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Encyclopaedia Galactica

Part II of II


By Navin Weeraratne

Ah, but you of course wonder how if we can't get to intelligent life in the Universe how the Devil will they ever get to us? Sort of like leaving the problem to a higher intelligence to solve and instead being content to vanish with the whimper - and there's no real shame in that (if you're that sort of person you know) our Closed Ended Universe will end that way. No real shame.

But then there are you lads who'd rather live a day than exist a year, from the lad back from Uni for the Summer who notices that a lot more of Pater's hair has gone white and that he seems more tired, to the black and white reels of the the Mussolinis tramping up and down over dead Abyssinians going on about it being better to live a day as a lion than a thousand years as a sheep - again, no shame in being a sheep. And regardless of whatever a good, solid Nietzchean may think so far it's the Meek that have it.

But the lads don't care about the stats: they want to live. Live. Not wait around, held back by some Sophist and conceited argument for chauvinism, some excuse for decay, waiting for some lesser, cruder race to come sailing down a thousand years later in its grotty warships and demand that the walls of superciliousness be battered down in the name of Admiral Perry and Free Trade.

No!

And so for the lads there's the Encyclopaedia. All you need to do is talk, talk to everyone, talk at everyone. Talk, talk, and talk, talk on radio wavelengths from the grotesquely obscure to good old, blindingly obvious Hydrogen. Gob on in bright rays of invisible laser, all the better to last over the billenia. Talk as you've never talked before, talk everywhere and everywhen, about everything worth speaking of and anything not. Talk.

If there's anyone Out There, they'll be listening.

Waking up all groggy and feeling even worse than if he'd just spent six hours plus flying - another six hours plus drugged up and lying on a cold, hard, dirty floor. In a great big warehouse all grey and harshly lit by massive house lights, the walls sick with rising damp and long cracks like Lunar rivers.

"He's coming around," a clipped English accent.

"Took him a while. I thought I'd botched the anesthesia."

"Bloody fine thing that would have been after you shot up the other bugger."

"We didn't need that Burke, he didn't know anything."

"And we have one less person to make any mistakes with."

"You said nothing about the other man."

"Gordon Bennet! You couldn't improvise to save your life!"

"I couldn't be arsed."

"You couldn't be arsed!"

"Well he was a wanker anyway."

"What's - what's going on?"

Two tall forms look down at the bleary peery eyes that tried to focus on them.

"I'm American," the suit affirmed. "American."

"I love how these Pratts do that," the suit recognised his driver's voice.

"Like it's some great passport to priviledge."

"Who - who are you?"

"Don't worry if we're who we are mate, worry if you're who we want," said the second man. He was coming into focus - a haggard, gaunt looking man with thin, ratty yellow hair, a large, rain wet trench coat that dripped his route about the floor.

"What do you want from me?"

"Whatever your lovely company can sell us! You came here to pitch instantaneous communication and we're interested buyers. The currency is life, yours or ours. Shall we trade?"

"I don't know the technical details, I'm not a scientist!"

"Yes we know that, but if we could get one of your scientists straightaway we wouldn't have you here now would we?" said the trench coat. "We want to know everything you can tell us - names, addresses, useful numbers, cyphers."

"And what if I don't tell you?"

The trench coat shrugged.

"Then we'll just kill you. Nothing personal you know. What would we keep you alive for if you're not going to be helpful?"

"I've got restraining circuits implanted, you must know that much. How could I tell you even if I wanted to?"

"We have our ways. Don't worry about that."

"Who the Hell are you bastards?"

The trench coat grinned absently, pulled out a cigarette and lit it.

"We're absolutely nothing, that's what you've made us mate. We're not an economic power in the heart of Europe. We're not a Thatcherite, dynamic enterprise culture with a revitalised manufacturing sector. We're not a banana republic trying to keep our neighbours from invading. We're absolutely nothing. A great big blank page for you to write whatever you want on - to make a carbon copy of your own wretched civilisation, your Diary Queens and your white suburbs full of wooden, identical houses, your private health care and your crap education system, your nasty K-marts that pay people below your own minimum wage, your Dan Quayles to tell us all to spell potato with an E at the end. We're just like everyone else you see in the world - just that we're not standing for it, that's all. You've seen me mate, you've seen me at your Trade Centre in New York, you've seen me at Dhahran, seen me tearing down Euro Disney, seen me killing George Soros. You've seen me. You know me. You know me very well."

"You're terrorists!" shock.

The trench coat just shook his head: the British are unimpressed by the obvious.

"Give the sod a prize."

The shuttle wafted in towards the landing pad, its agrav plates glowing like pitchblende effects in a dance club. Its landing gear stretched out and lanced the tar macadam, all the engine sounds whirred down and the suits got out.

"Good morning Mr. Ziegler," an old, fat English man in a tweed suit waiting for him.

"Good morning Charles," top managers giving all the proper grooming signals and turf acknowledgements. "Anything new about my man? The damn phones were down in the shuttle."

"So that's what was wrong! Yes there is news in fact, the group that kidnapped your man Fink has made a ransom demand."

"How much do they want?"

"Oh its not that simple Sir. They want Tachyon Transferance."

"What! We can't give them that! That's just stupid."

"They've taken pains to make this public Sir, it wouldn't look good if we were to tell them something to that effect. They'd jump on it."

"No, no, why would they ask for it? They know that we won't give it."

"They're na´ve?" offered the old man. "Could be left wing student sorts. Frustrated university unionists."

"Oh God no man, they know we can't give it to them, that's the key here."

"Then they're just trying to embarrass us and Fink is a dead man."

"The bastards. Where's that guy from Scotland?"

"Scotland Yard Sir. He wants to meet you as soon as possible Sir, he thinks by interviewing you he can get some leads."

"Right."

Plonk.

An aluminium tray with crenellated edging, steam rising from its rich smelling contents like smoke out of a volcano.

"What is this?"

Sitting at a table with one of his arms cuffed to it but the other free to wield a plastic spoon with all the desperate courage and strength he could muster.

"Steak and kidney pie," said Edmund. "Think we eat fish and chips all day?"

"Kidney?"

"It's good, better than you're worth. Eat it while its hot."

"Well its not Haggis, I should be grateful."

"You ever had Haggis?" pouncing on him.

"No, but I've heard lots."

"It's not bad either. You've got to keep the Scots away from it though, they spoil it. What you need to do is gut the Haggis and get rid of as much blood as possible and then its just fine."

"Gut the Haggis?"

"That's if you go hunting it of course. You ever hunted Haggis?"

"Erm no."

"Good fun. Hard to hunt, Haggis, but very good eating."

"I didn't know that the Haggis was an actual animal."

"Oh your forgiven. Ah, Avon!"

"Yes?", the gaunt blonde chap walking into the room.

"Our friend here would like to go Haggis hunting."

"Haggis hunting!"

"Oh yes."

"You guys are serious about this Haggis thing?"

"Quite," continued Edmund. "When I was in Glasgow all the American tourists were keen on Haggis hunting. But for some reason they never seemed able to shoot one."

"Sod that," said Avon. "Mr. Fink, AT&T said no."

"Well what did you expect?"

"A little more than that, I didn't think you were that useless to them."

"Let's wait a bit," said Edmund. "They could be stalling for time, you know. Getting their act together."

"I don't think so. Fuck it, we've got a peon. Let's just slot him and try again."

"We don't know how important he is. Let's just wait and see. What does it cost us? They'll never get us."

"Unnecessary risk."

"Trying to get another one before we work out the worth of this one is unnecessary risk. Now we're going to wait and see, alright?"

"Fuck it."

"Why are you people doing this?" eating his steak and kidney like a good boy.

"Doing what?" asked Avon. "Fighting with AT&T? Keeping you prisoner? Using leaded petrol? Running down the badgers at night? There are lots of horrible things we do."

"You know what I mean."

"Because you and your government are bloody evil," Edmund.

"That doesn't really cut it," Fink, unimpressed.

"That's all there is to it, you want to know why we do it," Avon.

"We're evil?"

"Yes. What gives you the right to keep the Encyclopaedia to yourselves?"

"But we don't! We're doing a fantastic job of spreading it to the world!"

"For dollars you bastard," Avon.

"Well how are we supposed to pay for the costs of running SETI and DSLP? We spent billions, we have to recover those costs and make it worth our while!"

"Since when was SETI a business venture?" asked Edmund.

"Well what about DSLP? The signals came from Procyon and we built the radio telescopes, we developed the decoders, we built everything. It cost us a fortune."

"Why ever did you bother then?" Avon. "Why ever did you try to find out what an alien race was saying to us if you were just out for whatever money you could get out of selling it to us? At bloody monopoly rates!"

"The prices are high because of our costs! You can't just run an alien machine as soon as you build it, you have to man rate it, to see what the side effects of its use are, work out its limits."

"Oh bull bloody shit," Avon. "And Windows Ultra costs three hundred dollars to cover development costs, when a computer costs a hundred. Yeah right Yank."

"Well we have the right!" defiant.

The two Englishmen raise eyebrows at him and cock their heads like startled dogs.

"What?" Avon.

"We have the right."

"And how is that?" Avon.

"Because we're the ones who did it, we're the ones who cracked it. Its our property now and you should be grateful that we share it with you."

"Grateful?" snorted Edmund. "Grateful that you can use it to carve the world into your empire?"

"I really don't see how you justify that the rightful property of all Mankind is yours to keep," Avon.

"It's not Mankind's its ours."

"Yes well howzat?" Avon.

"We cracked it so its ours. Is that so hard?"

"Do you think that Procyon wanted to talk to you? To talk to Americans? They wanted to talk to us all. Its our mail too and you have no right to keep it from us."

"You weren't good enough to receive it, to crack it. Why should you have it if you couldn't get it?"

"So the loot goes to the thief with the biggest gun then?" Edmund.

"Robber Capitalism." Avon.

"It's just like the Genome Project! We had the right to sell genetic information because no one would have had it if hadn't been for us."

"It wasn't that tidy, Yank. Watson was chairman of the Project at the time and he resigned over the issue. He didn't believe that you had the right to sell off Humanity's heritage but you Republican Yanks just couldn't understand that." Avon.

"You really believe," began Edmund, "you really believe that you have to right to take the messages sent to us from another civilisation, make secrets out of it and sell us the worst ones? They sent it to us to improve the quality of all our lives, to end our hunger and help our poor, and you really think that you can turn it all into a instrument to enrich yourselves at the cost of the entire world?"

"That's not what I'm saying - "

"That's exactly what you're saying!"

"Forget him Edmund. He's just a foot soldier. Don't bother with him."

"Oh God. Hello?" 3 AM zest for life. On TV all the really neat stuff was showing now, the cool, statistical war game where they get Uni professors to be Napoleon and the Duke, the RAF their country needs you ads, the classic SF marathons starting with Fahrenheit 451 and Logan's Run (can you find a copy of Logan's Run anywhere outside Britain?) . Most people were sleeping though. They tend to that whenever something interesting is going on. They watch. They stare. They just stand there. Or they even just sleep. This then is the herd instinct towards inaction and every man who achieves greatness has simply discovered the courage to be that wildebeest which actually dares to cross first. Nothing really all that hard once you've done it, you're just not sure what it is you had to do nor how you did it: greatness is a very different secret to each of us.

"Sorry to wake you at this hour Sir but a police helicopter in Devonshire picked up a distress signal last evening that compares with the frequency of your man Fink's control circuits. They want to make a rescue."

"No!" suddenly all awake. "No they could screw it Charles!"

"What do you mean?" shock. The man at work at three in the morning cannot understand those with the herd instinct anymore than you can understand what he's doing working at three. "That Fink might get killed?"

"The Company has already written off Fink, by ignoring the terrorists we make them think that Fink has nothing to offer and they'll just kill him and we all get on with our lives. If we try to rescue Fink we tell them that he's important, that he knows things."

"You want the Police to not effect a rescue?"

"Tell them we're ransoming him or something, anything."

"Then we'll just be abandoning Fink?"

"No, they might do what all those Lebanese terrorists do and keep him alive for a thousand years just to bug us. We can't risk him going around with what he knows. We'll kill him ourselves."

"What! Are you sure Sir?"

"It's a hard decision I know."

"Very good Sir."

"Avon," Edmund running into the room, dripping with the rain that curtained outside. "We've got visitors."

"The Peelers?"

"Not unless they're plains clothes but they've all got vicious weaponry."

"Then its AT&T!"

"I told you we had someone important here."

"Let's slot the bastards."

"No, we've found out what we need to. Our priority should be to get our favourite Yank away from here."

"Right. I'll gather the lads, do we blow up the place?"

"I say maximum spread. Take as many of the bastards as we can."

"Still all worshipful about American Multinationals, eh Mr. Fink?" Edmund was grinning.

"You bumfucking asshole."

Somewhere in Manchester. Still the same crime ridden hell hole where you can buy your mate's five hundred quid watch tomorrow from the guy who nicked it off him for a tenner. Still a dead place when all the students go off, a lot worse off though now that UMIST had closed down. Couldn't stay competitive: the American University in Manchester was slowly gobbling up all the old buildings.

"You do realise they were coming to kill you, not us. Don't you Mr. Fink?"

"Now why ever would they do that?"

"Forget it Mr. Fink, we know that you're important and that's why they sent in their foot soldiers. We'll get those circuits out of you and then everything else we want."

"You can't take out my control circuits."

"Not without killing you, no," Avon.

"So what are you saying?" alarm.

"We've got a man who does a neat enough job that will give us enough time. We won't get everything you can tell us but we can get whatever's important. The Probe is great stuff isn't it? Wasn't it really supposed to be something for spotting neurological imbalances? Trust you Republican Yanks to turn a medical tool into a weapon."

"You sumbitches."

"Nothing personal mate, you've got stuff we need and this is the only way we can get it. You get hardened to this sort of thing but its what you've got to do, you know?"

"No I don't know. What the Hell do you want Tachyon Transference for so badly anyway?"

"It's the key! Don't you see? It changes everything."

"How?"

"If we can tell Procyon what's going on here then they'll put a stop to it. They'll change the codes and let us have them or they'll decode the whole thing anyway. We can end your empire. We can end it all."

"You're crazy. They'll never listen to you."

"Oh they will. And then they'll visit to see for themselves. I am scaring you yet?"

"No. They'll come and they'll see what a good job we're doing."

"These are aliens, not Republicans. They probably don't particularly care for American domination of the world."

"Well of course they won't care. Whoever controls this world is an internal matter, they will not be interested."

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