Muse of Epic Poetry
By R Buckalew
I leave Earth and all I know behind. I take with me only the future of mankind to the stars. Everett Sloane, interstellar astronaut (b 8 Mar 2023 – d 12 Vrishika 39,711)
Something he was hearing. It kept repeating. A short video looped continuously on the screen directly in front of his eyes. “Your name is Everett. You are in a spacecraft from Earth, on a mission begun almost 38,000 years ago. You have now reached your destination. Touch this screen for more information about the mission.” It was impossible for him to know how many times this message repeated. It may have been repeating for the last 5 minutes or the last 50 years. It took Everett additional message repeats before he relearned how to move his arm so he could touch the screen and initiate the next part of the recorded message.
“Hello Everett. Congratulations. You have survived a most dangerous undertaking. It is expected that you will have forgotten everything about this mission as a result of your induced stasis. You are now in a stable orbit over Tau Ceti f, a planet residing in the habitable zone of a star in the constellation Cetus. It has been determined that Tau Ceti f is a mesoplanet that could have indigenous life and is a likely candidate for human habitation. You are the first human to make the long trip to this star system. Your successful journey marks an essential first step in human interstellar colonization to assure the health and survival of the human race. Should you find conditions amicable to sustained human habitation, others will follow. Subsequent messages will provide mission specifics including the tools you will use and tests you will be performing in order to complete your report.”
While Everett was being reeducated, the space craft was in a programmed low orbit and circled many hundreds of times gathering information about the surface conditions. It was designed to find a landing site but in that process it located numerous structures indicating organized, intelligent life. This information was made available to Everett when he was ready. His reaction was complex for it now seemed likely he was not the first human here, a possibility he had always understood. Though now he began to adopt the idea that whatever intelligent life he would find down there, he would not be alone. It was thrilling to see so many similarities to his distant home. The more he saw the more fascinated he became. Blue water and fertile green expanses, cities and towns interlaced with connecting roads.
His landing pod set down in a field of brown scrub grass and scattered brush. Upon disembarking he noticed the fragrant breeze and was aware of himself standing in a most pleasant and peaceful natural landscape. He squatted and touched the ground. He noticed varieties of tiny creatures in purposeful motion all searching, gathering, building amidst a seeming infinity of miniature landscapes. To his slowly recovering memories this felt like his first interaction with nature. He was but a short time in this reverie before he heard an approaching machine. Presently six humans all dressed in identical, maroon coveralls greeted him civilly. He was not cognizant of their cautious formality as they approached him. Although personally curious they maintained a practiced distance. One of the humans addressed him, to Everett’s delight, in his native language.
“Are you Everett Sloane?” He nodded, heedless that they might not understand the gesture, “Welcome to Cetif. We detected your ship some months ago and have determined your likely origin. We have since been anticipating your landing. It is a great credit to the engineers of old Earth that all critical systems worked as designed.” Everett noticed that this introduction, though perfectly understandable, displayed some local dialectic variations, clipped syllables, and an endemic emphasis in certain words. He hoped his reply might be found equally quaint and understandable.
“Thank you. I am thrilled to be standing on your planet. You have learned who I am. For me, the most intriguing mystery is, who are you?”
“We are Cetifians, born here” the spokesman responded, “as were our ancestors. However, you are distinguished as the first human to make the trip from Earth.”
”Then you are natives? You evolved here? How do we look so similar and speak the same language?”
“No, we have not evolved here. We too are of Earth origin but sent here as information. It is an involved explanation which we will soon elaborate upon. We have much to discuss. Please, come with us and we will answer all of your questions.”
They accompanied Everett to their vehicle and instructed him to sit on a transverse seat that faced backward while the recovery team members divided themselves between two bench seats along either side. A container of food was opened and offered to Everett, which he found strange but acceptable. He now noticed the spokesman for the group taking pictures and recording notes with a palm sized device. The rest were quiet yet politely observant of him as they sped smoothly along in the windowless vehicle.
Everett found himself fascinated with their faces, human faces, each different and potentially revealing. Two of them were particularly intriguing. He stared most curiously at these two unaware of any social stigma discouraging such behavior. It was not just their faces but their hands, their demeanor. He perceived a gentleness about them, a subtle aura that he found arresting. One of the recovery crew noticed his interest and gestured to the rest. “Please forgive me,” Everett finally said noticing the attention. “I apologize. My social manners are still recovering.” The spokesman typed an entry into his device.
One of the crew members, with a more perplexing accent, spoke. “We understand the necessity of certain allowances. After all it has been nearly 40,000 years since you have seen a female of your species.” Everett’s mind wrapped itself around that word. Female? Female! Yes, yes. So there are different types of humans, males and females. He was curious but reluctant to ask if there were any other types of humans he should know about. As they rode, again in silence, he had a growing concern at how haplessly he had breached a social norm.
The vehicle let them out at a low unadorned building. He could see tall spires of city buildings a few kilometers in the distance. Inside it appeared the building was a storage space for lab equipment, electronics, and machines. Everett was led to a small room. Once the door was shut he was alone with the group spokesman. He was seated at a table across from the spokesman.
Everett was given a sealed glass tube and instructed to examine it carefully. He looked closely then shrugged his shoulders feeling perplexed. A table lamp was produced which directed a white light onto a spot on the table. Placing the tube in the bright light Everett could see a grain of dark sand inside the tube. A cumbersome black instrument was pulled closer and energized. The spokesman inserted the glass tube into the projecting microscope and on the wall appeared a fuzzy spot. The glass tube was gently moved until the sand grain entered the field and appeared magnified on the wall. It was now obvious to Everett that the tiny grain was a polyhedron. Further enlargements revealed each surface to be inscribed with precise, intricate patterns that seemed to contain infinite detail.
“This is a nano machine.” explained the spokesman. “Less than a century after you were sent into space, millions of these were manufactured. They were sent into Earth orbit and loaded into an orbiting magnetic accelerator which was aimed at select stars known to have orbiting mesoplanets. Because of their small mass, they could be accelerated to velocities approaching 1/10 the speed of light. This high velocity allowed these nanobots to complete the trip from Earth in 90 years, easily overtaking your ship early into your voyage.
“Once in motion toward their target, photon sensors on the surfaces collected energy and provided controlled guidance by emitting photons from control surfaces of the polyhedron. Thus the intended star becomes not only the beacon for navigation but over time a source for power. Once near its intended star, the nanobot’s programming directed it to the orbital path of the planet. As the planet swept through its orbit the nanobots were drawn into the planet’s gravitational field. This one made it here but failed to further deploy.
“Of course, many thousands did not survive. The thousands that did were windblown or water swept for centuries, this being part of their design. They were detecting and assembling particular atoms and molecules. These new molecular acquisitions allowed them to add on functional extensions in a planned fashion, toward the immediate goal of achieving terrestrial mobility. Once becoming land dwellers these separate individuals congregated and connected to form larger machines, linking for parallel processing and networking memory. The resulting configuration being a parabolic antenna. With their solar power capacity now greatly enhanced, their last original task was initiated and the arrayed bots began transmitting a signal to Earth. All occurring within a few centuries after launching. Earth humans then begin to receive their signals from various points in nearby space.
“With their robotic presence established, the task became much simpler and more controllable. New programs were sent to the agminated bots. The time frames involved were very short now, 10 to 20 years. Among their new programs were instructions to assemble human habitat and incubators. Finally the program for the synthesis of the four nucleotides was followed by the instruction for assembly of the human genome. Once sufficient quantities of genomes were produced, the final step was the nourishment and incubation of these human genomes into living humans. Reproduction since has been biological. That, in summary, is how we got here.”
In the following days different members of the team were rotated into the interview seat. In other sessions, they discussed the organization of the Cetif society, political systems, agriculture, manufacturing and technology. In one session Everett was asked to give a history of Earth and Earth cultures as best he could recall. He tried with some success before adding “There are comprehensive reference files from Earth in the orbiting ship’s computer which would be much more authoritative than my damaged memories.”
Quickly the sessions became less formal. “I can feel my mind is finally recovering from the stasis.” he told the female interviewer whose name was Lena. “I have a growing eagerness to socialize and mix with other humans again. To walk and talk and eat and travel among people. To mix and socialize.” Everett reached his hand across the table to touch hers. (He had yet to touch another human since arriving.) Lena pulled away, stood up and left the room.
From that day he found himself interviewed through a glass window installed in one wall of the room. His contact with the Cetif populace was limited to these scheduled interviews by the members of the recovery team. The same people who had originally met him delivered his food and conversed with him every day. With each of his interviewers he asked the same question. “Why will you not let me out among the larger society?” None would answer except to say it was for everyone’s protection. Then they would try to placate him with talk about his new home that was being constructed and the spacious luxuries and fine amenities it would afford.
“I would rather visit your city, to wander the streets, and smell the air and feel the Tau Ceti sun. To sit in your parks and ride your transports, shop in your markets and eat your food and most of all feel a part of the flux of social commerce.”
It was with Lena, whom he learned was his psychologist, that he began to become most trusting and comfortable.
“Your blood analysis came back.” She said. “You are free of contagious disease. That is very good news. It seems elimination of pathogens in your system was part of your stasis preparation.”
“I could have told you that. Will this mean that I can come out from behind the glass?”
“Not yet, there are other considerations. Try not to be upset. It is being reviewed by a special committee.”
“Have you sent a signal back to Earth informing them of my arrival?” Everett asked.
“That is getting into sensitive areas that I’m not sure that I am free to discuss. A complete answer could involve subject matter we have been cautioned to avoid. However, I will tell you that it has been, I forget the exact number, about thirteen thousand years since we received a communication from Earth. The last messages we received spoke of wide-spread planetary strife and chaos. The educated were being selectively killed and driven into hiding. The society you remember has long ago broken down.”
“The most optimistic scenario, we can conclude, is that humans may still survive on Earth but if so, they live in a protracted, and likely primitive, dark age without electronic communication and other technological resources. This, however, is the minority view. It is more likely that the human race has died out on Earth. Killed off by internal divisiveness and prejudice, fueling wars, social breakdown and famine.” She studied his reaction as she spoke. He did not respond. “Please do not tell the others I spoke to you of this.”
The news of Earth was disturbing to Everett but not devastating. He had always known that everyone he had known from Earth would have died long before he arrived at his destination. Even all the nations he had known would likely have fragmented and reformed as new entities. But most of all he was mollified by the fact that the human race was thriving and that he was now among them. This very extrasolar society had been his objective in volunteering for the mission. And it had been fulfilled, although his role was not as he had planned. Yet he had played a part in it and was now a part of it. And while here he wanted to explore and enjoy the fruits of that labor.
It was a few days later that Lena again was his attendant. Her agenda was to record his reactions to psychological tests. But again they conversed off subject.
“Is my presence on your planet public knowledge?”
“Yes, of course. All knowledge is shared among the population.”
“So why do you restrain me from interacting with a wider population? I carry no communicable disease. Others must be interested in seeing the first Earth born human to travel to their planet.”
“Yes, they are very interested. You are a subject of great interest. There are stories and pictures released daily concerning your arrival. But there is much speculation and public debate concerning your presence.” She stopped and reconsidered. “There are some things I should not say at this time.”
“Please, I need to know.”
“There is one significant detail that you have not been told. I have refrained from telling you. Not just because of my official constraints but because of my personal concern for your mental health.” She stopped talking and thought privately once more. ” As your psychologist I am responsible for your mental condition. However, to date our private exchanges have had no deleterious effect. In light of this I feel you are emotionally stable and it may be time that you be informed of your situation.”
“When the human DNA maps were transmitted from Earth they were slightly modified. Our DNA is different from yours. Ours have been purged of instructions that remained from man’s earlier existence in human societies which were characterized by membership in tribes and clans. Then it was a matter of survival that they recognize and avoid outsiders. Anyone not from their own clan was mistrusted and considered a mortal danger. They frequently marked their own bodies to make their affiliation distinctive. In later Earth cultures this latent instinct took many destructive forms – bigotry, nationalism, xenophobia. Anachronistic expression of this instinct caused not only cultural and racial separation, but economic, religious, national and political fear and distrust. In places where genetic variation was non-existent, hateful distinction was arbitrarily manufactured to fulfill this inherit capacity.
“Cetifians do not differentiate ourselves from each other. We have no tendency for this. We do not instinctively seek differences in our fellow beings. We do not identify with place, family or religious philosophy. It is not in our genes. It was never in our genes. It was removed to help assure our survival. We see everyone as our common kin. We have lived and thrived for millennia with none of the destructive conflict that has been constant throughout Earth history. And these differentiating tendencies never reappeared in our society.
“You are the first person now on the planet to carry these genes. As a precaution, it is unlikely that you will ever be allowed to commune freely with the others. Even for us, your contact team, we are presently quarantined. A committee of specialists must determine how we will be safely reintegrated back into the Cetif society.”
Everett laid his head on the table as the weight of this knowledge was overwhelming. Lena waited before continuing. “Please understand. You will be treated with honor and respect and made as comfortable as possible but your ideas and your genes must necessarily be isolated for the good of humanity. These fragile yet hopeful advances for humanity, that we share, must be preserved.” Lena paused while watching for some reaction in Everett before continuing.
“It is with conflicting emotions that we are forced to look on and treat you as being different from us. It runs counter to our acculturation. We all want you to become one of us, to live among us. But we know it is impossible. The society weeps in sympathy with you. It is especially difficult for those of us who work with you and have come to know you. I only hope you can accept the necessity of this inhuman enforcement.”
Everett had been willing leave Earth forever behind for his mission. He had been willing to die in transit on a lonely arduous journey. He had been prepared to live and die alone on a distant planet in order to send back a report to unseen generations. He had even been prepared to find a populated planet colonized by later astronauts who, with new technology, had arrived ahead of him. But he was not prepared to be isolated on a populated planet proximal to a flourishing humanity.
He stood, shaken, leaning his shoulder against the glass separating him from Lena. He appreciated the danger of his presence. Any argument he could make for his release would be specious in the light of Earth’s self-destruction. He recognized that his very presence was a threat to his own noble goals. His world was gone and in this new one he was a toxic presence. The hopelessness of his situation was complete and he was powerless to change it. Every cell of his body had conspired against him.
In his next session he was again with the spokesman. Near the end Everett made this appeal. “In my ship there is a wealth of information from Earth. Technology, history, science, medicine, art, culture, music, cinema, literature. Encyclopedic records in every language stored in the ship’s computer. Much of this, I am sure, would be of significant value to your scholars. If you would send me up there I will download these files to your computers. It would give my voyage validation and confer to your scientists and academics a treasure trove of information about your place of origin. The ship’s orbit is deteriorating and all will be destroyed if I do not retrieve it soon. Let me secure this library of data for human posterity?”
On entering the ship from the docked landing pod Everett powered up the main computer. There was no need to rush as the orbit would be stable for another month. He soon accessed the archival files and the radio transmission was set to the given frequency. The aged computer would take some hours to complete the transfer, and the ship was quite cramped even for one person. While the transfer was in progress Everett stretched out in his stasis chamber. The main computer drives blinked and hummed. He lay still for a few thoughtful minutes, then activated the controls in the chamber setting the date for one hundred years from now. Closing the cover he heard the gaskets latch and seal. A silent gas filled the pod and Everett entered a dreamless loss of consciousness.