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Background Notes by BBC interviewer Evelyn Soames:
On the afternoon of 5 June , the captain of the Imperial Gehunite Starship Warrior arrived at our London studios rather less spectacularly than her contingent had arrived at Buckingham Palace early in their visit. The flying shuttle of that visit was eschewed in favour of a very ordinary London taxicab from their temporary embassy on Wilton Crescent. Captain Kimewe Romiwero is an attractive woman of 45, standing 168 cm, and weighing just under eight and a half stone. Her long, coppery-
After taking care of the usual preliminaries, such as makeup for the cameras, and a few less familiar ones, including rigging our sound recording system to record the output of the captain’s automatic translator instead of her actual voice, we sat down in the studio.
Transcript of the Interview:
Soames: We have a real treat this afternoon. I’m pleased to welcome Captain Kimewe Romiwero, captain of Her Imperial Majesty’s Starship Warrior, to our studio. Did I get your name right, captain?
Romiwero: Very close. It’s pronounced Kim-
Soames: Alright. Now, Kim, your ship created quite a stir when you arrived in orbit. Even before. Doctor Tuttle, at Greenwich Observatory, reported a huge energy surge and a brilliant flash of light. Is that normal?
Romiwero: I suppose it is. To be honest, I’ve never seen a ship emerge from jump space, so I really have no idea what we look like from outside the ship. It seems reasonable. A tremendous amount of energy is used when we jump.
Soames: How does that work? This “jump drive” of yours.
Romiwero: Well, trying not to be too technical, the jump drive connects two points in spacetime via what we call an Arkhgaizim Passageway. You’d call it a wormhole, or so I’m told. This allows the ship to move instantly from one point to another. Instantly from our point of view, at least. So far as the universe is concerned, travelling a distance of, say, 100 light years, still requires the passage of a hundred years. So the ship is actually moving right at the speed of light. Naturally, at that speed, time stops for the ship, which is why we’ve only aged fifteen years since our initial departure, but 86,985 years have passed on this planet.
Soames: Did you know that was going to happen?
Romiwero: Yes. When the jump drive was first developed, that first ship made a test hop of five light years. They returned, absolutely delighted by how well things had gone, and were utterly dismayed to discover that instead of the few hours they presumed they been gone, they’d actually been away for ten years. So when my ship departed, we knew we’d never see anyone we left behind again. The first jump was 200 light years. When it was over, we were a few seconds older, and everyone we knew had been dead for more than a century.
Soames: So, the sort of ‘warp speed’ travel, where you can come back home not too long after you left, isn’t really possible?
Romiwero: I’m afraid not. It’s necessary for fiction, I suppose. In real life, we just keep jumping forward in time.
Soames: Forward only? Not back?
Romiwero: Forward only. You’ve got that chap in the box that keeps jumping all over the place, but we can only go forward.
Soames: Yes, he’s very popular, considering he’s been around for 163 years now and been played by 95 different actors. Back to you, though. I know you, and most of your crew, were born on this planet thousands of years ago. Is your own birthplace still a place you could visit?
Romiwero: No. I was born in my parents’ home, overlooking Tufaria Bay, a few kilometres from the Koril Harbour Naval Base. My father was an admiral. Well, he was a captain when I was born, but an admiral by the time we left. So I was born in the old nation of Gehun, which by then had become the Gehunite Empire. Old Gehun was roughly where Florida is now, though the peninsula was larger then. My birthplace was about 30 kilometres east of Miami, which means it’s underwater today. And, of course, it’s in the United States, so I wouldn’t be allowed to visit even if I could.
Soames: I believe President Gordon referred to your ship as “a pernicious British hoax.”
Romiwero: I believe so.
Soames: What’s his issue with you?
Romiwero: We exist, I believe. Something about our being impossible because we claim to be “older than the universe.” We don’t, obviously. I was born 87,015 years ago. The universe is roughly 13.7 billion years old, and the planet has been here for about four and a half billion.
Soames: The Americans are biblical literalists, at least officially. If the Bible says that something happened a particular way, then it doesn’t matter to them if that’s not the way things really are. If you want to run for public office, or work for the government, you have to be a Christian. Which, presumably, you’re not?
Romiwero: No, we’re not. We have our own religions. What’s left of them. Holidays, mostly. They teach nothing about the universe, but they do provide a nice excuse to eat too much and get the family together.
Soames: Can you do that? Aren’t your families all dead?
Romiwero: Well, in essence, we’ve become a family of sorts aboard the ship. And there are actual families aboard. By ship’s time, we’ve been away for fifteen years, which means there are children born aboard who will be reaching legal age within another year.
Soames: At fifteen? Seems a bit young.
Romiwero: Our children start school at three. By fifteen they’ve had twelve years of school. These are children who were born on the ship, of course. When we put together the crew, no one with small children was recruited, but we could hardly tell everyone that they couldn’t have children after we’d departed, so we made provisions for schools and even university-
Soames: Interesting. However, you’ve created a lot of interest since your return. Not least in your politics. You have a literal empress aboard, don’t you?
Romiwero: Felia VII. It doesn’t mean that much. The Gehunite Empire today consists of the people aboard Warrior, and that hardly rates a monarch. We didn’t even know for sure that she was empress until we returned and determined that the imperial family was extinct on this planet. Since Felia was the only member of that family remaining, she automatically became empress, and she lets us trot her out for state functions, such as the welcome your king put on for us. Her actual job aboard the ship is scientific. She’s an exobiologist. She has a secondary job as ambassador at large, which only comes into play when we visit an inhabited planet.
Soames: That’s something everyone is curious about. How many planets have intelligent life?
Romiwero: We have no idea. We’ve encountered seventeen other species who are capable of interplanetary travel. Most don’t bother, though. They’re no closer to being able to travel light year distances and return to when they came from than we are. There are three non-
Soames: Three human species?
Romiwero: Well, sub-
Soames: What’s the last one?
Romiwero: We established a colony on New Barzak thousands of years ago. The planet has a mass of 1.84 compared to Barzak—our name for Earth—and over thousands of years they evolved to live comfortably there. Generally, they’re quite short and powerfully built to deal with the stronger gravity. The other two you’re familiar with, though apparently the pure Gornim sub-
Soames: Alright, something everyone has wondered about. You obviously come from a very advance civilisation. Significantly more advanced than the contemporary one, if you can build starships. How is it possible for a culture like that to disappear without leaving any evidence behind?
Romiwero: The planet has changed a lot since we left. The seas are higher, there’s much less ice at the poles than there once was. And the entire island of Arzucalda has disappeared. The other thing that’s missing is Emthemlu, which was this planet’s second moon.
Soames: There was another moon?
Romiwero: Correct. It was small, perhaps 60 kilometres at the widest point, and looked a bit like a large, uh, kidney bean. Our theory is that at some point Emthemlu de-
Soames: So we had to start over again from the beginning.
Romiwero: That’s our opinion, at least. It seems to fit the evidence.
Soames: Now, you mentioned you had some non-
Romiwero: Less than you’d think. Life has arisen, and evolved, on many planets. On a goodly number, that evolution has led to intelligent life and technological civilisations. The thing is, just as here on this planet, every living thing is genetically related to every other living thing. You and I are doubtless related at some considerable remove. At a far greater remove, we’re both of us unquestionably related to the tree this desk was made from. But life on these other planets arose there, and we’re not related to that life. On Grikna, for example, the dominant life form is what we would think of as reptilian, mostly green, covered with scales, though also somewhat humanlike in having two arms, hands with opposable thumbs, and two legs, but no tails. But they don’t have DNA. They have something similar, but using different amino acids, so even though they have some horrible diseases, their germs simply don’t find us compatible. They can’t grow in our bodies, nor can our germs grow in theirs. One of the accommodations that had to be made when a few Griknaites joined our crew was adding native Griknan foods. They can’t get any nutritional value out of ours. This is the case on most planets with life. It’s unique to that world.
Soames: Speaking of food, I understand you can eat wood.
Romiwero: I wouldn’t say wood, but we can digest cellulose. Some foliage can be quite tasty. Our doctor tells me that this is because we have a much larger ehsuimtinomimu [the translator failed her on this; it proved to mean ‘appendix’] than you, and ours is full of cellulose-
Soames: You’ve met the King and the Royal Family. Any thoughts on that?
Romiwero: The Empress spent a lot more time with them than I did, and told me she rather liked them. I did spend a good bit of time with Queen Martha, and the discussion there was almost entirely scientific.
Soames: Ah, yes, well, the queen earned a doctorate in astrophysics before she met the king, so I suppose she’d be fascinated by everything to do with you.
Romiwero: It was certainly easier to talk to her than many others. I didn’t have to explain nearly as much. She grasped the whole concept behind the jump drive right off, though obviously we didn’t go into technical details. If you haven’t figured out how to do that yet, you’re going to have to work it out yourselves.
Soames: You don’t reveal technical information, do you?
Romiwero: We have a policy against doing that. Because of everything that’s happened on this planet since we left, and the current state of your technology, we have to treat this planet as we would any planet in an early space faring state of development. Normally, were this not our own home planet, we’d have stayed out of sight and just monitored things from a distance.
Soames: As it was, you started broadcasting from well out in the solar system.
Romiwero: Yes. We kept sending a standard returning to base greeting. Of course, we didn’t really expect an answer. Not an intelligible one. After all that time, the odds anyone still spoke the way we do were virtually nil. It was a bit of a surprise when we got an answer, even if we couldn’t understand it, but it sounded human and that was enough. It wasn’t until a couple days later, when our computers had a handle on your languages, that we realised the answer was a young girl telling us to shut up, we were on the wrong frequency.
Soames: I hope the rest of us have been nicer than that.
Romiwero: Well, she had a point. We were on the wrong frequency, though it had been the right one when we left. And I’ve since met the young lady, and she’s really quite pleasant. Had some very serious problems of her own, of course.
Soames: Such as?
Romiwero: Someone seems to be preventing me from answering that, and muttering, “Read the book if you want to know.”
Soames: Ah, that would be McDaniel, reminding us that we’re fictional characters. I guess that means the interview is over.
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