Matt’s eleventh birthday came just after the Official Christmas Day. For him and 22 other birthday children with alloparents, they would finally learn their biological origins. So the Fleet Department of Official Fun had identified them from among the 250,000 colonists and invited them to a Unified Birthday Party. A lot of adults despised ‘Official Fun’, and his parents usually ignored its enthusiastic efforts. But it was a welcome extra party, on top of the small family one he’d later have at home.
Christmas for the Fleet had been 43 days in March and April 2240 for the rest of humanity. But time was ‘out of joint’ for the Fleet: thanks to the enigmas that Albert Einstein had so cleverly discovered, often summarised by the “Twin Paradox“, which a writer called Heinlein had turned into a story called Time for the Stars. In that story, twins had telepathy and communicated across the light-years with one on Earth growing decades older and the other with the fleet just aging a couple of years.
Telepathy did not exist, as far as anyone knew. But the Twin Paradox was real enough. When Matt had said farewell to his classmates, the teacher had explained that to him they would all suddenly grow up and then be middle-aged. To them, he would remain the child they remembered for decades in the future.
There was also a problem of how you managed the calendar when “time was out of joint”.
For the Statis Fleet, crossing 43 light-years to their new planet at nearly the speed of light felt like a single year for them. But it was 43 years in the wider world, so the Fleet had its own Official Calendar to keep things sensible. And had a Department of Official Fun to try to keep everyone in step. Most were for adults but some also for kids.
They’d fed and chatted and pulled crackers, and then opened the Official Fun Presents. He’d expected something scientific: special tuition from his enormously clever father had already raised him above what most adults knew. Instead he’d got an Exercise Pig – a small pig-shaped robot that ran away and dodged and hid and you chased it. Smart enough to operate both in normal gravity and the zero gravity of the Junior Play Areas. A clever choice, since he didn’t exercise enough, did not like team sports, but did like chasing things.
Now someone banged a gong and the Permanent Secretary for Fun stood up. She was a fat and merry woman wearing clown’s makeup. She had a loud but pleasant voice:
“You young persons just turned eleven will now each learn about your alloparent, whose egg or sperm made you biologically possible, so that your actual parents could raise you and love you. The order will be random, except that four of you have alloparents we might already have heard of.
“And of these four, one you must have heard of. Mathonwe Jones…” – this was Matt’s real name – “your alloparent was Albert Einstein. No one knew about his donation until long after his death. One of his sons had a tragic mental illness, so he insisted it be kept back till people knew why. They fixed that in the mid 21st century, and since then lots of boys and girls come from him. Many physicists, some musicians. Maybe a dozen geniuses, though none are household names. But almost all have been useful and superior, just what the alloparent system is designed to produce. And so Matt, even though you come first here, don’t ever be vain. Make the best of whatever is in you, and you will live a good and useful life.”
And Matt was sure he would. But he also wanted to leave and chase his pig: yet knew he must wait until all of the other kids had had their moment of glory.