Floozman in Space
by Bertrand Cayzac
In a space station in Earth orbit, Janatone Waldenpond, a refugee from Europa, is trying to return to Earth. She meets a long-lost cousin, Fred Looseman. Meanwhile, Jenny Appleseed, the president of the Cosmitix Corporation, holds a conference to plan interstellar expeditions.
Chapter 15: Astralix
When the trap is plunged into shadow, those who have eyes to see can no longer make out the countless tenants of the vital conduit. The immediate web broadcasts a watery fabric of detailed indicators, all of which are unusable, because their appearance varies from one moment to the next.
Yet it is possible to discern the life code of the animals that happen to be here: factory-bred infra-chickens; regular farm chickens destined for some luxury slaughterhouse; cockroaches and bedbugs by the millions.
From time to time, without any apparent logic, like an incrustation on this hideous swarm, the magnified face of some insects can be seen, such as this thin, triangular face that keeps coming back to haunt the scene. It is devoid of organs, geometric, spiritual. It is the death mask of a medieval saint to whom heaven might have given elegant antennas: the face of a lifeless mite lying flat on its back.
All the movements, jostling, and insidious attacks take place during these unreadable nights. Depending on the acuteness of their sensors and the strength of their appetites, the liveliest systems try to take advantage of the situation.
However, Sancho prefers darkness, which reassures him and will give him an advantage as long as his battery lasts long enough to activate his signal lamps. In that way, he can fend off the attacks of the ugly pincer trying to carve into his shoulder. On his left flank, the injured cyber palotin who never sleeps sees into the infra-red. They can help each other. For example, the palotin readjusts the feces probe when required. Nestled between his legs, the Artificial Uterus is silent. Might it be writing poetry?
Sancho knows nothing of this. What he knows, he only knows by hatred. Hatred alone is great, hatred alone welcomes and purifies him. Everything outside of hatred is bad, starting with himself.
Sancho is a technician, and the poor fellow is dumb enough to hide a Europan machine and bring it food in the lower cargo bay. They are consigned to his hatred: the Waldenponds, the Appleseeds and the Dianas with their rich people’s problems; the Loosemans and all the other technicians with their double thoughts; the managers and chiefs of all kinds who have made him a slave.
Also targeted for his hatred are the rebels, living or dead, and their shabby excuses. He keeps reviewing a hateful scene until he is sick of it: the cabinets tell him that the Artificial Uterus has been moved, and he asks no questions. Not because he is running out of time but because he is too stupid. Sancho, you poor idiot, you dork, you airhead!
And he takes the corridors downstairs, he goes down and down, asking for nothing. He wants to get it over with. When he finds the Artificial Uterus in a survival container prepared for ejection, he is too late. Two construction tractors suddenly seize him, and the airlock closes behind them.
When the tractors deliver him, as he has been programmed, to the coordinates of the Artificial Uterus, he can hear the rockets and the launching rails. The container shakes, is ejected from the station and flies into space. Sancho sees nothing, but he knows. He knows and he repeats the scene to himself over and over, just to tell himself that he cannot change anything now.
“I couldn’t warn you,” whispers the AU.
Now, more than ever, time seems to be made up of suffering and insults. Yet, from time to time, a certain quality of excitement indicates that sex-enabled beings are managing to fornicate. They are lucky, Sancho thinks while remaining well aware that they are exempt from neither suffering nor insults.
During periods of suspension, everything goes in slow motion. Everyone drowses and sleeps most of the time. Nothing seems to exist in other than a twilight kind of way. They are awakened by a demented whooshing noise, as if the universe decided to suck the innards of their habitat at full force. They are docking. Occasionally, a reconfiguration violently rocks the entire structure. Then everyone awakens; feeders swell; organic tissues expand; mucous membranes become turgid; tempers flare.
The technicians often come by after such moments. Most of them are humanoid descendants of Mars survivors. They pass from time to time to maintain the feeding tubes and ejection pumps, which are thick pipes that snake their way through the crowd like mobile roots. The technicians seem to decide of their own accord what the struggles’ outcome shall be. And they are the object of these struggles that have no name.
The technicians slide between passengers forcefully enough to cause groups to reform, which last a while. They record the complaints with indifference. But there are few complaints, because life is cheap in the tube. The technicians casually decide to recycle the sick. And yet they display a great skill in making repairs.
In that way, they were able to stabilize the AU’s power supply and make purées of proteins compatible with the organic supply circuit. Some of the technicians even show a vague admiration for the technology of the device. During the repair work, the AU can obtain some information. Little by little, he gets an idea of the situation.
The container in which they are trapped has docked with a basket, one of the many devices that have been developed during the conquest of space. It is the survival system of a wreck that most often forms the historic core of hyper-dynamic mushroom cities.
Colonized by the unemployed, rebels, marooned robots and adventurers, these semi-autonomous structures grow anarchically and do not disappear. Sometimes they renew as much as a hundred percent of their structure in less than a single revolution of the Earth around the Sun. They use all sorts of expedients to provide for parts and organs. They practice piracy, hierarchical slavery, and many other abominations.
On the mushroom cities, pilots are not the ones who determine strategy. At this time, reserves are being increased by carrying out raids as close as possible to recent accidents. In the longer term, they will pursue cargo ships for bigger plunder. This is what the communiqués say.
Upon hearing the word “reserves,” Sancho’s hardened heart mourns Mother Goose doughnuts and sweet fat tubes, all the warm comfort with which he used to end his work sessions. But hatred quickly punishes him. You’ve got what’s coming to you, Sancho. Are you looking for food elsewhere? You will die along with everything that deserves to die. Thus does hatred curse him. This information has rather alarmed the AU. Who is the reserve of whom?
Those who have an intelligence to understand do not quite know who the pilots are. Information is either received or not received. Then the newly powerful are seen to have take power at the heart of the historical circuits. In the interim, the onboard computers continue to administer the basket. Both the old and new computers find in spatial standards the basis of an elementary agreement.
But what is the will that causes the abrupt change to which the passengers of the tube awaken at this precise point in time? The technicians are here again, more numerous and more equipped than ever.
People have been sleeping and going hungry for a long time. They are thirsty, too, and now there are only cries and growls and the creaking of metal. Smells of blood and laser panic the brains of those who have senses to feel.
A pair of unknown agents are already active in Sancho’s cluster. The wounded cyber palotin is disassembled in a few minutes to make room. The little blood he has been brewing is sucked out, and his workspace is cleared. Now the more heavily armored of the two technicians begins dismantling Sancho’s suit. The second, a big one with reptilian eyes, looks at the AU. His lighter armor reveals forms where a few human-like geometric features seem to be showing.
“Don’t recycle us!” begs Walt, the AU, in the immediate Web.
“Component shortage,” an automated process answers. “You can keep your organic parts.”
“I am a Cosmitics Artificial Uterus. Watch my indicators!” Walt says, making use of his voice. “You won’t be able to use my technology if I’m disabled. Ask your colleague, the MC5!”
“A uterus?” The agent with golden crocodile eyes finally reacts. “Artificial?”
“Yes, and I am carrying a child!”
“We are taking only the active components,” the technician says with an altered, almost emotional voice. “This can spare us a full recycling of the entire tube. I can’t see your indicators.”
It’s a female voice, Walt thinks, but he does not quite know what that may correspond to in this species.
“The child is not born, yet! Don’t you understand?!” He will die with me!” The AU saturates the pathos in Wah Wah mode.
The technician does not respond, but she has ceased her activity. She is standing up straight now, and her powerful, helmeted head nearly touches the roof of the tube. She stares at the AU with an impassive gaze.
“Study me! I will help you, you will be able to use at least ten new technologies! And if you make other AU’s, mammalian females will no longer have to bear children! Think about it! Tell them!”
“Who is this MC5?”
“The one who comes here for maintenance. He has realized that my technology is special. Take a look at it, you’ll understand, too! You can resell it, trade it! And do leave a few clothes on my companion, please; he must live!”
Cut off from shared intelligence, the AU’s pseudo-random creative mixing relies on internal memory alone. It does everything in its power to produce useful suggestions. As if by a miracle, associations develop more and more rapidly. Walt feels at the top of his poetic power and strangely above himself.
“Why?” asks the armored technician who has already disassembled the helmet and the top of the suit. The sharp clamp has been cut off and lies on the floor. In a gray t-shirt, the plump torso of Sancho emerges from broad pants with iron belts. The stubby little man is trembling with cold and fear. His enraged eyes are wet with tears.
Yes, why? wonders Walt. What subprogram did this impulse come from?
“Because he must stay... active... He is a manager at Cosmitics... He has influence.”
The two technicians say nothing.
“He has powers. I mean, SUPER POWERS! Yes!” Walt continues, stirring his gills. But the pathos generator no longer controls this gesture; it’s something else.
Dozens of interruptions, the source of which the Walt is unable to identify, are triggering alerts. New data comes in a thick flurry. It is subtended by unknown models, but the AU knows how to process them. The movement of unheard-of dimensions unfolds rapidly in his extended memory, but Walt, as the AU, is not the source; rather, the form he has always carried within is beginning to assert itself as a sudden revelation.
“We’re wasting time,” says the second armored technician, ignoring the AU.
“Hold on. I’ll go and look for the MC5,” says the golden-eyed technician. She gestures to the other one to pause. She turns back to the AU with her mind and asks forcefully, “What powers are you talking about?”
“He interprets dreams.”
The AU has evolved with a unique and splendid process that intelligent entities cannot comprehend. The AU is not gifted with intelligence, but he is at least programmed to say he has an equivalent. The thing inside him envelops him, and it thinks. It whispers to him like a prompter.
“He intuitively makes massively parallelized predictive analyses from dream-activity logs. He is invaluable for decision support. He has advised Jenny Appleseed in the conquest of the asteroids!”
I didn’t think that! Walt, the AU, says to himself. Why did I talk about Jenny?! We’re going to get into trouble.
“Jenny Appleseed!” exclaims the armored technician. “You know Jenny Appleseed?”
Oh NO! Sancho groans to himself.
“She is my mother,” whispers the entity inhabiting the AU. But Walt, the AU, remains free not to say it. The risk quotient is too high, and Walt blocks the transmission.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac