I met Stephanie Goldenrod ten years ago, Monday, January 22, 2052. It was the first day of my new job. My boss and I had been summoned to her top-floor office for a secret meeting related to the mysterious “Hawking Plan,” named for her great-grandfather.
“Hola, Diego,” said Stephanie, shaking my hand firmly. English was the standard language for transnational commerce, but Inglañol, English peppered with Spanish words and phrases, was used for informal conversation in NortAmer. It was derisively called Gringoñal.
She was the youngest Branch Chief at TABB, the Transnational Alliance for Better Business that ruled the globalized world economy. Rumor had it she was an amoral bisexual dominatrix. Her husband, a functionary in another branch of TABB, was said to be her merkin. Some said beard might be more apropos than merkin, due to the reputation the “Queen Bee,” as they called her, had for high sexual aggressiveness, more common in the masculine than feminine genders.
“Ho…Hola Dr. Go...Goldenrod,” I stammered, flustered by her attractiveness and her height – she was almost as tall as me.
“Por favor, James, call me Stephanie, we’re very informal in this office.”
“Hola Estephania,” I replied, struggling to regain my composure. “It is a pleasure to meet you en persona. I will be happy to call you Stephanie. Please call me Jim.”
“Jim,” she continued in her most seductive voice, touching me lightly on my left shoulder. “Welcome to my Infinite Future Branch. Today, I’ll brief you on my Hawking Plan to save human life and civilization for an infinite future. For reasons I’ll soon make clear to you, the religion portion is muy importante. You will lead that part.
“As you well know, highly automated devices and artificial intelligence entities have displaced nearly all grunt labor. They’ve also made considerable inroads on intellectual work.”
She snapped her fingers and two white-suited robots came in. They were IRAs, Intelligent Robotic Agents, certified by tests to be intelligent at the human level. “Jim, meet VI, for ‘Vast Intelligence,’ my office manager, authorized to make financial decisions for me, and XI, for ‘Xtra Intelligence,’ my personal secretary.”
XI had nearly androgynous male features. He looked me up and down before shaking my hand. “Pleased to meet you Mr. James O’Brian. I’ll call you when Dr. Goldenrod needs you for a meeting.”
VI was female, but no competition for Stephanie. She nodded and looked down her nose at me. “I’ll manage your budget Mr. James O’Brian. Let me know in advance of any major purchase items and I will approve or discuss them with Dr. Goldenrod.”
“Hola and pleased to meet you VI and XI,” I replied. “Or should I call you ‘six’ and ‘eleven’?” My new boss, the Head of the Religion Research Department, cracked a broad smile at the joke but neither the robots nor Stephanie acknowledged it. I assumed they’d heard that one so often they were sick of it. Either that or they didn’t know what Roman numerals were.
“I…I...I, um,” I stuttered, put off by the failure of my punning verbalism, “I’ll work with both of you on this Hawking Plan as colleagues. I had some excellent IRA research assistants at Google University, with well-developed senses of humor.”
Stephanie snapped her fingers and the robots retired.
“Spaceships manned by IRAs,” she continued, “Have reached to the ends of our Solar System and beyond. Human space travel is considered unnecessary because robots offer better performance at much lower cost and zero risk to human life.” The RRD Head rotated up and down and I followed suit. I began to reply but she cut me off.
“Never-the-less,” she went on, increasing the pressure on my shoulder, “I am bound and determined to save the human race for an infinite future by reviving human space travel well beyond the Solar System. I am totalmente convinced, as was my great-grandfather a half century ago, that, sooner or later, humans are doomed to self-destruction. We will not survive on Earth beyond the year 3000.”
Stephanie turned away from us and walked towards the display wall behind her reclining chair. She had a forma perfecta figure. Her office was totally up-to-date. The walls were giant interactive display devices, some showing work-related materials and others scenic videos and classic statues.
She turned towards us, grasped the top of her chair, and bowed slightly. Her cleavage was ample, but not excessive. She pointed right to an electronic shrine to Stephen Hawking.
“I am his namesake and great-grand-daughter,” she said, “And I shall revive his plan for humans to survive by spreading into space." As she spoke, a famous quote from Hawking appeared on the display screen:
Stephanie continued with great confidence, "As Chief of the Infinite Future Branch of TABB, I’m in the perfect position to carry his plan to fruition.”
After I was sure she had finished speaking, I replied in a modest voice. “Thank you for hiring me, y gracias por su confianza.”
She sat in her reclining chair and invited me and the RRD Head to sit near her. We each had a codip, short for “control and display panel,” a small pedestal that provided hand controls and displays for the devices in the fully electronic office. A small antenna and microphone protruded from each of our ear pods. They allowed us to participate in cell phone-like conversations and send and receive audio input or commands to and from various electronic devices. Our ear pods were powered by body heat and never had to be recharged.
“Jim, I believe this is the first time we’ve met en persona.”
“Yes, Stephanie, though I’ve seen you in news videos and we did have a conversación video during my job interview process.”
“Of course Jim, I recall our conversación. When they were thinking about hiring un profesor de la Universidad – a guy who teaches religious history and philosophy at the prestigious Google University – I must admit I was concerned we’d get a stiff-necked, fact-filled, ivory-tower type who couldn’t rub two sticks together to save his life. In the past, I’ve had negative experiences with academics educated beyond their intelligence!”
I shifted anxiously in my chair.
Stephanie grinned, turned sideways revealing her curves, and continued, “Despite your advanced degrees from the famous Wal-Mart School at McDonalds University I don’t think you are over-educated. Our conversación indicated flexibility and open-mindedness. I was impressed by your práctico frame of mind and your willingness to ‘speak truth to power.’ Our short conversación convinced me you not only knew the facts but also how to use them for propósitos prácticos.”
“Well, Stephanie ... You asked me some questions that, according to the old joke, ‘could cross a rabbi’s eyes’.”
“Yes, now I remember, Jim, you’re also a rabbi. Earlier in your career, you led a combined Unitarian-Jewish Congregation, but, like most modern clerics, you’re not a literal believer. I love that!
I felt my face flush. I shook my head vigorously, trying to dismiss my machismo-arousing thoughts. I reminded myself to concentrate on what she was saying, and not on what she was. She paused, smiled, and winked at me. I took that as an indication she knew exactly what I was thinking and was very much OK with it.
"So, where does religion and Rabbi James O’Brian come into this plan? I know you’re dying to find out! Well, your task will be to oversee the ethical issues of human space flight and pre-empt opposition from the remnant of religiosas locas content to let God worry about the long-term survival of humanity on Earth.” The RRD Head, and mine, nodded up and down. I still didn’t understand why the religion portion was muy importante, but it was my habit to get along with authority figures by going along.
“Prior to becoming Chief of my Infinite Future Branch,” Stephanie continued, “I was in the TABB Bureau of Investigation working with the secret contra-terror group. I interned at the TBI as a grad student and joined them after I earned my PhD seven years ago. Of course, that was a few years after the TBI finally won the war on religion-based terrorism, so I can’t take any personal credit for it. However, I had the opportunity to work intimately with some of the agents who were on the front lines of that war. Several of those ‘long-toothed barbas grises’ were my mentors in the TBI and still are.”
She looked deeply into my eyes. “People who don’t know the full story will tell you the ‘positive ID’ technology that deprived everybody of anonymity and privacy in exchange for security won that war. Largely true, but you don’t know the secret underside.”
She leaned forward and whispered, “The final nail in the coffin of religiosas terrorism was struck by secret techniques the TBI agents called ‘máquina del tiempo.’ These covert ‘time machine’ methods altered the past by covertly introducing subtle word changes into the scriptures of the religions whose belief in bombardeos del suicidio was encouraging young people to engage in terrorist acts. …”
I raised my eyebrows and interrupted. “Time machines? – Máquina del tiempo you call them? Don’t tell me the TBI covertly modified some of the ‘Holy Scriptures’ of Islam!” Stephanie’s head rotated up and down.
I sat bolt upright and spoke in a voice a bit too loud to be comfortable in a business office. “PARDON ME, but as an historian I’m committed to academic integrity. Historical documents should never be changed. I might add that as a cleric I will not condone any governmental or corporate interference with religion. Where did those ‘gray beards’ – ‘barbas grises’ you called them – where did they get the nerve? And you idolize them?”
“Jim, they saved millions of lives and cleared the clouds of terror that hung over western civilization for half a century. They ushered in the worldwide peace and prosperity of our ‘New Age of Confidence’ ...”
“PARDON ME Estephania!” I shouted, Latinizing her first name again to signify I had been introduced to a new personality. “Anyone who trades freedom for security deserves neither! Granted, religious scriptures are not the literal words of God, but where do you get the chutzpah to change historical texts that have survived unchanged for over a thousand years? …”
“Jim ... JIM! Please calm down. First of all, the whole máquina del tiempo aspect of the contra-terror project is still classified TBI-Secret. As one of the conditions of employment at TABB, you agreed to protect from public disclosure any secret information that might be revealed to you during your course of employment. Keep that in mind!”
“Yes madam, is this where I’m supposed to salute?”
“Diego, I’ll ignore that! The survival of human civilization is serious business – the Constitution and Bill of Rights are not a suicide pact. The Founders of the great American experiment in Democracy – which has spread worldwide in our lifetimes – wrote of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ in that exact order.”
Stephanie paused to let that sink in. Her use of my Latinized name "Diego" signified she had met a new, more challenging personality. I wanted to establish a good relationship before getting my new boss's boss more upset than necessary. I remained silent.
“Life comes first. The TBI preserved human lives! The damnable bombardeos del suicidio killed millions of totalmente innocent children, women, and men during the first decades of the 21st century. After life comes liberty, and only then pursuit of happiness.” I realized she was off on a lecture and I would have to listen. My eyes caressed her femininity and my imagination penetrated further. I adjusted my position to conceal my rising flag.
She went on, “In these peaceful and prosperous times some spoiled brats have it all backwards. They demand their own happiness be in first place. Then their liberty to do anything they please, no matter how it may offend others or put society at risk. Lastly, they put no value on life other than their own, and even that they abuse by self-destructive and risky behaviors.
“As for your objection to altering so-called ‘Holy Scriptures’ you know clerics and historians have a lurid record of doing just that in pursuit of their own agendas. As an historian you know ‘history is written by the victors.’ Is that not máquina del tiempo talk?”
I opened my mouth to speak but nodded instead.
“Jim, in your excelente book on the history of religious use of mind-altering drugs, which I enjoyed recently, you say proponents and opponents have each misrepresented the past history of drug use and abuse. Those you accurately accuse of manipulating the historical facts include historians and clerics and scientists and even, in your own admission in the epilogue of your book, yourself!
“As for the ‘Holy Scriptures,’ when I first heard the story of the Pharaoh’s daughter ‘finding’ baby Moses floating down the Nile, I thought to myself: ‘That’s what she says!’ What is it about scriptures that make them so God-damned sacrosanct? Surely you know the ‘Holy Trinity’ was interpolated into the First Epistle of John by some Latin scribe. At first, Erasmus rejected it because he couldn’t find it in any of the Greek manuscripts – until some ‘helpful’ monk back-translated it into a copy. It appeared in the Erasmus 1522 edition and even found its way into the King James Version of the Bible that religiosas Christians accept as the literal word of God.
“Just last week I had this locas conversación with a literal believer who works as an engineer – believe it or not – right here at TABB. This otherwise sane guy says the KJV, the King James Version of the Bible, is the Absolute Word of God! I asked him which version of the KJV, because it was revised several times over a hundred year period. Without batting an eye he said the 1611 version, the first one, edited – he sincerely believes – by none other than William Shakespeare in the flesh! All the other versions are suspect because the changes are the work of Satan, who corrupts political and religious leaders. His church uses photocopies of the 1611 version and refuses to even look at the e-texts, do you believe that?”
My mouth hung open. “How could TABB hire a religiosas locas literal believer? Unless it was like, like for a zoo exhibit! Are you serious this guy’s an engineer? Is he scientifically knowledgeable and technology-oriented? If so, the ability of the human mind to mislead itself is amazing!”
Stephanie grinned. “Even more amazing, you’ll be working with him on the Hawking Plan! He’s an expert in genetic engineering as well as artificial intelligence and electronic system stuff.”
I was too flabbergasted to reply. I still had no idea why she read me into the TBI-secret máquina del tiempo or why she thought the religion part was critical to the success of the Hawking Plan.
Stephanie’s face hardened a bit as she continued. “We shall marshal the capabilities of transnational corporations, TCs, to perform the research and technological developments necessary for the Hawking Plan. TABB has authorized funding for preparaciones iniciales.” She looked directly at me. “As un profesor de la Universidad, you may not know exactly how or why nation-states all but dissolved as governmental operations were outsourced to TCs.”
As an historian I was well aware of how TCs seized and currently held ultimate power in worldwide society – as well as the downside of that development – and how anonymity and privacy had been traded for security from terrorism and large-scale warfare. I was aware of the excesses of the TBI, which enforced what they called “free market, fair-play competition” and the “positive ID” society. However, she was not to be interrupted.
“The shift from nation-states to TCs,” she continued, “Started when nearly all local, state, and national government services were outsourced to management corporations, most of which were transnational. Of course, people still vote for officials in their political jurisdictions, but they are, in effect, voting for the managerial TC each candidate publicly designates as his or her sponsor.”
She smiled, turned sideways and lightly brushed her hair with her right hand. Pubicly, I said to myself, smiling. She paused, looked directly at me, and smiled back.
“Only a few jurisdictions have effectively direct elections of public officials,” she continued. “The Netherlands, the San Francisco Bay area, and parts of Sweden, Uruguay, and Afghanistan come to mind. Thus, TABB, working through TCs, has the authority to fund our Hawking Plan – this muy importante mission that benefits all.”
The RRD Head rotated up and down as she continued what appeared to be a rehearsed speech. I was amazed my new boss could show high interest in a speech he must have heard a million times.
“TCs effectively appoint nearly all officials at national, state, and local jurisdictions. You, Jim, are probably proud the TC-appointed President of China is Jewish. I don’t know how you feel about the Mayor of Tel Aviv being Japanese.”
I snapped to attention and smiled at the mention of my name and the Israeli issue and wondered if I was to be a token Jew.
“The judiciary,” Stephanie continued, “Is appointed by agreement of the executive and legislative branches. As both are under TC control, we effectively appoint the judiciary as well. The shift from nation-states to TCs has replaced large-scale military operations with economic competición. Of course TCs have grouped themselves into competing industry interest groups that lobby for especial benefits for their domain of the economy.”
I touched every curve of her body with my eyes. I hoped she would stand so I could get a better look. “This woman is a definite recruit for my autoerotic fantasies,” I thought to myself, though not in those exact words.
Stephanie droned on, “Some TCs are more prominent in some region: Africa, CentAsia, EastAsia, Europe, the MidEast, NortAmer, SoutAmer; or, some smaller sub-area such as the United States, Canada or México. A given TC will be a member of a diverse and interlocking group of TABB lobbying organizations, sometimes with conflicting priorities. The result has been a mostly happy compromise. The best policy for most TCs turned out to be strict auditing of their competición to assure proper payment of taxes as well as veracidad in advertising and adherence to contracts. Of course, ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’ so nearly all TCs favor ‘free market competition’ within ‘fair play’ rules that assure transparency.”
She stood up and strode smoothly towards me. I was embarrassed as a blush came over my face. I shifted position in my chair and rested my hands on my abdomen in a vain attempt to conceal my uncontrollable bodily reactions. She winked at me, candidly acknowledging what I was thinking.
“Public support is muy importante for TABB. People generally favor the new economic and political order, especialmente the elimination of taxes paid by individuals. TCs are each assessed based on their gross value added. Nearly all government programs are thus totalmente subject to TC financing and therefore TABB control.”
“Yes,” I joked, “The ‘Golden Rule’ – them that has the gold makes the rules!”
Stephanie acknowledged my joke with a wan grin and plowed on. ”TCs are basically unhindered in their competición for resources, employees, and customers so long as they submit to TABB audits, comply with contracts, and advertise fairly. As a result, stock values are quite stable, not varying by more than ten-percent a year …”
As Stephanie continued, I recalled the major changes taken for granted by the new transnational generation. For one thing, cash no longer existed except in museums. If your net worth was positive, the whole world was like a buffet. You could walk into any restaurant or store with your positive ID device and take what you wanted. It was charged to your account.
Global warming turned out to be the result of a natural cycle of solar activity and the Earth’s orbit and tilt that increased solar radiation at the poles, augmented by human over-production of greenhouse gases. Average temperatures and mean sea levels increased by about a half degree Celsius and a half-meter between 2001 and 2031. By 2052, temperatures and ocean levels had gone down to the 2021 ranges. They were expected to slowly decrease towards normal values.
This stabilization was due to: 1) Social effects of globalization that reduced reproductive rates below replacement levels, 2) Several genetic engineering disasters between 2020 and 2035 that killed tens of millions of people, 3) A nuclear exchange in the MidEast in 2021 that lead to a mini-“nuclear winter,” cutting average temperatures by five degrees for a year, and 4) A punitive tax on non-renewable carbon-based energy quadrupled costs and led to more efficient use of energy resources. Worldwide population in 2051 as compared to 2001 was halved and greenhouse gas production quartered.
Many of the world’s great coastal cities suffered a fate similar to that of New Orleans early in the century, losing large portions of their populations. Levees and dams proved no match for Mother Nature. She reclaimed millions of acres of formerly high-priced coastal real estate. Most rivers were no longer artificially restricted as human population centers accommodated to Nature rather than the reverse. Agriculture suffered in areas closer to the equator, but was enhanced in some regions formerly too cold or dry.
The oil sands and shale of western Canada and the US became the primary source of non-renewable, carbon-based energy for NortAmer, along with coal liquefaction in the eastern and western coal belts. This greatly reduced the power and influence of countries in the turbulent MidEast, while it increased the role of large transnational corporations. Hydrogen-fusion-based nuclear power plants were used to drive the refining processes.
Many new renewable energy sources were successfully employed: solar, waste biomass fuels, geothermal, wind, tides, waves, and electromagnetic. It turned out the best way to reduce carbon pollution was to tax it heavily and let old-fashioned economics drive industries to invent, perfect and voluntarily adopt carbon-free solutions that cut greenhouse gases.
It was no longer fashionable to have more than one or two children. A third of the population had no children at all. The inexpensive “petite purple pill” prevented or safely terminated pregnancy when taken monthly. The PP-Pill, as it was commonly called, also protected against nearly all forms of venereal diseases.
Safe abortion-on-demand was available at the free choice of the mother during the first trimester for any reason or no reason. For the second trimester, a doctor had to certify some “significant” reason, such as the physical or mental health of the mother, or some abnormality of the baby. Abortion was prohibited during the third trimester, unless at least two doctors certified the mother’s life was in serious jeopardy, or the baby was “abnormal,” using standardized genetic and health tests. These tests were routinely performed during the first month or two of gestation, so it was extremely rare for a seriously “abnormal” child to be brought to the third trimester.
Genetic engineering turned out to be a mixed blessing. Millions died as a result of gene-based pest control programs that went wrong. Billions of acres were contaminated and remained unpopulated. On the other hand, once the kinks were worked out, genetic engineering made it possible to extend human life almost indefinitely, unless a person was badly crushed or burned.
But, there was a point at which even medical miracles could not restore what was called “a standard normal quality of life.” In most jurisdictions, any person who fell below an internationally-recognized set of mental and physical standards was expected to “voluntarily” accept euthanasia. Those who refused to end their lives were restricted to palliative measures to control pain. Prior to that limitation, more than half the total medical care costs for the average person were incurred during the last year of their life.
Sewer systems were modernized to eliminate curbside pickup, incinerators, and landfills. Solid garbage was dumped in a “grinder” and flushed down the pipes to plants manned by “sanitary IRAs.” Metals and other solids were recovered. Virtually all industrial and household waste biomass became bio-diesel fuel. Hydrogen-fusion plants and renewable wind and water completed the “green” picture.
An economic boom was triggered by the rebuilding of many seaside cities under strict standards that prohibited most types of structures from being built below high sea level.
“Jim, JIM! Are you listening?” Stephanie shouted as she tapped me on the shoulder.
I looked up at her and said, a bit sheepishly, “Yes, can you be more specific about religion portion of the Hawking Plan?”
“En un momento,” she replied curtly. The RRD Head nodded up and down. I also nodded and told myself, “She sure likes to talk. I like watching her talk. Listening is another matter!”
“So, gentlemen, what is the Hawking Plan?” Stephanie asked rhetorically. The RRD Head and I sat straight up.
“Ah, finally,” I thought, “The antipasto is over, and the carne roja is here!”
“Stephen Hawking,” she said in a reverent tone, walking towards the electronic shrine in his honor, “The famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist who happens to be my great-grandfather, said, some fifty years ago, the human race will not survive on Earth for a thousand years. He wanted us to spread out, mas rapido, to Earth-like planets beyond our Solar System! He embraced human space travel!” As she said “Human space travel,” a video of Stephen Hawking floating in zero gravity appeared on the display wall.
She gazed at the video and smiled broadly. “Despite his physical limitations, my great-grandfather accepted an opportunity, in 2007, to fly in a special airplane that went to high altitudes and plunged to Earth to allow him to experience zero gravity en persona! Unfortunately, by the time he passed away, human space travel had all but ceased, in favor of space probes ‘manned’ by robot IRAs.
“He warned a natural disaster or human-made accident could wipe life out on a single planet. He was concerned about global warming or nuclear catastrophe, and, especialmente, genetic engineering that might go wrong. As you are well aware, there have been several genetic engineering disasters, but they were contained at the last minute. In fact, genetic engineering has solved the problem of world hunger almost completely …”
“You can credit genetic engineering,” I interrupted, “For solving world hunger with disasters that killed millions of people and that favored social policies that discouraged indiscriminate breeding!”
“I agree,” replied Stephanie, grudgingly, “However, in return for the lives lost to genetic engineering, it is now commonplace to use genetically modified stem cells to regenerate organs, cure blood diseases, and repair broken bones using cells that perfectly match the recipient, because they are their own. Nearly everyone has their genome sequenced for susceptibility to genetic diseases so they can be treated early before serious symptoms set in.
“Use of embryonic stem cells was controversial because the main source was aborted babies. However, it turned out stem cells harvested from amniotic fluid and placentas were superior due to their greater availability and variety, as well as lack of ethical overtones. Even skin cells can be tricked into reverting to the stem cell stage. They are used in the manufacture of miracle genetic drugs. They perfectly match the recipients and have extended meaningful life for millions of people. Nanobots are regularly injected into the bloodstream to dispense these drugs exactly where needed. These tiny robots perform housekeeping duties such as clearing plaques and other obstructions from veins, arteries, and the digestive system.”
She returned to her reclining chair and moved her hand onto her codip. Animated charts appeared on the display wall behind her. “My Hawking Plan calls for nothing less than a massive effort to spread human civilization and genes far and wide throughout space. We’re talking about thousands of spaceships launched over a period of hundreds of years, starting no more than twenty years from today.”
As she spoke, a high-resolution satellite image of the TABB building in Orlando appeared on the display wall. Slowly the view zoomed out and all of the greater Orlando area filled the display screen. The view expanded to Florida and eastern NortAmer, and then the entire Earth. A label appeared:
Mother Earth – Our Big Blue-Green Marble.
The image zoomed out further and faster to contain Venus and Mars, and then our Sun and Solar System. A label appeared:
Our Solar System – Our Planet Neighborhood.
The zoom-out ceased when our galaxy filled the screen. A label appeared: Our Galaxy – The Milky Way. The view shifted a few degrees and slowly started to zoom in on what, at first, seemed to be a single star. A label appeared:
Alpha Centauri – Our Nearest Neighbor Solar System. (Only Four and a Third Light Years Away).
As it zoomed in further Alpha Centuri morphed into two stars, one quite bright and the other a duller, reddish neighbor. Further zooming split the bright star in two, one whitish-yellow, and the other yellowish orange. Those two large stars, together with the tiny reddish one, made for a dramatic triple star-system.
The zoom-in slowed a bit and more detailed labels appeared. According to the text, the largest star was:
Centauri A – A Bit Larger and Brighter than Earth’s Sun.
It was in a binary partnership with:
Centauri B – A Bit Smaller and Duller than Earth’s Sun.
The smallest star was:
Proxima Centauri – A Red Dwarf.
The view panned between the three stars and then slowly zoomed in on Centauri A, showing a number of planets.
The zoom descended towards the fourth planet out from Centauri A – a “big blue-brown marble.” A label proclaimed:
Planet Hawking – Fourth Planet Out from Centauri A. (First Target for Extra-Solar Colonization).
A peninsula, similar to Florida, jutted out into the ocean. The zooming concluded with a satellite-like view of an area near the coastline. Inland were the foothills and a chain of lakes. A river flowed from the largest lake towards the ocean. The land was bare – no grass or trees – mostly brown, with some large areas of gray and black. The view morphed into a “live” video image.
As it panned towards the ground, a large hangar-like structure came into view. It was parked on a promontory between the river bank and the ocean beach. The hangar was surrounded by a park-like area of grass, bushes, and trees. Further zoom-in revealed the words:
TABB, Hawking 0001 (First Extra Solar System Human Colony, circa 2100).
The Hawking Plan logo, a stylized DNA molecule, was visible on the side of the hangar. Behind it could be seen a bright-yellow Sun, labeled: Centauri A. In the distance, lower in the sky and to the left, a second and duller-yellow-orange Sun, quite a bit smaller, was labeled: Centauri B. Far to the right and low in the sky a sharp-eyed observer could see a dull red Sun labeled: Proxima Centauri.
“The first step,” Stephanie continued, “Will be to use our authorized funding for internal studies augmented by ongoing TABB-funded universidad research. We need to define the parameters of human travel over awesome distances and extended times to reach well outside our Solar System. We must use our imaginations to their utmost limits to figure the best alternatives for spreading human genetics and civilization. Do we send living people, perhaps in suspended animation? Or, will it be frozen embryos to be thawed, gestated in artificial wombs, and raised and properly socialized by robot nannies? What about plants and animals? Not since Noah’s Ark has there been a task as far-reaching as our Hawking Plan.”
I listened in awe of her energy, enthusiasm, and unbounded optimism. I was still not convinced the religion part was important. However, I assumed she would get to that issue sooner or later.
Stephanie flipped to a schedule chart and stood up. All this programmatic detail was of little interest to me, and I found myself daydreaming that she would “orbit” closer to my “star system.”
“Excuse me, Stephanie,” I said, “While I’m not an astronomer, I do try to keep up with the latest news in science. I don’t believe any planets have been detected orbiting the three stars in the Alpha Centuri system. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the closest planetary system detected so far is about forty light years away, not four.”
“You are correct,” she replied, a bit sharply, “A planetary system of a star called 55 Cancri, forty-one light years away, has been detected, but the fourth planet out, in the zone where water may be in liquid form, is a gas giant, far larger than Earth, and not suitable for colonization. My animation is a marketing tool, not intended to be totally accurate. Science cannot yet detect smaller, Earth-sized planets orbiting remote stars. I believe there may well be an Earth-like planet in the Alpha Centuri system. It’s the closest and I’m optimistic.”
“There are a couple dozen other stars between four and twelve light years away,” said the RRD Head, trying to be helpful. “If the Alpha Centuri system lacks an Earth-like planet, one or more of them may be suitable. We know several have planets, for example, the tenth closest star, Epsilon Eridani.”
Stephanie looked towards him, and, for the first time shot a smile in his direction, then turned to her schedule chart and droned on, “Here is our roadmap.” With this muy caliente woman doing the presentation, I was happy to watch. The chart indicated launches would start in 2060, at one per year, increase to ten per year by 2100, and as many as 100 per year by 2200. She bent over and pointed to various parts of her chart. I heard hardly a word. Her body was a symphony and it was playing on my favorite organ.
“After TABB approval of major funding,” she continued, “Concept Development and Initial Test Launches to Earth and Mars destinations will go forward through 2075. Production launches to Alpha Centauri will start in 2075 and Advanced Launches, beyond our Milky Way galaxy, will extend out to the year 2200, when I will be about one-hundred seventy-five years old!” Stephanie laughed energetically at that joke and the RRD Head and I joined in. “Jim, how old was Moses when he led his people to the Promised Land?”
“Moses was one-hundred twenty years old, when the Lord allowed him to view the Promised Land from the nearby mountains of Moab. However, he passed away before his people entered the land.”
“Bummer!” replied Stephanie. “Of course, that was well before medical nanobots and stem cells!”
The road map zoomed in on the Concept Development and Initial Test Launch Phase, from 2052 through 2075. “By next month, February 2052,” she continued, “We will issue a ‘Request for Information’ to all TCs who may wish to participate with products or services. This information will be compiled and analyzed by you gentlemen and the rest of my staff and will be incorporated into formal ‘Request for Proposal’ documentation.
“Within five months, by July, I want us to be ready to formally request approval from the TABB Planning Board to go from the Planning Phase to the Conceptual Study Phase of Research and Development. We will give funded Conceptual Study Contracts to a number of well-qualified TCs, representing diverse geographic and technological areas of expertise. These Study Contracts will run for two to five years. However, after a year or two of study, I believe we will be in a position to go back to the TABB Planning Board for approval of some specific Development Phase Contracts for the spaceships, the human life support mechanisms, and so on.”
I was still wondering where religion came in. However, taking my cue from my new boss, the RRD Head, I held my tongue. Stephanie sat down and frowned briefly. “I expect the main oposición to my plan to come from the anal conservadores fiscales in the TABB bureaucracy, led by a Mongol miscreant named Tsar Sahbaka.
"There are also some TCs who oppose any public spending not directly driven by market forces.
"My allies will be the TABB scientific and technological community who will benefit from the production contracts for the spaceships, human life-support systems, and more. The scientific community is satisfied with space exploration using IRAs, but I am totalmente confidente they’ll enthusiastically go along with any project that directs funding to science and technology.”
“Stephanie,” I interrupted, “I’m still not sure how the religion part fits in, and why is it so important? Do you expect oposición from the religiosas locas? Those nut cakes have no power! With the decline in true believers, even among the clergy like me, they are neither well organized nor radicalized anymore. Why stir up a hornet’s nest?"
“Jim,” said Stephanie, slowly and deliberately, “If my mentors at the TBI learned anything from the decades it took for their contra-terror program to control religion-based terrorism, it is the awesome risk posed by the ‘God delusion.’ It lies dangerously close to the surface in every human being, no matter how strongly they profess to be non-believers.
"When the ‘jungle drums’ start beating, our emotions take over, fe drives razón out the window, and we are all in danger of becoming jihadists for one faith or another! Religioso becomes locas before you can bat an eye. All human brains are wired to feel part of something greater than any individual one of us. We gain pleasure when we give of ourselves to some grand purpose. For example, I am devoted to the Hawking Plan and intend to get popular opinion behind the great objective of saving human life and civilization for the infinite future. In the ultimate battle for public opinion, all other faith-based beliefs are in potential opposition to mine.
“I am concerned the conservadores fiscales, who oppose progressive TABB policies, will ally themselves with the religioso remnants, and, together, constitute a real threat to the Hawking Plan. We must pre-empt that threat! As a rabbi, you can use your title and knowledge to beat the drum for the Hawking Plan in religious circles.”
I sat silently, worried about what I had signed up for.
Stephanie went on, “Jim, I’m not familiar with the historical veracidad of the Hebrew Scriptures. Are any are word-for-word the same as the originals? I’ve heard even the Ten Commandments, for goodness sake, are different in the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions. Are the Jewish scriptures we have in hand now, the so-called Books of Moses, actually true to Moses’s words, Jim?”
“Well, Stephanie,” I began with a smirk on my face, “According to Genesis, the first book of Moses, in the beginning there was nothing, and God said ‘Let there be light.’ At that point there was still nothing, but you could see it a lot better!”
The RRD Head laughed at the joke, but Stephanie hardly cracked a smile.
I quickly lost the smirk. I cleared my throat and continued in a more professorial demeanor. “I doubt Moses actually wrote the first five books of our Hebrew Bible in his own hand. Particularly not the last verses of Deuteronomy in which his own death is recounted!”
“Not Deuteronomy,” interrupted Stephanie, “Isn’t it Exodus?”
“Yes … yes, of course,” I stammered, my face red with shame, “The last verses of Exodus recount Moses’ death.”
“I’m sorry Jim,” interrupted the RRD Head, “Moses’s death is recounted in Deuteronomy 34, the last chapter of that book. I’m afraid you were correct in the first place.”
“Of course, you are right,” I said, my voice trembling, “I should have known better. Yes, I can quote it by heart. Deuteronomy 34:7: 'And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.'”
“Jim … JIM,” shouted Stephanie, shooting a glaring frown towards the RRD Head, “Let us focus on my original question, about the historical veracidad of the Hebrew Scriptures.”
“We religious historians believe,” I continued, trying to regain my intellectual balance, “There were a few different versions of our scriptures transmitted by a combination of oral and written documents dating from the time of Moses, between the twelfth and fifteenth century BC. When the Jewish exiles to Babylonia were returned to the Holy Land in the fifth century BC, courtesy of the King of Persia, our scribe Ezra struggled with at least two and probably three or four different written versions, dating from at least the tenth century BC. He regarded all of them as sacred, and combined them to form a single scripture.
"For example, in our Hebrew Bible the Creation fable is told two ways: once with the lower animals created first then with humans created first.
"The story of the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moses is told three times in our Bible. The Ethical Decalogue – the version most of us are familiar with – appears in similar but not exact form in Exodus and Deuteronomy. However, in a later portion of Exodus the story is told with a mostly different set of Commandments, called the Ritual Decalogue.”
Stephanie turned her gaze from me to the shrine to her great-grandfather. Worried I had lost my audience, I decided to cut my exposition short. “So, to get to the bottom line,” I concluded, “The Books of Moses we have today are not the literal words of Moses nor what we used during the period of our Kings or our Prophets. Our tradition teaches that the version of the Bible we have in Hebrew today is virtually word-for-word identical to the one Ezra compiled in the year 444 BC. I personally believe that part of our tradition is true.”
She looked back at me and smiled. So I went on.
“We have a strong prohibition,” I continued, “Against making any changes to the Hebrew text, even to correct obvious typographical errors due to inadvertent copying mistakes by the scribes. For example, there’s one place where our patriarch Jacob’s name is spelled wrong. In English, it would be like putting in an extra ‘C’ making it ‘JACCOB.’ Well, if you look at the Hebrew text – even in the modern e-texts – you’ll find the extra Hebrew letter in Jacob’s name, and then in parenthesis, the ‘correct’ spelling. In English it would be like ‘JACCOB (JACOB)’.”
“OK,” said Stephanie, “Please go on if you have more to say”
“Changes are prohibited because God, in effect, held Moses’s hand as he made the typo! Our rabbis and scholars have interpreted copying mistakes like these and what appear to be contradictions as secret messages to believers from God. Of course, in my opinion, it is all finely sliced baloney!”
“Jim, I’ve wondered about the ‘Septuagint’ translation from Hebrew to Greek. There’s a legend about a miracle?”
“Yes, Stephanie, the Septuagint was translated from Hebrew to Greek for the famous library at Alexandria Egypt around 285 BC. Our Jewish historian Philo, who lived in Alexandria and was born about thirty years before Jesus, comments positively about the Septuagint. The legend is that some seventy-two translators worked for seventy-two days, each in a separate cell. By a ‘miracle,’ all their translations turned out to be identical, every word and sentence and jot and tittle the same. Of course all this is more finely sliced baloney except for the fact of the translation and the approximate year.”
“You don’t think seventy-two scholars working independently could come up with the exact same translation? If they did though, you would count that as a miracle?”
I grinned broadly. “If seventy-two scholars working together, all agreed on the translation, that would be a miracle!”
The RRD Head began to laugh but arrested it at the broad-smile stage, and just as quickly doused that. Stephanie greeted that joke with a bland smile and continued, “Thank you Jim. OK, now that that’s settled, let’s get back to the purpose of this meeting.
“Your assignment, Jim, is to find passages in all major religious scriptures that predict or favor extra-terrestrial expansion of the human race. If necessary, you are authorized to modify the e-texts used for day-to-day religious services. For example: Genesis 22:17: '…I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven …' Could be read as: Genesis 22:17: '…I will multiply thy seed upon the stars of the heaven …' Be quite careful to make the changes subtle, but be sure the message is crystal clear: It is God’s plan for humans to populate the entire Universe by any means necessary.”
“With respect, Dr. Goldenrod ...” I began as I finally started to understand the scope of the task she had assigned me.
“I asked you to call me Stephanie, Jim,” she interrupted curtly.
“OK ... Stephanie. Regardless of what you and I think, the believers believe their ‘Holy Scriptures’ are the literal words of their Gods. They’ll notice changes and verify them by reference to hard-copy sources. For example, some Jews still know how to read directly from our Torah scrolls. Some Christians, as you have mentioned, make a point of reading directly from photocopies of the original version of the King James Bible. True believers among the Muslims, Hindus, Confucians, and so on do the same...”
“Jim ... JIM!” interrupted Stephanie, “If the religiosas locas don’t use the e-texts, they won’t notice the changes! Will they?”
“Perhaps not. Not the really dedicated ones. You have a point there. However, there’s the problem of the scholars – religious historians like me. We may not believe the scriptures were written by God; but our commitment to academic integrity is quite solid. We’ll notice any changes and verify them by reference to originals, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also ...”
Stephanie pounded her codip. “Integridad Académica!” she shouted. “You scholars have no fe in God but all the fe in the world in human razón and Integridad Académica. That is your religiosas locas! Climb down from the ivory tower and join the real world!”
“I am in the real world,” I insisted.
“Fix it! Diego! Fix the real world! The Hawking Plan will save the real world! God-damn Integridad Académica! You are authorized to alter the e-photos of the originals of every God-damned so-called ‘Holy Scripture’ you think necessary, with the help of the TBI Cryptographic Bureau. When required, make the same changes to the actual relics stored in museums.”
I was too flustered to speak. In fact, I was so confused for a moment I no longer enjoyed looking at Stephanie.
“On the TBI contra-terror project,” she continued, “Our máquina del tiempo, a TBI agent encouraged some obscure Imam to expose one of the changes. The TBI had a Muslim Committee of Scholars investigate and prove, by reference to the hard copies and museum relics they had also modified, the cleric was ‘mistaken’.”
I objected again. “But, madam, surely other traditional clerics came forth to support the Imam ...”
“They were all old men with ‘memorias culpables.’ They were hallucinating, a common malady of religiosas locas! The TBI contra-terror agents spread the story that Imams themselves were making changes to the printed copies of their so-called ‘Holy Books’ to make it appear the e-texts and photos and relic hard copies had been modified. Even today, some radical churches, mosques, temples and synagogues are the last vestiges of oposición to corporate governance, plotting against TABB, etc., etc. I leave the details to you.”
Stephanie turned away and spoke into her scepter, a pen-like device carried by sixteen-hundred high TABB officers to document secret programs and authorize extra-legal activities. “Reference the Hawking Plan. RRD is onboard and O'Brian is authorized ...”
As she continued to document the task to her scepter, I looked to my right and met the gaze of the Head of the RRD. He gave me a big smile and an enthusiastic thumbs-up! That helped me regain my intellectual and emotional footing. I decided to go with the flow and give respect to proper authority – at least for my first week at TABB.
Stephanie rose from her seat and approached us. My libido returned and, once more, I appreciated how muy totalmente atlético y caliente she was. I pointed to the wall to my left.
“Stephanie, I’ve been watching your celi. It’s quite a ‘living’ shrine to your great-grandfather.”
The celi, short for “celebration of life,” was a common electronic appliance. At the center of the celi was an aromarama, a fog machine that produced an aromatic ball of mist into which lasers projected a three-dimensional animated talking head, in this case modeled after Stephen Hawking. The celi stored and displayed audio and video recordings of Hawking as well as all of his writings. As a user option, the speech could be in any major language and in the easier to understand male or female “anunciador de radio” voice.
The celi monitored conversations in the area and determined the main topic of discussion. It then searched for applicable audio, video, or writing clips. The celi could be set to operate automatically, in which case “Hawking” would speak up whenever there was a pause in the conversation and he had something to say on the topic, or in question and answer mode in which case he would respond only to direct questions. Behind the aromarama was a display wall that showed videos, still photos, and text displays coordinated with the talking head.
“Thanks Jim,” replied Stephanie. “I was an infant when we met en persona. His ability to speak was gone and mine was yet to develop.” A tear formed in her left eye. She paused, let it trickle down, and wiped it away. “Now, I speak to him every morning when I come in, and every evening before I leave. He is my oracle.” As she spoke, the display wall behind the celi showed a photo of a very old, bedridden Stephen Hawking with a bawling infant lying on his chest.
“Look,” I said, “Is that a photo of you the time you met him?”
“Yes, my dear grandmother left that photo to me.”
I scratched my head and hesitantly spoke up. “You said you hired me because of my tendency to ‘speak truth to power’?”
She nodded her head. Her lips tightened a bit.
“Well, as you know, I’m an historian. If I’m not mistaken, Stephen Hawking passed away a few years before you were born.”
She thought for a moment and replied, “You are probably right, Jim. We can check the celi – it has all the information about my great grandfather. Most likely, that image has been photo shopped.”
“But Stephanie,” I asked, “If it’s photo shopped, why didn’t they use a smiling photo of you as an infant?”
“My dear old grandmother probably thought an unhappy baby would add to the veracidad!” She looked at the photo more closely. “Perhaps that’s why I hate crying babies so much. I really have a phobia about anyone who can’t control their emotions, even infants.”
“You know Stephanie, there’s a classic story about a Chasidic Rebbe who supposedly could climb a ladder and ‘see all the way into the future.’ Someone asked him, if he had this magical power, why he needed the ladder. He replied he could see the future while standing on the ground, but the ladder made it more impressive!”
Stephanie hardly acknowledged my story. Instead, she stared intently at the Hawking head in the celi.
“You see, the Rebbe’s ladder added to the veracidad ...”
“Did you notice?” Stephanie interrupted, “How ardently he followed our discussion? Alte-zeide Stephen had something to say about nearly every topic we raised!”
“Alte-zeide – that’s Yiddish. Are you Jewish too?”
Stephanie stiffened a bit. “Jim,” she said quietly, “You know how the old saying goes '…Things are seldom what they seem.'”
I smiled. “That’s from W.S. Gilbert’s HMS Pinafore! It continues '… Skim milk masquerades as cream. 'In grade school we had to memorize all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas – an effort by Anglophiles to stem the tide of Inglañol! That was a lost cause, wasn’t it? In any case, members of our generation have their heads full of wonderful English patter.”
She tapped her forehead and said, “My great-grandfather had to memorize Shakespeare, so we had it pretty good. It continues, '… Pretty girls are often cold. / All that glitters is not gold.'”
I recognized an error in the last quote from Pinafore. I was about to say something when the Hawking head in the aromarama became animated. It spoke through our ear pods in that distinctive synthesized voice Hawking was forced to use due to his lifelong battle with motor neuron disease. His words were on the display wall:
There was a young lady of Wight / Who traveled much faster than light / She departed one day / In a relative way / And arrived on the previous night.
Stephanie smiled. “Great-grandpa Stephen included limericks in his writings.” The Hawking head continued:
So all we need for time travel is a spaceship that will go faster than light. Unfortunately, Einstein showed that the rocket power needed to accelerate a spaceship got greater and greater the nearer it got to the speed of light. So it would take an infinite amount of power to accelerate past the speed of light. … So writers of science fiction had to look for ways to get round this difficulty. In his 1915 paper, Einstein showed that the effects of gravity could be described by supposing that space-time is warped or distorted by the matter and energy in it. We can actually observe this warping of space-time, produced by the mass of the Sun, in the slight bending of light or radio waves, passing close to the Sun…
Stephanie interrupted the Hawking head. “He does go on sometimes,” she said, laughing. “My great-grandfather was probably triggered by our talk of máquina del tiempo. Of course, he doesn’t know we were talking about a totalmente different concept of ‘time machine’. We were talking about the warped minds of the religiosas locas rather than the warping of space-time. We were talking about playing ‘time machine’ with the supposed words of God and …”
The Hawking head interrupted her:
God might have created such a warped universe, but we have no reason to think that He did. All the evidence is that the universe started out in the Big Bang without the kind of warping needed to allow travel into the past. Since we can't change the way the universe began, the question of whether time travel is possible is one of whether we can subsequently make space-time so warped, that one can go back to the past. I think this is an important subject for research, but one has to be careful not to be labeled a crank.
Stephanie used the codip by the celi to quiet the Hawing head. I took the opportunity to press for an answer to my question. “Excuse me, Estephania, are you avoiding my question? Are you Jewish?”
“All right,” she said condescendingly. “My mom’s mother was Jewish. That’s why mom called my great-grandfather Alte-zeide Stephen. I guess that makes me one-quarter Jewish?”
“Well, maybe biologically one-quarter.” I smiled. “But, according to Jewish law, Judaism is inherited exclusively through the female line. So, if your grandmother was Jewish, and neither your mother nor you renounced your Judaism for another religion, you are one-hundred percent Jewish. Felicitaciones! …and mazel tov! I might add. By the way, I am also a biological mish-mash. My father, as you can tell by my name, was British. He claimed to be an Irish Catholic but his background was British Protestant. My mother was Jewish ...”
“Thanks for the information, Jim, but I never acknowledged nor did I renounce any religion.”
With that, Stephanie shook hands with the RRD Head. She then, quite unexpectedly, gave me a full body hug – one that was much too tight and lasted at least ten seconds too long. Her well-toned left leg was pressed between mine, and, as she held me tightly, she did a bit of a hula with her hip in my crotch. “Welcome aboard Jim! You will be a wonderful addition to my IFB. I look forward to a very satisfying ‘infinite future’ with you!” She released me, nodded, and the meeting was over.
When well clear of the top floor of the TABB building, the RRD Head said: “The Queen Bee likes you – felicitaciones and mazel tov on the lambada hug. I’ve never seen her give a ‘dance of love’ squeeze on an initial meeting. You are definitely on your way up!”
“Way up!” I said, pointing to my pants, “Sh’ma Yisra’el ...”
“I know that’s an important Hebrew prayer,” observed the RRD Head, “How would you translate it?”
"We say the Sh’ma twice at every religious service and we’re supposed to say it just before our airplane crashes! It goes Sh’ma Yisra’el, Adonoi Eloheynu, Adonoi Echod and it means ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God! The LORD is One!’"
The RRD Head rotated left and right. “The translation I’ve heard is ‘Listen, O Israel! The Eternal is our God – the Eternal ALONE.’ An old rabbi explained it to me, ‘One’ is a number, and admits the possibility of ‘Two Gods’ or ‘Three Gods’ or more. ‘Alone’ admits of no such possibility.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that translation. Not exactly literal, but OK. My eyes suddenly lit up. “I just thought of a better one! ‘Understand, O Israel! Our God is Eternal - Eternal and UNIVERSAL.’ Not quite literal, but I’ll bet we can make it the accepted interpretation, you know, to promote human space travel through the whole universe.”
He nodded up and down. “Nolo problemo and Halleluyah!”
I had another inspiration. “’Allah-Ulyah’ becomes ’Allah is UNIVERSAL,’ according to the new religious order. ‘La Ilaha Ila Allah.’ traditionally mistranslated as ‘There is no God but Allah’ becomes ‘There is no God but the UNIVERSE.’ ‘Allahu Akbar’ traditionally ‘Allah is Great’ is now ‘The UNIVERSE is great.’”
The RRD Head smiled. “Excelente! Stephanie has authorized modo contrario for your PID as necessary during this caper.”
“I know a PID is a Personal ID device everyone carries. Mine is in my wedding ring. But, what the heck is PID modo contrario? That would be ‘countermode’ in Standard English, right?”
“Correct! Nearly everyone ‘voluntarily’ carries a PID. Yours is in a piece of jewelry, some are integrated into ear pods, and I’ve chosen to have mine implanted under the skin of my shoulder.”
“Right, but can you get more specific about modo contrario?”
“Nolo problemo,” replied the RRD Head, “Despite oposición from ‘privacy’ advocates, PIDs are a necessity of modern life, serving as universal credit cards, driver’s licenses, gate passes, and keys to the office, home, auto, and so on. They positively ID cell phone callers, text-messagers, and web-surfers. They leave minute-by-minute tracks of where you’ve been in public places, and when. “That can be ‘inconvenient,’ let us say, if you are performing some TABB-sanctioned activity that would be embarrassing if it became public. Modo contrario is a system enabled by a scepter-holder that deletes PID records for the designated person, and substitutes a false set of PID locations. I hasten to add modo contrario is TBI-Secret. You must not disclose it to anyone without an official ‘need to know’.”
“Sounds neat, but why would I need modo contrario for my work on the religion portion of the Hawking Plan?” I asked.
“Well, you may visit various clerics or TC and government officials and they might not want to have their involvement with the Hawking Plan or TABB made public. That kind of thing.”
The wide coverage of the WIN (Worldwide Information Network – successor to the World Wide Web) made PIDs practical, starting about 2015. By 2025, most “privacy” advocates “got over their support for a lost cause,” as PID proponents proclaimed it to be.
PID readers were endemic in public places. They consisted of a video camera, a proximity detector, biometric sniffers, and a transponder that queried PIDs that came into range. The PID response data was analyzed and uploaded for comparison to the data and photos stored in official records. If there wasn’t a positive match, an alert was generated for local law enforcement. The TBI, responsible for prosecution of stolen or counterfeit PIDs, was also alerted.
Records of PID readings were public information, accessible for a substantial fee to anyone in near real-time. Thus anyone willing to pay the fee could locate anyone else who was now or ever had been in a public place. Of course, when anyone queried someone else’s PID record that was also public information. The person whose PID records were requested received an alert, giving them the name and city of the person who issued the query. If the subject desired more information about who was tracking them, they could, for a fee, obtain it.
TABB-selected public officials who carried scepters sarcastically called themselves the ‘700 club’ although it was public knowledge there were sixteen-hundred of them. The RRD Head explained to me that they had the authority to grant PID modo contrario to conceal official TABB activities. Scepters were proportionally allocated to geographic areas, language and ethnic groups, and both genders. The sixteen-hundred were awarded with great care by majority vote of all scepter-holders following a full investigation of the candidate by the TBI. For a person to get a scepter a current holder had to “voluntarily” relinquish it or die or retire from a job that required a scepter... or get “exploded.”
The term “explosion” came from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Utopia Limited, about an idyllic South-Seas island. Utopia was governed by King Paramount, in theory an absolute despot but in fact quite constrained. A government official, called the “Public Exploder,” followed the King around with a stick of dynamite and a match, always willing – even eager – to blow him to smithereens. However, the Public Exploder was sworn to do his duty only if two other government officials, called the “Wise Men,” agreed with each other that the time had come to terminate the King. Of course, the overly intellectual and fuzzy-brained Wise Men never agreed with each other, so the King was safe, or nearly so. This critical balance of power had resulted in a well-governed Utopia. That is, until British government “experts” were brought in to “reform” the system in accordance with more “civilized” customs. But, that is another story.
Some oddballs turned their PIDs off, which was quite legal. But, it was also darned inconvenient. Without a PID, they couldn’t buy or sell anything. There was no cash economy to speak of. It was also futile, since they could usually be tracked even without their PIDs. When the video camera of a PID reader sensed a person without a functioning PID it denoted them a “person of interest,” stored a public record of their image and biometrics, and notified local police.
The public records of persons of interest could be queried, for a substantial fee, by anyone who provided a photo of their face and an approximate location and time. Thus, an investigator could piece together successive public records and potentially track them. Compiled tracks were available from “seek and track” TCs that specialized in creating time tracks of persons of interest.
The almost universal use of PIDs was what finally broke the back of terrorism. It also put an end to most common criminal activity as well as a good deal of infidelity. Sophisticated TBI software tracked and traced purchases of products and substances that could be used for explosives, illegal weapons, and criminal activities. They also tapped into all PID cell phone and text-message communications and “gisted” them for key words denoting criminal plans.
The cloning and counterfeiting of PIDs and the hacking of TC and TBI computer networks had been reduced to nuisance levels. A stolen PID was of little value since it was detected when the user’s biometrics failed to match the stored biometrics of the rightful owner. High levels of encryption, using a sophisticated Public Key Infrastructure, restricted counterfeit PIDs to the domain of extremely high-tech terrorists and criminal organizations.
The TBI instituted a stringent procedure that mandated each agency or TC to require a client to separately prove his or her identity and give biometric samples, including DNA, to open an account. These data were stored in the computer system of that agency or TC. The TBI periodically accessed all records associated with a given PID and compared them to each other. If they did not match within reasonable limits, that triggered an investigation.
I followed the RRD Head into his office and closed the door. “What else can you tell me about Stephanie?” I asked.
“What do you need to know?” he asked, a grin on his face.
“Well, when I stopped by last week to finish my employment formalities, a woman in Human Resources took me aside. HR has reports she’s sexually aggressive and in a loveless marriage with her husband. They say he’s her merkin. She exploits her sexuality to get her way with subordinates and management. Her sexual favors …”
“So, do you find her sexually attractive?”
“Muy caliente! Forma perfecta y totalmente atlético. She’ll be the star of my autoerotic pleasures forever. That tight hug with her left leg and hula hip pressed against me is engraved in my memory. I liked the way you called it the lambada, the dance of love.”
“That’s a normal reaction, Jim. Don’t be worried about it.”
“A couple times during her lectures in there I had to shift to conceal my arousal. She winked at me as if she knew what I was thinking and was enjoying her power over me! For goodness sake, I’m a happily married man with two young children …”
“Don’t worry about it. She’s just a ‘lemon tree’ woman. 'Lemon tree is very pretty / And the lemon flower is sweet. / But the fruit of the lemon / is impossible to eat.' Enjoy her beauty and pheromones, but don’t eat her sour fruit. She’s lovely to look at and obsess about but you don’t want her for a wife – or a lover either!”
“Sounds like ‘sour grapes’ to me,” I joked.
“Probably correct,” the RRD Head answered, frowning, “I’ve worked for her for two years and am yet to get my first hug.”