Chapter 1 - My First Day

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I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years.
Unless we spread into space.
There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.
But I'm an optimist.
We will reach out to the stars.

[Stephen Hawking, Physicist and Cosmologist, 2001]

A brilliant diamond, deeply flawed. A muy caliente “lemon tree,” a mission-driven “T woman,” an amoral schemer, a lover of rough sex, an accomplished street fighter, a devoted mother. I'm obsessed by her endless facets. They sparkle brightly. They sting like a death-ray.

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 sometimes derisively called Gringoñal.

She was the youngest Branch Chief in the history of 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 minor 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 a level of 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’ll 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 standardized tests to be intelligent at the average human level. “Jim, meet VI and XI. 'VI,' for ‘Vast Intelligence,’ is my office manager, authorized to make financial decisions for me. 'XI,' for ‘Xtra Intelligence’, is my personal secretary.”

XI had nearly androgynous male features. He looked me up and down before walking over to shake my hand. “Pleased to meet you Mr. James O’Brian,” he said. “You’ll hear from me when Dr. Goldenrod needs you for a meeting.”

VI was clearly female, but no competition for Stephanie in that department. She nodded and looked down her nose at me. “I’ll be managing your budget Mr. James O’Brian. Please 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 look forward to working with both of you on this Hawking Plan. I’m not quite sure what my exact role will be or even what the Hawking Plan is, but I expect we will get along as colleagues. I had some excellent IRAs as research assistants at Google University. They had very 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 mine followed suit. I began to reply but Stephanie cut me off.

“Never-the-less,” she went on with great emphasis, increasing the pressure on my shoulder as she spoke, “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 and 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, famous paintings and classic statues.

She turned towards us, grasped the top of her chair, and bowed slightly, revealing her ample, but by no means excessive, cleavage. She pointed towards her 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 Chief of the Infinite Future Branch of TABB, I’m in the perfect position to do so.”

After I was quite sure she had finished speaking, I replied in my most modest voice. “Thank you for hiring me Stephanie, y gracias por su confianza.”

She sat in her reclining chair and invited me and the RRD Head to use chairs near hers. We each had our own 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 the ear pods each of us wore. They allowed us to participate in cell phone-like conversations and send and receive audio input or commands to and from various electronic devices. The ear pods were powered by our human 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 people like you. You know, a person educated beyond their intelligence!”

I shifted anxiously in my seat.

Stephanie smiled, turned sideways in her chair revealing her curves, and continued, “I know you have advanced degrees from the famous Wal-Mart School at McDonalds University. Despite that, I don’t think you are over-educated. Our conversación indicated considerable 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, in addition to being un profesor. 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 from left to right, trying to dismiss the machismo-arousing thoughts flooding my brain. 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 religious believers content to let God worry about the long-term survival of humanity on Earth.”

The RRD Head nodded up and down and mine followed suit. 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. As a grad student I interned at the TBI 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 and went on, “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 religion-based terrorism was struck by certain 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 men and women 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 hundreds if not thousands of years? …”

Stephanie let me blow off steam before she replied. “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!”

I gritted my teeth. “Yes madam, is this where I’m supposed to salute?”

Diego, I’ll ignore that comment. The survival of the human race and our civilization is serious business for me, Jim. You’ve got to remember 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. I started to protest, but thought better of it. Her use of my Latinized name. "Diego" signified she had met a new, more challenging personality and I wanted to make sure my respectful personality was intact before getting my new boss's boss more upset than necessary.

“Life comes first. It is muy importante! We had to preserve the lives of worldwide citizenry from the devastation of the damnable bombardeos del suicidio. They 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.”

It became clear to me Stephanie 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’ let me remind you both clerics and historians have a long and lurid record of doing just that in pursuit of their own agendas. As an historian you surely know ‘history is written by the victors.’ Is that not máquina del tiempo talk?”

I opened my mouth to speak but remained mute and nodded my head instead.

“Jim, in your excelente book on the history of religious use of mind-altering drugs, which I read with great interest and enjoyment recently, you say proponents and opponents of mind-bending chemicals 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!’ I was probably ten years old at the time.

“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. “I, uh. I didn’t think TABB would hire a religiosas locas literal believer. Unless it was like, like for a zoo exhibit! Are you serious that 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 smiled. “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 Stephanie 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. We shall preserve the human genome and civilization for all time, despite what may or may not happen to human life here on Earth!”

She looked directly at me. “As un profesor de la Universidad, you may or may not understand exactly how or why nation-states all but dissolved as governmental operations were outsourced to TCs.”

I started to reply that, as an historian, I was well aware of the history 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 was well underway when I was a little girl,” she began. “It started when candidates began to designate to which management corporation they would outsource governmental services if elected. By that time, most management corporations were transnational, so each election turned into a public selection of a particular TC.”

Again the Head of the RRD and I rotated our heads up and down as Stephanie continued what appeared to be a rehearsed speech.

“Nearly all local, state, and national government services have been outsourced to managerial TCs. Of course, people still vote yearly for government 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 the TCs, has the authority to fund our Hawking Plan – this muy importante mission for the benefit of all people ...”

Again, the RRD Head rotated up and down as she plowed on. 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 levels. 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 as I heard my name mentioned. I smiled as she referred to the Jewish and Israeli issues and wondered if I was being hired as 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 had a generally beneficial effect as far as wars are concerned. For the most part, large-scale military operations have been replaced by 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 went on, “TCs are also grouped by geographic area, since most 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. Any proposed law affects most TCs both positively and negatively. 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 come 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 on the basis of their gross value added. Government programs at all levels 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 that old saw 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 droned on I recalled the major changes taken for granted by the new transnational generation. For one thing, cash no longer existed except in museums. All currency was electronic and took the form of fractional stock in various TCs, valued according to their long-term future prospects.

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 automatically charged to your account.

Global warming turned out to be the result of a natural cycle of increased solar activity, augmented by human over-production of greenhouse gases. Average temperatures and mean sea levels increased by about a half degree Celsius (about one degree Fahrenheit) and a half-meter (less than two feet) between 2001 and 2031. By 2052, temperatures and ocean levels had gone down to the 2021 levels. They were expected to slowly decrease towards historically normal values over the coming decades.

This unexpected stabilization and gradual decrease was due to several factors: 1) The social effects of globalization reduced reproductive rates below replacement levels, 2) Several genetic engineering disasters between 2020 and 2035 killed tens of millions of people, 3) A nuclear exchange in the MidEast in 2021 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.

As a result, 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 a result, 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 of western Canada became the primary source of non-renewable, carbon-based energy for NortAmer along with oil shale in the western US and coal liquefaction in the eastern coal belt. 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 processes that refined the oil from sands and shale and the coal from mine waste.

Many new renewable energy sources were tried: solar, waste biomass fuels, geothermal, wind, tides, waves, and electromagnetic. These proved practical in different areas of the world and further reduced the need for non-renewable sources, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 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.

It was no longer fashionable to have more than one or two children. About a third of the population chose to have no children at all. The “petite purple pill,” available free or at trivial cost in most jurisdictions, effectively 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.

Given the wide acceptance of the PP-Pill, abortions became extremely rare. In nearly all political jurisdictions, 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 or other professional 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. Tens of millions of people 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.

There was, however, a point at which even medical miracles could not restore what was called “a standard normal quality of life.” Therefore, 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 recycle virtually all industrial and household food waste and garbage, eliminating curbside pickup, incinerators, and landfills. Solid garbage was placed in a “grinder” and flushed down the pipes to plants manned by “sanitary IRAs” that recovered metals and other solids and converted virtually all the waste biomass into bio-diesel fuel. Hydrogen-fusion plants and pollution-free, renewable wind and water energy 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 what you said was the muy importante religion portion of the Hawking Plan?”

En un momento,” Stephanie replied curtly. “As you lead the religion portion of the project you’ll have the full support of the RRD staff and will coordinate with personnel of IFB and other TABB branches.”

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 was in a hurry for us to spread out, mas rapido, to Earth-like planets beyond our Solar System! He embraced human space travel!”

As Stephanie 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 …”

“World hunger,” I interrupted, “Was solved by killing lots of people and establishing social policies that discouraged indiscriminate breeding. I guess you can credit genetic engineering for both of those factors.”

“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 voluntarily has their genome sequenced to discover their 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. She stood up and strode purposefully to her office window, opened it, and waved, as if bidding bon voyage to some unseen spaceship. As she did so, a live image of her leaning out the window 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 that star morphed into a bright star with a duller, reddish neighbor. As the zoom–in continued, the bright star was revealed to be two stars, 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 shown to be 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 as if trying to decide which one to visit. It then slowly zoomed in on Centauri A, revealing a number of planets rotating about it. 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)

The view descended towards the right edge of a continent. A peninsula, similar to Florida, appeared, jutting 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 – and it was mostly brown, with some large areas of gray and black. The view settled towards ground level and morphed into a “live” video image.

As the view panned towards level, 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, in the dark blue-brown sky, 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 once more, to my delight. All this programmatic detail was of little interest to me, and I found myself day-dreaming that she would “orbit” closer to my “star system.”

“Excuse me, Stephanie,” I said, “While I’m not an astronomer, as an historian 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 conceptual marketing tool, not intended to be totally accurate. Science has not yet developed to the level where smaller, Earth-sized planets can be detected orbiting remote stars. I believe there may well be an Earth-like planet in the Alpha Centuri system. It is the closest to our solar system and I like to be 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 during the meeting, she shot a smile in his direction. She then turned to her schedule chart and droned on. With this muy caliente woman doing the presentation, I was happy to watch. The chart started at 2052 and continued to the right to 2200, where it faded out:

... 2052-2075 – Concepts, Test Launches (1/yr)
...... 2075-2100 – Production Launches (10/yr)
......... 2100-2200 – Advanced Launches (100/yr)

“Here is our roadmap.” She began, as she walked to the display wall. 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 this year,” 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,” I began, “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:

Concept Development and Initial Test Launch Phase
... 2052-2054 – Conceptual Trade Studies
...... 2054-2060 – Initial Development
......... 2060-2065 – Earth & Mars Launches
............ 2065-2075 – Mars and Beyond

“By next month, February 2052,” Stephanie continued, “We will issue a ‘Request for Information’ to all TCs who may wish to participate with products or services we will need. 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 as well as some TCs who generally oppose any public spending not directly driven by market forces. My allies will be the TABB scientific and technological community who will benefit from spending that advances these areas.
“Although the scientific community is satisfied with the quality and extent of space exploration using IRAs, I am totalmente confidente they’ll enthusiastically go along with any project that directs funding to science and technology. We’ll also curry support from TCs likely to get the contracts for the spaceships, the human life-support systems, and more.”

“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? Surely you know those crazy 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, very slowly and deliberately, “If my mentors at the TBI learned anything from the decades it took for their contra-terror program to finally 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.

“It is well known 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 are well-organized and have great power to 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, but I’d be surprised if any are word-for-word the same as the originals. I understand 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’ words, Jim?”

“Well, Stephanie,” I began with a bit of 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 at the misstatement. “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 says:”

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 drop that issue and 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 several somewhat 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 of the Ten Commandments 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 are they even exactly 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.”

Stephanie looked back at me and smiled. That gave me the courage to go 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, “I understand that. Please go on if you have more to say”

“It is prohibited,” I went on, “To change the supposedly sacred text because it could be that God had something important in mind when He, in effect, held Moses’ hand as he wrote Jacob’s name with an extra letter in it. Indeed, for millennia, 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!”

Stephanie seemed genuinely interested in my speech, as evidenced by her patiently letting me finish the long explanation. “I’ve wondered, Jim, about the ‘Septuagint’ translation from Hebrew to Greek. There’s some 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 smiled broadly. “Stephanie, if seventy-two scholars working together, in the same room, all agreed on the same translation, I would count that as 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 could be read as:

…I will multiply thy seed upon (rather than ‘as’) 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 even look at 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 – for example 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 God-damned Integridad Académica. That concept, and others like it, is your religiosas locas! You have got to climb down from your 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! Integridad Académica be damned! You are authorized to alter the e-photos of the originals of every God-damned so-called ‘Holy Scripture’ you think necessary, which should be quite easy with the help of the TBI Cryptographic Bureau. When necessary 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.

“Here’s what they did in the contra-terror project,” she continued, “Our máquina del tiempo. As a show case, the TBI had an agent encourage some obscure Imam to expose one of the changes they made. The TBI had a distinguished Muslim Committee of Scholars investigate the matter 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 among religiosas locas believers! The back-story the TBI contra-terror agents spread was that literal believer 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 a select group of some 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 who 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 and he a very old man 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 for a while, 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 en persona?”

“Yes,” said Stephanie, shedding another tear, “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 as well as a rabbi. If I’m not mistaken, Stephen Hawking passed away a few years before you were born.”

After thinking for a moment she replied, “You are probably right, Jim. We can check with the celi – it has all the information ever written 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,” she answered, “Probably thought an unhappy baby would add to the veracidad!” Stephanie 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,” I replied, “There’s a classic story about a Chasidic Rebbe who supposedly could climb to the top of 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 into 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,” I continued, “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,” I observed, “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,” I went on, “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.”

Stephanie tapped her forehead and said, “My great-grandfather had to memorize Shakespeare, so I guess we had it pretty good. It continues…,”

Pretty girls are often cold,
All that glitters is not gold.

I recognized something was wrong with 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:

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, doesn’t he!” 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 what they think are the 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 manipulated the codip by the celi to shut the Hawing head down.

I took the opportunity to press for an answer to my previous question. “Excuse me, Estephania, are you avoiding my question? Are you Jewish?”

“All right, I’ll answer,” Stephanie said condescendingly. “My mom’s mother was Jewish. That’s why my mom called 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 mother’s mother 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’m 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’ll 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. That’s the first time I’ve seen her give one of those ‘dance of love’ squeezes on an initial meeting. You are definitely on your way up!”

Way up!” I muttered, smiling and gesturing towards 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 quite acceptable.”

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 universally accepted interpretation, you know, to promote human space travel through the whole universe.”

The RRD Head 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.’ This will not be a difficult task at all. Nothing to it but to do it!”

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.”

“I know all that, but can you get more specific about modo contrario?”

Nolo problemo,” replied the RRD Head, “Despite oposición from so-called ‘privacy’ advocates, PIDs have become 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. Since PIDs are net-connected, they identify cell phone callers, text-messagers, and web-surfers. Of course, as such, 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 otherwise be illegal or 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 the PID modo contrario feature is TBI-Secret and 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,” answered the RRD Head, “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, and PIDs became nearly universal.

WIN coverage and PID readers were endemic in nearly all public places. A PID reader 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, whose responsibilities included prosecution for use 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 in a public place, or obtain records of their previous public locations.

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 he or she had to 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, who, while in theory an absolute despot, was 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 still turned their PIDs off, wrapped them in tinfoil, or left them at home, which was quite legal. However, 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 people 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 the subject’s image and biometric sniffer readings, 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 specified an approximate location and time. Thus, the TBI or a private investigator could piece together successive public records left by a given person of interest, using their video images, and potentially track them. These compiled tracks were available, again for a large fee, from “seek and track” companies 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 usually detected when the user’s biometrics failed to match the stored biometrics of the rightful owner. When the real owner of the PID reported the loss, that PID was put on a watch list. The next time the thief turned the PID on, for example to use it to make a purchase that would be charged to the owner’s account, he or she would be identified and eventually apprehended.

High levels of encryption, using a sophisticated Public Key Infrastructure, restricted counterfeit PIDs to the domain of extremely high-tech terrorists and criminal organizations. To combat that problem, the TBI instituted a stringent procedure that required redundant biometrics and documentation for enrollment into the various systems. Each agency or TC required 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, one of the women in Human Resources took me aside and warned me about Stephanie. HR has reports she’s sexually aggressive and in a loveless marriage to her husband, who, they say, is her merkin. She exploits her sexuality to get her way with subordinates. Management won’t do a thing about it because of her sexual favors and …”

“So, do you find her sexually attractive?”

Muy caliente! Forma perfecta y totalmente atlético. She’ll be the star of my autoerotic pleasures for a long time to come. 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 move in my seat to conceal my arousal. I think she saw my rising flag because she winked at me as if she knew what I was thinking and she 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.”

“What the heck is that?”

“My grandfather sang this to me over a campfire:”

Lemon tree is very pretty,
And the lemon flower is sweet,
But the fruit of the lemon
Is impossible to eat.

“What does that have to do with Stephanie?"

"It’s OK to look and drink in the beauty and pheromone scent of women like Stephanie, but don’t expect to 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.

“You are probably correct,” the RRD Head answered, his head down with a frown, “I’ve worked for her for a couple years and am yet to get my first hug.”

Click below to

Post a Comment


Ira Glickstein said...

Anyone can post. Let me know you are out there!

Click on the comments hypertext at the end of each chapter.

I'd appreciate your suggestions and corrections and much more.


edmund said...

I just read the first paragraphs...

I remember reading somewhere that Robert Heinlein once proposed that humanity could not afford not to colonise space, to spread out beyond Earth, to insure that humanity would not become extinct, etc. (not keep all of its eggs in one basket...so to speak). I'm wondering if that thought was original with Heinlein?

Do you reference the beginnings of this thouhgt in the novel???

I'll continue reading...
Good luck.


Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Ed for your Comment! I have read a bit of Heinlein and once listened to a dramatization of one of his short stories on the radio, but did not get the idea from him. As I note at the start of the first chapter, it was Stephen Hawking's call for us to "spread out into space" that triggered me to think of how that might be accomplished. I look forward to more comments from you and others as you read the novel. Ira

Anonymous said...

I finished your thought-provoking novel and enjoyed reading it on several levels: sci-fi adventure, ethics, philosophy, religion, and autobiography. (Your reference to the "violet-clad IRA" is intriguing.)

Could a Jim O'Brian (a.k.a. O'Brien) rewrite religious history? It seems to me that there would be too many digital, handwritten, and photographic records stowed away to make such an enterprise successful, even in a tightly controlled society. A religious scholar and/or an investigative reporter would uncover even subtle changes sooner or later. Maybe that can happen in a sequel.

The Hawking Plan could obviously inspire sequels that follow descendents of the characters to our extra-solar system colonies. The lonely colonists might establish a religion based on worship of the Great God, Stephen Hawking.


Deardra said...

Hi Ira,

What drew me into chapter one were the authentic personality types of Stephanie Goldenrod, PhD and James (Jim) O'Brien ("Diego"). Jim's witticism with his “thoughts”and verbal expression, and humorous sexual innuendo was a great contrast to Stephanie’s pontification of elaborate programmatic details of TABB.

I was totally caught by surprise by the so-called final nail in the coffin, the maquina del tiempo, technique that the TBI agents used. As soon as I read this, I stopped reading and sighed out loud… This technique is difficult and very uncomfortable for me to think about. When Jim uncharacteristically blurted out “but as an historian I’m committed to academic integrity”, I became very aware of how deeply dependent our whole lives are based on the integrity of our historian and the written words. It is very unsettling for me to think about the technique used by the TBI agent, maquina del tiempo; however it was intellectually deceptive, clever and subtle way of gaining control over people.

Yes, I do understand that the maquina del tiempo technique is similar to the way mankind has collected historical documentation over the years, (write according to their own agenda)! The outstanding difference being that the vast majority of mankind’s historians came from very diverse locations, civilizations, Gods they worshiped, family structures, etc. In 2008 mankind is free to choose whatever Historical writer seems most authentic. We are able to pick and choose from different and vast historical document. In 2052, mankind had only one document, slanted totally by the TABB to support their cause. Looking forward to chapter two. With respect as always, Deardra

Ira Glickstein said...

To SteveM and Deardra: Thanks much for your kind and thoughtful and insightful comments.

1) the maquina del tiempo technique.

According to the novel it was successfully used by the TBI in 2020-2040, along with the Personal ID society, to tame the religious terrorists, with the help of moderate Imams. Is that realistic? Is it ethical? I say yes but you need to decide for yourself.

I think it it will be realistic a decade or more from today when most books and magazines and photos and other data, including religious scripture, are primarily on e-media and transnational corporations control virtually all commerce and government functions as well as museums and so on. They could covertly introduce changes to the e-texts and e-photos. Some religious believers will continue to use their old printed scriptures, but these will wear out and the old folks will die out and the new generation will embrace the new e-media versions. Sure, some historians and religious purists will protest, but they will be stifled by the corporate powers that be.

Will Jim get away with making changes to scripture to favor human space travel to pre-empt religious objections to the Hawking Plan? Read on and you will see what happens!

I think it as ethical as the introduction of the "trinity" into Christian scripture by some obscure monk who back-transcribed it into an old Greek manuscript whence it was picked up by Erasmus when he revised his version of the scriptures and is now in the King James! It is as ethical as much of the later-introduced material in accepted scriptures of all world religions that have been inserted to boost the fortunes of those in power. Are the modern English versions of the Bible the same as the King James in meaning? NO! In other words, modification of scripture and other records IS a historical fact and has been so for a long time, therefor (the "naturalistic fallacy" be damned) it OUGHT to be!

2) Sequel(s) to the Hawking Plan

Yes, as SteveM guesses, I have sequels in mind, but they will be a year or more in coming. Yes, I have planted seeds for them in the current novel. The first sequel takes place around 2082, when Jim and Stephanie are retired from TABB. The second takes place millions of Earth-years later, on a far-away Earth-Like Planet in their year 5805 AE (After Estephy, their God).

Ira Glickstein

Anonymous said...

To Ira

I now understand and agree with you about the inevitable outcome in the future of the e-text, and e-photos. If I understand you correctly, never mind the future, let me give you an example of how I see it happening today. I can see it subtly being done today as I stand in line at the grocery store as I look at the covers of magazines. Take for instance; when Oprah brought up media deception on her television program, She said that her head was transposed on the body of another actress. oops… The Readers thought it was Oprah’s body. This example is minuscule compared to what the futures will be like using e-text and e-photo to covertly introduce change or changes. Question? Hasn’t this same subtle deception been done on all level throughout our history of World Civilizations, and World Religions? What does this mean for me today as I investigate, assess, inspect, and analysis all forms (outward appearance )of photos and written words? With respect as always, Deardra