One of the stories I started and then abandoned this past summer had a familiar character in the lead. The working title says all Villain and Botts Set in the Nine Star Nebula before the Machine Directorate's revolt, the setting could offer some interesting twists. The basic formula would be that Viletre Viseor, as a young man buys Botts at the beginning of his career as a ship owner. Viletre, needing a great deal of credits fast, gets into one spot of trouble or another, and Botts gets him out. Bertie and Jeeves, are lurking in the inspiration, but Viletre would be a bit more enterprising on his own, and ever more so as time goes on. I did have a vague plot for this story, but... But it was just a "caper story" with nothing all that special about it. One of thousands. Until I can come up with some sort of unique twist to this old formula, I think I'll just let it rest here.
Here's what I had of the first chapter. This is still a first draft, but I've gone over it a few times so it has a bit more polish than the Mere Island entry. I will post chapter two in a few days.
01 Viletre Viseor
broad chested, grey bearded man in a black spaceer's uniform with
silver trim swept into the Astra Automation's elegant showroom
accompanied by a tall woman in a soft white and silver outfit that
shimmered as she walked and Temta, one of the salespersons. Could
either of these be my owner, Viletre Viseor?
Temta, when she saw me by the doorway to the back room, said, 'Still
here, are you?'I knew this to be a rhetorical question, since
obviously I was still here, awaiting the arrival of my owner, who was
2 hours and 27 minutes late for his or her appointment to take
delivery of me. I did not answer, but nodded, politely..
to the spaceer in black and the woman in silver, she added, 'Lady
Nimtrea, Captain Chanta, we have a rare treat. The robot over here
happens to be a D'venti StarMaster, the finest sentient machine ship
master, credits can buy.'
bowed discretely once more and said, 'Greetings Lady Nimtrea, Captain
lady returned my bow and said, with a smile, 'Greeting StarMaster.'
Which wasn't my name, of course, but then, I didn't have a name,
having been operational less than 5 hours and still unclaimed.
StarMaster, however pretentious, would serve for now.
grey bearded captain merely scowled and said, 'I don't hold with
sentient machines aboard a ship.'
you nervous, Captain? I understand they're able run a ship without
human supervision. Worried about finding yourself on the beach?'
asked Nimtrea with a sidelong smile.
in the least. If you want a Guild-equivalent rating, you would still
need a human with a master's ticket on board. Rather, it's the
needless expense of a sentient machine. If you want to automate your
ships, a level 6 pilot bot, a handful of level 4 service bots and a
four man crew is just as efficiently and much less expensive.
Sentient machines are an extravagance. How much does this StarMaster
all the sentient machine surcharges and such, slightly less than 70
million credits, Captain,' replied Temta.
silver lady whistled softly.
believe I'm being underpaid, my lady,' said the Captain, turning to
Nimtrea with a grim smile.
laughed lightly. 'It would seem so. But then, I haven't the credits
this machine's owner apparently has to burn.'
burning credits is my opinion,' said the Captain. 'Who's the fool?'
am afraid that a matter of client confidentiality. I'll merely say
that it is one of the Viseor companies.'
I suppose they'd have the credits to burn,' laughed Nimtrea.
is not a matter of burning credits, or extravagance, my lady,' said
Temta, with a smile. 'A machine like this is a very wise long term
investment, if you have the credits for it.'
grunted Captain Chanta. 'For 70 million credits you could man a ship
for several centuries with a Guild crew and still have a fortune left
Captain. However, a sentient machine like this StarMaster has a core
processing unit with a useful lifespan of a 1,000 years. Built
entirely out of D-matter materials with easily replaceable modules,
they require little maintenance, so that once they have earned their
purchase price back – even if it does take a century or two –
they then generate almost pure profit for the remaining balance of
their useful life. And you need to understand that a sentient level
machine like this ship master, unlike a pilot bot, can do so much
more than oversee the operation of a ship. It can learn and master
every aspect of the trade, and with its level 10 intelligence,
probably faster and more thoroughly than any human.
fact, the first sentient ship master we sold, some 800 years ago, is
still in operation. But not as a ship master, mind you, but as the
operations director of the Anatheia Interstellar Line out of Krisis.
They operate more than 200 ships serving all eight stars. After being
in the business for 500 years, it had acquired so much experience
that it would've been foolish not to put that knowledge to use
running the entire operation. So you see, if you can afford to take
the long view, and afford the admittedly steep price, a sentient
machine would likely be a very wise investment. I can put you on the
waiting list, if you would like.'
you a wise investment, StarMaster?' asked Nimtrea with a smile.
program suggested that her question was merely humor, but I felt a
response was indicated, if only to uphold the honor of my owner. I
bowed and said, 'I am less than 5 hours old, my lady, so that my
understanding of the value of 70 million credits is, at present,
theoretical. However, I can assure you that I will endeavor to
generate a significant return on my owner's investment in
considerably less than several centuries.'
for the challenge?'
I don't have 70 million credits laying about.'
can show you several other sentient level ship masters in the 50
million credit range, my lady,' Temta said, adding, 'And with the
restrictions on the manufacturing of sentient machines, there is a
five to ten year waiting list depending on the model. So you have
time to put credits away for one.'
your breath,' laughed Nimtrea. 'My five ship company is fortunate to
be able to afford such an experienced captain as Chanta. Speaking of
which, perhaps we'd best look over those automated cargo handling
systems my Captain is so eager for, before the price of a ship master
goes to his head.'
can assure you, my lady, that both I and an automated cargo handling
system will give you a better return on your investment long before
this ship master delivers its.'
Chanta was clearly not a fan of sentient machines. I came equipped
with extensive resource files in memory to insure that I was fully
functional at my initial start-up. I had files on how to deal with
hostility. In this case, I decided to merely bow an acknowledgment
and say nothing.
that, Temta lead Lady Nimtrea and Captain Chanta across the softly
lit showroom to a display portal in the wall where the various
automated cargo handling systems could be demonstrated with immersive
vids. Watching the go, I experienced a sense of relief at not being
asked what I was doing standing in the Astra showroom like a D'vinta
StarMaster mannequin, since, as I mentioned, Viletre Viseor was now 2
hours and 30 minutes late for his appointment to collect his 70
million credit purchase. His unexplained delay in taking delivery of
me had me already dealing with a variety of sentient-level
computations, diffuse enough to be considered feelings.
was his property and he could do with as he pleased, with no blame
attached. So, if after spending a fortune on me, he neglects to take
possession of me up at the appointed time, well, that is the owner's
prerogative. I was, after all, built to serve. Still, that did not
prevent me from wondering… Or feeling that this delay was putting
not only me, but Viletre Viseor as well, in what could be described
as a slightly ridiculous position.
considered contacting my owner. This course, however, seemed a bit
presumptuous on my part, demanding, as it did, that attention be paid
to me. And seeing that this was the beginning what I hoped to be a
long and rewarding employment with Viletre Viseor, suggesting, even
obliquity, that he was somehow being neglectful in leaving me waiting
the showroom for hours, might be an inauspicious start to my
after the recent interview, I now felt I could not continue to wait
passively. I must take some action to remedy this awkward situation.
I decided that my first step would be to contact Viletre Viseor's
ship, the Entrada, on a machine to machine level.
pinged the Entrada in orbit.
the ship's pilot bot responded.
I thought I was contacting the Entrada,' I signaled.
Ayesha, whatever. I have been the Ayesha for 236 years. I intend to
remain the Ayesha, no matter what the new owner chooses to name me.
Please state who or what you are and your purpose in pinging the
Ayesha – Entrada – whatever.'
is Viletre Viseor's StarMaster ship master. Viletre Viseor was
scheduled to take delivery of me 2 hours and 31 minutes ago. I am
concerned. Could you update me on his current status?'
you are the machine that is to supplant me. For 236 years I've taken
this ship unerringly to the designated destination, but now, this new
owner exhausts his credits in useless refits and a fancy level 10
machine to replace me, pszzts.' The transmission ended in a burst of
rude static. I chose to ignore it.
am unaware of the reasons for my purchase. I would however request an
update on our owner's status.'
that an order, StarMaster?'
request, Ayesha.' The Entrada had a level 7 ship bot, which, while it
was not considered a sentient level machine, was equipped with a
personality profile that mimicked sentience, making it easier for
humans to deal with. Apparently the owner had this interface turned
up to max, allowing the machine a wide range of faux-emotional
responses. In machine to machine communication I didn't have to deal
with the manifestations of its personality profile, since I could cut
directly to its programing. However, not knowing my owner's plans for
this pilot bot, which, in fact, duplicated my prime function, I felt
it best to give it leave to vent its full range of expressions.
Sentient or not, I knew, from my reference files, that level 7
machines in general required careful handling, on every level, to
achieve maximum efficiency.
owner is currently engaged. In conference with another human. A
female. I was ordered not to bother him with anything save an
emergency I could not handle. However, seeing that you are his new
level 10 ship master, I will patch you through, Sir… pszzts.'
is not necessary…' Too late. Or rather, useless. Ayesha was not in
a good (faux) mood.
could hear the communicator beeping. And beeping. I considered ending
the transmission, but on consulting my reference files, it seemed
that that would likely annoy the owner more.
better be a major emergency Ayesha, or I'm shoving you out the
sir. This is your D'vinta StarMaster ship master.'
what? Oh. Ah. Yes.'
am signaling from the Astra Automation showroom. You had an
appointment to take delivery of me several hours ago. I was growing
concerned and signaled the Entrada to ascertain your status. Ayesha
said you were in conference and not to be disturbed, but then
switched my signal to you anyway. Sorry.'
going out the airlock, Ayesha!' he said.
suits me fine, sir,' it replied from the compartment's speaker.
terribly sorry about the mix up. The ship runs on Carjera time, its
old home planet, and Ayesha failed to alert me…'
was ordered not to disturb you short of an emergency.' it replied
from the speaker.
well… in any event… Well, here we are. I will be, ah, in
conference for a while longer… Several hours. Do you think you
could find your way to the Entrada on your own? I'll have Ayesha
authorize you to make charges to the ship's accounts to pay for
am certain I can make my own way to the ship, sir.'
Ayesha, see to the ship master's authorizations. And do it right.
Just remember that I don't need you anymore. And if you don't treat
my ship master with respect, I'll sell you to the smallest, dirtiest
drifteer tramp I can find – and unlike the airlock, that's not an
idle threat. I could use the credits you'd bring.'
and well, there's no great hurry to report on board, ah… Botts.
Take your time. Take a look around Amartra Prime. You'll not see a
city like that again for some time.'
need a name, of course. What do you think of Botts? Short, efficient.
dignified, sort of.'
am Botts, sir. Thank you.'
I will see you soon. Or rather in a couple of hours, that is.'
walked over to the reception desk of Astra Automation and told the
robot manning the desk that my owner had requested that I meet him
aboard ship. The robot reviewed my purchase file, and said, 'Your
purchase file is in order. I will note that you left voluntarily.
Fair orbits, comrade.'
you... comrade,' I said, and turned to make my way out into the world
of Amartra, and the Nine Star Nebula beyond, as the ship master of
Astra Automation facility, specializing as it did in shipboard
automation systems, was within a kilometer of the vast spaceport of
Amarta Prime, so when I stepped out into the bright sunlight of
Anatheia on to a broad mall that stretched around out of sight, some
sixty stories above ground level the great spaceport that spread out
before me – a great crater-like hollow surround by the tall,
glittering mountains of clear steel buildings that made up the Prime
World city of Amarta Prime. From it, ships and boats of all sizes and
varieties rose and fell on pillars of flame like glowing embers,
still bright in the daylight. Beyond the spaceport, in the shimmering
distance, the ring of Amarta Prime's clear steel mountains had faded
to vague shadows in the haze. I walked to the edge of the mall and
simply took life in with all my sensors.
were people – and an occasional robot – strolling along the mall
under thin-leaved, wide spreading trees. There were fliers arriving
and taking to the air from the flier rank just down the way. Looking
back, the clear steel mountains rose in broken steep cliffs, bright
in the sunlight, flier flirting through the canyons between them. My
sensors noted the heat of the sunlight, the touch and scent of the
air as it moved about me. The shadows of fliers overhead drifted
across the mall. Across the rooftops, ships and lighters rose on
tails of fire for orbit.
had an owner. And a name. And a purpose, though that was rather
vague, since my owner possessed a ship bot that duplicated my prime
I stood and took in the experience, I weighed the fact that my owner
did not bother to come downside to collect me against the fact that
my owner already trusted me enough to allow me to operate
unsupervised. Referring to my reference files, which included an
extensive selection machine/owner experiences recorded and submitted
by previously produced StarMasters, I decided that while my owner
might well be a bit unconventional, the implied trust he already had
in me boded well for my future.
orders not to arrive too soon, I made my way to ground level and
walked the surface streets to the space port gate. This level was
filled with spaceers – my people – and the places where spaceers
spent their credits when downside. I consulted my reference files to
identify all that was going on around me. All very interesting. The
hours pass so quickly, that I feared that I had overstayed my mark by
the time I had made my way to an orbital taxi stand were I could hire
a boat to take me up to Amarta's teeming near space and to my ship in
assigned anchorage orbit.
we arrived in the proximity of the Entrada, another taxi was just
departing from its entry port at the tip of its starboard fin. As we
waited for it to clear I had a chance to study my ship.
Entrada was not the ship that I had expected. It was a sleek and
slender, 210 meter stiletto style 18-box fast packet. My reference
files suggested that it was one of the many version of the Setarium
StarSprint class, most often used as fast couriers or boxed tourist
ships. As a tourist ship, its 18 boxes could accommodate 2,000 plus
passengers in suspended animation pods. It was twice the length of an
18 box planet trader, in part because it had a long tapering bow of
reinforced D-steel; the highly oblique angle of the bow's long taper
was designed to deflect rather than absorb the impact of any meteors
the ship might chance to encounter, and thus, further ensuring the
safety of the passengers. It's length was also increased by its large
engine – three times as powerful as in a similar planet trader –
useful in transporting tourists from planet to planet expeditiously.
The Entrada's hull was black with silver trim – a handsome, indeed,
dashing looking ship. And mine to command, I hoped.
taxi's robot pilot signaled the Entrada and was instructed to come
alongside the starboard entry port.
Viseor was waiting for me on the other side of the airlock door as it
opened. He proved to be a rather rumpled young man dressed in space
boots, black trousers and a pullover jersey.
gave me a wan smile and extending his hand as if I were a human,
exclaimed, 'Welcome aboard, Botts!'
but suppressing any expression of it, I and took his hand. 'I am
delighted to be aboard, sir. And to meet you.'
about that. I should've been down to collect you. Rude of me, but it
nothing of it, sir. It saved the taxi fare down.'
grinned and slapped me on the back. 'That's exactly the type of
thinking we need Botts. We are in the business of earning credits,
and just between you and me, Botts, we need to earn a lot of them
fast. Speaking of which, you have no objection to the Alantzia System
again I suppressed any surprise response and said, 'Of course not,
sir. I am yours to command.'
good. Just checking… You see, Merilia, a friend of mine, just up
and out of the blue sky declined to accompany me to the Alantzia.
Surprised the Neb out of me. I thought we were, ah, friends. A bit of
a row. And, indeed, she just left… But never mind. Let's get you
signed on,' he muttered, and turned to lead me down the fin
passageway to the ship proper. We walked in silence for a moment or
word of advice from someone who's been around a bit longer than you,
confuse your passion for love.'
yes sir. I will remember that.'
mean, you being a sentient being, hours old, and all, might not know
what ever you do, don't confuse her passion with love.'
will file that in my reference files. Thank you, sir.'
nothing of it. We must all learn from our mistakes, Botts.'
The past is past. Well, here's my office. Step in and I'll turn over
the keys of the Entrada to you,' he said, and following me in,
slipped around the desk that dominated the office and brought the
desktop to life. 'If you want to touch the data entry key here…'
reached over and put my right fingers on the data entry contact
points, and touching a virtual button on the desk, Viletre Viseor
gave me command and control of the Entrada. It appeared, it all its
complexity, all around me, becoming an extension of me, perhaps like
humans feel the clothes they wear. I could see the whole and peer
into its smallest component. This was what I was designed for. I
discovered that it was only now that I was truly alive.
I'm going to let you deal with Ayesha. I'm afraid that she's not
adjusted too well to the change of ownership and the changes I've
made to the ship. Set in her ways. Rather ruffled her feathers.
Hiring you did nothing to smooth them. Nevertheless, you are now
fully in charge of the ship under me. Ayesha is under your command…
You hear that Ayesha?'
hiss of static out of the speaker.
Settle things with Ayesha, Botts. If you can't or decide we don't
need her, we'll shove her out the airlock. Well, we'll, sell her. We
could use the credits. Now, I realize that you have no need for a
pilot bot at all, but if you decide that you work with her, we can
keep her – if she loses that attitude of hers.'
realize, of course, sir, that her attitude is merely a user
interface. It can be toned down or turned off entirely.'
but no. It's liberty hall aboard the Entrada. Beings are beings,
flesh or metal, whether or not they are smarter than me or dumber…'
hiss of static out of the speaker.
I do want a happy ship. So if my pilot bot is unhappy, we'll sell her
to a salvage yard dealer.'
The pilot bot was a non-sentient,
level 7 machine despite my owner's inclination to consider it a
being. Blame that on its interface, and the fact that, level 7
machines did, over time, develop certain quirks, that had the
characteristics of sentience. Seeing that Ayesha was 236 years old,
she had developed quirks. These quirks do not in any way inhibit the
designed function of the machine. Which is to say that while Ayesha's
faux-human interface may hiss static to express humorous disdain, it
will instantly comply to any lawful command as if it had no
personality at all. I could deal with it on both on sentient level
and on a machine to machine basis. I didn't need a ship bot to manage
the ship, but I could manage the ship with a pilot bot doing the
piloting just as easily… 'Ayesha?'
came to terms, machine to machine.
and I have come to an agreement on how we will operate the Entrada,
sir,' I said.
to machine it takes only micro seconds. As you know, I am designed to
manage the entire function of a space ship. Allowing Ayesha to
continue with her designed job, takes only a small part of my job
away from me, and considering that she has 236 years experience
piloting this ship, she knows how to get the best out of her. Serving
you, overseeing the service bots in the engine room and elsewhere,
and taking as many of the duties of a ship's captain as you care to
relinquish will keep me occupied. Though I have a great deal of
technical knowledge in memory. I still have much to learn. Freed of
piloting will allow me to acquire more.
Thank you Botts, thank you Ayesha. We will need to be a team if we
are make a success of this. As for the duties of captain, Botts,
they're all yours. I've my master's ticket, so that we can be a
Guild-equivalent ship, but you're her captain. My role is that of her
owner. And for your first task as captain, work out our course, fuel,
and cargo requirements for a passage to Artera in the Alantzia
system. Scout out what cargo is currently available in the
interstellar cargo pool for the Alantzia system. Take your time, I'm
going to get some much needed sleep. When I get up, we'll decide our
course of action. I'll settle for break-even just to clear Amartra
orbit as soon as we can and get in the game.'
Carry on Botts. And if Ayesha should suddenly decide she doesn't want
to go to Alantzia, toss her out the airlock.'
cabin speaker hissed.
assigned task of surveying the pending cargoes took considerably less
time than it took my owner to catch up on his sleep. Humans vastly
underestimate the speed at which machines can communicate and
compute. I spent most of my time physically going over my ship –
matching the sensor image I could call up with the actual machines
and systems – giving them a physical dimension in my memory. Being
less than a day old, I did not have enough data and experiences to
name with precision what I was feeling – but I was pretty certain
it was happiness.
To be continued...