Chapter 43: The Servant Problem
While Robbie telepathically warns Fallataal about using the W word, we
do some more planning. Tom announces his intention of resuming
exploration, with an eye to finding out what happened to him before.
First, though, he wants to repair the pantope some more.
About the food problem: Bring in automated farming machinery? Moranna winces and tells us that this is not "culturally sensitive." Elves and such don't do crops, and they're the majority population. Anyway, complicated machinery tends to break down in Lanthil, so close to Chaos.
Tom asks just how bad the food situation is. Moranna tells him no one is really starving; it's just that so much time has to be spent on food, other projects lag behind.
Would importing a lot of cheap, nourishing rations be any use? (Eww....) Okay, scratch that.
Dafnord asks if farmer-type humans might move in and grow stuff. Turns out that's exactly what the elves out at the First Homely House are trying to forestall.
It looks very much like conventional agriculture is not the answer.
How about seafood? That we have in fair abundance.
Tom suggests food dreamed up in the "nearby" dream world and brought here, but Robbie is suspicious of it. This amuses Moranna, who knows how often people are suspicious of fay foods.
In the end, we decide to go shopping for food plants in the Terraform Reach (3000 years in the the future), starting tomorrow.
Early the next morning, Robbie drops in on Cook, to see what she would like by way of food-supply improvements. Her first answer, half humorous, is a couple of extra boys to tend the kitchen garden.. And it would be nice if someone could "push" some of the fruit trees. And a beekeeper would be handy.
She shows Robbie her garden. It has a huge variety of species in it. Even the flowering ones are edible. And it's very crowded.
Everyone else gets up and has breakfast. Robbie reports his conversation with Cook and Gannar suggests hiring (hiring, mind you, not buying, thank you very much) an android gardener. True, complicated machinery doesn't work well here, but neither Gannar nor Robbie in his earlier incarnation had any trouble, presumably because the machinery was part of people. We agree to this, plus the variety of new plants, then repair to the pantope and gate up to the Terraform Reach.
We open on an apartment belonging to Tom, some time after he last used it, in an orbital city above Impri, the capital planet of the Terraform Empire, the dominant political entity of the Reach. We then check our bank account. It's doing phenomenally well. But then, it is currently in the hands of Morniesul, who is busy becoming the merchant prince who will commision the Tellemataru, the moon-sized ship we used to evacuate the nephilim. If we meddle with it, we could mess him up, since we're out of sequence with him at the moment.
So we turn to Tom's accounts. They look pretty puny compared to someone planning to outfit a dirigible moon, but they are entirely adequate for buying some gardening stuff. We proceed to show by web.
We soon find that even the advanced bio-tech of the Reach offers few plants that are nourishing and fast-growing and require little light. When you have your choice of planets, why try to raise crops on low-light worlds?
In the end, we settle for:
Gannar then scans the web for manumitted android gardeners in search of work. He finds two. Both are puzzled and a bit suspicious of the strange financial arrangements requried. Neither knows beekeeping, and neither likes the idea of a strange working environment (which Gannar himself was actively seeking when he got embroiled with us), but one seems much less hesitant than the other. So we hire him.
His name is Kollan. He is distinctly undistinguished in appearance, though his skin is dyed kakhi and his eyes are solid green (rather than the solid black usual in androids). He wears dun and brown clothes. Clearly, he was designed to blend into the undergrowth and has not gotten around to changing his personal style since he was emancipated.
We take possession of our assorted plants and seeds and gate them and Kollan back to Lanthil. Gannar gives Kollan an orientation tour, though Kollan politely fails to believe the Lightfall falls "out of dreams." He concludes he's working for a very strange secret project. He's given a room near the kitchen garden.
Next morning, it's already clear some of the plants are failing in the dim light of Lanthil.
On the following day, a boy comes running to Tom's quarter, to fetch him to the kitchen garden, where Kollan is ill. The android gardener is sitting on a bench with his head in his hands, twitching. When asked, he complains that he can't "scent" the plants as he ought, referring to a cybernetic enhancement of his sense of smell. Nor can he see in the infrared or ultraviolet as he ought to. He hadn't noticed the twitching until Tom asks about it...
Tom puts out a telepathic call for Gannar, who tries a telemetric contact with Kollan. He doesn't get through conversationally, but he is able to monitor Kollan's cyberwear and finds it is breaking down. Robbie shows up and does cyberclair on him, getting the strong impression of an intrusion, though we suspect is bad effects from nearby Chaos.
We fetch down the field autodoc, only to find it is malfunctioning, too, its panel all over red lights. Tom decides to take both it and Kollan to the pantope.
Once aboard the pantope, the autodoc's lights go from red to amber and it is able to deliver some tranquilizers for Kollan. Kollan's twitching reduces. As we wait, both machines steadily improve as they re-boot and regenerate their software, their hardware now free of random glitching.
We look things over and Robbie is disconcerted to discover that the "intrusion" he detected in Kollan was not Chaos scrambling the cyberwear, but the cyberwear "intruding" on Kollan. He was, um, monitoring the meat, not the metal.
Robbie and Gannar confer telemetrically and conclude that Kollan is not integrated and volitional enough for his, um, force of personality to protect his machinery from Chaos along with the rest of his person.
Tom thinks things over and notices that Kollan started to get better, not when he took the tranquilizers, but as soon as Tom started using the autodoc to get them. Odd. Meanwhile, the pantope is itself derived from Chaos. So we gate to the Munch, in high orbit over Hellene, and have Kollan looked over the the (sentient) Grand Aesclepius autodoc on board. It patches him up and reports that it looks as if he was suffering inflamation, as of rejection, around the cyberwear implants. But it looks as if this is already healing and has been healing for a few days. (It's been minutes. Again, interesting.)
Meanwhile, we have Edvard check out the autodoc. It finds nothing new. The autodoc is cranking through its regen and reboot cycles. We think back and realize we never actually used it in Lanthil before, though we've used it on the pantope while connected to Lanthil.
Tom checks the service log on the field autodoc. Was it doing anything to anyone, even looking at them, when Tom started using it in the pantope? No, but it became functional enough to start reboot and at the same time Tom required tranquilizers of it.
Tom ponders. He then realizes the autodoc and Kollan both began improving when, in the pantope, Tom wanted machinery to work. And the pantope is his place...
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.