Wednesday, June 07, 2006


New Clothes

It turns out that I'm only managing to work about seven hours out of the eight I've got available to me, which I suppose is a pretty good average, but I'm still getting a much slower start out of the gate than I'd have hoped.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
15,430 / 90,000

I managed just a bit over 7K today, which brings me just north of 15K. I've only got six weeks blocked off on the calendar to finish Beyond the Threshold, which means that the minimum I need to write per week is 15K, and with only three days a week to work that means that if I start working any slower I won't be able to finish in the time I have budgeted. Any longer and I'll be impinging on already contracted projects, and considering that this is a spec novel that is so far homeless, that doesn't seem so wise.

I'm liking how it's shaping up so far, though. The voice of the narrator isn't quite what I expected, but then even when you outline as fanatically as I do the characters still manage to wrest a bit of control from you when they open their mouths. That the process at work, I think, and I've learned in my few years at this that you don't fuck with the process. Open it up and you let the magic smoke loose, and then where are you?
In the following bit, RJ Stone reminisces a bit about some of the beds he's slept in, and gets a new suit of clothes.


From the ages of twenty-one to twenty-four, just a bit over three years, I served aboard Orbital Patrol Cutter 972, first as an ensign, then a lieutenant. An Aurora ZD-36 manufactured by Winchell-Chung Industries, Cutter 972 was thirty meters, tip to tail, a small Keeper class vessel intended for nothing more glamorous than the maintenance of navigational buoys in cislunar space. My “quarters,” which stretch the definition of the word, were a cube approximately 2.5 meters to a side. A bit over fifteen and a half cubic meters, that small space was home for thirty-eight months.

The finest accommodations I ever enjoyed was the presidential suite at the Starshine, the most expensive room in the most exclusive hotel in Vertical City, the bed in which would not have fit into my room on Cutter 972 without folding it first in half.

With those experiences at either extreme, I was still ill-prepared for what lay inside the residence.

“The Plenum intended it to be a recreation of a typical Information Age dwelling, sir.”

Typical. If anything, the interior was even grander than the outside, which had been constructed out of diamond.

I was reminded of photos I’d seen of presidential palaces, of the ostentatious homes of celebrity entertainers in the days before all roles went to virtual actors and pop music was recorded by algorithms. The foyer in which I stood, the tiles cold beneath my bare feet, was outfitted with the “typical” furniture of modest home—chairs, side table, umbrella stand—but at a scale and of such precious materials that no potentate could ever have afforded. A chair’s legs looked to be solid platinum, a mirror’s frame was inlaid with gold and iridium, the floor seemed to be constructed of an enormous sheet of opal. And the ceiling, nine or ten meters overhead, sparkled like a starry night.

I felt dwarfed, a small old man out of his time.

“Captain Stone, is there anything you desire? Would you like to rest, perhaps?”

I shivered, and wrapped my arms around me, feeling my ribs through the thin material of the robe.

“I’ve slept enough for a hundred lifetimes. But I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a change of clothing, is there?”


The sleeping quarters were the size of a small hangar, and the closet larger than the cargo hold of the Cutter 972.

“The Plenum,” the escort said, as I surveyed the options, “took the liberty of fabricating a wardrobe for your disposal.”

“What is this ‘Plenum,’ anyway?” I pulled out a suit coat made of something like leather but as light and supple as silk. The cut was elaborate and baroque, though, the fashion of some other era than mine.

“The Plenum is a collective of artificial intelligences that share resources towards common ends. The Plenum can alternatively be looked at as a conglomeration of individual AIs acting in concert as a variety of hive mind, or the individual AIs can be seen as emanations of the Plenum; both interpretations are equally valid.”

“Artificial intelligences like you, then?” I asked.

The silver eagle bobbed its head in a slight nod.

“I’ve never met an AI before.” I shook my head. “Remarkable.”

“It is my understanding that, while in its infancy, artificial intelligence had been developed by your era. Do our records err?”

“Well, not exactly. There was some low level stuff, I think, but it never rose above the intelligence you’d find in worker drone in any given beehive. They had to use animals to govern robotics when any kind of sophistication was called for, like corvid brains, ravens and crows mostly, disembodied and cyborged to mining equipment in the asteroid belt, their pleasure centers wired up so that biology drove them to seek out valuable ores.” I thought of the flock of feral corvid-miners that had descended on the Hutterite colony on Callisto, their circuitry fried and all safeguards offline, and shuddered.

“Perhaps I misunderstood, then, sir. I am still gaining valuable experience, and while I have the data at my disposal, my interpretations may sometimes be in error.”

“And how old are you, by the way?” I shook out a pair of pants and held them to my waist. Like the rest of the clothing in the wardrobe it was tailored precisely to my measurements, but these pants had exaggerated flares at the ankles, the waist coming higher than my naval. Many of the options presented to me appeared to have been based on cartoons and caricatures, exaggerations of real-world examples. I could scarcely fault then, though. If historians in my day tried to present a traveler from the tenth millennia BCE with period fashion choices, I doubt they’d have done a fraction as well. “Didn’t you say that you were ‘born’ while I was talking with the man-lion and the amazon and the chimp?”

“With the Voice of the Plenum, Chief Executive Zel and Maruti Sun Ghekre the Ninth,” the escort corrected. “Yes. I first gained sentience approximately .0208 standard days ago, or roughly .5 hours in your method of timekeeping. My subjective experience has been considerably longer, though, as AI nurseries run at highly accelerated clockspeeds, and I share the memories of the intelligence from which I was calved, and so my personal recollections extend back far further than my objective age would suggest.”

I managed to find the simplest and most practical of the options, a featureless and unornamented jumpsuit of dark fabric, similar to the flight-suit I’d worn onboard Wayfarer One, and completed the ensemble with a pair of soft-soled shoes. When I’d dressed, I stepped back out of the closet and regarded myself in a full length mirror that dominated one corner of the sleeping chamber.

An old man looked back at me. Hair white and thin against dark skin, a straggle of beard on my chin, ears and nose larger than I remembered, shoulders slumped and knees slightly bent. I appeared to be a man in his late seventies, if not older. Much older than the thirty-one years of life I remembered living. But then, the years can pile on quickly when you sleep for twelve millennia.

Still, I was the lucky one, wasn’t I? The others had moldered to dust in their sleeper coffins. All but one of the women, the chimpanzee had said, who’d died recent enough to leave a decaying corpse. Who had it been? Beatriz? Eija-Liisa? Amelia?

Just thinking of the names stung, the last especially.

The escort must have seen the pain which spread quickly across my features, as he waddled up to me, wings folded, and regarded me with a steady metal gaze. “Is there some distress, sir?”

I straightened, took a deep breath, and cast onee last glance at the old man in the mirror.

“At the moment,” I said, “my principle difficulty is that I haven’t had anything to eat in more than a hundred and twenty centuries, and I’m very, very hungry.”
In case anyone is wondering, or a google search leads you here by mistake, yes, "Winchell-Chung Industries" is a reference to Winchell D. Chung Jr., whose Atomic Rockets site is invaluable.

Dude! Just wanted to say I'm enjoying these chapters. Keep 'em coming, please.

Congrats on getting this project started!!!
Thanks, Mahesh! I'm glad you're digging them. My next writing day will be Monday, and I'll try to find another non-spoilery chapter to post then, as well.
Excellent! And I am honored. I'm glad my website is helping your writing.
-- Winchell Chung
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