In the Service of the Shogarth
a short story
1. When you first begin to work for the Shogarth you may think you
understand the situation that confronts you, but you don't. You must
learn to adapt more quickly than you are used to. The Shogarth expect
this of you.
Three weeks into his employment
the service of the Shogarth, the portal near Rhys Price's work-station
squelched open, disgorging a member of his employer species and Mr Gorsky,
the Terran Liaison Officer.
'You must drink this,' Mr Gorsky said, handing Price a metal container
with a thick liquid churning within it.
Price looked at the Shogarth that had accompanied Mr Gorsky to his
work station, but got nothing from its flat unblinking face. Its eyes
were so small, so tiny and dull that Price found it hard to believe
that there was any intelligent life behind them. The Shogarth shifted
its bulky pear shaped body from side to side -- its very pink skin was
covered only in what appeared to the casual human eye to be a tight-fitting
one piece bathing suit. It seemed that it was embarrassed to be in the
presence of humans.
'I don't understand,' Price said, looking at the liquid in the container
and beginning to feel nauseous.
'You are being disciplined,' Mr Gorsky said.
Price looked at Mr Gorsky and thought he was one of those people who
looked as if they had always been old. In some people you could usually
see traces of their youth and in others even imagine what they had been
like as young children. Not Mr Gorsky. He was the sort of person Price
had spent his life trying to avoid.
'It would be helpful if you could explain what it is that I've done,'
Price said, casting a glance in the direction of his co-workers. There
were forty or fifty of them spread out along the length of the narrow
floor that was their workplace. All of them had their heads buried in
their booths, coding away on their touch sensor interfaces. They did
not want to acknowledge what was happening. Price realised that he was
totally on his own.
'Drink it,' Mr Gorsky replied. 'It is not as bad as it seems. It will
please the Shogarth, make amends for whatever you might have done, whatever
they think you have done. You must learn not to question the
Shogarth culture but adapt to it. Drink this and we can all get back
to work earning those vast amounts of money they pay us.'
Price looked at one of the vindows that were strategically placed
around the workplace pretending they revealed the outside world. They
may have been portal-cams, but Price suspected that they were VR generated
by the Shogarth AI system. He had no idea what the outside world was
really like or even what planet he was on for that matter. After signing
a 12 month contract with the Shogarth, he had moved from one interior
to the next via the portals of their empire. Just now the vindow displayed
a young man and woman running along a beach, with a black and white
dog chasing after them. They were lightly tanned, healthy and affluent
looking and living a life that Price could only dream about.
Price found Mr Gorsky's words unconvincing, like something that had
been rote learnt from a Shogarth personnel manual, but the beach scene
on the vindow made him think about how much he needed the money the
Shogarth were paying him. He took the container from Mr Gorsky, held
his nose and drank the liquid down. He was instantly nauseous and fell
to the floor with his intestines cramping and his stomach heaving, but
nothing came up to relieve those feelings. It was as if he was completely
dry inside and had already disgorged everything he had eaten and drank
Mr Gorsky and the Shogarth departed, leaving Price on the floor in
a cold shuddering sweat. Unable to move or think of anything but the
nausea that possessed him, he remained beneath his workstation for several
hours, groaning and cursing and listening to the soft padding sound
of the touch sensors as his co-workers continued their work. Not one
of them came to his aid.
2. Despite the occasional disappointment or minor setback, ensure
that you commit fully to your job. The Shogarth will reward you for
When relief came to Price it was instantaneous.
One second he was engulfed in an intestinal nightmare, the next he was
feeling relaxed and strangely happy. The relief was so spontaneous,
so wonderful, that he found himself climbing off the floor straightaway
and resuming his seat at his workstation. He was determined to make
up for the time that he had lost, determined to prove that he was the
right person for the job and show the Shogarth that they had failed
to discourage him. I will buy a boat, I will be on that beach, he kept
telling himself and before he left that day, Mr Gorsky popped in to
Mr Gorsky bent down close to him and spoke in a confidential manner,
yet his voice was still loud enough to carry to several of Price's co-workers.
'Change can be painful,' Mr Gorsky said, 'but resistance to change
is a dead-end. The opportunities you seek will come when you align yourself
with the Shogarth's needs and realities. Commit fully to your job.'
Price assured him that he would, but was surprised when Mr Gorsky's
confidential tone dropped to an even fainter whisper. 'You didn't do
anything wrong,' Mr Gorsky said. 'It's all been a misunderstanding.
Think of this episode as part of your development program. The Shogarth
consider you to be a very valuable employee. I expect that they will
increase your remuneration as a result.'
Price was relieved for the second time that day, but bewildered at
the same time.
3. Accept the vagueness of your relationship with the Shogarth;
ambiguities and uncertainty exist in relationships between all intelligent
species. Instead of trying to remove the uncertainty, rejoice in it.
Remember, the Shogarth pay you well.
Price arrived home at his apartment quite late that
night to find a woman waiting for him. She looked liked the sort of
woman that he would have expected to be working for the Shogarth, as
he believed he looked like the sort of man. Her face was hard,
like something bad had happened to her once and her expression had been
set in concrete ever since, but her body was slim and there was a certain
edge to her that Price found attractive.
'My name's Elaine,' she said. 'Mr Gorsky said we should talk. So do
you want to talk or do you want to have a good time?'
Price didn't want to do either. He was too busy thinking about all
the work he had to do the next day and wondering how he could better
understand what the Shogarth required of him -- so he could avoid further
misunderstandings in the future. But then the thought struck him that
Elaine might be part of the increased remuneration Mr Gorsky had spoken
of and he did not want to appear ungrateful.
'I'm always interested in a good time,' Price said, but there was
a distinct lack of enthusiasm in his voice.
The concrete on Elaine's face softened to something more resembling
clay and her eyes shifted sideways -- a brief flit towards a portal
that had opened up where the door to Price's bedroom stood. 'Yeah, well
follow me,' she said, moving her hips in a suggestive and exaggerated
fashion all the way to the portal.
As Price stepped into the portal, he cast a glance back into the room
and had the one and only out-of-the-body experience of his life. He
saw himself still standing in the kitchen talking to Elaine.
Price and Elaine walked round the paved rim of an artificial
lake that had wild brown ducks and black swans floating upon it. 'Interesting
place you've got here,' Price said. He had no idea where this place
was or what he was doing there, but that was portal technology -- sometimes
you just had to accept where it took you.
'Just borrowed a little of the Shogarth's VR space,' Elaine said.
'It's safe ground. They won't mind unless they know about it, and even
then it's not a problem unless they actually find it. So how's the job
'Okay,' Price said, thinking that it looked as if they were going
to talk after all.
'So what do you do?'
'What the Shogarth tell me to do,' he said, surprised to think that
Mr Gorsky hadn't told her already. 'I take one lot of code that means
nothing to me and translate into another lot of code that means nothing
to me as well. I'm pretty good at that sort of thing.'
'So maybe you'd like to know what it all means?' she asked.
'I don't need to know what it means to do my job,' Price said.
'So I'll tell you anyway. The Shogarth realise that information networks
through AIs can be traced readily. It doesn't matter how much you encrypt
your data, how many security walls you build into your AIs, there's
always somebody out there who's going to be able to creep through. So
at strategic points, they break the AI link, create a dislocation point,
download crucial data and have it physically processed into another
AI system by a bunch of humans. You think you're good at that sort of
thing? Most humans are.'
Price watched a black swan dip its long neck down into the water and
come up with a silver fish quivering in its mouth. For a moment, he
felt like that fish, about to be engulfed by something, when he would
have preferred to keep swimming in the calm waters of the Shogarth lake.
'It's nice to know that I'm important,' he said. 'But what's your
angle? Obviously Mr Gorsky didn't send you.'
Elaine laughed. 'I hope you remember that,' she said.
'Forget it. I work for the Shogarth too, and others as well. There
are enemies of the Shogarth who wish to trace the dislocation points
and are willing to pay for it.'
'The Shogarth pay me well,' Price said.
'Others will pay you better. In three months you'll make more money
than you'd earn in a year working for the Shogarth.'
Price stooped down, picked up a flat stone and sent it skimming across
the lake. It skipped five times and he felt pleased with himself. He
was intrigued by the idea that somebody would pay him more money than
the Shogarth. Twelve months with the Shogarth or three with their enemies.
If he should get caught...the risk seemed too high.
'Not interested,' he said.
Elaine shrugged. 'It's what they all say at first. But you need to
look after yourself, not get fooled into thinking that the Shogarth
will look after you. I'll give you a few months, then you'll come round.
I'm sure of that.'
Back on the other side of the portal, Price said, 'What happened to
having a good time?'
Elaine shrugged. 'Maybe next time.'
4. Avoid inconsequential relationships with others of your species.
These will only distract you from the work that you need to do. During
the period of your contract the only relationship you need to worry about
is the one between yourself and the Shogarth.
Price returned to his work station the next day with a
renewed confidence. He began to take more care over the accuracy of
the code that he wrote, wanting to make sure that if he was a data dislocation
point that he did his job well, that he succeeded at it better than
anybody else ever had. He worked sixteen hours that day and sixteen
the next, and as the months sailed by he fell into a habit of working
long hours and living a solitary life. He did not make friends easily
and after the day he had been disciplined he felt he had some sort of
stigma attached to him. His co-workers avoided him religiously. Still
he didn't mind. He wasn't looking for friendship or romance -- those
things would come later, he told himself, when he had enough money to
buy a boat and live in a paradise like the one he saw on the vindow
5. Hold yourself accountable for all outcomes even if you have no
control over them; remember that the Shogarth are not responsible for
what you do or don't do; only you are accountable, you and no one else.
Three months into Price's contract, Mr Gorsky and a Shogarth
squelched into the vacant space next to his work station one day. 'We'd
like you to come with us,' Mr Gorsky said with an artificial smile on
his face. 'There's a few small administrative matters we need to clear
Price agreed gladly. He thought that he had been working so hard that
the Shogarth might be about to offer him a promotion or increase his
On the other side of the portal, Mr Gorsky said, 'Sit down here please,'
and showed Price to a small plastic chair that was in the middle of
a large open room. 'You need to understand the process involved. I will
put the concerns of the Shogarth to you and put your defence back to
them. It's a very simple matter really; you have nothing to worry about.'
'What defence?' Price asked, but just then three or four portals buzzed
at the far end of the room and several Shogarth dropped through. A long
table and several chairs followed from another portal and the Shogarth
One of the Shogarth began to speak and Mr Gorsky motioned to the far
wall. There, on a vindow that suddenly appeared, Price saw a replay
of the conversation he had with Elaine in his kitchen several months
before. He saw himself saying, 'I'm always interested in a good time,'
and Elaine responding, 'Yeah, well I'm not,' as she made a rapid exit
through the front portal of his apartment. It was not as Price remembered
it, but he was relieved that there was no recording of their conversation
in the park with the black swans.
'Well, I can understand the young lady's reaction,' Mr Gorsky said,
as the vindow shrunk into a pinprick then blinked out, 'you need to
be...' but then one of the Shogarth spoke and Mr Gorsky began translating.
'The Shogarth have no interest in directing the morals of their human
employees. However, they are concerned about the fact that fifteen minutes
of time has elapsed within what is obviously a very short conversation.'
Price tried to remain calm. There was an element of risk here, but
he hoped it was manageable. Either the Shogarth knew about the conversation
in the park or they didn't. He decided that there was no point in believing
the worst scenario, so he went with the best one; the Shogarth knew
nothing more than what had been displayed on the vindow. But the recorded
conversation was shorter than the elapsed time, so...
'Perhaps there was a technical malfunction in the Shogarth's monitoring
system,' Price said. 'Since I've been working with AIs, I've learnt
that there is one thing that you can always be sure of -- even the very
best AI will let you down from time to time.'
The Shogarth stared blankly at him. Mr Gorsky, hovering between Price
on his small plastic chair and the Shogarth at their long table, seemed
to be under stress; he was sweating profusely, and there was a certain
agitation in his manner. He's worried, Price thought, that the Shogarth
will connect him to this.
Mr Gorsky walked towards Price. 'Are you sure that nothing else occurred
that night?' he asked.
'I can't explain the missing time,' Price said, 'but the conversation
I had with that woman, it happened just as you've seen it. My only explanation
is that there's been a malfunction in the recording system.'
Mr Gorsky nodded. 'Okay, I believe you,' he said. Then he turned and
approached the Shogarth. Mr Gorsky spoke to them for a long time. They
asked questions and Mr Gorsky spoke again. Price was beginning to get
worried. Maybe they knew Elaine had offered him a job with their enemies.
He was thinking that maybe it would be better if he just admitted what
had really happened -- after all he hadn't accepted the offer -- but
then Mr Gorsky turned back to him and said, 'It appears that the Shogarth
are willing to accept your argument concerning a possible technical
malfunction in their recording system.'
'Thank you,' Price said.
Mr Gorsky's face became dry and unemotional. The crisis was over.
He was feeling relieved and back to his normal self. 'You will return
to your work station now,' he said.
When he got back to his workstation, Price looked at it like a long
lost friend. He realised he had come very close to losing his job and
with it his dream. The thought crossed his mind that there may have
been other penalties involved, but he tried not to think of those. Instead
he busied himself with his work, again wishing to make up for the time
that he had lost, feeling pleased that everything had worked out well.
So it took him by surprise when Mr Gorsky and a Shogarth arrived at
his workstation close to the end of the day.
Mr Gorsky bore another of those foul flasks in his hand. He took the
lid off and said, 'You need to drink this, I'm afraid.'
Price didn't believe what was happening. Even thinking about what
was in the flask made his stomach turn. 'But we won, Mr Gorsky,' he
said, managing a smile.
Mr Gorsky did not return his smile. 'Although you may have been correct
in your statement about the malfunction, it was a not a polite thing
to say,' he said. 'The Shogarth are feeling embarrassed about this and
they do not like feeling embarrassed. You need to drink this to make
Price felt the back of his throat gag. He rubbed his hand across his
face, massaged his throat. 'I can't,' he said, 'I don't think I'll be
able to get it down.'
'You will drink this,' Mr Gorsky replied. 'The Shogarth are
not offering you a choice.'
Price conjured up his dream, imagining himself on a boat somewhere,
somewhen soon, looking after rich off-world tourists keen to sample
the good life for a few days at a stretch. That was his dream; the filthy
stuff that Mr Gorsky was offering him was the reality. He picked up
the flask, raised it to his mouth and drank it down.
As the pain and frustration of the dry nausea swamped him, Mr Gorsky
bent down close to his ear. 'The Shogarth are disappointed with the
time it has taken for you to renew your commitment. Once you have recovered,
you will return to your apartment and await further instructions.'
6. Don't make yourself a victim, don't be a loser. Remember the
Shogarth are winners; they excel at everything they do. They do not
employ losers. You must be a winner too!
Price returned home in a state of anguish, sat at
his kitchen table, drank a cup of coffee and tried to convince himself
that the Shogarth would give him another chance. Already he realised
that there was no point in blaming the Shogarth; they had done nothing
wrong. They had kept their part of the bargain; they had given him a
job and paid him well for the work that he did. But he had lied to them,
made them feel embarrassed about the standard of their monitoring system...Price
heard a buzzing sound and turned to see a portal opening up near his
bedroom door. Climbing through it, he found himself in the same park
that Elaine had taken him to before. Down by the lake's edge, he saw
one of the black swans swimming towards him. It kept swimming all the
way up to shore then, rising out of the water, it began to transform
itself. Price blinked his eyes when he saw Elaine emerge out of the
image of the swan.
'So they got you drinking the barmy fluid again,' she said. 'They
must think you're really important. They never try that one on the trash.'
'Yeah, it's great stuff,' Price said.
'You know that it's got these tiny little beastie machines in it that
work their way into the lining of you gut,' she said. 'Then they get
into your bloodstream and flow all the way up to your brain. There they
play around with your emotions; things like loyalty, commitment and
dedication to the Shogarth. And before you know it, you'll be forgetting
about all that lovely money you're making; you'll be working for the
Shogarth for nothing. You'll be so anxious to get your work done that
you won't even want to take time for piss. But that's okay, the Shogarth
will insert a little tube up your urethra. As for having a shit, they've
got a slightly bigger tube for that.'
Price believed none of it. He knew that the Shogarth had been good
to him, that he was the one who had let them down. He had not been accountable
for his own actions, he had not told them the truth. 'Sure,' he said,
turning back to the portal, 'and there's a nutrient tube that runs into
your mouth and all the way down into your stomach -- so you don't even
need to take time out for lunch.'
'This is my last offer,' Elaine said. 'It's now or never. Join the
enemies of the Shogarth and become rich overnight.'
But Price had stopped listening. Still, as he stepped through the
portal, there was this small part of his brain that kept saying, what
if she's right, what if it's really like that....
7. You must alter your expectations. They are only your own expectations,
not those of the Shogarth. Your only expectation should be that the
expectations of the Shogarth will change constantly. So should yours.
Price was back in his apartment barely five minutes and
still thinking about 'what if' when Mr Gorsky squelched through the
front portal. This time he was alone and his hands were empty. 'I'm
so glad to find you in,' Mr Gorsky said. 'I've had enough. I can't do
the things that I do with a clear conscience any more. As if I assist
any of the humans here in anyway at all. I'm just a servant of the Shogarth.
When I think about the things that I've done to people, the way I made
you drink the redevelopment fluid...forgive me, please forgive me.'
'We're all servants of the Shogarth; they pay us well,' Price said.
'It's up to us to fulfil our part of the...'
'Yes, yes, they pay us well, but it's not worth it; I've decided that
in the end it's just not worth the money. So I've made up my mind, I'm
getting out of this place. There's a ship at the space port. It's got
room for two more passengers. I want you to come with me. I know the
portal codes that will get us there.'
'I want my job back,' Price said. 'In twelve months time, I'll have
made the money that I came here for. Then I'm buying my slice of paradise.'
'The Shogarth will never give you that opportunity,' Mr Gorsky said.
'They know about you and Elaine. They've traced a copy of your conversation
in the park and they're not happy about it. That's the reason that you
and I need to get away. They blame me, you see, think that somehow I
set the whole thing up. You must come with me...if you stay here I don't
know what the Shogarth might do to you, what they might do to me...'
'But I've done nothing wrong,' Price said.
Mr Gorsky smiled. 'You should realise by now that the Shogarth don't
care,' he said.
8. One day the Shogarth will be the Masters of the Universe. Don't
you want to go along for the ride? Of course you do! After all, you
are only human. So be sure to accept willingly every challenge the Shogarth
As soon as Price and Mr Gorsky exited the portal,
the Shogarth were upon them, shoving them up against a wall and pinning
their arms behind them. One of the Shogarth grabbed Price by the chin
and twisted his head around so that they stared at each other face to
face. The Shogarth smelt sweet and sweaty like a pet pig that Price
had once had as a child. It spoke a rapid string of guttural words at
him that he couldn't understand. But Mr Gorsky, his head buried against
the wall, still managed to translate. 'It said you must kill me.'
The Shogarth thrust a gun into Price's hand then stood back giving
him room to move. Price raised the gun and pointed it at the Shogarth
who had Mr Gorsky pinned against the wall. Its lips curled back revealing
sharp pointed teeth, like the milk teeth of some demon. Its face was
all chubby, pink and wrinkly like a baby that had been cooked too long
in its mother's womb. Mr Gorsky turned his head from the wall and looked
at Price with terror in his eyes. 'Kill me! Kill me,' Mr Gorsky said.
'It's your only chance.'
Price moved the gun away from the Shogarth, held it up beneath Mr
Gorsky's chin. He believed that he was playing out a part, trying to
make it appear he was doing what the Shogarth wanted, but really stalling
for time. He counted how many Shogarth there were -- six or seven --
wondered how many bullets the gun had and how long it would take Mr
Gorsky and himself to get to the portal and punch in an access code.
Then a strange thing happened. One moment he had no intention of killing
Mr Gorsky then the next he was thinking, why not? He found himself warming
to the idea immediately. Probably there was only one bullet in the gun
anyway and what had Mr Gorsky ever really done for him? There was no
way out of this; both himself and Mr Gorsky were done for, but if he
was to pull the trigger, use that one bullet most effectively, the Shogarth
might just let him go. But then he thought something even stranger:
He thought if he killed Mr Gorsky the Shogarth might give him his job
back, that they might even make him Terran Liaison Officer. Price smiled
to himself. It seemed like the best idea that he had ever had....such
a great idea that he pulled the trigger without any further consideration.
'So long, Mr Gorsky,' he said.
9. See yourself as a service centre and serve the Shogarth with
the fullness of your mind, your body and your soul. You must get close,
intimately close to them, become one with them. The better you serve
them, the better you serve yourself. And if any of this worries you
think, really think, did you have anything better to do anyway? You
didn't, did you?
After he killed Mr Gorsky, Price was surfing a huge tidal
wave of adrenalin. The Shogarth were very pleased with him. They slapped
him on the back, laughed in their own fashion and spoke their garbled
language at him. This is good, Price said to himself, this is really
good. He felt sure at the very least they were going to give him his
old job back.
But then the Shogarth took him via a portal to a huge underground
cavern. It seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon, with rows upon
rows of workstations set up with AI interfaces. At each work station,
there was a human busy pounding away at a sensor touchpad, totally absorbed
in their work, fully committed to the tasks that were before them. All
of them were naked and tubes of various weights and thicknesses wound
around and into their bodies. There were thick feeding tubes entering
their mouths, thinner tubes winding up through their nostrils and other
tubes passing from their anus and genitals, just like Elaine had told
'Come let me show you around.'
As if in a dream, Price found Elaine taking him by the arm and leading
him out into that vast sea of working humanity. 'All the essentials
of life are catered for,' Elaine said, 'plus more. We no longer need
the vindows; the images are played directly into our minds and the skill
that is required to do that work is second nature. It is part of us,
what we are, what we have become.'
Price heard a noise to his left and turned to see one of the workers
fall from its chair. It lay still on the floor as if in a coma. Some
small dark creatures came scurrying quickly -- 'Another servant species,'
Elaine whispered -- picked the body up, placed it on a trolley and wheeled
' Only the very best workers make it this far. I tried to warn you,
but you wouldn't listen,' Elaine said.
In the next instant, Mr Gorsky was by his side. 'Thank you, Elaine,
for that little introduction. Now, Price, let me show you to your new
workstation,' he said. 'I'm sure you're going to be very happy here.'
Price pulled away....
.... from the wharf and took the boat out into the bay. Carefully
clearing the rocks, he switched over to the AI pilot and walked aft
to have a drink with the passengers and crew. He stood at the edge of
the boat, gazing across the turquoise waters, thinking how lucky he
was. It was a beautiful sunny day, but still in his ears he could hear
the sound of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people padding away at their
touch sensors, continuing their work. The Shogarth will be the Masters
of the Universe one day, Price thought, and here he was, speeding across
the bay of a safe tranquil harbour, glad to be along for the ride.
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