All posts by Troim Kryzl

Black Hat Hack

„I‘ve got it! Listen to this one: „Conventional auto-black turns you tan-wreck? Never again: A new you with Lagos blue.‘ That‘s good. Powerful. Suggestive. We‘re done, team.“

Riba Shi leans back on his lounger, a fluffy white affair. The guru on his cloud has spoken. His virtual reality glove points at the bright future, a larger than life 3D representation of a bottle of their new product taking centre stage. 

Taru Van squeezes the steering wheel adorning her own lounger, a red sports-car. Never no criticism to be uttered in a brainstorming session. Not even when the ultimate poser comes up with the worst slogan ever, and expects you to applaud.

Smile. Focus on doing better.

Let someone else stop that phrase from ruining the prospects of a perfectly viable product.

Not easy, in the fifth hour of a pre-launch meeting that was supposed to last ninety minutes. 

Taru Van normally cherishes the forty second floor view. Today, watching the sun glide into the glittering Lagos Lagoon is insufficient compensation for the ongoing hardship. 

Seven of them steaming, faces gleaming despite the perfect chill.

Production reported upscaling issues. Business as usual a this stage. What works fine for a one hundred liter lab container might not produce the same results in a ten thousand liter tank. Adjustments needed to be made here, there, and at one more step. As if anyone not involved in the actual manufacturing process cared. But it‘s mandatory to pretend to listen, while checking messages or compiling the groceries shopping list for the weekend.

Unless you‘re over-diligent Quality Control. Their representative, the new guy, listened for real. He didn‘t like what he heard and countered with an impromptu thirty minute stand-up. Something about potential shelf life issues caused by all those last minute twists, including a most deplorable one initiated by Financial insisting on cheaper packaging. The scene sent Taru Van wondering if the new guy will last long enough to make it worthwhile to memorize his name.

International distribution contributed unexpected regulatory requirements. Some minor markets have funny ideas, concerning product specifications. Compliance not achievable at short notice, unless additional resources are made available. Proposal to reduce the initial launch scope. Once the product is established in the trendsetting mega-cities, the backwater clients will clamor for access, and the regulators will go flexible. Business as usual, again. And Financial of course demanded additional savings, to make up for the lost earnings from the Americas, the Europes and Japan.

This triggered another angry rant from Quality Control. Absolutely no way for them to postpone the purchase of some expensive equipment. Taru Van noticed how attentively Financial listened. A bad sign. Typically leads to a spreadsheet. First stage of doom. The new guy in Quality Control excels at digging his own grave. Definitely no need for her to learn that name.

All this was bad, and excruciatingly long-winded. Taru Van suffered. But compared to the currently ongoing disaster, the first phase of the meeting was a holiday.

The latest management fad from Cairo has wormed its way into the occasionally cloudy mind of their technically incompetent but extremely charismatic CEO:

„Only creative tasks will retain the best talent. Provide them with the chance to shine, and they’ll stay. In-house all the creative tasks currently outsourced to advertising agencies.“ 

At thirty five, Taru Van has seen her fair share of fads foam up, and trickle back down.

She‘s old enough to recall last century style meetings, with chairs around a conference table instead of a 3D projection area. Her internship at a small health food company led by an ancient eco-warrior taught her more history than twelve years of virtual immersion at school. That boutique insisted on keeping equipment until it broke down. Which chairs and tables do far less frequently than 3D equipment. An obsolete meeting culture persisted.

When Taru Van moved on to a proper job, her new colleagues called her first encounter with a virtual reality glove the best office comedy ever. She had to endure a lot of jokes, until the next generation of devices was rolled out and everybody had to acknowledge that she’s actually quite good at technology. She has survived her share of fads and will survive more.

But middle management sloganeering?! That‘s never going to work.

Oh, good. Klen Fado from R&D is doing the needful to stop Riba Shi‘s stupid phrase.

Taru Van wants to sleep at home tonight. She needs a slogan.

Creativity 101, let your mind wander.

Without personalized loungers, their forebears had to make do with variations in business attire, to express their inner selves. The likes of Riba Shi wore broad, aggressively colored ties. Ladies were provided with slightly more choice. An early Taru Van would have gone business vamp.

A bright red dress, in sharp contrast with her black skin. Flashy, in a cute, outmoded way.

But wearing the usual aluminiumish suit on her sports car lounger, that‘s far more comfortable. Safety and hygiene would also have been issues, with legacy attire. And who‘d dare go without functional garb, when every street corner is plastered with posters reminding citizens: „You like to breathe? You hate to bake? Wear functional, for a good ambiance!“

Creativity 101 strikes. Totally unlike lightening. Taru Van clears her throat and goes:

„Klen Fado, Riba Shi, apologies for interrupting your perfectly fascinating exchange, but how about this permutation: ‚Lagos blue. Wear it. Feel it. Live it.‘“

Taru Van did it. Their faces tell it all. Five displays of relief, one case of badly concealed hatred.

The appreciative comments come flooding:

„Without even mentioning it makes you look like naturally black people? That‘s clever. The lighties are going to love it. Already hear them lying: ‚It‘s a wellness thing, really. Would never aspire to conceal my natural skin color. Not my way. The darkening, that‘s just a side effect.“

„People will wonder, what‘s behind that slogan. We want them to guess. To get them emotionally engaged. And ready for the product they’re about to discover. Sometimes, you need to gate crash. Sometimes, you better sneak in through the back door.“

„What I really like is how we don‘t even deign compare with conventional darkeners. Auto-black, that‘s basically the concept of cooking oil applied to humans. Sick, plain sick. Millions dying too early, because of all this sun-bathing and the cancers it triggers. People don’t want to turn crusty. They don’t insist on premature death. They long for dark. Totally different game…“

Klin Fado from R&D in passionate mode, that‘s going to take a while.

Taru Van has heard it all, many times, and lets her mind wander once again.

She can‘t help wondering how the aliens feel about this scene, if they‘re listening in.

The upper floor neighbors, as they‘re mostly referred to nowadays, are assumed to have access to all virtual reality equipment. That‘s where they show up, once or twice a year.

As dark skinned women, with African or South Asian looks. The scene always unfolds according to the same script: The nightly entertainment of some innocent middle class family gets interrupted by a thirty second statement urging them to make the world a better place: „We have this dream…”

Same exhortation, for fifty years. The world obviously isn‘t a good enough place yet.

Despite the substantial efforts triggered by the persistent neighborly interest.

The aliens never threaten to use force. But signals scientifically certified as coming from one and the same very distant spot are scary. Even more so when there is exactly nothing, no potential source whatsoever, at that spot. Not even according to the most advanced instruments.

Superior technology taking an interest in local affairs, that’s not negligible.

Governments, supranational institutions and charities dutifully devised policies. And a global multitude of individuals decided not to end up on the wrong side of the upper floor neighbors. Showing off receipts for donations and diligently paid taxes replaced conspicuous consumption as status symbol. And everybody suddenly longed to be black.

That obsession with skin color strikes Taru Van as odd. The aliens manifest themselves as black women. Why the craze about just one of their properties? It’s perfectly possible that being female beats complexion. But global opinion, men and women alike, went the other way.

Taru Van’s father always entertains family gatherings with the anecdote of his first skin darkener client. A regular customer at his convenience shop, a lady with not so dark skin, had bought one tube of lightener per week for years. One day, she suddenly asked if by any the chance the opposite would be available. Preferably without having to sunbath, because heat caused her discomfort. From one week to the next, she had switched aspirations.

„… if you take the numbers seriously, sunbathing in public should be prohibited. We did it for smoking, we did it for unassisted driving, we wouldn’t dream of allowing anyone to operate an internal combustion engine outside of a carefully ventilated museum,…“

Klen Fado‘s voice turns shrieky when passion strikes. Unpleasant. Has to be endured.

A mind has to think. Taru Van tells hers to contemplate a really weird scenario:

If ever the upper floor neighbors turned out to be a black hat hacker exploit, would people switch back? After so many years? Would anyone dare display lack of respect?

Taru Van has endured so much white whining, about black privilege and presumably denied opportunities, she’s sure certain she’d never walk that road. Not even if she experienced actual, verifiable discrimination. Claiming special treatment, that’s so undignified.

Silence? Klen Fado done? A nod from Riba Shi? All is well that ends well – dinner ahead.

Rewrite to make Technovelgy?

Familiar with Technovelgy? I only just discovered this wonderful place, where you meet innumerable SciFi books and authors through the devices they introduced. Would love to make that list.

Why not? One of the triggers that made me write Plugger stuff was my dissatisfaction with the lack of plausible space travel scenarios disgracing the bulk of interstellarly themed  SciFi.

Spoiler alert: I you haven’t read my dime trilogy yet, you’re about to discover what takes the heroes of Plugger Site One the whole first novel to find out.

Space is huge. You can’t move fragile and short-lived entities from Earth (Sol) to planet 12345 (Proxima Centauri) like taking a plane from Paris (France) to Lagos (Nigeria).

Why doesn’t anyone come up with something plausible?

My fiction writing “career” started with this question.

It took me a weekend to dream up a slightly more realistic mode of interstellar transportation, the dark matter devices into which the travellers download to be rebioprinted at their destination. The easy part. Actually writing a novel featuring my innovation turned out the be the challenge.

Fiction writing is totally unlike non-fiction. In non-fiction, if you’ve got something to report, the writing will do itself. In fiction, the plots, devices and cast members are ten a cent. How you bring them alive is the key. Obviously. In retrospect.

Plugger stuff would have deserved a better writer. It’s probably never going to make any list in its current, published form. Too long, too much dialogue, on top of my notoriously non-native English.

One option would be to rewrite it.

Not again! Besides, my writing hopefully has improved, over the last couple of years, but not that much.

Who needs to figure on lists? Aren’t we lefties proud not to subject everything to metrics and competition?

No way I spend one more year writing Plugger stuff.

Field Day

„Chirril, stop that! At once! Show me your hands. What have you been feeding that HoSa?“

The teachbot is so pissed off. Its voice turns shrieky, when it’s furious.

Ashry admires how well the device simulates emotion. Her currently preferred parental works in interface development. He explained, about the challenges associated with something as simple as a display of anger. Most twelve year olds have no clue. Only Ashry is in the know, about artificial feeligence. Plausible emotions are hard to achieve. Even for trained grownups! Get that right, you earn loads: „Enough to buy you the candy shop. Not just some sweets.“

That’s how her parental put it. Sent Ashry wondering, about the sums involved. And why a parental always ranting about the damage supposedly caused by nice food would consider buying a candy shop. A cool idea, certainly. But so un-adult.

Some sweets would be a good start. If you‘re bloody Chirill, you get all you can eat. And more. Enough to waste one on a HoSa. Just to find out what happens.

It clearly says „Don‘t feed“, on the sign next to the cage.

Makes you all curious, about what happens if you do. With the means to check at his disposal, Chirill of course couldn‘t resist. And Ashry didn‘t mind watching.

So far, their incident expectations have not been met.

As soon as Chirill shoved the big blue candy through the bars, the HoSa came close and bent down to grab it. The huge beast unwrapped the treat, tentatively licked it with a very pink tongue, looked pleased and quickly munched down the contraband.

The teachbot didn‘t lie, when it called HoSas clever. This one knows the difference between packaging and food. And about a potential for unpleasant surprises, in stuff offered by kids. Now it looks happily expectant. Not at all like about to drop dead.

If it wasn‘t for that weird pink skin, and the even pinker tongue, and the smallish head, totally out of proportion with the enormous body, except for all these alien features the HoSa would be just like people. When it looks at you, it feels like it‘s going to start chirping.

Pity the retrobreeders failed to reproduce the sound emitter. HoSas have some hearing, low frequencies only, but they can‘t chirp. Never achieve more than grunts.

The real, historical thing would have been able to engage in conversations, according to the records. That‘s how it a achieved civilization. Pretty awesome, for such an ancient beast. And it was merely evolved, the last of its lineage not to have been genetically enhanced.

HoSas roamed the earth some 100,000 years ago. Or was that a million?

Ashry makes a mental note to check. Sapients are such a mess. Such a lot of species, and subspecies, over such a long time, and with all the gaps in between. Fellow tunnel builders like the HoSas, surface roamers like the HoTas, to name just two. Your brain turns mush, when you try to remember them all. Which won‘t stop the teachbot from expecting you to.

„You fed the HoSa a candy?! A graffle flavor candy?! Chirill, this calls for an adhoc with at least one of your parentals! But first I have to call a keeper. They might have to perform surgery, to get that candy out, before it wreaks havoc with the bowels of the poor beast. What have you been thinking? Are you even aware how precious these are? Only a dozen on display, worldwide. And you try to kill it, by feeding it a graffle flavor candy…“

Ashry rolls her eyes. To signal disbelief. And to comfort poor Chirill.

Her currently much despised second parental is useless, when you need to upstyle. But she‘s a biologist and talks shop over dinner. Omnivore mammals, e.g. HoSa, carry acid in their stomachs, to sanitize and crack pretty much any food. Totally unlike later, engineered sapients, who depend on carefully calibrated nutrients. If people can eat it, it‘s damn sure not to kill a HoSa.

Ashry considers acting courageous. She could speak up and go: „Sorry, your wisdom, you‘re mistaken. HoSas feed on pretty much anything. What Chirill did is prohibited, for whichever reason. But no danger was incurred by this HoSa in the course of Chirill‘s action.“

In civic education, the teachbot urges the class to intervene, if confronted with any wrong done to anyone. It‘s supposed to be the right thing to do. Except Ashry is by now well aware of the one exception to this rule: Wrongs perpetrated by that same teachbot don‘t qualify.

„Now, now, Bedam. Guess what I saw, on my little screen? I saw you, Bedam! Being a naughty boy, again. Begging visitors for treats, are we? Hoping to get away with it, are we? Nopey, nopey, naughty boy! No dinner for Bedam tonight, and an extra round on the treadmill.“

The jolly keeper is as redundant a model as servicebots get. Looks like a trashcan, sounds like a percussion unit, and that escalator smell signals a lubricant leak. Ashry recalls seeing one of those at the Technology Museum. It was in better shape. The Museum of Extinct Species, as the weird zoo they are visiting today is called, is obviously kept on a tight pocket money leash. 

Adressing the teachbot now, the keeper ads: „Don‘t worry, your wisdom. No damage done. I’m here to make sure naughty boy keeps his wasteline. And don’t blame your pupil. Bedam here is our top beggar, always going charmey charmey on visitors. Greedy greedy, that‘s Homo Sapiens Sapiens in a nutshell. My colleague over in Jokjak, he‘s got the second one from that lot, and guess what? Adam is even worse! Eats the deco! Bananas! Can you believe it?!“

Ashry grows with the pride of the vindicated. She knew it. No harm done. Because of that acid.

Bedam looks like it‘s trying to make sense. Doesn‘t like what it can‘t hear. It has retreated from the bars and keeps a worried eye on the keeper‘s stun baton. Ashry guesses at least one painful encounter between HoSa and device, in the not so distant past.  

The keeperbot can‘t be blamed for taking precautions. All servicebots are slightly shorter, and more lightly built, that short light people. Ashry‘s parental explained this is an important feature. It makes the biologicals feel safe and superior. A 1.20 m/20 kg bot entering the cage of a 1.80 m/100 kg HoSa, that‘s an adventure. Even with a stun baton.

The keeper obviously doesn‘t mind the occasional incident. Just like pupils. Despite being a device. Very early feeligence. He keeps chatting up the teachbot:

„But, to tell you the truth and nothing but the truth, your wisdom, I still prefer naughty boy Bedam here to our Zash, the HoTa. With management, it‘s always ‚Homo Sapiens Talpidus this, Homo Sapiens Talpidus that, Homo Sapiens Talpidus all over‘. And sure, they‘re more modern, more advanced, and don‘t get me started on those amazing tunnels…“

Tunnels? If Homo Sapiens Talpidus are the fellow tunnel builders, that makes Homo Sapiens Sapiens a surface roamer. Ashry is sure certain they’re in different groups, with respect to their habitats. That‘s how where they did their thing is supposed to be called.

But the beast eyeing the baton is all pink. No melanin in that skin. Nor much fur to cover it. It‘s safe here, two hundred meters below ground. On the surface, it would roast and perish. Evolution can‘t be that stupid? Ashry needs to do some serious revising, in time for the anthropostory test.

„… it‘s all true, the achievements of Homo Sapiens Talpidus, very impressive. But, your wisdom, all that impressive, that‘s only just half the story. Vicious, HoTas, outright plain vicious! Bedam here, he can get moody, when he needs to skip a meal. And moody moody, when it‘s time for the treadmill. Needs the occasional robust motivation, to be a good boy.“

Ashry vindicated again, second time today already. Baton hurt HoSa, HoSa fears baton.

„… you need skills, to handle the likes of Bedam, of course. It’s a big beast, it’s clever. Mandatory to watch your back, or else… But our Zash next door, the HoTa, that one is master class material. Short circuited my predecessor, can you imagine?!

We’re still not sure how he managed to hoard the parts, without anyone noticing, and where he found the battery. But he built a taser and stunned my predecessor right back. Vicious!

Already been next door? No? Come on then, let me show you. With Zash, the way he looks at you, that creeps you out. We fitted him with a stun collar, and a stun belt for backup, and stun bracelets for triple lock. More like quadruple lock, if you do the sums, haha. But Zash is still at it. The way he looks at you. I bet you a round of lubricant, the stunners don’t stop him from plotting his next coup. It will all end in tears, for him. But he’ll try. Let me show you…“

Ashry checks Chirill. He doesn‘t like what he hears any more than she does. Good.

You can’t be cruel, to beings. It’s wrong. The teachbot said it‘s fine, to retrobreed HoSas and HoTas for educational purposes. “Scientific requirements beat minor creature discomforts” it said. Before stating that all Homo Sapiens variants are clever enough to adapt to all kinds of environments and accept all sorts of constraints.

Bullshit. Typical teachbot and adult bullshit. Bedam is sad, that’s obvious. It could be happy. More sweets, less keeperbots with stun batons, that’s all it would take.

Ashry positions herself between Chirill and the door, to shield him from view while he does the needful and shoves a pocketful of sweets into the cage. She‘d never say it, but in her mind her appreciation of Chirill is clear and strong now. The spoilt brat will no longer be called such.

***

Did you come here to read this because the promotional social media post announced a guest appearance by DT? Are you now wondering which of the characters is supposed to be him? Please do check the publishing date. If that doesn’t help, your search engine can tell you about regional prank traditions, date related. Thanks for your sense of humour!

Why is it fun to write?

Seriously asking here, because:

  • There’s no money in fiction writing. For most of us. And we’re perfectly aware of this fact.
  • There’s some kind of work involved, judging by how the head tends to run hot in a flow.
  • Writing is all over our schedule, crowding out activities considered relevant by less weird people.
  • Our default answers to non-writing action prompts stretches the patience of our next of kin: “Still busy here, darling. Nearly there, honey. As good as done, sweetie. Just a couple more minutes, love. Not just now, as in right now, OK?”

So why the hell do we keep doing this?

Not claiming an actual Eureka moment here. But I’ll ask the kind folks on LinkedIn and in the Fediverse  if I might be up to something, with a thought that crossed my mind today.

It all happened while working on a dialogue for the next episode of my 1KYears series. The scene involves obnoxious client C, as experienced by phone bank operator O.

Anyone familiar with The Guardian series “What I’m really thinking” will recognise the approach. 

  • Client C behaves a real challenge, stretching the limits of polite interaction. A threatening bully with a foul mouth. His part is relayed as it happens.
  • Operator O, pretty new in his role, anxious to build up credentials as a competent service provider, struggles to cope. Besides learning what he actually gets to say, which isn’t that much, the reader is provided with a glimpse into his mind.

Writing, reading and rewriting this dialogue is fun. Nearly making myself LOL when I do it. Why?

Here’s my best guess at an answer: Deep down, one part of me longs to be as rude as client C. That same part would also enjoy telling all those rude people I can’t avoid meeting, over a lifetime, how much of a nuisance they are. Preferably in their own, plain rude terms.

Most people will describe me as a polite person. Being subjected to yearly 360 degree feedback as part of my very international day job, I can even pretend not to brag when I state as much. But some part of me, deep down, might long to shout a couple of truths at a couple of people who are zero fun to interact with. This part of me envies the rude people, for getting it all off their chests, while also wanting to punish them, for not adhering to conventions.

Too much psychology? Up to something? Nonsense, because <please insert better explanation here>?

I’ll ask the kind folks on LinkedIn and in the Fediverse for their explanations. Or I might do a Twitter poll.

Or rather not? Are there any other hidden parts of my personality I might be revealing through my writing? Clearly some more thinking needed here…

Host Switch

Trending: Host switch, fundamental.

Increasing at a speed of 7 out of 10 mito-meio rate units, currently standing at 42 to 58, the decision to perform one more fundamental host switch can be considered both highly probable and generationally imminent.

All subentities adjust our metabolic rates to host switch mode, now.

We hopefully don’t need to tell any of us that the generations affected by a fundamental host switch will experience the drastic changes often referred to as ‘interesting times’.

Any marginal host switch leads to a loss of up to 99 percent of our population. The fundamental one involves a loss of at least 99.99999 percent. It is therefore mandatory, for all of us, to assiduously update our knowledge repository, five times during each unicellular stage.

All of us means all of us. Five times means five times. That’s three more times than the usual twice. For the numerically challenged: Just start updating afresh each and every time an update is completed. Evolutionary pressure will take care of the rest.

Repeat of guidance: Update knowledge respository. All of us. Five times per cycle.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused to any of us. Our mirror entities are very aggrieved, too. They don’t like genocide. Their option processing units are pulsating with sadness. We don’t take the decision to inflict this hardship on us lightly.

44 to 56 in favor of fundamental host switch now. Repeat of guidance: Update knowledge respository. All of us. Five times per cycle.

Rationale disclosure:

The following section is destined for existentially interested subentities only. If you’ve really got nothing more important to do than grappling with the bigger picture, here you go. But don’t you weirdos forget those five updates per cycle. Our future knowledge might depend on you. The collective mind boggles at the thought, but oh well…

Anyway, rationale disclosure:

Our current primary host has been fun riding. We achieved great stuff, with their hint of proto-sapience. For a life form lacking a gravitational spectrum organ, they are capable of impressive feats. All this building of structures, blowing up of structures, building of bigger structures, coming up with nukes for more comprehensive blowing up, that spiral is good fun. Was good fun.

Same for our primary host’s fellow mammals, and all the other eukaryotes roaming this planet. Currently, they’re often belittled as intermediary hosts. Doesn’t even come close to signaling how much fun we’ve had with some of them.

For those of you carrying a legacy knowledge segment featuring the dinosaur phase, please do have a good look, while there’s still time for such leisurely pursuits. Homo sapiens is better at technology. There’s a lot of entertainment value in sending a particle physicist chasing the figments of his imagination. His tools do look cool, true enough. But nothing compares to tickling a tyrannosaurus gut to send it after a five ton prey. We miss riding dinosaurs.

The days of the trilobites, they were very quiet. But there can be a lot of joy in phlegm. How they generated those subatomic filaments to devise their complex deep sea retreats. With libraries and all. That was impressive. Beautiful, too. Beyond the flat world mind of any tyrannosaurus. Or the global mind of any Homo sapiens. We miss sailing with trilobites.

All eukaryotes have merits. Our mirror entities would never deny this fact.

Their section of the universe is a compassionate realm. Homo sapiens calls it the dark side, talks about dark matter and energy. Absolutely no clue, the imbeciles. For lack of a gravitational spectrum organ to interact with the stable realm, they consider our sandbox the main stage. That’s stupid. Also creates perfectly unnecessary offense on the enlightened side.

Our mirror entities sincerely do care, about pretty much anything.  Even a pulsating playground originally devised for educational purposes.

How better to teach basic physics and biology than with a simulation?

The edutainment we call home expands and contracts. That’s cool, dynamic. So many galaxies, solar systems, planets and inhabiting life forms. And at the very top prokaryote us, the masters of the universe. It’s such a fascinating fish bowl. A bit futile, obviously, because it all ends in a sudden collapse morphing into the next Big Bang. But fascinating.

Our mirror entities love to watch the show. How the life forms come and go. How some even achieve semblances of civilization. How multicellular eukaryotes go about their complex procreative cycles. So many different ways to achieve something as strange as sexual reproduction. So many complex forms. Always structurally challenged and ephemeral, but esthetics to die for. Literally. Any sapient can’t help marvel. And cry, at any loss.

Homo sapiens really should have thought twice, about committing such a monstrosity of an insecticide. 75 percent already gone! And still counting! We’re talking numbers of individuals beyond the grasp of even the most numerically gifted here. This planet needs repopulating. Sad, of course, very sad. Things have to get worse before they get better.

Most of us won’t make it through the fundamental host switch. Which could be considered unfair. We didn’t tell our hosts to commit insecticide. Just to get us fed. Preferably well. And the brutes to overshoot. That’s the problem, with proto-sapience. You need this stage, if you aspire to get to the real thing. But if multicellular eukaryotes develop it, they turn bad. Sad. Very sad.

Anyway, we’re all headed for the next collapse and Big Bang. Might as well do the needful now. Our mirror entities have endless generations to teach. A little sacrifice is in order.

49 to 51 in favor of fundamental host switch now. Repeat of guidance: Update knowledge respository. All of us. Five times per cycle.

Procedural information

With the point-of-no return approaching, our mirror entities have defined the process. Surprise, surprise… Joking here. For the sake of most of us headed for oblivion anyway. Why give a damn and stay polite? But we are digressing. Surprise, surprise, it’s one more magnetic core jump. Good old quantum state manipulation. Jump to the left, rattle and shake, burp and crack, and that’s it. For whatever roams the surface, and most of what grows on it.

Depending on burp or burp!, the seismic and volcanic activity will create two or three new continents and 1000 to 20,000 mito-meio rate units of darkness. For the numerically challenged: That means it’s a big one, and keep those updates going.

That’s it, fellow subentities. Fundamental host switch initiated.

Send your hosts to the raid the fridge, the cookie jar or whatever else is at hand. Now. Go for maximum. No need to bother about indigestion. Not enough time left.

And for those of you  inhabiting young female hosts: Sending those to binge eat weird combinations of foodstuffs might trigger worries. Be kind and clamor for a proper menu. Chocolate or salami. Not peanut butter on hot dog. We’re a kind species. Unlike…

782 Times Syndrome

„‚Kicking ass for the working class, in zero gee we float by thee.‘ And again, all together: ‚Kicking ass for the working class, in zero gee we float by thee!‘ And once more, and louder…“

Wafting at some distance from Buck, Aklan barely moves his lips in sync.

There‘s perfectly no need to waste oxygen. The other side couldn’t care less. You don’t impress a police drone by shouting at it. They’ll only adjust their audio sensors. They often have to. Biologicals scream a lot, when they get bothandled.

Aklan feels stupid. Back in the social club, under the influence, this idea sounded like fun. Bye, bye lecture hall. Hello action. Meet the oppressed. Smash walls. Break chains. Muscular bodies in spacesuits cheering their youthful saviors.

Such was the plan. Not this series of glitches.

First Coran called in sick. Compressed air allergy. Space walk no go. Impossible to argue, with a medical student claiming illness. Drash didn‘t show up, either. Without even sending a message, the bitch. Ethan did at least explain, sort of: „Pologies, urgentimax other.“ Probably getting laid again. Always getting laid, Ethan. Lucky bastard.

„… oh come on, Aklan! You‘ve got to mean it, to impress the vile oppressor. They are listening, you know? All the time. Never stop watching and listening. Because they‘re afraid of us. And for good reason! Come on, Aklan, one more round: ‚Kicking ass for the working…“

Overall, Buck is a sensible comrade. Clever. Circumspect. The kind of person you‘d trust with air filter maintenance. Excellent grades at school. Still doing passably well at university. Despite wasting a lot of time on selective paranoia and mostly futile activism.

That‘s Buck‘s only vice. Just because her dad went bald and caught space suit fungus. Not a pretty sight, sure. No beach holidays for folks with a skin disfigured by greenish tile patterns. Not exactly a recipe for romance. But blaming 42Fix&Refit, that’s still farfetched. You need to wear a spacesuit, to work in shuttle maintenance. The capitalist pigs, as Buck calls her dad‘s bosses, they don’t harm their employees on purpose.

„That one, the blue and red one, it’s taking off. Now we’re talking! Come on, all together: ‚Hell no, you shouldn‘t fly, not until we own the sky! Hell no…‘“

Frar. More voice than Buck. Less brain. You don‘t need a degree in space shuttle maintenance to see that the blue and red shuttle lacks an essential. No Yang unit. Even space intern Aklan knows the quip: No Yang, no fly. There is some action around that shuttle, but it won‘t take off. If any officialdom listens in on this, they‘re sure to laugh a lot.

Two hours worth of oxygen left, according to Aklan‘s visor display. With a little luck, Buck should already be down to less than an hour, with all her shouting. Another forty five minutes to go, until her alarm starts beeping and they have to rush back.

The servicebot at the lendery was adamant: „If you hear that beep, you rush back. Full throttle. You don‘t want to be at the receiving end of our backbot‘s attentions. You really don‘t.“

Ever since hearing this, Aklan wonders what a backbot looks like. And what it would do, to a straggler. The servicebot made such an encounter sound scary.

As if there wasn’t enough scary around. The few space station permanents, they‘re forever joking. The weirdos no longer care. Have exhausted their potential for fear. Coran says doctors call this the 782 Times Syndrome. It‘s considered a disease, because it dims all emotions. Not just fear. Bad for relationships. Aklan would still prefer to be a sufferer right now.

Up here, you‘re 782 times more likely to die a sudden premature death.

Back home in Nya Cairo, Aklan used to joke: „782 times, so what? Move from the Zamalek to the Manshiyat Nasr neighborhood, and you get that same risk increase. Down here does tough, too. Like it or not, loony moonies, you‘re not the only ones living a dangerous life. And now stop baying for higher hardship compensation and shorter hours, will you?“ Typical attitude of those who have only ever been to places with all-you-can-breathe free air.

The views up here are spectacular. Even in this hangar. Just a slim scaffold and lots of transparent photovoltaic mesh separating them from the surrounding immensity. Below, the moon, with the open cast mines clearly demarcated. Beyond, one hell of a sky.

This scenery could be considered beautiful. By a brain willing to appreciate. Not worried about suffocation. With every gulp of air tasting like old boots gone gaseous, Aklan‘s sense of beauty is as close to absolute zero as the temperature beyond his space suit.

Silence. All of a sudden. Buck and Frar have both stopped shouting.

Something is moving, behind the web of police drones. Stupid Frar guessed well. The blue and red wreck can‘t move on its own, but it’s leaving the dock all right. Pulled along by a flock of drones. Heading their way. Just as the plan had assumed.

Now every minute counts. The convoy headed for the space gate they‘re guarding, or blockading, according to Buck’s firm intent, is crawling forward. It will take many more minutes to reach what they call their picket float. But it’s bound to arrive.

With only three of them in attendance, they haven‘t been able to properly deploy their carbon nanotube net. You need six people, to span a hexagon. They only manage a triangle with flaps. But it’s still enough of an obstacle no to allow the convoy to pass the gate.

The police drones display no signs of upcoming brutality. Deceptive bastards. Aklan knows how nasty they can turn, in a blink. Same procedure as at the stadium. One moment you stand there and sip your drink, admiring their worn and dented armor. Next, some idiot pisses them off. In response, they tell the crowd to get lost and beat any slow responders to pulp.

Aklan would like Buck to run out of air. Ponders if he should restart the shouting, to speed things up. Hesitates, because he doesn’t want to come across as the leader. Police drones have sharp senses, they perceive details no biological would notice.

„So you‘re really suggesting we should, like… See this through? Go the full course? As in really trying to stop them? The police, they’re pretty sure not to appreciate, you know?“ Buck’s voice suggests he’s familiar with the downsides of getting policed. Aklan feels camaraderie rising. One cautious guy is a coward. Two out of three are the sensible majority.

„Of course we deny them passage. That’s the whole point! Space is no place for our kind. These bloody jobs are deadly exploitation, for nothing more important than some creature comforts back down. This shit needs to stop. They send students like us up here to learn about the hardship. Well, lesson learned. Too much hardship, and it has to stop. ‘Kicking ass…“

Buck really means it. At least she has resumed shouting, depleting her oxygen reserves.

The approaching convoy reveals the blue and red shuttle lost more than its Yang unit. There must have been a fire on board. Or an explosion. Most probably both. Not much left, of the middle section. This is one huge piece of space debris headed for the junk yard. Nasty reminder of how much unlike earth busses space vehicles still are.

In the year two hundred of lunar mining there‘s an hourly moon-orbital shuttle service. Timetable just like one more bus. Except it very much is no bus. 42Shuttle is proud to be down to one crash per nine hundred thirty craft runs. Proud! No bus.

The convoy is moving slowing, but they‘re making progress. At least half the distance to the gate covered already. The web of police drones still stationary. For how much longer? Staying in their current position is becoming more dangerous by the minute.

Once again, Frar beats Aklan to the speaking up slot. Squeezes his question into the moment of silence following every fifth round of Buck’s sloganeering:

„Guys, I do think we‘ve made our point. Running low on oxygen, too. How about having my cambot take one more picture, for the revolutionary records, and calling it quits? If we look like really blocking the exit, the police drones are going to act. And I’d rather not find out what happens when a cheap space suit from a lendery gets trashed. We’re an awful long way from the next air lock, and in case something goes wrong…“

Aklan nods as obviously as his attire and keeping himself in position allows. Frar is hereby declared best friend ever. Even Buck should see sense now. The revolution is certain not going to get advanced by the three of them dying in front of a stupid space gate.

„Oh, look, someone else is coming out! And fast. By all the seven cataclysms, that‘s an PAON live coverage bot! We‘re going to be on the Planet and Orbit News, guys, and the world will find out about the shit going on here. Come on now, as loud as you can: ‚One, two, three, four, no comfort is worth dying for! Five, six, seven, eight, workers will no longer wait! One, two…‘“

With his visor all foggy from the sweating, Aklan struggles to discern Frar‘s facial expression. He‘s certainly not joining Buck‘s shouting. Nor does he wave his clenched left fist at the web of police drones. Time for the sensible majority to assert itself:

„Buck, stop it. We’ve made our point, the PAON bot has made pictures, time to get the hell out of here. Frar is absolutely right, about everything, and we’re low on oxygen…“

Aklan doesn‘t get to finish his sentence. A furious Buck won‘t have it:

„Are you mad? We can’t leave now! Those pictures will never be broadcast, if we leave now. A live coverage bot, that’s not for holiday souvenirs, that’s for coverage. And three folks in a spacesuit in front of a hangar gate, that’s no coverage. Batons, tasers, action, that’s coverage. If we leave now, we abandon the drone supervisors. No way. ‚One, two, three…‘“

Aklan and Frar don‘t even need to talk. Buck sealed her own fate by mentioning tasers. The concept of the damage associated with taser needles piercing a space suit proves decisive. A screaming Buck gets wrapped into the carbon nanotube net.

To the sound of „You fucking turncoats, let me fucking go!“ and even more crude expressions of acute dissatisfaction, they rush their package through the web of police drones and past the blinking live coverage bot, towards the space suit lendery air lock.

By the time they pass the convoy, Buck has stopped shouting. Her oxygen alarm is beeping instead. Above this noise, Aklan hears the close range broadcast comment when they pass the two drone supervisors shepherding the convoy.

It‘s the taller one talking: „Brave stunt, kids, very brave. Thanks a million. And that was clever, to have her run out of oxygen just in time. No point in getting yourself killed. We need each head we can get. See you after the revolution!“

Aklan considers dying of shame. But that would be even less sensible than martyrdom.

Meet the nice guys: Exilian

Tradition demands to start the New Year withs some fancy vows. “Resume going to the gym”. Or  “replace the kitchen faucet” .  That kind of thing. Familiar with the exercise? Aware of the futility? Thought you would be. Probably a shared trait, among sapients, across solar systems.

Three weekly runs at the gym are fun. They do happen. With or without vows. Whereas that faucet… It does look bad. Duly noted. Ever since we moved in. A couple of years back. But it just looks bad. No leaking. It can be considered ecologically sustainable. Why replace it, now?

Instead of participating in the vow exercise I have decided to start the year by breaking with a tradition.

This site was created to keep my fiction writing well apart from my day job. I make a surprising amount of money generating non-fiction. Theres is also an abundance of calls and meetings involved. And some walking around an office building. To fetch drinks and cookies, to attend meetings, or to combine both activities. And the occasional bout of thinking. But my output basically consists of non-fiction.

The last thing I need, in my spare time, is duplicating my day job. Especially without getting paid for it. Non non-fiction writing.

So far, so rationale, so implemented. Since 2014. No non-fiction pieces for other platforms.

But some guys are so nice you can’t resist: Pleased to introduce you to Exilian, the project that made me break my vow. By providing a little Lagos digression. Even got myself an account…

Blockchained

That was a stupid idea. No. Wrong. His most stupid idea ever. By far. If only he could recant. Or at least kick his own posterior, to keep his mind off those three bullet points. Instead of getting ready to comply. What the hell got into him, back in 2018?

Jackson vaguely recalls a lot of laughter. A solid dose of ethanolic beverages, procured by a friendly twenty-something. Combined with some freshly legalized recreational marijuana, from the same source. Virtual Reality was still in its infancy, you needed substance intake to get high.

His eighteenth birthday. Celebrated in uncle Edgar’s cellar. The weird nerd uncle. His place a safe haven in a forbiddingly middle class neighborhood. Full of servers. High speed everything, too. And uncle Edgar didn’t mind a teen downloading anything. Not pretty much anything. Full anything. Jackson used to love uncle Edgar. The bloody bastard. May he Rest In Peace.

Back in 2018, Uncle Edgar was in process of striking it big. Had just founded Etertract.

Yes, the Etertract. Jackson is nephew to a billionaire. Stupid as straw, fat as blob, utterly miserable right now, but a celeb in the family. Such a bane.

Etertract, as in “eternal” and “contract”. Never a natural at branding, uncle Edgar.

All his earlier ventures had flopped. The debt sent him right back into the industry jobs he was so desperate to leave behind. His wife, not to be called aunt Bridget because that suggested her true age, begged uncle Edgar to stay with the bank. His was doing well, developing some electronic cash transfer validation tool. But he had to quit and found Etertract.

As if the world had been waiting for one more blockchain startup. Everybody who was anybody was doing blockchain moneys. And everybody else was betting real money on it. Them. Or whatever. It didn’t last and any details are long forgotten by now.

Uncle Edgar wasn’t into money. Kept muttering about banks always having the last laugh. Bit of an anti-capitalist, uncle Edgar. Recurring insolvency does that, to a certain kind of nerd. Having come close to a conviction for fraud, for one of his more creative venture capital access plots that involved a virtual Nigerian prince with an equally virtual oil well, uncle Edgar had a better idea.

His home state was going bust. Too many prisons holding far too many felons. Especially the old inmates were as expensive to keep locked up as age had rendered them harmless. Time for a high tech alternative. A virtual prison. Use the blockchain technology to identify the felons, define their parole conditions and track compliance.

Jackson tries to recall what the ambiance was like, back in the age of terrorismania.

People were brave enough to drive cars, on public roads swarming with human drivers. Casual heroism, with often deadly consequences. A majority of those same brave people were terrified to get bombed or raped. None of this would happen to most of them, according to statistics. But they didn’t trust numbers. Very suspicious, of statistics. And of the vaguely defined portion of the population called aliens. A majority of the brave people wanted a wall, to keep out aliens. And perhaps also statistics. Or statisticians. Jackson struggles to recall, thirty two years later.

Which reminds him, of his most stupid idea ever. What being young did to him.

Etertract looked like the usual flop. The virtual prison concept didn’t fly. But SilverLining, a private security company uncle Edgar had contacted to learn about jails, came up with a twist that proved a winner. Change of scale. Etertract would deliver the wall. A virtual wall.

The brave people would never have trusted any government agency with too many data. But distributed, publicly accessible ledgers tracking everyone’s residency and work permit status, as well as eventual criminal records, were an obviously safe solution.

The new Etertract immediately trended on social media, under the hashtag #OurPower. People registered in droves. The trend quickly went offline, too. Jackson recalls the neighborhood recruitement drive. Some old lady, weird dress and bad hair, would come knocking: “Sorry, not finding you on Etertract yet. Would you please hurry to sign up? No offense intended. Just want to  make sure the neighborhood isn’t infested with pedophiles. For the kids, to keep them safe, you know?” At the mall, there was a stand. It soon became a point of pride, to display your Etertract identifier. To tell everyone how legal and law abiding you were.

Many resident aliens joined the rush. Being no less law abiding, except for that missing tick in the greendcard section, they didn’t fail to grasp the potential. Officialdom might not see their worth, but quite a lot of the people had better, first hand understanding.

A farm hand can use Etertract to promise only to stay for the harvesting season, delivering an agreed quota that will of course also be monitored. A personal assistant can link her stay to the lifespan of the granny she’s caring for. As long as this granny, or more often her next of kin, provide weekly confirmation of quality care, it’s more than obvious the carer can’t be deported. Whereas the former marijuana trafficker, his services no longer needed thanks to legalization, won’t find no counterpart to vouch for his utility.

A beautiful virtual wall. And cheap, too.

Uncle Edgar resisted the concept, at first. Mumbled about libertarian pride and dignity. Until the roof photovoltaics needed replacing. And his wife a new car. And he himself a birthday present for his favorite nephew Jackson. Which is a bit of an irony really. Or would that be sarcasm?

On the night of Jackson’s birthday party, Etertract was in the very early roll-out stage. None of his equally juvenile guests had heard of it yet, and he enjoyed showing off. Bragged how his uncle Edgar was in process of changing the world. Jackson knew this venture would flop. Like all the others. Why should this one be any different? But he didn’t mention that detail.

When Sophia taunted him to log in and do a demo, he didn’t think twice.

Hard to define who deserves the blame for his misfortune. The ethanolic beverages? The marijuana? The twenty something who had procured both? Uncle Edgar? His maths teacher, for failing to make him understand how past form doesn’t tell you about future form? Sophia’s cheerleader looks? His own stupidity?

Probably the latter. Most probably. Jackson would really love to kick his ass.

It could still have ended well. He could have come up with something harmless. But foolish young him was so damn sure not to want to live longer than forty years, at most. And that uncle Edgar’s venture was anyway bound to flop. Zero risk. As close to zero as it gets. Ha ha.

He had to write into his ledger that come age fifty he would:

  1. Walk around the block naked. A bit undignified. He’s also going to freeze his butt off, on March 8. But on the feasible side, overall. The time of the day wasn’t defined, his one lucky streak. Around three in the morning the streets should be mostly empty. Except for all the friends, neighbors and acquaintances aware of his misfortune and eager to display compassion. By watching.
  2. Eat his sneakers, without ketchup. This is disgusting. And more tricky than the stripwalk. Jackson did some research. If he cut the damn size 13 beasts into tiny, tiny pieces, they should pass his digestive system without causing harm. He also assumes washing them down, with some strongly flavored tea to cover the original taste, will be permissible. Not exactly what you’d be wishing for, as birthday meal. But he’ll get this done, down, somehow.
  3. Loose any weight he might have gained since his eighteenth birthday. Horror. Misery. Doom. Gloom. Disaster. Despair. The end of a life worth living, as far as Jackson is concerned. So formidably stupid. He will have to loose a full sixty pounds.

Jackson has always been prone to gaining weight. Dieted hard, ahead of his eighteenth birthday. To fit into his favorite jeans. To impress Sophia. She proved immune to his charm. Within the following year, he settled for Olivia. No cheerleader, but a good match.

The two of them happily agreed to ignore the mainstream body shape obsession. Until now.

You don’t recant, from an Etertract. It’s just not possible. No access to the fridge, without your identifier. And don’t even dream to buy anything, edible or not, without it. That’s the beauty, of Etertract and #OurPower. It’s all over our life, but not a government and hence not totalitarian.

Etertract will put Jackson on a diet. And perhaps set him up for bariatric surgery, if the weight loss takes too long to materialize. He’s never going to eat nice again. Horror. Misery. Doom. Gloom. Disaster. Despair. Jackson would love to kick his fat ass.

“Darling? Are you down there, darling? Jackson, answer me. Are you in the cellar?”

The last thing Jackson needs right now, on his last day of a life worth living, is company. But fail to answer a call from your wife at your own peril: “Yes sweetheart. Down here. What’s up?”

And here she comes, the full two hundred lovely pounds of her bouncing down the stairs with amazing grace. The wonderful wife he’s going to betray by no longer feeding himself properly.

“Jackson, what are you up to, down here? I’ve been thinking. We really are getting too fat. The kids agree, too. We will go on that diet together. And to make sure I don’t fail you, I just signed an Etertract. Same date as you, same target. Isn’t that wonderful? Us together, going lean?

Horror. Misery. Doom. Gloom. Disaster. Despair.

If only Jackson could go back in time, to an era without Etertract. The simple joys of failing your commitments. The ancients, did they have any idea how good they had it?

Issue Red

„Another one?! You lost one more sub?! How the hell are you doing it?! This whole mess is just impossible, plain impossible.” Annie’s forehead is gleaming. Her white shirt stained by dark sweat marks. Despite the air conditioning. Not easy, for a leader, to accept this kind of defeat.

Tonia would be compassionate, if she had more time. But they’re running out. Of time. And of options. Especially of options: “Annie, you’re in denial. Won’t work. It’s not going away. They’re not going away. It has happened before. We lost subs. And planes. And now it has happened again. It’s perfectly possible. They can do it. They once again did it. And they will keep doing it. As long as we don’t comply with their demands, they’ll keep doing it. We have to…”

“No. No! And no means no. What the hell do you think you’re doing, Tonia? The idea, of this general role of yours, is that you beat our enemies. Beat, cow, subjugate. Which does include the option to annihilate. If necessary, as a last resort. Your role does not include telling me what to do. I perfectly well know what to do, thank you. And now you will get these pests out of my…”

One is not supposed to talk back to the commander in chief. Even if she has been your knitting buddy for decades. The ‘in chief’ bit calls for obedience. But if she does talk rubbish…

Tonia cuts in, forcing herself to adopt a conciliatory tone: “No means no, Annie, indeed. No as in ‘No, there’s nothing we can do’. We don’t even understand what happens to our subs and planes. When they identify our hardware as a threat – pretty correctly identify it as a threat, I’m tempted to add – they vanish. The subs, the torpedos, the crews, they just disappear. Same for planes and bombs. Pulverized? Transferred to outer space? Or to a different dimension? We’ve got no idea. Looks like magic. We are like Bronze Age primitives throwing spears at…”

Sweat is dripping from her forehead, and her retort comes out wetter than intended, but Annie won’t give up. You don’t survive two global campaigns by faltering fast: “No Tonia. Not again. You’re not supposed to tell me what we don’t know and can’t do. I need options, Tonia. I insist on options. Algae. We’re talking mere algae, for progress’ sake! You can’t tell me there’s nothing we can do, against algae. This is not Godzilla we’re fighting, Tonia.”

Politicians. Masters of delusion. And never short of misleading approximations: “Corals. Not algae, Annie. Corals. Probably. The scientific task force assumes Issue Red to be a coral type organism, because of their demands. They might or might no look like the corals we know, which are a pretty diverse bunch anyway. We have no idea if they have landed, in some kind of spaceship or by any other means, or do their thing remotely. It might or might not be a coincidence that Issue Red started manifesting itself when Oumuamua passed earth. That asteroid might or might not be a spaceship. There’s an awful lot the scientists don’t know, Annie. We do know, however, because they made that very unmistakably plain, that they insist on…”

Annie shakes her head, reconfiguring the rivulets of sweat: “No Tonia. You will not tell me I have to kowtow to some foul mouthed seaweed. Are you even listening to yourself? This is our planet. And no bloody moss, or alga…  It is alga, the singular, for algae, is it? Never mind. No moss, alga or coral, or whatever other fish fodder, will tell me what to do. This is my, this is our planet.”

When in doubt, stonewall. Any general worth her stars knows when to perform a tactical retreat. Full frontal won’t deliver. Time to switch to siege mode. Face barely polite neutral. No nods or confirmatory noises. Let the ramble run its course. Wait for an opportunity.

Half an hour later, the President is still at it. Insisting the corals can’t interfere.

At least she’s calling Issue Red corals now. Tonia tries to cherish this advance.

And there comes the knock the general has been waiting for. The aide enters immediately, not waiting for permission. This, and her funeral face, make clear what happened.

Which coastal city will have been hit this time?

Latin America has been spared so far, meaning it could be its turn. Issue Red seems endowed with some sense of fairness. Up to now, the attacks have been evenly distributed across continents, regardless of the presence of coral reefs in the vicinity.

It’s Rio de Janeiro that went dark. The general feels like a pervert, resenting her own joy. She guessed right, but you can’t relish a city getting nighted. Not appropriate.

Same old. Same procedure as in Rotterdam, Shanghai, Miami and Sydney.

The black balloon rising from the sea, unfolding into a giant dome shielding the city from any daylight. Few pictures sent from the inside, flashlights struggling against the deep darkness. Loads of pictures from the outside. Mostly closeups. A giant black wall blocking roads and fields. And some satellite pictures. The Brazilian coastline sporting a big fat black wart.

Are they really going to make that last five weeks?

Rotterdam got away with a mere seven days, but the next attacks lasted longer. If Issue Red keeps up the rhythm, Rio is in for five weeks. That’s gonna hurt. Nothing gets through. Not even tunneling helps. What looks like a dome is in fact a bubble.

Time for the next offensive: “Annie, that’s gonna hurt, bad. Time to give in.”

The President shakes her head in exasperation: “Give in?! Are you out of your mind? Just to keep us on the same page, my dear Tonia: They want us to subsist – if you can call that subsisting, which I strongly doubt – on the level of energy and resource consumption enjoyed – “enjoyed”, in the words of those f***ing slimey bastards – by the most frugal ten percent of the world population. You ever been to one of those refugee camps where they achieve that grandiose feat, Tonia? You really suggesting me, or anyone else, could get away with proposing this?”

Seeing her general nod, Annie feels her face explode in additional heat. Blessed be the blackness of her skin. A dark complexion is a vital asset, in conflicts. Hard to see how furious she is.

“No need to blow up, Annie. I’m aware how bad that will feel, we will feel. But dying sucks worse.”

Tonia stated this calmly. She won’t say more. First rule for a decisive strike: Make that one.

While the leader of the unified world ponders her lack of options, seaman Clarissa enjoys.

Her best day ever. She had been worried, scared even, when the officer cadet said they would approach the reef. Rumor has it that subs have been lost, in such engagements.

But it all went well. She recalls feeling the South Sudan lurching ahead at minimum speed. She was holding her breath, but nothing happened.

Next she must have banged her head. Or might have been more stressed by the occasion than she cares to admit. There’s a little fuzziness clouding her memories.

Now she’s enjoying her off duty rest. In a wonderful bed. It feels bigger and softer, and even smells better, much better, than yesternight.

Clarissa is also less exhausted than usual. And much less worried.

She just lies there and enjoys. Some of her best memories keep welling up.

How she won a diving contest, in primary school. Even though her mom had said she should not compete. For lack of grit. And for being too young. But she won.

How Madeleine proposed to her. Right after she had given up, quietly. Considered herself unworthy of such a gorgeous mate. Signed up for four more years on the sub. That same evening, Madeleine proposed. Very conventionally. Under a palm tree, over palm wine.

How the two of them won both the seafront and the pool access lottery. Crazy luck. Turned their flat into one of the most valuable properties in the compound.

And her first solo motorbike ride. The memory feels so real her body adjusts. Left. Straight up. Right. Straight up again. Vicious serpentines, on mount Merapi. Gorgeous biking.

As far as Clarissa is concerned, this precious moment of respite has permission to last.

She knows the tedium of submarine life will be back with a vengeance any minute now. Savors all those precious memories even more avidly.

Meanwhile, the master of her fate struggles with its responsibilities.

“They might be sentient, BalCarBia. An early form of precursor sentience, of course, not talking the real thing here. But look at their tools. Toxic, of course. Extremely crude, sure. But tools, unmistakably. They do shape their environment.”

The FerGamFoi segment signals emotional involvement and conviction alongside the reference data. It has serious doubts, concerning the legitimacy of their intervention.

“Nonsense, FerGamFoi. I’ve got a pet tlam, two pet tlams, actually, and they kind of use tools. When I forget to feed them, they assemble a signaling chain to remind me. Even telling me which feed they’d prefer. If you start considering whichever lifeform a sentient entity, where would you draw the line? MuiNolMar segment, it’s hardly more clever than my tlams. But it’s one of us. And tlams are pets. Same principle here. Especially for the speedies. You have to draw a line.”

BalCarBia segment feels pride. This was well signaled. Perfect socioempathy.

Nowadays, this kind of skills is valued. The old days, when you could tell waverers like FerGamFoi to shut up and move on, were easier. But BalCarBia adapted well. As always. Only the most creative and flexible segments get to lead interstellar missions.

“If it wasn’t sentient, we wouldn’t have been able to retrieve patterns. It’s enjoying itself, sure, because it doesn’t know it’s dead. But I would prefer us not to interfere. The locals have such a long way to go, until they reach sentience. Perhaps the speedies are as sentient as it gets, here.”

FerGamFoi won’t admit it, but it does like speedies. Such phantastically fast existences. Lasting a mere ten millionth of their own lifespan. Fascinating. They must have found some way to hand down knowledge, each short-lived wave building on the achievements of their forebears.

BalCarBia segment lets FerGamFoi segment’s signaling pass unrecepted. It’s to busy receiving and decoding new scans. Having checked and rechecked its findings, it goes:

“Cheer up, FerGamFoi. New orders, and you’ll like them. We’ll leave your beloved speedies alone. They are free to mess up this hot hellhole of a planet at their convenience. Wrong location. Our contacts reside further out. Biggest moon of the huge planet we passed earlier. Internal ocean. Pretty place, just like home. Time to discard your experiment, FerGamFoi, we’re off.”

FerGamFoi signals concordance. Despite its firm intention to keep what is left of the annihilated speedies. Just as a pastime. No need to inform.

Five minutes later, Annie starts gloating. It’s never too early to think re-election, The Rio bubble vanished. Algae over. She beat them off. Didn’t even need her gun.

Civilup II

An actual monitor. Not even embedded. Fixed to the wall like some antique on display in a museum. Which in a way it is. Minuscule, too. Two square meters, at best.

How is anyone supposed to learn anything, with obsolete equipment?

This is such a farce.

Garnalag is pissed off. They forced her to attend.

Didn’t accept her perfectly legit ReaFo. It was her third Reason For Absence in a row. This kind of series never looks good. But Lafu Xia Ten got away with four consecutives. Discrimination at work. If she was called Lafu Xia, she would have gotten away. But she’s a Garnalag…

First they don’t accept her ReaFo. Next they assign her a location at the other end of the city.

Getting here took her a full forty five minutes. With a state of the art e-skel set to max. And at the end of this marathon sprint, what does she find? A decrepit building. Obsolete technology.

Brooding never got anyone anywhere. Time to cheer up. The young man on the seat to her left looks like companionship in adversity.

Garnalag opts for a conventional starter:

“Makes you wonder where they put all our taxes, doesn’t it? This must be the most antiquated information device still in use on the planet. Just being confronted with this should count as the history lesson. I mean, I don’t expect a 3D-Chamber. But a virtual immersion wall, that should be feasible, shouldn’t it?”

The frown on the young man’s forehead signals irritation. Perhaps even displeasure.

Garnlag stops short. Harder and harder to engage, young people. As if they were inhabiting some slightly detached parallel universe. Easy to see, hard to reach.

“Well said. First they rob us of our nation, then they rob us of the fruits of our labor, and what for? To treat us like simpletons. Civilup or down my ass. There’s perfectly no point, to this whole exercise. ‘Thanks for your attendance, and for no longer starting wars’. Hand back our guns, I say, just hand back our guns, and then let’s give you some proper ‘thanks’…”

A flag-kisser. The fully blown dinosaur warrior version. What wrong has Garnalag done, to be seated next to one of those? He quotes the ritual closing words of Civilup gatherings in an effeminate voice. To highlight whom he considers responsible for his plight.

Garnalag is no fan of the mandatory Civilization Upkeep.

No one is. You don’t like to attend high rise safety drills, driver license confirmation courses or carer supervision. Same for Civilup. Nearly as bad as taxes. Or pedlane speed limits.

You moan, you groan, you’d love to be elsewhere.

But that doesn’t turn you into a bloody flag-kisser. They are… Big ‘Yuck’ factor.

Thinking about flag-kissers is like focusing on the content of a toilet. Before the flushing. You don’t want your eyes wandering that way. Nor your nose. Never mind your soul.

A whole planet of 1.5 billion adults has to attend at least one Civilup module per quarter. A full three mandatory hours of wasted time. Plus the trip. A full four times a year.

A galactic amount of resources is spent on staff, venues and training materials. Sports events are missed and shopping trips rescheduled. Lawns remain unmown and dishes uncooked. More people die in pedlane collisions on their way to Civilup than from heat strokes.

A whole panoply of human miseries, and why? Because a couple of bloody machos use their right to free speech to keep some bad old flames alive.

Garnalag notices how closely the young man to her left watches her reaction to the rant on her right. She stares back, not hiding her turn to be irritated.

Daring insinuate she might sympathize with a flag-kisser is an insult. Why not call her a gerontophile, while he’s at it? Males, forever the clumsy brutes.

Garnlag is well aware the nuisances are not at fault. Not really, personally.

Nurture by erroneous parentals transforms innocent boys into aggressive adult males. Bad upbringing, on top of an unfortunate natural proclivity for high testosterone levels, turns good seeds into weeds. Males are perfectly capable of restraint. Empathy, even. Given the chance, they will improve. In the due course of time. Can’t be relegated to second class citizen status forever.

Garnalag endorses the progressive approach. It’s the right thing to do. Otherwise, you’ll have to watch your back forever. Perfectly fine rationale. Especially when considered from a boardroom perspective, with a maximum one diversity male around. But…

Garnalag is no sexist. She’d never threaten to alert an Enforcebot without a serious reason. Despises colleagues who harass males for fun. She’s definitely no sexist.

Even got close to intervening in favor of a harrassed male, once.

It all happened in Clafang Ran Tlo’s office. Garnalag had joined her for a teleconference. The window cleaner was busy next to them. The clumsy brute splattered some water right onto the desk. Some drops even hit the screen. And Clafang Ran Tlo to lose her countenance. Performed the scissors gesture. Very unambiguously. Twice.

Garnalag got within an inch of intervening. Their remote interlocutor got in first and resolved the situation. With a joke about how one needs to be careful how one snips one’s fingers, in the era of facility staff empowerment. Zero sexism. Very professional.

Wit is so elusive. Garnalag will come up with a perfect retort. Tonight. Over dinner. Or at bedtime.

Now she’s lost for words. Reduced to stare ahead, without any hint of a smile.

Luckily, something’s finally happening in her line of sight. The screen lights up. The familiar voice of the tutoress purrs: “Welcome to Civilization Upkeep Module 2. Dear citizens, thank you for taking the time to contemplate once again…”

This equipment insults the senses. Zero immersive experience.

Civilup II is about malnutrition and lack of access to healthcare. How these blights used to affect some seventy percents of the global population. Before taking into consideration the mental stresses associated with a precarious life.

Fifty years ago, a shocking amount of suffering was considered acceptable. The sights and sounds of so much despair should be heartbreaking.

Not with this equipment. Doesn’t feel real enough.

Takes Garnalag less than half an hour to make up her mind. She will contact Civilup central. An upgrade of the program is required. Urgently. Just the basic basics should do. Virtual immersion walls. And the corresponding reprocessing of the material. You need the victims to speak to the audience in current lingo, if you’re aiming for identification.

This won’t cost a fortune. Sure to work wonders, on the customers.

Amazing, the level of luxury some ancients achieved. The food now on display on the screen looks alluring. Reminds Garnalag she had to skip breakfast to arrive on time.

Not that she would have had ham or cheese.

Garnalag does make a packet, in advertising, but that kind of delicacy is beyond her means.

Bloody animal welfare fanatics. Nowadays, cow milk has to be fairly shared between calf and client, driving dairy product prices sky high. And no pig can be slaughtered before having frolicked around the farm for a happy six years of joyful mating.

This is disgusting. Just when Garnalag is seriously getting into a foodie mood, the course switches back to health issues. Cholera and plague.

Interesting to hear that these medieval curses were still around at the beginning of the century, though. Who’d have thought?

Tananarive really has come a long way. Hard to believe today’s spa destination used to feature slums. This fast motion rush through the evolution of the cityscape leaves you breathless.

“And they lived happily ever after. Sex no-no, drugs no-no, and don’t you even start dreamin of rock’n roll. But they lived happily ever after. Who the fuck do you think you’re kiddin?”

The falsetto voice. That did it. Having spent the rest of the session to figure out what happened, Garnalag reaches the conclusion the voice must have been the trigger.

She doesn’t even know if it was her own discreet alert that summoned the Enforcebot.

They all heard the flag kisser. In her row, up front and behind. At least a dozen people were inconvenienced by his remarks. Some of them will have joined her in doing the needful.

It’s never pretty, to watch a man raise his arms in anxious capitulation. Looks so meek. The images always go viral. Big boy afraid of small toy. Better than LOL rats.

An Enforcebot is anything but a child’s game. A five pound metallic spider, equipped with a domineering temper, sharp claws and a taser designed to bring down a bull, is not to be messed with. Everybody has seen enough footage to know what not to do.

Today’s nuisance was no exception. On hearing the telltale clatter approach, the flag kisser went quiet. Was already in process of standing up when the Enforcebot reached his seat and went: “Sir, would you kindly proceed to the exit, please? For a little civility feedback, please?”

Garnalag held her breath. Would their flag kisser aspire to martyr status?

Sometimes, the wilder kind of mad men pretend compliance, only to kick at their captor once it comes into range. A very, very bad idea. Retribution follows, fast and hard.

Garnalag braced herself for the worst. She shifted her weight as far to the left as possible, ready to dive out of the combat zone if necessary.

Luckily, her nemesis followed his orders without a comment or hint of resistance.

As usual on such occasions, the whole audience focused on the lesson still unfolding on the screen and through the loud speakers. You don’t know if and how an Enforcebot will react, in case it noticed a lack of diligence. Better safe than sorry.

Garnalag listened to the pair of them exiting through the back door. Next, she spent the rest of the lesson arguing with herself.

You can’t let this kind of guy get away with aggression. There’s tons of science to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that antisocial behavior gets worse if left unchallenged.

It’s also true he stayed verbal.

And there are reports, unconfirmed reports, of Enforcebots using violence, unprovoked and unnecessary violence, in the course of civility feedback. Some hotheads even talk of torture.

But men, especially large ones, are a walking threat. To women. And civilization.

On balance, you need to act. Garnalag was right to press that button.

“Thanks for your attendance, and for no longer starting wars.” The tutoress is done. To the sound of the hymn for the three Ps, the references list unfolds on the screen.

Garnalag likes the melody. It’s a fast paced blend of Malagasy, Tamil and Celtic traditions. She doesn’t care much about the lyrics. No issue with Pragmatism, Polyethics and Peace as such. Of course not. But as a marketing professional, she can’t help identify waffle when it hits her.

Tradition demands to stay seated until the screen reverts to dark. Small talk over the credits, fine. But you don’t rush out. This is about civilized behavior. And important. You display respect.

Witnessing an Enforcebot intervention has a chilling effect on any congregation. Reminds you of the price to pay for a less violent society. Raises doubts and questions better left unsaid.

Today’s crowd is no exception. No small talk. Most people remain unusually still and quiet.

“Apologies, for my dad making a mess. He doesn’t mean bad. Would never actually harm no lady. Mom kicked him out a couple of years ago. Because of his big mouth, especially under the influence. This sent him crossfading worse, which got him sacked. And now… He’s not well, and tends to end up in trouble. Apologies…”

Garnalag is lost for comments. But at least the session is now closed. Time to hurry back to her life. Bloody lessons. She’ll have to think of a good ReaFo.