Author: David C. Nutt
From my corner table at the café, I saw the tourist read the plaque. The same plaque adorns every public space on our planets, but this is the first. I know the words by heart. I was made to memorize it as a child. It is not the most elegant tome written by our people, but it does have the simplicity and brevity associated with the utilitarianism of project management, which it should, as it was written by an engineer, not a poet.
“You have to understand; our universe was going to die. We were in a panic. We knew that even with all the best technology we had, we couldn’t fix it. The planets we terraformed, the space stations we had around them, the billions raised to the billions that we became, all of that would be over in one brilliant burst of radiation from our dying sun. And we didn’t know when it would happen other than “relatively soon.”
So we sent out our fleets of autonomous terraforming ships. The idea was they would terraform the worlds in advance of our arrival, we would arrive at our new home, and then as one world filled up, the rest of us from the diaspora would follow the fleet of terraforming ships and we would all eventually be settled on newly transformed pristine worlds able to support us.
But, in our panic, our haste, we did not see the errors in our language… the “vaguery” in our programming. The parameters were too wide, too all-encompassing, the AIs we sent to manage them too powerful, too… parochial. We had no idea you were out here until it was too late. For that, we are truly sorry.
You will be honored. Our politicians, social scientists, and philosophers desire to make amends. One day, when the time is right, we will bring you back and seed you on a world where you can begin again.
As for now, we have recalled the last of the terraforming ships and their millions of self-replicants and rest assured we are fairly certain this will not happen again.”
The tourist bows his head in an acceptable moment of silence and moves on.
What has been done, has been done. The guilt of my ancestors weighs little on my conscience. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the air is sweet, the flora and fauna of our ancestral home have taken over and this planet is indistinguishable from our mother world. As it is with the rest of this system, and the next, and the one after, and the one after that, and the one after that one, and so on, and so on, and so on.
“we are fairly certain this will not happen again”
That’s what really elevates it for me. That’s how you know they picked an engineer and not a poet or a politician to write the dedication.
And, (as Jae also notes) a great overall metaphor for: Colonialism…
As everyone here no doubt knows, H G Wells wrote `War of the Worlds’ about (as a metaphor, for) the British, colonizing Australia… – This (deeply touching) story reminds me a little of that (in a good way.)
Also — I really like the way you used “vaguery”. (Haven’t seen it used that way before… I like it!!!)
Also, this bit was just amazing: “One day, when the time is right, we will bring you back and seed you on a world where you can begin again.”
I actually think we should do that, with all the extinct global megafauna, and dodos, moas, and the mammoths… More biodiversity is better than less.*
*(All except for T-Rexes: sharks with legs. Let’s leave them extinct.)
I like that you can read this two ways.
Did a future more advanced but negligent humanity destroy a promising alien civilisation?
Or were the “our people” of the story negligent aliens who destroyed … us? And was this first of their new terraformed planets once called Earth?
The arrogance of colonialism in a new incarnation. Good story.
I love this concept, David. The horror of terraforming the already formed. Nicely done.