What kind of fools did we bring to this planet? Bad enough that they thought a war would solve the problems between the First Down Crew and the Passengers, but to try to take the Space Elevator by force, and then accidentally destroy it? Madness, sheer madness. Did any of them think how fragile humanity was on this new world? No, of course not. Nothing mattered but the quest for power. If we manage to survive this disaster, things will be different. I swear it will.
Excerpt from the Diary of Queen Parthi Sunderland, Distribution Limited by order of the Committee for the Security of the Realm, 153 AF.
“Goddess! Is that the time?” Daron asked looking down at the jeweled watch his wife had given him after the birth of their first child. “I am sorry, but I really must run,” he told his companions as he stood. “If I don’t, dinner will be late, and Magda will be mad.”
“Don’t you have a cook?” Sean asked as he buttered another scone.
“Yes, but you know how it is. If I am not there to check, then things go awry.”
“Ha! You just like Magda to think you do all the work in the house,” commented Johan. “I keep telling you it’s a mistake. If you do everything, how will you ever get an increase in your household allowance?”
“Yes, we’re all familiar with your views on managing a household,” Daron said as he buttoned up the close-fitting overcoat. “Some of us have a better relationship with our wives and don’t have to stoop to subterfuge to have a little spending money.”
Daron could hear his friends laughter as he opened the low doorway and ducked through into the lobby of the tea house. Taking a short moment to sign the chit for the service with the woman at the front desk and he was out the door.
He paused on the front step of the tea house looking out at the usual bustle of mid-afternoon foot traffic in the capital. Everyone was bundled against the cold, gloves, hats and scarves being the order of the day. The sun was shining down the middle of the street, casting a golden glow on the stone buildings, and reflecting off the bright work on the cars and trucks that chugged along. Even with the bright blue sky, there was the hard, metallic scent of snow on the way. Just as well he had left now, once the snow began, the trollies would be packed.
Putting on what Magda called a “city face”, Daron stepped into the flow of people walking along the sidewalks. It was a short walk of a block and a half to get to the nearest trolley stop. He casually and surreptitiously took a one star coin out the concealed pocket in his gloves.
It made him smile a fond smile. The gloves were another gift from Magda. The hidden pocket really was unnecessary. Daron had lived his whole life in New Hope. And yes there were parts of town where it was not safe for a man to walk alone, the high street ten blocks from the Palace was not one of them. But Magda had grown up in the countryside and still worried for him. It was quite endearing, if a little annoying from time to time.
The trolley arrived with the whiff of ozone from the overhead wires. The doors swung back. Daron started to get on, but was cut off by a woman in a dark coat. From the corner of his eye he could see the other women waiting to board frown at the discourtesy, but it really made no difference to Daron. They were all getting on the same trolley, did it really matter who got on first? Women were always so obsessed with the social rules.
As he made his way down the aisle, Daron accidentally made eye contact with a couple of roughly dressed women, factory workers, from the look of their plain wool clothes. The two immediately flashed saucy grins, and Daron would swear he could feel their eyes taking in every bit of him from head to toe. He dropped his gaze down to the floor, cursing himself for forgetting to be demur in public. His face flashed bright red as one of them made quiet kissing sounds as he passed.
They must have seen his blush, because Daron could hear their high bell-tone laughter as he passed. There was nothing he could do but ignore it. If he acknowledged them again, they might think it was an invitation to talk to him.
There was a seat at the very back of the trolley, across from a woman who was reading the newspaper. It was just what Daron needed. He would be out of sight of the factory-women, and the woman across from him would probably never look up from her paper.
Settling in, Daron took a few deep breaths to calm himself and chase away any lingering blush. The trolley started with a jerk and a snap of sparks. Turning his head, Daron could see out the window at the shops and restaurants of the high street.
Everywhere were new electronic devices. The long struggle to regain enough population and manufacturing capability to bring back the wonderous technology the colonist had before the Fall was reaching its final stage. Daron smiled at the idea that his daughter might one day see the world from the heights their ancestors once knew. If he were honest, he would have to admit an unworthy jealousy of what the women of his family might achieve.
Shaking his head to chase away unwanted thoughts, Daron looked back across the aisle to the front page of the newspaper. It was a little far to read the print, but the headline and picture were enough to make his stomach clench. Queen’s Prize for Mathematics Awarded, shouted the all capital print. In the grainy stippled picture, Daron saw an old classmate of his, Lynn Bethsmaid smiling and holding the certificate in front of her.
Daron was unsure if he had made a sound, but he noticed the woman sitting next to the paper-reader looking directly at him. Feeling the blush climbing to his cheeks, Daron quickly schooled his features into a blandly pleasant smile and dropped his gaze to the dirty floor of the trolley. After a slow and careful count of two hundred, Daron snuck a quick look up at the woman. To his relief she had turned her attention elsewhere. Just to be safe, he decided to keep his gaze lowered for the rest of the ride. It gave him plenty of time to fume about Bethsmaid and the Queens Prize.
Daron’s intention had been to go straight to his closet and pull out his notebooks from University, but as so often happened, the details of the household took up all of his time from the moment he took his coat off. As good as the houseboys his wife employed were, they still needed supervision. Daron remembered what his father had told him, “Staff will only be as good as your willingness to inspect their work.” It had seemed terribly unfair and pompous when he had been a boy, but now that Daron had a house to keep of his own, he knew it for practical wisdom.
It was, in fact, nearly six before everything was squared away enough for Daron to slip into Magda’s study and look at the house’s copy of the newspaper. The article was not very technical, focusing more on the woman of the hour and her life. But the paragraph that described the work nearly made Daron drop the paper.
“The breakthrough,” the article read, “is in the way of looking at individual actions, called Graph Theory. By providing a visual basis for breaking down complex relationships into steps and flow paths, this new math will be the bedrock of writing instructions for the long sought computer technology. A major step in the goal our foremothers set.”
It was everything Daron had feared. He could remember being laughed at in class when he brought up the idea of using graphs to describe complex interactions. Bethsmaid had been part and parcel of the teasing. Now she was standing next the Queen for that exact work!
Daron nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Magda’s voice behind him. “Taking an interest in current events?” his wife asked. She laughed at the way that Daron jumped, but then she always did.
Turning, Daron looked at his wife. She was still in her suit from work, with the machine-woven pattern of checks that Magda was so proud of. The suit was a few years old, and they had been prosperous years, as the slightly ill-fitting coat and pants showed. Daron knew he’d have to take it to a tailor to get it altered, if, that was, he could ever get Magda to wear something else.
“Yes, I was interested in the awarding of the Queen’s Prize for Mathematics,” Daron said as Magda came up to him and gave him a quick kiss.
The smile that had originally melted his heart graced Magdas lips. She shook her head. “Once an arithmetic devotee, always one, eh?”
“Yes,” Daron said as Magda gently took the newspaper from his hands. “Graph theory was my area of study. I went to school with the winner.”
“How about that? My husband had a brush with greatness. I can’t wait to brag about it tomorrow.”
Daron had been planning to broach the subject of it being his work that Bethsmaid was being feted for, but it was clear Magda was not interested. It always hurt when she ignored the hints in conversation but making a scene about it would not help matters.
He was not even sure what he wanted Magda to do, after all, it might have been original work that won the prize. From the news account it was impossible to tell. Magda was an important woman in the Ministry of Industry, but it would take far more than just her advocacy for Daron to receive even partial recognition for the work.
No, the time was not right for him to press this issue. First things first, find out just how close Bethsmaid’s work was to his.
“Yes, dear one?”
“Is it alright if I buy a copy of the Journal Mathematica with the equations? They are rather expensive if one does not subscribe.”
Magda smiled benevolently. “Of course, dear! Remind me tomorrow and I’ll give you the stars you need to make that purchase. Anything to make you happy.”
Daron broke into his own wide smile and hugged Magda tightly. She might not always understand what was important to him, but she did love him and take care of him. Knowing that was not always the case between wives and husbands, Daron considered himself a very, very lucky boy.