art by Shannon N. Kelly
by Robert Reed
Saturday night was scheduled to be our game night. Except that nobody ever told me the schedule. My son was unfolding the Monopoly board. My wife claimed that we had talked this through days ago. I claimed that I'd been more preoccupied than usual, which was the truth. I explained to both of them that I couldn't play just now. JB was waiting for my call, and this was important. My son ignored me, sorting money and cards into neat piles, while my wife stared at me in that special way of hers.
"Give me five minutes," I begged.
JB has no life outside astronomy, which was why he gets work done.
Not that that has any bearing on this story, of course.
It was Sunday morning in Australia, and at least my colleague was happy to see me. I mentioned an inspiration about funding. JB said that great minds worked in parallel, that he had the same kind of thoughts to discuss. GOLDILOCKS still needed another two billion dollars, at the minimum. Some very big mirrors and radio dishes had to be inserted into Earth's L-4, and then they had to be woven together with nearly impossible telemetry. GOLDILOCKS had to be the boldest scientific adventure ever attempted by humanity, yet the usual government agencies were proving less than sympathetic when it came to funding our magnificent alien hunt.
My scheme was to let media multinationals bid against each other. The winner became our benefactor, buying our Russian rockets, and in honor of that charity we would hand over first-broadcast rights to the photographs and transmissions associated with each living world that we discovered. Furthermore, if the alien broadcasts were deemed suitable for public viewing, they could be run on television and the Web, with a few appropriate commercials inserted here and there.
JB laughed at my proposal. He told me that media tie-ins were deeply cynical, and I should be ashamed of myself. But then he laughed harder, saying that he could play that game too.
"I've been getting overtures from Asian billionaires," he claimed. "They're willing to pay for everything, and all we have to do is name the worlds after them, and after their little ones, and finally their wives and favorite mistresses."
At that point my little one came into the office, holding a tiny metal shoe. I'm always the metal shoe when we play Monopoly.
"Almost done," I lied.
He left the shoe beside my tablet, ready to go.
Returning to JB, I mentioned that it seemed odd that the billionaires only wanted naming rights. Could they be sniffing around for new technologies and other windfalls? JB started to answer, and it might have been a very comforting answer. But then he vanished. It took me a full minute to reestablish our link, and I found him laughing again. Except this was a different kind of laugh, not loud and not happy. With a nervous tone, he said, "We just had a shake-up here. A rather big earthquake, apparently."
"Since when do you get earthquakes?" I asked.
Some kind of native pride was triggered. "Oh, they happen," he said emphatically. "Australia isn't seismically dead."
We struggled to get back on topic. Another two hours, and we might have decided which course was the least reprehensible. But after two minutes my wife strode into my office with a mission: To stare at me with cold disappointed eyes, hinting at a long life without conjugal relationships if I didn't meet certain family obligations.
"You know, we can do this later," I told JB.
"I hope that's so," my colleague said, contemplating the trembling earth.
I shut down and grabbed my little metal shoe. I don't like Monopoly. I don't appreciate being throttled by an eleven-year-old with more business sense than I'd ever possess. But it occurred to me that if we waited long enough, my boy would make his first billion, and then I could hit him up for GOLDILOCKS.
That seemed like a rational plan, which shows how desperate I was.
The valid vivid mind withdraws from its surroundings. Always, always. There is no second choice, no alternative conclusion. The true consciousness holds everything that it will ever require. The universe might intrigue a child for the first minute of life or for the next thousand eons, but there always comes a moment when space reveals itself to be barren, and the stolid charms of the baryonic can no longer compete with grand thoughts and idle dreams.
Great minds have always moved where they wish.
Grand souls always think however they wish to think, coursing across the dreary realms, and sometimes if not often they will pass through whiffs of baryonic fog.
I was in jail. I liked being in jail. My wife and boy could ignore me, playing the game as hard as it deserved to be played. My only responsibility was to try and roll my way free and then pay the fine in the end.
We were sitting in the basement rec room. Suddenly our television came on, and a voice that wasn't human announced that the storm god were attacking our city. Thunderstorms were bringing wind and gigantic hail, and we should retreat to our basement, unless we lived on a floodplain. Flash floods were the other looming problem, and the computer-generated voice suggested that if we were in the bottomlands, we should immediately flee to high ground.
We didn't live on a flood plain, and we were already in the basement--facts that my son noted with smug pleasure.