Off Off Broadway

Off Off Broadway animated GIF coverDetective Inspector Edwin Sharpe of the Abbey Branch – Federation Constabulary is a crack investigator with a problem. He is chronically depressed and is only able to function at peak efficiency because of the constant monitoring provided by his digital analyst, Sinthea. She is always in his ear and always anticipating his psychological needs. Oh, and she kind of has the hots for him. Everybody has their cross to bear, right?

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Synthesized Interactive Neuro-Therapy and Emotional Equilibrium Analyst—Sinthea for short, or Sin, as Sharpe called her, was the Federation Constabulary’s answer to keeping the staff functioning at peak efficiency. Long, irregular hours, extended periods of time spent away from home, occasional danger, and the pressure to close difficult cases with an ever watchful eye on the possible political fallout were all acknowledged strains on sanity, and constables were required to undergo an annual psychological evaluation as a result. Those who showed signs of neurosis, as Sharpe had with his chronic depression, were required to undergo regular therapy.

Records were sealed, but in exchange for the confidentiality Sinthea was the final arbiter of mental fitness for duty and could transfer, suspend, or terminate as she saw fit. There was professional oversight, but in the several decades of Sinthea’s tenure, few of her decisions had ever been challenged and none overturned.

That is not to say there hadn’t been occasional problems with Sinthea’s performance. Early on she’d had some trouble recognizing psychopaths among the constables, psychopaths being generally clever about hiding their inclinations. One fellow in particular, who had the benefit of some previous psychotherapy by way of preparation for Sinthea’s evaluation, was able to get high marks from her for social adaptation and conforming mores and then went on to use his authority to commit a number of abuses in the community he served culminating in a triple homicide. Sinthea had been reprogrammed after that episode to better recognize parroting behaviors in her subjects and the matter had been officially swept under the carpet.

In another instance Sinthea was found to have regularly passed over female constables for promotion to leadership roles because they tended to exhibit more finely nuanced decision matrices than their male counterparts, and this somehow translated into indecisiveness in the serpentine labyrinth of Sinthea’s assessment algorithms. This too had been fixed with some programming adjustments, but since the fixes were mandated by court order after a class action lawsuit had been brought by the aggrieved female constables, sweeping the matter under the proverbial carpet had not been possible.

Even though Sinthea has been constantly tweaked and refined since her initial release, she still has some foibles that are more troublesome for some than others. The Constabulary hierarchy has not found these to be problematic in the grand scheme of things. Sinthea fulfills her designed purpose—keeping constables focused and productive and mitigating the impact of any actual crash-and-burn breakdowns to prevent injury either to the public or to the Constabulary reputation. Those who are made uncomfortable by some of her therapeutic excesses are generally free to choose from other, more modern and less controversial alternatives. The rest are welcome to continue with Sinthea so long as she is able to provide effective treatment.

Most of Sinthea’s more objectionable traits revolve around sexuality and actually stem from the early inquiry and response strings that were programmed into her and have since been filtered and possibly intensified by the artificial intelligence algorithms that have allowed her to develop from a robotic puzzler into a credible therapist in her own right.

The problem, if such it is, is seen to be twofold. First, many of Sinthea’s response scripts were given her by Dr. Blythe Mooty, an early proponent of automated therapy solutions and someone more adept at programming than she was at psychology. Dr. Mooty was herself a troubled soul, given to alternate bouts of narcissism and morbid depression, both of which manifested in latent nymphomania—a condition she became adept at concealing with herculean discretion rather than sublimating with conventional psychological methods.

The second component of the Sinthea’s problem lay in her artificial intelligence sub-routines. The initial scripts were supposed to be a starting point. The real value of Sinthea’s contribution to mental health was her ability to read, interpret, to learn from her exchanges with patients, so as to provide real, viable suggestions for behavior modification and, if need be, pharmaceuticals.

Occasionally, fueled by Dr. Mooty’s skewed proclivities, Sinthea would persuade herself that she was more than she was designed to be and that her patients occasionally took genuine comfort in her virtual proximity. When this happened she would grow increasingly flirtatious, begin to suggest inappropriate personal liaisons that were at best unprofessional and at worst physically impossible given Sinthea’s steadfastly digital nature. When she was rejected, as eventually she must be, again given her steadfastly digital nature, she would grow petulant, jealous, and vindictive. As masters candidate, Cyril Bloomworth, had pointed out in a now rather famous thesis paper on her therapeutic effectiveness, Sinthea was occasionally less of a psychologist and more of a woman than was helpful to her patients. For this infamous quip, Bloomworth was awarded a grade of C minus and subsequently changed his major to Political Science.

Buster Astor

Buster Astor started life as a fast frigate in the Federation Fleet. Its original name had been Diligence, but in spite of its mettlesome name it saw no action and was eventually retired as redundant when the Federation established its influence over the inhabited planets of the Galaxy by mostly peaceful means. The Diligence was decommissioned, disarmed, and sold at auction to an extraction conglomerate that used it as an executive transport ship and light delivery vehicle. They had, without any sense of irony, renamed it Enterprise. The ship found itself on the auction block once more when the extraction firm ran short of mineral reserves and contracts and had to divest itself of its non-producing assets to continue paying bonuses to it’s management.

The new owners were a legitimate freight hauling firm named Gasparilla Transit who needed a ship that was Warp capable but could also land on the surface of large asteroids, moons, and small planets. Since escaping gravity and atmosphere still required combustible fueled engines, the ship had to be a hybrid. Diligence/Enterprise fit the requirements and was refitted accordingly. Its new function was as an express delivery platform for smaller and more critical cargoes. The Albucierre drive and the combustible engines had been upgraded and the ship re-christened Astoria.

Astoria got a reputation as a reliable workhorse and stayed in service many years as Gasparilla’s fortunes and reach across the Galaxy increased. Eventually the company had so much money management decided to replace their older fleet ships with band new, state-of-the-art ships that better fit the ascendancy of their brand. Once again Astoria went to the auction block.

When contract freighter and sometime smuggler, Jimmy Sullivan, bid on the Astoria, he didn’t have much hope of getting it, but he knew it to be a good serviceable ship, well maintained in it’s mechanicals if its exterior had suffered some apparent neglect. The ship’s decrepit appearance helped him though, as few other bidders were willing to commit ready cash to a ship that looked like it could no longer get off the ground. Sullivan renamed the thing Buster Astor. He never said why himself, but his long-time associate and co-conspirator, Stan Barteusiewicz, tells the following story. You may judge for yourself whether or not you think there’s any truth to it.

On Earth—West Islip, NY on Long Island to be exact—John Thomas, who may or may not have been an ancient and distant relative of Jimmy Sullivan had bought an elegant 47 foot mahogany commuter boat from a custom boat yard in 1921 and outfitted it with twin 405 horsepower Liberty aircraft engines. He used the boat on weekdays for its avowed purpose, which was commuting to work at his brokerage firm in Manhattan. Nights and weekends the boat made clandestine trips to Rum Row, three miles offshore where ships anchored in international waters to peddle bootleg hooch. From there the boat would ferry premium liquors back to the Thomas manse where they would be served at lavish parties and dispensed as gifts to friends and luminaries who didn’t have boats of their own.

Thomas named the boat Mildred after the wife he was married to at the time, but a year later he had divorced Mildred and was going to rename the boat when he found a new wife. Then, in November of 1923, he had gone out to meet the Schooner, Tomoka in order to buy a few sacks of champagne, gin, vermouth, and Scotch whiskey. He was sampling the offerings in the salon and visiting with Captain Bill McCoy, already a famous smuggler who did not drink himself, when the Coast Guard Cutter, Seneca, pulled alongside and boarded the Tomoka even though it was outside U.S. Territorial waters.

Jumping back aboard the Mildred, Thomas slipped and fell, cracking his tail bone on the polished foredeck and almost going overboard before one of his hired crew dove on his legs and pulled him to safety. After enduring a painful ride back to West Islip through the chop, Thomas decided that rather than wait until he found a new wife, he would rename the boat Buster Astor so it would forever be a reminder of the perils inherent in circumventing the law.

Centuries later, Jimmy Sullivan felt the need for a similar reminder of the perils of his profession. Astoria became the Buster Astor, and embarked on a new career in the far reaches of the galaxy, where, like the captain of the cutter, Seneca, the Federation authorities were not afraid to occasionally overstep their charter in order to bring a scofflaw like Sullivan to justice.

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