It all seems so inevitable, now that mankind is spreading out through
the galaxy. The only question is: Why wasn't it done sooner? Why
did the road to the stars have to wait until 2002, when an Anglo-Chinese
merchant fell to musing over his correspondence? But perhaps all
of mankind's greatest advances, from fire through the wheel
from penicillin through hydrogen fusion, seem inevitable only in retrospect.
Who remembers the faceless thousands who unlocked the secret of nuclear
energy, the man who dropped the first atomic bomb? Mankind remembers
Who remembers the faceless thousands who built the first moonship,
the man who first stepped upon an alien world? Mankind remembers
Verne and Ley and Heinlein.
As mankind remembers Chap Foey Rider.
Chap Foey Rider's main offices were in New York
, not far from
Grand Central Station. From them he directed an import-export firm
that blanketed the globe. On November 8, 2002, a Friday, his secretary
brought him the day's mail. It was 11:34 in the morning.
Chap Foey Rider frowned. Nearly noon, and only now was the mail
delivered. How many years had it been since there had been two deliveries
a day, morning and afternoon? At least fifty. Where was the much-vaunted
progress of the age of technology?
He remembered stories of his father's life in London before
the war, when there had been three
daily deliveries. When
his father would post a letter in the morning, asking an associate
to tea, and receive a written reply before tea-time. It was enough
to make a bloke shake his head
Chap Foey Rider shook his head
and picked up his mail.
There was a bill of lading from his warehouse in Brooklyn
miles away. Mailed eight days ago.
There was a portfolio print-out from his investment counselor in
Boston, 188 miles away. Mailed seven days ago.
There was an inquiry from his customs
broker in Los Angeles, 2,451
miles away. Mailed four days ago.
There was a price
list from a pearl merchant in Papeete, Tahiti
6,447 miles away. Mailed three days ago.
Chap Foey Rider reached for his calculator.
He then called his branch manager in Honolulu. He told him to mail
a letter to the branch manager in Capetown, 11,535 miles away.
The Capetown manager called Chap Foey Rider two days later to advise
him that the letter from Honolulu had arrived. Although still Sunday
in New York
, it was early Monday morning in Capetown.
Chap Foey Rider pondered. The length of the equator was 24,901.55
miles. No spot on Earth could be farther than 12,450.78 miles from
He reached for the World Almanac.
Bangkok was 12,244 miles from Lima. He smiled. He had offices in
A letter from Bangkok reached Lima in a single
Chap Foey Rider returned to his calculator.
The extrapolation was staggering.
One further test was required to prove his theory. He pursed his
lips, then carefully addressed an envelope: Occupant, 614 Starshine
Boulevard, Alpha Centauri IV
. He looked at his watch: good, the
post office was open for another hour. He personally pushed the envelope
through the Out-of-Town slot and strolled home.
Returning to his office the next morning, he found in his stack of
mail the envelope addressed to Alpha Centauri. Frowning, he picked
it up. Stamped across the front in purple ink were the words: Addressee
Unknown, Returned to Sender.
Chap Foey Rider lighted his first cigarette of the day and to conceal
his discontent puffed perfect rings toward the ceiling. Was the
test actually conclusive? True, the envelope had been returned. But
with suspicious speed. He reviewed his chain of logic, then studied
the envelope with a magnifying glass. There was, after all, nothing
to indicate which post office had stamped it.
He ground the cigarette out and reached for a piece of paper. He
wrote firmly, without hesitation:
The Rgt. Hon. Chairman
of the Supreme Galactic Council
Sir: I feel I must draw to your attention certain shortcomings
in your General Post Office system. Only yesterday I mailed a letter. . . .
Chap Foey Rider awaited the morning's delivery
. Eventually it
There was an envelope-sized piece of thick creamy parchment, folded
neatly and held together by a complex red seal. His name appeared
on one side, apparently engraved in golden ink.
Expressionless, he broke the seal, unfolded the parchment, and read
the contents. It was from the Executive Secretary, Office of the Mandator
of the Galactic Confederation:
Dear Sir: In rely to yours of the 14th inst. the Mandator begs
me to inform you that as per your speculation the Galactic Confederation
does indeed exist as primarily a Postal Union, its purpose being to
promote Trade and Commerce between its 27,000 members. Any civilization
is invited to join our Confederation, the sole qualification of membership
being the independent discovery of our faster-than-light Postal Union.
His Excellency is pleased to note that you, on behalf of your fellow
Terrans, have at long last fulfilled the necessary conditions, and
in consequence, an Ambassador-Plenipotentiary from the Galactic Confederation
will be arriving on Terra within the next two days. Please accept,
Mr. Rider, on behalf of the Mandator, the expression of his most distinguished
"to promote Trade
and Commerce. . . ."
Chap Foey Rider restrained himself
from rubbing his hands together in glee. Instead he pushed a buzzer
to summon his four sons to conference. The stars were coming to
mankind. Rider Factoring, Ltd. would be ready for them. He called
the mailroom to tell them to be on the alert for a large package from