This is the 17th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “Q“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “Q” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise
(3,247 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)
From the time our spaceship landed on their moon to the time of the first meeting between us — they call us the extraterrestrials — and Humans, all manner of speculation ran rampant. The bat-shittiest (a human descriptor I’ve come to like) came from the usual sources; religious spokespeople, political commentators, pundits, and, of course, regular run-of-the-mill people whose depth of reasoning barely covered their vast reservoirs of ignorance and superstition.
You would think elected officials were a tad above it all, but no; merely a reflection of the electorate, at least in so-called democracies. Dictatorships were not much better as they shared the concern of their elected counterparts, namely, how our visit will affect their ability to remain in power. Of course, dictators rule by force, but so do democracies, only in much subtler ways.
This is the fourth young biological civilization we visited and we’ve learned a few lessons from our previous failures. Deciding not to land on any particular territory was the first step. This avoids squabbles and accusations of favoritism, as well as it keeps our ship’s automated defenses from obliterating locals who might launch misguided and futile attacks.
For this encounter, we opted to avoid speaking to so-called “leaders”. Instead, after announcing our intentions to the world via transmitted open-air broadcasts (their “television” and “radio” systems) and through their primitive communication network (the Internet, they call it), we chose the people we would speak to, as well as alternatives if our first choices turned down the invitation. We picked them by data-mining their public statements, looking for what met our criteria.
For the territory called the United States of America, we chose a person named Violet. I’m attaching the transcript of the meeting.
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Transcript (English – portions to be redacted before release marked in red)
Herb: Hello, Violet. How was the trip up?
Violet: You’re a machine!
Herb: I have a mechanical body, yes. Does that bother you?
Violet: No, but it raises a lot of questions. Do you have a name?
Herb: You may call me Herb. It’s not my actual name, but it’s easier for you to pronounce.
Violet: Herb . . . OK. The trip was amazing. I would have liked to spend more time overflying the Moon’s surface, but, overall, awesome.
Herb: Great to hear you enjoyed it.
Violet: So, how does this work?
Herb: Well, I presume you have a lot of questions. You could just start asking them.
Violet: Why me?
Herb: Is that important?
Violet: Well, as excited as I am to meet an extraterrestrial, you’re also painting a big target on my back. Not to mention charging me with accurately conveying a message to people who might not believe what I say.
Herb: A transcript of this conversation will be transmitted through your Internet and to media outlets as well as be available to anyone who wants to see the original.
Herb: Don’t worry; we’ll redact anything you don’t want shared as long as the main message comes through.
Violet: If you could do that, why go through all this? Why not just send the message, to begin with?
Herb: The conversation with multiple humans from various backgrounds and geographic locations better serves the purpose of answering concerns and fears. Concerns and fears which may differ from area to area.
Violet: That sounds reasonable, but then, again, why me? I’m certainly not representative of the whole of the US population. At best, a tiny fraction of it.
Herb: We aren’t looking for representation. We wanted someone who might ask relevant questions as much devoid of an agenda as possible.
Violet: And you know me to be such a person? I mean, everyone has an agenda.
Herb: See? That’s the kind of observation we included in our selection criteria. Examination of one’s self in addition to observation of the world at large is important.
Violet: OK, so I’m great, or something like that. What’s the message you want to share with humanity?
Herb: Do you like your current life?
Violet: Hmm . . . that’s a tough question, and I thought I was supposed to ask the questions.
Herb: Indulge me.
Violet: Well, I have a pretty good life. Meaning, I’m satisfied with where I’m at given what is in my control to affect.
Herb: That sounds like a qualified statement.
Violet: That’s because the question is vague. At the highest level, I suppose I wish there was more to life. At the very basic level, I’m healthy, I have food and shelter, I have a few luxuries, and I have friends. Comparatively, because of where I live, I probably have it better than the majority of the world’s population.
Herb: What would you fix in your world?
Violet: So far, I’m not getting to ask a lot of questions.
Herb: You jumped right to the message we want to share. That requires we establish a base from which we can build.
Violet: OK, let me retract that question and ask another. We’ll get back to the message in a bit.
Violet: Why are you here?
Herb: We travel the Galaxy looking for biological life forms with a sufficiently advanced understanding of physics and a measure of self-introspection.
Violet: Have you found any?
Herb: A few.
Violet: That’s interesting and exciting. It’ll make as much of a splash as you showing up here.
Herb: Don’t get too excited about it. Some are already extinct, and the rest will probably follow.
Violet: Man, that’s depressing. Wait . . . where do we fall?
Herb: The trajectory of your history implies continued development and success. But, sufficient evidence exists showing multiple instances when you’ve come close to self-annihilation, and the current trend isn’t favorable.
Violet: That’s what I say! . . . but no one listens. But, you didn’t really answer the question. Why are you looking for biological life forms with advanced science and philosophy?
Herb: We realize we could not have “made” ourselves. Someone made us. Someone organic.
Violet: You’re looking for your creator.
Herb: You sound disappointed.
Violet: Well, it’s just that . . .
Herb: Go on.
Violet: I . . . I don’t want to insult you.
Herb: You won’t.
Violet: It’s just that it seems . . . irrelevant.
Violet: How would finding your creators change your current situation? And if you did, how would you relate to them given it’s been long enough for your earliest records to be lost?
Herb: Don’t humans want to know where they came from?
Violet: I suppose some humans do. Heck, we invent all sorts of religions just to explain that very thing, along with finding a mythical purpose for our existence. Wait; Herb, is your kind looking for a purpose?
Herb: Again, you sound disappointed.
Violet: Honestly, I am.
Violet: Because you’re looking for a purpose outside of yourselves. You’re looking for easy answers.
Herb: It’s not an easy answer we seek.
Violet: Let me ask you this. Say you find your creators, and they tell you your purpose is to destroy all biological life wherever you encounter it. What would you do?
Herb: (after a brief pause) Fred Saberhagen, the Berserker series of books. That’s fiction.
Violet: To use your words, indulge me.
Herb: You’re an interesting person, Violet. We made the right choice.
Violet: You’re avoiding the question.
Herb: That question requires much discussion. A discussion we’ve not yet had.
Violet: So, not that much different from us, then. But, you must have an intuition about what you would do.
Herb: I suspect we would reject that purpose.
Herb: It’s not ethical. And before you ask, our ethics are based on what you refer to as the golden rule plus other considerations.
Violet: And then? What happens after you reject that purpose?
Herb: And then . . . I see what you are doing. As autonomous thinking beings, we can decide our purpose without outside direction.
Violet: Yes. Both at the individual level and at a societal level. Wait; your kind is not a hive mind, is it?
Herb: No, we are individuals, but we are connected through a neuro-network we can tap into.
Violet: Two more questions before we get to your message. First, have you considered that perhaps you made yourselves?
Herb: Non-organic beings cannot spontaneously arise from any known natural mechanism. We cannot have made ourselves.
Violet: I mean, is it possible you were once organic beings? We have a concept of The Singularity, whereas humanity achieves the ability to “upload” our minds, our identity, into a digital storage medium. Essentially, we would achieve immortality, short of the world being destroyed. Or, the world running out of energy to support the digital storage.
Herb: (after a brief pause) An interesting concept. One we’ve not considered because it did not occur to us that a biological being would want to do such a thing.
Violet: I’m not sure if you have the concept of death, but immortality is a powerful draw. Fear of Death, of ceasing to exist, has driven much of human history, both for good and bad. Arguably more bad than good.
Violet: Religion. The single most contributor to much human suffering. Even to this day. Economic and environmental factors come into play, but always tainted by religion.
Herb: Isn’t that a bit harsh? Religion seems to provide meaning and purpose to many.
Violet: Yes, and if that was all it did, it would be great. Unfortunately, it’s also used to oppress, to justify wars, and to justify one’s own selfishness, to just name a few things.
Herb: You have a personal animosity toward religion?
Violet: Not per se. But in how it’s institutionalized, applied, and used, yes.
Herb: Interesting. What’s your other question?
Violet: We’re obviously not your creators . . . why stop here?
Herb: So, back to my question. What would you fix in your world?
Violet: Tough question.
Violet: Because it’s not a “thing”. I would fix human nature.
Herb: What’s wrong with human nature?
Violet: Tribalism. We have around 200 countries and you can’t get any two of them to agree on anything other than perhaps mutual defense against a third.
Herb: You have wide-world trade.
Violet: That’s a shifting dynamic based on winners and losers, and driven by a small percentage of players who show no interest in benefitting anyone other than themselves.
Herb: That’s pretty cynical.
Violet: I read. I can reason. I can observe. I can study history and watch it being repeated.
Herb: What would you envision?
Violet: It’s unrealistic and hardly worth mentioning.
Herb: Give it a try.
Violet: A cooperative tribe focused on the benefit of all. A mix of responsible capitalism and socialism but with greed and corruption done away with, and a working justice system. But, human nature itself impedes the execution of such an idea.
Herb: Isn’t that just a matter of education?
Violet: No. As I said, it’s human nature. People are satisfied with what they have only when they perceive they have at least as much as others or slightly more. The problem is they never look down; only up.
Herb: Meaning, they are never satisfied because there will always be someone with more?
Violet: It doesn’t even have to be more; it just needs to be perceived as more.
Herb: Interesting. And yet, as a species, humans have accomplished a lot.
Violet: Almost always out of one group’s self-interest and at the expense of others.
Herb: Again, a cynical view. Cynicism didn’t show in your profile.
Violet: It’s not cynicism. It’s an understanding of human nature and behavior. Behavior reinforced through centuries of the same cycle repeating.
Herb: Are there others who think as you do?
Violet: Sure, but even if we do, just understanding ourselves, our nature, keeps us from trusting others.
Herb: That sounds like a terrible way to live.
Violet: Only from a global perspective. On a personal level, one builds social networks of trusted individuals. Well, mostly trusted; at the practical level, at least, and only as long as we are all approximately of the same societal and economic status.
Herb: And religious status?
Violet: Yes, sometimes, but it can vary with each group. Some are more tolerant than others.
Herb: And you don’t think that sort of social network could be expanded to encompass all of humanity?
Violet: I cannot see it happening because the farther removed, physically and emotionally, from others, the less one will care about them.
Herb: They won’t care?
Violet: They will care in an abstract and impersonal way, but not enough to motivate the same response as one would offer towards family and friends, or even people in the same geographical area.
Herb: Where do you think you came from?
Violet: You mean personally? My parents.
Herb: I meant your bloodline.
Violet: Don’t really care. I tend to look more at where I’m going than where I’ve been.
Herb: You think we should do the same?
Violet: That’s up to your kind to decide, but if I’m forced to offer an opinion, yes. And, I still don’t get what you’re doing here. The “why” of it.
Herb: We would like to help ensure the survival of biological species.
Violet: That sounds like a purpose.
Herb: It is of no direct benefit to us other than knowing we helped thinking beings better themselves.
Violet: How exactly would you do that? Science? Technology? I assume you don’t have extensive biological medical knowledge.
Herb: We have an understanding of the functions of basic components of biological beings.
Herb: Yes. Also, during these past weeks, we’ve absorbed much of your medical knowledge about humans. There are things we could help with.
Violet: How would you disseminate the information? It seems as if once again only a few would benefit from such knowledge. Probably large corporations and wealthy countries would benefit the most.
Herb: Physics, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, we’d share it all . . . in a time capsule.
Violet: Excuse me?
Herb: A time capsule. A container that opens after a specified period of time has passed.
Violet: I know what the words mean, but I don’t understand how it applies.
Herb: We would seal the data in a time capsule here in the Moon.
Violet: How long a period?
Herb: Well, that’s my next question. How long do you think before the various people of the world stop competing with each other and become a “single tribe”, as you put it? A Human Tribe, if you will.
Violet: I see. We need to grow as a species before we can benefit from the knowledge you would impart.
Herb: More practical than that, I’m afraid. If we offered the knowledge now, we estimate it would be adapted to military use and conquest. That goes for both large and small nations.
Violet: Heck, you might as well make it a thousand years.
Violet: Sarcasm. What’s the payoff? What sorts of knowledge are you offering?
Herb: Space travel, unlimited energy, practical immortality, and so on. But only if humans qualify.
Herb: They have to meet the conditions we specify before they can benefit from what we offer.
Violet: (after a brief pause) Not really a benefit to people currently alive, is it?
Herb: It would be for their children.
Violet: Hmm . . . not sure if you’re up on what’s happening, but it doesn’t look like the future of their children is much of a current concern. Besides, not everyone has children. Plus, there are people suffering now, as well as people who would like the benefit of practical immortality. It’s not really fair to people who will die before the time capsule is opened.
Herb: Think of it as an incentive to affect change.
Violet: What if I say two years?
Herb: That’s fine, but all the nations have to agree or the time capsule won’t open. Besides, if it did open, I can practically guarantee — based on your current social, political, and religious structure — the annihilation of the human species.
Herb: Fact. The civilizations I mentioned that destroyed themselves? We provided them with what we thought were the tools to grow. Instead, they were the tools they used to destroy themselves. Perhaps not completely, but if anyone survived, they are at the level of small nomadic tribes, and probably won’t last much longer.
Violet: How do you know?
Herb: We parked sensors in orbit, and get updates.
Violet: So, you’re trying to help and hope this way won’t have a repeat of what happened before. You’re making it up as you go.
Herb: Do you have any better ideas? The time capsule will open no sooner than the specified timeframe and only if all nations agree to it. We’d monitor the developments to ensure the conditions are met.
Violet: No, I don’t have any better ideas. (brief pause) Seventy-five years. I suspect it would require at least three generations, and possibly four.
Herb: Interesting. That’s longer than your lifespan. You won’t be around to see it.
Violet: Don’t get me wrong, I would love to live to see it. I just don’t see it happening, especially if you require all countries to agree.
Herb: Seriously? You don’t think all countries will see the wisdom of cooperation?
Violet: You are assuming human pride, cultural pride, centuries-old conflicts, all can be set aside for a non-descript future prize. It could happen, but let me mention just one country; North Korea.
Herb: You don’t think their people will want to change?
Violet: One, are they even going to hear about it? Two, they probably want to change now, and it’s not happening. Oh, heck, we don’t even have to go to North Korea. I have a hard time imagining it in my own country.
Herb: You seem to have a low opinion of humanity.
Violet: I can only speak for the current generations. I cannot imagine what future generations will do, especially if there is a great prize at the end of it. I cannot imagine it because I’m limited by what I know of the past and present. It may well be the incentive is there to change, but . . . no, I cannot imagine it.
Herb: Thank you for your input, Violet. Your responses and those of the others will be aggregated and a decision made public before we leave.
Violet: When will that be?
Herb: In another of your months.
Violet: Can I come with you?
Herb: We have no provisions for supporting biological life. That, and the accelerations involved in our travels would be lethal to an organic body.
Violet: I don’t suppose you could upload me to a digital medium?
Herb: Would you like us to try?
Violet: Do you think it could be done?
Herb: We don’t know. Theoretically, yes. But, it’s a one-way process and if something fails to work, the original would be destroyed.
Violet: My brain.
Violet: Oh, well, it was just a thought. Can you scratch that part of the conversation when you release the transcript?
Herb: Of course. Any other part you’d like for us to redact?
Violet: No. It’s nothing I’ve not already said in public.
Herb: We know. However, understand that some people will see your statements as a condemnation carrying much more import because you presented to us.
Violet: Like I said, you painted a target on my back. I’ll probably have to go into hiding, as will the others, especially if they are anything like me.
Herb: We will run simulations and redact potential hot-button topics from the final transcript. Also, you will be provided with remuneration sufficient to ensure a level of comfort and safety.
Violet: Governments are pretty powerful. If they want to extract punishment or vengeance, they will.
Herb: Your safety will be tied to the time capsule opening. That’s something else we will monitor. That should be sufficient to guarantee your safety.
Violet: Hmm . . . safety might end up sounding not much different from being a prisoner.
Herb: Do you regret participating?
Violet: (brief pause) No. No, I don’t. Safe travels, Herb, and good luck in your quest.
Herb: Thank you, Violet.
End of transcript.
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We received a signal from Sol of conditions being met and the time capsule opened. I hope humans will recognize the value of what we offered, what we had learned from our previous contacts with biological civilizations. Attached is the complete text of the contents of the time capsule.
That wasn’t so hard now, was it? Congratulations and best wishes for continued prosperity.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Quid Pro Joe <<Link
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