Novel In Progress

Improbable: The First McGee

(a satire about large numbers)

by Steve M

Yeah, I wrote this. Blame no one else.

2018

 

I am telling you this story per the exception made for FACTION (Facts Told as Fiction) in accordance with Section 183.17 of the Charter of the History Department at the University of Centrum Kath, the largest repository of knowledge and learning in the universe.

 

Chapter One

Red Robes

A time of hatred, a time of war. Most of the universe was under the control of an empire, Goodness, who were far from good. They were an alliance of smaller empires. Former enemies that shared one trait in common. They were all authoritarian societies, that ugly blend of industry, government, media and military where the only disagreement allowed is over who agrees the most. Their populations were organized around the three traditional pillars of righteousness: job, state and religion. Military service was mandatory. Their economic model was built upon growth and growth was best ensured via conquest and exploitation. A few lived well under this system, but the vast majority did not.

Fortunately their authority did not reach into the far outer spiral arms of galaxies. Out there it was a hodgepodge of people and cultures, largely self-determinant. It is on one of these planets that our story begins.

The planet is Kath. We are interested in a stone building covered in vines. It sits near the center of a small university and houses the Mathematics Department. There is a meeting happening inside the building. It is one of the most important meetings in history.

"Professor Chu, we've examined your study and we find the subject unusual," commented the chubby woman wearing the red robe of a Master Mathematician.
Lawrence Chu looked at the ten men and women that made up the Numeracy Committee. He had never been before the committee, despite having seen their pictures for most of his career. Knowing their profiles and professional accomplishments, he was honored to be in the same room with them.
Larry corrected his posture to a stiff stance and took a deep breath while waiting to hear if his proposal would be accepted. He had dreamed for years that one day he would be wearing a red robe. All mathematicians did. But no one from his university had ever come close to the mark, and he wasn't even considered one of the best in his small math department of nine professors. Yet here he was, the only professor from his university to ever be summoned to Kath by the committee. He had spent three days explaining his models to various teams assembled by the committee. They had debated his hypothesis regarding Occurrence Accumulation Pressure and Release for hours the first day. Most did not accept his ideas. Not until he showed them the results of his Rochambeau simulations. Today was the final decision. His moment of truth.
"We would like to put a team together to assist you in validating your findings about Improbables."
Larry grinned. He couldn’t help it. He had taken a long journey in a short time. His previous attempts at bringing the idea of Improbables to the attention of anyone outside of his own department had been met with scorn and more than a little derision. Most along the long chain between an unknown math professors and the most renowned group of mathematicians in existence, they ridiculed the idea, or dismissed it outright as preposterous. Yet, here he was. Someone important had finally heard of it and wanted to know more. Fifth times a charm or so they say. Things must really be desperate. He thought of the defeat at River Flow and how there was now a sense of desperation in the rebel held areas.
So "it can't be done" had changed to "maybe it can." Good enough, Chu believed.
"May I have Professor Kassman on the team?" he asked.
"I see no problems" replied Professor Souf.
Good old Kassman. It was a late night drunken argument with her that had prompted Larry's method for finding Improbables. She had called him on his explanation of why the central tendency of the universe suggested that they kiss again. He had responded that if they didn’t kiss, a statistical aberration would be more probable. And Kassman was having none of it. So Chu kept coming up with a more elaborate and outrageous explanations and the more he bullshitted, the more she rejected him. And then a funny thing happened. Even in a drunken state, he recognized the idea of Occurrence Accumulation Pressure as something that might actually be possible, as well as an excellent reason to get Kassman to kiss him again. The leap from Occurrence Accumulation to Improbables is not that large.
It all started months before when she unexpectedly kissed him one night. With that single kiss she had unleashed the demon in him. The demon of affection, of adoration, of lust. I was a monster for which she was unprepared, as Lawrence Chu had never exhibited romantic tendencies towards her prior to that kiss. What she discovered was that he was unsure of how to make the first move. That’s all. And when she finally made it for him, it was like a dam busting bomb had gone off in him. Professor Lawrence Chu was not alone in this. It was heightened by a phenomena everyone called ‘desperation pairings’. The more desperate the times, the more people paired off romantically, as if there was an hourglass full of sand running out.
But let me explain an Improbable for a moment, I’ll just take a brief glance of time. Imagine a roulette wheel. Now imagine a nearly infinite population of roulette players. I think you see where I'm going with this. There will be a very small number of people who will have the ability to choose correctly or incorrectly for a significant and long winning or losing streak. These are Improbables. They are the antithesis of Regression Towards the Mean. But don’t misunderstand this. They have no magic powers. They are not blessed. They just sit at the very far ends of the normal distribution (bell curve) and are a part of the natural order of outcomes when dealing with large numbers approaching infinity.
Professor Larry Chu believed he had found a method of finding these people and most importantly the circumstances that will produce them. But there was a catch. He does not know if these people would always win or whether they were the ones that would always lose, and the likelihood of being either was roughly equal. But those were desperate times. It had to be for a professor from a backwater planet to be given funding.
"When can I get started?" Larry asked Professor Souf.
"You now work directly for the committee, as of this meeting. You begin the moment this meeting is concluded. Are there any immediate needs you have?"
"My clothes, my cat, and Professor Kasman. That's all."
"A military squad will be sent to Orji to get them today."
"Military? Won't that take real people from the war effort?" asked Larry.
"Professor Chu, we believe that you may have answered a very difficult question, a question so intimidating no one tries to solve it because we all assume it is impossible to solve. But if, and I repeat IF we can verify your results and Improbables can become another weapon to help us win this war, sending a small squad to get what your cat and some clean underwear is a very reasonable price.”
Larry nodded in agreement, not unlike a child being admonished by a parent. Professor Souf continued.
“And let me make this very clear to you and everyone. Your work is now rated with the highest security possible. Any discussion of your work with people outside of the project and this committee will result in an immediate terminal point (death sentence). Do you understand me?"
"Yes," Larry replied with a worried look. Professor Souf smiled at him. She had a lovely smile for someone threatening everyone with death.
"Computational resources?" Larry asked.
"You and your team now have A level priority on all resources."
"Thank you," Larry replied with a nod and a slight smile.
"Professor Chu, we appreciate the work you have done with little to no resources at your disposal. We’re impressed by your resourcefulness" replied Souf.
"The University of Bilcor-Anders has some very powerful computational resources," Larry replied.
A chuckle ran through the committee.
"We believe you will find your new resources improved," replied Souf with the confidence of someone holding four aces.
"Thank you very much," Larry said.
"Do you have any further questions?"
"No," Larry replied.
"The guards outside will show you to your quarters."
"I'd like to thank you and the committee for the opportunity to contribute. I will do everything possible to be successful."
"We count on that, Professor Chu," once again, she responded with a smile. "There is one last thing however. The council has decided that it would be fitting for the head of our most important project to wear the red robes of Master Mathematician. I trust you will not object."
"Fuck Yeah!" Larry blurted out before he could stop himself. Some chuckled. A few looked disappointed. "I apologize," a blushing Larry quickly added.
"Not a problem. Your response was the highest probable outcome."
He was from a planet that never made the news, never accomplished anything important. The only thing that ever came from his planet was Connor Lusp, the space pirate. Now there was Lawrence Chu to add to the list of notables. Professor Lawrence Chu left the council chambers as the sort of person he always dreamed of being, vital. He held tightly onto the small list of names in his pocket.
There were only 30 Improbables identified in the entire universe. He would run the team through the process of identification and testing. Actually, the list had thirty one names. But there was one name that kept showing up on the list total scores despite failing two of the testing regimes. It came in through the back checking allowance for variance. It meant that they scored so high that it overcame failing scores in other places, a very improbable outcome. It was the part of his model that was the weakest.
It was a name of someone from a primitive planet too. A planet so backwards it didn't even know about the damned war. Larry included it at the bottom of the list so that others could confirm that it was just a statistical anomaly before deleting it. He pulled the list from his pocket as he walked with two armed guards next to him. He reread the names. In red at the bottom, was the 31st name. The Improbable Improbable as he jokingly referred to the name.
Elaine McGee (The First McGee).

 

Chapter Two

Origins

The following is from the book, The First McGee: In Her Own Words.
This is the passage she called Origins.

"9-1-1, what is your emergency?" asked the male voice on the other end of the phone.
A guy, just great, I thought to myself. With what I'm about to tell him he'll go from zero to hysterical woman conclusion in under a second.
"You're not gonna believe this. There's a spaceship hovering overhead."
"Ma'am, do you know that it's a crime to make prank calls to 9-1-1. Your call might make it take longer to get someone else's call that's life-or-death," he articulated in a rather stern baritone voice.
"I'm not kidding. Listen, I'm the science teacher at Krause High School. I'm not drunk. I'm not on drugs. I'm camping up logging trail seven off Highway 42, and there's a spaceship directly overhead."
"You’re Elaine McGee, are you?"
"Yes," I replied quickly.
"Good, then we'll know who to arrest," he replied.
"Dammit! I'm not kidding."
"Yes, you are. Now, Ms. McGee, I'm going to cut you some slack. I'm not going to escalate your call and have you arrested. My girl is gonna be in your class next year. She’s a smart one. Wants to join your chess team too. So listen, I'm going to hang up now to make sure the lines will be free for authentic emergencies. And Ms. McGee, if I might suggest something, if you are going to do drugs, leave your phone in your pocket, don't take it out. And definitely, don't call unless it's a medical emergency."
"Shit!" I said as the ship moved slightly. Something the size of four blocks you’d find in New York City just moved about a meter to my left. It was silver trending to blue.
"Are you alright?" he asked me.
"It moved," was my stunned response. I scurried from my tent and hid behind a tree.
Then I realized that there were no engine sounds -- nothing. It was just floating like a leaf on water. Millions of kilotons, enough to crush me thousands of times over and was floating only 40 to 50 meters directly overhead.
"Goodbye, Ms. McGee. You stay safe now."
Then the dumb son-of-a-bitch disconnected the call. I was furious. I won’t repeat all of the expletives I shouted at my phone. I know you know them all well enough. I knelt beside a pine tree and quickly hit redial.
"9-1-1, what is your emergency?" said the female voice.
"Oh thank God it's you and not him," I said.
"Pardon me ma'am, is someone threatening you?"
"No, well yes...shit, maybe, okay maybe. I'm just glad you're not the last idiot I talked to."
"I'm sorry ma'am, I don't understand. Please tell me your emergency." The voice was soft and old with a polite tone to it.
"I'm camping up in the hills off of Highway 42. There is a huge spaceship hovering 40 to 50 meters directly above me. And I'm not crazy, and I'm not on drugs, and I'm not drunk. My name is Elaine McGee and I teach science at Krause High School." I said all of this in less than eight seconds. About 7.4 seconds by my reckoning. I've got this thing about time. I'll tell you about it later.
"I know who you are," replied the older sounding woman on the other end. Remember that polite tone? It was gone.
"I know who you are and I'm calling bullshit on what you're telling me," she spoke to me like a mother to a teenager.
In the background of the call I could hear the man I had talked to previously when he asked the woman on the other end of the phone if I had called back. I didn't hear her reply to him, but I know she did as he said 'shit' real loud and clear.
"Now honey, I'm gonna tell you something, so you want to listen, you hear. There are 17 women in this call area that are pregnant. And two of them are having a damned hard time of it. There's 36 people in this call area that are over 80 years old. Four over ninety. We've got 19 disabled children. So I want you to think about that because those are the people that might have to pay the price for your little joke. Now I don't know why you're doing this, but honey, you need to stop."
Another idiot. I looked up at the spaceship. No beams of light were coming from it, but it was luminescent and had a cold glow like a light behind ice. I needed to try something different.
"Okay then, arrest me," I said defiantly. "Go ahead, send your biggest and baddest. Let them tell me I'm crazy when they see this. Yes, please, arrest me. I'm a couple of miles up logging trail seven off 42."
"We've got more important things to do Elaine McGee," she said right before she ended the call.
Dammit. I needed a plan. Who can I call? Not him. He’s not reliable. Shit. So much for the dramatic breakup. I dialed his number.
"Well, that didn't take long. Let's see, not even 24 hours" Roger said in a smug, self-satisfied voice that reminded me of one of the many reasons we broke up. I wrote them all down the day before.
More ego than brains -- reason 5.
"Listen to me. There is a massive spaceship directly overhead. I need your help."
He started laughing hard.
"Stop laughing, asshole," I said furiously.
"Now you want to smoke weed? After all the times I asked you to and you said no, you're going to try it hours after we break up and trip the hell out your first time. This is great!"
Stoner -- reason 9.
"I'm serious Roger. I'm not kidding, and I'm not trying to get back together with you."
"Yes, you are. You are totally trying to get back together with me. And you try to do it right before bedtime. Smart girl" he said with a chuckle.
Sex machine -- reason 2. I get sore, ow.
"Stop being a shit head; I'm serious."
"So what do you want me to do about it, my dirty little girl," he said in a repulsive attempt at a sexy voice.
Next time I'll ignore the really cute ones I promised myself.
"I want you to come out here on Highway 42 and get me."
"Why don't you just head back home. I'll get a bottle of champagne, and we can celebrate." He spoke confidently.
"God dammit Roger, quit being a dick and come get me. I’m a couple of miles up trail seven."
"Oh, I see. I see what you're doing. You want me to go way out in the woods at night, get lost looking for you. Meanwhile, you're comfy and warm back at home and laughing your ass off at me. But I'll tell you one thing Elaine McGee; I'm not as stupid as you think."
I disagree. And to think at one point I actually considered marrying this shining example of sloth with a decent paycheck.
Then I heard a female's voice in the background. It said, "Who are you talking to, honey?"
"A friend" he replied.
Cheating son-of-a-bitch, asshole, jerk -- reason 1.
I even knew her name. Roger didn't waste any time. I disconnected the call this time.
I stay crouched behind the tree. Three strikes, but I wasn't going out that easily. If nobody would come to my rescue, I'd have to rescue myself. That's what I was thinking. I was thinking about cigarettes too. I had hiked so far up the trail that it would be too damned far and too much effort to walk back up to the road and get on my bicycle and pedal the six miles back to town just to buy a pack of fucking cigarettes. The weekend was supposed to be about breaking bad habits.
My thoughts went to things in the tent: my purse, my wallet, and the rest was camping stuff. And the science fiction books. They were my secret weapons in the war against nicotine. That and anti-smoking patches. Leave it all, I thought to myself. But it included the lost Schreiber book, the manuscript they found after he died. It will be the biggest thing in science fiction when it happens. Shit, I remembered all the other books I had on my e-reader. I definitively had to go back and get my books.
Wait a minute. I need to record this, I thought.
When someone is really excited working a touchscreen usually takes several attempts. Turning on the video recording on my phone did just that. Three times, that's what it took. The image wasn't anything to see, a silver-blue glow right above the trees. The problem with my image was that I was too close to it, there was no sense of size and scale, and it was uniform in appearance. It could have had curves at the edges I couldn't see. It was like trying to read a big sign in the window by pressing your face against the glass. I cursed when I saw my brilliant recording would just result in a YouTube video that most people laughed at or had a hard time seeing because their tinfoil hat had slipped down over their eyes. Still, I kept recording. Maybe it would change, and I would get a good shot of the spacecraft leaving.
I quickly scrambled back to the tent. I grabbed my Kindle and right as I was getting my purse, my phone rang. Deaconville Emergency Services displayed on my phone. What the hell? I answered the call.
"Ms. McGee are you there?" It was the old woman again.
"Yes," I replied.
"Ms. McGee, we've had a call from the Prichard farm out on 42. They said there's a big ass spaceship hovering just south of their place. They even sent us pictures and video. And the whole family is confirming it, all eight of them. Ms. McGee, we're sending two patrol cars to assess the situation. What I need you to do right now is to find a nice safe place and hide. Do you understand Ms. McGee? I need you to hide. Can you do that for me?"
"Yes. There's a cave in the rocks about two hundred meters from here."
"How far away is that in feet and inches?"
"218.72 yards," I replied.
You learn what you want for fun. I learned conversion tables.
"Good. Now Elaine, I need you to go there now. Don't worry about your stuff; we can go can back for that later."
At last, I thought. At last, they're taking me seriously. I remembered my journalism class in college, back when I wanted to be an investigative journalist. Long story short, without corroboration, a single source is just not good enough.
"Okay," I replied.
"I want to stay on the phone with you Elaine. Is that fine with you?"
"Yeah, no problem" I replied quickly.
"My name's Angie. Elaine, do you have a camera on your phone?"
"Already on it, Angiel. I've been recording it for the last few minutes."
"George and Chris. That's the two men coming for you. They'll be calling your name."
I stuck my head out of the tent again. No change, still hovering overhead. The video I was recording was still crappy. I made the seven steps back to the tree as fast as I could. Then I did something that changed the universe forever. I switched from video to camera mode. And whether I needed it or not, in all my excitement, I turned on the flash.
"How are you doing Elaine?" Angie asked me.
You know what the security systems on those vessels are like. The moment that flash went off on my camera, they sounded the general alarm, and I learned why the Dietz are all hard of hearing. What a racket! It sounded like one of those enormous horns they will blow in the Swiss Alps on Earth Five except thousands of times louder. It was so loud and startling I dropped my phone. And that saved my life. Before it hit the ground a high-intensity discharge beam blew the crap out of my new iPhone. And I had even purchased the phone insurance plan. I freaked out. I panicked. I took five steps and dove into the tent. Not my smartest move ever but in the long run, I think historians will look at it as a good choice made in a hurry.
Most of you are familiar with the rest of the story. The bright light, the tractor beam, the incredible shock of finding out that most aliens are human and variants.
This is how I entered the Intergalactic War.

 

Chapter Three

Parliament of Bastards

“Will the first minister please tell us why he’s taken us from our homes and families? What can Chiro have to tell us that is so important?” asked Huldin, the elderly chief minister for the Dulium faction. He sat back down after his question to the roar of laughter, shouts and cheers. The man next to him nodded his head to him. Huldin and his group held 105 seats of the 500 in the…well, the 500. That’s what it’s called. The 500. It could have been named Congress, Parliament, Assembly, lots of things but they were by consensus a mostly unimaginative group as will become clear soon. But some individuals…

A man sitting at the front of the chamber with a large metal cymbal hit is with a hammer.
“Order! Order! First Minister Chiro is permitted a response. Let him speak.”
Then he hit the cymbal again. It was such an annoying sound that it worked to quiet down the raucous group.

First Minister Chiro stood up from the chairs surrounding him. He felt the excitement of verbal combat rush through him. He wondered if it was as strong as the rush from physical combat. He didn’t make his way forward from the group but rather stood in the middle of his faction like the solitary nail sticking up.

“Perhaps if Minister Huldin would keep better contact with his own sub-minister for security, Kolfax, he’d know why I have called for this special assembly. But regrettably he can’t do that because Kolfax sits in prison awaiting trial for treason.” The 190 seat Asina faction erupted in applause and cheers. The man at the front of the room permitted it to go on for a while before he smashed the cymbal again. Chiro looked at his ministers surrounding him. He smiled at them and said ‘just wait’ to those closest to him.
“The second highest ranking member of the Security Ministry was discovered trying to flee with his family to rebel held areas. Perhaps later Minister Huldin can explain how Dulium screens their ministers for loyalty,” said Chiro. He folded his arms in front of his chest and looked at the old man seated in the middle of the Dulium faction. The Asina faction began chanting ‘Treason, treason, Kolfax is the reason’. The man with the cymbal permitted it to go on for a few minutes before shutting it down. He tried to show just the right amount of deference to the largest faction, Asina. Chiro held up his hands for silence. He gave an awkward smile towards the other factions seated in the chamber. It was awkward because Chiro had no eyebrows and because of that even pleasant things looked menacing when he did them.
"Ministers. Ministers, let's not return to the old ways of fighting among ourselves. We have an enemy. Let's focus on them. And I can assure Minister Huldin that I value the elder statesman's contribution so much that it would take something very important for me to keep him from his family."
"Get to the point, windbag!" yelled a minister at the back of the Dulium faction. This caused cheers in the other factions and jeers from the Asina. Chiro held his hands up again.
"Our enemy plots against us with dreams of greatness. Tonight I come before you to tell you of something so insidious and evil that it seems ridiculous at first glance. But our intelligence indicates that it is indeed true and being acted upon right now."
"Get to the point windbag!" yelled the same voice a second time. This time it was accompanied with laughter from the other factions. Chiro scowled and leaned over slightly. "Find out who that is" he said to his younger second minister, Malu. Chiro raised his hands again for silence.
"They're called Improbables and they are the new secret weapon of our enemies. Now I do not understand how they have done it. And at first I dismissed the idea outright. No one can do what they claim to have done, it's impossible. Then I thought it was an elaborate joke on their part and at our expense. Let me share the idea with you. The rebels believe they can calculate a method that will predict who among us will be lucky. And I don’t mean just a little lucky. Specifically those capable of long winning streaks. And they intend to use them to help command their fleet and defenses."
“Primeshit,” a loud voice yelled from the smallest faction. Fu controlled only 45 seat in the 500.
Chiro smiled. “I agree, minister. That was my initial reaction too. Primeshit. Complete Primeshit. A bigger lie than my father told my mother on their wedding night.” The chamber erupted in laughter as all 500 men thought of the promise to stop in time, a traditional lie told first on the wedding night then for the rest of the marriage. “But my minister, look at the level of resources they have committed to this project. They have a list of 31 possible Improbables and have committed resource to extract each of them, even take them from under our own noses, in our own territories. That’s right, the infidels are willing to send stealth missions onto worlds under our control to extract something you and I believe to be an impossibility.”
“They are fools,” someone yelled to cheers from the other factions.
“I agree” yelled Chiro. “They are fools and we are foolish if we give second thoughts of their foolishness.” Chiro stopped for a moment. “But let me ask this: How did you get here today? What was your means of transport? Was it your own feet entirely? Did you walk all the way here? I didn’t. I took my personal transport for most of the way and only walked once I got to the steps of this august building.”
“What’s your point, windbag?” came the taunting voice from the Dulium again.
“My point minister is that your means of transportation is derived from technology developed in the outer spiral arms. You have the rebel areas to thank for your ride to work. And when was the last time it rained on you? Can you even remember when rain fell during the daytime? And you know why. Because of technology from the outer spiral arms. So when the mathematicians from those areas believe that they can find Improbables and when the leadership of our enemy commit significant resources and risks to extract these people, considering how we harvest what they develop, I have cause for pause. And my thought is this: do I have to understand the mathematics that they use? No. What do I gain if I understand it, other than the ability to do the same, identify people they have already identified? And I can tell you that I will not understand it. My skills are in other areas.”
This caused many to laugh and some to yell out. ‘Breaking slave women is your skill’ came the voice inside Dulium again.
“So I ask you if a wise man would ignore this evidence. Does a wise man ignore the warnings of our agents inside of the rebel command structure?”
The chamber was silent. The rumors of agents inside of the rebel leadership had finally been confirmed. Speculation had been rampant ever since the victory at Tonnis in the Lesser Nebula. Half of the rebel fleet had been destroyed in the surprise attack as they gathered their ships to fit the latest weaponry. Not only had they destroyed a large portion of the rebel fleet, they had taken over one hundred rebel scientists and engineers captive. These were the jewels in the crown and powered their war machine.
“Now let me tell you what I’ve done about this” said Chiro with a confident tone. “I’ve sent our agents to intercept them. And in case you think it will be a fair fight let me assure you that it will not be.” Chiro stopped for a moment to listen to the chuckle as it moved through the chamber. Chiro was known for always having the advantage in battle, often an unexpected one.
“What’s your secret this time?” yelled the voice from the Dulium assembly.
“Tax records,” replied Chiro. He stopped again to let them yell their childish admonishments. He smiled as he heard their cat calls. After a few seconds the sound of the cymbal silenced them again.
“Tax records, give us the location of the Improbables that live within areas under our control. And spare my fascination with the ironic but a most improbable event happened to these improbables. They died. Now we have our own people in their place. All biological records have been replaced.”
“Well done, ” yelled the elderly Huldin as he rose to his feet. “Well done,” he repeated even louder and looked around him. Slowly the rest of the Dulium faction got to their feet. And with Dulium rising the other factions rose in a show of respect to Chiro. Chiro the master strategist, master manipulator, Chiro the cheater. The chamber echoed the sound of applause. Chiro stood still with his eyes barely open letting the sound wash over him. It had been a long journey from being a governor in charge of a newly conquered planet to the leader of the most powerful group in the 500, rulers of 80% of the universe.
Chiro looked at Huldin. The old man smiled and nodded to him. Then Chiro turned his glance to Omrad, the leader of Tilfo with ninety seats. Omrad was wearing his permanent scowl. Omrad hated the 500. He preferred the old days when the factions fought each other for new planets, new resources, new slaves, new wealth. The Tilfo were a strict meritocracy. Hierarchy at the lower levels was determined by combat when necessary. Omrad had prevailed 47 times before being allowed to join the officer corporation. He had a boot strap life story and that made him a mean asshole most of the time. If he could do it, why the hell can’t you? Now get busy!
Chiro looked for Bindo, leader of Osso. Osso sent skillful diplomats to represent them in the 500. When he caught Bindo’s eye, Chiro smiled widely. Ah, he loved surprises. Not getting them, but giving them. He had spent weeks in secret negotiations with Bindo. Soon he would have an unbreakable majority. And the need for alliances would finally be over. No more trading mining concessions with Dulium in order to get agreement on conquest funding. No more rotating guardianship of war production planets. No more fights over warship allocations. Tax regulations. Contributions. No more of it.
Chiro had offered a power sharing agreement to Osso in exchange for a merger. There would become two First Ministers, dividing the portfolio between them. At least in theory. And we know that there is a wee little gap between theory and reality. Chiro would exploit it to ensure that he was dominant. His knowledge would give him an edge. The Osso come from a peaceful tradition. They had only joined the 500 after a campaign of misinformation that convinced the Osso that the rebels had destroyed Osso’s new settlements on Clandon in the Isque constellation. The attackers had in fact been sent by Chiro.
Malu stood beside Chiro as the cheering began to subside. He leaned in close before he spoke.
“First Minister. The man’s name is Peter. He is from the planet Urdanis. He meets with Huldin before each session. They use iconic blockers to prevent listening but I would guess that they discuss how Peter will heckle you. I will have more soon, sir, but that’s the flash of it.”
“Thank you” Chiro said. “I will send you my new slave tonight.”
“Thank you, sir.”

 

Chapter Four

Remembered

‘War is chaos and killing. Generals will tell you its a precise exercise. But generals are a long time away from the battle field and have forgotten the smells, the screams of the dying, the sight of the dead. Those who order your sons to their death do not deserve our respect. Best those old men die from neglect.’
- The Final McGee

They stood onboard the troop transport in a block of soldiers one thousand strong. 1,000 black helmets with heads up display on the inside. Anton Heap’s stomach was in knots. He was sweating despite the cool temperature of the air. Soon he would feel the hard thud as the craft landed. Then he would be part of the mad rush into battle. The pushing and shoving and yelling and screaming of battle. Anton thought about his new wife, Kim and the rushed marriage when his final orders came through. Still, those were the best two days of his life, so far.
Mindo Group C. That’s what he belonged to. They had a long and honorable history as a fighting force, despite the illogic of honor in killing. Mindo Group C was known for their ferocious attack capabilities. They were also know for having the highest fatality ratio of any of the battle groups.

“Are you scared?” asked the man standing beside him. His name was Atur and he was from the same planet as Anton, Polido.
“Yes” Anton replied. “I’m trying not to be, but I’m am.”
“Do you think we will ever see Polido again?”
“Yes. I’ll see my wife again” Anton replied.
“You’re married? You don’t look old enough to be married.”
“I am. Are you?”
“No. Never found the right girl.”
“Did you hear the Captain? There are reports of no resistance” Anton said.
“Good, it will be safer.”

There was the sound of an alarm and then the feeling of thrust as the troop transport reversed its downward direction. A moment later there was a loud explosion and the underside of the vessel was torn open beneath them. Several hundred men were killed by the explosion. Of those that survived, several hundred including Anton and Atur fell from the transport onto the ground below. Many did not survive the fall. Atur did not. But his body provided the cushion necessary for Anton to survive with only two broken fingers.

The head’s up display on the inside screen of his helmet had quit working. It was pitch black without it. He couldn’t see through the screen. There were no comms sounds coming through the headphones. But there were screams, terrible screams of men injured and in pain. “I’m dying” a voice began yelling over and over. “Help me” rang out from many voices. Anton rolled over onto his back . He pulled on the snaps for his helmet and fumbled the last one twice before finally getting it loose. He pulled his helmet off and threw it away from him as if there was a spider in it. Above him were the other nineteen ships in the expeditionary force sent to Naich to capture the capital Nank. He lifted his head slightly to see the massive troop transport ship he had been on, now off in the distance, crashed against a hill.
When Anton looked to his left he saw Atur’s dead body beside him. He wanted to run away but didn’t. He could hear the muffled sound from inside of his dead friend’s helmet and he needed to know what to do next. He looked down at his particle blaster. 100% on the display. He reached over and unsnapped the helmet from Atur’s brown uniform. He carefully removed the helmet as if to avoid waking a sleeping friend. He closed his eyes to avoid seeing the face of Atur. Then he quickly slipped the helmet onto his head.
“Reinstantiating” said the soft female voice of the interface. Anton lay back down. He wasn’t going anywhere until he had comms.
“Welcome Anton. Should I show you a quick video of my features and benefits?” she asked him.
“No. Block level five.”
“Blocking.”
Anton opened his eyes again. He looked to his left. The body of Atur was still there but the appearance was altered on his visual display. There was an outline for his body but everything within the outline was pixelated. And the screams of the wounded men nearby now sounded very far off in the distance. There was some weapons fire but it was sporadic.
"Opening command communications" she said. And with those words the muffled quiet of the battlefield caused by blocking came to an end.
"No it wasn't. Look at the transport can. It blew from the inside out. It wasn't a missile." It was a voice of an older man.
"You're full of shit" replied a younger voice.
"No, you're an idiot. Look at the can. It was a heavy gun explosion. And it happened where the heavy weapons team was assembled. Get a fucking clue."
"I'm dying" said a soft voice with a calm tone.
"I'm with Mindo Group C" said Anton. "What am I supposed to do now? I’m on the ground."
"Are you weapons ready?" Came an older voice. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen was a picture of Capt. Eddington. He was smiling in his picture and it displayed in Anton's upper right corner of his vision to let him know he was speaking with an officer with command authority.
"Yes" he replied.
"Then you kill. That is your command."
Anton double clicked the picture in the right-hand corner of the screen as fast as he could. The display on the right side of his visor opened to the information page for the Capt. and there it was right at the top.
"Captains in race to see which one can kill 100 enemy combatants first."
It was him. Anton had heard of the race. It had begun less than two weeks prior and had made front screen news across the empire. When they landed on Naich Captain Eddington had 84 kills and Captain Eton 87. Enemy combatants was the term used to justify killing those mostly armed with only opinions. The 100 were civilians if one were to use language not corrupted by the psych op propagandists.
"Get up soldier. Get your weapon in your hand and move towards the city. Everything you come in contact with, if its not wearing a uniform like you, you kill it. Do you understand soldier?" Captain Eddington yelled across the command comms to him.
"Yes sir" came his reflex reply.
"Good boy. We will assemble at the farm house at the top of the hill. Get moving."
"Yes sir".
Anton stood up. He could see the transport ship off in the distance. And there were hundreds of the pixelated strewn on the ground between him and the ship. He turned back towards the city and the farm house on the hill. And for the briefest instance the display inside of his helmet flickered. And when the flickering stopped so had the blocking. In front of Anton were bodies of his fellow soldiers in full reality. And the sound came back with a roar.
"Help me" yelled a man laying a few meters in front of him with both of his legs at unnatural angles.
Anton slapped the side of his helmet. A hard slap and the blocking returned. The begging and bleeding soldier became pixilated with a voice a mile away. The image had only lasted for a couple of seconds. Still it was the most horrific thing Anton had ever seen. “Never see a kill” that’s what the advert for the military said. Primeshit!
He walked up the road to the path that went to the farm house. It was a steep hill and Anton turned around several times to see the view from the hillside. When he finally reached the top of the hill he saw other soldiers entering the farm house. Coming up the hill he could see the black uniform with the blue dot above it on his display. That was Captain Eddington. Anton heard loud voices from inside of the farm house and walked inside to investigate.
There was a pixelated near the door. Even with scrambled image it was apparent that the body had been cut into two distinct parts with a high energy beam setting. Anton had never understood why someone would use that setting. He heard distant screams. He entered the kitchen.
“Don’t you want a go?” asked a soldier his pants already pulled down to his ankles.
Anton didn’t answer him, he just ran out of the farmhouse as fast as he could. And he ran into Captain Eddington on the front porch.
“Slow down there boy. Where you going?” asked the Captain.
Anton pulled at the clamps for the helmet. He worked them as fast as he could. The moment the helmet was pulled from his head he puked. Then he bent over and vomited again.
“What’s got junior so upset?” said the Captain as he walked to the door of the farmhouse. “Sounds like someone might be having a little fun. Blocking off” he said to his helmet then went inside.
Anton sat on the wooden porch. Without his helmet he could see everything. He could hear the screams of the woman in the farmhouse. He looked down onto the ships that were landing and the thousands of troops pouring onto the ground like brown ants with black heads. He turned 90 degrees to look at the city laid out in the valley below them. Why didn’t they surrender? They had been given 24 hours to surrender. Instead of a surrender they sent a counter proposal of three days to permit civilian evacuation. Three days. Who would ask for three days from an opponent that can destroy you at will. Anton found it confusing. And what forces were available to protect the people of the city had run away into the vast emptiness of the continent, the uninhabitable center with its deserts and mountains filled with venomous insects and reptiles. Now down below Anton was a city of almost 600,000 people left to the mercy of a fighting force not known for mercy.
“Put your helmet back on” said an older man with salt and pepper hair peeking out from under his helmet. He was smoking a cigarette with a strange acidic smell to it. “Only the sickos turn off blocking. You’re not old enough to be one of those.”
Anton was desperate. He wanted to run away but there was nowhere to go. If he deserted he would never see his wife again.
“How do you go on?” he asked the older man desperately. “You know what you’re doing, how can you live with it?”
“Calm down, son. Calm down. You’re going to spike your sensors and that will get you onto the list” said the old man.
The List is what they call it when the men back at Central Command begin to monitor those they suspect of being less than fully committed to the battle. Deserters are shot in the back as they flee. He would be nothing but a drone kill by the the fat asses back at Command.
“I can’t. I have a wife. What if it were your wife in there?”
“Put your helmet back on boy. Give yourself a chance. Listen, put it back on and I’ll tell you my secret. You’ll know how I can make it through all of this without losing my mind or becoming one of the animals in there.”
Anton raised his helmet to his head. He lowered it then fastened it again.
“Welcome back Anton” she said to him. “I noticed that your heart and respiration are elevated. Are you in combat mode?”
“No.”
“Would you like to hear soothing sounds and music?”
“No” Anton replied.
“Good lad” said the older man as Anton adjusted the helmet fit one last time.
“Block Level Five resumed” she said to him.
“So how do you keep it together old man, huh? Tell me” Anton demanded. His voice couldn’t hide any of his feelings. He was thinking of his wife. He had to get back to her. He had to preserve as much of the man that she fell in love with as he could. And he wasn’t sure if he had already too far gone.
He felt the small needle when it punctured the skin at the back of his neck. An instant later the man stepped away from him.
“What the hell have you done to me, you bastard?” Anton said and moved away.
“Saved you.”
“I ought to kill you” said Anton, putting his hand on his particle blaster.
“But you won’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because in a couple of seconds the first wave is going to hit you like a troop carrier running over an ant. Yeah any second now.”
“Primeshit. Total and comple…whoa.” Anton reached out to the post of the porch to steady himself. He felt as if every inch of his body was tingling, yet his mind was being kept at a distance from everything as if he were looking through binoculars the wrong way.
“There, you should be feeling better soon” said the old man.
“What did you give me?”
“An old medicine from a forgotten people.”

Chapter Five

Field Testing

Elaine came out of the tent slowly. She smelled something in the air but couldn’t place the odor. It was sweet and acidic. As she crawled out she could see two sets of legs. It was a man and a woman. They were wearing long shirts, like in India, the kind that are almost a robe. Underneath they wore pants. The woman was wearing blue, the man purple. She looked up at them. They smiled but didn’t speak. She got to her feet.
“You almost killed me” she said. “You blew up my iphone and I want the money back for that.” It was all that she could think of to say. She had transitioned from being scared as hell and expecting some sort of monster to being relieved that they were human, which gave her the freedom to be annoyed with them. Funny how the mind transitions sometimes.
The couple did not respond to her. Not verbally anyway. The woman with jet black hair and huge nose stepped forward and opened her hand. In her palm were two very tiny black dots. The man stepped forward beside the woman then put his his index fingers into his ear. When he withdrew them he had two identical tiny black dots on the end of his fingers. He smiled then put them back into his ears. Then he nodded to Elaine and smiled slightly.
Anger is something that can dissipate quickly under the right circumstances. Wonder and awe are two strong characteristics that can cause dissipation. Elaine looked at the woman with her hand out and took the two small black devices from her hand. She put each onto the end of her index fingers then put them into her ear. They tickled the tiny hairs in her ears for a moment. Then there was a very minor hum. This was followed by a soft male voice that said ‘personal calibration commencing’.
“Cool” Elaine said. “Sexy voice, I like it.”
“It was chosen based on your personal history” said the woman in front of her. But she didn’t say it like that. Her mouth moved to different sounds, like Elaine was watching an old Kung Fu movie that was dubbed into English.
“My personal history?”
“Yes” the woman responded.
“What do you know about me?”
“We have a significant understanding of your history. It was necessary in order to evaluate you” the woman with the black hair and a big hooked nose responded.
“Evaluate me? Why?”
“We think you may be able to help us” said the man. He was tall with brown hair and had the same sort of nose as the woman.
A loud alarm sounded like before. This time it was muffled and Elaine could hear a slight buzzing from the small devices in her ear canal.
“We’re under attack!” said the woman.
“Come with us” said the man as he and the woman turned to leave. “Quickly” he said to Elaine.
And then something that she didn’t believe possible happened, a space ship as large as four city blocks shuddered and bounced around.
“Must be a squadron formation” said the woman.
They ran to the door of the room and the woman held up her hand when they got close to the big metal doors. They slid open quickly and effortlessly as if they were made of paper and wood and in a traditional Japanese home. As soon as the door opened, there was a rush of people running to an fro in the corridor.
“Battle stations” said the sexy male voice in her ear canal.
“Follow me” said the woman. Her and the man ran against the majority of the traffic in the corridor. Elaine followed them closely. She noticed that no one wore a uniform. Some were dressed in colorful robes. Some in somber black robes. Some wore tight fitting clothes like they were going to the gym to work out. Elaine ran with her two escorts down the corridor then turned right and ran down another corridor. The smell from earlier had been replaced by the smell of food and Elaine remembered that she was hungry. Then they turned left at another long corridor and ran to the end of it where two more large metal doors opened.
You know how science fiction movies always portray the bridge of a spaceship as a collection of knobs, dials, and displays surrounding the perimeter of the room with people seated at the control panels? It wasn’t like that at all. Instead it was a collection of people standing in front of four large clear slabs of glass-like material rising vertically from the floor. There were several people in front of each of them and they moved their fingers in the air in front of them as if touching something that wasn’t there. When Elaine got in front of the slabs she could see that they displayed symbols that slowly rolled upwards. Some of the symbols were larger than others and surrounded by a red box.
That’s when Elaine noticed her. She was shorter than everyone else. Four feet tall at best.
“Is that her?” yelled the diminutive woman.
“Yes, commander” replied her male escort.
“Navigator, what’s taking you so damned long. Get us in the damned asteroid belt now. Not tomorrow. Right now.”
“Sir, one of our engines is offline. Direct hit.” The man stood in front of one of the display slabs and his fingers moved like a concert pianist playing the fast parts of a piano concerto.
“Show me” yelled the commander. And then a most wonderful thing happened. The walls of the room disappeared and in their place was the view of outside of the ship.
“Whoa” said Elaine as she saw your solar system from a vantage point new to humans from your planet. And directly in front of them was Jupiter. Then another shudder and jolt happened to the large ship.
“Get me into the asteroid belt” yelled the commander.
“Jupiter. Wow. It’s so beautiful” Elaine said.
“I’m expecting a larger contribution than that” said the commander to Elaine in an annoyed tone. “You’re supposed to be special. Well its time to earn your place on this ship.”
“Sorry. I’ve just never seen Jupiter like this before.”
“Commander” said the navigator, “it may be possible to use the gravity of Jupiter to propel us into the asteroid belt faster than by our remaining engines alone.”
“What are you waiting for? In the name of Hydrogen, do it!” yelled the small woman. Elaine spread her feet apart into a more sure stance.
And that is when Elaine experienced for the first time the feeling of making a sharp turn in a huge spaceship with a gyro and gravity compensator in a universe where there is no right way up. She experienced nothing. Yes, nothing. She didn’t need to hang on to anything. In her finite world, everything was right way up and things still fell to the floor, just slightly slower than normal. She also noticed while they were running to the bridge that her escorts didn’t run very fast. In fact by her standards they ran ‘slower than molasses’, that sweet thicky substance with a risk reward value below zero according to the Department of Public Health ratings. In these times we don’t prohibit you from using harmful substances but want you to understand just how abusive you are being to yourself. But check as there might be some special advisories about giving these things to the newer of your species that are under your direct parental care.
"Deflector energy levels" said the commander. A second later there was still no response. "Deflector energy levels now!" She yelled.
"99.6%" said a young woman standing in front of one of the four slabs.
"Whats your deflector range?" Asked the commander.
"Pi 4" replied the young woman.
"Widen to Pi 5"
And through the invisible walls of the ship Elaine could see the planets of our solar system and our sun to her right. Then there was a very strange sound. It reminded her of the wobble sound from the walls of a big plastic container or maybe it was the sound of a bubbling thick liquid but it was a sound primarily in the bass range. Then it happened again. It wasn't an unpleasant sound but rather a sound that is best appreciated by the newest of our species.
Directly ahead of them and approaching very fast was a large asteroid. Elaine wondered as they made no attempt to evade the object. And then, right before Elaine was going to ask about a change of course, that deep throated sound happened and the asteroid was knocked out of the way not unlike your game of pool if you were the cue ball. Then it happened again with a smaller asteroid and it made a softer thunking sound. Then again. And even more, a lot more. It was enough for Elaine to note that it sounded like a drunken drum solo at a rock concert, syncopated beyond connection most of the time. However, there were moments when it had a beat, the strong rhythm, something she could dance to.
"Commander" said the young woman, "they've all stopped except for one of them using our slipstream." And as if on cue the huge ship shuddered and trembled.
"Back gunners. We do not want to die today because you're not doing your fucking job." The commander walked over to the front wall of the room. "Back gunners. Back gunners respond. "Fuck" she said. "Medical, tell me."
"Gone commander." Said the young man standing at the slab on the far left.
"Rearview." And at the very end of those words the front wall of the room filled with large image of two dead men in a shot up bubble attached to the ship.
"Get them out of there. Weapons, drop a net now."
"Yes commander" said a tall blonde man with coffee toned skin. He was the first person that Elaine found attractive. And he was no homerun in the parlance of your game. She formed an opinion that most of the people she had seen were ugly. It was those big damn noses. Now humans from your planet have occasionally produced people with pronounced proboscis, so this phenomenon should not be unknown to you. And Elaine remembered pictures in a history book of a French leader named de Gaulle. She spent just a moment thinking about how nice it would be if the universe was predominantly French. Sure every group's history has negatives and positives, but okay it's the French. Slightly better than some of their neighbors if you look at their history.
A net is a series of very fine cables with explosives attached. These very fine cables are assembled in what you would recognize as a spider web but on a much larger scale, large enough to entrap the spaceship.
"Deployed" said the tall blonde man.
"Combat capture" said the commander in the front wall change view again. Now the net could be seen and the ship that was in pursuit of them. And within a few seconds that ship flew directly into the net and exploded. The 28 people on the bridge standing in front of the four slabs cheered. Many of them said a word that didn't translate.Ingfar.
"What is Ingfar" Elaine asked the woman beside her.
"It's slang for Fuck Yeah'" replied the woman.
"Ingfar" Elaine repeated. She didn't tell them that for slang it was pretty poor and whoever came up with it should have spent more time on it.
"Calm down" said the commander. "We've left them behind but there is a big wide clear path leading right up to us. Sooner or later they are going to come for us. Continue forward. Collapse deflectors to Pi 1. Let’s make it a little harder for them.”
"There is a formation waiting for us on the other side of the belt. They calculated our direct line" said a woman at the second obelisk.
"Change course 25° on the Z vector, 24 on Y". And again Elaine felt nothing. After a few seconds the woman at the second obelisk spoke again.
"Cmdr. they're moving. But it appears to be a sub optimal intercept path."
"Give me the bottom line not a lecture on the superiority of our technology we don't have time for that right now. So flush your ego and tell me" said the small commander in a very annoyed tone.
"Apologies commander. We'll come out less than 2000 Pi outside of the range of their guns" the woman replied. "Cmdr., long-range scanners indicate 1143 ships positioned around the solar system and the number is growing at a rate of two per minute."
"Shit" said the commander. "Improbable, what do I do now?"
Elaine did not make the connection that the commanded was asking her a question.
"Are you deaf?" said the commander as she walked over to Elaine. "Well?"
"I don't know" said an astonished Elaine. "I don't know why you think I know the damned answers."
"Because you are the reason we came here. You're the special fuck wit of the universe that is supposed to be lucky. Didn't they tell you anything yet?"
"No, we didn't have a chance" replied the woman that had met Elaine when she came out of the tent inside of the spaceship.
"Well tell her. She needs to know, I don't know. Maybe that's how her streak starts. I'm not a fucking mathematician. How long to clear the belt?"
"Four minutes" came the reply.
"You've got four minutes to explain it to her" said the commander.
Four minutes later Elaine McGee was standing in a room full of people who were staring at her. Her mouth was open and the look on her face was a combination of confusion and 'you've got to be shitting me'.
"Bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. Impossible. Impossible and incredibly stupid. Your mathematicians are idiots" Elaine McGee spoke with an exasperated tone of voice.
"But they're not" said a very young man standing near obelisk one. "I've read the report. Don't think you're special. The universe doesn't think so and neither do we. In fact if you were special you probably wouldn't be an improbable. But you're normal and that is a great sense of it. And know this, you don't have to believe. The universe doesn't care. But you do have to act."
Elaine looked at the young man. Handsome, except for the nose. She wanted to hum the Marseilles.
“Improbable” thundered the diminutive commander, “what do we do? We can outrun them but they are playing a zone defense and we can’t outrun that.”
“I don’t know” she answered desperately. “If we can’t run, then we need a place to hide. And you’re all fucking delusional if you think I’m your best bet.”
“Someone smarter than me says you are and today that’s good enough for me. It’s all I’ve got.”
“Commander” said the women who the commander yelled at previously, “commander, there is the Kuiper Belt.”
“So what? Ice and Snow”
“And a place to hide” said the woman.
“Loud and Fast Bueller. Loud and Fast” yelled the commander.
“Big ice ball, cut our way into it with our front lasers, use the rear lasers to close it up behind us. Temps so cold they will shield us from their thermal sensors.”
“Risks?”
“The landing” said the woman. “When we land we’re going to knock it off course. Can’t be helped. Just need to hit it soft so nobody notices. It will be assumed to be drift from an asteroid hitting it.”
“Improbable, you got a name?” demanded the commander.
“Elaine McGee” she replied.
“McGee, your idea had better work or we’re dead” said the commander.

 

Chapter Six

Pluto’s Suppository

The interior of Pluto is cold. How cold? Cold enough to cause the scanners to freeze and stop working. Yes, the ship had no way of telling if the other ships had given up the search for them. It started happening when melting liquids started to refreeze. When they did, the liquid that was covering the scanner transmitters expanded and squeezed the scanners physically, causing them to shut down. It started a couple of hours after they had come to a rest deep inside of Pluto. They could be fixed or replaced but not while buried deep in the ice.
With momentary safety the commander finally spoke in a normal voice. Still it was a little raspy.
"You know McGee, I had my doubts. Shit you’d be a fool not to think his idea is complete bullshit. But it's not. And I'm getting used to it. You should to. But even if you don't, time is gonna march on."
"It wasn't me. It was Bueller. It's all Bueller. It's always been Bueller. And I don't care what you think the universe thinks. Stop personifying it, that is romanticism and you're just trying to put it in a box instead of accepting that its something that you don't understand."
"Well shit. Looks like we've got an improbable with a brain. Imagine that. You know the rumors about you people? You are dull. Average. So average that as a group you can't be averaged because you're all the same. Except you. Last on the list from what I heard. Good. I prefer smart people to stupid" said the commander.
"Cmdr. I've got an idea about scanners. But hear me out, it sounds crazy." It was Bueller again, the attractive young woman with the massive nostrils and clearly visible red nose hair.
"Bueller I get exhausted by your preamble. Have you ever said anything without trying to lower expectations before you said it?" The commander shook her head from side to side.
"Okay, here we go" she said with excitement of a child. "We have a ice tunnel between our ship and the surface. We launch two escape pods into the tunnel with their brakes at the maximum. We get to the end of the tunnel. We use personal lasers cut through the last few feet. Was run out onto the surface and set up scanners and return to the ship." Bueller smiled as if she was certain her idea was a good one.
"And how do we get them back to the ship before they freeze to death" countered the commander.
"Now that's where this idea goes from good to brilliant" said Bueller. She grinned. "They get back to the escape pods because we use the tractor beam to bring them back into the ship. We're perfectly oriented because we came in headfirst."
"Risk?" Asked the commander.
"Two. Number one, I botched my calculation of the stopping distance of an escape pod with the break turned on fully. Possible fiery death or a longer walk. Number two, we not only bring back the escape pods but also tons of snow and ice into the cargo bay. What do you think?" she said.
"And you really think this is a good idea?" Asked the commander.
"The word good is subjective" replied Bueller. "But I'd be willing to ride in one of the pods if you want to measure of how confident I am of the idea."
"And if I went in the other pod?" Asked the commander. And to this the confident façade of Bueller was shaken, cracked and broken.
"But commander, that would be putting the highest decision-making authority upon this vessel at risk. I would caution against the idea" said Bueller.
"But you would put yourself at risk" counter the commander.
"Really I don't think it's that large a risk. I calculated that with the brakes on fully, the escape pod should stop well short of the surface. A few minutes of walking at the end to the impacted ice. But the reason I’d go is for the ride getting there. An escape pod shot out of a stationary ship of this size into an ice tunnel. I don't know that anyone will ever do it again or even get the chance to do it. I calculate that it is survivable and suspect it will be a very exhilarating ride. And if I'm wrong and I splat? Botto will replace me. But if you go splat, we lose more than a second rate navigator who suffers from periodic delusions of brilliance" she said and then smiled.
Despite having a very convincing argument, an hour later Bueller and the commander were getting into the escape pods. Two technicians made sure they were well strapped in and there were no leaks in the life support zone. They closed the hatches and set the atomic clocks. As they looked inside of the pods one last time both Bueller and the commander were smiling, grinning in fact.
"This will be the most fun I've had since I was a young girl" said the commander.
"Me too" replied Bueller. Elaine stood on the bridge and watched the front wall display of the Cargo Bay and watched them open the chutes and turn on the propulsion systems. And again that weird strange bass sound happened as soon as the escape pods reached the end of the escape chute. Then they were catapulted forward at Mach 1 and quickly disappeared from sight. But not from sound.
"This is incredible" yelled the commander over the comms channel.
"Shit. Shit. Something’s wrong" said Bueller. "We're going two and a half times the velocity that I calculated. Shit."
"Are you sure" asked the handsome man from obelisk four.
"Yes. Shit. We must've changed the chemical composition as we burned our way in. It's different ice now" she said as she hugged the handholds inside of the escape pod and watched the ice and snow rushing past the observation portal directly in front of her face.
"What are the options Bueller? McGee?" The commander yelled.
"Going to hit the ice, can’t avoid that, so have to survive that. So we have to break the ice or melt the ice" said Elaine McGee talking really fast. She started picking her heels up and down nervously as she walked in place.
"Shit 30 seconds" said Bueller. "Okay. New crazy idea. We knock out the observation portal's and user personal layers to blast through the ice before we hit it. It's the best I've got. Upper right corner bottom left corner push hard. Dominant hand hangs on other hand fires weapon. What you think commander?"
Bueller saw the commander's observation portal fly off the escape pod then pushed her own out. First thing she noticed was the roar of the escape pod on the ice. It was loud and it had a terrible scraping component to the noise of it.

They began blasting the ice six seconds before impact. As they approached it looked like they failed and at the last second they both pulled their arms back into the escape pod. But what they had done was turn the ice into slush and as their escape pods plowed through it now without the observation portal they filled up with the icy slush and snow until they were impacted worse than a tooth. Their escape pods popped out from the slush and the other end and with such a velocity that they continued going away from the planet sometime until gravity exhausted what was less than escape velocity.
While both women sat in their icy coffins and what awaited the eventual crash landing, all still, all peaceful, looking at the stars, back in the spaceship bridge it was a little more hectic.
"Back the ship up. Get it to the surface. We've got to go get them" said Elaine to Vice Commander Thu who responded with a nod to the woman at the helm. VC Thu was a short man with a very large eyes, very thin lips and of course a huge probosis. It quickly became apparent that while there is virtually no sound out in space there is however a very nasty sound when you try to back a spaceship of that size out of planetary ice. In fact the sound made Elaine's teeth feel on edge. Fortunately it only lasted a few seconds before the mammoth ship popped up to the surface.
“There they are Commander” said a man standing at the third obelisk.
“Pull them in” Thu replied.
There was nothing to see but if it will make you imagine it better imagine wavy invisible lines like the display of a oscilloscope going out to the two escape pods, lassoing them like a cowboy and pulling them back towards the ship. I’ve watched your planet’s media, especially the westerns and king fu movies.
“We’re visible and our thermal signature is exposed” said a woman standing in front of obelisk one.
“Let’s go back into the tunnel a little. Tighten the focus on the tractor” Thu said.
“Down to One Pi” said the man at the third obelisk.
“Tighter” said Thu.
The nice thing about a tractor beam is that it controls the object. Velocity is reduced to survivable limits. So as the ship moved further back under the surface of Pluto, the escape pods traveled smoothly towards it like fish on ice. Unfortunately a moment after the pods crossed the opening of the tunnel a large block of ice and snow weighing several tons broke off from the ceiling of the tunnel opening. It fell down which seems a normal thing to do, even on Pluto. However when it encountered the tractor beam, well it hitched a ride. Following the two pods were several tons of ice and snow, everything moving at a nice controlled velocity. And about a minute later the pods arrived in the cargo bay and seconds after that they became buried under snow and ice.
“Whew. Now that was a ride” said the commander as she waited for the crew to dig her out of the snow. “Bueller, that was the most fun I’ve ever had. Thank you. But your dangerous and I’m considering putting you on administrative review.”
“But commander. It was a good plan. It almost worked. And I’ve a decent plan B. We shoot two escape pods out there with extra chutes attached, put the scanner inside, and presto Ricado is your cousin.”
“Did you have plan B all along?” asked the commander.
“Yes”
“And you didn’t mention it?”
“No. No need. Plan A was a splendid idea.”
“Somebody confirm if Bueller’s Plan B is feasible” yelled the commander. She was at max volume again.
They pulled both of them from the pods and stood them up. They began to remove their spacesuits.
“Commander” said Bueller with a knowing smile, “I’d like to talk to you about how we get past the blockade.”

 

 

Chapter Seven

Driving Miss Pluto

“Have you lost your mind?” yelled the commander. She looked at Vice Commander Thu. “What do you think?” Thu shrugged his shoulders. Finally she looked at Elaine. “What do you think?”
"Well in so far as ideas go, it is one. But there are a lot of practical considerations to think of. After all, you're talking about driving Pluto out of the solar system."
"And for over 1000 ships not to notice this minor astronomical event" the commander added. Bueller had a big grin on her face as she spoke.
"Listen I looked it up while we were being rescued. They all have the KGT111A scanners. They're not only surveillance scanners they are also mapping scanners. And as mapping scanners they send sub-light messaging back to central mapping systems at a set frequency. Every 42 minutes they submit new mapping profiles.”
“So what?” yelled the commander. “Relevance, Bueller?”
“Why do we care?” said an animated Bueller. “Because for a few seconds while they're loading the mapping into memory to transmit they are waiting for confirmation of loading before starting the fail-over scanners. Every 42 minutes we have six seconds to move undetected. And they all do it at the same time. It's one of the benefits of a poor design. The newer models don't come with this feature."
“How did you know to look for this?”
“We were using the old scanners when you put me in charge of the mapping systems after I ruined the cucumber harvest on Trimalo. Interesting that you thought of it as a punishment. I found it fascinating. Did you know that there is still 11 percent of the universe that isn’t mapped yet, despite comms contact with the inhabitants.”
“Yes, I remember the scanners and why I put you in charge of them. Another of your ‘great ideas’ you promised. Wait a minute, are you telling me that while we were being rescued you were already working on your next insane idea?" Asked the commander.
"Yes, of course. And I don’t think its that crazy. Maybe a little, but not much. Not as much as riding escape pods in an ice tunnel. Now that was insane."
"Me, I was worried about dying at the time. But you weren't" said the commander shaking her head from side to side in disbelief.
"But I knew I would survive" said Buehler.
"Why?" asked an exasperated commander.
Bueller pointed at Elaine. "Because of her. I mean I wasn't certain, but almost. With her around everything would be OK."
Elaine shook her head from side to side.
"McGee, what you think?" The commander yelled.
"I don't know. I still think you are all crazy for thinking I’m some sort of weapon."
"Well, until you have an opinion, we're not going anywhere."

And that is how they escaped. Six seconds at a time. Five point one seconds of acceleration then 0.9 seconds of reverse thrust in order to appear normal when the scanners came back on. After a few hours of questions from Elaine and everyone on the bridge, McGee finally came around to the idea. Still, it took them several of your days to clear the blockade. With each jump Pluto got just a little smaller. By the time they cleared the last ship there wasn’t much left covering them. They were covered by less than a few hundred meters of ice. When they saw the final ship of the blockade in their rear view scanners they accelerated and the last bits of Pluto fell away. Elaine watched as the large chunks departed the massive ship. There were three main icebergs left floating in space. One made a form, a shape she thought looked like a fist holding up a middle finger. Pluto’s final salute to an arch nemesis. Elaine McGee chuckled and thought about Neil deGrasse Tyson and hoped he would see it.

Food in the canteen tasted like anything you wanted it to taste like and would look like anything you wanted it to look like. But the texture was all the same, roughly between chocolate pudding and an ice cream on a stick. Elaine had a hot dog with onions, mustard and relish and the machine nailed the taste perfectly. The mushy almost solid substance that was engineered for optimal nutrition was warm as she bit through the mushy nearly solid bread to get to the mushy nearly solid hot dog as the mushy nearly solid onions and relish enhanced the flavors.
“Food grown in a lab” Bueller told Elaine at dinner.
“They have every thing perfect except the texture” Elaine replied.
“You should have seen the first models. Any taste you want in the entire universe…in a bowl of soup. It almost doomed the group that made it. Nobody wanted cake flavored …soup.”
They sat at a table that said "hello" and "goodbye" upon the arrival or departure of anyone sitting at it. It also asked, ‘would you like me to keep your food at optimal serving temperature for you?” No one ever answered, except Elaine. She replied ‘yes’ and then followed up with a ‘thank you’. Elaine noted that the voice of the table seemed uncertain when it spoke, as if hello and goodbye might not be appropriate. She didn't like the food because of texture but she liked mealtimes. It was one of the few times when she could ask questions without the urgency of an important decision hanging like a sword over her head. Bueller gave her a small piece of glass that folded like paper yet presented an electronic image. Then she gave McGee a small disc that resembled that tiny Italian coin made obsolete by the euro, the one of so little value that to bend over and pick one up off the ground was not worth the risk of hurting your back. The glass folding paper was what you would call the reader, the tiny little coin a data store containing several million books. And best of all she could switch between visual words and spoken words piped straight into those tiny little black dots inside of her ear canals.

When they reached Relos Elaine watched the front wall of the bridge as it displayed the planet below. It was not what she expected. Most of the planet was desert except at the poles where it was lush and green. It orbited a giant red sun at a distance much farther than Earth. Across the desert area there were large weather systems, spirals of dust formed like hurricanes. They moved in an almost continuous line around the planet, those above the equator in one direction, those below the equator in the opposite direction.
“We’re going to the polar region, right?” asked Elaine.
“Wrong” replied the commander. “Take us in helmsman.”
“Yes commander” said a man standing at obelisk two.
And again the gyro and gravity stabilizers made an extreme maneuver feel like nothing as the large ship plummeted towards the planet.
“Who else has arrived?” the commander asked with almost a growl.
“We’re the last ones to arrive, commander” replied a woman at obelisk one.
“Good. Then I won’t have to wait on anyone. I hate waiting for the last idiot to arrive” said the Commander. Bueller started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“In this instance, we’re the last idiots to arrive” replied Bueller before moving from obelisk two to three.
“Bueller, I suffer you only for that 10 percent of your ideas that are good” said the commander, now back in yelling mode. This made Bueller smile.
“Surely I’m doing better than 10 percent commander.”
“You had sex with the ambassador from Dono, ruined the cucumber harvest on Trimalo, blew up the clock in Londre, and threw up at the welcoming ceremony for the Hoy representatives. Would you like me to continue? The list is long.” Her voice was full on now.
“With respect commander, the Dono did agree to forgo their neutrality and join us” replied Bueller.
“And the ambassador’s wife vowed to never speak to her again. And you know their culture, they won’t separate. It will be a lifetime of silence between them. They are a prideful people. You ruined their marriage.”
“As for the cucumber harvest on Trimalo, yes, that was my fault. There was a mistake in the atmospheric data I collected for the planet. The waste pod was supposed to burn up in the atmosphere. I did destroy it before it reached a population center. Cucumber lives or sentient lives? I had to go for our side, commander.”
“You have a real flair for excuses. But not much of one for success because you don’t get enough of those.” The commander poked her finger in the air in front of her at the interface visible to only her. Across the room a panel in the wall opened and a steaming cup of coffee was waiting for her. She walked over to get it.
“Excuse me commander, have you taken your booster yet today? A booster after coffee always upsets your stomach” said Bueller.
“I don’t need a mother, Bueller. I didn’t like mine…bossy bitch.” Then the commander poked the air again and another panel opened in the wall. In it was a small little container with a green fluid in it. In Earth Five terms it would be like the cup of cough medicine filled with a scary green liquid that glowed slightly. It was the glowing that made it so strange, which was in fact just excited little particles that were having a party to celebrate finally get an upgraded room with a view. So long bottle. Sucker. Little did they know.
“And sir, we were able to establish a wider range of food alternatives for the planet. It’s helping them finally become vegetarians. Remember, we had to reprovision our seed bank? The clock in Londr. Definitely my mistake. But commander, it was inaccurate. I was upgrading it. You pulled me out before I was finished. And it was a micro explosion.”
“With a Class 6 laser.”
“But we discussed it in advance. I only needed a few more minutes.”
“Coming up on the landing site” said a woman at obelisk 3.
“Put us down nice and easy” yelled the commander.
And the ship touched down on the desert like a feather floating to the ground. Off in the distance was an approaching storm. A wall of orange and brown came towards them like Huns charging in Central Asia centuries before you were born.
“Hook us up” said the commander in a close to normal voice.
“Yes, commander” said a very shy woman at obelisk one. Her voice barely made a sound.
“I can’t hear you” yelled the commander.
“Yes, commander” the girl screamed at the top of her voice.
“You do not, I repeat DO NOT, have permission to yell. Do you understand?”
“Yes commander” she said again in a more reasonable and almost soft voice. Then she began poking the air in front of her very rapidly. And a moment later the front wall showed that the ship was sinking into the sand. And the scary storm faded slowly as they went below the surface and the visuals changed to golden sand with occasional rocks, some of which were very shiny and could have been diamonds. I should probably mention that out among the stars there is no diamond cartel that keep the prices artificially inflated for their own benefit. No, they are still considered valuable but at 1/100 of what you pay for anything that has passed through the hands of a collection of thieves known as DeBeers.
And after a few minutes of slowly sinking, the ship stopped. Then there was a thud, then another, followed by a third.
“Connected” said the shy woman in a barely audible voice again.
“All crew. We’re now connected with the other ships. Power down and enjoy some social time” said the commander.
“Sir…have you ever wondered what it would be like to shoot an escape pod into this sandy mess? 100 percent survivability, I promise.”

 

Chapter Eight

De-emotionalize

Chiro stood at the doorway to the balcony. Floating just in front of him was the image of Elaine McGee. He walked out onto the balcony overlooking the city. Malu followed him. Spread out before them were the homes of the significant. Off in the distance they could just see the edge of the shantytown that supplied workers for the city. The midday sun was bright and the breeze near the ground was hot and parched. Up at their raised balcony high above the city it was cooler.
"She escaped. That's bad enough but we don't even know how she did it" said Chiro. He pointed at the image floating in front of him, "my God you're ugly."
"She is" confirmed Malu. "I don't see how they can get enough air to breathe. Her nostrils are tiny. I suspect that reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to their brain and as a result the growth of their civilization is diminished."
"You my dear" said Chiro looking at Elaine's image,"are going to die. Soon we will all be free of your ugly face. Who was in command?"
"Newman" replied Malu.
"This is his second failure" replied Chiro. "Make sure he doesn't have a chance for a third one."
"Yes, first minister." And with those innocent words a death sentence was handed down on a man with a large family. A capital meritocracy. Malu would have the comms with Orton, the man who took care of these things. He was also the man who had offered to murder Malu’s wife, an offer Malu declined after some thought.
"I know what you are" said Chiro pointing at the image of Elaine, "you are the near dead. And you don’t even know it. But I have a surprise for you." He said pointing his finger at her image.
"Do you really believe she can harm us?" Malu asked.
"No, I don't. But if I'm wrong it'll be the biggest mistake of my life. So wisdom counsels that I should believe, even if I don't."
"I doubt it too. But we use so much of their technology that we don't understand, I'm inclined like you" replied Malu.
"We have them all in one place. The next move is ours. And the one after that. We have to hit them so often that they never have a chance to hit back" said Chiro. “I will not end up like Henry."Henry was the last man to ever hold the position of Emperor of the Assina. Henry was proud and ambitious. He took planets from his enemies with impunity and without compensation. He was on a roll till he encountered Nestor, considered to be one of the greatest military tacticians in history. Henry was defeated five times in battle by Nestor, each defeat more significant than the last. The Assina generals finally made a pact with their enemy that they would no longer try to conquer planets under Nestor's control. In exchange, the Assina would not be attacked, provided Emperor Henry was assassinated. This is the fate that Chiro fears.Chiro pressed the insignia of his black uniform and then spoke.
“Bring the slave” he said to the faceless man at the other end. “Yes, first minister” came the bland response to the inserts in his ear.
“Do you think this is wise?” asked Malu when he heard the request.
“It helps me maintain focus. De-emotionalizes me” replied Chirro.
“I understand, first minister” replied Malu. “It’s just that last time…well”
“Yes, I remember last time” replied Chiro in an annoyed tone.
“Wouldn’t you prefer your new slave? She is much prettier and her pleasure is the sort more fitting a first minister” replied Malu. He implied experience with her but there was none.
“No” said Chiro angrily. “Get out” he commanded Malu.
“Yes, first minister.”

Chapter Nine

Ship of Fools

They were seated in a conference room on another ship. It was a room with glass walls that overlooked an indoor atrium complete with trees plants vines flowers and running water. Everyone turned and looked at her when Elaine walked into the room. She smiled and took the only seat remaining. It was a very long table and there was a man seated at the other end that seemed to be in charge because he was controlling the image of the hologram that was projected in the center of the table. While mostly attendees were unequivocally human, two were not. They seem to be from a different branch of the same tree. One looked like a manatee, it's girth and flabby flesh so much so that it formed big huge wrinkles in its skin as a layer cake of fat could not cope with its own size. The man at the other end of the table held his hand up.

"My name is Prof. Lawrence Chu. Blame me. It was my research that brought you here." Elaine thought that Prof. Chu was a good-looking man, except for the nose. He looked handsome, his dark black hair, brown skin, and gray eyes contrasting sharply with the blood red robe he wore. “This is Professors Kassman and Toure.”

Chu pointed at Kassman and the professor assigned from the committee to help them test the candidates for tendencies. He was a nice man with a long list of mathematical accomplishments and significant publications to his name. He was considered a shoe in for the next opening on the committee, despite his young age. Chu liked his personable and friendly nature. What Chu didn’t like about him was that he flirted with Kassman when he met her.

"We will be dividing the next four days into two parts. Part one, tendency identification. You've been briefed so you know that we can't tell whether you will always make correct decisions or always make incorrect decisions. We must quickly determine your individual tendencies. Regrettably, if your tendency is to always be incorrect, please don't think they we’ll let you go home. No you will continue to work in a validation mode as a test. If you agree with those whose central tendency is to always make the correct decision then we have a problem. Because of this your contribution will be extremely valuable." Prof. Chu stopped for a moment and took a sip of the water in the glass in front of him. While he did so Elaine McGee looked at the other human variant sitting at the table. They were co-joined twins. Not identical in appearance but very similar features. But drastically different in hairstyle and the areas where they could be different from one another. One head was shaven, the other had long dreadlocks. The shaven head had what looked like tattoos on his face, but were in fact tiny little adhesive patches. There were none on the other head.

“For the next two days you will be competing with others in a board game tournament. It is a game of both strategy and tactics. From this we hope to tell your central tendency. Tarana Tosso, Chika Jalloh, Buchi Diop you will recognize similarities with a game in your cultures called Trap. Kull and Eda, Elaine McGee, you will see similarities with the game of chess. But know that this may put you at a disadvantage as you will bring the prejudices of the games you know to an environment where they may not work as you hope.”
Elaine McGee smiled. Prof. Chu smiled back. She wondered whether the big noses made sex more difficult and thought that perhaps it did.

"After we establish your central tendency, then we will begin to give you strategic and tactical briefings. I believe you will find that the people developing weapons and propulsion systems will be telling you about some of the promising work underway. We may have a winning breakthrough in propulsion. They are still testing it but it could be huge."
"Define huge" Elaine asked.
"What if you could travel 10 times faster than your enemy, maybe more? Would you consider that a significant breakthrough?" Prof. Chu looked at her affectionately, like a parent to a child and this confused Elaine McGee as the look she was hoping to get was definitely off-limits in a parental relationship.
"Yes, I would consider that huge" replied McGee.
"Perhaps your central tendency is to agree" said Prof. Chu with a chuckle.
"You cannot predict an outcome based on a sample size of one" replied Elaine McGee. Prof. Chu smiled at her as he recalled reading her bio. Most of the other people in attendance could be described best as dull, exceedingly dull, excruciatingly dull. But there were two exceptions. Elaine McGee and Nambur and Akala Quirk (the co-joined twins).
“Very good” replied Chu. “I would like to pair you off to begin the games. With an odd number one of you will get to rest each round."

And with that they began. Elaine McGee's first opponent was very pleasant woman named Zoe. She came from a planet called Affar. She too was very diminutive in size. And while in physical stature she reminded Elaine McGee of the commander, Zoe's manners were so polite that there was no chance of yelling. The game between them was short. It was punctuated by the words "oh my" or "oh dear" every time Zoe's fortunes in the game worsened. Finally Elaine was able to corner Zoe's pieces in such a way that they could not move without being under attack. With that the game was over.
"Thank you for a most enjoyable game" said Zoe in a very soft voice.
"You're welcome. Thank you for playing against me."

Prof. Chu walked around the room during the games with Kassman and Toure. They spoke to each other in very low voices as if to be heard might disturb players. Maybe it would.

It wasn't long after the first game that Elaine discovered that the bathroom closest to their conference room was closed for repair. When she asked someone walking by where the next closest bathroom was, they suggested that she take the stairs up to the next floor as bathrooms tended to be directly above each other on the ship,  proof that shit does indeed follow the rules of gravity and rolls down an inclined plane. But once Elaine got to the next floor it too was closed. She asked another person that walked by and as before received the same answer. And as before when she got to the next level it too was closed. This time she decided to walk along the catwalk around the perimeter of the atrium. It took her all of a few minutes to get around to the other side when she did she found a bathroom open to all. She walked into one of the stalls and as soon as she closed the door the toilet began to speak to her in a soft female voice.

"Hello, what would you like to do today? Please press one for urination, press two for defecation. Press three for both or press four if you're unsure and needs some time to decide."
Elaine pressed one.
"Thank you for your selection. Please know that we recycle 100% of all waste material. So next time you have a refreshing glass of freshly squeezed orange juice remember that you helped make it possible."
"Please shut-the-fuck-up" said Elaine.
"Vocalizations terminated. Have a nice day, bitch!"

When Elaine McGee came out of the bathroom she smelled food. She followed her nose. The reason it was the wrong direction was that about a minute later she found herself in part of the ship away from the atrium and full of people wearing aprons. But don't think of it the way you would normally on your planet, Earth Five. There were no sizzling pans, no boiling pots, no cutting board piled high with onions and garlic. No they were just people pushing around large wheeled bins of goo that made up all the food. They would roll them over to large vats and dump them. There was nothing exciting about their job and there would be no reason for over exaggerated praise that would lead them to their own reality television show. For those of you who are new to this story I’ll simply say that your planet, Earth Five, is in contact quarantine from the rest of the universe. Contact with your planet is forbidden. Wars, famines, poverty, ecological disaster, murderous mythologies, Trump? And no tourists ever come? You’ve had all the clues necessary for such an arrogant branch of our evolutionary tree.

After watching for a minute, Elaine turned around and retraced her steps until she was back at the atrium again. She walked back around to the other side to the out of service bathroom. She found what she thought were the right stairs, but they weren't. But she went down two floors but still she had to wander around for a few minutes before finally finding the conference room again.

"Welcome back" said Prof. Chu with a smile. "We have your next opponent ready for you."

Her next opponent was Nambur and Akala Quirk. They sat down across from each other and introduced themselves.
"My name is Nambur and this asshole is Akala" said the better looking at the two.
"He mistakes intelligence for being disagreeable" replied Akala. "But that's perfectly all right, he's not the improbable. I am."
"No you're not. There's not one shred of evidence that it's you. In fact you're the most probable dickhead in the universe."
Oh dear thought Elaine. What a terrible existence to be stuck sharing a body with someone you don't like.
"Just shut up" said Akala. "She doesn't want to hear it and neither do I."
"She hasn't expressed an opinion and I don't give a damn what you think" replied Nambur.
Elaine decided that she liked them. Mostly because they bickered like she did with her older brother, a constant war of words and insults. And it was no different during the game. Nambur quickly established himself as a player that lacked tactical thinking. Akala reminded him of this with every move, needling him on the ineffectiveness of his move and accusing him of stupidity.
"Of course you're going to win" he said to Elaine. "It's easy when your opponent is a fool."
"Please stop, your breaking my concentration" said Nambur.
"I've seen no proof that you can concentrate and if this is you concentrating then you are disapproving the correlation between concentration and positive outcomes. You're losing and I don't see it getting any better."
"I blame our mother for you. She could've fixed you, taken more supplements, gone to a better geneticist."
"It's over" said Elaine McGee. And it was. Nambur could move nowhere.
"Thank hydrogen that's over with. You should be ashamed of yourself" said Akala. Then he looked at Elaine. "You'll find that I'm not as easy an opponent as my idiot twin."
But he was wrong. Sure the moves were different and from them one could get a sense of strategy. The outcome however was the same and it only took two more moves than in the previous game. But you know how it is when there is not much difference between the two, the ever so slight differences are magnified 100 times until they look massive in size. In earth five terms it was very similar to political parties in many of your countries, virtually identical in every aspect despite the vehement rhetoric thrown at each other. Communists! Fascists!”
"Even in defeat dear brother, I prove myself superior to you again" said Akala.
"Shut up. I'm tired of hearing you. We both lost. You'll have nothing to brag about when you call Deirdre tonight."
"At least I won't lie to her constantly, the way you do to Mosaso."
"Shut up or I'm going to punch you in the mouth" said Nambur.
"Go right ahead. It'll be just like last time. It hurt. But remember which one of us cried."
"You're an asshole for embarrassing me in front of this pretty woman with the messed up nose. Dear, have you ever considered surgery for your nose?"
"No" replied Elaine.
“Pity. You could be so beautiful. Really, I mean it.”
“I’ll look into it” Elaine lied.
"Would probably make your life a lot easier. People will stare at you because you look funny. With cell growth technologies, you grow your own nose in a matter of days. And putting it on couldn't be simpler. I know someone who had it done. Not that their nose was in similar shape to yours. By your standards it would be considered minor. However the replacement procedure is exactly the same. And the only discomfort is a few seconds at the very beginning when they fracture your existing those. It makes extraction easier and a 30 minutes later you've got a proboscis worthy of one of your Hindu gods. You really should look into it. And you should strongly argue that it should be done for free to help you avoid the prejudices that would become your everyday life."
"I'll think about it" she replied.
"Nap time" said Nambur.
“No. Not today.”
“Sorry, you don’t get to choose. You’re an asshole.”
"And you snore." Said Akala. He looked at Elaine. "I have to put up with this immature imbecile every day of my life. He's going to take a nap like a little child right now and later tonight will be wide-awake at midnight when sensible people are sleeping."
"I understand how the two of you can make each other miserable. I have an older brother and after a couple of days of being around him I'm pretty much sick of him."
"The curse of our species. Most twins loathe each other. It's been that way as long as our history. Our species is now coming to accept that it may be genetically possible to fix this. We always accepted it as just the way things are. As long as we weren’t kissers it was okay."
"What are kissers?" Asked Elaine.
"Kissers. Just like the name. Two co-joins in love with each other."
"Wow, that sounds intense."
"Sick of you ask me" said Akala “About 10% of our species are kissers. You can see it in their eyes, they gives it away immediately. Big goofy eyes. You don't even need to see them kiss. But if you wait around a few minutes you will. Can’t help themselves. The worst part is that they're only 10% of our species but they make up 80% of our leadership."
“They are the ones that will spout off a load of bullshit to cut into the front of the line.”
"They do have a knack for self-promotion and creating notoriety. But I tell you this, there is no way I'm sticking my tongue down that asshole's throat. He disgusts me."
And beside him was Nambur, making the sounds of ‘P’ as part of the lip flutter of sleep.
"Hey what are you doing for dinner?"
"I don't know, go to the cafeteria?" Replied Elaine.
"I was thinking that I would find out how the food is on another ship. Care to explore the possibility?" Asked Akala.
"Should he agree?" She said looking at the sleeping head of Nambur.
"No. Meals are under my jurisdiction. When he was in charge it was late-night spicy food and stomach cramps at 3 AM. No, that will not do. We reached a compromise. I would be in charge of food."
"What did he get in return?" Asked Elaine.
"Sex. He's in charge of that."
"How does that work?"
"We both feel it of course. He does all the kissing. He's better at that than I am."
"But what about the other person, the one he's not kissing? Assuming they are like you."
"Usually we talk. Sometimes it's great conversation, sometimes it's dull. The other two kissing saying nasty things to one another how they want to do this and that. All the while I'm having a lovely chat or not with someone of little interest to me."
"Well that's sad. But you agreed to the arrangement I guess."
"There was the rare occasion when I looked at someone I genuinely cared for. So it can happen because it happened to me. I was in love. Until he fucked it up. Bastard. Asshole. I'd knock his teeth out again if it didn't hurt so damn much."

The rest of the day was spent playing the game over and over. And you will probably not be surprised to know that Elaine McGee did not win all of the games. This shouldn't be surprising as it is the result of two people with central tendency of winning playing against each other. And the idea of losing the game made Elaine feel more comfortable because she really wasn't buying into the idea that she was an improbable. Fortunately what she believed was of no consequence at all. It's what she did that matters.

 

Chapter Ten

Nicely Strange

Prof. Chu's office was right next to his quarters on the ship. "Leave me alone," said Prof. Kassman as she moved away from him. She walked over to the bookcase that contained polyglass slabs, each embedded with a single book despite having the capability of holding several million of them. In a display of respect sufficient to border on opulence, a single volume only was embedded on a single slab of polyglass. And if there is a central tendency for professors, it is to accumulate these slabs. She looked at the end of the piece closest to her and read the illuminated title, Teaching Mathematics in the Womb. She remembered it was controversial when it was published. Most mathematicians thought it was a bad idea. Most geneticists argued that babies in the belly would probably not embrace the idea. But you knew there was a small contingent that believed "it's never too early to start." And of course, they put themselves in charge because they knew what was best for the rest of us. So, now there is a full program available to all sentient and gestating life forms by which they can start their child on the road to mathematical proficiency early. And you know what? About 20% of the people use the program! While the 80% who don't live happier lives.

"But no one is around. Why can’t I touch you?" Lawrence asked.

"Because I don't want you to," she replied. "You always put your hands all over me. Give it a rest. Respect me as a person."

"You are more difficult to decipher than these damned results." So instead, Prof. Lawrence Chu manipulated the interface directly in front of him to change the setting to be visible for all. Now she could see the statistical results of the day's games.

"We have a pattern, but only in the small group over here." He reached forward, sorted and circled the group with the tendency. "The rest of you have no discernible central tendency. It makes no sense."

Professor Kassman looked at the results. "We don't, but here we do. Interesting. And look, the one you expected as a statistical anomaly, she has the strongest inclination. What did you call her again?"

"The improbable Improbable, probably," replied Prof. Chu.

Now a decent DATA detective would take a careful look at the process of identification for improbables. In the case of those improbables that came from territories of Goodness, they would have noticed that their central medical and tax records received significant bio updates including images on the same date at or about the same time. But Lawrence Chu was not a data detective, just a mathematician. He walked back around the two desks that were facing each other and sat down. "So, what am I supposed to tell them? Whoops, I was wrong but not 100% wrong, only about 75 or 80%. It's impossible to explain. It makes no sense. And who will everyone look at to explain this? I can't. Do I tell them it only works on the best-dressed? That it doesn't seem to work in areas controlled by Goodness? Those are the only two patterns that I can see."
"We will have to report accurately," replied Prof. Kassman.

"And they will pull the red robes from me faster than Quillo can lose a title."

Quillo was a very famous runner of obstacle courses who kept losing his champion title due to using performance-enhancing cannabinoids which, in actuality, merely made the obstacle course a heck of a lot more fun. And in that way, it was considered an enhancement and his titled stripped from him like an Olympic medal.

"What does a scatter of the raw look like?" questioned Kassman. Lawrence reached forward and tapped the interface twice, and a large scatter diagram appeared with only five points above the X-axis and 26 of them below the axis. Kassman reached out and circled the five with her finger then tapped inside the circle. Another graph opened only containing the five points. This time the area above the X-axis was labeled winners the area below the X-axis was labeled losers. Two of those points lay above the X-axis and three of them below. Referencing the top two, Kassman asked, "Who are they?"

"McGee and one of the conjoins," replied Prof. Chu.

"Didn't they play each other?"

"Yes, they did. McGee beat both of them. But after that, one of the twins didn't lose another game."

“Which one?” Kassman asked.

“The cute one,” said Lawrence.

“Oh, I like the other one more. Nicer, smarter.”

"Me too" replied Chu. He sighed heavily. "You know they will probably shut us down once we report the findings."

"I know."

"I'm sorry," said Lawrence.

"I know."

*****************

Elaine, Nambur, and Akala were walking around one of the other ships connected in the underground hive of vessels. That’s when they ran into Bueller. She was standing in front of a control panel for waste systems.

“I want you to meet someone,” Elaine said to Nambur and Akala. Nambur responded by touching his hair to make sure it was all in place. Akala answered with just a smile and a look of disapproval at his twin primping.

Elaine walked up behind Bueller and tapped her shoulder. “Hello,” said Bueller with a smile.

“Hello,” said Elaine. “I’d like you to meet two friends of mine, Nambur and Akala.”

“Good to meet you,” said Bueller.

“Glad to meet you,” said Akala.

“You are the highlight of my day,” said Nambur who smiled in a cute boy-band sort of way, a combination of sweet innocence and bad boy.

“Ignore him, he’s all hair and lace,” said Akala.

“Shut up,” said Nambur.

“No, you shut up,” replied Akala.

“Gentlemen, let’s not make Bueller regret meeting you this early after the introduction,” said Elaine. Then she turned to Bueller. “What are you looking at?”

“Just checking how high the pressure goes in the high-pressure waste pumps. You never know when you might need an alternative means of propulsion.”

Akala started laughing, “Poo powered propulsion." Then Bueller began laughing with him. Elaine and Nambur looked at them like they were from Mars rather than much farther past the red planet.

“Have you had your dinner yet?” asked Elaine.

“No,” replied Bueller. “But I was told that the next ship over has the best food. Everything hydro grown instead of in a test tube. Something with texture at last.”

“Is that the one they call the blue ship?” probed Nambur.

“Yes,” replied Bueller.

“Why do they call it that?” asked Elaine. Bueller looked at the model number of the pump before answering.

“Because the person in charge of the wall coloring controls went through a painful breakup and he set the walls to blue on the entire ship for over a Kath year.”

“Must have been a painful breakup,” said Nambur. He looked at Bueller, first looking down at his feet then raising his head seeing her and smiled, stealing the signature move of one of your Earth Five actors named Clooney.

“I’ve heard that the restrictions are off all libations,” said Bueller. The Odjurn Triple Whammy will set you back for eight hours of psychedelic bliss.”

The Odjurn Triple Whammy contains three psychedelic drugs and is named after Odjurn, the woman who perfected it. It’s considered an excellent bit of recreational chemistry. Yes, people still drink alcohol, but it's only a small market now. It’s dangerous, and other substances are not as harmful. Imagine entering a world where you are connected on an almost cosmic level with everything as if the vibrations of matter become visible to you. This is the effect of the Psilocybin, one of the whammies in the name. Now add a very fluid motion to everything. The walls breathe, expanding and contracting like lungs, and objects become cartoon-like, and the inanimate now animates. This is the effect of the Lysergic Acid. Finally, everything is as colorful as a Monet painting of his Japanese bridge. The world seems filled with diamonds and colorful splashes where before there were none, this is the final whammy, Mescaline. Taken at a precise dosage, there are no long-term effects, except perhaps a willingness to consider alternatives and often think of new ones.

“I know we can get them at the bar on blue ship,” said Bueller. “I was thinking of having one after dinner. “Finish up in the early hours of the morning and then sleep a little late. No hangover. Just a strong coffee.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Elaine. Elaine McGee is not the innocent girl you may think she is. She experimented with psychedelic drugs during her first year in college. She enjoyed the experience, although she quickly learned that it was definitely a weekend only adventure.

“Party,” cheered Nambur.

“Slow down, animal,” said Akala. “Let’s see the chemical make up of this before we go sipping and slipping into the darkness.”

“Yes, minister,” replied Nambur sarcastically.

“Just stop it, or I’ll make us go back to the ship and eat ice cream that tastes like pizza,” said Akala.

“OK. OK. Calm down. She was so right to want to leave you.”

“Shut up,” said Akala angrily. “This will be your last warning.” Nambur didn’t respond.

The bar was noisy like all bars. But it was not dingy and grimy. It was clean and well illuminated. There was a music hologram. It was a live performance from a primitive planet. Stringed instruments and a large chorus. And in front of the orchestra was a conductor. And off to the side of the conductor was another man, a small angry looking man, however, he had a soft look deep in his eyes.

“Good music. He’s one of my favorites,” said Bueller as they entered the bar and moved over to the machines serving drinks.

“I’d like an Odjurn Triple Whammy,” said Bueller. The android behind the bar looked at her then moved her fingers on an unseen interface.

“Are you sure Oflop Bueller?” asked the rubbery skinned android with the fake, jade-green eyes and the artificial smile. “It’s a powerful concoction. Do you have any experience as a psychonaut?”

“Yes. I’ve had one before. That is why I would like another one.”

“Oh good, a seasoned traveler,” said the rubbery one with painted red hair.

“What about your friends?” asked the android.

“Well let’s see the chemical sheet on it,” said Akala.

The android made motions on its interface, the sheet appeared in front of it for all to see. It showed the exact chemistry and effects information and research on the benefits of use for overcoming trauma.

“Sounds wonderful to me,” said Elaine.

The android served up a shot for Elaine and Oflop Bueller. “What about you two?”

“Of course, let's get this party started,” said Nambur with a smile and an excited look on his face.

“Wait just a minute. It says here that the cocktail can last from six to ten hours. That will keep us up most of the night and then we’ll be tired tomorrow morning. And you know how cranky you get when you don’t get enough sleep,” lectured Akala. We’ll be tired all day while we play more of those stupid games.”

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll sleep late a few hours in the morning. It’s not like it’s going to dramatically affect our central tendency. You heard them, we’re just the product of large numbers.”

“I don’t know,” whined Akala. “It seems too late to me.”

The android put the shot glass down in front of them.

“Listen, you stop that shit. I hate it when you make me beg. You’re a jerk. You always come around and do it in the end. But you want to see me beg first like a pet. I hate you for this. So just this once, spare me the public humiliation and join in without the need to drag you in.”
“I’m not sure it’s a …” One of their hands moved out and quickly snatched up the shot glass and raised it towards Nambur’s open mouth. It stopped halfway.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Are you declaring war on me? Don’t you remember last time? How dare you. We agreed we’d never do this again. Not after you fucked it up. Now if you want to test me, you know you will lose. I’ll twist these muscles to my will till we cut your head off and cauterize the wound where you used to be. I’d rather have a stump than be under your control.” Among their species, murder is the easiest thing to spot.

“Then do it. Put me out of my misery. You are my misery, my burden, everything I despise, always there right next to me.”

“Just shut up and drink the stuff,” said Akala. “Spare us the theatrical performance.”

“Fuck you,” said Nambur right before he downed the shot then slammed the shot glass down on the bar.

“Would you be interested in the campfire room?” asked the android. “Many people enjoy the flickering of the fire during their time away.”

“That sounds good,” said Bueller enthusiastically. “What do you think?” She turned to her companions.

“I think we should try it,” agreed Elaine.

“Definitely,” Nambur chimed in.

“I don’t know,” Akala said with hesitation.
“Shut up and try not to cry,” said Nambur.

And so it was that for eight and one-half Earth Five hours our four intrepid psychonauts experienced visual hallucinations like never before. Elaine thought she saw her dead grandmother in the flames. Bueller wondered aloud if the drug cocktail merely opened up portals to allow them to view other dimensions. But neither of those happened until they had gone through almost half an hour of laughter as the drugs began taking hold.

It started simply.

“Now? You have to do that now?” asked Nambur shaking his head from side to side in disbelief. “We’re alone with two pretty women, and you’ve got to do that?” Akala was in charge of food and waste disposal, which included in this responsibility was farting. It was loud, and with the psychedelics, it seemed louder than it really was. “Wouldn’t it be nice if farts released a cloud of colored smoke out of the ass of the person farting and the color indicated their mood. Red for angry. Blue for cold and aloof. Green for happy. Yellow for manic. Brown for depressed,” Nambur said.

This made them laugh more. Well, except for Akala. He was still sober enough to retain his usual sourpuss demeanor. But that would alter very rapidly for him. And with the shift, he changed as well. ‘Wow,’ he kept repeating.

“Pretty cool isn’t it,” said Nambur looking at his brother.

“Wow, I’ve just seen a new color that I’ve never seen before. In the fire.” And Akala did something that would have ordinarily been an idiotic idea. He reached out and tried to retrieve the new color from the fire. If it had been a real fire, there would have been an injury. But it wasn’t real, just a holographic fire. “It’s gone,” said Akala in a disappointed tone.

“This shit is great,” said Bueller.

It was a little more than an hour later. Akala had been silent for a long time before he spoke. “I’m sorry for the way I treat you sometimes. I apologize. I know it's wrong. It’s just that sometimes when you start doing immature things it just makes me worry that there will be long-term effects. You know, like death or debilitating injury.”

“Is this an apology or a justification? Sounds more like a justification to me,” retorted Nambur. “Just relax and enjoy the show.”

“No. I have to do this,” wailed Akala. “I have to cleanse myself of the guilty feelings for being too hard on you.”

“Apology accepted. Now please let’s change the subject. It’s a downer,” snapped Nambur.

“But I have so much I need to tell you,” said Akala.

“Save it for when you’re sober,” said Nambur.

“But I might not be able to tell you when I’m sober,” said Akala.

“Then it doesn’t really count,” Nambur replied.

“But it does count. I’ve just never been able to see the wrong of it before.”

“That’s because you were too busy being an asshole,” replied Nambur.

Then Akala did a thing, the unexpected thing. He kissed Nambur. Now Nambur was no stranger to kisses, from both men and women. But you would think kisses were poison by his reaction. He pulled his head away from Akala, then head-butted his twin for good measure, which made Akala’s nose bleed a little. “What the fuck are you doing? Get away from me. You have no right to do that. Ever.”

“I’m sorry,” said Akala his face now red with embarrassment and a small trickle of blood leaking from his right nostril onto his upper lip. “But you are a good-looking man.”

“Stop it, or I will smother you in your sleep,” Nambur threaten, although that was probably not possible given their shared neuromuscular system and Akala’s dominance of it.

“I’m sorry,” said Akala. “I’m such an asshole.” Then he began to cry. And not just a little tear. No, Akala gave a big sloppy wail, the kind with jerking shoulders, long sobs filled with mostly unintelligible words.

Nambur made a silly face to the others.

“I’m … (unintelligible). Forgive ... (unintelligible). I promise (still unintelligible).” Then some more slobbering and water running down his cheeks.

Now, anyone who has ever done psychedelics before would know that a person crying while everyone is hallucinating is a recipe for a less than enjoyable experience. Primitives would call it a bummer. And so it was with this group. They were just beginning to accept that sharing this experience with Akala was a wrong decision when his digestive system came to the rescue. Akala was catching his breath from a series of ascending sobs when he accidentally farted.

“Did you just shit our pants?” asked Nambur.

“No, I don’t think so. Well, maybe a little.”

“I’m getting tired of washing our underwear because you can’t control one tiny little sphincter.”
“You don’t wash our underwear,” replied Akala who stopped crying to reply.

A few words here about bathing out among the stars. Showers are the norm for everyone. We’ve figured out pretty quickly that sitting in a container of your own dirty water isn’t as effective as cleaning. We are not soup. Sure there are baths, but they are used primarily for healing from soreness or for sex. So showers are the norm and when you enter the shower, you can either keep your clothes on or take them off and hang them beside you. If you continue to wear them while you shower, there are two things to note. One is that your shower will take longer as the same jets must clean both you and your clothes instead of the separate garments cleaning jets near the hanging rack for your clothes. The other thing to note about taking a shower with your clothes on is that you are probably alone, as most people who are in the shower with someone else prefer nudity. Unless, of course, they have been arguing recently, then a clothed shared shower is just another form of displaying hostility. As you no doubt deduced, the ability to shower and launder clothes at the same time means that if you have a really favorite shirt, you can essentially wear it forever. Or until your mother yells at you to change.

So, with the fart and the comment about washing underwear, the spell of crying was broken, and the laughter returned.

The rest of the night was spent in wonder and awe which is the usual fare of a psychedelic experience. It was almost 5AM when the four of them stumbled out of the bar and into the nearly empty corridor of the ship. The effects of the drugs were wearing off rapidly, and now the entire universe merely shimmered around the edges like some fantastical painting of Buddha. Each reached their quarters and fell onto their beds setting alarms for five hours later.

Their late start would turn out to be significant.

Later that morning Professors Chu and Kassman were in his office preparing what they would tell the Council based on day one data. They would report together while their colleague Professor Toure would get the day two games started.

And this too would turn out to be significant.

 

Chapter 11

Amor

Malu rolled over against Amelia's naked body, kissed her shoulder and said, "I love you."
Amelia turned her head towards him. They kissed. "Do you want me again?"
"I always want you" he replied.
"I like that" she said and kissed him again. She pushed him onto his back and rolled over on top of him.
"You don't have to do this" he said.
"But I want to. I want to give my master as much pleasure as possible" Amelia said. She maneuvered on top of him for a few moments then said, “ah, that’s where you need to be” then she sat up on top of him. He reached up and pulled her down onto him.
“I had your family sent to Jarillo today” Malu whispered to her. She exploded with kisses to his face, his forehead, his nose, his ears, his neck.
Jarillo was the largest of the war production planets. It may not sound like a great place to be sent, especially a slave family like Amelia’s. However Jarillo had the highest life expectancy for slaves in the empire. They had come from Arfulo, a mining planet where the average slave lives less than three of your Earth Five years.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you” she said over and over.
Amelia’s family was her mother, Kirasu, her father Emrald, and her younger brother, Delsh. It had been over five years since she had been taken in a raid, then separated out a few days later for a ‘special sale’, the euphemism for pretty women sold as sex slaves. She had one prior owner, a kindly older man, Simms. But Malu had seen her with Simms in a restaurant, introduced himself and inquired about buying her without hesitation.
"A few months there, then we apply for them to work for Dalton. He could use the help, the man is a slob." Malu chuckled.
"Thank you master. I can't thank you enough."
You might be wondering why the number two man in the Assina Empire couldn't just have Amelia's family work as slaves in his home. That's because Malu has a wife, Ango, a woman who does not take kindly the fact that her husband only came to her bed in order to produce an heir. How can one woman be so strong against such a powerful man? She isn't, but her father is. He is the director at the main Assina academy which produces civil servants for the Empire. It was her father that helped launch Malu’s political career.
And as random intervals would have it for occurrences, the image of Ango appeared in front of him hovering in the air. It was part of the comms device on his finger and he moved his hand to the left quickly because he didn't want to talk to her. It also ended the comms alarm playing over his ear inserts.
"Are you hungry?" He asked Amelia.
"Yes" she replied with an eager smile.
Just as Malu was getting ready to swipe his hand to the right and order dinner for two brought to his quarters, the image of Ango appeared in front of him again. Swipe to the left, then quick to the right before she called him back.
"Send up a bottle of Carmelo wine, a plate of Migs, and some fruit." Malu spoke to the image of a woman in the kitchen staff.
"Yes master" she said and smiled as she had trained herself to do.
Malu swiped to the left then rolled over to the edge of the bed and sat up.
"I've got to write some new heckles. We've been getting slaughtered out there."
"I love Migs" said Amelia with a guilty smile.

Migs are a sentient life form with a language, culture, and arts. And they are considered a dining delicacy across the empire. Amelia came from a planet of vegetarians. So the first taste for her was unusual but satisfying. And to ensure that no one felt bad about eating intelligent little creatures about the size of a snail, special efforts were made to ensure that all of the Migs culture and arts were destroyed and their language never spoken or translated. It was all part of a coordinated program of dehumanization, just so one family, the Dumps, would be wealthy enough to live on the same street as Malu.

The notification from his messaging system dinged from his ear inserts. He listened to the audio only. His wife sounded annoyed that she couldn’t speak to him directly. Their son, Coaxtus, had received a citizenship award. Malu sighed as he thought of his overweight, spoiled, and small nosed son. Co would have a difficult way in the world. He was not a fighter.

“Why doesn’t Chiro write the heckeles? He gets the benefit but doesn’t do the work” Amelia said.
“It doesn’t work that way, my dear. Chiro is the strategists, not the propagandist. That is why he has me.”
“But you work so hard all the time. And he just beats his slaves from what I’ve heard. He’s killed another one.”
“Yes, I know” replied Malu. “I tried to convince him but he got angry with me.”
“Some days I wish someone would kill him. How many slaves is he going to kill just to feel better or because he had a crappy day?” Amelia asked.
“He owns them. It’s not our business what he does with the things he owns” replied Malu.
“But they are living, breathing, people” she said. “I wish they would hurry up in the kitchen. I’m starving” she added.

Slaves were treated only slightly better than Migs in that they were not eaten. Their culture, traditions, and history were forbidden to be recorded. They were not considered the same species as their owners. Subs were considered less than human by the fact that they were captured and made slaves. From that point forward much psuedo-science was utilized to prove that they were indeed less than human. Reports were published regularly which pointed out that subs had smaller heads and thus less capable of higher levels of thought. This was believed by many despite being a completely fabricated lie started by the slave auction houses. It was one of many such untrue beliefs produced and popularized in order to support the practice of slavery.

“Yes, they are living and breathing things, owned by Chiro” replied Malu.
“What would you do if he were beating me?”
“Chiro is too smart for that. He knowns beauty when he sees it. There is no way he would ever beat you. He doesn’t own you, I do” Malu replied.
“But what if he did?”
“I’d kill him” said Malu as he put on his pants.
“I love you” Amelia said. She smiled and got out of bed and looked for a robe to put on. She selected a blue robe of velvet.
“I love you” replied Malu.

The next morning Malu woke to the gentle nudges of Alexander. The older slave wore a white robe over his slender frame. His hair was long and in a pony tail and it was long and gray, as was his beard.
“Master, it is the time you requested to wake. It’s time to get up, Master” said Alexander with gentle pushes against his shoulder. Amelia rolled over towards Malu and opened her eyes. She smiled when she saw Alexander. She was the only slave in the household that wasn’t afraid of Alexander. The others were afraid of the slave that was more demanding that their master. They could not understand how someone held in captivity would work so closely with their captor knowing that their efforts would never benefited them, that it would only work to keep them in slavery. Yet, this was Alexander.
But his status gave him his own set of privileges. He ate the best food and drank the same wines as his Master. He had even trained two of the younger slave girls to open their legs for him whenever he wanted. And he wanted daily.
“Master, its time to wake up” said Alexander.
“Go select his clothes, I’ll wake him up” Amelia said and Alexander watched as her hand moved under the covers to Malu’s groin. “Oh my, what do we have here?” she said with a giggle.
“Thank you” Alexander said and left to the clothing room.
Malu opened his eyes. “Good morning” he said and smiled at her. Then he kissed her.
“Some parts wake before others” she said with a smile.
“I’ve got to go. Junior ministers meeting today. I’ve got two slots to fill on the inner circle” Malu said.

The Inner Circle was like most things, misnamed. It wasn’t even close to the inner anything. But it did give the members an early start on consent campaigns. This made them message testers. Not all messages are successful. Despite everything, sometimes campaigns failed. So testing was done on the inner circle. In return, the successful campaigns were funded double in the districts of the Inner Circle. The Inner Circle consisted of thirteen members and the appointments were considered prestigious.

“Then I’ll be quick with my Master’s stick” she said with a grin. She pulled him onto her.

A short while later Malu left his suite and made his way towards the large opulent dining room. He ate breakfast alone every morning, surrounded by the art from Akori, the prison planet for artists. His wife and son were still asleep and wouldn’t see him until dinner. Slave women brought his fruit and sweet milk for his breakfast. Alexander stood at the door of the dining room and each servant had to stop and let him inspect them and what they were bringing before proceeding to the table and Malu. It was all done in silence.
Malu sat at the table and read the list of attendees for the meeting. He pulled up the Lot Report on each of them. Boris Lot created reports, reports about people. A Lot Report was a list of every single bad thing someone had ever done in their lives, complete with details and media as necessary. Over half of the Assina ministers in session had gruesome pictures of dead bodies in their Lot Report.
Malu enjoyed reading them. He also enjoyed shocking people with his knowledge of them.

 

Chapter Twelve

Harold

 

Harold read his orders again. Then he read them again. ‘Detonate above 90 percent’. For a moment he thought of the of family. He cursed himself. He cursed the people who gave him the orders. He didn’t want to detonate. He wanted to take them out one at a time or maybe as a group. At least with a weapon he would have a fighting chance. But to simply detonate meant he had no chance for survival.
The orders were not new. He had them for over a day. During training and indoctrination everything is focused on preparedness. Make it as mechanical an action as possible. Two words and a number. That’s all he had to say. He should have acted upon his orders yesterday but he didn’t. He didn’t detonate yesterday because he was angry. They had lied to him about his mission. He was supposed to go pretend to be Ordo Munso and send back reports. They told him that if he had the opportunity to kill an Improbables and avoid capture or suspicion then he should proceed. They told him that the micro bomb implanted inside of his body was a last resort weapon, for use if he was backed into a corner with no chance of survival and to be used at his discretion. It was supposed to be superior to death by torture and it came with the satisfaction that he would be taking out some of the enemy as well. Liars! Fucking liars.
It wasn’t that way at all. As soon as he got to the base he received the orders to detonate. He knew he had been duped. But he also understood that his enemy were the worst kind of people imaginable, people without morals, without the compass of teaching that instructed the faithful in the differences between good and evil. Without those teachings, only evil was possible. Harold was sure of it as he was of anything else. He had been taught this since he was a child. Now to you and me, we know better. But to Harold it was fact, as much of a fact as those on your planet a long time ago, believers that the Sun god descended into the underworld at the end of everyday to resolve disputes among the dead before returning with a new day for the living.
Harold sat on his bed. He would have cried if it would help. He didn’t want to die. He enjoyed life. Even the life of an intelligence agent, a job that required him to kill others. And he did it without regret. Yet, now he sat at the edge of his life and was not happy. Hereafter is a funny word. Technically it means from this point forward in time. But its morphed in many places to mean something else. A place. A place of wonder, a place where only the faithful are allowed. And Harold had been taught that there would be a place for him in the hereafter. Anyone of the faithful that killed the faithless were assured of a place among Goodness.
Then he remembered Junbi. He quickly dictated her Emancipation Proclamation. He was glad that his last important act of his life was to free her from slavery. She would be the thing he missed the most. He sent the proclamation using an encryption protocol stolen from the enemy.
He got up from the bed and looked down at his shoes. They were comfortable. He would miss comfortable shoes. His shoes during training were not comfortable. They were big heavy boots designed to strengthen his leg muscles and they rubbed his toes raw everyday. He would miss comfortable shoes.
He left his quarters and headed for the conference room. He thought about how the glass that made the walls of the room would become high speed lethal shards at detonation. There was the smell of food as he passed one of the satellite dining halls. Today it smelled better than any other day. It beckoned him to investigate. Just for a while, it called to him. You can die later. For now, eat. He inhaled deeply as he passed it.
He wondered if there were children near the conference room. They were not his enemy. Just the offspring of his enemy. And he did not agree that there would be no place for them in the hereafter. The teachers were simply wrong. But that was not a comforting thought. If they were wrong about children of the enemy what else could they be wrong about he often wondered. He passed a woman in the hallway. She smiled at him and this made him wonder what she did that made her deserve to die. So what if she didn’t worship Trunc? The other factions in the empire didn’t worship Trunc either, yet were allowed to live. But each faction had their own version of Trunc. Different names, different rituals. But most the rules were the same. Rule #1 - Trunc is the only true way to paradise. After that were a bunch of rules on behavior. Despite the codification and explicit prohibition, lust for possessions was the foundation of their economy, despite the majority of people being poor. What ever was left over after tithing to Trunc was available for anyone that could manipulation you into feeling unfulfilled and inferior unless you gave them your money for something that didn’t really make you whole, well not like the people in the adverts.
The room was filled with most of the Improbables. By his count there were only two of them missing. The disgusting woman with no nose and the abomination, the two headed single body freak of the devil. Adol had surely made them in an act of hatred of Trunc. In fact, they were caused by a planet wide act of radioactive pollution nearly a million standard years earlier. But none of the followers of Trunc believed the facts, as they were devoid of that warm feeling that accompanies knowing something incredible.
Harold wished the abomination was in the room. Should he wait for it? More than anyone else, Harold was sure that killing an abomination was a good thing to do. He had attended a hunt once. Thundering across the countryside on a terraboard, wind in his face, long rifle in hand as off in the distance a desperate abomination climbed over rocks in hope of living longer, a hope that is never realized when chased by twenty men. Then a wonderful party and review of the hunt video while everyone gets drunk.
“Shit” he muttered to himself when he saw only one of the professors in the room. He counted them again. 29 of 31 were in attendance. It took him awhile to do that math but he was sad when he reached the answer of 93.5% in attendance. ‘Detonate above 90 percent’.
In behavior that is typical of intelligence operations, Harold was unaware of other agents in the room. He believed he was the only agent when in fact there were only 4 non-agents in the room. But as usual, management was willing to kill a lot of people to get the few that they actually wanted dead. Our term for them is ‘unfortunates’. From my limited knowledge of Earth Five, this has actually reached epidemic proportions on your planet. It’s as common on Earth Five as a drone attack on a wedding party and almost always comes from faulty intelligence.
He walked into the conference room and sat down beside a very attractive woman named Alsi. She smiled at him. He didn’t return the smile.
“Are you OK?” she asked him. “Did you sleep well? You look tired.”
“No. No sleep last night” Harold replied.
“You should consider a sleep enhancer tonight, Ordo. I tried one last night and it worked very well.” He sat next to her the previous day. She had made sure he didn’t eat alone. She had shared chocolate from her planet with him. It was extraordinarily good, creamy and not too harsh or too sweet.
“I don’t think that will be necessary” said Harold.
“Here let me give you one of mine, just in case you need it.” Then Alsi opened the travel satchel she always carried and removed a small gelcap filled with orange liquid. She pressed it into Harold’s hand.
“Ordo, you take this. If you still can’t sleep tonight, come to my quarters and I’ll give you more.” She smiled in a flirting manner.
“Thank you” he said. How was this woman evil he wondered. She was concerned about his welfare and that was not an evil response. He had been taught that they were all animals, without morals or reason, slaves to their most primal instincts. Yet in his two standard years as an intelligence agent and eleven missions, he had not witnessed anything like what they were taught about their enemy.

His nose picked up the fragrance of the Bedwi Coffee that was in a carafe behind him. He would miss the coffee. It was expensive on his home planet. It was not licensed to grow on Citopun and had to be imported from the nearest licensed planet, Jorda. Yet in this conference room it was given freely. The prior day he had consumed enough coffee to waste half a days pay for a laborer on his planet. Free, imagine that. He had consumed five cups by the end of the day.
Then he saw the breakfast buffet. He loved the food. It was perfect in taste every time. Even the Colum Stew tasted exactly as it should. What would there be to eat in the afterlife he wondered. Anything he wanted, he concluded. It is bliss, so it should contain all of his favorite foods.

He was thinking about the eternal bliss when he stood up and yelled. But chance was not on his side. And large numbers approaching infinity were stacked against him. That and he chose to use words with multiple meanings.
“KNOW TRUTH” he yelled at the top of his voice as he raised his fist into the air in preparation for setting off the micro charge deep inside of him.
“What do you mean?” said Alsi seated beside him. “It seems very vague to me, doesn’t it?”
She never got an answer.

 

Chapter 13

Big Finish

Chiro got up at sunrise. He didn’t need anyone to tell him to wake up. He didn’t need a chronograph to wake. He told himself what time he wanted to wake up as he was falling to sleep. That’s all. He walked over to the closet and took out one of the black uniforms hanging there. The gold buttons shone brightly from a recent polishing. He dressed quickly, the motion of his hands efficient as they moved him into his rank and position observable to all.
“News on,” he said as he walked towards the dining room. On the bottom of his field of vision, a ticker began to run with the latest news from the Independent Media Centre, an erroneously named organization as it was under the direct control of Chiro’s ministers. There had been a battle on Urlo, and it was another victory. Chiro checked the slave count. Three million is a good harvest from a planet of 100 million. He would let Dupuy know so he could work on upgrading some of the workforces on Nuvlon and HW11. Nuvlon provided 62 percent of the fertilizers in the Assina empire. HW11 held a monopoly on high tensile metals. These were the source of Chiro’s wealth. And Dupuy kept them both running.
As Chiro sat down at the modest wooden table made from Logony wood from the Beefest Forest, he called ‘Inu.’ A moment later an image of a woman appeared in front of him. She was a middle-aged woman with dark, black hair and frosted eyebrows.
“Good morning, Master,” said Inu.
“Good morning” Chiro replied. “The list,” he added.
“I’m ready, Master.”
“Dooley is first on the list. He’s after mineral concessions on Gord. Cancel the meeting,” said Chiro.
“But Master, he’s been on the list for a long time. Won’t he be upset?”
“Yes, he will,” said Chiro. “But tell him that he will be getting the concessions as soon as he returns Vorbus to the Inlon. He will complain a little, call me names, but push him to either accept or not - then watch him accept. He had no right to land on Inlon and establish control over one of their cities.”
“Yes, Master,” she said, and her fingers pushed at the invisible interface.
“Munk, yes. I’ll take the meeting with Munk,” said Chiro.
“Should I start making arrangements?” asked Inu.
“No, not yet,” replied Chiro. He hadn’t decided when he would put his assassin to work again. In the meantime, he would give Munk three possible targets and have him do the setup. Chiro would decide later on which to proceed.
“I need to drop in on the junior minister meeting that Malu is holding,” remarked Chiro.
“You can go right after Munk or wait until after Bishop Tong,” Inu commented.
“Bishop Tong, shit. I really don’t want to see him.”
“But Master, he’s coming to give you The Amulet of Das.”
“I know, I know,” said Chiro. “The most important artifact of their planet. Why can’t he just keep the damned thing?”
“Because his people will fight over it,” explained Inu.
“I know that. They should figure out how to stop fighting over it,” retorted Chiro.
“Oh, I understand, Master,” Inu replied. “Master, may I suggest that you let Bishop Tong know that you are meeting with your Chief of Assassins?”
“Good idea, Inu. Give yourself a day for that one,” said Chiro. By using the reward system he had devised with the woman who kept his schedule, she would now have one more day without work, without slavery, where she would be allowed to mingle with the significant without wearing slave markings. Inu liked that more than anything else. Other slaves wouldn’t recognize her and would show her deference. But then Inu didn’t dream of freedom. Instead, she dreamed of owning her own slaves.
"Thank you, Master. Third Minister Hartwell has sent three requests in the last three days. I expect we will get a fourth today."
"Yes, I know. He wants me to give him Oswald gold concessions in the outer arm of Kelos 11. He tried to buy them out. When that failed, he tried to burn them out. He had more success with that. But now he just wants me to grant them to him like I was giving one of my own children a gift. But Hartwell has never had a loyal heart. You tell much about someone by observing what they're willing to fight for passionately. I found that Hartwell only fights passionately, for one thing - himself."
"Master, then why do you even permit him to take his seat?"
"Oh, dear slave woman, now you know why I am the master, and you are the slave. Because even if Hartwell's self-interest is his only interest, I must reward and appreciate the predictability of him. I can, without bragging, tell you Hartwell's response to anything, just give me a couple of minutes to think about how to optimize his self-interest. That will always be his answer. He is no intellectual slouch. No, Hartwell is not stupid."
"But Master, if he is not loyal, isn't he a risk?"
"No. As long as I control mineral concessions, I control Hartwell. So, I will let him wait a few more days, then he will get his concession, and I will get something in return. I don't even know what it is yet. It might be something trivial. I prefer it to be something important."
"Master, let me get you a new Lot report on Hartwell."
"Yes, that's what I need."
“Should I send it directly to your lenses?”
“Yes,” Chiro replied.
“Master, there is a meeting with Arlo in today’s schedule.”
"I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. It's been too long. People grow restless without sport," said Chiro.

Chiro is referring to the games. These were the slave games, although game is a euphemism for a battle to the death between two slaves. Sometimes weapons were involved, the big blunt hammers that can smash open a head were popular with the crowd. And as the warm-up to the battle, the crowd was treated to an hour of unarmed slaves versus wild animals. Imagine the scene, at opposing ends of an arena, doors are opened, 30 slaves are forced to confront 30 hungry domestic tigers. These were Chiro's games, and they would be broadcast throughout the empire.

"Will Arlo complete the bill of materials? I'll need an approximate count of slaves necessary for the games. Then I'll add 10% in case you want to end with a big finish," said Inu.
"Big finish, I like that. Oh, add a meeting with Dupuy. I need to talk to him soon. If not today, then tomorrow. Last meeting of the day."
"Yes Master," she replied meekly. She was scared of Dupuy. He enjoyed hurting people too much. He had a son he called Junior, about 16 years old. He encouraged him to act out his cruelty against the slave population. Chiro had only spoken out once about the child's behavior when Dupuy had his son decapitate a slave found guilty of theft. Chiro had only requested that Junior not do these sort of things in his presence. The Assina have a code, and it includes that no man will interfere with how another man raises his children. As you can imagine, this code permits atrocities.
"I need you to be on the system all day today. I'm expecting very important news. When you hear it, you'll know this is what I'm talking about. If I haven't viewed the report, contact me immediately. Is that clear? Under penalty," said Chiro.
"Yes Master," she replied nervously. It has been a long time since he'd used the words 'under penalty,' the polite way of saying failure would result in a beating. A beating from Chiro was a dangerous thing.

 

 

Chapter 14

Field Dispersal

Klaus Von Klack appearance was projected a short distance in front of Chiro via holocomms. Chiro and Malu were having lunch on the balcony of his office overlooking the city. Von Klack was a tall man and round in the middle. He preferred to wear the colorless disposable cleanroom clothing. He kept his hair short, so short you would find the bristles of a brush longer.
"They are planning a work stoppage. Right after lunch," said Von Klack.
Chiro sighed. This was the second time.
Most of his methods did not work on engineers and scientists, particularly those held in captivity. What use is threatening a man already under threat? Worst still, he couldn't replace them easily. The last time he had executed 200 engineers and scientists it had set their war production back by six months, and he and Malu had to hide the mistake with inaccurate production reports. Huldin and his hecklers would have made much of it, if only they had known.
"What do they want?" Chiro asked Von Klack.
The man wearing the clean room garb looked down at a tiny sheet of reader plastic before answering.
"Better food and more of it. 12-hour workdays. One day off every six. And music, they were insistent that they are allowed to listen to music again."
"Anything else?" Answered Chiro coldly. There was a long hesitation.
"A memorial service for Abu, Montcrief, and Wang." Von Klack's voice was hesitant as he answered. Abu, Montcrief, and Wang committed suicide the previous week when food rations were cut for a group of engineers that missed a deadline.
"What do you think?" Chiro said turning to Malu.
"I think we'll get more from them if we treat them better," replied Malu. The nervous man on the other end of the comms nodded his head in agreement.
"And, they have one more threat beyond work stoppage," said the nervous man.
"Tell me," said Chiro in a very annoyed voice.
"They will refuse to work on field dispersal," came the timid reply.
"I see," replied Chiro.

Field dispersal technology was a substantial breakthrough in defensive capabilities for spacecraft. Without going too deep into the technical side, it was technology that was capable of immediately redistributing the energy from any weapon. It would distribute the energy at a molecular level outwards into space away from the target, energizing any elements it came into contact with. The result was not only the ability to create an indestructible spaceship but also an incredible light show would occur as billions, and billions of molecules would become energized. Most of those working on the technology said the active energy dispersal was one of the most beautiful sights they had ever seen. Chiro wanted this technology more than anything. With it, he could finally end the war on his terms, complete and decisive victory.

"That sounds reasonable," said Chiro with his well-known fake smile. Malu looked at him his eyebrows raised.
"Oh good," said Klaus Von Klack with much relief.
"You misunderstand me," said Chiro. "There is a price for this. There is always a price."
The fear returned to Von Klack, and his face contorted slightly as if he were expecting a hand to slap him.
"Do you wish to know the price?" asked Chiro.
"Yes," came the barely audible reply.
"You will supply me with the names of five people who helped organize this. They will be executed at the start of your day of rest, your day of music and dance and better food. Let them see the five hanging from the rafters, the price of your improvement in circumstance."
“But First Minister,” said Von Klack his face contorted even more.
“Continue to speak, and it will be six swingers.”

*****

Chiro sat at the table beside Malu. He would call the weekly leadership meeting to order as soon as Huldin finished his conversation with his Faction Organizer, Kolar Pun and sent him out of the room. The leadership meeting with each of the faction leaders plus their seconds. No one else. No record of the meetings was kept in order to promote a free discussion. Chiro hated the meeting. It was the other factions bitching about getting less than an equitable cut of resources.
"Gentlemen, if you please," said Chiro a few minutes later as he opened the leadership meeting.
"I'd like to start by mentioning that we've had a resounding victory in the battle for Oso. Slave harvest is expected to be close to ten million."
"Are you sure?" asked Huldin. Ten million was double the record harvest of five million from Clee.
"Yes, and my figures are half that sent by the field commanders and demographers."
"This is excellent," said Huldin with a large grin.
"Yeah, for you two," said Fa. "Between you, you have 59% of the vote, yet you take 70% of all resources." Fa remembered the three mining planets that Assina captured from him only days before the cease-fire and the Treaty of Ascension, an agreement he now knew was a mistake. Huldin and Chiro made sure their factions took most of the prize.
Chiro looked at Huldin who nodded his agreement. The two former enemies now allies came together to control.
"I'm sure," said Chiro, "we can take a strict representational proportion to the slave harvest."
Omrad, head of the Tilfo spoke in his deep voice. "At what price Chiro? With you, there is a cost for everything." A very long time ago, long before he was the leader of the Tilfo, even before Chiro had become the leader of the Assina, Omrad had faced Chiro in battle. He could have killed Chiro, but he didn't. He regretted his mistake.
"There is no price, today. I'll take more tomorrow. But you need to know that there was a slave revolt on Uper." Chiro spoke and the faces around the table showed concern.
"How many?" Asked Bindo in his usual soft toned voice.
"One million."
"Why so many?" Bindo asked.
Chiro sighed slightly.
"They tried to take the capital city. We cannot let that happen."
"So, what did you do? Did you use nuclears on the entire city?" Fa asked his question and folded his arms across his chest.
"Yes, I did" replied Chiro coldly.
"There is always a price with you, isn't there?" Fa's words were more spit out than spoken. Chiro did not respond. He almost smiled.
"This is the third major revolt just in this session," said Huldin. "Every major revolt inspires minor revolts."
Huldin nodded to Chiro again as they practiced together before the meeting.
"Minister Huldin is correct," replied Chiro. "That is why I want to tell the group of a proposal I would like you to agree to."
"Which one of us gets screwed this time?" asked Omrad.
"None of us. That I can promise. The only losers will be the slaves. They will lose their ability to resist."
"This sounds like a miracle," said Fa sarcastically.
"It is no miracle, just the application of technology. I want your agreement to fit every new slave with DCOM chips." Chiro stopped speaking for a moment. There'd been rumors that Chiro had a team working on DCOM chips but it always just been a rumor. Now it was fact.
"So what happens? Do their heads explode?" asked Fa.
"No, nothing so melodramatic or messy. They are fitted with a nano explosive that is voice activated. It is placed in the fatty tissue in the chest next to their heart. Repeat the word three times, and they will drop dead in front of you. Just fall to the ground - dead."
"What about the existing slaves?" asked Omrad.
"Regrettably those are your responsibility. It's up to you what happens. Personally, I will be selectively retrofitting part of my slave force."
"It sounds like a good proposition to me," said Huldin also on time and as practiced prior to the meeting.
"There will be a 2% fee added to the cost of the slave at auction. The implant will occur immediately after the sale and before possession is taken by the new owner."
Chiro failed to tell the others that one of his allies runs the auction houses spread across the galaxies. Half of the 2% fee would come to Chiro in a very discreet manner. A quarter of what he received he would give to Huldin.