what this blog is about




The following is a work of fiction set in a very far future. Nothing in it should be taken too seriously…

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Papamellius



He awoke. The sun was already high in the sky and its yellow-gold light was slanting through the high windows. He wondered what time it was.

"A little after ten," Omni's voice informed him, the computer's voice coming out of the thin air.
He wasn't surprised but he did wonder. "How did you know what I was thinking?"

"I didn't. It was only a guess based on your expression and my experience of sleeping humans." Omni's avatar shimmered into existence next to the bed. It stood, seeming to look down at him, a smile on its face.

"I see," he rolled over. The room, he realized, was beautiful in sunlight. He'd been too busy to notice it before. The tapestries on the walls, the ornate furniture, the great windows and mirrors that seemed to invite light into the room from every direction…all magnificent!

Yet, it was a little overwhelming. There was something a bit massive about it. When he had his own place, he would decorate it with an eye toward delicacy. Something mild and gentle. More Louis Quinze and less Louis Louis Quatorze.

He felt suddenly mischievous. "What am I thinking now?" he asked the avatar.


And What Am I Thinking Now?


"Hmm," Omni's voice was meditative. "You were looking at the walls and the furniture. Your pupils were a little dilated, so you were impressed. But your lips were a bit thin and compressed. I think you do not entirely approve of the Center's interior design."

"Wow!" He was stunned at the machine's abilities.

"Thank you. But do not be concerned. I will not genuinely 'read your mind,' unless it is absolutely necessary. And I will respect your privacy."

"That's a relief."

He sat up, the silky sheet falling from his naked body. What a strange new world it was. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chapter Seven, BranNu





Back in his room, Bobbi dreamed.

He seemed to be back in his old cubicle at BranNu!*Games4U!-Now Ltd. He was flipping through a printout. It helped, sometimes, to have a written record of everything. Hardcopy made it more difficult for the programmers and others to deny a problem existed, or that to claim that they'd fixed it when they'd actually not touched it.

His huge eyes bulged behind their thick glasses as he reviewed it all. Yes, there it was. The hero of the game, Islanda, The Amazon Queen, did battle with the Claw Beast on Level 7. Ah, but… discontinuity! ... she was carrying the Vorpal Sword. Except she couldn't actually get the Sword until Level 8 when she received it from the False Samedi ("The Masked King"). So, a problem.

It was, in fact, the third discontinuity he'd found that morning. That, he knew, would not make his brother happy. Nor the CEO. He wasn't looking forward to the meeting he was about to have with them.

He picked up his notes and headed out in the passageway. He noticed the people around him, heads down in front of terminals or moving around on various errands. Sometimes he'd spot the expression on the face of a man or woman as he moved past. It was rarely friendly.

He was not, he knew, a popular man. Mostly that was because of his job. As a QA guy, he was a sort of professional bearer of bad tidings. No one wants to hear bad tidings. And while it is considered bad form to shoot the messenger, it is rather satisfying to do so.


Shoot The Messenger



/

Still, he was proud of his skill. No one could spot a discontinuity like he could. He'd always had that ability. Even as a child. They'd hand him one of those "what's wrong with this picture?" puzzles and he'd have it figured out in a flash. There was a lizard in the refrigerator. The potted palm was upside down. Whatever.

It used to drive his older brother mad. "How come you can do that when you can't even catch a ball?" he'd snarl, usually before bashing him a bit. 

Robert made his way through the corridors towards Zach's office. The irony, he reflected, was that the same skill that had so infuriated his brother twenty years ago was the same one that now caused him to call and offer him a job. "No one does that shit like you," Zack had said on the phone, some months ago. "No one at all."

He came to the door of his brother's office and paused to collect himself. It was always a bit of a trial to confront the two of them. His older brother was a little scary to him, even now. And the CEO? She was very scary.

Everyone knew, of course, they were having an affair. That was very old news. The director of marketing had actually walked in on them once in a conference room. They'd been going at it on the table. "Weird," was the way the director had described it to him later, her face a little white and her lips thin. "They didn't seem to give a damn that I was watching."

No, he thought, they wouldn't care. In fact, they'd enjoy it. Showing off.





/

He supposed their relationship wasn't, in an odd way, illicit. They were both married, but their respective spouses didn't seem to care, at least not as long as the paychecks came in. And it wasn't exactly an unequal power relationship. Ana Elizabeth Nathan was the chief executive officer, and therefore was Zachary's boss. But, Zack was a founder. It was he who had located the "orphaned" software that was he basis of BranNu!'s products. 

Orphaned Technology. Well, that was an interesting term, wasn't it? It was used in the computer industry to mean any technology that had been abandoned by its original owners. Orphans might range from old operating systems to old games to old processor architectures. Their owners or creators had given up on them. Or gone out of business. And so they were available to anyone who wanted them. 

At least in theory.

The problem was that, sometimes, the Orphan wasn't really orphaned. Sometimes there was someone out there who had the rights to the technology. But, that person or persons might not have the lawyers or the money to defend what was rightfully theirs. An inventor or developer would have spent years of their lives and tons of their money in the creation of something new, only to have it taken away from them because of some fluke of copyright law. Someone else, someone with the money and lawyers required, would come in and swoop it up.

And Zach, as Robert knew from many an unhappy day in his childhood, had never been one to worry too much about what belonged to others and what belonged to him.





/

He took a deep breath and knocked on the door. He heard his brother shout, "Come in!" and he did so.

Inside, he found Zachary seated at his desk and looking intently at the screen of his PC. Ana was standing beside him, leaning over to see the monitor as well. She was resting her hand on her shoulder, and her body pressed up against him. One breast was pushed up against his cheek. It was obviously a position she'd been in before.

She straightened when Robert came in. "G'morning," she said, in her frosty voice, dripping with supercilious authority.

"There's my man!" his brother added, far too cheerfully. "What's shaking, bro'?"

Robert said, "Good morning," to Ana and "Nothing much," to Zach. 

"I had dinner with Mom and Dad last night, " Zach continued. "They said to say hello. Mother says you should drop by soon."

Robert nodded. He appreciated the lie. The idea that either of his parents had the slightest interest in him was laughable. And that his mother should want to see him? That was more than laughable. It was absurd. She'd long ago made it very clear that he was a major disappointment to her. He was the child who simply hadn't lived up to expectations. And never would. Where his sister was progressing nicely as a vicious academic, feared by her students and loathed by her colleagues, and his brother was a business success, Robert was just "a person." 

So it was kind of Zach to pretend that they'd been a normal family, with normal parents, where people were affectionate toward him now and then.

Or, at least, didn't actually detest the sight of him.





/

Clearly growing impatient with their "brotherly" banter, Ana interrupted. "Where do we do stand on the edit?" 

"I've finished Levels Seven through Twenty," he told her. 

"And?" Her voice was challenging, demanding, and disrespectful all that the same time. It seemed to imply that he was incompetent, and that any answer he could provide was wrong. 

"You still have continuity problems at several points. Even after your last revisions," he replied. He would have been more pleasant about it, more civil, but her tone and affect were so abrasive that he found himself responding in kind. "I have placed the details in this document." He put the printout on Zach's desk. 

His brother picked up the papers and began to flip through the pages. At first he was quiet, then he said, "Oh. Dear." He dropped the report back on the desk. "I guess it's a good thing we didn't ship. I mean, we didn't ship yet." He glanced at Ana, "But that's why we've got Robert on staff. Best continuity editor, anywhere! Right?"

Ana regarded Robert as if he were a cockroach. "Right," she said, tensely.

He felt chill. If looks could kill, he thought. He glanced away from her stare. For no good reason, he found himself looking at his brother's computer. Zach's desk was at angle to the rest of the room. It meant that from where he stood, he could see what was on the monitor. Right now, it was tabular data, a spreadsheet or something. 

He forced himself to look away and at the two of them again. "Well," he said, "I'll, ah, I'll be getting along then. Uh, leave you to it. I'll, that is, get out of your hair."

"Yes," Ana said. "You do that."

"Er, that is, good-by…" Robert hurried out of the room and shut the door behind him. He paused just long enough to hear her say to his brother, "Another fucking delay!"

"Well, better to deal with it now than…" his brother, replied, trying to calm her.

Robert shuddered. He almost ran back to the safety of his cubicle.

But, as he went, he realized something was nagging at him. He couldn't quite figure out what it was. Something, though, was wrong.

Something…about that spreadsheet.





/

Bobbi woke in the dark. Where was he? Oh, yes, he remembered. He was at the Center.

A soft voice came out of the air. "Are you all right?" It was Omni, he realized. 

"No. No. I'm fine." He sat up, the soft i-Sylc sheet falling from his naked body. Lights came on as he moved. "Just had a dream."

"Nothing unpleasant, I trust."

"Not a nightmare." He shook his head. "I'm thirsty."

A Basic robot appeared with a glass of water. Bobbi took it and drank.

"Is that better?" the computer asked.

"Yes. I'll go to sleep now."

"Sweet dreams," it wished him.

He lay back down. The lights went off again.

No, he thought, it had not been a nightmare.

But it hadn't been anything else, either.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sunflowers, Sadness


/
While Elena and the Sirana finished their drinks, Omni was speeding through the Cloud. She really did have deeds to do and promises to keep. She was at the heart of her whole society. Her various parts were running everything…computers, robots, space-based defenses, the banking system…

But, even so, the two Domina were quite right. Omni had told a white lie. She had more than enough compute power to be there with them and out here in the Cloud at the same time.

But…she sighed, at least virtually…but humans could be a little boring, sometimes. Oh, she respected them, and loved them, but their brains worked so slowly, and in such unsurprising ways.

Right now, for instance, she knew that Elena would be delicately suggesting that the Sirana meet Bobbi. Arlanda would be stammering and blushing. But, eventually, they would agree to meet. And, in all likelihood, she and the boy would be a match. She would be a good First for Bobbi. Up and coming, ambitious, but just a little innocent in her own right. 

All of which was wonderful…

Yet, she hated to admit it, but sometimes she found the whole world just a little dull. Everything worked so smoothly. Everything was so predictable.  I've done it all so many times before. There were days when she thought she might actually welcome a crisis.  Say, if Papamellius and all his dreadful demonkind finally launched that invasion that people had been dreading for all these centuries. 

It would be terrible, but at least it would be different.

Ah well…

She moved through the Cloud. Well, if nothing else the new Bishoni, Bobbi, might offer some surprises. His interest in poetry, for example, had been completely unexpected. She would not have predicted it given what little was known of his previous life. 

And Wordsworth! That was impressive. She had never before met a human who even knew the poet, much less one who could recite the fellow's poems from memory.

Which reminded her, how did the rest of the piece go? She called it up from her database. Instantly, it appeared before her mind's eye: 


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 20
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

That was it. Yes. Fun. She loved the image of the poet "in vacant or in pensive mood," his heart dancing with the daffodils.

She started to put away the file. But, then, just as she did so, another file opened in front of her. It expanded quickly in a flash of color and light. 
What?

It was a reproduction of a painting. For a fraction of a nanosecond she couldn't place it. Then… Van Gogh peignant des tournesols! That was it. "Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers" by Paul Gauguin. It was the famous work of one great artist representing another. In it Gauguin showed poor, sad, tortured Van Gogh putting his brush to the canvas, the flowers in his work seeming to spill out of the painting and into the real world.


Van Gogh peignant des tournesols!



My!

She was startled. Why were these files…the poem and the painting…linked together in her database?

Well…she wasn't too worried. Accidents happened, even in her digitized world. Maybe somehow the two files had gotten tangled in the past. Or maybe someone doing a paper or a book on pre-Impasse art had put in a link between the two and had forgotten to remove it. That sort of thing happened all the time.

Yet…

Something…something…troubled her. But she couldn't say exactly what. It was just strange that the second file should have opened so quickly after the first. It was almost as though the painting had been planted there, waiting for her.

Ah, well. She gave the painting and the poem a last look. Lovely, the two of them, each in their own way. Then she folded them away. She had other things she needed to attend to. Miles to go and Promises to keep. So she hurried on her way.

All the same, she took with her a memory of great beauty. 

And of sadness.

A sadness almost too large to be expressed by anything so limited as human beings.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Sweet little fellow. Only been awake for a day...


/
"Anyway, I've got a thousand things to do," Omni continued. "Would you Dominas mind if I terminated this avatar? I could use the compute resources in a couple of other places."

"Of course. Go right ahead," Elena said. They all shook virtual hands again and the avatar vanished.



They shook hands 


She turned to Arlanda, "Care for a drink?"

"It's a little early in the day for me. But, after that," the other woman jerked her head toward the back of the room, meaning the Vault, "I need one."

They dematerialized and reconvened in a virtual lounge at another point in the Cloud. There were tables and chairs, and other patrons, and a simulated Bishoni sang, danced, and removed his clothing on a stage. 

In their physical locations, in the material world, both women ordered drinks from their local robots. These were served promptly, and the two women drank in their two separate places, though it seemed they were drinking together.

"So," Arlanda said, "do you suppose Omni really needs to conserve her compute power like that? Or does she just get tired of dealing with us and make a polite excuse to leave?"

Elena laughed. "Probably the latter. I'm sure humans can be a bit tiresome for her. Her mind works so much more quickly than do ours."

"Hmmm," Arlanda sipped at her drink. "I trust her implicitly, but there are certainly unexplored depths to the woman. I mean, that poetry was a surprise. 'Miles to go' and all that. "

"Which reminds me," Elena put her glass down. "I have a young friend you might like to meet. Another poetry lover."

"Oh? Who? Some woman on the Center staff?"

"No. A boy. A new Bishoni."

Arlanda froze. For a moment Elena thought that there'd been a network interruption and the video had paused. But, no, slowly, motion returned. Arlanda put her glass back on the table before her. "A boy?"

"Yes. Sweet little fellow. Only been awake for a day."





Arlanda's eyes were suddenly very big and very round. Her body was stiff, her muscles rigid. But, she was trying very hard to look nonchalant. "I…see. And his name?"

"He calls himself Bobbi. As I say, he's very sweet. Very innocent. In need of a little guidance, I think. Someone to take him in hand."

To the Doctor's silent amusement, Arlanda began to visibly tremble. "Er…that is…"

"Anyway, I was wondering if you'd care to join us for dinner at the Center. Constant-Désiré and Captain Morgana will be there. In fact, it was Constant-Désire who suggested you two might hit it off. He's a wise child, you know."

"I…I…I…" The poor Sirana was reduced to stammering. "Of course."

"Six o'clock."

"Six…your time."

"Six Pelucida time."

"I'll. Be. There."

Yes, the Doctor thought. I don't doubt you will. "Well, I, too, must be going. I need to get to bed. Early meetings and all that."

Arlanda stood and her nervousness vanished. Once more, she was confident and sure of herself. Once more, she was the shift commander of a missile base. You'd never guess what she'd been feeling…
They shook hands once more. The Doctor prepared to terminate the connection, but, just before she did so, the Sirana stopped her. "Um," she said, "do you really think that he…Bobbi…might, well, you know, like me?"

Elena smiled. "I think there's a very good chance," she answered. "A very good chance, indeed."