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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 127: Hastings 224
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Beam 105
Once Tommy was in the bath, it occurred to Lauren that she needed to do a bit of working out herself. She decided she could start on the backs of the benches out in the common area, and if the food arrived it would have to pass through there to reach the apartment so she should notice it--hopefully, anyway. After some of that, she would do her martial arts practice on the mattresses that were still in the living room, if she had time. She wasn’t sure about falling practice--she had learned to land reasonably safely on soft ground from a twenty foot fall, but that wasn’t really available here. On the other hand, she could practice her flips and rolls and kicks and such, and some of the kau sin ke techniques.
As it was she was still on the balance training when the food arrived, and she followed it into the apartment and unloaded it onto the table. Tommy was still in the bath, but there was no hurry. The laundry detergent came on a separate cart a few minutes later, and Lauren was going to set it on the washer but decided that she might forget it was there, so she put it on the kitchen table with dinner.
Dismissing the delivery robot, she went and knocked on the bathroom door.
“Dinner’s here,” she said. “I’m going to get started; take your time, but don’t complain to me if it’s cold when you get to it.”
Lauren had barely said grace and taken her first bite when Tommy scurried to the table, dressed in a robe with her long hair wrapped in a towel turban-like on her head.
“You must be hungry,” Lauren suggested.
Tommy seemed to reflect on the statement a moment, then said, “Yes, I think I am.” Then she started in on the pot roast. “This is not something you usually see on diner menus,” she said. “Cooked in gravy with vegetables like you would get it at home.”
“Yes, another oddity of this world, everything seems to be available if you know how to ask.” Lauren took another bite, and swallowed before continuing. “It makes me wonder where everybody is.”
“You, too?” Tommy responded. “I was just earlier wondering whether the computer had decided that it would be more efficient to manage fewer people--but if so, why didn’t it decide that it would be more efficient to shut down all those supply locations? If it knows there aren’t people living here, it should know that it doesn’t need to be able to deliver food and stuff.”
“Good point,” Lauren said. “So either it isn’t managing the human population, or it’s not smart enough to recognize the oversupply problem.”
They both ate for a minute before Tommy asked, “So, what’s your theory?”
Lauren shrugged. What was her theory?
“Best bet is complicated. The computer builds the facilities trying to anticipate population growth. Growth of a population that has no predators and freely available food and space should increase exponentially, and the computer should know that and work to stay ahead of the growth curve. Somehow, though, the population hasn’t kept pace with the expansion.
“Now, that might be simply because the computer knows that eventually the population growth will outpace its ability to build new space, so it is intentionally building and stocking areas that aren’t yet needed. The alternative is that population is not growing as fast as predicted. Still, it seems odd that we have encountered only one person in--how many days of travel?”
“I haven’t been counting,” Tommy said. “I just know that I’m tired of walking.”
Lauren nodded in agreement. “Of course, he mentioned having encountered others, so we know there are more than one--and of course he threatened us with a gun, so there are others who might not be friendly and others who are, from what he said. So there are people, but they aren’t filling the living spaces, and in fact they are so far short of filling the living spaces that we keep finding available living space and we don’t find people.”
Again they ate in silence for a minute, and again Tommy broke it.
“I wondered if they were killing each other,” she said. “You know, tribal wars or something. I just can’t think of what they’d be fighting over.”
“Right. Food is readily available, unless you don’t know how to get it. There is ample space for people to live. We only found one ice cream place so far, but we weren’t looking for it, and it didn’t appear as if anyone had laid claim to it. I can’t imagine what might be here that would be worth fighting over.”
“That might be the thing. When we order food, we tell the computer. Obviously there are stocks of food somewhere, and the computer inventories them and arranges delivery. But if you didn’t know how to use the computer, and you found stocks of food, that would be something you might want to defend, or conversely take from someone else who was defending it.”
“You might be onto something there,” Lauren agreed. “Still, the people would have to be rather primitive not to figure out that robots take the food away and robots replenish it.”
“Robots would only replenish it if the computer knew it was taken, and the computer wouldn’t know if you raided the supply and didn’t go through the checkout process. A tribe of people could clean out a grocery store in a week, and then move on looking for another food source; the computer might take quite a while to discover that the inventory at the store was wrong.”
Chewing her meat, Lauren nodded in confirmation. It made sense; it was the best explanation they had so far.
“That would mean, though,” she said, “that out there there are tribes of people looking for food sources who don’t know how to get food from the computer. If we encountered them, they could be dangerous.”
“Well,” Tommy said, “let’s hope we don’t.”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #403: Versers Innovating. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: