Monday, November 30, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Mr. Smith

Jethro picked up the new-born crab and looked it over.  It looked fine.  He set it down on the surface of the asteroid and it began to scuttle around. It found a spot that looked like any other spot to Jethro, and it began to dig.  After a while it stopped and then it began to drill.  This was happening all around Jetho with hundreds of other crabs, some of them new-born, some of them not.
Sam Riley tapped Jethro on the shoulder of his suit and pointed out into the blackness.
“What do you think of the herd?” he asked.
Jethro squinted into the blackness and was having trouble seeing anything.
“A.I.,” he said. “Project radar onto my helmet.”
A.I. complied and  and soon Jetro saw the tiny dots appear on the interior of his helmet. There must have been thousands. They were jetting from the asteroid Jethro and Sam were on, now fully occupied with crabs that were engaged the the act of mining, to the neighboring one.  The two were probably the remnants of a single larger asteroid that had broken up for some reason a long time ago.
These asteroids were mainly metal, and the small robots which were universally referred to as crabs by denizens of the Belt, were extracting it.
“Okay,” Jethro said, “there sure are a lot of them.”
“Yes,” Sam said.  “But those are just a fraction of what I ahve.  I’ve got several other herds working different clusters of asteroids here and there.  But all of my herds started from just one crab that was given me by a guy in return for a favor.”
Jethro had heard this story quite a few times over the course of the few months that he had been living with the Riley’s.  The crabs not only could mine, but also had 3D printers.  They could print their own parts and assemble another crab.  When a crab had been created in this way, it was referred to as new-born. Often this process had to be spread out in space because you not only had to have the metal and silicon for the parts, but you also needed uranium for the little atomic engines and a water source for propellent.
“Yes,” Sam continued, “I took that thinking it would take me forever to get enough of them to do anything, but I came upon an abandon hab.  There had been an explosion and there was a hole in it two men could float through.  If the explosion had killed the folks, it must have blown them free, because there was no sign of them.  No message they were coming back. Nothing.  Well, nothing but the metal of the hab, the water supply that had frozen rock solid, and the reactor.  I turned my crab loose on it. It started making crabs, and the ones it made started making crabs, and before long there was nothing left of that hab but the hole the explosion had made. It only took day and I had a herd of a thousand. Having all of the stuff close together really helps.”
“A.I.,” Jethro said. “How long until all of the crabs are full?”
There was a short pause.
“They will be full in about 45 minutes,” A.I. replied.
In 45 minutes, the crabs would begin to congregate.  They would fit themselves together head-to-tail in groups of fifteen, and go towards a refinery that was in an orbit not far from here. There they would deliver their loads and it would be credited to Sam’s account.  He would then be able to pick up a portion of what he’d delivered to the refinery as some processed good, such as sheet metal for a new hab.
Jethro noticed that Sam had turned and faced him dead on, not looking at the crabs anymore.
“I suppose you are wondering why I brought you out here,” Sam said. “I mean the crabs more or less take care of themselves. We only ever come out if they report a problem back.”
Jethro hadn’t actually wondered about that.  He didn’t know enough to wonder about it.  Sam didn’t even give Jethro the time to say “uh” before he continued.
“You’ve been a good guest for us, and you’ve been pulling your weight, rightly enough, but you strike me as the sort of man who’d like to be independent, am I right?”
“Uh, yes,” Jethro managed to say. Where was this going?
“Good,” Sam replied. “I thought so. What I am going to do is to loan you one of my crabs.  You can start your herd with it.  It might take a while. But when you get your herd going you can give it back.”
“Uh, thank you,” Jethro managed.  He’d never considered himself a herder.  He’d never thought about settling down to the life of a farmer.  He’d never thought much about anything but computing until he met Mary Kate.  Then he could hardly think of anything but her.
Sam now spoke into his com, “Herd, cut out one and send it here.”
For a few minutes nothing happened, then a crab arrived and set down at Sam’s feet.  He picked it up and handed it to Jethro.
“Remember, this is a loan,” Sam said. “I will want it back.”

Jethro had had an idea.  It was either brilliant or awful and he wasn’t sure which.  He couldn’t talk about it to Mary Kate and he couldn’t talk about it with Sam either.  He couldn’t mention it to any of the rest of the family because they would immediately tell Mary Kate, Sam, or both.  There was only one other entity he could talk with and that was A.I.  He waited until the evening and was alone.  Actually, he was in the room with  Mary Kate’s brothers who were asleep and that was as alone as he could be.  He typed his question into his console and listened for the response through his head phones.
“Given those parameters, your plan would produce ten thousand crabs,”A.I. responded.
Jethro typed some more.
“Assuming a uniform distribution of the required materials throughout the Belt which is reasonable as there has been sufficient time for topological mixing, it would require seven earth years for a small hab.”
Jetho was somewhat disappointed by that reply as it was a much more pessimistic estimate than he had hoped.  He typed some more and again A.I. responded.
“Assuming enough uranium could be found, a two person vessel would only require another 7 earth years.”
He typed once again.  This time he was even more surprised by the response.
“It depends Jethro. Do you love her?”
He slept on that question.  The next morning he left the hab without breakfast.  He removed the computer system from it that housed A.I., and he set his crab loose on it. In relatively few hours, that computer system was the only part of the ship left.  He stayed out in his suit the whole time watching it disappear.
After dispatching his crabs off in search of asteroid fields to graze on, he returned to the hab.  Mary Kate, who had been watching through the hab video monitor uncomprehendingly, met him at the airlock door.  
“What in the hell did you just do?” she asked. He had never seen her so furious. No, furious was not the right word.  Anger was there, but confusion as well.  He hoped what he said next would clear up the confusion.
“Mary Kate Riley,” Jethro began.  “Will you marry me?”   He had taken off his helmet so in some sense he was prepared for what happened next, but in another sense taken completely by surprise, as Mary Kate answered him with a kiss he felt in his lips, in his toes, and all other pertinent points in between..
Afterwards he made his way from the hub of the hab to its rim to talk to Sam.
“I have a herd of crabs now, and I will have a hab in seven years, and a two person spaceship seven years after that,” Jethro said.  “May I have your daughter’s hand in marriage?”
“Before we go any further,” Sam replied.  “You need to sit down. Quite frankly you standing there with your knees knocking is making me nervous.”
Jethro looked at his knees and they were trembling somewhat noticeably, so he sat down.  He noted that Mary Kate’s mother, Frances, had left the room and returned with a couple of glasses that were almost instantly filled with an amber liquid.  Jethro acknowledged his with a thanks, took a drink, and proceeded to cough profusely.  Frances brought him a glass of water and by the time he had finished coughing Sam was halfway through his own glass and looked as if he had composed some thoughts.
“So you say you want to marry my daughter, right?” Sam said.
“Yes, sir.”
“And you’ve sacrificed your ship to make your own herd of crabs?”
“Yes, sir.”
“So will you be able to support my daughter?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Given your ingenuity and willingness to sacrifice,” Sam said, “I would tend to agree with that.  There is one thing more though.  You are going to have to be willing to support my daughter spiritually as well as physically, so I am setting a few conditions.  You may marry her as soon as the hab is completed on the condition that you will then take her to Mars on the next approach where you will be baptized and then have the marriage blessed.  If you promise me this, I will give my blessing.”
Jethro agreed.

The years passed as years have a habit of doing. Jethro devoted himself to learning about his new life, but he also continued his work with A.I.  Jethro, who had been aware before the engagement of being chaperoned, grew all the more aware of it as time passed.  He transformed his annoyance with this supervision to work.  And this was continued until the days were accomplished so that the wedding could occur.
The marriage ceremony was different than anyone Jethro had ever seen portrayed in the movies.  There was no priest; there was no minister.  The family was gathered in the biggest room of the Riley’s hab, the dining room.  Sam had set up a camera to broadcast the event to the neighbors who would be coming to pay their respects over the next week to the new couple.  It would be a, more-or-less, continuous party at the hab over that interval of time.
“Mary Kate,” Sam began.  His voice was gruffer than maybe it needed to be, but his eyes were shining with emotion. “Is this okay with you?  Is it of your own free will?”
“Yes it is, Dad,” she replied. “No one is forcing me.”   She looked at Jethro with a look he couldn’t understand.  Sam, looked at his own wife and smiled.
“Jethro,” Sam said, turning to talk to him. “I want you to say outloud now what you agreed to before.  You will go to Mars the next time it’s orbit brings us close enough to be baptised and have this marriage blessed by a priest.”
“I agree to that,” Jethro said.
Sam now began to speak to the community: “Those of you who have been watching this from a distance confirm that you heard it by saying ‘Roger.’”
The receiver was flooded by a multitude of “Rogers” in various accents.
Sam then turned to the couple.  “The community now recognizes what has happened in you two.  We now present Mr. and Mrs. Jethro....” Sam stopped midsentence, appearing to be at a lost for words.  Those present began to become uncomfortable.  Then he asked Jethro a question, “Okay, what in the hell is your last name?”
For a moment, it appeared that Jethro, too would be speechless.  But there was another voice that spoke up.
“Smith,” it said. “Jethro Smith.”
“That’s right,” Jethro said, visibly relieved. “My name is Jethro Smith.”
“We now present Mr. and Mrs. Jethro Smith.  You can kiss her now.”  
There was more than one person smiling at this.  Smith was by far the most common name in the Belt.  Some of the people there had even been born with it. There were lots of people there who were hiding from something else, and they were happy to add to their number.
The source of the name Smith had added to the mirth of the room.  Only the people in the hab personally could discern where it had come from, though it was a voice that was familiar to all of them.  No one but Jethro had been surprised at the source.
It was A.I.  Jethro knew his own name was not Smith and he had no idea how A.I. had been able to come up with a suitable substitute on its own initiative.  But Jethro hardly took the time to mark this as there were more pressing things on his mind.  It was day afterall.

That day Jethro and Mary Kate got their marriage started and set their newly completed hab to rotating to maintain the customary one G of gravity at the rim.  The hab was not a complete wheel like the Riley hab.  It looked like nothing so much as a baton with a trailer house at each end.
Jethro and Mary Kate, dressed in spacesuits, stood in the airlock that was located at the hub of the hab and pressed the buttons firing engines at either end of the baton  The engines were firing in opposite directions so as the set the hab in rotation.  The airlock in which they were standing was designed to rotate freely. This was so spacecraft that weren’t rotating could dock with them.
Not that Jethro had a ship at this point, but his crabs were working on that.  It would take approximately seven more years for that to happen.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: The Girl at the Well

Mary Kate Riley  maneuvered toward the ice moon which was only a couple of hundred yards ahead.  Ice moon is what they called it anyway.  It had been a piece of ice orbiting Jupiter at a great distance and it was made of ice, mostly at least.  She had made this trip numerous times before, and during the lonely work, she had considered the various aspects of the case.  As it was no longer in orbit around Jupiter, was it still a moon?  As it was orbiting the sun instead of a planet, wouldn’t asteroid be a better term?
“Mom,” she spoke into her microphone, “what are we going to have for supper? Going for water always gives me a big appetite.”
Her mother was an old-fashioned farm wife that still made everything from scratch and “supper” was a big family affair.  She and her five brothers and four sisters and often any number of their friends would be there.  
“Quit worrying about supper,” her mother answered. “You’d think that we starved you.  You’ll eat whatever is put before you and be grateful for it.  Stop worrying about your stomach and keep your eyes open for scavengers.”
She smiled at her mother’s gentle scolding.  She was about to tell her mother not to worry that there hadn’t been any scavengers seen in these parts in a month or so.  Then she saw it. The moon was slowly rotating, and something that couldn’t be good news came into view. Something was moving against the dirty ice of the ice moon in front of her. She hit her gas retros and brought her craft to a near stop.
Her breath came a little quicker; her face felt a little hotter.
Her family at great expense and greater risk had retrieved this ice moon from far away Jupiter and had brought it back nearer the sun so they could farm using water from it.  No one had been using it before. No one had helped them, sure as hell not the government.
It was theirs.  And it was a valuable commodity.  You needed it for drinking,sure.  You needed it to water your crops, certaining.  But you absolutely had to have it for propulsion.  This you did, essentially, by getting it very hot and pointing it the opposite way you wanted to go.
The scavengers, as her mother called them--much to politely in Mary Kate’s opinion--didn’t care how much effort Mary Kate’s family had gone to to secure the ice. In their minds, perhaps, they were just doing what Mary Kate’s family had done.  They sneaked in from time to time and stole or attempted to steal a couple of hundred tons of ice.   They took it out in roughly cylindrical chunks about 20 feet in diameter and 20 feet thick..
Typically they had lasers to cut 20 feet deep along the circumference of a circle on the surface.  Then they used the laser to dig a bigger hole in the middle. They then lowered the laser into the hole in the middle and, turning it at a right angle to the axis of the cylinder, cut loose the back side.  They tried to do this last part as quickly as possible to cause a small steam explosion to dislodge the block. If all went as planned, they attached an engine directly to the ice and  flew it to whatever cockroach nest they were staying in.
If they were closed to being finished, there wasn’t much she could do alone.  If she called home for help, it would take the better part of an hour to get out here.  As far as dealing with it herself,  the closest thing she had to a weapon was the laser she used for her own ice harvesting. Since they were similarly equipped and she was outnumbered, she had no desire to get into a laser fight.
She considered calling her father for help in spite of the time it would take for her dad to get there, but then she had another idea.
Mary Kate was in one of her family’s forklifts. It was a general use piece of equipment used on the family farm. It looked liked the piece of earthly equipment which sported the same name with some appropriate exceptions. In addition to the fork on the bottom there was a matching fork on the top. This was to help her grip the ice chunk, the retrieving of which was the purpose of her trip.  On earth you can count on gravity to hold down your load, but not here.  She also had a powerful spotlight.  The was very useful in illuminating some of the shady places in which she worked.
They hadn’t seen her yet and probably wouldn’t. Her forklift was small, gray, and had no reflective surfaces and the vast blackness of space surrounded her.  Her plan was to maneuver to within a 30 yards of them, putting the body of the moon between them and her until the last minute, and hit the with the spotlight on its highest setting.  She thought that this should scare them off. And  as her parents monitored radio traffic habitually on their scanner, they would pick up on what was going on, and hightail it out here.  She couldn’t risk a message to her family now because that would alert the scavengers and they might work faster.
She would be careful as she didn’t have much water for maneuvering; that was one of the reasons she was out to bring home more.  While they did drink water and use it for their farming, the vast bulk of that was recycled. In order to move around, they heated water with a small atomic reactor, and blasted the water out in one direction at a high speed.  Because every action yields an equal but opposite reaction, whatever craft you were in moved in the other.  This particular means of travel did not lend itself to high-speed chances among people who were frugal with their water.
She was moving along in short bursts when she came over the hump on the side of the moon, and saw her quarry not 30 yards away but more like 30 feet away.
Damn. She cursed to herself.  She didn’t want them to get this close of a look at her.  She hit her spotlight as quickly as she could in hopes of blinding them.
“Halt your illegal operations,” she said in as stern a tone as she could muster.  “You are under arrest by the authority of the Allied Federation Farmstead protection act. Drop your weapons.”
She was broadcasting on all frequencies, so they should have heard her.They stopped the work they were doing to look up, so they must have.  
It appeared to her that they had already cut around the circumference and were drilling in the middle of the cylinder.  If they still had the back to cut, it would be more likely they would run.  If they could, run that is.  It now occurred to her, that if they were out of water and counting on the water they got here to get back, they would have no alternative but to stand and fight.
Oh, shit.
One of the men--and she was guessing they were men because they were in suits--turned towards her.  His faceplate was reflective and obscured his face.  His suit was tattered, in some places there was more patch than suit.
“You don’t look like a Fed to me,” came his response.  “There aren’t enough of you.  Fed’s are too shit yellow to come after anybody without two dozen backup.  I think you are just one of Farmer Riley’s daughters.”
In situations like this, the human being’s natural response falls into three modes.  Freeze, fight, or run, with the wisest opting for the last of these in cases such as this.  Mary Kate knew she was in no position to fight, and it was not in her nature to freeze, and while if she lived beyond her current age of sixteen she would gain wisdom, such had not developed in her yet.  She was thereby forced into fourth mode of response.  She lied her ass off.
“You are absolutely right there,” she said, her voice strong, clear, and unwavering in spite of her fear.  “There are 50 Federal Marines on there way and they will be here momentarily.”
That provoked a laugh, a hearty, healthy laugh.
“Fifty Federal marines?” he said.  “There aren’t they many Feds this side Mars.”
What happened next not only surprised him, but also stole ten years of Mary Kate’s growth as well. As suddenly there was a blinding spotlight coming down on the site from almost directly overhead.  Then accompanying it on all frequencies in a synthetic voice: “Desist from all activity and set your weapons and tools aside.”

Jethro was somewhat disappointed at not being chased.  But not really. He made himself comfortable within his escape vehicle, which meant he nestled himself close to his computer console.  Being somewhat old school, his favorite means of interfacing with his computer was the command line, but that was so quiet.  Having just left his home in a rush, he felt somewhat lonely.  He decided he you use speech mode.
“A.I.,” he began.  “What is the probability of my being chased at this point in time?”
“Chased by who, Jethro?” the voice replied.  The voice itself was not of Jethro’s design.  It was an off the rack voice he had found stored on unsecure server.
“The Feds,” Jethro said. And then to clarify, “The Allied Federal Police.”
“There is a less than 2 percent chance of the Feds following you,” A.I. respond.  Jethro noted with pleasure it had learned to replace “Allied Federal Police” with “Feds.”
“How long until we rendezvous with rendezvous with the engine ring?” Jethro asked.
“We will rendezvous with it in 17 days, 10 hours, and 42 minutes with a margin of error of plus or minus 20 minutes due to the uncertainty in the position of all massive objects in the region,” A.I. answered.
“A.I.,” Jethro said,”round out calculations such as this one to about 17 and a half days when you are reporting them to me.”
“Yes, Jethro.”
They continued through the 17 and a half days without incident.  Jethro spent his time much the same way he would have at home and truth be told didn’t interact with humans much less than he did at home. It was somewhat ironic that he spent much of his time programming A.I. to interact with humans.
The actual linking with the ring was the riskiest part of the whole trip. While he had retros to slow down, to turn, and to stop, he had nothing that would get him going with any real speed.  The gauss guns had gotten him up to traveling speed but all that energy would be gone once he stopped. If the linking didn’t work, he would either have to call for help and thus get caught or starve.
Jethro let A.I. handle all of that and so it went without the slightest hitch or uncertainty, because computers are really good at that sort of thing.  Once the process was completed, he had to engage the engines to begin pre-warming the water before they begin.  He also needed to tell A.I. where he was going.  He had kept that information even from A.I. up to this point for the safety of those to whom he was going to flee.
He told A.I.
“How long will it take us to get there?” Jethro asked.
“The answer depends upon how much water you would like to have left when we arrive,” A.I. replied.
“I would like half of the water left in case they don’t want to hide me and I have to go to my second choice,” Jethro said.
“In that case,” replied A.I., “it will take about 37 and one fourth days.”  
“Thank you.”

Thirty-seven and almost one fourth days later, even such a solitary soul as Jethro was about to lose it. He’d thought that by training the A.I. to speak to him it would give him company it.  That was true to a certain extent, but the company was somewhat flat.  And the part of it wasn’t flat was like a version of himself who knew an incredible amount of trivia.  This was enough to make him barking mad.
He’d taken to monitoring radio traffic to use listening into conversations a form of company.  There was one set of conversations that was getting louder as time passed.  It appeared to be a family farm. There was a welter of voices.  
At first he had trouble discerning them as masculine and feminine, but as time passed and the signal grew stronger he could not only tell masculine and feminine but also by age.  Clearly some were children, but others were adults.  There was a mother and a father, and one or two he would classify as young adults.  One of these in particular was a favorite.
He’d always been an only child and his family life had been mostly about him.  This family had several children in it that were required to do chores that required EVAs. Apparently they went out in their spacesuits tethered by lines; this seemed dangerous to Jethro. They did things that it seemed to Jethro the parents could’ve done more easily themselves but were insisting the children do. Jethro wasn’t quite sure of the point of it.
But then there was his favorite voice.  Sweet but strong and confident.  Humorous but respectful.
Today the sound was so clear he could almost reach out and touch it.  He’d thought it for several days, but now he was sure: these were the people to whom he was fleeing.  This was the family of the farmer Samuel Riley.
He had scanned them with his radar discretely over the last several days as well.  Their farm consisted of a cluster of habs which were all fairly close together and then an object that appeared to consist of mainly ice that was a bit farther away from the rest.  If they used it for its water, he wondered why it was so far away.  It must take an round trip of a couple of hours to get water from it.
His favorite voice, whose name he has learned was Mary Kate, came over the com.
“Mom, what are we going to have for supper? Going for water always gives me a big appetite.”
He used his radar and that transmission to get a fix on her while her mother answered her.  She was fairly close to the object that was made of ice, so apparently it was used for water.  
Jethro saw something on the radar the other side of the ice source.  It was in a radar shadow from the direction of the Riley’s main hab, but it wasn’t from Jethro’s angle of approach.  It was a ship what was parked about 100 yards from the ice object.  
He noticed that Mary Kate had momentarily stopped as if she had seen something she didn’t like. She wasn’t saying anything over the radio.  That might mean she was afraid to.
“A.I.,” Jethro began,”what is the probability that the ship 100 yard from the ice asteroid is involved in criminal activity?”
“Given that the ship is stationary, near the habitats water source, and has not communicate with the habitat’s owners, the probability approaches 95 percent.”  
Since Jethro’s father was a smuggler--and a very rich, successful one--the ship he was in was all but invisible to radar.  It looked like nothing more than an asteroid, as long as he didn’t accelerate or decelerate in an unnatural manner. He had been planning to begin his deceleration soon, but he changed his mind.  He decided that perhaps the best place to meet the person who belonged to that wonderful voice was near that asteroid.
“A.I.,” Jethro said, taking on a determined tone. “Bring us to a stop as close to the equator of that asteroid as soon as possible without danger to us or the ship.”
He felt the ship speed up slightly, but shortly thereafter it began to brake.  He was pulled against his harnesses.  He began to worry.  He thought he might throw up; then he thought he might pass out; then it was over.
He was within fifty yards of the asteroid.  He was listening to the com as the asteroid rotated below him.
It was Mary Kate’s voice. She was trying to bluff her way through.  He could hear her beautiful voice:
“You are absolutely right there,There are 50 Federal Marines on there way and they will be here momentarily.”
There was laughter. Then a male voice:
“Fifty Federal marines? There aren’t they many Feds this side Mars.”
It was about that time that the rotation of the asteroid brought all of them into his view.
“A.I.,” Jethro said. “Turn the spotlight on the group and repeat the message that I am typing in. Sound stern.”  
A.I. complied: “Desist from all activity and set your weapons and tools aside.”

And they did.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stars of the Heavens: Chapter 1

I have been inspired by the Martian, among other things, that the age of didactic science fiction is not over.  This has set me to thinking about how realistically the human race might proceed to Interstellar colonization.  I've thus begun a project of thinking out how that might proceed.  My goal is to produce a new chapter a week.  It will end when it tells me to.  Having been inspired by Andy Weir, the author of the Martian, I think it is only fitting to invite feedback.  So, please communicate with me in the comments things you think could be improved.

Thus we begin, Stars of the Heavens.

Chapter 1: Run

Jethro was sitting at his computer console working on a program and that is why he saw it in time.  The Feds were coming for him and he knew why.
Had he been in the home theater watching movies he wouldn’t have seen it.  Had he been in his father’s completely furnished gym, he wouldn’t have seen it.  Had he been in the “game room” interacting with his father’s collection of porn, he wouldn’t have seen it.
Had he been using any of the incentives that his father had bought to lure him away from the computer console, away from being a computer nerd, he would not have been seen the warning that flashed across his screen as the Feds set off the alarm system he’d set up.
That meant he had about an hour to get out of here as nonchalantly as he could.
He wanted to tell his parents, his mother in particular, that he was leaving.; to say he loved them; to say he was sorry; to give them an indication that he was alive.  They were gone, however.  His father doing business and his mother socializing with the wife of the man his father was doing business with.
He accessed the controls to his mother’s stereo, set its volume volume to high, and set it to play a portion from an old song on a loop: The feel I'm on a cross again, lately /But there's nothing to do with you/ I'm alive, huh, huh, so alive/ I'm alive, huh, huh so alive.  He knew his mother’s taste in music enough to know that she would find it detestable, but would get the message, regardless.
He knew the Feds would find anything he sent electronically, and he didn’t want to risk a handwritten note.
There was really no reason for this secrecy except his desire to deprive the Feds of information in the same way they deprived everyone else of information.  With their control of the Net, they controlled every bit--literally every 1 or 0--of information that humanity had spent millennia of gathering.
And control it they did.  Under their control and over time, history changed.  Heroes became villains. Monsters became saints and then monsters again.  This had been done for hundreds of years, of course, but with the control of information in a few hands and that information subject to change there was no means to fashion a reasoned rebuttal.  Books had become electronic file and libraries, other than placed to buy coffee and use computer terminals, had become shining artifacts of the past.
Jethro hadn’t been the one to discover the malleability of history. It had been known for a long while. Jetro had come up with a solution, however.  He had created his A.I.
It was an artificial intelligence program, but he had long since quit thinking about it in terms of anything but the two letters A.I.  He had written it himself on the basis of some old technology that had come into his father’s hands.  Jethro’s father was a an entrepreneur who dealt in things that were difficult for citizens to obtain on earth. Things often came into his hands that wouldn’t come into the hands of someone not in his profession.
Though his father did want his son to be more social, he was still a father and loved him.  In one of his many attempts to build a bridge to Jethro, he had turned this old technology over to Jethro to “play with” as he had put it.  Jethro had indeed played with it.  He took it apart physically and put it back together. Then he did the same with its programming, making use of all of the data sources the government still allowed free access to.  This is probably what put him in crosshairs of the Feds.
Part of controlling the access of information is, of course, monitoring it. Searches for information form a pattern. While it was impossible for the Feds to monitor everyone all the time, they could watch patterns of searches.  They could then focus on those relative few who were searching is certain areas.
People who made the sorts of searches Jethro had were ordinarily rounded up very quickly.  Jethro had an advantage over most people, however.  Realtors would say he had three advantages: location, location, location.  
Jethro was a bit far from police headquarters.  He lived in the asteroids.
At first, going to space was something only governments did. Then there began the drip, drip, drip of private enterprise as it became practical.  The drip, drip, drip became a trickle with the infrastructure developed to the point of putting some of our nastier, carbon heavy production in space with robotic factories. This trickle became a stream when it was fully understood that since no country owned space, none could tax it or regulate it.
Some thought idyllic at first until the robotic factories in space created a large permanent class of unemployed who lived off the state.  This large class of unemployed had within it two sorts of people, those who desired to be entertained and those who, for a fee, would provide entertainment of a sort.
This entertainment came in a variety of ways.  Some of it was herbal.  In space away from large celestial bodies--say in the asteroids--the sun is always up.  Plants need the sun, need water, need carbon dioxide, and a few other easily available things.  Some of the unemployed found themselves tending marijuana, poppies, and coca plants in greenhouses among the asteroids.
Some of the entertainment was chemical.  Industrial chemistry had entered a golden age in space.  Compounds with nasty bi-products could be cooked up in the depths of outer space that would never created on a large-scale so cheaply on earth because of all of those pesky regulations.  It was easy for certain entrepreneurial types to purloin equipment and supplies from these mainly robotic chemical plants and press them into use in the manufacture of recreational chemicals.
There was even a little moonshine made, but that was mostly for the use of the folks who lived in space.
And there were folks who lived in space.  As good as the robots used in manufacturing were, there were still a few people needed.  An ironclad rule had been discovered: while it is cheap to take things down to a planet, it is expensive to bring them up.  Bringing up whiskey in quantity is too expensive. Easier to make it in space.  After the initial steps into space most everything used in space was built there.
Jethro’s father’s part in all of this is best described by the word middle-man. He didn’t grow marijuana or synthesize  any of the exotic narcotics and he sure as hell didn’t use them.  He was able through certain relationships to get them to where they needed to be and do so in a way that was lucrative to those with whom he worked.  He could deal with the sorts of folks who grow weed in space as well as the slick government types who he kept at bay with bribery.  
But when the Feds sensed a threat against their control, not even bribery would help.  They were coming for Jethro.
After Jethro left the message for his mother.  He left the rim of the family habitat, which was spinning to maintain gravity.  He made his way to the hub where his getaway vehicle was located. He never thought that this would be the last time that he would see his home. He didn’t get misty about maybe not seeing his mother again.  He was a 17-year-old boy and they don’t think about things like that. He focused on his plan.
Being in the profession he was, Jethro’s father had realized that one day he might need a quick getaway and had used his money well in this reward.  He’d probably never thought his son would be needing it instead of him.  The getaway ship was a small, hollowed-out asteroid.  It was mounted within a metal frame that consisted of four blackened steel rails spaced at equal intervals that ran the length of the asteroid that were connected to each other by three blackened steel hoops, one at either end and one in the middle.  From the right distance, it looked as if someone had put a baking potato in a cage.  
There were actually five of these ships, but only one was outfitted with living quarters on the inside.  The rest were filled with hot water.  The idea was that these would be decoys.  The hot water would fool any heat-sensing equipment that the Feds had.  
The steel in the rails also had a purpose. Each of the ships would be shot into space using a gauss gun. That is to say, large electromagnets would send them out into space without any flash that would betray him to the Feds.  It would be much easier to escape if the Feds had to search his habitat before they discovered he was gone.
The other four ships would go out in random directions at random speeds, while his ship proceeded to another gauss gun one hundred kilometers away where he got another boost.  With luck, he would have gotten his second boost.  Any slight course corrections he needed could be obtained by compressed gas jets that wouldn’t be visible to the Feds.  
The downside to all of this was that the lack of control. If he missed he ultimate target, he would simply be another rock in orbit around the sun, and there were a lot of those.
His ultimate target was a ring of engines that was design to fit around his baking potato in a cage.
He climbed into his ship and accessed its console.  From it he download his AI into its computer system. Satisfying himself that the transfer had been successful, he sent the single to the hab’s computer to purge the A.I. and fry the storage it occupied.
He then strapped himself in, and pressed the button which started shooting the ships into spaces.  Between the time he’d seen the warning that the Feds were coming and he felt the jolt of his ship being launched, 12 minutes had passed.  By the time the Feds had arrived, he had already received his second boost.  By the time they got back into their ship and checked the radar, they only saw five rocks speeding away from them.  Not liking their odds, they headed back to base, working on their report along the way.

Meanwhile, Jethro was at his computer console working on his A.I.