FROM:

Harrington, Stephanie HS-SKM-78-10009.033

TO:

Kerensky, Maja MK-MDAHL-10005-93061.042

DATE:

01/17/1519 PD (SR)

TIME:

13:27:04 (local)

RECORDING BEGINS:

Hey, I'm sorry I didn't get around to recording this as soon as I meant to. Like, I dunno, maybe a T-year or so ago? I really meant to get to it sooner, but things have been sorta hectic since we got here. And up until a couple of weeks ago, I didn't really have anything exciting to tell anybody about.

Guess that sounds pretty dumb, doesn't it? Well, I thought it was going to be a lot more exciting than it turned out to be, too. I mean, interstellar trips sound really neat, don't they? But I found out that's only until you actually take one. A starship looks just the same inside as an intra-system ship, you know? Well, aside from the spin sections, of course. What a pain! The Madeleine Davenport's a pretty big ship, but her spin section's still only seventy-five meters across. Even that makes her look like a sausage that got pregnant, stuck in the middle that way, and there's no way they could've made it any bigger. They had to spin it at three RPM just to produce about three-quarters of a gravity, and that gets pretty lame pretty fast. I don't care what anyone says, spin gravity isn't the same thing as real gravity! You're heavier at your feet than your head, and that takes some getting used to. In fact, I never did really get used to it all the way. And lower gravity isn't anywhere near as much fun as it sounds like, either. It was pretty neat bouncing around for the first couple of days, but nobody’ll let you really have fun with it. Traffic rules everywhere! And nothing weighs what it's supposed to. Personally, I'd’ve preferred to be closer to my right weight instead of less than two thirds of what I weighed back home, but the Captain got on the intercom and explained why they couldn't make it any higher.

I know everybody's talking about how they finally have the math figured out to generate artificial gravity that won't just squash people flat, but they've had that figured out for eons! Well, at least for—what? Fifty years now? I mean, that's at least one eon, isn't it? And they've had counter-grav in a natural gravity field for at least that long, but, no, they can't get the "engineering" figured out! Bet I could—well, I mean you could, you always were the wire head. And it'll sure make starship design—and travel—an awful lot easier. Man, no wonder all those slow-boat colonists made the trip stacked up in cryo sleep! It only took us about eleven weeks, and I'd've slept the whole way if they'd given me the choice. Matter of fact, Mom said something about wishing I could've, but I think she was kidding.

I'm not so sure space sickness from zero G would've been any worse than the gravity we actually had. In fact, I enjoyed the zero G before they stuck us in the spin section—didn't have any of the problems some people did. Like Mom, I'm afraid. She was somewhere around five Garns on the space sickness scale before we got her into the spin section. And one of the other passengers handled zero G even worse than she did. He actually puked, and I'm just glad there were crew people around to get it cleaned up before it floated over our way. Not me, though, and it's really almost as much fun as hang gliding. Slower, you know, but kinda . . . floaty. More like when Coach Tuttle kept telling us to slow down in tai chi class, I guess. If I couldn't weigh what I weighed back home, I'd a lot rather have floated around for the whole trip, I think. ’Course they wouldn't’ve let me—all that stuff about bone density and other crap, not to mention housecleaning problems when stuff gets away from you, like that poor guy's puke, now that I think about it. Of course, I'd've been willing to take the meds for zero G all the way to Manticore, but you can just imagine how Dad and Mom would have felt about my doing that "at your age." Man, will I be glad when "at your age" doesn't come up in every third conversation!

But if I couldn't have zero G, at least they did have a couple of high-grav sessions scheduled in the gym every day. Well, high-grav by ship standards, anyway, if you can call one whole gravity high. They had to step up the rotation on the gym section to make it work, of course, and that got pretty weird, ’cause the gravity differential between your feet and your head gets a lot bigger when the RPMs go up. Have to allow for that when you're working out, but it's not too bad on the treadmill once you adjust. Some of the other passengers from Meyerdahl couldn't handle the Coriolis effect when they pumped up the spin on the gym section, either. Didn't bother me much, but I bet it was a real bummer for the people it did bother.

Aside from that, a starship is just more of the same thing you get in a sublight ship, though. Same hallways—only they call them "passages" and in the spin sections they curve to wrap around the hull, which I guess is pretty cool, but it gets old fast—and booooring lounges and cafeterias where they serve the same menu every single week. It just goes on longer than any of the in-system field trips we took back in Meyerdahl. A lot longer. At least they had a pretty decent entertainment library, but by the end of the trip I was watching "Antigone Iwahara: Kid Detective” HDs. Tells you how far gone I was, doesn't it? Man, by the time we actually got here, I couldn't wait to get off that ship.

Then we hung around in an apartment in Yawata Crossing while they finished up building the house on Mom and Dad's freehold. I can't say Yawata Crossing's much of a town yet, even if it is what they call a city here on Sphinx. It's got—you ready for this?—almost thirty thousand people. That's right, about the same number of people we had in our voting precinct back in Hollister. And at the moment, it's the acting capital of the entire planet ’cause they took so many losses in the old capital they had to move it. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice enough place, it's just sorta . . . tiny, know what I mean?

Anyway, after a couple of weeks, they got the house finished and we moved in. Pretty nice, really. I've got my own room, and it's darn near as big as the whole apartment was back home. It's really weird not having any neighbors, but it's kinda nice, in a way, and the planetary datanet's better than I expected, really. There's no way anybody but a zillionaire could've afforded four hundred square kilometers of land on Meyerdahl, either! And Mom has her own lab right here on the freehold, with all her greenhouses and everything. Brand-new top-of-the-line equipment, too—lots better than that stuff she had to work with back at the Institute. And Dad has an almost new office in Twin Forks. That's the "town" closest to the freehold. And if they think thirty thousand people make a city, I'll let you guess how many people make a town here on riproaring old Sphinx. And I'll bet whatever number you guess will be too high. Most of the people are pretty nice, I guess, even if I don't think much of the local kids. I'm pretty sure anything like a real thought would strain most of their brains. ’Course Mom says I never gave the zork brains back in Hollister enough of a chance to show they could actually hang onto two thoughts at once, so what do I know? Maybe I'm being too rough on them, but I'm beating the snot out of almost all of them in the chess championships. That should tell you something.

I said Dad's office was "almost new." That's because he isn't Twin Forks' first vet. They lost their first vet to the Plague. That turned out to be a scarier thought than I'd expected. I mean, I knew bunches of people had died, and it was sort of exciting thinking about going on a rescue, but I hadn't counted on how many people who are still here lost other people. It's kinda spooky, in a way.

But, anyway, we got here—just in time for winter. You know, when you and I were first looking at the profile on Sphinx, you pointed out that the local year was over five T-years long and I sorta waved my hands and went on to other stuff. You remember that? I do. And I shoulda paid more attention, too, ’cause that means winter lasts fifteen months. Maja, it snowed for over a year, know what I mean? I mean, snowball fights and sleds and skiing and hot chocolate, it's all great. Don't get me wrong. But after a year or so you'd kinda like to see, I dunno, a piece of ground that's not frozen, maybe?

Mom says I got "cabin fever." I don't know about that, but I know when the snow finally started melting, man, I could hardly wait to get out into the bush. I mean, that was the whole thing for me when Mom and Dad said we were heading for a frontier planet, one that hasn't even been completely mapped yet! I bet you're halfway through your junior internship with the forest reprogram, aren't you? Well, I'm not. In fact, they don't even have one here on Sphinx! I asked, even sent a few e-mails to Chief Ranger Shelton—and no, whatever Mom says, I did not "pester" him!—but the Sphinx Forestry Service is way understaffed right now. That's what Chief Ranger Shelton says, anyway, and I guess he's probably right. Anyway, he says they don't have the manpower for supervised field trips, and Dad really laid down the law when I tried to poke around a little bit myself. And I did not "sneak off," either! I just sorta . . . forgot to discuss my plans. That's all. Wellllllllll, maybe not quite all. I still don't think he had to come down as hard as he did, though. He didn't quite ground me completely, but he really put his foot down where the bush is concerned. I can't go anywhere without an adult. Doesn't that just sound wonderful?

All right, so I'm sulking. Wouldn't be much point pretending I wasn't when I'm talking to you, would there? ’Cause you wouldn't believe I wasn't for a minute, and you'd be right. But there's a whole world out there, Maja! One nobody's even seen yet! I mean, who knows what's out there? I don't—and I wanna find out! But Dad says "It's not like Meyerdahl, Steph. It doesn't have com stations every fifteen meters. And it's got real live hungry critters out there just waiting to swallow you right down!" At least he didn't go on and add "One day you'll thank me for this"!

Guess I shouldn't really make fun of him that way, ’cause he's probably right. I mean, they've got hexapumas and peak bears—you can find some info on them in the bio attachment—and they're pretty scary, really. A hexapuma's darn near twice as big as a spine cat back on Meyerdahl, and nobody ever taught one of them to be afraid of humans. So, yeah, one of them probably would be perfectly happy to turn me into munchies if he got the chance. Not that I'm stupid enough to give one of them a chance! Besides, they don't climb very well—they're too darn big—so all I really need is a couple of jumps' head start and my counter-grav belt and they'd never be able to catch me. ’Course Dad says I'd probably get all interested in something and be concentrating on that and never notice Mister Hexapuma sneaking around in the underbrush. Ha! Fat chance I'm going to miss six or seven hundred kilos of hungry, six-legged kitty cat sneaking up on me! But you know Dad. Once he gets an idea in his head, not even Mom can get it back out again, and she's had lots more practice than I have!

But . . . but it didn't turn out to be quite as bad as I thought it was going to. In fact, it turned out to be pretty darned cool. See, Mom was trying to come up with something to keep me from being totally bummed out by being stuck here on the freehold, and she told me about this big "mystery" that people were telling her about. Well, you know, I figured it was just Mom trying to distract me, but actually, it was pretty interesting. See, somebody—or something—has been stealing celery!

Ha! Bet you sprayed soda all over the display when you heard that one. Big scary mystery, huh? Celery thieves! Lock the doors, bolt the windows! Man, they could have all the celery in the world, as far as I'm concerned! But it was actually kinda interesting when I started looking at it, ’cause nobody had a clue who was taking it, or why. And it was such teeny tiny amounts, too. I know Mom figured she'd get me interested in trying to figure it out and that would "distract me" from Dad's little decree about the bush, but the thing is, she was right. I did get interested. At first, I figured it was just some kind of joke, somebody who thought it'd be really funny to watch everybody else run around in circles trying to figure out what was going on. But the more I looked at it, the more that didn't make much sense. And I wasn't the only one who thought that. In fact, the best explanation was that there was some critter here on Sphinx that was actually stealing celery, though God knows I wouldn't. But whatever it was, nobody ever managed to get a trace of it. Not a picture, not a footprint—nothing.

’Course the Elysian Rule didn't make it any easier. They're really serious about enforcing it here, and I'm glad they are, but whatever's been stealing celery managed to avoid every sensor, every camera, every nonlethal trap. Some people were even starting to talk about ghosts, and I don't think all of them were kidding, either. But then I had my brainstorm. I checked, and aside from the motion sensors, just about everybody was using infrared, so I decided to try something else. And it worked.

Maja, I didn't expect it, but this is the coolest, most wonderful thing that ever happened in my entire life. I haven't even told Mom and Dad about it yet, ’cause I'm not gonna tell anyone until I have absolute proof. The kind of proof nobody can brush off or just tell the kid with the overactive imagination to run along. I found out who's been stealing the celery, and it is gonna absolutely rock this planet and the entire Star Kingdom—heck, it's gonna rock the whole darned galaxy, if I'm right—and it's gonna be my name that goes into the history books, too. But you know what? I don't really care all that much about that other stuff. Uh-uh. What I care about is figuring out where my little celery thief came from and meeting his friends and neighbors. And I've even figured out a way to do it without breaking Dad's decree . . . mostly, anyway.

That's all I'm gonna say for right now. I don't want to give anything more away, but you should be expecting another letter for me in another couple of months, and when I send it, you'll be getting the whole story.

But for now, I've gotta run. Got two research papers and a whole chapter of math to knock out by tomorrow morning, so I'd better get to it. There's a mail boat headed coreward from Manticore tomorrow sometime, so I'll squirt this up to the comsat for it as soon as I'm done recording. I miss you, Maja . . . a lot. I guess I didn't really have all that many friends back in the Hollister, either, but you were the best. So I hope how long it took me to get this recorded won't keep you from recording one back to me. I know it takes months just to send them, but I'd really like to hear from you.

God, that sounds pretty lame and lonely, doesn't it? Didn't mean for it to, and I really am excited. I'm going to figure this whole thing out and nail it down, and if I'm lucky, that's going to be my ticket into the Forestry Service here on Sphinx.

Okay, that's it. Gotta close. Oh, but, hey! I'm attaching some stuff. A lot of it's kinda boring—all that stuff about what a wonderful place to live the Star Kingdom is so they can convince you to come all the way out here, I mean—but there's some neat stuff in there, too. Enough to give you an idea what it's like out here. And that really is all I've got time for. Miss you, Maja. Talk to you later.

Bye.

RECORDING ENDS

ATTACHMENTS:

Sphinx Immigration Packet
SFS Biology Database
SFS Advisories