Thursday, 1 November 2012

Prologue: Fighting, fixing and f**king

"The problem with you miserable meatsacks is that you are almost completely unsuited to space flight", the gruff woman stopped pacing at the edge of the stage, staring out into the gloomy auditorium. Well that got their attention. She glanced behind her to the rear of the stage where the PR bitch fidgeted nervously in his seat. She smirked, enjoying the tension in the theatre like a Shakespearean villain of old.
Restarting her slightly lopsided pacing she continued, "You waste away when there isn't enough gravity and go a bit, well" another smirk, "mushy when there is too much" someone near the front of the audience squirmed. "You also have a terrible habit of melting when exposed to the delights of solar radiation" more squirming, a barely audible gulp from further back. Her smile widened, twisting the livid red scar that ran up her cheek to the temple.
"But the biggest single problem that you meatsacks present me is that you are some of the most expensive cargo that we haul" she'd halted the pace once again. "That's right, cargo, cos that is what you are as soon as you set foot on one of my luggers" the squirmer at the front continued to look uneasy, just how she liked them, so she addressed him directly: "What's the matter buttercup? Dreams of being the dashing captain of the good ship star-farer? You were gonna explore the galaxy a bit? Maybe bang an alien chick or two?" the kid stared back at her, a confused look on his face somewhere between defiance and tears. Her smiled opened to reveal a set of uneven yellow teeth, more than one missing.

The limp, the scar, the teeth; despite the availability of medical technology that would banish them all, she wore them like a badge of honour, as if to ask is this all the universe can throw at me? 

With no apparent defiance from the squirmer evident, shame, and no tears, bigger shame, she lost interest in him and slowly plodded to the other end of the stage. "You breath too much, so we have to haul you out some oxygen. You drink, shit and piss too much, and so water gets added to the hold. You don't like the hot, the cold, the radiation, so we have to shield the damn luggers. More weight means more fuel needed, more fuel means more weight. More weight fucks the bottom line. You ain't worth it. You know it, I certainly know it. More importantly, the AI knows it. And that's why next to none of you fuckers are gonna end up on my luggers"
"Th...thank you, er, Sergeant, for your, er, evocative description of shipboard life" the PR bitch had stood up, causing the Sergeant's wicked smirk turn into a grimaced sneer. However, while this sneer had halted many a raw recruit in their tracks, the PR bitch pressed on to stand at the lectern in the centre of the stage which the Sergeant had been pacing around. "We at the Lanark-Horishmo Conglomerate take pride in our old fashioned honesty in this age of confusion". If the Sergeant's sneer could have crept any further up the side of her face it would have got tangled in her hair. "And so that is why I wanted you to meet my esteemed colleague today" a nod towards the Sergeant, but eye contact was avoided at all costs. "We understand that as you come to the end of your studies you want to make the right decision when looking at potential employers. And so, why I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to be invited to this fine careers fair, it is important that you understand what working for Lanark-Horishmo really means".
The brat at the front was squirming again, the repeated distraction causing part of the PR man's brain to conjure up an image of him letting the Sergeant beat the crap out of the little cretin. However, outer composure maintained, the PR man continued, "While we are among the largest conglomerates active off world, less than 3% of our workforce are actually out-of-atmosphere. Less than 1% work in positions outside of Earth orbit, and just 0.2% outside lunar orbit. We run some of the most sophisticated AI in the eight nations, meaning that our extra-terrestrial vehicles simply do not require, or would benefit from, human operation". More squirming. "However, that does not mean that we aren't looking for the best talent graduating this year. Our operations, logistics, risk management, legal, research and finance teams are all represented in the main hall and I hope you get chance to stop by and have a chat with them. The Lanark-Horishmo graduate prospectus and application form is available right..." pause "".
The PR man watched as many of the audience's eyes flicked upwards and to the right, opening the incoming mail icon via their iris augments. Most of them immediately lost focus on him standing at the lectern, lips twitching on some as they sub-vocalised commands, others weaving a complex pattern with their fingers as the prospectus was opened and application from probed for grade requirements. Faces dropped. Not in any attempt to command visual interfaces, but in disappointment at the high grade average Lanark-Horishmo required across numerous disciplines.
The PR man smiled. Maybe bringing the Sergeant along hadn't been such a dumb idea after all - make the LH Conglom seem exclusive. Tough but fair. A counter in his peripheral vision ticked upwards; applications were already coming in at an impressive rate. A quick AI script run telling him that they were 17.65% higher than the same point in the presentation last year.

*But what about the 0.2% - where do they apply? Outer lunar operations aren't mentioned in the prospectus*

The question blinked on the screen at the rear of the stage. Audience members were encouraged to ask questions at the start of the presentation, but until now the screen had remained blank. Questions were allowed to be sent anonymously, the PR man familiar with the reluctance for a young audience to participate driven by that age old teenage fear of asking a stupid question in front of hundreds of your peers. Despite this anonymity, the PR man had a more than slight suspicion of where the question came from. He looked straight at the squirmer, but just managed to stop a flash of annoyance from appearing on his face. Instead he ran a hand over his neatly set hair and turned to address the wider audience, the pretence of anonymity maintained.
"There isn't a formal recruitment process for our off-world workforce. We identify them in a separate exercise"
"What my _esteemed colleague_ means..." the Sergeant stomped back towards the centre of the stage, flashing a grin at the PR man as she mimicked his precise phrasing, " that we find them, not the other way round. They are the fucking ultimate; in space your mummy ain't there to clear up your mess". The Sergeant paused, her own eyes flicking down; left hand sweeping left, then down. She sniggered, before turning to look directly at the squirmer. "You see, Kel, that a 54.8 average just ain't gonna cut it off world"
FUCK, the PR man winced, the Sergeant was pushing it now. Quite so blatantly ignoring the anonymity was one thing, but pulling out the kid's confidential records in front of 117 people was overstepping the line. Any iris footage of the kid crying was going to play real bad with the exec AI. 
"What the Sergeant is saying..." the PR man interjected before the Sergeant could make things any worse " that we target certain very high achievers for the extra-terrestrial work, those with a particular set of characteristics that make them able to make critical decisions in a high pressure environment"
"I can work under pressure" the squirmer had stood up, this time speaking his question aloud. For a split second the PR man thought the kid was going to take a swing at the Sergeant who loomed over him at the edge of the stage. However, the Sergeant's relaxed body stance implied that she ranked that particular threat as low. In fact the Sergeant had a broad smile. She actually enjoyed the presentation turning to shit. The PR man cursed himself for bringing her along, rapidly trying to formulate a path out of this latest interruption.
"Staying out ten minutes after curfew ain't working under pressure kid"
DOUBLE FUCK, now the Sergeant was hacked into the kid's constabulary record. The PR man briefly considered just making a run for it.
"Thing is kid, to show the AI that it makes plain old economic sense to blast your expensive ass off world, you gotta prove that you can do stuff that they can't" the Sergeant paused, the PR man cleared his throat, but the glance he received from the Sergeant choked off any half formed interruption. The Sergeant turned back to the squirmer, who remained stood up, but the defiance was rapidly draining from his pudgy face. "There ain't much the AI can't do, that is kinda the point of it after all. However, if you're the best of the best in one of a few disciplines, then you gotta a shot"
The PR man relaxed a fraction. It didn't look as if a fight was going to break out. It actually kind of looked like the Sergeant was taking pity on squirmer, er, Kel. That might even play well, the PR man mused, the big gruff Sergeant taking a low achiever under her wing. The PR man started to put some of his own iris footage together. That, combined with footage from the discrete monitoring drone that fluttered around the ceiling of the auditorium, would make a neat basis for a short recruitment e-blast. The PR man smiled.
"What disciplines?" Kel remained stood up. Someone behind him groaned, the PR man could sympathise,  was this kid never going quit it with the stupid questions?
"Let me break it down for you kiddo" the Sergeant seemed happy enough to humour another question "there are how I like to categorise three areas in which the good old human noggin'" she tapped her head "can out perform AI in certain circumstances" she paused, enjoying the enrapt concentration of the audience for a moment. She raised one hand out in front of her, then used the other to count on her fingers "Fightin', fixin' and fuckin'"
Eyes widened in the audience, not least Kel's, the Sergeant's broad smile evidence of her continued enjoyment of shocking an audience. "Problem is Kel, your grade point average is way too low on the first two aspects" eyes flicked down, left hand dancing, another data retrieval "And that, frankly pathetic, dalliance with your tutor's daughter last week doesn't bode well for the third either"
The auditorium burst into laughter, Kel reddened, then took off for the fire exit. Meanwhile the PR man's link back to central systems blinked on. A mid-tier AI monitoring protocol was querying why subnet access at the college to searches for LH Conglom tagged to error definition 2453b, "unbefitting use of language on company time", were up 1,583% in the last 20 seconds. The Sergeant interrupted his blooming panic with a smack on the back.
"Well that was more fun than I expected when you pixel pushing fuckweasels dragged me down from operations" she said, grinning, "same time next year?"

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