To Bob Heinlein, Andre Norton, Doc Smith, Isaac Asimov, A. E. van Vogt and all the rest of the greats who sparked a young man’s imagination.
And to Jim Baen, for giving us both the chance to pay it forward.
Last As Always:
For Captain Tamara Long, USAF
Born: 12 May 1979
Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan
You fly with the angels now.
“You think I should hit the order again?” Bill said, looking over at the kitchen. Service in Adar restaurants was proverbially slow, but this was ridiculous. He and Sal had sent in their orders over thirty minutes ago and still they didn’t even have their drinks.
Lieutenant Commander William “Doc” Weaver, RN, Ph.D., wasn’t really happy about the lunch anyway. He’d known Sal Weinstein back when they both worked for Columbia Defense so when Sal called and asked if he was doing anything for lunch, he’d thought it was just a social call. He should have guessed that Sal, whom he hadn’t spoken to in two years, wasn’t going to drive down to Norfolk to chat.
“Won’t work,” Sal said, shrugging. “But go ahead if it makes you happy. Now, about the server…”
Bill flipped open the menu and hit the entry for glangi with extra melaegl sauce. The thing didn’t even flash. He’d already ordered with this menu. One menu, one order. No tickee, no laundry.
“It’s a damned Microsoft Vavala server with some code thrown on top,” Bill replied, hitting the entry again. The restaurant wasn’t particularly crowded and now he knew why. Some of the Adar had started to catch on that humans didn’t take four hours for lunch. Clearly the family unit running this place were right out of the Glass.
“We’ve got top Adar working on it,” Sal argued. “Top Adar.”
“You’ve got Fazglim and Dulaul,” Bill said, not looking up. “Who are the only Adar I’ve ever met who fall into the description of credit-whores. And neither one of them knows diddly maulk about server tech. Fazglim’s a natural processes philo and Dulaul is a micro-actions philo. So you’re telling me you’ve got the best server on the market because you happen to have a tame biologist and quantum physicist who are willing to sign off on it. It’s an MS Vav, which is one of the buggiest servers in the world, with code from Col-Gomo programming thrown on top. And that makes it buggier. Come on, Sal, don’t try to snow me. I know Adar tech. I work with it every damned day.”
The problem was, since the opening of the Looking Glasses, the whole world, and especially Wall Street, had gone nuts over Adar. Adar tech was light years ahead of human, but it wasn’t magic. And a lot of stuff that was sold as being “Adar technology” was anything but. The Adar had been a philosophical race when they encountered humans. Which meant they were about as resistant to marketing as Native Americans to disease. So more and more of them were emigrating to Earth where “everything was prettier.” And, by and large, they could command immense salaries because if a company had an Adar, even if the male, female or transfer-neuter was the training equivalent of a janitor, they could say they had an Adar working on their technology.
Bill had fallen for that scam exactly once, an “Adar-tech” shampoo substitute. Basically, it was a comb you were supposed to use in the shower to wash your hair. Guaranteed to do miraculous things for your entire head region.
He was still trying to grow the hair back.
He had to admit that there was some great stuff out there that was derived from real Adar technology. Forget brushing your teeth, all you had to do was pop a Nanobrush™ capsule, crunch it in your teeth and not only did your teeth turn lily-white but you didn’t have to worry about halitosis for twelve hours. Then there was the entire electronic tech revolution…
“Wait, got a call,” Sal said, holding up his hand to the back of his head. “Yeah, Joe, Sal… That’s great, man…”
Implants, though… Jeeze. Back when they were the “killer app,” Doc had thought BlackBerry was a pain in the ass. The only way you could tell the difference between a raving street-guy and a raving corporate attorney was the quality of clothing and that one had a flashing blue thing in his ear. But since implants had hit the market, people really did hear voices. Now you couldn’t tell the difference at all.
Of course, he was wearing a VeriNthal ear piece, which gave him pretty much the same look as an implant wearer. But you could at least see the damned earring.
He hit the menu again and was amazed to see an Adar exit the door to the restaurant’s kitchens, bearing a massive platter.
That was the other thing about Adar cooking. The Adar approached their two daily meals with religious reverence. The most undertrained neuter home-cook had more passion for cuisine than a cordon bleu chef. Each meal had to be both satisfying and a work of art. They were worse than the Japanese about it.
So while Bill would have been perfectly satisfied with a platter of glangi noodles, what he got instead was a half a dozen dishes. Condiments, sides, little crunchy things, none of it was particularly identifiable. He’d been to dinners at the White House that were less elaborate.
“Methmar,” Weaver said, nodding to the trans-neut waiter. The transfer-neuters were only semi-sentient and did most of the mundane tasks of the Adar. Far smaller than the males, much less the females, the trans-neut was about six feet tall with mottled brown skin and three eyes set over a wide, flat face that was mostly a mouth with wide, grinding molars.
Clashing with the standard Adar look, though, was its clothes. The Adar, when Weaver first met them, tended to wear something not much more complex than a loincloth. However, they had never dealt with marketing departments. While Adar tech had become the rage on Earth, human styles and fads had hit the Adar like hard liquor at a redneck party.
The Adar was wearing an electric purple skirt and a “blouse” that was basically transparent. Under it was a tank top of electric pink. It was sporting huge rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses with giant wings on either side that made it look like an Elvis Valkyrie.
It was also wearing an iPod. Given that it was assuredly implanted and the iPod was at best superfluous, it had to be a fashion device.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” the trans-neut squeaked, a terribly high falsetto from something six feet tall and weighing in at damned near three hundred pounds. “Worship! Enjoy! Taking Care of Business! Nothing But Hound Dog!”
So it meant to be an Elvis Valkyrie.
“Thanks,” Bill said as the being shimmied back to the kitchen. He sighed and picked up his tongs, scooping up some of the noodles.
Bill Weaver had been a peaceful little scientist working for Columbia Defense, coming up with solutions to problems U.S. national defense didn’t even realize it had, when he got dragged over to the White House one rainy Saturday night to explain quantum physics to the National Security Council. A physics experiment gone awry had not only created a massive — on the order of sixty kilotons — explosion at the University of Central Florida, but it had left a strange anomaly behind. He’d just happened to be the nearest physicist the secretary of defense could lay his hand on who had a Top Secret clearance.
Subsequent to that he’d been blown up, ripped into other dimensions, killed he was pretty sure, resurrected he was more sure and generally had a “blast” stopping an alien invasion.
The anomaly had been a boson generator, a black sphere they still didn’t have a theoretical handle on, that generated Higgs bosons at a phenomenal rate. What was worse, or better, take your pick, is that the bosons turned out to have the ability to “link” to other bosons and open up portals to… well, just about anywhere. Instantaneous transportation, even to other planets. The portals created mirrorlike openings that had been christened “Looking Glasses.” They went some strange places, that was for sure.
The kicker was that some of those planets had sentient beings that were interested in taking over the Earth. Called the Dreen, the species reproduced via a mat of fungus that was programmed to produce various other creatures. Like big, howling dog demons that ate people — humanity’s first contact with the Dreen — and all the way up to giant spider things the size of mountains. Presumably there was some sentient control behind the Dreen, but Bill had never seen it. All he’d seen was rhino-tanks and centipedes and howlers. Lots of howlers. The very name, Dreen, was an Adar rendition of the howl. Dreeeeeeen. Neither humans nor the Adar had any idea what the species called itself and didn’t really care. All they cared about was avoiding them or, if necessary or possible, wiping them out to the last fungoid monstrosity.
The upside to the gates were the Adar. They had encountered the Dreen when they’d first started creating their own Glasses, had had similar problems and had figured out how to close a Glass. Basically, all it needed was a big enough explosion. Big. World-killing. Since there was no way to set it off in the middle of a transfer — the movement was as close to instantaneous as instruments could detect — you had to choose which world to set it off on.
The Adar hadn’t wanted to risk it but when the Dreen were swarming through multiple portals the humans, specifically the president of the United States, had been willing to try anything. Weaver, with the support of a short division of mech infantry and a SEAL team, had managed to stick the explosive device on the far side of a portal in Kentucky. That was the second time he was pretty sure he’d died. But he’d been spit back out after a strange conversation with an entity or entities that might be God.
Shortly after they’d stopped the invasion, the Adar had given him another strange device. On first tests, it had appeared to be the world’s most powerful nuclear hand grenade. Any electrical power sent to it, so much as a spark of static, and, well, there was a boom. A really big boom. “There should have been an earth shattering Ka-Boom!” boom. Putting three-phase on it had, in fact, erased a solar system.
The Adar didn’t know what it was supposed to do but Weaver had basically guessed that it was, in fact, some sort of Faster-Than-Light drive. It took nearly a year of tinkering, and two more planets, to figure out that it was, in fact, such a drive. It had taken another year to create the first prototype starship.
By then, Weaver had switched sides in the ongoing sales war, leaving the Beltway and taking a direct commission in the Navy, which was the lead service in developing the world’s first spaceship. He’d pointed out even before switching sides that the Navy just made more sense. The President wanted a presence off-world as fast as possible. They’d picked up enough intel in the brief war to know that the Dreen had some sort of FTL as well. Finding out where the Dreen were, whether they were headed to Earth through normal space, was a high priority. The only way to make a spaceship, fast, was to convert something. The obvious choice had been one of the many ballistic missile submarines that were being decommissioned.
So Weaver, while continuing to consult on engineering issues, was now the astrogation officer of the Naval Construction Contract 4144. Despite a couple of shakedown cruises around the solar system, the Top Secret boat had yet to be named. The 4144 had all the beauty and problems of any prototype. Most of the equipment was human, much of it original to the former SSBN Nebraska. Other bits were Adar or Human-Adar manufacture. The fact that it worked at all was amazing.
In two days, the still unnamed boat was going to be blasting off for points unknown. Well, actually, all the points were known. Bill had created the initial survey route. But what was there was unknown. Mankind was finally going “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” And he was listening to Sal pitch the new Col-Gomo Adar 2007 to another unsuspecting client while picking at his ordundrorob beetle soup.
Most Adar food was incompatible with human systems. The Adar had, after all, evolved on a completely different planet. Even basic sugars were stereo isomers. Isomers were chemicals in which certain bonds could go in either direction. All the “sugar” isomers of Earth were so-called “left” isomers. Adar sugars were “right” isomers. Many Adar foods were so incompatible as to be poisonous.
But over the last seven years, humans and Adar had found a surprising number of dishes and drinks, starting with Coca-Cola, that each species could consume. Oh, it was usually the nutritional equivalent of eating sawdust, but the food was good. And since there was zero nutritional content it was the killer diet food. Bill, mostly due to spending all his damned time sitting at a desk lately, had started to pad on a few pounds. Given that he’d once been champion-class at mountain biking and karate, the tub was eating at him. Ergo, Adar food.
On the other hand…
“I’ve got a meeting at thirteen-thirty,” Bill said as Sal finished his call, finally. “The answer is I’m not in that branch of procurement, I don’t do procurement and I think your system sucks. If you’re looking for me to say good words about it, look elsewhere.”
“Bill. Buddy…” Sal said, shaking his head. “You don’t have to be that way…”
“Yes, I do,” Bill replied. “I’m a damned government employee these days, Sal. I’m going to have to do paperwork on this lunch, I’m going to have to pick up the bill or go Dutch and I’ve got a forty-minute drive back to the docks. All that to be pitched on a system we both know is crap.”
“Okay,” Sal said, holding up his hands. “Seriously. I agree with you. Fazglim and Dulaul don’t know diddly about servers. We both know that. So… Do you know any good Adar that are in the market?”
“Why couldn’t you just come out and say that, Sal?” Bill asked, tonging up another mouthful of noodles. “I don’t, but I know who to ask. Good enough?”
“We really need a good Adar working in our code department,” Sal said. “We’re losing ground to LockLilug. They’ve got Gilanglka heading up their department. We can’t compete with him.”
“Whoever it is is going to want something like a CIO position,” Bill pointed out. “You know that.”
“I was told by very senior people to ask,” Sal said.
“I’ll ask around,” Bill said. “Ring. Command. Bill.”
“Your bill is twenty-nine, forty-seven,” his earring phone replied. “Fifteen percent tip will be four, forty-two.”