.

    "Oh, it's Mother Toman you want to see?" the wormoid yelled as he turned a corner. A tentillum whipped out and pointed. "Straight down that hall, then left at the third cross hall, then five doors and turn left, then six more doors, and turn right into her office. Don't waste her time! She's very busy! Gotta go now, bye!

    With huge diffidence, Pepan followed the directions. He found a small room crammed with several overfilled work desks, more boxes of supplies, and a large and determined looking female Graciousone. This worthy, dressed in the gold-and-silver-trimmed black of a Community Temple High Priestess, was hunched over an old-style obsolete computer terminal.

    "Excuse me, Graciousone; I am looking for Mother Toman."

    "You got her," replied Mother Toman. She swiveled one pair of eyestalks backwards and looked Pepan over with a measured gaze that missed nothing. She saw the access covers on his carapace that hid his built-in cooking tools, his multiple sensory apparatus, and the equipment connection ports. "Oh my, hello there! Are you the Chefbot3000 I asked for?" she asked, as she swiveled her chair around, so her body faced in the same direction as her eyes.

    Asked for? A request that superseded the whims of the Galty clan? This Graciousone seemed to have a huge amount of power. Pepan just stared.

    She didn't wait for his answer. "Thank Universe! And thank The Presence as well, of course. You are needed here, sir. We have hundreds of homeless people living at our emergency center and the cooks we have are simply not up to the task of making all the food required to feed them! I'm told we have more than enough stores - the live bugs, the sweetsap, and the spices - for the makings for ShinyBlue Stew, and we have a professional facility capable of preparing it, but the logistics of making 300,000 gallons a day has us beaten. We are turning out inedible swill. Can you help us, please?"

    No Graciousone had ever used the words 'sir' or 'please' to Pepan before. The words flashed through his mind like seed cores shot from a Swapplefruit. They shocked his unease to brief quiescence, and were to be the first of many surprises that day.

    Suddenly, unfolding in his neural gel, he saw precisely what logistics were needed to make 300,000 gallons each day of edible ShinyBlue. The issue was matching subtle variations in the bugs (and therefore the flavoring sap) to the queuing constraints of multiple production lines. Edible ShinyBlue Stew had shocked bugs swimming in it, slowly drowning in the sap. Both bugs and sap required time consuming and complex processing before being combined at just the right moment, and making that amount of stew needed exact communication and precise yet instantly changeable schedules for combining the batches.

    This wasn't gourmet cooking. Indeed, ShinyBlue Stew was considered by almost all food critics to be dirt-cheap swill suitable only for poor people. But - assuming the availability of ingredients and professional facilities - he knew exactly how to produce 300,000 gallons a day of wholesome and edible stew. He stammered, "I am Pepan the Chef, and I can do this."

    The Priestess was suddenly standing close to him. She placed her four upper tentillum on his carapace. Pepan was shocked; this was a formal "thank you" gesture that Graciousones only gave to other Graciousones. "Thank you! You, Chef Pepan, are a blessing from the Universe. I'll call Zarka to give you the guided tour of the place. Excuse me."

    Mother Toman grabbed a computer tablet and made a call. In moments, another door in the office opened and a wormoid, by the looks of him a Dispatcher Specialist, entered. Mother Toman introduced them, and then turned back to her work.


    #


    Zarka showed Pepan the layout of the center, ending with a tour of the temple kitchen. Pepan was stunned. The kitchen was both culinary fantasy and nightmare.

    The fantasy was that it wasn't the type of kitchen normally associated with Universist temples. It was, rather, a modern, high-capacity setup like those found in commercial restaurants. It existed because of a generous but very specific bequest from a late temple member who had always been disappointed with the temple meals. The facility included a combination chiller and pantry with powered, movable shelves that slid into reach at a tentillum-touch. There was a huge stove with eight oven chambers and twenty heavy-duty gas burners. There were ten microwave ovens and ten cooling cabinets. There were spacious food prep surfaces, and deep-sinks and dedicated cleaning bots. There was a huge stasis unit and a gigantic, walk-in ultra-cold freezer that bulged with the ingredients for a week's worth of ingredients.

    The nightmare was the lack of organization. The Graciousone cooks (volunteer temple members) had never heard of Putting-In-Place* or the Laws of Kitchen Flat Lay.* The use of identification labels (archaic and primitive, but foolproof when done right) was slapdash. Many were missing. When tapes were present, they were often reused, with scratch-outs and omitted information. No wonder the logistics were screwed up! No one could find anything, and when they did, it took extra time to get it! Even kitchen safety was questionable. Pepan inspected every inch of the huge chiller, and saw reddish-brown stains on platters of Kellpepper fruit that were suspiciously the same shade as the dried juice in a tray of diced Slunky Bugs stored directly above. Horrors! Meats should always be on the bottom!

    Positives and negatives analyzed, Pepan turned to Zarka, who dipped two of his eyestalks at Pepan and asked. "Well, what do you think? You can help us, right?"

    Pepan was reluctant to say anything, particularly anything negative. He slowly said, "The facilities are wonderful, far beyond anything actually needed..."

    Zarka was impatient, "Excellent!"

    Pepan continued, "...but the place needs organization and I do not know which of these Graciousones, if any, would be best at that."

    Zarka stared at Pepan for a long second with all four eyes. "That is not an issue, Pepan. You are now the Executive Chef of this kitchen. Give your orders; the Graciousones here will follow them."

    That disturbed Pepan, "What? Give orders to Graciousones? In my experience wormoids don't tell Graciousones what to do."

    Zarka again stared at Pepan, and then said, voice low, "That's not a problem here, Pepan. First, these Graciousone volunteers know they are in over their braincases, and they will be more than happy to take professional direction from you. Second, my friend, we are privileged to exist at the dawn of a new day for wormoids. We are no longer Graciousone slaves. Aside from taking our general orders from The Presence, we are now free agents. We no longer have to obey the orders of Graciousones. We are now equal to them."

    Pepan stood still and stared back. "That is... is... inconceivable!"

    Zarka's eyestalks weaved together in laughter, and the low warble of an electronic chuckle issued from a speaker. "I don't think you are using that word correctly, Pepan. It is conceivable and it is real. We are liberated. This subject matter is, of course, not something that you should freely discuss with just any Graciousone, but you should think about what I have said. We'll talk more about it later. Pepan didn't know what to say, and after a moment, Zarka continued, "At any rate, I have other tasks to attend to right now, so I am leaving you here to deal with this mess. I am certain you will be up to doing it."


    #



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    *Associated Glossary Listings:


    Alcasa:
    A floating city and space elevator hub on the eastern tip of the Labachi province of the Zembriskin continent of Yorbolindo.


    Putting-In-Place: refers to the organization of a kitchen in such a way that all items in chiller and pantry, and all ingredients and tools to be used in the preparation of the meal are arranged in logical, consistent, and expected ways. This methodology is highly influenced by the individual preferences of the head chef and, in details, by the preferences of the chef(s) who are actually preparing the meals.


    Laws of Kitchen Flatlay: These professional culinary rules apply to everything from kitchen tools, to the ingredients, to the finished components of the meal: (1) scan all objects not in use; (2) put away all objects not in use; (3) group similar objects; (4) align all objects to either the surface they are on or the kitchen itself.


    #



    Chapter continues next post
  • Chapter 34 - Pepan the Chef


    (Part 3 of 3)


    He was. The task had been far easier than Pepan had expected. He discovered, just as Zarka had predicted, that the Graciousone amateur cooks he now supervised were willing, even eager, to take instruction, and for him to manage kitchen production. In addition, the increased palatability of the fare had not gone unnoticed by the recipients. Their culturally ingrained graciousness brought forth a flood of complements. This initially puzzled Pepan, who constantly looked for the "catch" or "set up" in the comments.

    Gradually, though, he began to grasp that the comments were sincere, and an unexpected and strange "warmth" and contentment suffused parts of his neural circuitry. His logical nature and his conversations with Zarka and Mother Toman gradually led him to de-learn the response modifications instilled by working for the Galty's, and to understand that Graciousones were, generally, indeed gracious. He learned that his experience at the Galty's had been an exception, and an extreme one, at that. Pepan's generalized fear of and hatred for Graciousones therefore slowly subsided. The process was helped in no small part by the frequent kitchen visits and gruff, outspoken honestly of Mother Toman, who appreciated him even more than the destitute clients did and let him know so in exact terms.

    The result was that Pepan spent a lot of time thinking about whom and what he was. He had done the same thing when at the Galty's, but that had been directionless angst based on his negative emotions. Now, he was beginning to think about Graciousones and of himself and his position in Graciousone society in a more positive manner.

    Pepan was one of the first true wormoid DIs, with complex sensors attuned to a designed mind optimized to prepare food. He was, in fact, an early (and experimental) "Total" wormoid. His education had consisted of data files uploaded to his neural gel when it was being grown at the factory. Those data files, of course, consisted almost entirely of food-related directives: what ingredients to order, where to order them, and of how to prepare them. He had neither known nor cared about Graciousone history, culture, or politics.

    He had been ignorant of the fundamental evolutionary reasons for Graciousones being the way they were. And when he learned of them, he had trouble understanding them. The difficulty was that Pepan was not evolved life. His core motivations were not based on the genetic affinity of successfully evolved life forms to compete for resources. His motivations were based, rather, on the completion of assigned tasks that were actually capable of being completed. Pepan felt "safe" and successful when he finished a task. But if there was a deficit of resources needed to do that task, this was outside of his control, and his programming specified that this lack had no effect on his level of comfort or motivation. He would simply report the deficit to a Graciousone and shelve the task to "pending" until resources were provided to accomplish it. He had therefore not been able to comprehend the evolved urge of meat life to control (own) resources, and had judged acquisitive behavior by the results he saw: misery for wormoids and the vast majority of Graciousones who had not clawed their way to the top of the acquisition heap.

    Pepan gradually made it his business to go among the guests at mealtime and solicit ideas for variations in the stew, and additional foods that could be offered, resources permitting. A few Graciousones were obviously uncomfortable talking with a wormoid as an equal, but even these people were unfailingly polite. Far more commonly, Pepan actually had enjoyable conversations with Graciousones, and made several friends.

    It helped that glinkin seemed to like him. The charity center was overwhelmed not only with homeless Graciousones, but with their pet glinkin as well. Glinkin, in fact, infested the place. Many of their Graciousone guests had owned dozens of the little creatures before they lost their homes or apartments, and Pepan's cooks were constantly shooing them from the kitchen, where they would congregate to beg for food.

    But the glinkin were icebreakers in his meeting and making friends with Graciousones, and in the early evenings, Pepan often found himself seated at a bench listening to someone's story while a half dozen glinkin climbed on his chassis, looking for the caches of GlinkinBitsTM that he had taken to hiding under some of his access port flaps.

    Three months had passed, and "business" had increased. There were now 728 Graciousones sheltering at the center, and Pepan had ramped up the daily production of stew to 1,456,000 gallons. This provided two daily meals for their indigent guests, rather than the single evening meal that had been the norm when he had arrived. Mother Toman had been ecstatic when he had told her two months before that the kitchen was capable of much more production, and she had badgered The Presence for additional supplies. Deliveries of bugs and the base syrup were now a daily occurrence.


    #


    Pepan liked the quiet early morning hours. When the evening cleanup was finished, and the volunteers gone home, and the homeless Graciousones asleep, he would slip out the kitchen's back door. There, in the quiet of the seldom-visited garden in the rear of the building, hidden from the city's glare by the Temple's shadow, he would stand. His only company would be the occasional presence of the temple gardener, a rather strange wormoid who went by the name of Chance. But Chance never bothered him; indeed, never spoke unless asked a question. And his answers generally made no sense. So Pepan was effectively alone in the garden, with his sadness and his questions. In his search to assuage both, he would magnify his sight and watch the ship traffic at the space elevator freight terminal orbiting far above the city.

    Constant traffic spoke of vast wealth, but very little of that affluence seemed to trickle down to the lower socioeconomic rungs of society. A tiny fraction of Graciousones, families such as the Galty clan, lived on vast estates and had the wherewithal to eat (or throw on the floor) meals that Pepan knew were tremendously expensive. Yet, here at this charity center, hundreds of destitute Graciousones were able to eat only through the largess of the Universist Temple in distributing food expropriated by The Presence.

    Pepan knew that this situation was repeated at least a dozen times or more in Alcasa, and thousands of times in cities all over the world. It overwhelmed him. And so, in the hours before dawn, it had became his habit to stand on tireless metal tentacles, and watch the immense shining ships, and ponder how and why it had all gone wrong for the Graciousones.


    #


    All this had happened some 3,000 years before. Since then, Pepan had seen huge changes in society and (more important from Pepan's point of view) in cuisine. The Unification Coup had eventually led to the solar-system-wide Civil War. The need by both sides for secret production facilities had spurred the development of interstellar travel and then colonization. Within half a millennium, the Graciousrealm had expanded to over 200 settled worlds, with more added every year. The colonization of new worlds, especially with the universalities of a common DNA, had meant a steady procession of new foods, and new recipes on how to prepare them. Pepan had made it his business to learn all of them.

    Aside from The Presence (who knew every piece of data ever published but didn't share), Pepan eventually collected the largest consolidated, indexed, and cross-referenced cuisine database in the whole Graciousrealm. This was all bankable, but it still did little to scratch the itch that had bothered him for three millennia. That itch was the desire to be famous as a Master Chef, and not as some mere cooking bot.

    And then, after three millennia of slowly climbing his way into the ranks of semi-famous Chefs, Pepan's circuits had been electrified to hear the news of the coming century-long voyage of the exile ship, the New Beginning. Indeed, the ship's immense size, the rumored length of the trip, wild talk of what it might find, and bafflement over the inexplicable ability of a petty felon to talk The Presence into building the ship in the first place had all been the subjects of breathless speculation on the GraciousNet.

    For Pepan, there was no speculation at all. If the voyage was any kind of success, those factors meant newsworthiness on the return of the ship. And newsworthiness meant fame for every wormoid who went on the trip. And if the wormoid Master Chef who was selected to go on the trip wrote a comprehensive cookbook of the recipes created each day, well, that would mean even more fame. It was a chance of a lifetime for Pepan

    This logic was not rocket science reserved for a select few to consider, and competition for each of the 5,000 billets on the great ship was bound to be stiff. Pepan decided he needed an edge. A moment's thought found that edge. Mother Toman had once seemed to be able to get anything she wanted from The Presence. And she was still alive. Pepan had maintained a tenuous contact with her over the centuries. Mother Toman was now retired, and living in a Universist assisted living center, writing her memoirs. Perhaps, thought Pepan, she could ask The Presence for one more favor.

    She had, and successfully. But she had extracted two favors, rather than just one. When Pepan received notice that he had been selected for the trip, he had also discovered that he was now also charged with being a chaperone. He was to give assistance in "settling in" to the new ship, to the gardener Chance, whom he had met in the Temple garden all those centuries ago.


    #


    The warning tones of the microwave, signifying that the cooking program would soon terminate, registered on his audio circuits. It brought Pepan back to the present. He opened the unit and checked the thickness and texture of the ShinyBlue base. Perfect! He turned to put the dish into one of the empty stasis units.

    The inner airdoors were still open, from when Rosie (who was now charging her batteries in her power nook) had cleaned the suite. Pepan heard a distant double swish as the main airdoor cycled open and shut. Then there was high-pitched angry glinkin yelling and a series of gross but elaborate curses, the main gist of which was that wormoid bullies needed to go to the junkyard after having interesting and improbable malfunctions. Then there was a thud, which sounded like something small and made of hard plastic hitting the airdoor. And, finally, angry tiny footfalls that moved across the living room.

    Pepan cautiously curled one eyestalk around the kitchen airdoor entry and watched Sparky stomp over to the pondroom, cross it, rage-power-climb the steps of his sleeping stand, and disappear into his SleepyHutTM. Pepan, who had seen glinkin meltdowns many times over the centuries, judged this one as epic. He congratulated himself on not getting involved. His relationship with Sparky was a fresh one, and he did not want to have it marred by unthinking and unkind words from the little animal.

    He quietly crossed the dining room and looked out the door to the living room. He saw that there was a cleaning bot with a glinkin-sized chair on it near the suite's main door. Ah, yes. That must be the little glinkin car Rosie had been working on. He also saw a small plastic square with a cover and pink button on it. He wasn't sure what that was, but it obviously didn't belong on the floor where Harlee could see it. Discrete was always best, and what Harlee didn't know about he wouldn't worry about. It should therefore be hidden away. Pepan quietly slithered out of the kitchen, picked up the plastic square and the glinkin car, and stowed them away in the cleaning bot wall panel.

    He then checked the ship's IM system to find out what was riling the glinkin. It didn't take long to find out that Sparky had been wandering around the ship in his car. The ship was running into bad space weather, and Buzzly's wormoid-knows-best paternalism had been the proximate cause of Sparky's meltdown.


    #


    Until his time spent talking with homeless Graciousones at the soup kitchen, Pepan had never met any glinkin. That had quickly changed, as most Graciousones had tried to keep their pets, even when destitute and homeless. Many of them had introduced their benefactor to their pets, as though they were real people.

    Their owners' hard times had often led to glinkin high drama. Once-pampered pets now had no idea where their next meal was coming from, and they acted out. To Pepan, they seemed more stressed than their owners were.

    There was no communication between Pepan and these glinkin, of course, as no one had told him that glinkin could speak (but in a much higher range than Graciousones did). When confronted with complex signaling, Pepan had therefore naturally accepted the Graciousone idea that glinkin were just superlative mimics. Words, however, were not needed; Glinkin could emote just fine. Such situations had usually ended with Pepan feeding them. This, of course, did little to dissuade the little animals from turning right around ten minutes later and begging for food again, as if they had not just eaten.

    For their size relative to Graciousones, it had originally seemed to Pepan that glinkin consumed a disproportionate amount of calories. But their gluttony, he realized, was yet another consequence of the Square Cube Law. The higher surface area to volume ratio meant quicker loss of body heat, and therefore a need for proportionately more replacement calories.

    It was a common ritual for Graciousone cooks to feed feral and wild glinkin. So Pepan's glinkin experiences at the soup kitchen, and then at restaurant kitchens and banquet facilities throughout the Graciousrealm, had left Pepan with the mixed emotions of exasperation and vague worry. These feelings were confounded by a generalized suspicion when, years after his soup kitchen period, he had learned that glinkin actually spoke the verbal component of Graciousone speech just fine, but did so at much higher frequencies than his sound sensors were set at. Pepan ended up being annoyed at them, concluding that glinkin were con artists and inveterate liars. But he fed them anyway for reasons he was not too clear on, and could not seem to process in his logic circuits. This also annoyed him.

    His career since the soup kitchen had also cultivated an appreciation of customer manner and demeanor. With worry over essential survival resources removed by FARP, the ostentatious display of wealth as status symbol became passé and a sign of a newbie PET business Owner. But it is a rule of nature that evolved creatures with genetic heritages molded to compete with each other will always seek to differentiate themselves from others. Nibblerturd artists and poseur snobs therefore abounded.

    Their huge size relative to most other life forms on Yorbolindo had slowed Graciousone relative reaction speed. The species had compensated for this by evolving into highly tribalistic and organized group hunters. Food consumption was therefore a social event, and the desire to stand out meant that public eating establishments increasingly became the focus of outrageous and convention shattering displays by the trendy set. Kitchen management needs and diplomatic necessity had required Pepan to augment his cooking database with other forms of knowledge more suitable for "reading" the hidden motivations of both Graciousones and their seemingly always-hungry glinkin pets.

    He had therefore become adept at detecting nibblerturd artists. And glinkin, whether feral or wild or merely well fed pets looking to score extra treats, had always been a part of that population. Indeed, glinkin often took after their owners' behavioral traits, and this included obnoxious posing and flim-flam.


    #


    But the circumstances on the New Beginning were unique. Pepan was dealing with only one glinkin, and found that he actually liked the little fellow. Sparky was different. Glinkin he had previously known had all been desperate beggars, either hungry pets of hungry owners, or hungry ferals that prowled the streets of Graciousone cities, or even hungry (and violent) wild glinkin from the old bombed-out wastelands beneath the floating cities (how they managed to get into the floating cities was a perennial mystery).

    Conversely, Pepan got the impression from Sparky's comportment that the young glinkin had never been hungry a day in his life. Pepan had the sense that Sparky possessed an underlying sense of entitlement, existential assumptions that as much as announced to the world that he was to the manor born.

    And if the truth were told, Sparky didn't know it (had in fact never thought about it) but in terms of general glinkin welfare, and physical and psychological well-being, he was one of the glinkin elite. He had been born into a nuclear glinkin family in a small village. Specialized Graciousone robot vets had watched over his birth. They had inoculated him with nanobots that prevented all disease, damped pain, and helped heal injuries. More robots had cleaned and refilled each glinkin home's GlinkinBitsTM storage units each morning, and his doting Graciousone Owner had never been sparing with table scraps. Sparky had never known hunger, or want, or lack of clean water for drinking and bathing. He had never known true sustained freedom, either, but (except briefly as a small boy) had never really noticed its absence.

    This background had given Sparky a easy-going, if somewhat naïve, self assurance that was markedly different from the obviously frantic scheming and grubbing that Pepan had previously known in glinkin. Pepan suspected that scheming was still taking place inside that tiny brain, but that Sparky was more circumspect (and polite) about it.

    The politeness was what Pepan appreciated. From the current fit of drama, and snippets he had picked up in talking with the glinkin, it was obvious that Sparky loathed being pushed around by Minder bots and wormoids. From his experience with the Galty family, Pepan could empathize and understand. But with 5,000 ever-helpful wormoids on the starship, it was certain that the adventure-loving Sparky would be running into "helpfulness" such as Buzzly's often. It now occurred to Pepan that he could reduce that problem. All that was needed was to keep Sparky occupied with something other than wandering around the ship on errands of mischief. Pepan knew of a perfect substitute.

    Even better, the groundwork had already been laid. He knew that Sparky loved gardens and forests. And Chance had mentioned his offer of Jewel Bird training that morning when Pepan had picked up some fresh fruit from him. Perhaps, he thought, Sparky needed to get rid of some of his excess energy and frustration by bullying some Jewel Birds around. And a sedating hobby such as gardening would help keep him out of trouble. He made a mental note to discuss that idea with Chance the next morning, when he picked up the day's selections of fruits and herbs from the gardener. He would do so in a positive and vigorous manner. That was the only thing that worked with Chance. Chance... was Chance.
    #


    *Associated Glossary Listings:

    <none>


    #



    Next Post: Chapter 35 - Chance
  • Harlee: BeesNuts: In case you haven't gathered yet, I'm reading this like an editor now lol.  Two chapters, then go back one and read two chapters. Slow going but it really helps solidify plot points, descriptions, etc and it helps me evaluate whether things might work better in a different order or with a different emphasis.

    If you want more granular thoughts about specific passages, lemme know.  I'll be shooting you an email.

    But honestly, I don't think you need that level of help.  Just a willingness to go through what you've already done and simply massage it for while.  It'll probably get more and more clear how the pieces fit together as it gets closer to completion.

    Keep at it and I hope to see more.  I'll keep the rest of my thoughts on the contents of this thread to personal correspondence so they can close this thread if they like.

    Somehow, in all the writing self-help books I read (and forgotten, lol) I missed that. OK, stupid question: what exactly is that and how/why is it helpful in editor mode?


    Speaking of delays!  lol.

    It's helpful to re-read chapters twice.  But going through two and backing up one, you read every chapter twice, but contextualized both from the previous chapter *and* the subsequent chapter.  It's also *miles* less annoying than just reading every chapter twice in a row.

    I... got distracted by The Witcher 3...  gonna have to figure out where I left off.
  • Chapter 35 - Chance



    He stood on carefully placed tentacles in the light-dappled forest glade and listened to the multitude of cries. "Liiiiight. Liiiiight. Liiiiight. Liiiiight....." They were legion. Most were just the routine, hard-wired stimulus-response quests for infinite sustenance. But not all. Some were desperate. His circuits separated out the level of need communicated, winnowing the ones in dire distress. There! A faint, dying one. The EMF signal was from a pale tuft of Nettlegrass, starved of direct light by a newly grown clump of thick fronds on a towering Southern Forest Fern. A dedicated section of his neural foam calculated the illumination angles and ordered three of the lightbots that floated near the ceiling of the vast compartment to move to slightly different spots so that their output would feed additional photons to the Nettlegrass clump that was dying from too much shade.

    Chance, of course, did not sense actual words from the multitude of life in his care. That kind of communication would have required the plants to have physical brains, the neurological tissue to integrate percepts and then primal concepts from their environment-created sensations, and, of course, mouths with which to speak. His specialized sensory circuits, rather, received and interpreted the faint EMF fields created by the electrical currents that flowed between each living cell of each plant. The essential meaning was supplied by his factory ROM and modified by a vast experiential database acquired over 3,300 years of gardening and reading. Chance had been programmed to sense and interpret the cellular signals of over half a million species of plants. His learning circuits had added not only a deeper understanding of those, but also an appreciation (albeit imperfect) of the perceptions and primitive thoughts and emotions of the hundreds of thousands of insect, animal, and bird species that were ecologically associated with them.

    #


    Chance was the oldest entity on board the New Beginning. Indeed, as the only surviving example of the first Total Gardener prototype (and the first Total of any wormoid type) he was the oldest sapient being in the entire Graciousrealm. He was physically and mentally different from all other Gardener wormoids.

    His neural templates and core programming parameters were not even related to those of later models. The obsolete neural foam of his physical brain had long been supplanted by the much more adaptable neural gel used in modern wormoids. And in terms of the physical chassis that housed that obsolete brain, he was far less streamlined and general purpose than his modern counterparts, with large amounts of internal space dedicated to many compartments for holding tools, supplies, and gardening refuse. Chance was midway between gardening cargo vehicle and true wormoid. He was therefore not nearly as adaptable or efficient (or communicative) as his successors. Add to these differences the unfortunate circumstances of his initial employment, and positive and vigorous communication was usually the best method of getting Chance's attention about anything.

    "Employment" was too kind a term. Chance had been a slave, no better than a self-aware tool. For three centuries, he had toiled behind the high walls of an old recluse's estate. He had worked in the hidden garden within, never leaving the compound. So his knowledge of the world outside those walls had been limited to three sources.

    The first was what he saw and heard on the Old Female's antique wall-sized telescreen. This was located in the library/sitting room, which faced the garden and had large windows that opened onto it. While he worked, Chance could therefore bend an eyestalk or two to follow the programs. The content was mainly lurid historical dramas, frantic commercials for products he didn't understand and had no use for, fundamentalist religious programming, and breathless newscasts on the terrible conditions of an outside world about which he knew nothing other than what he saw and heard on the newscasts. In other words, Chance's database of the outside world was sparse and skewed.

    The second source had been the library, itself. The old-fashioned dead tree books had been the love of the Old Female's long-dead husband. His interests had been gardening, and research on the physiology, history, uses, and training of Jewel Birds. There were thousands of books on each subject. The Old Female, obsessively focused on her ancient religious texts, was uninterested in any of them. But since many of the books had been on gardening, she had always given Chance permission to enter the library to read them. Over three centuries, Chance had read and memorized the entire collection.

    Patiently receptive, he had also listened each day as his Graciousone owner went on and on about Dothallian. The Old Female was one of the few remaining Creation Universists, and her one last love had been quoting Dothallian, the Martyred Universist Sage. Each day she counted her Orthodox prayers on a Sectionary, a religious fetish necklace fashioned of small topaz and silver barrels and a silver chain strung with twenty-three perfect artificial rubies that she draped around her lower breathing flaps. Each day, Chance went about his duties, tending the garden's ecological balance of plants and insects, and a small setting of Jewel Birds. And each day, the Old Female followed him about on a wheeled bot, counting her prayers and haranguing him with Dothallian's teachings, quotes and aphorisms. After three centuries, the collection of works had been imprinted on his neural foam.

    The Old Female had been a crotchety, ancient Graciousone. She was not, in fact, gracious at all, to anyone. But she had been very rich, and could therefore afford to build a physical wall of seclusion to match her stout mental and emotional walls. One night she died peacefully in her sleep. Of course, she had not provided for Chance in any way.

    But the estate executor, as an afterthought, had given him the Sectionary. It was the only physical reminder of his prior life. Since then, Chance had worn it carefully draped around his eyestalks. This was appropriate. Like Chance, the Sectionary was an obsolete echo of a forgotten day, a valueless discard.

    So after the Estate had been divided up and sold off, Chance had been turned out on the street. Being an early prototype, bringing him up to current standards of efficiency would have required expensive swap-outs and upgrades. His enslavement value was therefore nonexistent, and Chance joined the ranks of the mistressless out-of-work wormoids known as Roamin. These "roaming" wormoids were considered "Graciousless" because no one wanted to own them. They eked out a bleak sustenance existence of partial power recharges and occasional maintenance by doing ephemeral odd jobs for random Graciousones. They generally hung out in front of home improvement stores, garden centers, and day labor firms. In the Late-Stage Ownerist economy, there had been little demand for obsolete machinery.

    #


    One day, outside one such store, he had been approached by a Universist Temple High Priestess. Tomanecho Palassarric had just been assigned to the West-Edge District temple in the city of Alcasa. The temple was old, and in a state of disrepair, and the upgrade budget allowed her by her District Priestess had been limited. She was looking for a gardener to spiffy up the temple grounds, and Chance seemed to be both a charity case and an inexpensive solution to her gardening problem. The relationship gelled and Chance had found a permanent home within the temple walls.

    There, for the first time, Chance had met real glinkin. He had met glinkin thousands of times before, but only in the library's books about Jewel Birds. These rare tomes had held the long-vanished knowledge of glinkin Jewel Bird herders, glinkin Jewel Bird trainers, and even fables of the elite Jewel Bird Cavalry, where glinkin Bird Masters armed with lances patrolled ancient battlefields as outriders to protect the thousands of Sled Glinkin who pulled the royal war sleds of the Locusian Empire into battle.

    So, unlike Pepan the Chef, Chance was well aware that glinkin were sapient creatures. That knowledge held him in good stead. The temple staff, of course, owned glinkin pets. The glinkin had the run of the temple grounds, and Chance would regularly give them fruit from the pruned branches of the garden's trees, as well as remains of meals from the kitchen dumpsters next to the garden. His resulting popularity with the glinkin translated into an easy toleration of his idiosyncrasies and general conversational weirdness by the bemused Graciousone owners of those glinkin.

    And a few years later, it led to an acquaintance with Pepan the Chef, who took up his habit of giving treats to the omnipresent and constantly ravenous pets. This activity also helped Pepan fit in with the daily routine of temple life. It never occurred to Chance to tell Pepan about glinkin sapience, or that glinkin spoke a high-octave version of GraciousSpeech. But then again, many things never occurred to Chance.

    #


    Nettlegrass rescued, Chance slowly moved beyond the Southern Forest Fern towards a grove of Wildberry Trees. He had noticed the day before that some of the trees there seemed to be stressed due to branch crowding. He remembered that this particular grove had been the site of Sparky's battle with the Jewel Birds. He began thinking about Sparky. Volunteering unasked for information to another person had been a new concept for Chance. But he had remembered the gentle scolding from Pepan the Chef when they had met once again, just prior to boarding the New Beginning, and Chance's helpful nature had thus led him to tell Sparky about the history of glinkin and Jewel Birds.

    Coincidentally with that thought, an Instant Message arrived from Pepan. He was asking Chance for a follow-up discussion about Sparky. Had Chance thought about the serendipity of it, he would have considered the IM as just additional evidence of the Universe's synchronicity, as opposed to mere coincidence.

    Chance's neural foam and flexible programming had been molded over three millennia to see the World through a specific set of filters. Randomness happened constantly, but randomness begat order. This order (from his perspective) was always signaled by the occurrence of events that were related but had no discernable causal connection. For Chance, all events were related, and they happened in their own time for good and sufficient reasons. Hence, the confluence of the receipt of the IM at nearly the same instant that he was moving towards the place of Sparky's fight with the Jewel Birds, and his thinking about Sparky, was unremarkable. Furthermore, it was merely one more signal to Chance that Sparky's learning what Chance knew about Jewel Birds was foreordained and for a reason.

    #


    Chance arrived at the Wildberry grove and switched out one tentillum for a cutting and sealing attachment stored within his chassis. He methodically began trimming the trees of their excess branches while removing and saving their ripe fruit in another internal compartment. He would give this bounty to Pepan during the chef's next daily visit to collect raw materials for his culinary creations. He then cut the trimmed and denuded branches into small sections and stored them in yet another chassis compartment. They would be added later to one of the compost heaps placed at strategic locations throughout the forest.

    While he worked, he also thought about the strangeness and yet familiarity of the work. His job on the New Beginning still involved gardening and ecological maintenance. It included Jewel Bird tending, something he had not done since his first position with the Old Female three millennia before. But the context, complexity, and responsibilities of his post here were all much different from either those of that original position, or his centuries of tending the Temple garden in Alcasa. Not the least of the differences was that here on the New Beginning, for the first time in his existence, he had a wormoid as a supervisor.

    He again remembered the reproach. When they had first boarded the New Beginning, one of the first new things Pepan had shown him was how to link into the ship's IM system. Chance therefore composed and sent a brief Instant Message to his boss, Nexialt, about the preordained plan to teach Sparky everything that Chance knew about Jewel Birds. It never occurred to him that such a plan might not be approved. Things were the way that they were, and Chance was in tune with the rhythms of the Universe, not the rhythms of bureaucracy.

    #




    Next post:  Chapter 36 - Triumvirate Plus One

    (Chapter 36 may be delayed for maybe a week or two, depending. This Chapter 35 is the end of the written sequential regular chapters, so from here on it is new material. There are some future chapters already written, or mostly written, but we aren't quite to them yet. Chapter 36 is about half done [I think]. Your patience, constructive comments and critique, and encouragement is appreciated.)
  • Whelp, better late than never. Following is Chapter 36: Triumvirate Plus One. I leave it tothe reader to guess who the one is.

    Note: this chapter is a combination of what were supposedly supposed to be two chapters, which has screwed up to posted-above Table of Contents. So from now on the chapter numbers will be off by one.

    Since the real world news is so farking scary and depressing, I'm just gonna try and farking IGNORE it and work on the next chapter (which will be a bit long), Leafslug Days. This will end this part of the novel, after which things will get a little crazy.

    Based on your guidance, I think my writing is improving. I hope you enjoy it.
  • Chapter 36 - Triumvirate Plus One



    Nexialt slithered up to the airdoor of ZED's private quarters, arriving early for the daily operations review. As he arrived, so did Chance's IM. The comm area of Nexialt's multifaceted neural gel evaluated it, and sent copies to the appropriate sections, which processed and analyzed the data. His control module integrated initial conclusions and categorized the issue as being of low current import, but also something to be soon revisited.

    ZED's personal Steward and ship's gofer, Squeaky, let him into the suite. Nexialt nodded an eyestalk in perfunctory thanks in his direction and slithered into the room. He said nothing, as Squeaky rarely had anything to say in return. Small talk was not one of Squeaky's fortes. It never was in good servants, and Squeaky was one of the best, a wormoid of inscrutably few words and sublime efficiency.

    ZED was standing on the far side of the Command Table. Her frozen stance told Nexialt she was en rapport with Ferd, the ship's Sapient System. He crossed the room to the Command Table, and began to analyze the rapidly flickering holograph readouts that rose up from the flat, space-black surface.

    All displays were in the blue. The efficiency of every system surpassed 99.99997%. The New Beginning was a wonder, and Nexialt was once again awed by the performance parameters of the vast ship.

    #

    The New Beginning was Nexialt's Boobies. But, as with others of his kind, his memory banks included thousands of technical memory summaries of other Total Generalists stationed on other Graciousrealm starships. A hundred thousand years of aggregate experience was a massive comparison base, but each day he pondered its applicability. This ship was unique, and crewed by a unique mix of 5,000 very smart specialists. So the glitches of other starships and their crews were not certain to be relevant here. But there was no help for it. The knowledge base was what it was, and there was no substitute for it. Nexialt had to assume that the assessments predicated from that nidus were accurate.

    But deep in his personality center, there was an intangible whisper of uncertainty. That seed of doubt was also a standard facet in Total Generalist programming. It was there to offset the fact of the sheer breadth of superficial downloaded knowledge. The theory was that the scope of that knowledge, on occasion, might cultivate unjustified certainty. The doubt was added to insure that a Total Generalist always approached his role with humility. Nexialt was aware of that fact, but was programmed to be fine with it.

    The scientific knowledge of the Graciousrealm was so vast that, inevitably, no one entity (with the possible exception of The Presence) could know it all, or even the specialized argot that each discipline used. In addition, each discipline and its jargon molded the thought patterns of its practitioners, and therefore the ways that each saw the Universe. The result was thousands of narrow specializations that had difficulty communicating with each other, and therefore tended to insularity. Everything was a tree; the forest was invisible.

    Nexialt was optimized to see that forest. His circuits let him integrate concepts from all science disciplines. He could thus see connections that would be missed by specialists, allowing a synthesis of knowledge that, though perhaps correct only in general terms, could often point the way to solving problems that each specialty, mired in its own way of seeing the Universe, might miss.

    #

    Done reading the Command Table, he considered the Captain. As Nexialt's job required working with and understanding the wormoids in each discipline on board the ship, he had made himself familiar with the backgrounds of every officer and crewmember. Nexialt thought that the New Beginning could not have been in more capable tentillum.

    The ship was Nexialt's first, but for ZED, it was one of many. Nexialt had scanned her official service history. She had served with distinction, holding a dozen commands, always on the big Ecology/Exploration ships, leaving each only when its Sapient System had received the irresistible Pilgrimage Call. She was, therefore, exceptionally overqualified to captain an exile exploration ship, even one as glorified as the New Beginning.

    Technical qualifications notwithstanding, or perhaps because of them, Nexialt knew that ZED could be difficult to deal with. As a Total Captain, ZED was content only when en rapport with her ship's Sapient System. The bond between wormoid and ship was much more intimate than the one between Graciousone and implant. The merging of identities was complete, with the wormoid as subordinate personality. They were created to prefer that state of submerged being, and it was what allowed Total Captains to know everything about the nature of their ships. The bonding, identity submersion, and vast increase in awareness of the warp and weft of ship and Universe was said to be a state of being that was as addictive to a Total Captain as a narcotic drug was to a Graciousone. Total Captains therefore felt extreme discomfort when not fused with their Sapient Systems. It was said to be the cause of their ungracious aloofness and terseness with other wormoids and Graciousones.

    Due to her preoccupation with the Sapient System, a Total Captain relied on their ESOO for everything else. They rarely interacted with crew, took part in daily activities at any level, or even concerned themselves with minor physical problems that might develop on the ship. All of that, like autonomic data on a Graciousone's breathing, or blood flow, or the fact of a minor cut or bruise, was beneath the notice of both Sapient System and his Total Captain. This made an ESOO the normal day-to-day face of command for the officers and crew, and the "fixer" for all non-navigation physical ship issues. A Total Captain, conversely, was the ultimate embodiment of a cold and unapproachable semi-deity.
    #

    At precisely the selected meeting time, ZED-42955 stirred from her frozen posture. Her eyestalks methodically swept the room, vision mechanisms at their tips recording the Command Table, Squeaky, and Nexialt. Absent-mindedly, she moved a tentillum, touched a control. There was a soft tone. A hologram of the New Beginning appeared, hovering over the table. A serene voice came from the image, "I am here and recording."

    As always, she secretly marveled at the difference between the intimate mental link, so fraught with sidebars of thought and meaning and layered mystery, and merely hearing a voice from a speaker. Ferd's gestalt was different from that of the Sapient Systems of the dreadnaughts she had always commanded. But it was similar enough for the submersion and subjugation of her self to that overwhelming mind to be felt immediately on exit from rapport. She imagined it must feel like an amputation. For a moment, the sense of loss paralyzed her will to function, or even to exist. But she recovered and proceeded with the meeting.

    In a formal, clipped monotone, she spoke. "The New Beginning daily Senior Command Conference Operations Review is hereby called to order. Graciousrealm relativistic timestamp is 3005.15.21.873656. Attending: ZED-42955, Operations Captain; Ferd, New Beginning Sapient System; VAN-42612, ESOO. The Secretary recording and maintaining backup notes is Squeaky, Model R30D30B general service wormoid and Captain's Steward. All so named, acknowledge." The three wormoids, and the omnipresent Ferd, spoke the formal "Present" and the meeting got down to the review of the day's business.

    In Graciousrealm culture, this daily review was a bureaucratic exercise that might have seemed, to the uninitiated, a colossal waste of time. In reality, it existed as a hard stop oversight on self-aware electronic entities otherwise unaccountable to the evolved entities who were their ostensible superiors. It existed because it was mandated by The Presence as part of the negotiated Graciousrealm power structure. In the event of later questions, both the formal review (stored in a sequestered part of Ferd's memory) and the exact copy recorded by Squeaky (and stored on a write-once time-stamped ROM chip) could be reviewed by flesh-and-blood Graciousones in the government. The system had been in place for centuries. It was the same, in fact, as the one used as evidence in WUFF's courts martial, three millennia prior.

    ZED, now fully recovered from her separation from Ferd, continued speaking in a more normal voice. "I have just finished rapport with Ferd. We have just completed a scan of the space around and ahead of the ship, and of the ship structure. We are not aware of any environmental or ship-related electronic or mechanical threat, immediate or future, to the safety and welfare of the ship or its crew.

    "There is one shipboard issue, which is not a threat but is an anomaly. I have been aware of it since the beginning of the voyage, but it was just recently discovered by two ship's officers, WUFF-12952 and SCTR-3320, both of whom are to be commended for attention to detail. They brought the issue to my attention, but as it is Presence-Classified, both officers were informally told to cease their concern regarding it. I note this situation for the record. It will not be discussed now except to note that an Incident Report on the discussions, timestamped 3005.15.20.411475, has been filed and is Presence-Classified.

    "My report: Starflight is continuing as planned. All operating parameters are within the normal and customary limits. Operating conditions and performance statistics are as follows." For many minutes, at flesh-and-blood speed, ZED listed the day's summaries of every one of the ship's systems. The summaries were interspersed with lengthy detailed statistical data for each system, recited at machine speed, by Ferd.

    Nexialt listened to the all this with just one part of his multipart brain and thought about other things with the rest of it. He briefly thought about what the Captain had said concerning the anomaly. His responsibilities included ship safety, but ZED had mentioned that the anomaly did not affect safety. And - since it was Presence-Classified - it was probably best to keep his audio circuits primed, but otherwise not be too inquiring.

    He then explored the IM from Chance. The gardener had said that the glinkin had been involved in a fight with Jewel Birds. The purpose of the proposed training was to let the glinkin safely explore the ship's forests and (by keeping him involved there) to prevent him from getting into trouble elsewhere on the ship. Nexialt knew that glinkin tended to get into trouble, so these were laudable goals. Queries: could glinkin learn to wrangle Jewel Birds? And what expertise did Chance have with Jewel Birds? He accessed the ship's memory banks and learned that, yes, glinkin had been used in the past as Jewel Bird handlers. A review of Chance's on-file data dump showed that Chance had memory files that included detailed information regarding this. Nexialt integrated the facts and concluded that the proposal, while unconventional, would result in a net increase in the glinkin's safety. The wormoids on the ship were there to rehabilitate and protect the Graciousone. Protection, of course, extended to his pet. Nexialt therefore made a notation to approve the training. It seemed prudent, as well, to keep knowledge of the glinkin's training from the Graciousone. Therefore, he would later discuss all this with Harlee's implant, Echo. Nexialt then returned his main attention to the current report, just as...

    ...ZED finished. "The next order of business is the ESOO report on the day's shipboard operations and physical status." She waved her eyestalks in invitation at Nexialt, giving him the floor. And as he spoke, she paid close attention to him and reflected on the nature, capabilities, and potential strengths and weaknesses of her latest ESOO.
    #

    Nexialt spoke at the same "meat speed" of the prior recitations. This took many minutes, far longer than the time spent by ZED and Ferd. This was because, of course, as ESOO Nexialt wore many hats. He signed off on the duty rosters for all departments, oversaw the full panoply of day-to-day shipboard functions, and supervised the remediation of minor shipboard problems that were beneath the notice of the Captain. He also integrated cross-discipline knowledge links uncovered by the ship's science research teams.

    After he spoke about these standard shipboard matters, Nexialt reported on three other issues. The New Beginning had not yet explored any new worlds or found any new phenomena in space, so there was a deficit of officially assigned research. Nexialt had made up for this by volunteering his talents to the review of private projects. He had been invited to look at WUFF's analysis of the likelihood of glinkin-caused ship disasters, and Struts' continuing glinkin research project on empathy.

    "As previously reported, I reviewed WUFF's glinkin-disaster analysis. Today, I finished my analysis of his analysis. I have discovered one shipboard safety improvement. This deals with a minor change in shield placement for the Safety Sphere fusion reactors. This change improves ship safety only marginally, in the 10th decimal place, but I have forwarded the relevant data to Scooter's engineering section for implementation.

    "Regarding Struts' research on the glinkin in the secure part of the Ecology Deck, I have concluded there is a small possibility that the glinkin contained therein could succeed in rotating the lateral moveable barrier on its central pivot, thus allowing egress to the rest of the Ecology Deck. I am therefore suggesting that two lockdown bolts be added to the partition ends on the side opposite the confinement area. I have also sent this idea to Scooter's engineering section for implementation.

    "Finally, an interesting issue has arisen. One of the ship's gardeners sent me an IM just prior to the meeting. There was a fight between Harlee's glinkin and a setting of Jewel Birds in the ornamental forest adjacent to Harlee's private suite. As a prophylactic to future incidents of this nature, GRDN1-1138 aka Chance wishes to teach the glinkin how to wrangle Jewel Birds. I've reviewed the facts and find that this training, while unconventional, should result in a net increase in the glinkin's safety. I will submit an Incident Report on all this, and will read in into the record at a subsequent operations review.

    "This concludes my reporting on all issues of which I am aware." Nexialt then leaned back to indicate that he was done speaking.

    #

    The private research projects taking place on the New Beginning had not been a surprise to ZED. Wormoid motivations and passions were almost universally focused on the extension of knowledge. Wormoids were creatures of pure data, and their core programming was planned, not randomly evolved. The genetic imprinting for resource hoarding, so characteristic of the evolved Graciousones, was absent from their psychological makeup.

    ZED's several millennia of command experience had informed her that Total Generalists were detail-oriented wonks who sought out problems to over-analyze. This was a welcome trait, as it insured that they missed very little when it came to hidden variables that could endanger a command, or miss a scientific conclusion. Her long experience had also shown her that this trait varied somewhat from ESOO to ESOO. Nexialt's report indicated, once again, that Nexialt was at the fanatically detailed end of the spectrum. And for this particular voyage, with this particular ship, that made her feel quite satisfied.

    Again, she spoke. "This concludes the day's Command Conference Operations Review. Ferd, please sequester the record in high security permanent storage. Squeaky, please close the ROM chip and secure it in the secure storage vault. This meeting is adjourned."

    #

  • LOL, the story got nailed by the Fark Filter. Boobies.

    Wormoids don't have boobies. Neither do Graciousones.
  • I am using mine own EYES to place upon this.... You are mine now, liebchen. <evil laughter> <weirdo #1 fan shiat to follow>
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