Hey hi, all!
As a reminder, Interviewing Trey returns tomorrow at 9 am EDT, covering the phantom episode from last Friday. Then Lovelace 1/2 as we always expect on Wednesday, and then the next episode of Interviewing Trey on Friday. Got all that? Cool!
But it’s Monday right now, which means Corbett-877.
One thing that’s interesting about writing these is the aspect of serializing novels. Though I pretty much number these as episodes, they’re mostly structured as novels, broken into scenes with certain dramatic necessities taking place in certain ways. This is as much an opportunity for first-drafting as anything else. As a result, we make it to, say, part 5 of Corbett-877 and find ourselves still in Corbett’s Coffee. In one sense, we’re still in ‘Part One’ of the book.
The name of that part? “The Latest Liam Corbett.”
Here ’tis. Have fun!
*** *** *** ***
Purgatory District ZGF11.19
Corbett-877 knew the taste of a good gin and tonic. The tonic water had to blend with the potent juniper, leaving a result that worked well on the tongue where either component might be too strong. Tonic water alone was very distinctive – a badly made gin and tonic would over emphasize the quinine which the gin had originally been intended to mask. On the gin side, a good gin was drinkable on its own, even if few people did. A bad gin was only good for stripping paint.
Fleet spec synthesizers couldn’t make gin or any alcoholic beverage without an unlock code. Civilian synthesizers only would if the requester was if age. The gin either produced was at best serviceable – workable if it was what you had, but soulless. It tasted better than bad gin, but a lot of gin drinkers would still pick the bad gin if they had a choice.
As Corbett drank, he decided that “Jessica’s Premium Gin” was mid or low shelf at best – not terrible, but it would be best described as cheap in life. Still, it was significantly better than synthesized and, when combined with synthesized tonic and ice, made for a drinkable drink. Which honestly was a little shocking in Purgatory. “Where does someone get real gin in a place like this?”
Corbett-Prime half-smiled, drinking his own. “There are two sources – the bottles someone was carrying when they were transmitted, or the gin distilled by people once they got here.” He took another swig. “We’re drinking the latter.”
“To be honest, I’m surprised either exists. I mean, how rare would ‘the bottle being carried’ be in a city of trillions?”
“Not as rare as you’d think, though still pretty rare.” He finished his own drink. “Want a refill?”
“Please.” Corbett finished his own, and handed the glass over.
Prime worked on filling the glasses. “One of the best ways to make money is through salvaging the gear you brought with you. Think about what you’re carrying. A med-kit. Engineer’s tools. A disjunctor pistol. Trackulizers and beacons and all the rest. Those are useful both as finished goods and as fodder for desynthesis.”
“That makes sense. Still, I’d think I’d was to hoard against hard times.”
“Actually, you want to do the opposite.” There was some commotion behind them. Prime looked over his shoulder and Corbett leaned out to watch. Two men, both wearing fleet medical smocks, but that seemed secondary to their badges – where the different Corbetts were wearing brass or silver badges, these men had more elaborate badges with white, blue and red accents. Though he wasn’t close enough to see, Corbett realized these were the men Psych Services had sent along. Prime nodded as he saw them moving the sedated 876 onto a float, being assisted by Corbett-96, then turned back to their conversation. “Remember, your condition ‘resets’ over the course of twenty four hours. That includes the things you were carrying with you when you transmitted. If you sell your medkit and disjunctor to a certified salvage and reseller, then over the course of the next day you’ll have them regenerate, for lack of a better term. There needs to be a ‘transformative effect’ involved, or else the old ones will just disappear, but–”
“Let’s say you give someone your disjunctor pistol. They could wander around with it, shoot a few things, mug a few passers-by who don’t like the thought of being shot with disjunctor pistols very much, and that sort of thing. However, so long as they didn’t drain the power pack too much, the pistol wouldn’t materially change. When the twenty-four hour limit hit, it would simply vanish from their possession and appear in yours. However, if you sold it to a salvage affair and they desynthesized into components, it would no longer exist in its original form. So, after the day passed, it would reappear in your holster, but the desynthed bits wouldn’t vanish. They would have been transformed, instead.” He nodded to where psych services was now floating 876 through the front door. “Similarly, whatever residual analgesics or sedatives in Eight Seventy-Six’s bloodstream are still there tomorrow won’t disappear. Your medkit will just regenerate those compounds between now and then. If someone sells a salvager a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, the salvager will know to certify it, decant it into a ‘certified Bombay Sapphire’ bottle, reseal it, and desynth the original bottle. Then the next day, the lucky original owner–”
“Can sell the exact same bottle again. Gotcha. Can I do the same thing on my own? Decant some of my meds into vials, say?”
“Yeah – but it’s a good idea to decant them in your apartment, then stay away for twelve or thirteen hours – enough time to let your kit start regenerating. Your proximity–”
“Right.” Corbett nodded to the somewhat depleted bottle of Jessica’s. “What about this one? You implied it was made locally – for some value of ‘local’ in a city the size of the North American continent.”
“Same deal, different results. Some of the people who transmitted were carrying seeds or the like. In selling those things, they got materials which could be and grown hydroponically or in a greenhouse. I expect someone had been carrying a juniper bush they got from a nursery. Over time, that turned into cultivated juniper. Add that to an appropriate sugar source like beets or the like, and then column distill it–”
“–and you get London Gin. It seems like a lot of infrastructure.”
“It is, but the materials regenerate every twenty four hours and with this many people here for a full hundred years… well, it didn’t take that long for an economy based around salvage, synthesis and cultivation to arise. And as that happened, so came the infrastructure to support that economy and the ever-growing population. Another?”
“No thanks – I’m switching back to coffee.” Corbett shook his head again. “It’s still so… shocking. It’s… what’s the appropriate way to feel right now?”
“Shock is a good one. Horror. Or good old fashioned grief. You are dead, after all – which in this case translates to…” Corbett-Prime looked earnest. “It’s loss, like anything else. You’ve lost your friends, your family, your home, your ship, your crew… even your sense of purpose. And you’ve been thrust into a new place, and been told that not only is all of that gone, but by the way here’s several hundred people who look and act just like you. It’s like a nightmare, and it lasts a hundred years, and even then….”
“Even then we won’t know what happens next, until it does?”
Corbett’s wristcomm pinged. He lifted it to his mount, pulsing the receptor. “Corbett – go.” He saw Prime arch an eyebrow, and realized he’d likely need to say something else. Eight seventy-seven or something like that. Well, he’d worry about it later.”
“Captain,” the tinny voice of Oliver said. “I realize it hasn’t quite been one and a half decis–”
“Don’t worry about it. Report.”
“Sir, I have been unable to contact Johnson. One of my counterparts was good enough to make some queries to the system – he is apparently well over eighteen thousand kilometers from my location. My counterpart attempted to contact him as well, but was unable to reach him. She has requested his designated shepherd contact her, so we can establish contact.”
“Good. What’s your thought about the… veracity… of what we’ve seen so far.”
Oliver paused before answering. “As I said when last we spoke, my inclination is to believe the evidence I have seen. However, that is not to say it is proven.”
“I know.” Corbett looked over at Prime. “I’m… inclined to believe it as well, at this point.”
“I… understand, sir.”
“I know you do, Oliver.” He looked at Prime again. The younger-seeming man nodded slightly. “If it is true… you understand your term of service is over, and you’re free to establish yourself in this new society as you best see fit.”
“I am aware of that, sir,” she said. “However, it is not proven. As such, I am still under your command.”
Corbett bit his lip. Prime’s lips quirked into a smile. “Same as it ever was,” he murmured.
“And… if I ordered you to establish yourself in this society as you see fit, Lieutenant Commander?”
“I… would be compelled to follow that command. But it would not be my preference, at this time.”
Corbett took a deep breath. “Understood there. All right. We apparently make some of our operating capital through salvaging our gear. You should start to do this, as well as connecting your equipment to the city grid. Once you’ve done this, go ahead and make your way here – unless there is a pressing reason for me to go to you?”
“I am told the economic situation in your district is stronger than this one – it would make more sense to establish our base of operations there, at least to begin with.”
“Agreed. Contact me with an ETA when you have it. Though… hold off until after our successors arrive. That may change the situation.”
“And gather what advice your counterparts can give you. We don’t know this society yet – they do.”
“Yes sir. Thank you. I would never have possibly thought to ask my own simulacrum if she had any thoughts or advice for a new resident.” Nearby, Prime snickered.
“Quite,” Corbett said dryly. “All right. Corbett out.” He pulsed off. “What? It’s my job to cover all the bases.”
“Actually it isn’t. You don’t currently have a job. But I get your meaning.”
“All right – job or not, it’s my responsibility. To Faye if nothing else.”
“That I understand. All right. I’ll grab us another round of coffee. You–”
“Excuse me, Mister Corbett-Prime?”
Corbett turned, and his eyes widened. The speaker wore the undress maroons of a senior officer working a governmental or diplomatic post. In this case, those maroons were accompanied by Vice Admiral’s shoulderboards. Not that Corbett would have needed the prompting in this case. Some men were legends. Vice Admiral Tooj Pao was one of those men. “Admiral on deck!” he shouted, throwing himself to his feet.
There was a pause in the room, followed by a couple of isolated chuckles. Corbett realized quickly enough he was the only one standing, much less standing at attention. As for Vice Admiral Pao himself – well, he had turned to look at Corbett, a slight amount of amusement on his face. Said face looked a bit older than the last time Corbett had seen it, but was still perfectly recognizable. Pao was Hmong. His features were slightly soft looking in his youth, but age and a few wrinkles had added some texture to them. “I… think you can stand down, son,” he said quietly. “And… probably skip the shouting next time.”
“Yes, sir,” Corbett said, standing at ease fluidly. That gave him the opportunity to look at the Vice Admiral’s badge – it was silver, with a blue, white and green border. City services, in other words. Tooj Pao was written across the top, Vice Admiral along the bottom….
And ‘15,693’ was written in the middle.
“Fifteen… thousand?” Corbett said, eyes growing wider.
Pao looked annoyed. “Yes,” he said curtly. He turned to Corbett-Prime, taking a datapad out of a sling pouch. “I have a delivery from the Temple,” he said.
“Thank you,” Prime said, accepting the datapad. He nodded, thumbprinting the form and handing it back. Pao accepted the datapad, and took out a small velvet box, which he handed to Prime.
“You… you’re a courier?” Corbett asked.
Pao glanced over. “Why shouldn’t I be?”
“No – it’s just… you’re Tooj Pao.”
Pao smiled tightly. “It’s not a particularly unique distinction. Didn’t you notice the number on the badge?”
“I – of course I did, but even that seems… well….”
“How does any one man transmit fifteen thousand times?”
“Easily enough. Vice Admiral Tooj Pao makes his home in Phonsavan, Laos. With his rank, he could require transmission directly, but he believes that to be a waste of resources. Instead, he takes the tram from his home to the local Transmission facility, which sends him to the district facility in Beijing. From there, he transmits to the orbital Interfleet facility, where his offices are located. Right there, he’s racking up four transmissions a day, if one factors in his going home. However, much of his work involves transmitting to field offices, or transmitting onto orbiting starships not docked to a facility, or transmitting to one of the other orbiting platforms or habitats. He might have six separate transmissions in a day, not even counting going home. Honestly, it’s rare that he has less than one hundred and twenty transmissions in a month. Give me years of service at Interfleet Headquarters…” he shook his head. “I don’t know why I’m explaining myself to you. This is an honest day’s work – what more would you expect from it?” He looked at Prime. “Good day, sir.”
“Have a good day, Admiral. Any word on the next arrival?”
“Particle counts are consistent with only one more arrival in the next two days. Beyond that–”
“We won’t know until the thanatons clear from today’s arrivals. Understood. Thanks.” He slipped out an old style datacomm, tapping it twice and holding it to Pao.
Pao nodded, holding his wristcomm out. The two comms pinged. “Thank you, sir,” Pao said. He glanced at Corbett, then nodded once more to Prime. “Good day, sir.”
Corbett watched Pao leave. “He’s… a hero. A military genius. He saved the entire Alliance more than once.”
“I know,” Prime said. “And so does he. More to the point, he knows that some other Pao did those things. His entire life may have consisted of the time to walk out of the Beijing receptor chamber and cross over to omnidirectional transmission. How long would that be – thirty seconds? Five minutes? Ten minutes with a delay, meaning he’d have spent most of his actual life annoyed? Or maybe he was lucky enough to divert to a synthesizer for a coffee and croissant first.” Prime shook his head. “Think about it. You’re naturally proud of your past and achievements – but what did you do in those three months you were actually alive? Filed reports? Ship’s routine? Oversaw research?”
“I–” Corbett thought about mentioning the Jlebian attack, but it didn’t seem right. Besides, those lingering doubts about the situation clung to his conscience. If this was still some kind of elaborate trap….
He paused then, having actually parsed Prime’s meaning. “Wait… you’re… you’re saying that the only things I’ve actually done in my time alive was….”
“Was whatever you did from the moment you were born inside that transmission chamber, and the moment you died in another one. That was your life, Corbett. I’m sorry, but everything else was… well, someone else.”
Corbett frowned. “I reject that,” he said. “I mean, I understand the logistics, but I remember doing those things. I had those experiences. You can’t just wave a philosophical wand and take them away from me.”
“I can’t take those memories away from you. Nor would I try. Though I would note – legally you can’t claim those activities as your own, or sell your old log entries or the like. By the same token, your own log entries from the last three months are registered under your copyright. Your successors won’t be able to sell them either.”
“Everything’s about selling here, isn’t it?” Corbett said, more than a little bitterly.
Prime hehed. “Maybe not everything.”
“Yeah, but….” Corbett’s voice trailed off as the door to Corbett’s Coffee opened, and a woman — nineteen, as Corbett Prime was — walked in. She wore the jumpsuit of a midshipman, her brown hair tucked back over her ears and a yellow band in her hair. A bronze badge like Corbett’s and Prime’s declared she was ‘2,’ though she was too far for name and rank.
Not that it could possibly matter. Corbett knew her the moment she stepped through the door. It was like she had stepped straight out of his subconsciousness. He had been in love several times in his life, and been intimate even more. Over time their faces almost blurred — the same as friends from the Academy long since departed to the far points of the universe. But this face he knew — this face he had etched deep inside. His first serious crush — his first love, if you wanted to call it that. He might have forgotten over time, except she had been killed before the end of their first year. From his first love to his first serious encounter with death. To him, she was almost heartbreakingly beautiful.
“Where’s my chai?” she called out as she walked through the door. Real as life.
Corbett-699 grinned. “Coming up, J-2. Want a sandwich?”
“Please. Roast beef on a bagel. I’m off a bloody double shift — we lost three primary lines on the south district grid. God, I feel like my brain’s turned to tapioca!”
“Gail,” Corbett-877 whispered. “Gail Jackson.”