About the Author

Tony Ballantyne grew up in County Durham in the northeast of England, studied mathematics at Manchester University, and then worked as a teacher, first of math, then IT, in London and later in the northwest of England. Nowadays he enjoys playing boogie piano, cycling, and walking. In the past he has taught sword fencing at an American children’s camp, been a ballroom dancer, and worked voluntarily on conservation projects and with adults with low literacy and numeracy.

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edward 1: 2252

There was an argumenttaking place on board the Eva Rye , but then again they had been arguing on board the Eva Rye since the ship had left Garvey’s World.

“It’s a robot. It houses an intelligence, it’s mobile: it’s a robot.”

“Why would a robot be floating in space? It’s got to be a ship. A small one.”

“I keep telling you, it’s a self-replicator, and it’s trying to trap us. Let it on board and it will convert our ship to copies of itself. We’ll all be left swimming through vacuum.”

Edward sat on the hessian matting that made up part of the patchwork floor of the spaceship’s lounge and tried to follow what was going on. Ever since the Stranger had first made contact, and everyone had been summoned to the gaudy living area, the same argument had been sloshing back and forth. It wasn’t a new argument, just a natural development of the same one that had thrived on the Eva Rye for the past five weeks, given new life by the distress call they had picked up.

After about an hour of Donny’s bitterness and Armstrong’s belligerence, Craig had brought Edward a glass of apple juice and had tried to explain what they were all shouting about, but Saskia had chosen that moment to mention Edward’s sister again and another favorite quarrel had been added to the stew. The only one who had maintained his temper was the Stranger himself. His image could be seen in the viewing field that had been opened up in the middle of the conference room.

Eva Rye, why do you keep arguing? All I want from you is delta vee. It’s a common enough request. You are a trading ship, aren’t you?”

There was an edge to the Stranger’s question that achieved something that none of the crew of the Eva Rye had managed in their one hundred and forty minutes of bitter debate. It brought silence to the room. Ten bodies paused just outside the circle of light in which the Stranger floated, his shape a grainy letter x pushed to maximum resolution by the radio telescope. The picture was an embarrassment to the technology that should be available to the ship, but it was the best image that could be achieved with the long-range senses off-line and the self-repair mechanisms still malfunctioning. In the hushed silence, Edward looked up at Craig.

“What’s happened?” he whispered.

Craig took a break from glaring daggers at Saskia just long enough to whisper: “Nothing yet. The Stranger just reminded us who we are. This can’t take much longer, Eddie. Shh. Michel’s going to speak.”

Michel blinked in the dim light, not so much speaking as refereeing his own indecisiveness.

“Okay,” he said, finally getting to the point in the mental debate that jammed up his head, “we could argue about this for another hour, but all the time the Stranger would just get farther away from us. I propose we put this to a vote.”

“A vote?” Saskia queried in tones of mild surprise.

Edward shivered. Saskia may have been Craig’s sister, but he still didn’t like her that much. Especially when she spoke like that; especially sitting back as she was in the stripiest of the three stripey chairs, letting her shiny aubergine-black hair fall forward to cover her eyes; especially when her words were so quiet and reasonable.

“One of your jobs as our leader is to make decisions,” she said, ever so mildly. “You should ask your specialists for their opinions and then tell us what to do.”

Michel rubbed his head. “I know, I know. I was coming to that. Armstrong, what do you think?”

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