Chapter 1 – The Omniverse
The Multiverse was in a particularly bad mood when it first noticed Chuck Marley. It had just snacked on Y77, a small test universe on the fringes of imagination. Y77 was a failed universe and the Multiverse decided to eat it and start again. However, the ingestion of Y77 left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Multiverse. The matter was dark and the cosmic background radiation a little sour.
So it decided to take a break from universe creation for an eon or two. The Multiverse turned its all-seeing eye from the macro to the micro. Usually it left organic affairs to the angels and demiurges, avatars and devas.
But it was bored.
Quickly it scanned the Moo, Sha and Om frequencies to see if there was anything interesting going on.
Nothing much was happening in the Sha universe. There was a modern jazz concert on the event horizon of a black hole, but the Multiverse was sure it had seen something like this before.
In the Moo universe (or Mooniverse) everything was perfect, far too perfect. But in the Omniverse, something was happening, or was going to happen, or had already happened and was going to happen again. Something pitiful, almost funny. A twenty-four-year-old mortal of the human race was having a mid-life crisis. Chuck Marley didn’t like what he was doing.
He watched the flickering screens as bug-eyed students tapped away on consoles. They had consumed too much Green Goat, a liquid stimulant that tasted like medicine and was promoted by high-end athletes. Some students had drunk too much and had not slept for days.
They snored on their keyboards while their screens drew out a series of two or three letters. Some had examinations on the Borsk, an ape-like creature genetically modified for heavy lifting. Hospitality students read about “Strangbrew”, unaware that it was named by a linguist on a pub-crawl of the Ceti system.
In the Great Library of Crete students were everywhere, cross-legged on tables, in aisles, at desks, under desks and about to fall off chairs. The library motto was etched on the back of some chairs: Learning: A Lifelong Pursuit.
Marley’s morale was at an all time low. He’d dropped out of his aeronautical engineering degree three times in a row. He sat with his head in hands, blankly staring at the screen. He preferred coffee and tea to Green Goat, and a Niagra AAA was cooling before him.
He put the coffee in the microwave on the desk and warmed it.
Olan, his step-mother, had insisted he abandon his plans to become a flight engineer. Marley didn’t know if she was joking when she suggested he become a flight attendant. After much protesting she let him enrol in IT Support.
Not long after, she left – one of the first to board a cruise ship touring the Orion Arm. She kept changing her story. First she’d won a premier ticket, then she said she was vlogger, but Marley could find no record of her on TruthTube. Then it became a: ‘special job’.
The screen in front of him flashed an incoming call.
It was Olan. Evidently she wanted an update on his exam preparation.
“Olan, it’s you,” Marley said guardedly.
“My dear, you look well.”
“As good as I can be without you.”
“You are a sweet one. You do mean it don’t you? Have you been brushing three times a day?”
“Three times? I thought it was twice. Where are you now?”
In 3021 there were thirty-eight colonised or inhabited worlds in the Orion Arm. She could be anywhere.
“I’m not sure where I am and where I’m going next. Perhaps that’s how I like it. Hold on a second.” She turned her ear to an unseen speaker. “We’re on our way to Teegarden’s Star.”
“If you’d taken me along it would have saved you the price of a call.”
“I would if I could. But I have special business. You know that. Finish your studies. IT Support Specialists are needed everywhere. You’ll get paid to travel.”
“Is that what you do?”
“We’ll save what I do for later.”
“You say that every time.”
“You need to work things out for yourself.”
“That doesn’t mean keeping me in the dark.”
“I’m a travel writer.”
“I haven’t seen a single article.”
“I write under a pseudonym. And I’m not particularly good. How’s IT Support?”
“There’s more to IT Support than I realised.” Marley had a hard enough time speaking Standard Galactic Standard – learning a programming language was beyond him. But luckily IT Support was not about programming. It was about ‘support’. Anyone could be supportive.
“Are you eating ok?” Olan looked slightly distracted.
“Of course. The physical training is the best part of the course, and I need to eat well for that.” Physical training was important for keeping the body conditioned after long periods hunched at a desk staring at a screen. Support staff could be desk-bound for extremely long periods – up to forty hours. Productivity was increased through drips delivering food and drink. OH&S applications tracked mental activity and alternately ordered micro-sleeps and caffeine injections. This is what happens when you outsource IT Support to Crete 581d.
“I have to go.” Olan was always in a rush. “What’s your next exam?”
“Interspecies Liaison.” IT Support involved plenty of interaction – your customers were not always human. Marley needed to be comfortable around everyone in the Orion Arm and make these aliens comfortable around him.
“Everyone is fine around you. You’re good at defusing situations.”
Marley had no idea what she was talking about, but he nodded. Customers with computer problems were usually agitated. The majority would be human or Baconian, the only two independent technologically advanced species in the Orion Arm.
After first contact, non-technological species were also keen to explore the limited amount of galaxy uncovered. They were also prone to anxiety.
Olan continued hurriedly. “This has been a unique assignment. I can’t tell you much, but the Cretan Government is keen to get a snapshot of the new cruise ship industry. Most passengers are human or Baconian. But I’ve also seen Nunchians, Barnardians and Jovian Jellyfish. A few modders with more gene enhancements just joined us. But some of the robots: I can’t tell whether they’re human with robot enhancements or the other way around.”
“I imagine these robots have algorithms that demand they get their money’s worth – robots as curious as me, but with more discipline.”
“Much more discipline. You’ll never compete with a robot. You have other strengths. Take your studies seriously, Chuck my dear. Discipline is motivation is strength is courage.” Olan blew him a kiss and cut the connection.
Strange woman his step-mother.