DataBaseZone.com
Conrad Muller
Juneau, Alaska

Email: conrad at
databasezone
dot com

Bar Talk

©Conrad Muller 2005

 

Outside scene: A narrow residential street, small lots, and small houses. Very flat, very new, only a few small trees in yards, lots of empty lots.

Dr. Frank Harner is opening the door to one of the houses. He steps inside.

Inside scene: There are three small wooden tables and some flimsy looking wooden folding chairs. A man wearing a white apron is waiting inside.

      Bill:

Come on in.

      Frank:

Thanks, how's the bar business?

      Bill:

Don't know, I'm not open yet. Don't open till five.

      Frank:

Frank eases himself into a chair that doesn't look strong enough.

How in the heck do you stay in business?

      Bill:

If you don't like it, try across the street.

      Frank:

Across the street is a vacant lot.

      Bill:

Yeah.

      Frank:

Frank looks down at the table and grins, then looks Bill in the eyes.

How did such a ornery guy get selected for Home?

      Bill:

Look whose talking! Actually, I think that's one of the things they selected for. You should ask Bob Robinson when you see him.

      Frank:

I'm meeting him here. I guess I'm early. Say, could I have a beer while I'm waiting?

      Bill:

Sure, here.

      Frank:

What do I owe you?

      Bill:

Nothing, I'm not open for business yet.

Frank pops the top and looks at the bottle with a faintly puzzled expression.

      Bill:

Now what?

      Frank:

I'm wondering what would happen if I ask for a glass.

Then he notices Bill already has a glass in his hand.

      Bill:

No charge, I'm not open for beer glasses either. So how's the beef business?

      Frank:

I'm still growing them. We don't want to slaughter our breeding stock, now that we are going to have to feed triple the population in less than a year. Right now we are just culling some of the extra bulls. We've been working our tails off trying to keep up with the expanding operation.

The door opens, and Bob Robinson enters. Bob is very fit, and walks lightly. He slides into a chair next to Frank. All three men are wearing similar work clothes, but Frank's clothes are wrinkled and dusty. Bob's clothes look ironed.

      Bob:

How about a beer?

      Bill:

Can you wait five minutes? I open at five.

      Bob gives Frank's beer a puzzled look, but says:

Sure.

      Bill:

Frank's my charity case for today.

      Frank grins:

I guess I looked really needy.

Bob and Frank lean back in their chairs and wait. Frank sips his beer, and then finally it's five, and Bill serves Bob a beer. This time Bill opens the bottle and pours the beer with a flourish at the table. Then Bill walks into a back room.

      Frank:

I'm planning on joining you at the Bugs' area when you go back. I wish I could have been there all along, but we're going to have a lot of folks to feed, including a lot of the Bugs real soon. I've been busting my butt to get things set up so I can turn the farm over to Greg. (a pause) So, tell me all about the bugs. I hear they think they were built, not evolved like us. What do you think?

      Bob:

Their own planet is like Home. Life hasn't been established there long enough for much evolution to take place. All of the life on all of the earthlike planets we've found was transplanted from Earth, after the planets were terraformed. The Bugs took a look at the naturally evolved life around them, then looked at themselves, and saw that they were very different in some fundamental ways. They are derived from Earth-life, but they are very clean, simple, and stable genetically. There is also no trace of a bug evolutionary history on Earth or on their own planet.

      Frank:

What's going to happen when the owners come back?

      Bob:

The owners of Home, or the owners of the Bugs?

      Frank:

I don't think anyone can, or should own a person, and as far as I am concerned, the Bugs are people.

      Bob:

Yeah. Well, I don't know about the terraformed planets. They are not very stable. The conditions for earth-life on Home are already deteriorating. Personally, I expect the owners have planned at least a maintenance visit for the not too distant future. I don't know what they are going to think when they find their pretty little planet infested with humans and bugs.

      Frank:

Up and out!

      Bob leans back and looks at the ceiling:

Yeah, I've heard a lot of that lately. But I don't see how we can put even a small planetary population into space permanently. The logistics are mind-boggling. Maybe the planet's owners will see us as an asset, if we haven't messed things up too much.

      Frank stares into his glass:

I wouldn't want to bet on it.

A long pause as each man sips his beer and stares into space.

      Frank:

I've got a new tractor.

A short pause.

      Frank:

It's even smarter that the one that saved my life. Not only that, the guy who delivered it says they are going to be able to use some Bug technology to make the tractors even smarter. They'll even have individual personalities. I expect they'll be so much like people; we won't be able to own them. How can we get them to work with us when we don't own them, and they don't need much from us?

      Bob:

That's an interesting question, but how did we get from moving off-planet to the subject of autonomous farm tractors? I know you too well to think you've changed the subject.

      Frank:

We, including the Bugs, can't really survive in space without a lot of help.

      Bob:

Farm tractors are going to make it possible for us to live off-planet?

      Frank:

Sort of. Did you know that the technology for the "brains" of the tractors was originally developed for military near-space surveillance equipment? Do you realize the tractors are fully equipped to navigate in three-dimensions by the stars? Do you know that the surveillance vehicles were designed to operate independently of any outside control, and on very little power? Don't you see?

      Bob:

You mean we can use the tractor "brains" to control spaceships?

      Frank:

Close. I'm a microbiologist.

      Bob:

Lost me again!

      Frank:

My whole life has been devoted to understanding how organisms interact to create functional, or dysfunctional systems. Any earth-like planet gives the Bugs and us a system we can fit into. We evolved to it, and the Bugs were built for it. We need a much simpler system that we can carry with us. And the system has to have the toughness of our preferred natural system. That means lots of redundancy, the ability to reproduce, and healing or self-repair. That means lots of relatively small ships, built of redundant, self repairing, reproducing units. Smart units, like the tractors.

      Bob:

Frank, you have done it again. I don't know how you do it. You don't look like you're even moving, and suddenly I notice that you are about a billion kilometers away, in orbit around some other star.

Frank blushes

      Frank:

But don't you see? It's the only way. Look at how long we, at least Earth humans, have been living in space. Our entire off-planet infrastructure is still tied to planetary resources. We need to be free of any particular planet. We need to be free of any particular planetary system. We can't have shipyards, factories, supplies lifted from planets. We need to be able to build a safe, functional system wherever we are, with whatever resources we can find. We will take the seeds: plants, animals, the Bugs, the "space tractors", and us. Every time we move, we will be like a spore, ready to wake up and reproduce. All of us, the seeds, plants, animals, the Bugs, us, and the "space tractors."

      Bob:

You talk about the "space tractors" as if they are alive, and as if they are part of a complex organism that includes us.

      Frank:

They will be, or this won't work.

      Bill:

Hope you don't mind. I've been listening. Lets do it! Hey Frank, do you know that the kids, ours and the Bugs', have a club on the net, with local chapters at every school, devoted to getting into space? They have targeted three basic technologies: propulsion, robotics, and life support based on natural organisms. Maybe the kids are already beyond you, Frank.

      Frank:

I think we may have to figure out what we can offer the kids so they'll let us go along.

All three men laugh with delight.

      Frank:

Bob, you are one devious son-of-a-bitch. You helped pick all of us who got to immigrate to Home. Just what did you have in mind? We are hardly settled, and we are planning, not talking; actually planning, to move on again.

      Bob:

We didn't really pick people for being restless; we picked them for being well adjusted, and willing to change. You are planning on changing in response to real forces that are reducing your ability to survive. I think you are only showing a reluctance to deny the obvious. By the way, I understand what you meant when you were worrying about the tractors being willing to work with us. We have to make some kind of a deal with both our kids and our tractors.

      Bill:

Hey Bob, does that mean you have kids?

      Bob:

Sure I do, I just have never lived with their mothers. They visit me all of the time, or I visit them.

      Frank:

I guess I'm not surprised that you have kids when I think about it, but you seem so unattached. So, how old are your kids?

      Bob:

A girl 2, and a boy 2 1/2. Amanda and Frank.

      Frank:

Well, that was before you met me, so I guess he's not my namesake.

      Bob:

Sure he is. I just jumped the gun a little. Next time I have the kids, I'll bring them out to your place, Frank. You and Martha and your kids can spoil them for me.

      Frank:

I'll be pissed if you don't.

The men look relaxed and thoughtful as the scene closes.

Next: Chapter 5, Shipwrecked


All of Conrad Muller's work on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

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