Friday, March 29, 2013

44 - Stupid, Messy, Lying People

Perrin held his regal pose until the last of his court filed out and the great throne-room doors closed, by themselves, behind them.  He didn’t need mere human attendants.  He had his machines.
His invisible valet opened the door to his private suite as he rose from the throne, the source of all knowledge on his planet, leaving the heavy robes behind.  Jewel encrusted was impressive but heavy, cold and uncomfortable, especially against aged bones.
He gently raised the ornate crown off his head, with his own hands, to not jar the neural plates it sat against in his scalp.

It was tiring, being the arbiter of all culture and of what everyone could know, but it was certainly worth it.  He shook his head and sighed.  It was something his oldest boy just didn’t understand.  One reason he was off-planet, where his dear old dad’s police couldn’t reach him.  Such a misguided boy.
Perrin settled in front of the fireplace, that sprang to life as he sat down.  He put up his feet, knowing that his dinner was on its way.  Same dinner he’d had for the past hundred years.  Roast horse with terran potatoes, pale asparagus with green asparagus sauce.  A red terran wine to start... a solid barley beer to finish.  A cup of terran coffee for a nightcap, with his med machines to neutralize the caffeine and let him sleep sound.
His doctors and his medical package had been the top of the line when they’d bought Chishiki.  Nothing but the best; it was completely logical since they were so far from Earth.  It was what he’d planned for.  To rule a thousand years.  It really was too bad that the others hadn’t understood his vision.  He was somewhat lonely, with nothing but these youngsters to talk to, to sleep with.  No one was left who understood what it was to be truly long-lived and what it was to be the hard-working and sole arbiter of terraforming code on the planet.
It would take a while, to fix the problem with the longevity plants being drowned out by all the excess water. That was a glitch he and his techs hadn't forseen.  The wilt caused by too much water.  Who would have thought?  It was simple enough to stop the ice harvesting on the moon until his boys figured out how to ensure the thriving crops of both lifeweed and rais’r.  Corporate space would never forgive him if he terraformed such cheap and effective ways of extending life comfortably... nicely... without heroic measures... out of existence, just for some ancient, stupid contracts. People just didn't understand that business was more important.  Money had to keep coming or all galactic contacts would break down.
Those old contracts... were contracts signed with people who’d already broken them, really.  It was hard, working with people who just didn’t --couldn't-- keep their word.  He had all of the signed contracts in his original code kernel.  And a dozen verified backups.  His lawyers had assured him... oh how long ago was it?  It didn’t matter.  The law was on his side.  This was his planet.  His seed money.  His original idea. 
He was still holding to the very letter of his agreements.  People just kept getting messy and willful and refusing to see either justice or truth... they were like children who had to be smacked to bring them back into line.  Like any good parent, he was diligent about how firm he had to be.  He did miss Petra in a distant kind of way.  Gregori... pft... headstrong liberal thinker with his head in the clouds.
Why... why was he thinking of ancient partners... dead and gone so many years ago?  He should probably call Nana's great-great grandchild just to make sure they knew he was still there, still watching.

It was too bad... Perrin Jr. Just had not taken well to loving, fatherly correction.  William... the heir... as second son he had second son problems... he just wanted to run and of course if Perrin had anything to say about it he’d not let William get away the way he’d let Perrin go.  He’d been a much younger man then.  So naive.
The bell rang and the robot valet brought his meal tray in.  It was so soothing to not have to deal with people after hours.  People were fickle, vile, uncontrollable, unpredictable.  They never did what they should or what they said they would.  People lied all the time and needed someone like him to make them do the right thing.
He lifted the lid of his teapot and sniffed fragrant steam, smiling.  As he’d done for a thousand years... and as he’d do for a thousand more.  No one would be able to fault him for not doing his duty, however arduous and tiring.  Perrin Thermontaler was a man of his word and always would be. He nodded decisively to himself, poured tea for himself in isolate and perfect splendor.  He’d recover from today’s work and be all set for tomorrow’s onslaught of – he shuddered to himself, delicately – people.  Messy, lying, plebeian, stupid, people.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

43 - Kernel of an Idea

Terry held his once favourite book up as if to squint at the text, let it down again.  He was letting his eyes run over the familiar sentences, that he’d committed to heart years ago, without re-reading them. Slower... slower for the recording.  For all he knew if the station recorded his skin responses it probably recorded his comparative eye motion.  He stopped and yawned, picked up the book and slowly... slowly let it sag.  For all purposes a man reading himself into a nap.

It was just after his normal shift, that he was paid for.  To sit at the controls and keep an eye on all the equipment that was mothballed.  He’d nearly fallen asleep then.  But in his head, he had a kernel of new programs that he layered a dozen different levels of security on.  Then waited to see if Mr. Thurmontaler or his Thought Police would notice.  He let the book settle onto his face and closed his eyes.
His kernel lay in the middle of what looked to him like a sea of open dragon-traps. Silly but the easiest way his brain could envision them.  A moat full of acid.  A locked door that changed itself every twenty of his heartbeats.  He could stop it and unlock it, but only on the fourth beat.
Behind that was an empty hall with paintings on the walls.  Paintings of his family men.  The women... would never sit for something so forward as being gazed at by a painter, so they were represented by still-lifes of their things and pets. Gowns and jewellery, shoes.
Terry went over to touch the left shoe in his mother’s painting.  No one would think that he’d hide the door in one of the women’s paintings.  Except someone from away.  Siva probably would have, if he’d tried to break in.
It was undisturbed.  He stepped through, quietly and stopped.  In the real world he let himself snore a bit.  He could hold both images in his head.  Code and world, world and code.
Inside his kernel, everything opened up.  The first thing he’d built... or envisioned... was a vast library, where any book could spring to his hand.  He’d ‘read’ here... and sometimes choose to load information into his sleeping memory, which gave him the weirdest dreams, but he knew an enormous amount more than he had, even just a few days ago.
No sign of any tampering.  Squeeze the outside appearance smaller and more reflective... yes... make it a mirror.  That way if anyone looked, they’d see their code reflected back, and just over a tiny scrap of it.  They’d be looking at the edge of a knife blade, that hid its effectiveness behind its own invisible and razor sharp edge.
Kyrus sat, with Tizrav on his lap, listening in awe to the lin letter from Ilax’s co-ruler.  The konsiliarch could make the mildest statement mean I’m about ready to rip your fool head off, young man. In perfectly polite information about the breakdown of talks with the Nadumon.
“I do realize that all of a sudden everyone is seeing Milar and Lainz combined since your wedding and since your husband’s sudden elevation.  This hasn’t stopped the Nad from being prickly as owners.  Their ambassador implied as much to me before he left.”
“He has left.  And I have if from good authority that they consider themselves legitimate owners of this land, with an actual charter from the owner himself.  I suppose they consider the rest of us all squatters, renegades, rogues and thieves of their land and water.”
“Ilax.  I need you back here.  I’m afraid your pay is going to get cut no matter what you do--" She meant a war.  The Milari cut their warmaster's salary if a war broke out.  "-- I would sincerely ask your husband to prepare to move several thousand of his closest friends up to our border... perhaps beyond.”
Da blinked at that.  “She wants me to mobilize the Empire’s troops as a Milari ally?  That’s crazy.”
Ilax who had been reading aloud shook his head... “No.  It makes perfect sense.  Here.  Listen.”
“—I would never consider this unless I saw it as absolutely necessary.  Since the water stopped falling from the moon, they have come up with this very bad idea of a dam across the river.  The one we both fought over ten years ago?  The one that feeds the lake and the canyon beyond that?”
“Fakkin’ Enlightened—“ Da breathed.  “They’re looking to cut off or, at the very least, control everyone’s water.”
Ilax looked grim.  “At least the Radumon, the Milar, the Lainz and the Trovii.”
That’s everyone but the Hippefrey and they have other water sources out there.”
“Inamour... we have to leave this ‘get off the planet hunt’ and all the coding we’ve been doing... it has to wait.”
Kyrus senior looked very much older for a second.  “We have to go convince them otherwise.  Or make them stop.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

42 - Keep on Rocking

Dag shook herself free of the code, which clung to her as if for comfort, set it all in tidy order in her head, in her files, and found herself sitting in an alcove, across from the pierced stone wall.  The lin was full of messages when she got back and she pulled three sheets out of it, to dry before they stopped immediately forming.
A letter from her son, a letter from his father.  A letter from the Data manager of the lin who hoped to see another story, filling out the first Empress’s data with her own, modern thoughts.
She sat down next to her special project, a trio of warbird eggs in a wax-warmed incubator.  They would be hatching any day now and she intended to be the first thing they saw.  As the Empress had said.  ‘they imprinted’.  But even the first Emperor hadn’t succeeded in making that imprinting stick.  All the breeding generations had finally produced a domesticable war bird.  At least that was the hope.
All the zardukar here had a set, in the hopes of raising the first birds that did not have to have their beaks clamped shut and forced into hoods all the time... and then have to be abandoned as working animals when they got too big and too old.
Amardad, who had rooms on the left --she data-mined files from Mishka Chernoyi... a builder... perhaps for the first Emperor -- had already hatched hers.  All three were mad and wouldn't imprint at all.  All his files hadn’t yielded up proper dates or times yet.  Mishka's buildings, some so fanciful they must surely be... one of her eggs was peeping and rocking.
It bumped the other two, clack, clack and they peeped also, as they had been answering her talking to them.  They would hatch the next two days, in order. Warbird eggs were almost the size of her head, long and narrow so they would not roll in easily in the nest, and dark red, like the stones of the ground the birds preferred for nesting.
“You keep right on rocking, you,” she said and rose to put on water for tea, set out the butter and neobarley alongside the closed worm-jar, since a fledgling would eat its own weight in worms every day.  Thank goodness the breeding grounds up along the edge of the canyon here were full of the metre long yellow and red striped worms.
She wasn’t terribly sure she wanted pets... that she’d eventually ride.  The bird-litter from the city had been uncomfortable and jouncy. She wasn’t sure she’d be firm enough to be able to ride a warbird, and they made her nervous.  But the zardukar were a limited population, funded by the Empire, and if they were available to help with experiments, of course they did them.
The egg lurched and cracked... then it stopped moving and she twitched as if to grab and help it.  She stared at it and folded her hands in her lap, biting her lip.  It began its rock once more, fighting to get out.  The breed master scientist had taught them over and over and over again, not to touch no matter how badly you wanted to; and she wanted to.  She found herself itching to help the struggling thing, visible against the inner membrane.  A tiny hole tore and a miniature hook gaped out the hole, panting.  
Her tea pot whistled and, suddenly reluctant, she went to pour tea.

41 - This Is Home

The real world was almost as strange as the world of code, now, Dag thought.  She stepped carefully out of her cottage... her rooms in the cliff-face, really.  The city had given it to her, because she was mining code.  The first Empress’s code.  Most of the zardukar who were working for the lin and mining such important information had been moved to a very quiet place, away from the city.

She stood looking out of the lace-carved stone that turned what would have been a complete worm-burrow dark tube in the cliff-face, into a fantasy of light and air and even a fine mist occasionally.  The village had been grown... or built by the bees, into the north face, low enough from the top that the fine, toxic grit blown from above, could be caught and filtered by the terraces above, growing more and more earthan plants the closer the terraces got to the living spaces.  So the plants went from yellow, orange and dark red, to yellow, to pale green, and then green and even a darker green below.

Falling away from the last growing terrace there was a dark sweep of stone with the enormous folds of beehives.  They were walls of wax and honey, all the way down to where the spray from the waterfall was continuous.

It wasn’t high spring flood so the water squeezing through the vertical crack in the rock was only as high as a man on a war bird, if he stretched his bird stick over their heads.  It was also thick and dark with sediment, flecks of glittering mica making the almost black water sparkle as it squeezed through and then, once it had arched out and fallen into the pool below, it settled almost to a reddish yellow and became the river flowing down to the city and beyond. 

Even before the ice from the moon, there had been enough water that it had carved the vast length of canyon, spreading out and vanishing in the plateau of Trovi, before dribbling down the edge of the continent, to evaporate before it could even begin to fill a sea basin.  In the spring, when the vast snows in the tsingy melted and the polar ice as well, this waterfall was a vertical torrent that reached almost to the top of the cliff, clear turquoise.

Dag loved the view.  It was so good to be able to stand and feel moisture in the air, to see the source of the Great Hive.  This was what had saved Gregori and Petra and their people.  This was the Lainz’s great treasure.   She could feel the skin of her face relax as a breeze brought another splash to dampen her veil and clothing down and smiled to herself as she re-played Petra’s recording of the fugitives discovery. 

######## ## ## we can’t hold on.  Gregori refuses to let us just stop.  I’ve run out of rage, I think.  The dry has sucked it out of my heart.  Babuchka... you would have been angry with me.  We have my single case of  Terran genetic material left.  The others have been either lost or broken in this trek through hellGreg.  We have his birds... the last line he tried to get them to domesticate.  He took screaming, carnivorous freaks that would dash themselves to death to get at you, tear you up rather than tame down, even the little ones... they’d imprint... follow us around in the lab... then something would happen and they’d get crazy and you’d have a ravenous flock chasing you onto the tables and furniture.  That crazy wildness made it impossible to use them, Perrin said.  He slaughtered almost all of that eco-system on Xanadu.

Greg just won’t quit, but then he's like that, my bright husband.  He’d got them so they’d take a hood... if you bolted their beaks shut.  We rode them... We had to.  There was nothing else.  I bent hooks out of the ruins of one of our cars so we could haul their heads around.  We had to kill some of them and drink their blood.

We’re dying.

I don’t want to ### ## #### ## kill him with my bare hands... set my hands on that iztimum’s neck an# ### ##### with my bird #ho##oks. ## ### ###

We’re lying under our birds in the tiny shadows of rocks until the deadly sun goes.  There’s no more complaint. There’s only endurance.  It is possible to move in the cold at night.  We have no where to go.  We are just going to keep on, until we all die.  There is nothing here in Hinnom.  Dust.  Poisonous flying dragons. Creeping tentacle things that have everyone leaping up and crying ‘oh yuk’, so we’re calling them that.They ooze into people’s sleeping bags and the stink when you smash them...

I’m considering trying to boil them in the sun... get the toxins out and see if we can choke down the leather without it killing us. I have no more juice in me.  One more night.  I can do one more night.  Greg sighs and sits up, pokes his head out of the insulating feathers, not even pretending he’s asleep either.  Then, between us... am I dreaming?  Am I hallucinating?  A bee.  A food bee.  The only good design that Wellcorp ever made.  There’s another.  I can see a third zipping toward us.  A line of bees.

“Am I dreaming in my last heat-stroke, lover?”  Greg’s whispering.  Our voices have almost gone, too dry to talk.  “I’m seeing a line of bees... there... leading...”

### video corrupt ### ###file corrupt### ###bad sector @$%@$^^^^^##### ... ushka, we’re saved.  Greg, Greg, my Gregori... there’s water... there’s raghnall trees... we can tap them for filtered water... there’s enough water that everyone is in it.  Everyone... the bees... there’s food bees and honey and even a few, ancient raghnall nuts.  Oh if I weren’t an atheist I’d be praising God.  We found a place that is cool in the day... and where a fire cannot be seen unless one is directly over it... under the overhang the stone grows warm and even the damn birds keep trying to shuffle closer to the warmth.  Oh my sweet husband!  Greg... we made it.  This is home.

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Five Thirty

It's five thirty in the morning and I've been fighting with paint programs for about three or four hours now.  I'm going to leave the image hanging off the edge.  I think I kind of like it.

Ah well.

Maybe I'll re-size it yet again to have it sit all nice and centred and all that later.

Good night or morning to you.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I'm Too Tired, Tonight

Dear Readers,

I'm sorry, but I'm am just too exhausted to pull anything creative out of my head today.

I'm just past the half way mark with the daily radiation treatments and I'm hollow as a cored-out apple.  I've been coming up with continuing posts as treatment has gone on, feeling pretty proud that I've managed to continue until now, but now the well feels pretty dry and burnt out.

Given how twitchy I get when forced to stop writing, normally, I'll be back on the horse soon. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after.

I feel guilty since your guys support has been my sole support since this cancer cancelled all my karate teaching, but I am not stopping mid-story.

 That said... I'd like to announce the next comment contest.

The first fifty coherent, thoughtful comments will win the creation of a secondary character in the story.  A hundred good comments and I'll do a full post based on that person.

They can be based on you, or a friend or a family member or even a pet...  Give me feedback and I'll Tuckerize you! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

40 - Galvanic Skin Response

He went back to the control room, his heart hammering, a peculiar pain under his breastbone, drying his hair with a towel. He walked the corridor as he’d done thousands of times now, since his posting... the dreamy bounce of less gravity now more real than his schooling years.  The halls were totally familiar and completely and utterly alien, both at the same time.  He knew exactly how much of his life here was recorded; not just here but his whole life. Every recorder was still there where it was supposed to be, every sensor.  They hadn’t changed.  He'd changed. They’d had him in the data-banks every moment he’d drawn breath and probably before, except perhaps in the bathing room or on the toilet.

Did they even record that?  Probably. Everyone had the record of their lives in storage. As a ‘safety precaution.’ Safety for whom?  No one ever checked back through the millions of hours of private citizen recordings, except for the Font’s Intelligensia Police clan and that was only if Mister Thormentaler requested a review. 

Mr. The title reserved for the Font of All Knowledge, the owner of the planet.  Even the Intelligensia and the police... the IPC, really would never dare use it.  The correct term was your caste designation, or a ubiquitous 'Master' ... everyone knew their place and the fact that they’d signed away all rights to privacy.

He desperately wanted privacy right now and it was just impossible.  He only had a few minutes to check and see that the screens and the brains he used in the course of his job were properly shut down.

He realized also, that he’d gotten away with blithe, blithe treason, at least so far.  He hadn’t hidden his little node from anyone on the planet.  When he’d swallowed the brainseed he’d started taking up virtual space in the system node with his own requests for data.  Oh.... greenish, poisoned and profane WORD! He felt sick.

If Charles had said anything or reported him... He was so thankful that he’d shut everything of his own down to tiny, tiny bubbles in the greater node.  If no one thought to look, or where... even here on the moon in this tiny subsection of ‘moon station’ and ‘courier reception’... he was safe. But he needed to build everything he did, from now on, with complete security.

The worst the Font could do... no one liked to think about that.  He lifted a hand up to scratch his head and ran a fingernail over the patch in his scalp where a neural inducer would sit.  If the font... or an inspector from the IPC... placed one there... The thought was enough to make him break out in a new sweat.

The control room was almost in order once more, but he’d hurled his books against the wall in a fit of pique and that would never do.  If anyone asked, he’d say it was this fictional illness of his.  He picked up his approved books and straightened pages and clucked at himself as he opened the door.  “Station, what was I thinking?”

“The station cannot know. Thinking about what?”

“I need to re-read my books and I was so upset I threw them like this.  It must be my physical upset.”

“The monitors report elevated heart rate and galvanic skin responses consistent with stress.  You are sweating, Tech.  Bed rest is again recommended.”

“Thank you, station.”

The neutral tenor voice held no gender, light, sweet, unobtrusive.  He quivered all over with the realization of how much he suddenly hated it.  It was his only company here, until he was allowed to go home or until the station was started up again.  He missed everybody.

Record my galvanic skin responses through my blankets and record the lump of me under it.  You won’t be able to record what I do in my head and I’m going to build a hidden world for my new knowledge.  Then I’m going to go find out who that young man in the veil, with a ferret was.

Monday, March 18, 2013

39 - Knowledge Crime

Terry’s eyes snapped open as he tried to reconcile the machine coding interface with the real world, his manipulators – based on his ice handlers – grasping and clutching at the code that had brought that... person... those eyes... he’d never seen eyes such colours and there weren’t supposed to be anyone in code like that... from there.

He found himself staring at his screen, showing Xanadu.   

“Come back?” he said to the lonely air of the moon station.

That code... had not been from Xanadu.  He didn’t touch the screen or inquire of any of his official station links to the ground.  His supervisors could see anything he did.  All his keystrokes were monitored.

He leaned back and turned his head, called up an illegal screen on the wall next to him.  “Visual. Sheol.”

The stone continent, thrust higher out of the toxic basins of sand, was patched with pale green and white of biomass, mottled with darker orange, pink and bloody red dunes.  The edges of the earthen biomass and where Chishiki fought for domination looked leprous and raw.

Terry scanned the valleys blasted out of the razor sharp tsingy rock and found them the darkest green, with occasional tiny puddles of surface water that was purple and mauve.  There was no sign of human activity on the surface whatsoever, so it his mysterious person... boy... it had to be a boy since women didn’t bellow into one’s face or stare into your eyes, even when startled and in shock. Who was he?

In the code... running still in the back of his head... there was no sign of any kind of code activity except for sanctioned and established programs.  It was all based on Xanadu and it was all based on Perrin and the original programs from the founding.  There were no ferrets in the walls of code.  There was no one pulling a tree out of code or... sniffer monsters honking and howling after the strangest people he’d ever seen.

He pulled back and as he did he caught a faint ripple on the edge of his vision as he was shutting down the code in frustration. Wait.  But the program shut down even as he tried to stop it. He lunged up out of his chair, snapped off the official and sanctioned computer, hands smacking the wall by the side of the door as he slapped the panel back out of his way.

Everything was too small all of a sudden.  Everything was too close and too constrained and too controlled. He’d been in his chair for hours he suddenly realized and his body was actually in pain. Who were these people?  Monsters and dreamlike creatures... but... and those eyes.

He emptied his bladder, washed his hands and face... shrugged and thrust his whole head into the washbasin to douse it.  It didn’t really clear his head, even though he called for cold water, which was melted straight from the ice.  He came up gasping and stared at himself in the mirror, realized it was recording his image to play it back to him... and was accessible.  “I don’t feel well.  My stomach seems to be upset.”

The station chimed and the voice of the mechanical supervisor, in a calm and soothing voice said “We recommend ginger tea and an afternoon’s bedrest.  Extended shift ended. Bed rest granted with no dockage of pay.”


The station was recording him... everywhere but in the control room itself. And in private with Siva... since his jamming programs gave them privacy.  This is odd enough and strange enough... and illegal enough that I need my own jamming programs.  This station hasn’t yet recorded me doing anything stranger than being in the control room more than I have to be.

I... know.  My statistics are recorded in a suit, but not what I am doing.  There is routine maintenance soon.  I will be able to build a program inside the privacy of my suit, while I clean ice crystals out of the leeside sensor arrays.


“Yes, tech?”

“I didn’t finish shutting down the control room properly.  I have to go back and do it right before I drink my tea and go lie down.”


If they catch me, the Font of All Knowledge will disown the whole family...if I’m lucky that’s all he’ll do.  He’s been getting meaner as he gets older and my brother already suspects me of knowledge crime.  I’ve been a naive idiot.  Did I let anything slip outside the control room?