The dawn air was cold, just what Enoch needed. He ducked to step through the barbed-wire fence and headed into the rising sun. The gold and purple colors of the sky were awesome. Nothing was out. The night creatures were gone, and whatever lived out there in the day wasn't out yet. He was alone in his thoughts. This was what he came out here from California to enjoy.
The pebbles crunched under his shoes. He had to avert his eyes from the glare of the rising sun, so he turned south. His ranch extended at least a mile in this direction, maybe he would walk to the fence at the property line, then follow it out to the road. He brushed past the scrubby not-quite-trees, down into a dry gully, and up the other side. After a rainstorm these filled up with water. Water was crucial to the ranchers trying to raise cattle, but that was not Enoch's problem.
His mind wandered, back to why he bought this place. He was trying to simplify. Were things simpler now? He didn't know. Would they be simpler if he accepted Lazir's offer? There was no way of knowing. New things to learn, new behavior to accommodate. It would surely be a challenge at first, but then it might become boring. He couldn't even die of this boredom. What a pit.
Suppose he didn't like life with these Damic people, what then? Would they let him come back? What was that line, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." He made a mental note to add to his list:
4. Can he come back if it doesn't work out?Lazir had said something about a space warp enabling -- or in the case of earth, impeding -- interstellar travel. All under the watchful control of the Ancient One. God adjusts the physics of the universe to benefit or punish, on his capricious whim. What a concept. Enoch wondered if this Ancient One could be appeased or cajoled. Maybe that's what animal sacrifices are for. Maybe a sacrificial virgin? Oh wait, everybody lives forever, including the virgins. Were there any virgins? Not in Enoch's world. Maybe they existed in the Ancient One's pristine and perfect world.
He reached the fence. It looked like it had been recently repaired, probably by the neighbor. Then he saw why. Several cattle were standing by the fence, looking hungrily at the better foliage on his side. That's because he didn't have cattle eating it down, he told himself. In a perfect world there's plenty for all, no drought, no hungry cattle. Maybe no cattle at all, if you can't eat them. He wondered again whether he would like being a vegetarian -- or if he even needed to.
His mind wandered onto other topics. The scrub vegetation was overgrown near the fence here, so he needed to detour around it. With the sun at his back, the shadow of his head on the brush and the ground had a funny bright halo. He guessed it was an optical illusion: you only see shadows when your line of sight is angled to the sun's rays, but right near the shadow of his head his line of sight was very nearly parallel. So while he could see little shadows of the pebbles and branches in every other direction, right close to his sight line the shadows were all behind the objects casting them, so he saw only the bright illuminated sun side, which therefore looked somewhat brighter than the surrounding terrain. The things that engaged his imagination constantly astounded Enoch.
Enoch thought about the trilobite fossil. There would be no fossils in a world where nothing dies, because fossils were dead animals. There were fossil trees and other plants, too, but they weren't so interesting. The interesting fossils were the dead extinct animals. Why did they go extinct? A giant meteor 65 million years ago off the Yucutan peninsula in Mexico was supposed to have killed off the dinosaurs with something like a nuclear winter. The trilobites died off much earlier than that, another meteor? Maybe an ice age? Who knows? Maybe the paleontologists know, but Enoch is a programmer, not a paleontologist.
Still, what makes fossils? Water. Actually, sand and mud dropped by water. Enoch guessed the water had to be moving rapidly to carry the mud -- like the streams in the gulches after a big rain here on his ranch -- and then stop moving so fast, so the mud and sand drops to the bottom, burying whatever is there. A big river after a major storm drops its mud in the delta where the river broadens as it meets the sea. That's what builds the delta and makes it great farmland. But it gets flooded out every few years, so they build dikes and seawalls to keep the floods back, so the ground loses its nutrients. Ordinary river floods probably don't drop enough mud to bury the trilobites and clams and whatever deep enough to keep them from wiggling out. So it must have been a massive... Flood.
How could the whole earth be covered with water? There isn't enough water available to cover Everest. Of course the whole Himalaya range is uplifted from plate tectonics over millions of years. Like the Rockies west of here. Enoch remembered the deep-sea trenches, some were deeper than Everest is tall. Suppose there were neither trenches no high mountains. After all, there are fossils in the highest mountains -- including Everest? Enoch couldn't remember. So they all were under water at some time or another. Obviously before they were tall. Maybe the plate tectonics moved rapidly after whatever caused the Flood, then slowed down. It could. Who would know? Nobody was there to watch. Except Noah. If there was such a person.
Dead end, not enough information to pursue this line of reasoning.
Enoch turned to the idea of living forever. We know there's no senility, that's what the Living Tree potion cured in Grandpa. He was sharp as a tack when Enoch left him yesterday. Yesterday? It seemed like such a long time ago. There are some big computer programming projects Enoch would like to tackle, but that would take too long. But if he had a million years, he could do it, several times over. Maybe it would get boring. He could take year-long vacations, travel to distant stars, study geology and paleontology and all those subjects he skipped over in college. There had been a couple older students in some of his classes in college, and they were not stupid. He could do that. Would the Living Tree cure memory loss? Maybe he should ask that:
5. Are very old (Damic) people forgetful?It had to be about Damic people; the Ghibber people had a different body chemistry, so their mental processes were probably different too.
Enoch's alarm sounded as he got near the road. He turned to follow the road back to the house. He would get back early enough to update his list and maybe print it out. He heard the roar of an approaching pickup ahead of him, and stepped away from the road. There would be a dust cloud, and he didn't particularly want to be in the middle of it.
Enoch wondered about vehicular travel. Obviously they had interstellar space ships, and lander planes like the one in Enoch's back yard. Did they have pickups? Did they run on oil? Oh wait, oil is fossilized plants and animals; no Flood, no oil. No coal either. Maybe they did hydrogen conversion from solar or wind power. Or maybe they had much better batteries.
Then he remembered the energy converter Lazir had loaned him. It would fit under the hood of the smallest car, maybe even on the back of a motorcycle. Who needs batteries? Who needs oil? You could drive forever without refueling. It ran on gold. Yeah, Enoch's gas-guzzling car did too. He wondered what they did for money, if they could make everything they needed in the energy converter. Maybe they don't need money. They have no government, didn't even know what government is. How weird is that?
Money is a way to establish the relative worth of things, so you can fairly barter goods and services. Otherwise greedy people would take advantage of the less powerful. They did that anyway, but money limits the extent of the damage. The government enforces laws against slavery and theft (which is the same thing, since the owners are essentially stealing the labor of their slaves), so people can trade their labor and the fruits of their labor for the food and other things they need to live on, and maybe even for some luxuries. Some labor is worth more than others, mostly because of scarcity. Programming is hard and takes a peculiar mind-set, so Enoch could get more money for doing it well. Supply and demand. Was it hard out there too? That's an interesting question:
6. How do people earn money? Can I get paid for programming?If programming were as easy as driving a car, nobody would be willing to pay for it. Well, some rich people prefer to do other things with their time, so they pay chauffeurs to drive for them, and poor people can't afford cars, so they pay to ride a bus, but mostly everybody drives their own cars. Would everybody be smart enough to program their own computers, too? Lazir seemed to indicate that there was a division of labor on his own lander, so there must be specialization. It was a comforting thought.
Enoch wondered why he should consider the availability of work to be comforting. Money, for one thing -- if it's useful. But more than that, he realized that he would go out of his mind if there weren't interesting things to do. Which for him usually meant programming. Other people like driving or gardening or nursing or raising children. There's a lot of diversity in people's likes and dislikes. In an optimum economy, everybody could do what they liked and be paid for it. Enoch wondered if anybody hated their job in the Damic or Ghibber cultures. That was worth asking:
7. What if you don't like your job?One of his fellow programmers, back when Enoch was still working, got his jollies out of pretending to be a medieval knight, with sword and helmet and chain-mail. They had a whole club of like-minded people, who carefully dressed in period costumes, and bashed each other over the head with padded clubs. They made their own chain-mail vests by interlocking little key-rings. He was a competent programmer, but Enoch was convinced he thought medievalism was a lot more fun, that programming was just a job to pay the bills. How would such a person survive in the "perfect" Damic or Ghibber culture? Would they be wage-slaves, stuck to a disagreeable job for all eternity, so they could pay the rent and go have fun on weekends? Or maybe they could put on medieval (or whatever) shows for people to pay to come watch. It was an interesting question.
Enoch came around the bend in the road so he could see his water tower in the distance, and realized he had more questions than answers. Would Lazir have satisfactory answers? What if he did, would Enoch be willing to leave everything he knew and go off on an unknown adventure? To trade his wealth in for unknown economic status? Another good question:
8. What economic status would I come in as?He was pretty sure he didn't want to enter the interstellar culture poor, but the money in his bank probably wouldn't count for much outside the USA. What was that line, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better." Enoch had never been dirt poor (besides growing up), but economic comfort really is better. Programming was a fabulously lucky draw, because it made so much money. Except right now, but the economy would turn up again. His dad was a preacher, and made almost nothing. He liked the work, probably as much as Enoch liked programming, but he had nothing to show for it. Rich is better.
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