February 10, 1994
It was just a suggestion
We'd all been working hard for the past three weeks, trying to repair all the damage to K1. The kids had pitched in hard, and so had Jab and Karen. I was proud of all of us and figured it was time to slow down and turn towards things we found more enjoyable.
Because of this, I disabled the wake alarm that would chime in the station at 7 am AST (artificial station time). My internal clock was stuck I guess, because I woke up anyway. Quietly dressing, I took a tour of the station, looking everything over.
I enjoyed the time to let my mind wander over the previous two years, and wondered at all that had happened. On the whole, most people didn't run into the kinds of adventure we'd seen --even at the movies. I was the owner of a space station which was a home, a manufacturing plant, a military command center, and even a hyperspace battle cruiser. No, scratch that. We'd yanked all of the mods that allowed the station to achieve hyperspace travel. However, it was everything else, and more. Maybe we couldn't go hyper with it in its current condition, but we could still move the station at .3 C, full out, and that was fast enough.
When I reached the hangar bay, there was still evidence of the battles we'd faced. There were carbon smudges and impact warpage still evident, but it was fully operational. The bloodstains were gone, and it was macabre curiosity that caused me to look closely where my son and daughter had fallen under blaster fire. I counted myself lucky they were still with us, and pretty much intact. They'd faced the challenge of the Maal a hell of a lot better than many on Earth had faced the challenges of war.
Moving back into the main chamber of K1, I went through the gate room where we stored armor and anchored the gateways Brian had built. I stopped and looked at myself in the big hull metal mirror. It was more reflective than any looking glass, and a lot harder to break. It was one of the things that had stood to all we'd been through.
Looking back at me was a middle-aged man with whose once brown hair was turning to dirty snow that cascaded across his shoulders. His zapatta mustache had made the transition completely, bracing each side of his mouth like squared parenthesis of cotton. He looked back at me through eyes framed in deep crow's feet. We pointed at each other and I warned him he needed to quit referring to himself as 'the kid.' We shook our heads in solemn unison and I moved along into the huge habitat area.
Passing the door to the control room, I saw the sign Brian had left on it which said "The Mage is out to lunch." Scrawled below it in handwriting that looked surprisingly like my own were the words "So what's new?" I smiled at my own joke and wondered how my friend was doing on Velar. My grin widened as I pictured him being hammered by the throes of family life. While he could be a formidable enemy to someone or something bent on killing him, he could also be a real woos target when the 'enemy' held his heart firmly in their hands. Then again, show me the man who doesn't share that weakness and I'll show you a corpse.
My thoughts were interrupted when Aron came trotting along. He wanted to show me his latest feat. Out in the commons he'd built a 10 foot screen which was showing cartoons. He'd commandeered one of the auxiliary comm dishes to rip off signals from earth satellites and his current victim was TBS in Atlanta. I thought it was highly appropriate that it was currently playing Duck Dodgers in the 23 1/2 century.
Aron joined his brother and sister sprawling in front of the screen. "All the comforts of home, eh?" I asked.
"Mostly. It would be cool if we had some friends though" answered Ficus.
He had a point there. While I was fairly content, I had to admit that I had friends and family --all I really needed. But I got the impression that maybe what was heaven to me might not be the same for the others. "Maybe it's time to do something about that" I told him. He gave me a questioning look in return.
Two hours later, all of us made our way to the gate. It was time to drop in on the kid's mom, and do a little visiting.
* * *
Suzanne heard me coming as I stepped through the gate and came out of the closet in Ficus' room. My ex-wife met me halfway as I went up the stairs towards the living room.
"My god. What's happened to you?" were the first words she had when she saw me.
"Huh?" She came to me and touched my hair, and then gave me an unexpected hug. It felt good. "To what do I owe this?"
She looked beyond me and saw the kids file up towards us. It took her a half second to fly down the stairs and grab them all at once. Through tears she told us she'd thought we were dead.
"I saw... everybody saw it" she stammered. "It was amazing."
"What are you talking about?" asked Karen. She'd just come through the gate and joined us.
"We saw the nova. It lit Earth up for a full night, and all of the TV channels are talking about the new star." Karen and I shot a glance at one another.
"Are you telling me that all of Earth knows about what we've been doing?" I asked. "Please tell me that's not true."
"No, no. The astronomers are all talking about the new star and how it all confirms the Big Bang Theory. I was afraid that you'd all been killed when it started up --being out there in space with it."
"Uh, Suzanne. Space is a pretty big place."
"Then you weren't in danger by that?"
"No. We weren't endangered by the star" I said in half truth.
"We made the star to kill the Maal" volunteered Megan gleefully. "We killed million of them. It was soooo cool!"
"Yeah!" piped Aron. "Megan even got shot, and Ficus had his arm blown off."
The blood drained from Suzanne's face, but she stepped to Ficus and looked at him closely. Taking his hand, she looked at the regenerated arm. It was better, but still noticeably thinner than his other in spite of the exercise it had gotten during the refit of K1. She looked at me with an expression I saw a lot of as we were divorcing. "What the hell have you exposed my children to? Are you crazy? They're kids, Bob. They're KIDS!" Her look was deadlier than plasma flux.
"Suzanne, it may be hard for you to imagine this, but in the three months since you last saw us, quite a few things have changed" I told her. "The kids have completed what amounts to a lifetime of practical experiences, and are all most of the way through college materials."
"You are fucking nuts. I never should have stood for you letting the kids go out --out there!" She waved an arm toward the sky. "Well, I can tell you that it's not happening again. The kids are here and they're staying here."
"No, mom" said Ficus quietly. We aren't staying here. We're visiting, and then we're going to go home."
"Over my dead body, you are!"
"Ok" said Jab. For the first time in months I watched the cat begin to expand his size. I smacked him between the eyes with the back of my hand.
"Chill, cat. Look Suzanne, reality itself has taken a paradigm shift. Everything we took for granted before is now just a memory."
"What about me? What does all this mean? Did you come here just to tell me that I'm not part of my own family's world anymore?"
"No. As a matter of fact, we came to invite you to be a part of it." It was obvious that little of this was sinking in. She had a very confused expression.
"Him, mom. We're spacemen now. Bye forever, mom. Fuck you, Bob. It's not going to hap... You want me to what?"
Looks ok to me
We must have spent three hours talking to Suzanne about our experiences. On the whole, she took it pretty well. But she insisted on looking closely at all three kids when we covered the injuries in greater detail. In the end, she surprised us.
"So, what you want to do now is build a flying commune?" she asked.
"No. K1 is strictly for family" I replied.
"So then, it would just be us?"
"Most of the time. We have, uh, family you haven't met yet."
"You mean Kalindra" It wasn't a question.
"Yes, Kal and Brian. But there's Sten and Lythandi too. But that part of us really has other quarters."
"Why don't they come up and live with the rest of us?"
I liked the fact that she was saying 'us' instead of 'you.' Anyway, we explained about Brian again, and reminded her that Kal was a fox-like creature. She took it without batting an eye. Of course, we'd just explained that magic was real, my best friend was an ArchMage, we'd met a planet full of Meenzals, and devastated a race of crystalline beings too. Perhaps she was just in shock, and maybe having the gate in her house --on and off-- for the past few months did some preparatory work on her. At any rate, she shrugged it off, and left us in the living room for a short time while she did something in her bedroom.
Ten minutes later, she appeared back among us with a suitcase in each hand, with a tennis racket under one arm and a pair of skis under the other. "Ok! Let's go!"
She looked a little confused when we all broke out laughing.
* * *
Suzanne and Jab got along remarkably well. I made the mistake of joking that it was probably because they had a lot in common, and got a finger waving lecture about sexism and referring to women as being catty. I apologized dutifully, and went to tour the new space Jab had carved for her. It was Suzanne all over.
Her living space was twice the size of ours. She had rooms for reading, sewing and knitting, cooking, sleeping, and seven other common enterprises. Three of the rooms were for the children. Later, she would get a better picture about how her views on custody would have to change. As far as the kids were concerned, they were their own custodians, and each had their own apartments. Oh, we still kept an eye on them. But how do you justify laying bedtimes and other regimens on people who were more mature in most ways than many adult's Earthside?
Karen was still dubious about having her around. Some of the jealousy that prevails in 'new wife - old wife' situations was still very much in her character, and Suzanne had similar feelings. Still, they'd work well together and that's all anyone expected from them.
Sue came to talk to me one afternoon. She fidgeted like she had to go to the bathroom or something, so I asked her what was on her mind. "Well, I hate to mention it, but... well, I need some money."
"Ok" I answered.
"That's it? Just 'ok?' Don't you even want to know why I need it and what I want to spend it on?"
"You can tell me if you want, but it's not necessary." She looked at me quizzically.
"Well, I've spent all I had. Now there are bills due and I don't have a way to meet them all."
"No problem" I said. "We'll get you some money."
"But where? I mean, no offense, but it's not like you have a job up here or anything. You may have some thoughts on how to get some money, but I need to pay these now. I owe two months of mortgage payments, and the bank will move to reclaim the house if I don't do something."
I shrugged. "Money isn't a big deal here, Sue. We have all of it we need."
"I don't understand, Bob. What do you mean?" To answer her, I took her arm and walked her towards the back of the station. We came to a small hillock and I pointed to it.
"There you go" I said. "Take as much as you want. There's a lot more where that came from." A stunned Suzanne walked slowly to the hillock with a mouth agape. The hill was made of solid gold.
"Where did this come from?" she asked. "Did you steal it?" I had to laugh.
"No, doofus. It's almost a contaminant. This blob of it comes from from our mineral collection automation. We have rather large collections of almost any element you'd care to name --except for those weird man-made ones. Well, come to think of it, we have our share of those too, but they're elements we've invented. There's platinum over on the other side" I hooked a thumb over my shoulder.
"This is what you call contamination?" she was astounded.
"Well, sort of. Our biggest interest is in harder metals, and particularly the lightweight ones. Gold is handy for electronics, but other than that, it's just kind of pretty."
"And I can have as much as I want?"
"Sure. Why not? If I decide I want some, there's a universe full of it out there." Sue nodded slowly and then started grabbing chunks of the precious metal and piling it on her arm. I suggested that she didn't have to be in a hurry, and it would probably be easier if she got a bot to move it for her. She looked at me with eyes all too starry, and I noticed that she had wet her pants. "I see that Earthside qualities are going to take a while to fade."
I don't think she heard me as she bustled off to find a bot. It was going to take a while indeed. She didn't need to look for a robot, she could have just called for Penny to assign one.
* * *
"Dad!" Ficus came to find me a few hours later. "I think you better go talk to mom."
"Go check out the gate room. Penny and mom are having a hell of a fight."
"Great." I headed off to find Suzanne fuming. She was smoking a cigarette and pacing back and forth. I could see the slight arcs of ionization in front of the gate and knew at once that Penny had a force field up in front of it.
"You told me I could have this. It's mine! Now tell that invisible woman of yours to let me go." Looking around, I spotted a pile of gold bars. There were at least a few hundred of them.
"You had that whole pile processed into ingots?" I asked.
"Why not? You said I could have it. I want to take it home."
"I can't let you do that, Sue. Penny was right to stop you. If you want to, you're more than welcome to store this in your rooms, but I can't let you take it to Earth."
"Because if you show up at an assayers office with a wagon load of this shit there will be questions. Lots of them. And quite frankly, I'm not prepared to answer them, and I know you aren't. Now yes, I gave you the gold. It's yours and you can keep it. Frankly, I could care less about it. I can get so much of that and more that it has no value to me. But taking a couple of tons of processed gold Earthside is bound to have ramifications. Bad ones. So if you want to take some gold back to pay bills with, it has to be unprocessed and it has to be in reasonable quantities."
Suzanne has been known to go off a little half-cocked, but then so had everyone else. However, she was anything but stupid. "I didn't think of that" she said. The blush on her face told me she was feeling a bit embarrassed. "I guess I got gold fever or some- thing like that." She looked wistfully at the stack of bouillon.
"No sweat. But you know, now that I think about it, maybe it would be better to take some of the diamonds and have them cleaved for jewelry --jewelry that you can sell unobtrusively over time."
"You have DIAMONDS!"
Me and my big mouth.
Can you do arithmetic?
"I can feel your eyes burning into my back, Penny" I said. I was reading a chart in the control room when I sensed her.
"You're no fun since you died, you know that?" she said with a hint of pout. "Nobody can sneak up on you anymore."
"So you snuck up on me to tell me that nobody can sneak up on me anymore? Is that it?" There was a full second of silence.
"I really hate it when you do that. But no. I wanted to ask you about something."
"Go ahead and ask."
"Who was buried in Grant's Tomb?"
This time I looked up from the chart. "Is this a trick question?"
"It might be. Let's try the same question from a different perspective. How long does it take light to travel 200 light years?"
"Ulysses S. Grant" I answered smugly. "What's all this about, Penny?"
"Your wife said that all of Earth saw the flare of the new star."
"And so that happened 187.33 light years from Earth. How did the light beat you home?"
She had me there. "I don't think I gave that any thought. But now that you mention it, that's a pretty good question."
"Well, I have an answer for you."
"I'd like to hear it."
"Ok. Have you heard of gravinometric waves?"
"Yeah, I think so. Didn't some guy named Skewes come up with that?"
"No, he was the mathematician who thought he'd found the largest prime number."
"Yes. There are actually a few hundred primes larger than his. He only got to one times ten to the tenth to the tenth to the thirty-fourth. Not very big, really."
"Smartass. So what about the wave theory?"
"Einstein almost had it when he was working relativity, and especially with his theories of curvature of space. But then he got all caught up in that particle stuff and lost it."
"Obviously" I said without a clue.
"Anyway, the GW theory deals in terms of oscillating curvatures, particularly in respect to time."
"Penny, I love you dearly but you're pissing me off. I have a passing layman's idea of quantum physics. That's why I leave that stuff to you and Jab. You have a clue, I'm clue bankrupt. Please take your time and use terms I have a remote possibility of understanding."
"All right. Take that chart and make a pencil mark on it every four inches." I did. "Ok, now S-fold the chart so that your marks rest on the folds." I did that too. "Now, how far is it from the first mark you made to the last mark?"
"Well, I have four marks, so I guess they're about 16 inches apart."
"And if you fold it, how far apart are they?" I got the point.
"They're right next to each other. I think I get it. You're saying that we folded space like this chart?"
"It's really the only explanation."
"Well, it's part of it anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I can understand the idea of folding a chart, but space isn't a piece of paper. What folded space?"
"We did. We did it when we enhanced and ignited the star."
"Now wait a minute. The mass was already there, all we did was set it on fire."
Penny sighed audibly. "No, what we did was speed up a process by about a thousand orders of magnitude. All that mass was there, but it was there as varying sized chunks of raw materials. We didn't set it on fire, we caused it to coalesce into a stellar body that self-ignited under the pressure of it's own gravity. What we did was like dropping the moon into earth's ocean. It made a well which, for a few instants moved most of space. Since space can't tear, our big rock made a deep depression, and then rebounded back up allowing the rest of space to move back to it's previous position. At least, mostly. You can't create something that huge without leaving some depression."
I pictured a waterbed for some reason, but I got the picture well enough. "So, you're saying that we just made the first practical demonstration of the Theory of Relativity."
"You can be pretty exasperating sometimes, Bob. No, I'm not saying that at all. If you think about the last couple of years, the GALA accelerator, and a whole collection of other things you'll realize that we've been demonstrating that for a while. Not to mention the Meenzals and the Maal. I do think we've demonstrated it on a much grander scale than has ever been done before. Didn't you have any idea what's been driving your ships? I mean, really?"
"I always pictured them as gravity driven. I mean, at least once Jab began to design them."
"Well, they are."
"Then I'm more confused. What we did was throw gravity out in front of us and let it tug us along. How does that have anything to do with this?"
"You're right. You really are clue bankrupt. You've been surfing gravity waves all this time. The temporary singularities were making depressions in space --which pulled the space you were in towards the depression. As you crested the wave, the singularity would evaporate, and the next one would be thrown. Because you had crested the wave, space would stretch back out behind you, and you'd be pulled forward by the next depression. You've been bending space."
"That's what hyperspace is?"
"No, that's something different" My shoulders slumped. "Well, it's similar, but not quite the same concept."
"Never mind. I'm having enough trouble with this."
"Why? Didn't I explain it well enough?"
"No. You did fine --but your description has been in terms of one dimension. Kind of like the surface of a trampoline. Space is three dimensional. That much I know."
"Space is a combination of dimensions, and each is separate. You're stuck in thinking that they always have to be connected. They don't. Any single dimension can be acted upon separately. If it couldn't, reality would be a very different proposition."
"I suppose I'll just have to accept that. I mean, I know more or less what you say is true --I can picture it fairly easily. But there's something about it that escapes me I guess. Makes me feel sort of stupid."
"I'm just ribbing you. For someone who only partially understands his universe, you use it really well."
"Well, thanks for that. Anyway, what prompted this lesson in physics?"
"It was a hint."
"What do you mean, it was a hint?"
"You don't think Earth scientists are going to figure this out?"
"Yeah, they will. Probably already have. So what?"
"Well, I thought you might have been wondering if the new star would give them enough clue to get stellar drives going. I see now I was wrong, but I can still be reassuring."
"How so? If we can figure it out, why can't they?"
"Because they don't know what we know about time."
"Oh shit. What now?"
"No, no lecture. What I mean is, they have no idea that the stellar matter ignited so recently. For all they know it happened some 200 years ago. As a matter of fact, that will be the most likely conclusion since they could use spectroscopy to plot the distance."
"And so they have a new star to deal with, and they'll be more interested in that?"
"Yes. That's what I was hinting at. I didn't want you worried that you'd be entertaining astronauts soon because you won't. But I also see now that you weren't worried about that anyway."
"No, I was looking at this chart that Lythandi left behind. She has all these weird little notes on it, and I was trying to figure out what they mean."
"I wouldn't get too involved with that if I were you."
"Why, I'd really like to understand this all better."
"Well, those notes aren't going to help you."
"Why? Are they wrong or something?"
"No, they're the recipe for Brian's favorite chili."