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Dear Albert,
If I write this letter quickly enough you may receive it before too many years elapse. Sears and Roebuck gave me the idea. The same technology that makes Gate travel possible, not to mention this incredible spaceship, allows me to use the sub-light post office. The laser messages don't move much faster than the ship at max, but
remember how fast the ship is moving! If we'd been crazy enough to send a message ahead of us to the Fred base so they could roll out the red carpet, we would have arrived about a half hour after they received the message.
"Sub-light" is a term that doesn't do these speeds justice. Traveling an inch an hour is under the speed of light. Both the Freds and our guys can travel right up to that speed. S&R's ship will reach a maximum speed of 99.99967 miles per
hour, relative to the Earth. Isn't that incredible? Gate travel without the Gate.
I wish you could have seen the ship from the outside when we finished melting off the ice. I swear it looked just like a cigar. Fly didn't pick up on my reference to Frank R. Paul, the science- fiction artist from the 1930s who created a lot of stogie spaceships. That style went out of fashion in the 1950s when the flying-saucer craze started. I suppose there are only so many shapes and
forms possible. The human race has expended so much energy trying to conceive of every possibili- ty that we couldn't help but get a few things right. By the way, I meant to say this to you before, so I better do it now: I do believe there is every bit as much imagination and intelligence in religion as there is in science fiction. There'd have to be. It's just that what you take as revelation I assume to be imagination.
Before the demons came, I thought the uni- verse was pretty dull and predictable. It only took seeing my first zombie on Phobos to change my mind about that. Forever.
Like this ship, for instance. I love it. Poor Fly hates it. He can't stop bitching. I don't mean complaining. I don't mean kvetching. I mean
bitching. He was spoiled by the artificial gravity on the base. I sort of regretted leaving the Bova. Zero-g is great for my tits. I forgot you don't like that word. Breasts, I mean. When it comes to outer space, the female body is simply better designed than the male. Why do you think God did that to you poor guys? Sorry, you know I'm only kidding. Oh, I told you Fly was complaining, and then I went off on a tangent without telling you his problem. The Klave ship is a zero-g baby, just like the Bova. If feet could talk, mine would whimper for joy. I could spend my life in free fall. You know how I feel about that after our honeymoon. I'm so glad we found that sealed compartment in one of the zero-g areas. You needed to keep off your feet, darling.
When Fly found out he'd be living in zero-g again, his first words were "Oh, man!" You know how irritated he becomes. Even so, Hidalgo con- vinced him that the ship is brilliantly designed. It's two kilometers long. Well, you already know that. We could see this was no dinghy when it was in the ice. It has a central corridor connecting all the engine pods. There are no real compartments. Sears and Roebuck don't believe in privacy. The Klave would be Ayn Rand's nightmare.
Anyway, there is no provision for spinning or any other artificial gravity. There is a very good reason for this. S&R told us there can be no gravity generators on their ship like the ones they have on the base. It's flat-out impossible. The gravity maker where you are makes use of exist- ing properties of matter. They say it's impossible for a ship accelerating to near light-speed to use one of these devices. Mass increases, you know, as far as physical measurements are concerned in our local area. The Klave ship is increasing suffi- cient gravity on its own. In other words, if they used the gravity generator, it would be impossible to accelerate to the necessary speed. So thanks to these laws of physics, my feet and breasts win while Fly's stomach loses.
Don't I write wonderful love letters, darling? Would you enjoy hearing some more technical
staff? Or would you rather devour every word of my wildest fantasy? Well, I don't want to add to your frustration. So I'll tell you more about the Fly ride.
The chairs--yes, we have chairs--can be put in any position within the ship. They will be on the ceiling when we decelerate. Fly keeps saying they're not as comfortable as what we had on the base. You see, I wasn't kidding about our big tough marine being spoiled.
S&R are proud of their ship. Until now I didn't realize they were capable of pride. Unless I'm losing my mind, they are easier to understand when they are bragging about the ship. I may be imagining their pride, but I'd make book that the Klave have no concept of sentimentality, any more than they do of privacy. The Klave do not give ships names. I suggested they call this one the Kropotkin, after my favorite collectivist, a left-wing communitarian anarchist.
A quick aside: did you know that S&R come from a planet with a heavier gravity than Earth? Imagine the backaches they must have under 1.5 gravity. No wonder they like a zero-g ship.
Back to the subject of the ship, here are a few more specs. It takes three to four Earth-standard days for us to accelerate to the max, then three to four more days to bring this sucker to a full stop. When S&R said the ship moves relativistically, I asked if the Klave were more like cousins or brothers and sisters. They didn't get the joke, but Hidalgo howled with laughter.
We've learned a lot of things that would inter- est you, beloved. First, here's something had been bothering Fly all along. Why did the Freds attack Earth in the first place? What was their motiva- tion? The most they can extract from human
survivors is slave labor, and slaves are expensive to maintain; it's more economical to use ma- chines.
Fly and the captain and I wrestled over these problems before we laid them out to Sears and Roebuck. There are no natural resources that can't be obtained elsewhere, and more easily, I would think. S&R told us how their side figured out that the Freds were eventually going after Earth. They did this by analyzing the Fred pat- tern of play up until that point. Of course, such an analysis wouldn't indicate why the Earth was chosen as a target in the first place.
During the tens of thousands of years when the good guys were in orbit around the Earth, watch- ing and observing, they did their best to compre- hend the attraction of what Fly calls the old mud ball.
Hidalgo suggested there might have been a Fred observatory on Earth for even longer. For this insight, S&R pronounced us a most logical unit. That turns out to be why the hyperrealists only risked a small base and a single star-drive ship, the one that brought them to Earth.
S&R admits that there is something strange about us humans, other than the problem of
dealing with us in odd-number combinations. I never thought of S&R as understanding subtlety, because that seems to go with the concept of privacy, but they hinted there is something very strange about human beings. Apparently this
amazing discovery fit right into the plans of the Freds. S&R didn't want to tell us what it is! We played a trick on Captain S&R. Once we'd
convinced ourselves that the ship was safely on automatic pilot, Hidalgo, Fly, and I surrounded the spearmint twins in a triangle and began firing rapid questions. The questions didn't really mat- ter. Fly asked who won the World Series. Hidalgo wanted to know if the Soviet Union would have toppled without a nudge from Ronald Reagan. I wanted to know what the outcome would be of a fight between one spider-mind and ten pumpkins. S&R couldn't figure out who the hell was
talking to them. They were so totally freaked at being assaulted by three entities at a time that it wouldn't have surprised me if they'd left the ship! Let's face it, Albert, we were torturing our new friends. But it's not as if we had any choice. We had to have that information.
With all of us talking at once, S&R couldn't figure out the proper pairings of two. It must have been like finding themselves in the middle of an Escherian geometrical figure that cannot exist in the real world, or in this universe, anyway. S&R collapsed as if we'd let the air out of them and they'd decompressed.
Fly and Hidalgo started a swearing contest. If we'd killed them, we'd buggered the mission and any hope for Earth. Fortunately, all we'd done was give them a splitting headache--like in the old TV commercials where your head hurts so
much it takes two of you to feel all the pain. We got what we wanted--except maybe we
didn't want it after all. When S&R recovered, they told us all they knew. Humans, it turns out, are different from every other intelligent species in the galaxy. You'll never believe what the differ- ence is. Then again, maybe you will.
Humans die. Hidalgo spoke for all of us when he asked, "So what? Who doesn't?"
We didn't want to hear the answer about all intelligent life forms except us. I've never been an egalitarian, but the news didn't seem fair.
When a member of an intelligent species other than Homo saps is damaged beyond repair, the body becomes totally incapacitated, the same as us, but it doesn't end there. The individual (and here we may even refer to S&R as individuals) is still conscious. If the body is totally destroyed, that consciousness remains. We would call it a ghost.
These ghost-spirits are easily and consistently detected. They commonly jump into new bodies as they're being born--on those rare occasions when there is a birth. As soon as the physical components mature sufficiently to allow commu- nication, they indicate who they were in the previous incarnation. Then they can pick up
where they left off. When I learned this, I naturally thought of our many arguments in the time we've known each
other. Maybe we aren't as far apart as we think. My materialism has run into a brick wall of the spirit. Your general faith may be stronger with this knowledge, but the details must disturb any- one with orthodox convictions. I never did ask you if you were bothered by the nearest English translation of the name of the life-saving entities: "soul spheres."
Even though S&R weren't deliberately holding anything back from us, it was difficult to piece together everything I'm writing you. Sometimes it seems as if they're starting to master our language, but then out come the fractured sen- tences again.
The ghost-spirit-consciousness is freed only when the body is totally annihilated. Naturally Fly asked them what they meant by "totally." Neither Hidalgo nor I desired to learn that partic- ular fact. We were still reeling from the discovery that our mortality was unique to humankind. Fly acted as if he was in the market for an alien body and wanted to check out the mileage.
S&R answered that total annihilation occurred when less than eight percent of the original body mass was chemically dispersed, but there were different rules for different individuals. I'm not sure how this applies in the case of the Klave collective, but for other species they take an especially useful specimen and destroy the body before the final death rattle, thus freeing the ghost-spirit to be reincarnated and to continue working that much sooner.
You'd think that would be sufficient to conquer death. But wait, there's more. S&R had described the way the system worked, stretching back into the dim mists of time. But science marches on, even with slow evolvers. Techniques were devel- oped to repair almost destroyed bodies. Dead people could be revived in their original forms. In all sorts of ways, the aliens of our galaxy defeated death before we ever encountered our first doom demon.
Mortality simply didn't occur to them. Why should it have? They had all sorts of ways to deal with the limbo of endless waiting. They didn't need to deal with death. This was true of both the good guys and the bad guys. They collected their dead and arranged them in temples and theaters where they staged elaborate entertainments, de- bates, classes, lectures, and you-name-it to keep the "deceased" occupied. This was necessary
because there are not enough births to accommo- date the soul supply. So untold number of con- sciousnesses remain in a death trance until a body becomes available.
Albert, you were closer to these creatures in your certainty that consciousness goes on forever. My atheism is inadequate to describe their reali- ty. But from our point of view, the human point of view, this seems a victory for me. I'm not happy about it. They say no one ever fully dies, except humans!
I can hear you answering me right now. I imagine your mouth pressed to my shoulder,
forming the word that resolves all these problems for you: God. What will you say when I inform you that no other intelligent species in the galaxy has a belief in gods or God? Only we do, Albert. Only the human race.
At last I have a faith as deep as yours, beloved. We've made a contract together, and I intend to live by it. That's why you had such a struggle talking me into it. When I make a plan, or agree to someone else's, I stick to it. I don't change it on a whim. A contract is a sacred trust.
So I know what I believe in at last. It isn't religion. It isn't God. It's you, Albert dearest. You are the meaning of my life.
Your faithful Arlene



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DOOM. INFERNAL SKY
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