Chapter Ten of The Start of EternityEdit
The extent to which our species was crafted and shaped by alien hands may never be known. The aliens seem content to call us their "children"...how many parents tell their children the intimate details of their origins? -Retair Book of the Dawn
Stan was in an exalted mood and had gone down to the sea wall for a run along the shore, turning his joy and energy into sweat and tired muscles. He had been awarded the prestigious Milsensir Scholarship, full financial support for the study of mathematics. The Milsensir was given to one student each year who was judged by the faculty to have the best prospects for success as a theoretical mathematician. The scholarship would support Stan's education for as far as he cared to go and most students of the past who benefited from the award went on to get their terminal mathematics degree.
Returning to campus and his room in the dormitory, Stan pealed off his shirt and threw it into his room. Grabbing a towel he turned, planning to head for a shower, but then his brain caught up with his eyes. He turned back and stared at the woman who was sitting in his chair in front of the desk by the window. He stammered, "Who are you...and what are you doing in my room?"
The intruder pulled her legs off of the desk and stood up, stretching. "So, you finally return. Where have you been all afternoon?"
Stan now noticed that she was wearing one of his readies. She took off the goggle-like computer interface and tossed it on the desk. Stan felt that there was something familiar about her, then it clicked. He had noticed her seated in the audience at the awards ceremony that morning, her large eyes had captured his attention for a few seconds when he looked out into the auditorium after receiving the Milsensir Scholarship on stage and shaking the hands of the assembled dignitaries, including the Chair Emeritus of Mathematics, the famous Sheryl Klind. The girl was again locking her eyes on Stan's. For a while he stood there, trying to stare her down and growing increasingly upset that she seemed unwilling to answer his perfectly reasonable questions. Finally she replied, "My name is Nora."
Stan could see that Nora was a big girl, tall and wearing a Masterial Robe, but it failed to completely hide her figure. Stan guessed that she could stand to loose a some weight and he imagined that she was a mathematics instructor for one of the applied mathematics divisions. "Well, I assume you know who I am. I saw you at the ceremony today, but I do not remember seeing you previously."
She went to the closet and pulled out a clean shirt. Handing the shirt to Stan she said, "Come on, I'll explain everything on the way."
For a moment Stan stood there confused, looking at the towel in one hand and shirt in the other hand. Then he noticed Nora moving off down the hallway. He was outraged by her impudent manner, but he tossed the towel on his bed and went after her, only catching up to her fast stride as they stepped out of the dorm through an emergency exit, out the back and into the alley. Stan demanded, "On the way to where?"
She was already getting into her ground car, an expensive recent model of the Correlian hydrogen powered sports car. She turned the car on and put on a pair of sun glasses. "Let's go to my place. It's much nicer than your dorm room."
Stan had noticed how she got in the car. Without opening the door she had swung her long legs into the driver's seat. There was no steering wheel. She would drive using a computer interface in her glasses and the driving gloves that she was pulling on. Stan, feeling slightly foolish, asked, "Who are you? What do you want with me?" He was now suspecting that she was some kind of corporate head hunter.
She explained, "I want to discuss some mathematics problems with you...problems that involve teserant functions."
Stan slid into the passenger seat, only smashing one knee into the dashboard. Blinking back the pain from his knee he dared not speak and for a while he just gripped the arm rests and held on, hoping that she would not crash the car. By the time she entered onto the blitzway he was convinced that she was an excellent driver who knew just how fast she could push the little car without crashing it into anything else on the road. He asked, "Where do you live?"
She put the car on autopilot and took off the driving gloves. "I'm a resident of Uvadekoto." She pulled off the university robe and pushed it into the storage compartment behind her seat. Stan could now better see her large abdomen. He was rather appalled to see such a blatant sign of privilege and excess, but the Uvadekoto was world famous as a kind of walled community for wealthy capitalists. She started discussing the mathematical problems she was concerned with. Stan quickly realized that she was a trained mathematician or possibly an engineer. While she talked about teserant functions and their practical applications Stan watched her face. She seemed quite young and he wondered when she had found the time to learn so much mathematics.
Before he had a chance to contribute much of significance to the deep mathematical conversation she had initiated, Nora had pulled her gloves back on and taken an off the blitzway. Stan could see the Uvadekoto dome on the ridgeline to the west. He'd never previously seen it in person, but it was a familiar sight because of the frequent news coverage that the Uvadekoto community attracted. It was known as an "archology", what aimed to be an ecologically and economically self-contained habitat. Most of the world resented the archology movement and the fact that global warming and sea level rise had never been prevented. Those who were rich enough protected themselves inside their fortress archologies while the rest of the world's population sunk further into poverty and struggled at the mercy of the planet's disrupted climate system.
Stan barely noticed the streets leading from the blitzway to Uvadekoto. He was thinking deeply about the mathematical landscape she had sketched, not the rolling hills around Uvadekoto. Stan was vaguely aware of the fact that just a few centuries before, these had been forested hills, but now the annual rainfall was barely able to hold desertification in check. Global warning had shifted the local climate to a significantly hotter and dryer pattern. Stan was barely conscious of such matters as he thought about the intriguing mathematics Nora had brought to his attention.
Nora had outlined a constellation of mathematical puzzles that Stan now understood to be natural extension of the famous Third Paradox of Klind. As a student in Klind's department, Stan was very familiar with Klind's work, but he had never heard of anyone thinking beyond the Third Paradox in the way Nora had. For most mathematicians the Third Paradox itself was enough of a puzzle. However, guided by Nora, Stan could now see that there was a set of even more baffling mathematical challenges that lay beyond the Third Paradox. The little car zoomed into a tunnel and screeched to a stop at a security gate.
An armed guard called out from his bunker, "Who is that with you Ms. Winsou?"
Stan suddenly realized that he had left his identre back in his room. But Nora had it in her pocket. She tossed the small device into the bunker. A moment latter it came sailing back into the car and Stan grabbed it. Nora smiled and drove through the gate as it opened. Stan complained, "It's a felony to take someone's identre."
Nora shrugged, "You'll find it difficult to press charges against me here. This community does not recognize any laws not of our own making." She pulled the car into a parking spot. They were somewhere down in the dark underbelly of the dome. A robotic arm swung out and plugged into the car, recharging its hydrogen fuel cell.
Stan put his identre into his shirt pocket and tried to clear his mind of the fascinating mathematics that Nora had distracted him with. There was too much to look at now. Everything was odd and ultramodern and automated. They crossed paths with a robot who Nora casually ordered, "Get my robe out of the car."
They rode a scary elevator up from the parking garage to Nora's residential level. Stan had no sky or horizon for orientation and felt some claustophobia. The elevator seemed to be just a set of small plexiglass platforms, endlessly rising, but Stan imagined that there must be unseen safety features that would prevent falls.
Nora led him into a suite of rooms that had no access to the world outside of the archology, but there was a large balcony that opened onto a cavernous court yard. For a moment Stan peered down into the darkening well of the court yard that was arrayed with lights from other apartment balconies. Up high, at the top end, there was a small patch of sky that Stan imagined was the top of the dome.
Nora was already moving off down a short set of steps to a hallway that twisted away from her well furnished living room. Stan followed and soon found himself in an entirely different kind of room, what looked like an industrial workshop. Nora pulled open a heavy access panel on the side of a furnace and Stan felt a blast of heat. She quickly closed the shielding and adjusted the controls of the smelting furnace. She pointed to a glowing red numerical display. "There it is."
Stan carefully counted the number of glowing digits. The numbers kept increasing slowly, counting upwards from about three quadrillion. While cruising down the blitzway Nora had claimed that her only interest in mathematics was practical and that she was looking for a way to produce a newly discovered type of elementary particle: the sedron. Stan asked, "So where are these sedrons?"
Nora shrugged, "Safe in here." She patted solid steel side of the robotic smelter. "After three years of work I only have a few micrograms of sedronic matter."
It occurred to Stan that she had never explained why she wanted sedrons. Stan noticed a bench that was stacked high with metal bars. He reached for one of the bars, but it was very heavy. Nora said, "That's platinum. I'm processing two percent of the world's known stockpile of platinum. Sedrons form spontaneously at the rate of about one sedron per milligram of platinum per year."
Stan was puzzled and asked, "What is the half-life for these sedrons? And why platinum?"
Nora shrugged, "I don't know. I've been told that sedrons are absolutely stable particles. The problem is, they have only existed for the past three years."
Nora was on the move again, having passed through the back door of the workshop. Stan followed along and demanded, "What is that supposed to mean?"
They entered into a large chamber that reminded Stan of a bashball stadium, but where the playing field should have been there was an array of what looked like giant power generators. Nora waited for Stan to catch up, then the balcony they stood on began moving along the curving wall towards the floor, dodging a massive crane arm on the way down. The crane was lowering a large steal plate towards one of the "generators" that was obviously still under construction. Nora tried to answer Stan's question, "Look, sedronic matter did not exist until three years ago. You are going to have to take my word for that. And don't ask why. Nobody knows." She waved to another woman below. "That's my mom. I'll introduce you."
Nora hugged her mother and then turned to Stan. "Mom, this is the mathematician I told you about. Stan, this is Dame Tilly Winsou, my mother. She's in charge of constructing the array."
Tilly took off her heavy work gloves and pushed her hard hat back on her head. She held out her hand towards Stan and he shook it. She said, "Welcome to Uvadekoto." She then immediately turned to her daughter and started discussing logistical problems with the ongoing construction work. Nora listened patiently for a minute then cut off her mother, "I don't care how long it takes. The conduits have to be perfectly aligned. I reject any shortcuts. Do it right, not fast."
Tilly objected, "But you know that the Council set a deadline for-"
Nora rudely said, "Shut up! You watch your mouth or you're out. Do you hear me?" Tilly nodded and glanced at Stan, looking rather embarrassed.
Tilly said, "Yes, ma'am." She turned to Stan and said, "If you are staying, I'll expect you to join us for diner at eight."
Stan was almost speechless in reaction to how Nora had spoken to her mother, but Tilly seemed to have taken no offense. To Stan it appeared that Tilly only regretted having provoked Nora. Stan said, "I'm completely at Nora's disposal."
Nora was already moving off across the chamber, but she called back, "Yes, ma, we'll be there."
Stan nodded to Tilly and hurried after Nora. Nora led the way inside the first of the hulking structures that Stan imagined to be generators. Nora waited inside for Stan to catch up then gestured towards the interior of the room: it was packed with computerized control panels that were tended by a gang of technicians. She asked, "What do you think?"
Stan had been trying to imagine what Nora planned to use the sedrons for. He guessed, "It looks like a control room for a nuclear power plant."
Nora nodded. "Yes, it does, but sedronic matter is going to give us access to vastly greater power than is available from nuclear forces." She led Stan to a window. "Do you see that? The little red blebs down near the floor? Those are the twistor pods that are awaiting a supply of sedronic matter. We need kilogram quantities."
Stan could now see the magnitude of the problem facing Nora. Her harvesting of naturally occurring sedrons would require centuries to produce enough sedrons. Stan heard someone shout, "Intruder! Intruder!" Stan turned and he was grabbed by a large ugly robot.
Nora said, "Relax Prinstir, this is Stan, my guest."
Prinstir's large hands still pinched painfully at Stan's arms. The robot complained, "You should have brought him to the security office for processing."
Nora shook her head, "He might not be staying. For now he is a visitor. Just give him one of your temporary IDs."
Prinstir let go of Stan, leaving a metallic bracelet on his left arm. "Very well."
Nora chastised the robot, "What if he had been an intruder? You took your time getting here."
Prinstir did not think that was fair. "You sneaked him in here from your workshop. I've told you before that I want a security lock on that door."
"And I'm not going to waste my time all day going through your dance of biometric scans. Nobody can get into my workshop but me...and someone who is with me."
The robot sneered, "So you think. You could be abducted while out on one of you sprees. Each time you com back in you should go through a complete scan."
Nora chuckled, "Ah, Prinstir, I think you just like strip searching me."
The robot was good at sarcasm. "Yes, that is my mission in life." The machine turned towards Stan, "Better me than these scrawny mathematicians you keep bringing in."
Nora laughed and even the robot produced a nearly convincing chuckle. Nora noticed that Stan was not laughing and sighed. She asked Stan, "What do you think of Prinstir? He's been my personal robot since I was born...before I was born. Some day I'll scrap him and use one of the more modern models."
Prinstir said, "I'm ready to trade bodies at any time."
Nora said cruelly, "Your fat brain won't fit in the newer heads."
The robot pointed to its chest and grumbled, "Some of my memory modules could go into the thorax."
Nora commented to Stan, "Prinstir is cute when he's angry."
Stan could not take seriously the idea of the machine being cute. Stan had seen pictures of modern robots with bodies designed to be like a person's body, but they were expensive and resented by most people. Stan now looked closely at the technicians in the control room. He asked, "These are robots, too?"
Nora nodded. "There you see the latest Uvadekoto design. There's no other robot design as good on the entire planet. I've heard that some of the space colonies might still be ahead of us, though."
Prinstir commented, "Not for models that look like people. The colonies are concerned with productivity, not esthetics."
Nora grabbed onto Prinstir's arm and rested her head against his bulky frame. "Well, you still give me the creeps, Prinstir. When you came charging in here shouting 'Intruder!' you scared me out my wits. People are just more comfortable around people than hulking brutes like you."
Stan finally managed to get another word in, "Prinstir seems remarkably agile, even if rather spooky looking. You say all these robots were designed and built here?"
Nora seemed irked that Stan might doubt her word. "Of course." She explained, I'd never trust a robot from outside. Who knows what might be hidden in a robot's programming? Prinstir is only agile compared to the klunking robots that you are familiar with. Uvadekoto is far ahead in robotics...and most other important technologies. Come on, we should go back up and dress for dinner."
Nora led the way out of the generator and into an office or control room that held a large number of virtual reality interface work stations. A few workers, Stan dared not even try to guess if they were biological or machine, were using the equipment. For a minute Nora used one of the work stations. A display panel showed what appeared to be some kind of complex schedule. She only shook her head a few times and then shut off the computer display and moved on to an elevator of rather conventional glass walled design. Stan commented, "I don't see how a small community like this is able to stay ahead of the rest of the world in so many areas of technology."
Nora said mysteriously, "You are not expected to understand. All you need to do is help with the mathematics we are dealing with." She spoke a floor designation to the elevator and asked Stan, "Do you think you can find the teserant functions for sedronic matter?"
The elevator rose quickly, surprising Stan with the sudden force. Stan shook his head. "I've never paid much attention to physics and applied math. What kind of information do you have on the physical properties of these 'sedrons'?"
Nora said, "Bah! What do you do with all your spare time when you are not in math classes? Go for long runs?" She eyed his legs from shoes to running shorts. "That gives you nice legs, but you'd be better off building up a knowledge of other fields like physics. Theoretical mathematicians make me want to puke."
For many years Stan had dreamed of becoming a theoretical mathematician, but he just chuckled at Nora's bigotry. He said, "I like to run. It clears my mind."
Nora led Stan and Prinstir out of the elevator. "Gah! Clear your mind of what? Listen, I'll teach you all you need to know about the properties of sedrons. Just tell me, do you think you can handle the math?"
Stan had no idea, but he had so far seen nothing in Nora's mathematical puzzles that seemed impossible to sort out...given time. "I'm willing to give it a try. This seems like an interesting problem. I still do not understand what your game is. I half suspect that those are matter-antimatter reactors down there. What are you planing to do, solve the fossil fuel replacement problem?"
Nora took hold of Stan's hand and hurried him along the hallway that meandered through a residential quarter of the archology. "Don't worry about my ultimate aims. We're not building a weapon, if that possibility is bothering you."
Stan had not even contemplated a weapon. For a moment he was shocked, first at the idea then at his failure to imagine it as a possibility for what Nora was doing. "Well, I don't really think what you're building down there is a power plant either. I saw nothing that would be able to carry vast amounts of power out of this archology."
Nora stubbornly refused to give in to Stan's fishing for information. "All I want from you are the teserant functions for sedronic physics. Oh, and you also need a shower before dinner. You stink."
Stan retorted, "I was on my way to get a shower when you insisted on rushing me over here." For a few seconds they negotiated a rather busy intersection of two corridors. Stan asked, "What if such a theory doesn't give you an insight for how to make sedrons?"
Now turning onto on a quieter sideway, Nora released Stan's hand. "It will. I'm not worried about that."
Stan sighed, "I hope some day you get around to telling me everything that you are keeping secret. I hate working in the dark."
Nora did not care at all about Stan's wishes. "You prove your worth and I'll crown you King Stan of Uvadekoto."
Stan asked, "And just who are you? Queen Nora?"
"Not quite. I'm one of twenty three that make up the Directorate. However, the way things have worked out, the sedronics project has taken on special importance. If we figure out how to make sedrons then I'll be crowned Queen Nora on the same day that you become King Stan."
They had made their way back to Nora's apartment. She led him into a large and lavishly furnished bedroom suite and showed him where the shower was. She said, "Hurry up, it's time for dinner."
Stan took a quick shower and found Nora and Prinstir waiting with local clothing for him when he was done. Nora had changed into an elaborate robe that had thousands of built-in light emitting diodes. In contrast, the clothing for Stan was a conservative formal suit. Dressed for dinner, they went out to the living room. Stan was surprised to find not only Tilly waiting for them, but also a dozen other members of Nora's family. The group immediately set off by foot. Tilly said, "I made a reservation at that new sea food place, but we are late. Let's hurry." She took Nora's arm and hurried her along, "They might not hold a seat, even for you."
Stan was introduced to Nora's father, a half dozen of Nora's cousins and four of Nora's brothers and sisters. Soon they arrived at their destination and settled around a large table. The food was excellent and Stan was hungry after his long run. He had not eaten since breakfast. He concentrated on eating and listened to the lively banter that crisscrossed the table. There was about an equal mix of "shop talk" and chatter about the artistic and cultural side of Uvadekoto; various plays then running and artists with new open houses in progress to show off their work.
Stan was seated between Nora and her sister Jillia who was involved in some kind of telecommunications research project. Stan could not help noticing that Jillia and her cousins were all very slim and he speculated about why Nora was so much heftier. Nora and Jillia had very similar facial features that were an interesting mix of their parents. Jillia kept talking about "hierions" and "hierion communications" and the minute technical details of her work, details that meant nothing to Stan. Finally, desert was served. Stan was already full and Jillia had eaten next to nothing until the desert course. As she dove into a large bowl of cake and ice cream Stan asked, "What are these 'hierions' you mentioned?"
Stan noticed that Nora became silent in the middle of her own on-going conversation with her father and turned to hear what Jillia would say. Jillia slowly swallowed the food she was chewing and replied, "Didn't Nora describe hierions and sedrons to you?"
Nora answered for Stan, "I'm still trying to convince him that sedrons are real. I haven't gotten to hierions yet."
Jillia went back to eating, apparently hoping that Stan would drop the topic of hierions. However, Stan was intrigued and guessed that there was more new and secret physics lurking behind the term "hierions". He said, "I've been sitting here thinking that if Nora is manufacturing a new kind of fermion, unknown to the world of physics, then maybe 'hierions' are something similar. For communications it would be neat to have a new kind of boson."
Nora said, "Good deductions, Stan."
He shook his head in wonder. "How can a tiny community like this be so full of scientific breakthroughs and new technology that surpasses what the rest of the world can produce? I'm dazzled. Astounded. Perplexed." A silence had fallen around the table.
Nora spoke up and addressed her family members. She said, "Now that we have a moment of silence, let me tell you all about my day. I was out hunting for Stan, who the press was trumpeting yesterday as the new boy wonder of mathematics. We just buzzed in this evening and I have not had the chance to bring him up to speed with our secrets." She turned to Stan and spoke more quietly, "Yes, we have some very interesting secrets. Jillia is probably the one to give you the story of how all this came about." She leaned back and spoke more quietly to her sister, "Really, I wasted the whole day trying to grab Stan, so I need to put in a few hours on the twistor array."
Stan, seated between the two sisters, was turning his head back and forth, intrigued by their similar facial features and puzzled by Nora's bulkiness that contrasted dramatically with Jillia's slim and graceful body. Stan noticed that Nora looked rather annoyed by the flashy and revealing clothing that her sister wore. Nora asked suspiciously, "What are your plans for this evening?"
A half dozen varied conversations were picking up again around the table. Jillia set down her fork and replied, "A bunch of us are going to a play, but Stan is welcome to tag along."
Nora grimaced, "Let me guess. That horrid Ormansow farce."
Jillia fired back, "Don't call it horrid...you haven't even seen it."
Nora commented, rather loudly, "The whole premise is sickening!"
Jillia shouted back, "Well, not everyone has time to arrange for a parade of gigolos in their life!"
For a moment the table became quiet again and Stan wondered if the two sisters would come to blows.
Nora took a deep breath, unclenched her fists and stood up. "Fine." She took a step away from the table then turned back to her sister, "Please take the time tell him the story of how Uvadekoto got started." Nora said to Stan, "I'll try to be back before midnight." She turned and went off across the restaurant. Stan noticed that Prinstir had been standing in corner. The robot now joined Nora and the two of them went out together.
Stan turned back to Jillia and watched her finish eating her cake. Between bites she told Stan a disjointed story of how the Uvadekoto archology had come into existence. She started the story, "Firstly, this isn't an archology. So stop saying that."
Stan scratched his head, "Then what should I call this place? And when did you ever hear me mention the word archology?"
Jillia explained, "I'm a communications expert and I'm in the Uvadekoto security forces. Any time Nora goes outside I'm always tracking her and listening to her. She pointed to Stan's security bracelet, "And that allows us to track you and hear every word you say. Anyhow, this is a spaceship."
Stan shouted, "What?"
The rest of the family had resumed their conversations, leaving Jillia to the task of informing Stan, but now heads snapped back again towards Stan and Jillia. Stan continued, quietly. "This entire complex? How is that possible? You could never-" He was going to say that nothing could get such a large mass off the planet, but then he thought about the "power generators" he had seen, what Nora called the "twistor array". He suddenly realized that the twistor array was the engine room for Uvadekoto and Uvadekoto was a spaceship. Somehow the sedrons that Nora so desperately craved would allow this entire community to rise off planet and become a mobile spaceship.
Jillia watched the waves of understanding sweep over Stan. She said, "Exactly."
Stan slowly recovered some of his composure, "But how...why...what makes you all so special? How is such a technological leap possible?"
Jillia sighed. "It all started hundreds of years ago, even before the start of the space age. Lera Winskailop (yes, a distant ancestor of the Winsou clan) built the first Hieric receiver. She thought she was making a detector for use in synchrotron experiments, but her hierion detector started chirping right away. Eventually she realized that she was detecting a message from another planet."
Stan felt his mouth hanging open. "You mean that your family has been talking to aliens for hundreds of years? All this...this spaceship is alien technology?"
Jillia could sense that Stan was somewhat afraid of aliens and the idea that her family was involved with creatures from another world. She replied calmly, "Alien inspired, yes."
Stan objected, "How has this been kept secret for so long?"
"Well, Lera kept it in the family. At first it was just a problem in trying to understand the alien signal. That alone took several generations. By then, the habits of secrecy were well developed. And then as soon as the alien signal was understood to be a message from aliens, the technological advances started coming. One of the first tricks learned from the aliens was a subtle biological trick that made secrecy much easier." Jillia paused. "I hate to do this to you, but I'm not allowed to explain that trick to you. It was our first real leap ahead of the rest of the world and it still allows us to keep our whole history -and the true purpose of Uvadekoto- secret from outsiders."
Stan suggested, "I bet it has to do with brain biology....something like erasing memories." Stan asked, "If anyone outside of this community does learn your secrets can you just erase their memories?" His thoughts turned more personal. He demanded, "If I tried to tell others about your secrets would you erase my brain?"
Jillia rolled her eyes at Stan's rising hysteria. The secret she did not want to discuss was the fact that Uvadekoto had a developing nanorobotics technology. Sta had already been infected by nanites that could alter his emotional balance. Even as they spoke the nanites were inside Stan's brain, nullifying his rising fears and anxiety. Jillia changed the subject, "I can tell you most everything else. I'm just a specialist in hieric communications...I couldn't really tell you much about other things like sedronics. However, it is not that we have been talking to the aliens. All we have is the Message that they sent out into outer space. The aliens wanted to help other worlds learn how to communicate with them. To our great shame, we still cannot figure out how to transmit a hieric signal. So all we do is listen. Most of what was in their first transmission is still mysterious to us, but we have figured out parts of it."
Stan prompted, "First transmission?"
Jillia nodded. "Right. For centuries it just kept repeating, then everything changed. A new message arrived saying that there was a way to not only communicate at speeds faster than light, but-"
Stan cut in, "Faster than light?"
Jillia giggled. "Sorry. Didn't I mention that? Hierions can travel through space much faster than light. Anyhow, a new message arrived that was all about sedrons and how to build a spaceship that can travel faster than light. However, just as for the First Message, we have never been able to figure out most of what is in the Second Message. The science of the aliens is so far beyond this world's primitive science that...well, we do the best we can."
Stan noticed that he and Jillia were the only ones still seated at the table. Jillia spoke to her brother who was standing behind Stan's chair, "Are you coming with us or not?"
"No, I'd have to leave early. Let Stan use my ticket."
Stan stood up and the ticket was forced into his hand. Stan mumbled, "Ah, thanks."
Metslen shook Stan's hand and re-introduced himself, correctly judging that Stan would have been overwhelmed by the flood of names just before dinner. "I'm Metslen...I did not get a chance to speak to you before dinner. I'm Nora's big brother. I've already seen the play twice, so no worries if I miss it tonight. It's fun...I hope you enjoy it."
Metslen departed, leaving just those who were going as a group to the play. Jillia drained her cup, stood up and took Stan's arm. It was a good twenty minute walk and three elevator rides to get to the theater for the play. With Jillia close by his side, Stan tried to let slip from his mind all of the astounding things he had learned that day about Uvadekoto technology. The walkways of Uvadekoto were dim and crowded; many of the extravagantly dressed residents were just sitting in front of their apartments and chatting with passersby. The entire world within a world that was Uvadekoto exceeded all his imaginings of wealth ad privilege. He decided that it could be fun and exciting to have rich acquaintances. Jillia and her cousins discussed the play writer Ormansow and his penchant for including robots as cast for his plays.
After commenting to Karsa, Jillia's second cousin, about how impressed he was by the robots of Uvadekoto, Karsa laughed and said, "You ain't see nothing yet!" She took hold of Stan's free arm and described a scene from the first robotics-oriented play that Ormansow had written and produced a few years previously... a play with a rather adult theme as Stan judged from Karsa's description.
While Karsa prattled on, Stan glanced to his right and at caught Jillia giggling and looking up at him with a pink tint creeping onto her face. Stan was a bit scandalized by what he was hearing and asked, "How old are you, anyhow?"
Karsa admitted to being fourteen and Jillia said that she was eighteen. Stan commented, "It doesn't sound like this Ormansow produces plays that children should see without parental supervision."
Karsa jabbed an elbow into Stan's ribs. "Hey, I'm an adult."
Stan objected, "Not where I live, kid."
Karsa "accidentally" stepped on Stan's toe with a spiked heal. He was wearing a "dress shoe" that Prinstir had handed to him back in Nora's apartment...it really was not much more than a soft slipper and did nothing to protect Stan's foot. He cried out, "Ow! You did that on purpose."
Jillia laughed and her uncle, Cid, looked back over his shoulder and said, "Some friendly advice, Stan...don't provoke those two. They might look harmless, but I learned long ago not to walk too close behind a mule. Anyhow, you may have lost track in all the introductions tonight, but I am Karsa's father."
Karsa muttered, "Daddy, if I'm a mule then you're an ass."
Cid shook his head and grinned at Stan. "What did I say? You'll learn that age is not respected here in Uvadekoto."
Stan decided to risk mentioning the confrontation he had witnessed earlier between Nora and her mother. "I've never seen a daughter speak that way to her mother."
Jillia said, "Well, Nora is a bitch, and she's be the first to admit it. She's under a whole lot of pressure."
Karsa said, "She's a ticking timebomb and everyone knows it."
Cid commented, "Nobody else is willing to step up and put themself in Nora's position. She's tough as nails and that's what Uvadekoto needs more of, I think."
Karsa apparently had a long-standing political argument with her father over the governance of Uvadekoto and she launched into that with her father. Stan spoke more quietly to Jillia, "I'm still surprised that Nora bosses your mother around."
Jillia shrugged, "Well, Nora's the boss. Tilly was in charge of Engineering for a long time, but she failed to put any effort into theoretical sedronic physics. The importance of sedronics was stressed in the second Huaoshy message, but Tilly basically ignored it."
"That's what the aliens call themselves."
"I see." Stan was still not satisfied. "So Nora was the one to realize the importance of sedrons...and that gives her the right to be rude to her mother?"
Jillia now "accidentally" stepped on Stan's other foot. She was wearing simple slipper-like shoe similar to Stan's, so this assault was not as painful as Karsa's had been, but it made her point. She said, "Don't be stupid. Tilly was not thinking...she was going to mention one of our biggest concerns...something you need not worry about...yet. Look, Nora want's you to work, not be distracted by our political problems and disputes. She's desperate to solve the theoretical math of sedronic physics and...well, we all are. So give her a break, okay?"
Stan regretted having brought it up, but he nodded. "Fine, I'll drop the matter. But it still bothers me. I'm not some fragile mathematical boy genius that has to be protected from the big bad world."
Jillia was not so sure. "After what I've told you tonight, and what Nora told you today, I'd expect you to show a bit more humility. You still haven't heard half the story of Uvadekoto. There's plenty that is big and bad...be glad you don't have to deal with it."