Lazir just sat there.

"I'm sorry," Enoch said. "No, I'm not sorry. That's what you are, isn't it? My dad is a preacher, and his church pays monthly support for people to go to other countries as missionaries. They go and mess up the culture there and try to get everybody to fit their religious ideas about right and wrong. That's what you're doing here, isn't it? That's why all this talk about ethics, you're trying to cram your religion down my throat. Well, I'm not swallowing."

Lazir just sat there.

Enoch sat there too, a bit more sullen and defiant, not exactly waiting for a reply, but unsure of what to say next.

The ticking of the clock on the wall grew louder.

Lazir finally spoke. "I don't think we deserve your epithet of condemnation. Yes, you could say we are missionaries."

Lazir paused, then continued. "Your planet is one of only two intelligent races in the universe where people are in rebellion against the Ancient One."

Enoch interrupted. "Wait, we are in rebellion against your Ancient One? How is that? We are not in contact with anybody outside the planet. We didn't even know anybody outside our planet existed until you showed up in my back yard less than two days ago. After years of running the Alien Intelligence Search, nothing has been found. Who is this Ancient One, anyway?"

"He's not our Ancient One. The Ancient One doesn't belong to anybody. We are the ones who belong." Enoch would not have believed it possible, but Lazir was actually capitalizing some of his words by the tone of his voice -- well, actually the voice box. It was awesome. Maybe even a little scary.

Lazir continued. "The Ancient One created the universe, like a big explosion out of nothing"

"We know about that," interjected Enoch. "Our scientists call it the Big Bang. It happened billions of years ago, fifteen or twenty, something like that. They even found proof, some kind of cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang."

Lazir guffawed. It sounded a little weird, coming from the voice box -- especially since Lazir himself wasn't shaking. Enoch figured they must have found the sound on some audio site, without the video to show the uncontrollable pitching and shaking that comes with laughter. It would have made sense if Enoch had said something foolish, but this was science, and the Ghibbers had the superior technology. Didn't they know about the Big Bang? Or maybe they misunderstood the significance of laughter in this context.

Lazir didn't leave him wondering long. "You really believe that?" He laughed again. "The microwave radiation -- we found internet sites describing CMB -- that's our interstellar communication channels. That particular band of frequencies leaks slightly around the folds of the universe, so it travels across the distances between stars faster than the speed of light within interstellar space. The signal is compressed and phase-modulated for very wide bandwidth. Your Alien Intelligence Search did not detect it because it's the one frequency they were not looking for intelligence in. That's really funny. We all got a big laugh out of it."

"You -- you mean the background radiation is not left over from the Big Bang like our scientists say?" This was getting even more weird.

"Oh no, that's actually very near our own biological communication spectrum. We 'talk' to each other on a nearby frequency band, so when it came time to develop long-distance communications, we just adapted the frequencies close to what we already use. Then our cosmologists -- I believe they had help from the Ancient One -- learned about the fractal folding of space and the leakage of those frequencies through hyperspace, it was a natural to adapt them for interstellar communications. They tell me it's strange, they point our transmitters just about anywhere, and the transmitted message through the leakage becomes instantly visible everywhere. They had to do some impressive coding to be able to decypher and decode individual messages from the babble. It's very sophisticated."

Enoch could believe that. Unless it was a total crock. He didn't know what to believe. "Tell me about this 'fractal folding'; how does that work?"

Lazir paused. "I don't know how to explain it. It's something the mathematicians have figured out." He twisted a little like he was looking around -- Enoch couldn't really tell how much Lazir's head was turning inside the dark globe -- then went for a tissue box sitting on the kitchen divider. "Can I use one of these?"

"Yes, sure," Enoch assented.

Lazir pulled a tissue from the SoftWipes box. "Imagine the universe is like this paper," he said, "only in three dimensions. Other dimensions, which we cannot feel nor see, are like the air around this sheet..."

"Like Flatland," agreed Enoch. "I have the book in my library somewhere. Very insightful."

"Flatland. Yes, like Flatland. Anyway, real space is not flat like this paper, it's more folded up like..." -- he wadded the tissue into a tight little ball -- "more like this, so every part is very close to every other part through hyperspace. The microwave leakage that escapes through the folds, some, I guess most, of it comes back through other folds and is detectable by suitable receivers. The leakage is strongest near planet-sized gravitational bodies. Otherwise too much would be lost near uninhabited stars and outer space. We think the Ancient One made it that way on purpose so interstellar communication would work. Other radiation also leaks out, but the propagation characteristics are very different. For example the visible spectrum, spanning both your range and ours, most of that gets out and never gets back in, mostly in interstellar space. Otherwise the stars -- especially the more distant ones -- would be very much brighter. It's all part of the Ancient One's creative explosion, but not billions of years ago. More like thousands of years."

"You're not serious, only thousands of years?"

"Something like six thousand years, give or take a few. Your solar system has changed speed somewhat since it happened, so the metric is not exact. I don't remember the conversion formula. It's messy."

"Then how can we see the galaxies that are billions of light years away?"

"Billions? Who told you that? The scientists? How do they know? Did they measure the distance?" Lazir hefted the ball of tissue paper in his hand, like as if he were looking for a place to throw it. Enoch pointed to the trash basket next to his computer desk, and Lazir expertly tossed it in, dead center, from across the room.

"Well, yes," Enoch tried to sound more sure than he actually was. "We can do triangulation on the earth's orbit around the sun, then use trigonometry to calculate the distance. They do that."

"The problem with that method," Lazir explained, "is that the curvature of the universe makes the triangulation inaccurate."

"Oh I see." Enoch jumped up and ran to the kitchen and returned with an orange from the fridge. He stopped at the computer desk for a marker pen, then drew a small circle on the orange, then some straight lines tangent to the circle, meeting at a point partway around the curve of the orange. "Like this?"

"Yes, sort of. From the perspective of your solar system, these lines are very nearly parallel, suggesting a very long distance to the point where they meet, but the curvature of the orange makes that point closer than it seems, assuming a flat universe. Of course the curvature is much more complex than this simple orange. Remember, we have fractal folding in hyperspace. That makes any triangulation measurements beyond a few light years completely wrong. But it gets worse."

Lazir paused, as if getting his breath. Maybe he was collecting more information from his team searching the internet. "Most of the distances that your scientists have calculated are based on what they call 'standard candles', stars of presumed known brightness. They run this inaccurate triangulation out to some pulsating stars within the Milky Way galaxy, and they observe a consistent relationship between the rate of pulsation and the brightness times the square of their calculated distance. Of course they don't know about the light leakage into hyperspace, which is also pretty uniform, and the non-linear folding, both of which completely destroy any calculations based on the inverse square law for distant objects. So now you have two major sources of error, both making things calculate much farther than they really are. Anyway, then they use these Cepheid pulsating stars to guess the distances of galaxies they seem to be part of, but that leads to another error, because the pulsation tends to be much faster for a given brightness here at the center of the universe. They then use their presumed brightness of Cepheids to guess the distance of some of the brighter galaxies, which they thus calculate to be nearer than the dim ones. Next they look for supernovas, which are really quite rare, only two in the Milky Way in the last, um, hundred years or so. So they really don't know that much about them, but they assume they know how bright they are, and use them to calculate the presumed distance to the faintest galaxies."

Enoch was feeling lost, but Lazir didn't stop. "One of your famous astronomers a while back decided that these calculations matched the velocity calculated by the red-shift of recognizable hydrogen emission spectra, and formulated what they now call Hubble's constant, that the speed is proportional to the distance. It isn't really, but they have the distance all wrong and the fractal curvature messes up the speed calculations. Our pilot knows a lot more about this than I do. Anyway, the stars aren't anywhere near the distances your astronomy websites say they are. Our starhips hop around between them in a few years. But we also know the shortcuts."

"So everything our astronomers are telling us is a crock of baloney?" Enoch had a hard time believing so many honest scientists could be so wrong. "But if the universe is only 6000 years old, how did evolution happen? What about the geological layers of rock?"

"How do you know evolution happened?"

"The biologists... You're not telling me they're all wrong too, are you?"

"We discussed this already, yesterday."

"What about the fossils?"

"Fossils. Yes, billions of calcified skeletons buried in rock layers. Do you know what it takes to make a fossil?"

"Sure, time." Enoch wondered if he was about to be made a fool again.

"You need to understand that our metabolism is silicon-based, not carboniferous, and we don't have any fossils on our home planet, so I don't know much about them..."

"No fossils? How did you learn where you came from?"

"From history books, written by eyewitnesses."

"What about the millions of yea-- I mean, what about the time before there were intelligent people to write history books?"

"The Ancient One taught our first man to read and write. He even gave him a short history of other planets -- including yours. So there were always history books."

There was that Ancient One religion again. Enoch was beginning to wonder if he were hearing a giant fairy tale, which encompassed the whole universe. Six thousand years indeed, what a crock. How could they be so backward in history and biology and astronomy, yet have advanced technology and interstellar travel? It didn't make sense. Especially the astronomy part.

"Are you saying that your race is younger than us humans? That your first man got a history book with our history in it?"

"Some of it. Up to the Great Flood, when the Ancient One decided to start over. That was a little less than 5000 of your years ago. I don't know exactly, because our years are different. We don't have any historians in our landing team. They could tell you more accurately."

Enoch was incredulous. "You're telling me that Ghibbers have existed for less time than humans, and yet you are far advanced in technology, with interstellar travel, while we can barely land an unmanned probe on the nearby planets? What makes you so smart?"

"I wouldn't say we are smarter," Lazir said. "I think the Ancient One made us about equal there. But we did not rebel. We were able to concentrate our energies on doing good, rather than defending against evil."

"And this 'Great Flood,' you aren't referring to Noah, are you?" Jesus, were his parents right after all? Wait, where was the evidence of a global flood? Wasn't it some local river flood in Mesopotamia that got magnified in the oral legends until the Bible was finally put together by the Church? Enoch decided to be a little more careful this time. Lazir may be full of Bovine Secretions, but he sure could beat up Enoch in debate. Let's not go there.

"I do not know his name," Lazir admitted. "Our history book stops where the Ancient One resolved to destroy everything in a flood and start over on a different planet. Later we found out that some people were saved. The Ancient One told us not to be concerned."

"That sounds rather callous of him," observed Enoch.

"It was for our protection. Rebellion is contagious, and results in harm to innocent people."

"If we're so bad for you, why are you here?" Gotcha!

"There is an ancient story, something like a legend or maybe a prophecy, I'm not sure of your word here, about a rebel suffering his just reward for his rebellion, and he called out to the Ancient One and begged for somebody to warn his family before it was too late. The end of the story was left off, like we were expected to finish it ourselves. Yohell -- he's still on our moon base -- he petitioned the Ancient One to let us send a mission here, and to work out an ending to the story."

Enoch wasn't sure he heard the name correctly, it sounded a little like "Yo-hell", but at least he started to sound like a honcho. "Yohell, is he your leader?"

"Not really. It was originally his idea, but each of us is an equal part of the team, the whole mission. There is no leader as such, only different duties and different people to do them."

There was that bizarre queenless hive social structure again. Enoch wanted to learn more about that. But first he wanted to clarify this history thing.
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