Sherry Briggs

Fat Power

Ron Corcoran had been good about his diet. Sitting glumly at the Workshop for Fitness meeting, he reflected on the broad sweep of Terran history, and how events had conspired to make his own life uniquely unbearable. Life since the mid-twentieth century had never been all that easy for those who tend to roundness of figure, but it had never been worse than now. Ron huddled, brooding, within his own personal singularity of misery.

The late twentieth century had seen a progressive obsession with the ideal of a tall, willowy figure. Things had been bad enough then, Ron thought. Then the Galactics came.

The actual arrival of the aliens could hardly have been more soul satisfying. One fine day every television set, radio, Telex terminal, personal computer, telephone, automatic teller and video game machine ceased its normal order of business.

In Omaha, Nebraska, a small boy had been engaged in the ticklish procedure of persuading the school computer to change his gym grade to a bare pass. Suddenly, he yelped and rushed downstairs to his parents, shrieking “Totally Awesome!” at the top of his lungs.

In Burbank, California, a harried mom stared at the cash machine. She desperately clutched the hand of a restless two-year-old who was giving every indication of being about to explore his overripe diaper with grubby, ever curious fingers. Tight-lipped, she thought bitter thoughts about the apparently anonymous, thoughtless prankster whose trick gave every promise of causing a half-baked headache to blossom forth into a truly magnificent migraine.

As harbingers of impending total change go the small slip of paper, printed in slightly uneven dot matrix characters, was not of itself particularly impressive. The fact that it had emerged from Ron’s hand-held calculator, which ran on batteries and was designed to produce nothing but numbers, was.

The message it bore was clear, and ran as follows:



Initial panic among the journalists and intellectuals of the newly admitted planet faded into amazed relief as the Galactics’s terms were made clear. No science fiction nightmares occurred, and local customs were left undisturbed. The disapproval of various cultures continued unabated, and in fact seemed to increase, as newspaper budgets grew.

Almost unnoticed amid the apparent divisiveness was the fact that actual violence diminished drastically. Although wars continued, they consisted mostly of large-scale troop movements and propaganda. Former combat hospitals became important in the war against local disease, and a new sense of hope arose in the local populations, who benefited greatly by the new Galactic medical technology.

The aliens themselves had a vast number of shapes, sizes, environmental requirements, sexes, eating habits, family structures, ranking systems, mental organizations, and communication modes. Sound-wave utilizing, highly visual (within one octave), bilaterally symmetrical, two-sexed Terrans had a huge first lesson in form acceptance dumped on them all at once. Prejudice flared briefly, and then died, overwhelmed by an array of new sensory impressions never before equalled. People who hated bugs learned to endure the /klik. These louse-sized entities swarmed over whatever they were investigating, often making it look like a mound of crawling iridescent black. Snake-haters met the smooth, lithe Srendekians, and spider smashers learned to work with the many arachnoids in the Federation. Green slime, tumbleweeds, ball lightning, metallic spheres who snapped like a string of firecrackers when they talked, and hundreds more appeared. Terrans were startled and horrified. Ultimately, they learned to accept their new colleagues.

Ron thought bitterly of the many forms which had become accepted, and the one oppressive exception. The entities who arrived had one thing in common: top physical fitness. Ron had no way of knowing how to tell a slim spherical entity from a fat one, or a flabby collectively intelligent swarm from one that was trim, but he was assured that skinniness was the norm among all of the various new arrivals

As Galactic knowledge spread, prosperity advanced into the poorest areas. Material want became a historical curiosity that children struggled, with no great interest, to understand in school. The various Galactic species were generous with their technology and unobtrusive with any cultural requirements, but one thing became ever clearer. Aside from inexpensive travel within the Solar System, and Galactic-sponsored Terraforming projects on both Mars and Venus, space travel was not generally available. What made it hard to bear was the fact that a star drive was obviously used throughout the Galaxy, and was commonplace among the swarms of diverse visitors. All of them, from kids trying out a new space-yacht bestowed by indulgent members of the previous generation, to the proud captains of mighty starships, were equally, infuriatingly silent on the subject of the star drive itself.

It became excruciatingly clear that unless Earth technology developed the solution independently, Terrans would never reach the stars. Ron had garnered his highly desirable position at the University of Terra by his deep knowledge of physics. Not surprisingly, a vast Space Drive project had grown up on Earth, and Physics was one of the most hotly pursued fields of study. The funding available for this project was of a magnitude not even imaginable in earlier, pre-Galactic times. U. of T. was the nexus point for this planet-wide effort.

The effort would not have been so frantic if Terrans had been able to ride on any one of the myriad star drive vehicles which swarmed so tantalizingly. Such opportunities proved strictly limited, however. The few Terrans fortunate enough to visit other civilizations were invited on occasions so obviously ceremonial, and the destinations they were permitted to see so carefully prepared, that such contacts simply added fuel to the already raging fire of Terran curiosity. While the Galactics did nothing direct to aid Terran star drive research, they did take a persistent, slightly amused interest in Terran efforts.

Ron was glad that his considerable ability in physics had been sufficient to overcome any prejudice he might have suffered by his unfortunate tendency to gain weight, often with no apparent reason, but at the moment, listening to the stringy lecturer, he took small comfort in that fact. She had lost 150 pounds through the Workshop for Slimness program, had kept it off, and was up in front of an audience representing several tons of accumulated lard to assure them that they, too, could do the same.

All week, Ron had kept strictly to the prescribed diet, eschewing anything with any taste. The week had not been without its trials. He had gone to his cousin’s wedding, and exasperated his generous hosts by spurning all of the goodies on which both families had labored for days. He sipped primly at black coffee with no sugar, and nibbled at one tiny watercress sandwich. The wine, beer, brownies, petit fours, eclairs, quiches and myriad other temptations were stoically, if not easily, ignored. To add to the fun, he had caused what promised to be a serious breach within the family by refusing champagne for the toast.

Then there was the time he had lunched with Dr. Biddle, his department chairman. On this occasion he got to watch, and smell, as Dr. Biddle tucked into his lean frame two mugs of dark draft beer, a huge liverwurst sandwich on rye, french fries with extra butter melted over them, and a dessert too obscene to mention. Ron had munched sadly on a salad with plain vinegar for dressing, black tea, and one small scoop of lo-fat cottage cheese.

So it went, throughout the week. He had gone to bed with a growling stomach, awakening after poor sleep to a vast emptiness and the prospect of dry toast choked down with black coffee. What was his reward for suffering these torments? Confidently plopping his ample rear into his seat, he was shocked to see that he had gained five pounds.

Real cute, those seats, Ron thought bitterly. Like so much in life, now, they were in large part a product of Galactic technology. The seats utilized a direct mass sensor, independent of local gravity. As the unhappy dieter sat down, an almost imperceptible jerk took place, and the victim’s weight appeared on the readout. Should he have cared to know, Ron, by touching a few more buttons, could have seen what he weighed in the units and gravities of a few hundred of the more local Galactic planets.

This had amused him the first few times he had attended these sessions, but now Ron glared at the readout

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