Space Opera(9)
Author:Rich Horton


    This was when Genius, the goddess of True Flesh awoke for the first time. Nobody knew it then, but looking back we can see that it must have been her. Genius knew that the only way we could stay true to our flesh was to find better places to make our own. Genius visited Levia Calla and taught her to collapse the wave-particle duality so that we could look deep into ourselves and see who we are. Soon we were on our way to the stars. Then Genius told the people to rise up against anyone who wanted to tamper with their bodies. She made the people realize that we were not meant to become machines. That we should be grateful to be alive for the normal a hundred and twenty years and not try to live longer.

    I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we were not alone in space. Maybe if there were really aliens out there somewhere, we would never have had Genius to help us, since there would be no one true flesh. We would probably have all different gods. Maybe we would have changed ourselves, maybe into robots or to look like aliens. This is a scary thought. If it were true, we'd be in another universe. But we're not.

    This universe is our place.

    What immediately stood out in this essay is how Adel attributed Levia Calla's historic breakthrough to the intervention of Genius. Nobody had ever thought to suggest this before, since Professor Calla had been one of those atheists who had been convinced that religion would wither away over the course of the twenty-first century. The judges were impressed that Adel had so cleverly asserted what could never be disproved. Even more striking was the dangerous speculation that concluded Adel's essay. Ever since Fermi first expressed his paradox, we have struggled with the apparent absence of other civilizations in the universe. Many of the terrestrial worlds we have discovered have complex ecologies, but on none has intelligence evolved. Even now, there are those who desperately recalculate the factors in the Drake Equation in the hopes of arriving at a solution that is greater than one. When Adel made the point that no religion could survive first contact, and then trumped it with the irrefutable fact that we are alone, he won his place on the Godspeed.

    Adel and Kamilah came upon two more pilgrims in the library. A man and a woman cuddled on a lime green chenille couch in front of a wall that displayed images of six planets, lined up in a row. The library was crowded with glassed in shelves filled with old-fashioned paper books, and racks with various I/O devices, spex, digitex, whisperers and brainleads. Next to a row of workstations, a long table held an array of artifacts that Adel did not immediately recognize: small sculptures, medals and coins, jewelry and carved wood. Two paintings hung above it, one an image of an artist's studio in which a man in a black hat painted a woman in a blue dress, the other a still life with fruit and some small, dead animals.

    "Meri," said Kamilah, "Jarek, this is Adel."

    The two pilgrims came to the edge of the couch, their faces alight with anticipation. Out of the corner of his eye, Adel thought he saw Kamilah shake her head. The brightness dimmed and they receded as if nothing had happened.

    —we're a disappointment to everyone—buzzed minus

    plus buzzed—they just don't know us yet—

    Meri looked to be not much older than Adel. She was wearing what might have been long saniwear, only it glowed, registering a thermal map of her body in red, yellow, green and blue. "Adel." She gave him a wistful smile and extended a finger for him to touch.

    Jerek held up a hand to indicate that he was otherwise occupied. He was wearing a sleeveless gray shirt, baggy shorts and blacked out spex on which Adel could see a data scrawl flicker.

    "You'll usually find these two together," said Kamilah. "And often in bed."

    "At least we're not joined at the hip like the Manmans," said Meri. "Have you met them yet?"

    Adel frowned. "You mean Robman?"

    "And Spaceman." Meri had a third eye tattooed in the middle of her forehead. At least, Adel hoped it was a tattoo.

    —sexy—buzzed minus

    plus buzzed—weird—

    —weird is sexy—

    "Oh, Jonman's not so bad." Jarek pulled his spex off.

    "If you like snobs." Meri reminded him a little of Gavrila, except for the extra eye. "And cheats."

    Jarek replaced the spex on the rack and then clapped Adel on the back. "Welcome to the zoo, brother." He was a head shorter than Adel and had the compact musculature of someone who was born on a high G planet. "So you're in shape," he said. "Do you lift?"

    "Some. Not much. I'm a swimmer." Adel had been the Great Randall city champion in the 100 and 200 meter.

    "What's your event?"

    "Middle distance freestyle."

    —friend?—

    "We have a lap pool in the gym," said Jarek.

    —maybe—minus buzzed

    "Saw it." Adel nodded approvingly. "And you? I can tell you work out."

    "I wrestle," said Jarek. "Or I did back on Kindred. But I'm a gym rat. I need exercise to clear my mind. So what do you think of old Speedy so far?"

    "It's great." For the first time since he had stepped onto the scanning stage in Great Randall, the reality of where he was struck him. "I'm really excited to be here." And as he said it, he realized that it was true.

    "That'll wear off," said Kamilah. "Now if you two sports are done comparing large muscle groups, can we move along?"

    "What's the rush, Kamilah?" Meri shifted into a corner of the couch. "Planning on keeping this one for yourself?" She patted the seat, indicating that Adel should take Jarek's place. "Come here, let me get an eye on you."

    Adel glanced at Jarek, who winked.

    "Has Kamilah been filling you in on all the gossip?"

    Adel crammed himself against the side cushion of the couch opposite Meri. "Not really."

    "That's because no one tells her the good stuff."

    Kamilah yawned. "Maybe because I'm not interested."

    Adel couldn't look at Meri's face for long without staring at her tattoo, but if he looked away from her face then his gaze drifted to her hot spots. Finally he decided to focus on her hands.

    "I don't work out," said Meri, "in case you're wondering."

    "Is this the survey that wrapped yesterday?" said Kamilah, turning away from them to look at the planets displayed on the wall. "I heard it was shit."

    Meri had long and slender fingers but her fingernails were bitten ragged, especially the thumbs. Her skin was very pale. He guessed that she must have spent a lot of time indoors, wherever she came from.

    "System ONR 147-563." Jarek joined her, partially blocking Adel's view of the wall. "Nine point eight nine light years away and a whole lot of nothing. The star has luminosity almost three times that of Sol. Six planets: four hot airless rocks, a jovian and a subjovian."

    "I'm still wondering about ONR 134-843," said Kamilah, and the wall filled with a new solar system, most of which Adel couldn't see. "Those five Martian-type planets."

    "So?" said Meri. "The star was a K1 orange-red dwarf. Which means those Martians are pretty damn cold. The day max is only 17C on the warmest and at night it drops to—210C. And their atmospheres are way too thin, not one over a hundred millibars. That's practically space."

    "But there are five of them." Kamilah held up her right hand, fingers splayed. "Count them, five."

    "Five Martians aren't worth one terrestrial," said Jarek.

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