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I NEEDED A TRIP to Alpha I like a hole in the head. But my father said someone had to go there and help Aunt Katherine DeVanter pack and get ready to move back to Earth, and she had specifically asked for me.
"That's terrible," I said. "It'll take me months to get there and back. Basketball season starts soon. My team needs me."
I was captain of the sixth-grade basketball team, but that wasn't important to my father.
He said, "You'll only be gone a week or ten days at the most. Your Aunt Katherine DeVanter is a very wealthy lady, and she has sent us money for you to go by VOYA CODE. "
I stared at him. "Are you serious?"
"Yes, indeed. You'll be the first member of our family who has ever traveled by VOYACODE. Are you interested now?"
I guess I was. We'd all taken rocket trips to the Moon and to different planets, and Dad had taken the Superrockets to Alpha Galaxy and Kappa Galaxy on business trips that took months. But just a couple of years ago the scientists had come up with a new way of traveling-VOYA-CODE.
I thought it was kind of a scary idea, but everyone who'd made one of the trips swore by them. A kid in our school who had gone to Jupiter by VOYA-CODE told us it was easier than walking down the stairs. "All you do is get wired up to the Coding Computer. Then someone gives you a shot that puts you to sleep. When you wake up, you're there. It's the only way to travel," this kid said.
I understood how it worked because when VOYA-CODE started, our teacher told us it was really just like a lot of other things in our lives only more so, because now it was being applied to people. The ideabegan long ago in the twentieth century, when engineers made computer programs of everything: cars, wheels, chairs, tables -- and then animals, and finally people.
There was a lot of trouble when they started making computer programs of people. People said you couldn't do that, that a man or a woman was more than a bunch of numbers and equations. But pretty soon the engineers were making computer programs of people that told you what they looked like and how they acted-and even how they felt about things!
The next step was logical enough. Engineers, working from the equations, constructed dummies that looked exactly like the people. When you put computer cards with the right data into the dummies, they became the people!
There were all kinds of riots on Earth and on Mars and Uranus, because people said you wouldn't know whether you were really you, or a dummy programmed to be you. Everything could get mixed up. It was inhuman, they said.
Maybe it was, but it sure had good things going for it. You could send the data by neutro waves to every part of the universe. And then, instead of you taking a long trip by rocket or Superrocket yourself, you could travel by VOYA-CODE. Your computer program would be fed into a dummy that looked just like you and had been made on the planet you were going to. The instant that happened, the dummy would come alive. The dummy would be you! Meanwhile, back home, your original body would be kept in Sleep-Storage until you were ready to return. Then your dummy would be deprogrammed, all the data would be let out of it, and you'd wake up back home.
The only thing wrong with traveling by VOYA-CODE was that you couldn't move your real self permanently that way, or carry things with you. And so to move back to Earth, Aunt Katherine would have to travel with her clothes and furniture on the Superrocket. She would get here weeks after I got back.
I would be going six million light years from Earth to Alpha to help someone pack! But Dad pointed out that that was what Aunt Katherine had requested. And she had specifically asked for me to come -- not Dad, not Mom, not my sister Jan, who's two years older than me.
It seemed a strange reason to take such a long trip. I didn't like it. But like it or not, I was going.My Trip to Alpha I. Copyright � by Alfred Slote. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.