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Scars of Victoria (Cover Art)

Scars of Victoria[]

Chapter 6 - VITAL Operations[]

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Getting Directions[]

Leeward’s Hospital Tower - Victoria, Capellan Confederation - 06/18/3048

Buraddianguru’s hip hop thumped from the speakers within the small, dimly lit gym as Minoru pummeled the heavy bag with controlled ferocity. The lights increased gradually as the clock above read ’06:00’ and his alarm blared from his nearby half-opened bag. Minoru stopped the track, hugged the bag still and began to wipe it down while drinking down the last of his breakfast between breaths.

Ryuun and Dereck walked in as he was putting the last of his things away, “Hitting the gym early today huh Minoru?”
“It’s going to be a long day setting up the lab and I wanted to have time to prepare for my meeting with Doctor Allard.”
“Just saying, you got a lot of energy for someone who walked Kuan-Yin back to her place after the night market. Anything happen?”
“She made it to her room without incident.”
“Nothing else?”

Minoru’s turned red as he paused for a moment, “I’m embarrassed to say that I got lost for ten minutes looking for my room before I had to check the directory. Leeward is a maze. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a shower.”

As he departed Dereck slapped Ryuun’s shoulder, “Give it up, Ryuun.”
Ryuun passed a folded wad of Ryu to his companion, “I had a lot of hope on that one.
One of these days, it’s gonna be different Hatomuchi.”

His unopened luggage almost tripped Minoru as he entered the room. Leeward’s female AI voice welcomed back <{“Minorrue Currita.”}> in a Catarina Patois accent complete with soft trilling rs. An accent he only heard from Aurelia Centrella, the Canopian Ambassatrix to the Draconis Combine, and her people. He removed the black and white tablet computer from its charging dock, “Sidney,”
<{“At your service.”}>
He preferred his name be correct and have some iron in it rather than being purred. “Declaration, It is Min-o-ru Ku-ri-ta, strong stress on both rs and the k.”
<{“Processing…”}> the Apple logo disappeared in a psychedelic rainbow swirl before reforming, somehow the voice sounded sterner as it said, <{“Minoru Kurita.”}>
“Much better, save and update.”

After preparing for the day, he picked up the tablet again, “Sidney, I need directions to vital labs.”
<{“Uploading route to your bracelet.”}>

A ding confirmed that the route was uploaded onto the sleek white bracelet/smartwatch nearby, “Explain, What can I do with this bracelet again that I can’t with my HTE phone?”
<{“Your HTE devices have no service on Victoria. The bracelet is a digital identification, tracking, and communication device; payments can also be processed through it, and it syncs with the earbuds inside and my interface consoles throughout the arcology for a seamless experience.”}>
“So, if I don’t bring it with me, I need physical copies of everything?”
<{“Affirmative. Signal fidelity fluctuates between towers so some important functions may be unavailable if you choose not to use the bracelet.”}>
“Well then let’s give it a try. I’ve never interacted with an AI before.”
<{“I look forward to working with you as well, Minoru Kurita.”

A distinct disinfectant smell of ozone and bleach filled the air of Leeward’s Hospital Tower. It spread broadly among arcology’s western arc allowing sunlight to flood into the hospital’s two domed atriums. The courtyard below Minoru bustled with patients and staff from across the Capellan Confederation sitting amidst dark green leafed trees and pools surrounded by dancing water. Beyond the composite of materials in the dome was a snowcapped Mount Lee with smaller domes poking out from the white, gray, and purple gravel fields that surrounded the settlement.

“I thought this hospital didn’t come with a view.
Sidney, who built these domes?”

<{“Both quarter-dome atriums are gifts of the Magdalean Catholic Church’s Interstellar Sisters of Mercy to the Victoria Institute of Technology’s Leeward Medical Complex.

‘To allow those seeking and receiving medical care access to god’s illumination and blessings.’

You may contribute to their continued upkeep and other charitable causes at Saint Hildegard’s Church, within the hospital tower, located next to the northern dome.

Mass will be celebrated within the Northern Dome at, oh nine hundred, and noon, today,
Sunday, June, Eighteenth, Thirty Forty Eight, Terran Harmonized Time.
All are welcome regardless of religious affiliation.”

Minoru tapped his watch to stop Sidney before checking his location against the real time updated hospital directory located on a nearby glass console, “Thank you for the very in depth information Sidney.”

He turned and headed back into the broad well-lit corridors that formed the arteries of the hospital complex. The hospital staff seemed drawn from the central casting of a Canopian hospital drama although they wore more practical clothing and significantly less makeup. They spoke among themselves in popping Portuguese and to patients or others in Standard, Federation French, Capellan Cantonese, and Tikonovian Russian.

Some of the Portuguese he could guess at but much of it was medical jargon in standard that he would probably pick up on eventually during his tour. “I knew I should have paid more attention to Franklin on our trip to Luthien.” His hand reached inquisitively to his freshly shaven face as he thought of recent events, “On maybe a lot of things.”

Patient monitors chirped as their gurneys and wheelchairs passed Minoru in the hall. Most of the wheelchair bound had suffered lower limb injuries that he knew were mine or combat related. Others had suffered arm, eye, or facial injuries and that was just what he could see. There was no doubt in Minoru’s mind that there were plenty more with brain or nerve Injuries, respiratory damage, or any number of other debilitating effects brought on by decades on brutal conflict and deprivation.

Minoru took an elevator full of exhausted nurses down into the hospital’s lower levels. One of the young female nurses looked at him dressed up in a sedate black Gakuran style suit and her fellow students did the same, “There are no patient rooms downstairs. Are you working in the lab?”

“I will be working in a lab.”
“That’s great. Those guys always take forever to process our samples. They need all the help they can get.
Bem, boa sorte.”

The elevator door opened as the nurses disembarked toward their locker room. Minoru stood there for a moment watching them depart before stepping out onto the textured concrete corridor. He looked down at his arms, pale from to much time in space since Capella. “Do I really look like a lab guy?
Is that a bad thing?
Are there tanning booths in this town?”

Sidney chimed in as his watch was in the proper location to summon her, <{"I have found four tanning services within Leeward. All are in the East Tower, Building Four.
The most popular, Rising Sun Tanning, has five out of five stars, and is on sub-level six.
It has a two for one Summer Special active, until Tuesday, June, Twentieth, Thirty Forty Eight.
‘Share the sun and save your spare change.’
Would you like to book an appointment, Minoru Kurita?”


<{“Yes, Minoru Kurita.”}> “Unless I explicitly summon you, please stay in passive listening mode.”

“Understood, Minoru Kurita, updating personal preferences.”

His watch face dimmed slightly before returning to showing date and time. “Here I thought interacting with an AI would be fun. Although I wonder if…
Nah, she wouldn’t want that…
I guess I could ask. I do like saving money.”'

Two sharp turns brought him to the Vital Laboratory’s intake desk. A young man in loose scrubs sat behind it tapping away at the keyboard as he scanned in vial trays. “Can I help you, Sir?”

“Yes, I was looking for Doctor Riva Allard. I have a meeting with her this morning.”

He stood up and bowed slightly to him, “I’m terribly sorry sir but you are at the wrong laboratory.
You are looking for Victoria Institute of Technology’s Augmentations Laboratory.
This happens a lot because she likes to abbreviate it to V. I. T. A. L. but it is in Building Two and is part of the University, not this Medical Complex.
We have pressed a complaint against her, but she has big money behind her so is allowed to continue hazing her new colleagues with fool’s errands at our expense.”

Minoru returned the bow with a slight head nod and stepped away, “Why do I think that this is going to be a long few months?”

Meeting Doctor Allard and the Out Control Robots[]

Leeward’s Central Circus (in the Latin variation) smelled of fresh baked bread, pastries, and poached eggs as Victorians sat down for Sunday brunch. Minoru looked upon the now bustling street dining scene that was only last night filled with university students, off-duty workers, Midway games, Discos, Clubs, and funky food best consumed alongside copious amounts of alcohol that brought back memories of Masamori’s Neon Arcade.

His stomach rumbled as he passed a food cart entranced by the sizzling dough cooking on its circular hotplate. Written characters on the cart’s side read as ‘Senbai’ (in Japanese Kanji) but it wasn’t a rice cracker. The other writing was, like most signs in Leeward, in Romance languages rather than Standard.

He checked his watch, “Ten minutes extra. Should be enough time, good thing I got started early this morning.
Excuse me sir, what is this?”

The cook didn’t deviate from his task, flipping the dough, then filling it with savory ingredients, and passing the steaming dish to a waiting customer. “Jianbing, like crepe. Which style you want?”
“Whatever he had.”
“Fine choice, Sir.
Super Special Shandong Deluxe! Coming right up.”

With Sidney’s assistance he located Victoria Institute of Technology’s Augmentations Laboratory beneath the University shortly after finishing his breakfast and cleaning up at a nearby washroom. Two armed Leeward City Constables (BCJ) with their distinctive Shako hats (inherited from the New Syrtis Fusiliers that occupied Victoria for almost ten years) barred his way, checked his papers, and confirmed them with the Draconis Combine’s Charge de’affaires of Victoria Ogawa Hideji still aboard the orbiting DPA Hachiman Benkai.

“Prince Minoru, we apologize for any inconvenience. VITAL is a heavily restricted area and we do our due diligence to make sure nothing is amiss. We were told you would arrive in the afternoon.”

“I appreciate your dedication, Constables.”
“Be careful in there, our guns have dropped more out of control robots than intruders.”

‘Out of Control Robots’

Minoru paused for a moment imagining such things, “Thanks for the warning.”

One of the Constables spoke into the intercom, “Buzz him in.”

An electronic buzz sounded as the other Constable opened the door to admit him through. Two more Constables were just inside, one standing and the other sitting behind their desks. “Doctor Allard is in The Pit. There are only two entrances and exits to the lab and one of them is an elevator, so you can’t miss it.”

Peculiar fractal art and glossy symposium posters from its researchers decorated the walls of VITAL. Rooms marked with curious names like ‘Limb Lab,’ ‘Neurological Interface Fabrication,’ and ‘Myomer Implantation Theater’ buzzed past him. Short disk-like cleaning robots vacuumed the path but paused and wheeled away from him like scared rodents into shuttered holes. Minoru crouched to inspect one of the shuttered portals, “Am I scary to these robots?”

A strange staccato of impacts and the sweet smell of caramel heralded his arrival to The Pit. Four people sat on an extended couch watching a pair of tracked, single armed robots furiously battle one another in air hockey. “Come on down Minoru, the popcorn is still hot.”

He stepped down into what appeared to be the lab’s break area, most of the tables and chairs were folded and put away but the espresso machine, electric kettle, and microwave were still readily accessible.

She waved her hand toward her compatriots, “Doctors Anya Smirnova, Lucas Cardosa, Chao-Xiang Zhou, Prince Minoru Kurita has decided to join our Sunday brunch and munch.”

Chao-Xiang, a very tan Capellan, watched the robots fumble with picking up the puck that had fallen onto the floor, “Riva thought you would be late, but I had faith.”

Minoru stood behind the plexiglass wall with the others, “Thank you, Doctor Zhou. I did get lost but got an early start this morning.” They all nodded in understanding. He noticed an alcohol flame burned, and a metal object steamed atop the table nearest their couch. “Is that a percolator? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.”

Anya responded, “No, it’s our cannon kettle, for the popcorn. We use French presses or the espresso machine for coffee and tea, like civilized beings.”

“A cannon kettle?”

Riva chimed in, “You heat it up, steam pressure increases, then the popcorn explodes out into a bag upon opening, like a cannon.
Amazing invention that I never saw until I came to Victoria, it makes great caramel corn.”

She offered him a bowl of the caramel kettle corn, “Want some?”
“I just ate but appreciate your offer, Doctor Allard.
Doctors, why are your robots playing air hockey against one another?”

Lucas spoke now, “I’m testing the robots' dexterity and ability to deal with unexpected losses of an object in a controlled setting. It has a lot of utility in factories, but I was hoping to use it for space applications. My group copies and clears the learned behavior each time so we can adjust Heuristics.”

One of the pushers crashed into the plexiglass screen drawing everyone’s attention as it twirled and settled on the floor. Its robot ‘Azul’ drove back, raised its hand, activated a strobe, and sought out the reflective object with its camera constellation bending in unnatural ways. It picked up the object with its four fingers, “They get a little faster every time, but the fumbles in the beginning are the most entertaining. Dangerous though, hence the plexiglass.”

Minoru watched the robot return to its position and drop the puck before sparring with its twin. He sat down on a nearby chair, “You know what I will give the popcorn a try. I don’t know how to make espresso, but it sounds delicious.
We used a batting cage to evaluate SILVERBACK.”

“Your robot suit?”
“That’s brilliant,” the tempo of the robots increased to a frenzy, “a very inspired choice.”

“I know!
Ryuun and Dereck thought it was a bad idea though!”

Minoru and Riva stood next to a loom-like machine with strands of gray polymer attached to insidious looking apertures. He more closely inspected the wicked looking hooks and felt a chill run down his spine imagining how they might feel. “This is your Myomer Implantation Machine?”
She responded in Japanese,
“Yes, although this one doesn’t work. I am hoping that your Cosby Myomer Engineers might be able to fix it. I lost a lot of my funding and some collaborators from NAIS when the Chancellor cut his latest deal with your father. The Canopians were able to help me source a replacement, but this one is Lostech junk right now.”

“I didn’t know you spoke Japanese.”
“My post-doc was at Kyoto College on New Kyoto, working on medical Myomer research.” She stroked her vacant ring finger. “Came back with a rudimentary understanding of Japanese, my now ex-husband, and two publications in Cybernetics.”

“Knowing you speak my language puts me at ease. I have to say that I wish that I had learned Standard earlier, but my mother was very traditional. Comprehending the signs in Leeward is proving difficult and Sidney is little help.”
“Sidney is helpful if you are looking to buy something or need medical or security assistance, but it’s wanting in other aspects.”
“I noticed. I had to tell it how to pronounce my name.”
“When Apple was installing it most of Leeward’s population were foreign nurses from the Magistracy of Canopus. So that is why it has an accent. I’m afraid they didn’t include a Japanese pronunciation module. Typical Federated Suns.”
“I had wondered why it sounded so odd.”
“You can request it speak plainly, but many people don’t. Robot voices don’t win over many users compared to an exotically accented man or woman would.”

The pair walked through VITAL before stopping at a large suite of empty rooms. “This should give you plenty of space to work on SILVERBACK. I look forward to seeing it in action when it arrives.”
“Thank You, Riva, I hope that my people can help yours as well.”

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