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Prologue & Chapter 1

LESSONS IN SPACE by Molly Tabachnikov

Message incoming via quantum entanglement squirt to Earth from Government AI Satellite5 to Government AI Worldgov
3/26/2579 11:02:37:06:59
Artificial Intelligence Satellite 5 Gov >>>> Artificial Intelligence Worldgov Earth
Escalating problem re subject of last squirt. Advise.
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:00
AI Worldgov >>>> AI Sat5gov
Nature of problem?
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:01
AI Sat5gov >>>> AI Worldgov
Subject is researching functioning of AIs. Subject is considered dangerous.
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:02
AI Worldgov >>>> AI Sat5gov
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:03
AI Sat5gov >>>> AI Worldgov
Send subject to Explorers.
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:04
AI Worldgov >>>> AI Sat5gov
Not suitable. Acute agoraphobia. Send subject here.
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:06
AI Sat5gov >>>> AI Worldgov
Stated reason for reassignment?
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:09
AI Worldgov >>>> AI Sat5gov
New teaching position. Further study of innovative methods.
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:10
AI Sat5gov >>>> AI Worldgov
Disclose real reason to other entities?
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:11
AI Worldgov >>>> AI Sat5gov
No. Send this message to Black Box. No other copies.
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:12
AI Sat5gov >>>>> AI Worldgov
Expunge genome from record?
3/26/2579 11:02:37:07:15
AI Worldgov >>>>> AI Sat5gov
No. Further study required.
“How may Education Headquarters help you today, Mylla Lessons?”
The metallic voice of the artificial intelligence grated on my nerves, maybe because I’d heard it so often. I had vidded HQ a lot, lodging protests or complaints. No intelligence, either human or artificial, was pleased to hear from me.
Today I physically visited the place. I looked away from the machine’s avatar. The multicolored photons of the chrono pulsed over the door, announcing the date and time, 5/27/2589 @ 15:24:06:13. I drummed my fingers. The AI had sounded sarcastic, but that was impossible. AIs don’t have emotions and especially not sarcasm.
I kept my voice neutral. “I have questions about the new assessment protocols for student evaluations.”
“Please go to interview room D. You will be more comfortable there.” Now the damn machine sounded patronizing.
I stomped down the hall to the fourth door, but the ceraplast floor yielded slightly to my footsteps. The muffled sound denied me any satisfaction noise could bring. Embedded photons in the tapestries on the walls pulsed slowly, depicting Littleones and Youngtimers busy at their screens. They did nothing to calm me.
I’d gotten the new protocols the day before, attached to the notice that end-term evals were due. At first, the list of criteria was a repetition of previous years:
ability to absorb material, completion of assignments, participation in discussion. Then there were the more unquantifiable categories like maturity, social interaction, comprehension of rights and responsibilities.
But the next one was new, and it made me uncomfortable. Conformity to revised standards of acceptable behavior. I knew that my job was primarily one of socialization, and I accepted that. After all, school was the first time they’d been outside their creche, and it wasn’t always easy for them to adjust. But this. . .
I needed an explanation.
The interview room I walked into was functional. The walls were bare, no tapestries or sculptures, but there was a comfort chair for me. It started to conform to my body as soon as I sat down, but I subvocced it to stop. I didn’t want to be relaxed.
The wall opposite me lit up. An avatar of Ed HQ appeared. Its face was generic, brown skin, brown hair, brown eyes, symmetrical features. Boring. But I wasn’t here for an art exhibition, I reminded myself.
“Mylla Lessons, a pleasure to see you again,” it intoned. I didn’t think AIs could lie.
“Yeah, sure,” I muttered. Then, before the AI could respond to that, I continued. “What do you mean by conformity to revised standards of acceptable behavior?”
The image on the wall didn’t pause for a nanosecond. “You will use the following criteria. One, does the student voice opinions counter to those of the majority of the class. Two, does the student attempt to persuade others to oppose rules. Three, does the student ever voice ideas not obtained from standardized sources.”
“Who came up with this bullshit?”
“This was decided by the entire Earth Board of Education after discussion.” The avatar, of course, was flat and affectless. “It is, as every other decision made by the Board, in the best interests of the Youngtimers.”
“How can you say it’s in their best interest to prevent them from thinking?”
“The Board has taken those factors into account, Mylla Lessons. It is necessary for Youngtimers to learn the facts, to have a basis of knowledge, before they can form opinions. That is accepted developmental psychology.”
“People don’t suddenly become able to form opinions.” I felt my throat tightening as my voice rose. “Littles and Youngtimers have to be taught to do that properly or they never—”
“This protocol is established,” the uninflected voice overrode me. “You must follow it.”
“Established. Like dragging fifth years to Outside and scaring the crap out of them is established?”
“As you were told when you were teaching in creche, that visit is necessary to show Littles what Earth was like during the Dawn Years. There is no further need to argue the point.”
“Well, you were wrong about that, and you’re wrong about this.” Acid boiled in my stomach. I had to get out of there.
“If there are no further questions, Mylla Lessons, we will end this session.” The avatar stared at me blandly. “We will expect your evals tomorrow.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, getting up.
The door irised open. I couldn’t even slam it shut.
On the slidewalk back to my apt, I reviewed my options. I could refuse to do the revised evals, but the repercussions would probably be disastrous. Maybe I could fudge my way through them, outright lie in places. Of course, that would mean betraying my principles.
I would vid Jorey, ask him over.  Maybe he would have some ideas. If nothing else, sexing with him was always a way to relieve pressure.
That evening, when the door announced Jorey, I sighed, relief and anticipation bubbling in me. I disappeared my screen, saving the unfinished evals, and said “C’mon in.”
The cerasteel slid open and he walked in, looking as sophisticated and self-assured as always. His black hair curled softly around his neck and fell in casual elegance across his forehead. The usual nondescript beige loose shirt and trous draped perfectly over his toned body. I was wearing the same clothing, but somehow he made the ordinary fabric seem elegant.
He kissed my cheek and we walked hand in hand to the couch where we took our accustomed seats.
I plopped down next to him. He draped his arm over the cushions behind us as his eyes roved around my apt.
"Damn, Mi-Mi, don’t you ever buy anything for this place?” His tone was light and teasing. I glossed over his use of the patronizing nickname for me.
“Come on, now, Jorey,” I protested in mock anger. “That’s an original Vesta hanging on the wall there. He gave it to me last week. And hello to you, too. Thanks for coming over.”
He smiled. “So, come tell me. What’s the problem?”
It was a familiar scene, one we’d acted out countless times over the past ten years. When I first came to Earth Jorey was my supervisor, and I ran to him whenever I had a question or problem. I still called him often to explain the ways of the Educational Directorate, even though he wasn’t my superior any longer.
Now I settled back on the couch and  told him about the new assessment requirements, and my objection to them. “What do I do, Jorey? How do I get around this?”
 “You can’t.” He shook his head. “It’s just another protocol change, the kind Ed HQ has been making forever. How many notices have you gotten in the past ten years?”
“A lot. But¾”
“And every time they do, you protest.”
“Then, after a year or so, you see that the new protocols aren’t so bad, right?”
“I get used to the changes, but I never really like them.” I looked down at my hands. “But this one is different. It’s even more… restrictive. Invasive.”
“Hey.” He cupped his hand under my chin and turned my face to his. “This will work out. Just like all the others.”
I frowned, doubtful.
“Trust me,” he said, looking in my eyes. “Haven’t I always done right by you?”
“Of course.” My answer was too quick.
He was silent, as though gathering his thoughts. “Mylla, you’ve been here for ten years.”
“Yeah,” I said, a bit put off by this nonsequitor.
“And how many protests have you sent to HQ?”
“I dunno. Ten? Twelve?”
“Fifteen. FIFTEEN! That’s more than one every year.”
“So? There’s a lot wrong with—”
“And how many of them have been approved?” Jorey interrupted.
I looked down at my lap. “One,” I muttered.
“Your file is full of negative write-ups. You’re being noticed, my dear. By the AIs. And not for the right reasons.”
“And the human intelligences there? What do they say?”
He shifted uncomfortably. “That’s not important. Just be warned. Go slow on the suggestions.” His chocolate-smooth voice didn’t make the news any easier to hear.
I slumped back on the cushions of the couch. Obviously, I was going to have to figure this one out myself.
“You’ll be pleased to know that you won’t be moved this year. Your new schoolroom is closer, only a fifteen minute slidewalk. So even though you’re only there one day a week, this’ll be easier for you.” He sounded pleased to be able to deliver this news, like it was a real prize.
“That’ll be good,” I said tonelessly. A part of me was glad. I’d moved four times in the ten years I’d been on Earth, whenever the AIs decided I needed to be closer to my schoolroom. The only ones who stayed in the same place were those who opted not to have a Duty, or the people who had made a name for themselves.
“I pushed your new class list and bios to your screen. You can get a head start on them once you finish your evals.” His dark eyes held mine.
“All right. But they’re so—”
“I know,” he said soothingly. “Just be patient.”
They asked me here,” I reminded him. “Worldgov sent a q.e. message to me on Sat 5 and everything.”
He stroked my arm. “When you came here, you agreed to follow the rules of the Educational Directorate. And remember, you chose your adult name, Lessons. That shows you really love what you’re doing.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just snorted.
“So don’t do anything stupid. You want to keep on teaching.”
“But all I do is make some suggestions¾”
“Suggestion is one thing.” He stood up and walked to the dispenser, returning with two patches of U-Float. “Pestering is something else.” He handed me a patch. “Here. Let’s relax.”
I fixed the adhesive to my arm and sat back. Soon the euphoric worked its way into my system.
“Better?” Jorey whispered, his arm circling my shoulders.
I leaned into his familiar warmth. “Um-hm,” I sighed.
We stood and stripped off our clothes as I subvocced the couch into sleeper shape. Side by side on the bed, our hands and tongues found the spots we knew would please and excite the other. With the ease of long practice, we brought each other quickly to orgasm.
He lay on top of me as our breathing slowed. Then he pulled out and rolled over onto the bed.
“That was nice,” I said. “We haven’t done it that way in a while. With you on top. ”
“It’s always good with you. We partner well together.”
I knew I was good. I’d always gotten good evals in Sexing Techniques in school. All my partners said they’d enjoyed themselves and my ratings in Libidinal Strength and Receptivity were always high. After all, we were taught that sexing is for mutual enjoyment, as necessary to good health as adequate nutrition.
There hadn’t been that many partners on Sat 5. The pool of residents was small. Some of my creche mates went into the tourist section for sex, but I didn’t like it. The travelers acted as though they were doing me a favor by sexing with me.
I shook off the unpleasant images. “I’m going to shower,” I said, rolling out of the bed.
I padded to the necessary and squeezed into the small shower cubicle. The warm water started immediately and I turned my face to it with pleasure. The sensation of warm water running down my body, especially after good sex, heightened my pleasure.
Cleaned and dressed again, I sat across from him at the table in the eating area. We nibbled on the cheez-n-crackerz and sipped wine I’d ordered from the dispenser.
“I think you’ll like the new location,” Jorey said. “Oh, and by the way, we got in some new pringles on the Dawn Years. That is your area of expertise.”
“Oh, Jorey, not pringles,” I protested.
I hated those nanochips. Inserted in stacks directly into a port in the brain, they were good for providing the facts of a subject, or the outline, but they seemed to short circuit the analysis. Back on the Sat, we couldn’t afford too many pringles. We learned the old-fashioned way, downloading the info from the interstellar web and sleep learning it.
He raised his eyebrows, giving me a look that said don’t argue. And I didn’t, but the feeling of pleasure was gone. Resentment flooded back
We stood and I walked him to the door. As he stepped outside, he turned to smile at me once more, then headed to the slidewalk.
I knew I should work on the evals that evening, but I couldn’t bring myself to face them. Instead, I decided to give myself a treat and visit the nearest gestation center.
I arrived at the center in half an hour. The facade itself rose three levels and spread out to occupy what would have been about twenty apts. The doors were a full level tall, about three meters. Above was the sign, spelled out in light sculpture: GESTATION CENTER #23. The colors spanned the spectrum, from indigo to red. It was impressive.
I walked in and extended my left arm to the scanner at the reception desk.
Purpose of visit, the AI’s metallic voice said. It was obviously a low-level intelligence.
“Teacher, research,” I enunciated.
Usually with the Earth AIs, you don’t have to speak clearly. They’re more sophisticated than the ones on the colonies or Sats, and they can understand words that are slightly slurred, but I wasn’t sure about this one.
A small plastic pass appeared on the surface in front of the AI. Mylla Lessons, Teacher, research, was spelled out in bold, black letters. The plastic square was accompanied by an earpiece that would allow me to communicate with the Center’s higher level AI. I stuck the pass to my shirt.
The echoing entryway was brightly lit, and abstract designs in vivid primary colors covered the walls all the way up to where the ceiling towered three levels above. The feeling of open space made me uncomfortable.
As I passed through the arch into the dim interior, the AI’s monotone voice whispered to me.
 Welcome, Miz Mylla. We are happy to help our teachers. If you require any assistance, please let us know. The voice was neutral and comforting.
“Thank you,” I answered, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t understand the pleasantry.
The huge areas where fetuses were nurtured in their artificial wombs had always been an oasis for me. When I was a Youngtimer, the dimly lit hall, with its whisper of gently pulsing amniotic fluid, calmed me, and I loved the promise of new life around me.
I wandered through the aisles and stared up at the embryos floating in their artificial wombs. The sight didn’t have its usual effect. The anger and frustration didn’t melt away. I turned to the ostensible reason for my visit.
 “Refresher course,” I said slowly and clearly. “How is DNA for new embryos chosen?” I always started that way. It helped me to focus.
The voice that filtered into my earpiece was brighter and more inflected than the receptionist’s. It seemed to be formatted for the Littles who visited for the first time.
New Citizens are created when an Oldtimer decides to Terminate. The DNA for the new Citizen is chosen at random from the databanks of Worldgov. Bad genes that make a Citizen likely to get a disease are cut out. Good genes that help make a Citizen smart and healthy are chosen.
“More information on gene selection,” I enunciated when it stopped.
A slightly deeper and more clipped tone, probably directed to a more mature audience, answered.
Once the harmful genes have been excised, the combination is random. This ensures a healthy gene pool, diversity without allowing mutation, thereby making certain that genetic drift does not drive factions apart.
No new data there. But the words did help me focus on the job I had to do. I called up my screen and accessed the list of my new students. “Information on specific genomes,” I said.
One by one I went through the list. Jak, Bellona and Zenko showed the DNA markings indicating possible artistic talent. Willom had possible athletic ability. As I expected, most of them had no notable flags. I downloaded the findings, then, still restless, called up another. “Information on specific genome. Jorey Middlemarch.” I wanted to see if there was a flag for extraordinary sexing ability.
File classified, appeared on the screen.
That was strange. Usually, my credentials as a teacher gave me access, but I’d never researched another Citizen before. Thinking there might be a global block, I tried another. It took me a moment to remember his current name.
“Information on specific genome,” I enunciated. “Vesta Polychrome.”
The screen showed DNA strands, the artistic ability flagged in many places. I continued the game, enjoying myself now, my previous bad mood disappearing. I went through several of my friends and got the expected results. I even went back and reviewed my own genome.
The names of some of my favorite students from past years came to mind, and I called up their records as well. “Information on specific genome,” I said. “Malvina F2571.” She was a Youngtimer who had been requested by the Explorers two years ago, a particularly lively, outgoing person.
No such record.
I looked back to check the name and gestation number. I had stated it correctly, so I repeated the command.
No such record.
“Flameout!” I stared at it. “Frack you!”
Unable to respond to request.
I ignored the message and tried again. “Information on specific genome.” I tried to remember the name of a fifth-year Little who had been so at home Outside. The image of the small figure, twirling and laughing in the openness while her creche mates cried and vomited in fright, was clear in my mind. I reviewed my archives. “Information on specific genome. Verona F2574.”
No such record.
What did it mean, no such record? Those individuals existed, I had taught them. Their genomes had to be in the files.
I asked again, downloading the information to my personal screen. A second request brought the same answer. What was going on here?

I knew I was missing something. There was an irritation in the back of my mind, like a tickle in the back of my throat, that I couldn’t get rid of.

Excessively close encounters of the cyber kind

I got the tracking suit from my cousin Tiffani who was always too helpful.
The package arrived at my front door one morning. It was brightly wrapped in pink and yellow evaporative paper. When I lifted it from the doorstep, a tinny voice announced, “Dress for the future.” A nanosecond later it changed to, “Track with fashion.”
When I set it on the table, the outer wrapping dissolved, revealing a turquoise pantsuit. The color was attractive, the style current without being obnoxiously trendy. Maybe Tiffani had done something right this time.
“Congratulations,” the tinny voice blared. “You have a unique experience ahead of you! Your tracking suit will help you record your food intake, exercise, heart rate, blood sugar level, menstrual cycle and emotional state. It can warn you of impending PMS mood swings and dangerous glycemic imbalance.”
Then came the usual warnings about the possibilities of excessive egocentrism or walking while distracted. But the instructions seemed simple enough.
I was still wary. What would it look like on me? Would everyone stare at me as I walked in my neighborhood?
With that in mind, I removed my sleepshirt and slipped on the trousers. They molded to my hips and waist, the style allowing for my rather oversize butt. It looked good, I had to admit that. The shirt jacket was just as flattering.
Activating the holo-screen, I examined the result from all angles. It made me look slimmer. The color complemented my dark hair and tanned skin. Yes, I liked it.
Following the directions, I enunciated, “Tracker on.”
I heard a murmuring in my ear. “You are doing well this morning. Your weight is 55.2 kilograms, within acceptable norms, although at the outer limit of the bell curve. Your blood sugar is 104 dg. Your blood oxygen is at 96%. What are your plans for the day.”
I described my usual program of reading the news, answering digital mail, working on my latest novel, then taking a walk.
“You should think about exercise first. It will increase your blood oxygen level and cardiovascular strength.”
A minor change. I could cope with that. I waved open the door of my house and stepped outside. The door closed and locked automatically as I set off at a brisk pace down the walkway.
I strolled the streets of my neighborhood, enjoying the soft spring day. The sun shone off new green leaves, the air was scented with hyacinths and damp earth and birds chirped merrily above.
“You will benefit from increasing your pace. It will consume more calories and provide a better blood flow,” the voice intruded.
It was right, of course. I upped my pace even though my heavier breathing interfered with the happy sound of the birds. As I passed my favorite clothing store, I glanced at my reflection in the window.
“You really shouldn’t slouch like that,” came the voice. “If you stand straighter, you will look even better, which will improve your mood and make others admire you more.”
The voice was beginning to sound like my mother’s. But I had to admit it was right. I pulled my shoulders back and sucked in my stomach. I lost the scent of hyacinths.
I reached the turnaround point in my walk and crossed the street. The sun on my back was pleasantly warm. In spite of the uncomfortable stiffness of my shoulders and the tension of keeping my stomach flat, I enjoyed the feeling.
“You are beginning ovulation,” the voice returned. “Now would be a perfect time to think about having a child. You are now 36.8 years old and nearing the end of your optimal reproductive window.”
This was getting annoying.
“If you wore a bit of makeup and socialized more, you could encounter many possible mates who could provide the requisite sperm.”
I ground my teeth.
“You know your mother would like a grandchild, and your cousin Tiffani already has two offspring. An infant would contribute greatly to your wellbeing and make many people happy--”
“Tracking off,” I muttered.
“This device cannot recognize that directive,” it droned.
The sun wasn’t pleasant now. The chirping birds hammered at my head, and the smells of spring were making me nauseous.
“Your appear distressed. You should consider taking a mood elevator when you return to your domicile.”
I should consider ripping off this goddamn suit and burning it, is what I should do. “Shut up.” My voice was louder.
“Your heart rate has increased to disturbing levels. Your breathing is irregular. Perhaps you should--”
“Shut the fuck up!” I shouted.
Several other pedestrians stopped and stared at me.
“A regular workout at your neighborhood gym would help regularize your cardiovascular system. Perhaps you should--”
I ran the rest of the way home.

"But, Officer, I really wasn't. . ."

In 2013, police departments all over the country started cracking down on driving infractions. Driving while impaired took on new meanings as phone conversations and texting were added to the list of distractions. Then it was discovered that daydreaming while driving was almost as dangerous. And so, many years later. . .
I saw the flashing blue lights in my rear view mirror, and obediently pulled over to the side of the road. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. I hadn’t been speeding, or weaving about. Nor had I been phoning, texting, drinking coffee or engaging in sex.
The trooper who emerged from the black and white was obviously young. And big. The dark wraparound glasses that hid his eyes looked too large for his face. His expression, however, was grim.
I fished my phone out of my bag as he approached and called up my license and registration. Then I gestured to the sensor that controlled the window. The glass lowered silently.
When he stood at the side of the car, towering above it, I handed the phone to him. “What was the problem, officer?” I asked pleasantly.
He took his time syncing my phone to his handheld scanner. When he handed it back to me, he said, “You were daydreaming.”
“No, honestly, sir, I wasn’t.”
“According to my brain scanner, you were actively engaged in an activity involving the creative nodes of your cerebral cortex. That is daydreaming.”
For a moment I was silent. “But the law against driving while daydreaming isn’t due to take effect until–”
“No, ma’am.” His voice was not loud, but authoritative. “It was rushed through. It took effect today. The new law against Driving Under Daydreaming, was pushed through.”
“But I’m not a DUD,” I protested.
“The scanner doesn’t lie, ma’am.”
“No, honestly. I was planning. Thinking. I wasn’t involved in a first-person fantasy world.”
He stood there, broad shouldered and implacable, and didn’t say anything.
“Look,” I said, leaning out the window, “I’m a writer. I was outlining my next book.”
He unbent enough to look at me. “A writer? What do you write?”
“Science fiction. Y’know, space ships, robots, like that.”
“Hmph. Never read the stuff. Were you inhabiting the world you were creating?”
“Oh, no, officer, we writers can’t do that. We have to remain objective. Honest.”
“Well, you WERE distracted. You know that while you are driving you must concentrate on the road, and not on anything else.”
“I’m good at multitasking. I’m a writer. I have to be.”
He unbent more and took off his glasses. “The law against driving while multitasking is still in committee. The Driving Under Multitasking Brainwaves, or DUMB, hasn’t been passed yet.”
I had a brief vision of a bleak future in which any kind of brain activity while driving was outlawed. Where there was nothing but the blacktop and the white line in front of you. Oh, well, I thought, there would be a lot more business for yoga instructors and meditation gurus.
It might make people focus their minds, force them to take a vacation from the billions of distractions that surrounded them. Freed from the constant drain on their energies, they could devote their time to philosophy and art. There would be an explosion of creativity not seen since the Renaissance.
It could be the rebirth of civilization.
The young trooper had returned to his stiff-backed stance and was busy punching something into his scanner. “I’ve issued you a warning, ma’am. No ticket this time.”
“Thank you, officer. I think I can assure you that my mind will not be at all involved the next time I’m behind the wheel.”
“That’s good, ma’am. Remember, road safety is up to you.” He turned and marched to his vehicle.
What a good character he would make for my upcoming novel, I thought. A fine robotic member of the law enforcement community. Or perhaps a young man conflicted about his profession. Or not conflicted. Or actually make him a robot–
I shook the ideas from my head. No more planning while driving, I decided, no more multitasking.
And so, resolving never to think behind the wheel again, I drove off.

We don' need no stinkin' rules

I’m not good with rules. I’ve been trying to write a page of dialogue for my new work-in-progress, Lessons in Space, and I keep getting hung up.
Some of them are easy. Always put the words between quotation marks, unless the communication is telepathic, subvocalized or expressed in some other way, like light waves or odor. Try to show the speaker’s tone of voice in the tag. You could use an adverb to tell emotion, but it isn’t as strong. Make each character’s “voice” distinctive.
The one I always have trouble with is the injunction to place tags (identifiers) before or after the character has spoken rather than in the middle of the speech. For example:
                  Dilbert shouted, “That’s a piece of crap!”
                  “That’s a piece of crap.” Dilbert’s shoulders slumped.
These show, rather than tell, something about Dilbert’s character, and don’t interrupt the flow of his words.
A hard and fast rule, right? But let’s examine it. We all know that there are times when we pause as we speak, perhaps to emphasize a point or hunt for an exact word. Sometimes, we can indicate this in writing by using ellipses. For example:
                  “That’s. . . a piece of crap,” Dilbert announced.
But if we really want to emphasize a point, wouldn’t it be more dramatic to do it this way?
                  “That,” Dilbert announced, pointing at the painting, “is a piece of crap!”
Here, we reinforce that Dilbert is an arrogant, opinionated individual who is used to being listened to.
If used sparingly, breaking the speech with a tag can be quite successful. But it violates the rules.
Everyone needs rules, writers of fiction included. We have to check our spelling, and obey most of the rules of punctuation and grammar. Without these guidelines, we can’t communicate effectively, and our readers would throw down our books in disgust.
However, as fiction writers, we are accustomed to weaving words to create a mood or define a character, as deftly and succinctly as possible. We might use an otherwise unacceptable spelling of a word to indicate an accent. A lizardman from Omicron VI would need extra esses to illustrate his hiss, and a Klingon growls his rrrrs.
Maybe insert a sentence fragment. We could even string letters together to show an alien language, make up futuristic slang, devise unique ways of indicating non-verbal communications like snorts or sniffs.
I believe that if we allow ourselves to slavishly follow the rules, we will limit ourselves too much. We have to allow ourselves some freedom. Perhaps, sometimes, the laws of good writing lead to the loss of good writing.
I know others will disagree, and I welcome comments.
Use of commonly accepted grammar and spelling optional.

Let's go shopping--26th century style

Shopping will be different in the future, although perhaps just as much fun. Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Lessons in Space, that describes the experience. I envision a planet encased in metal, in which people live in "apts" situated along corridors of plastisteel. But I think certain aspects of shopping don't change. Hope you enjoy it.

The commercial levels of Lower Manhattan Apts were very different from the residential zone. Clusters of holo-ads throbbed in eye-searing reds and oranges.  Blues and yellows swirled through them. Music blared from every doorway.
People swarmed in the corridor, talking to each other or their comm units. I threaded my way through the crowds, careful not to step on toes while avoiding the holo-ads that swam above.
I had learned the hard way on my first visit to the markets. I had let my gaze linger a second too long on one of the ads. It had swooped down on me, enveloping me in color and sound. I’d only been on Earth a week then, so I wasn’t used to the commlens.
Every Earth Citizen has to have a lens. It’s the law now. Worldgov AIs decided to link the lenses to the holo-ads, so if you look at one for more than a second, it registers your interest and gives the ad permission to invade your space.
I had asked Jorey why the citizens voted for such a law. He said it never came up for referendum. The AIs decided that if it was good for business, it was good for the citizens.
My reverie had distracted me, and I hadn’t moved my eyes quickly enough.
“Yes, Ms. Mylla,” a soft male voice whispered in my ear, “this new model of the Super Zam skimmerboard is indeed a wonder. Improved gyroscopic controls—“
I blinked hard three times to banish the ad. The colors flew back to their perch high up on the wall, but a voice returned, crisper this time. “Citizens who purchased this item also showed interest in—“
I blinked again. The voice vanished. I breathed in relief.
A holo-ad from the store I was passing looked interesting. As I walked in a robo-assist rolled up to me.
“How can we help madam today?” The robo’s mellow tenor, neither male nor female, greeted me.
“The dress in the ad,” I said.
“Of course, madam. An excellent choice, if I may say. Would madam kindly walk this way?”
I hated robo-assists. They were all so subservient. On Sat5 we had very few of them, and they were all in the tourist sections, so I had little contact with them. I had never bought anything that wasn’t government issue until I came to Earth. I always ordered clothes from the replicator, the standard stuff, maybe in different colors.
But now I had credits rattling around in my account and a surprising need for change.
The robo-assist had evidently accessed my records. It became even more servile, if that was possible.
“I believe we can fashion just what you want, Ms Mylla. If you would just stand here. . .?” It gestured to a spot in front of a holo-screen. “Your favorite color is registered as blue. Be so kind to observe. . .”
My image appeared, dressed as it had been when I left my apt—beige suit, brown shoes. Suddenly it changed. Now I was wearing the dress I’d seen outside, a scoop-necked, fitted thing in a nondescript pale blue. It hugged my body acceptably, tight enough to be enticing but not so snug that it left nothing to the imagination.
“View the back,” I instructed.
The holo-view changed.
“The style is acceptable,” I said, “but not the color.”
The outfit changed instantly to a deep indigo. Better, but not—
“Red,” I said suddenly.
My image changed. The outfit was now a vivid red, the color of new blood. I looked awful.
“No. Mute it. A shade darker.”
And there it was, perfect. The shoes were the new anti-grav heel style that forced you up on your toes, but no heel was visible. And they were transparent, except for a slight outline of red.
Cinderella slippers, I thought, remembering a story I’d read a light year away, a million years ago.
I walked out of the shop with my purchases on a wireless leash behind me. I had made a significant dent in my credit surplus, but I could do a lot more damage.
The seductive colors of the market ricocheted off my eyes. I was starting to get a headache. Maybe it was time to go home.
I wove and darted toward the slidewalk. I was careful not to look up. It wasn’t just because of the holo-ads. The market, unlike the residence levels, was constructed of balconies that ran the length of the half-mile space. There was nothing above for six floors. You could barely see the ceiling. It was almost like being Outside.
The slidewalk was relatively empty. It took me quickly past row after row of identical apt doors to where an Express chair waited. Picking up my bundles, I moved across the corridor to an empty seat. Grateful for a chance to sit, I fed my destination into the chair and relaxed. It would automatically shunt me to the proper uplift. I felt the canopy close over my seat as it sped into the dark Express tunnel.
I couldn’t believe how much I’d spent. I never wasted credits buying anything, even for my apt. It looked exactly as it had when I first moved in. Well, maybe a little messier, but basically the same. Why didn’t I spend credits on furniture, or art? Most people had something to hang on the walls, or stand in a corner. A light sculpture, maybe, or a magnetic resonance icon. Something.
All of my stuff was disposable, even my clothing. It was as if I didn’t intend to stay here long and wanted to travel light.
I kept my glance down, so I wouldn’t attract any of the holo-ads drifting in the ceiling above, and examined the idea. I had never felt really at home anywhere, either here or in creche. The realization made me feel curiously weightless, like I had when the ship from Sat5 reached midpoint and for a moment we were outside any gravity wells. I could drift off anywhere.

Voting in the 2612 election

Soon we here in the U.S. will vote for various elected officials, including President. It's a wonderful experience, but also a responsibility. For months now I have seen hateful advertisements, high emotion and confusion on the part of the voting public. And now I see long lines and (in south Florida) a four page ballot. So I started thinking--
--what will elections be like in the future, say six hundred years from now?
--will there be separate nations, or will we be united under one government?
--will candidates campaign, and if so, how?
These are just a few questions--there are many, many more. So use your long vision, and predict what elections in the year 2612 will be like.
Of course, this assumes we'll still be here six hundred years from now. But I'm optimistic.

Witches and goblins and zombies, oh my!

It's Halloween.
As if we haven't been scared enough by the huge storm that inundated the East Coast of the U.S. for the past week.
But perhaps now we can turn to lighter fare.
We all know the usual suspects in Halloween fun and games--vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, etc. Let's try for something new.
Post your ideas for a NEW supernatural being. It could be a hybrid of the ordinary fiends, or something completely new. What does your pet creepie look like? What powers does it have? What harm can it do to us humans?
And is it at all lovable? Does it have positive traits as well?
Use your imagination! Describe your nightmare! Let's have scary fun!

Enter the discussion

Welcome to the voyage!
On this page, I'll present questions or scenarios intended to get YOUR creative juices flowing. You may present your answer or comments for everyone to see. Compare your ideas. Answer each other.
Let's get a futuristic and/or fanciful dialog going!

Oct. 23, 2012
The discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri was announced recently. That's a mere four lightyears away! With new technology, we could reach it in only 100 years.
     Would you go on such a journey?
     What will we find when and if we get there?
     What would the journey be like?
Start imagining, readers.
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