REPORT OF A SURVEY OF A DEAD PLANET
The survey had been running for almost a local year in the desolate polar wastes of that lost dead world.
We still hadn’t determined which of the fourteen standard socio-catastrophies had ended this ancient and mighty civilisation, or whether we were looking at an undiscovered fifteenth. Naturally we hoped not, an extra catastrophe meant one additional chance that back at the far end of our near light speed, relativistic, trajectory our home world was already dead
We still hoped to find a world that had solved the unsolvable, that had lived past the horrors our best sociopredictions laid out inexcapably before us. Oh we could dodge the terrors of ‘nuclear war’ [socioprediction #1, 47.2% probable] but only by running straight into ‘ecological collapse, via pollution’ [socioprediction #2, 39.4% probability] and so on down to ‘inability to breed’ [socioprediction #14, 2% probability]. The cumulative odds of our living past the present century as a viable species were next to nil. Failing the miracle of a functional world, we looked for clues that could solve at least the higher order disasters: but this world didn’t look like it had any, not in its empty impossibly neat ghost cities.
Gchan had a theory (he always had a theory). ‘Imagine a society in which technology has become indistinguishable from magic in accordance with Metchin’s Hypothesis, anything that can be accomplished in the real world can be accomplished faster and better in virtualised intracomputer space, in which there is neither dirt nor decay.’ Gchan had developed an obsession with recycling systems during the voyage, and had on arrival refused to leave the ship.
‘Such a society will, eventually decay in its little rooms, bodies ending as in its great and airy palaces of the mind the souls of its citizens flicker and go out, eaten by the non-virtual aging of their murky flesh.’
‘That’s number Fourteen,’ Yurik said. ‘Virtualisation beyond no-return, is a subset. What does it matter if it’s female-hormone exposure, or decay of the male Chromosome, or too long in windowless rooms. No breeding equals no children.’
It was a telling point, even within our voyage – itself a risk – we had a breeding pair aboard, their two young, our own reminders of our race’s hope.
The terror began that night. The ship’s long range rangerscope detecting activity at the opposing pole. A launching of some ancient robotic composite weapon of destruction perhaps for it gave no believable life-readings to the ‘sparkometers’ only twelve strange signals, the foremost peculiar lead signal so energetic that its radio wavelength foreshortened into a red light as it moved so impossibly fast. There were twelve strange signals and one different ghost signature in their midst, a bloated parody of the ship’s computers best guess at one of the worlds long gone dwellers, and yet not real life. Not as we knew it.
‘A cyberweapon’, Gchan spluttered fearfully, ‘a ghost wired into a machine, accreting erroneous code over the eons. A lost purpose set loose. Pray it doesn’t find us, here at the bottom of the world.’
It wove a pattern over the world visiting everywhere, pausing and hovering then zooming at near light speed, accelerating at velocities that suggested a gravitic drive we had never accomplished. Was this some horror alien to this world that had picked its cities clean, or as Gchan thought, a last remnant of its own menaces. We shut down the power and huddled in the dark, the children wimpering in their parents’ arms.
Came the dawn. We woke with a child’s cry.
In the children’s arms, toys. Alien toys. Fat ursoid tumblies; spun-sugars in the form of orthoplastic supports. Teetertotes that spin forever.
In the ship’s arboretum and hydroponic gardens, fused beads of glass and scilica glistening on the tree bows. On the Captain’s desk in a wrapping of bright coloured paper: woven pedal-extremity covers, a set of hi-octane fuel samples in ornate bottles, a set of hardback books. The labourious translation engines of a near year’s work rendered its title: “More Luck Than Judgement!: The History Of Humanity: How We Moved Beyond Space-Time And So Can You”, a thin strip of card attached also carried the phrase ‘Happy Christmas, copyright Santa Perpetua Inc’