Chapter Eleven of The Start of EternityEdit
Is it possible to reconstruct the behavioral nature of our ancestor species? All we have are extrapolated guesses based on cladistics... -Retair Book of the Dawn
After the play was over they walked back home. Karsa was very enthusiastically singing praises for Ormansow, "He's a genius! There is no question about it. The whole story is completely true, but amplified by the very fiction of the story line!"
Stan was shocked. First he had been shocked by the play then by the audience reaction and now by the way Karsa was expressing herself and how her father now just chuckled and grinned. Stan started to say, "How can you-" Jillia put a hand over his mouth and pulled him towards the rest rooms. She called to the rest of the group, "Stan will walk me home. See you all later!"
Jillia took Stan right into the men's room and said, "Don't get into an argument over this. Let the little twit enjoy herself! This was her birthday celebration tonight. Let it go!"
Stan sputtered, "How can you listen to her spouting nonsense? 'The story is completely true!' That's crap! The whole play was crap, just like Nora said...horrid."
Jillia said, "Shut up! You don't know what you're talking about."
Stan would not let it go. "Why were all the robots male and all the other characters female? It's like some kind of sick perversion of reality."
Jillia gestured to the restroom. "Look around you, Stan. Open your eyes? Can't you see our reality?"
Stan had no idea what she meant. "What?"
Jillia reached up and pushed Stan's eyelid further apart. "Open your eyes. The reality of Uvadekoto is that in my generation, females outnumber males eight to one. Look around! There are no men!"
Stan had noticed that the audience for the play was mostly women. He had assumed that men just were not interested in a play about robots having sex with women. He could not believe what Jillia was telling him. He asked, "How can that be?"
Jillia took his arm and led him out of the restroom and out of the play house and towards home. Along the way she explained, "Uvadekoto is ahead of the rest of the planet in all kinds of technologies. This community has been performing genetic engineering for a couple of centuries. At first the goal was to establish two-way communications with the Huaoshy, then the goal was to build Uvadekoto, this spaceship we live in. This place is built according to an alien design...you can see our advanced machines like our robots, but we slowly learned another secret...about ourselves."
Jillia was silent for a long time. Stan tried to imagine a secret so terrible that she could not speak of it. He was counting the number of men and women they passed along the way and it was clear that there were far more women walking about than there was men. Finally she said, "I still do not understand it, but...well, we are aliens."
Stan felt a hot prickling sensation on the back of his neck and looked at her in horror. Stan managed to stutter out, "Y-you? Nora? Ev-everyone in this -this place?"
Jillia shook her head. "No, Stan, that's not it. That's not it at all. How could we keep that secret? No, it is far deeper than that. Everyone is alien. At least, alien...manufactured."
Stan could not imagine what she was trying to say. "What do you mean? Manufacturing people like manufacturing robots?"
Jillia explained it as best she could, "I'm not a biologist, but the biologists say it is clear. The aliens created our species, designed us. They were here, millions of years ago. They made us in their image."
Stan was flabbergasted. "How can that be? Where did these mysterious aliens go? Why did they do this to us...make us? How do you know this is true? It sounds like bad science fiction!"
Jillia patted his arm, "You just do not want to believe it. None of us wanted to believe it. How do we know? The Huaoshy told us. Their hieric communications are full of it...they call us "our children". And the Messages tell us about our biology. How could that be if the aliens had not already been here and seen us?"
Stan pulled his arm away from her. "I don't know. None of this makes sense. You're not making sense. This sounds like some kind of crazy rationalization for that...the deranged rantings of Ormansow."
Jillia continued, "For a while it looked like this community would die out. The women stopped having children and they mostly all became scientists, studying the alien message and figuring out how to make the fantastic machines and devices that the alien Message told us about. One of the first big advances that was made, with alien, help was in the area of genetic engineering. So we promptly made things worse. Women are smarter than men."
Stan had heard that. It was thought to be due to the distribution of genes on the sex chromosomes. The brains of women were different than those of men. Jillia was still talking, "The aliens, of course, knew all about this. They told us the genes that are responsible and it was trivial to amplify those genes and make women even more intelligent. And people started trying to avoid giving birth to boys. Who wants a stupid boy when you can have a clever girl?"
Stan commented, "That's why there is a Global Mandate against sex selection."
Jillia nodded, "Yes, but that Mandate goes back to the days before genetics, back when there were still nation states. Back then some cultures were very patriarchal and female babies were sometimes killed. People wanted male heirs. What I'm talking about turns all of that on its head. And our genetic engineers again made things worse. It was almost trivial to alter our genes and give women the ability to reproduce clonally."
Stan's feet froze. "Clones?" Another couple that happened to be within earshot looked at Stan and Jillia took hold of his arm and pulled him along the walkway. As they passed, Stan noticed that the other couple was two women. They moved off down the walkway, hand-in-hand.
Jillia explained, "And the genetic engineers turned back the clock for reproductive maturation. You were shocked to hear Karsa calling herself an adult, but here it is the literal truth. Almost every woman in Uvadekoto can reproduce by age 12 or so."
Stan objected, "But Karsa is just a little girl! She's a foot shorter than you and even you should not be functionally adult if you're only 18. This is madness."
Jillia continued, "It is survival. You probably know the statistics for the whole planet. Males typically start producing gametes at about age 20. Women at about age 24. But here, it is half that for women. It was accomplished with a single genetic change, a simple hormonal switch. But biology wasn't the whole answer to our survival. The problem was not only that women needed a wider time window for reproductive activity. Our women still found other things to do besides having children. So a surrogate mother program was started and that worked. For a while."
Stan asked, "You mean paying women from outside Uvadekoto to carry the babies to term?"
Jillia nodded, "Yes, but this was before the second message from the Huaoshy. Uvadekoto was not even imagined back then. But even more changes came. Robots and the skewed male/female ratio developed together. Women started deciding...well, why put up with some stupid guy when you can just clone yourself? And of course, women figured out how to have babies together, sexually, by artificially combining their two female gametes to make an embryo. So that is where we are now."
Stan asked, "So that play...that is the reality of Uvadekoto?"
Jillia giggled. "The play we just saw is a farcical future history, if you like. Ormansow is a typical artistic genius who can make us laugh at our must anxiety-producing cultural foibles. He tells stories about where we might one day end up at the rate we are going."
They walked in silence for a few minutes. "Of course, the most powerful and desirable women can still sometimes get a husband. Most women just give up and establish a household with one or two other women. And the number of male babies just keeps going down. The entire population is going down again. So we build robots and bring in outsiders just to meet our labor demands. We're a failing culture that cannot replace its losses to old age and death."
They had reached the apartment and Jillia led Stan inside. She said, "Nora will be back in a bit. I'll wait here with you. They sat down in the living room and she continued with her story. "So there is no point for you to argue with kids like Karsa. In this culture she is counted as an adult and she is encouraged to have children...male children are most rewarded, but we'll settle for anything. That silly play does portray the world that Karsa knows."
Stan realized that he was still upset by the robot sex. "You mean...?"
Jillia giggled. "What? Does all this embarrass you? If Karsa likes men and there isn't a dashing young mathematician around when she needs one, well...why shouldn't she make use of a robot?"
Stan objected, "But if you encourage that...kind of behavior, then it is just going to make things worse. The male population will continue to decline...your whole population will decline. It would not surprise me if our species' whole reproductive instinct is dependent on a male-female social dynamic. What you have here is a recipe for extinction!"
Jillia leaned her head against Stan's shoulder. "There is a part of the story that I left out. This is where Nora comes in...she should tell you this part, but she's not back yet, so..."
Stan noticed that he was quite weary. He blinked his eyes and yawned and tried to imagine what else Jillia had to say. He was numb from the many shocking things he had already heard. She continued, "Of course, the idea that men are less intelligent is not exactly right. Males have different forms of intelligence, some of which are no longer valued within a modern technological society. Nora provides the textbook example. She's as smart as anyone. She has engineered genes and was subjected to the most careful regimen of child rearing. She can absorb mathematics as fast as anyone can feed it to her, but..."
Stan had been staring into the fake fire place, but he looked down into her upturned face. Jillia was looking up into Stan's eyes and he waited for her to continue. After a long silence he grew uncomfortable. He asked, "I'm just a stupid male. Tell me what you are trying to say."
She grinned, "I think you do know. It is perfectly clear. It is why I am here with you, gazing up into your eyes with my heart thumping in my chest. It is why even Karsa was flirting with you tonight. It is why Nora sat in your dorm room for hours today waiting for you to show up. She needs you. We need you."
Stan was not buying it. "Why me?"
Jillia jumped to her feet, "Nora!"
Nora was standing in the little hallway entrance that led from the living room to her workshop. She said, "Go ahead and finish the story."
Jillia ignored her sister and said, "Good night, Stan." With a small flutter of her fingers she was out the door.
Stan was too drained of energy and stunned by what he had been told to even get up. Nora came over and sat next to the simulated fire. She was now dressed in a loose fitting jumpsuit with sturdy work boots. She kicked off the boots and said, "I told you why I need you. Of course, it might not actually be you. I need someone who can figure out a theory of sedronic matter."
Stan remembered some of the odd comments he had heard that evening. He said bitterly, "Apparently you have been at this for a while."
Nora nodded, "I told you the truth. Three years. And ya, by this point I'm seemingly scraping the bottom of the barrel. Frankly, I don't have much hope that you will be able to do what no other mathematician has been able to do. Still, you were close at hand and I figured, why not a kid? What I need is someone with a spark of creativity that nobody else has. I'm thinking...maybe mathematical training drains the creativity out. Kids like you go to university and get your head filled up with piles of garbage."
Stan smirked, "Right. I told you earlier today that I like to clear my head."
She went down on her knees in front of where he sat and took his hands in hers, "Okay then, clear out the garbage and let me give you the good stuff. The Huaoshy sent us gigabytes of mathematics, but it is like a code written in mathematical notation, an alien notation. Can you do it?" She looked up into his face imploringly.
He felt a strange tingling where their hands met and then a dizziness. His throat was dry. At that moment he noticed a motion and turned his head. Prinstir was there, watching from the open door to the bedroom. Nora called out, "What is it?"
The machine replied, "It's getting late. It is time."
Nora stood up and pulled Stan to his feet. She winked at him, "Duty calls." She tugged gently at his hand and led him to the bedroom.
Stan meekly followed along, feeling like he was in a dream. At the foot of the bed she turned to face him and placed her hands on his chest. She started to unfasten the ridiculous clasps of his formal suit. He croaked, "I, I should go."
She shrugged, "I don't want you to do anything that you are not comfortable with, but I need you. I want your loyalty. I want you to share my desire for success. It has been explained to you now...this entire community needs you to figure out the sedronic teserant functions. You and I must work as a team. If we do, we can..."
Stan pulled free of her, leaving her holding the formal jacket. "I meant, I need to go." He went to the bathroom. He emptied his bladder and then drank cold water from the sink to sooth his sore throat. His heart was racing and his head felt anything but clear. A minute later he rejoined Nora. The lights were dim and she was in the bed. He sat down next to her. "My head is spinning. I can't believe half of what I've seen and heard today."
Nora giggled, "Which half is that?"
Stan tried to think and failed. He felt his pulse pounding. "I keep thinking about something your sister said, about a parade of gigolos."
Nora laughed loudly. "She's jealous. I saw the way she was snuggling against you. She likes you."
Stan shook his head, "She explained the whole thing...the shortage of males here. That it is common practice to bring in males from the outside."
Nora took hold of his hand. "Does it make you feel like you are being used? Did she really explain things to you?" She looked around like she was trying to find something, then called out, "Prinstir! Where are my readies?"
The robot was there, in a deeply shadowed corner of the room. He picked the glasses up off of a table and brought them to Nora. She put them on and used them to access and review a recording of what had been said to Stan that evening while she had been busy working on the twistor array. Stan glared at the lurking robot where it stood, now back in the dark corner. While she sped through the record of what Jillian had told Stan, Nora noticed that he was not happy to have the robot present. She ordered the machine, "Leave us."
The robot objected, "But it is time to start the training session-"
Nora shouted, "Shut up and get out!"
Stan was again amazed by Nora's harshness. She reached out and took hold of his hand again and once more he felt a strange tingling sensation. He tried to examine his own frame of mind and emotions, but he was struggling against a current of emotion that he had never felt before. He realized that he was terrified of Nora while at the same time being captivated. She was still reviewing the recording, but she began to speak, "Jillia probably did not dare to mention it, but there is a reason for the way you are feeling, for why you cannot get up and leave." She asked, "Do I scare you? Do you think I can read your mind?"
She pulled off the computer interface glasses and her eyes did almost seem to glow in the dim light. Stan mumbled, "Telepathy?" Part of his mind whispered, why not? I've heard every other insane fantasy today...
She explained, "It is one of the technologies of the aliens."
Stan gasped, "You can read...control my mind?"
She nodded, "In a way, but it is not telepathy. This is reality, not science fiction. You've seen our robots, but we also have a nanorobotics industry. On the outside, outside of Uvadekoto, nanotechnology is just getting started, but the alien Message gave us a huge boost and revealed key tricks for making nanoscale machines. I've sent a swarm of nanites into you. They've been adjusting your emotions and memory...mainly just helping you absorb and believe what you have been told today. Does that frighten you?"
It did frighten him and it was her intention to frighten him. The source of the fright was revealed to the nanoscopic machines inside his brain and they immediately set about adjusting the activity of the neural circuits that produced his fright and made him think of Nora as a manipulative monster. Stan felt his emotions shift from fear and loathing to admiration and lust. Nora pulled his hand to her lips. "Are you tired? As Prinstir was saying, I have other things I could be doing. If you are not ready for this we can try again another time."
Stan asked, "So it's true? What Jillia said...you bring mathematicians here and..."
Nora asked, "Does that bother you? Think of it as my own personal research project. I'm not at all certain that you can solve the sedronic teserant functions. I need a backup plan."
Stan objected, "That's not the way to build my confidence...either self-confidence or confidence in the power of teamwork with you."
Nora giggled and squeezed his hand, "Stop talking so much, I'm ready to demonstrate my teamwork skills."
Stan tried to catch his breath. "You know, I'm underage."
Nora shook her head, "I told you that the laws you grew up with do not apply here. All that matters is what you want to do."
Stan put his free hand to his head and then shook his head, trying to clear the dizziness. "First you tell me that you've put mind-altering machines in my brain then you talk about what I want?"
Nora explained, "Well, I could probably turn you into my puppet, but it is a point of honor. And if I pushed you too hard with the nanites that would provoke a resentment that would remove any chance of you becoming a useful colleague."
Stan complained, "I do feel resentment. Do you really expect me to trust you...to trust anything that you say? I don't believe most of these stories about aliens and...I don't trust myself to sort the fantasy from what grains of truth there might be..."
Nora sighed and leaned back against the headboard. "If this is too much for you then you should just leave, but it is true...I've done nothing to change the way you really feel about me...as a person. I can use the nanites to screen out your irrational fears...I know too much has been revealed to you too quickly today. However, it looks to me like you are quite enticed by the prospect of having me take advantage of you. I've been completely honest with you about my intentions. Okay, maybe I'm a pushy and manipulative bitch and maybe I've pushed you too fast and you cannot keep up." She couldn't keep a straight face and tittered. She said sarcastically, "Ya, right."
Stan was provoked into a grin. "Okay, I'm a fraud. And a coward. I'm afraid of you, so I'm inventing reasons for not acting on my instincts."
Nora batted her eyes and put on her best performance, trying to look vulnerable. "Have no doubt, I'd like to give it a try...test your instincts."
Stan chuckled, "Sorry, Nora, but you just can't do a convincing job of acting innocent. And knowing that your robot henchman is nearby upsets me."
She shrugged. "Ya, I know. I'm not innocent, but I'm not kidding when I say it is my project...my little science project. If there is nobody on this miserable planet who can understand sedronics then I'm ready and willing to take the next step and make a mathematician who is competent to understand Huaoshy mathematics."
Stan finally realized what she meant. "Jillia was not joking...you're..." Words failed him.
She did not shrink from saying it, "I believe that there is some combination of genes on this dirt ball planet that will produce a mathematician who can understand sedronic physics."
Stan asked, "And you think that you and I have that combination of genes?"
Nora shrugged. "Well, I doubt it, but I'm willing to give it a try. Do you have a better idea? Anyhow, enticing you into my web of intrigue also helps draw you in emotionally and develop your commitment to the task I've set before you. So far all you have done is say that you will try to help me with an interesting math problem. I want to motivate you and make you share my burning desire to solve that problem."
Stan wiped sweat from his brow, "You can see that I'm burning, but I do not understand how you can expect me to willingly submit to your manipulation. No man wants to be the object of cold calculation."
Nora pulled his hand to her lips and gave him a playful bite. She suggested, "Maybe it is you who are doing too much calculating. I promise you, my manipulations can be very entertaining. I think you should just relax and enjoy yourself, but if you are not up for it, I'll just call Prinstir back in."
Somehow that did it: Stan could not take the thought of turning his back on Nora if it meant that machine returning. He had no idea what being Nora's "personal robot" entailed or what Prinstir had been talking about when he had mentioned a "training session", but Stan was in no mood to find out. In the dim light Nora looked like a seductive dream and Stan knew there was only one thing he wanted to do. He took hold of her and then took his time, enjoying the entire experience.
Later they rested together and Nora whispered, "Did you finally wear yourself out?"
Stan was almost asleep, but her words brought him back from the ghostly border of unconsciousness. He said, "You wore me out." She giggled and he stroked her face. A strange thought came to him. He asked, "How old are you?"
She asked, "What's your guess?"
"When you are bossing everyone around I can imagine that you are thirty, but right now you look like a child."
"Your instincts are good. I'm twenty four, still underage by your laws. Does that make us even?"
"Hardly. You planned all of this. I'm the victim."
She placed a hand over his mouth, "Hush. You're being silly. We're partners, setting off on the great adventure of solving the mystery of sedronic physics so we can go to the stars. Now, since you won't go to sleep, just shut up and and let me satisfy that pushy robot." She turned over and called out, "Okay, Prinstir."
The robot had obviously been hovering nearby, listening for her to call. Prinstir came into the room pushing a cart loaded with machinery. Prinstir then silently turned and left the room. A robotic arm slid outward from the cart towards Nora's abdomen and touched her there. Stan had been trying to avoid touching her rather large belly and now he stiffened and wondered what was going on. Nora took his hand and guided it to her abdomen and placed their hands next to place where the robotic probe touched her skin. "Relax. This is the training session...and junior really gets into it."
Stan had no idea what she was talking about. He was surprised to notice that her belly was firm, almost hard. He relaxed a bit and rubbed gently at the odd bulges. Then he felt a kick. He finally realized what he was feeling, "You're pregnant!"
She giggled and pulled his hand back into place. She explained, "This is alien technology, training junior's neural networks to grow and expand."
Stan asked lamely, "Junior?"
Nora sighed, "Don't be jealous. This is a science project. I call him 'Junior'...when he's born I'll give him a name...maybe use the name of his father. I could tell you who the father is...you'd probably recognize the name, he's a rather famous mathematician...but he was not able to devise a theory of sedronics."
Stan was jealous. "He's here?"
"The father? No, I sent him home months ago. He was stumped, made no progress on the mysteries of Huaoshy mathematics." The fetus gave another stronger lurch. "Feel that?"
Stan had felt it. He thought about the prospect of further "teamwork" with Nora and the idea of "manufacturing" a baby with her. He finally slipped into sleep, a sleep full of strange dreams including one about a strange alien creature inside Nora. For a minute his eyes snapped open in horror. He had found his burning motivation to understand sedronic physics...he decided that no alien was better at mathematics than he was, and he would prove it. It seemed that Nora was asleep, but the robotic arm still seemed to be "training Junior". Stan slipped back into sleep, vaguely wondering if the same nanites were being used inside both his own brain and Junior's.
When Stan woke up he was alone. He called out, "Light," and the room brightened slowly. There was no sign of Nora, Prinstir or the "training" cart. Stan wondered how he had gone through the entire previous day without figuring out that Nora was pregnant. He told himself that it was because she was so young. Children were supposed to devote themselves to study and learning. All around the world people seldom tried to start a family until they were in their thirties. True, he was aware of stories about some isolated communities that required early arranged marriages, but that was a rare cultural oddity.
The nearly planet-wide bias against early marriage was a cultural remnant from the time when the greenhouse effect had started baking the planet. Back then, world population levels were rapidly rising and social engineering measures were devised to discourage people from forming families and having children. And it was a biological reality of the species that brains continued to grow and attain their adult network patterns through the twenties and into the early thirties. Twenty eight had finally been set by Global Mandate as the age of adulthood.
At age 24, Nora's pregnancy was a crime...outside of Uvadekoto. To avoid thinking about his own criminal behavior, Stan got out of bed. He started exploring Nora's closets that opened up one after another along one of the long sides of the bedroom. There was a wide variety of clothing. He found that all of the men's clothing fit him well and seemed new. He remembered that Nora had spoken of pulling him into her web of intrigue...apparently she had been quite certain of her ability to trap him. There was a flicker in a closet mirror and Stan noticed Prinstir. The robot said, "I'll assist you, sir."
Stan was paging through the array of clothing that was pictured the closet's view display. He asked, "Do you have any idea what I'll be doing today?"
Prinstir stepped forward and stood beside Stan. The robot took control of the display and explained, "Today is a school day."
For a moment Stan wondered if he would be taken back to the university, but it was the weekend, not a school day. Unless..."What day is it?"
Prinstir calmly replied, "Ulfnersday. Nora has arranged for you to be introduced to Huaoshy science and mathematics. Your tutor is waiting for you at Central School."
Stan had imagined that Nora herself would be sharing with him what she knew about sedronic teserant functions. A drawer of the closet opened and he picked up the clothing that Prinstir had judged appropriate for a "school day". For the first time since going away from home to attend university, Stan felt again like he was receiving parental attention. He wondered if that was really Prinstir's job, as Nora's personal robot, to function as a surrogate parent.
Soon Stan was showered and dressed and he went in search of Nora. He found her in the kitchen. She was eating and talking to someone who at first Stan could not see. She popped up out of her chair and gave Stan a hug and asked him what he wanted to eat. Prinstir started preparing food for Stan and he moved to where he could see into the adjacent dining room. There were three young children there, playing on the floor. Nora scooped up the smallest child and sat back down at the table in the kitchen. She said, "This is Diny. The oldest is Ril and the other toddler is Berny." She spit up some food from her crop and fed it to Diny.
Stan sank into a chair and told himself that he should not be surprised. Still, he asked, "They're all yours?"
Nora laughed at the look of disbelief on his face. "What, you did not take me seriously?"
Stan nodded, "I never imagined that you were personally trying to create a new demographic trend." In the outside world it was almost unheard of for women to have more than two children, and mothers were typically in their thirties and forties.
Nora advised him, "If you are going to stick around, you'll hear all of the jokes about me. That I'm a poor mathematician because all I can do is multiplication. That...well, I'm not fond of the jokes, so I'll not speak any more of them. I probably deserve to be the object of ridicule and bad jokes, but...you know the rest."
Stan was not sure if he knew. He asked, "The rest of what?"
She replied, "If we can solve the mystery of how to manufacture sedrons then we'll be heroes...but maybe that's a burden you don't care to bear."
Stan was surprised to hear her expressing doubts. He decided it was a good thing if she was going to start being a bit vulnerable rather than so completely controlling. "I had a revelation last night. Well, several, but one that I think you want to hear about."
Nora mistakenly thought that Stan was trying to talk about their personal relationship, but before she could say anything, Prinstir set a plate of food in front of Stan. Stan looked up at the bulky machine and said, "Thanks, Prinstir."
The machine was already turning away, but it paused and told Stan, "There is no need to thank me. I'm programmed to serve."
Nora explained, "Ya, he's rude, but he's been around me for 25 years and I've taught him much bad behavior."
Stan almost complimented Prinstir on the tasty food, but he decided compliments on good programming were not welcome. "Twenty five? I thought you said you are only 24."
Nora nodded. "That's right. You should talk to Tilly about it some time. It was her generation that first accepted and adopted the practice of in utero training. That's what Jillia meant when she told you about the regimen of child rearing I was exposed to."
Stan wondered out loud, "Do you have any memory of that...training?"
Nora shook her head, "You mean, do I remember anything from before I was born? No. And I do not believe anyone who claims that they do. The neural circuits are all changed after birth...you'd have to retain an infant's brain structure in order to retain access to any memories of the time before birth. Anyhow, it is not that the in utero training is for creating memories. There are some tricky brain wiring challenges that just do not get negotiated correctly in most babies when it is all left to chance. Actually it is an interesting bit of biology."
Stan lifted an eyebrow. "You lost me."
"Okay, I'll explain that, but I'm still waiting to hear what your revelation was."
"Oh, just that I don't think any alien can be better at math than I am."
"Wow, very cocky. I like that attitude." Nora looked over to where Ril and Berny were playing. She called, "Ril, honey, come here for a minute."
Ril came running over and looked up at Nora, "Yes, mommy?"
Nora introduced Stan to her son, "This is Stan. He's going to be helping me with my math."
Ril showed no sign of surprise at this news. He looked at Stan and asked, "Where are you from?"
Stan was a bit spooked by Ril's fluency with language. "I'm a student at Venimor University."
"Oh, ya, I forgot. You're the 'kid'. All the others have been really old men."
Nora said, "Okay, you can go back to your game now." Nora explained, "According to Tilly I was the same way at two, but I think Ril is even more precocious with math. He can already do division and he seems to have an intuitive understanding of fractions."
Stan had been good with quantities and patterns from a young age, but he was still surprised by Ril. "Jillia tried to explain something to me last night. She said that we are aliens...all of us."
Nora wiped Diny's mouth and took him over and set him near his brothers. She came back to the table, but did not sit down, "Here's one theory. About ten million years ago a Huaoshy spaceship arrived here. They decided that our ancestors were the most promising lifeforms on the planet and so they started tinkering with genes, shaping a new species that would be more like the Huaoshy themselves." She shrugged. "Most biologists say that it could not work like that, that there must have been an on-going effort to keep altering our genes. In any case, what we know for sure is that there was a significant amount of biology in the hieric messages from the Huaoshy and they know a lot about our brain biology. I suspect that when we finally meet the aliens we will find that our species was created in their image."
Stan asked, "Did they send pictures of themselves?"
Nora nodded, "Yes, they did. You can ask Alastur to show you that section of the First Message."
Nora rubbed a temporal scent gland against Stan's face and headed for the door, "I'm going to be working with Tilly all day. Prinstir will take you to the school and Alastur will start leading you through the Huaoshy mathematics that we've been able to make sense of. I'll see you for dinner." She called goodbyes to her sons and went down the hallway towards her workshop.
Prinster hovered over Stan while he finished eating. Stan was trying to sort through his memories from the previous day, but he finally asked, "When should we be going?"
Prinstir replied, "We are quite late. I suppose Alastur has found something else to do by now, but we should be getting these three to their playatorium," The machine gestured towards the boys.
Stan stood up, "Okay, sorry. I guess I'm an expert at disrupting Uvadekoto schedules."
Prinstir cleared Stan's plate and utensils from the table and pulled a sling over his torso. He proceeded to load the three children into the sling and soon they were out of the apartment. Prinster showed Stan how he could program his bracelet to act as a guide to the complex network of walkways and elevator shafts in Uvadekoto. First they dropped the boys off at their playatorium then Prinster let Stan practice using his bracelet as directional guide to the Central School. Upon reaching the school Stan saw that it was a busy place. Stan asked, "Don't you folks believe in weekends?"
Prinster replied, "Most students and scholars work at their own pace. Weekends do not have much meaning when it comes to learning paths."
They found Alastur working in a small room and after a minimal introduction, Prinstir asked Stan, "Do you think you can find your way home?" Stan plugged his bracelet into a comport and the robot helped him program it for the route back to Nora's apartment. "There, you are all set." The robot departed.
Stan turned back to Alastur who looked to be only about ten or twelve years old. Alastur was only half as tall as Stan and he had his neck bent back so he could look up at Stan. "I guess you are too polite to ask, so I'll just tell you. I'm ten years old."
Having already been referred to as "the kid" by a two year old, Stan was ready to wait and see exactly how much Alastur knew about alien mathematics and sedronic physics. Stan figured it was not hard for anyone to know more about those things than he did. Stan made an effort to be diplomatic, "Well, thanks for helping me, and sorry I'm late."
Stan shrugged, "No problem. When Nora called me this morning she said you were sleeping in...some kind of jet lag, eh? I guess you just arrived in Uvadekoto yesterday, eh? Have you seen the Messages at all yet?"
Stan replied, "I've only heard Nora and her sister talk about the messages. I guess I still half suspect this is all some kind of hoax. How do you know that these messages are from aliens?"
Alastur pulled on a computer interface glove and dimmed the lights. "See for yourself." He used the walls of the room to project views of the text of the hieric messages and handed a pair of gloves to Stan, "Scroll through and you'll see it is like a giant puzzle, in code. The red shaded parts we have some understanding of. As you can see, the red is just a few small islands in a sea of blue. We have no idea what most of these messages are about."
The gloves were a bit different from what Stan was familiar with using and for a while Alastur explained how they worked. After twenty minutes Stan was still making mistakes. Alastur said, "Take them off. Take a break. Look at this." He picked up a small device from the table. "This is a hieric receiver. Listen." Strange buzzing and squeals came from the little box. "This is the second message, of course. It replaced the first message, but we have complete recordings of both. You can listen to the second message all you want...until you believe it is real."
Stan was not impressed, "For all I know your grandmother created this message."
Alastur smirked, "A skeptic, eh? I should make you build your own hieric receiver."
Stan asked, "Just so I can talk to your granny? No thanks."
Alastur suggested, "Mention my grandma one more time and I'll have her come over here and teach you a few lessons."
Stan smiled and apologized, "Look, I have nothing against your ancestors, but I think you take my point. Before I start grinding on a problem I like to know if it is worth my time."
"This problem is worth far more than your time, but if you are not interested then you are free to leave."
"Don't get your beak out of joint. I'm interested." Stan put the computer controller gloves back on and gestured at the wall. A portion of the First Message swung into higher magnification. "For example, this looks like a table of the elements, but it is still in the blue, so I assume I'm wrong, but it seems like there must be some feature in these messages that is clearly of alien origin, like a map of a distant region of space that could not have been known when the message was first received. I'd take something like that as proof of an alien origin."
Alastur was not listening to Stan. He pulled his own glove back on and was looking closely at the part of the Message Stan had indicated. "One of the long-standing mysteries is why the Messages do not include a systematized table of the elements. Most of us have assumed that it is just too trivial of a topic, so the Huaoshy did not bother mentioning it. I don't see why you are suggesting that this part of the message might be a table."
Stan tried to explain how his mathematical intuition worked, "I see patterns. When I look at complex structures, ideas jump into my head. Anyhow, it seems like any alien would include their local star map and their physical location in a message. Where do the Huaoshy live? The next star, the other side of the galaxy? In another galaxy?"
Alastur muttered, "Yes, yes, that is in the Messages. Apparently their home planet is in the galaxy we call KJ2. I want to know why you think this part of the message is about elements. Look, here is their symbol for platinum. Nora must have shown you her hoard of platinum. And off hand, I know this is hydrogen and this is helium, "He pointed to two more symbols.
Stan said, "Then this must be lithium and these must be their numerals, one, two, three, and so on, the atomic numbers. It is complicated, though. It looks like they have included every possible isotope of each element, so the table is rather huge and cumbersome. It's more like a set of note cards than a table. Each element is in its own panel or subsection, and there is a vast amount of accompanying text...maybe important physical parameters for each substance. But the first elements have few isotopes, so the pattern was recognizable."
Alastur said, "Shit." He pulled up files about some other elements and marked their locations in the part of the message that Stan had indicated. "We're all idiots. We all missed this...and you walk in the door an see it. Now I'm thinking that it was your grandma who must have crafted the Messages. I still do not see the pattern you are talking about. There is no table format. It's just a huge jumble of text."
Stan tried to point out the pattern, but Alastur still could not see it. "Now that I see the names for the elements, and you are certainly right about the atomic numbers, sure, I know this is a book about the elements, but it is not in anything like a table pattern." Still, he made a call. A face popped up on the wall, "Ya, I'm here with that new mathematician that Nora brought in. Hold onto you hat. He just found whole section of the blue that is about isotopes. I'm guessing it has physical data for every isotope." He electronically transmitted a copy of the annotated section of the message.
"Well, I'll be...Okay, Alastur, thanks for letting me know. I'll spread the word to the physics and chemistry departments. Hey, let's say we meet for lunch, okay?."
Alastur said, "Sure. Later," and he broke off the call. "That's Ormy Degsles, Chair of History...my boss."
Stan asked, "History?"
"We study the history of the Messages and attempts to understand or decode them. My specialty is the sedronics, so I often work with Nora. I guess you could say that Nora recruited me to work on sedronics."
"Are you related to Nora?"
"Well, most all of us are related, all the way back to old Lera Winskailop herself. I'd have to look it up, but I think I share a great-grandparent with Nora. In the past few generation our families are unusually large and I've never tried to keep track of all my relatives. Well, I suppose we should should try to get some work done, even if I feel like you just earned a vacation with your discovery."
Stan said, "I want to see the Second Message and the parts that deal with sedrons. But first, I think you better explain to me just exactly what a sedron is."
Alastur nodded. "Right. But I should start with hierions. First things first. You won't be able to grasp sedronics until you first understand hierions."