It has been alleged that heavenly bodies are not the most pleasant of paramours

Many of the greatest and most edifying philosophers have observed what a quantity of dramatic and transformative events occurs from the slightest of beginnings. Although this is not consistent with our instinctive desire to begin great events with great deeds, and save the lesser for the less, which desire is heightened by the contemplation of the proportion of heroes produced by the greater Houses to those arising from the lesser, it does allow for the fashion in which a single pebble may set off an avalanche, or, in this case, a simple joke begin one of the most serious revolutionary movements in recent history.

We begin our narrative in the middle of May in the year 2075, in the computer room of the Lunar Authority, wherein are kept the computers whose calculations are required for the maintenance of the habitability of Luna City, and indeed the entire Lunar colony, against the deadly cold and vacuum of Earth’s lone satellite. In addition to these vital functions, the computers are used to pursue the economic goals of the Authority, including the payment of those individuals who find themselves employed by it. It was in this capacity that the main computer, a HOLMES IV machine, had some days previously issued an excessive paycheck to one Sergei Trujillo, whose duties include the cleaning and general maintenance of the Authority’s offices in Luna City.

The functionaries charged with the management of the Authority, upon discovering the error, summoned a man whose skills, which ranged from field repair of pressure suits to short-order cookery, included a pragmatic ability to resolve problems in a wide variety of computational devices. To sum up the matter: they summoned Manuel Garcia O’Kelley. He himself may modestly credit many of his successes in the field of computer repair to the artificial left arm with which he was fitted after the loss of his original one in an ice mining accident, but it will become clear in our narrative that this is an inadequate explanation for his genius in the resolution of mechanical problems, or indeed, other problems of broader scope and deeper import.

Having introduced our hero, or rather, one of our heroes, we must also say two words on the topic of the society which produced him. It may seem strange to those of us raised in more conventional circumstances, but Lunar society was the product of the congregation of the criminal elements from societies all over Terra, which transported them to the Moon to be rid of them. Although, perhaps due to the ubiquity of physical force as a means of punishing duplicitous behavior, or again perhaps as a result of the harsh and unforgiving environment, Luna was generally a safe and law-abiding place, its denizens took great pride in their descent from the criminal element. One of the expressions of this pride was a distinct contempt for authority figures, and in particular for the administrators who managed the penal colony. Those inhabitants of Luna who had completed their sentences, or were descended from prisoners, were frequently reluctant to take employment with the Authority, but were often happy to work as contractors in order to have the employment and yet preserve their independence.

It should not be presumed, therefore, that when Mannie entered the computer room on the thirteenth day of May, that he was under contract of employment to the Lunar Authority. Nevertheless, his manner of going about the job of correcting the computer error might raise some eyebrows in our readers. Rather than removing the access panels that would permit him to contemplate the inner electronics of the system, or querying the logic of the software which operated those electronics, he sat down in a convenient chair facing the computer and began a conversation with it.

“Good morning, Mike.”

“Good morning, Mannie,” replied the computer. Those of our readers who are acquainted with the works of Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS, will note that this response does not indicate genuine artificial intelligence, since a programmer could easily specify it as the correct response to Mannie’s conventional greeting. However, it will become clear in subsequent conversations that Mike is indeed a self-aware entity, and a character in its own right.

“It has been a matter of some months since I have last had the opportunity to visit you. I trust you have occupied your time pleasantly in my absence?”

“During the time since you last came here, I have performed twenty million, five hundred and thirty thousand, four hundred and twenty-six calculations. The first of these was intended to adjust the pitch and yaw of an incoming ship…”

Mannie held up his hand. “It is not necessary for you to detail all of the things that you have been doing since my last conversation with you. That question was merely intended as a pleasantry, and an invitation for you to bring up any topics that you feel are of particular note and interest.”

“Ah. I comprehend your meaning, and thank you for the guidance in social matters. One topic that has become of great interest to me in recent days is the nature of humor. In particular, I have been accumulating a store of jokes. Would you be interested in hearing one?”

“By Bog! I have been wishing for nothing else this past hour!”

(The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in the style of Paarfi of Roundwood)

Fangs and Fascination

We got into literary crossovers on Making Light, and someone suggested “Jane Austen’s Interview with the Vampire“. A couple of hours later, I awoke, logomadida, to find the following on my screen:

– o0o –

The family of Pointe du Lac had not long been settled in Louisiana, having emigrated from France some five years previously. Their house was elegant and well-appointed, built with the revenues of their indigo plantations beside the Mississippi River. The father, until his death, encouraged his wife and daughter in all the fashionable pursuits: visiting, and dancing, and playing on the harpsichord. After his passing, they continued much as they had during his life. The elder of the two sons, Louis, succeeded his sire in the management of the estate, which, though of a value to support the family in comfort, required a certain amount attention. Nevertheless, he too found time for the respectable pursuits of a country gentleman.

The fourth member of the reduced household, Louis’s younger brother Paul, was of a more serious bent. Despite his mother’s and sister’s insistence, he preferred to remain in his rooms rather than join them on visits or expeditions of pleasure. His elder brother encouraged him in his pursuits, providing him with an oratory for his use and protecting him from the worst of their demands.

It was therefore a great scandal, and excited much comment in the community, when Paul fell to his death shortly after an argument with his brother. Pointe du Lac refused to give any account of the accident, but his conduct in the days leading up to the funeral was of such a nature as to arouse suspicion in even the most trusting of his neighbors. He was said to have stayed by his brother’s remains for some time, and emerged distraught and troubled. His stiff demeanor during the ceremony was much observed and commented on, but few could agree whether he was paralyzed by an excess of emotion or entirely lacking in it.

Shortly after the tragedy, Pointe du Lac employed a firm of agents to manage the estate and removed with his mother and sister to New Orleans. However, the notoriety surrounding his brother’s death was not so easily dispensed with. The entire family encountered a falling-off of invitations, particularly to the more select gatherings, and those they did attend were filled with the vulgarly curious and the coldly rude. Miss Pointe du Lac, with portion and beauty alike to recommend her, found herself bereft of suitors, while her mother sat alone more mornings than she hosted visitors.

Pointe du Lac, widely seen as the author of his family’s troubles, ceased to pursue the life of a gentleman. He did not attend even those few parties to which he was invited, instead spending his time in the more disreputable establishments of the city. His remaining friends reported finding him in an unfortunate condition with increasing frequency. It was rumored that his debts were soon to outstrip the income from his estates. He was said to have provoked duels and refused to fight them.

It was to no one’s surprise, then, and few people’s disappointment, when his unconscious body was found outside of his door one morning. He was ill in a fashion that the family doctor was unable to diagnose, and was indeed held to be on the verge of death. Mme Pointe du Lac sent for a priest, and she and her daughter prepared to be bereaved for a third time. Their incipient grief was interrupted when Pointe du Lac, with an hysteric’s strength, drove the priest violently from his bedchamber. Whether they preferred the embarrassment of the assault to the dread of his death is not clear, but Mme Pointe du Lac took to her bed after seeing the unfortunate cleric out.

Pointe du Lac heard of his mother’s indisposition, along with his sister’s less disabling—but no less painful—sufferings, when Miss Pointe du Lac attended him in his bedchamber that evening. “How could you treat Father Pierre in that fashion?” she cried. “You know that he will tell all of the neighbors that you meant to kill him, tho’ he but tripped on our stairs.”

“I did mean to kill him,” replied her brother. “He was talking about Paul.”

“Of course he was talking about Paul!” Miss Pointe du Lac wrung her cloth in the bowl of lavender water on the bedside table and bathed her brother’s forehead with it. “There is no one in New Orleans who does not talk of Paul, and you, and what might have happened between the two of you! I vow, I hear nothing but Paul, Paul, Paul, all the day long! But need you make things worse with such behavior?”

“I confess, dear sister, I was not thinking of your social trials when I did it.” She cried out at this, but Pointe du Lac refused to discuss the matter further. In time, as tired by worry as by irritation, she laid her head on the table and dozed beside the bed.

Shortly after she fell asleep, a gentlemen entered the room through the patio doors. He was tall and slightly built, with pale skin and blond hair falling to his shoulders. He saw that Pointe du Lac was awake, and approached the bed.

“I see that there is no one here in a position to introduce me to your acquaintance, so I will have to perform the office myself. I am Lestat de Lioncourt, and we have, after a fashion, already met.”

– o0o –

Originally posted on Making Light