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My Blog

Prologue & Chapter 1


LESSONS IN SPACE by Molly Tabachnikov

PROLOGUE
 
. . .URGENT. . .URGENT. . .URGENT. . .URGENT…
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
Recommendation?
 
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.
CHAPTER 1
 
“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.”
“Yes.”
“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.

1 Comment to Prologue & Chapter 1:

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Roxanne Smolen on Monday, July 28, 2014 6:34 PM
Interesting first chapter. Makes you want to read the rest of the book.
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