Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Exchange mechanism

[A science fiction story]


My office pod was in darkness, lit only by the vidscreen on the wall. I was arguing dejectedly with my boyfriend.

"I'm sorry, Cal: I won't be able to meet up tonight."

He frowned. "Oh come on, Lori, you can't work all the time, and I won't be planetside again for a week."

I explained that I had a research paper to finish, to be sent to Earth in the next transmission window. Eventually he gave in, sulkily blanking the screen.

I had got used to the prevarications of a a series of boyfriends who would drag out our vidchats interminably on the offchance of catching a glimpse of my roommate Kristin walking around in the background. Although I'd tell them at the earliest opportunity that they were wasting their time (Kristin was 100% lezz), that didn't stop them looking. And although I'm not lezz at all, I can see that she ticks all the right boxes for them. Unlike me. So it made me mad, having to compete for attention with someone who wasn't even interested.

I closed down the vidscreen and brought up my text on the viewplate. I was stuck. "The economics of choice" was my topic. I was trying to develop a macroeconomic model of rational consumer choice which allowed for the fact that individuals in the population made decisions on exchange value and price based on partial information about the overall market. If I could resolve it, it would be a major advance in the field, but the mathematics was proving intractable.

Kristin walked in a few minutes later; too late for Cal! I wondered sometimes if she did it on purpose, to cause trouble in my relationships, but why would she do that?

"How's it going?" she asked, "Still stuck?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid so."

"You know who could help? Professor Sandra Bloch - she's a genius. I've seen her at parties; she's even hit on me a few times. No chance; she's too old and ugly for me."

She wrinkled her nose in distaste. Tolerance wasn't Kristin's strongpoint.

"But whatever she looks like, her mind's a whiz- the most-published author in the whole uni, maybe the whole planet. She's co-written papers on everything from architecture to zoology; her main subject's psychology and neurology, though."


A little later, I had successfully navigated the virtual directory to locate Bloch's contact details. When she appeared on the vidscreen she seemed unsurprised but unenthusiastic at being called up by a mere research student; she looked me up and down before lapsing into disinterest. Only the mention of Kristin's name stayed her hand as she reached for the off button.

"How can I help?" she demanded.

I breathlessly explained the basics of my research and the difficulty I had encountered. She considered briefly, then nodded.

"You've probably not heard of my work with thought transfer? I have developed a sort of hypnosis which opens the subject's mind, and allows me to telepathically explore it. Often I can see solutions that the subject already has stored, deep in their subconcious, to which they have no access. I can raise them into the rational realm in a form ready to be communicated to the world. You see, great ideas are, in general, simple: most complexity is sheer noise. So you see, I can try this with you now, if you wish- engender the trance state and resolve the problem."

I had no wish to be hurried into volunteering, and stalled. "Are there any side effects?"

She waved her hand. "None at all, nothing. A temporary period of amnesia following the trance."

I nodded my consent, and followed her instructions, sitting in front of the vidscreen; my breathing slowed as I fell into a trance and then complete unconciousness.


I awoke with lifted spirits; I lay in bed, opening my eyes to see the pod ceiling. A rush of nested formulae ran through my mind, their interlinking creating the solution I had sought. The text of the paper arranged itself neatly in my head. Of course, I'd credit Sandra as joint author. It seemed the least I could do.

I licked my lips; they seemed puffy and slightly bruised. I felt a weight on my shoulder shift. I looked across to see Kristin's body next to mine, skin to skin. She yawned contentedly, then stretched to bring her face close to my ear.

"Wow," she whispered.

I lay completely still, working things out.

Sandra must have ...
Kristin must have ...
I must have ...

So everyone had got what they wanted.

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