Leaning forward, Paul Harper kissed his wife Deborah on the forehead and whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” she whispered back with a tired smile. Their three month old Linda had finally fallen asleep in her mother’s arms.
Ever so gently, Paul placed his hand on the back of his daughter’s head. Like every time before, he smiled at the touch of her silky hair.
Sooner than he would have liked, Paul glanced towards his study and frowned. Deborah nodded and began to turn away, but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder and kissed her forehead again.
When Paul entered his study, he closed the door as quietly as possible and sat at his desk. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his temples. He still had twenty-three essays to read and correct before he could go to bed. Fortunately, they were short.
Since next week marked the fortieth anniversary of the Pentans making First Contact with humanity, he had his students write about what they felt was the biggest consequence of that event. He remembered his own teachers giving a similar assignment for the twenty-fifth anniversary, but he couldn’t remember what he had written. He didn’t have the time to look through his old files to see if he still had it, and besides he suspected those files had probably been deleted long ago. But before he had his students write out a long essay, he had them turn in a brief, one page version. This let him see where they were going so he could advise them on any problems they might run into. It was a good plan, except for the part where he had said he would return the essays tomorrow so his students could work on the full versions over the weekend.
With a sigh, Paul got to work. David Lepper apparently had gone to the net and just copied some college student’s paper. Paul doubted any of his eighth grade class could discuss how Wittgenstein’s theories could be used in an approach to the Pentan language. Elba Madero’s one page outline was a rambling three pages about how great it was for humans to learn we were not alone in the universe. Almost in contrast was Ann O’Rourke’s half page statement that Pentan technology and experience cut considerable time off the construction of the Mbandaka Space Elevator. And it was no surprise that the school’s star goalie, Doug Rach, wrote about Sphere-Soccer and other such sports made possible with Pentan gravity control.
Paul’s method was to read each essay twice; the first time to get the general idea and the second to mark mistakes or inconsistencies. But he had to read Doug’s three times because his mind kept wandering. Kids looked at grav plating and made up new sports whereas adults looked at it and wondered how it could change the oldest sport. Paul had once read that for every variable-g gym there were two variable-g sex parlors for couples who didn’t have the time or money to fly up to an orbital or lunar hotel for a weekend of acrobatic sex. He had been trying to talk Deborah into visiting one since before they were married, but it wasn’t until she was six months pregnant that she reluctantly agreed to give it a try, mainly because it would let her be light on her feet. But she ended up enjoying it so much they went back three more times. Her parents had promised to come over some weekend to watch Linda and give the new parents a break and Paul had a good idea what they would do.
Saving his comments on Doug’s essay, Paul shook his head to clear his thoughts and moved on to the essay by Jon Suthers. Jon was a teacher’s nightmare; an intelligent but lazy student, as well as a class-clown. His teachers never knew what they would get from him.
Up on Paul’s screen came Jon’s essay, “Unforeseen Benefits of Contact with Pentans.” The first sentence read: “One of the greatest benefits of the Pentans making Contact with us – but one few people will discuss openly – is it allowed for the humane disposal of Earth’s riff-raff.”
Paul gave a low whistle. “This should be interesting.” He continued reading:
The first group of riff-raff to leave Earth were the Technophiles. This group – incensed that the rest of the world did not share their desire to “improve” humanity with genetic and cybernetic enhancements – stole Unity I, the first Human-built vessel with tunnel capabilities, and went off into deep space never to return.
While the world was enraged over the theft of the ship, most people considered it a small price to pay for not having to deal with such people again.
Once tunnel capable vessels became common, more groups chose to follow the Technophiles – although these purchased their vessels.
One of the first groups to legally leave were the Marxists. These followers of Karl Marx – a Nineteenth Century philosopher – figured they could not fit into the Human Republic which requires Member Nations to have a democratic form of government as well as a capitalist economy. Of the three nations on Earth that are not members of the Human Republic – Switzerland, Vatican City, and the Ashgabat Caliphate – none hold to the Marxists ideals. So in 2063, a group of around a hundred Marxists led by Juan Dávila settled on the third moon of Thor – a Jovian planet orbiting the star Iota Horologii some 50 light-years from Earth. The colony – named Trier after the birthplace of Marx – has slowly grown through the emigration from Earth of others who share their views. While Trier is not a Member Nation, there is a treaty of non-interference between it and the Human Republic.
Through the door, Paul heard Linda begin to wail. He went to stand up, but stopped himself. I have to finish these he told himself. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself back to Jon’s essay.
Similar arrangements – allowing for travel and trade – have been made with other colonies such as Nike, Five Pillars, and Here. But others have severed all ties to the Republic, for example, Freewinds, Zion, and Cana. The conditions – and in some cases even the location – of these “colonies” are unknown, but not that many people care. (Although, as in the example of Trier, it would be nice if similar people left on Earth had the opportunity to emigrate.)
The reason it is beneficial for all these colonists to part company with the rest of humanity is that most of these colonies are populated with political and religious fanatics; brethren to groups that have caused considerable turmoil on Earth for millennia. With them out of the picture, perhaps the rest of us can finally live in peace.
But are we truly better off without such people? Throughout history, various groups have decided that the world would be better off if certain other groups were no longer around. While the Human Republic cannot be charged with genocide in the “disappearance” of the Technophiles or minor religious groups like the Scientologists – is the result not the same? For how long have the wise been telling us that our differences make us stronger, not weaker? How much weaker is the choir of humanity because of the loss of so many voices?
Paul sat back in his chair and rubbed his temples. “That was interesting, all right,” he said to himself. Then to his computer he said, “Insert comment,” and a small screen appeared at the bottom of the essay and filled in as he spoke. “There is a significant change in voice and tone between the beginning and the end of your essay, Jon. Either revise to have a constant voice throughout the whole, or if your intention is as I suspect to emphasize the end by the change, then you need to work on the beginning and make it more … satirical so the ending doesn’t come as a jolt.”
Pausing for a moment, Paul added, “Oh, and ease up on the dashes.”
Linda had quieted, and Paul hoped Deborah would be able to get some rest. He then began rereading Jon’s essay to further critique the writing.