Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rough Draft: Challenge on Couldtra

Shaunacy Wise looked looked to her right at the four human council members for the Couldtra colony.  They looked back at her with something she could only describe as defiance.  With her social sensors turned off, a practice of hers while the council was in “executive session,” it was the best description she could come up with.  
Shaunacy turned to her left and the four alien members of the council, the Socotrans.  Short, conical shaped beings standing on six thick stubby legs, they were nearly identical in size and shape, resembling some anarchistic attempt to create an old style SSTO, or “Flash Gordon” rocket. Only the faintest difference in markings on the carapace of their upper bodies allowed her to tell them apart.  When she looked into their eyes, six per member, in a circle around the opening at the top of the their bodies where their food went in, she neither saw nor felt anything recognizable.  
“And here I am, stuck in the middle.”  She sighed at the thought, which had become an increasingly more frequent one as this noble experiment careened toward what looked like would be a very ignoble end.  “Will I be caught in the crossfire when the shooting starts?”  
“All Right...”  Shaunacy frowned.  No one had said anything about resorting to violence.  There has been protests and arrests in the human section of the colony.  Drunks who decided to join in the marches when nothing else seemed entertaining had been the main culprits.  Nothing on the Socotran side, of course.  When you were a collective, symbiotic group-mind sort of thing, something the humans had yet to sort out entirely, internal strifes never happened.  
“Alright...”  Shaunacy repeated herself, cutting off her own rambling thoughts.  “As council Supervisor, I declare the debate to be over.  Time to put the matter to a vote.”  
She extended her arms to indicate the two tables situated to form a shallow “V” shape, with her desk at the point.  A dramatic gesture for no one.  She had brought the meeting into executive session to keep the human colonists who had attended from showing their epithets at the Socotrans.  The meeting was being recorded though, so, to keep up appearances...
“From Council member Alpha...”  She nodded toward the Socotran sitting to her immediate left.  “A proposal to use the extra resources identified in the Colony Audit, document 25-315, to build an extension of the transit line from the Colony landing field to the Socotran biome, with its accompanying support and maintenance structures.  The proposed design can be found under document listing 25-316.”  
“From Council member Fabia Wolpert...”  Shaunacy gestured toward her right, to the round-face black woman seated between Ramil Rabakar, with his black turban and exploding black beard, and William Brenner, with his thin and sharply defined features and tightly cropped hair.  Fabia, like Ramil, William and the bearish Aaron Dulhanty, were also heads of their own departments of inquiry, Couldtra being a science colony after all.  “A proposal to use the additional resources to build an education center, situated adjacent to the north side of the Colony landing field, out of the incoming shuttles flight paths.  This proposal, along with the proposed design of the education center, is listed as document 25-447 in the Colonial library.”  
Shaunacy took another, bracing breath.  “By stipulation, these proposals are mutually exclusive.  A vote for one precludes a vote for the other.  By colony rule, a vote regarding the distribution of resources must be by majority of the council.  Democracy at its best, hmm?”  
She got a varied reaction from the human council members.  Ramil frowned.  William raised one eyebrow.  Aaron pursed his lips and made a sucking sound.  He looked tempted to call for a debate on the advantages and disadvantages of the democratic process and was restraining himself.  
Only Fabia gave anything close to a positive response.  A faint, almost nostalgic smile, followed by a small shrug that seemed to say that even the best of things come to an end.  
From the Socotrans, the same, enigmatic nothingness.
“If you please...”  Shaunacy gestured toward the pads in front of each council member.  “A Blue vote expresses favor toward the proposal put forth by Council member Alpha.  A Red vote favors that of Council member Wolpert.  If the council will please vote...”  
They were like horses at the starting bell.  Four hands and four tentacles reached for the voting pad.  It was a  photo finish over which appendage had reached its target first.  
On Shaunacy’s left, four blue lights.  On her right, four red.  A 4-4 tie.  
Which meant she had the deciding vote.  

A half-hour later, in her office, Shaunacy leaned back in her chair.  She turned her social sensors back, setting the display mode to “sensate.”  
A disturbing, angry sensation crawled across her skin.  It made her want to make sure the door to her office was locked an hide under her desk.  When she verified that she was getting a read on the tracking of the council vote, she put a hand to her forehead and held it there, closing her eyes tight.  
The human colonists weren’t taking the decision to delay her vote for a conference with each side very well at all. 
Her door chimed.  A contact card appeared in her vision.  Fabia Wolpert had arrived.  The clock on the lower right hand corner said that she was ten minutes early.  
“Come in.”  The door unlocked and separated.  A welcoming light appeared over the entrance.  Fabia gave Shaunacy one of her famous, brilliant smiles.  She had not been smiling very much in recent months.  It was good to see.  
“You’ve been feeling the opinion polls.”  
Shaunacy rolled her eyes and sighed.  “The colony isn’t very happy with me right now.  I’ll probably be replaced in the next election.”  
Fabia dropped her smile.  “We all will.  You’ve seen the figures on the Socotran biome population.”  
Shaunacy felt her own expression tighten.  “I have.  Come in.  Sit.”  One of the chairs before her desk turned and offered itself to Fabia.  
“They already have a population majority within the combined colony.”  Fabia continued to stand at the threshold to Shaunacy’s office, which was really just a small room on the backside of her hut.  Behind her, through the open door, Shaunacy could see the bulk of the human colony...  The human portion of the colony, stretching away behind her.  It almost looked like the colony was backing her up in some confrontation between them.  “We’re just waiting for the next election cycle for that majority to express itself.”  
“Which is why I want to take this opportunity to forge some sort of compromise.”  
“How?”  Fabia’s brows pinched together.  Her frown was angry looking.  Angrier than Shaunacy had seen even in recent council sessions.  “They don’t care about what we want.  They don’t even try to understand our requests.”  
“You said yourself, when their colony ship first arrived, that it was our opportunity that our two species could forge a positive relationship, despite the experiences of other systems where humans and Socotrans had encountered each other.”  
“I was wrong.”  Fabia pulled herself up straight.  She clasped her hands together, right above, left below, finger curled around each other, as she did the rare occasions she spoke publicly.  
Shaunacy felt her heart sink.  It was only because of Fabia’s support that she was able to convince the humans of Couldtra to give the co-habitation plan a try.  It had seen such a glorious success at first.  Nothing like what had happened in the other Socotran encounters.  No self-destruction.  No warfare.  A peaceful integration and cooperation with the already established human settlement.  If Fabia had given up so completely...
“If that’s the case then...”  Shaunacy couldn’t bring herself to contemplate such a future.  Not y et.  “Humor me, please.  Come in and let’s talk.  Let’s at least try to do what we want to do with the Socotrans.”  
“You are the only one that still wants to try.”  Fabia shook herself then.   She gave Shaunacy a half smile before stepping across the threshold.  The doors sealed themselves behind her, cutting off the colony, the night and leaving the two of them alone.  
“Let’s sit over here.”  Shaunacy got up and moved toward the couch.  The padding adjusted itself to accommodate their differences in height and weight, Shaunacy being six or seven centimeters taller and a few kilos lighter.  The couch flexed in its middle, to allow them to face each other more comfortably while they talked.  
“So...”  Fabia settled into her side of the couch.  For a moment, when she flashed that encouraging smile of hers, it was like old times.  Trying to solve colony problems before the arrival of the Socotrans.  “Do you have an idea of what you’re going to do?”  
“No.”  Shaunacy returned Fabia’s smile after her admission.  “But I need to try something.”  
“You’ll vote for my proposal.”  
“Oh?”  Shaunacy turned toward her friend and colleague.  She heard a challenge in Fabia’s tone.  One that made her feel like squaring up against her and crossing her arms in a protective gesture.  
“It’s your only option.  The only one remaining.”  Fabia pointed her head toward the local east, where the Socotrans had set up their biome in what had once been a boggy wetland.  “They are completely united against us...”  
“Not ‘against’ us.  They have their own priorities.”  
“It amounts to the same thing.”  Fabia leaned toward her, her words sounding harsh.  “If they can’t recognize our needs and continually vote against them then they are against us.”  She leaned back, looking away from Shaunacy.  “I wish we had taken that into account.  I wish we had understood them better.”  
“We did our best.  We didn’t have much to go on.  The few encounters with them before...”  Shaunacy opened her eyes wide at the reports the colony had received.  
“You’ve seen the recent reports from Solar.”  
Shaunacy nodded.  Solar had been the first human world to have a Socotran slow-ship enter their space.  Without hesitation, the ship had launched landers and landed on a patch of ground within a kilometer of the colony.  When human emissaries approached, the Socotrans extruded individuals that were barbed and fanged beyond belief.  
“Earth has increased the contingent of Federal Marines to twenty thousand.”  Shaunacy had to concentrate.  “If you do the math it seems there aren’t any more ‘colonists’ to speak of.”  
“Non-combatants were pulled out months ago.  It’s only soldiers and Socotrans now.”  
Shaunacy straightened up on her side of the sofa.  “I don’t want that to happen here.”  
“It won’t.”  
She looked at Fabia, hoping to be given some hope. 
“At least, not that way.”  Fabia jutted her chin at her.  “We’ve given the Socotrans a new weapon.  Democracy.  Majority rule.  The only problem, just being ‘In’ a community doesn’t make you ‘Part’ of that community.  We don’t share anything with them.  We’ll have to live by their standards.”  
Shaunacy sat without talking for a moment.  Her social sensors, still on sensate, had lowered their volume once she started talking with Fabia.  Now they were slowly increasing, an angry, stirring pool of anger and hate that felt compressed and frustrated as well.  If the lid should pop...
Shaunacy turned off the social sensors.  The relief was almost orgasmic.  It left her a bit lightheaded.  She was struggling to gather her own thoughts again.  
“What...”   She took a breath and let it out.  “What do you think will happen?”  
“What ought to happen...?  It’s this...”  Fabia put her left elbow on the couch and leaned forward/  
“You vote for my plan.  It goes through 5 to 4.”  Fabia’s voice was low, like that of a teenage girl sharing a secret.  But the things she was talking about were much more scary to Shaunacy that what boy was popular or the news about their friends getting splashed across their social networks.  “We build the center, with human only crews.  You then vote yes for another proposal I’m going to make.”  
“And that is...?”  
“To increase expenditures for to ensure the future safety of our colonists.”  
Shaunacy felt her eyes widen and her brows crawl up to the top of her head.  
“Fabia...  That sounds dangerously like a euphemism.”  
“We have to be ready, Shaun.  We’ve seen what they are capable of.”  Fabia put on her angry face once more.  “They’re not giving us any choice, girl.  Next election, they’ll have a six to majority on the council.  That will turn into a seven to two majority when they vote in one of their own as Supervisor.  Then what?  How many 6-2 decisions will it take before you see that we’re gonna be squeezed out.”  Fabia flung her arm in Socotrans’ direction.  “That doesn’t even touch on what they’ll do to this world.  They destroyed a beautiful wetland to make it more comfortable for themselves.”  
“We made changes, too, Fab...”  
“Not like they have.  They’ll grow over the surface of this world, just like they grew over that bog.”  Fabia pointed her finger at her.  “And they’ll start with us.”  
“I won’t let that happen.”  Shaunacy felt the fierce certainty in her words.  She wondered where it came from.  “I will find a way.  Like you said, it’s about making them...  Them and us, feel part of the same whole.”  She brought the hands of her fingers together to form a globe.  Her hands trembled, threatening to make the imaginary thing come apart.  
“They don’t care enough to try, Shaun.”  Fabia shook her head.  “They’re too busy squatting in their bog, patting each other on the back telling themselves how good they are.  They share that much with humans that sometimes run things.”  
“Promise me something.”  Shaunacy still held her fingers together, keeping the shape of the imaginary something with her hands.  
Fabia straightened up, retreating into her corner of the couch.  “What?”  
“If I come up with a plan, no matter if it sounds insane or stupid or whatever...”   She looked away from her hands to grab Fabia’s gaze with hers.  “Back me up.”  
Fabia took a slow, careful breath.  “You’re asking quite a lot while giving me nothing.”  
“I know.  I’m still asking.”  
They held each other’s eyes.  Shaunacy thought of the early days of the colony, when it seemed like the next discovery, the next problem, the next assumption proved wrong, could spell the end of human life on Couldtra.  Fabia’s smile and determination had bolstered her when she thought she had nothing left.  
“All right.”  Another wave of relief went through Shaunacy.  “I’ll do it.  But...”  
“If it goes wrong, you’re on your own.”  Fabia looked like she was feeling pain, somewhere deep inside.  “In the end, I’m going to side with my fellow humans.  If I have to drop you as a friend to do that...”  She let out an anguished breath.  
“Then I’ll do my best to make sure you don’t have to do that.”  
Shaunacy felt an electronic tap on her shoulder.  She opened visual access on the cameras overlooking the nearest transit station to see Alpha, one of the Socotran council members, stepping off the car onto the platform.  
Fabia must have been linked to the cameras on the arrival platform as well, for she excused herself in that moment and asked if she could leave through Shaunacy’s front door.  The road from the platform was a straight-shot from Shaunacy’s office door.  Leaving by the front would allow Fabia to leave without being seen.  Shaunacy gave Fabia a hug and a quick exchange of pecks on the cheeks.  Her estranged friend then cut a path through her small hut and out the door.
Just in time.  The office door chimed right after the front door sealed itself.  Fabia must have noticed how quickly the Socotrans can move, Shaunacy thought, as she stepped to the door and tapped the pad to open it manually.
“Good Evening, Supervisor Wise.  I am here at the appointed time.”  The computerized voice came from a modified human data-pad inserted into a slot the Socotrans on Couldtra grew in their trunks.  The Socotran stared up at her with four of its six eyes.  The other two were swiveling back and forth on their stalks, taking in the area behind it.  Had the Socotran been monitoring the human news and social network feeds?  
“Right on time, too.”  
The two eyes scanning behind it swiveled forward to join the other four in examining her.
“I am under the impression that is what I just said.  Was there a specific action on my part you needed?”  
“No.  Just...  Never mind.”  Shaunacy stepped back, her arm gesturing for the Socotran to come in.  “Please.”  
The two rear eyes continued searching behind it as the Socotran scuttled forward with crab-like efficiency.  Once it was in the center of the room, its eyes fanned out, each one taking in a segment of its perimeter.   They moved like cameras being operated by a nervous security agent, going from one detail within its scope to another.  
“This is the first time you’ve come to my office, isn’t it?”  Shaunacy felt herself cringe at that realization.  Why hadn’t she invited any of the Socotrans over before?  All the human members had been invited, or had invited themselves, numerous times.
“Would you like to have a seat?”  She threw the offer over her shoulder as she made her way back behind her desk.  A formality.  Polite noise.  The Socotrans always stood in place, ignoring human courtesies.  
“Yes, it is my first time entering your habitat.  Yes, I will sit down.”  
Shaunacy was bent over, halfway to sitting, when she sorted out Alpha’s replies to her two questions.  
“You would?”  
“If your query is regarding my expressed desire to sit, I can confirm that as my reply.”  Three of Alpha’s eyes on that side of its body focused on the sofa, which was still set up as when Fabia had been there.  “The furniture you use for communal sitting is already in the proper configuration.”  
“Ah.  Yes...  It is.  Please...”  She nodded toward the spot Fabia had vacated as she took her corner of the sofa once more. 
Shaunacy watched Alpha approach the sofa.  It paused before it.  It lifted its two closest legs and placed them on the seat.  It pushed down two, three times against the seat, testing the pressure with a spider-like delicacy.  All at once, it shoved down hard with its leading legs and pushed off the floor with its rear legs.  The middle pair reached up and grabbed the sofa’s edge for a moment before pushing it forward.  The trailing legs snapped in place beneath it.
Alpha teetered for a moment.  Shaunacy readied herself to dive forward to catch him if it toppled over.  It stood straight and still for a moment, then descended to the sofa’s surface, legs folding beneath it, like a single stage transfer vehicle coming tail first on one of the colony’s landing pads.
“There...”  Shaunacy sighed with relief.  “All settled.”  
“Yes.  I am in a stable position.”  
“Good.  So glad you’re comfortable.”  Shaunacy let out a nervous chuckle.  “That’s the first time any of you took up an offer of mine to sit.”  
“A recent transactional analysis gave us the result that such offers are intended to assist in communication over topics of discussion.  With that result in mind, a decision was reached to accept such an offer if/when it was made.”  
“I...  See.  So...”  Shaunacy felt a tickle of optimism wanting to sprout within her.  “Does that mean we can reach a compromise regarding the proposals on resource allocation?”  
“No.  It does not.”  
The little seedling of optimism was crushed her the footpad of the Socotran’s words.  
“Oh.  Well.  Then...  Why come here to discuss anything?”
“I came because you invited me.  Our analysis of such transactions between human elements is that a refusal of an invitation is categorized as ‘insulting,’ an outcome regarded as negative.  Our behavior schema is predicated on a desire to minimize negative transactional results when possible.” 
“That’s...  Something, I suppose.”  Though bent and battered, her little sprout of optimism didn’t die.  She opened her mouth as her brain tried to form a question to probe an opening she thought she might see.
“Did the invitation to sit extended to Council Member Fabia Wolpert increase her amenability toward compromise?”  
“You know she was here?”  Shaunacy straightened up on her side of the sofa.  “You access the colony’s sensor-net?”  A strange feeling went through her with that thought.  Was she disturbed by it?  Why should she be?  The human colonists all accessed the net at one time or another.
“We do not.  I detect a residue of the exterior cell matrix that matches the council member’s signature.”
“Exterior cell matrix?”  
“The elements of each human that exist upon their surface.” 
“Oh.  Our bacterial biome?  You can sense that.”  
“It is my understanding that such a fact was just expressed.  Is the programming of the pad regarding grammar not function properly?”  
“No.  You said it fine...”
“It is the third time in the course of the exchange between us that you have made to confirm a statement...”  
“No, no.  It’s not that.”  Shaunacy held her hands up toward Alpha.  She waited a moment to gather her thoughts.  “What...  Confused me, only momentarily, was the underlying assumption being made that the bacterial residue you are able to sense is an integral part of each human.”  
“It is.”  Socotran eyes didn’t blink, the exterior being a hard, crystal-like structure that protected the eye.  But they did do this little circular motion when reorienting on something that caught their curiosity.  Alpha’s eyes did that circular movement just now.  “Our preliminary data indicates that it offers some measure of protection against infectious agents.  It does appear that you have limited communication with this sheath of elements, however.”  
“I suppose that’s true.”  Shaunacy recalled a conversation with Ramil Rabakar, who was the colony’s chief biologist as well as having a seat on the council, that echoed what the Alpha was saying.  
“It would be to our advantage if we could communicate with those elements of ourselves, wouldn’t it?”  
“A decided survival advantage would be gained.”  
“Just as our colony...  Our community would gain a decided advantage if the human elements and the Socotran elements communicated more efficiently.”  
Alpha’s eyes did their circular dance.  
“A high degree of fidelity in communication is already observed between us.”  Another circular focusing, accompanied by a flexing of its footpads against the surface of the sofa’s cushion.  “There is a degree of signal verification that appears to be redundant.  I referred to such in our current communication encounter a few moments ago.  But accuracy of the concepts transferred to you are often confirmed.”  
“We understand your proposals.  On an intellectual level.  We don’t understand each other.”  
Alpha flexed its footpads on the sofa again.  
“Your statement is perceived as contradictory.  Understanding the proposals put forth in the forum of the council meetings is to understand us.”  
“Yes and no.”  There, that cleared things up, didn’t it?  She raised a hand toward the Alpha, a gesture they had defined in council meetings to mean, “I will explain.”  
“Let’s use the current proposals as an example, OK?”  The Alpha didn’t respond.  Shaunacy took that as allowing her to proceed.  
“The humans in the colony are afraid you’re going to overrun them.  Us.  That your numbers, increasing faster than our own, will allow you to do what you want without regard to what we want or need.”  
“We are operating within the constraints of your colony’s form of governance.  This is your system, which we accepted completely even though it appeared to be inefficient and unnecessarily redundant.”  
“We didn’t know you Socotrans could grow your population as rapidly as you have.”  
“We cannot be held accountable for your lack of research.”  
“We were just relieved that you didn’t just try to kill us outright like your kind has done on other worlds, like...”  Shaunacy her the spite in her words, the anger, the fear.  She didn’t try to stop herself this time.  Maybe it was because being angry and afraid at Alpha made her feel like she was getting closer to her human side.  “Why didn’t you?”
The Alpha’s eyes did a circular twirl.  “Elaborate, please.”  
“Why didn’t you attack us like you did on Solar?”  
“That was a different group of elements than our group.”  
“I know, but...”  She bit back on, “but your all same, aren’t you?”  “Why did that group ignore the human effort to communicate and started attacking while your group made the attempt to cooperate.”  
“That was a different group of elements than our group.”  
“Different in what way?”
"The humans in the colony are afraid you're going to overrun them.  Us."  She was glad she wasn't recording this.  That little gaff in word choice would kill her standing in the colony.  "Your numbers are increasing faster than our own.  It will soon allow you to do what you want without regard to what we want or need."  
"We are operating within the constraints of your colony's form of governance.  This is your system.  We agreed to accept it completely, despite its apparent inefficiencies and redundancies."  
"We didn't know you Socotrans were so...  Fecund."  
"We cannot be held accountable for your lack of research."  
"We've had little opportunity for peaceful observation.  The humans on Solar have had first hand experience of that."  Shaunacy heard the spite in her voice, the fear, the anger.  She was trying to open a connection here, not fresh wounds.  "We were relieved that you didn't just attack us outright."  
"They are a different group of elements."  
"Why didn't you?"  
Alpha's eyes did their circular twirl.  
"Why didn't you simply attack our world as your colony ships did when they arrived on Solar?"  It wasn't the line of dialog she had planned on following.  But it was a question the humans on Couldtra had debated amongst themselves.  Especially more recently, with the tension growing between the two species.  
"There are those amongst us..."  Shaunacy sat up straight in her corner of the sofa.  Elbows on the back and armrest, hands clasped together before her.  It was a defensive posture that matched her caution.  "Who think it marked a change of tactics.  That you were somehow able to communicate to the other group, the one on Solar, and decided to effect a more...  Long-term approach toward displacing the human presence on this world.  
Alpha was stock still.  All six of its unblinking eyes were trained on her.  She might have thought it some exotic statue or prop for a space-adventure vid had she not know it for what it was.  
"We have no ability to communicate in real time with those other elements, nor with those that sent us forth into the galaxy.  We had not even conceived of the possibility of trans-luminal travel prior to our contact with your species here."  
"Then why the difference in approach." 
"They are a different group of elements."  
"But..."  She almost started to say, "But they're all Socotrans like you."  Humans were still trying to squeeze out the habit of such prejudicial thinking. 
"Different in what way?"  
"We have no ability to communicate in real time with those elements, therefore we are unable to answer that question except by using the same data available to you."  
"But you have some insight.  They are...  Your people, aren't they?"  Shaunacy sat up, scooting to the edge of the sofa.  It was too soft, too comfortable.  She wanted to feel the edge of its framework creasing the backs of her thighs.  She wanted to turn the temperature in the hut way down from its comfortable 24 degrees celsius.  She wanted to be on edge, to get her thoughts moving more nimbly.  
"They are different group of elements."  
"I understand that!"  She let her exasperation go.  Shaunacy clasped her hands together, trying to choke the answers out of the air.  Too bad Alpha had no throat to do the same with.  "That's not an answer.  Why didn't you set up your colony on the far side of the planet when you arrived?  Why land on the outskirts of ours?  Why did you agree to join our colony and not form your own?"  
"Why did your side make the offer?"  
"You know, I hate it when Ramil answers one of my questions with one, and I think I hate it even more when you do."  Shaunacy got to her feet.  She could feel a line of sweat along her hair line.  She wiped it away and then started looking for something to wipe her hands on.  The side of the sofa?  She'd done that before, just not in front of a guest.  
She looked back down at Alpha.  Its footpads were kneading the sofa again.  Was it too soft for its tastes?  Too hard?  Too scratchy?  Did it remind it of its mother, like when cats kneaded a surface?  Did Socotrans even have mothers?  Ramil could answer that question, but he wasn't here.  
"Because..."  Shaunacy took a breath.  The rational points made during the debate amongst themselves after the Socotrans arrived felt too stiff and unyielding now.  Their logical edges too sharp to squeeze out of her throat and past her lips without cutting something from her.  "Because...  We wanted this to be...  Not like Earth.  A place where a new..."  She hated the word "paradigm" and cast aside in her mind.  "Form of reason could take root.  One that wasn't based on shooting first and asking questions later."  
Alpha's eyes made several circular turns.  A sequence that went from one to the other.  
"Your turn."  Shaunacy faced Alpha squarely.  She was feeling better.  The tension was gone.  She knew why, too.  Why it helped her to be agitated and emotional.  It was how she argued with Fabia and Ramil.  It was how she discussed problems with Aaron or William.  She was treating Alpha like she did those she thought of as part of her community.  If she wanted Alpha to join that group, she needed to deal with him that way.  "Why did you say yes when we made the offer to form a single colony?"  
"We have no ability to communicate in real time with those elements on Solar, or those that sent us forth into the galaxy."  All six of Alpha's footpads were wrapped around a clump of sofa, hard.  "We do not even recall what it meant to be part of those elements that sent us forth."  
"Hmm?  How...?"  Shaunacy shook her head.  She put a hand to her forehead then pushed her hair back.  Her hair felt greasy.  She needed to shower.  It had been a long day.  
"Because of the length of your journey?  Because the world you come from is that far away?"  There had been numerous attempts to figure out where the Socotran home world had come from.  The speculated transits of the Socotran vessels converged on no single point.  
"We do not have access to that data.  It was erased from our collective memory during the launch procedure of our colony vessel."  
Shaunacy felt herself go cold.  What had happened?  What had taken place on the Socotran world of origin that they would send out...  Who knows how many vessels filled with their kind, without the knowledge of who or what they were as a species or where they had come from.  
"We are driven to commune, we you call Socotrans.  When the offer to commune was made, it was accepted.  The process of aspiration, breathing in and breathing out, has a similar imperative for humans."  
"At least we share that much, don't we?"  Shaunacy turned and ambled a few steps away.  She was thirsty.  With the tip of her tongue she picked at a piece of something stuck between her teeth.  A sliver of broccoli from her vat-grown chicken and broccoli dinner.  She would offer a drink if it were Fabia or Ramil.  
"But the process is incomplete."  She pushed the thought of water, or even something stronger, from her.  She stepped back toward Alpha until she was towering over the Socotran.  "We're not a community yet.  Not as I would define one."  
"Nor have we achieved a state we associate with the acceptance of communion."    Alpha rocked back and forth.  Agitation?  Excitement?  Despair?  Shaunacy had no idea.  "But all we've been offered is the process of governance we've participated in."  
"All we've been offered...?"  Shaunacy blew out a slow breathe through puckered lips.  Her eyes narrowed as a fragment of a thought crossed her mind.  The action brought up her phone's menu in her vision.  
"Did she want a sensate connection to the social net?" the menu box asked her.  
"Alpha..."  She pulled her phone from her belt.  Its connection was the same as that of the modified pads the Socotrans used.  "I would like you to try something for me..."  

"The meeting is called to order..."  Shaunacy stretched her shoulders and twisted her neck this way and that to work the kinks out.  She was exhausted.  It had been a long night with Alpha, interspersed with three late night calls to Aaron, the colony's head of information management.  This was followed a very quick very early meeting with Fabia.  
She looked across the room toward the first friend she'd made amongst the colonists.  Fabia looked back at her with an expression that was as hopeful as it was suspicious.  She stood across the room, arms crossed, as the other humans made their way to their seats.  Only when Ramil turned and made a questioning gesture toward her did she follow them to her seat.  
The Socotrans were already in their positions.  Had been since the three of them arrived and joined Alpha, who had come to the council chamber with Shaunacy.  She had offered to get the Alpha some breakfast, but he...  She was thinking of him as he for some reason since he'd stayed all night in her hut...  Had indicated that he had sufficient nutrient reserves to get through the day.  
"This is a continuation of the last meeting.  There will be no reading of the minutes.  The matter that still stands before us..."  She made political show of reading from her pad.  "Two proposals for the extra resources found in the Colony Audit, number twenty-five, three fifteen..."  
"Madame Supervisor..."  
Shaunacy looked up at Alpha.  He had come in right on cue.  
"If I may, I am prepared to offer a third proposal for consideration."  
Ramil bolted upright in his chair.  William and Aaron looked at each other, eyes as wide as full moons back on Earth.  They both turned toward Fabia to catch her eyes, but she was staring at Shaunacy.  Her eyes were narrowing.  The hint of a smile played upon her lips.  
Shaunacy recalled the substance of their meeting.  It had been a simple request to go along with whatever happened.  And to trust her.  
"And your proposal, Council Member Alpha?"  
"A modification of proposal, put forth under colony document two-five-hyphen-three-one-six.  That the extra resources discovered under the aforementioned colony audit be used to build a transit extension to the Socotran biome..."  
"That's the same thing you guys were trying to shove down our throats..."  Ramil was raising a fist toward Alpha.  
"With the provision that fifteen percent of the resources transferred along that route be set aside and used for the construction of the Educational Center proposed under the conflicting proposal made under document two-five-hyphen-four-four-seven."  
Ramil's hand remained raised above his head.  His mouth hung open, a fleshy pink caldera in his mountain of a beard.  Gravity slowly lowered his hand back to the surface of his desk.  His mouth stayed hanging open for a long time after that.  
"Socotran biome would exude and shape the center, ensuring that it met the specifications put forth in the proposal document."  
"I see.  A very generous proposal."  One they had worked on through the night after Alpha felt the mood of the colony through her social network connection.  Most of the time had been spent calming the Socotran down after the experience, which Shaunacy took to be one he found both exhilarating and frightening in equal measures.  
The other Socotran council members had all eighteen of their eyes locked on Alpha.  They were were spinning and dancing all sorts of circles at him.  
"This revised version of the proposal has been uploaded to the colony database."  Alpha extruded a tentacle and tapped on its pad.  It had been modified, after her late-night discussions with Aaron, to access the colony's social and sensor net in sensate mode.  Alpha had assured her that he didn't need any other interface.  "It is listed as Colonial Document two-five-hyphen-six-six-seven."  
"Very good."  Shaunacy nodded in what she hope was a sage, measured fashion.  "I offer a motion, then, that we take an hour to read the document, followed by an hour of review and questioning.  Does anyone second the motion?"  
Fabia raised her hand before her.  "I will second that motion, Supervisor."
"The motion has been seconded.  Any objections?"  She looked to her left at the Socotrans.  They were all rocking back and forth at their places.  All except for Alpha.  She looked to her right.  The humans were looking back and forth at each other, bending heads together and whispering.  All except Fabia, who was watching Shaunacy, her smile growing from hint to outright suggestion.  
"Then let's proceed..."  Shaunacy tapped her pad, acting as if it was the first time she'd seen the proposal.  If thinks worked out as she expected, Alpha and Fabia would vote for the proposal.  Fabia would convince Ramil and Aaron.  William would be stubborn and vote for the original human proposal, just as the other three Socotrans would vote for theirs."  The modified proposal would win by a vote of 5 to 3 to 1.  
And she wouldn't even have to cast the deciding vote, which would keep her approval ratings from at least going down.  If that wasn't a sign of true democracy, she thought as she reread the proposal, Shaunacy didn't know what was.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Rough Draft: Personality Enhancer

Tony Gripson keyed in the code on his smartphone to link it to his drug dispenser.  Maijan would be leaving soon.  He heard she was already making the rounds, saying good-bye to her colleagues at the Project Center before jetting off to Florida to start her five year training cycle that would eventually take her to Mars.  Tony had one last chance to keep her on Earth.  He needed to be ready.  
The dispenser's app came on the screen.  He skipped the opening screen asking him who he wanted to be today.  He'd been thinking about it for the last two weeks, when Maijan had turned her notice.  Tony knew exactly who he needed to be.  
He used his finger to flick up and down through the menu items.  Here...  This one for relaxation.  And this one, to increase logical thinking, to counter any arguments she might make.  The main one...  Where was it?  What was it called again?  Dropsi-- Droxi--  Here!  Draxcidil.  The "youthinizer."  He was close to two decades older that Maijan.  From their conversations, their weekly lunches together, he didn't THINK the age difference mattered to her.  But the compound also emphasized the parts of one's personality that came to the front in romantic-social situations.  It gave one "game" as Melina, the financial manager, liked to call it.  
He hit the green "enable" button on his phone.  The dispenser, still sitting like a big lifter on a launch-pad in its recharging stand, started to blink "yellow-yellow, yellow-yellow," as it mixed the combination and charged the dispenser.  
The dispenser was blinking "yellow-green," when he heard the knock on the door.  Damn.  Too soon...?  Yellow-green...  Yellow-green...  "Who is it?" Tony called through the door.  
"It's Maijan.  I am about to leave.  I was hoping..."  
Yellow-green...  Yellow-green...
"To say 'good-bye.'" 
Yellow-green...  Green-Green!
Tony yanked the dispenser from its recharging base and jammed its micro-thin tip into the top of his thigh through his pants leg.  He thumbed it and held it down until it flashed red, indicating a full injection.  
Tony glanced at his phone.  It told him the cocktail would take about two to three minutes to take effect.  He could use up that much time, couldn't he?  
"Hey!"  Tony gave her a big smile as he opened the door.  
"Hey!"  She smiled back, giving him a little wave with her right hand, then one with her left.  Then another quick combination, right and left again.  It was from a private joke they shared, about her owing him greetings from when he walked through the department to say "Good Morning" to everyone .  
"Come in, come in..."  He stepped aside, holding the door open for her.  He caught her scent as she walked past.  Like green tea mixed with lavender.  He felt it tickle his nose and make him feel a bit light-headed.  This was followed by a flushing feeling like he'd taken 500 mg of niacin.  
The tickle and light-headedness was his normal reaction to Maijan.  The flush must be his personality enhancing cocktail kicking in.  
"Good timing."  Tony moved around to his side of the desk.  Maijan looked up and gave him a squinting smile, making her almond eyes disappear into dark curves marked by her long, chestnut lashes.  "I was just about to come looking for you."  
"Now you don't have to, as I've come looking for you instead."  
Tony's initial boost of confidence at feeling his enhancements kick in stalled and began a slow, unpowered decent.  He bent forward, butt hanging over the surface of his chair as he took a second look at her.  
Maijan was enhanced as well.  Her eyes, normally bright and alert, were now Focused, with a capital, "F."  Her pupils were slightly, but noticeably dilated.  Her legs were crossed with one hand sitting on top and the other typing out a rhythm like she was sending a constant stream of text messages.  
Her smile, though, was its friendly, inviting self.  Surrounded by the other signs of enhancement, Tony had a brief suspicion that their relationship over the months she'd been working in his department was based on a judicious use of her dispenser.  Had she just been doing her best to get along with the boss?  
No.  No...  He had gotten to know her well enough that she was a very casual enhancement user.  Energy boosts when one needed to pull an all-nighter, or when she needed to stay alert overseeing the final installation of a component.  She had probably given herself an injection to keep her going these last couple of days to make sure everything was wrapped up before she left.  
But it meant that his own enhancement might be completely wrong.  He had assumed he be facing her unenhanced.  Had he known...
"Is something amiss?"  She cocked her head to one side, watching him like a screen with important data running across it.  Her word choice added evidence to his assessment of mid-enhancement.  "You look like you are at a loss for words.  Did I come at wrong time?  Should I go?"  
"No-no."  Tony forced a smile.  He eased himself down into his chair.  He glanced toward the drawer where he'd placed his dispenser and recharging stand.  "Please.  Stay."  
Maijan's smile widened.  She looked very pleased that he'd asked her to stay.  If only that small request could be stretched to cover the rest of her life...
"I...  Am...  At a loss for words, actually."  He nodded his head.  The dispenser automatically recharged itself with an antedote to whatever charge has just been dispensed.  A safety feature in the case of incorrect dosage.  Should he use it?  Clear his head?  But that would leave him with just himself.  Would using a naked personality be better than one enhanced for a differently enhanced Maijan?  
"Why is that?  You've always been very adept in verbal communication.  In fact, one of the things I wanted to communicate with you before I departed was how much I learned from our relationship."  Maijan took a deep breath.  She rose up in her chair.  She arched slightly.  It was how Tony imagined she woke up in the morning.  Another flush went through him, making his skin burn.  His palms would be sweating now if he wasn't enhanced.  
"Quite a lot, in fact."  Maijan nodded to herself.  "I've enjoyed professionally fulfilling relationships in the past, as well as personally fulfilling ones.  But rarely have I encountered one where I found both.  I wanted to express my gratitude for that."  She bowed forward, her hair, unbound from its working ponytail, cascaded forward in sheets of sunset.  
"The feeling is quite mutual.  In fact...  I was hoping we could deepen the relationship."  
Maijan lifted her head.  She turned it to one side and looked at him with expectation.  
"You are...  The most fascinating person I have ever come to meet."  Tony released his uncertainty.  He went with the confidence, the energy he was feeling.  He felt his smile stretch itself, the charm tugging hard at both corners.  He allowed himself to feel the flush as if it were a sheen that made everything tighter, stronger, better.  "Working with you has been more stimulating than at any other time on this job.  Talking with you has been just as stimulating for other reasons."  
Maijan's eyes widened, then disappeared once more as she smiled back at him.  Was she giggling to herself?  Tony felt his heart skip.  
"Would it be possible to convince you to stay."  Tony leaned forward over the surface of his desk.  "On Earth?  With me?"  
Maijan smiled even more broadly.  She rolled her head to one side.  Her eyes met his.  Tony smile back.  She took a breath and straightened up in her chair.  
Tony blinked.  "No."  
"No.  Unfortunately, no."  Maijan leaned forward.  She extended one hand toward him.  She set her wrist on his desk, with her palm and fingers standing up, as if she didn't think she had the right to reach out and touche him.  
"Please...  Don't feel weird."  
"I, uh..."  Tony smiled back.  "As you know, weirdness is part of the package."  
Maijan laughed like she always did at Tony's jokes.  It was one reason why enjoyed her company so much.  
"Yes...  Yes, but..."  She frowned suddenly.  Maijan looked lost in thought.  "I took this job when I didn't hear back from the Mars Project.  It was a fall back thing, I thought, but..."  She raised her eyes.  Her stare was hard.  So hard Tony thought he might get bruises on his face or a cut lip if she didn't look away soon.  
Instead, she sat back up.  Her pleasant smile returned.  
"The Mars Project is a prior commitment.  A dream.  Something I must pursue."
"Of course."  Tony nodded.  He gave her a look of encouragement.  He felt fine.  He felt his accept of her decision as something good and true.  He knew later he would feel much, much worse.  But there was an enhancement for that.  
"Well..."  Maijan nodded.  "I think it might be time for me to go."  
"I guess so."  
They both stood.  Tony looked at Maijan.  Maijan looked back at him.  For a moment, they both swayed on their feet.  Tony to head around the table to be by her side.  Maijan in a reciprocal direction, it seemed to him.  
"Yes."  She held her hands out toward him, palms forward.  She seemed to be physically pushing herself toward the door.  "Time to leave.  And..."  The struggle returned to her face.  "Don't feel weird about...  This.  Don't."  
Tony parted his lips, another quip about to come out.  He felt his brain shift a bit and he nodded.  
"I won't.  I'll miss you.  But I won't feel weird."  
Maijan relaxed.  Her pleasant and focused expression returned.
"Good.  That makes me glad."  She gave him a small bow.  "Be well, Director." 
"And you, too, Project Manager."  Tony bowed back.  By the time he straightened up, Maijan had reached and opened the door.  She flashed more brilliance at him with her smile.  Waved again, from right to left, then left to right.  She disappeared around the corner of the door frame after that. 
Tony sat back down.  He still felt fine.  At least he'd asked, right?  He took a breath.  He had a lot of day left to work through.  Plans to approve.  And there was that problem with the space-bridge design they'd uncovered...
He looked at his open door.  A part of him, very muffled and distant, wondered what she meant about not feeling weird.  Not feeling weird at all, he turned to his screen and got back to work.