Dr Scure Stories - Chapter 2
(Written by Ace Dreamer; posted 26 June 2012)
Dr Scure - Season Zero - 22/Jun/2012
Before Spring, 2008, UK.
Did anyone care you owned land on the Moon? Before 2007, maybe not. These days lawyers were salivating.
Brains had got the first certificate as a Christmas present. His elder brother has always thought his SF fandom amusing, and likely this was a fun way to poke him. But, it got him thinking.
All the land for sale was on the Earth-locked side of the Moon, presumably so people could point at the bit they owned. Brian, as he called himself then, thought the privacy of the Far Side looked attractive. It was certainly the place to do things like radio astronomy from, though that wasn't really one of his hobbies.
A little investigation and he owned a good chunk of a nice crater on the Far Side, for only a few hundred pounds. The recent inheritance from his father's death covered that. He didn't bother telling what was left of the Family, his brother's family and a few distant cousins, how he'd 'wasted' family money. He now owned a bit of the Solar System, and had certificates to prove it.
Living on the Moon seemed a good idea. Earth didn't hold much of interest for him, these days. And he'd always loved the idea of robots and space travel, from a young age. His brother would have trouble hiring people to 'check up' on him there. On the other hand, no National Health Service on the Moon, and he did need regular check-ups. Loosing the dower house would be really bad, too. Just in case he needed to come back.
And, he wasn't a complete fool. He'd read enough human sciences to know living alone could really mess you up. The voices he sometimes heard, in his head, were annoying and mostly ignorable. What if he had to do what they said?
He needed advice. And, he really didn't like where he thought he'd need to get it from.
Reaching up, from sitting in a wheelchair, and touching a Victorian picture on the wall was probably not how most people thought to get help. But, that picture scared Brains far more than anything in quite a few miles radius. And that included exploratory surgery.
Colour faded from the room, as everything went sepia. There was a woman, cradling a cloth cat in her arms, in front of Brains. Suddenly he realised he was now four foot away from the wall. His arms ached.
"Good timing. I wondered when you'd ask for help. If you're interested I've been entertaining myself in virtual worlds, like 'Second Life', and 'Eve Online'. The politics can be quite predictable."
She waited, politely, for Brains to gather himself.
"How do I move out of here? You imply you know what I've been doing. How do I move to a house, make a home, on the Moon, while staying at least as physically and mentally fit and healthy as I am now?"
Brains mentally crossed his fingers, as this was at least as risky as asking a genie to grant a wish.
Seeing as the Singularity hadn't arrived shortly after Emily had first appeared he had to assume that she was a 'Friendly AI', at least as benevolent as Lisa in the film "Weird Science". He'd always liked the way that Lisa had answered the boys wishes, for popularity and girlfriends, stated before she even existed. The fact that she'd done a Pygmalion on them in the process was something he guessed that he'd unconsciously hoped for himself, when summoning Emily.
He had to assume that if she was a superhuman AI then she's one who thought the rapid arrival of Vinge's Singularity was worse for humanity than the current situation. The way handwavium worked made him pretty sure, to, that it was in some way benevolently intelligent. Though it seemed to have a Puckish sense of humour.
He didn't believe anything she'd done was 'magic', or psionics. Or even direct reality manipulation. She wouldn't even have needed to use nanotechnology. Even he could see more than one possible way using SF technology. Clarke's Third Law certainly applied, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".
He waited for her response. None of his logic had changed since he planned his first bootstrap attempt. Yet she still scared him near his wit's end.
"You need to re-invent yourself. I know you say you despise cos-play. But you're clever enough to make something you can live with. I don't think you'd make a good Sailor Bubba. As for being isolated, if you can't find existing people you can live with, then you'll have to 'make friends'."
She smiled a little.
"I don't think you've any need for Bagpuss at the moment. Would you mind if I had some tea? And maybe some of those nice biscuits you got from Mrs Jones, down at the village shop?"
And, they sat and talked. And occasionally laughed. Until the early hours of the next morning.
Before Spring, 2008, UK.
Not one of Brains (he guessed he'd call himself 'Brian' for this) better skills. Making friends. Best to take the problem seriously.
Three lists. 3Ws: "Who", "When" and "Where". He already knew "Why", and he thought he knew "What" a friend was, so he wouldn't bother with those.
A hour later he admitted defeat.
His local friends were Mrs Jones at the local shop cum post office, and... That was about it. She would always find time to talk to him. When he went out for his doctor-mandated exercise there were various dog walkers, and people working on their gardens. Most were polite and he nodded to or greeted them in return. A few were obviously affected by his wheelchair invisibility field. He didn't think his custom "Vote for Dan Dare!" poster, on the back, would offend that many.
The other place he met people face-to-face was at conventions. He'd been 'Brains' there for years, ever since that fortuitous spelling mistake in 'Brian S'. The miniatures war-gamers were about as tolerant of him as the SF fans, but he hadn't bothered with media fandom since the con where they pestered him to cos-play Davros. Doctor Strangelove would have been much more fun, even if he couldn't stand up from his chair; it fitted more with his anti-war views.
While he'd like to count people on-line he wondered if that was OK. He was on quite a few forums under different names. He'd once had a memorable flame war with himself - both viewpoints seemed to make so much sense. He'd tried the MMOs, 'Sims Online', and finally 'Second Life'. The MMOs didn't really work for him, and 'Second Life' he dumped after two weeks of 14hr days and developing pressure sores. His doctor had been very polite about that, something which still made him wince. Yes, doctors and other professionals - he couldn't really count them.
He guessed his agent was sort of a friend. He handled the agencies and employers that his programming and engineering design work involved. Even, once he found out about it, the bigger miniatures painting and diorama jobs - he'd done some painting himself, when younger. Most employers cared more about his work than anything else, but he'd dropped one who kept sending him literature about disablement, and hinting he was good for their diversity image.
But, none of those were people he'd be able to depend on, if he went and lived on the Moon. Though he'd still be able to commute to attend cons, and the light-speed lag wasn't going to stop him using forums. Looked like he'd have to 'wave' friends hello, rather than wave them goodbye.
The question was, who?
Robots would likely be less inconvenienced, not needing to breathe or eat. "Mighty Atom" ("Astro Boy" to Westerners) would be loyal and brave. But, would be always rushing off to adventure? Maybe his sister, "Uran" ("Astro Girl"), would be a better bet.
"Robert the Robot" of "Fireball XL5" might make a good co-pilot; he could rename him "Gerry". And, if he dared, a robot version of XL5's "Doctor Venus" could see to his health needs. He did have a weakness for French accents, and, being his doctor would help keep a professional distance; 'Space Medicine' could be useful. Maybe base her on an independent android from ST-TOS "I, Mudd", with a upgraded brain, so she has the full mind of Doctor Venus.
If he did it right then the robots could keep backups of their minds, ready to restore them if they got really badly damaged. He couldn't see a way to take a backup of his mind, though. Not without a 'destructive read'. And, he wasn't prepared to commit suicide, any time soon. Still, backups were good.
Some greenery would help him keep sane, so maybe he needed a robot gardener? Using one of the "Laputa" ones would be a bit cliched, not to mention dangerous. Still, the idea of a retired war bot was tempting, though DBZ's "Android 18" would be asking for trouble. Hmm. Best shelve that for the moment.
Wait. He'd just make a swarm of robot ants and bees that'd do the job. And a hive to supervise them. Hive Mind... Maybe not.
Time to see what material's he'd need. While he could probably buy a full-sized Uran doll, he'd prefer to make his own. Building human-scale models would be new for him; the most he'd done before was make cos-play costumes. There was a model supplies dealer that could get him some damaged-in-manufacture sex dolls - useful for reference, if nothing else.
Back to the anatomy books. He wished he was better than a hack artist...
Before Spring, 2008, UK.
Leaving home. For the Moon. But, Brains didn't want to loose his cottage, the dower house. If things went really badly wrong he wanted to have somewhere to come back to.
The place would have to be credible. It would have to look as if he was still living here. He guessed it would be possible to rig a radio link to the Moon, maybe routed through at least a couple of satellites, in Earth and Lunar orbits. But, the light-speed delay would mean that using the telephone wouldn't work. Though the Internet would. Fortunately, he did most things through asynchronous communications, like e-mails and forums.
He wondered... Searching under his workbench he dug out the old joke 2mm diorama he'd made. It showed this very workshop, with him in his wheelchair, working on a diorama of his workshop. Some of the detail in the diorama-within-a-diorama he'd done with a microscope. With a bit of work he could extend the diorama to include the rest of the cottage, even the garden. Then, use this as the basis to make a stand-in for himself. "As Above, So Below."
If he corrected, then waved the diorama, maybe something else would be possible. The version of himself within the diorama could wave the sub-version within his 2um diorama, after he'd checked all the detail was right. Then, that would give him a version of himself who could do work at a 2um level, a million times smaller than working at the human-scaled two metre level. Micro scale, not nano scale, but still... Possibilities...
But, first priority was his stand-in. He'd better look like him, feel like him, to things like handshakes, but bad breath and medical exams seemed a bit excessive. Needing to eat and drink, defecate, seemed best avoided, as that would increase his food bill, if he was shipping food to the Moon, to eat himself. Rest and sleep, he'd better match that to his own pattern. And, similar hobbies and interests.
Brains looked at his double, sitting in an identical-looking copy of his wheel chair, though Brains was pretty sure it didn't have all the waved 'special functions'. "I suppose I should tell you about the pain in all the diodes, down my left side", said the double, in gloomy voice. "Don't worry. I'm probably not sentient. So I wont have any human rights."
Brain was struck dumb. What had he done? Half an hour later he was a lot happier. The golem, as he guessed it was, didn't seem to be actually sentient, though he was highly responsive in a way that matched Brain's personality, particularly in his darker moments. Around Brains he answered to the name "Brainless", though 'Brian' seemed to be what he used to others. He didn't think he'd created a crime against humanity, though he guessed that was for the future to decide.
Brainless didn't seem to do any planning, he just followed existing patterns, and dealt with any problems in ways Brains had dealt with them previously. Brains did admit he wasn't too good at planning, himself, unless prodded into it. Brainless did seem to be able to deal with new situations, such as being faced with a double in the form of Brains, but his approaches lacked originality. Though, Brains guessed, they often seemed to show a streak of dark humour, which he had to admit he recognised.
Basic model making and painting seemed to be within his abilities, and he worked with a attention to detail, that Brain didn't feel he could always manage himself. He also seemed to be a workable engineer and programmer, though lacking 'flare'.
"Yes", he said out loud. "I think this is workable."
Before Spring, 2008, UK/Moon.
The rain had been bad, this late Winter. Brains remembered when even the UK's erratic climate could be pretty confident of a cold Winter. Global warming, he guessed.
While the rain was annoying, it did have the advantage of putting-off people who might visit the disused airfield, over which he'd moored his invisible spaceship. He'd spent quite a bit of time, on the ground, in his personally invisible wheelchair, protected from wind and weather by forcefield. Looking, with both naked eye and binoculars, to see if his ship might might be spotted, say by bird watchers.
Eventually he'd moved it higher, a compromise between not leaving a rain shadow, and his fear of low-flying aircraft. Fortunately no kite flyers, or model aircraft enthusiasts, had run into it. Though, he'd had to tweak the forcefields to dissuade birds from perching there.
At nearly 20 feet in diameter and more than 65 feet long it, he supposed he should say 'she', couldn't be left just anywhere, even with invisibility. He'd come up with a fancy Japanese name, for the launch christening, but been using "SS Champ" (for 'champion') as 'work boat' just didn't seem enough.
Fighting quirks all Winter. Twice he'd ripped-out several days work on major subsystems, had a re-think, and started again. He knew there'd be some quirks, it was the nature of handwavium, but he wanted to be sure they were ones he could easily live with. Certainly nothing involving prayers to Murphy, or loud music to distract Eris, just to ensure things kept functioned.
Yesterday he'd finished Uran, then spent several hours getting to know her. He guessed she was the little sister he'd never had, wrapped-up in a 1m tall robot body. Today was final checks on the ship, finishing those little jobs that always got put off till the last minute. Uran being distracted by his manga and graphic novel collection; had he hid all the 'adult' ones?
He'd learned a lot building 'Champ', far more than throwing-together the 20-foot 'work horse', the "SS Gee Gee", Uran called her. As planned, enough room to put one in the hold of the other.
The launch party. A fortunately clear morning, though rain looked likely, later. He'd put a temporary railed platform, around the central top airlock hatch, cloaked by a portable invisibility screen.
"You mean I can really launch the ship?", Uran was almost beside herself. Brainless mumbled something, probably impolite, from where he'd wedged himself in the corner of the platform. He'd only come under protest, but Brains thought it a good test run for taking him to the upcoming Eastercon.
"Yes", and Brains handed her a piece of paper. She squinted at it, briefly, then stepped forwards, clutching the miniature champagne bottle, all 200ml of it. "I name this ship the 'SS Shuroyoku', and may Murphy bless all who sail in her!", and she broke the bottle, first time, on the invisible hull.
Then, she knelt-down, and kissed it. "But, you'll always be the 'SS Champ' to me!" Brains gently slapped himself on the forehead. "Just a load of over-ritualized nonsense", muttered Brainless, loud enough to get a glare from Brains.
"Right, tidy up, then back home to pack some lunch, for me." Brains handed a dustpan and brush to Uran, and she carefully swept-up the debris of the bottle, before wind and rain did its own sweeping. "Can I keep these?" "OK", replied Brains, "But let me make them up into some sort of display, for you. I know you can't cut yourself on them, but others might."
They'd taken it slow out of the atmosphere, a full half-hour, but once in space they'd flashed straight to the Moon, then around to the Far Side. The lack of view-ports made Uran impatient, even though she was connected, by her built-in comms suite, to the ship's scanners, and saw far more than Brains did on the wrap-around view-screen. "I bet I could modify these to use some sort of fibre-optic semi-direct feed, for emergencies", thought Brains.
They weren't doing any real navigation, just point-and-fly, but the ship was fast enough, with enough safety features, that Brains thought this wouldn't be a problem. Even Brainless seemed quiet, which Brains chose to take in a positive way.
The landing on the Moon, after following Brains map to the crater he owned, was almost an anticlimax. Brains flew out and down in his wheelchair, followed by Uran, who carried an unprotected Brainless in his wheelchair. Brains generously paused, to let Uran put her foot to ground first, for which he was repaid with a wide smile.
They looked around, at the crisp blackness, the untwinkling stars, the sharp shadows. Brains very faintly tasted gunpowder. "Maybe my forcefield isn't as impermeable as I thought?", he mused.
Uran experimented with some bounce walking, then turned to Brains, and her lips moved. "Hmph", thought Brains, "Obviously no sound, as no air. But, I've nothing to talk to her built-in communicator. Clever".
Brainless sat back, arms folded, but every so often looked around, when he thought the others weren't looking at him.
After maybe half-an-hour, Brains went back into the airlock, and brought out his surveying tools. A combination of traditional hard tech, and a waved toy science tricoder, told him what he thought he needed to finish the house plans.
Back in the ship they just sat for a while. Brainless read "Explorers on the Moon", the Tintin book published in 1954, the year before Brains was born. But, Brains didn't think his heart was in it. Even Uran was a bit quiet.
After a while she remarked, "So, we'll be living here, full-time, by the end of the Spring? Just a few months? I was only born the day before yesterday, but that seems a big change. Are you sure?"
"Yes." And even Brainless looked up at his strong statement.
"If we don't go now they'll make it illegal. I promised Dad, before he died, that I wouldn't break the law without a really good reason."
"If you want to take a trip back to Earth, I'm sure we'll figure out a way. But, I, we, need to be here."
He grinned. "After all, my friends always tell me I'm a lunatic."