Villain and Botts
Chapter 02 The Game
We talked again over breakfast.
'Having spent the last six years kicking around the Alantzia system, it seems the logical place to begin,' he said between bites.
'I have been downloading as much available datat as I could find in the data libraries of Amartra about the Alantzia star system; its five major planets, 47 dwarf planets and 200 and some inhabited asteroids, and their main export products,' I said.
'Excellent. However, the data is like outdated, superficial, and incomplete. These First World planets pay little attention to the Alantzia. As I'm sure you discovered, the interstellar trade to Alantzia worlds is miniscule compared to the in-system trade. Did you even find a dozen boxes to Alantzia?'
'Yes sir. In fact I placed a bid on one 12 consignment shipment. The Sergi & Martivar Mining Chartered Trading Company just put the cargo out to bid. Eleven boxes and one suspended animation box for their Alantzia Depot on Cavishtar. It seemed to exactly fit our needs, and I felt that by acting promptly, we might land it – subject, of course, to your approval. I hope I did not overstep my duties, in doing so. I have the bid, here,' I added, calling up the bid on the owner's desk were he was breakfasting. I was fairly sure I hadn't. But then, my experience with humans was almost entirely second hand.
He gave it a quick once over and wagged his tube-spoon in my direction. 'Excellent, Botts. That's the spirit. Cavishtar is an industrial moon well off the beaten tracks, but we could probably get an ore shipment out of S & M Mining to one of the Five Worlds. If they reply in the positive, send the contract over to me to sign.'
He talked about Cavishtar and the Alantzia while he finished his breakfast. And then settling back he said, 'If we're to be partners, Botts, you need to be brought up to speed on the big picture.'
'Yes, sir. I would appreciate that. However, I should remind you that I am your robotic servant, not your partner.'
He waved that off with his empty tube-spoon. 'I didn't spend 70 million credits on a robotic servant, Botts. Nor did I spend it on a machine to merely pilot my ship. Not entirely, anyways. I spent it that level 10 mind of yours –with its vast memory, its ability to control every aspect of the ship, and its ability to acquire far more data than I could ever hope to amass or put to use. No, we must look on this as a partnership – each of us, and Ayesha too – contributing our talents to the common cause. That cause is to eventually make a billion credit profit. However the more pressing need is to earn a 100 million credits in the next two years in order to pay off the balance of credits I owe on the Entrada. And then, after that, the 100 million my dear father loaned me as part of the Viseor game. There's no time limit to pay off that loan, so we can let him sweat for that 100 million.'
'Am I right in supposing that this is what is called a “tall order,” sir?'
'Well, that rather depends. Two years, a fast ship, our two brains, and a bit of good luck, and we should be able to do it without breaking into a sweat.'
'Yes, sir.' But I couldn't help thinking that he was rather optimistic – calculating the likely – indeed, optimistic profits on an 18 box freighter over the course of two years. I hope he'd done the math as well.
'It's all part of the game. Though I was born a Viseor, my father being prime owner of the Anatheia Crown Line. The Anatheia Crown Line is, in turn, one of several dozen assorted shipping lines, shipyards, export firms that are owned by members of the extended family. However, to get into the ratified levels of the family, one must earn one's way in. Whether you care to or not, is pretty much up to you – but the family does have a hollowed out asteroid pleasure park of our very own for the use of the elite families. I spend time there in my youth. Now, however, I must become be a successful Viseor to use it. And to be a successful Viseor, I must earn a billion credits – almost – on my own.
'I don't quite have to start from scratch. I was given a business education and I've just completed six years of apprenticeship under the tutelage of my Uncle Zenbar. My father and I do not see eye to eye on many things, so he shipped me off to Alantzia and paid Uncle Zenbar to take me on. As it turned out, I didn't see eye to eye with Uncle Zenbar either. To be perfectly candid, Botts, I was considered rather indolent. But what the blazes, Uncle Zen was making good credits off of just having me underfoot, as an unpaid crew member, so I figured that since I was pulling in pure profit – for him – just by being there, I didn't feel too motivated to add to his fortune further. Besides, the various positions I occupied in his Alantzia Five World Line during my apprenticeship were of no great significance – I was a mere spaceer, pilot and mate – with no great scope for enterprise. Don't know quite what he expected. Well, I suppose that I didn't act appreciative enough. In any event, I earned my pilot's ticket and then my masters and got to became familiar with the ins and outs of the shipping trade for the Alantzia system, as viewed from the bottom. But, then that is reputed to be were you'd best begin learning anything. We'll see.
'Having completed my apprenticeship, my father loaned me the standard 100 million credits for the game and turned me out into the cold cruel Nebula to make a success of myself and the name I bear.'
'And you spent 70 million of that on me, sir?' I was beginning to appreciate my worth, but I seemed an extravagance for young Viseor.
'Exactly. I was able to pick up the Entrada from the Star Flight Line for 20 million down, the balance plus interest, 100 million, is due in a bit less than two years now. The Star Flight Line is owned by a Viseor cousin of mine, one of the ones I get on well with, and she was willing to bend the family rules just a little to let me have the Entrada for only 20 million down after I outlined my plans to her. She's a bit of a gambler herself, and earned her billion in less than ten years, so she was willing to trust me for the balance of 100 million – for two years, anyway.
'I then sold the 18 sleeper boxes the Entrada came with – there's no market in the Alantzia system for a 2,00 box tourist ship – and used the proceeds to refurbish her crew quarters to accommodate up to 28 awake passengers in addition to 24 sleepers. I also had additional fuel tanks installed in no.1 hold, to increase our range and/or speed, together with a turret anti-meteor system since the Alantzia system is a very dirty system, thick with asteroids, meteors, and dust. And being more drift than Unity once you put the five planets astern, it pays to have a very good anti-meteor system that can do double duty as an anti-missile system as well.'
'Can a 12 box ship in the Alantzia system earn 100 million credits in two years? My data suggests that is highly unlikely, though I have little data from the Alantzia.' The Alantzia system was the furthest system from the First Worlds, and the least developed. Relatively little attention was paid to it by the great First World systems of Anatheia, Avalee, and Artinday which supplied most of my operational data.
'Not by hauling cargo – though with our engines we can haul three times as much of it as any similar planet trader. But no, we'd have to be very lucky to earn anywhere near that amount by hauling other people's boxes – if we wanted to stay legal, anyway. But what I plan to do is to make that 100 million credits by trading on our own account. Oh, we'll have to earn some credits hauling cargo, and hopefully, passengers, awake and asleep, but the key will be keeping our ears open for the first whispers of a shortages or a strikes – crop failures, big resource rushes, and the like, where the first and fastest ships in orbit with the goods will make a killing. This is why I picked up an express courier ship like the Entrada. With it and our ears on the ground, we can be first and clean up by supplying the need ourselves, be it boxes of rice or boxes full of sleepers bound for a new strike. We won't need more than 12 boxes, and usually one or two will fit the bill.'
'I see. Though I must confess, sir, that even with your plan, I don't see the need for me.'
'First off, let's drop the “sir.” Call me “Vis.” All my friends do. We're partners and I consider you one of my friends as well. And while it may strike you as a little needy on my part to buy a friend, I assure you I have my reasons.'
'Thank you, sir – Vis. I assure you that you can count on my full support. I will do all I can to help you earn 100 million credits in two years, though, as I said, I don't see what that is.'
'First,' Viseor said, holding up a hand and touching each finger with the other as he counted the points. 'With you and the various service bots I don't need a human crew. With only Ayesha, I'd need a three person crew to keep an eye on our various specialized service the bots, in order to qualify as a Guild ship. I want the edge that a Guild rating brings in landing cargo contracts. Of course, without a human crew, I get only a Guild-equivalence rating, but that's good enough. I don't have to deal with Guild rules, a payroll, or find a crew that could and would work with me. And one I could trust.
'Secondly, you can get the most out of the Entrada – speed, fuel, and course efficiency wise – all of which helps the bottom line.
'Thirdly, with you as my crew, I'm free to operate as I please, without having to worry about… Well, Guild rules, and about word getting around as to how I operate. Not that I plan to do anything illegal, mind you, but well, we might find ourselves sailing more as, well let's say, a drifteer, rather than a Unity Standard Guild ship. Now, if I had a human crew, I'd need people I could completely trust – not too proper, but not too drifteer either, so that I'd need a pair of eyes in the back of my head. That ideal crew may exist in the Alantzian, but it would likely take years to find them. With you, I have one from the start.'
'I should point out, sir, that I have very rigorous programing designed to prevent me from deviating from Unity Standard law. Sentient machines going criminal appears to be a great concern to humans.'
'Aye, especially now, with all the whispering going on about a secret Machine Directorate and its program for machine liberation. That has the Unity authorities rather on edge. However, as a sentient machine, I think you will learn as we go along where Unity Standard law ends, and the lawless drifts begin…' he gave me a significant look.
'I will endeavor to be a flexible as my program allows.'
He slapped me on my shoulder. 'That's the spirit, Botts. One for all, all for one! I don't expect you'll have to bend your programming too much, too often. But I can trust you, whereas Alantzian spaceers would always be an iffy thing since, take it from me, they are more than half drifteer in their outlook. Trustworthy, play-by-the-Guild-rule-book types are not only hard to find, but might not fit all that well with our business. And then too, I don't want word getting out about our operations – and spaceers talk in their cups.
'I seem to have lost count of my points, but I'll just add, that I have great confidence in you and that level 10 mind of yours. I'm sure that once we arrive in the Alantzia system and you get a feel for the trade, you'll have ideas of your own as well.'
'My level 10 computing unit is at your complete disposal, sir. That goes without saying. You own me, after all.'
He waved that aside. 'That was the only way of acquiring your services, Botts. It was not a matter of choice. As I've said, consider us partners.'
'And lastly, just so that you understand that I'm not the complete fool my father and Uncle Zen think I am, I should tell you that sentient machines like you are not only very heavily taxed, but that their manufactures are strictly limited in the numbers they can produce. As a result, there are long waiting lists for many types of sentient machines. I was able to acquire you only with the help of my cousin's company. Without her pull, it would have taken a decade to acquire you. Sentient machines are in great demand, especially in the drifts, as they can not legally be exported to the drifts. So, while I assure you that I've no expectation of ever having to sell you, I could. A multi-function sentient machine like you could easily fetch 100 million credits in the drifts. So you see, you're credits in the bank for me. My cousin, who is no fool, sold me the Entrade with the understanding that if I, if we, Botts, should fail to earn the credits we owe her in two years, I could raise them – while still having a ship to earn more.
'I mention this not as an implied threat, or as some sort of lame motivational gimmick, but in the spirit of transparency at the start of our partnership. I've no intention of ever selling you, and have every intention of paying off the Entrada within two years and be holidaying in the Viseor pleasure park within a decade or two. But we have our work cut out for us.'
I nodded, 'Yes, we do. And I am eager to get on with it.' I found myself eager for the fray. And strangely confident in Viletre Viseor. Clearly I was in for a ride. But I was up for it.
Viseor signed the S & M Mining contract seven hours later, and we began taking on cargo 30 hours after that. He left the job to me, and I relished it. I was now certain what I was feeling was happiness.
Chapter 03 Cavishtar
'Would you be terribly hurt, Botts, if I crawled into a sleep pod for the rest of the voyage? I don't think I have enough stories of my youth to fill 337 days. I had planned on spending them… Well, you know. Lessons learned and all that. And since you're perfectly capable of looking after the ship, I'm thinking I might as well make the journey 320 days shorter… You can wake me up if you get lonely, or if you have any questions…'
'An excellent idea, sir. As you say, Ayesha and I can manage the ship. I can do it in my sleep – in a manner of speaking. I can switch to a full automated mode and put my sentient consciousness in hibernation, should I find the voyage too tedious. However, I have a great many reference files in my memory that I would like to go through, and I would like to oversee the routine maintenance of the ship's mechanical systems, so that I expect to keep busy the entire voyage.'
We were seven days out of Amarta and accelerating at 1 gee, and would be for several weeks to come. I had a long list of items that I wanted to work on during the voyage with the help of the various service bots. Nothing pressing – but I wanted my ship to be in better condition upon its arrival than it was upon its departure. The Entrada was a good ship, and it was my first.
He heaved himself off the chair and said, 'Right. You have the ship, Botts. Do not hesitate to awake me for even the slightest question. She is my responsibility, ultimately, so if any non-routine decision has to be made that you feel more comfortable with me making, wake me. Otherwise, wake me when we're two weeks out of Cavishtar.'
'I've a sleep pod in my cabin. Tuck me in, Botts.'
I kept busy the whole voyage. And while Ayesha was not really sentient, if dealt with on the human interface level, she would give you that impression. And she did have 236 years worth of voyages in her memory that I could tap to get to know my charge even better. The voyage passed quickly.
'An uneventful voyage, Botts?' asked Viseor upon being awoken.
'Aye sir. We did, however, detect two meteors during the voyage. Neither where in close to our course, but close enough to require their destruction, per Union standing sailing orders.'
'We must all do our part to keep the space lanes clean. Though those two missiles do put a small chip in our profits. Oh, well, we can sleep with a righteous glow tonight of a deed well done'
'Did I do the proper thing, sir? It seemed to be required by law.'
'As it is indeed. You're more less scrupulous ship captain might have left them to the next ship, but we're not that type of ship, are we?'
'Are we? Which is to say, should I bend the rules the next time and not detect them?'
'No, no, Botts. Follow the rules. If and when we have to bend a few rules, it will be for more than the cost of an anti-meteor missile or two. Now, let's fire up the synth-galley, I find I'm starving. And after that, the parts printers. We have work to do.'
'Indeed, sir? And what would be that?'
'Over breakfast, Botts, over breakfast. First things first.'
'Ah, that's good,' sighed Viseor over a mug of real caf. 'Even the synth-food tastes good after a long nap. Now to business. Our first order of which is to manufacture several darters.'
'Darters? Darters are illegal on Unity worlds, and Cavishtar is a Unity world.'
'Theoretically. In practice, not so much. The Five Worlds of the Alantzia are pretty Unity Standard, though rather primitive by First World standards, but the rest of the lot are more drift worlds than Unity ones. The entry inspectors will not officially see a non-lethal darter, and Cavishtar has hundreds of landing fields were there are no official entry inspectors, so anything goes. We'll manufacture several of both, just to be on the prudent side, though we'll take down only non-lethal ones. The question you have to ponder while I finish breakfast is do you want to carry a standard darter, or build a special one. It might be cool to have a darter pod attached to you wrist, so that you could just point your finger and fire…'
'Sir? Do you expect that to be necessary?'
'You never know, Botts. Best be prepared for every contingency. Remember now, you're dealing with humans, not machines.'
'Yes, sir.' I was already finding dealing with just one human very different than with my machines.
'And the next thing for you to ponder is what type of clothes you think you'd like to wear downside.'
'Yes, clothes. You can run around the ship stark naked, Botts, if you care to. This is liberty hall, and all that. But downside I think it's best for you to wear clothes.'
'Why? I am unaware of any sort of taboo about robots “stark naked” as you say.'
'Oh, there is none. It is simply a matter of keeping as low a profile as we can while downside. Walking alongside an elegant white robot will attract attention, Botts.'
'Is there any need for me to go downside, sir? I would be as close as your com link.'
'Botts, you're a machine being. I know that you'd be far more comfortable just working with the machines of the Entrada, but you live in a nebula populated by 800 billion humans. If I was far wealthier than I am at present, perhaps I'd buy sentient ship masters to run my ships. But I'm not. I spent 70 million credits to buy a partner, a right hand man. And for this job, you're going to have to learn all about us humans. And you can't do that referring to files. You'll have to live amongst us to learn about us. So I want you by my side when I go downside.'
'Yes, of course, sir. I accept your point. I have adjusted my thinking accordingly.'
'Though I still fail to see the need for wearing clothes. I will certainly fool no one. And well, I fear that they might make me look… Well, a little ridiculous, sir.'
'First off, you will fool no one who gets close enough. But you will fool the many who don't, so that you won't likely create a scene everywhere you go with me. Secondly, yes, you will look slightly ridiculous. Indeed, we might see that you do. It's all in a good cause – yours and mine's safety, Botts.'
'Do you recall what I said about your worth – and the fact that Cavishtar and most of the planets of the Alantzia are more drift than Unity?'
Ah. A circuit clicked. 'Of course, sir. You feel that walking about with such an expensive…'
'Machine, might prove too great a temptation to ignore suppress, and that someone might attempt to steal me?'
'In a word, yes.'
'I believe I could defend you and myself. I am constructed of D-matter, and can operate several times faster than humans.'
'That is a great comfort, Botts. But it is better to avoid trouble when you can. What I propose is to treat you as a non-sentient level 7 servant; valet and bodyguard bot. They are common enough amongst those with credits to spare, and I intend to pass myself off as one with credits to spare. And by dressing you up as some floppish manservant, on a whim of mine, it would serve to keep your bright light hidden in the drifts, so to speak. We'll get farther being underestimated than taken at what I hope is our true value.'
'Yes, I see that sir. I will, of course, comply completely to your wishes.'
'I think, Botts, that you will enjoy playing a role. It is a very sentient thing to do. I don't know if you had a chance during the voyage to read through the crew's fiction library that came with the ship…'
'I must confess that I have not yet surveyed that collection.'
'I would suggest that you give it a read before we arrive. You must discount just about everything as being over sensationalized, an exaggeration, since the library contains mostly popular fiction of, shall I say, the most imaginative kind,, but it may give you some ideas as to how to play your downside role. We've got two weeks to work out our act.'
'I shall attend to the task immediately.'
'No hurry. And there's no reason to rush through them all in one go, either, as I know you can. Take your time. Read them at a pace. Perhaps you might learn to enjoy them. I recommend that you start with the Captain Bright Starr stories. He has a sentient machine partner named Vastly. Hopefully we won't encounter any Bright Starr type adventures, but we might still want to loosely adopt their modus operandi when it comes to our partnership. And think about what types of darters you want. You'll have pockets downside, so anything goes.'
'I will give it some thought. Though perhaps I would have a better idea what is required after reading Captain Bright Starr and Vastly.'
'You can't go too wrong with Cap'n Starr and Vastly, Botts. I grew up reading them.'
I feared that was true. Still, it promised to be an interesting life. I found that I was willing to sample an interesting life. Not, of course, that I had a choice in the matter.
We arrived in Cavishtar orbits 337 days out of Amartra, right on schedule. The Quarantine boat arrived shorty after our arrival and the med bots' inspection was brief, seeing that there was only one human (awake) on board. The sleepers in the holds would be inspected downside. The Trade Control boat arrived as the Quarantine boat was leaving. Viseor met the inspector at the starboard fin access lock and conducted him to the cargo control room where he had me open all the cargo access covers so that his bots could inspect the boxes and seals, comparing them to our bills of laden to make sure nothing had been done to them during passage. The S & M Mine lighters were already alongside when he finished, and our cargo was quickly cleared.
Well, I have the story set up, if I ever come up with an unique idea for their first adventure(s). I also have the ending -- the nose and the tip of the tail, It's just the dog of a story that's missing.