SPACE FRIENDS INDEED: Chapter 3

The new day dawned clear and cold. Minnie had a warming breakfast of bacon, eggs, hot cereal and coffee (cocoa for the children) ready for the family. The children set out for school with no more than the usual protests and fussing. David bundled up Jenny and placed her in the baby carrier, because Kathy would be taking her to work.

They were both happy that the University had an advanced policy on parenting. In a few months, when the baby started to walk, Kathy would drop her off at the day care center. David smiled, thinking that another of his robots would be there to help care for and amuse the children. It was called Robby after the nursemaid robot in the Isaac Asimov story of that name.

Kathy was in her car. David strapped the carrier into the passenger seat and leaned in for a parting kiss. He closed the door and got into his own car.

Kathy said "Balder, work." David said "Freyja, work." The cars unplugged, backed out and went their separate ways, David's to his company and Kathy's to the University.

Kathy brought up the morning news. The Chancellor of the University appeared. He announced: "Our astronomy department has confirmed the existence of what seems to be a hitherto unknown planet and its moon. Because of the signals which appear to be coming from it, one of our astrobiologists is investigating possible inhabitants. Her husband has provided us with the enhanced image of the body, which will be shown after this announcement. He works at the company Best Friend Robots, Incorporated and is doing advanced work in robotics and image processing. We are proud to claim that the founder of the company and both members of this distinguished couple are alumni of our university."

David's enhanced image appeared on the screen. The news went on to detail reactions to the radio and laser signals. Governments were dithering about what to do.

But Kathy paid no attention. She would have to respond to her colleagues. The University would probably add additional responsibilities to her teaching and research duties. At least the Chancellor hadn't given her name - yet.

David had also brought up the morning news. When he saw the image he groaned inwardly. The boss would know whose work that was, and he would grab the opportunity to get some publicity for the company. David hoped that he would not be asked to do so much PR that it would interfere with the work he loved.

Sure enough, President Schaefer met him at the door, grinning broadly. "Well Dave," he said, "You're in trouble. I'm going to put out my own announcement saying that the image was made with our company's software by our top roboticist and image processing guru."

"PR is trouble all right." said David.

"Oh, don't worry about it right now. There may be interviews and photo appearances. You can work with Kathy and the university if they need our capacities. Be extra careful not to let anything slip that might reveal our trade secrets."

The President strode off, and David went to his office.

When Kathy got to her office she put Jenny in the "baby box". It was transparent, so she could see and mostly hear, but it would keep her warm and protect her from drafts and any cold or flu germs that might be wafting around.

Kathy started preparing for her first class. It was a freshman course on the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean and what they might imply about the origin of life on earth and the possibility of life on Jupiter's moon Europa. But the kids would be too excited about recent events to pay much attention. She decided to give an improvised lecture on them and then open the class for discussion.

Her phone rang. It was the Chancellor. Could she meet with him during a break in her classes in the afternoon? Professor Thompson, the head of her own biology department, and some others would also be there. She agreed and hung up.

After class she returned to her office, took up Jenny to change her, then sat down at her desk to nurse and go through her e-mail and deferred text messages.

As she expected, faculty and students had been quick to figure out who the astrobiology professor doing the purported investigation was. Her inbox was jammed and her message queue was so long that she could not possibly answer everyone. She contented herself with the bland response that nothing was yet official. The Chancellor would probably make another announcement soon.