Chapter Eleven of The Start of EternityEdit
Every important discovery in nanotechnology and sedronics is associated with two different names, consistent with the hypothesis that each discovery was made twice as part of two different and independent readings of the Message. -Retair Book of the Dawn
Alastur was in a chair and Stan was standing in the middle of the room. Two of the walls showed parts of the First Message and the other two showed important articles about hierion physics. It had not taken Stan long to get an idea of just how little was actually known about hierions. He pointed below the red text that was the decoded part of the message dealing with hierions. "There is much more here about hierions...in the blue."
"Ya, but nobody has figured out those blue parts. We cannot even figure out how to make a hieric transmitter. I'm sure that the instructions for how to do so are right there, but we aren't smart enough to figure it out." He stretched and noticed that it was already early afternoon. "Ug, we missed lunch." He called Ormy, "Sorry, we lost track of time."
Ormy laughed, "That's fine. You are safer where you are. Everyone is in a tizzy over the isotopes. If you surface now you won't have a chance to get any more work done today. I'll bring you lunch."
Ten minutes later Ormy arrived with bag lunches. Alastur introduced Stan to Ormy who kept shaking his hand for about two minutes, "Quite a start for you, my boy, making a discovery like that...the first time you saw the Message?"
Stan tried to point out Alastur's role in the discovery, "Alastur insisted that I think it through. I had already dismissed the idea, but he kept pushing it."
Alastur sputtered and spit out some seeds, "I can't figure out how Stan did it. He claims there is a pattern there that he recognized as a table of the elements. I still don't see it."
Ormy finally let go of Stan's hand. "Well, congratulations. I expect you two to write up a description of how the discovery was made."
"Write up?" Stan doubted there there was anything to say. "It was just by chance that I noticed that part of the message."
Ormy explained, "Well, it is traditional for a paper to be written that explains how each part of the Message is decoded."
Stan pointed to the wall, "Ah, I think I see. That's what these articles are that we have been looking at. And that's why I've never heard of hierions. These papers never leave Uvadekoto."
Ormy squinted at the article that was displayed on the wall. "And what have you been working on today? What article is this?"
Alastur explained, "I've taken Stan through most of what we know about of hierions. He's quick on the uptake. I'll move him into sedronics after lunch."
Ormy nodded, "Excellent. My area of specialization is in robotics. The Huaoshy provided a real wealth of information about robotics including entire memory algorithms and learning circuits. We got lucky in robotics because their circuity notation is similar to ours. Actually, I'm quite out of my depth. I'm just an historian...the field has moved beyond my grasp. Now I'm just an administrator and cheerleader for the new generation." She explained to Stan, "Alastur is a good example of the new breed. Quite impressive for a lad of ten, eh, Stan?"
Stan remarked, "Yes, quite, but I've been wondering if you might just be creating your problems by keeping everything you do secret. Is it fair to keep these alien messages to yourselves? Why not share what you know with the whole world? The more people who look at this, the more likely someone will figure out the remaining parts."
Ormy sighed and said, "You've hit on our major political argument. The historical fact is that the secrecy began back in the days when it was not clear if civilization would survive the population explosion. Those difficult times were the setting for the original discovery of the First Message. And to be perfectly honest, we've dug a rather deep hole for ourselves by keeping everything secret. With each passing year it becomes harder to imagine getting past the resentment that would come from now revealing the truth."
Alastur muttered, "In other words, momentum wins."
Ormy was not willing to leave it at that. "Actually, the arrival of the second message sealed out fate. The decision was made to withdraw from the world at large and try to engineer an escape into outer space."
Alastur added, "With hindsight, we can see that was a huge blunder. This spaceship was built, following instructions in the Second Message, but we failed. We can't figure out some of the key instructions. Now we sit here foolishly, having grown apart socially from the rest of civilization and unable to lift Uvadekoto off the surface of the planet."
Ormy patted Stan's arm, "Well, my generation couldn't solve all the great mysteries. And it's lucky for you youngsters or you'd have no challenges and nothing interesting to do." The old historian stood up from the table, "Well, I'm glad I got to meet you Stan. I'll be expecting more great things from you after today, eh?"
After Ormy departed and the little room fell silent, Alastur muttered, "Old fool."
Stan could not get used to hearing such cutting and bitter disrespect of elders. He leaned back and let his crop grind at his lunch. "So, you think that Uvadekoto should give up its secrets?"
Alastur fluffed his down nervously. "I should not have made that nasty comment, but these are tense times."
Stan remembered something he had heard the previous day. He asked, "Because of the 'council deadline'?"
Alastur nodded. "Things could get tricky around here in a hurry. Many of us think it would be better to voluntarily reveal our secrets rather than wait for them to be dragged out...against our will."
Stan did not even know what 'council deadline' they were talking about, or what 'council', for that matter. He tried fishing for more information, "So who really makes such decisions, the Directorate?"
Alastur looked nervously at the bracelet on Stan's arm. He seemed to decide against speaking his mind. "I'm just a junior historian. And the day is passing us by. Are you ready for some sedronics?" They got back to work and Stan started exploring the part of the Second Message that was about sedrons.
When afternoon passed into evening Alastur could not stop yawning, but Stan was fired up and excited by his first exposure to Huaoshy mathematics. Stan kept giving little speeches such as, "This is important stuff. The hierion physics is just a natural extension of standard physics, but sedrons...my, my, my. Really, it is not fair to keep this from the rest of the world. There is a whole new domain of mathematics here."
Alastur eventually decided that Stan would happily keep working through everything that was known about sedrons right on into night. He turned up the room lights and shut off the computer they were using. "And tomorrow is another day. Come on, I'll walk you part way home."
They carried the remains of their lunches to the dining commons then exited from the school, which to Stan seemed just as busy as it had been earlier in the day, with people of all ages coming and going. Alastur asked, "So do you really understand teserant functions? I've seen grown men, famous mathematicians, break down and sob after trying to devise a system of teserant functions that might serve as a theory of sedronic physics."
Stan chuckled and replied, "Teserant functions are not really any worse than complex functions. I guess I have the advantage of not really believing in reality in the first place...so a mathematics of the unreal does not distress me."
Alastur looked up at Stan with disbelief, "I think you are teasing me."
"I'm not trying to tease, but I do not really know how to explain the way my brain works."
Alastur asked, "Then what do you mean when you say that you do not believe in reality?"
Stan tried to explain, "Well, I took a philosophy of mathematics course last semester. I was told that our brains are designed to make us believe that rocks and trees and people are real, but mathematicians have strange brains that prefer to imagine another reality, a ghostly world of number and functions."
Alastur had never imagined that two people could perceive the world in fundamentally different ways. He muttered, "Bah, math is just useful for counting beans and calculating which day of the week your next birthday will fall on." Stan grunted, but said nothing. "Sorry, to be so harsh. I hope you are not some kind of mystic."
"I said nothing mystical."
"Then why talk about ghostly worlds?"
"That's just a figure of speech. What would you call the world of hierions and sedrons, a world that our senses cannot deal with?"
"I just call it hierion physics and sedronics. I've certainly never seen a ghost, and I don't want to." Alastur paused and pointed up a side corridor. "Your elevator is just ahead. You won't get lost?"
Stan pointed to the bracelet on his arm and joked, "I suspect that if I so much as stub a toe I'll get a visit from the security forces. Really though, I'm catching on to how Uvadekoto is laid out. With the tracking function of this bracelet I can't get lost."
"Good. I'll expect you again tomorrow. We only just got started on sedronics. Nora asked me to show you all the past efforts by others who have tried to make progress on the blue text. She's hoping you can be deflected away from all the dead ends that have already been explored."
Stan nodded, "That sounds like a wise strategy. I'll try to digest what I've learned today and be fresh for more in the morning. Good evening."
Stan found the elevator without difficulty, but he took it all the way to the top. He was looking for an observation deck that might provide him with a view of the outside world. After getting off of the elevator there were just more walkways and Stan had no idea of which way to go next in an effort to get closer to the surface of Uvadekoto.
A passing robot noticed Stan's uncertainty and quickly guided him to another elevator. Soon he was at the top surface of Uvadekoto where there was a kind of social club that called itself an Observation Deck. At first Stan was disappointed that there were no windows, but there were display screens that showed views of the outside world. Actually, most of the views were from outer space. He asked a bartender why none of the views being displayed were real views of what could be seen outside of Uvadekoto. The robot said, "Who wants to see that? People come here to get away from their troubles." However, the machine tuned the display on the wall behind him to a view of the brown hills that were to the west of Uvadekoto. The robot turned back to Stan and asked, "Do you want a drink?"
Stan realized he was thirsty. He'd spent much of the day trying to explain mathematical concepts to Alastur. Finally Alastur had told him not to bother trying to help him understand the math. Alastur had said, "I'm an historian...I'll never understand the full depth of the math."
Stan wondered how to pay for services in Uvadekoto. He pulled out his identre and showed it to the robot. Stan had gotten used to just using his identre at businesses near the university. It was common practice to just bill students through the university bursar after scanning a student's ID. "I'm afraid I don't have any money."
The robot shook its head, "It's on the house, bub. Judging by the security bracelet on your arm, I'd say you must be a new visitor."
Stan was amused that the robot had called him 'bub'. He had never seen robots on the outside that showed such fluency and creativity with language. "My name is Stan. I could use some water."
"Water, I have, Stan. Hot, cold, flavored?"
A moment later the robot said, "Here you go," And set a large sippie of ice water in front of Stan. "If you need anything else just let me know. R. Tinsifur at your service." The machine gave a half bow.
For a while Stan sat at the bar watching the sun set and thinking about the outside world, which did seem very far away. He was puzzled by all the ground and air vehicle traffic that was visible...apparently the city suburbs were growing right up to the edge of the park-like enclave that surrounded Uvadekoto. Clearly Alastur expected him to show up for another "school day" in the morning, but it would be a day of scheduled classes for Stan at the university. And now he had a scholarship with almost no restrictions, but keeping it was contingent on him remaining in good academic standing. Still, his classes all seemed unimportant compared to the prospect of learning a strange alien mathematics that promised a way to the stars.
A woman sat on the stool next to Stan's and asked, "Buy me a drink, stranger?"
Stan turned his head and discovered that it was Jillia. Stan took her question as rhetorical and tried to pick up and run with her joke. "I am feeling rather strange." He was not happy to be reminded that he was under constant observation by Uvadekoto security.
"I expected you to go back to Nora's apartment. When you didn't, I started wondering if you got lost."
Stan looked closely at Jillia's face and tried to judge if there was any truth in that statement. "Is it possible to get lost here? Everyone seems friendly and helpful." He pointed to the bracelet, "And this works well as a guide, as long as the desired destination is programmed into it. Anyhow, I'm not lost and I was just going. Give me some money."
Jillia looked puzzled and Stan held out his hand in front of her. Finally she pulled some cash out of her pocket and Stan grabbed a note and tossed it on the bar, "Thanks, Tinsifur." He jumped off his stool and led the way back to the elevator.
The robot called after Stan, "See you around, mate."
In the elevator lobby Stan called for an elevator car, "Down."
Jillia said, "I hope you were not alarmed by Alastur today, he's young and rather confused."
Stan asked, "Why should anything he said alarm me? I mean, besides the fact that he doesn't understand the mathematics that his work involves."
"Don't expect too much from the lad. He's learning how to be an historian. He has no great mathematical ability. Anyhow, the problem is his politics." Stan frowned at that. Jillia continued, "I hope that even you can understand why Uvadekoto keeps the Huaoshy a secret."
They completed the elevator ride in silence and stepped out into a busy walkway. Jillia took Stan's arm and guided him into the flow of the pedestrian traffic. Stan said, "I don't have much of a head for politics."
"Good. Don't let our political disputes distract you. Keep focused on your goal." They entered into a less crowded sideway and Jillia slowed their pace. "By the way, you've caused quite a stir on your first day. Everyone is buzzing over your discovery of that section in the First Message that is about isotopes."
"It was a lucky find. I must say, Alastur was quite impressed. He insisted that I should go out on the town tonight and celebrate the discovery."
"It is traditional to celebrate each bit of progress...deciphering the Messages has been such a slow and frustrating process. Is that why you went to the bar...to celebrate?"
"I was trying to get a glimpse of the..." He had almost said "real world". Uvadekoto still felt like a dream world to Stan. "...outside. I have classes at university tomorrow."
Jillia suggested, "Maybe you should request a leave of absence from Venimor."
Stan was reluctant to even think along those lines. "I don't think that would go over very well, right after winning the Milsensir."
"Don't be silly! Nora could endow a dozen similar scholarships next week. You do not need the Milsensir scholarship anymore."
Stan sighed. "The Milsensir award is for as long as I need it to support my education. As far as I can tell, I'm only a useful commodity around here as long as I prove useful to Nora."
Jillia laughed, "Is that what you are worried about? Believe me, you will be taken care of, even if you cannot come up with a theory of sedronic matter."
"I worry about many things," Stan said enigmatically, then he said no more. After about a minute of silence Jillia gave his arm a squeeze. Stan looked down into her questioning face. "For example, this morning I was surprised to see three little boys, without even a mention of their fathers or where they are."
"Well, you already have some idea of how nonstandard Uvadekoto has become with respect to child rearing, and Nora is a special case. Are you going to judge Nora by your standards of what's normal? Those little boys are well cared for."
"I'm just not sure that I like the possibility that seems to be looming."
"What are you talking about?"
"The possibility of my son ending up here and me going back to the university after I fail to provide Nora with the sedrons she needs."
"Well, if that prospect bothers you then just tell her that. She'll respect your wishes, no matter how irrational they are."
"You think I'm irrational?"
"No, but do you object to Nora's attempt to produce a mathematician who can get us to the stars? What if it were your son who accomplished that? Some of us are willing to devote our lives getting off of this planet and on to our future out there, among the stars."
"That would be great, and I'd like to be there to see it happen, but it seems more likely that I'll just be shown the door."
Jillia said, "That's really very-" She stopped herself from finishing her sentence. "I suppose I can't really understand what it is like to exist outside of Uvadekoto. And suddenly be brought here and thrown into...our problems...in the way you have been. Anyhow, it is far too early to worry about these things. Are you going to try to formulate the mathematical theory that we need or not?"
"Don't worry about that. I'm hooked on the alien math...but don't expect me to work like a zombie...unless you are prepared to turn me into one."
"Look, Nora was just teasing you when she said she could turn you into her puppet. That is not allowed. It doesn't even work."
Stan wondered how he could be sure...how would he ever know if he had lost control of his own thought processes? "Hmm...so which is it? It's not done or it just does not work?"
"Don't twist what I say!" Jillia immediately regretted snapping at Stan. "Look, do you think we are unethical? Do you think Nora wants to turn you into a zombie? Do you think I'd let her do something like that?"
Stan had no way of answering her questions. "I know that sometimes people feel they have to do things...the ends justifying the means."
"Well, if it means anything to you, I'm your case officer, and I won't...I promise you that I won't let Nora abuse you."
Stan asked, "What case?"
Jillia explained some of her duty as a member of the Uvadekoto security force, "You're a security risk. We have to worry about you going back to your campus and talking about what you've seen here."
"Well, you can add this to my case file: I don't like you listening to everything I say, or what kids like Alastur happen to say to me. What is this, some police state? I expect some personal space and privacy."
"Then you better go to the Security Center with me right now for processing. Until you do that, you have to wear that bracelet. And you can bet I'll listen to everything you say."
"Did you enjoy listening to Nora and I last night?"
"That was business. Nora knows that I was listening and she understands the importance of it."
"Well maybe some day you can explain it to me."
"Stan, don't be a petulant brat. We're all doing the best we can with what we have. Nora specifically requested me as the security agent who would monitor all of her...outside contacts. She's had her eye on you for a while...you should feel proud that she...selected you. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"What do you mean she selected me? Because I was the latest undergrad to win the Milsensir?"
"You don't know everything, Stan." They rode in another elevator without speaking and while standing behind another couple. After getting out of the elevator, Jillia continued, "Where do you think Nora learned math? Ever wonder about that? You saw her in her Masterial Robe. She attended Venimor for four years and got two mathematics degrees. Then she figured out how to isolate sedrons and came back here to take over the sedronics division. Anyhow, as a past Milsensir Scholar she has a vote each year for the new award. She helped you win this year's prize."
Stan was surprised...he'd assumed that Nora had worn the Masterial Robe as a kind of disguise. "I'd never seen her around the university before yesterday. And I don't remember seeing anyone named 'Winsou' on the list of Milsensir Scholars."
"She uses another name when outside of Uvadekoto: Minsin."
"Minsin? Fiona Minsin? Nora is Fiona Minsin?" Stan was stunned. Fiona Minsin was legendary and Stan had seen her list of publications, including half a dozen important results in number theory that had constituted her Masters Thesis work. "But I've seen a picture of Fiona Minsin...and she is not Nora.' Although, now that he thought about, there were similarities. "Minsin is older than Nora."
Jillia sighed and tugged Stan to a halt. "Can I show you something? I mean, something weird, without you freaking out?"
Stan asked, "Have you been able to freak me out so far with all you stories of aliens and other absurdities?"
She pulled him into another men's room. Stan grinned and said, "We have to stop meeting like this."
Suddenly Jillia's face morphed into that of someone else, then Stan realized that he was seeing a fifty year old version of Jillia, complete with wrinkles. "Tell me, Stan, when you first saw Nora, at the university...what did she look like?"
Stan remembered thinking that Nora was in her thirties. Then she had taken off the formal university robe and he had been surprised at the transformation, how she looked younger. Then it was only last night that he truly saw her as a 24 year old kid.
Jillia morphed her face back to normal. "Nora and I have nanorobotic implants that allow us to change our appearance. Nora was only sixteen when she went off to university. She invented and adopted another identity. She pretended to be older than she was in order to be admitted to Venimor. She might not have morphed quickly in font of you...she probably did not want to freak you out." Jillia again took Stan by the arm and led him out of the men's room.
Stan commented, "Now I can really see now how much you resemble your mother. When you changed yourself to look older, you looked like Tilly."
Jillia said, "Well, I am Tilly, almost."
Stan remembered what he had been told about the ability of women in Uvadekoto to reproduce clonally. "You are Tilly's clone?"
"Yes, I have Tilly's genes, with a bit of modification."
"But you do look like your father also."
"I have about fifty of his genes, but I've consciously shaped the face I show the world to include what I like about his features. Anyhow, Nora is the same....she's almost my twin sister, but we were born six years apart."
Stan was shocked into silence. He wondered about Nora bossing Tilly around and snapping at her. What would it be like to create a clone of one's self and then have to raise the clone as a child and turn your life's work over to it? Jillia was still talking, "Nora had your genome analyzed and she saw something there that is mentioned in the Messages."
"I'm not a biologist, but you know what she is after. She claims that you naturally have the kind of brain circuitry that she has been trying to create in her children. It's a different circuit for processing concepts...mathematical concepts. Ask her to explain it, it's her research project."
"She told me none of this. Why are you telling me?"
"You freaked me out, Stan. I'm still not sure what you plan to do. I'm thinking you could just walk out of here, go back to your university life...and I'd have to clean up the mess."
Stan could tell from her tone that she really dreaded that prospect. "Mess? What does that mean?"
Jillia explained, "Mainly that I'd have to erase your memories of Uvadekoto before you could tell anyone on the outside what you've learned here."
Stan was disgusted by the idea of Uvadekoto security forces feeling free to listen to his most private conversations, track his movements and wash his brain clean of Uvadekoto memories. "Well, if it comes to that, I hope what you do to me does not completely trash my brain."
"Don't worry, the process would be fairly simple. There are nanites in your brain marking each new memory that forms. If I have to pull the plug on your recent memories then it should just be those new memories that go 'poof'. But Stan, if you do decide to leave, please come to me and let me clean out your memories carefully. If you just split without any warning then it could get messy."
"Thanks for the warning, but I have no intention of running. Tell me this...will I always be treated as an outsider and a security risk?"
"I told you that we have another option. If you come with me now to the Security Center then I can make it so that you can travel back and forth between Venimor and Uvadekoto."
"How will you do that? You mean you'd let me go back with my memories of this place intact?"
"I can't tell you any details unless you agree to go through with it." They had reached Nora's apartment.
Stan laughed at Jillia. "Sorry, but I think this is a standoff. I'm not going to subject myself to some mysterious security procedure that you won't explain to me. It sounds like I'd have to turn over control of my brain to you so that I would never accidentally mention your secrets."
"Well, our method is a secret that we do not want to risk getting out. It isn't anything that will hurt you."
Stan sounded skeptical. "Well, we can discuss this again another time. Before you go, I have one other thing I want to ask you."
"How can I get some money?"
"You don't need money while you are here."
"I want some money. For one thing, I want to pay you back for the drink in the bar."
"Just ask Prinstir for some cash. He handle's all of Nora's finances."
"I want to access my own savings, not take money from Nora or you."
"Authorize Prinstir to use your identre. He'll do an electronic funds transfer for you into the Uvadekoto credit exchange."
"Thanks. Good night."
Jillia turned and walked away, but she turned back. "Stan, you sound like you have already been hurt. What's really bothering you?"
Suddenly Stan realized why he had not noticed Nora's pregnancy at first. "She does the same trick with her belly. The nanites."
Jillia giggled. "She didn't show you that? What did you think? Gah! Clueless men! Yes, she uses her nanite implant to make herself look obese...she's been careful to hide her two pregnancies, but everyone in the family knows what has been going on...and the rumors spread and follow her around."
"Two pregnancies?" Stan could almost imagine that Berny and Ril might be twins, but Nora had said that Ril was older. Even if they were twins, there was still Diny and Junior, too.
Jillia explained, "Nora carried Ril...that was her first pregnancy. All her other children -except 'Junior', her current pregnancy- have had surrogate mothers. I suppose only Nora knows how many of those there have been."
"What do you mean?"
"Nora has time to care for a few of them, but I hear she's up to about thirty now."
Jillia laughed at the look of startlement on Stan's face. "It is easy to turn them out by artificial means. Nora makes the eggs, some mathematician donates the other half of the chromosomes, the early embryo is screened for defects then put into a surrogate. Nora is worried that her project will be canceled, so she has been producing children as fast as she can."
Stan sighed. "That was what was bothering me. The thought of the 'parade of gigolos' you mentioned."
Jillia put a hand on his face, "I'm so sorry. That was a nasty joke. There are dozens of vicious little zingers that trail behind Nora because of what she is doing. All her children were fathered by old men, famous mathematicians. You're her "kid". She got tired of the old men and so she went out and selected you."
"Thanks for telling me this, Jillia." He still had one more question, but that was for Nora. Stan went into the apartment. Not even Prinstir was there.
Stan stepped into Nora's workshop and used the computer system there to continue examining the the Second Message. Alastur had given Stan an introduction to Uvadekoto computing resources and explained how Stan could login to the database that held the Messages. Stan pressed his security bracelet and finger tips to the scanpad and his readies came alive with a view of the Second Message, a view matching what he had been looking at when Alastur had ended their earlier work session at the Central School.
Stan used the computer to highlight every occurrence of the alien word for "sedron' where it appeared in the Second Message. One section of the message had most of the occurrences of the word "sedron". One small part of that section of the Message was marked in red: the part that Nora had decoded, including the clue about finding sedrons in platinum. He reasoned that somewhere there had to be an account by the aliens of exactly why platinum was a source of sedrons. If they could understand how sedrons arose naturally then they might be able to manufacture them and produce a larger supply. Stan was still baffled by the idea that sedrons had only existed for the past three years. He shook his head -that was just crazy. How could a particle suddenly come into existence? It was like saying electrons did not exist before this week.
There was something that attracted Stan's attention in the blue text just beyond the the part of the Message that Nora had decoded, so he tried to think why it seemed familiar. It was just a bunch of the crazy alien symbols, most of which Stan did not recognize. He called up a translation of that part of the message. The linguists of Uvadekoto were constantly producing their best guess of how to translate the alien writing into the language of their own world. Stan muttered to himself, "That's worse," And he switched back to the original alien text. For the moment he was just looking for patterns and changes from the First Message to the Second Message.
He asked himself, "What was I looking at today that might have been similar?" He pulled up the part of the First Message that was about hierions. When Alastur had shown this section to Stan, he had said, "This part is the alien description of their theory of hieric physics, but most of it is untranslatable. They must have some conceptual foundation for particle physics that we do not understand. Nora thinks that there is a mathematical formulation for physics that our world has not discovered yet." Stan was just starting to compare the First and Second Message, then Prinstir came into the workshop through the door that linked into the huge chamber that held the twistor array. Stan asked the robot, "What?"
The robot had stopped just inside the workshop. "Don't let me interrupt your work."
"You did interrupt. No, don't go. What do you want?"
"Jillia told me that you wanted me."
"Oh, ya." Stan took off the readies and asked Prinstir, "Can you get me some money?"
Prinstir approached Stan and pulled open an access panel on his arm. "Authorize a money transfer with your identre and a verbal statement." Stan did so. "Finger prints." Stan touched the scanpad that was built into the robot. "I'll have to go to the credit exchange to get your cash."
"Thanks, Prinstir. Just give me directions to the credit exchange and I'll go."
The robot shook its head, "It's no trouble. I'm on my way out to pick up the boys. I'll just get dinner going, then I'm on my way."
Prinstir went out the door that led towards Nora's apartment and Stan tried to recover his train of thought. There was something similar between the hierion and sedron sections of the Second Message. One trick that he had learned was that most of the First Message was repeated in the Second Message, although some of the repeated parts were modified or updated. He found the 'isotope section" in the Second Message and compared it to the corresponding region of the First Message. The software indicated that other researchers had already compared these two sections during the day and some of the Second Message was already highlighted in red with new progress having been made in translating it. Stan noticed that much of that red text concerned the lighter elements, particularly those found in living organisms. There was also a lot of red already in the part about uranium. Fission power had become a major energy source as the world tried to stop producing carbon dioxide waste from fossil fuels.
Stan had the Message analysis software highlight the alien symbol for platinum and the number 78, platinum's atomic number. He started counting the number of stable isotopes for platinum then noticed that there was a new part of the platinum section in the Second Message that mentioned mercury and the number 196. He switched over to the translation and he noticed that what was thought to be the alien word "abundance" appeared several times in the section where isotopes of platinum were listed and discussed.
At that moment Stan's concentration was broken: a strange sound intruded on him. He looked around the workshop. Nora's automated platinum processor continued to silently isolate sedrons and its red counter flickered. He opened the door that led from the workshop to the apartment and heard shrieks of laughter and chanting: "Prin-stir-prin-stir-prin-stir-prin-stir." Stan found the robot in the living room, playing a game with the boys. Prinstir held Diny up in the air and ran across the living room. Stan was amazed to see the baby flapping his wings and taking flight for a short distance before being caught by the robot. It was well known that babies had a flight reflex, but Diny was actually strong enough to fly, and laughed hysterically while playing the flight game with the robot. Ril and Berny ran around the room chanting "Prin-stir" and waved their arms. Their vestiges of wing plumage were almost gone and their arms were nearly in the adult form.
Prinster noticed Stan and stopped running. Ril and Berny shouted, "More! More!" then noticed Stan. Diny started to wail, disappointed that Prinster had stopped running. Ril and Berny looked guilty and ran to hide behind the robot's legs. Stan asked, "What's wrong?"
Ril replied, "Mommy doesn't like this game."
Prinster set Diny in a little swing device. "Nora doesn't think it's safe, but I would never drop the boys."
Stan had noticed that Nora was very strong, and apparently Diny had inherited her strength, but he would not have believed that Diny, or any baby, could fly unless he had seen it. He asked Ril, "Could you fly when you were little?"
Ril nodded and replied, "Yes."
Berny chimed in, "Me too!"
Prinstir crossed the living room on his way to the Kitchen to check on the cooking machine. He said to Stan, "Most of the newer generations have a genetically boosted muscle phenotype." He handed Stan a packet of money.
Ril called to Stan, "Can you show me some math?"
Berny said, "We like number games!"
Stan went and showed the two older boys a game with fractions that involved finding common divisors for numerators and denominators. Berny got confused, but Ril took the game right up to three digit numbers. Prinster looked into the living room from the kitchen. Stan asked Prinstir, "Boosted muscles and boosted math skills. What else?"
Nora said, "We're doing better on longevity, too."
Stan suddenly saw Nora and realized that she had been quietly watching from the hallway to the Workshop. She now came across the living room and hugged her boys, including Stan. Diny demanded to be fed and they all went to the dining room where Prinstir was setting out food on the table. Nora chewed some bread and spit it into Diny's mouth. She said to Stan, "I told you that Ril likes fractions. What was that game you were playing?"
Stan explained, "We were making it up as we went along....basically just simplifying fractions."
Ril said matter-of-factly, "I need to memorize the prime numbers from 100 to 1000. I only know them up to 100."
The conversation turned to food then shifted again and Stan mentioned Diny's ability to fly. Diny said, "Fly! Fly!"
Nora said, "Oh, my. His first word!" She turned to Prinstir, "I suppose I have you to thank for this." The robot managed to look embarrassed. Nora explained the situation to Stan, "My generation was the first to get a gene combination that boosts muscle mass and reduces our tendency to accumulate body fat. Prinstir taught me to fly, too. That's another story you should hear from Tilly." She shook her head, "Prinstir is totally irresponsible...he'll do anything a laughing baby wants him to do." She looked at Stan and narrowed her eyes, "I suppose you egged him on, too."
Ril said, "We stopped flying when Stan came in."
Diny said, "Fly!" and spit a mouth full of food out across the table.
The other boys laughed and Berny spewed some food out, too. Nora shook her head and said, "Calm down...swallow your food. What a display. Stan will never eat with us again."
Stan said, "I don't mind. This reminds me of when I was growing up. My brother was a real live wire."
Nora asked Stan about his family and the meal proceeded. The boys finished eating and went off to play. Nora and Stan started talking shop. "When I heard about the isotope section you found in the First Message I took a quick look at the related part of the Second Message. I think there are some important changes there...maybe some clues about sedron synthesis."
Stan nodded, "I've been looking at that. I noticed mention of mercury...did you ever look for sedrons in mercury?"
"Ya, when I discovered the price of platinum I went ahead and screened every element. There are sedrons in mercury, but at much lower levels than in platinum. However, mercury was the only other source of sedrons that I've found."
Stan jumped up, "Let me show you something." He took her hand and led her back to the workshop. He used the computer to display part of the Second Message. "This is in the discussion of isotopes of platinum. See here...it mentions mercury."
Nora could read numbers in the alien script. She started muttering, "78, 80, 118, 116, 196. Oh, my. It just does not add up."
Stan asked, "What are the masses of the sedrons?"
Nora started laughing then hugged Stan. "I'm so glad you are here and helping with this! I've tried for years to make sense of that. I've always been haunted by the coincidence...the lowest mass sedron has mass 382, exactly twice 191. Platinum and mercury have isotopes with 191 nucleons, but so do rhenium, osmium, iridium, gold, thallium, lead, bismuth and polonium. I spent a lot of time looking at iridium...its mass 191 isotope is stable...but iridium is not a source of sedrons. I'm sure of that."
They checked some standard references for information about isotopes and discussed the fact that the Second Message made a big deal out of mass 196 isotopes. Nora said, "It looks perfect. The 196 isotope of mercury is stable, but it is very low abundance. The stable 196 mass isotope platinum could make platinum the only practical source of sedrons. It would be perfect, but the mass is wrong."
Stan nodded and mumbled, "Are you suggesting that two mass 196 nucleons can quantum entangle and resonate into a sedron? If so..."
They looked at each other. Nora said, "Oh, my. If..." She looked back at the blue text in the Second Message, below the sedron part she had previously used to reveal the presence of sedrons in platinum. "Look here, this is the alien term for particle accelerator. I've suspected there is a way to use a particle accelerator to make sedrons."
"Well, you probably could perform nucleosynthesis to make platinum...that might even be cheaper than...hmm..."
"I was looking at this section of the Message before dinner. There is a similar section about hierions." He brought up that part of the First Message. He asked, "See the similarity?"
She looked but saw nothing. "No. What are you seeing?"
"A pattern. Today Alastur showed me a paper about trying to make hierions and a hieric transmitter. He said that the instructions for how to make a transmitter must be here in the blue text." They kept at their study of the Messages for a couple of hours, but did not make any real progress towards understanding how either hierions of sedrons could be produced. Nora told Stan about many of the dead ends that had been explored already in attempts to make a hieric transmitter and to find a way to manufacture sedrons. Finally Prinstir came into the work shop.
Nora said, "Oh, my, how did it get so late? Stan, you are a bad influence. Evenings are my time with the boys...but I guess I can count you as one of the boys. This was fun tonight. I've really needed a collaborator."
Prinstir said, "I got the boys to sleep. It is time for..."
Nora took hold of Stan's hand and led him out of the workshop. She said to Prinstir, "Yes, Prinstir, I have not forgotten about Junior. Give us a minute, there is something I have to tell Stan." She took Stan into the bedroom and undressed, "Watch this." She showed him how she could use her nanite implants to change the shape of her body and her facial features. "This is me, unmodified."
Stan placed a hand on her bulging abdomen. "You're beautiful. Why do you cover up your pregnancy?"
"To be honest, I was afraid that I'd scare you away if you knew that I was pregnant. Also, I'm a bit ashamed of my little research project. I never told the fathers what I'm up to...that's a violation of our ethics laws, but I get away with it on a technicality. Germ cell donations have been taken and used within Uvadekoto for many generations. However, the mathematicians I've...used...they were never told what was going on...they never even knew that took their germ cells."
Stan held her and said, "I think you are very brave to take this all on yourself." The just held each other for a while then Stan said, "There is something I want to ask you. Why did you give up with your original plan and..."
"Take advantage of you?" She giggled. "I guess I decided I was ready. After carrying Ril, I felt lonely. Prinstir and my family are very helpful, but I wanted...I felt the need for real emotional support. You could say that I wanted...I wanted you. Well, I felt the need before I discovered you, but I've watched you for most of the past year, since you came to Venimor. Of course, your mathematics test scores were what first attracted attention, but there is another part of the story. Get undressed and I'll tell you." She got into bed and called Prinstir in. He wheeled in the cart of equipment and the "training session" for "Junior" started. Stan snuggled up next to Nora. "Maybe Jillia explained this to you already...I have not had a chance to review that. Can you hand me those readies?"
Stan reached over and grabbed the glasses. Nora accessed the computer and started reviewing what Stan had done all day, going through the recording that had been made via his bracelet. Stan complained, "I suppose Jillia is listening to us right now. You could just ask her what she told me."
Nora said, "Hi, Jillia!" And giggled. "No, if I did that then she'd have an excuse to drop in...she lives just down the hall with Tilly. I want you all to myself tonight."
Stan had a hand on Nora's bulging abdomen. "What about 'Junior'?"
"Junior is quite happy. Feel those kicks? Nothing we can do will disturb him."
"I'm afraid to disturb you...I expect Prinstir to come sprinting in to chastise me."
"Prinstir is a nag. He's writing a book about in utero neural training and doesn't want Junior's sessions disrupted...and you are a distraction. A welcome distraction...for me. I could get used to this. It is very nice to have you here. There have been too many nights when I've been unable to sleep...I just keep imagining...well, it is silly...there's no point in haunting you with my fears."
Stan insisted that she explain. "Tell me."
"Here's a good one. Some times I even dream about this. The aliens come and, well, in the dream we still have not figured out the blue text. Uvadekoto is still stuck on the ground and I'm endlessly milking micrograms of sedrons out of platinum....sometimes I spend all night doing that in my dreams. But the Huaoshy arrive and blast Uvadekoto with their ray guns."
"Why? It sounds like a silly science fiction movie."
"In my dream, I find out that I have unknowing built a hieric transmitter...my little collection of sedrons emits hierions and that signals to the Huaoshy. That is their trap...their trick for finding technological civilizations. Their Message is designed to help us reveal our location, then they swoop in and wipe us out, eliminating another potential rival."
"I have seen that plot in a movie...minus the sedron plot device."
"Well, I told you it is silly." They were quiet for a few minutes and Nora continued to review the recording of Stan's day, then she said, "I see that Jillia never explained it. Ah..." She took off the computer interface glasses.
"You are distracting me. No, don't stop. I'll tell you. It is an interesting bit of biology. I'm sure you've heard it said that mathematics is a young man's game. No, that isn't sexist. There are many female mathematicians like me who are technically proficient, but almost all of the genius level mathematicians are men, and they almost always make their key discovery at a young age. My problem was, I started working my way down a list of mathematicians who had attained world-wide recognition for their work, but such recognition is delayed...I was dealing with old men...past their mathematical prime."
"Anyhow, I brought them here and showed them the Messages. They could not wrap their minds around the sedronic teserant functions. For each of them, as soon as I could see that they were unable to create a theory of sedronics...well, I took some of their germ cells and sent them home."
Stan muttered, "I'm afraid to ask for details."
"It was all very medical and sterile...nanites lulled them into a deep sleep and then a microsurgical team swooped in and extracted some cells."
"And you decided to carry Ril yourself."
"Ril was the first...he's the son of a mathematician who had inspired my own work in number theory. Of course, I was just a silly little kid and the pregnancy took a lot out of me. The doctors insisted I wait at least a year before...'Junior'."
"The father was another of your heroes?"
"No, but we've been doing genetic screens of each embryo...before transfer to a surrogate. 'Junior' has what looks like an interesting set of genes so I decided to carry him myself."
Stan asked, "Do you know all of your children? Do they know you?"
"No, that would just be unfair. Nobody wants to be one of 30 children. I formally adopted Berny after his surrogate mother died. Yes, women do still die in child birth. That worked out well...Ril and Berny are about the same age and they usually entertain each other."
"He was another special case...interesting genetics. I found a surrogate mother for him who agreed to let me adopt him as soon as he was born. I suppose I might have gone on like that for many years, but then the biologists gave me a new clue. It is some biology that is described in detail in the Message. Actually, the basic idea seems to have been an evolutionary invention of this planet, even before the Huaoshy arrived here."
"Here is how it works...when there is environmental stress on a species like ours, the average age of males who pass on their genes goes down. In stable environments, dominant males retain reproductive dominance into their old age. It turns out that cells in males have a molecular clock. Because of that clock, there are subtle genetic differences in children born of young and old fathers. The genes involved are interesting and they even influence the behavior of men, making younger men more daring and older men more cautious. The offspring of younger males are more creative, on average. It is a natural way to boost adaptability in harsh environments."
"Are you saying that you learned this from the Message?"
"What I've described so far our own scientists figured out. Our geneticists figured out the genes that are involved. Really, this is the kind of example you were asking Alastur to come up with today...sure proof that the aliens have been here. We do have a gene complex that is quite clearly designed, a creation of the aliens. It is an extension of what evolved naturally on our world, but some clever genetic engineers took it to the logical extreme and their handiwork is inside us. However, it seems that the Huaoshy have not been here for a long time and their genetic handiwork had drifted and decayed by the time we found it. Still, with the help of the Message we could tune and engineer that special gene complex back to its optimum configuration, a special gene pattern as outlined in the Message. But while the Message describes what I call the 'creativity gene', it has to integrate functionally with the rest of our genes and correctly modulate the structure of our species' brain. The Message is silent about the details of our brain. The Message is really a kind of one-size-fits all broadcast and instruction manual...it is not a message specifically for us. So there are many questions and we have to figure out how to use the creativity gene most effectively for us...for our species. That means I'm doing a large amount of guess work and I've basically thrown up my hands and I'm willing to let random genetic chance guide us to the solution. That's why I've been rushing to produce so many babies as possible with the creativity gene set. And, of course, I want creative and mathematically talented children."
Stan asked, "So, how do I come into it? How do I fit into your scheme?"
"After I saw your math test scores I had our biologists investigate your genes. There is a particular gene pattern that is common in famous mathematicians and you have it. And you are young. There is a short repeated sequence in the creativity gene. Each year of your life that sequence shortens, both in your brain cells and in your gametes. Since you are still young, I hoped that you might be able to imagine a way through the tangled mathematics of sedronics. And I thought, if you liked me, well...I thought I'd try to recruit you for my backup plan."
"I'm glad that you seem to be willing to at least test the waters...for both projects."
"I'm rather smitten with both the math...and with you."
Nora giggled, "Did you give up suspecting me of brain washing you?"
"I don't care anymore. If this is what brain washing..." He fell silent.
She wondered why he stopped. "What?"
Stan completed his train of thought. "I just had an idea."
"I'm not sure...I'll think it through tomorrow. It might be nothing."
Nora insisted, "Tell me."
"It's that pattern in the blue hierion and sedron sections. I think it might be the mathematical theory you have been dreaming of finding. And if my guess is correct, then the Huaoshy told us how to use that theory to tune a particle accelerator for either production of hierions or production of sedrons. If my hunch is correct, then we'll have both a hieric transmitter and tons of sedrons."
"Stan, are you sure?"
"No, I'm not at all sure. I have a hunch...a feeling that I'm on to something. I might be wrong. As Alastur said, tomorrow is another day." But he picked up the glasses and spent a couple more hours with the computer interface to the Message, checking his hunch. When he was sure that he really was onto something useful, he disconnected from the computer. By then, Nora was snoring softly into her pillow. Stan patted her belly and said quietly, "Sorry, Junior, but I think I'm going to beat you to it."