Felix and the Frontier is a story told in six episodes, posted serially by me, your finger waggling host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Reminder: I'm going to be hawking books and performing live improvisational storytelling at this year's SFX 2007 Science-Fiction Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this coming weekend, August 24-26. Drop by if you can!
Announcement: The Bikes of New York is now available in a newly edited, affordably priced print edition! Order your copy today (unless you pitched in for the Scifi Expo in which case I'll be sending you a complimentary copy as soon as I'm able -- do write to me to make sure I have your correct mailing address!). Relive the fun and fear of Luc Drapeau's stand against Manhattan's pedal power gangs!
We all know Felix's holy grail.
We all know the jackpot is a post-industrial civilization with whom we might make friends -- another intelligent kind to stand with Solar life, the Pegasi and the Great Henniplasm as peers of the Neighbourhood.
After so many lifeless worlds any sign is ambrosia to him, no matter how humble. He tries to keep his expectations appropriately meagre.
He stifles a sigh as he steps out onto another barren landscape of craters and dust beneath a black sky. He wilts at the knees, his body sagging not from disappointment but rather a somatic realization of the planet's strong gravity.
He straightens, rolling his shoulders as he becomes accustomed to their new weight. He takes a breath, tastes traces of nitrogen briefly before his duo of staff step in to disinfect him. Felix holds up his arms tolerantly, to make the job easy.
The sun crests the craggy horizon. It's an unremarkable yellow dwarf. Shadows dry up from the basins, absorbed into the crater rims.
He sets off on a stroll, scanning the environment with a bored expression. The rock features are sharp and uneroded, the impact basins ancient. This is a place utterly without weather but what dust and fire flotsam provides when meteorites fall.
And then he stops short on the next rim: in the crater below there are artifacts, their rectilinear edges standing in stark contrast to the organic texture of natural relief around them. He plods down over the rocky edge and then walks a mile across the dust-coated interior before arriving at the artifacts. They make him smile, the tough skin around his black eyes wrinkling into a million lines.
A pole stands with a piece of coloured fabric hanging heavy against it, the edges dangling with long, still threads. It is not the banner of the Panstellar Neighbourhood. At its foot is a piece of derelict technology: the struts and base of a modular lander. The common constraints of economic engineering have made the object almost familiar, but upon inspection the details are clearly alien.
Intelligent spacefarers have visited this place, and left their humble mark.
On one side of the abandoned lander base is a shiny plaque inscribed with glyphs, diagrams and a tight grid of mathematical ratios and corresponding symbols for various constants. Felix speculates that a series of sinewy lines may be a depiction of the authors as physical entities, though he finds it hard to make heads or tails of the miasma of sweeping, tapering limbs.
On the opposite side of the lander is a second plaque, this one inscribed with a diagram of the star system. Felix sees that the planet upon which he stands is represented as one partner in a binary pair. It is the second, smaller partner that is surrounded by a halo of glyphs. That, guesses Felix, is home.
Three hours later that home rises, its sunward half a blaze of sparkling blue ocean under swirls of white cloud, the disc larger than Felix's outstretched palm -- a very close companion, a swiftly cruising sky-brushing moon.
As the blue moon climbs in the black sky it is accompanied by a sussurussing of electromagnetic static. Felix listens. His hearing spans the band, panning for guideposts amongst the noise. Using a key ratio from the first plaque on the lander, he discovers a relationship between sextets of frequencies, and finds the information transmitted within each set to be mutually complementary. Added together, they form a signal carrying information.
The taste of information, so stark and crisp and bright against the bed of randomness, fills Felix with an inexplicable emotion particular, perhaps, to himself as an individual. The quest has wrought in him a special sympathy for organized patterns that may have no real analogue for us homebodies.
There are messages there -- indecipherable, opaque, bizarre -- but still wonderful, wonderful messages encoding something banal or beautiful from the experience of some living thing whose mind could watch itself think. A thing like you or me. A thing like Felix.
Felix looks up at the blue world. As it turns its dark half begins to glitter with the light of cities. His eyes widen, and he grins.
It's peers. After all this time -- peers.
He looks around quickly, narrowing his eyes and blinking through the wavelengths as he inventories the craters around him for minerals. It is clear that his first order of business is to get himself to the blue moon, and meet whomever lives there: thus he will require a spaceship.
Felix returns to camp. He calls his staff and drips communication oil into an anthole on the gatehouse...
To read the complete novella get it for Kindle!