INT – DAY – Officers mess
Lag, Stenson, Allonia, Seraphina, sit at the table, with food and settings for six. Helton walks in with the book and sits down to general greetings.
Helton: A bit more readable already. Take a look.
He slides the book over to Stenson.
Stenson: Yup. Looks like a math primer, alright. Hmmm… Base twelve.
Seraphina: What do you mean, “base 12”?
Helton: We count in base ten – ten digits, zero through nine, then you add a column when you get to ten, and at ten times ten you add a hundreds digit, and so-on for any power of ten. Computers are binary, use base two – ones and zeros.
Lag: Where did you get that?
Helton: In a cave Harbin and I hid in, back during that event that didn’t happen at the mine, after we weren’t hit by pirates. It was closed. The hole on the back there is where it got hit with a grenade shot at me while I was carrying it on my back.
Allonia: If you hadn’t been carrying that…?
Helton: -Both Harbin and I would likely be dead.
Stenson: You can see some writing around the edges of the blast hole, here. Lost a lot of stuff, though.
Seraphina: That font looks like the Planet Mover message.
Helton: Let me look at that again.
He pulls the book closer, and the other crane their necks a bit to get a better look.
Ship AI: (OC, thin, dreamy voice) Nice folks. Quiet. Good listeners.
Helton: Uh, what was that?
Helton: Taj, WHAT did you just say?
Ship AI: (OC, normal voice) What? I didn’t say anything.
Helton: Just now, you said something.
Ship AI: (OC, petulant) Of course I did. I said I didn’t say anything!
Helton: No, BEFORE THAT.
Ship AI: I was talking to Quinn on deck 5, but I’m not sure how you heard that.
Seraphina: Deck five? I thought there were only three decks here?
Lag: That symbol there. It looks like the three line “equals” sign in the Planet Mover’s message.
Helton looks where she was pointing. He flips back and forth through the pages rapidly, suddenly starting to tremble a bit. As he flips describing what he’s seeing and what it represents, the pages flash by on the screen. They show densely packed symbols, tables, diagrams, short “phrases,” etc.
Helton: Counting, just like a child. You start with counting. Number symbols. Then basic arithmetic operations – add, subtract multiply, divide. Fractions. Roots. Algebra. Geometry. Pythagorean theorem – that HAS to be a proof! A circle gives us pi and irrational numbers. Physics – definitely physics diagrams. Free-body diagrams. Text describing the problem – switch the objects moving and acting on them, change in syntax, change the formula… THAT’S Got to be a table of elements, with hydrogen, helium, oxygen. Water. Balancing chemical reactions. More symbols. More math. Mostly text. Good GOD….
Helton looks up at them. They look at one another.
Allonia: Is- is that a book ABOUT the planet movers?
Lag: I think it’s a book BY the planet movers.
Helton: Mother of all that’s warm and fuzzy.
They sit staring at the book, soaking up the implications when Bipasha walks in with a a tray of food. She sits down chattering, then notices their stunned silence.
Bipasha: I was just talking with Kwon about how we seemed so lucky to get a high-paying easy job, then so unlucky to find out we were set up, then lucky to get through it all and make a pretty penny, then … What’s got all you all bent? Is the book that good a read? I…
Helton: Until we know for sure, NO ONE says ANYTHING. Agreed?
They all nod their heads.
Bipasha: Agree to what?
Lag: Don’t breath a word to ANYONE
Bipasha: Even uncle Harbin?
Helton: OK, your uncle, he deserves to know, and I’m pretty sure he can keep a secret.
Bipasha: Um… OK, I guess. What?
Helton: I think this book was written by the Planet Movers, and it may be a universal translation text for their message.
Seraphina: Not just a text book?
Helton: How would you send a message to someone in ANY advanced culture, regardless of what language they speak or what their background? It doesn’t make any difference if you are counting on fingers, flippers, or feathers, or what symbols you use, 2+3=5. If they have space travel, they have science, and the basis of ALL science is mathematics. Start with counting, work your way up, defining and building counting numbers, then arithmetic symbols, then use pictures for physics and chemistry which are both pretty universal, then build a written language out of that by describing the things in the physics and chemistry diagrams. Build up from there. We have more than four hundred pages totally intact, and about the same that are damaged to some degree by the grenade. Diagrams and text look dense, so it’ll take a while to decipher, but the more I look at this, the more I think that’s it. It might be premature, but-
Stenson: I think you’re right. A basic, universal medium, a printed book: tough, and will only be readable by someone in a relatively high oxygen atmosphere who uses visible light. ANY space-faring race could translate the message with this, if that is what it is.
Allonia: But it’s incomplete – will it still work?
Bipasha: That’s worth more than this planet. You DO know that, right?
Helton nods his head in wonder.
Allonia: (incredulous) You’re joking.
Bipasha: No. Just about any government in the universe would kill us all in a heartbeat to get their hands on this.
Seraphina: Some might kill us to cover it up, too.
Helton: So… do we keep silent, sell it, or copy it and put it out on general broadcast for everyone to see at once?
Bipasha: If we sit on it, it won’t pay the bills.
Stenson: We don’t have the tools to properly decode it and understand it here.
Allonia: I think it should really belong to everyone, so the best minds can really figure it out.
Seraphina: Give it away? You are very sweet, dear, but crazy naive.
Helton: Crazy? I agree that giving it away kind of makes it hard to pay the bills-
Seraphina: There are people who don’t WANT the truth to be known, just like they don’t want Jews alive, or self-aware computers, or honest politicians. They feed on the problems. They’d kill us and destroy the ship to keep it secret for their own purposes.
Helton: And I thought Kwon was the only conspiracy-nut I knew.
Lag: She’s right, though.
Helton: I don’t follow.
Stenson: There ARE people who would want to keep this under wraps. Think about what ANY major religion would think of a potential challenge to their message?
Allonia: This is insane! People will want to kill us to get it if they knew we had it, others who would want to kill us to destroy it, it’s so valuable no-one can afford to buy it, but it’s REAL value is in letting everyone know what it says, but then it’s of no value to US!
Bipasha: But, we don’t know for SURE that that’s what it is?
Helton shakes his head, still leafing through the book.
Allonia: What languages does everyone here speak? Anyone know anything but English?
Seraphina: A bit of Spanish and Hebrew.
Stenson: Math, a bit of German
Lag shakes his head.
Helton: Some Latin and Greek, and a handful of words in a dozen other languages. COMPUTER. Awake? What language analysis programing do you have?
Ship AI:(OC) My name isn’t “computer”.
Helton: … well, how much?
Ship AI: Nothing specific to this task. Basic organizational tools may get a lot, if you are correct in your basic assumptions, depending on damage. I have some vague records that indicate I worked on a language problem long ago.
Helton: OK, then. We need to find out what it says, scan as much of it as we can with every tool you have, Stenson, to establish if it’s genuine as well as what it says. We don’t say anything to ANYONE until we know more. Then, if we are reasonably sure it IS a real artifact Rosetta Stone, THEN we figure out what to do. It might be worth more as a hole-card than a played one.
Allonia: I guess that sounds as good as any plan, at least for now.
Seraphina: For once I get to be in on the conspiracy! Silence for now. I just hope more good than evil comes of it.
Stenson: As if I didn’t have enough to do.
Bipasha: More knowledge is always better. How long?
Ship AI: A few days to a few weeks, if it is laid out as logically as Helton suggests, and depending on what was damaged. At least it looks like we are starting from the beginning.
Helton: Well, I’ll get to work on it, and in the meantime-
Seraphina: meals don’t cook themselves
Lag: -things are heating up at the New Medina complex, and there is a lot of intel to evaluate
Stenson: The drives and power cores need all the new parts installed and checked-
Allonia: I have a couple of projects to work on while the good sergeants get better.
Bipasha: And we need a new PAYING cargo lined up.
Helton: Well, then, let’s get to work, while more of these pages “come to light”…
Fade to black.
[I need to take another short break – the next mission was actually the first one I wrote, and needs some substantial re-writing to make sense with all the stuff that’s gotten put in before it now. It’s also job application season for teachers, so I’ll be busy with that. Should be back in a week or two.
Also, speaking of books. Any thoughts from the world and readers which you’d prefer in (electronic) published form:
Just one big book, ~150 k words, ~$4;
Free “teaser” intro, maybe start thru the escape from the prison mine, then five volumes of missions and repair, and a “finale” volume, at $1 each, so total story price is $5 if bought in parts;