Author : Adam Zabell

Commander Deborah Sagmeiser began the ‘big reveal’ of Project Beta. This briefing used to be a formality which celebrated the human race. She looked across the table at a bespectacled middle-aged man, brought into the fold against her better judgement, and wondered how much room for celebration was left.

“Time and space travel,” she explained, “use identical but polarized technology. Like those elementary school cartoons showing self-propagating, transverse oscillating waves of electric and magnetic fields, the physical laws of interstellar travel are twinned with intrachronological transfer.” First Physicist Nikolayev’s eyes grew wide as his scientific intuition processed the implications. His previous assignment had been Project Coeus, whose hyperspatial engineering had drilled Chang’s Five Theorems into his soul.

Commander Sagmeiser tapped a display screen to reveal the Sixth Theorem. “Outside of Project Beta, FP Nikolayev, this collection of variables and constants are an expensive and ruthlessly guarded secret. Within, the past several centuries have seen it used to great effect.”

“It is a reasonable approximation to say there are two timelines measuring the existence of humanity. They branched five hundred years ago, subjective, because Project Beta achieved what nature could not. For two dozen generations, a fleet of C5T ships explored a sterile universe. Discovering rocky planets in every astronomical ecosphere, none of which could manage more than a kind of proto-life. Collections of nucleic and amino and betain acids, barely self-replicating, a light broth in salty water. Psychosocial analysis showed our species on an inevitable descent to suicide because of cosmic loneliness.”

“Within that context,” the Commander continued, “Project Beta developed the C6T technology. Eighty objective-years ago, we finished our prototype ship and went back some four billion years to fertilize the most promising worlds. We returned at intervals to cultivate a spectrum of cultures a bit slower and poorer than ours in preparation for when the C5T survey ships were scheduled to arrive. Five hundred sub-years ago, that was the Fluvuluvians. Twenty years ago, the G’trn.”

Commander Sagmeiser paused, savoring the last moments of Nikolayev’s innocence. “There was much debate within our Sociological Unit about how we should balance exobio aggression; in the end we settled for enmity from every fourth species. The inevitable wars would cost millions of lives and billions of dollars, but our racial ennui had stopped before it started.”

“Having created in our own image, we made certain none of those races would independently develop time travel. Usually a simple matter of giving some desperate alien physicist the first Five Theorems, we short-circuited any natural discovery on every foreign world. Let one of those seedlings peek behind the curtain of history, and the consequences would be disastrous. It’s why Project Beta is always and forever exclusively human, why joining our family is always a one-way trip.”

“We’ve successfully managed time, our most precious resource, for millennia with only modest intrusion. That all changed last week; the C5T ship Yoolis Night has discovered a race we never seeded.”

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