Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Learning Curve, 7 of 12

            7. The Wizards Bastard

            Starbase Gandalf, Starbase Gandalf on moon Gollum, this is Lieutenant Redshirt of the SS Undertaker, lasering in report of Murphy, planet 7, fly-by recon.
            My trajectory took me to two kilometers over the surface of the ice dwarf. The Parkinson Range reaches 1.95 kilometers high. Fortunately I had retracted bolo.
            Burn was 4.2 kiloseconds at high gee. Keyhole encountered. I’m on track for home.
            No life signs of any kind on or around the planet. I noticed a few new craters on the ice dwarf; probably caused by the recent battle. The debris field from the battle continues to spread. There are munitions still orbiting out there, including antimatter pellets. Ship hulks hit by debris and munitions are making more debris.
             I predict that the cascade will end with Murphy space unsafe in any orbit. What a chaos, what a waste. Beware of Murphy the Trickster, Murphy the Bad-Luck Planet!
            No enemy activity detected.
            Redshirt out.
                                                            #          #          #

1 hektosecond              =          1 Lost Earth minute, plus 40 seconds

1 kilosecond                 =          16 Lost Earth minutes, plus 40 seconds

1 Lost Earth day           =          86.4 kiloseconds

1 Rosie day                  =          84 kiloseconds

1 megasecond              =          11.574 Lost Earth days
1 megasecond              =          11.905  Rosie days

1 Lost Earth year          =          31.558 megaseconds
1 Rosie year                 =          35.28 megaseconds

1 gigasecond                =          31.688 Lost Earth years

1 gigasecond                =          28.345  Rosie years


            It was on planet Roseanne, in the slums of Kitchener, near the spaceport, in the sleazy lowlife spacer’s tavern, “The Wizard’s Bastard” that the Thieves’ Guild had gathered in force.  Tricky Dick was there, and so were Raygun, Poppy, Slick Willy, and Dubya. The Wizard’s Bastard was also hosting Henches, wenches, Starfleet cadets, and crewmen off the ships Heart of Gold, Muddlin’ Through, Serenity, Red Dwarf, and Angels Ten. Everyone drank and diced and gossiped. Topic One was the recent battle; and then, who should walk in but its loser.
            “Heyy, look who’s risen from the dead!” a drunken Dubya roared. “It’s the Alley God!”
            The ditzy blonde wench squealed, “Randy?”
            The bossy redhead yelled, “Randy Underwood?!
            The tomboy brunette said, “That’s him all right.”
            A grizzled spacer yelled, “Welcome back to the land of the living!”
            Slick Willy drawled, “Hey Randy, what did ya see?
            Randy shrugged and said, “Nothing this time.”
            A Hench yelled, “Hey Randy! Me and my replicas watched your latest lame attack! It went off real well, didn’t it?”
            Half the crowd laughed, half frowned.
            A cadet said, “Down with the Empire! Up with the Republic!”
            The Hench said, “Up yours!”
            Things were about to turn ugly, but Randy let out a huge whoop and leaped onto a chair. He brandished the sack he was carrying, and declaimed, “Whores, thieves and Republicans, lend me your ears! I come here not to bury myself, but to praise myself! Too often the best of a man is buried with his bones, but this time the bastards didn’t grind me down! Yes, the reports of my demise are exaggerated! I fell, but I rose again! I’m BACK, and I’m BAAAD!”
            The redhead said, “Take me, Randy!”
            The blonde said, “No, me, me, me!
            The brunette put her hands on her hips and shot him a smoky look.
            He stepped down from the chair and said, “Ladies, lovely ladies… I got a talking-to.”
            The brunette said, “From Andover? That never stopped you before.”
            “No, it was Francis Raven. She insisted. I mean, really insisted. It’s over, dears!”
            The wenches all went, “Awww…”
            “But I’ll tell you what,” he said, reaching into the sack, “just to keep things sweet between us, I give this to you… and to you… and to you.”
            The blonde examined her gift appraisingly. “A data crystal? What’s on it?”
            Randy Underwood said proudly, “Field Replicator… Mark two point seven.”
            The crowd went, “Oooo!”
            The brunette marveled, “The latest model!”
            Randy said, “Here, barmaid,” and he handed two data crystals to the barmaid. “One to the management, for beer for me and my friend, sitting in the back; and one to you, as a tip.”
            Tricky Dick, the Capo of the Thieves’ Guild, said, “What about us?
            The crowd hollered, “YEAH!”
            Randy asked, “Well, what about you?”
            Tricky Dick asked, “Well, why don’t we turn you in?”
            Randy said, “You mean, what’s the price of your silence?”
            Tricky Dick said, “Yes!”
            Randy tossed him a data crystal. “How about that?”
            Tricky Dick pocketed the data crystal and said, “I am not a fink.”
            Randy tossed data crystals left and right; cadets, Henches, whores, thieves and Republicans staggered and dove for them. He threw fistfuls of crystals at the howling crowd. Soon he had bribed everyone present, but his sack was still half-full. He dumped the remaining data crystals in a pile on a table. Randy Underwood said, “For my friends,” and bowed to a cadet, “and my frenemies,” and he bowed to a Hench. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Wizard’s Bastard! What happens here stays here! May discipline be lax, may friend and foe share beers and play cards!” He bowed to the applause of the crowd, and headed to a table in the back.
            A Hench said to the cadet he was with, “Well whaddaya know, he ain’t so bad. Say, how come my guys gotta fight him? Or you guys?”
            The cadet said, “Ahhh, what’s the point?”
            “Yeah! And how come the guys upstairs don’t see that?”

                                                            #          #          #

            In the back booth, Underwood met a man in a hood. As Randy sat, the man drew back his hood. Randy Underwood said, as usual, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this!”
            “You’ve made that joke before,” Tesla Nechaev said, as usual.
            The barmaid came by, bearing a pitcher and mugs. She left, and the two scientists raised a toast. “To Goldie!”  they said in unison, and clanked beer mugs.
            Randy said, “Just think, if she hadn’t introduced us… then no field replicator!”
            Tesla said, “Goldie knows men from all over.”
            Underwood said, “Do you think she’ll ever find the guy?”
            Nechaev said, “I am not the man she’s looking for.”
            “Who is?
            “Maybe Hamilton Meeper,” Nechaev scoffed. “After all, he is the Superman.”
            Randy said, “I thought inner crew were supposed to be supermen. Like your boss. The… ‘galactic’… overlord.” Nechaev stiffened and looked around; Underwood said, “Relax, they’re all ignoring us; and who cares? What is it about Malvolio? One star system isn’t enough for him?”
            “I don’t want to talk about it. And besides,” Tesla sneered, “what about ‘Star’fleet?”
            “Well, they did send that Blackegg expedition… but didn’t find much.”
            Tesla smiled. “Nothing but Loser and Terminus.”
            Randy said, “So tell me, how’s the FTL research going?”
            Tesla said, “He’s still paying me.”
            They finished their beers. The barmaid glided by with a new pitcher.
            After they refilled, Tesla said, “While I was waiting for you, I overheard some farmers in the next booth. They traded seeds, drugs, tools and books.”
            Randy said, “What, we’re already back to barter?”
            “It gets better. They asked the innkeeper for his timepiece, he replicated it, and exchanged the copy for a single fresh apple from the south orchard, which he then scanned.”
            “And now he has a limitless supply of apples just as fresh!”
            Tesla said, “Not a coin changed hands.”
            Randy said, “It’s just as well. Nobody has a cent. Did you hear about the stock market? Eighteen percent off, in one day! And the banks…”
            Tesla said, “All a bubble, all meaningless. Money, as such, is a meaningless bubble. This bar, here, has more wealth than all the banks in Barbie!”
            “Well, here we have beer…”
            “Here we have the basis of the new economy. Working replicators and data crystals!”
            Randy said, “You forget the third basic need; reliable friends. Did you know this bar is covered by Thieves Guild Insurance?”
            Tesla said, “Then it’s the safest place in town.”
            “Services in general are irreproducible, so they remain scarce!”
            Tesla smiled. “So how much do you pay the maid?  Or the actor?  Or the singer?  Or the teacher?  Or the plumber?”
            Randy said, “They’ll be richer than corporate executives!”
            Tesla said, “How about replicator engineers?”
            Randy said, “You and I, we’re set for life!”
            “If,” said Tesla, “you and I can figure out how to be paid, and with what.”
            “Oh, I don’t know… in generalized barter?”
            “Mutual obligations? ‘Obs’?” Tesla said mockingly. “I’ve already heard people use that word. ‘Obs’! In other words, credit! From credo, meaning faith!”
            “What’s wrong with that?”
            “Credit’s like religion, deterrence, placebos and fiction! They only work if people believe!
            Randy said, “And you don’t trust mutual trust.”
            “Ahh, my credulous frenemy, a faith-based economy is only half secure! Faith alone is just a bubble! You are right in this; underneath the financial crisis is indeed a spiritual crisis!”
            Randy nodded. “Whom do you trust, and what do you believe?”
            “Yes!  But underneath the spiritual crisis is a cybernetic crisis!”
            Tesla Nechaev said, “Man does not live by faith alone! He also needs evidence! For faith in faith itself is useless! It’s information-free! It lacks meaning and value! So how are we to pay the maid? In valuta! But what is valuable?”
            Randy Underwood said, “OK, I’ll bite. What do people want?”
            “What do they want? What do they need? Information!” Tesla pounded the table with a fist. “Information!“ He boomed, “EEN-FOR-MAY-SHUN!”
            (Everyone else in the tavern turned to look…)
            Randy muttered, “I don’t get it.”
            Tesla blared, “NEG-A-TIVE EN-TRO-PY!!
            (Everyone else in the tavern shrugged, and turned away…)
            Randy said, “Oh now I get it! You’re saying… money is fiduciary, and any faith that’s not mere vanity has to contain hard data!
            “You have caught up to me. Good! I call it the Negative Entropy Theory of Value.”
            “So… an information-based economy?”
            “To prop up the faith-based economy.” Tesla dug into a pocket. “Speaking of information… here.” He handed Randy a data crystal.
            Randy said, “Field replicator?”
            Tesla nodded. “Mark three point oh.”
            Randy asked, “Programmable?” Tesla nodded. Randy said, “Finally!
            Tesla boasted, “With this one, even Terminus and Loser are legitimate real estate!”
            Randy said, “OK, I’ll review the styling and the interface.”
            Tesla admitted, “You do have a knack for that.”
            “User-friendly design is more an art than a science,” Randy explained. “And I’ll check out the security features too, OK? Remember the Mark 1.0?”
            “Three keystrokes away from TC? You’ll never let me forget!”
            They refilled their beer mugs.
            “I’ll get my draft back to you next megasecond,” Randy said. He held the data crystal up to the light and admired it awhile. “Talk about valuable information!”
            While he held the data crystal up to the light, a small machine in an upper corner of the room quietly scanned it, then transmitted the data to Starfleet. A Hench also ran a quiet scan, as did Poppy, a grizzled spacer, the barmaid and the redhead.
            Randy Underwood pocketed the data crystal. He said, “And speaking of valuable information… I have a message for you.”
            “From whom? About what?”
            “From Rosemarie Vassar, about terraforming.” He took out an audio wafer and touched a button. It played the voice of Rosemarie Vassar, saying, “It was a replication memory. I saw Roseanne. She warned me and the other terraformers to ‘back off’ about the Bitter Lichen.”
            “Stop,” Nechaev said flatly. Underwood stopped the recording. Nechaev said, “I am not interested in discussing phantasms. Or screen memories. Or hallucinatory self-portraits. Or ‘mystic insights’. Or the Transmigration of Souls.”
            Underwood retorted, “Or Biomechanism? The shock of replication forcing the newly-created brain to find unusual correlations of unconscious data?”
            Nechaev chuckled. “You turn my own materialism against me! Very well then, O Spiritualist, explain replication cries. Why are they always the same for any given person?”
            “Not always. They change if a life-changing experience happens between, well –”
            “ - between deaths? Yes. But my question still stands. Absent life-change, why such mechanistic predictability? And as for your precious replication hallucinations –”
            “ - replication memories - ”
            “ - have it your way. Memory is the plaything of desire. For why are these so-called ‘memories’ only about our own culture’s gods? Why not the dead gods of Lost Earth?”
            “You mean Yahweh? Jesus? Allah?” Randy shook his head. “Nobody ever sees them.”
            “Exactly! Instead people sight Elvis, Roseanne, Crowley and a half-dozen others!”
            They stopped for a swig of beer, for they had both gone dry.
            Tesla asked, “By the way… did you see anyone this time?”
            Randy winced. “No, nothing… One moment I was under fire, squeezing a scan crystal, the next I was back at base, in the replication chamber, hollering ‘Oh shit!’ like I always do. Can we get back to Rosemarie’s message, please?
            “Sure! Let’s hear her ‘unusual correlation of unconscious data’!”
            Randy Underwood clicked a button on his audio wafer. It played Rosemarie’s voice.
            “… Roseanne said to me, ‘Sure your goats and cows can’t eat it! Big deal! Scrape it off the rocks, plow it into the soil, and grow your food like honest farmers! Let me remind you humans that I put up with you only because you’re fun to watch. Maybe someday you’ll be useful. I let you kill my favorite lichen only because of that cyanide thing. You had to, I understand; but leave my second favorite lichen alone, or I swear, I’ll bring back the old ecology!’ ”
            Randy stopped the recording. He said, “Afterwards Rosemarie checked this prediction on the supercomputer at Peabody Polytech.”         
            “Our dear old alma mater. The result?”
            “By golly, the vision was right. The Bitter Lichen’s an ecological nexus. Eliminate it, and the cyanide ecology returns.”
            Tesla Nechaev said, “Oh!” He stroked his chin. “Hmmm… that is an ‘unusual correlation of unconscious data…’ ”
            “Rosemarie told me, and now I’m telling you.”
            Tesla Nechaev said, “Very well, I shall cancel certain projects.”
            Randy Underwood said, “Good! It’s best to keep on Rosie’s good side!”
            Tesla said, “By Rosie do you mean the planet or Ms. Vassar?”
            Randy said, “Yes!”
            They upended their beer mugs. Then Randy said, “Look at the time! Sorry, I gotta go.”
            “No prob’,” said Tesla. “See you next megasecond.”
            “Sure!” Randy said, getting up to go. “And oh… by the way… thanks…”
            “For what?”
            “You know… his little list…”
            “Oh, that.” Tesla Nechaev shrugged. “It was nothing.”

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