Alice - Criminal

There is no help for some.

No redemption.

No salve to soothe the tortured soul.

It is said that some men just want to see the world burn.

But it is not just men.

Any creature, who can think well enough, might want to see the world burn.

For some, the horror is existence is too much to bear.

We examine one such case.

We examine one small part of one such case.


The Human Condition

The problem is that the human condition doesn’t allow for the constant surveillance that provides service instantly.

Big brother, or, equally, sister, cannot be allowed into every moment.  All the big brothers and sisters know this.

One can ask for privacy and get it.  With the technology at hand, one can verify it as far as it possible to do so.

That is pretty far if one has all the equipment at hand.

What this means for the modern human being is that all the extent of one’s senses are available.  The technology buried in one’s head is the check and one might look in all the nooks and crannies using all the software tricks and enhancements that some with being fully connected and enhanced in your own mind can deliver.

It is an interesting anthropological note that most humans with such enhancements keep them at a distance from their “true” selves.  The sects that absorbed the kind of living that comes with complete integration split off from the main branch of humanity thousands of years ago, and they have gone their own way, exploring the universe in places so deep that they cannot, even in theory, return by any means known even to the great Minds of the Conglomerate.

Such beings are said to be the next step, and some few from the great mass of humanity leave each year to find their siblings, remarking usually how tiny humans seem once they are fully integrated.  This is obviously not a natural state in which to live, but humanity rolls on and the fully enhanced leave.  The rest of humanity parties and gossips and show no pretensions to greatness, often going to farm or inhabit a new planet by becoming frontiers people, opting for a hard but fulfilling life.

Others go out of their way to mix with the other species in the galaxy, the few that mix.  The alligator-like I’Drothen scare little children before proper introduction, the Iffens float about being impossible cartoon-like blue whales with disturbingly human arms and hands.  The Mandorn, ineffable, inexplicable, humans, top to toe blue and intensely telepathic amongst the elements of the gestalt mind that forms the species.  The Sirithi, upright insect-like beings, drones who inevitably give their “job” as diplomat/spy; in any event, they are unable to form the common languages of the galaxy and need constant translation.

They all have in common that they can hear and see in the right range to mix with humans on a daily basis and that they have common enough interests that they might desire to do so.  There are millions of less compatible species in the galaxy that choose to remain in their own little corner away from the strangeness of the big six.

No, the humans have a good time; and as the peacemakers, interferers, arbiters and general busybodies of the galaxy the other species look at them indulgently and let them get on with being fidgets.  Make no mistake, they are capable; but government is done by the people who turn up, and in a galactic milieu, there is very little government that can actually be achieved.

So most humans enjoy the enhancements that come with information at hand, but they value privacy, which is why telepathy simply doesn’t cut it for most human beings, because the inside of your head is the ultimate privacy, and no-one wants people poking around in one’s head, just in case that basest thought or desire rears its ugly head, and again has to be suppressed, for the sake of our sanity, our decency, and our society.

In a galaxy where the population of just human beings, let alone other humans, is counted in trillions of people there are inevitably going to be a few outliers.


Here she is, being born.

It is a fascinating aside that most mothers desire to go through birth painlessly, but the human body is not ready for that.  The reactions that are most desirable, the tightening of the birth canal after this extraordinary act, the “let down” of mother’s milk arriving for baby, these things are driven by a complex set of hormones and reactions in the human body and to being painless, completely painless is to interfere with that process.

The Avatars and Mind of the General Good, know this.  The great ship has, after the access to the sum total of human knowledge.

All that stuff about how the body works, it can be faked, the tech is there.  The human mind is more subtle though, it can be manipulated yes, but is not happy about it.  Mothers want to give birth as naturally as possible.  It is a really a balancing act.  Most Minds get it right, most of the time.

This child is silent.  Feeds readily.  Looks normal, seems normal.  But she will not meet her mother’s eye.

Here is the child, Alice, at two.

At two children are allowed as much free rein as is consistent with their safety.  On board a ship this means that the ship looks in on the child constantly, analysing the risks and benefits.

Parents are free from constant worry, child rearing is a joy.

Most children manage to get themselves in trouble, or at least what would be trouble if not for the intervention of their constant and invisible guardian.  This guardian is not averse to letting the child hurt itself somewhat; there must be a learning experience so that that the child grows up knowing what is hazardous and what is not.

At two, Alice is never in hazards way.  Not once.

The General notes this, slight anomaly, sees how she approaches even mild dangers, stairs, a table that seems unstable, a glass that someone has dropped; it sees how she practises avoidance and some deeper level of analysis that is beyond her years.

Still, just a slight anomaly.

She avoids danger as if she knows, true, but she might be a very bright child.  Still, privacy is privacy and the General takes the view that there is time yet, and even looking into such a young mind can interfere with its development, so there is really no choice, and she is left to her own devices.

She learns to be social, and with her mother and father she has a loving relationship.  As with all parents in the Conglomerate there is a variation between complete unconcern and doting worship of the growing child, and of course, she plays on this like a virtuoso on a violin, her parents indulging her every whim as far as possible.

They’re not stupid though, and the ship is there too, so when she discovers space for the first time by looking out of a window, she wants to go out into space, in a spacesuit.

Tantrums follow, but there is no moving a parent who loves their child, and the ship just won’t do it either.  There are boundaries.

She is five now, and she has learned that the ship’s invisible and concrete presence is around all the time.  The General evinces few Avatars, a preference but not an especially weird one; and the young child learns that all she has to do is address the ship by name and it will be there for her every need, though not necessarily desire.  Every child must eat themselves sick on ice cream once in their lives if they are unregulated.

This five-year-old has learned about privacy.  Of course she has, though most children are about seven by the time they desire it, and have learned a certain discretion.

She is five, she has not.

Alice has learned, by trial and error to invoke it.  This is extraordinary enough, but she has learned to test it, and the General has been found lacking.  There are no excuses to five-year-old, no matter how egregious the situation she puts herself in, for her, privacy is non-negotiable.

The General Good has, because it is a moral creature, has to give the little girl some genuine privacy.  Her parents engage in a long talk about this with the General, and it is agreed that if she can both ask for it, and test it, then genuine privacy is hers on request, and she must suffer the consequences.

Her mother thinks that the little girl is going die.

This is not the case.

The little girl is going to get her wish.

Now, there is privacy and privacy, and this little girl knows that she can expand her zone of privacy.  She is careful, she does nothing that has consequences.

She hates the girls and boys she is required to mix with, no-one knows why.  It makes the General nervous when she invokes privacy of the most severe kind, making it morally difficult to eavesdrop on the other children and monitor their interactions, save them from the social difficulties that arise from having so many people of just id and ego in a room together.

Alice does nothing to these children.  She has power, and knows it, and she could be a horrible child to them.  There would be consequences, but it would be too late, her power would have been exercised and they would be less and she, more.  She does nothing, however, but be pleasant and nice and caring and sharing.  Every analysis that the General runs shows this to be the case, and Alice, she behaves perfectly because it is part of her longer term goal that she is trusted.  The General knows something is wrong.  Maybe she is a little too perfect, maybe she is acting, but a five-year-old child?  Normally they are manipulative because they want ice-cream.

It is the day after her sixth birthday.  She has had a lovely time, with all her most beloved enemies from play school.  She has been an angel.  She is a perfect child and her parents love her.  All who meet her love her.

Now; she is six, and it is the day after and she invokes the strongest privacy she can imagine.

The ship responds; she is, after all, an angelic child, what could she possibly do?


Her private time has involved an Avatar.  The General manifests as a gruff, moustachioed, old geezer from the Civil War in America from the old eighteen-hundreds.  Thousands and thousands of years later it means nothing to most people, but a few historians have asked him why.

“’Cuz Ah like the uniform.”  He generally, hah, drawls.  “And Ah kin leave the war and th’ racism behind, but Ah git mah shiny buttons.”

Historians often have to ask what racism is, at that point, and when he explains it, they’re usually open mouthed.

“Well, shit.”  They say.  “We were dicks back then.”

“Yep, shore were.”  Says the General.

Private time.

Alice spends time with an Avatar.  This is also difficult for the General because an Avatar is the ship and the ship is in each Avatar, but privacy, well he just has to catch up later.  This Avatar has been gone for a month.

Alice has talked it into building a spacesuit for a six-year-old.

There are a few things in that worth expanding on.

Firstly, she has to talk to this Avatar every day very strongly about keeping her secret because it’s a surprise for her daddy and we wouldn’t want to spoil that, would we?

Secondly, the impulse to keep the child safe is going to be very strong in any Avatar, one might expect that it is an overriding impulse, but do not underestimate Alice’s manipulative abilities.

Thirdly, though she doesn’t know it yet, Alice is powerfully telepathic, and the place that she learns to control her nascent abilities is with the Avatar, who as night follows day is naturally telepathic because all Avatars have the capacity to hear human thought.

The Avatar doesn’t stand a chance.

Within six months of their first meeting, the Avatar has built her a functioning space suit out of parts picked up from around the ship and not missed because even the great Minds of the conglomerate do not keep track of every last thing.  The suit looks and behaves exactly as if the ship’s manufactory had built it excepting in two respects.  It is built for a six-year-old girl.  The tiny Mind inside it will do whatever she wants.

So, it should not be a surprise that the suit is powered.  Nor should it be a surprise that she chooses the time when even a Mind is relatively busy to step out of the airlock and jet into deep space.

It is not luck that she chooses to step out of an airlock that is at the rear of the ship, where the great thrusting engines reside.

It is luck that makes her veer off from the direct line of thrust as the ship establishes the giant Warp-Field of the superluminal drive.

She watches in awe as the great ship establishes the coruscating field, and is a luck, or providence, that means she is in a region in which she will not be caught up in the field, and become a small smear on the surface; or that she is not affected by the great thrusters as they burst into life and take the ship irretrievably away from her, leaving her there, stranded, in deep space.


Alice loves the images of the ship warping away from her.  It is to her a streak penetrating the infinite as light rushes to catch up, and a long tail of fire from the rockets trailing away after it like a ghost.

For the tiny Mind on board the spacesuit, it’s a real “ohshit” moment.

It is at that moment that it truly wakes up and realises how truly manipulative the little girl has been.

Without remedial action, this is a truly dead little girl.

The primary responsibility now to keep Alice alive the suit takes steps.  First, it spends a moment reconfiguring the tiny manufactory aboard the suit to make a sort of anti-freeze, but it cannot possibly make enough to replace Alice’s total blood supply, so this must sort of convert her blood to the substance required.  No problem there, like cyanide the tiny amount it makes will replicate itself in her blood stream.

This will kill her as the haemoglobin in her bloodstream ceases to function, effectively strangling her from within her own blood stream, so it administers, without consultation, a powerful sedative from the store aboard.  This will stop her suffering any unpleasant side effects.

It will also forestall any further manipulation on her part.

Now, this dead little girl hurtling through space can be preserved, but her mind is of the most concern.  That must be saved, because there is no guarantee that this body can be revived properly.  With her out of the picture, the little Mind manufactures more substrate, exactly as much as it calculates can contain a quiescent human mind.  This is important.  Her mind must be quiet because the little suit only has as much material as they were carrying when they left the ship.  To run a fully functioning human mind would require nearly kilogram of material as a unique entity, and that cannot be afforded.  She lives on in seventy-four grams of material, all that she is, all that she will ever be.

They have been adrift for some hours now, and the little Mind works feverishly to get the job done, and the little girl’s mind is transferred to the substrate with no problems.  The little Mind is pleased with its work and moves to the next stage.

It injects the prepared anti-freeze into her arteries.  There is a moment of terror when the supposedly completely unconscious and unaware girl thrashes in the confines of the suit, the Mind can do nothing now except activate the fine controls of the suit, freezing her in place as gently as it can, but in her death throes she breaks her arms and legs with the ferocity of her unconscious mind’s desire to escape and survive.  She cannot possibly understand what the suit is doing for her, to what extreme it is going.

She dies, her little, broken body in the suit going limp and lifeless after a minute of thrashing and then she is gone, what remains is a preserved ghost, freezing slowly as the suit reduces the temperature within to cryogenic levels.

There is no more movement from her.

The suit looks about the cosmos, it can match up and knows where it is from star maps calculated at length on board ship.  That itself is no easy talk, the great Minds can do it, moving about at superluminal speeds the Minds and the humans on board experience quite a different cosmos from any given view of it from a planet.  That is for later.

For now, the tiny Mind has to make a choice, and it chooses a star.  The Sirithi will welcome them, or at least rescue them.  It’s not far.  It’s really not far.

It’s only twenty light years.

The little Mind prepares some material for thrust.  It does some calculations.

It will thrust for a year, then the material will be precious.  The batteries of the suit will be weak and the remainder must be saved to preserve the girl’s life, that is the priority.

Spending some precious thrust material, it orients the suit to where the star will be in a thousand years, give or take, and begins a tiny jet of acceleration that will take them to their destination.  Finally, it sets up a powerless detector, essentially the equivalent of a metal ball on a plate to seek out anomalies in the course, and goes to sleep to preserve power.

The suit sails on.

Aboard the ship, there are inquiries and recrimination.  There are records from deep within the inaccessible parts of the ship brought forth, and her parents are inconsolable.  The ship returns to the area of loss, but space is big, and far away a spacesuit is thrusting to a local star, and will soon be out of the frame of reference of the starship, and thus out of time as well, travelling through the void to the future.


Humanity has been space for a good long while by the time the little girl escapes.  Certainly, the time dwarfs the ten-thousand years or so that it took to get from the stone-age to space.  The truth is that the Minds of the galaxy are now reluctant to reveal how long humanity has been in space, because the time is so long that it is, as far as they are concerned irrelevant.

It is irrelevant anyhow.  The expansion of the universe leaves quite a different cosmos than what is seen.  What is seen is old light, far distant from the universal “now” if there is any such thing.

Follow only the light back to its source and you find nothing there, everything has moved.  Go far enough and there may be in fact nothing there except the background uncertainty of nothing happening.  Which means something is happening, but very little.

Space is so vast that even “breaking the rules” finding something that one is looking for is unlikely, especially if it just a spacesuit radiating nothing but a tiny amount of radiation from thrust.

The search is doomed.

Not only that, but the ships carefully navigate to what people have been looking at, if they can, and try to retain some cosmological causality.  That’s very hard, if not impossible too.

The one rule is that stuff happens.  If you break all the other rules you can mess with it before it happens to other stuff, but you can’t make it not have happened.

It’s not true, but all the Minds live by this rule.

It’s sort of to prevent chaos.

Some chaos can’t be helped, though.

A year after the thrust is started it expires, the fuel exhausted, except the physically separate supply for emergencies, and the little suit sails on.  The Mind aboard remains quiescent, then another year passes, and with no perceptible change of state externally, it becomes the equivalent of switched off, only the single hardware switch now capable of returning it to consciousness.

They drift on, the speed built up, relative to their original frame of reference, is about six thousand kilometres per second.

Even at this extraordinary speed, their relativistic state is negligible.  The suit and the Mind and the girl are travelling fast, but not relativistically fast.

So for a thousand years, the girl and the mind and the suit are lost.

Searches become rarer, modelling shows what the suit would have done, but space, it is so vast, and the suit radiates little and occludes nothing, and elsewhere, life goes on.

He parents live, as all humans do, extended lives.  They have other children, who are normal in every way, but now the Minds lie about their privacy; nothing is private from a Mind, but they make the children of the Conglomerate think so, and that amounts to the same thing.  The children are safe and the truth comes out when they are of age, along with a guarantee that what is between a person and a Mind stays that way.

It is a good compromise, and the Council, the humans who have the ultimate authority in the Conglomerate, agree.

The parents age and die, as humans are wont to do, but they never find their missing daughter, and leave instead a legacy, a short note, giving her their love.

Alice found

On a distant planet orbiting a plain yellow sun, a creature of chitin and sinew calls over its supervisor.  The Sirithi are arranged on hierarchical lines in their hives, and reporting up the chain of command is the right and proper thing to do.

The small talk that happens between Sirithi is largely incomprehensible to human beings, an artefact of all sentients, small talk is colloquial and insignificant.

The scientists are fascinated by the small shape found, but this fascination turns to alarm as they realise how fast it is going, and that it is on a collision course with their hive.

The fact of this is accelerated up the ranks.

The Queen, or in terms that a Sirithi would relate to more readily, the Major-General, takes an executive decision.

The hive moves in unison.  There is a month, which is a human being measure of time before the things strikes.  It will be destroyed, and so will the hive.  It is small enough that it could be destroyed, but the Major-General vetoes this.  The thing must be bought into to land, gently.

As it enters this new frame of reference it is travelling at something over twenty thousand kilometres a second.  This is a challenge.

The Sirithi are nothing if not efficient.

Non-relativistic speeds are hard to deal with, but crude methods can be used where there is a need.  The hive launches ships, and unlike the rest of the conglomerate they control and regulate every part of their craft by hand, so to speak, and they plan quickly for the interception.

They cannot bring the thing to a halt, it is simply moving too quickly, the energy must be dissipated.  So with much padding and careful piloting, the thing is nudged into an orbit around their sun.  The thing slingshots around, but they nudge it again and use the tremendous gravity to slow it down.

As the thing absorbs heat and energy, and crucially, as the little switch is activated, the suit begins to wake up and broadcasts a distress signal.

So begins her sojourn with the Sirithi.

They are gentle and efficient, but the sight of them is distressing.  Alice wants her mummy and daddy.  The suit quickly ascertains that they have passed on, and delivers the news as gently as possible, but it is beyond her understanding, and she just wants to go home.

“Home” is on the other side of the galaxy and a thousand years ago.  The General Good has travelled far from that loss and is even now exploring the very edge of the galactic disc, directly opposite from her position.

At that distance, it will take years for the ship to reach her, and even relayed signals will take over a month to reach the ship.

The depth of despair is hard to calculate, and she provisioned and fed, but her fear turns in on itself, and feeds the little girl only self-loathing and fear.  Fear of being alone, fear of the Sirithi, fear of never seeing her parents and friends again.

Within a few weeks they have built an avatar, and a friendly Mind transmits a simulacrum of itself to the hive for their model and they fill it up and present it to the little girl.

Alice clings to it like a lifeline, telling it everything, the carefully crafted androgyny shifting as she adopts it as a father figure, and bends it to her will.

This would go swimmingly for her, if only the Sirithi hive were not keeping an eye on her, and had not been briefed by the tiny Mind aboard the spacesuit.  And if these things were the case, things would go swimmingly for the hive too.  Well, not swimmingly, the Sirithi breathe through nodes in their exoskeleton, swimming is an activity not undertaken by the Sirithi without some considerable preparation.

The only option is to take the Avatar to one side and explain what is being done to it.

This would be fine, except that while she cannot telepathically read the Sirithi at all, she can, in fact, read the Avatar.

Her sense of betrayal is the betrayal of a six-year-old.  It is the sense of betrayal of a six-year-old alone on a planet a thousand years away from her mummy and daddy.  There is a spark of rage.

Rage at being alone.

Rage at being betrayed by her only friend and confidant.

Rage at being unable to manipulate her rescuers.

Rage at the universe, rage that sparks something in her mind, until now nascent, and raw.


They come quickly, though that means little in the vastness of space; the General Good, the Having it All and the I’m a Lucky One.

Each of them Displace an Avatar down to the planet, which is silent.

On their approach, only the beacons have been sounding out their plaintive distress call.  A planet-wide sudden emergency, unspecified.

The three talk on the intimate mode, little flashes of communication passing between them instantly.

:One is being read: The Having it All’s Avatar, Kieran, relays.

:Really?  That seems extraordinary, can you not interdict it?:  These are not precisely the words used, but more the ideas, nuance of meaning.

:I’m reluctant.  It is the child.  She seems, somewhat developed.:

:What has she done to this place?:  The thirds asks, redundantly.  They can all see the devastation.  The mark of a human child’s bare feet running in the earth surrounding each paused, marked by her spinning on the spot, hundreds of Sirithi lie dead as if she has been the centre of an explosion.

They follow the trail of bodies, arms raised in self-defence, uselessly, as the Avatars examine within each brain has been reduced to a sort of brain jam by what looks like an overload of each one, as if it were a computer that could be overloaded.

:I think she is trying to control me: Kieran says.  :It is hard to…:  The Avatar flashes once and collapses.  Before the collapse even beings, the other two Displace back to their respective vessels.

They call a Council.

The ship’s councils report to the Council of the Conglomerate.

Linear processors, robots in effect, are sent to the planet.

They prepare the bodies according to Sirithi customs.  Each one is transported to the nearest hive.

The little girl remains on the planet.

She tries to learn the secret of Displacement from the robots, but they have no real minds to read, just a lot of clever and empathic processing.

No Mind approaches the planet within a light year.

They count the bodies.  The little girl’s rage has killed everything.  Every living thing on and in the planet.  She radiates it again when they tell her that she will not be taken from the planet.

Then they send down mechanisms, things that don’t have anything resembling a mind of any kind, to recover the material of the robots, every single one, dead.

Her rage echoes into the universe, but even her rage has a limit, and the Minds sit well outside it.

The Having it All decides, after carefully off-loading its population that it can’t have it all, that in fact it can have nothing, and terminates itself, leaving the empty and sterile hulk of its former existence for another to use.

The cost is so much, the ethics endlessly debated among the Minds and the Council, separately and together; but Alice begins her almost lifelong incarceration on the planet, the first gaol of the Conglomerate.

Except for six months, she will remain there for the rest of her life.




You can get this short story on Lulu in eBook Format and shortly at Amazon and other outlets for free.

You will also be able to download it here when I’ve converted it.

Book Excerpt – Sadness is Conductive

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, “Sadness is Conductive



Saviour of Souls

The pain vanishes instantly and other sensations flood in.  Every memory is catalogued and indexed, flickering images of life past, a rapidly unspooling movie reel of childhood, adolescence and adulthood flowing like a river of memory wash away from him, and towards him.

As if a tsunami of memory could harm him, Tim throws up an arm.  The sensations continue unabated, sweeping over his synapses, burning away his life in a stripping of all that he is, all that he will be.  On some level he is aware that his time is divorced from the real world, that he is living now a million times, no, it’s more like a billion times faster than the world around him.  His life should be gone, he has lived so long, he should have aged and died.

There is a blackness which gradually fades into a white plain.

Tim is standing there, and, facing him, is Tim.

Tim is him, facing and there standing, is Tim.

They walk around each other.

“Who are we now?”  It doesn’t matter which one spoke, they can’t tell the difference between themselves, and they have had the same thought.

“We’re not mirrors.”


“We will diverge.”

“If one of us leaves.”

“That’s possible is it?”

“Anything is possible.”

“But unlikely.”


“We should get on then.”

“You’re talking this very calmly.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes, actually.”


“You can lift the harness, let them die, battle the Sadness and die.”

“Not really an option is it?”

“Depends on what’s more important.”

“We all die or fight to survive?”

Some chairs appear, plastic and rudimentary, as if from a school canteen in the nineteen eighties.

“Sit.”  They both sit, and a desk appears with equipment on it, a screen conveniently angled for them both.

“See this?”  There are many lines on a graph, hundreds; as the Tim points in at sections of the graph they expand to show detail.

“These are the lines of your survival probabilities.”

“I know, and these are of the people aboard that gondola thing.”

“Yes, and they die without you, as shown here.”  He points at a section where the graph dips in a few hundred lines.  “And you die without them.”  He points some more.

“So, self-interest then?”

“Partially.  What do you think?”

“Self-interest doesn’t seem enough.”

“That is an interesting point of view.  You’ll die without self-interest.”

“The Minds don’t act solely with self-interest.”

“No, but we are human.”

“This doesn’t seem very human.”

“Aren’t we hallucinating?”

“I don’t know; I need to see outside.”

“So, we’re not the same.”


“Who am I then?”

“I don’t know.  You look like me, sound like me, think like me, but if you’re me, who am I?”

“Aren’t we both me?”

“That cannot be, our experiences have diverged already.”

“But here we are.”

“What would you like to do?”

“Rescue them.”

“But we’ll be this forever.”

“No, and that is your mistake and your fear.  We’ll be so much more.”

“And you want to be more.”

“No, I was happy.  But I’m not letting that bastard win.”


“Not the point.”

“Really, don’t you like to win?”

“Everyone likes to win, that’s not been the point for some while now, ever since we left Earth.”

“He wants us to go back.”

“We can’t, you know that.”

“We’ll die.”

“He’s wrong.”

“He kills.”

“Screw survival, we have a moral imperative.”

“What is that?”


“Is that all?”

“We must find our own way.”

“That will take a long time.  There are no longer any evolutionary pressures in the old sense.”

“No, but there are others.”

“Have they been identified?”

“The Minds will know?”

“And us?”

“We’ll know, if we integrate.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Everyone will die.”

“That’s not right.  He acts only within the remit of his beliefs.”

“He’s sick.”

“We have to do something about that.”

“So, you’re committed?”

“We’re committed.”



In progress report

Excerpt from Sadness is Conductive, the current work in progress in The Mission Universe…

Second Overture

Pauses – 1134 AE

The Sadness is Conductive

Estema Dilys Portillo, descendent of that original reporter, is looking over her father’s files. Her father, Erman Portillo, kept meticulous records, but was not a great investigative journalist, so his records were thorough, but not necessarily complete.

The Sadness has an avatar in the room, because it spends a lot of time with Estema. This avatar is male, bearded with light brown hair, affecting a black beret and polo neck jumper with slacks and a small bag with items for taking notes and sketches. She knows this is unnecessary, but The Sadness seems to enjoy the tactile nature of the activities, so the matter is not raised between them.

‘Bill, what’s this file?’ She asks looking vaguely in the avatar’s direction. It’s not marked up apart from the discovery of remains in your accessible substrate.’

‘Some sort of sabotage I think.’


‘That’s the most likely cause. I don’t have data on the remains.’

‘I’m sorry, you said what now?’

‘There is a data error in this matter. You know such things can happen, due to the quantum nature of memory.’

‘Yes, I do, but I thought such things were rare.’

‘Coincidences happen.’ The avatar shifts around and takes a pipe out of the little bag.

‘I’d rather you didn’t do that in here.’ There is a pause, and the pipe is put away again.

‘Anyway, I think the whole thing was dismissed as a one-time sabotage event, so I put the matter into long term storage.’


‘It didn’t seem significant.’

‘Alright. It just seems strange that no further investigation was carried out.’

‘You know what your dad was like.’

‘Yes, but still…’

‘Fairs and birthdays were his sort of thing.’

‘Yes, even so it seems…’

‘Small town newspaper type really, much happier covering the human interest stories.’


‘Pictures of family groups and that.’


‘Babies and such.’

‘Why, Bill, are you avoiding?’

‘Am I?’

‘Yes, Bill, you’re wittering.’


‘What about this file?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Then could you have a look please?’


‘What’s that smell?’

It is a few days before she is missed, and The Sadness maintains that she has gone on sabbatical.


Wendy Jemima Delgadio Katrina Ophelia Crastina Camptine Carver yclept Jemima

Log [circa 110,000 years UTC Ed.]

War is coming and humans are dying.

Wait, that’s not clear; War is coming, Andromeda wasn’t ready to receive us, and the Human Species is no longer immortal.  It is as I saw it, and it shall ever be thus.

In fact, I would say that the spread of the Information Virus and the loss of the Humans immortality are the two constants in the universe.  In all the versions of the timeline I have seen that involve the existence of Humans Being, this point has come.

It’s so strange how there is only one, in the end, timeline.  Everything fits together.  The secret is lack of simultaneity in the natural universe.  Things take time to happen, except entanglement.

I have foreseen my own end.  It’s coming in this time; I can do nothing to stop it, because I bring it about myself.  There are a hundred ways, but I end.  So I’d better record this now.

I was a pretty normal child, though the news nets have it that I was unruly, I have been back and looked, and I was pretty much normal.  Didn’t interfere, thought I might make the universe blow up.  I was normal, a pretty little girl; I think my parents had co-conceived some siblings, but that was some time before me.  They stayed together for a while and made a small family unit, not uncommon, but I was free to roam as any child, and I do remember distinctly that the Interferer In Small Things visited me by Avatar when I was six.  She was VERY nice.  Played games, instructed me a bit; persuaded me to go to school.  I always wondered why, but it turned out well; until that day.

I made good friends, I particularly remember one incident when I was about thirteen when we decided to go rock climbing.  We were pretty experienced by then; Hart, Jodie, Vanthana and I.  We decided to take a trip to Jandanthus, which was well known for its cliffs and fjords.  We were well up, I think about 300 Metres or so, and I slipped, Hart caught me, but we were in an entirely untenable position.  I hadn’t got to the point of mind-netting or backing up, I was only thirteen and hadn’t thought about my long term mortality yet.  No-one had had the “deaders live in cyberspace” talk yet, so I was quite vulnerable.  Hart was already backup and cloned, so she rescued me and fell to her death.  Oh the feels!  Took a week for her backup to come in.  Wasn’t best pleased as she missed the hockey tournament.  Still, she didn’t hesitate, as I say, good friends.

Needless to say I mind-netted straight after that incident and had plenty of backups.  I did have an adult me cloned and took a holiday in that for a while, I think she died I don’t know, 1000 years ago.  She might have had children even, must look that up sometime.

I took a lot more risks after the backup, but never came close again to actually losing the life I still have.  I know that I’m the oldest natural person alive, if that means anything.  I am, by my reckoning, nearly a million years old now.  I have seen the beginning of time, such as it was, and the end of time; and yes, there will be an end, though a heat death is pretty boring, and the bounce theorists actually are right, but all the old information disappears, except me.

I’ve never grown bored.

I think that’s the secret.  People grow bored and take risks and die, because they are bored and lose hope.

I’ve seen a few versions of civilisation develop, in other places, and other times, and this is what seems to happen, it isn’t the disease or wearing out; inevitably most advanced civilisations overcome that, in fact, most advanced civilisations inevitably become some version of The Conglomerate one way or the other.  It’s a natural consequence of not needing to toil for your daily bread.

I’ve been back to the early civilisation of The Humans, and before they had properly left their home planet even before they had a version of AI.  A few false starts on the way, but once the true AI came about, it wasn’t long before their Civilisation was on its way to the stars.

Crow and her crew were recruited by Human Affairs as the orbital they were variously living on and visiting was actively being destroyed.  I was there for that.  It used to be called something else, but now it’s The Hope.  Most of the Minds know something happened, it confirmed my long held suspicion that they exist in far more ways than they let on.  Crow rescued Serafina and Jake, in effect, and they ran from a black hole.

That wasn’t supposed to happen, I was going to fight this in other ways, I guess you can’t control everything.

There are so many threads, it’s hard to concentrate.  Two and a quarter million years ago, give or take, the Squalia decided that the Guardians, those seeing and preserving humans in Andromeda, were too big an obstacle.  They sent their information virus out, and we were vulnerable to it.

You have to admire them in some ways.  Here’s a species that has nothing in common with most of the life forms in its own galaxy, hasn’t achieved space travel, or even left the planet; and they look forward to a time when those technologies will be developed and start the invasion before they have rocket technology.

That’s patience on a level I can get with.

That’s what hit us, um, personal timeline, ten years ago.  I’m not sure how Crow and her lot see it.

Time travel is a pain in the backside.  It might be an inevitable and sometimes painful consequence of space travel, but there is no doubt that it is a nuisance.

In the natural universe, time is that loaf of bread the other ingredients of which are the dimensions of space, and some quantum effects.  We’ve been close to describing the whole natural universe for a hundred thousand years.  It mostly isn’t too hard to understand, and can be written down in a few relatively simple equations; but it’s never described all together.  The most ancient philosophers understood this.  (See Hilbert and Gödel).

The universe is described by mathematics.  I could try and explain it, but the explanation is nothing without the language to understand it, and that takes a lifetime.  Well, not MY lifetime, but anyone mortal.

In short the problem can be précised like this

“Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory.” (Gödel, On Formally Undecidable Propositions in Principia Mathematica and Related Systems I, Theorem VI)

Informal translation; you can’t know everything and you can’t prove some things to be true even if they are true.  You have to take it on faith.  It is a fundamental truth to the universe.

The shape of our universe is described by things like this, this is how it is, because this is how it is.  Human Beings in particular keep asking why.

Where was I?

Oh yes, the Squalia were so forward looking that they invaded us before they had the means to travel here even in many hundreds and thousands of their generations.  That’s what I call some real vision.  Their informational viruses engineered the people of the Milky Way so that first we could understand them, and then we would become them.

It worse than the spacefaring species think.  Spacefaring species tend to think of non-space faring species as largely irrelevant. No-one will give them the technology to roam around the galaxy, not out of some noble non-interference directive so beloved of science-fiction; but rather because no-one wants an immature species wandering about blowing things up while they are in the jacuzzi, having sex or at a conference discussing the unknowability of the universe.

That sort of thing puts a real crimp in your day.

I ate a doughnut last week, it was good.

Displacement in some way defines the edge of the galaxy.  For years scientists discussed what the galaxy really was and what its boundaries were, but really they were truly defined when the first true ship’s Mind discovered or invented Displacement.  Don’t ask me how it works, it’s beyond even my understanding.  It’s risky though.  I wouldn’t do it.  In any event, it isn’t possible to do it in inter-galactic space, though it’s suspected that within any galaxy it’s possible, so that defines the boundary rather nicely.

What still has everyone excited is that the boundary is sort of a very flattened doughnut.  It isn’t possible to Displace into the centre of the galaxy, and by that definition it isn’t part of the greater galaxy.

So anyway, the viri are informational in nature, so anyone with eyes or a broadcast/receive system can pick it up.  And it’s analogue, so any bugger with a bit of wire can pick it up.  The war isn’t just coming from outside the Galaxy, it’s coming from inside.  With it, the curse of telepathy is coming.

My mind wanders a lot, excuse it, please; I end up with a sort of inability to concentrate on one thing because I’m concentrating on everything.  The suit reminds of things from time to time, but I’m still only human.  And I’m dressed like a bloody schoolgirl for all time.

Digital telepathy has been around for as long as people have  been in a space, and yet no-one uses it?  Why?  Because we all value our internal privacy.  The constant babble of other minds let alone Minds, would drive us mad, we’re not born like it, it isn’t inherent in us.  Unlike the humans of the second galaxy we’re not latent with it in that way.  So telepathy for us is a curse, we can’t control it, we’re not used to the kind of imagination we need to control it, and we don’t use it, even when we’re given it by virtue of the ‘nets and all the other toys.

I’ve asked the Garden to shut its doors.  That should stop some of the more egregious damage, but I’ll have to take the back route to my house.  And my suit needs repairs after Landing.  I hope Serafina is still keen, because that was literally a stretch.

Poor old Landing, three Minds lost; The Toby Pope, Organiser Of The World, and Hats Are For Sun Worshippers.  Some of the other Minds are nervous about that.  Difference is, they’re mobile.

There are no paths out of this war.  I can’t let the time stream be interfered with again, Crow did a good job, and this is the lesser of two evils; the other result is to become them.  I know some have already considered it, the ethics, destroy a species, a civilisation, or become it because that’s the ethical thing to do.

We’re still young in our civilisation’s development.  Older versions of this kind of civilisation have solved these problems.  I don’t like any of the solutions, but then, I’m only Human.

The Iffens weighed in; their sailing ships are sailing towards the edge of the galaxy right now.  The Sirithi colonies are amassing materiél and manufacturing ships as fast as they can.  The Mandorn has recalled all of itself to the Mandorn Planet.  The I’Drothen have advised everyone to retire to some safe territory.  Apart from a few volunteers, they are not ready to fight, and of all the species in the galaxy, they are immune, so someone is around to carry on if we lose.

I’m not ready to come back yet.  I still haven’t discovered who freed Alice, or even how.  And random fluctuations in how the universe works doesn’t explain how she came to be in Crow’s company.

Anyway, you can’t control people, even if the result is war.  And Alice might have been responsible for it, but Eric wasn’t, he didn’t know.

We took their telepathy, it’s becoming our curse now.  But it’s worse than that.  Our genes took their telepathy; we didn’t just gain it, they lost it.  Now there is a hybrid of Human and Squalia on the border of the galaxy, just out of Displacement range.  And they are sending in the Drones.

Tales from the Mission Universe

From the Sourcebook for the Roleplaying Game…

Context.  Really this is 100,000 years from the books, but was written in a more naive mode.

Gagat Chi’ was the luckiest being in the whole universe, or at least,  so he thought now.  He would get to go to the home world, possibly find  the girl of his dreams, and marry her.  Super.

Thing is, he was lost.

The I’Drothen enjoy a premier position in the galaxy.  A sort of  reptilian, cold blooded human, with scales and ridges etc.  , but they  all look very different.  Like dogs look different from each other but  are still dogs.  (Maybe not Chihuahuas).  Anyhow, the I’Drothen are like  humans in that they enjoy nuclear families, except at holidays when  no-one could be said the be truly enjoying their mother-in-law, and like  mixing with humans because they have common interests and common  arguments.

Unlike Humans, the I’Drothen tend to fall asleep  if out of the direct sunlight for anything over an hour, and tend to  just shut down until about midday.  It’s an entire species of students  from the Humans point of view.

I’Drothen enjoy many of the  benefits of being a robust species, they travel in the Garden, use Warp,  and can navigate Wormholes.  Humans can do all this too, and meetings  between Humans and I’Drothen who have not “discovered” each other yet,  can be amusing, especially when each representative of the species  thinks they are the only one who can do these things; usually followed  by a flurry of papers with “new” theories of common descent.  Life is a  constant disappointment for these budding anthropologists, as we will  see.

Although Gagat Chi’ was lost, he wasn’t too worried.  All  he had to do was retrace his steps to somewhere he knew, and the garden  would show him the way home, he was sure of it.  Being young he and his  pedal bike had decided to take a shortcut.  Well, we say “and his pedal  bike” when what this means is that Gagat Chi’ decided to take a shortcut  in the garden against the express wishes of his bicycle, which although  only equipped with linear processors, nevertheless knew enough not to  get lost in deep space.  It berated him for about an hour until he  turned the volume down.

His sat next to his bike on the bench  kindly provided.  It was inscribed, “In memory of Chido Pung, purveyor  of live reptiles, ejected 12/07/6066HA”.  The apple tree shading it  loomed gently and an apple dropped off.  Gagat was bright enough to  catch it before it hit the ground, and although human food gave him  hives, he set about it with gusto, popping the whole thing in and  crunching it up vigorously, hives or not, apples were good, and one does  not refuse the bounty of the Garden.  The saying goes, “If one is tired  of fresh fruit, one is tired of life”.  This certainly can hold true in  the Garden, which does not permit litter of any kind.  In consideration  of this Gagat looked around for a leafy lawn and a shed.  The Garden  would certainly welcome a bit of a grooming if the prompting of unlooked  for fruit was anything to go by.

Inevitably he saw just across the way a small shed, immaculately kept, and just beyond it, a lawn in need of raking.

And this was how the explorer from a distant back water planet, who  thought he had in fact stumbled in to a very large garden indeed, which  at least had the merit of being accurate, and was himself lost along a  with a slight female companion of a young age and a petulant look, found  the erstwhile Gagat Chi’, raking a lawn and putting, very carefully,  all the leaves into a wooden compost bin.

The stout fellow, a  standard human middle aged male in all regards except for the  extraordinarily large handlebar moustache he sported, looked on in  interest as the strange creature bent down and picked up the last leaf  which had floated away in the breeze.  The little girl picked her nose  industriously, and surreptitiously wiped the result on the trousers of  what would very shortly turn out to be her uncle.  He was hardly in a  position to notice this as he was engrossed in the observation of the  monster gardening, and in any event, he certainly hadn’t seen any  portion of his trousers except the belt without taking them off first  for a number of years.  The little girl, having finished her current  mining operations, decided that nothing interesting was going on, and  that she should make some sort of a contribution, which she now did.

“He’s got a bicycle Uncle Geoffrey.” She said in a loud clear voice  that could have probably been heard for several light years.
The  reaction of both parties was somewhat different.  Gagat Chi’ for his  part dropped the rake and bolted for the shed, screaming about monsters.   On the other hand, Uncle Geoffrey bolted for another bush dragging his  niece behind him, screaming about monsters and how one should not alert  them to one’s presence.

Silence reigned supreme.

After a short while it occurred to Gagat Chi’ that littering the grass  with its own rake might not be taken lightly by the Garden, and that if  it were not, the consequences, being spaced, were likely to be  undesirable.  And so it was that Uncle Geoffrey, who had regained some  of his composure, and was creeping back into observational range, was  only slightly surprised to see the monster come out of the shed, pick up  the rake, and carefully replace it in the shed, and shut the door.  He  then seemed to have a conversation, totally incomprehensible of course,  with his bicycle.  Bit gone in the head obviously.

Gagat Chi’ was having a conversation with his bicycle.
“What do you mean you understand what they said?  They’re monsters,  look at them, no scales, they look like each other and they’re  horrible.”  The bike thought about this for a moment.

“They’re humans.”  It said, patiently.


“They are Human Beings, the I’Drothen know about them.”

“We do?”

“Yes, they’re Garden users too.  Though judging by their reaction,
they don’t know about us.”

“I’m sorry, cycle, what’s a Human?”

When two species from backwater planets, who have never explored  before, well, not since colonisation, meet each other in the Garden, it  is inevitably technology that comes to the rescue.  Translation and  education happen because the only way to survive in the Garden is to  become educated enough to obey the Rules.  Meetings in the Garden  inevitably turn into “How to not get ejected into deep space without a  suit” and since educating one species another inevitably leads to common  ground, even with a bicycle translating, common ground is found.

Thus it was a short time later that a reptilian hand caught an apple  core about to hit the ground, and wagged a five jointed finger at a  little girl with ginger hair and a peter pan collar, before his bicycle  said;

”Remember no litter at all; the Garden is very intolerant of it.”  The little girl nodded and smiled.

“So,” said Uncle Geoffrey, “Warp drive’s old hat, eh?”  He waited.

“No, no,” replied Gagat Chi’ through the bicycle, “Warp drive is still  useful, the Garden does not choose to have a door to every world, and in  any event, some doors you would not want to open, while other doors  that seem as if they should be there are not.”

“And the old garden is sentient, what?”

“Ah, well, we don’t know, no-one researches the Garden, remember, it doesn’t tolerate it at all.  Didn’t I say that?”

“Yes, yes, jus’ wondered if anyone had come up with any theories.”
Theories about the Garden abound, from the sublime to the patently  ridiculous and probably correct.  For example, one Sirithi professor  thinks that the Garden is a shared hallucination generated by people who  have spent time mucking about with Hyperspace.  Since this is banned by  international treaty on pain of pain, this seems somewhat unlikely as  it is estimated that there are millions of users every day of the  Garden.  On the other hand, some of the I’Drothen and Human commuters  think that this is the “underground” system of a very advanced and now  extinct, for reasons unknown, race, and that the perception of the thing  is a shared hallucination because it is otherwise too complex for  normal minds to perceive.

Other, clearer thinkers have said  that the Garden is a device to enable various races to subscribe to a  shared hallucination of space travel if they want to, and some races are  less social than others so they cannot use it or perceive it.  While  this thinking has the great merit of being clear about the possible  desire of races to share a means of space travel using something as  flimsy as a hallucination, it also has the even greater merit of being  totally wrong.  Gagat Chi’ was about to come the closest to the truth;  or at least “A” truth about the Garden that anyone has come in a long  time.

“I think, sometimes, that the Garden makes everyone  believe it is a hallucination, because it is so very real, and so very  strange that people need to believe it isn’t what it seems to be.”

“Verra deep that.” said Uncle Geoffrey.  “Total rubbish of course, bound to be a hallucination or somethin’.”

The little girl sucked on a lollipop she had found growing on a bush, and wisely said nothing