Chapter 1: High Priority News

Sol was a news filter, or sorts.

By this time in human history, Universes had been populated by space-faring dynasties of men.  A constant flow of information was at everyone’s fingertips, but someone had to prioritize it.  Sol came from a long line of news filters; his family was one of the major dynasties in their universal sector.  News filters would analyze all of the incoming messages, feeds and stories and filter their relevance to various ideas, tags and themes.

To say that Sol’s profession was to be a news filter would be principally inaccurate.  He was, in fact, a news filter.  So naturally skilled he was at the profession that he had an almost “sixth sense” about the accuracy and importance of an article from even the briefest scan of it.  The average scan of a thousand word document by a filter was no more than thirty seconds.  Sol’s average was twenty-three seconds.  Seven seconds is time and time is, as they say, money.

The news filters would receive their feeds directly through the neural net.  Over the years humans adapted to the numerous airwaves spread into the air around them.  Some might call it evolution, but no one in Sol’s time would think such thoughts.  No one in Sol’s time could – yes, I said could, not would - even imagine a human mind not being able to intercept the neural net.  It had, after all, been nearly 100,000 years since the first radio waves were broadcast.  Not that they kept track of things like that.

As the news data came to Sol’s attention, he would scan it and pull out the obvious connections.  As a game, he liked to try and pull a few phrases out that a lesser news filter wouldn’t catch.  He had an affinity for stories about authors and always sought to pair social data with musicians.  Sol thought of himself as playing with data like an artist might play with sound.  If he could give the true artists some exposure by tagging a possibly relevant social issue with their name, then so be it.

Because of his family name, their ongoing dynasty, Sol did receive special treatment.  It wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, like we might be today.  For as powerful of name that Sol had, it was an honor to even been seen associated with Sol.  Dynasties and names mean quite a bit more in this time and place than they might to you and me.

Sol was often called upon to help filter and tag the “special” stories.  The kind that don’t always fit into the traditional models of data broadcast.  For example, Sol might help decide whether the discovery of yet another planet was worthwhile news or not.  Or, news from a neighboring sector might occasionally need to be rebroadcast.  Sol would help run the analytics to judge whether or not the members of his sector’s neural net would care about the information or – more, perhaps more practically – if any significant number in the population even would recognize the neighboring sector’s name.

Even these special filtering assignments could be done from the comfort of his workplace.  Sol was so in tuned with the neural net that is took his aide, Claris, actually physically touching him to gain his attention.

“Sol,” she said.

Sol responded to her in his head, asking “What?”  Of course, Claris did not hear him – she wasn’t some kind of mind reader.  The two blankly stared at each other, each respectfully awaiting the other’s reply.

Looking into someone’s eyes was not a typical affair for Sol.  He talked in person with people so seldom that he had forgotten how deep an iris can go.  Claris politely looked into his deep, blue eyes as well.  She quietly wondered how his left one had been shattered so many years ago.  It took Sol several uncomfortable moments before he realized he hadn’t actually spoken.

“I’m sorry, Claris.  You wanted me?”

Claris smiled and bowed her head ever so slightly, “Not I, sir.  You are wanted in the physical services department.”  Sol smiled awkwardly at Claris, and rose to leave.  Sol was quite a bit taller than Claris, and looked down at her from his height.  Having just tapped him on the shoulder to gain his attention, Claris was close to Sol.  Too close, perhaps.

Sol looked down at Claris.  Her hair was red, her eyes the same.  Her skin was fair, with a faint glimmer of silver.  She was fit for her age, and still beautiful.  Her hair was full – she seldom used the neural net.  Sol’s companionship with Maria – his current wife – was nearing the end of its season.  As was tradition, during the final year of a seasonal marriage, the man and wife were to have no physical contact.  Standing up, in front of a non-moving Claris, was the closest he had been to woman in several moons.  But Claris isn’t all that important to our story, just yet.

Sol walked into the physical services department to find it empty.  Perhaps the meeting hadn’t started yet.  On the table in front of him was an odd looking thing that seemed to have some sets of symbols on it.  It was rectangular in shape, and had a height of maybe six inches.  It was rectangular in shape, with the symbols marked in the center.  Had Sol been born some ninety-thousand years ago, he might have known it as an ancient relic called a book.   As it was, the device was decidedly foreign to him.  There was no word for book in his language.

“We’ve been able to decipher only the smallest portion of this object,” came the low voice of Sol’s filtering mentor, Silas from the Name Brin.  Silas was the captain of Sol’s filtering team.  Having worked the filtering role for over three hundred years, Silas had more experience than Sol could imagine.  Sol’s career as a filter would never last that long for his name was too rich to be just a filter.

“You’re going to be working on this project for me,” said Brin.  “You’re going to be working on this in secret.  We will inform your peers that you have been promoted and are working from your homespace.”

“What project?  What is this device?”

“You’re the best we have.  We know this object is important; it is unique.  Someone went to great lengths to get this in our hands and we cannot let anyone know we have it until we know what kind of threat it holds to our society.”

“Threat?  We haven’t had a threat in year.  The first father –“

“This is a threat, and should be treated as such.  We have been able to decipher the meaning of these symbols, Sol.”

“What does they mean?”

“Loosely translated, they mean ‘the Good News’.”

“Good news?  How can that be?  News is just data, Silas.”

“I know.  Why someone would seek to suggest that news is good is beyond foolishness.”

“Could you have deciphered it wrong?  Perhaps is means ‘High Priority News’.”

Silas looked away from Sol, struggling to contain his emotion: “We don’t make mistakes, Sol.  What we have, on this table, in this very room, is no mistake, or joke, or matter to take lightly.  If there is such thing as Good News, then we have it here, in this room, with us.  We must find out what that means.”

“What it means?  How?”

Silas walked slowly to this inanimate object, this device that carried such an ominous message.  Silas turned and watched Sol’s face contort with confusion as he took the top of this device and pull the top open, only to do so again, and again; what we simple people might call turning pages.

“There is a mystery of symbols contained in this device, and we don’t even know what it is.  You are going to help us discover the Good News, Sol of the Name Book.”