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 Einstein.
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, seven 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 any other.
He reached for the World Almanac.
Bangkok was 12,244 miles from Lima. He smiled. He had offices in each city.
A letter from Bangkok reached Lima in a single day.
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
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 arrived.
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:
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 sentiments.
"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 Sagittarius.