Voyage From Yesteryear

Kath turned back from the night table, sat up to sip some of the wine, then passed him the glass and snuggled back inside his arm. “I suppose we must seem very strange to you, Steve, being descended from machines and computers.” She chuckled softly. “I bet there are lots of people on your ship who think we’re really aliens. Do they think we walk like Lurch and talk in metallic, monotone voices?”

Colman grinned and drank from the glass. “Not quite that bad. But some of them do have pretty funny ideas- or did have, anyway. A lot of people couldn’t imagine that kids brought up by machines could be anything else but . . . ‘inhuman,’ I guess you’d call it-cold, that kind of thing.”

“It wasn’t like that at all,” she said. “Although, I suppose. I shouldn’t really say too much since I’ve had nothing to compare it with. But it was”-she shrugged- “warm, friendly.., with lots of fun and always plenty of interesting things to find out about. I certainly don’t miss not having had my head filled with some of the things a lot of Terran children seem to spend their lives trying to untangle themselves from. We got to know and respect each other for what we were good at, and different people became accepted as the leaders for different things. No one person could be an expert in everything, so the notion of a permanent, absolute ‘boss,’ or whatever you’d call it, never took hold.”

“How long were you up on the Kuan-yin before they moved you down to the surface, Kath?’

“I was very young. I’m not sure I can remember without checking the records. Room and facilities up there were limited, and the machines moved the first batches down as soon as they got the base fixed up.”

“The ship’s changed a lot since then though,” Colman remarked. “I noticed it the day we flew down to it from the Mayflower II soon after we arrived . . . when Shirley and Ci met Tony Driscoll. The front end must be at least twice as big as it used to be.”

“Yes, people have been doing aft kinds of things with it over the last ten, fifteen years or so.”

“What are all the changes around the back end?” Colman asked curiously. “It looks like a whole new drive system.”

“It is. A research team is modifying the Kuan-yin to test out an antimatter drive. In fact the project is at quite an advanced stage. They’re doing the same kind of thing back on Earth, aren’t they?”

Colman’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “True, but-wow! I had no idea that anything here was that advanced.” Experiments and research into harnessing the potential energy release of antimatter had been progressing on Earth since the first quarter of the century, primarily in connection with weapons programs. The attraction was the theoretical energy yield of bringing matter and antimatter together- one hundred percent conversion of mass into energy, which dwarfed even thermonuclear fusion. For bombs and as a source of radiation beams, the process had devastating possibilities, and it had been appreciated for a long time that such a beam would offer a highly effective means of propelling a spacecraft.

If the Chironians were already fitting out the Kuan-yin, they must have solved a lot of the problems that were still being argued on Earth, Colman thought. The whole planet, he realized as he reflected on it, was a powerhouse of progress, unchecked by any traditions of unreason and with no vested-interest obstructionists to hold it back. If the pattern continued until Chiron became a fully populated world, it would effectively leave Earth back in the Stone Age within a century. “Have you actually flown it anywhere yet?” he asked, turning his head toward Kath. “The Kuan-yin . Has it been anywhere since it arrived in orbit here?”

She nodded. “To both the moons, and we’ve sent missions to all of Alpha’s other planets. But that was quite a while ago now, with the original drive. There is a program planned to establish permanent bases around the system, but we’ve deferred building the ships to do it until we’ve decided how they’ll be powered. That’s why the Kuan-yin’s being made into a test-bed. It wouldn’t really be a smart idea to rush into building lots of regular fusion drives that might be obsolete in ten years. There’s plenty to do on Chiron in the meantime, so there’s no big hurry.” She turned her face toward him and rubbed her cheek

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