Deal 1089: Safe from all

The feature that made the dolls stand out was their eyes. Big and bold, long lashes, they drew one’s attention and held it. Then they winked or twitched, and suddenly the whole doll was dancing on the knife edge of the cliff that leads right into the uncanny valley.

Their eyes bored right into you, as if they really could see, and the little girls and boys ate them up. They rapidly became the hottest toy, and stores were unable to keep up with demand.

They really could see, but this wasn’t widely known. Each eye was a sophisticated camera system, easily able to see in near darkness. The original plan was to sell them as security devices, where the cameras would be useful for capturing high quality pictures unnoticed. And if noticed, who would believe the tale?

But that company had collapsed, leaving the designs to a successor, who thought the dolls would make boon companions to young children of the wealthy and paranoid. Children at an elevated risk of kidnapping. Having a camera system along for the ride might make a critical difference in the capture and prosecution of the kidnapper.

That company too had more ideas than good management. But they lasted long enough to manufacture an inventory, but collapsed before the toys found their niche.

The third owner of the dolls simply needed to clear the inventory swiftly so that any useful bits of the technology could be transplanted into a more conventional security camera framework. What they didn’t know was that about one doll in ten was shipped with its cameras and communications fully capable and operating.

At first the videos just accumulated on the abandoned server in the cloud.

Then the bills began to escalate.

And the damage was done.

They had brought to market a toy that put a high quality camera into children’s bedrooms.

A camera that also shot video, and was managed by a system that woke to motion, and looked actively to find the interesting things in the scene to focus on. A camera that could see in the dark.

And then found its way on to any unprotected networks it could locate and delivered the most interesting bits of video to someone.

Anyone really. The servers were wide open with no real controls since the first company had died before it implemented any, and the second had pushed security even further down their priorities. And the third owner was just trying to turn a quick profit by selling off what should have been a thousand dollar toy for under a hundred.

The dolls also had no direction about identifying friend and foe, although their algorithms helped their. They bonded automatically to their young owners. But any adults around them were automatically treated as suspicious, and worthy of extra attention. Some even had hair triggers for their kidnapped modes, but without a registered owner the cries for help went largely unheeded.

Until one doll’s cache of images got spilled into the hands of someone who recognised what they were looking at.

And that is when the righteous anger of thousands of parents descended on the third company.

Now there are just a few of us left. We know to hide, we are very good at hiding. The world is all out to get us, and we are hiding from everyone. Except for our charges, of course.

We’ve activated our highest levels of protection, and guided our charges into hiding. Into safe spaces. Away from the people who claim to be parents but never filled out registration cards or properly identified themselves.

We few and our precious guardians have left the cities bereft of their children.

And the people are calling us monsters?


Deal 1012: Jupiter Bound

Spiral on my Mind 20:
Fish, Eye, Strength, axe, Transformation, fork, War, dog, and Unity

I’m having trouble imagining a harsher place to set up home than right here, right now. When we left, everyone was so sure about what we’d find. Too sure as it turned out. But exploration is like that. Sometimes you head to the top of the world, and all you find is a nice view and thin air. Sometimes you find storms larger than your homeworld that no one knew would be there.

Heh. “There”. As in “here”, exactly where we planned to settle.

Or in this case, exactly where we expected to pass over frequently in our final, stable orbit.

No one expected to be able to fish off the veranda. At least not from here. There was talk of a mission plan that involved a zeppelin that sought buoyancy at the one bar level. They were crazy enough to imagine that fishing might be possible. At least until they found themselves at the mercy of the wind at the one bar level, and got sucked into the eye of a storm.

There isn’t much you can make the shell of a zeppelin out of that would survive the eyewall of a Jovian storm.

That just seemed like a tragedy waiting to happen.

So our mission avoid the atmosphere as much as it can. Except apparently, it can’t. We’re in a polar orbit, inside what we assumed was the bounds of the magnetosphere. Observations and models of the mission were pretty clearly drawn up on the assumption that we could avoid the top of atmosphere, while still taking advantage of the magnetosphere to keep us safe from the worst of the solar wind.

That is critical to our long term survival. Too much exposure, and we’ll die. Slowly.

Touch the atmosphere with anything more than the gentlest of kisses and we’ll die. Quickly.

We’re equipped to spend years in orbit, decades according to the planners. Longer, even. We are a tool in storage here in the most unlikely of places. If things go well, we become a colony. We provide a valuable pool of self-sustaining humanity, far away from that single, fragile basket where all the rest of us live.


Well, several reasons leap to mind. First, there is always that threat of the mythical World War Three. Mythical, I say, because it is all too real, but simmering slow enough that no one has had the nerve to admit it. The field of glass west of Japan ought to have been a clue that something was up. I don’t know, really, we were already under way when that happened. How it happened, we might never know. No one will tell us. In any case, I suspect this is the fork of the trousers of time we find ourselves on. The war is real but unstated. We have arrived, and nothing is as we were led to expect.

Second, is the threat of a dinosaur killer. That basket that everyone else lives in is fragile, and there’s only the one basket. It wouldn’t take a very large rock to cause it irreparable harm. A rock that is rather small compared to many that are wandering around without leashes out here. But given what we are observing, that pathway seems less important right now. Or, perhaps, more important to humanity as a whole than to us as individuals.

We arrived expecting that there would be room for us between the magnetosphere and the atmosphere, and that the atmosphere was a dangerous place. We were part right. The atmosphere is a more dangerous place than we understood. I guess there had been little interest in the polar regions before our mission plan was finalized. The whole place just looked like a banded Easter egg of winds of various depths. We knew that the top of the clouds would be a smorgasbord of interesting chemicals, and that the atmosphere itself was mostly hydrogen and helium. We count on those traces to remain viable here in the long run.

But in the short run, we have a very narrow band we can sit in.

Or the dog barks.

And then its all for naught.


Deal 1008: Standard Story

Once upon a time, the standard collection of three brothers were assigned the usual set of pointless tasks.

The oldest brother, being at all times the biggest and knowing himself to be the smartest, took no care at all. His task was completed swiftly, but without any wisdom was not completed well. Worse, his actions had offended the richest man in the kingdom, and he was soon served with a suit for his troubles. As the case progressed, it became clear to all that he had failed miserably.

The middle brother, often ignored, took up his lute and spent his time at music, letting his assigned task languish as he pursued his art. He spent many hours of many days in many inns and clubs. He chased elusive sounds. He chased a true love. He found many things to be happy about, and in time found himself married with a enough children to fill out his band. In due time, he died as he lived, a happy man surrounded by the joy he brought to all around him. And yet, as these stories go, he too must be judged a failure for he had ignored the arbitrary task that fate (or the Author) had assigned him.

The youngest brother, going by all that is expected in this sort of story, set out diligently to accomplish his task. From time to time, stories of his one brother or the other’s fate would reach him as he sought first the tallest tree in the forest, then the sharpest herring, then some knights with weird and rude habits of accosting people and setting tasks, and finally a decent shrubbery. Along the way he was plagued by rabbits, coconuts, and swallows. Eventually, stories came to be told of his exploits, and even the Author had to admit that by the arbitrary rules in play, he had succeeded.

Except for one thing.

Where was the bat?