Chapter Thirteen of The Start of EternityEdit
The Huaoshy claim that they stayed on ethical high ground by abandoning our species during the long course of our rise towards civilization. Does anyone agree with that claim? -Retair Book of the Dawn
Stan could not really sleep. His mind was alive with mathematics and a hunch that there really was a way to formulate a sensible theory of sedron physics. He quietly got out of bed, leaving Nora there, still being subjected to the "training" process for her baby.
When Stan emerged from the bedroom Prinstir asked if he was ready for breakfast. He replied, "I'm going out for a bit. I'll eat when I get back." He left the apartment and walked to a kiosk he had noticed that sold flowers. A robot was at work, cutting flowers and arranging them. Stan said, "Those look nice."
The robot held up a bundle of the flowers it was working with. "These are half price today since I have so many."
Now that he had heard the robot and seen it up close, Stan realized that this particular robot had been designed to have subtle female features. "Could you give me some in a vase? I'm...staying with a friend and not sure if..."
"Sure. How do you like this one?" The machine held up a thick-walled, slightly blue-tinted glass vase. Simple and elegant."
Stan was pleased, red flowers in a blue vase. "That looks fine. Thanks."
The robot started to arrange the flowers in the vase and said, "You're the mathematician, Stan, right?"
Stan wondered how he had been recognized. "That's right."
"Tinsifur saw you with Jillia yesterday...is she the lucky lady?"
Stan laughed, "You know Tinsifur?"
"Sure. We robots have a kind of network."
"I'm surprised that Prinstir hasn't kept you up to date."
"Well, he's a personal robot. It's just we merchants who exchange data on customers. By the way, I'm Zanset."
Stan paid and said, "Thanks, Zanset."
The robot said, "I hope the flowers cheer Nora up."
Stan had been thinking that both he and Nora had attained states of good cheer. They were having fun tackling the mysterious alien mathematics...and each other. He asked, "You think she needs to be cheered up?"
"Well, that was a nasty blow the Directorate took from the World Government's Executive Council yesterday."
Jillia had hinted to Stan that he was being protected from Uvadekoto's political troubles. Stan asked, "Why, what happened?"
"Hmm...I thought you knew. Tinsifur mentioned that you spent a long time watching the World Government's forces yesterday."
"Forces? Military?" Stan was lost, "The World Government is moving militarily against Uvadekoto?"
The robot explained, "Their Special Forces division was moved into position around Uvadekoto yesterday."
Stan remembered all the ground and air vehicles he had seen outside at twilight, but he had assumed it was civilian traffic. The robot continued, "Anyhow, the Directorate got an ultimatum shoved down their throat yesterday. Either we accept an outside 'Ambassador' or we face the consequences."
In a world that had moved beyond nations, Stan was not familiar with the archaic word. "Ambassador?"
"That's a polite way of describing it. Actually, by the terms of the ultimatum it is more like a governor imposed by an occupying force. Apparently they found out about the Message. They want full access to what we know about the aliens and the technological advances that we've made with alien help."
Stan shook his head, "I had no idea." When the arcology movement had started, many of the self-contained communities were granted independence. It had been a way to encourage social and technological experimentation. Except for a few failed arcologies, Stan had never heard of any that lost their independence.
Zanset said, "I'm surprised that Nora did not tell you. She's on the Directorate, you know."
Stan returned to the apartment and set the flowers on the dining room table. Prinstir served him breakfast and out of curiosity Stan asked, "Do you know Zanset?"
Prinstir replied, "Of course. I know everyone in Uvadekoto. And she warned me that she talked to you about the Executive Council's ultimatum. Nora has been trying to shield you from our political problems. She won't be pleased by Zanset's loose lips."
Stan tried to decide if it would be best to let Nora know what he knew. He decided that if Nora was keeping mention of the Directorate out of her private life then he would follow her lead. He certainly did not want to risk being the one to expose Nora's small boys to news of a military force surrounding their home. Stan suggested, "Then let's not mention it."
Nora came into the dining room with the three boys. "What a wonderful start to the day, Stan, the flowers are lovely!"
Berny said, "Mommy has a boy friend."
She asked him, "And do you approve?"
Ril replied, "Only if he'll play that number game again."
Stan said, "Try this one: 392 over 382."
Berny said, "Both divide by 2."
Stan nodded, "That's right.
Ril complained, "That's a boring problem. 191 is a boring prime number. But 196 is fun...it's a two-two."
Stan asked, "Two-two?"
Nora commented, "He probably means that it is divisible by two squares, 4 and 49."
Ril wrinkled his brow. "What's a square?"
Nora explained, "Square number. I've told you about them before."
Ril nodded, "Oh, ya, right."
Stan said, "You're right, Ril. The divisors of 196 have a nice symmetry."
Berny muttered, "Oh, no. Mommy's going to start talking physics. Bla bla symmetry. Bla bla hierion. Bla bla sedron."
Nora laughed, "Sorry. Do I really sound like that?"
Ril told Stan, "It's all she ever talks about."
Nora objected, "That's not true. Anyhow, you're doing it, too."
Ril asked, "What?"
She explained, "Talking about sedrons. 382 is the size of the smallest sedron."
Ril turned back to Stan, "You tricked me!"
Stan smiled and agreed, "The problem is, you are exactly right. 382 is a terrible size for a sedron because its quark matrix only has one angle of symmetry."
Berny complained bitterly, "Sedrons are stupid. I'm tired of hearing about stupid sedrons."
Ril suggested a solution, "So just change it to 392." The two boys started chanting, "392, 392, 392."
Diny said, "Two!"
Nora hugged Diny, "Another word! So, you've decided to speak, Diny." Oh, what have I let myself in for...so many babbling men around here." She said to Stan, "The Message does mention the 196 isotopes of platinum and mercury...do you think there is some way to change it, make 196 fit with 382?"
Stan nodded, "I was up late last night looking at that. I can't read Huaoshy equations the way you can. I want you to look at something."
Nora got up and handed Diny to Prinstir then went with Stan to the workshop. He brought the Second Message up on a wall display and pointed. "Look here in this section, what they have labeled as equation six. I'm suspecting that if you use that teserant function then you get a solution for the quantum-"
Nora interrupted, "Wait. Which equation? That's not a teserant function in equation six."
"Well, then you translate it for me. It just looks like they did a Kilmer transformation to take advantage of the fact that hierions have a matching symmetry."
"What do you mean, matching symmetry?"
Stan brought into view the section of the message for hierion physics. "See these equations? They have part of the symmetry that is here," And he pointed back at the sedron section of the message.
Nora was not seeing it, "If you say so...that part of the message is entirely blue."
"That's why I need you to translate the equations...just assume that it is a Kilmer transformed teserant and tell me if it makes sense that way...or if it is just gibberish."
"I'm not sure how you expect me to do a transform on an equation that has not yet been translated. See, what are these terms in equation six? We have no idea. Anyhow, you have to first tell me what a Kilmer transform is."
In the middle of the night, Stan had gone searching through the mathematical literature and found the Kilmer transformation. He'd also never heard of it before, but it seemed to be what the aliens had used. He pointed to the part of the Message that Nora had decoded years earlier. "Look, which of these is your favorite teserant function?"
Nora pointed, "This one tells us the mass progression for the sedron sequence, their allowed quantal configurations, if you like."
Stan pointed back into the blue text of the hierion section, "See how this equation for hierions has part of that corresponding sedron equation? This must describe a family of hierions. I bet that the type of hierion that was used for the Messages is just the degenerate solution, the lowest energy hierion in a set. There are others."
Nora complained, "No, I don't see that. Look, you're going to have to put this into baby talk. I'm just a number theorist."
Stan laughed, "Number theorist? Does that mean you make yourself puke?"
"Only when I see Diny's open beak. But hold off on the details for a moment. I think I see a physical implication of your theory. If what you have hinted at is actually a valid theory of sedronic physics, then there is a serious role for hierions in sedronic physics."
"Ya, it looks wild. The hierion state vectors are solutions to the sedron transfer residuals."
"Which in plain, non-math jargon means that when you produce a sedron you are likely to produce an hierion."
Stan shrugged. "Maybe. There are many possible solutions that would not involve hierions. We really need some empirical data here to help sort through the possibilities. There are many alternative flavors of this mathematical form...only one of those is going to correctly describe the reality of sedronic physics. The key data must be in the message...somewhere in the blue...the Huaoshy would not have left that out."
Nora hugged Stan and then started pacing nervously up and down the workshop floor in front of the platinum smelter. "I don't think I mentioned this to you, but there is one piece of physical data that I stumbled onto right away when I first put a bit of sedronic matter into the twistor array. The array is an anti-gravity field generator."
Stan guffawed, "That's impossible!"
Nora went to the smelter and slid open a small panel. Out popped a metal vial. "Impossible? Come on. I'll show you." She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the door leading to the twistor array. "If your theory about the relationship between hierions and sedrons is correct then I can tell you an additional physical implication...it is an implication for the jump."
Stan nervously held onto the railing as Nora drove the conveyor at maximum speed down towards the twistor generators below. "Jump?"
Nora explained, "Another of our big secrets. I told you that sedrons make faster than light travel possible. It involves a dimensional shift and a jump through a dimensional shortcut. The Message specifies that kilograms of sedronic matter should be loaded into the twistor jump generators. I'd foolishly assumed that we need that much sedronic matter in order to push something as big as Uvadekoto into a jump. Now, if your guess is right, then I was wrong about that. If your idea is correct then sedronic matter is a more powerful catalyst than I had dreamed possible and we can get over the energy barrier for jumps with just the amount of sedronic matter that we already have."
"Why should that be?"
Nora said, "Think about. There is almost no physical interaction between sedrons and conventional matter."
Stan asked, "Are you trying to suggest that there is only one fixed axis in your system of teserant functions for sedron interactions with other types of fermions?"
They had reached the floor and Nora was moving fast, nearly at a run, to the control room. "They are not my teserant functions...I just read them out of the Message."
Stan objected, "But that is not a method for space travel! If what you are suggesting is true, then how is it possible to control the movement...the jump?"
Nora said over her shoulder, "Damned if I know," And she burst through the door into the control room. She ordered the robots, "Take your stations, this is a new test!" She went to one of the robots and handed it the metal vial, "Load this into the generators."
The robot asked, "Which pod?"
Nora replied, "Distribute it equally among all of the pods."
The robot warned, "The last generator has not been tested yet."
Nora smiled grimly. "Fuel it, too. We'll test it now." She turned to Stan, "You see all the empty space out there around and above the generators? That is space for banks of quantum computers that we never figured out how to build. The theory cannot give us information about directional control for a jump because proper control depends on your position in the universe. I think there is a way to calculate how to control each particular jump, but we'd need those quantum computers."
Stan did not understand why Nora was rushing around and issuing orders. This seemed to be the time for looking carefully at the Messages and sorting through the guesses they were making. He asked, "What are you doing? You're scaring me, Nora."
She took hold of his hand and looked into his eyes. "Have you ever had an intuition, the feeling that something was right? Anyhow, external forces have taken from us the luxury of time." She said to the robotic technicians, "Close all gates. Sound the flight drill alarm."
The public address system of Uvadekoto activated, "This is a flight drill. Take flight precautions. Repeat, a flight drill is in progress."
Nora let go of Stan's hand and checked a computer display. "This is a gravity field compensation test. Bring generator one online. I'll control the sedronic catalysis from here."
Stan felt the floor vibrate and there was a series of loud cracks and groans that emerged from the structural elements of Uvadekoto. He could see that Nora was watching an indicator that now showed the force of gravity to be decreasing. Nora said, "I did this once before, but that time I only went just far enough to prove that it works. What do you say we try for zero gravity this time?" After a minute Stan definitely felt lighter. Nora finally took her eyes off of the display and smiled at Stan. "I think it is going to work. Look, this readout is the decay rate for our sedrons. It's tiny, but detectable."
One of the robot technicians said, "All generators are now online and functioning."
Nora sighed in relief and muttered to Stan, "I knew Tilly would get it right. Who needs tests?" She laughed a bit hysterically.
Stan was not familiar with the controls that Nora was working with, so he took her word for it. He was getting up the nerve to ask exactly what she was planning to do, when into the control room came Jillia, at a run. She shouted, "Nora, why did you close the gates? What are you doing?"
Before Nora could replay, Tilly also came in. She glared at Nora then sat down in a chair and started furiously working a virtual reality interface.
Nora said, "Good morning, ma." Nora turned to her sister and asked, "Feeling light on your feet today, sis?"
Jillia glanced at the display panel behind Nora and said, "Oh, no. Why are you doing this now?" Her comunit activated and she took the call.
Nora turned back to look at the display and said, "Half normal gravity. Okay, over the next minute I'm taking us off the power grid and switching over to internal power."
Stan said, "You know, if you're worried about the supply of sedrons, I think there is a way...I mean, if we're right about the hierion-sedron link, then it will be trivial to make more sedrons."
Nora nodded and smiled radiantly, "I think you are right. With just a little nudge we can fuse two 196 mass nuclides. The extra mass will come out as positrons and hierions and it will be autocatalytic."
Stan said, "If so, then a sedron synthesizer will be a hierion transmitter..."
Nora completed that thought, "And the hierion transmitter will be just what we need to drive the creation of sedrons."
Jillia said, "The Ambassador wants to know why we closed our gates. He's demanding that we let him in. He's at the East Gate right now! The Special Forces troops are mobilizing! Their advanced scouts already have weapons trained on all gates."
Nora asked, "He wants in, eh? Fine." She ordered, "Open the East Gate, then close it again as soon as the Ambassador is on-board."
Jillia said, "You don't have that authority, Nora!"
Nora said, "Fine, call an emergency meeting of the Directorate. Until they override me, I'm in control of the gates during this flight test."
Jillia objected, "I can't order the gate guards to let the Ambassador in. Not on your authority."
"Yes, you can. I have an active, Directorate-approved research protocol that allows me to bring guests into Uvadekoto."
"Bull shit! That is for mathematicians."
"Well, yesterday the Ambassador gave us an ultimatum and a one day deadline to comply. Now he is here, insisting that we comply...before the deadline. I want to have a mathematical discussion with him about how to measure the length of a day."
"But I can't give an order allowing him in!"
"He want's to come in, I invited him in and the gate is open. I don't think you have the authority to keep him out. Stop arguing and make yourself useful: bring the Ambassador here. Move fast while there is still a bit of gravity."
Jillia uttered a curse and left the control room. Nora sat down and strapped herself into the chair. She said to Stan, "Gravity is twenty percent of normal. Hey, ma, congratulations on the last generator. All systems are green."
Tilly shook her head, "If one of the conduits ruptures...we were supposed to check the seals today."
"Those seals all got the required curing time. Stop worrying. Stan, I have a puzzle for you. According to your theory, how much energy should it take to power a jump that could move this spaceship into outer space?"
Stan objected to his preliminary guess work being called a theory. "My theory? We've only discussed a possible way to formulate a theory. Anyhow, it is not just a question of energy levels. I still do not understand how sedronic matter can be used as a catalyst for slipping normal matter into hyperspace."
Nora laughed off his concerns, "Details. Details. It only matters that it works." Stan glared at her skeptically and grunted. Nora continued, "Well, if you can't calculate an energy value, then I'm going to have to guess...and the more I think about, the more I think that we really can't risk using too little energy. I'd hate to try to get off the planet and end up failing...we'd look very foolish."
Stan was now finding it difficult to keep his feet on the floor. Nora said, "Strap yourself into a chair...gravity is about gone."
Stan got into the last available chair in the control room and said, "Are you...do you really intend to initiate a jump? Now?"
Nora said, "I'm trying to discuss that option and I'm leaning towards using all available sedrons to catalyze the jump." Her comunit signaled an incoming call. "Hello? Ah, Ambassador, nice of you to call." She listened for a minute then said, "Ambassador. Ambassador. Please, you are not being very diplomatic. We still have five or six hours before the deadline you set."
Stan could hear the Ambassador shouting and Nora held her earplug out away from her ear. "Ambassador, if you allow your troops to move against this peaceful community, you will be responsible for what ensues. We are not defenseless." There was more shouting from the Ambassador. Nora cut the connection. "Well, the Ambassador is not happy. I suppose he might not like the low gravity. He should not be surprised, it sounds like they already knew that this is a spaceship."
Stan now understood what Nora was thinking. Rather than comply with the Mandate of the World Government, Nora was thinking about taking Uvadekoto into outer space. He said, "I'd suggest putting some of the sedron supply in reserve."
Nora asked, "Are you already loosing confidence that we will be able to manufacture sedrons?"
Stan shook his head. "I was thinking in terms of a few years to develop a theory and construct a particle accelerator that was properly tuned for sedron production. If we did jump off planet with our sedron supply depleted..."
Nora impatiently interrupted and asked, "Which makes you more nervous? That, or the possibility of not even getting into orbit?"
Stan said, "Maybe it would be safer to just do what the Ambassador wants you to do. Buy us some time."
Nora was not interested in surrender. "He want's to assume the position of acting Governor of Uvadekoto. I'm not comfortable with that kind of power grab...my family has worked to long and hard for our chance to grab the stars. As long as we have a chance to get Uvadekoto into space...Stan, I have a hunch about the energy conversion function for hyperspace jumps...if our engines were correctly tuned and controlled then it should take almost no energy for a jump."
To Stan it sounded like Nora was willing to take a desperate chance in order to fulfill her dream of getting into space. He could not accept the idea that mass could be moved though space with no energy cost. "None? But...it is basically teleportation. You have to convert the entire mass of Uvadekoto into energy that can pass through hyperspace. That's an enormous amount of energy!"
"Except we know that the aliens found a way around that apparent limitation."
Stan complained, "Who is 'we'? Let me make this clear: I'm skeptical that a few micrograms of sedronic matter can move anything -let alone all of Uvadekoto- off of this planet and into outer space."
Nora said, "Well, now that the gravity test is complete, we have a good calibration curve for the efficiency with which sedrons can catalyze energy production. Holding at zero gravity is only producing a minor drain on our sedron supply. Do the math."
"I can't calculate how much energy it will take to shift this much mass into hyperspace. I don't even believe that such a jump is possible. I'm terrified to even imagine what will happen if we do manage to get shoved into hyperspace. How do we ever expect to come back out into ordinary space? And you've admitted yourself that we have no means of controlling the jump. We might just spread our atoms all through the galaxy!"
"Don't be silly. Either you trust the Huaoshy or you don't. I trust that they tried to tell us how to travel to the stars. The jump will work...all I wonder is-"
A robot burst into the control room with the Ambassador and a squad of his body guards trailing behind on a tether. They were followed by a squad of Uvadekoto security personnel and Jillia. The control room was suddenly crowded with people pointing guns at each other. Nora said, "Nice of you to drop by, Ambassador. I suggest everyone holster their guns, there is a lot of sensitive equipment around here that could be damaged if you fools start killing each other."
Jillia signaled to the Uvadekoto security contingent that they should lower their weapons.
The Ambassador said, "This isn't a social call. I'm taking control of this arcology. You are now under a World Government Mandate."
Nora laughed. "Sorry, Ambassador, but I read the message that you sent to the Directorate, and we still have a few hours remaining before we have to reply to your request. The Directorate will meet in two hours and reach a decision."
The ambassador asked, "You're Nora, aren't you?" He had been studying the key residents of Uvadekoto for years and did not wait for a reply. He pointed at Jillia, "Ms. Winsou, your sister told me that this arcology is a spaceship. Is that true? I warn you, our intelligence has already confirmed it."
"Then why are you asking me? But, yes, as you have probably deduced, this is the spaceship design that is carefully described in the alien Message. And you are taking part in a flight drill. I trust you have noticed the unusual gravity conditions."
The Ambassador was floating up near the ceiling. He asked, "Are you preparing to take this ship into orbit?"
Nora replied, "I'd be willing to abandon all flight tests if you agree to send your troops home and stop threatening us."
"I have to warn you. If you try to move this ship then the World Government will be forced to view that as defiance of the Mandate and an act of war. You know, we still have orbital platforms with nuclear armed rockets. If you try to run you will not get far. Do the sensible thing and stand down. Stop this absurd flight test and comply with the Mandate."
Nora refused. "I personally do not recognize your authority to issue orders, Mr. Ambassador. That might change when the Directorate meets later today, but until then, you are nothing more than a guest here. My guest, since I let you in."
Tilly asked, "Ambassador Dodd, would you like to use my chair? You look uncomfortable bouncing around up there."
After a minute of rather undignified tugging and grunting the Ambassador was belted into the chair at Tilly's workstation and she was warning him not to accidentally touch certain of the control actuators. She pointed to one particular control, "This is the gravity compensator control. Any sudden change and people could get hurt."
Nanites were at work inside the Ambassador's brain and also inside his body guards. Already the Ambassador's body guards had let their guns dip into relaxed positions. Nora said to Jillia, "Get all of your security goons out of here, now." The commander of the security platoon started to object, but then followed Jillia out of the control room.
Ambassador Dodd asked Tilly, "Mrs. Winsou, who is charge here?" He glanced dubiously at Nora. "Do you really intend to take us into orbit?"
Tilly replied, "I'm head of the Engineering department, but my daughter, Nora, is in control of our flight systems. Mr. Ambassador, I don't think you want to start slaughtering a bunch of civilians. Why not send your guards out of this room so we can talk in a calm and civilized manner?"
Dodd nodded to his body guards and they left the room. "Very well, now I want some answers. Surely you don't expect the World Government to let you continue to monopolize the alien Message."
Nora asked, "How could we do that? The message is there for everyone. We can't prevent you from listening to it."
Dodd objected, "Please! No sophistry. Your family has unethically withheld knowledge of the aliens for centuries. Surely you knew that someone else would eventually build an hierion receiver."
Tilly asked, "So, is that what happened?"
Dodd explained, "Yes. As you know, the World Government is slowly investing in fundamental research again, now that the world is finally getting some breathing room after being pulled back from the brink of catastrophe."
Nora asked suspiciously, "And exactly when did your researchers manage to build a hieric receiver?"
"That's not relevant-"
"Oh, but it is. Based on what you said in your ultimatum, you seem to know quite a lot about the Message." Nora was getting data from the nanites inside Dodd's brain and could tell that the Ambassador was trying to hide the truth. She instructed the nanites nudge him towards greater openness. "I suspect that your government has been keeping the existence of aliens secret for quite a few years. And the Uvadekoto Mandate does not mention aliens at all. You are still trying to keep the alien Message secret from the people of the World."
"We can't risk a global panic...we need to know what is going on. It is time for you to share what you know."
"Sophistry, Mr. Ambassador? You know there is no threat from the aliens."
Dodd suggested, "There are other threats besides the aliens." He gestured towards the robot technicians. "These are some of your robots, aren't they? The world is still hobbled by disastrously high unemployment, but you have all of these robots who could be replaced by human workers."
Nora said, "Yes, this community has grown apart from the rest of the world. We have no interest in complying with your rules. You might have a problem with unemployment, but here there is a labor shortage. Do you really think it makes sense to try to impose your rules on us?"
Dodd insisted, "It will be painful for you, but corrections must be made. It will be best in the long run if this community is brought back into line with the global civilization."
"But the global civilization is not everything...there are also the space colonies. Maybe this community has its place among the stars, not being forced to conform to the rules of the home world."
Dodd was skeptical. "I doubt if you are ready to sever your ties with the 'home world'. If you just go your own way then that will be theft. You have a wealth of information about alien technology that should be shared with the world."
Nora asked, "Even when it is technology that will be rejected by this world? Which is it? Do you want to know how to make human-like robots or do you want to prevent us from using them? You condemn us for keeping the existence of aliens secret, but you do the same. You condemn us for hoarding our technology, but you plan to do the same, picking and choosing what to reveal to the world. No, Mr. Ambassador, you cannot expect us to put up with so much hypocrisy. It is best if we go our own way, as we have planned to do for centuries."
Dodd asked, "So, what do you plan to do?"
Nora replied, "We were discussing that before you showed up this morning."
"I suggest that you not do anything rash." Dodd was still surprised to find someone as young as Nora in charge. He asked, "Is it true that your Directorate has not yet met?"
"We met yesterday and scheduled another meeting for today, but there was no real divergence of opinions. We find your threat of military action objectionable. We could crush your silly forces with almost no effort on our part, but we know that would only trigger fear among the global population. We do not want to go down that path."
"So, you have alien weaponry?"
"Of a type, Ambassador, if you must call all sources of power 'weapons'." Nora hinted, "Have you perhaps noticed a change in your emotions since coming on-board?"
Dodd was completely unaware that his emotions had been altered by the nanites that were at work inside his brain. "I'm grateful to Mrs. Winsou for ratcheting down the tensions. I'm a diplomat, not a soldier." He turned to Stan. "You are that university student, aren't you? You only recently came here. Do you know what 'power' Nora is talking about?"
Stan replied, "Yes, I think I do."
Nora sighed. "I could explain everything to you, Ambassador, but I know you are carrying a radio transmitter that is sending everything we say outside to your team...and I happen to agree with your assessment...the world is not ready for some of the alien technology."
Dodd asked, "Is that a matter for you to decide?"
"Probably not, but chance thrust me into the position where I have to make some decisions. I'm skeptical about the role of technology on a planet like this one...I think some technology should be restricted to the environment of outer space where it cannot damage fragile ecosystems. But I do not have time to argue such policy issues today. I have made a decision about this ship and I'm kicking myself for failing to allow myself to reach this decision earlier. I needed a catalyst," She glanced at Stan, "To push me into it, but now I see that it is the right thing to do. We just have one final issue to decide upon. Stan, are you going to be able to provide that energy calculation?"
Stan had been sitting there, trying to ignore the distractions of zero gravity, guns and the treats from the Ambassador while thinking about a way to calculate how many sedrons were needed to initiate a jump. He replied, "Sorry, Nora, I have no answer for you, but let me say, if I've played a role in pushing you towards trying to initiate a jump today...well, that scares me to death...but if you really think it is safe, then...I want to say that I trust you. Let's do it."
Tilly muttered, "Silly boy."
Nora activated the public address system for the spaceship. "This is not a test. Take flight precautions. This is a two minute warning. Get to a flight couch immediately."
Stan asked, "What about the sedron reserve?"
"I'm not going to bother to keep a reserve. We need to be sure that there is enough power to get us well away from this crazy planet and the Ambassador's threat to nuke us."
The Ambassador asked nervously, "Are you really going through with this? How does this spaceship work? Should I order the Special Forces to pull back to a safe distance?"
Nora replied, "Safe? You've put yourself and your soldiers in harm's way. You are free to to order the soldiers to pull back, away from this spaceship. I've never blocked your transmitter."
Dodd spoke to those outside, "Pull back away from the dome! This is a spacecraft preparing to lift off! Everybody pull back from the dome now!"
Nora said, "I don't think that will matter. We're not going to be using rocket engines or anything nearly that primitive."
Dodd asked, "How does this ship work? How is it possible to move such a large object into space?"
Nora said, "I don't have time to explain that. Just watch."
Tilly drifted over next to Nora and whispered, "Nora, do you know what you're doing?"
Nora giggled and thought of Diny and his first word. She said, "Fly! Fly! Fly!" And she waved an arm and triggered the jump actuator in her workstation interface. There was a strange lurch and the lights became dim. After a moment she said, "Well, we're still here...but the sedrons are not. We're now on battery power."
Stan looked at the sedron indicator. It was at zero. All the sedrons had been used to power the jump. Stan asked, "Where is 'here'?"
Nora called out, "Astrogation report?"
One of the robotic technicians said, "We are dangerously close to a massive stellar object. Radiation levels in the outer decks are high. Triangulating to find our absolute position in space."
Nora activated her comunit and made a call, "Prinstir?"
The robot replied, "Yes, ma'am?"
"How are the boys?"
"Just fine, I took them to the payatorium. They are safe there."
Nora ordered, "Go to the workshop. Terminate last night's smelting run. Bring the sedrons down to the array. Fast!"
The astrogator said, "We are now 893 light-years from home. We are in orbit around a large blue star and inbound towards perigee."
Nora demanded, "Time to perigee and what will the distance of closest approach be?"
The robot paused, waiting for orbital data to accumulate, "We are in an eccentric orbit. Still calculating the orbit, but it will be several weeks to perigee. For this star, the distance of closest approach is going to be too close." An image of the nearby star flashed into view on the displays.
Tilly asked, "Too close for what?"
Nora replied, "Too close for Uvadekoto to survive."
The Ambassador asked, "You've taken us 893 light-years from home and we're just going to burn up in a star?"
Stan said, "Don't panic, we're not dead yet."
Nora activated the public address system. "Initiate radiation exposure monitoring protocols. Evacuate all decks near the surface. Clear shells one through five...move towards the inner decks."
Nora commented to Stan, "Well, it looks like we could have used a smaller amount of our sedron supply. Now I'm not even sure if we have enough sedrons remaining to shield us from this star's radiation."
Stan commented, "It was bad luck to end up so close to a star. The probability of-" He stopped talking and started thinking.
Nora asked, "What?"
"I think I need to correct myself."
At first Stan had been surprised that with the vastness of interstellar space they had jumped to a position that was close to a star. "Now I'm thinking that we were lucky not to end up inside a star."
Nora started to follow his logic. "Oh, my"
Dodd asked, "What are you two talking about?"
Stan replied, "We jumped without any directional control, so the distribution of mass in the universe was what guided our trajectory. There seems to be a symmetry involved...we started out near a large mass and ended up near a large mass."
Prinstir arrived at the control room. Nora ordered one of the technicians, "Take the sedrons from Prinstir. Load them into generator one, pod one. Move!"
Tilly asked, "Is it safe to only use one pod?"
Nora shrugged, "We'll soon find out...we don't have enough sedronic matter to even try to divide it up and distribute it to multiple pods. Anyhow, the first time I tested the gravity compensation effect I only used one pod."
Tilly was not comforted. "It was the only pod we had completed, at that time, and you only nudged the force of gravity down less than a percent."
"It will work. The problem is, we've never had a chance to test the ability of the generators to shield cosmic rays and solar wind particles...but it should work...if we have enough sedrons."
An indicator light in Nora's workstation display indicated that a twistor pod had been loaded with the small amount of available sedronic matter. She spoke via the public address system again. "We are now in orbit around a star almost 900 light-years from home. Prepare for another test. We should have some gravity back in a minute. Repeat, prepare for a return of gravity."
Nora started activating the gravity compensator. As the force of gravity returned to the ship, objects that had been floating in zero gravity settled to the floor. She said, "The compensators should function as gravity generators here, but I'll direct most of our power into creating a field to shield us from radiation."
A robot said, "Hull radiation detectors now showing acceptable short-term exposure risk for humans...and robots."
Nora next brought the matter/antimatter power supply back on line. The lights in the control room came up to full brightness. She let the gravity level stabilize at about ten percent of normal and then undid her restraint belts and went to Stan. She whispered, "Well, we did it." For a minute they held each other.
Dodd also got out of his chair. "What is going on? Are we in danger or not?"
Nora turned towards the Ambassador, still holding onto Stan's arm. "For the moment we are safe."
Stan pointed to the indicator panel. "To maintain this level of electric power generation, gravity and radiation shielding, we're going through the sedron supply at just about the rate that we can isolate more from the platinum."
Nora agreed with that estimate. "But we are falling closer to the star. Eventually we will not be able to screen out the radiation and the hull will melt. We need to make another jump."
Stan cautioned, "Now we're too close to the star. Without any guidance control, we risk just jumping closer to it."
Dodd said, "You can't control this ship's course?"
Nora explained, "That's the case. I mistakenly assumed that after the jump we would safely arrive at a random destination in the depths of space. However, it seems that there is a fundamental problem with jumps that are initiated too close to a large mass."
Stan said, "We can't risk another jump."
Nora looked up into his eyes and added, "We can't do nothing." Her comunit activated. She spoke for a minute then said to the Ambassador. "The Directorate is assembled. They've been monitoring our conversation down here. Come on, you might as well join us for the deliberations."
Nora rubbed a scent gland against Stan's arm, "Go with Prinstir and get the boys. You might as well wait in the apartment."
On the way to the playatorium Stan and Prinstir saw a baby flying along a walkway, laughing and staying just out reach of its mother. When they got inside the playatorium they found the aftermath of bedlam. All the small children had taken wing as soon when low gravity conditions were created by Nora. Many of them had ended up crashing into walls and other objects. Diny had a big bruise and bump on his head and was unhappily sitting, strapped into a high chair. Prinstir kept both hands on Diny as they walked home. Diny kept shouting, "Fly!" Stan easily carried Ril and Berny in the low gravity and they excitedly described the crazy events inside the playatorium during the zero gravity period.
Back in the apartment Prinstir rigged an elastic tether to Diny and put a crash helmet on him. He also moved everything breakable out of the living room. Diny was then allowed to have his fun and he flew endlessly back and forth across the living room. Prinstir insisted that the two older boys also wear helmets when they took to running after Diny and jumping so high that they hit their heads on the ceiling.
Trying to ignore the shrieks of joy from the playing boys, Stan put on readies and tried to think about how to manufacture sedrons. After getting clear in his mind the theoretical issues, he wondered what equipment might be on hand and so he called Tilly. She described the equipment that was available for building a particle accelerator. Stan asked, "So could your equipment be tuned for about 5 GeV?"
Tilly shrugged. "Sure, but I think you are really asking how long it would take to produce a steady high beam intensity that could be tuned to energies near 5 GeV."
"All I can say is, the sooner we start, the sooner we'll find out."
Stan asked, "Would it be a day, a week, a year?"
Tilly replied, "It might be never. You not only want specific beam energies and densities, but you want a system that has a easily movable target so we can harvest the sedrons. If the whole contraption doesn't have reasonable efficiency then we'll use more sedrons than we produce."
Stan commented, "I've seen the efficiency of your engineering, Tilly. You would be quite incapable of a design that was that inefficient. And remember, this is not a competition for the best possible efficiency. Even if we achieved only a ten to one ratio of sedrons produced to consumed, that could make all the difference and allow us to get out of the trap we are in."
Tilly asked, "Do you really think we can shield Uvadekoto from the radiation we'll be receiving at perigee?"
Stan answered honestly, "I don't know, but we have to try."
"Well, I'll get started on your sedron manufacturing plant. Where do you want it?"
Stan asked, "How big will it be?"
"For the electromagnets that we can turn out, it will be about the diameter of the twistor array. I could loop it around the array, but I'm worried about radiation leakage. If we get into improvising radiation shielding then you can forget about getting this done in a week."
"So you're saying we might be able to start producing sedrons in a week, but doing so might damage the twistor array?"
"I don't really understand how the twistor array works. I only said I'm worried about the effects of incident radiation. Another option would be to put your toy on deck one. Nora already evacuated it and four adjacent decks. If we had to, we could evacuate more of the top decks, or cart shielding into deck 3. We'd have to use deck two as a work space beneath the actual accelerator on deck one which we would open to the vacuum of space."
Stan said, "I can't make this kind of decision. I suppose people live on those upper decks."
"No, we followed the Huaoshy design. The outer decks are all commercial and industrial."
"Look, Tilly, you're head of Engineering, right? You do what's best."
"Well, I'm going to have to go to the Directorate with a request for more robots. What you want is not tricky, but it will be labor intensive to build it in a week. The Directorate will probably want to stick their noses into the details and approve the location."
"Fine. Fine. You deal with the Directorate and the engineering details. I'm going to search the Message for how to design the target. The aliens must have explained all this."
Stan ended his call and took off his readies. Ril came over and they started playing math games. By the time Nora got home, Diny had worn himself out and was asleep on a chair. Ril and Berny were getting lunch and Stan was trying to find a part of the Message that could provide clues about how to make sedrons.
Nora looked rather dazed and Stan took her into his arms. "How did it go?"
She described her confrontation with the rest of the Directorate. "I had to listen to a bunch of nonsense about how I had exceeded my authority. Luckily Dodd was there...he really saved me. He explained that the World Government had already authorized a military take-over of Uvadekoto. If we failed to capitulate and adhere to the terms of their Mandate, they were going to act on a plan for invading and capturing Uvadekoto. Of course, that was all just venting frustration...they're not happy that we'll all be dead soon."
Nora wanted to know why the boys were wearing helmets and then she noticed the ugly bruises on their heads. Ril and Berny filled Nora in on Diny's ability to fly in low gravity and showed how they could jump and bounce off the ceiling. She shook her head, "Boys. This is why men aren't born with brains...it would be a waste. You'd just bash them into mush anyhow."
Stan asked, "So, if the Directorate didn't decide to execute you, what did they decide to do?"
"What can they decide? I've brought online my old smelter. In the morning we'll try another jump."
Stan explained to Nora his hope of being able to manufacture sedrons. "We just might be able to produce enough sedrons so that we can protect ourselves and get past perigee. Given time we could learn how to control jumps, find a way to make sure we do not just jump into the interior of a star."
"That's a nice dream, but I don't think we can survive perigee, even if you can provide a ton of sedrons." But they worked together for the rest of the day, searching through the Message for a clue that might aid their survival. After dinner they played with the boys and even Nora laughed at Diny as he flew across the living room.
When Nora finally got the boys put to bed she took Stan to their bedroom. Stan said, "Realistically, we don't have more than a 50:50 chance do we?"
Nora pulled him to the bed. "I don't want to think about it anymore. I want to take advantage of the low gravity to give you a workout. Be warned, you might want to get one of those crash helmets for yourself. I intend to give you a complete workout."
Stan pointed to the bracelet on his arm. "Can't I take this off now?"
Nora called in Prinstir and the robot clipped off the bracelet. When the robot departed Stan asked, "No training session for 'Junior' tonight?"
"I told Prinstir not to disturb us. Junior can have a night off. Maybe he'll learn something from us, anyhow. This might be our last night."
In the morning they collected all the available sedron's from the two smelters and loaded them into twistor pods. The robots spent three hours trying to equally distribute the tiny amount of available sedrons among all of the generators, but they only used ever third pod.
Nora paced in the control room and muttered about the impossibility of the robots measuring such small amounts of sedronic matter. Before the test began, Dodd and Jillia arrived. Nora asked sarcastically, "No body guards today?"
Jillia explained, "We found apartments for Dodd and his guards." She tapped her head, "I think the guards are happy to have a day off."
Dodd complained, "As I understand it, we could all find ourselves inside of a star today. Does anyone here know what they are doing?"
Stan replied, "Not really. We don't even know if we have enough sedronic matter to initiate a jump. There is an energy barrier for jump initiation and then most of the energy costs of the jump get paid back at the end of the jump, but we do not know the magnitude of that barrier."
A robot technician came into the control room and said, "The twistor pods are primed."
Nora again activated the public address system. "Prepare for hyperspatial jump. Reminder: we'll probably be on battery power again after the jump...zero gravity should persist."
Something was nagging at Nora's confidence. Unlike the day before, she was nervous about this jump. Everyone strapped themselves into chairs. Rather than trigger the jump herself, Nora gave a verbal order to the robot at the navigation workstation. "Initiate jump."
The robot adjusted the gravity compensators and brought the force of gravity down to zero. The robot looked up and glanced at Nora, who nodded. The robot sent the electronic command to activate the twistor array jump sequence. The lights dimmed briefly but there was no lurch. The sedron indicator had again gone to almost zero.
Nora noted, "There is a small of amount of residual sedron and it is being used to maintain gravity and shields. The robots were amazingly good at distributing the sedrons." She called out, "Position report?"
The astrogation robot said, "There was no jump. Position unchanged."
Nora said, "Well, now we know that there is a lower limit for initiating a jump."
Dodd asked, "Now what?"
Nora replied, "Now we go into the sedron manufacturing business...and we hope that saves us."
They worked for a week to build the particle accelerator on deck one. Most of the time they did not activate the gravity compensators and rationed power. For a few minutes each day there was just enough gravity to settle floating debris. They saved most of the sedrons that they could isolate from the platinum for driving the shield generators. They had used the ship's ion thrusters to initiate a spin that distributed incident radiation from the approaching star more evenly over the hull.
While waiting nervously for the first run of the accelerator, Nora said, "The hull temperature is already over 800. Even if we get more sedrons, we are not going to be able to shield out all the radiation. We need to get enough sedrons to make another jump."
Dodd was again present for the accelerator test. He asked, "What are the chances of that?"
Stan was intimately familiar with their best estimates of success. "Now we are even closer to the star. Our chances of completing a safe jump are lower now. We still don't know if we are actually going to be able to make sedrons."
Tilly came into the control room. They had decided to also use the twistor array's control room for the accelerator, even though the accelerator itself was far above. Tilly had just come down from a final walk through of the accelerator and was still pulling off parts of her space suit. She said, "We'll know soon enough."
Stan nervously looked at the display that reported the status of the target. He had played a major role in designing the target, but the design was largely based on guesses about what the aliens had tried to say in the Message. The target looked primed and ready, but-
Nora said, "Stan, want to do the honors?" He shook his head. Nora chuckled, "Men! Tilly, how about you?"
Tilly said, "The accelerator will work. I have no faith in all the hierion resonances and sedron synthesis nonsense that you two have been babbling about." Still, she activated the controls and brought the accelerator online, feeding power to deck one from the twistor array's matter/antimatter converters. The sedron supply started to dip rapidly. After about a minute she said, "Now at four Gev. Stan, you might as well start your tuning algorithm."
They had programmed a strategy for searching for the exact resonances that would allow sedron production. No person could possible respond quick enough to find the resonances, so the whole process was automated. Stan switched control to the computer. "We're on autopilot."
A robot said, "The target is hot."
Stan kept his eye on the output of a hieric receiver. The endless pulse of the Second message showed on the display. Then there was a deviation. Stan excitedly said, "We have hierion production!" The software tuned the accelerator and the hierion production level climbed. Stan was bothered by unexpected irregularity in the hierion production rate. Rather than a smooth peak in the data, there was a jiggly mess. "That looks like a peak, just about 4.5 GeV. I'll hold it there for ten minutes then change out the target."
Nora looked at Stan and shook her head, "It's not enough."
Stan said, "This might be a side band. I'll complete the spectral scan."
After ten minutes they extracted the first target, a bar of platinum, and started analyzing it for sedron content. Stan allowed the software to continue adjusting the accelerator, scanning for a better energy level for sedron production.
By the end of the day they had dangerously depleted their sedron supply and found only the one energy band for sedron production. Analysis of the test target confirmed that they had manufactured sedrons, but while scanning for the best energy range they had spent more sedrons than they had produced. Nora turned away from the display that summarized the day's results. "The accelerator is now generating sedrons, but by holding at the optimum resonance we are only getting about a five fold amplification of sedrons."
Stan looked at Tilly and asked, "Is there any way to boost the beam?"
Tilly asked Stan, "Is there any way to improve the target efficiency?"
Nora answered for them both, "We'll tune the process as best we can, but remember, we are still up against the heat problem. In less than a week we melt the hull unless we can make a jump."
Stan said, "There's something wrong. Look at all this noise in the hierion output. Something is degrading our efficiency."
Nora, suspecting minor technical glitches, said hopefully, "We'll sort it out."
A week later they were assembled again in the control room. They had loaded the twistor array with all of the sedrons they had been able to accumulate. They had made virtually no progress in boosting their efficiency of sedron production. Tilly and her crew had been over every detail of the accelerator and no problems could be found. Stan was haunted by the idea that something from outside of Uvadekoto was interfering. Nora laughed at him and welcomed him to the Uvadekoto bad dream club.
Nora again spoke to everyone in Uvadekoto. "We're ready to try for a jump." There was not much else to say. This time they had equally distributed the available sedrons to all the twistor pods. By this point, everyone was used to Uvadekoto operating with minimal power and zero gravity. "Stand by." Everyone in the control room exchanged glances. This was their last chance. Nora and Stan locked eyes and slight smiles came to their faces.
Finally Dodd said, "Well, I'm not afraid to do it. I can't stand the waiting. What button do I push?"
Nora made an adjustment to the control circuits, then she went to Stan's chair and snuggled against him. "Give a voice command, Ambassador."
Dodd said, "Initiate jump!"
The sedron indicator flipped to zero, indicating that their supply of sedrons had been consumed, but again there was no jump.
Nora said, "There were not enough sedrons to get us over the barrier. That's it." Slowly everyone unbelted and got up from their chairs. They quietly exchanged hand shakes and thanked each other for their efforts. Then they all wandered away. There was nothing more to try.
Only the robot technicians remained in the control room. One said, "I estimate ten more minutes of shield on the sedron residual in the pods. I want the sedron from the smelters here in five minutes. Eject the current accelerator target and take it for processing."
Most of the robots sprang into action and left the control room. One other robot remained with the one that had given the orders. It said, "The accelerator magnets will soon start to melt. We cannot even hope to maintain current shield strength."
The first robot nodded, "Start evacuations of shells six through ten."
Stan and Nora went hand-in-hand back to the apartment. Nora said, "Well, I'm selfish, so I'm glad you came on this trip. Does that make me a bad person?"
Stan was still irked by the mystery of why their production of sedrons had been so inefficient. He laughed at Nora and squeezed her hand. "I'm glad you dragged me into this. We gave it a good try. I only regret that our story will never be told. Maybe that's for the best...I can't help thinking that we missed something simple that would have allowed us to get those damned jiggles out of the accelerator target and boost the sedron synthesis rate."
They spent another wild evening with the boys bouncing and flying around the apartment in zero gravity. Then Stan and Nora held each other and talked deep into the night. Stan was half asleep when he noticed Nora using her comunit. She was saying, "That's crazy. Okay. Right. South Gate." She ended the call and said to Stan, "That was Jillia. Security is all in a tizzy? Get dressed."
Stan sat up and asked, "What's wrong?"
"She claims that another spaceship is here. Most of our external sensors have melted, so the alien ship was close before it was noticed. They came in fast on an intercept course and then deployed some kind of heat shield between us and the star. It looks like they want to dock with us.."
The walkways leading to the South Gate were crowded, mostly with security personnel, and as they neared the surface of the ship there was some gravity. They finally found Jillia. She said, "The alien ship is docked to us. People are arguing about the wisdom of opening the gate."
They could not get any closer to the gate. They milled around in the crowd and Nora talked via comunit to other members of the Directorate. Finally she said, "Our visitors got tired of waiting. Apparently they sent in a robot."
A minute later there was a commotion in the direction of the gate. The alien robot came towards them, flanked by Uvadekoto security personnel. The robot pushed on past. Stan asked, "What's going on?"
Nora said, "That robot was carrying something. Did you see?"
Jillia said, "A little case."
Nora was moving to follow the alien robot. She called to Stan, "It looked like it had the alien symbol for 'sedron' on the case!"
They followed the robot along the walkways to the twistor array. The robot entered a generator and went to a twistor pod. Nora pushed close and shouted at the security forces, "Move back. Let it work. I think it brought a supply of sedrons!" Most people had no idea what sedrons were. She said, "Fuel. The aliens are trying to help us." The robot proceeded to load sedronic matter into the pods.
Jillia came into the generator house and said, "We finally got a link to their ship." She projected an image from her comlink.
Nora said, "If I'm not mistaken, there you see a member of the Huaoshy species."
Jillia nodded, "It certainly looks like the images of Huaoshy that are in the Message. The linguists are trying to start up a conversation."
Stan was watching the alien robot load sedrons into the pods. It only took a few seconds for each. Nora said, "I'm going to the control room."
Once in the control room they quickly determined that the robot was loading into each twistor pod the amount of sedronic matter specified in the Message. Due to the high density of sedronic matter, it only took a small pellet. Stan was puzzled. He said, "Even if the aliens give us enough sedron, we still have the problem of control."
Jillia was on her comunit, getting an update from security. "Two more alien robots are on-board now. They have a bulky piece of equipment. The alien spaceship has un-docked and is pulling away."
Nora said, "Show me." Jillia projected an image. "Of course." She pointed to the equipment being carried by the two alien robots. "That looks like the quantum computing command station that we could never figure out how to build." She walked across the control room to a computer work station. "This is where it should be installed. We tried substituting this computer." She ordered the robotic technicians to help her unbolt the computer from the floor.
The first alien robot came into the control room, having loaded each twistor pod with sedrons. It started experimenting with one of the command work stations. One of the robot technicians tried to explain the controls to the alien robot.
Then the other two robots arrived in the control room and started installing their equipment and linking it into the control system of the twistor array.
Jillia said, "The linguists are reporting some progress. Our robots are talking to their robots."
Nora had noticed that the alien robots had connected their equipment, but seemed to be having trouble. They were chattering in the alien language. Nora approached and said, "Welcome."
Two of the robots continued their work, but the third turned to Nora and adjusted its voice. "Thanks." It pointed to itself. "Robot Skingk."
Nora pointed to herself. "Nora."
The robot pointed to the alien equipment. "Interface...bad." Then it launched into a bunch of alien chatter with a robot technician.
Nora turned to Stan, "We made some modifications to the interface to accommodate our computer equipment. I hope they can figure out the changes."
She took hold of one of the alien robots and guided it to her workstation. She pointed to the critical command actuators. "Power. Gravity. Okay?"
The alien robot said. "Yes."
Nora brought up the ship's power level and restored normal gravity. She noted, "There is no rush for a jump now. Their sun shield is doing the trick. Hull temperature is dropping fast."
Tilly was with the robots and trying to explain to the alien robots the differences between the original specification from the Message and the actual control circuits in place for the array.
Stan sank down into a chair. Nora came over and sat on his lap. She rested her head on his chest and sighed. Stan said, "I wonder how they found us."
Nora made a guess, "It might be our sedron synthesizer. It's cranking out hierions. Maybe the aliens used it as a beacon to home in on out location."
"Like a distress beacon?" Stan yawned. "I'm hungry."
Nora jumped up and pulled him to his feet. "The boys will be getting up soon. We might as well go back to the apartment. Who knows how long it will take to sort out how to link our systems into their computer."
It was not until late morning that Jillia called. "The linguists think that the aliens are ready to provide a control signal for a jump. The aliens seem nervous about being so close to this star, but they seem to know what they are doing. I just spoke to Tilly and she said it looks like the alien robots have their equipment interfaced with the twistor array. Are you coming back to he control room?"
Nora had lost interest. She was more than happy to let the aliens worry about the jump. "No, there is nothing for me to do. Tell them to make the jump." She broke the connection with her sister and took Stan's hand. "Come on."
Nora took him to the workshop and she collected the available sedrons that had been isolated by the two smelters over night. Then she took Stan to the emergency elevator that she had first used to bring him up from the parking level to the apartment. They rode the elevator down, down past the parking level and down to the very bottom of the spaceship. "Lights." Nora led the way through a hanger to a utility craft. She brought Stan into the small ship, warning him to duck his head under the low door frame. She loaded the sedrons into a miniature matter/antimatter engine module and explained, "This boat does not have jump capability. It's a landing boat."
They strapped themselves into the two command seats and Nora brought the boat's systems online. Stan felt a lurch and said, "Was that a jump?"
Nora called the Engineering control room. Jillia said, "We jumped clear of the star. We now seem to be in orbit around a planet. The alien robots seem very excited. I'd even say relieved. Hold on, our position is...we're now over 2,000 light years from home." She sounded amazed and possibly disappointed at not having been taken home.
Nora commanded the hanger's blast wall to open. It slid open and Stan could see the black of space and a sprinkle of stars. Nora said, "Launch sequence," and the little landing craft slipped out of Uvadekoto. They found themselves in the glare of a friendly yellow star. Nora rotated them almost 180 degrees and a planet came into view. "Clouds and oceans. It looks like the Huaoshy brought us to a beautiful world." She reached over and took hold of Stan's hand.
Just then the alien spaceship came streaking around the edge of the planet and pulled up next to Uvadekoto. Stan and Nora watched in awe. As large as Uvadekoto was, the alien spaceship was far larger. The two giant spaceships touched and docked.
Stan turned his head and looked again at the nearby planet. He was wondering if this new world was inhabited. He squeezed Nora's hand and wondered out loud, "How much trouble do you think we'd get into if we..." He never completed the sentence. Nora was already guiding them towards the planet.