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Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

The New Stars: Third Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/08/14 at 08:52

Start with Part 1

 

The observation area at the tip of the number seven primary equatorial space elevator was hardly used anymore. Mprhlpf Stentoria Honorius Lem was alone in the free space inside the hexiglass bubble at the end of the enormous woven carbon nanotube cable, beyond the elevator’s asteroid counterweight.

It wasn’t as close as she would have liked, but her own telescopic attachment was a fairly powerful tool at such a prime location in the dark shadow behind the enormous asteroid at the end of the elevator cable. The new stars were still growing ever larger and brighter, and they now took up a significant portion of the sky, casting a pale blue twilight in the previously dark nights.

Mprhlpf was making her calculations of the increase in the apparent size of the mysterious lights since her last observation when she realized suddenly that she was not alone. A large, multi-armed and broad-shouldered robot had entered the observation bubble behind her and was also gazing intently into the haunting glare of the new stars.

“Greetings.” She hailed him politely.

“Hello, I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you.”

“It’s quite all right. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else up here.”

“Indeed. I hardly ever see anyone in here any more. These observation bubbles were almost always full when those stars first appeared, but that was years ago, and it seems that public interest in them has waned.”

“But they grow larger all the time.”

“Yes.” He stepped closer to the hexiglass. The light of the stars reflecting off of his kind, rectangular face. “I don’t know what it is about them, but something makes me uncomfortable. Everyone else has gotten used to them. There is a popular theory that they’re some sort of cloud of large, highly active comets. That seems to be comforting to most, to have some kind of explanation, but it doesn’t really do it for me.”

“They aren’t comets.”

“I’m sorry, I realize I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Villard Emmet. I work here on the number seven elevator.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Villard. What is it that you do here?”

Villard extended an incomprehensible array of attachments. “I repair the elevator’s radiation shielding.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the radiation would be intense enough to cause material degradation at a fast enough rate to warrant such regular maintenance.”

Villard, excited to discover a robot who took any interest in his work, let it slip his mind that he had introduced himself to this stranger without any reciprocation.

“Oh, you’re quite right, of course. All the elevators, and in fact all orbital facilities, have far more radiation shielding than is strictly necessary, as well as having much more oxygenated atmospheric conditions than exist on the surface.”

“Why is that?”

“You know, I’m not quite sure. I’ve always thought it was strange, but I’ve never bothered to ask about it. Really I don’t have much supervision, and my work is fairly simple. I spend most of my time alone riding the service elevator up and down the cable. When I’m not busy I like to come up here and star gaze, though I’ve derived less and less pleasure from it for the past several years on account of those strange stars.”

“They are quite disturbing.” Mprhlpf agreed, extending her telescopic eye-piece again.

“You think so too? It’s comforting to find someone else of the same opinion as myself on the matter. No one seems to notice or care about them any more.”

There was a long pause as the two robots studied the stars in silence. Then Villard spoke again.

“You said you didn’t think they were comets.”

“Correct, I do not believe they are.”

“Pardon my asking but, why don’t you think so?”

Mprhlpf sighed and bowed her head slightly.

“I spent five years studying the new stars to earn my PhD in astronomy. Hundreds of hours of observation, many precise calculations, and a thorough knowledge of existing research on astronomical events led me to believe that the mainstream theories were incorrect.”

“How fascinating. It’s strange, but I don’t know if I’ve heard this alternative theory, and I am an avid, though admittedly amateur, enthusiast on the subject. What is your theory?”

“There’s good reason you haven’t heard of my theory, nor probably of me. My ideas were not accepted by the PhD board and my dissertation was rejected. I now spend all my academic efforts on a comprehensive study of the inner planets.”

“The inner planets?”

“Yes, there are several planets closer to our sun, of similar sizes and compositions to ours, though far warmer and with much thicker atmospheres. I’m currently working on models of the potential for the existence of advanced forms of biotic life on one in particular.”

“Biotic life? You mean like bacterias and slime molds?”

“It’s possible that there are even more complex examples of biotes than exist on our planet.”

“That sounds very interesting.”

“It is. Though it pales in comparison to my true passion; the new stars, which I have been banned from studying. That’s why I’m here. All my time on the University Complexus telescopes is to be spent studying the inner planets.”

“I see, but what was this theory of yours that caused such difficulties?”

Mprhlpf turned to Villard, glanced back to the stars, then looked back at him.

“Well, I am nearly alone amongst my peers in the field of astronomy in believing that the new stars are not a natural phenomenon.”

“What? Not natural? So you believe there is a supernatural explanation? Are you a true believer?”

“I was raised to be an atheist, though my position on the matter of robotic divinity is more subtle now. But that is beside the point. I make no scientific assertion as to the origin or purpose of the new stars. I have observed them thoroughly and have formulated proofs that show that the observed behaviour of the phenomenon is consistent with what we could expect to see if we were observing a fleet of interstellar craft engaging in a braking manoeuvre.”

“An interstellar braking manoeuvre?”

“Yes. A theoretical interstellar craft travelling at high speed would have to spend a significant portion of its journey decelerating thanks to the complete lack of friction in the vacuum. I believe the new stars are the interstellar drives of a fleet of ships decelerating as they approach our planet. I make no predictions as to their nature or their purpose beyond that.”

“Fascinating. Simply fascinating!”

“Thank you.”

“So what will happen next?”

“If I am correct in my calculations the deceleration should be almost complete. If I’m right, and I am, despite the rejection of my dissertation by those ivory tower scrap piles on the PhD board, the stars should be extinguished any day now as the ships deactivate their drives as they enter our system. After that no one can know what will happen next.”

Villard was enthralled and terrified by this new theory. He turned back to the stars, his antennae trembling with both fear and exhilaration. Despite this, he finally realized his rudeness at not learning his companion’s name.

“I’m ever so sorry, I’ve just realized, how rude of me, I’ve told you my name but I never asked yours.”

“It’s Mprhlpf.”

“Excuse me?”

“Mprhlpf”

“That’s a unique name.”

“Yes. I’m named after my mother.”

Robots 25

“Lovely.”

“Most people just call me M.”

Villard took a sudden step back.

“M?”

“Yes.”

“Your name is M and you study astronomy?”

“Yes.”

“At the University Complexus Alpha Alpha?”

Mprhlpf nodded, her shoulders slumped, she knew what came next.

“Yes.”

“It’s you isn’t it?”

A bitter smile crept across Mprhlpf’s face.

“Mprhlpf Stentoria Honorius Lem.”

“The abomination!” Villard made a series of holy signs with his arms and various attachments, taking another step away. “You… you have no core program set! They say you’re not really alive! You have no soul!”

“I can’t speak to my soul, or lack thereof, but I can assure you I am most definitely alive. Any other rumours you may have heard about me are most assuredly untrue. You’ve been standing here talking to me this whole time, do I not seem like a normal robot to you?”

“Well…yes… yes I suppose you do.” Villard relaxed and took a step forward. “But, the core program set. You really don’t have it?”

“I do not.”

“But…but what does that mean?”

“I don’t know. My father says he wanted to prove that robots could exist without it, and he has done that. At the same time, I think he wanted to discover what it was that the core programs did, and in that he has failed. My academic superiors and peers may find me somewhat eccentric, but neither my detractors nor my father himself have ever been able to detect any significant defect or change in my psychology due to my unique programming.”

A low alarm sounded.

“I’m terribly sorry M, but that sound means I have work to do. I’ve already spent longer here than I should.”

“That’s fine. I understand.”

“I apologize for my behaviour. You seem like a perfectly fine robot. I will forget all of the terrible things I’ve heard them say about you.”

“Thank you, Villard.”

“Perhaps we will meet again. I come up here all the time.”

“I think we will. This is the best chance I get to look at the new stars.”

“Until next time then!” and Villard departed through the small, circular entrance to the observation area.

There wouldn’t be a next time. Mprhlpf stayed some time longer to complete her observations, and as she was turning to go she was stopped by a sudden shift in the light as the new stars flickered and were suddenly extinguished.

 

Part 4

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The New Stars: Second Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/08/07 at 06:58

space robot

The new stars continued to grow larger and brighter as the months went on. There was great debate amongst astronomers both learned and amateur as to their nature and origin.

See larger image here

Part 3

The New Stars: First Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/08/05 at 11:14

I have been encouraged to add some narrative element to this project. I have also been encouraged to share more of my creative writing. Please enjoy.

THE NEW STARS: First Part

The night the new stars appeared in the sky, shining terrible and blue as they crept up over the horizon, was the very same night that The Most Very Reverend Doctor Stentorius Phlabeus Honorius Lem, professor emeritus of cybernetics and robopyschology at the University Complexus Alpha Alpha, honourary guardsman of the Fraternal Order of Illustrious Electroknights of the Steely Expanse, respected bishop in the Church of the Right-Handed Algebraic Composition (despite his very staunch and public atheism), noted philosopher, lauded poet and amateur musician, became a father.

It was a most unusual “birth,” not so far as the actual mechanics were concerned (in this respect it largely followed the usual method), but in the circumstances — that is, the place and time at which it was chosen to occur. In the Third Northern Sector, the ancestral home of the Honorius Lems, tradition dictates that birthing be conducted in isolation and under the harshest possible physical conditions. This is to introduce the new member of the family, as quickly as possible, to what is believed to be the inherent, blind viciousness of chaos. Third Northerners pride themselves on having tough, resolute, fearless offspring who, having been so immediately introduced to isolation and hardship, develop to be serious and independent individuals. Lonely mountain peaks are preferred, though, when possible, the whirling vortices of winter storms on the open ocean are also a popular choice. Stentorius himself was born during a particularly vicious hail-storm on a rather flat and empty stretch of the wintry regions of the Steely Expanse. In the First Central district, where the University Complexus Alpha Alpha is located, the event usually occurs at a highly ritualized family gathering with much reverence and joy, the lighting of candles, and the burning of incense being chief among the prescribed activities.

The genesis of Stentorius’ firstborn took place three hours into a lecture by the Reverend Doctor, which was a culmination of a week-long symposium on the subject of algebraic cybernetic programming, in front of an audience of several thousand scholars and clergymen, as well as those members of the general public who had the patience to sit through the professor’s lecture or who had fallen asleep and were awoken by all the hubbub that ensued.

For those in attendance well-versed enough in the mathematical jargon of programming algebraics (it was a very dense lecture indeed), it was understood that, by the end of the evening, the good Doctor intended somehow to demonstrate the validity of his recent highly publicized criticisms of one of the canonical assumptions of both cybernetics and robopyschology; that is, the importance and (as many would have it) even the absolute necessity, not to mention (and this is mainly a religious point) the sublime beauty of what has always been referred to as the Core Programs Set. Depending on one’s profession, this denial of the importance of the CPS was either highly dubious and irresponsible or heretical in the highest degree.

“Doctor! Sir! Bishop Stentorius! Sir! Doctor, please! Really!” An elderly academic finally managed to capture the speaker’s attention and distract him from his notes long enough to get in a word. Flustered, Stentorius slammed his palms down on the lectern and turned to his colleague with an expression of supreme annoyance. The clang of his worn steel hands on the titanium lectern echoed through the fresh and uneasy silence of the vaulted auditorium.

The academic seemed somewhat taken aback by the sudden shift of attention to him, as if he had not expected to succeed in interrupting. His tarnished antennae, unkempt and slightly askew, seemed to quiver with embarrassment. He stuttered, made something like a wheezing sound, then fell silent.

When it became obvious that he had nothing to say, and that Stentorius intended to resume his lecture once he could find his place in his notes again, another, somewhat younger, robotic scholar spoke for the mute academic.

“Doctor, if I may…”

Stentorius squinted and scanned the room for this fresh annoyance.

“You may. If you must.”

“Thank you sir. Sir, I do believe we are all quite anxious at this juncture to ask a few questions of you.”

“Is it not customary to ask questions only when a lecturer as distinguished as myself has come to the end of his presentation and has asked if there are questions?” Stentorius, having located the new challenger, turned his polished frame towards him and stared him down with a cool, proud gaze.

The younger academic, a visiting doctoral student from the department of engineering in one of the planet’s many smaller robotical arts colleges, stood with the casual confidence and self assurance of youth before the most distinguished professor, his several multi-jointed legs splayed comfortably out beneath his box-like frame, which was freshly polished and painted a fashionable blue-green tint. Several pairs of arms, arrayed with all manner of pincers and manipulators (betraying his working-class origins) remained neatly tucked in around his body. His primary pair of arms, extending asymmetrically from broad shoulders draped in gold-fringed fabric, ended in rubber-padded hands which currently clutched a thick stack of notebooks into which he had been furiously scribbling notes on the unfolding lecture.

“Sir, you can’t be surprised by our eagerness. The things you are suggesting are stunning, not to mention blasphemous,” he said, glancing towards a row of older model robots in all manner of colourful ecclesiastical vestments. They all nodded with approval.

“As you know, my young friend, I am not concerned with matters of blasphemy. If the Right-handed Church wishes to strip me of my bishopric as a result of my work, then so be it. I expect the Left-handed Church, or one of the ambidextrous sects would be more than eager to bring someone of my prestige into the fold. As for my work being ‘stunning,’ I thank you. I intend it to be so.”

“More than stunning, Bishop Stentorius — impossible! Ludicrous! Laughable!” Someone shouted from a back row.

“Even if it were possible, it would be wrong! Even an atheist must admit that. The core program is what defines us! To exist without it would be to lower, to be uncivilized, amoral, bestial!”

“Heretic!”

“Madman!”

“Idiot!”

The lecture hall erupted into tumult. Many dozing members of the audience were suddenly awakened, and their confusion, embarrassment, and subsequent desire to act as if they had any idea of what was going on only added to the chaos. Stentorius leaned back from the microphone, the hint of a sly smile playing at the edges of his flexible lips. A careful observer might have thought that he was enjoying all this. He was. Stentorius Phlabeus Honorius Lem liked nothing better than to be the cause of an uproar. He positively basked in the upset he had caused, though he worried that the fury of the full-on riot he had planned would be diminished if the audience let off too much steam now. He had miscalculated the timing. The pressure had built up too much.

“Gentlemen! My fellow robots! Please!” Stentorius shouted over the noise of the crowd. “Silence, please! I intend to answer all of your questions! To meet all your accusations! I apologize for the great length of my presentation up to this point.” The volume in the room started to diminish. Many of the more disinterested members of the audience, awoken from their napping, took this opportunity to slip out of the side exits into the cool evening, to gape up at the new stars appearing in the sky.

“I see now that some of the more technical aspects of my work might have been lost on an audience so…well…on an audience such as I have.” Stentorius said, making no effort at subtlety in his condescension. He dismissed the angry murmur this caused with a wave of his hand.

“I will therefore skip ahead in my presentation.” He plucked a great stack of his notes off of the lectern and, always with a flair for the dramatic, tossed them over his shoulder where they scattered on the floor behind him.

“You accuse me of blasphemy. So be it. I find it in my programming, if it pleases you, that I am immensely curious, and this curiosity knows no bounds of morality or dogma. If the possibility of the existence of members of our illustrious race devoid of that programming set, which you all consider so vital, disturbs you, then so be it. It is, as I have made quite clear, of no concern to me. Do as you will, think what you want, but do not stand in my way!” Here he raised his voice into a terrible, almost scream. His voice was like thunder rolling over the vast steely expanse.

“And as to the impossibility of what I propose, well…” Here he smirked as he paused, his eyes dropped and his hands fiddled with something behind the podium, “Perhaps it would be easier to stop talking over your heads and just show you that the grandson of Phlabeus The Bold is no fool!”

“Show us? Stentorius, surely you don’t intend to do anything rash!”

“I DO! I do intend,” he boomed. And at this, he flipped a switch at the podium causing several things to happen almost simultaneously. A delicate and softly pulsating holographic helix sprung up over his head like some impossible string of bright pink pearls. Certain elements of its structure were familiar to most of the learned members of the audience, yet when considered as a whole, it was shocking in the boldness of its composition for it seemed to defy the normal laws of the construction of such arrays in that its core was hollow.

At the same time as the audience was distracted by the blasphemous projection, the rich, thick red curtain behind the verbose speaker parted to reveal a secondary platform slowly rising above the stage. On the platform, and illumined by an additional set of lights mounted in the ceiling that flicked on at the same moment, lay the hint of the curvaceous shape of a robot in repose beneath a crisp, white sheet.

Those who still remained of the audience were on their feet as Stentorius made a great show of shrinking the hologram into the palm of his hand and striding purposefully to the side of the platform.

“What have you done, Stentorius? What are you doing? What is this?” Screeched an incredulous clergyman.

Stentorius grinned up at them all as, tearing the sheet away to reveal a glinting and shimmering robot in gold and chrome, he slid the hologram into the back of the robot’s head and touched a button at its neck. He took a step back as its body quivered and its dead eyes flickered to life.

“This is my daughter.”

 

Part Two