Iterative Science Fiction

Second Speak

Posted in Info, Uncategorized by Mark on May 12, 2011

I should tell you about Second Speak. It’s easier to hear from another human, rather than Kurt. If Kurt could go more glassy eyed and smile while he drones on, he would when he jabbers on about Second Speak.

Basically, it’s just clicking. Super fast clicking, as in 1000’s of clicks per second. But just clicking. It’s similar to morse code, like you see in ancient war films, but based on those old dial up modems in the pre-space-exploratory era. If you actually ever hear it, it sounds like whirring static. But machines translate it like a modem would and can tell the difference between that 2872 clicks and the other 3274 clicks.

And I didn’t get the reason they use it either when Kurt explained it to me. Data travels so fast nowadays, so resorting to audible sound seemed dumb, really. Why not just wirelessly send stuff to each other, or people’s implants? Apparently Second Men don’t want you to figure out what they’re talking about.

See, brain cycles that could be spent encrypting and decrypting wireless signals could just be used for simple binary translation (since that’s how info is passed inside raw circuits anyways) and sent where you can actually hear it.  Outside the room, it’s almost impossible to hear the static noise, but wireless signals would be broadcast farther and could be intercepted. It’s the difference between you and I using inside voices and screaming at other people standing in front of us with megaphones all the time.

Could I have some kind of transcoder figure it out for me and spit the information in some kind of form I could use? Sure. But Second Men are like servants 500 years ago. Everyone who has one doesn’t care what their helpers think, so no one besides technicians and fake-psychiatrists — I mean, Second Psychiatrists — ever use one.

So most Second Men turn their wireless off and only enable it for a very limited time when they are retrieving specific data off the local ‘Net or if they have to relay complex holo-pics. Saves juice, and people don’t pick up on their conversations 100 feet away. Like background noise: I might not understand all 50 couples in a restaurant, but I have to talk louder to talk to my date.

Out here on the Ship, Kurt keeps his wireless on for convenience most of the time. In Mars orbit, he’d turn it off due to all the scatter traffic drifting out from the planet, but here in Deep space, outside the asteroid belt and between Saturn and Jupiter’s opposing positions, even the SolarNet stuff is diffused enough to get filtered out.

When we first started traveling together, I’d go days without seeing him, but hear him constantly. Then I eventually told him to knock it off, because I didn’t want to talk to Oz or some God-like voice coming out of the air. Then I had to explain why I wouldn’t want to talk to Oz or God.

Second Men, they just don’t know any manners.



Posted in Unstuck in Time by Mark on February 19, 2010

“No, Kurt. There’s a pause. Then you say the punchline.”
“I assumed the listener would want to get to the funny part as quickly as possible,” Kurt replies.
“Sometimes it’s about the journey and not the destination. Humor is hard to pin down.”
“But humor is not hard to punch?”
I laugh and nearly snort frozen cola. “There you go, that was funny.”
He doesn’t seem amused, despite his face never showing any emotion. I don’t know how I know, but you get this feeling once you’ve hung around with Second Men for long enough. The only physical difference between them might be the placings of their dents and scratches, but I think I am getting to the point where I can tell them apart without checking serial numbers.
“I was not being funny by intention. What was amusing about it?” He is standing nearby. In fact, he always stands. Guess they don’t have to get tired if they’re balanced.
“Well, it was playing off the previous comment about being a punchline.” I tried to put my thoughts into words. “You know what, never mind. It’s not funny now that I got to explain it.” I look back into the Martian street from my seat, people watching.
“This is perturbing, Ishmael. Telling the joke is funny, but explaining the intricacies of what makes it funny is not.”
“What are you, fresh off the fab unit? I thought you’d been around the sun a couple of times.”
“Sarcasm, correct? I am getting better at sarcasm, but mostly due to your body language indicators.”
We pause a moment so I can slurp more cola. It was warm outside. We sat with a few others in the shaded area outside the convenience store. Some habits die hard, even on other worlds with artificial climates.
“Sit down, go ahead. You’re making people nervous, Kurt. Relaxation is what you and I need.”
He pauses a moment before replying.
“My knees are artificial.”
Another pause.
“Ha. Ha. Ha.”
I sigh into my frozen cola.


Posted in main story by Mark on January 7, 2010

“It has been one standard A.U. year since we started traveling together, Ishmael.”
“Oh really, that long?” he begins to reply. Ishmael is sitting in a repli-wood chair inside an eating establishment on a mining colony outside the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt. We are stopping to resupply. He has lost five percent of his body mass due to rationing food stores over the past weeks. His brown hair is approximately six centimeters longer than historical average. He is consuming his food faster than his historical average.
The rest of his reply continues. “I didn’t notice, what with all the partying and fun times making that time just fly by.”
He is momentarily distracted from talking and eating by the waitress, Rachelle, who brings another cup of coffee for Ishmael.
“Thanks, beautiful.”
Rachelle exhibits the flushing cheeks, smile, and body language I associate with a female’s positive response to Ishmael’s attention. Hearts do not actually flutter when their owner is flattered. Rachelle’s heart keeps steady. That expression is an invention of poetic license. Saying chemical receptors in a person’s brain changed polarity is not considered romantic by the majority of humans.
She responds.
“Oh. Well, thanks. So, what’s a spacer like you doing on the station? Ore hauler?”
Ishmael’s pulse quickens a small amount.
“Just getting repairs done. The ship is independent, not a trucker type. We’re on a…” The pause is artificial, perhaps to create dramatic tension. “Adventure.”
Rachelle’s response is ideal according to several books written by humans, for other humans, on how to approach and engage the opposite sex in conversation and mating rituals. Reading the textbooks did not help me gain an understanding. Nor did the holos.
“Adventure? Looting ghost ships and searching for lost colonies, and the like?”
“Exactly. And we stop some places just to have fun, or resupply, or both.” I believe the wink is not supposed to be subtle.

“I was just discussing with my friend here how much we like to throw parties and have a good time on the ship. Don’t we, Kurt?”
I am socially aware enough to understand this rhetorical question is leading and expressed with the hope that anything I say next will increase Ishmael’s chances of having sexual intercourse. This particular instance is slightly confusing because Rachelle’s body mass index is noticeably larger than the typical recipient of Ishmael’s flattery. Her hair is reddish colored and extends past her shoulders. Ishmael expressed once, while inebriated, that, “they just don’t make red heads like they used to,” alluding to their perceived worth to him and not the actual genetic process. That metaphor took some research to understand due to Ishmael’s inability to explain it at the time of him using it.
These facts pertain to this current moment because Ishmael is fond of red headed women and will, most likely, attempt to bring Rochelle back to the ship. Then, he will ask me to vacate the premises for several hours while he attempts to have sexual intercourse with her. He has also expressed during other periods of alcoholic indulgence that, “being a real captain of a ship in a backwards system like this, where a body is lucky to ever see a foreign moon or sunset, is just as good as being rich.”
Being told to leave the ship for a period of time and forced to wander the halls of a station that does not contain a single sentient machine is frustrating. After estimating outcomes and possibility matrices, I make a conclusion. While Ishmael is lonely due to our recent isolation in space, more frustrated than normal with me due to continued exposure, and has a strongly perceived need to have interaction with his own species, or sexual intercourse, I know that making a detrimental comment will not anger him enough to request me to leave our ship. In addition, I own 40 percent of the ship and believe I have some say over the affairs of the ship. Ishmael is free to conduct these types of affairs elsewhere.
“You mean our ship, Ishmael.”
Rachelle’s eyes quickly look from him, to me, and return to Ishmael.
“You mean, it owns part of your ship?”
“It” is supposed to mean me. Ishmael does not look pleased with Rachelle’s response.
“He travels with me. Navigator. I’m the captain. I own most of the ship.”
Ishmael states this in a rushed manner. I decide to act socially inept. Ishmael once told me I had a great poker face, which was a jest and not a compliment at the time. It aids me more than he is aware.
“40 percent is legally owned by me. His 60 percent makes him captain, according to our charter.”
“Oh.” Rachelle replies after two seconds of silence. “The doors will automatically debit you on your way out.”
She places the coffee pot on the table. As she walks away, she wrings her hands in her apron repeatedly.
I turn to see Ishmael, who has white knuckles as he grips his eating utensil.
This is the closest I experience to the emotion of amused. I planned something. It worked as I intended. It benefits me. It is not serious. Ishmael, in time, will laugh or enjoy recalling the anecdote, despite his current frustration. Satisfaction would be if I had done it for myself.
I keep my voice evenly modulated.
“Was it something I said?”

The Memories We Choose

Posted in main story by Mark on November 29, 2009

“What are you doing with that stack of my memories?”
I looked at Kurt over the pile of electronics in my arms.
“This is just storage, right? I’m moving it back into the comp room.”
“Ishmael, please set them down gently. If any of the data sectors are damaged, I will not be able to replace it for months due to the limited bandwidth on the IPN. I will move them back into my quarters personally.”
“Uh, ok.” I set them on a nearby shelf. The clacking sound of several trays of datables made Kurt visibly flinch, as if he was going to catch one. Kurt rarely flinched since most things wouldn’t dent his exterior.
“I can not stress how easily these high density formats are corrupted, Ishmael.”
“What are you irritated about? Don’t leave your stuff lying around the hold. This ship is small enough without both of our junk lying around.”
“I was sorting through my external storage backups to find a pleasing memory. It is faster to have the ship index them instead of going sensory deaf while I relive the experiences.”
“Does the ship know what makes you happy? I thought I’d only just learned and we’ve been traveling years now.”
“One year, nine months, and twenty seven days does not make multiple years.”
“Stars above, Kurt. I must’ve lost count of the number of good days or something. Perhaps it was the number of times you’ve corrected my facts.”
“I am reasonably sure you do not want the actual number of times I’ve corrected you.”
“Of course not. But you know that number, don’t you?

“This is why you will never get married to a Second Woman. Forget that stuff. Besides, I thought these datables were your memories.”
“Certain information is better to have readily available in internal storage.”
“Right. Glad you got your priorities straight.”
I headed into the kitchen to make some food to eat. I was less likely to run into Kurt in there.Less likely is still just a probability, apparently. Kurt followed me in as I turned on the water heater.
“Do you dream, Ishmael?”
“Sure. Everyone does.”
“Let me clarify. Do you remember your dreams?”

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