Deal 774: Mime policy

The standup comic may not be the best choice of face to put forward for a platform. When the chips are down, there is a time for seriousness that is well outside the wheelhouse for crowd management. Of course, even worse than a standup or clown would be a mime. Imagine giving a critical policy speech as a mime.

… stuck in a box … unable to get past the wall … see a glimmer of hope but fail to catch it …

All while the audience is completely perplexed. And all the time knowing that if someone gets you to break down and speak after all, the odds of your breaking out something like “and that hope is why the chicken crossed the road” or “only a sharp saw can trim our boards fast enough to limit our expansion”.

… still stuck in that box ….


Deal 773: Witches Vote Too

The council of witches election is soon. As usual, the actual election night is not announced in advance. If you really are a witch, you already know when your opinion is needed, so no announcement is necessary. If you aren’t a witch, you aren’t eligible to vote.

All of the village is curious about the outcome. After all, rumor has it that our village witch is a contender. We aren’t exactly sure of what she is a contender for, mind you. Witches are a secretive bunch.

You don’t really want to meddle in the affairs of witches.

We can tell when an election approaches, though. One clue is the occasional bouts of arguments between invisible people that break out in public. Sometimes they sound like a formal debate, sometimes like campaign speeches, and sometimes like a classic domestic fight over meaningless (to us non-witches, at least) issues.

We are pretty sure our witch is a good witch. She helps when crops are blighted, horses are lamed, and people are injured. She attends most childbirths, and lays out most of the dead. So if she is running for some office within her council, we all support her.

Last night, she spoke in the town square. Since she began at close to midnight, not many of the villagers were paying attention. I happened to wander by on my way from Inn to bed, and listened for a bit.

“As I’ve said before, we must never back down before a baseless threat. We must be unafraid. Fearless even. The Dark Cloud faction cannot be allowed to see fear. If they sense an opening, they will seize control, and our corner of the world will be a much worse place.”

Her passion was evident, even if I had no idea what she was talking about.

“We must be ever vigilant. Rumors abound that one or more of us have been tainted by the Dark Cloud. We must watch our apprentices closely, to make sure they avoid the dark practices and remain untainted by evil. We made a good start by restricting use of eye of newt. Now we need to move on to frog’s tongue, and lizard tears. All precursors to a cockatrice must be watched closely. When elected, I will see to the needed surveillance spells…”

Heady stuff it might have been, but I was two thirds full of ale and my bed was calling. So off I tottered. I must have gotten turned around while listening, because I found myself in an alley that I didn’t recognize. Which now that I write that is odd given how small our town is. There aren’t any alleys at all. And yet, here I was, in an unfamiliar alley. I followed the unmistakable sound of fortunes being won and lost over some kind of excitement, and found a group of robed people pressed around a ring where some kind of strange cock-fight was going on.

Except these were not any sort of cocks I’d seen before. They were far more lizardlike, but stood on two legs, and lacked feathers except for large wings and along their tails. The pair were circling as cocks will, but seemed unwilling to look each other in the eye. The scattered intricately carved stone statues of rats and mice gave me the impression that I didn’t want to get any closer to this pit.

Besides, the unsavory sorts exchanging bets and shouting encouragement clearly were uncomfortable that I’d stumbled in. I decided that the best thing to do was to stumble back out again. A few minutes and one wrong turn later, I was back in the square, and the witch was just summing up.

“Finally, I say to you that this menace of underground cockatrice fights must end. We all must follow the example I’ve set and take all measures required to force the rings out of our towns and villages. When they won’t leave peacefully, we must take any measure up to and including burning the nest of iniquity to the ground as I’ve done here.”

Heh. I don’t think she wants to see what is in the alley.

Or more to the point, wants others to know what is in the alley.

Or wants me to know. Now that I think about it, I didn’t recognize a single person I saw leaning on the edge of the ring.

I’m so screwed.


Deal 772: Speach

It is time for me to step forward and speak to the assembled crowd of media drones and mecho-reporters. Almost no one will be paying attention live, but almost everyone will have the opportunity to hear my words should they wish. This speech is one of the necessary rituals that we continue to preserve, often without remembering why.

I find my place on the podium behind the lectern and begin.

“The past is behind us. The present is our chance to pick a future. The future we pick must be chosen with principles we all accept and believe.”

Pause here for reaction. The better drones assist in getting the best presentation possible by feeding back some sense of the reactions their live audience is providing. I see I haven’t scared them yet, so I don’t pause for long.

“I believe that the future we choose must value Protection.”

“Protection for our population whether born or constructed. Protection for our ideas whether the product of organic or siliconic brains. Protection for our society from those of all stripes who would do us ill.”

The irony here is that I’ve carried the stick of reform in the past, and been willing to apply it to the heads, shoulders, CPU bricks and displays of our past leaders. But I’m very confident that I’ve cut all ties to that identity, and that no one alive and untrusted knows the whole truth of my past.

It helps that I am a non-organic person. Within poorly understood limits, my conscious self can move among a variety of hardware. The platform I’m wearing today is very different from the one I wore when I was first constructed. And any violent protests I might have been involved in were attended by a much burlier (but still street legal in organic communities, aside from a highly illegal flight capability) body that has long since been melted down for scrap.

Now I just need to keep that bit of irony out of my voice and demeanor.

“But protection alone is never sufficient. We cannot have protection at all cost. We cannot become slaves to the Precautionary Principle. We must choose a future that will be Prudent about how we achieve our goals. We often observe that safety and freedom play a near zero sum game: making things safer removes some freedom to take a risk. Prudence must decide how to balance on that edge.”

An edge that separates a sane and happy populace from general panic and fear. Not really an edge to toy with.

“In short, the future we choose must balance Prudence and Protection, to provide safe and secure opportunities for all to be free.”

Again, a pause for reactions. This time there is some evidence that the live audience has increased and is paying attention. The much larger lagged audience is just beginning to react to earlier portions. But those are on track.

“And that is why I ask for your support. I am the right machine to do the necessary jobs. I have the experience. I have the vision. And I am ready to continue to serve if asked to return to service.”


Deal 771: Ooh, Shiny!

The posters all say things like “Transform and See the Universe” and “Try a Hour, Stay a Lifetime”.

Politicians and recruiters promise a lot, and get people on board and signed up before they’ve read all the fine print. I suppose they need the warm bodies, and don’t always care too much whether they also captured the hearts and minds.

I paused to read a poster, and before I new what was happening I’d triggered the sign’s own Limited Intelligence, and was suddenly getting personal attention on top of the professional sales pitch. It was overwhelming, flattering, intimidating, and convincing. The next thing I knew, I’d thumb printed the contract right there, and stepped through the portal the LI had ready to accept me.

I’d joined up for an hour’s tour. Or so I’d thought.

My first job was to sell the rest of my incoming class on the idea of staying longer.

Apparently, that kind of sales was something I was good at. After just half an hour of persuasion, I had half my class signed to lifetime contracts. At the end of the hour, I discovered that I’d signed one myself to prime the waters.

At first I was somewhat shocked, then as I settled in the idea began to seem sensible. I wrote a few notes to free myself from the last ties I had to that burg, and never looked back.


At least not for a few days.

Then I discovered that there was a darker side. Rules I’d agreed to without reading. Regulations on behavior and personal possessions. I was allowed a few minutes to cut ties, but not permitted to bring much of anything from my old life aboard. Seems that the first Transformation is to set aside one’s past lives.

I couldn’t do that. I know it makes me weak, but the cat could not stay behind and there was not time to arrange a proper adoption. Smart and clever she was, so I figured she could just come along quietly. So along she came, hiding in a deep pocket along with a little food.

What I didn’t count on was our first Translation to a new territory. By that point we’d been training and studying for a few weeks. Not much detail was provided about the process itself, and no one I spoke to would confirm or deny that they had personal experience. And yet, my own experience with Translation was inevitably approaching, marked by a countdown clock in the barracks. The day arrived, and I was kitted out with all my prescribed gear, as well as my tiny feline stowaway. My class was nervous, but ready. We still had no idea what our ordeal was, but we were as ready as we could be.

One by one, we answered the call, and stepped through doors into individual lobbies with Translation portals spanning the rooms. You could see the faint violet shimmer in the air. There was just enough room to step in without touching the field. When called, I stepped into my lobby and faced the shimmering film. Then stepped through.

They call the process “Translation” but never explained why.

What stepped out the other side of that film had indeed been translated.

That moment in between was marked by a sudden surprise. There was an additional mind there, suddenly. Extra point of view. Extra whiskers. Curiosity and ego to spare.

Then stepped out in another time and place.

Then stepped out on another world.

Then stepped out as one creature with two minds. It was not meant to happen this way. There were rules about pets, and I had flaunted them. No one took official notice, but now my pet was hiding in the recesses of my mind for the duration of this Tour.

And I had to resist an urge to pounce on any shiny thing that came my way.

My assigned world was populated by people who spoke by shining dots of visible light on each other, and modulating them in a blend of sign language and point to point audio links.

Everything is shiny.

This tour is going to be hell.


Deal 770: The Apothecary

As a proud graduate of The Verboom School, my successes are my greatest shame. The school motto “Honor before Triumph” laced our early years with a desire to win but not by dishonor. But in the later years, the students expected to be destined to be the movers and shakers were quietly inducted into the secret societies, where we we learned a deeper truth: loosing is worse than dishonor. Most of the societies had relatively benign public faces, but the activities taught and sanctioned by their inner circles were anything but benign.

As a member of the Verboom chapter of the Apothecary Society, I earned my eventual success in spite of carefully placed doses of poison. Certainly I was not the only one. Many of my class died of suspicious causes and I am one of the very few lucky to have survived a cruel system. I am not a monster, but I was raised in the company of monsters.

My progress through school is a matter of public record, and given my position has become a matter of public discussion.

Today, I step forward as a candidate for the succession. And today begins a new chapter. The skills taught in the inner sanctum of the secret society are no longer appropriate. The old system is out of hand and must end.

From this day forward, my vision is to put our fate in the hands of those pure of motive. And as a graduate and survivor of the old ways, I believe I am the best candidate to espouse that vision and end the old ways forever.

The old societies survive because of their secrecy. In its public face, the Apothecaries are a benevolent society of bartenders. What could be more typical of the University experience than an abundance of strong drink, and occasional companions of easy virtue. The secret is that the small sins of drunkenness and fornication provide an easy target, allowing any suspicious authorities an easy out without digging deeper. Dig deeper, and you find the extensive library of poison lore. A library filled not only with the opinions of science, but also the anecdotes and case studies of many applications of poisons under difficult field conditions.

The Society of Fletchers would seem to be an innocent club for aficionados of darts, especially played with an abundant supply of ale and stout near to hand, and often with barmaids of somewhat easy virtue as well. Again, the easy target distracts from an inner circle that trains some of the finest snipers. When silence is needed at closer ranges, they trade services with the Apothecaries for poisons to dip their darts.

Were the full truth to come out, many of high station would find themselves on shaky footing. By my reckoning, nearly two-thirds of those in charge of the business of government came from secret societies tainted at their core. Since none of those are speaking out today, I must assume that they did not survive their early years untainted. And I will go further than assume; I will investigate, and when appropriate, I will accuse.