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Generations of genetic modifications have destroyed the smartmen's resistance to the plague. Fragile and susceptible to that terrible disease, the smartmen who hoped to reengineer their minds to rise above the poor and less fortunate find themselves at the mercy of the common folk for shelter. Housed in plastic bubbles maintained by the populace, the smartmen must weekly hear the troubles and travails of their communities and offer their best advice, a payment the communities demand in exchange for the maintenance and care given to the bubbles that protect the smartmen from disease.
The smartmen find a new hope to return to the top of the social ladder when they discover an alien intelligence amid the stars. They hire work crews from their communities and race to construct a giant radio with which to communicate with those alien minds that might know how to free them from disease and their bubbles. Only the smartmen are not the only ones interested in speaking with those beings visiting from the stars, and not everyone welcomes the thought of the smartmen finding freedom from their plastic shelters.