Sunday, February 26, 2017

This is a short story I've been quietly working on since Christmas, Now ATU is out the way I can reveal it!

The Callosum Conjunction

An entry into the Convergence64 (ie The Across the Universe 2017 LARP) short story Competition by Roger Gammans

(C) CC-BY-SA 4.0 2017

Global Feudal Court. Somewhere
The court room was quiet, already quiet but the Judge brought the gavel down with sharp and penetrating crash.
"This court is now in session, and before I pass sentence I wish to allow one last opportunity for the defendant to accept parole from a Lord of this jurisdiction. Are there any offers?"
The already sombre mood of the court room deepened as the Judge waited for a response, but the court space was silent, not a single indication was offered, nor was any communication with the gallery attempted.
"No? ... In which case I can move on to the sentencing. I must comment that in all the time in which I have stood in this position, I have never seen a such a blatant contravention of our closely held taboos and standards. However I can only levy a sentence against the actual charges brought against the defendant. With this in mind..."
####
Enforcement branch. Department 9323.
"Duzi, a moment in my office please," asked Nsuku poking his head around his private office door into the common area.
"Yes, Boss - coming." Duzi got out of his chair slowly, the tired old joints of his body audibly creaking and eliciting a grunt of pain from Duzi.
Once Duzi had made his way into Nsuku's private office, Nusku closed the door behind them and bade Duzi to sit in the spare chair.
"I take it you've seen the news?" asked Nsuku.
"Any part in particular? The Lords are always making some pronouncement or other designed to make our lives more difficult."
"Hrmph. I'd keep that opinion to yourself if I were you. But that isn't what I meant. They are reducing the portal Guard."
"I did see that, but I didn't see the relevance. I suppose it possible that someone might want to cross, but that is not our duty."
"True, but this came across my desk yesterday." Nsuku passed Duzi a rather archaic bundle of folded paper. A title was clearly readable on the upper most side, although it was clearly not written in the local language.
"I can't read this - where did come from? Shuma?"
"Exactly, your hand terminal should be able to translate." Duzi took his hand terminal and passed it over the outer surface of the papers, methodically capturing the whole leaf. Duzi paused while he took in what is terminal was telling him.
"Do you think someone might want to affect this process?"
"Yup, without a doubt. The only question is whether is they can win the protection of one of the Lords."
"So what do you want me to do? Hang around the portal just in case?"
"Pretty much. But on the other side. Since you obviously can't go looking like that - pop down to medical before you go, I've got a surprise for you waiting. Oh and take this.. " Nsuku prodded his hand terminal sending an address to Duzi. "Aralu will meet you there."

####
Democratic Party Hospatility Suite, Captial City, Shuma
The room was filled with the low buzz of many quiet meetings between people; people with different interests, but they all wanted to have their point of view heard in any emerging consensus.

John Routh’s attention was beginning to wander. He had been here for three hours listening to pretty much the same set of arguments from different vested interests, or 'stakeholders' as the Whip's office encouraged them to be called these days. If there had been a truly new argument it would have at least been refreshing, but some things never change. The powerful wanted to exercise their power in this case by being able to turn off anybody else’s gadgets with as little oversight as possible and those who represented the masses wanted almost the opposite. They did have one thing in common everybody wanted control over other people’s gadgets. It was strange how how a simple bureaucratic process to tidy up the wording of the Fundamental Rights had turned into a battleground around surveillance and technology.

"Excuse me." A petite female edged her way in to the discussion." But has anybody thought about what the gadgets think?" John was shocked by the way her sentence followed on so smoothly from his own thoughts, losing the initiative slightly as a larger man followed the lady's lead into the discussion. John now recognised them as Brian Eldred and his aide Sara Crowe. They were known for using this trick effectively in technology circles, but judging by the reactions here in the depths of the law making cliques it was still relatively unknown.

"That's a very good question, and one that shouldn't be overlooked. Modern gadgets pretty much already do have feelings, and it won’t be long before they may be practically sapient." There were howls of derision from the assembled lawmakers, but Brian continued, "Look, we already have vehicles which can navigate and control themselves without assistance from us. We just sit back and check our correspondence while we get delivered like a parcel to our destination. What do you think would happen if they did decide to turn against us? We have a moral responsibility to extend the rights we are so proud to grant to ourselves, to all sapients."

"Even if such devices were possible, what possible legal test could there be to determine if a device was suitable to be granted such rights?"
"Why distinguish? If you are capable of claiming such a right, shouldn't you be able to be granted them?" John countered.
"That's easy, because others may claim those rights on their behalf. And there is the linked issue of criminal responsibility. If a device has rights, it also has responsibilities, and more importantly, if it doesn't an owner must be responsible for the actions of their own gadgets,” John responded.

Any reply Brian may have made was pre-empted, for at that moment the discussion was interrupted by a loud gong sounding at end of the room. "Dinner will be served shortly if you could all please make your way to the tables", intoned the master ceremonies from beside the gong.

"Ah, look Brian you do make a good point," continued John, "Contact my office and make and appointment, I’d like to see if there is something here. I will take the point that any decisions we make here most be forward looking given the current pace of technological development".

####
Dire's bar, Captial City, Shuma.
Duzi jumped up on the high bar stool next to Aralu with a ease that would have surprised those who saw him a few days ago. But then they probably wouldn't recognise him anyway.
"So I guess that's the new model they got you then, Duzi?" Aralu asked.
"It is indeed. Quite a bit different to the old model, but at least it won't draw too much attention here. I see you have a matching one," Duzi replied.
"Indeed. Mine seems reasonably capable, but I understand these are a new partly mechanical design, so I expect some gremlins".
"Not looking forward to those, but I'd be surprised if we didn't find any. But I'd prefer this to the alternatives," Duzi looked round the bar at the other patrons with a slightly pointed expression.
"Ugh. No. Not that.. Look can we talk about something respectable. Like now we are here - what are we actually going to do."
"Nsuku left it up to us. But I can't see there is much we can do except hang around and wait for something suspicious."
"We could be here for years. How long are these ", Aralu gestured with her hands waving them around her body, "supposed to last?"
"I don't know - not as long as the usual arrangement, I'm told. But we don't need to be here for that long. The legislative process here is relatively quick, by comparison to back home."
"I'd still prefer something a little bit more proactive."
"Well, you always were a little impatient, but we have some discretionary funding. We can easily afford to subscribe to all the local media feeds. Just checking through those should keep you busy."
"Well in the meantime, I suggest I stay here listening to the unguarded gossip. Beside whatever this is," she indicated the glass in front of her, "it is quite pleasant. I think I’ll like to try some more."

####
Sara Crowe's Apartment, Habition Quarter, Capital City, Shuma
The alarm started, and was ignored. But the alarm was used to being ignored and redoubled it's efforts.
Finally Sara woke up, cancelled the alarm properly and checked her hand-terminal. She felt odd, something felt wrong. Something she couldn't understand.
Wearily putting that aside she checked the TODO list on her hand terminal. There wasn't much new from her boss today, but there was quite a lot still undone from the past few days. It had seemed so much less important a few days ago compared to how urgent those same tasks felt this morning.

After breaking her nightfast, she sat at her office terminal, and decided to see if one of the network medical diagnostic system could help here figure out what was wrong.

She input some search terms; and looked through the results. Was is really possibly someone had spiked her drinks? She supposed it wasn't that difficult, given the recent spate of soirées she had been attending with Brian, and the results really made her current condition appear to be a withdrawal reaction. She resolved that she should ensure the public were aware of her experience, as the implications were astounding.

Switching the functional mode of her terminal she started to compose a public diary entry.

When I woke this morning I woke up to the oddest sensation. This isn't the normal sort of thing I talk about in this diary, but I think this is evidence of our political process sliding slowly further into territory I am not conformable with. And I believe that there many other who will feel as strongly about this as I do.
I'm going to give you the facts; the facts as I found them before I draw any conclusions or make any accusations. In fact I'm not going to make any accusations. My schedule for the last few days has been public enough that anyone reading this may draw there own conclusions.

In hindsight, those last few days have been some of the happiest days of my life. They were filled with a sense of wonder and a sense of being part of something bigger than just myself. It is strange looking back how those sensations changed my priorities, and while I don't regret anything I did during those days, I wonder what I would have done differently....
####
Dire's bar, Captial City, Shuma.
"Aralu, good to see you are on time as always," Duzi said in greeting as Aralu sat at the bar next to him.
"It’s easy to be on time when there's is nothing to do, or suspect to tail. This is a shit detail, Duzi. What did you do say to Nusku to get us lumbered with this?"
"Nothing comes to mind. At first I thought it was just his way of finagling me an upgrade, but now I'm not so sure. It is quiet here, and to be fair, it was always a bit of a long shot. Shuma is a big place: the chance of catching anyone being silly is quite small. The problem is that anyone who wants to ‘be silly’ would have to be pretty well resourced just to get an appropriate model to operate in the open out here without drawing unnecessary attention."
"And that means support from the Lords."
"Exactly, which means that if there is anybody of interest to us here, they are funded better than us. Even if we can bring them home to justice,they will likely get the parole of a Lord."
"And it was the Lords that reduced the Portal Guard?".
"So I hear, which means this could be some kind of power play back home we are about to get caught up in."
"Why doesn't that surprise me? No don't answer that. And of course we don't know that WE aren't being watched."
"Aralu, despite what we've just discussed, that sort of cynicism is bordering on sedition." challenged Duzi.
"Look, ..." Aralu started to reply before a local voice from behind her shouted at the barkeep, "Hey - I want to hear this. Turn the sound on."
The Barkeep looked around and registered the new stories that was playing on the media feed above his head at the bar, he adjusted the settings, filling the bar with the sound from the feed’s commentary track as the patrons, including Duzi and Aralu momentarily switched their attention to the feed.

"In breaking news many people here in the Captial are treating Sara Crowe's recent public statement as an accusation that the Democratic Party have been trying to manipulate the political elite through secretly doping drinks at their policy receptions. The Democratic Party have responded by condemning her statements as an attack on our political institutions by big business, although a few members have stood up to defend her statement, pointing out it is mostly a statement of facts.
Sara claims to have realised she is suffering what appear to be withdrawal symptoms from an unnamed drug, which produces feelings of elation, and a of a great sense of self... "

"Duzi," Aralu interrupted the report, "You don't think this could be anything do you?"
"Not really. But I do think it is exactly the sort of thing we should investigate. You said you were bored. And the last thing we need is to lay ourselves open to a charge of dereliction by ignoring this."

####
Lychor Technologies, Corporate Headquarters, Capital, Shuma.
"Thank you for meeting with us Ms Crowe."
"Ugh, Sara please. Now you said you are with the security services, but I didn't catch your names?" Sara asked the two investigators who had entered her office. She had had a phone call early from one of them suggesting quite strongly they were some sort of federal investigator, so she had agreed to meet with them. The office receptionist had even mentioned how drab their business suits were when he asked if they should be sent up to her office.
"We didn't give them," replied Duzi. "Our agency's security cannot be compromised."
"Oh. Really. You claim to be with Them?"
"Indeed." Duzi stood still, and gave Sara an impassive stare. Sara just looked at him for a couple of moments before continuing.
"And you can offer no proof, I assume?” Duzi signalled the affirmative, and Sara continued, “In which case, since I'm here I might as well complete the interview, but don't expect any corporate secrets."
"That shouldn't pose a problem. Let get started. Can you explain what memories you have during the days during which you claim you were drugged?"
"I can pretty much remember everything, but the thing I remember most about that time is a a feeling of being part of something bigger, and now that feeling is gone I have a very real sense of loss. A loss of something I can't quite put my figure on from that time."
"Interesting, is there any word, or sound associated with that loss?"
"Strange, you should ask but yes. Just one thing, 'Haban' - Does that mean anything to you?"
"I couldn't possibly say. So do you remember anything unusual immediately before you started to feel these sensations>?"

"It's really difficult to pin down exactly when they started. So how can I identify who slipped me whatever new drug this is? And that doesn't take into account any onset time." Sara complained.

"Look, we don't even know this is a drug," injected Aralu. "Why don't you tell us what you can remember? There must be a first time you remember having the feeling, if you cast your mind back."

"Well, ok. But I think it was when I having lunch. I remember having sudden cravings for Akarso Soup, and don't like Akarsi." The mention of Akarsi seem to startle Aralu, who got out and started some furious fiddling with her hand terminal. "But surely that would implicate anyone with access to the top floor klah machine, and Brian should have been affected too." Sara continued.

"The klah machine may not be the correct vector, or the drug could have a significant onset time. Are you sure that was the very first time anything odd happened? Did you have a morning meeting that day perhaps?" queried Duzi.

"As it happens, yes I did. With the appointments office of the Legislative Second Chamber. I had a meeting to arrange between Brian and John Routh." She paused for a moment as what she seemed to be saying came home to her. "You don't think the appointments office is in on it do you? Seriously - that is the stuff of conspiracy fiction."
"Yes, it is and No we don't. Did you go straight to lunch after the meeting?"

"No, I had to get some reports for Brian completed, so I could send them to him. He was away in Landing on that day, and as a result I came straight back here. Oh! No, not straight back, I stopped for some Klah. - Oh, Yes! That’s definitely when it started. I've just remembered. So I stopped to drink my Klah in the shop, and must have fallen asleep, because I remember I had this really weird dream. And the sensations started when I woke.”
"Can you tell us about the dream ?"

"Well, it was odd. It started just with a melody. Then a second melody seemed to join in harmony, and somewhere the two melody turned into a conversation. I can't explain it suddenly I know the first tune was my thoughts and the others tune the thoughts of something else, and we where negotiating whether we wanted to stay together, Ow wow - now I said it out loud it really seems strange, really strange. Do you think my Klah was drugged?"

"Hmm. Did you agree the other melody could stay?"

"Yes, it wanted to be a share it's life with my I shared with it. I think there was definitely some sharing of goals and of even control."
"Would you say you consented to this control?"
"Yes, err. Hey what? The dream was just a dream wasn't it? - You think it was something else don’t you?"
"We can't say Ma'am. One last question - When did the sensation leave you?"
"When I met Brian; on his return from landing. Although I didn't realise until the next day." Answered Sara, "Hang on, that means we have got to warn Brian. Do you think he ..."
Aralu stopped Sara's frantic and rapidly paranoid raving in their tracks by the simple expedient of knocking her out with a single well timed and solid punch.

"She will remember that," Duzi chided Aralu.

"Yes, but she was going to warn them. That might not help us."

"True. I gather you believe there is something to this?" queried Duzi.

"Of course. The Akarso was the giveaway, it contains significant quantities of the metabolic precursors for Glumatic acid."
"Sorry, you'll have to explain that one.."
"It's a neurotransmitter, one of it's functions in most species is in the memory pathways."

Aralu knelt down and took Sara’s hand terminal from her as she said that, and started looking through it.

"Ahh, I think I see where your going with that. Personally I thought the dream was the clincher."
"Well maybe, but it was sort of like hitting us over the head with the the clue at that point. Ah here it is", Ar,alu indicated the hand terminal. "Brain's meeting with John Routh is today, in about an hour - we better get a move on."

"Yeah, and before someone finds us."
”And her.”

####
John Rough's Office, Legalistive Branch, Captial City , Shuma
"No, I am expecting him. Please send Mr Eldred up to my office." John replaced the voice comms receiver in it's cradle and had a quick look around his office.

"Rupert," he called his PA. "Can you bring in Dijsktra and Minsky's On Sapience? Let's make it look like I've been reading it - that should help create the right impression."

A few moments later Rupert came through with a heavy book which John placed open on his desk. "Rupert you better get back there so you’re waiting when Brian gets here to show him through."
"Yes, sir."

After Rupert had left, John closed his eyes and took a number of long deep breaths, before starting to read the book. Two minutes later John had scarcely understood the basics of the chapter he was reading. Rupert opened the door and introduced Brian. "Mr Routh, Mr Eldred to see you."

John stood up and with an expansive gesture bade Brian to enter -his office, "Ahh, Brian, please come in and take a seat."
"Thank you for allowing us to continue our conversation.", Brian gestured to the book on the desk. "Ah, I see you've been brushing up on your classics. I didn't think you were up to the higher maths in later chapters."
"Just because I studied the real classics at college doesn't mean I can't handle the odd piece of calculus you know."
"Touché," John replied taking the indicated chair.

"You made some strong points about changes in the upcoming redrafting of the Bill of Fundamental Shumai Rights, at the Democratic Party dinner a few nights ago."
"The point I was trying to make is that with our current technological base we are on the cusp of a future more wonderful than many of the Genré writers have dared to imagine... "
"Come on - spare me the speech, I'm an old enough political hack to see through them," John interrupted.
"Ok, ok. I'll do my best but we are on the verge of not just machines that can think for themselves but also our bio tech is not far from being able to uplift other species. "
"What! You’re now are claiming Aliens? That really is too far."
"No, the speed of light is inviolate, and despite the fact we have good evidence to support that 70% of the Sun like stars in this galaxy have habitable or near habitable planets, I think it is unlikely that anyone can or will travel between them. Unless someone finally cracks the wormhole problem that, is."
"I thought that required matter which had negative mass, and the recent sub-nuclear collider experiments have proved impossible."
"Well, quite. But there are other possibilities. Mostly unlikely possibilities, though. I'm an engineer, I use science everyday. Every technological invention proves different parts of the strange and wonderful world of physics, just by the fact that it works and carries on working. I keep an open mind about the stuff which is not yet useful to engineers. Just over a hundred years ago it was well known that heavier than air aircraft were impossible."
"That's the classic reminder. I've lost count of the number times when a science bill is being discussed in the chamber someone brings that one up."

"Right, but it also means we don't know what changes we will bring to the world in the next 50 years, let alone 100. Getting back to the point. Do you have a pet? Maybe a good Retriever - bred originally for hunting but is now a treasured family pet.”
"I do as a matter of fact, but I don't see what relevance it has."
"Ahh, right. So is your retriever obedient, does it obey your commands?"
"Mostly, I guess. It’s a pretty good pet".
"So you treat it as a slave".
"Well,. Umm, no, I mean it's only a retriever".
"Indeed, but what happens when we start to uplift, a Retriever is it only a few points away from full sapience on the usual scale. You own the retriever, but our slave laws and Fundamental Rights laws prevent us from owning each other. Some estimates put the first uplift less than 10 years away..., What the..." Brian broke off as a commotion began to be heard from the outside the office.
John slid his hand under the desk taking something from a hidden drawer as the the door burst open and Duzi and Aralu came in slightly breathless.
"Haban, I presume." Duzi challenged Brian, "I'm from department 9323, we were warned someone might try something like this."
John pulled the gun out of his desk drawer, and as Rupert followed the intruders into John's office, John leveled the gun at Duzi and calmly challenged him, "Now I'm pretty sure there is no such Department as 9323."
"Oh, there is, but it is also quite reasonable you've never heard of it. You see Brian over there has been influenced by an alien agent."
"Alien, as in foreign?"
"No. Alien as not from this planet. I'm here to bring that agent to justice. We can't have our subjects influencing foreign nations, willy-nilly. That sort of thing is pretty serious. If people do that we can hardly be friends can we. Can we be friends?"
"What...?"
"I'm offering you and Brian, the lead role in a first contact situation. But first we need to take Brian back with us so we can remove the influence from him."
"No. You don't. This is a consensual union. Leave us - me be.", Brian retorted sharply losing some of his previous elan.
"Hrmph", John grunted, "Really I’m not the sort who believes anybody who just barges in. This story is quite fantastical."
"Well come with us, and we can show you."
“And now you see, you want me just go with you. Without any security? Give me some credit for common sense.”
“Why would they?” asked Brian, “Your profession isn’t noted for it.”
“And whose side are you on, then?” John retorted.
“Can we get this back on track, Mr Routh – You can’t take anybody with you but I’m happy for you to leave a recording and use the locator functions of you hand-terminal so you can nominate someone to investigate if they feel the situation warrants it.”
"OK, But Rupert stays here monitoring. Rupert, I'm going to put my hand terminal in trackable mode - so you should be able send help, and raise the alarm if anything happens to me. I’ll compose a recording on the had terminal as we go, and include a running commentary."
"Great! If that’s agreed? Let’s get this done", Duzi concluded, leading the group out of the office with Aralu keeping a good eye on Brian from the back.

####

Global Feudal Court. Somewhere
The Judge drew in a breath and started his sentencing speech. "We have heard how you believe that your actions were influenced by the thoughts and desires of the sapient hosts you took, an act which is abhorrent to all right-minded subjects of our Lords. This court will not allow the excuse of the consequences of such an abhorrent act as mitigation for your crimes. Taking into account the damages you may have done to future relations with the Shumai, and the nature of the act undertaking as part of your crimes, I can only recommend the harshest possible sentence for your crimes.
One for the crime Of interfering with another Sovereign Legislature without due authorisation I sentence you to 20 cycles of bodyloss, for the crime of...".

The Judge continues for sometime laying out more charges and harsher sentences. The sombre mood in the court took on a stunned and aghast tone. It wasn't clear whether Haban would be able to maintain any sanity with that sentence.  

1 Comments:

Blogger Rajaram Vakaati said...

Thats a good start

1:56 am  

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