Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sure Thing

Maybe it's just the way my mind works, but my first thought on reading the headline "NASA's Curiosity rover prepares to zap Martian rocks" was to recall Isaac Asimov's story "Sure Thing". Here it is:

As is well known, in this thirtieth century of ours, space travel is fearfully dull and time-consuming. In search of diversion, many crew members defy the quarantine restrictions and pick up pets from the various habitable worlds they explore.

Jim Sloane had a rockette, which he called Teddy. It just sat there, looking like a rock, but sometimes it lifted a lower edge and sucked in powdered sugar. That was all it ate. No one ever saw it move, but every once in a while, it wasn't quite where people thought it was. There was a theory that it moved when no one was looking. Bob Laverty had a heli-worm he called Dolly. It was green and carried on photosynthesis. Sometimes it moved to get into better light and when it did so it coiled its wormlike body and inched along very slowly like a turning helix.

One day, Jim Sloane challenged Bob Laverty to a race. "My Teddy," he said, "can beat your Dolly." "Your Teddy," scoffed Laverty, "doesn't move." "Bet!" said Sloane. The whole crew got into the act. Even the captain risked half a credit. Everyone bet on Dolly. At least she moved. Jim Sloane covered it all. He had been saving his salary through three trips and he put every millicredit of it on Teddy. The race started at one end of the grand salon. At the other end, a heap of sugar had been placed for Teddy and a spotlight for Dolly.

Dolly formed a coil at once and began to spiral its way very slowly toward the light. The watching crew cheered it on. Teddy just sat there without budging. "Sugar, Teddy. Sugar," said Sloane, pointing. Teddy did not move. It looked more like a rock than ever, but Sloane did not seem concerned. Finally, when Dolly had spiraled halfway across the salon, Jim Sloane said casually to his rockette, "If you don't get out there, Teddy, I'm going to get a hammer and chip you into pebbles." That was when people first discovered that rockettes could read minds. That was also when people first discovered that rockettes could teleport. Sloane had no sooner made his threat when Teddy simply disappeared from his place and reappeared on top of the sugar.

Sloane won, of course, and he counted his winnings slowly and luxuriously. Laverty said bitterly, "You knew the damn thing could teleport." "No, I didn't," said Sloane, "but I knew he would win. It was a sure thing." "How come?" "It's an old saying everyone knows. Sloane's Teddy wins the race."

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