two thousand years, the Earth falls prey to the imbalance of hot heads
with nuclear testicles and a point to prove. By that day, we shall
suppose that humankind has been moving out into the Sol system. Evolution
can’t do much with an ornery species in a mere two thousand
years, so human still shoot themselves in the foot, they just do it
with gravity waves instead of bullets. So of course, our insanity
came with us.
–X. H. Arbodor, The Exodous
Saturn orbit, Year Standard 4157
Xaq Hobesian Arbidor burps in his dormitory room. He can smell the
vacuum of space reaching for him. It’s pulling at the walls,
almost breathing though the plastic, geodesic space. A moment later,
the walls are contracting in on him, It happens ever so slowly, but
relentlessly, just beyond the edge of direct perception. Xaq is aboard
an artificial moon, the University of the Rings hive campus, in orbit
around Saturn. Xaq suspects the weight of academe is squeezing him
out like a mild—but not unexpected—case of gas. This was
academe, intent on blowing him out into the galactic real world.
Sometimes he thought the only thing that really kept him from being
blown out of the University of the Rings was pressure from the outside
worlds to keep him in. He stared out through his coveted half-meter
window, across the striped plain of orange, green and a hundred other
dust colors that spread ten thousand miles to horizon’s edge,
still one of the greatest set of rings in the galaxy. On the right
was the black inner solar system and the little world that had cradled
humanity more than a thousand years before. At the center was the
sun, but Sol had never been much help from a one and a half billion
kilometers away. Down 45,000 kilometers below was big, gassy Saturn,
where tourists from Jupiter came to gawk at real rings. But it was
out there—beyond the local planets to the interstellar spaces
where even light years were inadequate to measure distance—out
there, no one clamored for another Ph.D. in sexual anthropology.
Xaq was a local boy, born planetside in Saturnopolis, a hundred-kilometer
egg that was once the crowning glory of a terraformed city. His mother
had often reminded him how lucky he was to have such a fine school
as the University of the Rings in his backyard—and that would
feel obliged to take him. Xaq’s grades kept him out of Nucleus
U or the other prized schools, so he made do with the University of
the Rings and its uninspiring freeball teams. Xaq thought anthrosex
could send him gallivanting around the galaxy investigating civilizations.
So far he was a professional student, still hanging out in the Sol
system where little remained besides history. Xaq had been out to
Jupiter a few times. He had spent a few weekends zonked out on Mars.
Through all that, he had somehow attached a string of letters to
his name that concluded in Ph.D. But even in the fortieth century,
the market for philosophical dissertation was marginal. Xaq was moving
on to Maven with designs on getting his AE! (Acknowledged Expert!)
before his first Saturnine birthday, when he would be nearly thirty
by Earth reckoning. An AE! could get assignments across the stars.
All a Ph.D. was good for was a little office space and a job standing
in front of a few hundred students mumbling at his shoes, like the
dead-ended professors all around him. These days, Ph.D. was barely
a step above lab assistant. Goal-directed they called him. Maven was
just a boundary line to cross on the path to AE! The walls were a
more treacherous obstacle.
All he needed now to get his Maven degree was completing his Equivocation.
Xaq Hobesian Arbidor had to say something notable about human sexual
anthropology. Xaq had nothing to say. Could the walls hold back thousands
of years of academia?
For the past six hours he had studied thousands of magimages of
Mother Earth. His dissertation had analyzed the twenty-third century
Earth exodus from social, political, economic and ecological perspectives.
He kept looking.
Xaq paged through history reports about that same old Earth on his
screen, yawning, forcing his attention to pick up something, anything,
scanning for biological quirks, generating a list of medical anomalies,
until he came up with an alphabetical list, and right there at the
top was one spelled in capital letters: AIDS.
slightly irregular science fiction novel by
to Joe Gold's podcast readings at