Tales of the Flying Mountains

BOOK: Tales of the Flying Mountains
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Tales of the Flying Mountains

Poul Anderson

To

Peg Campbell

Contents

PROLOGUE

NOTHING SUCCEEDS LIKE FAILURE

INTERLUDE 1

THE ROGUE

INTERLUDE 2

SAY IT WITH FLOWERS

INTERLUDE 3

RAMBLE WITH A GAMBLIN' MAN

INTERLUDE 4

QUE DONN'REZ VOUS?

INTERLUDE 5

SUNJAMMER

INTERLUDE 6

RECRUITING NATION

EPILOGUE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Prologue

We the people of the spaceship
Astra,
in order to accomplish man's first venture beyond the Solar System, guarantee survival, maintain justice and tranquility, promote the common welfare, and secure the liberty of ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the governance of ship and personnel until such time as their mission shall be completed
.

Brave words. They recall to us the law of the Asteroid Republic, which in turn drew on the law of the United States of America. And so they hearten us, now when the worldlets have long vanished from our telescopes, when Earth is lost in the glare of that star among stars which Sol has become, and when Jupiter and Saturn soon will be.

Necessary words. Before, those who embarked on an exploratory vessel signed the articles of the expedition. Together with the traditional rules, including the captain's benevolent despotism, that was enough. But we are headed for new suns. It will take more than forty years (at 0.01 g acceleration, turnover at midpoint) to reach Alpha Centauri. And of course we will not then go straight back. The probes which preceded us beamed far too much information, far too tantalizing, about the planets of that triple system. Lifetimes will be insufficient to study them. Meanwhile, things at home will be changing. So will things on and in
Astra
, until at last “home” means her. The crew may well decide that maser contact is all they want. They may leave Alpha Centauri, not for Sol but for some other star.

Thus we have not committed just ourselves, we have committed an unknown number of generations after us. It is legally, morally, and practically impossible for us to bind them to any rigid frame of our own ways. While standby authority must exist for emergency use, the ship in general has to be run as a democracy.

“Ha!” says Lindgren.

“What?” I ask. I've been arguing that we, the Advisory Council, won't necessarily count for much. Our little group can debate issues; we can arrive at a consensus; but will the Congress pay attention?

“He said, ‘Ha,'” Missy Blades tells me. After a moment, thoughtfully: “I agree with him.”

“Myself,” Orloff remarks, “I might go so far as to add, ‘Ho!'”

A chuckle runs through the room, a grin across the eight faces I see. Five of those faces are lined, skins dark and leathery from decades of the raw spatial sunlight that no helmet plate will quite filter out, hair whitened; but the bodies are lean, lithe, carelessly and colorfully dressed, and age seems only to have deepened the merriment and sharpened the irreverence of youth. These, the elder statesmen of
Astra
, were in their day the conquerors of the flying mountains and the great outer worlds. They never had time for solemnity.

Amspaugh, our president, did. Most of his life was spent in offices—wheedling politicians and businessmen, riding herd on functionaries and computers, digging tunnels through solid kilometers of official paper: the necessary organizational work of the Foundation, which in the end became his particular service to the dream which we have begun to live. As a result, while he is liked and respected, he does seem a bit pompous on occasion.

“Ladies,” he intones. “Gentlemen. Please remember that Mr. Sanders is new to this circle, and in fact new to the whole practice of civil government. I think we're wise in coopting people from Engineering, Navigation—every nonelective department—but let's not haze them.”

“Oh, that's okay,” I say hurriedly. “It takes time for one like me to phase in to the private jokes.”

Missy Blades reaches over from her chair and pats my hand. “You'll do, Winston,” she says. “Not that I'm surprised. We didn't invite you without getting to know you pretty well first. You're here because of more than the good job you've been doing.”

A compliment from her means considerable. I look through the viewport with pride.

This lounge (comfortable, almost luxurious; decorated in an unpretentious richness of dark colors, classic pictures, bookshelves filled with codices as well as spools; for music, at the moment, Nielsen's
Fynsk Foraar
rejoicing softly in the background) occupies the dome of a turret rising from the outer hull, so high that most of the atmosphere is below it. Hence our view straight outward is of stark splendor, a black sky blazing with stellar myriads and the shining belt of the Milky Way. If you come over to the port, though, and glance down the sheer metal of the turret, you will see a haziness that marks
Astra's
exterior air. A cloud drifts by, dimming one of the lamps which, on their ornate posts, replace the sun we are leaving behind us. Strictly functional, a geegee unit shoulders above the near horizon. You can't see its contribution to the network of force, but you know that without this, the gas would whiff away into vacuum and a lethal sleet of radiation would smite us.

We spy a park, grass, flowerbeds, trees, surrounding a pool. Otherwise little has been done about terraforming the outside—or, for that matter, more than half the cavernous interior. Leave those jobs for the future, as population grows. What we have serves us well for the present.

Well, indeed. We sit warm, at ease, breathing sweet air, smoking, drinking, snacking as we feel like it. The artificial gravity is a solid one g underfoot, its vector so aligned that we cannot detect the slight pressure of our acceleration. Nor do we sense the monstrous outpouring of engine energy by which this mass is driven starward. Modern technology is subtle as well as powerful.

We are not yet at Bussard velocity, where we can begin scooping up interstellar hydrogen to burn in the fusion reactors. But we have enough fuel of our own to reach that condition, and afterward to brake at interplanetary speeds as we back down on Alpha Centauri. We have a closed biocycle—everything essential to life can be reclaimed and reused indefinitely, for millions of years if need be—which at the same time is expansible. Boats, machines, robots, computers, instruments, and in the microfiles virtually all the knowledge of all the human civilizations that ever were, lie waiting for us like Aladdin's genie.

Perhaps someday they'll find a means of cracking the light-speed barrier, and come take us or our descendants off a worldship that will then be obsolete. Maybe. The point is, that legend doesn't have to become real. It'll take longer this way, but already, as things are, the universe has been opened to us.

So I think, and rejoice that my work is part of the glory, until Lindgren speaks:

“Getting back to the subject, since our Congress was honestly and democratically elected, it is a true representative of the people aboard. Therefore it'll fall headlong over its big flat feet, enacting into law whatever this council recommends. Saves it doing its own thinking, you see.”

I must show a bit of shock, though he has merely observed the obvious, because Amspaugh's chocolate features contract in a slight frown and he says, “You might have put it more tactfully, Sigurd.”

“Why?” asks Lindgren, interested.

Amspaugh runs a hand across his grizzled woolly hair and has no ready answer.

“Let's buckle down to business,” proposes Dworczyk. “Best way for our freshman member to learn how we operate. Besides, I've an experiment going in my lab that I want to check on as soon as possible.”

“Very well.” Amspaugh turns to me. “I suppose you know that our single agendum today is educational policy.”

“I'd heard mention of that,” I reply. “But, uh, what's the rush? The first babies are scarcely born.”

“They'll keep that up, though,” McVeagh reminds me.

Missy Blades murmurs: “‘And thick and fast they came at last, and more, and more, and more.' Right up to the legal limit of population, whatever that may be at any given time. It's still the favorite human amusement.”

Amspaugh takes pipe and tobacco pouch from various pockets and fumbles with them. “The children will grow,” he points out earnestly. “They will require schools, teachers, and texts. The non-controversial basics pose no problem, I imagine—literacy, science, math, et cetera. But even while the pupils are small, they'll also be studying history and civics. Presently they'll be adolescent, and start inquiring into the value of what they've been taught. A few years after that, they'll be franchised adults. And a few years after that, they'll be running the society.

“This isn't a planet, or even an asteroid, where people simply live. The voyage is the ship's entire
raison d'être
. Let the ideal be lost, and the future will be one of utter isolation, stagnation, retrogression, probably eventual extinction. To avoid that, we're uniquely dependent on education.

“We'll only have a thread of maser contact with Sol, years passing between question and answer. We'll only have each other for interaction and inspiration; no fruitful contacts with different countries, different ways of living and thinking. Don't you see how vital it is, Mr. Sanders, that our children be raised right? They must have a proper understanding, not simply of the technology they need, but of the long-range purpose and significance.”

Having stuffed his pipe, he pauses to light it. Orloff talks into the silence: “Basically, what we must decide is what the history courses should include. Once we know that, we have writers who can put it into textbooks, actors who can put it on tape, and so forth for every level from kindergarten through college. In the absence of outside influences, those teachings are likely to be accepted, unchallenged, for generations if not forever. So what ought they to be?”

“The truth,” I blurt.

“What is truth?”

“Why … the facts … what really happened——”

“Impossible,” Amspaugh says gently. “First, there are too many facts for any human skull to hold, every recorded detail of everybody's day-by-day life since ancient Egypt. You have to choose what's worth knowing, and set up a hierarchy of importance among those data. Already, then, you see your ‘truth' becoming a human construct. Second, you have to interpret. For instance, who really mattered more in the long-term course of events, the Greeks or the Persians? Third, man being what he is, moral judgments are inevitable. Was it right, was it desirable that Christianity take over Europe, or that it be later faced with such enemies as Mohammedanism and Communism?

“An adult, intellectually trained and emotionally mature, can debate these questions with pleasure and profit. A child cannot. Yet unless you raise the child with a sense of direction, of meaning, you'll never get the adult. You'll get an ignoramus, or else a spiritual starveling frantic for some True Belief—a potential revolutionary.
Astra
can't afford either kind.”

“The problem was foreseen,” Orloff puts in, “but we purposely delayed considering it till we should have been en route for a while and gotten some feeling of how this unique community is shaping up.”

“I see,” I answer. “At least, I think I see.”

“Details later,” Amspaugh says. “What we must arrive at is a basic educational philosophy.” He gives me a long look. “The original circle of us know each other quite well. I think, by and large, we can predict what stand everybody will take. That isn't good. We need a wider range of thoughts. It's a major reason why we're inviting new members in, you the latest.

BOOK: Tales of the Flying Mountains
4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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