Falia was resigned to her mission. The thankless task of checking out possible new worlds traditionally fell to the most junior member of the Interplanetary Relationship Bureau. It was probably a false alarm anyway, and even if it wasn’t there was nothing she could do beyond data gathering, worse luck. To remove temptation, scout vessels simply weren’t equipped for landing.
After the autopilot had maneuvered her ship into orbit, Falia set to work. Satellites made tapping into data sources seem like child’s play. She was excited to get her first glimpse of a new species, have the ship’s computer navigate through the jumble of languages, and dip into it’s strange culture. But her excitement soon turned to dismay at what she found.
Morality. The planet was infested with it. Preachers of morality raped children; others murdered in the name of family values. Those whose very existence offended the reigning moral code were despised and persecuted; those unwilling to accept it reviled. Where two moralities clashed, hatred and violence inevitably followed: the slaughter of innocents on the way was defended by moral leaders.
On the way back Falia tried to shake off her feeling of revulsion. How could anyone value rules over sentient beings’ feelings and needs? Her report would go through the usual channels, though the outcome was clear. After the Bureau had slipped up with Silema-β, only narrowly avoiding the first interplanetary war, the ruling on a morality-ridden planet was inevitable.
“It will be fine, It will be fine.” Edith repeated her mantra. She was on the way to the medical center with her mate John, to receive their baby’s test results. It was their third attempt, the first two hadn’t passed the eugenics review. Maybe their genes just weren’t good enough.
The tube coasted to a stop. A woman and a child were waiting on the platform. Edith flinched as they got into the car. Clearly there was something wrong with the child: it’s awkward walk was painful to watch. She saw the mother looking at it with fierce protectiveness as other passengers turned away and some got up and moved away.
As the tube surged forward again, Edith instinctively put her hand on her belly. Suddenly she wanted her baby, whether or not it measured up to some arbitrary standard of perfection. It was hers, theirs. Even if it didn’t, there was no reason to be ashamed, no reason to hide.
Maybe the reason you rarely saw disabled people anymore wasn’t the huge success of mandatory genetic screening. Maybe they were simply pushed out of sight by the contempt and disgust they were met with.
She gave the child’s mother an awkward smile.
* * *
T. Mastgrave’s philosophical story challenge: If natural selection (survival of the fittest) is the means by which the process of evolution unfolds, is eugenics wrong?
Time was running out. He had put off the decision as long as he could.
Engrossed in the project he had asked strangers their opinion. The fuzzy answers annoyed him: what use were they? He studied ancient books and their sweeping judgements made him angry: it was just words. None of these philosophers had known the responsibility he faced.
It was up to him to finalise the program. His hand would flip the switch. Future generations would thank him – or curse his name.
We have many needs, he thought. Big ones and small ones. Some we all share, others are peculiar to ourselves. Sometimes we value one more; another time we valued it less. Not all our needs are met, indeed, some may never be.
So that is what he taught the machines. They would preserve life. They would consider needs varying in individuals and over time. They would do what was possible to restore the scorched earth. But when the planet was habitable again, they would relinquish their power.
And give mankind the freedom to make its own mistakes. Again.
Always an early riser, the leading counsel for the plaintiff had made his way to court at the crack of dawn. He could barely keep still as he surveyed the place where only hours from now the historic hearing would begin. Steadying himself on an ancient tree, he suddenly realised he had spent almost 20 years – nearly all his professional life – preparing this case.
They had carried the point that the hearing take place in the plaintiff’s presence, hence the unorthodox venue. The motion to banish wooden furnishings from the court’s temporary residence had also succeeded. But only yesterday the decision had come through that would almost certainly clinch the case: as the plaintiff was suing for recognition as a full citizen, his full name was to be read out in court in an English translation.
20 sonorous pages, a few lines for each decade of the plaintiff’s life:
When the message came it was not what they expected. Scientists had been monitoring the electromagnetic spectrum for decades, but what came were gravitational pulses. Astronomers puzzled about what could be causing them, searching the skies for new comets. Then a series of prime number pulses showed it was a message, an alien intelligence trying to communicate.
Linda had joined the analysis team straight from Princeton. She spent hours listening to the pulses transformed to sound. There was an underlying thump, steady and rhythmic, always there. A heartbeat, she called it. There were many layers of other rhythms that had been filtered out to show the prime number message. Just noise, everyone said.
But Linda listened to the plaintive beats, over and over again. The others joked about her late night listening sessions. It’s lonely, she said, it wants to be heard.
After two years of research there was still no clue where the message came from. Now the most bizarre theories were being considered. One day Linda ventured hers:
I think it’s not alien at all: I think it’s the Earth.
She knew she would get enough flak for this, so she didn’t add:
I think it’s in pain. I think it’s screaming.
You know, there’s a blind spot,bang in the middle of your field of vision, but you don’t see a blank there, your brain covers it up. And you only see colour in a very small part of the picture, just where you’re focussing; the rest is gray. But your brain colours it in, or just lets you believe it’s in colour.
We only experience very small bits of the world, and extrapolate the rest. I only see this corner now, but I imagine the rest of the room will be there when I turn around. I can hear the cat in the kitchen. Rather, I hear noises, and I think it’s the cat in what I remember as the kitchen. I assume that if I get up, I’ll find the kitchen, and probably even the cat – but do I really know that?
What if the world is only what we perceive? What if things come into existence as we approach them, and are erased when we turn around or walk away? Maybe we live in a small bubble of reality we carry around with us.
I have to accept I can only check whether reality lives up to my expectation. If the kitchen is there when I go fetch a drink, I suppose it’s enough. I do worry about the cat, though…
Sorry, I know this must sound strange to you. But life isn’t easy when you live in a computer simulation.
* * *
My second attempt at answering T.Mastgrave’s philosophical story challenge: Knowledge.
Nora has sharp eyes, I’ll give her that. But she does tend to exaggerate.
Her daughter had come home with news of the landslide. However dangerous, landslides were also life-givers. They threw up much that was buried under the wasted surface. They had become more and more frequent, as the underground nets weaving the soil together slowly turned to dust.
Nora had always been excitable. But now she was babbling of buried treasure. A seedling! It can’t be that! Time will tell…
Tears filled Neesha’s eyes as she remembered what had once covered so much of the ravaged planet.