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No matter how you slice it, interstellar travel in our real world is going to be a slow, expensive, and difficult process.
This is a story about one way to make interstellar exploration faster and cheaper, but the savings come with a twist.
"Mommy, why am I here?" Mary asked with the innocence of a six-year-old. It was a pleasant spring day. The sun shone through the window over the kitchen sink. Janet, her mother, took a moment from washing dishes to bend down and face her.
"You're here because God wants you to be here, Mary."
"Yes, Mommy. But why am I here? What am I supposed to do ... when I grow up?"
"God has something very special in mind for you, Mary, I'm sure," answered Janet. "In the meantime, have you done your studies?"
"In that case why don't you run outside and play for a while."
Mary ran outside. The house was at the center of a farm couched in rolling hills of spring-lush green and covered with a canopy of intense blue sky and low-flying white cottony clouds. Mary skirted the hog pens and ran to the barn. Uncle Gustav was there half under the tractor working on the engine.
"Mary, please fetch me the 5/8" wrench, please, from the toolbox on topof the tractor."
Mary clambered up and reached for it. As she did, she sent the toolbox clattering down. It fell solidly on Gustav's hip.
Gustav howled. "Mary! Please be more careful." He scrambled out from under the tractor and checked the motion of his leg. "Rats," he said, "something's broken. I'm going to have to go to the hospital."
"I'm sorry, Uncle Gustav."
"And well you should be, my dear," he said, only slightly angry. "Please be more careful next time."
"I will, I promise."
Gustav limped out of the barn muttering. "If I don't get this tractor done soon, we won't finish the plowing in time."
Mary wandered further into the barn where the milking was going on. Bill, her brother, and Frank, her dad, were industriously attaching milkers to the cows as the cows contentedly ate their morning meal.
Frank asked, "Was that Gustav I heard yelling in the front?"
"Yes, he had an accident."
"What happened?" asked Bill.
"I dropped a tool box on his hip and it broke. He's going to the hospital now. I told him I was sorry, Daddy."
"Very good, dear," said Frank. He turned back to the cows.
"Daddy?" she said, "Why am I here?"
Frank turned from the cows; bent down and said, "You're here because God put you here."
"That's what Mommy said, but why am I here now?"
Frank looked at her. "You're six now."
She pouted. "Daddy. You forgot."
He smiled at her. "No I didn't. You're almost seven, aren't you, and tomorrow is your birthday."
Mary brightened again. "That's right. I'm going to be seven years old and you said that when I got to be seven years old, why something very special would happen."
Frank grinned at her. "That's right, dear. Something very special."
Mary pleaded. "What is it, Daddy? I'm almost seven, now. You can tell me. What's going to be special?"
Frank looked at her, paused. His stare went blank a moment, then he said, "Well, I can't tell you everything, but I can tell you this: Tomorrow at your birthday party, you're going to meet somebody very special."
"Wow," said Mary. "Who's it going to be?"
"Somebody you've never met before, but somebody who's had a tremendous amount to do with your life."
"Wow, is it God?"
"No," he laughed. "It's not God. But it is somebody very close to God for you. But that's all I'm going to tell you. Now, how would you like to help Bill and me get these cows hooked up to the milkers."
"Well, you learned how last week, didn't you?"
"We're not teaching you these things for nothing," said Bill.
Mary started attaching milkers to the cows. She was a bit clumsy and some of the cows protested. But when they did Bill came over and continued to correct Mary so she rapidly was doing her part to help out.
School time came shortly. "Mary, Mary!" Janet yelled from the front of the barn, just loud enough to be heard over the din. "Mr. Corvax is here." Reluctantly Mary handed off her work to Bill, came in from the barn, and went to her study room with Mr. Corvax, her tutor.
Mr. Corvax reviewed her studies. "Well, Mary, you're doing excellently. Your arithmetic, your English, your science, your social studies are all progressing very nicely."
"Why thank you, Mr. Corvax," Mary said, "And you know something, Mr. Corvax? Something very special is going to happen tomorrow."
"What is that, Mary?" he said.
"Why that's right! And you'll be seven years old, won't you."
"That's right. And Dad tells me I'll meet someone very special at my birthday. Do you know who that could be?"
Mr. Corvax paused, had a blank stare for a moment much as Frank had done earlier, and then said, "I understand that it's going to be Mr. Metzarkin."
"Who's that? I've never heard of him before."
"You haven't heard of him, Mary, but he's been very important in your life."
"Dad tells me he's sort of like God."
"He's sort of like it. He's had a lot to do with arranging this whole place. Now let's continue with your studies. There are still a few more things you should know if you're going to be a seven-year old."
That evening at dinner, Uncle Gustav came back.
"How are you feeling?" asked Frank.
"Oh, fine. Just fine."
"Understand you took quite a hit from that toolbox."
"Yeah, it was quite a clunk, but the hospital got it all fixed up. I'll work on the tractor this evening after dinner and she should be all fixed up and ready to go first thing tomorrow."
"That's good to hear. The weather's just right."
Mary said to Uncle Gustav. "Did you hear? Mr. Metzarkin is coming tomorrow to my birthday party."
"Mr. M is coming? That's really special, my dear. That means there'll be some big changes coming. You're really growing up fast."
"Have you ever met Mr. M?"
"No. None of us have, I reckon." He looked around, and there were nods of agreement. "But we know all about him, dear."
"How come I don't know all about him?"
They all went blank for a moment.
"You don't know about him 'cause you're special," Bill said, "and 'cause you're only six years old. But tomorrow you'll know about him."
In Mary's eyes the rest of the evening, and that night, and the next morning took forever to pass. She tried to pump more information out of her family about the mysterious Mr. M. Whenever she pestered, they laughed. Whenever she pried, they changed the subject. No more was to be found out.
Finally at noon, after the morning chores were finished, her birthday party came. It was another fine spring day. The five of them, Janet, Frank, Bill, Uncle Gustav, and Mary celebrated.
"Now Mary," said Janet, bringing out the cake, "there are seven candles on this cake, and if you make a wish, and you can blow them all out, then you will get what you wish for."
"And I have a suggestion," said Frank, "Why don't you wish to see Mr. M."
"That's a good idea," said Mary. So she closed her eyes and thought to herself. "I wish to see Mr. M." With a big breath she blew all the candles out. And when she opened her eyes there was a stranger in their midst.
And not just any stranger. This wasn't even a person. It was three feet tall and silvery all over. His head was rounded and his arms had curious lumps at the elbows, shoulders, knees, and ankles. The voice he spoke in was tinny. He said, "Hi, I'm Mr. Metzarkin."
Mary giggled. "You're Mr. M?"
"That's right," he said.
"And you made me ... and Mommy and Daddy and Bill and Uncle Gustav?"
"That's right," he said, "I made you."
"Well then. Gee. You can tell me why I'm here."
"Yes, I can," he said, "and now that you're seven years old, I will.
"Mary, you're a human being."
"That's right," she said, "but you aren't."
"That's right. And what planet are you living on?"
"I'm living on Earth."
"That's wrong. You're living on the planet Azzuza, my planet. A planet that is four hundred light years from Earth."
"Then why am I here?"
"You are here as part of an exchange program. We are so far away from Earth that it is hard for us to study people, and we want to know a lot about people. Just like Earth people want to know a lot about Azzuzans.
"So the people of Earth sent us your genetic code and they told us about how things are on Earth. We used that information to grow you and make this farm for you to live on. You are grown from the genetic code of Mary Broadbent, my counterpart on Earth. She's busy growing a Mr. Metzarkin there.
"You've been growing up like an Earth child for seven years. Now we think you're old enough to know what being an Earth child is like, and it's time to introduce to you to our world-the world of an Azzuzan.
"That way you can learn more about us and we can learn more about you.
"What about Mommy and Daddy? Did you grow them?"
They all chuckled. Janet answered. "In a way, Mary. But not the same as you. We were built-built specifically to raise you. We're not human and never were."
"Oh, I knew you weren't the same as me."
"How did you know that?"
"Whenever you went to the hospital you always came back right away, and didn't hurt anymore, not like the people on TV, or me. And sometimes you creaked. I never, ever creaked."
Long before physical space craft can travel between the stars, light waves carrying messages will be able to. This concept is the heart of the SETI search for signals coming from other stars. This story takes the SETI concept one step further, and uses the message light waves can carry to build an explorer on a distant world.
Mary lives in an Earth-like place on Azzuza so she can report on what she sees from an Earth-like context.
This is a light-hearted story about a young Earthman and an alien, struggling together to make an interstellar trade deal that is valuable and profitable. Here, mankind and aliens "go Star Trek" on us-they have undefined ways of quickly talking and moving from star system to star system.
I paused for a moment to admire the statue. It was a real statue-tons of brass and granite-just like the old days. Even the kids that came by were impressed. They instinctively gravitated to the polished steps and ledges. Mothers would follow, issuing their equally instinctive warnings, but the statue is quite safe and quite accessible.
Yes, the Ministry of Interstellar Trade controlled money, and they weren't afraid to show it. I chuckled to myself thinking about the scandal of that statue. It depicted Commander Wartly taking his first step on Pluto two years ago. That was honorable enough, but the statue was finished before Wartly had taken the step!
The Traders had come just after his launch. He went into deep sleep knowing he would be the first, and rather than disappoint him and the millions of people who witnessed his launch and knew what was going to happen, we saw to it that he was. It was a concession to our pre-Trader-contact past when intra-solar system travel was a long and hazardous process. Wartly was the last of the breed.
Thanks to Trader technology, we built a couple ships twenty years after Wartly left that raced him to Pluto. One of them even intercepted Wartly's fleet and did some checkups and maintenance before it zoomed ahead to await their arrival at the planet. They didn't bother to wake Wartly-just made sure he, the ships, and the crew were OK.
By the time Wartly arrived and woke up, unmanned probes had surveyed Pluto and Charon down to meter-across resolution and done a thorough resource analysis. The follow-up expeditions let him land first, but they told him where-which is why the artist could start making the statue weeks before Wartly even woke.
They let Wartly land first, but the scientists and colonizers who had come on Trader technology ships were down and established two days later. Wartly's landing was such old news when it happened, that the Ministry decided to unveil the statue concurrently with the historic event it commemorated to give it some current interest. Kind of gutsy, considering they didn't really see what happened until four hours later when the signals arrived from Pluto. After that, they made Wartly governor. I don't know why. He was fifty years behind the times, but I guess tradition again. The people there felt he had the experience so he should run the show.
I passed the statue and headed for my office. Yes, our contact with the Traders has made quite a difference. In the atrium a holo poster floated announcing "2059-2109. Celebrating fifty years of Trader contact." Fifty years? It seems we're just getting through the preliminaries.
Why is it taking so long? Well, it took ten years just to get the Traders to come inside Pluto's orbit. They broadcast to let us know they were out there, then waited while we sorted things out here on Earth to prepare for their arrival. It took that long. When first contact was made, half the population wanted to send out the marines-even though we had no idea where to send them or even how to get that far out. For a couple years defense budgets skyrocketed. When it became clear that the Traders wouldn't even get close until we got our act together peacefully, things settled down.
Once the negotiations started, it became clear that we were a low-cost labor source for them. They traded us technology so we could use it to make useful goods for them. They showed us how to build intrasolar-system space engines, and we build them by the hundreds now-half for us and half for the Traders. They organized technical institutes; we sent engineering students; the graduates now translate Trader specifications into solar system factories.
This system has worked well. And it's worked well thanks to us. I'm part of the Ministry of Interstellar Trade. We've prevented the Traders from doing to us what some of our European predecessors did to our African, South American, and Asian predecessors: Take advantage of their ignorance to negotiate exorbitant deals. Well, at least we like to think we have. Who knows what's up those alien sleeves?
Which brings me to my job today. Over the years we've come to believe that the Traders are handling us with kid gloves: They don't show us a thing that we don't think of first. About a year ago some skin-headed professor took this idea public, and in spite of our past good work, we've started getting pilloried by the media. They wanted to dismember the Ministry monopoly and let free market forces participate: "Privatize" Trader negotiations so advancements can flow faster.
The Ministry response has been to expand and hire people like me. I'm part of the new Agricultural Life Forms Section of the Consumer Trade Goods Department of the Trade Expansion Division within the Ministry. Our division is charged with expanding our trade relations beyond the technology-for-finished-products stage. I'm here in this very nice office with my new M.B.A. diploma to show that "privatization", and its potential for abuse, isn't necessary for expanding the scope of Trader-Solar System activities.
I turn on the screen to reach Gork Tag, my Trader liaison. "All right, Gork, what have you got for me today?"
"Ah, Mr. Curio, right to business, as usual. So unlike Mr. Amir who likes to make what I think you call 'small talk' first. You Terrans are all so delightfully different."
I look carefully at Gork in the screen. His purple leaves look more greenish today.
For some reason I blurt, "If I may ask, how do you tell us apart, Gork? Do you see differences?"
"See? As in visualize using electro-magnetic radiation? No, I know you by your voice. Our sight organs are quite undeveloped compared to yours. If you were close I would also distinguish you by the trace chemicals you emit-your smell-and, this is even harder to describe in your language, your textures."
"You mean, how I feel?"
"How you feel on your outside, yes."
"Did Mr. Amir mention you look different today? I was wondering, are you well?"
"How amazingly perceptive this sight organ of yours is! This must be why you do so well manufacturing. This optical virtue gives you an innate sense for precision that we can barely conceptualize.
"As for your question. Why, yes, I'm very well, thank you. I feel I will be going to seed soon. It is a wonderful time for us Traders. In fact, it's likely I will be replaced soon here at the trading position. Seeding is a time of rapture. Wonderful, but not a good time for clear-headed trading."
"Well, it sounds like congratulations are in order. In the meantime, let's get back to our discussions about Hereford cattle. You've seen the specifications I sent you?"
"Yes I have, Mr. Curio. But I'm not quite sure what we're supposed to do with this chemical factory you call a cow. Why not just gene splice what we need out of bacterial mats the way we do now? It certainly seems a lot easier than trying to tool up to cultivate grass and dozens of other organisms to sustain this one organism. Cattle-raising and the markets for cattle by-products seem much better suited to Terran conditions than anything we can create."
"But have you considered...."
Excerpted from Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric by Roger Bourke White Jr. Copyright © 2009 by Roger Bourke White Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
This book is a collection of short stories in which an interesting story is wrapped around an interesting science concept. White has a strong background in engineering, science and business. Because White is as concerned with good internal consistency as he is with good story telling, the results are stories that are fun because they take fun different twists from those found in conventional speculative fiction. These stories are different.
In one story, The Failure, White tells about two scientists creating a new species of life. But it's not a biological species, it's a cyberspecies, and while it's much more powerful and intelligent than humans, it's not going to be either a devil or a god to mankind, it has it's own worries and aspirations. The point of the story is that there are many other relations besides evil overlord and loving patriarch between humans and an intelligent successor species. The failure part is because these scientists were seeking a way to increase manufacturing productivity, not create a new species. Now they will have to try again. Ah well...
In another story, Searching for Angels, two scientists labor to summon a 4D being into our 3D plane of existence. The being is one that has been written about in the Bible - an angel! They succeed, but then comes the twist. This story explores how creatures of different dimensionality can relate to each other, and it's not easy!
In all these stories White takes an interesting science or technology concept and then wraps an interesting unconventional story of human motivation around it. If you like thinking about your science fiction, this book is fun!
This is Volume Two and it's about stories that take place on earth. Volume One is about stories that take place in space and on distant worlds.
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