Raw and unedited as always.
Bacon’s office was cool with a ceiling a good four meters overhead, and a few short windows for light near the ceiling. Most things Bacon needed to read would be shown on a modern computer monitor he could adjust. A modern light fixture over his desk was turned up just enough at the moment to make it a pool of light in the gloomy room. There was a lounge of low upholstered furniture off to one side with tables and a buffet table against the wall behind them. A couple Derf sized chairs faced the desk, and behind the desk a wall held shelves of old fashioned bound books, both in the Derf and Human styles. The Human sort arranged vertically and the Derf stacked flat.
At first Born thought something had happened to cause the mysterious visitor to leave early, then a small pale face looked from behind the chair back. It was a Human, and the shoulder high chair for a Derf was high-backed for him. He hadn’t seen his legs dangling in the dark room, though his eyes were still adjusting when he came in. The man, young man Born judged him to be, was more surprised than Born. However he was staring mouth dropped open in surprise at Musical not Born.
“Are you a Badger?” the Human asked, surprised and maybe a little excited.
“Yes, we got stuck with that label by the Humans,” Musical admitted. “Looking at photos of the animal it’s not a bad comparison. Badgers seem to have decent press, I mean, we could have been tagged as rats or possums. Badgers seem to be regarded as whimsical and intelligent. The Derf have nothing similar to us, thus the Derf word for Badgers is . . .Badgers.”
“What a treat! Not one in a million Humans have ever seen your race in the flesh. This is my first trip off Earth, well except for the Moon which isn’t any big deal, it’s like visiting your back yard, and here I get to see not only Derf that are uncommon enough, but a Badger!”
Musical did a shallow plié with a little bow like a ballet dancer for him. It wasn’t any cultural thing, he was just cutting up. Bacon stood up, worried the Human would take offense if he understood it for a jest, and suggested they move over to the lounge where everyone could be seated.
“This is Mr. Ambrose . . .”
“Doctor Ambrose,” the Human interrupted.
“I neglected any titles because I’m sure Musical isn’t familiar with the Earth system, and even Born might think you a physician,” Bacon said. “Musical is the Badger, Born is the Derf.”
That was apparently as much introduction as it Bacon was going to offer now. The terse manner was probably because he wasn’t used to being curtly interrupted. Whether the Human could tell Bacon’s brevity was a sign of irritation Born couldn’t tell. The man’s face betrayed no strong embarrassment, and he certainly didn’t apologize. Normally when introducing colleagues Bacon would have said a little about each one’s area of study and perhaps even offered a thumbnail history with their professional relationship to him.
A staff member came in and put a coffee service on the table. Bacon made a subtle gesture to him with a cutting motion of one hand. The server twitched slightly in surprise, but made a single short nod. Born suspected that meant their luncheon was cancelled.
“Is your area of study in quantum phenomena such as I do?” Born asked after an awkward silence neither Bacon or Ambrose seemed inclined to end.
“No, I’m an astronomer. Bacon called you to help me because he said you are working with Miss Anderson of the High Hopes Exploratory Association. It seems I timed my visit very badly. I’d hoped to inquire of that association and all the principle directors just left for Earth. We crossed over actually,” Ambrose said with a wry expression. Born had just recently learned to recognize that subtle twisted smile for what it was.
“And you ended up here, how?” Born inquired.
“Well, the gentlemen I came to investigate is an academic,” Ambrose said, “so when the directors of the Exploratory Association proved unavailable to find him it seemed natural to seek help at the largest and oldest institute of learning that just happened to be close at hand. Bacon seemed to be the dean of the College of Sciences as close as I could tell by auto-translation. I’m trying to find a fellow named Ernie Goddard. He submitted several papers to The Fargone Journal of Astrophysics that are quite interesting. He had a unique opportunity to make observations across an unusually long span of light years. He proposed a number of mechanisms in the formation of brown dwarfs by super nova events. It will likely be some time before others are in a position to peer review his theories by direct observation.”
“But you’re from Earth,” Born noted. “Do you subscribe to the Fargone Journal? Is this an area of particular interest to you?”
“The University of Toronto is the home of the Trans-Solar Journal of Astrophysics,” Ambrose said. “It’s an open journal subsidized by the university. They do subscribe to the Fargone journal and we get summaries of several other related Fargone open journals. We did inquire about Mr. Goddard and they replied the paper was submitted from Derfhome and they had no personal information about him. They indicated Mr. Goddard made a submission by ship mail and a rather generous contribution to help cover publication costs. They don’t require that but welcome it. It took a month to get that reply, so it seemed best to come make a direct inquiry when a back and forth by ship mail could drag on quite a long time and the expenses would end up a significant fraction of just sending someone. I was also currently available and willing to come right now.”
“Are you an editor of the Solar Journal then?” Born asked.
“Oh my goodness, no.” Ambrose did manage to look embarrassed at that. “I’m not nearly far enough along in my career to have such a prestigious position. I’m simply an adjunct instructor of Introductory Astronomy at Toronto. They follow a traditional calendar and I wasn’t scheduled to teach for three months in our summer, so I was available to come. In fact I probably would have had to claim negative tax income to get by, which really looks bad on your record. Fortunately I recently became engaged to the daughter of my dean, who is an editor of the Trans-Solar Journal of Astrophysics. My fiancé asked her father to find something for me. He very kindly found this assignment to keep me busy and employed. I’ve always wanted a trip outside our Solar System too. It will be the Fall semester when I get back and I’ll be back teaching again.”
Bacon and Born exchanged a glance. Bacon seemed subtly amused. Born could guess why. When a clan Mother didn’t approve of a declared intent to marry they often found an urgent necessity to send one of the happy couple off to trade town work. Romance, like air, abhors a vacuum, and a void is often filled by another partner, or such a removal affords one time for contemplation, uninfluenced by the other’s hormone stirring presence. Born had to wonder if Ambrose was naive and didn’t appreciate the risk of having neither fiancé nor post upon his return to Toronto?
“Our university lacks entire departments some larger institutions have. Or several areas of study may be consolidated under one school. We don’t really have a course in astrophysics. I assume you checked the composite list of all papers on our local net?” Born asked Bacon.
“Indeed yes. “A Wave-front Compression Model of Brown Dwarf Formation” was not listed. I did a partial title search just to be sure. There was nothing,” Bacon said.
“I know the fellow who approves and archives papers for Astronomy,” Born said. “He’s the sort who feels no urgency to file something if he’s continuing a dialog with the author. Let’s inquire and see if perhaps he has something pending by name.”
Bacon waved at the large wall screen by way of permission to Born to do such a search.
His pad address book contained the fellow he had in mind and he was soon connected.
The Derf answered his own com. He was a grizzled old fellow, gone to full white all over the muzzle and ear tips. He had to be a hundred and twenty if not thirty. His eyes were sharp and his head erect however. He started to greet them in Derf and then seeing Ambrose switched to English. “What can I do for you boys?” Given his age it was no insult.
“Flavious, are you by any chance processing a paper on brown dwarf formation by Ernie Goddard?” Born inquired.
“Ah yes, Earnest Goddard,” he corrected. “Informality is all well and good for musicians and air car racers, but higher education should maintain some veneer of formality. It’s a marvelous paper,” he said, despite the fussiness. “He draws some very interesting extensions of his ideas for us without falling into the error of stating them as facts.”
“But you haven’t posted it as published?” Bacon asked.
“No, it had several typos, a sentence that wasn’t at all clear, and a phrase with a common homonym I suspect is a joke. I’d really like to discourage him from doing that. It not only lacks somber scholarly tone, but in a hundred years it may be puzzling to a new generation with different usage. It doesn’t even translate directly to Derf. I generally hold off from publishing until I can resolve any issues with the author. I’ve published with editor’s notes before but I find it upsets people. I’m willing to let him speak for the co-author too since he isn’t available.”
“There’s a co-author?” Born said. “Does anyone know anything about him?”
Ambrose and Bacon both shook their heads no.
“He is John Burris, who is obviously a shipmate,” Flavious said. “He hasn’t been co-author on any of Goddard’s’ other papers in the University net.”
“He has other astrophysics papers of which I wasn’t aware?” Ambrose said, distressed.
“No, he has papers with co-authors that deal with planetary formation, xeno-archeology of alien mega-artifacts, and a number of lesser reports. Though I have to admit they tend to the economy of touching on several fields in one paper instead of breaking them up.”
“So, the man isn’t actually an astrophysicist?” Ambrose demanded. He seemed upset.
“Formally educated as one? Not to my knowledge,” Flavious agreed. “But them neither was he schooled in archeology or planetary formation.” Flavious seemed amused at Ambrose and Born hoped the Human couldn’t read that, but then Flavious went ahead and made it obvious with his next observation.
“He seems to be too busy schooling us to have sat at anyone’s knee himself.”
“We do not publish dabbling dilettantes and amateurs,” Ambrose said. “That opens your journal to ridicule. I’d as soon publish scholarly papers from an engineer.”
Born had never seen that expression on Musical. The dimpled muzzle and tips of the incisors just showing didn’t look friendly however. He’s been taking it all in but silently. Born held his breath, hoping that held.
Bacon rose quickly, thrusting a true hand out for Ambrose to shake. “So sorry such a long trip turned out to be a dead-end.” When Ambrose took it Bacon gave it a couple short pumps and then without letting go pulled him to his feet. Born and Musical, Flavious even, still on com, watched in wonder as Bacon walked him to the door, hand still clasped in a true hand and his heavier lower arm around the man’s shoulders propelling him irresistibly.
Bacon massed over half a ton and Ambrose was going wherever he walked him. He kept up a babble of nonsense about how he commiserated with his wasted time and trip, never giving the man a chance to speak. At the door he handed him off to his secretary and closed the door before the man could even turn around to protest. Born heard the lock bolt slide home too, just in case the idiot tried to come back in the room to protest. It wasn’t quite a bum’s rush.
Born’s housekeeper appeared at the door from his quarters, looking amused but expectant.
“Now we’ll have some lunch Norman,” Bacon instructed. Norman nodded, smiling. He obviously anticipated that.
The tables turned out to be built to rise to a comfortable height for dining, and Norman came back with a cart to load the side board.
“Serve yourselves. I prefer a casual meal over a stuffy formal one with everything appearing over your shoulder. Everything is safe for you,” Bacon assured Musical.
“Thank you for your restraint when Mr. Ambrose insulted your profession,” Bacon told Musical.
“Doctor Ambrose,” Musical said haughtily. They all cracked up laughing.
“That’s as much humor as I can take for a day,” Flavious said from the screen and signed off, but he was smiling when he did so. They’d forgotten about him.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to dissuade him,” Musical explained. “When we came here from Far Away, Gordon the Fleet Master encouraged us to make a side trip, outside the cone of ownership ceded to the Little Fleet. We used Ernie Goddard’s charts based on his theories to locate a brown dwarf system worth trillions of your dollars. Why should I encourage that jackass to take a second look at such a powerful tool? I’m happy to keep it for ourselves, the Derf, and much more reasonable Humans like Miss Anderson and the Fargoers.
“I’ll drink to that,” Bacon said. “I recommend the dark beer in the short thicker bottle.”
They all relaxed and ate for a moment.
“If you do find some answers for your patron Miss Anderson,” Bacon said told the two of them. “I stand ready to make the College of Practical Applications, the Engineers in plain English, available to design and fabricate such mechanisms as needed to test your theories.”
Born looked a question at Musical and got no objection.
“We’ll certainly make that kind offer to her when she returns from the Earth system.”
Bacon nodded, satisfied.