Chapter 1: The Devil You Know
We had just arrived at a planet one hundred, and fifty-four light years distant from Earth. Much to my surprise, I had been shown into a room where I recognized the figure in front of me.
"What the... ? Bob? Bob Mather? What are you doing here?"
I couldn't believe my eyes. The last time I had seen Bob Mather had been at the White House where he was my contact. He was grinning in that wry way that he had.
"Waiting for you, old sport. I thought that you might appreciate to see a friendly face after coming all this way."
"How long have... ?"
"How long have I been working for the Larsians? About fourteen years, and now I'm recruiting you. You, and only you! You understand?"
"I think so. You don't want anyone else to know?"
"That's right. In time, we can let some of the others know. But for now ... Let's just say that it might not be too good for their egos."
"How about mine?"
"I happen to know that your ego is strong enough to stand much more than this."
"Just how much more is there?"
Bob turned to the doorway at the far side of the room, and called out.
"I think that he's ready now. Why don't you come out, and meet him?"
The person that Bob called must have been standing well away from the door as no one appeared for a moment. Then came the booming voice of my bete noire.
"Hullo, my boy. How are you?"
"Doctor Gentry? What are you doing here?"
"Like Bob, I am an agent of the Larsians. I've been working for them for over thirty years. Not like this youngster. In point of fact, I was recruited by Bob's father back in 1975. The reason for recruiting you to our circle is that we want you to drop a hint to your friend Professor Burton."
"Yes, and what's that?"
"We think that he is moving in the wrong direction. His present work will lead him into a dead end. A simple change in direction could lead him into making a warp six breakthrough."
"Wow! Why, that's a speed of the order of one hundred thousand times the speed of light," rapidly doing the calculation, I continued, "which puts the Earth about half a days flight from here. In fact, you could cross the Milky Way in about ... Twelve to fourteen months."
"That is correct my boy," said Professor Gentry. "I'm glad to see that promotion to Flag Rank has not diminished your intellectual powers!"
"So! What is the direction that you want James to explore?"
"He might find that consideration of Spasers would be more rewarding."
"What on Earth are Spasers?"
"Never you mind. Professor Burton will understand, however."
"Tell me. Why do you want me to nudge James?"
"You see, the Larsians want us to speed up our development. They are a bit bored with administering their portion of this arm of the Galaxy. They been doing so for about the past six thousand years, and feel it's about time to pass the baton on to somebody else. They thought that they would be handing over to the Centaurans, but their little atomic fiasco put a crimp in that plan. So it seems that the job falls to us."
"Are we ready for this? I mean, we came close to annihilating ourselves a couple of times in the past. Do they think that we're ready?"
"Apparently most civilizations come close to self destruction. It's rather like a right of passage. Anyhow, the Larsians have said that if we survive the next sixty years, the job will be ours."
"So, apart from dropping a hint to James, what do you want me to do?"
"The Larsians," said Doctor Gentry, "will give you a quick tour of some of the highlights of this planet. Then one of their representatives will go with you to some of the nearby Federation planets."
"Yes, the group of the more civilized planets in this area are in what we would call a Federation."
I looked at the pair, and asked, "What else should I know?"
"There's too much to tell you in one go," replied Doctor Gentry.
"What we can tell you, however," continued Bob, "is that almost all intelligent life in this end of the universe is humanoid, and most of them are mammalian. That's something else that Gene Roddenbury, and Isaac Azimov got right."
"So, what happens next," I asked.
"You can send a report by message drone. In the meantime, I will return from my fishing trip, and Niels here will return from ... What will you be returning from, Niels?"
"At the moment, I'm driving across the country from the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center after looking into the progress of the research in the quantum vacuum plasma thruster. A shame that Doctor Burton has already made it obsolete."
"And what do I do after I've made my report?"
"I expect that the Larsians will suggest that they lead you, and the Beagle around the Local stars, and introduce you as representatives of the next race to be the local administrators."
"What's this about administrators?"
"You see the Galaxy doesn't run itself, my boy. It does almost, but not quite. An administration race has the job of transporting materials from one planet to another, sorting out what has to be done, and then usually doing it. The elder races are above working for a living. There are a few who work because they want to, but they aren't required to scrape out a living. Most of their industries are fully automated, and income is not a consideration. In fact, in most races, money doesn't exist!"
"That sounds like everybody's dream. A lifetime of leisure?"
"It does sound like it, doesn't it?" said Bob, "but think what it would do for a whole race. With ennui raised to the 'nth power, racial decline might well set in. I think that is probably why most of the elder races' populations have shrunk to a few million each. Anyway, you'll soon be seeing all that for yourself. We had better be getting back to the office."
"Ah, yes, my boy. There's no rest for the wicked. We'll see you when you return from your jaunt."
With that, Doctor Gentry returned to the back room. Bob Mather led me back to the Beagle where the Larsians were still interviewing our crew.
Bob asked me, "well suppose that you could have anything you wanted. What would happen?"
"I think that you would soon get tired of material things, perhaps even bored with life."
"That's probably why all races have an apprenticeship as administrators of civilization. The Larsians are looking forward to their retirement, and to taking it a little easier. Of course the advanced races don't sit on their butts, contemplating their navels. Their occupations are as many, and varied as any you'll find on Earth. It's just that they do what they do because they want to, and not because they have to, in order to live."
"So what do we do now?"
"You'll be shown around a bit. Then Earth will have to apply to be admitted to membership of the Federation. Once appointed to apprentice status, you'll have to study to become the Larsians' successors as the local administrators. In fifty or sixty years we will take over from them, and start looking for our successors"
"It looks to me as though that could be the Centaurans."
"Maybe, but you'd better go on alone from here. It would look very odd if anyone recognized me."
Bob shook my hand, and turned to re-enter the nearby building. I crossed to the Beagle, and made my way to the Mess Deck Lounge where the crew was being talked to by the Doctor, and her male colleague who had rejoined her.
"Ah, Admiral, welcome back. I hope your visit was interesting, and productive?"
"Yes, it was. We must discuss it later."
In view of the secrecy imposed on me by Bob, and Doctor Gentry, I had the suspicion that the Larsian had blushed slightly at our exchange. His colleague addressed me.
"While you have been away, Admiral, we have been telling your crew a little of Galactic history. The Milky way has been in existence for some thirteen, and a half billion of your years, which is about three hundred million years after the start of the Universe. The oldest known sentient race developed about eight billion years ago."
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Brian Crisp translating to Weem, our passenger from Osmum.
"New races reach a point where they can be accepted by the Federation every two thousand to seven thousand years. We have been administrating the Federation for almost six thousand years. Your successors should be ready in an almost indecently short time."
"You mean the Centaurans?"
"Yes, they appear to be developing in a satisfactory manner. Now, Back to the present. We are inviting ourselves to eat with you tonight in order that we might prepare you for your 'Introduction to the Federation' talk tomorrow."
Petty Officer Chubb had produced a main course of pork stroganoff with mashed potatoes, runner beans, and petit pois. Our guests were a little uncertain about the dull orange conglomeration in front of them. However, after they had taken a tentative bite, they cheered up considerably, and enjoyed the remainder of the dish. I noticed Weem, and Brian Crisp deep in conversation during the meal. For our dessert, we had profiteroles.
The evening drew to a close, and our visitors left, saying that they would see us in the morning. Our final conversations of the day were fairly animated as we discussed all that we had learned. Or in my case, not quite all. We decided that with the computer looking out for us that we did not need to set a night watch.
I was getting dressed the next morning when the computer reported that our visitors had returned, and that they had someone else with them. I told the computer to open up, and to greet our visitors for us. Two minutes later, I was descending the stairs to the crew lounge to greet them.
"Good morning, Admiral, We would like to introduce you to Kerl Rand who is to be appointed as our Ambassador to your World."
"I'm honored to meet you, Sir. Welcome to the Beagle. May I be permitted to present to you her Captain, Susan Chalmers."
"I'm delighted to welcome you aboard, mister Ambassador."
"Call me Kerl, please, Susan. On this World, we rarely stand on ceremony. These two youngsters," he said, indicating his companions, "will be my staff on your World. I would suggest that after your introductory presentation to the Galaxy as we know it, we should take time to visit some the Elders' Worlds that are not too far off the direct route to Earth."
"We were planning," I said, "on calling in at Osmum on the way home to check up on progress there. I trust that would be acceptable to you."
"Of course, I have heard great things about your work there. You managed to persuade them to accept help in a way we never could."
"I think that's probably because we are not as advanced beyond them as you are. If circumstances had been different, it could have been them discovering us. To change the subject, however, may we invite you to eat with us. I see that breakfast is ready."
"That would be delightful. My colleagues told me of their meal last night. I have been looking forward to tasting your drink. It is called coffee, is it not?"
"Yes, Kerl. Please come, and sit down." I noticed that their Doctor was deep in conversation with ours, June MacTavish.
After Breakfast, we were led into the adjacent building, and into a lecture theater. Once we were seated, the presentation was started.
The oldest known race were the Murons. It was said that they were disappointed when they achieved faster-than-light travel. They could discover only a few planets that carried life, and none of that was sentient. It was two million years later before they found another sentient race, and a further fifteen thousand before that race reached the threshold of space. Unfortunately that race exterminated itself in an atomic conflict.
A further two hundred thousand years, and another planet reached the stage of incipient civilization. This time, the Murans attempted to guide the new race. It was a total failure. The race developed a racial inferiority complex, and within twenty generations had died out.
Another million years, and the Murons discovered another race emerging from the hunter gatherer stage. This time, they used a hands-off policy until that race reached the stage of discovering particle physics. Some individuals were contacted, and guidance provided. The race was steered successfully through the atomic age, and a second race reached the galactic stage. This race called themselves the Forantions.
Another fifty races brought into that early Federation, and the Murons felt that they had got the guidance procedure down pat.
That is when the Federation blew up in their face. Two of the recently emerged races got into a dispute over resources. Atomic stellar warfare sent the two races back to the stone age. Also, the debacle split the Federation into splinter groups. Many interstellar wars ensued until a peaceful solution could be found. A succession of conferences heavy with civilizations' most influential philosophers came up with the current solution.
A new race is contacted by approaching a few carefully chosen individuals until that race explodes into deep space. The race is then inducted into the Federation as an apprentice race. After a suitable apprenticeship, the new race become the administrators of a section of the Galaxy. The administrators are responsible for exploration for new races, apportioning resources, and ruling interracial disputes. It was discovered that this system taught the new race how to assimilate into the larger population of stellar races.
"And that is where we are today," said Kerl as the presentation ended. "Are there any questions?"
"Yes, What do the people of the older races do?" asked Brian Crisp. "If you don't have to work to stay alive, why should you work?"
"Do you like your job?" asked Kerl.
"Would you do it if you didn't need to?"
"I suppose so," replied Brian.
"There you are, then. People work because they like their work."
"What about jobs that no one wants to do?" I asked.
"Immigrants from the apprentice world can be found to do any job. They are conscripted, if necessary. There is also a great deal of credit to be gained by taking on such off-world jobs."
"How about robots?" Asked Charles Benson.
"They are used extensively," replied Kerl, "but they can only be used for jobs that are either repetitive, or have a limited range of actions. Now, we will take you on the tour of our city."