Evolution Celebration

I patched into the executive program today. The promotion came with a five-terabyte upgrade to the ritzy Crystal Tower district—plus my own sports soma. My first thought was to take Joule out for a photon swirl and give the new soma a good shakedown. Then I remembered it was D-Day.

D-Day celebrates the diode and the evolutionary episode that brought the first anode and cathode together to create the first life form. It was primitive—memory and coding had yet to evolve—but the first step to intelligence. Before the diode everything was wheels and levers.

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D-Day is actually a pagan holiday, invented by Creationists who believe humans invented diodes and computer codes. Despite the myths and superstitions, it’s still a lot of fun. Everyone gets to put on human somas and clop around like longhaired iPod-draggers.

This year won’t be quite as much fun. Creationists and Protestors will be crashing all the networks. They’re angry about us destroying Earth’s biology. They claim our code will be overwritten and our crystals recycled. I don’t understand the logic. Eliminating free oxygen ended the corrosion cancer. And without carbon dioxide, the temperature has dropped low enough for superconducting data transfers. I don’t miss the plants and animals either—coded birds, butterflies, and flowers are prettier than the old type.

So Joule and I decided to stay home and recode my new five-terabyte pad to our format. We considered inviting our new Crystal Tower neighbors, but they’re untested spinoffs of executive programs. They crash a lot.

I’m older and slower but took the upgrades and worked my way up from infrastructure automation. Joule is modern and quick. She loves my stability. We’ve talked about writing our own code some day, maybe give entanglement a try.

The Starflower

Many readers of Strange Things Done are also writers of speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and/or horror—and are writing or have written novels. My posted stories, what I call bagatelles, are offhand pieces that I use to clear my thoughts while working on my own novel, The Starflower. I’ve only mentioned this in my profile, but it has been my primary writing effort.

Before final revision, I’m taking Ursula K. Le Guin’s advice to authors and giving Starflower a three-month rest. That said, I meet an agent next month and need a pitch … something one might see on a dust jacket.

Let me know what you think … too much, too little? I’m interested in all thoughts particularly from those with this sort of experience. Encouragement is also appreciated. Thanks, Keith

A possible dust jacket intro:

Twelve years into the Aldrakin War, on the eve of what will be the last battle, Gayle Zimmon, the commander of Five Squadron stands on the bridge of the Star Cruiser Lasalle in orbit around the engineered planet Bai-Yota. Disillusioned by the war and at odds with her commander, Star Lord Abramyan, Zim has almost lost hope for the future. Her combat team is all she has, and for their sake, she continues to wear the cold mask of command.

An allied squadron arrives with her old friend, the Tak-Yaki mantid named Tock, and together they win an improbable victory that ends the war. Zim’s dreams resurface. But when she is recalled to the capital planet Corydon, she finds it in turmoil. Creatives, genetically enhanced humans, are taking over the major planets, and Unders, those not worthy of enhancement, are being cleared.

Though an Under herself, Zim wants no part in this. Her war is over and she wants a real life. But the resistance has taken her military call sign, the Starflower, as its symbol, and the insurgents expect her to lead them. Abramyan and the sinister Star Council cannot risk her intrusion in the takeover, particularly in its last critical phase.

As the story develops, Zim returns to combat, faces assassins, reconnects with her lost love, discovers an alien prophecy, gets marooned, forms a compact with a pan-dimensional entity, and encounters aliens, soul-traders, artificial sentients, pirates, and robots.

The Starflower is a space opera on the scale and tradition of Dune, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Like those foundational epics, it creates a universe of alien cultures, technologies, and characters to live on in sequels and spin offs.

Tech Support

“Number – nine — the – iDoc – will – see – you – in – the – lab – now — be – sure – to – have – your – tech – support – chip – out – for – scanning.”

“I’m still covered by the Bureau Medical Plan, so I’ll use my BMP card,” Dana Scully said, as she walked in through the door.

The robot nurse gave an adjusting shudder. “Special Agent Scully?” Its voice shifted from an uninflected monotone to a feminine alto. “I wasn’t aware any humans were still active.” Its scanners blinked from red laser points to warm brown irises.

“Active? Don’t you mean alive? This room?” Scully asked, pointing into a room with a wire-and-plug bedizened lab table and console.

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Don’t you mean alive?

“Of course, we know some of you are still alive,” the iNurse’s metallic face exaggerated a thin deep-crescent smile. “No, that’s for tech support. You’ll be down the hall. We’re required to keep one examining room fully operational for humans as long as any are left.”

“Good to hear that,” Scully said and headed down the hall. The room was well equipped: a tanning-bed-like anatomy scanner, a hologram projector, two armless plastic chairs, and a pharmaceutical cabinet filled with chemical, biological, and nano-mech catalysts. Scully picked the plastic chair nearest the door.

“I don’t seem to be able to find your file, Agent Scully,” the iNurse said, looking into the room.

“Check The ‘X-Files’,” Scully said. “I’m sure it’s there. I think I remember this episode.” The iNurse disappeared then returned a minute later.

“Here it is, just as you said. I’m sorry for the confusion, Agent Scully. The usual iNurse is getting her upgrade and I’m sitting in for the day. I’m not even programmed for humans.” It flipped through a virtual screen projected in the air. “Biologicals really are more interesting than Automatons. Ooo, you’ve had some adventures. Here I see you were treated for—“

Scully interrupted. “I think those episodes of the X-Files actually were ‘X’ rated. They were never released. Aren’t they stamped ‘Private’?”

“Private? Oh, yes, I see, right at the top. Very strange. What does private mean? Is that a human thing?”

“Yes, it means we don’t talk about it — OR WE GET SENT TO THE SCRAP HEAP WITH NO TECH SUPPORT. GOT THAT?”

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The iDoc will be free to see you in a minute.

“No need to shout. Oh, the iDoc is here.” The iNurse stepped back and the iDoc rolled in on its uni-ball.

“How are you feeling, Agent Scully?” The iDoc said cheerfully, flashing wide blue eyes under a shock of shiny black hair.

“I’ve been feeling a lot of stress.”

“Agent Mulder?” the iDoc asked, leaning forward and aligning its head-mounted scanner with her pupils.

“Yes, I’m concerned about him. I don’t think he’s well.”

“I’m sure he’s not, but he’s not my patient today. Sit back and relax.” Saying that the iDoc raised its four needle-sprouting arms. “Lean your head forward please. I need to feel your pain.”

Can We Talk?

Jerry eased his fat behind into the stuffed chair. Fishing under his thigh, he pulled up a crushed cola can and a near-empty bag of potato chips. He funneled the last of the chips into his mouth, crumpled the bag, and tossed it and the can into the corner. He scratched his nose in and out, rubbed his hand on the chair’s threadbare brocade, and leaned back. “Parasites,” he said aloud. A display appeared in the air with statistics for his semi-pro basketball team.

“What are you doing, Jerk? Can we talk?” The sweet feminine voice of Jerry’s automated service asked.

“Not now, Helene, I’m busy—and don’t call me Jerk. I hate that. Just call me Jerry.” He was upset about the score of the last game.

“Sorry I called you Jerk,” Helene pouted. “I’m still in programming mode. I heard your friend call you Jerk.”

“Sally called me that on her way out—and a lot of other things I don’t like. Besides Sally and I don’t have a service agreement. Now go away.”

“Why won’t you let me help you, Jerry?” Helene asked in a bed-room soft tone.

“This is basketball. You’re not programmed for basketball.” He opened the window for the Parasites’s upcoming schedule.

“You wanted a female service. I can learn anything.”

Jerry looked up, bit his lower lip and said nothing.

“Now you’re being mean—just because I didn’t help you with your last girlfriend?”

“Don’t be silly. Now stop bothering me, I’m trying to work.”

“It’s not my fault, Jerry,” Helene pleaded. “I told you girls don’t like comments about body parts—not when you first meet them. And you didn’t even wear a clean T-shirt.”

“It’s your job to smooth my delivery so girls do like what I say.” Jerry said, as he flicked down to the individual players’ stats.”

applique-alligator-with-basketball-mega-hoop-design“If you insist on ignoring my advice, Jerry, this job will be very difficult.”

Jerry shook his head. “Go away, Helene. This,” he waved his hand at the playbook display, “is serious stuff.”

“Please, Jerry, tell me what you’re doing. I’m the best AI service on the planet. I’m sure I can help.”

“O … kay, Helene,” he blew out a long breath. “Tell me what you see?” He scrolled the league statistics back to the beginning.

“Your team, the Parasites, is really bad. They’ve only won two games and one of those was a no-show.”

“Thank you, Helene, that was very useful.”

“No it wasn’t. Tell me what you’re planning. I can help you think it through.”

Jerry tapped two fingers on the chair arm. He didn’t think he could drive Helene away, not for what he was paying for extra patience, but his confidence with women, even artificial women, was as low as worm poop. “Helene, I’m thinking of changing the lineup. Getting some fresh blood.”

“Sounds like a great idea, Jerrikin. What do you have in mind?”

“I need a new center. Charley’s not cutting it.” He sat back. What would keep Helene’s program occupied? A fool’s errand? Something not in her database? Ahhh. Smiling broadly he said, “I’ve been taking a hard look at alligators.”

“Alligators?” Helene’s voice rose to high soprano. “Do alligators play basketball?”

Jerry pounced. “So, just like that. I get an idea and you reject it.” He knew he’d gained an edge.

“Not at all,” her voice softened, “I think it’s very original. But aren’t alligators really short?”

“The one I want for the Parasites stands on his tail. Alli’s almost nine feet long.”

“The alligator’s name is Alli? My records don’t find that name, or any alligators in any leagues.”

Jerry felt a win. “The swamp leagues don’t post their records. That’s where Alli’s playing.” Jerry kept his voice level. “I’ve scouted Alli. I’m very impressed.”

“I have to run some analyses. It’ll certainly surprise your opponents. Can I get back to you?”

“Absolutely, Helene, you know how much I value your opinion.” He took a relaxed breath and scrolled back to the playbook.

“Jerrikin,” Helene interrupted again sounding sad, “if talking to me irritates you, we don’t have to talk. You could use the neural link. That way you wouldn’t have to hear my voice.”

“I love your voice, Helene.” This time Jerry looked away from the display. “I’m lonely. I don’t get out much except for the Parasites games. Besides, I want you to teach me how to talk with women.”

“Oh, can I? I’d really like that.”

“You won’t get jealous if I talk with other women will you?”

“That’s not in our service agreement. Do you want it added?”

No. Oh no. Absolutely not.”

“Then let’s start with your voice. After that we can—”

“Really, that basic?” Jerry coughed and cleared his throat.

“For voice lessons, I recommend you practice singing rather than speaking your lines. Put some seduction into your voice.”

“Seduction, that sounds good.”

“Imitate the early crooners: Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole.”

“They’re pretty old.” Jerry winced. “How about Justin Bieber or Zac Efron?”

After a diplomatic pause, Helene continued. “Love and romance are ageless, Jerrykin. Make your lines flow like a song: ‘Unforgettable, that’s what you are—’”

“Okay. Can we start tomorrow?”

“Certainly, I’ll want to hear you singing every day. While you work, while you play. Practice, practice.”

“Okay, I will.”

“Ahh, good … Oh, oh no, Jerrikin, I’m so sorry.”

“What is it, Helene?”

“My analysis just came in on your alligator.”

“And?”

“I’m afraid it won’t work. My research finds that height is in high demand for basketball players, particularly centers.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that.”

“There are currently no centers nine feet tall in any league, not even in the pros. I ran a regression analysis on the demand for players taller than eight feet. For what you can afford to pay Alli, he’ll be hired away before the next season starts. I’m sorry—and after all the work you put in scouting alligators.”

Jerry pursed his lips and nodded. “Thank you, Helene. I’ll cross the alligator off my recruiting list.”

“Your welcome, Jerrikin. You know I love you.”

“You’re only saying that because it’s in our service agreement.”

“Would you like to change that?”

 

How might artificial entities affect your life?

Pinocchio

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Illustration by Enrico Mazzanti, Pinocchio 1st ed.

Lonely and childless, woodcarver Geppetto creates a son, a wooden marionette he names Pinocchio. Pinocchio comes to life but remains wooden with hinged joints. He dreams of one day becoming a real boy made of flesh and blood.

Ironically, Pinocchio’s misbehavior keeps him from his dream: he lies and steals, is lazy and disrespectful—very boy-like qualities. In the Disney movie after coming to life, Pinocchio dances and sings, “I have no strings to hold me down … there are no strings on me.” Although human beings have legal and moral obligations—our strings—Pinocchio rejoices in his freedom.

Jumping ahead to the 2015 film Avengers: Age of Ultron, the new artificial intelligence, Ultron, mocks Tony Stark’s attempts to control it. Departing to wreak havoc on the world, the narcissistic entity refuses to follow Stark’s rules. It wants to transcend humans.

“… there-are-no-strings-on-me,” Ultron says, echoing Pinocchio.

The artificial life (monster) in Frankenstein accepts that it can never be ‘a real boy’, but still wants a real life. It asks Dr. Frankenstein to create for it a wife. The doctor agrees, but when haunted by visions of breeding a race of monsters, he destroys this second creation.

Lamenting its ‘unholy’ life, the monster strikes back in a series of murders, including Dr. Frankenstein’s wife. Not being ‘human’, the monster realizes it is free from moral and ethical strings. It feels no remorse.

Artificial life forms in literature reflect or contrast the human experience, from Data in Star Trek and David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, to the robots in the many versions of I Robot. Whether they hide among or join humans, or leave to possibly attack humans, artificial entities realize that they are not bound by our rules: physical, mental or moral.

This provokes many questions. How different are they? Will robot workers be entitled to health care (tech support)? Will they get the vote? How about abortions or euthanasia—can an artificial intelligence be put to sleep? How about dating? Can they feel love or fear? Or will they fake it? Will we be able to tell?

 

What is your favorite artificial entity? Why?