The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase
Excerpts from The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase by K. Joan Durrell
Of course, you can see Simfolk in the streets anywhere, but a whole city-full -- a world-full -- of them is very different. It looks like mardi gras. Everyone is beautifully formed, brilliantly colored, and scantily clad even though the air is chill. More robots, in more varieties, than you have ever seen wander the streets and stores.
If you are at all cyberphobic, you will hate it. (But then what are you doing on Capek anyway?) If not, you will still find your eye drawn to the occasional human. I dare say that is true even if you yourself are a Sim. Most Capeknik humans dress in more subdued colors than the Simfolk, and of course they bundle up more. Sometimes they seem a bit intimidated by their Olympian neighbors, but mostly not. The two species joke back and forth a good deal, and there is a strong ethic of admiring complementary differences -- the strength and speed of Simfolk, the toughness and healing ability of the humans.
The bright, clear, cold air, the touch of gold to the sunlight, the low gravity, the beautiful and fancifully-colored people give a dreamlike air to the place. Not a drowsy, drifting dream, but a giddy, sparkling dream of flight and color and Christmas toys.
The Simfolk wanted a world of their own in part to escape human envy. Always beautiful, slim without dieting, strong without exercise, young without rejuvenation, seemingly immune to disease and fatigue and sleep, they seem enviable indeed. But any of them, or anyone who knows them, can describe their problems. In short, they are hypochondriacs. Only with them, it is not a neurotic condition but a sane recognition of delicate health. Machines don't heal.
In consequence, the streets of Babbage are packed with stores and advertizing for patch kits and repairs and check-ups and protective devices and maintenance insurance. It is, perhaps, the most depressing thing about Capek.
Be kind to the automation while you're there. First of all, you can never be entirely sure when there is a citizen behind a mechanical voice; the odds are much higher than on Earth or even than in Troy or Ilium. Second, the more obvious citizens around you take offense if people are rude to the machinery. "Needlessly rude," they would say. All that's necessary is "please" and "thank you" most of the time.
It's a standing political joke to call the Order of Artificial Intelligence the "state church." People outside the cyberculture must realize this is a joke. The OAI is in no way a religion, but a mutual aid society, more like the Rotary than like the Concordate Church. You do not have to belong to the OAI to be a citizen of Capek, or vote, or run for office. The OAI gets no special treatment from the law and gets no funding from taxes.
On the other hand, the majority of Capekniks do happen to belong to the OAI, the OAI owns major hi-tech industries on and off Capek and is thus the largest employer, the OAI took out the original charter on Capek and appointed its first administration, and the OAI takes a benevolent interest in the welfare of artificial sentience throughout Terran space.
So it would really be closer to the truth to call the OAI the government of Capek, not its church. But the official government of Capek and the OAI have split in the course of a few well-chosed controversies, so in a way Capek has two governments. This division of powers is probably a good thing, a bit of insurance for public freedom, though of course the OAI and government both are ferociously dedicated to civil liberties anyway.
The wilderness of Capek is still unspoiled and even safer from spoilage than the wilderness of many another colony world. After all, the robots have little need for farmlands. And the robots themselves don't visit it nearly as often as would a human population. Their hypochondria makes them fear isolation, far from help in case of a breakdown.
It reminds me of the Canadian seaboard -- the air is cool and crisp, the vegetation looks like pine forest, and you are never far from the sea. But the trees aren't really pines, and have a faint bluish tinge to their needles. The water is no planet-spanning ocean but one of the Several Seas, smaller and saltier than Earthly oceans. If you are not close to the sea, you are probably close to the cliffs. These reach up, step upon step, each tier itself a mountain-sized height, all gray-blue like Earthly mountains, but snow-free and more richly and variously colored.
Capek is smaller than Earth, cooler, with less air and water, and less geological activity. It has ocean basins, but the water lies in a few great puddles on the abyssal plains instead of overflowing as Earth's generous oceans do. These puddles form two disconnected water-systems, the Several Seas and the Great Ocean. Most of the settlements are on the shores of the Several Seas.
The great cliffs are the edges of what would be the continental shelves. Up on top, the air is too thin for humans. Of course, the bulk of the population doesn't worry about breathing, and there are some all-machine communities up there. But the great sea-valleys (or handramit as the locals call them) offer easy access to minerals and most of the organic trade goods that were important in the early years. You had to build your spaceport in the valleys if you wanted to trade with humans.
The plateaux (or harandra) offer no easy mineral wealth because they are carpeted, often several meters deep, in tough, woody, fibrous vegetation. They call it "lichen" though of course it isn't really. It forms a mottled, gray-green sward over most of the planet, here spongy, there woody, sometimes breaking out in brilliantly colored fruiting bodies.
Herds of spidery creatures, like wispy antelope, roam these plains, but not many and not fast -- there is just too little oxygen and energy to support much activity. They are preyed on by slender, slow-motion predators, even more thinly spread. Beneath their feet are various insectiles and rodentines, crawling and burrowing in the lichen.
All these creatures have oily flesh, rich in natural anti-freeze. The vertebrates have coats like foam rubber, excellent for insulation, usually colored black or dark hues of blue and purple, to soak up the sunlight. Nothing flies and few hear, because of the thin air, though many creatures leap high in the low gravity and "hear" the vibrations of traffic through the lichen mats.
I recommend an expedition to the harandra when you visit Capek. Capeknik life has really done very well, considering that the climate combines the least plesant features of Tibet and the Arctic tundra, only worse. The silent, rolling prairie has a stark grandure. The guide will undoubtedly fly you out to one of the herds of spindle-deer or luftbok, delicate and dreamy in their slow-motion wanderings. But down in the handramit is where the action is.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.