Working the Distant Planets

Working the Distant Planets

© 2021 by Robert Moskowitz


Rex popped in to the Governor’s office, just in time for his appointment. Prudently, he had planned his arrival so that he would have a minute to adjust his clothing and straighten his tie before opening the door to the office suite and presenting himself before the receptionist.

“Rex Worthy, here,” he told the young man seated behind the desk. “I have a 2 o’clock appointment with Governor Romney.”

The young man consulted the daily diary and seemed satisfied.

“If you’ll have a seat for a moment, sir, I’ll let the Governor know you’re here.”

Rex walked to the comfortable looking sofa and sat down, arranging his long legs and settling in for what he assumed would be far more than a moment. He thought about going away and coming back again later, but decided to be conventional and wait, as expected, exactly like any other visitor would do.

Thirty minutes later, the young man looked his way and smiled politely. “The Governor will see you now, Mr. Worthy.”

Rex straightened up from sofa and glided past the door that the young man so graciously held open for him.

“Governor Romney, this is Rex Worthy.”

The Governor looked up from a thick document on this desk and smiled expectantly.

“Good of you to come, Dr. Worthy.” He motioned to a chair in front of his desk, and Worthy placed himself in it.

“Can I get you anything? Water? Tea?”

“Yes, Governor. Tea would be great.”

The Governor nodded very slightly at the young man, who went out and closed the door silently behind him.

“I understand you’ve made something of a breakthrough, Doctor.”

“Something of one, yes. I think it may revolutionize our ability to colonize the planets, even beyond the solar system.”

“Beyond the solar system. That would be something. Please tell me about it.”

“As you know,” Worthy began, “there are vast material resources out there, rare minerals in the asteroid belt, exotic materials occurring naturally in environments we can’t possibly duplicate here on Earth. The possibilities are limitless, beyond anyone’s imagination. But...”

“Yes?” said the Governor, inquiringly.

“We can’t get there. The laws of physics make it extremely difficult and time-consuming to travel from one planet to another, even within our solar system. And to get to another solar system.... well, that’s totally beyond our capabilities. Such a journey would require multi-generational ships: children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren being expected to complete a mission conceived by people they never knew, for reasons they probably wouldn’t accept. And that’s not even figuring in the astronomical cost of building and equipping such a ship. No, Governor, we’re not going to the planets any time soon, not in the conventional sense.”

“That’s a problem, Doctor, because we’re rapidly reaching the limits of the resources we can extract from this one. Another couple of generations, and we’ll be at each other’s throats, assuming we don’t make the planet uninhabitable some other way.”

“Yes, I know, Governor.” The door clicked open and both men turned to see the young man walk in with a tray containing a steaming teapot, two mugs, a plate of cookies, and some paper napkins. He deposited it gently on the desk.

“Anything else, Governor.”

“No thanks.”

The young man turned and walked out, once again closing the door silently behind him.

“Yes, I know about the need for more resources here on Earth, Governor. That’s why I think my breakthrough can be so important. You see, the real limiting factor in space travel is the need to move people. A robot ship can be smaller and cheaper, and can travel faster than anything required to carry humans. “

The Governor poured tea into both mugs and offered one to Worthy, who reached forward and brought it to his lips, making a face when he found it too hot. He placed the mug gently back on the tray.

“So you’re saying we should send robots to the planets? That’s been tried. They’re far too limited and fragile. It’s not a viable strategy for exploration or resource exploitation. It doesn’t work.”

Worthy added two lumps of sugar to his tea and stirred it meditatively.

“Right. But what if we could send people to the planets without asking them to travel the distance from here to there. A projection, you might say.”

“A projection,” exclaimed the Governor. “What good would that do? We need people out there to be able to accomplish tasks, do work, build, dig, and all the rest. Projections are just images. They can’t do any of that.”

“I think they can, Governor.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I believe I have developed a method of projecting a person in three dimensions, any distance, without requiring any equipment at the destination. What’s more, I believe I can give that projection enough substance and enough sensory awareness that it can function at a distance just as well as if the person were there himself. May I?”

Worthy indicated the plate of cookies, and the Governor obligingly picked it up and extended it toward his visitor. Worthy selected one, looked at it appraisingly, and took a small bite.

“Good,” he said, with a smile and a nod.

“They’re my favorites,” said the Governor.

“If my early experiments prove out,” said Worthy, with a hint of pride on his face, “we will be able to send explorers anywhere we wish in the universe, and have them build machinery from native materials they find there, gather raw materials or manufacture items we couldn’t possibly build here on Earth. They could build robot spaceships out there and send them back to Earth laden with cargoes we can’t even imagine today. And if my advanced calculations prove out, we may not even need those robot ships. We may be able to bring back everything we need here on Earth, directly, without being hampered by the limitations of physical space travel.”

“That’s crazy, Dr. Worthy. You think you can send a projection to the moon and have it bring back a rock, or shine a light out to the asteroid belt and have it bring back a ton of platinum.”

“Not crazy, Governor. Possible. Even practical. I’ve checked my equations a dozen times over. There’s nothing wrong with them. I’ve even built a small prototype. If you’ll help me get the financial backing I need, we’ll revolutionize life on Earth, make it a Paradise for everyone.”

“I’m a busy man, Dr. Worthy. I don’t have time for fairy tales. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do.” The Governor stood up to indicate as firmly as he could that the meeting was over.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Governor.” Worthy held up the remains of the cookie in his hand. “May I take this with me?”

“What? Yes. Now please get out. If you use this door behind me, you’ll find a private elevator that goes directly to the parking level.”

Worthy smiled.

“Oh, I don’t need the door, Governor. I can go out the way I came in.”

The Governor’s mouth gaped open as Worthy, the cookie still clutched in his hand, seemed to flicker for a moment, then rapidly faded out of sight.