Monday, September 30, 2013

Learning Curve, 11 of 12

            11. Broke Down Palace

            Starbase Gandalf, Starbase Gandalf on moon Gollum, this is Lieutenant Redshirt of the SS Undertaker. I will be making planetfall on Rosie in one hundred kiloseconds.
            Requesting fresh supplies, including latest-model field replicator.
            Tell me, did any of you survive? Are any of you the originals? Or are you all replicants?
            Redshirt out.

                                                            #          #          #

            We must wonder, given the limited storage capacity of the computers on those ancient ships, if our ancestors truly brought all the wisdom of Lost Earth with them.  There appear to be curious gaps in our knowledge, both technical and social.
            Conversely, there is a curious over-emphasis on transient cultural references, now meaningless with the disappearance of the source materials. Critical analysis reveals that place-names in the Elvis system derive from cult gods and goddesses. A few of these cults were literary; most were video.
            It appears that Inner Crew, during the early stages of settling the Elvis system, chose to keep Outer Crew servants and Cargo-bred vassals entertained rather than informed.

                                                            #          #          #

            It was on planet Roseanne, on the polar island Morticia, that the Ice Palace, Overlord Malvolio’s Galactic Imperial Capital, was going out of business.
            Malvolio stomped into the throne room and bellowed, “Where are my henchmen?”
            “Out on strike, Dad,” said Beauregarde, who was sitting back in a plush sofa, holding a bottle of wine and a glass. He poured himself a glass.
            “Have they abandoned me?”
            “Staff is fleeing, Dad,” said Beauregarde, and drank some wine.
            “How dare they? I need my servants! The auditors are coming!”
            A voice from the doorway said, “The auditors are here.” It was Rosemarie Vassar, carrying a notebook. Cliff Andover was at her side. Cliff and Malvolio locked glances; Cliff shrugged, so Malvolio spoke to Rosemarie.
            “How low I have fallen! Now I must let riff-raff like auditors in through the front door! And worse riff-raff, like labor organizers, in through the back!”
            Rosemarie Vassar said, “How are negotiations going with the Hench’s Union?”
            “The ‘Henchmen’s Local 101, Interstellar Workers of the Worlds’, if you please!” Malvolio sneered. “Or so your trouble-making, union-organizing friend Francis Raven calls it!”
            Rosemarie looked around. She noticed Beaugarde smirking at her, and she said, “I don’t see any workers here…”
            Beauregarde said, “They left.”
            Malvolio roared, “SILENCE!”
            Beauregarde said, “Nobody needs your bribes or fears your threats.”
            “SI - LENCE!!”
            Rosemarie Vassar sighed heavily. “Mr. Malvolio, I am not here to mediate your labor disputes or witness your family dysfunctions. I am here only to tally your assets. Where is Hamilton Meeper? I must consult with him.”
            “Well, you can’t. It’s impossible. I’ve already… fired him.”
            Fired him?”
            Malvolio said, “Yes, but the outer-crew spawn had a scan crystal on his carcass. Who knows where he is by now?”    
            “And Meeper’s your accountant?”
            “Meeper was my computer.”
            “So without Meeper… no accounts of your properties? Where the valuable items are? Where the hazardous items are?” She opened her notebook and scribbled rapidly.
            “No accounts at all.”
            “And safe passage maps; locations of decoys, traps and killing machines; all lost?”
            Rosemarie Vassar said, “Uh-huh.” She slapped her notebook shut. “You realize this leaves me no choice? Your operation is now officially bankrupt.”
            Malvolio spun around, folded his arms and muttered “Curses!”
            Rosemarie Vassar said, “Furthermore, this arcology is condemned.”
            Malvolio spun around and said, “What!”
            “The place is booby-trapped,” she said. “Without your computer, it’s unnavigable. It’s a public health hazard! An attractive nuisance!”
            “Attractive nuisance, eh? So are you,” said Malvolio.
            Rosemarie Vassar said, “Very amusing. Would you like a side order of sexual harassment suit with that?”
            “No, thank you.”
            Rosemarie Vassar adjusted her glasses. “To business, then. By the authority vested in me, by the Realtor’s Mutual Beneficial Society-“
            “-I hereby declare foreclosure.”
            “This structure is condemned. In accordance with Health Code regulations, I order it to be evacuated and dematerialized.”
            “You have one megasecond to comply.”
            “And if I do not?”
            “Then you will be subject to fiscal sanctions. Including freezing your account,” and she peered over the rim of her glasses, “at Gilligan Savings and Loan.”
            “The Gilligan account?!”
            Rosemarie Vassar said, “We know alll about it.” And she grinned.
            Curses!” Malvolio spun around and stalked away in a huff.
            Cliff Andover said, “Hey, wait up!” He ran up alongside Malvolio. “Let’s talk!”
            Malvolio muttered, “I have nothing to say to you.”
            Cliff said, “Now is that any way to treat the guy who saved the Gilligan account for you?”
            Malvolio stopped in his tracks. “You what?
            Cliff said, “Rosemarie wanted to expropriate everything, but I said no, let him keep the Gilligan account. I said, leave him something to lose, it’ll keep him out of trouble.”
            Malvolio said, “Very discerning of you.”
            “Here’s something else I discern. You need a drink. Well, so do I. May I join you?”
            Malvolio nodded. “You may. Come with me.”

                                                            #          #          #

            Meanwhile, in Francis Raven’s quarters, Tesla Nechayev came to visit, bearing a gift.
            “Another replicator?” she said.
            “Mark four point oh,” he boasted.
            “Come on in,” she said, leading the way. “Set it down on the table over there.”
            He set the Mark 4.0 Field Replicator next to some luggage. “I see that you’ve packed your bags. Have you finished your union organizing?”
            “Yup. Henchmen’s Local 101 is up and running. My work here is done. I’m all set to blow this cheesebox,” Francis crowed. “Randy will come by to pick me up in six kiloseconds. Meantime, sit. Let’s chat.”
            “Lunch, too?” said Tesla Nechaev. “Test it out,” he said, indicating the replicator.
            Francis Raven said, “Sure, why not?” She sat opposite Tesla and looked over the replicator. “Hmm… a sweet machine…”
            Tesla smirked. “High-end deluxe.  Make copies for your friends!”
            “I’ll have Randy check it out first. Right now I’ll have a corned beef on rye.” She pushed buttons. ZWEEENG.
            “Hah! You’ve barely tapped the machine’s potential!” Tesla pushed buttons. “I’ll have… a
mooseburger… with arugula… and Grey Poupon… on sourdough.”
            Tesla bit in. Francis asked, “So how’s it taste?”
            “Unique,” he said.
            Next they replicated drinks; ginger ale for her, ginseng mango ginger beer for him.
            As they ate, they chatted. Tesla boasted,  “It was I who perfected and released replicator technology, for I recognized its transhuman potential from the start. I discovered the principle, wrote down the equations, and invented the machine.”
            Francis said,  “Didn’t Randy co-invent?”
            “Bah! He’s a rhetorician, a thought-pimp, a popularizer!”
            “But you work with him!”
            “I tolerate Underwood. He’s almost talented enough to know how far behind me he is. As is, he’s a useful pet.”
            “And a decoy!” said Francis. “Malvolio was gunning for him all these years, but it was your invention!”
            “Well, Underwood was of some use, in his moronic way. He re-designed the device to be user-friendly and folk-reproducible. I suppose he has the common touch. But it was I who sent the machine to rich and poor, friend and foe.”
            “Including Andover?”
            “Yes, rebel losers: but also gangsters, circuses, hobos, cultists, mercenaries and pirates.”
            “And Starfleet.  And Malvolio.”
            “I gave replicators to all, high and low, sane and mad.”
            “Were you trying to cause trouble?”
            “Of course I was! I enjoy the turmoil! Besides, it was the only safe way.”
            Francis Raven considered this. “True,” she said. “Replication’s a hot potato. The powers that be were bound to suppress it, and you.”
            “Exactly! No stable human social order could tolerate such a challenge!”
            “So you deliberately introduced it in the most destabilizing way possible.”
            Tesla said, “From need the people replicate food, clothing, shelter, and replicators, and thus create the new economy; from greed they replicate money and gold, inflating both to worthlessness; from ambition they replicate weapons, and from terror they replicate themselves.”
            “You predicted all that?”
            “I planned it.”
            “But you knew that would mean war.”
            “Replication turns war into a farce!  -- a point that Malvolio and Andover have been amusingly slow to comprehend. But I included their meaningless massacres in my plan, for the very pointlessness of the slaughter forced mankind to adopt the technology that makes the slaughter pointless.”
            “But replication has its limits.”
            “Alas, yes, it doesn’t prevent the ravages of old age.  It is of limited use for acute disease, and of no use for chronic disease.”
            Raven said, “Death remains, only Murder dies.”
            Nechaev said, “This is only a partial transcendence of the human condition; merely one sufficient to rid mankind of both poverty and power.”
            “Very nice, Doc. But there’s a price for this, isn’t there? We’ve all lost something.”
            “Yes. Our so-called humanity. All replicants know themselves to be replaceable. They lose both fear of violence and respect for their own persons. All commodities become free, including themselves. And that was just the effect I planned, from the very beginning.”
            “But why?
            “I have long despised the human cowardice and egotism that created such monsters as my boss, the Overlord Malvolio. So I asked myself, what is the source of these despicable human traits? Violence, I answered myself: specifically, political murder. How to render political murder meaningless, absurd, literally laughable? Replicator technology, I answered myself. How to make mankind adopt so inhuman a technology? Desperation, I answered myself. How will this change affect the human spirit? It will devastate it, and deservedly so, I answered himself.”
            “So you psyched yourself up. Then what?”
            “Why, then I asked himself, how does one replicate? Thus, I told myself; and I wrote down the replicator equations. The rest is history.”
            Raven asked, "I don’t get it. You did all this... out of love for mankind?"
            Nechaev laughed. "You entirely misunderstand me! I don’t love mankind. I hate mankind. I despise mankind. That’s why I did all this!"
            "Oh!" she said. "Now I get it! It was all a trick!
            She said, “It was an attack on mankind!”
            “A crime against humanity,” he said. “A crime against the very concept of humanity!”
            “You schemed to deprive mankind of its beloved murders.”
            “Yes! You understand! At last, someone who appreciates my genius!”
            “So we’ve all been robbed. By you. Of our favorite crime. And our identities.”
            “It’s a new level of theft!” Nechaev boasted.
            “And you’ve gotten away with it.”
            “Completely, totally, and permanently. I win, and the human race loses.”
            “Smooth move,” she said.
            They both then drank a swig; she of ginger ale, he of ginseng mango ginger beer.
            Francis Raven said,  “So now what?”
            Tesla Nechaev said “Now? I have a scan crystal ready; it’s entangled with a replicator on the other side of this planet; so now all I need do is leave Malvolio’s employ.”
            “I’ll confront him with the truth. That’ll get me fired, won’t it?”
            Fired? You bet! But ain’t ya kind of hard on yourself, Doc? If you’re dying to leave, why not just steal a ship? What’s the worst Malvolio can do to you? Oh right, kill you!”
            Tesla stared at her, slack-jawed. “Why… you’re right!
            “You’re surprised?”
            “You – you – you out-thought me!”
            “That’s not so hard,” Francis said. "You’re only the smartest man orbiting Elvis!"
            “You’re right, that’s not saying much,” Tesla said. “Frankly, my dear, I have always felt myself to be a quite normal being, not especially talented, as if picked at random from another world, and dumped among beings not merely talentless, but frantic, lunatic, capable of any degree of self-deception, and so lacking in understanding that when one of them manages to thread his way through an unusual task without creating a disaster, he is hailed as a ‘genius’ and treated with moronic respect.”
            “You sound lonely.”
            “Yes. You, my dear, are the first female human I have ever met who shows any sign of sentience. You almost think like I do.”
            “Thank you, I think.”
            “Which brings me to the point of my visit. Will you be my mate?”
            “Your what?
            “My girlfriend. Steady date. Significant other. Mistress. Fuck-buddy.” Nechaev shrugged.  “Whatever it’s called.”
            “You’re making a pass at me? This is kind of sudden, Doc!”
            “Pardon my ineptitude. You see, I don’t know the proper mating signals. Normal human social relations are outside of my skill-set. Sorry, I can’t help it, it’s a neurological deficit.”
            “You mean you have autism?
            “Asperger’s,” Tesla said. “I was diagnosed with it long ago. Technically I’m a super-high-functioning idiot. The only thing I don’t understand is people.”
            “I see.”
            “So please answer my question. Yes or no?”
            “Well,” she said. “Your approach is real raw, but I do appreciate your idiotic honesty.”
            Thank you.”
            “You’re welcome. You’re even sort of sweet, in a scary obnoxious way. So I’ll give it to you straight. I prefer Underwood.”
            “Him?  Hah!  He’s only the second smartest man orbiting Elvis!”
            “He doesn’t know much, but he does know people.”
            “All too well! Young lady, he’s nothing but trouble!”
            “Don’t I know it. But I can manage him.”
            “But not me,” said Nechaev.
            “We’re too much alike, Doc, you know that. We’d just get on each other’s nerves.” She patted his hand. “But I’ll tell you what; I know the perfect girl for you. She’s as brilliant an idiot as you are! I’ll set you up.”
            Francis turned to the replicator. With a ZWEEENNNG  she replicated an envelope, a sheet of paper, a bottle of ink, a goose-quill, a blotter, a red candle, and a match.
            “What’s all this nonsense?” Tesla said.
            “I’m writing a note. It’s to my crazy cousin Katrina, on Columbia.” She dipped the goose-quill into the ink, wrote, and blotted the missive dry.
            Tesla Nechaev, sitting opposite her, read the note upside down. “ ‘Dear Katie-did, you’ll like this creep, he’s an evil genius, signed cousin Fannie.’  What, you think some backwoods wench could be a match for me?
            Francis added to the letter:
            P.S. You deserve each other. Good hunting.
            She folded it, stuffed it into the envelope, and addressed the envelope;
                        Katrina Crowe
                        23 Goldman Way
                        Jefferson, Paine
                        Nearside, Columbia.
            She lit the red candle, and dripped hot wax onto the envelope’s flap. Then she said, “This is for you. Hand-deliver it. And the wax seal needs your thumb-print.”
            “My thumb-print? On a wax seal? Is this some adolescent girl’s fantasy?”
            “Yes! Quick, quick, before it sets!”
            “Oh, all right,” he said, and pressed down on the wax with his thumb. “OW!!!” He sucked on his thumb. Francis Raven smiled. Tesla Nechaev blew on his thumb and glared at her. “Was that practical joke also part of the adolescent girl’s fantasy?”
            “Yes! So where are you off to now?”
            “Where else? I’ll steal a ship, fly to Columbia, and look up your love-lorn cousin. But I predict this… assignation,” he scoffed, “won’t outlast a megasecond!” He took the letter and left.
            A gigasecond later, Katrina reminded Tesla of that false prediction, the first of many.

                                                            #          #          #

            The door clicked shut behind Dr. Nechaev. Francis Raven said, “Ally-ally-outen-free.”
            A panel in the wall slid back, and out stepped Princess Belladonna.
            The Princess said, “What a mean trick. Pointless even to shoot him.” She pouted. “I’m going to tell Daddy.” She stepped back through the hole in the wall and slid the panel shut.

                                                            #          #          #

            Francis Raven’s phone went *ting*. She flipped it open; there was the daily e-mail from Goldie Digger, to her and their college roommate Rosemarie Vassar. The e-mail read:
            OMG you guys, listen, listen, I finally found him – this is it, I mean it, he’s clever, he’s rich, he’s sweet, OK he’s not much for looks but OMG whatta man, and best of all he really loves me, more later, Goldie.
                                                            #          #          #

            Belladonna traveled through the Ice Palace’s many secret passageways. She stopped outside the southeast guest bar. She peered through the eyes of a portrait hanging in the bar; one of Ferocitus the Second, her great-great-great-great-granduncle. She saw her father, as she expected, but also saw Andover. They were sitting side-by-side, drinking beers.
            Malvolio said, “Cold feet, huh?”
            Andover said, “Cryogenic.”
            “I had cold feet too, when I married Dulgencia. But I went for it anyhow.”
            Andover said, “And how did that work out?”
            “I remember when we first met, Dulgie and I, at the equestrian field at old Miskatonic U. Our eyes met - sparks flashed - “
            “It was like that with us too. I had just won the big game for Keane U. over Peabody Polytech. I’d just left the stadium, and there she was, holding up a protest sign. Rosemarie was protesting the game for being a sado-masochistic domination ritual. She was so sincere…”
            “Dulgie said my cummerbund was ages out of fashion. She was so critical…”
            Andover said, “I only slowly learned how much Rosemarie means to me…”
            Malvolio said, “For Dulgie and me, ‘twas love-hate at first sight.”
            Both drained their beer mugs. Then they went for wine.
            Malvolio said, ”Hey, remember when I said that your dogged perseverance had given me new insight into the futility of my evil ways?”
            Andover said, “Sure I remember! All you wanted was for me to leave you alone for a few megaseconds of quiet contemplation!”
            Malvolio nodded. “And then I’d return to the path of righteousness.”
            They looked at each other, then burst out laughing. They clinked glasses and drank.
            On the next glass, Cliff said, “So now what?”
            Malvolio shrugged. “I don’t know about me, but I know what’ll happen to you.”
            Malvolio said mournfully, “You will become the figurehead of her personal empire.”
            Cliff nodded. “Yeah, I guess so…”
            Malvolio intoned, “A warhorse… trotted out on ceremonial occasions…”
            Cliff drained a glass, then with a gleam in his eye, said, “And I know the place for you.”
            “There’s this spacer bar my buddy Randy goes to. The Wizard’s Bastard.”
            “I’ve heard of it.”
            “There’s a guy who goes there. Tricky Dick. Tell him I sent you. You’ll fit right in.”
            “Very well.” Malvolio pulled out a data-pad and made a note. “Thank you.”
            Soon the wine bottle was empty, and they switched to whiskey. Their mood darkened. Malvolio said, “But what do our plans matter anymore?”    
            Andover said, “What do we matter? We’re washed up!”
            Malvolio said, “You’re right. Events have passed us by.”
            Andover said, “And technologies! We’re obsolete!
            Malvolio nodded. “Who fears overlords?”
            Andover said, “And who needs heroes?”
            They paused to fill their glasses, this time with Scotch.
            Andover said, “Heroes…” and grimaced. “Hey, Mal? – mind if I call you that?”
            Malvolio said, “Sure, go ahead.”
            “There’s something I wanna tell ya. You know that Elvis vision I keep having?”
            Malvolio rolled his eyes. “How many times have you given that speech?”
            Andover continued, “And Elvis always sings me a song, right?”
            “Right,” Malvolio agreed. “Like ‘Freedom Road’, or ‘The Wheel’. And ‘Joe Hill’ is a big favorite of yours…”
            Andover almost choked on his Scotch. After a fit of coughing, with Malvolio patting his back, Andover said, “Don’t get me started on Joe Hill! No, Elvis doesn’t sing me that song! Or th’other two! No, the song he sings to me is always the same damn one!
            “Well, what is it?”
            “It’s a little ditty called ‘Space Hero’. Here, lemme put on my guitar…” Andover strapped on Arlo, and drunk as he was, managed to belt out:

A                              G              A
Do you wanta be a hero in the sky?
A                              G    D       E               
Do you wanta be a hero in the sky? 
E                                  G
High adventure!  Higher pay!
G             D                       A
Join the Space Marines today,
A                                    G               A
And you're gonna be a hero in the sky. 

Do you wanta wear a macho uniform? (2x)
Olive shirt and BVDs,
Pants that bag around the knees:
Yeah, we’ll put you in a macho uniform.

Do you wanta rise as early as the birds? (2x)
Well, on that you’ll have no choice;
When you hear your sergeant’s voice
You will always rise as early as the birds.

Do you wanta eat exotic space cuisine?  (2x)
Powdered eggs and wafer-bar,
Nameless stew and burger-char:
Yeah, you’ll always eat exotic space cuisine.

Do you wanta use the latest weaponry?  (2x)
Guns that jam and spray like hell,
With their stocks made by Mattel:
Yeah, you’ll always use the latest weaponry.

Do you wanta take a body-building course? (2x)
Well, our basic training tends
To build muscles at both ends.
Yeah, we’ll put you through a body-building course.

Do you wanta ball with gorgeous foreign dames?  (2x)
On a hundred worlds or more,
There’s still just one kind of whore.
Yeah, that’s what you’ll see of gorgeous foreign dames.

Do you wanta test the latest weapons made?  (2x)
Well, on every other pass
One will get you in the ass.
Yeah, that’s how you’ll test the latest weapons made.

Do you wanta further medical research?  (2x)
Between modern weaponry
And new kinds of STD,
You will surely further medical research.

Would you be young and handsome all your life?  (2x)
Well, the odds are good that you
Will be dead by 22,
So you *will* be young and handsome all your life.

“Hero” is a four-letter word. (2x)
Just another term for “fool”,
As you’ll find out in our school.
Yeah, “hero” is a four-letter word.

            After that song, there was nothing for either of them to do but get another drink, vodka this time. They sat on bar stools back to back, precariously holding each other up. Malvolio said, “We’re both irrele*hic*, irrele*hic*, irrele*hic*”
            Andover burbled, “Elephant?”
            “Thassit, we’re both irrelephant!”

                                                            #          #          #

            With that, the Princess had seen enough.
            Belladonna slipped away, down secret passageways, to her room. Once there she sat at her holo and placed a call to a McMansion in Barbie.
            A face formed in the holo; her mother. Dulgencia said, “Why, it’s Belladonna. What a perfectly expected pleasure!”
            As usual, Mom started out on top. “You knew I was going to call?”
            “It was only a matter of time. And now I get to see your lovely face!”
            “Mom…” Belladonna said low. This was the old rivalry, all over again, which was exactly what she did not need right now.
            Dulgencia said, “Holo, holo, on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”
            “Why, you are, my dear!”
            Belladonna was stunned. “What?! You never said that before!”
            “Oh yes, our pointless little beauty-queen rivalry. What childish nonsense! I should have outgrown it ages ago,” Dulgencia drawled. “So I apologize, dear daughter. I concede the contest! Victory is yours! I lose, you win!”
            Belladonna said, “Really?
            “Yes, dear, really. You are young, so of course you are more beautiful than I am.” Dulgencia sighed. “It is the way of the worlds.”
            “Oh, Momma… why are you being so nice to me?!”
            “Because I have a good use for you, of course.”
            Use? For me? What use am I?” She burst into tears.
            Dulgencia crooned, “There, there, child.”
            Belladonna said, "What’ll I do, Momma? I mean, what use am I? What am I good for?"
            "You are beautiful, you are a liar, a manipulator, and you haven’t a single idea of your own in your pretty little head. So you, my dear, are the perfect actress!"
            She stopped weeping. “I am?”
            “See, your tears dried up in an instant!  Which proves my point.”
            "If I am the perfect actress, then what are you?"
            "Why, I am the perfect director. The Show Must Go On!" she barked. Belladonna leaped to her feet, even though she wasn’t in the same room, or even on the same continent. Dulgencia laughed; “Ah-ha-ha-ha-haa! You see? It is the voice of command."
            "You sure have it, Mom!"
            "So come to me, dear. We are going to conquer the Theatah!"