Plugs

(being an explication of the origins and initial reception of the new theory, together with an account of its rigorous testing)

Even in these enlightened times, Professor Robin’s theory was met with skepticism.

The Chronicle: “Nonsense of the Worst Sort!”

The Times, as expected, was more urbane: “Professor Robin’s radical Theory of Geothermal Heat has no foundation whatever.”

His fellow scientists were no kinder. Robin was expelled from the premier societies and ignored at meetings. The last straw came when Professor Philip, Chair of Earth Science at The University, had this to say: “Sir, do you mean that you believe the interior is a greater source of heat than the sun?! Poppycock! The Theory of Solar Heat is central to thermodynamics. It enjoys almost universal support and its predictions have been proven countless times.”

The gauntlet had to be taken up. After all, the matter involved considerations beyond mere science.

*

Robin mopped his brow. The drill rig towered above, but its shade fell elsewhere. Drilling was going well, and the bit should penetrate the base of the crust today. If his theory was correct, they would soon bring up samples of the hot mantle.

A shadow interposed itself between him and the sun. “Robin,” Cynthia said, “on a day like today it is difficult to believe that heat comes from within rather than above.”

“Dearest Cynthia,” he replied, “I have never claimed that we receive no radiant heat…” he swallowed. “I wish you would not tease about such things, given the attitude your father has displayed towards my suggestion of an alliance between us.”

With an expression of contrition she stood on tiptoe to kiss his forehead. “I have never doubted your brilliance. And I would love you anyway, were you quite wrong.”

Prof. Michael strolled up, hands in pockets. “Ready for ignominious defeat?”

“Au contraire!” Robin retorted hotly, but he was interrupted by an excited shout from the driller:

“New sample, Professor!” They hurried to the rig. The newest core lay on the plank table.

“Lighter color, more porosity… what are those dark blobs?” Robin mused.

Cynthia plucked one out, popped it in her mouth. “Mmm, blueberry.”

“Observe the steam, Michael.” Robin gestured towards the core. “Clearly the temperature of the interior is much greater than that on the surface. You have the pleasure of witnessing my vindication!”

“Vindication? You have proved yourself wrong. Although I have to admit some chagrin myself. The Bakists were on the right track after all. Oh look! Whole wheat!” He licked his lips.

The Diplomat didn’t like rice. He told me why in the first village we stopped at, the first village that didn’t know my village had exiled me, and that didn’t call him “Gaia rat,”–the first village that feasted us instead.
He said that rice reminded him of growing up in the monastery back on Gaia. He was adopted into the monastery like many other hungry boys. There was little else to eat but rice.
“Earth was having some population problems,” he said, which was odd, because by now I knew that he called each thing what it was, and what had happened on Gaia had been a disaster. Maybe my village had feared that he brought the disaster with him.
“The rice was never very good. It always had maggots in it.”
I love rice, one of the few foods from Gaia that we like here. It’s an honor-food. But I hate maggots. Now I could understand.
“We were desperate for the protein, so that was not so bad.”
I didn’t understand again.
“Except for the boiling,” he went on. “I hated taking those little lives. It wasn’t their fault that they looked exactly like rice grains.”
He turned his bowl round in his hands.
“They reminded me of the soldiers always marching through. Soldiers like those little lives, caught up in a rice bag that wasn’t their fault.”
He paused.
“My metaphor is not good. Of course rice is a living thing as well. But for me eating rice is like eating grief.”
He had never complained about anything before. At last I ventured, “Then why, Elder, are you eating it now?”
Together we looked down the rice in our bowls, the honor-food of the feast.
“Surely they would make you another dish if they understood?” I pressed.
“On the other hand,” he said, “Maybe I need to learn to eat grief. Maybe I could do with more patience. Besides, they are only trying to be thoughtful. I wish to be a good guest.”
I wish to be a good guest. I have spun those words around and around in my mind many times since. Sometimes I wonder if I was exiled for being a bad guest in my own home, perhaps being ungrateful when I was fed something I didn’t like.
“The maggots and the memories aren’t their fault,” he added.

Santa checked his list a second time. Cargo on board, ship sealed, launch tube filled with water, pressure equalized. He was off.

As it cleared the sea surface, Santa’s sleigh sprouted wings. Powerful engines coughed to life and plasma kissed the frigid Arctic water.

“Look ma! It’s a flying fish!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Santa Claus! ” “Hush, children. Chew your blubber.”

Acceleration pegged, he’s fast. Damn fast. Actually, they call him the streak. You gotta admire his physique.

Santa fired up the Chronotron when he hit cruising altitude. Psychedelic colors out the wazoo. His sleigh fugued. S l e i g h s. T o y s t o o.

2048 Santas disbursed toys with manic speed. But for every stocking filled, 1.17 babies gave out their first cries.

10,000 elves worked for Polar Enterprises. World population growth had forced Santa into an “arms” race he could not win. Corners were cut.

“DaAaaAaD! Santa left me a game console carved from a bar of soap!” “Wadja expect for free?”

Presents rattled down the chimney. “Ho ho ho” blue-shifted into the supersonic shattered windows and the fish tank. “Sorry,” drifted down.

Genevieve tore open the white package, ensanguined in the red-litten den.”You shouldn’t have!” Whips and cuffs: just what she’d asked for.

Unidentified blip, fighters scrambled, just after pilots smoked surprise holiday presents.

The jet fighters, their hash-powered pilots drifting in and out of consciousness, lost the rocket in a mysterious polar fog.

Plunging into the Arctic Ocean as dawn broke, Santa had one last gift in the back. Mrs. Claus did look good in Victoria’s Secret. Ho ho ho!

end

A flexing of the worldskin, and Bird flies, Calling. It is a time of joy, for strangers have landed on Mechaieh. A silver egg resembling the spawn of Frog drifted gently to the ground near Pool. Out of it hatch five beings of the same color and reflectivity, though the egg is not broken. The hatchlings proceed to water’s edge. Frog Greets them, but the strangers do not answer. Dipping one of its upper limbs into the water, one of the creatures drinks with a mouth at its waist. A moment, and all five drink with the mouths in their heads. Bird circles, Frog hides, Tree holds still as strangers approach. There is much pointing, Tree’s limbs dance the Words, but the strangers Speak not. The strangers catch several small beasts and cut pieces from them. The pieces are eaten by the mouths at strangers’ waists. One of the strangers cuts Tree, eats the piece of Tree with its waist mouth. Tree dances again; the stranger falls and moves not. One of the remaining strangers points at Tree. Fire is born, and two of Tree’s limbs are severed. Other strangers run to the fallen one, carry it toward their egg. Worldskin trembles; the strangers tumble from their feet. They rise, run swiftly to their egg, which opens its mouth to swallow them. The egg shudders, stars to rise, then is pulled down into the ground. Mechaieh judders, water splashes from Pond. Again, and again. Worldskin stills, later extrudes silver Egg. Egg opens its mouth and Stranger steps out. Stranger Speaks, and Frog Answers. Bird calls, and Tree makes Reply. It is a time of joy.

end

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