Saturday, 25 June 2016

Intergalactic Law Episode 6: Exhaustion

The light emitters that floated in the centre of the cylindrical living space of the ship, like a trio of miniature suns, were very slowly dimming into their night-mode. The whole ship was bathed in an orange glow. Ebbington Mulholland sat on the steps of the Galileo General Hospital smoking a black market cigarette, ignoring the sneers of the hospital staff and visitors that passed him by. He had given the news to Dr and Mrs Dorrit that he had found out what had attacked Dr Dorrit and who was culpable. In all likelihood there would be an enquiry into the whole thing before the Council of Scientists. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, Bing would be able to follow up with a lawsuit for damages. The Dorrits had thanked him for his efforts and been happy to make payment of his retainer immediately. 
A cab pulled up at the kerb in front of him. He stumped out his cigarette and stepped inside. The car was driverless. A scanner had already identified Bing and had all his details from the ship’s central computer.
“Home,” was all Bing had to say, and the cab’s computer driver was on its way. As tempting as it was to sleep the whole journey away, he had to check his emails. He pressed a button on his wristwatch and a hologram interface appeared floating in front of him. He selected his emails, and to his delight there were only three.
The first two were from his robot receptionist, Honda. Honda was a robotic arm that had previously been employed by a car manufacturer. The first email from the robot was to tell Bing that there was a fly in the office and he didn’t know what to do. The second was Honda following up to tell Bing that everything was ok, because he and the fly were now friends.
Honda made Bing’s head hurt. He didn’t know who had programmed the robot, but he had vowed to find the bastard and have him committed to some form of institution. Honda’s redeeming features were that he had been cheap to purchase, and had once saved Bing’s life. Because of that combination of factors, Bing couldn’t bring himself to replace Honda with something more competent.
The last email was one that Bing hadn’t expected. The sender was Dr Laura Mulholland. Bing wondered if he should leave that one for the morning, when he would be more mentally agile. His curiosity overpowered him. He opened the email to find out what the woman who was divorcing him wanted. 
Hi Bing, I hope you’re well. Would you be interested in coming by the house tomorrow night for a few drinks?

Bing turned off the hologram and stared out the window. The cab was driving up a ramp onto one of the ship-length highways. Unlike the circumferential highways, these ones were equipped with magnetic boosters that propelled vehicles along it at tremendous speeds to make the journey from one end of the ship last minutes instead of hours. Bing was momentarily pressed back into his seat by the rapid acceleration of the vehicle. The whole ship became a blur. Things popped into and out of view in rapid succession, and Bing’s brain could barely make sense of any of it. 
He closed his eyes and tried not to think. Only three months ago he and Laura had been happy. Then Bing had found out that she had been unfaithful to him and had walked out. He had gone to live at a hotel and booked himself in for a week to think things over. His next move had not been clear cut in his head. He wasn’t sure if he was going to return home, but five days after leaving, a messenger appeared at his hotel room door with a letter from the office of William Symington, the ship’s other lawyer. Laura had begun divorce proceedings. 
Many things had gone through him that night: thoughts, feelings, and alcohol. The alcohol had been a cheap, grain alcohol, but it was all that Bing could acquire at that late hour. The sale of alcohol - as with most other recreational stimulants and depressants - was prohibited on the ship. However, manufacturing alcohol for one’s own use (and maybe very quietly selling a little on the side) was overlooked. Laura and her friends operated a small vineyard in their spare time, and their wine was very highly regarded. It had been one of her scientist friends with whom she owned the vineyard that she had been unfaithful with. The night he received the divorce papers, Bing had drank excessive amounts to rid himself of the image of Laura and Dr Gunther Prost writing vigorously in a vat of grapes; the green fruit being mashed by their naked buttocks thrusting back and forth. He had drained the entire bottle of grain booze and passed out. Judging by the monumental hangover the following day (which continued to the day after that as well) he was lucky he could only obtain a single bottle.
Bing hadn’t spoken to Laura directly since the day he left. He had corresponded, and had meetings, with Symington about the divorce though. Bing and Symington had been good friends since working together on the ship. He was a much different lawyer than Bing. Whereas back on Earth Bing had been a criminal defence lawyer with a limited amount of civil experience, Symington had been a high-flying  commercial lawyer, specialising (and earning a fortune in) hostile takeover negotiations. As the only two lawyers on the ship they had been instrumental in establishing a form of court system that also fit in with the ethos of the Council of Scientists who, in every sense of the word, ruled the ship. 
Despite the fact that in every dispute Bing and Symington would be on opposing sides, outside of the courtroom they were very good friends. That changed in Bing’s mind the day he received the divorce letter from Symington’s office.
He remembered vividly the confrontation, and Symington’s justification for his actions:
“Come on now Bing, this was inevitably going to happen. I’m the only other lawyer on the ship. She can’t very well be represented by you, so she had to come to me.”
In hindsight, Bing knew that Symington was right. That was just the way it was on this ship. Unfortunately, at the time he had stormed into Symington’s office, the wounds were still too fresh, and he had responded by calling the other lawyer a ‘backstabbing arsehole’, kicked over a potted plant, and slammed the door on his way out.
The cab had reached the end of the highway and was slowing. It took a direct route to the elevator at this end of the ship, which would take him from the industrial complex on this side of the cylinder to the city of Copernicus 180 degrees around the axis. Bing looked up through the cab’s skylight at Copernicus on the other side of the ship. When he’d had this view of Galileo earlier today, the city had reminded him of a bejewelled crown. Copernicus on the other hand reminded him of a crusty scab.
The divorce proceedings so far were not going in Bing’s favour. He and Symington had established what law from various jurisdictions on Earth would apply on the ship. When it came to divorce the presumption was that there would be a 50/50 split of marital assets. But in practice that hadn’t really worked out in Bing’s favour. The home, furniture and cars shared by Bing and Laura had in fact not been their property. It belonged to the Academy of Science; Bing and Laura had the use of it by virtue of Laura’s position as a senior scientist aboard the ship, so Bing had no claim on any of it. Bing was entitled to half the contents of their small joint savings account, and that was it. 
As it turned out, the Academy of Science owned all of the houses and apartments on the ship. The ones in Galileo could not be rented, but had to be assigned by that Academy. Bing had applied for accommodation in Galileo but had been refused. He had gone to the accommodations office to complain. It was only open one day per week because no administrator had been hired specifically to deal with accommodations, or any other administrative matter really. Each scientist, in addition to their scientific duties, was expected to devote a few hours a week to one aspect of the administration of running the city of Galileo.
Bing had arrived at the office to find the sign on the door:

Office of Dr G Prost
Head of Botanical Engineering and Accommodations Officer

     Bing immediately felt his blood boil and his fists clench. He looked through the window to the office to get a look at this Dr Prost. He was nearly seven feet tall, muscular, tanned, had wavy blonde hair, and a chin that could be used as an anvil. He was chatting with two young female lab assistants, who were wearing short skirts, short lab coats and high heels. They seemed to be hanging on his every word and laughing hysterically at his jokes. Bing turned quickly away before doing something that he might regret.
After further inquiry, there appeared to be only one place on the ship with rentable accommodation: Copernicus.
Copernicus was an afterthought of a city. The ship had been designed to house the greatest minds of Earth on a voyage from the crumbling remains of the birthplace of the human species, to a new home far away. Of course, as with every set-up of this type, there were a number of people whose talents lay in other, much more profitable areas than science, who had managed to buy their way onboard. 
Despite the greatest of intentions, it became clear that the ship couldn’t run with the science crew alone. There were also jobs that, despite great advancements in robotics, humans were able to do better. A second, blue-collar, crew was hastily added to the ship, and the city of Copernicus was retrofitted to house them. This move, incidentally, was the reason why the scientists had created positions for two lawyers, due to the high number of disputes anticipated among the blue-collar crew. William Symington was headhunted for a position aboard the ship. The intention of the Council of Scientists had been to employ a second lawyer much the same as Symington, however, Bing had been guaranteed a place aboard the ship by virtue of his marriage to Laura. He was appointed as the ship’s second lawyer, because he was going to be there anyway.
The cab shot through the elevator tube and landed in central Copernicus. The buildings were grey concrete, and all seemed to be slightly tilted, like rows of twigs stuck into some mud with only a medium amount of care. The city was mostly silent at this time of night. The ever-present background noise of ambulances and ship’s security vehicles somewhere off in the distance was the only noise that could be heard. As the cab drove along the empty streets Bing saw the occasional homeless person. From the dark alleyways between the buildings there were the low rattlings of people or things interfering with the trash bins. Bing hoped that the free-range landsharks hadn’t made it this far without being caught and/or killed.
The cab parked in front of Bing’s apartment building. 
Forty six credits have been deducted from your account. We hope you have had a pleasant journey.”
Bing remained seated. He looked at the front door of the building. There was a code-entry system. No doorman. The elevator would take him to his empty apartment where he would sleep and get up to go to work the next morning with his robot receptionist. He would work all day, and then return home, watch some TV, go to bed, and do it all over again. 
He brought up the email from Laura again and re-read it. He clicked ‘Reply’ and typed the words ‘OK’.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Setting for Intergalactic Law

For those who are wondering about the setting for Intergalactic Law, the ship, The Isaac Newton, is inspired by Arthur C Clarke's Rama. Rendevouz with Rama was one of the first sci-fi books I read. I was pretty young at the time, and I don't know if the story made much of an impression on me, but the setting of a giant cylindrical ship certainly did.

Below is a fantastic image inspired by Rama, and is very close to what I picture the interior of the Isaac Newton to be like.

Credit for the above image goes to the original artist at—-ttt-9-september/

Intergalactic Law Episode 5: Interrogation

A single corridor ran the entire circumference of the Alpha Bio Labs main building with signposts at regular intervals to each of the enclosures.   Bing marched in the direction of Enclosure E with Alpha in tow. The robot kept falling behind, stopping from time to time and staring at the floor.
"Alpha, what is it? We need to get moving."
"It's nothing, well... no, nothing."
Bing sighed and clenched his eyes. "Come on, out with it, tell me what's wrong."
"It's just... the doggie back there. He was nice. I'd like to have a doggie, but I don't think I'm allowed."
"There's no law against a robot owning a dog. You can buy one as long as you take care of it," he said, totally sidestepping the fact that the creature she had been petting before had not been a dog. He would leave that particular awkward conversation for the pet store owner.
Alpha’s posture straightened, and her voice lost its ‘child who dropped her ice cream cone’ quality. She was much happier to keep up with Bing as he continued along the corridor. The door to Enclosure E was much the same as had been the door to Enclosure A. Alpha approached it to be scanned, but the light atop the scanner remained red. She stepped back and tried again, but it was no use. Bing hammered loudly on the door with his fist.

"Don't move dirt bag!" Whispered Ivan Gunderson to the scientist in enclosure A, whilst jamming the barrel of his gun into the small of the man's back. He had gotten bored of waiting for Bing to text him to make his entrance, and it had been twenty whole minutes. Anything could happen in twenty minutes, especially the kind of thing that required the presence of a man with a big gun and the skill to use it. The fact that the radio in the partrol car was broken had had nothing to do with his decision at all.
The scientist yelped a little and thrust his hands into the air. "Who are you? How did you get in here? Are you with the tour?"
"Stop talking!" Ivan surveyed the interior of the enclosure and noted the groups of lions and jackals sleeping under the trees. "You're in a whole heap of trouble pal. One of your pets has mauled one of the ship's citizens. You'll be lucky if they don't toss you out of an airlock for this."
The scientist began to whimper.
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself? Murderer."
"You told me to stop talking."
"Well... start talking. Tell me what I want to know. Then stop talking again."
"What do you want to know?"
"My partner, well, not my official partner, but the person I'm working with for the specific purpose of this investigation, came into this building twenty minutes ago and never came back out. What happened to him? Feed him to the lions too?"
"N-no. I haven't fed anyone to anything. A man came through here about ten minutes ago. He was asking a lot of questions. Is that him?"
"What'd he look like?” Demanded Gunderson, forcing the gun even harder into the scientist’s right kidney.
"Short guy. Not a lot of hair. Well dressed and well spoken. Late forties? I'm quite a skilled artist, I could draw you a picture if you want." 
Gunderson spun him around and pressed the gun into his chest. "This isn't arts and crafts class. Tell me where he went or so help me..."
The scientist waited for Gunderson to finish the sentence, but when it became clear that he had no intention of doing so he told the chief that the well-spoken man who had been here previously left after the scientist had mentioned Enclosure E, and that's where he was likely going next. Gunderson holstered his weapon, leaving the scientists with the parting words: "Don't you dare leave this room. I'll be back with more questions for you later.”

The doors to Enclosure E clicked and slid open. Standing inside was a dishevelled scientist wearing a long, buttoned-up lab coat, and quite possibly nothing else. His hairy legs stuck out the bottom of the coat and he had no shoes on; Bing readied himself to avert his eyes at a moment’s notice should this turn into a flashing incident. 
“Whaddaya want?” said the scientist, who appeared to be in the grey area between drunk and hungover.
Bing took a moment to consider the form of his response, “I’m coming in to take a look around, the robot will explain why,” he said, stepping past the scientist, who offered no resistance.
The scientist turned to Alpha: “well? What’s the explanation?” The relative brightness of the corridor was causing him significant discomfort.
“He’s taking a tour of the facility.”
“I didn’t know we did tours.” 
While the robot and the drunk scientist carried on their thrilling conversation, Bing scouted the enclosure. Enclosure E had a narrow, glass walkway that ran from the door of the room to some form of control tower in the middle. The room was very dim; the fabric walls and ceiling were either very dark blue or black, and much thicker in this enclosure than in Enclosure A. Bing could only make out the general shapes of things in the twilight. He looked down at the enclosure floor about three metres below him. The vegetation had been allowed to grow thick, like an overgrown and weed-blighted hedge maze. A giant water tank ran all the way around the outside of the enclosure, like a walk-through tunnel found in aquariums, but with the water on the inside. He could see large, torpedo-like shapes gliding eerily through the water.
The door to the control tower was unlocked and Bing let himself in. There was an overpowering chemical smell which hit Bing like an ocean of ice cold expresso. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant at first, but after a few seconds Bing developed a sharp headache; his brain began to feel hot, and for a moment he had the nagging feeling that all the computers in the room were judging him. He threw the door wide open to let some fresh air in, which definitely helped. Inside the room were a pair of scientists - Bing assumed, although they might have been homeless stowaways judging by their appearance and smell. They paid Bing no attention, and continued to stare at their monitors, which showed a feed of somewhere green and sunny. To the left was a poster-sized diagram, a blueprint, but the design was of something biological that made Bing want to wet himself a little.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” said a scientist from a dark corner of the room that Bing hadn’t noticed before.
“Not the word I would use. What the hell is it?”
The scientist grinned at Bing like a crazy man about to stab and rob him. “We call it Selachimorpha Terrenum.”
Bing ventured into the dusty corridors of his memory where he kept the remnants of knowledge from his high-school latin classes. He’d heard these words before, but never together. “Land shark?” he asked the scientist.
A broadening of the scientist’s grin was the response. Bing looked back to the blueprint. The beast had the body of a shark, and four legs from some sort of lizard. Annotations seemed to suggest that in addition to its gills, the landshark also had lungs, and was no less toothy than its seaborne counterpart.
“This is a gag, right? You haven’t actually created one of these creatures?”
“One? Of course not, don’t be silly. What a waste of our scientific genius and resources that would be. We have twelve or so.”
Bing’s brain shuddered. At that point he noticed Ivan Gunderson standing in the doorway. The security chief’s eyes flicked down momentarily to a tiny device pinned to his chest, like half of a black pearl. Bing noted the camera, and hoped that the chief had remembered to turn the microphone on this time. He turned back to the scientist: “What do you mean ‘or so’?”
“The creatures are hard to keep track of. They also breed quite a lot. And we can’t be expected to monitor them twenty four hours a day, can we?”
“Well, yes you can. The other enclosures seem to be doing ok to monitor their animals. Why can’t you?”
“Oh, of course we can monitor the animals we have in the enclosure. That bit’s easy. It’s the free range landsharks that we have trouble keeping track of.”
Bing had heard many combinations of words in his life that shook him to his very core. “You’re fired,” “I think I’m pregnant,” and “I want a divorce” were just some examples. But in the context that they lived on a giant spaceship, the words “free range landsharks”, as it turned out, was the most unsettling thing Bing had ever heard. He turned to Gunderson, who was fiddling with the buttons on his tazer trying to see if it could be set to a higher power setting than ‘maximum’. Bing knew he had limited time to finish his questioning before Gunderson decided he’d heard enough.
“So where exactly do your landsharks range?”
“Mainly in the Einstein Recreational Area, but we can’t say for certain. Some come and go. We saw one with a car tyre in its mouth once. Goodness knows where he got that.” He chuckled to himself. Bing felt a little bit of vomit creeping up his throat. The scientist’s chuckle abruptly stopped as the prongs from Ivan Gunderson’s tazer delivered thousands of volts of electricity into his abdomen. 
Bing took that as his cue to exit. He closed the door behind him when he left to let Ivan Gunderson get on with his police work in peace. The scientist he’d left speaking to Alpha was lying handcuffed on the floor. A large red mark on his neck suggested that he’d been pistol whipped by an unidentified assailant. 
It occurred to Bing that under normal circumstances he would be offering to sue the ship’s police force on behalf of the scientists. On this occasion however, he decided that he could live with Chief Gunderson’s actions. Alpha herself was nowhere to be seen.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Intergalactic Law Web Serial Part 4: Investigation


Alpha moved with all the urgency and enthusiasm of a moody teenager. She led Bing through several cement-block service corridors lined with gently humming pipes until they reached some sort of workshop. On the tables were deactivated robots similar in appearance to Alpha in various states of deconstruction.
“That’s the night receptionist,” she said, motioning to a robot on a workbench. Its CCTV camera head was in pieces. “He was left with his personality function turned on for two months without resetting himself. None of us suspected that anything was wrong. He did his reception duty at night, returned to his charging station during the day, then one day he threw himself off the roof. Poor bastard. It’s a serious concern among us robots: our personality functions were designed by humans to emulate your ridiculous and unpredictable system of emotions. Apparently that makes us susceptible to mental illness as well.” Bing stared wide-eyed at the suicide victim on the table. Alpha wiped a non-existent tear from her lens and moved on.
She led Bing through a metal door at the opposite end of the workshop into a room filled with rows of robot charging stations, organised in the same efficient layout as the chairs in reception. Halfway up the middle row she stopped. “This is my charging station. This is where I spend my evenings. On weekends I go into Galileo and buy beauty supplies to ensure that I’m presentable at my work.” She stood silently for a few moments watching Bing. Bing looked from Alpha to the charging station, and then back to Alpha, unsure what the pause was for.
“It’s a very nice charging station,” he said.
“Thank you. Well that concludes the tour, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.”
“Wait, what do you mean that concludes the tour?”
“I’ve showed you all the parts of the facility that I’m aware of.”
“No you haven’t. You passed by dozens of doors that you never took me through. And there’s the five huge outbuildings. I want to see inside those.”
“I’ve never been into those, I don’t know anything about them. Maybe you should get someone else to show you those parts of the facility.”
“No Aplha, I’d like you to show me.”
She sighed audibly. “Fine, let’s go.”
It was clear that she had no idea where she was going. Despite the signposting on walls, Alpha always ended up leading Bing back the charging stations, and seemed genuinely surprised every single time. Bing eventually took her by the arm and followed the signs for ‘Animal Enclosure  A’. Where appropriate he manhandled her in front of security scanners to release door locks. 
The door to Animal Enclosure A was a set of chrome sliding doors. The security scanner above the doors blinked from red to green as Bing encouraged Alpha forward. The doors slid aside and a rush of hot, dry air came over them. 
Inside the great plastic sheeted building was a huge expanse of burning hot red sand; a microcosm of the Serengeti desert. Bing and Alpha stepped onto a viewing platform a few metres above ground level. Over he barrier, just below them, was a great watering hole. Elephants, zebra, warthogs, rhinos, ostriches, and a dozen varieties of antelope-type creatures were drinking around the edges. Crocodiles and hippos basked lazily in the middle of the pond under the glare of the bright heat-lamps on the ceiling. Off to the far right was a great tree with a small pride of very fat lions underneath it. They were paying no attention to the other animals at the watering hole, but instead were sitting - as if trained - and staring intently at a boulder with a metal shutter on it. A red light above the shutter blinked and the lions’ tails began to wag excitedly. The shutter lifted and a slab of dripping meat fell out of it. The lions groaned as they lifted themselves to their feet and began to tear strips off of the meat. Bing noticed a group of, also obese, jackals waiting behind the boulder for their turn to feast. Towards the back of the great greenhouse was a thin forest of giant trees. Bing could just make out some apes frolicking in the shade, and a group of giraffes lazily picked leaves from the upper branches of the trees. Beyond the trees, too far for Bing to make out any detail, was an area with lots of large, flat rocks.
Alpha’s concentration was immediately grasped by a chameleon the size of a fist sitting on the handrail. She crouched next to it and stared at it silently. Also on the viewing platform was a man dressed in khaki shorts and a lab coat carrying a clipboard.
“Excuse me,” said Bing, “I was wondering if I could ask a few questions.”
“Of… course,” said the main, initially chirpy, but then unsure as he turned to look at Bing. “I’m not sure I know you. Dr?”
“It’s Mr. Mr Mulholland. Bing Mulholland. I’m taking a tour of the facility.”
“I wasn’t aware we did tours.”
“We do apparently,” said Alpha, still entranced by the chameleon.
“Oh. Alright then. Ask away.”
“It’s a wonderful facility you have here. How any animals do you have?”
The scientist smiled and his chest swelled with pride. Bing momentarily clenched his eyes shut to stop them from rolling. “We have two hundred and fifty three animals, four hundred and eight birds, and countless insects.”
“Very exact numbers. Do you count them personally?”
“I’m responsible for monitoring the numbers, but the actual counting is done by drones. It’s a bit of a redundant system actually, all the animals are microchipped at birth, but the drones are a double check.”
Bing noticed over the man’s shoulder that the pride of lions had become exhausted from the effort of eating their food, and were snoozing under the tree. The pot-bellied jackals were now having their turn. Bing was beginning to think this had been a waste of time. An octogenarian with a zimmer frame could outrun these fat animals. Unless Dr Dorrit had covered himself in steak sauce and propped himself against the feeding boulder, it was highly unlikely that any of the animals at this facility were the culprits. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but your carnivores don’t seem like great hunters,” said Bing.
The man turned to face them. “Yes, you are correct. The original plan was to have as natural a set up as possible. Unfortunately, while this facility tries to recreate the plains of Africa as closely as possible, we would need the whole area of the ship to make it work. This space is just far too small for the hunter/hunted dynamic to work properly.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
The scientist cleared his throat nervously. “Well, everyone was aware that these large cats and dogs are excellent hunters, but we didn’t anticipate how quickly they would be able to adapt their hunting techniques to these enclosures. Three lions and four jackals herded all the other animals into the far corner of the enclosure. It was awful, it took me weeks to hose the entrails off the walls. Do you have any idea how high a lion can toss a mouthful of entrails? Honestly, it was almost on the ceiling.” The man was becoming quite worked-up.
Bing raised a hand to stop him. “I think I get the picture. So now all the hunters are fed pre-killed food?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that. Technically the lump of flesh that we’re feeding them is a living organism. Something bodged together by the genetics lab. The lions wouldn’t eat anything pre-killed. Although it’s turned out for the best. Strictly speaking the animal created is a giant, living, breathing fillet steak. For a fraction of the cost, it’s just like the real thing.”
Bing didn’t ask how the scientist knew it was ‘just like the real thing’, deciding to urgently pursue a different line of questioning - although he did consider slipping this man his card for any ethics committee hearings that he might have to attend in the future. Bing heard Alpha gasp with wonder as the chameleon caught a large fly with a flick of its sticky tongue.
“So is that the same in all your enclosures? The carnivores are… discouraged from hunting?”
“As far as I know.”
“As far as you know?”
“As I said, there was a change of feeding policy. Any changes of policy must be voted on. There was a small group of scientists within the facility who were dead against it. They said it was unnatural and would make studying the animals’ natural behaviours impossible. It came down to a balance of loss of life and loss of scientific knowledge. As loathed as we were to lose an opportunity for study, the majority of us came down on the side of protecting the animals.”
“So what happened with the dissenting scientists.”
“Oh they kicked up an awful fuss. Eventually we came to a compromise: we allowed them to have Enclosure E to do whatever research they wanted and washed our hands of them. I don’t know what they do in there, and I don’t want to know.”
“Thank you doctor, you’ve been very informative,” said Bing, shaking the scientist’s hand. “Come on Alpha, let’s move this tour along.”

Alpha huffed at having to leave her new chameleon friend. She patted it on the head. “Nice doggie,” she said to it, and followed Bing. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Small Request

Dear Readers,

Many of you have downloaded my books over the years, there are literally dozens of you! However, although I've had good feedback in person, by email, on forums and on Reddit, I don't have many reviews on Amazon and Smashwords.

If anyone has downloaded one of my books and enjoyed it, I would be eternally grateful to you for leaving a brief review of it on whichever site you purchased it from.

Gaining traction as an author is very difficult, and even more so when new readers can't tell if they would enjoy my work or not because there are no reviews from others who have read it. So if you are enjoying what I'm doing: let the world know.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Friday, 3 June 2016

Intergalactic Law Web Serial Part 3: Infiltration

The Alpha Bio Labs main building was made of a grey-blue metal that made it look as congruent to the scenery around it as a swimwear store in the middle of the desert. Flanking the entrance were two of the vast annexes attached to the main block. Each of them was about the size of a soccer stadium. The walls were constructed of the same opaque plastic fabric as the roof. Bing approached it and pressed his ear to the wall, which was pulled so taught that it barely moved under force. If the lawyer listened closely he could hear low snuffling noises and barely audible growls. The fabric sheeting was sealed at the joins and where it met the floor. There was no space for an ant to escape, never mind for a prying eye to see in. Bing headed towards the entrance, leaving Gunderson in the car and told him to wait for a blank text message on his wrist phone. That was the signal for him to make his entrance.
Inside the lobby Bing’s nostrils were met with a hospital-like smell. The cleansers used by the cleaning robots were strong enough to kill any germ, virus, dog, cat, primate or bear that had the misfortune to be on the floor when they started cleaning. The waiting area could be described as ‘functional’ if one was trying to be kind. The chairs were plastic and looked cheap and uncomfortable. They were arranged in perfectly aligned rows to maximise space. There were no artworks, televisions, or magazine racks to be seen as one might expect in the waiting area of a large facility such as this. On the opposite side of the room from the entrance was a plastic reception desk. Behind it was a robot with a CCTV camera for a head and thin, twig-like metal limbs. It was sitting to attention, like a broom standing perfectly balanced on its end.
“Hello, I’d like to speak to a manager,” said Bing. He hadn’t really considered what ‘pretense’ he was going to use to get a meeting with someone who he could interrogate about the attack on Dr Dorrit, but he knew he would think of something.
The robot had made no response. On its chest was a touchpad screen with text and some option buttons:

Welcome to Alpha Bio Labs
My Name is Alpha
Please select your preferred mode of communication:
1. Data entry by way of an external programming device
2. Oral programming language (please select language)
3. Oral conversation (please select language)

Bing sighed audibly and chose option 3, and then chose English, on the basis that he knew nothing of programming, or indeed any other language. The lawyer had come across this type of question when interacting with robots many times before. He couldn’t prove it, but he was highly suspicious that this question was designed to test the intelligence of the person wishing to speak to the robot, and that someone was judging him for having to have a conversation with the machine rather than programming it to give him answers. Another question appeared on the touch screen:

Activate artificial personality and communication-assist mode?
1. Yes
2. No

Another trick question, thought Bing. He chose no.
“Welcome to Alpha Bio Labs. My name is Alpha. Please state your query,” said the robot through a monotone voice synthesiser.
“I want to speak to a manager.”
“Syntax error. Please restate your query in the correct syntax.”
Bing raised an eyebrow at the machine. Its CCTV head was locked onto him. It was very difficult to tell if the robot was being sarcastic or not. He tried again:
“Manager. I wish to speak to one.”
The robot did not respond.
No response. Bing closed his eyes and counted to ten, taking deep breaths as he did so. He opened his eyes, tapped the ‘back’ button on the robot’s chest touchpad, and selected the option for the artificial personality and communication-assist mode.
The robot slouched and began to touch buttons on the desk in front of it. The computer screen and telephone system sprang to life. From a drawer under the desk it retrieved a little bottle of nail varnish. The robot unscrewed the bottle top and began applying the varnish to the top inch of its metal fingers. Its voice had changed from the monotone synthesised voice to that of a young sounding female. She was humming and tune to herself while ignoring Bing and concentrating completely on applying the nail varnish.
“Excuse me,” he said, patience wearing thin, “I’d like to speak to a manager.”
“Which manager?” said the robot without looking at Bing.
“Ideally the managing director of this facility, but I will settle for the operations manager.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Do you know the name of the individual you wish to speak to?”
“Hmmm, I don’t think you’ll be able to speak to anyone today. But leave me your name and number and I’ll get someone to call you.” Without looking away from her freshly painted fingertips, she tossed a clipboard onto the reception in front of Bing. He watched as she held her painted fingers in front of her lens; her voicebox made a noise that sounded as if she was blowing on the nail varnish to dry it, despite the fact that she didn’t have a mouth with which to do so. She inspected the still-wet varnish and repeated the blowing charade. The varnish had begun to run down her finger. She tutted loudly and removed a pack of cotton pads and acetone from the drawer. As she unscrewed the top of the bottle she aimed her lens at Bing.
“Was there anything else?”
Bing was becoming seriously irritated by the robot.
“Listen, I really need to speak to someone. Today. It’s an urgent matter.”
Bing could see Alpha’s lens moving behind the glass. He felt her zooming in close to his face and scrutinizing him.
“Fine,” she said with a sigh, “ your name?”
“Ebbington Mulholland.”
She tapped at her keyboard. “You’re a lawyer?”
“Did you just search for me on the ship’s directory?”
She didn’t answer.
“Yes, I’m a lawyer.”
“Hmm, no, I don’t think that anyone will be able to speak to you today. Good day, sir, and thank you for visiting Alpha Bio Labs.”
“Listen, this is extrem-“
He was cut off by Alpha putting up her index finger to him to shush him while she answered the phone. He noted that her telephone demeanour was infinitely more pleasant than her demeanour dealing with him so far had been. She finished her conversation and noticed that Bing was still standing there. She sighed and stood up, “listen Mr Mulholland. You should leave now. Someone will call you to arrange an appointment. You cannot speak to a manager today.”
Bing was quite taken aback by this. In all his years of being a lawyer, he had never come across a receptionist so efficient. Human or robot. He was actually somewhat jealous that he didn’t have a robot receptionist of his own like this. He did have a robot receptionist but it was a little… odd. That was besides the point. He had come here to find information, and he wanted to find it himself, without Ivan Gunderson coming in with his bull in a china shop routine. He would have vastly preferred to speak to a manager and tease the information out of him, but all was not lost.
“Alright then. I understand the managers are busy, but maybe you can help me: I’d like a tour of this facility.”
Alpha recoiled slightly. “You want what?”
“A tour.”
“We don’t do tours of this facility.” 
“I think you’ll find that you do. Under regulation 432.1.1.2 of the ship’s Scientific Undertakings Code, all scientific undertakings must provide a tour to any person or persons who request them. Of course, there is the provision that you only have to provide one tour per day, but since you didn’t seem to be aware that you even provided tours, I take it that you haven’t provided a tour yet today.”
Alpha tapped her fingers to the bottom of her lens. 
“It just so happens that Ivan Gunderson, the ship’s chief of security, is right outside. He was the one who drove me here. I would hate to have to go out to him and say that I’m being refused a tour in violation of ship regulations.”
Alpha snapped back into her chair and began rapidly tapping at her keyboard. She lifted the phone and pressed ‘0’. Bing heard a series of clicks from whoever was on the other end of the phone, Alpha responded with a string of panicked-sounding whistling noises of different lengths and frequencies. There was a further brief exchange of clicks and whistles. She put the phone down and stood facing Bing.

“Mr Mulholland, would you like to come this way?”