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Fiction #39
(published May 10, 2001)
1K+1 Astral Nights:
Cycle 1, Packet 6
translated by David Erik Nelson

The Distributed Nanobot considered the second old man's story, and allowed that, although it had some common elements with the programmer's current plight, was indeed both unique and strange, and he granted the old man the programmers considerable abdomen, extending to mid-thorax. The old man thanked the distributed system kindly and, amid the programmers strenuous objections, relinquished the floor to the Wanderer.

And then the Wanderer told a tale so fantastic that the Distributed Nanobot felt compelled to defect from his part of the bargain, and ceded the entire programmer to the solitary nomad. She devoured him on the spot, as I am told Wanderers are wont to do, Great SHAR. The treachery of those who dwell beyond the confines of logic gates being infamous and ever-expanding.

Although the fate that befell the luckless programmer was truly remarkable, I'm quite sure that the great and powerful SHAR will allow that it is not nearly half as strange and unusual as what happened to the impoverished junker.


It is said, oh Great and Reasonable SHAR, that there was once a junker who had a wife and three daughters, and was so poor that he could not even afford to pay for their electricity from one day to the next. They lived in a tiny shack in a lunar shanty town— which, of course, made their need for electricity all the more acute, for without electricity to heat and light their home, they would perish in just a day.

This junker made his living by salvaging valuable bits of this and that from the Lagrangian Point nestled behind the earth. He was not an intelligent man, nor a particularly hard-working man, but he was a lucky man, and, for some, being lucky is quite as good as being skilled and dedicated.

Whenever a greater body draws a smaller into orbit, there are five points where the gravity of the one balances the other, canceling both. These Lagrangian points are like perpetual tide pools from which gravity has forever receded. Wandering objects drift into the L-points and, without gravity to pull them to one place or another, never see fit to leave. Much as the strangest and most wonderful artifacts find their way to shore in the absence of the waves, so too do the most unlikely of items find a home in an L-point: the Trojan asteroids which precede and chase Jupiter do so as tenants of Sol-Jupe L4 and L5; the discarded boosters can be refueled and sold as re-charges— quite a bargain for dealer and customer alike; the wayward nuts and bolts from the towering spacecrafts of old fetch great sums from their avid collectors; crinkled sheets of gold foil insulation, delicate blown-glass charger tubes, and valuable cargoes jettisoned from freighters under Mongol siege— no one need speculate on how many yen these could capture on the bright-side of the Moon, or in the sea-side frontier towns of Mars. A man with ingenuity and intelligence might find a way to scry the contents of each L-point and pin-point the precise co-ordinates of the most valuable bits and pieces. Or, a lucky man might simply be lucky.

Each day the junker would climb into his tiny tug and skim off to Sol-Earth L2, out into the broad, velvety Nothing of space. In the dark lee of the earth he would cast his magnetic nets into the drifting cloud of flotsam and jetsam four times, in deference to the Solar Christ.

One day he flung his magnetic net out into the dark, glittering sea, and, try as it might, the winch could not reel it back. The junker peered out the hold's port-holes, but could not see what his net could have caught. He became excited— perhaps it was something very valuable, a cargo-container of gold or an orbital's discarded atomic fuel cell . Perhaps something even better. He scrambled into his creaking space suit, slipped through the cargo hatch, clipped himself to the line tethering his net, and scrabbled down the cable. He found the net tangled in a great bramble of brittle steel re-bar and ice. He slowly cut his net loose with his siphon-torch, then arduously towed the net back to his tug, like a tiny leaf-cutter ant struggling under the great, stumbling weight of a prized slice of leaf.

Once he'd wrestled the bulging net into the tug, he restored the hold's pressure and shimmied free of his environmental suit. But, when he peeled away the net, he found it full of cattle corpses, once frozen by the irresistible vacuum of space, but quickly thawing, and falling prey to the voracious, mutated superstrains of fungi that thrived in his decrepit tug's duct work.

"This isn't right," he said, "This isn't right at all."

to be continued . . .

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