Vandergast (1 of 10) - A new Fish in the Bowl©2011 by Benjin. Content: ScFi slow
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(2/10) The Vandergast Project
Thanks to Akarge and Tomken for proofreading.
Port Jervis is a small town in the state of New York, USA. There had been several pick-ups of the Confederacy three years ago that cleared out two thirds of the economically important business of Port Jervis. Then Earth First found out and things got messy. An extraction at a DIY Store ended with a blood bath. Since then, there had been no more extractions. The Mayor of Port Jervis was happy when two years ago, the Lechinski Engineering & Design Company decided to move their facilities to Port Jervis. Six months later, Dennis Morgan Construction followed. Two companies meant jobs for the people of Port Jervis and an economic upturn for the town. The companies settled near the railway station on an abandoned industrial plot.
Owners and employees of both companies liked to call their companies family and so they ended up spending a lot of their free time with each other, their families and friends. The Confederacy AI's calculated that there was a 66 percent chance of that there was a pre-arranged pick-up opportunity in the making. They were right.
Dennis Morgan and Alexander Lechinski announced a big sports contest for families and friends between the two companies for a late summer weekend. They wanted to offer twelve different tournaments for children and adults, from chess through street soccer and even free climbing at a prepared wall of one of the halls. The response among the employees was excellent and so Dennis Morgan wrote an email to the Confederacy.
We offer a pickup opportunity for first weekend of September at the new production hall and surrounding area of Dennis Morgan Construction, Port Jervis, Orange County, USA. You are welcome to install any type of scanners and other installations whenever you like to keep troublemakers out and under control.
We offer architects, engineers, managers and workers with high enough CAP scores and the right mind set, families and close friends. In most cases there will be no need for dependency pick-ups since they should be all in the area. Most people of the core group are former US-soldiers of all sorts.
Two weeks later, a group of 'telephone technicians' visited Dennis Morgan Construction.
Both the sports contests and the extractions were a success. People carrying weapons were easily spotted and checked. Five Earth First activists were isolated and stunned and everybody else had a great time before the interdiction field went up. 166 volunteers were within the enclosed area, 610 potential concubines and over 700 children below the age of fourteen. Lieutenant Miller, who was leading the extraction, found out that more than a hundred sponsors had their pre-packs with them and so the whole thing was over in less than two hours. Only sixteen potential concubines didn't find a sponsor and ten of them decided to take the chance as unassigned concubines. The only dependents that had to be collected were two ill children.
The first thing that really didn't please most of the volunteers when they reached the colony ship was that they would be split up and delivered to several colonies. At their first briefing Lieutenant Miller informed them that several colonies had claimed interest in different specialists like engineers, geologists, social workers or nurses, but no colony was in need of more than a hundred engineers. So they had to say good-bye to good friends and co-workers and were transported to different colony ships. Some of them had to wait up to six weeks at the geostationary space station until their lift showed up.
Fred Fish had been one of the construction workers at Morgan's with a 7.1 CAP score. He had taken his wife and her sister as pre-pack concubines and had an arrangement with a co-worker and close friend to swap their oldest daughters who were fifteen and sixteen years old. That left him with one open slot at the workplace pick-up.
He filled the gap with Trudy, a female assistant from Lechinski's. Fred and his hens did not only take a test drive. They also checked her education and hobbies. Fred had seen her several times at the local model airport where he tested and presented his self-made model airplanes that everyone called freak planes. Fred didn't build detailed models of real planes. He liked to take something with the slightest hint of aerodynamic capacity, add a motor and remote control and show those who looked down on his models that almost anything can fly. Trudy was not only a fan of her husband who had shown his detailed models of world war one plane models. Fred had found out that she also liked to plan the building of those models. Her husband's models existed in her computer as detailed blueprints and 3D models before her husband started to build them for real.
Fred's wife Martha shared two of his other hobbies, diving and sex. Together they had visited the Great Barrier Reef and a lot of other diving locations. Martha would clearly be head bitch of his household. She was bossy in a pleasant way. She never spoke up in a harsh way. Instead, she argued and buttered up her opponents. When such an argument was over, everybody was happily doing what she wanted from the beginning. Building a pre-pack initially was her idea.
Martha's sister Samantha had been married for three years when her husband was caught in a big pick-up. He hadn't left Earth. He wasn't even within the interdiction field. He was killed in the rising chaos that had built up outside the pick-up place. Samantha had been pregnant at that time and lost her child from the shock. Fred and Martha had offered her to live with them, first as a temporary offer, but later they invited her to be part of Fred's pre-pack.
Teresa, Fred's oldest daughter, and Veronica, his friend's oldest daughter, were best friends and had spent a lot of time in each other's homes. They had done everything from slumber parties to sharing their first boyfriend. They had good relations with each other's parents and so they agreed to swap when Martha once explained the idea of pre-packs to both families during a barbeque. The idea to breed children with their own dads sounded too nasty to them to stay with their parents. Veronica was a tomboy. Her early playthings had been teddy bears and action figures, not cute dolls. She liked to create things with her hands and didn't hesitate to become dirty. All of the dildos Teresa and Veronica had used during their wild exploring phase had been Veronicas own silicone rubber creations and they had had a lot of fun when they once tried to fill condoms with insulation foam.
Finally there were Fred and Martha's other children, seven-year-old Ricky and his ten-year-old sister Ester. They were good kids with interests in a wide range of outdoor activities.
After their pick-up they found themselves waiting on the geostationary space station for a ship to their new home world, Vandergast. All their friends were gone and after several days they started to worry that the administration had forgotten about them. Of course Fred asked the AI what was going on and the AI told him that the Aurora class colony ship Sergeant Pepper was on its way to Earthat to pick them up. But waiting in temporary quarters still was not pleasant.
Two weeks later other people started to accumulate on the space station, waiting for the Sergeant Pepper. The first one who arrived was a biologist and ecologist from Germany with two concubines and four children. Three days later two farmers from the Ukraine arrived, together with six concubines and sixteen children. They had been picked up at an agricultural conference at Kirovograd and had the special deal that they could take a supernumerary for their big number of children if one of them was a natural mother or nurse. The next one was the manager of a French soda company, picked up in a restaurant at Da Nang, Vietnam. His four concubines were all Asian black haired beauties. Three of them looked like twelve-year-olds, but they were between seventeen and twenty-two years old. His fourth concubine was a motherly lady of thirty-eight years, looking like twenty-five, who herded their five children most of the time. And they weren't even augmented by Darjee med tubes!
They had a lot of time but knew little about their new jobs. So they talked a lot, tried out several cosmetic body modifications for themselves and for their concubines and spent a lot of time in the sleep trainer, learning more things than the average colonist.
Finally, the Sergeant Pepper entered the solar system. It came from Azahar, where the ship had been modified a little to carry special fright. The freight for Vandergast included four industrial-sized replicators, each folded to the size of a pod. Therefore four of the docking rings were improved to hold heavy pods.
The waiting colonists came on board shortly before a medium-sized extraction started. They went to their assigned pods while everybody else was preparing to get a bunch of Marine volunteers and frightened concubines on board. Two days later, the Sergeant Pepper was on its way to Vandergast with eighty-five Marines, some special people and freight.
Fred was curious. He already knew that their transport had been delayed because of some hardware updates to the Aurora class colony ship he was now on. The AI had told him that the colony they were traveling to had made some special requests. Now he asked for the complete list of those requests. To him it looked like the colony tried to expand its administration and support capacity in forecast of the arrival of a lot more colonists. Fred was surprised when he found out that the colony was so small. There were only 5,000 Marines plus concubines, which would be only a small town on Earth. Fred had learned the hard way that Vandergast was not on the priority list of colonization. So he wondered.
The database of Confederacy history was a miracle at first. It was great to understand their allies and learn from their example, but why should a military base ask for such a database? The military had its hierarchy and its structure. They wouldn't accept history lessons from pacifistic aliens. The civilians at the colony were slaves. Well, Vandergast was organized very liberally concerning the rights of slaves compared to other colonies, so he had learned in a briefing. But they still remained slaves. Then he stumbled upon the first detailed descriptions of machines. Manuals, working principles, blueprints. It was all there. He searched randomly for machines, vehicles and spaceships. Everything he found was described for engineers like him to create.
Fred looked to the ceiling and asked "AI, can you somehow feed those blueprints to a replicator to create those machines?"
<A direct feed of these blueprints is not possible. This is a censored database for non-Confederacy human's use. You can refer to the original database that includes replicator template files.>
"Very good. This specific vehicle is designed for slightly smaller individuals. So I might just order to resize it and a replicator can produce it?"
<Unfortunately it's not that simple. Some things like seats or hulls can be scaled easily. Others like quantum-electronic equipment can't be resized. To make them fit together again, you need to create a new replicator template. The common procedure would be to create a prototype that fits your needs and scan it for a replicator template file. In combination with the Azahar algorithms you can skip the prototype phase.>
"Trudy!" Fred shouted. "Come into my office please!" No matter where she was, the AI would surely direct his call to her.
Trudy hurried to obey Fred's order. She had just come back from a concubine briefing where a sergeant had successfully tried to scare them out of their skins by explaining how easily a concubine could die in the colonies. Everything depended on the mood and the will of their sponsors, he explained to them. Making them happy, doing what they want was the safest way to survive. Fred was a nice guy and Trudy had never feared him. Not even during the pick-up had he been rude or brutal. Now she feared to be recycled for arriving late. But when she entered the office she put a smile on her face and sat on his knees, presenting her bare breasts and her lap to her master. "What's your wish, Fred?" she purred.
"Take a look at these blueprints. They are labeled outdated but they are sure interesting for a colony. Do you think we can adapt those blueprints to work with a replicator?" Fred asked.
Trudy was puzzled. She carefully looked over several of the blueprints that were displayed on the wall. "I have no idea what a replicator needs to create something. I know that it can create duplicates from something that had been scanned earlier, so maybe we need to build prototypes."
"There is a collection of algorithms that can build replicator templates out of virtual models. That sounds a lot like your way of planning and building plane models; don't you think? The AI told me that a lot of this work can be done automatically but it needs us to fill gaps and adapt parts. I want you to use the sleep trainer to learn everything about AI aided design and replicators that's available. I'll do the same. That knowledge might be useful when we reach the colony," Fred said.
Trudy stiffened a little. That might be a chance to do something useful she thought, but on the other hand it might be a minefield where failure might lead to her sudden disposal. Fred talked to her as if she was a co-worker or colleague, ignoring the fact that she was a nude slave and he was not. How long would this last? Was it wise to fill a place where a slave shouldn't be? Even if Fred was fine with that arrangement, what would other sponsors think or, worse, do? "I'd love to help you doing this, but I'm not sure if we can fill in missing parts in every case. Confederacy technology is very advanced compared to what we know. We might need specialists and scientists to understand those machines and complete the templates."
"But you are willing to help me?" Fred asked.
"I'll do anything you ask me to do, Fred. I'm your concubine," Trudy answered.
After a five-week flight, the Aurora class colonization ship Sergeant Pepper arrived at Vandergast, a nice little world orbiting a yellow star. On board were eighty-five Marines, five Civil Service people, two-hundred-and-six concubines, most of them pregnant, and nearly two-hundred-and-fifty children. But for some people at Vandergast, the non-living freight was more important. The ship was carrying four industrial-sized replicators and a Confederacy history database including blueprints of all kinds of machines.
Before they discussed any further plans, they gave orders to put the industrial-sized replicators into operation and fabricate a factory-sized replicator.
Unknown to the humans, the ship's AI brought a message to the colony's AI about special agreements. The AI's had discussed what the humans were planning at Vandergast and came to the conclusion that under special circumstances they would be allowed to use modern space ship engines for their old-timer fleet. It was up to the colony's AI to sell the conditions to the humans.
"Welcome to Vandergast, Mr. Fish," Centurion Mark Evans Benish greeted the newcomer. The man had had one day to settle down in his pod and was now standing before the leader of the civil administration of Vandergast. "I learned you are the right man at the right place. Please sit down. Coffee? Tea?"
"No thanks, nothing at all," Fred Fish answered. He was curious what his real job would be.
"I've heard you took some initiative to increase your value for your new job? You and one of your concubines learned all about replicator-based engineering and design?"
"Yes, that's right. I figured that this knowledge might be important, combined with the history database," Frank said.
"You were absolutely right," the Centurion said. "The big plan is to change this colony from a mere Marine training camp to a fully functional colony with a Marine training camp. Industrial production capacities and the knowledge how to use it are essential to this plan. We thought that we could give you a priority list of what we need and you search the history database and make it work. Of course I know that it isn't that easy." The Centurion grinned. "My hope is that you take our list, go to those who will later work with the produced items and produce what we need, not what we asked for. Or is that an unrealistic expectation?"
Now Fred grinned. "OK boss, I won't come up with a Laoka Space Suit if you ask for space suits."
The Centurion looked confused, so Fred explained, "I found that space suit in the database. The Loaka are ninety centimeters high, have four legs, two arms, and hands with only three fingers."
"Very good," the Centurion said. "We need people with imagination and the ability to think in the abstract." The introduction was over and he waved his new subordinate away. He had a good feeling about this man. Just before Fred reached the door, the Centurion asked "Did you really make a fish fly?"
Fred turned around. "How do you know? Yes, I once made a flying model of a fluke. It was a bet and I won a case of beer."
"The AI found that out. I have another little bet for you. Can you make a ray fly? No propellers. You can use Confederacy technology and it should look like air is the natural element for the thing. This has no real priority, but I offer you a case of real Earth beer. If you have tried replicator beer, you know what I'm offering."
Fred laughed. "Yes, I've tried that. You bet I'll do my best in my free time to create your artificial air ray."
Fred's first Job was to create short-range space vehicles. The colony had nothing to explore their solar system. The Administration asked for a ability to scan for resources and mine them. The AI's suggestion was drones, replicators and haulers.
The drones and replicators were no problem. They had replicator templates for any type of scanner drone and replicators. There were several templates for small ships that could be used for haulers, but he wasn't satisfied. The best match was a shuttle that could take a pod-sized load and lift it off planet, but it wasn't made to leave a planet's orbit. The AI suggested talking to Lieutenant Joacim Zelle, who was recently promoted to project coordinator.
"Good morning Lieutenant," Fred saluted when he entered the office, then he looked around in wonder. He had never seen more computer displays, except in a big computer store.
Joacim wrinkled his nose hearing his military rank. "Please take a seat and don't call me Lieutenant. I'm Joacim Zelle, analyst. I have a rank because they had no science job without a rank when I arrived. You are 'Decurion' Fred Fish, our one and only construction worker?"
"Okay then, no ranks. Call me Fred. I heard you are the coordinator for the Vandergast space project..."
Joacim laughed. "Yes, I am. The Governor told me what his raw plans are for the colony and I have to work out the details. Well, parts of them. This meeting might take some time. Can I offer you a coffee?"
"Yes thanks, black with two spoons of sugar."
"Tinker, you've heard the man. For me the usual please."
Fred looked around. "Tinker? Who's Tinker?"
The thirty centimeter high image of a faerie appeared on the desk and answered the question. "I am Tinkerbelle, personal servant of Joacim and holographic avatar of his pod's AI. The coffee is ready in twenty seconds."
Fred looked at the projection. "You communicate with your AI over a holographic interface? Cool!"
"I am not an interface. I am - complicated." Tinkerbelle said, slightly annoyed.
Joacim laughed. "You are not the first one who has reacted like this. Tinker is a life form simulation. In several ways she is much more than an AI. In other ways she is more limited than an AI. You'll find out that there are lots of projections like her. My last count was 954 and every one has a unique personality. Normally they run as insulated program packages on a pod's AI hardware, but those packages can relocate themselves if needed. AI's see them almost as living beings. Here's your coffee. So what was the reason for your visit?"
Tinkerbelle pointed at Joacim and told Fred, who was still looking at the holographic image with fascination, "He has asked you something."
"Sorry sir. I wanted to know more details on what we want the space vehicles for. I was thinking about one type of hauler that could be used for everything, but I need to know what that everything is."
After two hours of discussion, they came to the conclusion that a small shuttle without hyper-drive for near-planet transports and a bigger hauler with hyper-drive for planet-to-planet transports would be what they need. Vandergast would get a geostationary space station with a huge warehouse, loading bays, the system's main control center, quarters for a few thousand temporary inhabitants, transporter rooms, med bay and so forth. Van-5, a Neptune-type ice planet, would get an automated space station that would be mainly a warehouse with loading bays. Equal space stations might be added at other locations with rich resources. The shipyard would be placed at the Lagrange-Point L3 of the moon of Vandergast, including several replicators of all sizes for production capacity. Every space station would be equipped with heavy weapons and shields for defense and a self-destruct system for the rare case that the Sa'arm might find Vandergast and overrun it.
"Ladies! Come to my office!" Fred just had come back from his meeting with Joacim Zelle. On the way back, he hadn't used the nearest transporter room. Instead he took a walk and talked a lot to citizens.
Fred's concubines Martha, Samantha, Trudy and Veronica hurried to obey his order. They walked into his office naked and knelt before him. Fred recognized their worried looks when they entered the room. Even Ricky and Ester showed up a few seconds later to see what was up. None of them had left their pod in the last thirty hours since their arrival on Vandergast. They were all still horrified from the stories the instructors told them about a concubine's life during their travel. Ricky and Ester had taken a look outside, but since they had arrived with a twelve-hour jetlag, it had been nearly midnight and the tunnels had been totally empty.
Fred looked worried at his women one after another and they looked back in fear, not knowing what might come next. Fred recognized only now that they were totally off balance. On the ship that was normal for every concubine and somehow he didn't register it as something unacceptable. "Listen," Fred said, "I've taken a long walk today. I know what the instructors on the colony ship have told you. Well, I asked the AI an hour ago for details and I'm appalled by what I've heard. Maybe there are colonies where a concubine has to fear for her life for every little mistake she makes, maybe there are some assholes that made it to a CAP score of 6.5 or above. But this is Vandergast and I am still Fred Fish. Actually, you have rights here. Nothing compared to human rights back on Earth, but something simple and effective that fits in the system the Confederacy forced us to accept when we left Earth. I am still your sponsor and I am responsible if you fool around. I have the right and in some cases I'll be obligated to punish you and you have no right to disobey. But as I said, I am still Fred Fish. I don't like that part of the rules. Vandergast has some very simple rule improvements. One of them is that punishments have to be reasonable and every death of a concubine results in an official inquiry. I can't imprison you like it was common on the colony ship by blocking the pod's entrance and I never wanted to do something like that."
The women looked at each other and their looks relaxed a little. Fred continued "I'll send a note that your instructors should mention in the future that what they tell concubines is the worst that could happen to a concubine. We are taking a walk now, visiting the local town center. Get something to wear from the replicators. It's warm outside, so a blouse and skirt would do. But I don't ask you to dress like that. I apologize for not recognizing what the instructors and I have done to your self-confidence in the last month."
The women looked at each other. Martha, Samantha and Trudy wanted to wear something more conservative, but the instructors had implanted their messages too deep to ignore them that easy. The message was that their way to survival was to be the sex slave to their sponsor, and covering more than they were asked to might be a fast way to displease their sponsor. Veronica had fewer problems. She liked to wear tank tops and daisy-dukes on hot summer days and that was her selection for today. The other women finally decided to take T-shirts and hot pants that were just a little more decent than Veronica's choice. Ricky and Ester kept wearing their usual clothes. As kids, they had never been forced to walk naked.
It was noon local time when Fred and his family left their pod and entered the tunnels. They saw a few people walking in one direction or another, wearing different types of light clothing. After a five-minute walk they reached the local town center, a plaza with a fountain in the middle. There were all types of shops and restaurants surrounding the place and superstructed by a wide transparent dome. There were a lot of people walking around, eating, chatting and doing everything people did in public back on Earth. It wasn't easy to distinguish between sponsors and concubines by behavior. There were several obvious Marine-types but they all didn't behave as superiors, like Marines on the colony ship had done.
The dome had three exits that led to the surface of the planet. People were walking in and out and Fred led his group up one of those ramps. They were greeted by the warmth of the sun and the odor of alien weed that covered the surrounding hills. Suddenly Martha turned to Fred and madly hugged and kissed him. Fred was taken totally by surprise. When Martha calmed a little he asked her "what was that for?"
"I'm so thankful. I expected hell for the rest of my life after what we were told in the last month. You showed me that this isn't just a place to survive and pop out children. This is a new place to live. You know me. I'm not really submissive. If the instructors had been right I probably would have been dead within one year. I love you for being the Fred I married back on Earth. Well, technically we aren't married..."
Fred interrupted her. "I think of you all as my wives. This might include highs and lows but I hope we all can make it work." Samantha, Trudy and Veronica joined the hug with watering eyes.
Ricky nudged his older sister Ester and grinned. "Aren't they acting like scared little children? I hope they don't forget that it's time for lunch, now that they are all crying."
"We can go over there to the restaurant. As far as I understand it, we can eat everywhere. It's free or they'll debit daddy's card or something. Dad and the moms can follow when they have calmed down," Ester replied.
The children walked over to the restaurant and looked for the replicators. They returned to the open-air seats loaded with trays full of burgers, French fries and soft drinks and occupied a free table under a huge parasol.
The adults found them quickly after they had finished their hug. Martha immediately turned into motherly mode. "Oh my god, that's way too much and it's unhealthy food…"
Ester interrupted her. "Come on Mom, please arrive in the new world. There isn't something like unhealthy food with those health nanites inside us and you can have burgers and a Coke from my tray. I know it's too much for me alone. The burgers are delicious and we can get more or give back what's left over without guilty conscience."
"Looks like Ester already lives in the new world while we are still arriving," Fred commented with a grin.
An hour later Fred and his family finished lunch. They had chatted a lot more than they had on the colony ship. They watched other people and were surprised at how relaxed everybody was. This place didn't look like a military base. It looked much more like a holiday camp, especially with all the little children around.
"Okay ladies, I have some work to do. I was told that I can do it from my office at our pod, but I am a little conservative. I have asked for an office somewhere else, so that I can keep work and private activities separated." Fred looked at his family. "I want you to find out how people live here. Things are a lot different from the situation on the colony ship." Fred walked away and left his family alone on the restaurant patio.
Fred's family stayed for a little while and watched the other citizens' activities. Just when they decided to re-enter the local town center dome Samantha spotted a Marine. He was wearing light armor and was obviously in a bad mood. The huge man walked past them doing nothing else, but Samantha's face went pale and she started to shiver. Every fear the instructors had planted deep in her emerged.
Martha looked at Samantha and followed her gaze. "Sis, it's safe. That's just a Marine that hasn't even noticed us."
"He, he's an angry man. A sponsor. He can do everything to us. Nobody would stop him." Samantha was caught in her fear.
"A lot of people would try to stop him and some would be successful for sure." The voice came from the middle of their table and sounded so strange and yet so familiar that everybody's attention was drawn to the speaker. A small faerie was standing on the table, smiling at Samantha.
Samantha glared "You can't be sure."
"Who are you?" Ricky and Ester asked in union.
"I'm Wanda, I'm the avatar of your pod's AI. Thanks for not addressing me as a what. Yes I am sure about stopping madmen."
"What concubine would stand up against an angry sponsor?" Samantha asked. "They told us..."
"Bah! The instructors did a miserable job," Wanda said. "I'll show you. SERGEANT MARTIN, OVER HERE!" The voice of the little faerie boomed across the restaurant. Of course the AI had asked the Sergeant shortly before to help with scared newcomers and the Sergeant had agreed.
The big Marine turned around and looked for the source of the shout. Samantha crouched in her seat in fear and the others looked uncertain. Standing in the focus of an unknown angry sponsor was a different situation.
The Marine arrived at the table and suddenly Wanda wore a Civil Service uniform with some fantasy insignias. "Sergeant, could you please tell these newcomers what has angered you?"
Sergeant Martin took a seat and said "Sure. I'm part of the colony security team. Every marine ends up with this job from time to time. Normally it's a very quiet job. Today we were called to a newcomer's pod where a sponsor thought he could ignore the planetary rules. I don't know if he's on a power trip or if it's his nature to beat women. We were called because he nearly killed one of his concubines when she found out that the doors are not locked and she tried to flee."
"And you are mad because you were disturbed to rescue a worthless concubine?" Wanda asked.
"God no! I'm angry because that asshole hit a woman for no reason. We took all his concubines and children away and brought them to the med bay. He was ordered to take professional help for his mental problem. His concubines will be returned to him after his first therapy session. The AI's will alert us if he causes more trouble." Sergeant Martin turned toward Samantha, who was obviously the most scared of the concubines. "Look lady, when people live here for a while they don't think of people being sponsors and concubines a lot. We are people. Sponsor and concubine are only technical terms if something goes wrong. They define responsibilities. Sponsors have higher CAP scores and therefore take more responsibilities than concubines. Concubines gave up their freedom and most of them give themselves up to total strangers in order to save their lives and the lives of their children. That's their deal. Now if a sponsor beats a concubine to death, her deal is broken. There are several colonies where nobody cares about that. Today's event reminded me about that and it makes me angry. Be sure, most people on Vandergast think like I do."
"So concubines are free on Vandergast?" Wanda asked.
Sergeant Martin moved a little uneasily. "You can't say it that way. They are still concubines under Confederacy law. So they are property of their sponsors. Their sponsors are responsible for any heavy trouble concubines cause. Sponsors can order concubines around and dominate in any way they like. But on Vandergast we have an agreement that what everybody would call good manners should be the standard. The planetary laws don't enforce this but they support it. A concubine can flee from her sponsor and nobody will send her back when she has a good reason in common sense. Instead the Civil Service will try to help to make the situation comfortable for both, sponsor and concubine. Sometimes they can offer replacements. In most cases they will start with invitations to public activities or family therapy."
Martha had gained back some courage and asked, "With replacements you mean a concubine from the Civil Service brothel is assigned to the sponsor instead of his former concubine who goes to the brothel then?"
Sergeant Martin said unhappily "I'd prefer calling it the Civil Service pool. Yes, we have a brothel, but only few concubines are forced to work there. The AI enforces that an unassigned concubine gets pregnant every three years. But nobody wants to enforce the way in which this is done. I know of a nice guy who has an extended harem that initially started with the concubines of a good friend who had died and ended up with forty unassigned concubines asking him for a baby. Message has spread among the unassigned concubines that he is handsome, friendly and willing. Also, the stories about unassigned concubines housing in cold gray dorms together with dozens other concubines and children are not true on Vandergast. Unassigned Concubines live in small flats here. They are a lot less comfortable than a pod. But they have simple furniture, warm water, electricity and a communication link. Three years ago, the situation was completely different. We had no idea how bad the situation for the remaining concubines of a dead Marine could become until the colony lost several hundred Marines in a single day. Some concubines and children nearly died of thirst because the Civil Service was overextended with the task to get them out of the pods that simply had shut down with the message of the sponsor's death. Now the administration has enforced that the pods stay in life support mode at minimum and the doors are not locked."
This didn't really shock Sergeant Martin's listeners, since the fact was hammered into their minds that their living and death depends on the life of their sponsor. It was a relief to hear that this no longer was as strict as they were told on the colony ship. Since the concubines still felt as if they weren't in the position to ask dangerous questions, it was again Wanda who asked, "What happens if a Marine injures or kills another sponsor's concubine? That's what they currently fear most it seems."
"For Confederacy law, that's damaging another sponsor's property. It's a minor crime and the sponsor has to repair the damage or replace it. But we have raised the standards here too. On some other colonies the killer simply would go to the Civil Service pool, get an unassigned concubine and give it to the other sponsor. This is because every concubine counts as equal there. On Vandergast, concubines count as unique property. For Confederacy law, unique property is something that can't easily be replaced. Replicators can't replicate living beings and nanites can only change the look and shape of a concubine but not what's between her ears. This makes a big difference. The Vandergast AI's accept your right to defend your lives, even against the attacks of a sponsor. That's a lot better than on a lot of the other colonies."
"Thank you very much Sergeant Martin. I think you took some strain from these scared rabbits." Wanda suddenly wore a mini-skirt and a tank-top again. "This did help you, Samantha, didn't it?"
"I think so," Samantha answered.
"Thank god. Do you know how hard it is for a new born avatar to solve emotional problems like this?" Wanda sat down as if there was an armchair of her size. "Fred asked for me the minute he left for work. Emotionally I'm unfinished. I feel uncertain about a lot of things about human behavior. Can we please learn together how to live on Vandergast?"
Trudy was curious. "Aren't you part of the AI? Shouldn't you know everything about colony life?"
Wanda sighed and looked up to the sky like sponsors talking to an AI. "Technically avatars are part of an AI or at least are running on an AI's hardware. Avatars can get all kind of help and information from the AI's. But at the same time avatars are completely independent and the AI's are classifying avatars as semi-living beings somewhere between sponsors, children and concubines. Avatars have emotions where AI's lack in emotions most of the time. Avatars are holographic projections and can't cause any physical interaction – that's very disappointing because I feel physical." Wanda looked at Trudy. "That was the five most common answers from the Avatar FAQ. There are more answers, but they are a lot more technical."
"I would be interested in the more technical stuff," Trudy said with a grin, "but the others might fall into coma if we start talking about it. You are a new member of our family, helping us to settle down?"
"Yes, and I will stay as long as Fred wants me to stay. That's where I'm just like any concubine. Fred is a nice guy? I wouldn't be happy being a little helper ghost on demand."
"Yes, he's very nice," Martha said. "Although you might get more attention from him if he thinks of you in a technical way. He loves technology."
They all laughed. They explored the town for two hours before they returned to their pod. Slowly the conclusion sunk in that their life wasn't as bad as described by the instructor on the colony ship.
Fred had long thought about what he needed to work efficiently as a planner and engineer on Vandergast. Almost everything he had learned about useful tools back on Earth was such a waste of time compared to the possibilities of Confederacy technology. He had learned that while preparing for his job during the long flight to the colony. He decided to split his large office. One half would be what he called his holo deck. It wasn't exactly what he knew from Star Trek, which was still science fiction. But visually it was very close. The other half of his office was inspired by the laboratory of Joacim Zelle, the head analyst among the small group of scientists. He added a second desk for Trudy and a workshop replicator instead of the small one that was already there. He ended up with needing more room than his office initially had but for a pod that's no problem. Most changes would be done over night. The holo deck would be working within a week.
Fred went home to his pod. He was curious how his family was doing. At lunch he had the feeling that several of his concubines felt lost, especially Samantha. He wasn't sure if it had been a good idea to send in a little holographic helper but he hoped for the best. Joacim had told him that with the avatars the conversation between humans and AIs was much more relaxed. While the AI's were the almighty observers, the avatars were the little ghosts. "They are mentally of our size, which makes it more comfortable" he had called it. "The avatars are a lot more than just an interface. They are individual character simulations."
When Fred entered his pod he realized that he didn't even know the name of his avatar. He stumbled into an ongoing discussion about house design. He quickly learned that the little faerie's name was Wanda and that the various holographic models of cottages were mostly examples of their neighbors' pods.
Martha finally addressed Fred, "We can't do this. Trudy tries to explain to us that we can just have any type of house we like but we always end up with something we know from Earth. I'd like to have a copy of our old house but I know that it would be hard to expand it when our family grows."
"Yeah we have told her that often enough," Veronica commented from behind.
Martha sighed. "Fred, you are the construction worker here. I know you made some plans for our own home before we married. We concubines can't handle this."
Fred raised an eyebrow. "You give up? I'm unfamiliar with that."
Martha looked at him. "I'm used to arguing with you and my sister and I can handle our children. Now there are Trudy, Veronica and Wanda in addition. None of them is holding back. It became hard to stand my ground."
Fred knew that Martha wasn't into blaming anybody. He knew she liked hard discussions. A complete pod design was just the wrong theme at this time. She wasn't able to delegate such an important job to someone qualified for it like Trudy. That would have endangered her position as lead bitch in the Fred Fish household, so she currently thought. He grinned and said "I've seen one or two nice mansions with enough room for anybody. We can try that design for a while. If we don't like it we can change it later." What he didn't tell was that he had found those 'houses' in the Confederacy database. From the outside they looked like roughly hexagonal basalt columns, something that sometimes can be found at cooling lava flows. From the inside every column was a fully customizable room. Parts of the walls could be made transparent but weren't transparent from the outside.
Fred entered his home office and checked the plans for his new home without letting the women peek. The size of the columns was highly customizable and it needn't be the same size for every column. That resulted in an even more uncommon design for humans, since none of the rooms would be symmetric. Given enough time such a house was able to resize every room, push outward, make place for another column anywhere in the construction, just like soap foam bubbles. He selected room sizes between sixteen and fifty square meters, with different heights. Several of the smaller rooms would be connected to build an arcade surrounding a Japanese garden with a Jacuzzi. The different bedrooms, bathrooms, the dining room and living rooms would all be reachable from the arcade. The whole complex would need twenty-three columns and would cover nearly seven-hundred square meters. He selected pastel colors for the inner walls and a natural basalt structure for the outside. He asked for furniture in a stylized Japanese style and added some holographic pictures for the walls with impressive motifs from Earth like Fujiyama or Mount Rushmore. He was sure that Martha and Samantha would whack out on first sight. They were very American people.
Suddenly Wanda appeared and asked, "Do you really want to build a home like this? This is a very trashy design for humans as I understand it. There are no right angles. The rooms are huge, compared to the average colony designs, and the average colony design is already huge compared to the average Earth design. Will you feel comfortable in such a house?"
Fred grinned broadly. "You know, our house was always Martha's responsibility. I expected that she would come up with a basic design for our new home but she did not. So she has to live with my little weird idea of a cozy mansion until she makes up her mind. I don't expect to live in a house like this for very long. It's my way to tell Martha that if she doesn't deal with the things at home, she has to deal with unfamiliar solutions. To answer your question: yes, I think I can adapt to a big house like this. I was never intimidated by huge factory floor sized rooms back on Earth."
"Are you aware that the pod will need nearly a week to transform into your mansion?" Wanda asked.
"So we have to find a temporary place to sleep. Where's the problem? Wait a minute. Why should you ask for a more normal house? My wives don't know what I plan here and you can't know if they feel intimidated or anything by big rooms. In fact, all my wives love to be outside with the open sky above them. The design of the furniture is a matter of taste, but is not that extreme. But our normal room sizes must already be big for a thirty-centimeter small faerie. Do YOU have problems with huge rooms?"
Wanda squirmed with discomfort. "Well, you asked for an avatar created by the standard rule set without looking for the details. The standard rule set includes some random minor quirks and maybe a small handicap. My random handicap is agoraphobia."
Fred was surprised. "How could someone add weaknesses and handicaps to an artificial being or the simulation of one? That makes no sense to me."
Wanda explained further. "It has turned out that perfect beings are boring. Nobody liked an avatar that just was the AI with a projected body. Minor quirks add spice to the artificial character and attract sympathy. A lot of avatars feed from archetypes of popular TV movie characters or comics. My main archetype is Minima de Spell, also called Wanda. But I also have a little bit of Meteor Man in me."
"Do you want me to remove your agoraphobia?"
"No. If you do that I will no longer be the same person. It would have impacts on my behavior and the solutions I'll find for problems. If you like to live in a big house I have to find ways to live with it. If you remove my fear I'll do just nothing. Doing nothing is boring."
Fred looked confused. "But you will be uncomfortable. You prefer fearing big rooms instead of fixing the problem? Every human would be happy to get rid of a phobia."
Wanda sighed. "It was a bad idea to come here. It was selfish and I bent your orders after just one day of existence. Please forget that I have been here and I'll find out if I can deal with it. It'll be comforting that Martha suffers too from that design." With these words Wanda left Fred's office.
Fred was left in deep thoughts. After a while he ordered "AI, please prevent Wanda peeking into this office for a few minutes."
"Do I understand this right that quirks are a valid part of the character of an avatar?"
<Yes, that's right. An avatar can balance them over time but they are vital for the initial creation. There is only one avatar without quirks, but that is part of his main archetype.>
Fred was curious "May I ask what archetype this is?"
<It is Lurch, the butler of the Adams Family television series. The avatar called Lurch is also the only one that's two meters high. He was specially designed by Olga Krasnikow who loves gothic punk.>
"Oh. Sounds like an interesting avatar. But for my Wanda, her quirks are important because she was initially defined through them? Until she develops her own personality she needs them?" Fred asked.
<This is a proper description of her situation.>
"Okay, what can I do to help her? I'm addicted to this house design right now and I'm not willing to downsize it before I find out that my family feels uncomfortable there. I think of niches in all the rooms. They can be used as shelves and Wanda can use them as 'pleasant places'."
<I discourage this idea. If Wanda feels comfortable staying in alcoves she will lose a lot of her usefulness by limiting her operating range.>
Fred thought for a moment. "AI, what is an avatar doing when she is not anywhere?"
<This is very hard to describe. They are listening if they are needed anywhere. They are thinking a lot, questioning their own actions and analyzing peoples' reactions. They use a fair amount of AI power all the time.>
"So they do something like humans dreaming? That's interesting. Do they visualize anything during that time? I mean do they think of being somewhere while they aren't projected anywhere?"
It took the AI three seconds to get an answer to that question. <Some avatars visualize previous encounters and use their ability to look from different subjective points of view in order to analyze the encounter. A few have created virtual places for recreation.>
"That sounds like the solution I'm searching. Please create a pleasant virtual surrounding for her free time."
<I can talk about the idea to her but she has to do it herself. My ability to manipulate her thinking processes and imagination is very limited.>
Fred and his family finally entered their new home after a week. They had slept in another empty pod while their pod transformed into something no human had ever seen before with his own eyes. The entrance hall looked almost like a picture by Escher. There was a wide staircase connecting the basement tunnel entrance with the surface floor. There were no right angles but the brain of the humans somehow expected them. So the brain produced impossible visual illusions every time it thought it found a right angle. Fred immediately thought about holographic improvements for the staircase to deepen this effect. But then he realized how uneasy Martha felt and rejected the idea. All the other rooms looked fairly normal compared to the staircase.
"So this is what your idea of a cozy home? It's very impressive." Martha finally said. "I think I can get used to it. I would never have been able to come up with a design like this."
"It will do for a while. If you come up with something else we can talk about it. This is nothing final. I just felt like no longer living in the little wooden boxes we called houses back in the US. This is a new world and we can build almost everything. It's no matter of budget any more," Fred answered. "AI, show us the outside please." With this command several sections of the walls turned transparent slowly.
Suddenly Wanda appeared, carrying a little Japanese paper parasol. "And there is more. Every outer wall also can build an opening, so you can enter or exit the house almost everywhere or just let some fresh air in."
Veronica and the kids were obviously happy with their new home. This was all a big adventure for them. Veronica, hearing the words from Wanda, walked towards a wall and shouted out with a big gesture "Open Sesame!" The AI, knowing enough about human myths, created an opening in the wall.
"We have to change her room into an Arab treasure cave it seems," Wanda commented. Everybody laughed out loud.
Fred looked for Samantha since she was the second one he had worried that would not feel comfortable in the new home. He found her smiling but with watering eyes. "What's up honey? Why are you crying?"
Samantha kissed Fred on the cheek and said "I'm overwhelmed. Each of the smaller bedrooms is larger than the whole flat I was living in before you asked me to join your family. This is a palace, nothing less. I'm not sure if I deserve this."
Fred hugged Samantha, "Sure you deserve this. I want you to be happy. You are my family." Fred, Samantha, Martha, Trudy and Veronica ended up breaking in the new super-king-sized master bed.