by G. David Nordley
Somebody was stealing stars.
“A star eight times the mass of the Sun doesn’t just suddenly disappear,” Dr. Amber Cloud said, quietly, from her office at the rim of Shackleton Crater, Luna.
“It isn’t completely gone. There’s a coincident infrared source,” Tony M’tonka replied three seconds later, bringing up a display of IC 2602, with the vanishing star’s location marked. “And a pair of very faint polar jets. So something’s still there.”
“Uh-huh.” Amber said. Even in the twenty-third century, graduate students should be kept guessing as to what their professors were thinking.
“Not only that,” Tony continued. “But the Galactic Library files show this has happened before, at roughly twenty-million-year intervals. A new high mass star fades away just after it settles down to the main sequence. But it isn’t gone. Ten million years later or so it shows up again, ready to expand into a subgiant, as if nothing had happened. Then, after another million years or so, it happens again.”
“Uh-huh,” Amber said.
“My best guess is that it’s a Dyson swarm moving from star to star built by a Kardeshev class two civilization at work on something.”
“Uh-huh.” A teaching moment. “Tony, how do you define Kardeshev class two civilization?”
He frowned. “Okay, I’ll bite. A classic Kardeshev class two civilization used all the energy of a star; hence a Dyson sphere, almost by definition.”
“Uh-huh. But, human beings, and every other star-traveling civilization known, use a small part of the energy of many different stars. Where do we fit in Kardeshev’s classification system?”
“Uh, well, we could build a Dyson sphere if we wanted to, so I guess we’re type two.”
“Do you think the Kardeshev classification system is useful?”
He hesitated before answering. “I guess I do because I used it, but I take the point. Maybe it’s useful as a broad brush way of talking about scales of energy use. Maybe we’re a one-point-nine or something like that.”
Amber smiled. “Look up Nimmini’odd’s treatment of galactic development thresholds.”
“Yes. They’ve been at this much longer than we have. Anyway, a migrating Dyson sphere?”
“Do you have a better idea? It’s not an eclipsing object; the Galactic Library files . . .”
“. . . have images from many different positions in the galaxy. An eclipse would only shade one position, and not for ten million years or so.” She smiled and shook her head. “No, I don’t have a better idea about what’s causing this.”
“Oh.” Tony seemed finally at a loss for words. Time to let him off the hook.
“It is intriguing. Who else have you told about this?”
“Nobody, uh, except the Galactic Librarian.”
Amber nodded. The Galactic AI at the Earthmind library mirror site would be discreet. It had started existence as a Troglian, from well rimward of Sol, and still took its native form for a few years when doing so amused it. Nothing much worries an immortal ten-meter-tall triped.
“Of course. Let me think on this a bit. I’ll get back to you about this time tomorrow.”
“Oh, thank you, Dr. Cloud, thank you!”
She nodded, touched the net to end the connection, and took several deep breaths. It was okay; nothing had gone wrong. Then she took the lift down to the crater floor and walked out into the unheated observation dome. Starlight provided the only illumination here, but her eyes adapted quickly. The cold and dry air bit into her—she was alone here and hadn’t bothered with clothes; the digital coverall her AI had concocted for Tony had vanished with the connection—but she could tolerate that for a few minutes. Above, only about ten meters of nitrogen and oxygen gas and a few micrometers of graphene laminate separated her from the deep.
She located Theta Carinae quickly, to the right of the Southern Cross. A Pleiades-like jewel box of fifth magnitude stars surrounded the brilliant third magnitude Theta, about 465 light-years away. With the benefits of little atmosphere extinction and genetic engineering to eliminate the various vision flaws her ancestors had to endure, she could easily see down to seventh magnitude. She located the place where the missing star should be; it was, indeed, missing. She touched the net to log the naked-eye observation with a smile. Tycho Brahe, take that!
She glanced toward the Moon’s Southern Eye. The ancient ten-kilometer spherical mirror had long been superseded by optical interferometers with astronomical baselines for serious work, so she pretty much had it to herself. There were no student projects underway now, so she touched the net to position the secondary reflector and get some digital data.
Amber now allowed herself to notice the cold and shivered. Time to go back inside.
She didn’t meet anyone; she usually had Shackleton Rim all to herself. Astronomers had no reason to be physically close to their instruments, and hadn’t for centuries; robots did all the technical work—and that was why she was here; not to do instrument maintenance, but because nobody else was here, and that lack of people lowered her stress level.
But that would end in a few decades. They were going to terraform the Moon, fill its maria with real brine, and grow pines on the lunar Appenines. Warm now, she shivered anyway. She could go to Mercury’s south pole, but no great historic instrument graced the plains of Chao Meng Fu, and the light-speed delay would make teaching difficult. Besides, eventually, they would terraform Mercury. The Venus project was already well underway, and Mars was a shirtsleeve environment. Biological immortality spurred lots of unexpected long-term projects.
She looked up at Theta Carinae again. Long term?
by Stephen L. Burns
It was an imperfect storm of sorts, a Hell’s grocery list of factors and circumstances coming together in a chaotic casserole of half-baked improbability. It was a basic cable television broadcast that damn near killed me, and it was beautiful.
Our show is Pandora’s Pantry, and yes, it’s a reheated and reseasoned knockoff of other cooking competition shows such as the venerable Chopped. While we may not earn many points for originality of concept, over four seasons we’ve built a solid show with our own peculiar rules and staging, an eccentric complement of judges, a particularly magnetic host, and the mind-boggling diversity of our contestants.
That has always been one of the quiet but luminous glories of most cooking shows. On a daily basis, we and they blithely embrace a level of diversity unmatched by most other show forms. No surprise there, you never know who will turn up in the kitchen.
* * *
“We’ll work it out. Really. No, trust me. Got to go.”
I hung up the phone gently, took a three-beat to compose myself, then leapt to my feet, clenched my fists, and screamed, “Fuck!” at the top of my lungs.
Irwin, my assistant, who has a build like Vin Diesel and dresses like Cindi Lauper, gave me a few seconds to vent steam, then handed me a cup of coffee. “Here, Stan. Drink this.”
I glared at him. Wiltingly. Had he been arugula he’d have been reduced to goo.
“It’s spiked,” he said. Crisply.
“In that case, thanks.” I took the cup and helped myself to a restorative slurp.
My day had not gone well, and the evening wasn’t improving. That morning the woman I’d been dating the last couple months, a sous chef at a SoHo French/Vietnamese restaurant, had called to say she was taking a job in a three-star Japanese fusion place in Scotland and wouldn’t be back for at least two years. Sayonara, Stan. Just after lunch I’d heard credible rumors a show that had a good chance of denting our kneecaps ratings-wise might be rescheduled opposite us. Then my evening started scorching and seizing.
The production of a cooking show is stressful at the best of times. It’s a juggling act that uses lethally sharp knives, red-hot skillets, live lobsters bent on vengeance, and the producer/showrunner’s brain as a floor mat. When things go sideways, the urge to walk away and let it all end up on the floor has a particular name: sanity.
We were full-on sideways and careening full tilt for the weeds. What was supposed to be a minor winter storm had suddenly mutated into a blizzard that was punching the city square in the pie portal. Streets approaching impassible. Flight delays had turned into cancellations, and I’d just learned that two of the already dangerously late chef-contestants for the episode we were supposed to do at ten would be no-shows.
I couldn’t just pull the plug because of the weather and reschedule. Reason one, the call from the junior dick-swinger from the network—who was out in sunny, snow-free LA—whose expressions of concern that I could get the show up were really veiled threats he wanted to use my body as a rung up the ladder. Reason two, most but not all of the talent, from both sides of the camera, were already in the building. Which meant they were being paid. Which was part of the reason for the threat. The bean counters don’t just pinch pennies, they waterboard them, run them through a duck press, and refuse to give up what survives.
Final reason—other than pride, and see reason one: this was supposed to be a live special. We do only two a year, and they’re heavily promoted and hellishly complicated to stage. Much money involved. Points, possibly even a soupcon of prestige. One of last year’s live shows was nominated for a Julia and an Emmy.
The contents of the cup was half coffee and half Irish whiskey. I downed the rest, shuddered, took a five count, sat back down, picked up the phone and launched into damage control.
First I called Mahi, our talent wrangler.
“It’s official, we’re two chefs down for tonight’s show.” I consulted my computer screen. “Madrisson and Ogala’s flights were diverted, no way they’re making it. Text regrets, make arrangements, tell them we’ll bring them back some other time. But first hit the Fast Food list. I need two more chefs in the house ASAP—as in less than an hour. Use Lu Trahn to go get them if need be, have her take the Hummer. The network logos should let her dodge travel restriction hassles. I see Spike, Nymphadora, and Bedda are in the house. When you get a chance warn them that we’ll have two contestants coming in cold. Because we will, right?”
I hung up before she could say yes—or no—and hit the speed dial button for Colin, our floor manager. I never got a chance to launch into my spiel because Colin hit me first with: “Stan, we have a problem.”
“Now what?” I said with a sigh.
“Juanita can’t make it in.”
I closed my eyes for a second. “Shit. Storm?”
“It is, but that’s not why she can’t make it. Her mom fell in the shower, hit her head, and she’s in the emergency room.”
“What about her assistant? What’s his name? Yusef?”
“Right. Can he fill in?”
“For a regular show, sure. For live? Maybe.” Dramatic pause. “Maybe not.”
“Looks like we’re going to find out.” I punched his line out and prepared for the next call while still pondering the ramifications of the last.
Chefs swear. Quite inventively, heatedly, and in more languages than there are variations of vinegar. Our show was prime time, basic cable, and distributed in other countries. That meant cursing had to be bleeped. Juanita didn’t speak thirty or forty languages, but she knew the swear words in them. She could, under the gun of a live show’s five-second delay, not only recognize the obscenity, but bleep it with a sound chosen from an audio palette she made up for each individual contestant. Believe it or not, we get fan mail about her bleeping.
“What do you need, boss?”