SFWRITER.COM > Short Stories > "The Shoulders of Giants"
The Shoulders of Giants
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2000 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
First published as the lead story in Star Colonies
edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers
(DAW Books, June 2000).
- Finalist for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award
(the "Aurora") for Best English-Language Short Story of the year.
The Shoulders of Giants
by Robert J. Sawyer
It seemed like only yesterday when I'd died, but, of course, it
was almost certainly centuries ago. I wish the computer would
just tell me, dammitall, but it was doubtless waiting
until its sensors said I was sufficiently stable and alert. The
irony was that my pulse was surely racing out of concern,
forestalling it speaking to me. If this was an emergency, it
should inform me, and if it wasn't, it should let me relax.
Finally, the machine did speak in its crisp, feminine voice.
"Hello, Toby. Welcome back to the world of the living."
"Where " I'd thought I'd spoken the word, but no sound had
come out. I tried again. "Where are we?"
"Exactly where we should be: decelerating toward Soror."
I felt myself calming down. "How is Ling?"
"She's reviving, as well."
"All forty-eight cryogenics chambers are functioning properly,"
said the computer. "Everybody is apparently fine."
That was good to hear, but it wasn't surprising. We had four
extra cryochambers; if one of the occupied ones had failed, Ling
and I would have been awoken earlier to transfer the person
within it into a spare. "What's the date?"
"16 June 3296."
I'd expected an answer like that, but it still took me back a
bit. Twelve hundred years had elapsed since the blood had been
siphoned out of my body and oxygenated antifreeze had been pumped
in to replace it. We'd spent the first of those years
accelerating, and presumably the last one decelerating, and the
the rest was spent coasting at our maximum velocity, 3,000
km/s, one percent of the speed of light. My father had been from
Glasgow; my mother, from Los Angeles. They had both enjoyed the
quip that the difference between an American and a European was
that to an American, a hundred years was a long time, and to a
European, a hundred miles is a big journey.
But both would agree that twelve hundred years and 11.9
light-years were equally staggering values. And now, here we
were, decelerating in toward Tau Ceti, the closest sunlike star
to Earth that wasn't part of a multiple-star system. Of course,
because of that, this star had been frequently examined by
Earth's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. But nothing
had ever been detected; nary a peep.
I was feeling better minute by minute. My own blood, stored in
bottles, had been returned to my body and was now coursing
through my arteries, my veins, reanimating me.
We were going to make it.
Tau Ceti happened to be oriented with its north pole facing
toward Sol; that meant that the technique developed late in the
twentieth century to detect planetary systems based on subtle
blueshifts and redshifts of a star tugged now closer, now farther
away, was useless with it. Any wobble in Tau Ceti's movements
would be perpendicular, as seen from Earth, producing no Doppler
effect. But eventually Earth-orbiting telescopes had been
developed that were sensitive enough to detect the wobble
It had been front-page news around the world: the first solar
system seen by telescopes. Not inferred from stellar wobbles or
spectral shifts, but actually seen. At least four planets
could be made out orbiting Tau Ceti, and one of them
There had been formulas for decades, first popularized in the
RAND Corporation's study Habitable Planets for Man. Every
science-fiction writer and astrobiologist worth his or her salt
had used them to determine the life zones the distances
from target stars at which planets with Earthlike surface
temperatures might exist, a Goldilocks band, neither too hot nor
And the second of the four planets that could be seen around Tau
Ceti was smack-dab in the middle of that star's life zone. The
planet was watched carefully for an entire year one of its
years, that is, a period of 193 Earth days. Two wonderful facts
became apparent. First, the planet's orbit was damn near
circular meaning it would likely have stable temperatures all
the time; the gravitational influence of the fourth planet, a
Jovian giant orbiting at a distance of half a billion kilometers
from Tau Ceti, probably was responsible for that.
And, second, the planet varied in brightness substantially over
the course of its twenty-nine-hour-and-seventeen-minute day. The
reason was easy to deduce: most of one hemisphere was covered
with land, which reflected back little of Tau Ceti's yellow
light, while the other hemisphere, with a much higher albedo, was
likely covered by a vast ocean, no doubt, given the planet's
fortuitous orbital radius, of liquid water an extraterrestrial
Of course, at a distance of 11.9 light-years, it was quite
possible that Tau Ceti had other planets, too small or too dark
to be seen. And so referring to the Earthlike globe as Tau Ceti
II would have been problematic; if an additional world or worlds
were eventually found orbiting closer in, the system's planetary
numbering would end up as confusing as the scheme used to
designate Saturn's rings.
Clearly a name was called for, and Giancarlo DiMaio, the
astronomer who had discovered the half-land, half-water world,
gave it one: Soror, the Latin word for sister. And, indeed,
Soror appeared, at least as far as could be told from Earth, to
be a sister to humanity's home world.
Soon we would know for sure just how perfect a sister it was.
And speaking of sisters, well okay, Ling Woo wasn't my
biological sister, but we'd worked together and trained together
for four years before launch, and I'd come to think of her as a
sister, despite the press constantly referring to us as the new
Adam and Eve. Of course, we'd help to populate the new world,
but not together; my wife, Helena, was one of the forty-eight
others still frozen solid. Ling wasn't involved yet with any of
the other colonists, but, well, she was gorgeous and brilliant,
and of the two dozen men in cryosleep, twenty-one were
Ling and I were co-captains of the Pioneer Spirit. Her
cryocoffin was like mine, and unlike all the others: it was
designed for repeated use. She and I could be revived multiple
times during the voyage, to deal with emergencies. The rest of
the crew, in coffins that had cost only $700,000 a piece instead
of the six million each of ours was worth, could only be revived
once, when our ship reached its final destination.
"You're all set," said the computer. "You can get up now."
The thick glass cover over my coffin slid aside, and I used the
padded handles to hoist myself out of its black porcelain frame.
For most of the journey, the ship had been coasting in zero
gravity, but now that it was decelerating, there was a gentle
push downward. Still, it was nowhere near a full g, and I was
grateful for that. It would be a day or two before I would be
truly steady on my feet.
My module was shielded from the others by a partition, which I'd
covered with photos of people I'd left behind: my parents,
Helena's parents, my real sister, her two sons. My clothes had
waited patiently for me for twelve hundred years; I rather
suspected they were now hopelessly out of style. But I got
dressed I'd been naked in the cryochamber, of course and at
last I stepped out from behind the partition, just in time to see
Ling emerging from behind the wall that shielded her cryocoffin.
"'Morning," I said, trying to sound blasé.
Ling, wearing a blue and gray jumpsuit, smiled broadly. "Good
We moved into the center of the room, and hugged, friends
delighted to have shared an adventure together. Then we
immediately headed out toward the bridge, half-walking,
half-floating, in the reduced gravity.
"How'd you sleep?" asked Ling.
It wasn't a frivolous question. Prior to our mission, the
longest anyone had spent in cryofreeze was five years, on a
voyage to Saturn; the Pioneer Spirit was Earth's first
"Fine," I said. "You?"
"Okay," replied Ling. But then she stopped moving, and briefly
touched my forearm. "Did you did you dream?"
Brain activity slowed to a virtual halt in cryofreeze, but
several members of the crew of Cronus the Saturn
mission had claimed to have had brief dreams, lasting perhaps
two or three subjective minutes, spread over five years. Over
the span that the Pioneer Spirit had been traveling, there
would have been time for many hours of dreaming.
I shook my head. "No. What about you?"
Ling nodded. "Yes. I dreamt about the strait of Gibraltar.
Ever been there?"
"It's Spain's southernmost boundary, of course. You can see
across the strait from Europe to northern Africa, and there were
Neandertal settlements on the Spanish side." Ling's Ph.D. was in
anthropology. "But they never made it across the strait. They
could clearly see that there was more land another continent!
only thirteen kilometers away. A strong swimmer can make it,
and with any sort of raft or boat, it was eminently doable. But
Neandertals never journeyed to the other side; as far as we can
tell, they never even tried."
"And you dreamt ?"
"I dreamt I was part of a Neandertal community there, a teenage
girl, I guess. And I was trying to convince the others that we
should go across the strait, go see the new land. But I
couldn't; they weren't interested. There was plenty of food and
shelter where we were. Finally, I headed out on my own, trying
to swim it. The water was cold and the waves were high, and half
the time I couldn't get any air to breathe, but I swam and I
swam, and then ..."
She shrugged a little. "And then I woke up."
I smiled at her. "Well, this time we're going to make it. We're
going to make it for sure."
We came to the bridge door, which opened automatically to admit
us, although it squeaked something fierce while doing so; its
lubricants must have dried up over the last twelve centuries.
The room was rectangular with a double row of angled consoles
facing a large screen, which currently was off.
"Distance to Soror?" I asked into the air.
The computer's voice replied. "1.2 million kilometers."
I nodded. About three times the distance between Earth and its
moon. "Screen on, view ahead."
"Overrides are in place," said the computer.
Ling smiled at me. "You're jumping the gun, partner."
I was embarrassed. The Pioneer Spirit was decelerating
toward Soror; the ship's fusion exhaust was facing in the
direction of travel. The optical scanners would be burned out by
the glare if their shutters were opened. "Computer, turn off the
"Powering down," said the artificial voice.
"Visual as soon as you're able," I said.
The gravity bled away as the ship's engines stopped firing. Ling
held on to one of the handles attached to the top of the console
nearest her; I was still a little groggy from the suspended
animation, and just floated freely in the room. After about two
minutes, the screen came on. Tau Ceti was in the exact center, a
baseball-sized yellow disk. And the four planets were clearly
visible, ranging from pea-sized to as big as grape.
"Magnify on Soror," I said.
One of the peas became a billiard ball, although Tau Ceti grew
hardly at all.
"More," said Ling.
The planet grew to softball size. It was showing as a wide
crescent, perhaps a third of the disk illuminated from this
angle. And thankfully, fantastically Soror was everything
we'd dreamed it would be: a giant polished marble, with swirls
of white cloud, and a vast, blue ocean, and
Part of a continent was visible, emerging out of the darkness.
And it was green, apparently covered with vegetation.
We hugged again, squeezing each other tightly. No one had been
sure when we'd left Earth; Soror could have been barren. The
Pioneer Spirit was ready regardless: in its cargo holds
was everything we needed to survive even on an airless world.
But we'd hoped and prayed that Soror would be, well just like
this: a true sister, another Earth, another home.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" said Ling.
I felt my eyes tearing. It was beautiful, breathtaking,
stunning. The vast ocean, the cottony clouds, the verdant land,
"Oh, my God," I said, softly. "Oh, my God."
"What?" said Ling.
"Don't you see?" I asked. "Look!"
Ling narrowed her eyes and moved closer to the screen. "What?"
"On the dark side," I said.
She looked again. "Oh ..." she said. There were faint lights
sprinkled across the darkness; hard to see, but definitely there.
"Could it be volcanism?" asked Ling. Maybe Soror wasn't so
perfect after all.
"Computer," I said, "spectral analysis of the light sources on
the planet's dark side."
"Predominantly incandescent lighting, color temperature 5600
I exhaled and looked at Ling. They weren't volcanoes. They were
Soror, the world we'd spent twelve centuries traveling to, the
world we'd intended to colonize, the world that had been dead
silent when examined by radio telescopes, was already inhabited.
The Pioneer Spirit was a colonization ship; it wasn't
intended as a diplomatic vessel. When it had left Earth, it had
seemed important to get at least some humans off the mother
world. Two small-scale nuclear wars Nuke I and Nuke II, as
the media had dubbed them had already been fought, one in
southern Asia, the other in South America. It appeared to be
only a matter of time before Nuke III, and that one might be the
SETI had detected nothing from Tau Ceti, at least not by 2051.
But Earth itself had only been broadcasting for a century and a
half at that point; Tau Ceti might have had a thriving
civilization then that hadn't yet started using radio. But now
it was twelve hundred years later. Who knew how advanced the Tau
Cetians might be?
I looked at Ling, then back at the screen. "What should we do?"
Ling tilted her head to one side. "I'm not sure. On the one
hand, I'd love to meet them, whoever they are. But ..."
"But they might not want to meet us," I said. "They might think
we're invaders, and "
"And we've got forty-eight other colonists to think about," said
Ling. "For all we know, we're the last surviving humans."
I frowned. "Well, that's easy enough to determine. Computer,
swing the radio telescope toward Sol system. See if you can pick
anything up that might be artificial."
"Just a sec," said the female voice. A few moments later, a
cacophony filled the room: static and snatches of voices and
bits of music and sequences of tones, overlapping and jumbled,
fading in and out. I heard what sounded like English although
strangely inflected and maybe Arabic and Mandarin and ...
"We're not the last survivors," I said, smiling. "There's still
life on Earth or, at least, there was 11.9 years ago, when
those signals started out."
Ling exhaled. "I'm glad we didn't blow ourselves up," she said.
"Now, I guess we should find out what we're dealing with at Tau
Ceti. Computer, swing the dish to face Soror, and again scan for
"Doing so." There was silence for most of a minute, then a blast
of static, and a few bars of music, and clicks and bleeps, and
voices, speaking in Mandarin and English and
"No," said Ling. "I said face the dish the other way. I
want to hear what's coming from Soror."
The computer actually sounded miffed. "The dish is facing
toward Soror," it said.
I looked at Ling, realization dawning. At the time we'd left
Earth, we'd been so worried that humanity was about to snuff
itself out, we hadn't really stopped to consider what would
happen if that didn't occur. But with twelve hundred years,
faster spaceships would doubtless had been developed. While the
colonists aboard the Pioneer Spirit had slept, some
dreaming at an indolent pace, other ships had zipped past them,
arriving at Tau Ceti decades, if not centuries, earlier long
enough ago that they'd already built human cities on Soror.
"Damn it," I said. "God damn it." I shook my head, staring at
the screen. The tortoise was supposed to win, not the hare.
"What do we do now?" asked Ling.
I sighed. "I suppose we should contact them."
"We ah, we might be from the wrong side."
I grinned. "Well, we can't both be from the wrong side.
Besides, you heard the radio: Mandarin and English.
Anyway, I can't imagine that anyone cares about a war more than a
thousand years in the past, and "
"Excuse me," said the ship's computer. "Incoming audio message."
I looked at Ling. She frowned, surprised. "Put it on," I said.
"Pioneer Spirit, welcome! This is Jod Bokket, manager of
the Derluntin space station, in orbit around Soror. Is there
anyone awake on board?" It was a man's voice, with an accent
unlike anything I'd ever heard before.
Ling looked at me, to see if I was going to object, then she
spoke up. "Computer, send a reply." The computer bleeped to
signal that the channel was open. "This is Dr. Ling Woo,
co-captain of the Pioneer Spirit. Two of us have revived;
there are forty-eight more still in cryofreeze."
"Well, look," said Bokket's voice, "it'll be days at the rate
you're going before you get here. How about if we send a ship to
bring you two to Derluntin? We can have someone there to pick
you up in about an hour."
"They really like to rub it in, don't they?" I grumbled.
"What was that?" said Bokket. "We couldn't quite make it out."
Ling and I consulted with facial expressions, then agreed.
"Sure," said Ling. "We'll be waiting."
"Not for long," said Bokket, and the speaker went dead.
Bokket himself came to collect us. His spherical ship was tiny
compared with ours, but it seemed to have about the same amount
of habitable interior space; would the ignominies ever cease?
Docking adapters had changed a lot in a thousand years, and he
wasn't able to get an airtight seal, so we had to transfer over
to his ship in space suits. Once aboard, I was pleased to see we
were still floating freely; it would have been too much if
they'd had artificial gravity.
Bokket seemed a nice fellow about my age, early thirties. Of
course, maybe people looked youthful forever now; who knew how
old he might actually be? I couldn't really identify his
ethnicity, either; he seemed to be rather a blend of traits. But
he certainly was taken with Ling his eyes popped out when she
took off her helmet, revealing her heart-shaped face and long,
"Hello," he said, smiling broadly.
Ling smiled back. "Hello. I'm Ling Woo, and this is Toby
MacGregor, my co-captain."
"Greetings," I said, sticking out my hand.
Bokket looked at it, clearly not knowing precisely what to do.
He extended his hand in a mirroring of my gesture, but didn't
touch me. I closed the gap and clasped his hand. He seemed
surprised, but pleased.
"We'll take you back to the station first," he said. "Forgive
us, but, well you can't go down to the planet's surface yet;
you'll have to be quarantined. We've eliminated a lot of
diseases, of course, since your time, and so we don't vaccinate
for them anymore. I'm willing to take the risk, but ..."
I nodded. "That's fine."
He tipped his head slightly, as if he were preoccupied for a
moment, then: "I've told the ship to take us back to Derluntin
station. It's in a polar orbit, about 200 kilometers above
Soror; you'll get some beautiful views of the planet, anyway."
He was grinning from ear to ear. "It's wonderful to meet you
people," he said. "Like a page out of history."
"If you knew about us," I asked, after we'd settled in for the
journey to the station, "why didn't you pick us up earlier?"
Bokket cleared his throat. "We didn't know about you."
"But you called us by name: Pioneer Spirit."
"Well, it is painted in letters three meters high across
your hull. Our asteroid-watch system detected you. A lot of
information from your time has been lost I guess there was a
lot of political upheaval then, no? but we knew Earth had
experimented with sleeper ships in the twenty-first century."
We were getting close to the space station; it was a giant ring,
spinning to simulate gravity. It might have taken us over a
thousand years to do it, but humanity was finally building space
stations the way God had always intended them to be.
And floating next to the space station was a beautiful spaceship,
with a spindle-shaped silver hull and two sets of mutually
perpendicular emerald-green delta wings. "It's gorgeous," I
"How does it land, though? Tail-down?"
"It doesn't land; it's a starship."
"Yes, but "
"We use shuttles to go between it and the ground."
"But if it can't land," asked Ling, "why is it streamlined? Just
Bokket laughed, but it was a polite laugh. "It's streamlined
because it needs to be. There's substantial length-contraction
when flying at just below the speed of light; that means that the
interstellar medium seems much denser. Although there's only one
baryon per cubic centimeter, they form what seems to be an
appreciable atmosphere if you're going fast enough."
"And your ships are that fast?" asked Ling.
Bokket smiled. "Yes. They're that fast."
Ling shook her head. "We were crazy," she said. "Crazy to
undertake our journey." She looked briefly at Bokket, but
couldn't meet his eyes. She turned her gaze down toward the
floor. "You must think we're incredibly foolish."
Bokket's eyes widened. He seemed at a loss for what to say. He
looked at me, spreading his arms, as if appealing to me for
support. But I just exhaled, letting air and disappointment
vent from my body.
"You're wrong," said Bokket, at last. "You couldn't be more
wrong. We honor you." He paused, waiting for Ling to
look up again. She did, her eyebrows lifted questioningly. "If
we have come farther than you," said Bokket, "or have gone faster
than you, it's because we had your work to build on. Humans are
here now because it's easy for us to be here, because you
and others blazed the trails." He looked at me, then at Ling.
"If we see farther," he said, "it's because we stand on the
shoulders of giants."
Later that day, Ling, Bokket, and I were walking along the gently
curving floor of Derluntin station. We were confined to a
limited part of one section; they'd let us down to the planet's
surface in another ten days, Bokket had said.
"There's nothing for us here," said Ling, hands in her pockets.
"We're freaks, anachronisms. Like somebody from the T'ang
Dynasty showing up in our world."
"Soror is wealthy," said Bokket. "We can certainly support you
and your passengers."
"They are not passengers," I snapped. "They are
colonists. They are explorers."
Bokket nodded. "I'm sorry. You're right, of course. But look
we really are delighted that you're here. I've been keeping
the media away; the quarantine lets me do that. But they will go
absolutely dingo when you come down to the planet. It's like
having Neil Armstrong or Tamiko Hiroshige show up at your door."
"Tamiko who?" asked Ling.
"Sorry. After your time. She was the first person to disembark
at Alpha Centauri."
"The first," I repeated; I guess I wasn't doing a good job of
hiding my bitterness. "That's the honor that's the
achievement. Being the first. Nobody remembers the name of the
second person on the moon."
"Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr.," said Bokket. "Known as 'Buzz.'"
"Fine, okay," I said. "You remember, but most people
"I didn't remember it; I accessed it." He tapped his temple.
"Direct link to the planetary web; everybody has one."
Ling exhaled; the gulf was vast. "Regardless," she said, "we are
not pioneers; we're just also-rans. We may have set out before
you did, but you got here before us."
"Well, my ancestors did," said Bokket. "I'm sixth-generation
"Sixth generation?" I said. "How long has the colony been
"We're not a colony anymore; we're an independent world. But the
ship that got here first left Earth in 2107. Of course, my
ancestors didn't immigrate until much later."
"Twenty-one-oh-seven," I repeated. That was only fifty-six years
after the launch of the Pioneer Spirit. I'd been
thirty-one when our ship had started its journey; if I'd stayed
behind, I might very well have lived to see the real pioneers
depart. What had we been thinking, leaving Earth? Had we been
running, escaping, getting out, fleeing before the bombs fell?
Were we pioneers, or cowards?
No. No, those were crazy thoughts. We'd left for the
same reason that Homo sapiens sapiens had crossed the
Strait of Gibraltar. It was what we did as a species. It was
why we'd triumphed, and the Neandertals had failed. We
needed to see what was on the other side, what was over
the next hill, what was orbiting other stars. It was what had
given us dominion over the home planet; it was what was going to
make us kings of infinite space.
I turned to Ling. "We can't stay here," I said.
She seemed to mull this over for a bit, then nodded. She looked
at Bokket. "We don't want parades," she said. "We don't want
statues." She lifted her eyebrows, as if acknowledging the
magnitude of what she was asking for. "We want a new ship, a
faster ship." She looked at me, and I bobbed my head in
agreement. She pointed out the window. "A streamlined
"What would you do with it?" asked Bokket. "Where would you go?"
She glanced at me, then looked back at Bokket. "Andromeda."
"Andromeda? You mean the Andromeda galaxy? But that's
" a fractional pause, no doubt while his web link provided the
data " 2.2 million light-years away."
"But ... but it would take over two million years to get there."
"Only from Earth's excuse me, from Soror's point of view,"
said Ling. "We could do it in less subjective time than we've
already been traveling, and, of course, we'd spend all that time
in cryogenic freeze."
"None of our ships have cryogenic chambers," Bokket said.
"There's no need for them."
"We could transfer the chambers from the Pioneer Spirit."
Bokket shook his head. "It would be a one-way trip; you'd never
"That's not true," I said. "Unlike most galaxies, Andromeda is
actually moving toward the Milky Way, not away from it.
Eventually, the two galaxies will merge, bringing us home."
"That's billions of years in the future."
"Thinking small hasn't done us any good so far," said Ling.
Bokket frowned. "I said before that we can afford to support you
and your shipmates here on Soror, and that's true. But starships
are expensive. We can't just give you one."
"It's got to be cheaper than supporting all of us."
"No, it's not."
"You said you honored us. You said you stand on our shoulders.
If that's true, then repay the favor. Give us an opportunity to
stand on your shoulders. Let us have a new ship."
Bokket sighed; it was clear he felt we really didn't understand
how difficult Ling's request would be to fulfill. "I'll do what
I can," he said.
Ling and I spent that evening talking, while blue-and-green Soror
spun majestically beneath us. It was our job to jointly make the
right decision, not just for ourselves but for the four dozen
other members of the Pioneer Spirit's complement that had
entrusted their fate to us. Would they have wanted to be revived
No. No, of course not. They'd left Earth to found a colony;
there was no reason to think they would have changed their minds,
whatever they might be dreaming. Nobody had an emotional
attachment to the idea of Tau Ceti; it just had seemed a logical
"We could ask for passage back to Earth," I said.
"You don't want that," said Ling. "And neither, I'm sure, would
any of the others."
"No, you're right," I said. "They'd want us to go on."
Ling nodded. "I think so."
"Andromeda?" I said, smiling. "Where did that come from?"
She shrugged. "First thing that popped into my head."
"Andromeda," I repeated, tasting the word some more. I
remembered how thrilled I was, at sixteen, out in the California
desert, to see that little oval smudge below Cassiopeia for the
first time. Another galaxy, another island universe and half
again as big as our own. "Why not?" I fell silent but, after a
while, said, "Bokket seems to like you."
Ling smiled. "I like him."
"Go for it," I said.
"What?" She sounded surprised.
"Go for it, if you like him. I may have to be alone until Helena
is revived at our final destination, but you don't have to be.
Even if they do give us a new ship, it'll surely be a few weeks
before they can transfer the cryochambers."
Ling rolled her eyes. "Men," she said, but I knew the
idea appealed to her.
Bokket was right: the Sororian media seemed quite enamored with
Ling and me, and not just because of our exotic appearance my
white skin and blue eyes; her dark skin and epicanthic folds; our
two strange accents, both so different from the way people of the
thirty-third century spoke. They also seemed to be fascinated
by, well, by the pioneer spirit.
When the quarantine was over, we did go down to the planet. The
temperature was perhaps a little cooler than I'd have liked, and
the air a bit moister but humans adapt, of course. The
architecture in Soror's capital city of Pax was surprisingly
ornate, with lots of domed roofs and intricate carvings. The
term "capital city" was an anachronism, though; government was
completely decentralized, with all major decisions done by
plebiscite including the decision about whether or not to give
us another ship.
Bokket, Ling, and I were in the central square of Pax, along with
Kari Deetal, Soror's president, waiting for the results of the
vote to be announced. Media representatives from all over the
Tau Ceti system were present, as well as one from Earth, whose
stories were always read 11.9 years after he filed them. Also on
hand were perhaps a thousand spectators.
"My friends," said Deetal, to the crowd, spreading her arms, "you
have all voted, and now let us share in the results." She tipped
her head slightly, and a moment later people in the crowd started
clapping and cheering.
Ling and I turned to Bokket, who was beaming. "What is it?" said
Ling. "What decision did they make?"
Bokket looked surprised. "Oh, sorry. I forgot you don't have
web implants. You're going to get your ship."
Ling closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. My heart was
President Deetal gestured toward us. "Dr. MacGregor, Dr. Woo
would you say a few words?"
We glanced at each other then stood up. "Thank you," I said
looking out at everyone.
Ling nodded in agreement. "Thank you very much."
A reporter called out a question. "What are you going to call
your new ship?"
Ling frowned; I pursed my lips. And then I said, "What else?
The Pioneer Spirit II."
The crowd erupted again.
Finally, the fateful day came. Our official boarding of our new
starship the one that would be covered by all the media
wouldn't happen for another four hours, but Ling and I were
nonetheless heading toward the airlock that joined the ship to
the station's outer rim. She wanted to look things over once
more, and I wanted to spend a little time just sitting next to
Helena's cryochamber, communing with her.
And, as we walked, Bokket came running along the curving floor
"Ling," he said, catching his breath. "Toby."
I nodded a greeting. Ling looked slightly uncomfortable; she and
Bokket had grown close during the last few weeks, but they'd also
had their time alone last night to say their goodbyes. I don't
think she'd expected to see him again before we left.
"I'm sorry to bother you two," he said. "I know you're both
busy, but ..." He seemed quite nervous.
"Yes?" I said.
He looked at me, then at Ling. "Do you have room for another
Ling smiled. "We don't have passengers. We're colonists."
"Sorry," said Bokket, smiling back at her. "Do you have room for
"Well, there are four spare cryochambers, but ..." She
looked at me.
"Why not?" I said, shrugging.
"It's going to be hard work, you know," said Ling, turning back
to Bokket. "Wherever we end up, it's going to be rough."
Bokket nodded. "I know. And I want to be part of it."
Ling knew she didn't have to be coy around me. "That would be
wonderful," she said. "But but why?"
Bokket reached out tentatively, and found Ling's hand. He
squeezed it gently, and she squeezed back. "You're one reason,"
"Got a thing for older women, eh?" said Ling. I smiled at that.
Bokket laughed. "I guess."
"You said I was one reason," said Ling.
He nodded. "The other reason is well, it's this: I don't
want to stand on the shoulders of giants." He paused, then
lifted his own shoulders a little, as if acknowledging that he
was giving voice to the sort of thought rarely spoken aloud. "I
want to be a giant."
They continued to hold hands as we walked down the space
station's long corridor, heading toward the sleek and graceful
ship that would take us to our new home.
• The End •
If you enjoyed this short story by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning
science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, how about giving one of his
bestselling novels a try? The opening chapters of each of them are
right here at
More Good Reading
A brief essay about this story
Other short stories by Robert J. Sawyer
Sample chapters from Rob's novels
A bibliography of all Rob's short stories
A profile of Rob from Tangent
concentrating on his short-fiction career