Every Planet We Reach is Dead #3

‘So let’s be clear: you have no memory of what happened?’

Rigel stands across from the rescued man – now known as Walcot thanks to the onboard data files – who sits on a stripped down bed. The medbay glows with cleanliness. Walcot’s eyes focus on the floor, his hands mashing together. He doesn’t answer. Rigel’s teeth grind.

It’s been hours since they rescued this extra body from the hulk, which is still attached precariously. The engineers are going back and forth, checking the systems and data. It’s all proceeding as it should.

‘Let me explain this to you, again. We – and I mean humanity – lost contact with you, the Indomitable, not long after your first arrival in the system. It’s been… a long time. This is meant to be a one way trip, though…’ He stops himself, his mouth still moving but the words cut off. Realigning, he continues, ‘I would appreciate if you told me what you can remember.’

Walcot looks up, straight into Rigel’s eyes.

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing, except who I am, and even that’s vague… barest memories of before I even signed up. I…’ He chokes. Emotions or getting used to speaking again, one or the other.

Rigel grunts. He was a kid when this corpse went quiet. The last outpost. Snuffed out after such a long wait, literally centuries and generations went by waiting for them to reach the Vega system. Joan’s in the Bulb getting all data on every other rescue mission, which all should, theoretically, be arriving in their designated systems about the same time.

The door slides open with a hiss. Lin walks in, her eyes tracing charts as the patient’s results roll past her retinas.

‘He appears healthy, though over-exposed to the cryosleep, obviously. No long term effects. But the memory loss… It can happen, quite often. Especially in the case of trauma.’

Rigel nods, fingers squeezing his lips.

‘Trauma… Bring up his ship records.’

Lin’s eyes twitch.

‘Ari Walcot. Brought along to… document the settlement of the Vega system. You’re a journalist?’

Walcot smiles. ‘If you say so.’

‘Great, so now not only do I have an extra corpse on my hands, but he’s useless too.’ Rigel throws his hands up in the air, kicks a bed.

A voice in his ear.

Captain. You’re needed in the Bulb. Now.

What is it Joan?’ Lin snaps a look at Rigel. Joan’s talking directly to him.

I think I know what happened here.

***

Vega, the star, bulges at its equator. Parallel to the equator the light is a duller blue-white than at the poles. Junko’s ‘eyes’ are all focused on this point. An object has appeared in Vega’s orbit.

Joan stares down the barrel of an optic station. She flips between spectra, observing the object in each. It appears to her as a small black smudge. A freckle against the mighty sun.

‘It’s a ship?’

‘It’s something technological. It’s far too small for a planet, and the orbit is wrong anyway.’ Joan pulls away from the optics and looks straight at Rigel.

‘So you’re saying, potentially, that the Indomitable ran into… aliens, maybe, and we’ve come 25 light years to meet the same fate?’

‘Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t get any energy readings from it. It appears dormant.’

‘Probes, now. Keep quiet, no radio, reduce our radiation, and don’t tell any -’

Captain. I assume you’ve spotted the anomaly.

The Major. Her voice crackles through the all-purpose frequency, the robotic shifts of her mechanised voice box magnified through the vox.

‘Major. Indeed we have. We’re coming up with a plan of action now. It appears quiet for now.’

‘I’m already putting together a drone team for reconnaissance. I suggest you work through the data banks of the Indomitable more efficiently.’

With a click the Major was gone. Rigel’s jaw clenched.

‘At least we’ve got a clue as to why she’s here. Pilot, I want you to keep working on data from the Indomitable and to keep scanning the system for clues. Get those probes out quickly. I’m going back to talk to our guest.’

***

One, two, three. Probes shoot from Junko, pacifist torpedoes hunting for knowledge. They cross the gap between sentient ship and anomaly quickly, dodging debris yet keeping formation. They begin to relay imagery back to Junko, who feeds it on to the crew.

As they already know, it is massive. A large sphere, a small moon even. Its skin is layered with crevices and mountains. Spires shoot up, ugly spikes into space. Valleys and bunkers. The drones split up.

They shoot across the horizons, scanners slowly bringing the anomaly into a 3D rendition in Junko’s database. In the background Vega burns, flames lapping at edges of the system, the haziness of which diffuses the light to a romantic glow. But there is no light from the anomaly. It orbits in silence.

***

Rigel stares at the stump where Walcot’s left leg should be.

‘Your injury. No recollection of what happened?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Did your team board the anomaly?’

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘Right. What I think we are going to have to do is jolt your memory. Lin, you can hook him up to memory retrieval right?’

Lin nods, eyes averted.

‘It induces a dream state, and then we look for memories,’ Lin says to Walcot. ‘We can read the feedback your brain provides. In the lucid state we can sort out dreams from reality.’

‘I… I don’t think I particularly want to dream.’

‘You don’t really have a choice, I’m afraid.’ Rigel stares down the man with that comment, daring him to challenge. Walcot just looks at his leg.

His mouth moves, barely a whisper.

‘What did you say?’ says Rigel.

‘I said, “What happened to the rest of them?”’

A pause.

‘All of them.’

‘We’re getting feedback from the other missions. It appears there are no survivors, and so the secondary teams are all in the process of picking up where the first teams left off. As for your team specifically, we have no idea. From what we are gathering in each of the other systems, the bodies are mostly accounted for, suicides in the majority. The only exception is Vega. No bodies. One soul back from the dead. And one alien structure. We’ve already relayed this back to Earth. Can you imagine, this is the first sign of alien intelligence we’ve yet to discover? You’ve slept for centuries and managed to keep it quiet.’

Walcot twitches, a full-body jerk. Rigel takes a step back, Lin goes to help the man. He manages to right himself, hands gripping the bed hard. Visible sweat rivulets sweep across his skin.

‘It can’t be good if we never told you about it.’

‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’

Black vs Green

“But deceleration is for pansies. We’re headed for the stars.”
Peter Watts

There are two types of people in the world: blacks and greens. Well, maybe three if you count people who don’t care, but if you press someone they will come down on one side or the other. This is a much more important distinction that Republican vs Democrat (or insert own country version), Left vs Right, SJW vs MRA, or any other political division. This is about the very future of humanity.

Essentially, blacks are future-facing and greens want to go back in time. Blacks are not necessarily about growth for growth’s sake, but always want to progress, whereas greens figure life is plenty fine on Earth so are content to leave things as they are. Some examples of blacks include Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos (all hail), venture capitalists seeking to privately fund a new space race. Examples of greens include… a lot of progressives, actually. For all their vision of progressive ideals, futurism is detestable to them, probably because future growth depends quite heavily on a neoliberal, libertarian mechanism. There’s something amiss when you decry the waste of worrying about an AI disaster while at the same time insisting that governments act on climate change.

Let’s get something straight: the people who are prominent futurists are very smart people. Very smart people who are almost always right are also putting their money on Trump, but do you think progressives listen to them? Their response is purely emotional: ‘I would feel awful if he won, therefore he can’t.’ Similarly, there is a weird blind spot for greens who refuse to see change. Humanity manages to change itself pretty much every generation or so, and given a Moore’s Law type potential for exponential growth, things are going to change very rapidly this century. You can easily arrive at this conclusion by doing what Bryan Caplan does: look at long term averages and spurn the latest hyperbole. What’s the long term average? Growth. What’s hyperbole? That world peace is possible (ha). It’s quite easy to see that living in a simulation is hyperbole, but is it? Long term averages point to rapid growth in computing power, therefore, eventually, a perfectly realised simulation is feasibly possible. I mean, if we are in a simulation, it could be running in the year 3000 for all we know, and if you think the year 3000 will share any resemblance to today you need serious medical attention. Saying that Trump will start World War 3 and literally build a wall along the border is hyperbole – there is no precedent for that beyond his words. Ah, but what about the black swan! Black swans are events that occur from nowhere, without notice. We’ve all noticed Trump, and therefore him starting World War 3 would not be a black swan event. Basically, the more likely you think something is to happen, the less likely it is to occur. Bryan’s thinking is called the ‘outside view’ not because it has an outside chance, but because the most likely thing is the one thing that no one else thinks of.

I can point out two people on Twitter who are avowed greens, @annegalloway and @Elmo_Keep. The former studies the ethics of killing animals. That is to say, the ethics around murdering animals for food, not whether the actual act of killing is ethical in and of itself. A foregone conclusion for her. She’s done pretty well for herself: an academic who espouses the return to pastoral ways and living off the land who… has managed to land a ‘research’ role living on a farm with animals. The life of an academic, eh? Who said researchers were impartial. She is vehemently in favour of eating eggs, milk and meat, but is against anything modernist or futurist. The idea that we are congregating towards cities (and that cities can support a vegan lifestyle) is basically her worst nightmare because we will lose our connection to nature. This is inherently green. We must remain as close to our ancestors as possible, no matter the benefits of technology. Elmo wrote a fantastic piece about going to Mars, but her fear of technology does go quite deep. I think its mostly grounded in a Leftist ideology of being anti-patriarchy and anti-capitalist, which would make sense, given how male and rich Silicon Valley is. She knows a lot about tech, but the satire is a bit too full of fear. As with everything, life will go down the middle, and the hyperbole of her writing is grating to say the least. I think she is much less of a green than Anne, but they are both interesting studies in the green ideology.

The battle between black and green is what will shape our immediate political future. How do I know? Because, looking at history, there has always been backlash against technology, the Luddites being a famous example. People fear change, no matter how much they talk about wanting it. Don’t get too excited about the future, and don’t be too fearful. If you see someone in either camp, they’re probably trying to make a buck.