EPILOGUE: NGUS IN THE NEWS
Since no government “Leviathan”—and very few corporations, if any—can be trusted to protect the Earth and its progeny from “Extinction Level Events” without exacting a price for such a service too terrible to pay, the question remains, who will do the job, and by what means.
After long consideration, I have come here to propose that we limit ourselves to two measures, and otherwise let the market take its course. The first is that an observatory be established, probably on Earht’s Moon, with the idea of finding and tracking all sorts of space debris—planet-threatening or otherwise—and making this information available for a modest price.
The second is that a fund be established—initially by the Curringer Foundation, but encouraging other corporations and individuals to contribute—rewarding those who capture or deflect celestial objects proven to be on a collision course with Earth or any Settled World.
—Dr. Evgeny Zacharenko
Addressing the Ashland Event Commission
Of the Solar Geological Society
Curringer, Pallas, August 9, 2095
Ultimately, all individual behavior is about sex and all group behavior is about eating. All government behavior is also about eating—the individual.
—The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu
Adam and Ardith sat on their new front porch drinking Pallatian wine. It grew darker by the minute and they were waiting for the big show.
“Someday, you know,” Adam spoke into the gathering evening air, mostly to himself, “there’ll be a highway running past this property, from the Construction Village three miles over that way—we took the dome down yesterday, it was almost sad—to wherever Cereans want to go.”
“Cereans,” Ardith laughed. “And great big shade trees standing in our front yard, with tire swings hanging from their longest limbs, for grandchildren.”
“More grandchildren?” Adam asked.
“More grandchildren,” Ardith told him, as she glanced down at the visicard in her hand. About four by seven inches, it could be loaded from the SolarNet, then taken away to be viewed somewhere else at some other time. She’d already watched it several times, and would leave it on her nightstand. It was from her son Wilson, holding two-year-old Tieve in his arms. “It’s so hard to believe that it’s already 2136, Adam, three long, busy years after all the things that reshaped our lives there on Mars.”
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” he told her. “They had just learned that Anna Wertham Savage, former leader of the now-defunct Mass Movement had been arrested for embezzling contributed funds. Also for smoking tobacco within the Commonweath of Massachussetts. She’d gotten six months in prison for the former offense, and six years for the latter. “A little too fast to suit me. There’s so much left I want to do. And seeing my grandfather look the same age as my son helped me make a decision.”
“And that would be?”
“When we’re through with the aerial plantings, and the last of the watercourse surveys, you and I are going to the Moon for regeneration. Hell, we might even go out and take a look at the planets Emerson discovered.”
“So you’d abandon me for a younger … me?”
“I’d be younger, too. Maybe we could even … ”
“More babies?” Ardith laughed. She’d finally come to understand that losing four out of six children had made her keep all that distance between herself and those she loved. It had made her crazy. It hurt too much to love someone and lose them.
“Not unless you wanted them, too.”
“More babies, then. Our children are a challenge we hurl in the face of a hostile universe.”
“Wow! Who said that?”
“I did, my darling Adam, I did. Hey, there goes one, now! See it?”
“No, I—wow! Who could have predicted that?”
They were looking up into the sky, their sky, the sky of Ceres. High above the rugged landscape, just beginning to be softened by teeming lifeforms—everything from earthworms to sequoia seedlings—the plastic atmospheric canopy was displaying behavior similar to that of Pallas.
Only different. It seemed to be a matter of magnitude and resonance. There would be no fantastic sunrises and sunsets on the largest of the asteroids. Instead, whenever the self-healing canopy was struck with even the smallest micrometeorite, it sent multicolored ripples outward in rainbow order, toward the entire horizon.
The discovery had been made just after the harsh “primordial” reducing atmosphere of nitrogen, methane, and ammonia, generated by custom-tailored microbes feeding on the raw carbonaceous chondrite soil, had been replaced with a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, also manufactured by microorganisms. The larger the bit of rock, the faster it was going relative to Ceres, and the harder it impacted, the brighter the colors and the longer they lasted before fading.
“It’s a hell of a show,” Adam told Ardith. He squeezed more wine from the commercial baggie through the valves of the baggies they were drinking from, then put an arm around his wife. “I wish I could claim credit.”
“You can—it would never have happened without you.” She kissed him passionately. They occupied themselves that way for a considerable amount of time. Finally: “I think it’s time to go indoors, wouldn’t you say, dear?”
“For more reasons than one. Here, hold this.” He gave her his drink and the larger baggie as well, then swept her off her feet into his arms. He strode across the porch—which was the only part of the house constructed yet—across a plank, and into a large, temporary yurt made from modern materials.
Inside, they had a big roomfull of inflatable furniture, and in the center, below the chimney hole, a tiny one-piece kitchen that also heated the place. They went to a beanbag sofa located in front of a twelve-foot 3DTV screen. They sat down and he fiddled with a remote control.
“Knock, knock!” said a voice at the door. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“Not yet,” Ardith replied. “Please come in, Julie. The show’s about to start.”
“It’s actually been over for forty-five minutes already, but thank you.” Julie found a chair that suited her, pulled off her flying jacket, leather helmet, and goggles. “It’s maddening, the lightspeed lag, but so far, it’s all we’ve got.”
It was highly possible, they all knew, that several discoveries made by the Fifth Force were about to give birth to instantaneous interplanetary communication. It was also possible that the velocities of spaceships were about to be raised several orders of magnitude: Earth to Ceres in under an hour. Then they’d get to see their granddaughter a bit more frequently.
Flaming red hair for the first time in the history of the Ngu family. Life was wonderfully unpredictable.
“We’re back, again,” said the announcer, “At the EPIC Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, West America, to bring you the final event in Systemwide competition, the ladies’ long program. Eight women are just about to skate, and for the first time, one of them, the up-and-coming Llyra Ayn Ngu, wasn’t born on Earth. Here’s a video from yesterday as she prepared with her coach, Jasmeen Mohammedova Khalidova—a native of Mars—for her short program, which, as you may recall, she won handily.”
There followed brief interviews with both Llyra and Jasmeen, then a series of what seemed to Ardith unusually obnoxious commercials. She noticed that Jasmeen’s pregnancy still wasn’t showing yet. The sooner she got off that godforsaken planet and out of its vile gravity well, the better.
Looking into her lap, Ardith squeezed a corner of the visicard for perhaps the fiftieth time, as Adam rolled his eyes in disbelief—and then grinned. From the control space of Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend, Wilson spoke for a while both to her and to his father, and also to Tieve, who held both her hands charmingly folded in front of her, made word-sounding noises at the audio pickup, and waved. Ardith’s heart melted all over again.
“We’re completely outsystem, here, but almost finished,” Wilson said. We finally caught up with the Diamond Rogue again, and this time we were ready for it—show Grandma and Grandpa, Tieve.” Between the little hands was a raw diamond at least the size of a softball.
“The whole asteroid is made of at least a million chunks that size. We even swept up the carbon matrix they were in, for later analysis. This should put DeBeers right out of business, while assuring our future.”
And a good thing, too, Ardith thought.
“And a good thing, too,” her son said. “I’ll get to Earth just in time to pick Jasmeen up. She wants our baby born on Pallas. She also wants me to take her hunting again. Of course that’s what got us in a family way the first time. Shared work is an aphrodisiac. Llyra says, win or lose, she’ll take time off to write about what happened aboard the City of Newark.”
Also on Pallas, Ardith found herself hoping. She’d be packing up the lab about then and would want some company. Rosalie and Julie had promised to help her. Three generations of Ngu women in one room—five if they could get together with Jasmeen and Tieve. Absolutely amazing.
With practical immortality there was a lot more of that around the corner.
On the 3DTV screen before them, Llyra stepped onto the ice, lifted her arms in salute to the audience, and began her long, exhausting routine. What a life it had been for her, her mother thought. And what a life still lay ahead of her.
What a life still lay ahead for all of them!
Copyright © 2009 by L. Neil Smith
lneil (at) netzero (dot) com