Thursday, June 22, 2006


Post-Scarcity Customer Service

I've come to hate the last hour of the working day. If I finish a chapter with a good hour and a half left on the clock, I can start a new chapter, secure in the knowledge that I'll probably be able to finish it by the time six o'clock rolls around. If I've got less than an hour, I probably won't be able to finish, and the fact that I'm likely to leave a chapter undone means that my inertia gets all messed up, and I end up stopping work for the day, spending time answering emails, or walking to the corner to the mailbox, or what-have-you.

Today, I hit my target wordcount for the day with about fifty-six minutes left until I've got to go on Georgia Patrol. Damn. I think I'll spend some time outlining tomorrow's work, after I get back from the mailbox.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
39,115 / 90,000

Today's bit comes midway through RJ's tour of his new command, the starship Further. And, like all starship tours, this one ends up at a sidewalk cafe overlooking a park, in a discussion on the politics of post-scarcity employment with an uplifted catperson waitron.

“Xerxes 298.47.29A!” Maruti called out happily, as we stepped out of the tram and onto the walkway leading to the café. “So nice to see you again.”

The Exode probe glanced up—if a robot with no eyes can actually be said to “glance”—and the faint smile quickly faded.

“Maruti,” Xerxes said with a faint sigh, nodding in Maruti’s direction. Ey turned, and to me said, “Captain Stone.”

The Further avatar alighted gracefully on my shoulder.

“And…?” Xerxes regarded the silver eagle for a moment, thoughtfully. “Ah. Further. I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“Astrogator,” the avatar answered, inclining its head momentarily.

Xerxes had contributed a significant amount of power to the Further fund—the majority of the non-inconsiderable fortune ey’d amassed over the centuries by sharing Exode technology and science with the Entelechy—more than any but the Plenum, the Demiurgists, and the Pethesilean Mining Consortium, and as a result was one of the leading voices in the crew. Ey’d accepted the role of astrogator, but more to stave off boredom than anything else, it seemed.

“Mind if we join you?” Maruti said, pulling up a chair before waiting for an answer. As the probe regarded him silently, the chimpanzee motioned the waitron over. At first I assumed it was a subsentient drone, like the zookeepers who looked after the park animals, but as the server drew near I saw it was flesh-and-blood, some sort of uplifted bipedal feline.

“Yes, gentles?” the cat-waitron purred. “Can I help you?”

“It’s not too early in the ship’s day for a cocktail, is it?” the chimpanzee answered, and when the waitron responded with only a confused look, hastened to add, “I’m sorry, an obscure joke. In our dear commanding officer’s day, I’ve discovered, some cultures preferred to limit the ingestion of intoxicants to the later percentages of the day.”

The cat, who I saw now was female, glanced at me, a somewhat suspicious look on her face. “Whyever for, captain?”

I could only smile and shrug. “Things were different in primitive times, I suppose.”

With a lingering confused glance my way, the waitron took Maruti’s order, some strange beverage with an unlikely name. I joined Xerxes and Maruti at the table, as the Further avatar hopped from my shoulder to the back of a nearby chair, and then the cat turned her attention to me.

“And you, Captain Stone. Is there anything you require?”

“No,” I said, and then thought better of it. “Actually, you can answer a question for me, if you don’t mind.”

“Certainly,” the cat said with a smile.

“I was just wondering…” I paused. “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”

“It hasn’t been announced, but it’s Ailuros, actually.”

“I was just wondering, Ailuros, why choose to wait tables? When the work can be done by drones, I mean.”

The waitron regarded me quizzically, her whiskers twitching. “You could just as easily ask why any of us do anything, sir. All of us onboard the Further, as indeed all sentients throughout the Human Entelechy, perform functions that could just as easily be accomplished by subsentients, who would just as likely be more efficient and error-free in their work. So why bother, when we could be at our ease?”

I thought it over for a moment. “Well, from what I’ve seen, people still perform services in exchange for payment… power, I mean.” I glanced at Maruti. “Don’t you intend to give Ailuros a gratuity when she brings your order.”

“Naturally,” the chimpanzee said in a broad gesture, pulling a cigar from a case in his smoking jacket and cutting off the tip. “Provided the order’s right.”

“So it would be easy to assume, Ailuros, that you work in exchange for power. Right?”

“Perhaps,” Ailuros purred, her head tilted to one side, “until one took into account that, as an expert in multidimensional physics I could likely find more lucrative employment elsewhere. There are engineering firms who’d be willing to exchange more power for one days’ work from me than I could earn in ten years of serving beverages.”

“Fair enough,” I said, nodding appreciatively. “In that case, my question stands. Why wait tables?”

“Because I like waiting tables.” Ailuros, smiling, turned and walked away.

When she’d gone, I turned to the others, confused.

“If I’m too much the unfrozen caveman in your world, please forgive me, but there are still so many things about your society that I just don’t understand.”

“Don’t worry, Captain Stone,” Xerxes said in a tired voice, “there’s much about them I don’t understand, either. Like the reasons why so many biologicals feel the desperate need to unburden themselves to me. Perhaps it’s something to do with my physiognomy, I don’t know. But our server felt impelled earlier to tell me an abbreviated version of her life story, when all I wanted to do was watch the birds. She’s contributed a hundred-thousandth share to the Further fund, I’m given to understand, and has a post working in drive engineering, but intends to spend her free time here, serving orders.” Ey glanced the way the waitron had gone, and then back at me, and shrugged. “Your explanation for her actions is likely as good as mine.”

“Xerxes,” Maruti said, holding a the end of his cigar in the flickering flame of a compact lighter, “you never struck me as a birdwatcher.”

“In our brief, fleeting encounters, Maruti, I’m surprised that I struck you as anything at all.”

Maruti took a long pull from his cigar. “Perhaps an interesting and unexpected benefit of our traveling together, a few thousand of us in such close quarters, is that we’ll all learn things we never suspected about one another, becoming faster friends in the process.”

The probe sighed, and was silent for a long moment. “How… wonderful.”

Less than fifteen minutes later, Maruti was shouting at him at the top of his lungs, and the chances of the two becoming fast friends seemed vanishingly remote.
This may be the first time I've shared a sample chapter in which Xerxes is identified with pronouns, in which case I'll point out that no, those aren't typos. As RJ's escort explains in an earlier chapter, "Xerxes does not identify as any gender. Users of languages that include gendered pronouns utilize gender-neutral variants when referring to Xerxes. In Information Age English it would be ey, em, eir, eirs, and eirself, rather than he, him, his, his, and himself." Make sense?

Tomorrow I should hit the halfway point in the novel, the middle of Part Two, and now that all of the guns are set up on the wall (literally, in one instance) it should be a matter of relative ease to finish the second half in the three weeks I've got budgeted for it. Should being the operative word here, of course.

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