Another fairy tale

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Thu Jan 04 2001 - 20:13:41 MST

Thanks for the inspiration, Anders. This wouldn't let me concentrate
on anything else until I got it written. ^_-


Once upon a time, there lived a queen widely admired by her subjects. This queen was the senior heir to a royal title from some long forgotten kingdom, but that did not matter to anyone she knew. Instead, she was admired for being a very charismatic leader, a master of grace and charm like none other in her city. She was also an inspiration to the people, having lead the design of wonder after wonder.

One such wonder was the Massively Redundant Organizational Repository, a vast database of human knowledge from the trivial to the profound. It was far from complete, but it knew much and could understand human language. Anyone could ask any question and, if the answer was known, the answer would be provided in seconds. It could even quantify such abstract concepts as beauty, at least to a reasonably accurate representation of what the people it served thought was beautiful.

This repository was deemed too valuable to keep locked away in some vault. Instead, the queen ensured its survival by encouraging those who used it to distribute copies hither and yon. She even kept one copy in her study.

For all her good points, this queen did have one vice: she was exceedingly vain. Every morning, as she got ready to face the day, she would wander into her study and ask, "MROR mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" And every morning, the device would scan the journalists' fashion pages, mull overheard comments and unspoken reactions to images it had seen, and respond, "You are the closest living match to the local community's average ideal of 'beauty'."

Until one morning, when it said something else instead. "Miss Snow White now outranks you in that category, madam."

A brow darkened her features. "Show me."

So it did. Statistics and analysis abounded, justifying its decision, but the most striking thing was the girl's picture and information. A college student and popular singer, Snow White was but her stage name. It took the queen some time to see through the girl's glamour and glitz, but she soon recognized her own adopted daughter.

As it happened, the queen was not alone that morning. Two associates witnessed her surprise, and quickly thought of ways to relieve her distress.

"My lady," said one, a big, burly transport pilot. "Let me dispose of her for you. I know you dislike the thought of bloodshed, but I can deposit her in some backwater from which she will never return."

"That would arouse suspicions," said the other, a wiry technician who seemed to blend in with the machines he maintained. "I can grow an apple with a virus to deform her bones - just enough to keep her beauty below yours, subtle enough that she herself need not ever know she was poisoned."

The queen's scowl deepened, and she turned on the two. "And what has this girl ever done to me, to deserve such treatment? I will not seek to dim someone else's shine, just to preserve my own as the best. Away with you."

Once her associates had both left, she returned to studying the data, then declared, "She's using my own techniques." And indeed, the girl was. As the MROR came up with ways to quantify beauty, the queen had come up with habits and ways to maximize those quantities for herself. One day, it became possible to render into a computer that part of the brain that handled instincts. She did so, and set about programming herself with these habits and ways, such that she could carry them out without devoting attention to them. She published most of these programs. Only the few she had not published, and her mastery at making new ones, kept her ahead of her imitators.

However, over the years, her programs had begun to conflict with each other, made as they were to address different aspects of beauty. This conflict degraded their performance, to the point where someone else could pull ahead. The solution was simple: look at the programs as a whole, and smooth them out from that perspective. She did just that, and by the next morning, everyone she met was amazed again at the sight of her, as if they had never before known such a goddess.

The queen and her daughter shared a friendly rivalry over this incident for many years, each one improving the programs to make ever more spectacular results, to the continual delight of all who saw them. And everyone lived happily ever after.

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