Chapter Eight “Time for Parting” Last in Part One “The Moon” of a Science Fiction Novel in Progress
They were always busy where the Pirates of the Outer Darkness operated their most agressive positions in interacting with the rest of humanity. They were always thinking differently and very cunningly about human affairs. They always were not thinking by some definitions of thought. But right now every resource they could bring to bear was abing called up. They were faced with a new flood of telemetry aboard Deathwind and similar ships about four years ealier. Normally they would have paid little attention to such a thing which offered so little opportunity for torture, extortion and robbery. But it just so happened that shortly afterwards they captured and tortured to death a Polish scientist from the Copernicus Institute whose words under torture and files in his computer had helped them to see that there really might be aliens from other stars trying to communicate with humanity. They had decided to devote some of their best resources to this project and the project had kept growing ever since.
Joseph had almost no idea of these new conditions. He did not find the idea of contact inconceivable however. It was one of countless things he sometimes imagined and thought about carefully. It was not a major interest but it was an enduring one as were the Pirates of the Outer Darkness. What was said and who said it Joseph did not know. But he more or less assured himself that these conversations were taking place somewhere in secret. He simply did not lose any sleep over that fact.
At an early breakfast Joseph made sure with Roberta that she would be joining him for the Captain’s Dinner at the hotel. Roberta told him that she was indeed ready to be there and to be making the necessary connections with the wives, girlfriends and dates of the pilots who were all men. “Thank you Roberta. I don’t know what the future holds for us but this has been such a great time with you and so much seems to have happened since we got started.” With words and other simple expressions Roberta let him know that she felt the same. They left the suite together because Roberta’s first meeting was near Elevator Road and so she was going to drop Joseph off near the Armstrong Agency to start this week. She set down the hovercar between the back of Mouton’s Markets and an edge of the Armstrong Plaza where there was a very small parking lot. Joseph kissed her as he left the car.
Joseph could see as he turned from watching her fly off in the car that the young Samantha Gould and Anais Durand from the prize winning softball team were watching him from near the center of Armstrong Plaza. He crossed the plaza to greet them as he still had a few minutes before he had to reach the lobby.
“Hello Officer Culkathadreil!”
“Beautifuly pronounced Miss Gould.”
“Well, a year is a long time. I hope I can speak to at least one pilot and you are the only one who came to our big exhibition game so it might as well be you.”
“Well you gals play a very impressive game of software anywhere and it was the first lunar softball game I had ever seen. I really enjoyed it.”
“Roberta was very nice too. Is she your girlfriend?”
“Actually, when a man has been married twice, widowed and divorced has buried a baby son who bore his last name he might get to feeling like girlfriend is not the right word for any woman in his life. When in addition he has had a bound concubine and still supports her and his natural son but has more or less agreed not to see her except on the days of the week of his son’s birthday then maybe he is no longer sure what a girlfriend is. I don’t want to scandalize your parents about which pilot you can talk to though. But Roberta also really enjoyed the game.”
Samantha smirked but deftly avoided talking about sex and relationships. “Thanks to both of you for the support. We are going to play in the inaugural tournament for the big new stadium on Mars. But Anais and I don’t like our chances after six and a half months off.”
“Yes,” Anais nodded ” We are scheduled to play less than a week after we get there and that is if there are no delays.”
“Well they tell me that the athletic facilities on the Armstrong are very excellent. I certainly hope that this is true.”
“Well,” Samatha acknowledged nodding. “that is why Anis and I are here today. We are going to be testing the software part of the simulated softball facilities.”
“Well since I need to be getting inside can we go in together?”
Joseph thought he detected a wave of relief like a dawning sun spreading across the faces of both girls. Distracted as he was by other things he did not think of the reason they were relieved right away, he noted that he had missed that cue when he found the reason moments later and he noted it as a lapse in his normal sensibility. Anais dispelled all doubts quickly because she answered with a quick and forceful eagerness. “I would feel better going in with you. All the lions and robots make me uncomfrotable.’
“That makes sense to me. Lets make an impressive group entrance of our own.”
Samantha nodded towards a part of the colonade which had a exhibits in various media showing a bit of the history of interplanetary travel. The visual arts depictions were modest in size and the engraved words were larger in scale. Samantha clearly indicated a particular area of writings. It was too far off to read but all three of them knew what was written on it. “The record for a trip from the Moon to Mars is less than two weeks right?”
“Yes,” Joseph smiled with a bit of a quizzical look. “But that was in a modified UN Blue Wing Fighter. They also left on time for a launch window. We have a freiter drone that makes a trip in a week every year. You know that right?”
“Yes, but what was the Supercruiser record?”
“I think it was set by the Armstrong and was about a month and a half.”
“So Anais and I are wondering why we are going to be cooped up on the same ship for more than six months.”
“I guess mostly it is because we are stopping by the ASOS 1 with tons of supplies. It is a mothball cruise and so we have space available for the job.”
“ASOS1 means first Autonomous Solar Orbit Station right?”
“Yes, the ASOS 1 is a United Nations orbital fort, an observatory that monitors comets and rogue asteroids all combined with a maximum security bioresearch lab. If all that did not make it special enough some people say it is designed to be a place to coordinate humanity’s defense if we are ever invaded by starfaring enemies. It’s probably our largest military asset that one could not logically get close to just by knowing where the planets and the Sun are located.”
“Will it be a dangerous place for us to vist?”
“I don’t think it would be all that dangerous even if we had to dock with them. Although any deep space docking is risky. But as it is we are just planning to rendezvous with their shuttle-tractor about a thousand kilometers off from the station and to drop them a half dozen modules. That sounds pretty safe doesn’t it?”
“I guess so.” Samanth sort of shrugged towards Anais as she said this.
“I tell you what if either of you have any safety questions you can either talk to me about them or e-mail me with them. Does that sound OK?”
“You mentioned aliens invasion. I know going near that base won’t make it happen but do you really think it is possible.”
Joseph readjusted his weight and pulled his e-tab out of a pocket and keyed up some addresses. Instinctively and silently the girls each produced their own e-tabs and he transferred a few files on the subject of aliens which he kept in his personal library and the links that tied those files to the right sources. “People don’t agree at all about that. The only alien culture we know of for sure is Regulus Sector X-317. In 2098 the SETI Institute received a single transmission that has proved there are other technological cultures or on very big culture in the universe very definitely.”
“SETI, that stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence right? But here we are being extraterrestrial intelligence.”
“Not a bad point. But we are all still really Earthlings don’t you think?”
“Well what was such a big deal about the 2098 message anyway. I was taught that we don’t understand most of it even now.”
“Well it was 500 hours long and it was not addressed to us. The experts think it was sent from a planet circling a star near Regulus to another unknown object about a hundred lightyears further away from us. What we got is a sort of bounce back return to sender copy that went wide of its target. The first thing we translated was a kind of address and calendar because it was based on real things we could observe around Regulus. But whatever else it means it means that before Jesus of Nazareth walked the Earth there were creatures near Regulus communicating with other creatures a hundred light years away. That is pretty significant.” He showed a map of Regulus and the object in relation to the Earth before pocketing his e-tab. The girls looked at the image and he felt sure Regulus seemed like a more real place since they had committed to leaving the Eath’s gravity well.
“Why is it significant Officer Culkathadreil”? Anais asked the question with sudden intensity of interest. “What has it done or how has it made a difference?”
“We have translated about ten percent of the total information by now. That has led to some improvements in our computers, optics, navigation and communications — but that has been a lot less so far than most people expected. But they say the chance of us are anyone picking up that transmission in an energy packet like a kind of laser beam but better was one in fifteen billion at least. So we are lucky in a few ways. We have had well over a century and a half so far to know for sure that there are much older spacefaring societies without having to meet them. There has been much more unified support for space colonization since ’98. We have United Nations and national space fortresses that have been specificaly designed to resist superior forces attacking from outside the sloar system and we have five or so giftships which are meant to act as gestures of goodwill without destroying or betraying too much of ourselves. Whether we will be ready or not we are much readier than we would have been if that day ever comes.”
“Has anyone tried to reach those people?”
“Well it is ilegal to try. But someone may have tried. The UN has decided it is not wise or safe for us to announce ourselves yet.”
The pilot and the two seventeen year old girls had been walking in intervals as their conversation developed. They now walked through the lage entrance found the lions feeding on large slabs of pork while a keeper and two droids watched them and their conversation ended as the three of them entered the lobby. There was nothing but a farewell nod and a smile to mark the end of the conversation. The subject of alien civilizations was put out of mind. Today we cannot think of Joseph Culkathadreil or even of his companions and not think of about aliens but this was not how any of them flt about themselves at the time. He had taken one course in xenobiology and one in the Culture of RS X-317 in college. But aliens were a minor interest in a full life.
That day the pilots who were present had a seminar and a waking demonstration of the new Dreamlearner programs related and copyrighted by the Goddard Agency onf of the many sister agencies that came from Old NASA and still participated in the Old Nasa Heritage Foundation Board. The Goddard men spoke on a basic theme, ” The Neil Armstrong is powered almost entirely by huge nuclear explosions captured in your MIRROR-BOWL system and which is made workable as sustained acceleration in your WHIRLIGIG sytem. Most of the deliveries that justify operating great ships without launch windows are made with solar sails and Goddard does not specialize in nuclear or solar sail propulsion. But did you know that the Armstrong carries over five thousand chemical rockets of various sizes and has hundreds of chemical thrusters that you will use for steering and close maneuvers and those also dispose of some of the most hazardous waste in our socirites and civilization”. Joseph was also asked to talk about his travels to Jupiter on a largely chemical ship and what a five-sixth or four fifths sleeper cruise was like. He had worked a few hours slept for days, then gone through a halfwaking update and orientation process and worked another set of a few hours. This had gone on for years. The Armstrong was nothing like this.
After lunch he met briefly with Dirkson, Smith and Jones to discuss some security matters that had been referred to him and a few others for pilot review. But then he was back with the Goddard group helping them really to explain the vagaries of chemical thrust as much as learning it. The day was fairly intense and tiring. The last seminar showed how the Russian Ship the Moscow used chemical thrusters differently in its configuration. Again the Goddard men already knew that Joseph had a friend or at leat an old companion in the Russian Fleet who commanded this vessel. Joseph said a few words about Sharapov and all he knew about Russian close maneuvers training.
He sped by everything else on his way back to the hotel and sent all of his bonus from Goddard as a copresenter to his bound concubine whom he seldom saw and to his son he also saw only a few day each year at best. He sent a brief note to each with the money. “China is still charting a path that Louisiana has been a participant in for centuries and I see again here the need for that path. I have not made it to any Chinese colonies but I believe the effort to integrate Imperial, democratic and socialist values into some kind of context that uses the disciplines of the free market is not a bad path overall”. He had little personal in this communication but hoped to write to several people including these two in China while he was on the Shuttle and setting up on the Armstrong. He then checked to make sure his corsage and other matters were ready for him to meet Roberta. While he was thinking of it he sent in a brief not on her to the Registrar of Consorts in the Clan Culkathadreil — her category was “unclassified” but he knew she was important to him. “Truly ploygamous men fall in love more easily than they fall out of it. That is how harems are best built — on that principal’. That was how his great uncle the High Prince and High Chieftan Culkatrhadreil had eplained things to him when he was a teenager. He had not known his great uncle well but the words of the Majestic Leader were usually remebered by any Culkathadreil. He was already showering as he thought over his great uncle’s words.
The dinner with High Captain Commander Emerson his wife Cilia, First Pilot Xander Xavier and his girlfriend Natsiela and Second and Third Pilot Jims and Hanks with their dates was a pleasant time. The fifth pilot was rather against type. He was redhaired very tall and covered with an odd assortment of tatoos which showed through on his wrist and neck. “My name is Thor Swensen-O’Brien and a proud Galllowglass wanderer am I who can pilot anything on or under water, in air and in space. I am the only full pilot you outrank here. This my lovely wife Rowena.” Joseph introduced the couple to Roberta andfound the man likable enough.
The Commander was an impressive man and most of all they discovered through Natsiela that there was a status and a network available for significant others who did not have formal bonds. Both Joseph and Roberta felt able to set up that account near the bar on Natsiela’s e-tablet. The men all danced with eachother’s women and Hanks who was admiitedly a Bisexual Binarian Brotherhood member gave no evidence of any but heterosexual mores or fokways. Everyone got along well and exhibited the good manners that Space Pilot Guild members were known for on such occasions.
Once the dinner was in the past the relationship with Roberta became a bit sadder. Roberta by now had hear stories of some of the many ways the Joseph had made money that was not typical of anyone’s idea of what a Prince should consider due and fitting (or even as the Duke he had actually been born before a series of deaths and two sessions of the Council of Successions Viziers had changed his place in several lines of succession). However, she had not heard about the grant he had gotten to be part of a temporal distortion study. The study had lasted five years and studied how space, high speed travel, suspended animations and many other factors affected both time sense and aging. One result besides earning quite a few extra credits was that he had discovered his own age signature. This study indicated that once awakened and engaged his emotions were more of a young adult than of the majority of his peers. However, they did not become aroused in the way a young adult’s did. He really felt that he was finding it easier to leave Roberta because he was wanted and celebrated and being pulled away. But he was careful not to ruin the relationship by being unkind or insensitive. He was not completely in love perhaps but he might be closer than he had been in a long time. He wanted to love, he knew men of action who did not but that was not his way. Even as a professional he found love made his mind work better in reasonable doses and unreasonable doses had abandoned him long ago. He could be mor loving to other women he passed time with if he loved Roberta. That is what polygamy was and though he had not made that clear to Roberta he had always known he was polygamous by orientation. He might not work out a plural marriage here but he wanted to leave feeling he had been good to her and that there was still a tie between them. He wrote her a letter summarizing in poetic language some of their experiences together. He had the messaging software arrange to deliver it to her at work or just after during one of the times when they would have been apart the longest that week.
Joseph had long hours with the pilots on Wednesday and Friday. He had lunch with Samantha and the flirtatious doctor Bliss on Thursday. She gave a seminar on the laws and practices of sex, reproduction and family in the Armstrong Agency, admitting she had never really operated in the agency and that “book knowledge about sexual practices is often misinformation despite the efforts of researcher like me to make it otherwise”. That evening in bed he talked to Roberta about her speech and also about how much he really enjoyed the brief set by her brother and his band which they had managed to catch at the Ben Bova Hotel in Lunapolis’s mines. His brief foray had convinced him that while things differed the mines in Aldrinia were more typical than not at least of the American Moon. He realized now that indentured adult workers only got a Crater pass once a month for a thirty hour window and free workers with mine addresses had access to the craters only on a plan so that each had three days in the week when they could enter the craters without business or an emergency and four days when they would be stopped at the entry port. Likewise he found that there was a restriction foreign entries to every colony’s mines. Lastly there were Lunar standards that every country was bound by and a set of Lunar inspectors that made sure the mines did not become the hells to which they bore a simplistic resemblance.
On the weekend, he and Roberta toured the forest of Lunapolis, made love and drank, she read him an answer she had written to his poetic letter. They went to Church at the Church of the Holy Magi and she stood with him as he lit a candle at the side Altar of Departures and placed a donation in the ket. He enrolled her as a nonmember participant in the parish’s caring network and payed the suggested fee for a year. She read the brass sign in the front and was duly impressed with Joseph’s great grandfather.
They made love, slept,woke on the fateful morning, had breakfast and shared a few tears. Then he joined the rest of the Armstong’s Lunapolis contingent in a private train to Grand Central Spaceport. Robert followed in a media train. They headed off to separate parts of the auditorium for the official Celebration of the Launch of the Retirement Cruise. Then they headed off to separate shuttles assigned by remote authorities. His would dock with Armstrong but hers would only view the proceedings from fifty kilometers away.
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End of Part One of the Novel
Part one titled “The Moon”