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Hooray… Friday… and here’s your weekly dose of free sci-fi from yours truly. This week, we’re starting in on a brand new tale in an exciting universe. This one’s got it all; an imperial Earth, killer Von Neumann robots, intelligent gasbags, and swashbuckling librarians (3rd Class, thank you very much). If you can’t wait for next week’s installment, you can read A Standard of Deviation and other works of original scifi in their entirety.
On with this week’s exciting new tale…
A Standard of Deviation
David A. Dickinson
Sometimes, the strangest ideas in the universe can sprout from the humblest of seeds. My grandfather once told me that kernel of wisdom when I was a little girl as we both watched a Spican Nematode I was raising sprout from its host and take wing. That was long before I had moved to New Seattle and taken up residence and a new job with my life partner, Lila. Of course, this was also before she told me of the rare and inoperable form of brain cancer that was lurking inside her brain stem… Lila was like that, never wanting me to make an undue fuss over her.
And me? My name is Kerri Jovejoy, Galactic Librarian 3rd Class. By day, I serve as chief curator at the New Seattle Repository for Inter-Spatial Knowledge, or NS-RISK as we humble human curators like to call it. But it’s my other, much more glamorous galaxy-spanning job that you’ve no doubt come to hear about…
Just how have librarians survived and thrived over the millennia, even in to our modern day, galaxy-spanning age? Well, the discovery of thousands of sentient races in our arm of the Milky Way galaxy’s habitable zone has seen no small influx of culture and information into the memory banks of the Galactic Confederacy. Most human merchants aren’t that interested in cataloging all the plays and pottery styles of all of these disparate races, but we librarians love to busy ourselves with the chronicling of the culture of every civilization that rears itself from the muck into sentience. My hobbies include the cataloging of the accumulated mythology and art of no more than 40 separate races. Silicon, arsenic, carbon-based, you name it. I even did my massive thesis on “A Study of the Comparative Mythos of Ethane-Based Organisms of the Orion Spur,” which was a real barn-burner that I’m sure nobody read. All, of course, except filter agents at Confederacy Command, who I can assure you that, when it comes to alien societies, are only concerned with one thing…
And that brings me to the topic of my second job.
Suffice to say, the job of librarian pays a meager wage. Lila and I had always hoped that with the combined savings from her barista job in the city center and my own wages, we could somehow afford to bid on having a child of our own one day… we even joked about who might get the ‘honor’ of carrying it. Having two children would be outside of our means. Colonies like New Seattle kept a very tight rein on their populations, and our only other hope would be to immigrate to one of the Outer Spur settlements where reproductive laws were lax. Trouble is, there isn’t exactly a huge demand for baristas or librarians — 3rd class or otherwise — out on the rough and tumble galactic frontier. The dream of having a family of our own was always just out of our grasp, and seemed to be a simple but frivolous luxury that we could never afford. It was thus with a little trepidation that I searched the Galactic Grid for a job I had once heard about in college: Quantum Courier.
Not that it was called by any such name. To the curious, I was an exo-archeologist, hopping about the frontier and studying the art and history of long dead galactic civilizations. But my true task was something much more immediate. I was entrusted with carrying the Quantum Standard.
It isn’t much to look at. The Standard weighs about a couple kilograms in Old Earth weight, and if I were robbed outright, it wouldn’t be the first thing that a thief would think to steal amongst the high-tech paleo-inverters and nano-scouts that I carry. But what the Standard carries within its nondescript brown case is the prize that holds the Confederacy together: a kilogram of tightly packed lithium ions, all in known quantum spin-states.
At this point I should mention that I’m a librarian by trade and not a quantum physicist. If you want to know the history of the Chanting Shrill Bards of Rigel, then I’m your gal — I can even perform the chants for you in the human octaves that I can hit — but I couldn’t build a quantum relay portal from the device I was carrying even if I wanted to. That’s not a courier’s job. Our training, which to Lila (and everyone else) was yet another one of my interminable “self-enrichment” courses in ancient alien taxonomy that I told her she could spare herself from being dragged along on, consisted of getting the Standard to where it needed to be, quietly and without notice. I can tell you that the Standard contains about a kilogram of lithium atoms in known spin states, and that quantum entanglement between these atoms and the distant relay stations orbiting stars in the Confederation makes instantaneous transportation and our galactic civilization possible.
We were lucky in a way, us humans. We had figured out the method of quantum teleportation first with our big ape-brains, and used it to populate the galaxy with more of our smart primate kin. Other species in our galaxy weren’t so lucky. You can thank those probes sent out by our distant ancestors that put the first quantum nodes in the nearest star systems. They had to inch along over decades at sub-light speeds until humanity could begin “hopping out” instantaneously to the nearest stars. If a scout lands in your solar neighborhood, expect quantum teleported human settlers to follow. What lies between the stars? We never really cared, as quantum entanglement technology gave us a way to skip all that and build the web for a galactic empire, one that placed Earth and humanity as the very rich and wealthy “go between” in our self-imposed Confederacy. If civilization X wanted to do business with civilization Y, they had to go through the cunning merchants of humanity to do it.
But after millennia of hopping through the cosmos, a problem arose. Ships weren’t arriving at their correct destinations, or were coming through portals badly mangled, or disappearing entirely. It was discovered that the twins to these standards were undergoing an unknown process of quantum decay, and that a defined Standard of quantum entanglement would need to be physically brought to these stations periodically. The spin states and the rate of decay would then be noted and updated. And no, I know what you’re thinking; the readers can’t be brought to the Standard, it has to be brought to them. Something about Schrödinger’s Cat and the old standards occupying multiple states prior to reading… hey, remember, I am just a Librarian 3rd Class…
To be continued…