Reminiscent of Vonnegut, with a dash of Saramago and Anatole France, this humorous, satirical, often irreverent romp mocks the absurd we accept to be normal, ridicules the ridiculously low bar we set, and challenges us all to rise up and demand more of ourselves by making light of what is sacred that shackles us.
Three ancient nuclear missiles are spotted lumbering aimlessly through space. Normally, such a discovery would be scientifically interesting, would stimulate lively intellectual debate, but it would never provoke the kind of severe reaction it now engendered. Dimwitted worlds had obliterated themselves before, and were certainly bound to again, and as lamentable a loss as that was, if the astronomers from the planet Gâia had to swoop in and save every boneheaded, sorry-excuse for so-called intelligent life—who just happened to have enough smarts to split atoms, but lacked the sanity to not blow themselves up—well, they’d have little time left for much else. Plus, they didn’t have the budget for it.
What makes this case so nettlesome and vexing, however, is a consequential shackle of fate which now threatens the destruction of thousands of inhabited worlds. So were it not for this fickle finger of fate flicking everyone a birdie, none of the harsh actions now being considered would ever have even been contemplated, and the nuclear nitwits on that dimwitted world would have been free to obliterate themselves, or not, at their leisure.
But that’s not what happened!
Because when Sofia Song catapults from her world back in time to the Blue Planet—a barbarous, dog-eat-dog world where an elite One Percent own all of the planet’s riches, and the masses of people are abandoned by a dysfunctional government and left to scrounge for scraps—she ignites a string of events leading to the cataclysmic destruction of both worlds.
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”
― Socrates [469-399 BC]
The cosmic catastrophe started innocently enough, as so many catastrophes do, with the simple actions of one well-meaning person on a far-off foreign world. The planet is Gâia, home to a venerated people from the Avian class. These people, like their planet, have been around longer than most, certainly longer than my species or yours, and are famed for having keen eyes and inquisitive minds, with which they delve assiduously into the mysteries of the cosmos. One renowned academy of astronomers in particular, L’Avian Académie du Cosmologié, or LAAC, peer tirelessly into the vastness of the universe searching for evidence of intelligent life—“Class-1 life,” they call it.
Perched high in frosty towers like noble birds of prey, whetted talons clutching tightly to icy mountain crags, proud head and imperturbable beak jetting into cosmic winds like a ship’s sharp bow dashing stormy seas, ever searching with clear keen eyes through impenetrable darkness for any stirring of intelligent life; and then, if detected, with effortless grace and breath-taking speed, falling like gods from the rarefied heavens of frozen mountain lairs, they plummet down in a perilous spiral to pounce on the tremulous new life-form scampering below.
Well, anyway, that’s how they describe themselves in the many official pamphlets and publications sent out regularly by their PR department, soliciting public donations and government funding. In reality, though, things are quite a bit different. The work of these avian astronomers, these seekers and ‘pouncer-oners’ of new-found tremulous life, is not nearly as glamorous or exciting as one might initially think.
While it is certainly true, as their brochures maintain, that they are often found perched high in frosty towers on icy mountain crags, peering through telescopes into empty, limitless space, the fact is, most of the time, that’s pretty much all that they do. Just hour after hour, night after night, year after year of looking, searching, seeking, and nothing more. An interminable train of old coffee, stale sandwiches, constipated bowels, cold feet, and tedium—endless inexhaustible tedium—broken only rarely by a momentary spasm of excitement, a flash of bright hope that for a heartbeat and blink of an eye glitters with a diamond’s promise, before invariably turning out to be a chunk of illusory coal, a false alarm, a glitch in the system, a smudge on the lens, nothing more. There is not nearly as much “perilous spiraling” or “falling like gods” as one might think; unless spiraling down the observatory stairs late at night, or falling asleep in a chair, counts. Those things, it is true, occur with steady regularity. In short, the day-to-day work of these avian astronomers is usually pretty boring.
But two weeks ago all of that changed when an intrepid young graduate student was studying the giant lunar swallows of Capistrano for her doctoral thesis. These immense, black, stingray birds—with wingspans 900 feet wide and slender whip-like tails that trail for half a mile behind—are the only birds known in the galaxy to feed upon moonlight, converting reflected light into food. During the day these gentle creatures sleep deep in Capistrano’s black seas, but at night great flocks of the leviathan beasts rise from the murky abyss with such a thunderous shudder that the ocean seems to boil and hiss, spewing out tattered rags of inky-black water high into the nighttime sky. Once airborne, the giant lunar swallows climb toward the planet’s three moons with powerful lunging thrusts; and when they can climb no higher, when the air is so thin that their wings no longer gain purchase, they spread their feathers like galleon sails and soar through the frigid thin air with cavernous mouths open wide, grazing on photons of moonlight as whales do upon plankton. And when the three moons are synchronously full, which occurs every 66 days, there is such a tumultuous feeding-frenzy that large swaths of Capistrano never see a drop of moonlight hit the ground.
While observing the feeding-frenzy through her telescope the intrepid graduate student noted something odd moving in the background sky. After focusing her telescope on the something, she was astounded to see three ancient nuclear missiles lumbering along aimlessly through space. There are no other planets near Capistrano, so where the missiles had come from was initially a mystery. But where the missiles were headed was clear. At their current sluggardly speed and direction of flight they would strike the smallest moon of Capistrano in precisely 187 days.
By calculating the missiles’ trajectory backwards the graduate student uncovered a remote planet in the Andromeda Galaxy where sensors had been placed tens of thousands of years ago by previous generations of LAAC scientists, and largely forgotten about since. After sifting through sensor data from that remote world she found clear evidence that thousands of atomic bombs had been detonated on that planet about the same time as the missiles were launched; which, along with her trajectory calculations, confirmed that the three ancient nuclear missiles seen lumbering through space were launched from that world 9,381 years ago.
The Academy of LAAC long-ago suspected the potential for intelligent class-1 life evolving on that planet, which is why the sensors were placed there in the first place, but no one expected any to evolve there so quickly, especially one capable of nuking itself. Therefore, even though the sensors were, for tens of thousands of years, regularly beaming information from that planet to the Academy’s database, no one, until now, had bothered to look at the data. This is not surprising, though, when you consider that data from billions of sensors on millions of worlds is beamed regularly into the Academy daily, making it impossible, or at least tediously unpleasant, for someone to review every scrap of information received.
Normally, the fact that some new life-form had made the quantum leap from fire to fission so quickly would be scientifically interesting, would stimulate lively intellectual debate, might provide engaging academic fodder for one of the Academy’s many scholarly journals, but such a discovery would never provoke the kind of severe reaction it now engendered. Typically, if some new species of so-called intelligent life looked dimwitted enough to irradiate itself with nuclear weapons, rendering their planet uninhabitable for 100,000 years or more, as lamentable a loss as that was, the scientists of LAAC were sage enough to understand that the loss of one planet out of an infinite number of planets was not a major event. Infinity less one, after all, is still infinity.
Dimwitted worlds had exterminated themselves before, and were certainly bound to again, so there was no point in getting one’s feathers all ruffled. If the scientists from LAAC had to soar in each and every time some featherheaded, sorry-excuse for class-1 life showed the proclivity to nuke itself, well, there’d be little time left for much else. Besides, they didn’t have the budget for it; and no one from the Academy was daft enough to carry a funding proposal for such a loony idea over to the Ministry of Inter-Planetary Affairs, where they would only be met with derision and laughter for having had the testicular fortitude—the “egg-sack,” as they put it—to suggest such a ridiculous plan. The whole idea of the Academy having to hand-hold thousands of feebleminded, idiotic class-1 species who just happened to have enough smarts to split atoms, but lacked the sanity to not blow themselves up, was preposterous. LAAC had bigger fish to fry.
The trouble with this particular planet, however, the reason this case is so nettlesome and vexing, is a consequential shackle of fate fettering this remote nuclear-tainted world to a second, far more momentous event which the astronomers of LAAC have been studying meticulously for millennia—making calculations, rehearsing scenarios, preparing for every contingency so that there were no mistakes, no hiccups, no surprises. Yet suddenly, despite every precaution, after thousands of years of diligent, methodical care—guess what? Surprise!
Were it not for this fickle finger of fate flicking them a birdie, none of the harsh actions now being contemplated by the Academy against the ill-fated planet of nuclear nitwits would have been considered, and the nitwits there would have been free to nuke themselves into oblivion, or not, at their leisure. The choice would have been entirely theirs.
But that’s not what happened, because this second event is what the astronomers of LAAC call the “Cosmic event of a lifetime,” which is why astronomers and cosmologists, purveyors of stellar dust of every stripe and strain, wake up each and every day on countless worlds thanking their lucky stars to have the great fortune to be living in this particular place in space, at this precise moment in time, despite the obvious danger we now face. These are, as they say, exciting times.
As our more perspicacious readers may already have gleaned, we are talking about the coming of the “General Obliterating Disruptive Wave,” or GOD Wave. For those not familiar with the term, a GOD Wave is similar to other kinds of wave disruptions, such as getting stuck in bad seats at the symphony, where poor acoustics causes the music to sound muted and dull. This occurs when two colliding sound waves have identical wavelengths, and the crest, or high point, of the first wave coincides precisely with the trough, or low point, of the second, thus canceling out one another, resulting in a less-than-optimal sound.
With a GOD Wave, though, this is no simple case of symphonic disappointment where you call the usher over and ask him to find you better seats. With a GOD Wave there is a nullifying, obliteration of waves from the cosmic ocean, from the cosmological spark that lit the big bang, catapulting nothingness into everything. But now we’re talking about two big bangs, two sparks, which ignited separate and distinct universes. The first spark is the one that ignited the universe you and I call home. The second spark is the one that ignited the other universe, the second universe, the universe that is at this very moment blistering towards our cosmic shores at unfathomable speed, like a celestial tsunami, churning up astronomical waves of searing stellar gas—a roiling cloud of super-heated energy with boiling planets and suns, barely visible on the cosmic horizon, yet thundering ever-closer to raze the worlds we stand on.
The good news is that there is only one tiny spot—one bad seat, if you will—in our symphony-hall universe where the waves of these colliding big-bangs will obliterate each other. Elsewhere in both universes the crashing cosmic waves will blithely pass through each other unimpeded. The bad news, however, is that that one bad seat just happens to be home to millions of stars, thousands of inhabited planets, countless life, and, as fickle fate would have it, is where we find ourselves literally and metaphorically sitting. It is what the more saccharine among us would call “Home-Sweet-Home.”
Until just two weeks ago the Academy of LAAC had the situation with the GOD Wave under control, because a century ago they placed a device called a “Wobble” on the smallest of the three moons of Capistrano, since that is where the scientists calculated the leading edge of the GOD Wave would hit. The Wobble will cause a miniscule jolt when the crashing waves of the two universes collide, thus eliminating their disruptive effect and allowing the waves to pass through each other unimpeded.
This will happen 413 days from now, which, until recently, was a date the scientists of Gâia were excitedly anticipating. But now, regrettably, because the three ancient nuclear missiles will destroy the Wobble in 187 days, the scientists are all—as one professor so succinctly put it—“pretty much shitting their pants.”
To prevent the destruction of the Wobble, and consequentially the end of their world, the Academy tried opening a spatial-wormhole to Capistrano last week so they could send a ship there to intercept and destroy the missiles. But unfortunately the leading edge of the GOD Wave is causing severe electromagnetic disruptions in the region, and solar flares on a nearby star, making it impossible to sustain a wormhole.
Without a spatial-wormhole to shorten the vast distance of space, the soonest anyone can get a ship to Capistrano is about two years from now—which is a good ten months too late. Having a ship arrive then is kind of pointless, since there won’t be anything there to arrive to. By then the three nuclear missiles would have hit the moon and wiped out the Wobble. And the GOD Wave, in turn, would have hit and wiped out the moon—along with Capistrano, Gâia, and a broad, sickle-shaped swath of the Andromeda Galaxy, home to thousands of inhabited worlds.
Obviously that plan was less than ideal.
No one now believed the targeting of the Capistrano moon to be intentional. Given the clumsy, rudimentary technology employed, it was impossible for any imbecile from that remote world—ill-intentioned or not—to purposefully shoot off those crude rockets at something and actually hope to hit it some 9,000 years later. No, this was not a deliberately-malicious act intended to wipe out thousands of worlds, as some people initially feared; this was just a case of a few chuckleheaded, idiotic, testosterone-charged morons blindly shooting their wads into space without considering what they might hit. This was simple dumb bad luck, but the GOD Wave gave the mindless actions of these meteoric morons a heavy cosmic weight.
Since opening a spatial-wormhole to Capistrano was not possible, another option being considered was opening a temporal-wormhole to the remote planet that had launched the missiles; and sending someone back in time through the wormhole to before the missiles were launched, to prevent the nitwits from launching the missiles to begin with. The problem, however, was that unlike spatial-wormholes, which fold the fabric of space and are commonly used to facilitate interplanetary travel; temporal-wormholes, which fold the fabric of time instead, have been banned for eons across the universe by all responsible class-1 life, because of the unintended consequences they can, and often do, produce.
All matter in the universe is interconnected, just as all life on a planet is too. Actions undertaken in one part of the cosmos inevitably produce ripple-effects in others. Accordingly, opening a temporal-wormhole to go back in time and change history has significant interplanetary legal and moral implications, since one can never predict with any acceptable certainty what effect changing the timeline of history in one part of the cosmos may produce for another. Initiating a temporal-wormhole, therefore, requires approval from the League of Sentient Planets, or LSP.
Not surprisingly, the matter with the Capistrano moon and its fateful fetter to the nuclear-tainted world engendered a vigorous debate among the LSP members. First up were the scientists, and other subject-matter experts, with as many points of view espoused as there were experts. Then, just as the academic palaver was really heating up, others jumped into the fray to opine upon subjects they knew nothing about, which only caused further irritation to those with a scientific bent, who had studied these subjects and, presumably, knew something about them. Shortly thereafter the lawyers weighed in, spreading a thick veneer of validation over every idea proposed, regardless of who had proposed it or why.
And if you’ve ever seen an avian lawyer from Gâia at work, well, then you know that when those vultures get going it is quite impressive stuff. Like less-evolved cousins on other worlds, these well-dressed Griffons, with balding heads and razor-hooked beaks, rarely prey upon the healthy or vibrant; preferring instead to scavenge among the sick and dying, those injured in accidents, or anywhere they smell blood, irrespective of how rotted and rank the souring carcass of their case might be.
Flailing about with gangly arms flapping awkwardly, jumping from one side of an argument to the other like nimble dancers crossing hot coals, alighting only long enough on any one point to keep from getting burned, they use their sharp talons and beaks to tear into and cross-examine the wounded prey, shredding apart even the soundest of legal briefs in minutes, leaving behind nothing but scraps of putrid flesh. And like their vulture cousins from other worlds the acid in an avian lawyer’s belly is so corrosive that there is almost nothing they can’t stomach, as long as the monetary incentive is valuable and sufficient enough.
On some planets vultures are known to urinate down their legs after scavenging so that the caustic uric acid fries the rancid germs on their feet, which get picked up from the sordid muck and filth they walk through daily. And the acid in their stomach is so corrosive that they can eat anthrax bacteria, and other deadly toxins, as if it were brie on a canapé. We can’t attest with certainty if the same holds true for our avian lawyer friends, but we took a poll, and the consensus is that although we’re not sure about the leg-peeing part, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if their snacking on anthrax were true.
Despite the welter of opinions put forth at the LSP conference, ultimately, as is often the case, the querulous clutch could be divided into one of two camps: eternally rosy optimists, who see every glass half-full; and dour cantankerous skeptics, who view all cups to be mostly-empty. Not surprisingly, the half-full batch sought further study, additional investigation, more probing of the conundrum at hand, so that every potential eventuality could be, and would be, laboriously delved.
Those with a mostly-empty point of view, however, wearied quickly of this fruitless exercise, and made clear to their colleagues that they were not going to partake in the “mental-masturbation circle-jerk” being so vigorously and enthusiastically championed by the half-fulls. No longer wishing to explore every metaphysical tunnel, real or imagined, that was being dug and refilled by their colleagues, the mostly-empty crowd opted instead for a more sanguine, expeditious route.
They proposed the option mentioned earlier: Opening a temporal-wormhole to the remote planet that had launched the missiles; sending a commando back in time to before the missiles were launched—and, by the way, they had just the “right guy” for the job—and then having him initiate a “Reset” on the class-1 people there, making it technologically impossible for the nuclear nitwits to launch the missiles in the first place. Basically, they proposed changing one timeline of history so that it never happened, which was against interplanetary law.
Details were sparse about exactly how a reset worked, but it was clear that the end result was to effectively pull the technological-plug on the nascent class-1 life there, or, as the Admiral from Gâia so colorfully put it, “Wring the wings off those wankers.” What the illegal plan lacked in complexity was more than compensated for by its simplicity, making it easy to understand and simple to explain, two highly-valued traits among the mostly-empty crowd.
Countering that elegantly-simple proposal was the Dean of Biology from LAAC, who, along with a Philosophy colleague of hers from another planet, pointed out that there were undoubtedly valuable scientific inquiries which should be undertaken before initiating the reset, or pulling the plug, or wringing the wings, it didn’t matter to the Dean which particular image members of the LSP preferred; her point was that it was important that she and others be given the time needed to pursue this important research first. Not to mention, as her esteemed Philosophy colleague had so rightly just mentioned, the moral, ethical, and legal implications of opening a temporal-wormhole to send a newly-evolved class-1 life-form back into the primordial ooze from whence it had only recently crawled, without at least first trying to learn something about them. Maybe, the Dean went on optimistically to suggest, this class-1 intelligent life-form could even be reasoned with, and shown their errant ways, thus obviating the need for a harsh reset.
The Minister representing the Andromeda Galaxy, however, stressed the point made earlier, pointing out that normally if a class-1 life-form on some remote world was asinine enough to wipe out itself with nuclear weapons, that while such an event was certainly regrettable, it would not necessitate the kind of severe intervention being considered here today, since only that particular planet would be affected, none others.
Unfortunately, though, in this particular case, the dimwitted num-nuts responsible for this cosmic catastrophe not only have shown a proclivity to nuke themselves into the Stone Age, but also managed to blindly shoot their load into space, targeting the one moon in the entire galaxy where the Wobble had been placed to offset the effect of the GOD Wave. Under these “heightened circumstances,” he argued, intervention of any kind was warranted and justified, including the use of a temporal-wormhole to travel back in time and reset the planet, thus chucking the num-nuts face-first into the primordial ooze. In fact, he said, the sooner the num-nuts were chucked, the better off the universe would be.
Furthermore, he stated, reasoning with such numskulls was pointless because, as evident from the chart on page 37 of the detailed brief he had distributed earlier, research on other similar class-1 life-forms indicates that the probability of this species not blowing up itself was abysmally low. Perhaps they could be talked out of it this time, but there was nothing stopping them from doing it again in the future. This time we were lucky, he said, because the graduate student spotted the missiles in time for action to be taken. Maybe next time the missiles will not be spotted. Maybe next time the missiles will land in your backyard, not mine. Maybe this class-1 life-form is innately too irresponsible to wield such powerful technology and needs to have it taken away, as one would a dangerous toy from a child.
The analogy the Minister used was that of a little boy sitting in a bathtub of jet-fuel, gleefully striking matches. Which, he maintained, begged a question: Since obviously one didn’t need to be that intelligent to foresee the outcome of such a foolhardy scenario, if this “so-called” intelligent class-1 life-form was too chuckleheaded to see that, then how intelligent could they be? And if they really were that dumb, he added, then what was the point of trying to reason with such morons? Maybe the class-1 life there, the “pigeons,” he called them, actually deserved to have their “plumes plucked.” Maybe the Academy was doing the other life-forms on that planet a favor by initiating a reset on the pinheaded people.
It was a sound, cogent, and well-received argument, which appealed greatly to both sides. The mostly-empty clutch saw it as yet another clear vindication of the bold, decisive action they’d proposed; and the flock of half-fulls were feeling much better about blotting out an entire race of supposedly-intelligent people, since it was now pretty clear that the irresponsible dimwits were probably not all that bright to begin with, and might actually deserve being blotted out.
After hours of rancorous debate the LSP council ultimately approved opening the temporal-wormhole and resetting the planet. They agreed to a two-pronged plan: First, LAAC scientists would send an expedition to the planet to gather information about the class-1 life there, and other life as well; second, after the scientists finished their work, the military Hawks of Gâia would swoop in to pull the plug, pluck the plumes, wring the wings, or whatever other colorful imagery one preferred, they didn’t really care either, just as long as the “class-1 poseurs” got bounced back into the Stone Age where they rightly belonged, and the launch of the three nuclear missiles was stopped.
On one thing, at least, almost everyone agreed, trying to reason with such imbeciles was pointless. It was like trying to teach a pig to sing, said the Ambassador from Betelgeuse; ultimately you simply end up wasting your time and irritating the hell out of the pig.
Who needs that? Neither you—nor the pig.All that remained to be settled was the timing for these two actions, but that would be left to those on Gâia to sort out, since they made the discovery and were already intimately involved. Members of the LSP would be updated later, after the other groups formalized their plans.
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”
― Plato [427-347 BC]
Fourty-two floors below the LAAC conference room where the meeting with the LSP is taking place, our intrepid young graduate student is sitting cross-legged on the flag-stones of a dusty dungeon like that found in venerable academic institutions across the universe…