Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Royce's Dilemma - Chapter 3

                EeSuJhun carefully drove the device into the plant’s soil pod.  The business end of the device was small and rectangular, no longer than her hand and no wider than her finger, and was colored the same metallic grey as her skin.  A fine gridwork covered the tip of the device.  She gripped the handle tightly and squeezed one of the buttons and waited.

                She didn’t have to wait long.  A series of small popping, squealing sounds erupted from the soil, followed by a few thin wisps of smoke.  She let out a yelping laugh of triumph and pulled the wand out of the soil as carefully as she had inserted it, gratified at the scorch marks along the side.  Hmmm, didn’t take the carbonization into account.  It shouldn’t affect the quality, at least not yet.  I can clean it – can I make it self-cleaning?  Maybe a neutralizing pulse to shed the ash – I’m wasting good carbon here, carbon that these little beauties will love.  She continued to work out minutiae of a self-cleaning function as she worked the soil with the wand methodically in a pattern that was sure to clear out all but the luckiest of grubs.

                So engrossed in her work was she that she didn’t notice the sleek reptilian figure move up behind her.  Nor did she note when it snapped its beaked jaws quietly a few times, trying to call for attention.  She did notice the gentle pressure as it placed one of its long-fingered hands on her shoulder.  Without looking away from her work, she asked, “Oya?”

                “MiSanTu, Structural Engineer Third Class, I have found your missing ID.”

                EeSuJhun frowned and scoffed as she continued to work.  “Not me.  EeSuJhun, Botanical Technician.  Second Class, if you please.  Don’t know MiSanTu.  Sorry.”

                There was a pause.  Hopefully it’s gone.  Can’t it see that I’m working here?  She harrumphed dismissively as she carefully maneuvered the wand around the plant’s delicate root structure.

                There was another clacking behind her, and then a shadow fell across her face.  She looked up to see what was blocking her light, and saw the crested, beaked head of a Vislin, dressed in an unassuming harness.  Vislin, client race of the Great Family.  Good visual artists  Cowards.  That was about the limit of her knowledge of and interest in the Vislin.  Zig didn’t really tend to care much about other species – they weren’t Zig, so they were mentally inferior and thus uninteresting.

  Its crest is pretty, though, she mused, watching it refract the white station light in a cascade of muted, scintillating colors.  Vislin crests – has anyone ever tried using one for lighting?  I know their skin can do odd things with visible bands – must look it up when I’m back at my quarters.  She went back to focusing on the soil pod, and tried shifting a bit for better lighting.

                It wasn’t happening.  The Vislin was squarely in the way of the illumination.  Hmmm, might be useful to have a hat made of their crest material, or an analogue.  Something that would let me see details if this happens again.  Spotlight would be too bright, maybe refraction would be a better trick.  EeSuJhun, annoyed, reflected again that it would have to wait until she was off duty – which could be a lot longer if this Dearthing lizard didn’t leave her alone.

                “EeSuJhun, I am aware of you.  I know that you are not MiSanTu.  Nevertheless, I have his ID.”

                “What, just because we’re both Zig, you think we know each other?”  Scoff, grunt.  “It’s not like we’re Tesetsi.  Know how many Zig work on this station?”

                “I am under no illusions that you know one another.  As a matter of fact, I rather hoped that you didn’t.”

                What the Dearth was this thing getting at?   Scoff.  “I’m busy.”

                “I can see that.”

                “Then why don’t you leave me alone?”

                “Are you familiar with Ta-trisk bulbs?”

                That got her attention.  Ta-trisk bulbs were amazing!  A Tesetsi creation, of course, they were plant bulbs with programmable genetics.  You didn’t need a lab to make them grow into just about any sort of plant that you pleased.  Just apply the right kind of light, soil composition, gravity and environment and the possibilities were almost limitless.  Of course, they were expensive.  So expensive that she knew that she’d probably never be able to afford one.  She sat back on the ground, cross-legged, and looked up at her suddenly interesting intruder.  “Yeah, I know Ta-trisk bulbs.”

                The Vislin cocked its head to one side and focused its large, reddish-black eyes directly on hers.  “I have three in stasis on my person.  Are you interesting in receiving them?”

                Snort.  “Of course I am!  I know I can’t afford one, and you’re trying to push someone else’s ID on me.  So you want me to do something stupid with someone else’s ID.  I get that.  I’m Zig, remember?”  She grasped both sides of her shaven head with her hands.  “Smart.  Probably smarter than you and your mother.”

                The Vislin made no sign of taking offense, but their kind was not given to obvious displays of emotion.  “I am pleased that you grasp the situation.  All I ask is for you to go to a particular stateroom and perform a structural examination of the wall, using the ID and a device that I will provide for you.”

                “Yeah, getting caught’s not worth it.”  They took away anything that you could work on or with in the brig.  That was the very definition of Dearth to a Zig.  She snarled quietly with distaste.

                “Is it worth three Ta-trisk bulbs?  One such would be outside of the pay grade of a Botany Engineer of any Class, unless you happened upon an injured Thrathumm.”  Seeing EeSuJhun’s look of confusion, it clarified: “An unexpected fortune, such as I am offering.”

                Snort.  “Find another patsy.  Station monitors will catch me.  Not worth it.”

                The Vislin raised its beak slightly and stroked the side of its face.  “I would have thought you had some computer skills.  It wouldn’t take much to redirect the cameras.  I didn’t imagine that a simple feat of engineering like that would be outside of your reach.”

                Harrumph.  “I’m Iron Caste, scaly, have been since I came of age.  You obviously don’t know much about Zig, so let me enlighten you: Irons make things work.  Not people, not ideas, things.  Show me an Iron Caste that doesn’t know how to make a computer work and I’ll show you a hairless human slathered in metal paint.   I could make a couple of hallway cams get dressed up and dance if I wanted.  If I wanted.  I want the bulbs, but I’m no idiot.  I have no reason to trust you.  I don’t know you from AaMaTah, and I don’t want to know you.  So take your bulbs and your stolen ID and go find some Hrotata ass to kiss or whatever it is you do in your spare time.  And get the Dearth out of my light, I’m BUSY!”  Snort.

                The Vislin held still through her tirade, and then leaned down towards her, its crested head and razor sharp beak filling her field of vision.  “Very well, EeSuJhun.  Farewell.”  There was something deeply uncomfortable about the way that it stared at her for a long moment before it straightened up and moved out of her light.  She heard it slink away, shuddered, and went back to her gardening.  No wonder they’re still a slave race.  Client race.  Whatever.  Idiots.

                A few moments later she was distracted again from her reverie by hearing a hollow voice call out from behind her, “What’s this I hear about Ta-trisk bulbs?”

                That’s it!  I swear, whoever that is... She grunted in frustration and spun around.  “I’M TRYING TO …”  She trailed off as she saw the Vislin directly behind her, clutching what looked like a thin wire between its hands.  The wire was wrapped tightly around its palms and gripped in its clawed fingers, and was positioned right above where her head had been just a second ago.

                The voice had come not from the Vislin, but from a small, white, somewhat Zig-shaped figure.  Its joints were grooved and obviously mechanical and its face had large, black, slanted eyes, a tiny suggestion of a nose, and a small mouth frozen in a perpetual enigmatic grin.  The Ningyo was standing not far from the entrance to the nursery. 

                “work…” EeSuJhun trailed off.  A tiny mewl of distress escaped her throat.

                The tableau remained frozen for the span of a couple of very tense heartbeats, and in a swirl the Vislin dropped to all fours and skittered smoothly away, past the Ningyo and out the door, its skin changing color to match the floor below.  EeSuJhun swallowed and rubbed her throat, her eyes flickering between the Ningyo and the door that her would-be assailant had just scrambled out of.

                The Ningyo trotted forward to within a meter or so of her and gave a salute. Its voice was hollow and sounded pre-recorded, and there was a mocking quality to its tone. “I’m Tacky, and let me guess… you… you must be… welcome!”

Royce's Dilemma - Chapter 2

Chief Security Officer Lun watched through the eyes of his mindless Vessel as Corporal Royce Dea walked into his office.  The office itself was small, the walls grey and unadorned, his desk barely functional and more a matter of formality than anything else.

                Lun gestured to the chair in front of the desk.  “Please sit.”

                Corporal Dea pulled the chair back and sat down.  Her lips were pressed together and eyes were focused on his, and he noted her right knee was bobbing up and down gently – a gesture he understood to be one of restrained energy among humans, and likely revealing some sort of apprehension.

                “Corporal Dea, yesterday at 13:23 you were seen travelling through access corridor fourteen on level seven, and were witnessed conversing with two Mauraug civilian visitors, Mashaun Bash’Ugan and Hrokgi Bash’Shumal.  Please enlighten me as to the nature of your conversation.”

                Dea’s forhead wrinkled and she twisted her mouth to one side, then spoke, “They were taunting me, sir.  I was concerned that they were planning some sort of physical violence and got away as quickly as I could.”

                “I see.” Said Lun.  He did not, of course.  Lun, like all Awakeners, considered verbal language to be a series of dangerously inaccurate sonic symbols.  These symbols, or “words”, were frustrating in their inability to convey meaning, as each one had many associations that changed based on context in relation to others, the Other Mind employing them, and current events.  Nevertheless, Lun understood that idiomatic speech was comforting to those who had no better way to communicate.

                There was an awkward silence.  His threadlike rhizomes, which emerged from his Vessel’s bodily orifices, writhed impatiently.  He decided to break the silence.  “Corporal Dea, this inquest would be best served by your allowing me to interact with you on a psychic level.  Would you consent to sharing your perspective directly with me?”  He hoped that this was phrased in an inoffensive fashion.

                Dea raised her eyebrows.  “Chief, I would really prefer that you didn't.  I’ve done it before, and it was really uncomfortable.”

                Is this one hiding something, or is it truly uncomfortable with the process?  There is no way to know! The frustration was endemic to relations with Other Minds.  The Other Minds rarely had any skill at true communication and were often suspicious of it, forcing Awakeners to navigate the treacherous waters of language and deal with the concept of “trust”.  Lun was aware of trust, but like most of his kind had been rather appalled when he was first briefed on it.

                Direct approaches are helpful in garnering trust.  Lun reminded himself.

                “I am questioning you on this occurrence because Detective Ushkar Bash’Torkul located the body of Hrogki Bash’Shumal at 02:00 this morning.  Attempts to find and locate Mashaun Bash’Ugan have yielded no results.  You are the last person Hrogki Bash’Shumal was witnessed communicating with.”

                Dea’s eyes grew wide, a misplaced reaction based on an evolutionary path that involved evading predators, still applied to moments of surprise, fear, or shock.   “Chief, may I ask who witnessed us?”

                “That is not pertinent to this investigation.  Information that would lead me to an understanding of Hrogki’s Bash’Shumal’s violent death is pertinent.  If you will not consent to direct communication, please convey any pertinent information vocally.”  Lun immediately realized that he had slipped out of idiomatic speech, and his rhizomes fell a little in despair.  Humans referred to that as being “cold”, an idiom that Lun certainly comprehended.  Cold forces one to withdraw to warmth, and for warm blooded beings, that meant pulling inwards.

                “Yesterday was the first and last time I saw either of them.  They saw me in the hallway, they threatened me, and I got away as quickly as I could.  Can’t you, you know, still talk to Hrogki?”

                “I… the... resonance? Not... complete…”  Lun floundered, searching for appropriate terminology.  In many cases it was possible for an Awakener to gather information from the psychic resonance of the deceased for a short time after their death.  The language being used had no symbols that properly conveyed the reason that that he had been incapable of accomplishing this.

                “That was not possible this time.  Why did they threaten you, Officer Dea?”

                Dea swallowed sharply, another physical sign of emotional distress.  Even without interfacing with her he felt waves of uncertainty and fear rolling off of her.  Good.  He had found something important.  She glanced back and forth and seemed to chew the inside of her lips.

                “Please respond to my question vocally, Corporal.”

                She squared her shoulders, straightened her spine, and made direct eye contact.  Lun sensed certitude.  “They claimed that their scanners showed that I was bearing an unlicensed Mauraug implant, and they wanted to cut it out of me, sir.”

                “Are you bearing any unlicensed Mauraug cybernetics?”

                Her gaze didn’t waver.  “Yes.”

                Lun was genuinely surprised.  It was not something that he’d expected of her.  “Why?  Have you allowed the licensing to lapse, or was it implanted illegally?”

                She grew quiet again, and Lun’s rhizomes writhed in the dance of frustration again.  She looked down, staring at the blank surface of his desk, and he received wave after wave of conflicted emotions from her.  She looked back up.

                “All right, Chief.  You can read my mind.”

                Lun frowned, amused that he found himself mimicking her gestures with his Vessel.  “Are you giving me consent to engage in true communication with you?”

                “Yes.  I give you consent.  Just read my mind and get it over with.  It’s better this way.”

                Chief Security Officer Lun smiled warmly at her.  “Yes, yes, it will be.  Thank you, Corporal Dea.”

                Lun’s attention withdrew almost completely from the physical senses that his Vessel gave him, and he followed the trails of emotion to their source.  Royce Dea sparkled, scintillating, a colorful, quick-acting sentience.  Lun pressed the surface of his ego against hers and the membranes that separated one mind from another grew thin.

                If Lun used his Vessel to unconsciously express his emotional state like other sentient species did, he would have sighed and sunk into his chair.  This, this is the reason that we are.  This union.  This intimacy.  This understanding.  How can the Other Minds not feel the pleasure of it?  How can they not feel the joy of communion as we do? 

He could feel her struggling unconsciously against his gentle pressure.  Even though she had given consent, it was difficult for her to truly relax in the communion.  He felt a pang of sorrow for her, and resolved to speak to her about Awakening her once this business was over.  He deliberately displayed the pleasure that he took in the act to her psychically, but was confused when she reacted with disgust and distrust.  How could you not trust someone who was so completely connected to you?  He despaired of ever truly understanding the Other Minds.

                He could not allow his inborn urge to commune with and Awaken Other Minds to get in the way of his duty to the Collective, though.  He relented, and in a blissfully wordless fashion, prompted her to reveal the information about the cybernetic implant.  She brought it to the surface, and what he witnessed was of such gravity that he quickly withdrew that line of inquiry and pressed her gently on the two Mauraug.  Her words had not been inaccurate.  She had no association with them but the threatening conversation that they had had.  He empathized with the fear and distress she had experienced and resonated with it, showing her a mirror made of himself, displaying that he now truly understood how she had felt.  He transmitted his sorrow that she had had to experience it, and withdrew from the communion, his questions answered.

                Corporal Royce Dea drew a shuddering breath and opened her eyes.  Though they were no longer in communion, he still felt her emotions more keenly than before.  Surprise, relief, and a small touch of pleasure – quickly replaced with vindication and anger.  His rhizomes curled back on themselves and nearly withdrew into his Vessel’s eyes, ears, nose and mouth at the shocking intensity.

                “That little shit.”  Dea said.  “That little Ningyo pissant.  I’ll wring his mechanical neck.”

                It took a moment for Lun to digest what she was trying to convey.  She had obviously been probing him back surreptitiously during the communion.   How could she do that, unAwakened as she was?  The Ningyo that called himself Tacky had indeed been the one to report her conversation to him.

                “You will do no such thing, Corporal.  He has been most helpful in this investigation, and that would be a violation of the law that you have sworn to uphold.”  Law.  Such an inadequate method for preventing unnecessary conflict.  Still, it’s the best the poor creatures have.  For now.

                “Yes, Chief.  You’re right.  I won’t.  But I will be giving him a piece of my mind.  Am I excused?”

                Chief Security Officer Lun nodded silently as she rose and took her leave, considering the implications behind her most recent idiom.

Royce's Dilemma - Chapter 1

“You stand so tall and proud, and yet you have something to hide.”

                Royce grimaced.  She had seen the two Mauraug heading towards her in the empty, poorly lit corridor.  One had white and black markings patterned across its fur that reminded her of a cow; the other was a light tan with small darker blotches in a semi-regular pattern covering its body.  Both were dressed in tight, black poly overalls.  Neither carried any obvious weapons, but you could never tell with Mauraug.

                “Humans stand tall when they are proud.  We know this.  Their pride is not in their strength, is it?  It is not in their power – no, it is merely in their height.”  Cowhide continued.

                Royce sighed and slumped a little bit.  She turned towards the two mocking her.  “There, I’m slouching.  Better?”

                The shorter one that she had mentally tagged as Leopard Print lifted its muzzle back from curved, metal teeth and let out a great woof of air.  “You take a posture of aggression, then?  You are all but admitting your guilt.”

                Cowhide reached out a long arm and put a spatulate hand against Leopard Print’s chest.  “Be restrained, comrade.  Perhaps she doesn't know.”  It turned towards her.  “I am Mashaun.  This is Hrogki.  We have stopped you because it appears that you are violating the Highest Law.  Both of our sensors indicate an unlicensed Mauraug implant in your body.”

                “By the dictates of Dominion Sector Seven we are empowered to remove such implants personally.”  Hrokgi added savagely.

                Wonderful.  This is the last thing that I needed right now.

                “You’re a long way from Dominion Sector Seven, Hrokgi.”  Royce countered.  Turning and running might be a bad idea; they could probably stun or even tackle her before she got halfway to safe space.  Mauraug respect strength, they respect authority, they respect a will to dominate.  She remembered her grandmother’s words clearly.  If you’re going to be among them, don’t forget that.  Never back down once you’ve claimed a position, and never, ever turn your back.  “We’re in Undesignated Sector Twenty Three.  We’re under Generic Collective Law right now.  You have no right to violate the person or belongings of another sapient being.  You want to turn me in based off of faulty readings on your scanner, that’s just fine.  I’ll watch as they laugh you out of court.”

                Hrokgi looked up at Mashaun questioningly.  Mashaun remained impassive.  “It may soon come to pass that this Sector becomes a Dominion sector.  We all know that legal process takes some time… do you feel so confident that the laws of Sha’abahn will not dominate before the end of your trial?”

                Hrokgi hissed through its bared metal fangs.  “The Highest Law outweighs all such local codes!  Present the portion of your anatomy that the device has been implanted in.  You have no right to bear it!  You are in violation!”

                Royce decided that pointing out the irony of their invocation if the Highest Law while mocking the importance humans placed on height might be counterproductive.  “I’m a security officer on this station, sapients.  Do you really want to bring that kind of trouble on yourself?”

                Hrokgi glared.  “She admits it!  She admits her violation!”

                Mashaun licked its lips.  “I have never seen you before, so you can’t hold any real rank.  A low ranking security officer disappearing in an unfinished station frequented by uncontacted species in a neglected corner of the galaxy?  I hardly think anyone will notice.”

                Royce shivered as a bead of cold sweat trickled down from the base of her short cropped hair to her collar.  He had a point.  She couldn’t take two fully grown Mauraug unarmed on a good day.

                Suddenly a nearby intercom blared with a remarkable likeness of the stodgy tones of Commander Kowalski .  “This is your station Commander.  Corporal Dea, you were supposed to report to Conference Room Thirteen for your presentation three minutes ago.  The Akari diplomat is getting impatient.  What’s the hold up?”

                All three froze for a brief second, and Royce called out, “On my way.  Sorry Commander, there was a misunderstanding in one of the access corridors.”

                “If you don’t get up here now we’ll have more than a misunderstanding on our hands.  Move!  Kowalski out.”

                Royce smiled, pulling her lips apart more broadly than usual in a not-so-subtle gesture.  “Looks like I will be missed, fellas.”  Not closing her mouth, she jerked her chin up.  “One side.  I don’t want to keep the Commander waiting.”

                Hrokgi and Mashaun were silent, though Hrokgi’s lips continued to twitch as they drew out of the way.  Royce walked past them, deliberately employing a rolling, aggressive gait.  If they were humans, they’d think I was trying to saunter she thought, grinning internally.  Going against her grandmother’s advice, she walked past them, balls of her feet on the ground.

                Behind her, Hrokgi hissed in Mauraug.  “Demon tricks!”  Mashaun was silent.  She didn’t turn to look.  Smarter than you look, Hrokgi.   I was close to ruining my pants.

                One she was safely out of the access corridor and into an empty lift, she sagged against the wall and buried her face in her hands.  “Thanks, Lim.”

                Her AI’s smooth tones rang out from a nearby speaker.  “What was I going to do, let them pry you open?  Nope, not going to happen.  Not to my Royce.  Not on my watch.”

                “Why’d you choose the Commander?  Chief Security Officer Lun might have been more believable.”

                “The Commander is human, Royce.  Lun’s an Awakener – you know how the Mauraug feel about the fungi.  It might have made them even nastier.  I want my baby girl to be safe.  Only the best for my Royce!”

                “Thanks, dad.”  Royce enjoyed teasing him about his old-fashioned paternal attitude even though it was kind of reassuring at times.  “How much longer do I have to keep this damned thing in me?”

                “Only three days till Marsten and company come to retrieve it.”

                “Ugh.  This feels so wrong.”  She straightened her spine but not the twist that worry brought to her features.

                “It is.  It’s highly illegal.  But you know that unless it’s housed, they’ll find it in no time, and unless we get it to the authorities they’ll never know about what Shankuk and his people are trying to do.  You agreed to this.  Own your decision, my girl!  It’s not like you could take it out now without making things worse.”

                “Yeah.”  She sighed again.  “Yeah.  This means that you’re going to be extra busy the next three days, though.”

                “Oh?  Why is that?”

                “Because you’re going to keep tabs on every Mauraug on this station so I don’t have to turn you in for impersonating a citizen again.”  They both knew that she was only teasing; having an AI capable of bending the rules when necessary was invaluable in her line of work.

                Lim chuckled.  “I should have thought of that already.  Don’t worry; no one’s gonna lay a hand on my Royce!”


Posted herein will be the stories that I have written for the science fiction universe that I created a long time ago.

A little backstory first:  In 2010, my dear friend Nathan and I were complaining about a lack of science fiction based Live Action Roleplaying Games (LARPs).  We were both fans of LARPing, but had grown very tired of the Vampire scene and wanted something different.  We decided to work together on a project for a game that we called "Space Station!" as a working title.

Nathan decided to work on the game rules, and I decided to work on creating the universe that it was set in.  For a couple of years we tossed ideas back and forth and wrote them down and shared them with friends, who provided a lot of invaluable input (special thanks to James Hodur, Justin Marino, and Tom Young).

At the same as we were throwing these ideas around and letting this thing grow and build, Nathan was going back to school to complete his doctorate.  This left him very little time for working on the game system.  I will admit that he has a much better head for such things than I do, and I didn't get very far past adding some ligaments to the skeleton that we had created.

The idea of the universe we had forged for Space Station! never went away, though.  It lingered and grew and became more well-defined.  I wanted to write fiction for it, and eventually, after having lost a job and receiving some guidance from my partner Maur, began to write out small vignettes set in the universe, at first just to expose people to the ideas and concepts of the universe, but I began to expand afterwards.

Where is this project going?  Well, I'd very much like to work on the game again at some point.  A lifelong dream of mine has also been to be a published author, so I would also like to hold a physical, paper copy of a book of stories or a novel set in this universe in my hands.  I'd like to attract visual artists to create concepts of creatures and technology and characters from this universe and these stories as well.

It's an amazing universe, and I can say that without bragging because it's always been a collaboration, no less so because I've done the majority of the writing for it.  The ideas of those that I value and love have come to color and shape this world that we've been building together, and I'm sure more ideas will come to shape it.

So I'm going to start posting the vignettes here.  I have several different storylines, and I am going to tag them appropriately for each story.  I'm also going to create a glossary page, and once we have better software and server space and a better idea of how we are doing it I want to make a more fully interactive site, with words linking to the glossary and character and theme cross-referencing.  I have a vision of a type of story structure that would be difficult to create without the use of the Web.

I hope all of you enjoy these stories and the universe that they are set in.  I'm always open to comments and questions (questions spark some of my best ideas) and insights and possibly even additions and collaborations.  Enjoy!