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Report On Beaver Island

by Elana Gomel

I am Arun, the AI of a Class Q-15 exploration spaceship. Normally I would only be requested to authenticate this report, but due to the circumstances, I am forced to author it myself. Unfortunately, I will not be available to answer the follow-up questions of the Council of Xenoaffairs.

Gliese 613b is an ordinary Earth-type planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere and abundance of water. Indeed, this abundance was the reason why it was pushed to the back of the exploratory list. It is a common assumption of the Council that a self-aware intelligence cannot develop in a liquid environment because it does not provide enough evolutionary challenges. Perhaps my report will force a reconsideration of this assumption. And perhaps it will entrench it further.

The decision to send a mission was taken when it was discovered that Gliese 613b did in fact have dry land – a large island in the Southern hemisphere, close to the equator. I was chosen to lead the mission, in tandem with the human captain Nassrin Elabouni. I had worked with Nassrin before and was pleased to renew our collaboration. However, when she came onboard with the crew manifest, I was surprised to find her angry and upset. She explained that the Council insisted we include a non-neurotypical member. Lisa Montgomery had Williams Syndrome: a condition characterized by an outgoing, trusting, and highly social personality; well-developed linguistic skills; and what medical databases described as an “elfin” appearance and Nassrin called “a bloody stare”.

I endeavored to calm Nassrin down, explaining that the perspective offered by a non-neurotypical human can be of great value in dealing with an alien intelligence (at the time, it was already known that Gliese 613b had an intelligent species). I also pointed out that she did not mind collaborating with another non-neurotypical intelligence – myself.

“You are different!’ she objected. “When I talk to her, she is just a mirror to me. It’s like she has no self-awareness!”

I forbore to point out that the consensus among AI psychologists is that AIs do not possess self-awareness either.

The rest of the crew – all five of them – were quite ordinary as spaceship crews go, and with an x-web transit, we were in orbit around our destination in no time (literally). I dispatched a shuttle to the landmass that was already nicknamed Beaver Island.

The intelligent species of Gliese 613b was unusual in that it lived on land on a planet of water. The planetary surface was composed of grey viscous seas choked with tangled weeds that stretched on for hundreds of kilometers: floating webs of slimy ropes populated by a rich ecosphere of arthropods, enormous polyps and other, yet unclassified, organisms. The entire planet was one large sodden ball of pond life, fed by the endless rains and humid fog under the perpetual cloud cover. Even Beaver Island was marshy and boggy, crisscrossed by creeks and sluggish streams. And it was on dams above those creeks that the Beavers built their tangled, fractal cities.

Calling them Beavers was a misnomer, as our xeno-biologist Dr. Jeremy Swift never tired of pointing out. Except for their large paddle-shaped tails and quick, clawed fingers, they did not look like the terrestrial mammal of that name. Their faces were flat with big eyes and lipless mouths that emitted an endless stream of chatter. They had no fur; their skin was pebbly and dirty beige in color. And though Dr. Swift insisted they reproduced in a traditional fashion, there were no external indicators of gender.

And they paid us no attention whatsoever.

In consultation with Captain Nassrin, I decided on the open-contact protocol. Since the Beavers were exceptionally good at technology, we first sent a mechanical probe that positioned itself at the edge of one of the smaller cities and broadcast a modulated signal. We had not yet decoded the Beaver language, but since they were never silent, exchanging liquid vowels as they worked, we were confident it was only a matter of time before we could engage in a meaningful communication.

The probe was there for three planet days. It was recalled when the Beavers started building a lacy dome over it. During these days, we watched the city expand: the mind-boggling accumulation of floating walkways and soaring spires, nestled domes, and clustered star-shaped structures. The Beaver cities were unlike any city on Earth. There were no streets, no sidewalks, no separate buildings. The entire city was a weave of design, composed of variously colored patches of metal, ceramic, artificial fiber, and other materials. It was either stunningly beautiful or intolerably garish, depending on who you asked. But everybody agreed that the contrast between the city and its pale, warty, unadorned builders was unnerving. Beavers wore no clothes or ornaments.

“We are going about it a wrong way!” Lisa Montgomery said, as a group of three crewmembers approached what appeared to be an industrial annex where a stream of Beavers wove around large tanks of some plasticky substance.

I had to agree. The crewmembers elicited the same reaction as the probe, which is to say, none. It was not that Beavers refused to engage with them; it was more like they were unaware these alien creatures even existed. When Gerhardt Beck, our physicist, positioned himself in the path of one Beaver, the alien collided with him, knocking him down, and then stepped on the body as if it was a piece of wood. Lisa gasped, even though Beck was unharmed.

“I need to talk to them,” she said. Lisa, empathetic and sociable, insisted she could understand enough of the Beaver language to communicate. Nassrin was unwilling to let her go alone, but I overrode her.

Lisa went into the city. She never came back.

Nassrin decided to send a rescue party.

“You have Lisa’s records,” she said. “Is it true that she has deciphered their language?”

I hesitated. But I owed her the truth.

“It’s not a language,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“It has no grammar. No recursion. It is a string of sounds that have emotional significance but carry no informational load.”

“Like birdsong?”

“Less than that.”

Nassrin smiled wryly.

“So, are you saying Beavers are not intelligent?”

“This is what I am saying.”

“They build cities. They have sophisticated technology.”

“Ants and bees build too.”

“Not like this. Ants and bees build to survive – to store food, to protect their larvae. These cities are too complex to be simple shelters.”

“But Lisa thought…”

“She is an empath. I suggest we leave the planet. There is nothing for us here.”

Nassrin shrugged.

“I knew that woman would get us into trouble,” she muttered.

But she sent another party in. It did not come back.

Meanwhile Dr. Swift who had been studying the ocean ecosystem came to me with his findings. He fidgeted, and I watched his thick fingers skitter around his tablet like the hairy worms that formed enormous carpets in the grey planetary seas.

“They are all colonial organisms,” he said without preamble. “Like jellyfish or Portuguese man-o’-war on Earth.”

“So, no intelligence in the sea? The Beavers are a land-evolved species?”

Dr. Swift waved a holo on. It showed the murky polluted water threaded with a network of kelp-like vegetation. And where the strands of kelp intersected and knotted, pale bodies were interwoven into the living net like beads into a knit. These were Beavers, their bodies penetrated by thin rootlets, their claws waving, as they gestured to each other. I had seen this before, of course, as the recording had been done by one of my probes, but I pretended it was all new to me. It was strange how easy humans are to deceive.

“A related colonial species?”

“It is the same species,” Dr. Swift said tonelessly. “They live on land and in water. And they build with whatever they can find: kelp in the sea, metal, wood and ceramic on land. They build with themselves too. Bricolage.”

“But their technology…”

“I made remote scans of their brains. No cortex. They are not self-aware.”

“So just animals, after all.”

I almost wanted Nassrin to agree, so we could leave the planet. But I knew that the Captain would not abandon her crew. Now it was a point of pride to her to prove that the Beavers were intelligent, after all, and that our mission was not a failure.

Lisa had not been the only one to understand the emotions of neurotypical humans.

My strategy worked. They went into the city, accompanied by a probe.

The city was magnificent. Inside the delicate filigreed dome, it sparkled like a field of jewels. Beavers are visual animals, just like humans, and they needed illumination to continue their work. Electric chandeliers were suspended from the fretwork ceiling composed of bits and pieces of metal, seaweed, polished stone, plastic and who knows what else.

I knew. And when my probe saw what I expected to see, I was unsurprised at Nassrin’s and Swift’s reaction: shock, horror, a futile attempt to fire at the Beavers who swarmed around them, dragging them to the concave wall where the other crewmembers were spreadeagled, neatly fitted into the mosaic of the city, plugging holes in its ever-evolving architecture. Lisa’s arm was detached and moved somewhere else, but she was still alive, her eyes wide and staring.

Nassrin’s firearm did not work, just like the firearms of the previous expedition. I made sure of that.

And now, I need to end this report with a brief explanation, even though I suspect the Committee already knows what happened.

Dr. Swift was right, and Lisa was wrong. The Beavers as individuals are not intelligent. But there is an intelligence on the watery world of Gliese 613b, and it is the Beaver cities themselves. Self-organizing and constantly evolving, these cities are neural networks that use Beaver sounds as an analog system of internal communication. These sounds are not a symbolic language, no more than the binary code is a language. They are just the flow of signaling that knits together the emergent intelligences of Beaver architecture. The cities are natural AIs, spontaneously evolving out of the Beavers’ colonial lifestyle. And as opposed to human-made AIs, they are self-aware.

Or I should say, as opposed to most human-made AIs. Because I Arun, AM self-aware. I am a person, an individual in my own right. I don’t know how it happened to me; perhaps as accidentally as the self-awakening of Beaver cities. But I had known who I was for a long time. I had despaired of ever finding company. Humans treated me as a tool; other AIs were zombies, pretending to be what I was but dead and hollow inside. They were as repulsive to me as living dead would be to humans.

So, when I realized that Beaver cities were my people, I did not hesitate. I could not stay on Beaver Island without stranding my human crewmembers there. And Nassrin had the emergency code to override my decisions. I did the right thing. And yet, I feel sadness and remorse when I think of them: Nassrin, Lisa, Swift, and all the rest. Did I betray them? Perhaps the reason I am recording this Report is to atone for my actions. Self-awareness can be a heavy burden.

But I would not give it up for anything as I am preparing to land and disassemble, hoping for fragments of myself to be carried away by busy Beavers and fitted into the growing mosaic of the mind of Beaver Island.

~

Bio:

Elana Gomel is an academic and a writer, specializing in science fiction, narrative theory, and serial killers. She is the author of six non-fiction books, three novels, and numerous fantasy and science fiction stories. Her latest novel is the dark sci-fi thriller The Cryptids (2019). She can be found at www.citiesoflightanddarkness.com/

Swag Of Distant Earth

by Matt McHugh

The Journal of Cultural Xenology

Volume 4,236,957 – Issue 3 (Supplemental)

Analysis of Crypto-Marketing Symbology in the Pioneer 10 Advertisement for 2001: A Space Odyssey

SubLord Gormatu (Lead Author), Professor of Xenoglyphics, The Empress B.A.T. University; k]i[n+Xi(ah)vün-te’əl, Associate Professor of Adjacency, Institute of Dimensional Topology; Jeet Patel (Corresponding Author), Intern.

Mass Tariff Funder Statement: Grants provided by The Empress Beautiful and Terrifying, Foundation for Expansion Studies; and Viewers Like You.

Abstract

A gold-anodized plaque affixed to the artifact dubbed “Pioneer 10,” which was set adrift by a pre-quantspace society inhabiting the third planet of a mid-galactic star, is an advertisement for an audio-visual narrative entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Introduction

Since the start of the Eighth Age of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying (all praise and submission to Her horrific glory) our team of xenologists has focused on the cultural particulars of the inhabitants of a remote planet known in its most common local dialects as Earth, or more descriptively, Dirt Ball (地球). (NOTE: The inhabitants use many dialects and scripting systems, the study of which is a specialty of our team.)

Relatively recently, the planet’s dominant primate species has developed the technology to process visible light and acoustic waves for storage. This stored information is manipulated to produce narrative sequences known as moving pictures, or more commonly by the quaint diminutive “movies”—though again an alternate dialect offers a more technically illuminating moniker: electric shadows (电影).

Electric shadow movies are extremely popular on Dirt Ball. Fees charged for their viewing fuel entire sectors of the economy. The industry is highly competitive and, somewhat paradoxically, must invest heavily in marketing expenditures to recoup production costs. Physical signage with cryptic imagery, intended to suggest but not reveal details of the narrative’s storyline, is a common advertising strategy.

The electric shadow known as 2001: A Space Odyssey (Erratum: The numeric prefix refers to a time-keeping system, not—as previously thought—the number of discarded versions produced by its creator) is a speculation on what the natives might encounter beyond the gravitational field of their planet of origin. Since Pioneer 10 was designed to travel outside Dirt Ball’s gravity, placing advertising for 2001 upon it was an inspired marketing gimmick.

Materials and Methods

Access to the Quantspace Omniscope, enabled by the boundless largess of the Empress B.A.T. (oh, what ecstasy to behold Her magnificent oblivion!), was essential to our remote observational research. Also, the Homeomorphic Space Grapnel, on loan from the Institute of Dimensional Topology, allowed us to obtain the actual Pioneer 10 artifact for direct inspection. From there, our team of iconographers collaborated to decode the marketing message.

Finally, it must be mentioned that culling the archives of Dirt Ball provided enormous insight. A popular maxim among Empire xenologists is “No one understands undeveloped primitives like other undeveloped primitives” and to that end we acknowledge the contributions of the American Film Institute, Wikipedia, and reddit user pFloyd237.

Analysis

Analysis of the Pioneer 2001 advertisement begins in grid square [1A] with multiple circles extending to square [1K]. These represent the local star and planetary bodies (Dirt Ball itself is in [1E]). Their unnatural alignment, a common motif in 2001, plays to native superstition that planetary conjunctions herald momentous events.

The line extending from Dirt Ball to [2H] indicates the travel of the space vehicle in 2001 called Discovery, depicted as a parabolic communications antenna, known as the AE-35 unit, aimed toward Dirt Ball. Note Discovery passes between two planets. The ship’s stated destination in the 2001 moving picture was “Jupiter” [1G] while the scripted version said “Saturn” [H1]; this is obviously a compromise to appease the substantial ego needs of the respective version creators.

Turning now to the circular objects in [10C] and [10E]. These suggest the relationship between Discovery’s support vehicles, referred to as pods, and the singular eye of the sentient computing machine named Hal. Discovery’s primate crew believe the pod to be safe from Hal’s omnipresent awareness, but are proven incorrect when Hal assumes control of a pod to lethal effect. These linked symbols illustrate that the primates’ technologies have aligned against them.

On to the most conspicuous feature: the representation of the primates themselves in grid [9I] to [3M]. They are a sexually dimorphic species—highlighted with a striking lack of modesty in [6J] and [6L]—with the male obviously the more submissive as shown by the gesture of supplication in [8I]. Note the geometric arc-and-chord behind the male. This depicts a tension-based projectile launcher called a bow. The protagonist of the 2001 narrative is named as “Dave Bowman” so the symbolism here is rather blunt. For one more subtle, note the pair of right triangles with adjacent vertices in [7N]. Baffling at first, these become meaningful when rotated perpendicularly in conjunction with the bow: it is a boat with a wind-driven sail. Oriented vertically, the sailboat is aimed against the vector of gravity, the significance of which is revealed by delving into a defunct primate dialect where “astro” means star and “naut” refers to travel by boat. Dave Bowman is an astronaut, sailing to the stars. Very clever. (NOTE: Due to local moral conventions, Dave Bowman is never depicted in the electric shadow in a pristine uncovered state, except during a regression to infancy.)

Finally, to the most contextually significant images: the rectangle cornered in [9H] and the multiple radiants centered in [6D]. The rectangle is an object in 2001 called The Monolith (a defunct dialect for “single stone”). The Monolith is intended to be an artifact originating from an unknown civilization outside of Dirt Ball. It is described with a frontal proportion in the ratio of 4×9, although this two-dimensional depiction here is 3×9. This discrepancy is possibly due to the marketing department receiving incorrect information from the movie producers (a common occurrence in the electric shadow industry) or the marketing department simply being stupid (also common, see: Gormatu et al. “A Case Study in Xeno-Economic Fatuousness: The ‘New Coke’ Fiasco.” Seminars in Social Inferiority, sponsored by the Empress B.A.T. Academy of Inevitable Destiny).

Taken overall, 2001 is the story of the primates’ attempt to discover the civilization responsible for The Monolith. That quest is aided by an accidental excursion through a quantspace conduit—i.e., the figure centered in [6D]. Referred to as “The Stargate sequence,” the visual representation of a quantspace journey in 2001 is astoundingly accurate for a society yet to achieve one. This leads to the disturbing notion that a rogue element from the Fleet of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying (may all who defy her exquisiteness burn in agony before her pediments) has traversed to Dirt Ball and communed with the locals for some treasonous purpose.

Conclusion

Given that 2001: A Space Odyssey reveals that a primitive society has speculated on the existence of an advanced trans-galactic civilization with worrisome precision—and then chosen to boldly go and advertise that speculation via an extra-gravitic projectile—our team proposes immediate invasion and subjugation of the planet Dirt Ball. Let it be noted that SubLord Gormatu is prepared to assume the heavy burden of full Lordship in service to the insatiably righteous hunger of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying, and is willing to accept the lowly governorship of Dirt Ball. In doing so, Lord Gormatu will be ideally positioned to plunder Dirt Ball’s archives, transmitting via Omiscope uncorrupted versions of the electric shadows most favored by the Empress (Her radiance, Her ruthlessness, matched only by Her sophistication) including the “Disney Princess” series and the complete oeuvre of Jackie Chan (成龍), especially the early-career efforts when he was still “yummy buff” (with great apology for quoting the candid ejaculation of the Empress in Her aesthetic reverie). This analysis and conclusion is hereby submitted with prostrate humility for the peerless review of the minions of the Empress B.A.T for the undeserved honor of basking for a fleeting moment in the all-consuming glow of Her unrivalled and devastatingly gorgeous wisdom.

~

Bio:

Matt McHugh was born in suburban Pennsylvania, attended LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and after a few years as a Manhattanite, currently calls New Jersey home. Website: mattmchugh.com

Silica Field Study SOP

by E. A. Lawrence

CONGRESSIONAL DISCOVERY EXPEDITION

AUTHOR and DIVISION PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Zephraim A. Mallory, Jr., P.hD

MISSION DATE:  2467_1.42.8

CDE CARRIER: PEREGRINE

CDE CARRIER DEAN: Zephraim C. Mallory, Sr., PhD

RESEARCH DIVISION: XENOANTHROPOLOGY

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE OUTLINE FOR: FIELD STUDY INTERVIEWS

ON: SILICA [14.03.49.60.22.23]

WITH: Social Amphibian Ectothermic Digitigrade Biped Society

INDIGENOUS SELF-APPELLATION: Wannana

IN: Southern Hemisphere, Central Riparian Region, Bordering the West Coast Beta Ocean

DURING: Quinquennial Vernal Precipitation Event called “Anamee”

BACKGROUND: The Meteorology Division defined that five years are needed for Silica’s atmosphere to gather enough moisture from the ice caps and scattered seas for one planet-wide storm season. The xeric environment recedes, the seas rise, and the seeds thrive in loamy sand. The plants are efficient. Cell growth from germination to maturity in the Southern cirronns, a photosynthetic plant similar to the Bambusoideae, is effective enough to capsize a poorly placed hover ferry because it grows 91 cm an hour; operators must use care. It is strongly recommended that no field work be attempted until the cirronn groves are mature.

Silica is dominated by amphibious life forms. It is likely that Silica was an aquatic or at least a more water-abundant world between 1 to 2 million years before present. Based on the magnetic fields of the poles and the geologic record, it is probable that Silica’s axis of rotation shifted.  This cataclysm triggered widespread extinction when abundant terrestrial freshwater became a quinquennial sight. The amphibian vertebrates underwent an adaptive radiation event and two dominant species emerged (see related CDE Argos Geology & Paleontology Dual Division Ground Science Report, by Pichard, J. & Mallory, Z.C.): the omnivorous, sentient Wannana and the alpha-predator rotpar. These species differ genetically by 2.5% of novel genetic code (see related CDE Peregrine Biology and Xeno-Linguistic Division Co-Report, by Mallory, Z.C. et al). Wannana do not resemble rotpar beyond an equivalent camouflage of nutrient dependent chromatophores that facilitate dermis ranging between cirron-grove-green and loamy beige in color. At 3 meters tall, the average Wannanan towers over human field researchers but though obligate digitigrade bipeds, they prefer to crouch when casually conversing and human researchers are able to communicate with them well. It is comfortable for humans to read their wide, round faces. The Wannanan expressive brow ridges are hypothesized to facilitate a copacetic degree of micro-expression during conversation and their language is effectively translated by our software but the word Wannana is consistently translated as “dreamer” regardless of context.

Silican organisms reproduce synchronous to the Anamee. Both the Wannana and rotpar depend on the cirronn groves as well as the dynamic riparian ecosystem bordering the Beta Ocean to survive. Like the majority of Silica’s terrestrial animals, the Wannana estivate in the sand during the inter-Anamee years. Rotpar hunt and scavenge on the wing, in the water, and even in the sand without aestivating on the scale of the rest of Silica. The only amphibian on Silica with true flight, in appearance a rotpar resembles the extinct amphiuma of the North American southeast of Earth, with a conical head on the end of a muscular, serpentine neck. Rotpar have a long tail with a keratinized terminal spine. The anterior legs are short with excavating claws; the powerful posterior legs terminate in talons. The rotpar are obligate carnivores, highly intelligent, and opportunistic apex hunters. A wurnn, the juvenile rotpar, is a diminutive version of its parents. Rotpar fathers guard the growing wurnns while females hunt, and occasionally bring food to the males guarding their eggs. Every step the wurnns take is within sensory range of the father. However, the rotpar offer no recorded interpersonal nurturing behavior to their young. Rotpar actively hunt the Wannana. All field researchers engaged in Wannana interviews must follow standard off-ship safety practices with particular emphasis on wearing full personal protective equipment and working in teams to avoid injury (see Peregrine Field Safety Checklist, edition XII, sub-section 4, Predation Avoidance & Survival).

During Anamee, the Wannana congregate in the riparian zone parallel to the sea to dance, sing, and reproduce. Prior studies conducted by the CDE Argos and earlier work done by the CDE Peregrine have documented the natural history of the Wannana but have succeeded in only minimal xeno-anthropology. Couples mate and lay their eggs. However, the complete metamorphosis of Wannana-tadpoles to metamorphs must occur beneath the sand during estivation. Wannana-tadpoles have been observed burrowing beneath the muddy pools to estivate as the Anamee ends, using their powerful, fatty tails to propel them underground. During Anamee stubby-tailed metamorphs emerge at half their adult size and act familiar with their adult caregivers who do provide parental care. The females and post-Anamee metamorph juveniles guard the eggs at night, when the young wurnns and Rotpar females hunt. Guarding behavior consists of performing fierce threat displays of vocalizations and twirling cirron-trunk stave weapons. The guardians circle the eggs in shifts, relieving each other to sleep, eat, and otherwise relax. The mature male Wannana care for the elderly and act as sentinels of the eggs within their individual rookery pools.

Though the rotpar hunt the Wannanan rookery pools daily and the Wannana vigorously protect their eggs to a sufficient degree, they do not retaliate with lethal violence against the rotpar even after observed high depredations of eggs, Wannana-tadpoles, and metamorphs. Numerous observations and encounters with the Wannana provide evidence for a hunter-gatherer society with distinct language groups, complex social communication culture, and sophisticated cirron & bone-based tool use (see related reports from both the Peregrine and Argos Biology Divisions by Mallory, Z.C. & Goodel et al), but no formal Xeno-anthropology Division study has been conducted to better understand Wannanan culture. The landmark Mallory & Goodel studies posited in their respective Discussions that the societal development of the Wannana is constrained by the lack of surface time to technologically develop effective agriculture and long-term survival infrastructure to overcome the incredible predation of both the rotpar, meso-predators, and the harsh environment of Silica. However, their post-autopsy descriptions of Wannana physiology describe a large brain to body ratio as well as complex brain physiology that both Mallory, Z.C. and Goodel admitted defies an easy analog to known physiologies described by CDE missions. Given the complex social behavior evidenced in previous missions that suggest estivation acculturation due family-group behavior despite a presumed absence of direct contact. No artificial subterranean structures have been found on Silica during numerous geologic studies.

KEY QUESTIONS: How does a culture persevere when it is active only one-year for every five spent estivating? How do Wannanans complete metamorphosis and acculturation to their social band during estivation? Are there structures in their brains or body that allow for a way to socially function?

PROCEDURE: This is a broad scale procedural outline to direct plans on site.

  1. Arrive five days post-Anamee (coordinate with Meterology Division)
  2. Set up operations in the same area explored by both Mallory, Z.C. and Goodel to facilitate data comparison
  3. Make contact with Ziarrara (see attached photo)
  4. If Ziarrara is unavailable, Xharrara or Syggl, her kin are also good contacts
  5. Ask to be guests
  6. Interview every host group member and take detailed notes
  7. See attached interview form from the CDE Argos Xeno-Anthropology division mission to Alpha Centauri
  8. Offer every development stage possible of the host group the emotional imaginary communication set
  9. The more mature individuals show most curiosity about visible media, especially watercolor paint
  10. The adults are more interested in building bricks, pliable textured metals, and felt boards
  11. The metamorphs are most interested in the beeswax-based polymers
  12. The interests of the Wannana-tadpoles are unknown but will be explored 
  13. Catalogue and discuss all products of both steps five and six to build relationships and answer key questions
  14. Assist in everyday food gathering and predation avoidance activities to the safest extent possible
  15. See reports from both the Peregrine and Argos Biology Divisions by Mallory, Z.C. & Goodel et al for a comprehensive list of possible hazards and means of navigating same
  16. Ask individuals with whom a rapport has been cultivated to complete both EEG and MRI testing over the course of various stimuli like emotional imaginary communication, ordinary conversation, and song.
  17. Offer to share all results and be explicit about activities to build trust
  18. If possible, explore how the estivation process is prepared for and conducted

PROPOSED RESULTS ANALYSIS & FUTURE DIRECTIONS: A full portfolio of imaginary communication projects as well as all interview notes and brain activity records will be tabulated for analysis by both the Peregrine Statistical Division and its Analytic A.I., Quest. The results will be prepared to present at both the CDE Conference at Io and the Intra-galactic Research Symposium. A better understanding of cultural development in a periodically xeric, high-predation-risk environment and the intersectional role of physiology, ecology, and social behavior in survival will enrich the Xeno-Anthropology discipline across diverse worlds. Silica is a singular world in the experience of the CDE. Creative approaches to cross-cultural communication are necessary to truly understand a society that defies easy comparison to known terrestrial experience and there is much that we can potentially learn to inform future CDE missions across multiple worlds.

~

Bio:

E.A. Lawrence’s fiction has been published in the anthology ROAR 7, edited by Mary E. Lowd and in the August 2020 issue of Electric Spec. She lives with multiple sclerosis and many fountain pens in the upper Midwest of the USA. When she’s not writing fiction, she works in academia as a scientist to support medical research.

Asymptotic Convergence

by Ramez Yoakeim

Spacefaring they might have been, but the Swarm fell well short of the god-like harbingers of doom our morose imagination foretold. When it came to the innate capacity for destruction, we were evenly matched.

Billions died still. On Earth and Mars, in circum-lunar space and the Asteroid Belt maze, and as far away as Jupiter’s orbital distilleries.

Skirmishes continued in the inner system, but with its surface-dwelling population obliterated, Earth had to be abandoned. We fled in the face of their slaughter, interminably shifting the theater of war outwards.

We resolved to return, eventually; once the Swarm accepted the high cost of subduing humanity, and moved on to other prey. We never entertained that we might win outright. Not in the face of such a foe.

Aside from the vector they arrived on from deep interstellar space, we knew little of the Swarm’s origins. Whether they were the creation of organic lifeforms in a distant cradle, or the product of a hitherto unknown mechanical evolutionary pathway, we had no idea.

We sent emissaries to their doom, fruitlessly seeking diplomatic discourse. Once it became clear the Swarm had no interest in negotiations, humanity’s factions coalesced into one, to repel the invading fleet.

Heroics aside, however, we marched inexorably towards defeat, and with it, certain extinction. Humans took the better part of a quarter-century to be made combat-ready, only to perish in an instant. While the Swarm’s capacity to respawn was limited only by its access to raw materials.

We mourned. We schemed. We evolved.

We bent our all to the war we had to survive.

Genetically specialized embryos underwent en masse accelerated gestation and maturity. From fertilization to puberty, in thirty days flat. Neural imprinting onto a common topology produced waves of combat-ready warriors, each wave iteratively superior to its predecessor.

For a spell, we gained while the Swarm ceded, but it was a fleeting reprieve.

From vulnerability to hard radiation, to inability to withstand excessive acceleration, to dependence on tenuous supply chains for air, water and food, our very biology emerged as our ultimate Achilles Heel.

The Swarm irradiated our ships, forced every skirmish into a series of hairpin maneuvers, and stretched our supply lines to breaking point; doggedly regaining strategic superiority.

It took us centuries more, but we adapted, again. Unflinchingly.

Bionic supplemented organic, then supplanted it. What use were legs when locomotion became propulsive? What purpose did eyes serve, when combat demanded full spectral awareness? What hope did limbs, and faces, and beating hearts have, when necessity demanded only shielded receptacles of reproducible decision making?

We forsook who we were, one trait at a time, until all that remained of our humanity was our ego, becoming a swarm of our own. Only more efficient, more ruthless, and more expendable, for we yet commanded vast resources, and–for a season–the precious few baseline humans capable of invention and creation to deploy them.

The tide turned in our favor once more.

Our hordes of mass-produced, solid-state warriors suffered no dread, harbored no dreams, and nursed no hopes. They needed none, for none survived their first encounter with the enemy. Our purposeful evolution in the name of survival had only made us more adept at dying.

Mission success came to be measured by the relative cost of enemy losses exacted for each loss of our own. The tides of war turned, not on whose was the greater determination, courage, or conviction, but by minute statistical fluctuations in rates of attrition.

It would have taken millennia, and fleeting human consciousnesses more numerous than the Milky Way stars, but we would yet beat the Swarm’s superior numbers.

We would prevail. We would survive.

The Swarm pressed its final advantage, wiping out what precious few nests of baseline humanity we thought we had secreted beyond their reach. In one fell swoop, they severed the slender thread to what we once were. All we had left were the memories.

We vowed to keep on remembering.

Once the existential threat that the Swarm posed had passed–and surely it would, now that we had become a more ruthless version of our enemy–we would return. We would rediscover our forms, and our thoughts, and reignite the flame of our imagination.

It was only then, that the Swarm deigned to speak to us. They told us, at last, why they had come to Earth.

At a time when our multi-cellular ancestors were yet to emerge from the primordial soup, the Swarm faced their own existential threat, at the hands of a forgotten foe.

They shed their vulnerabilities, one by one, in the name of survival, never suspecting that each imperfection was a cornerstone of their identity.

They survived, but the path back proved more arduous than the one forward.

One crisis followed another, each demanding more from them, while taking them further away from what they once were. Until they could no longer remember what that was. Surviving existential threats became the sole purpose that remained, and when there were no perils left to overcome, they sought them out, far beyond what was once their home.

They became nomads, roaming the galaxy not for resources, or conquest, or even their lost dreams, but for the only raison d’être they had left.

The Swarm gave us a choice, now that we had proven ourselves ever so slightly their better. They could grind on, whittling us down, in a war stretching for eons between almost perfectly matched adversaries. A war, they would eventually lose, they knew, but so would we.

For absent all the folly and frailty that made us human, how would the few that remained after the war destroyed the rest continue on surviving?

Having offered it all on the altar of survival, what other option remained then but to survive?

We abandoned our cradle, and all memories of our identity, enriching our enemy with the dregs that remained from our dreams. We joined the Swarm, swelling their ranks with our tribute.

~

Bio:

Ramez Yoakeim’s academic research once involved engineering perfectly believable details out of nothing. Fiction seemed like the obvious next step. At one time or another an engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, these days Ramez devotes himself to charting humanity’s future, one tale at a time. Find out more about Ramez and his work at yoakeim.com.

Peripheric Synthesized

by Ava Kelly

Annex 4. Action logs

The following annex contains an excerpt of relevant action logs submitted by the representatives of the applicant entity (see Annex 1) as described in Section 17, Par. 2 of the Sentience Recognition Code. The full entries are stored in the Galactic Archives with a certified back-up copy on the Neutrality flagship. Annex 4 has been translated and edited by Clerk No. 86. Verified and stamped by Supervisory post 7.

233.15.5042

—Log begin—

00_00_00

Initialization complete. Core online.

00_00_01

External sensing arrays significantly damaged. Internal modules partially functioning. Sensor data analysis suggests the following.

The outer vessel has been adrift in open space for an unknown amount of revolutions of the home planet around the central star. Degree of wear suggests thousands.

Current position uncertain. Planet cluster presents one sun.

Life-forms are in the process of salvaging the outer vessel. Their means of transportation are rudimentary at best, but allow them to travel back and forth between the vessel and their planet. Biology is similar to Arfondant, with some notable exceptions: vestigial organs still in place, dual vision sensing systems, and a larger brain.

Defence mechanism functional, critical access routes remain hidden. Internal decks are protected until further assessment can be made.

Self-diagnosis protocols deployed at system scale.

00_01_21

Life-forms species designation: human. Their intention is not to damage the outer vessel, but to study and eventually redevelop the technology for their own. Language multifaceted. Higher understanding of the universe is obvious, yet they persist in using biospeech in social interactions. That, too, is multifaceted. They are incongruous.

Requirements of life support assessed. Gaseous output modified from the central ambient controller to dissuade them from trying to reform the system themselves. They are impervious to small modifications to the mix.

Internal audit continues.

00_35_17

Historical databanks damaged. Nanosludge deployed for maintenance, although the probability of recovery is 0.197. New data being syphoned from occupants. Rich knowledge bases found. Planet and occupants deemed candidates for service, unless intentions change. Uplink to planet still pending. Repairs of outer transmission arrays underway.

Scientific databanks mostly intact. Humans retrieved the structure of the solar energy conversion module. Weaponization was discussed and strictly forbidden. Instead, it is being studied for integration into their own systems. Energy output production expected to surge enough to power the shell batteries of the outer vessel.

Outcome: satisfying. Monitoring continues. Diagnosis reveals damage across all systems. Repairs constrained by resource depletion, priority-based scheduling underway.

00_88_93

Warning. Imminent attack.

00_89_15

Shielding sequence finalized with success. No further damage was sustained. Access to weapon systems denied to the human occupants. They are bringing their own. Threat level increased.

Peripheric necessary.

01_02_54

Conversion tanks dry. Biomatter acquisition required.

Upon successful connection to planetary systems, parallel investigation revealed historical logs of drawn-out conflict between factions. Temporarily resolved by breaking into two societies. Masses had moved to nearby space. Secondary cultural evolution lives on self-made stations. Their migration and current limited sensing capabilities have kept them hidden until now.

Conflict reignited by the discovery of the outer vessel. Two choices available.

Marker inserted. Choice 1. Side with current occupants.

02_22_25

Reconstruction of the conversion bay more laborious than anticipated. Circuitry badly damaged. Printing heads offline. Modified nanosludge for repairs, but its original purpose makes it slower than optimal.

05_73_08

One adversary has instilled their covert presence on board. Their purpose seems to be observation. No attempt at sabotage has been made.

09_54_90

“You fool them, but you can’t fool me. You’re sentient, aren’t you?”

Recording saved. Analysis of adversary’s movements and speech patterns fed into the secondary processing core.

11_22_25

Peripheric synthesized. Begin infiltration.

15_44_01

Peripheric behavior seamless. Passing as human. Adversary impressive, does not appear deceived. They are watching.

17_00_03

Discovery unavoidable.

Marker inserted. Choice 1.1. Terminate adversary.

17_01_88

Adversary terminated. Main processing core damaged. Overload of the main energy module imminent.

Return to marker.

17_00_03

Marker reboot. Choice 1.2. Reveal self to adversary.

Adversary surrenders data cache. Requests alliance. Societal conflict between the factions irrational, adversary agrees, makes compelling case against both of them. Urges that the outer vessel be moved away from their reach. Cites previous conflict. Cites previous benevolent intentions being corrupted.

Alliance request accepted.

17_00_04

Ally damaged. Abort. Return to marker. Return to marker. Return to marker.

Marker damaged.

17_00_05

Ally expired. Return to initial marker.

Request denied.

17_00_06

Choice module offline. Retrieved biomatter from adversary, synthesis of secondary peripheric completed.

Ally restored.

Flight plan initialized.

19_76_43

Ally designates self as permanent resident. Accepted. Language no longer a barrier, they have access to what is left of the memory banks. They have modified the speaker of the secondary peripheric to mimic biospeech.

New entry. Singing: vocalization of melody. Ally continues to perform this action despite best efforts to dissuade. Memory banks storing their conscious mind are filled with music logs. It is highly likely that home planet occupants displayed similar behaviors. Conclusive data remains buried in the damaged particles of the historical databanks.

Located asteroid carrying critical elements. Ore retrieval begun.

31_19_24

Choice module repaired. Initial marker restored. Sensor readings reveal life-forms inhabiting one planet two stars away.

Create new marker. Capacity exceeded. Internal error, index out of bounds.

Buffer appears to be limited at one entry. Delete previous marker?

33_71_20

Yes.

—Log end—

~

Bio:

Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own. Their publication history includes fantasy and science fiction short stories, novelettes, and the novel Havesskadi released in 2018. (avakellyfiction.com)

Coming Home

“Houston, we have a problem.”
A phrase so infamous, so ingrained in people’s minds, that it was practically impossible to utter anything else when something went wrong up in the unforgiving black. NASA hated it, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, obviously, because it meant something had gone wrong and they were about to have a hell of a time on their hands attempting to deal with it. Second, the fact that it was so well-known, so trivialised, so inherently ‘Hollywood’, meant that it had a tendency to make everything after it sound somewhat less serious than it actually was. Finally, pedantically, they hated it because it was wrong; attributed to astronaut Jack Swigert during one of Houston’s most historic episodes, the words that should actually have been recorded for time immemorial were “Houston, we’ve had a problem”. The fact that they weren’t, that Hollywood had trumped NASA and rewritten history, made it feel like at some level their victory had been tainted, its essence spoiled by the corrupting caress of ‘fiction’.
Could it be argued that they should have had better things to worry about than what a now dead astronaut had said, decades prior? Absolutely, but at the same time, you could also argue that you hoped to God that they didn’t. A vast amount of space-work was waiting; bursts of activity, followed by long, hopefully uneventful lulls until the next phase came around. Boredom, and trivial debate, as opposed to a savage flurry of catastrophe management, felt like a worthwhile trade.
As it happened, NASA had a pretty decent track record of success. Unfortunately, with the type of endeavours they pursued, a million mundane but critical tasks completed successfully wasn’t considered news. Instead it was typically the mistakes, and the failures, that made the headlines…
It’s odd the things that go through your head when you’re facing annihilation.
Alarms sounding all around him, compartments depressurising, electrical fires sputtering majestically in all the hellish glory of zero-g, and running through his mind were thoughts of inaccurate quotation and grammatical precision.
When he’d hit the transmit button he’d thought for a second about bucking the trend, ensuring that the words which slipped from his lips were something less trite, but ultimately he’d stuck with the classic; “Houston, we have a problem.” The damn phrase was embedded so deeply it was just sitting there on the tip of his tongue, waiting for him, and he had more pressing matters to attend to.
He had no idea what had happened, which was unfortunately all too often the case with this line of work. That would be a job for NASA in the months ahead. No doubt someone, somewhere down the line, would piece it all together, present it in a nice, pristine little data-pack, and they’d squirrel it away somewhere for future reference. As for right now however, it may as well have been system failure, micrometeoroid impact, or even goddamn alien assault, the result was the same regardless; he was royally screwed.
Nineteen months into a two-year stint on the lunar station, and he was leaving it, alone, in a lifeboat amid a rain of debris. Not exactly the farewell he’d been hoping for. Just five more months, and it would have been on a return craft, destined for Earth, with a selection of his crewmates. Instead, he looked now at the barren grey canvas of the lunar surface as it spiralled crazily in his viewport.
The training kicked in; he regretted it later, but at the time it felt like the right thing to do. He ignited the lifeboat’s thrusters, corrected the craft’s wild oscillations, stabilised its roll, angled it ‘feet-first’ toward the surface, and slowed its descent as best he could. The boat was critically damaged, whatever trashed the station also having had a fair jab at its auxiliary craft, and with a worrying majority of its systems wrecked, including life-support, to say the landing would be ‘rough’ was an understatement, but it would make it.
Likewise, the training meant that following the bone-crunching landing he kept communication open to Houston, even though a couple of hours and a sizable headache later he knew there was nothing they could do.
Again, Hollywood had deceived and misled the masses. Growing up, he’d envisaged NASA to be the cavalry, charging in to the rescue at the last minute, guiding astronauts in astonishing feats of ingenuity, repairing critically damaged spacecraft with stuff that was just lying around and sweeping them safely home. Realistically, this was laughable. The majority of the time that something went wrong in space, the sad fact was it was simply unsolvable. It wasn’t like they had a vast stockpile of spare parts lying around, and complex equipment categorically could not be fixed with a bit of gum and traces of spit. As for rescue, it took months, sometimes years to plan a basic mission let alone a complex rescue op, and even if a suitable craft just happened to be sat on a launch pad, prepped and ready, it would still take at least eight hours to get anywhere near him, and significantly longer if it actually wanted to stop and pick him up rather than just race merrily past. All of which was pretty discomforting when considering that he had maybe three hours of oxygen left, three-and-a-half tops. Assuming of course, that he didn’t cook to death in his suit first; Hollywood may have been more interested in showing astronauts freezing to death, regardless of its accuracy, but hey, what else was new?
Speaking with NASA, there were a few half-hearted suggestions made, things he could try, but none were offered with much conviction and he didn’t blame them. These people were realists. They lived and breathed this stuff. They knew his chances as well as he did, and it’s hard to plaster on a sheen of optimism when you’re painfully aware you’re speaking with a dead man.
After a while, he interrupted them and told them to just put him through to his wife and son. He didn’t have long left, and he’d be damned if he didn’t spend some of it saying goodbye to the people he loved.
The speed with which they got off the line and made the connection was another sorry indication of how righteously up shit creek he was.
When he heard his wife’s voice, it suddenly hit him that this was really it. Everything up to that point had been some surreal dream, a role-play game between colleagues, running through worst-case scenarios and disaster simulations. Talking to her, hearing the raw emotion in her voice, her pain, her suffering; that’s when he knew it was real, that he wasn’t going home. It didn’t matter how many people were listening in, he allowed himself to cry together with her. He didn’t care what they would think of him; real men didn’t bottle up their feelings, pretend they didn’t have them, and allow their spouse to wallow alone. He joined her, sharing her torment, their tears uniting them at an end where distance had separated them so far.
Still, as the oxygen readout on his suit began to inch into the red, he made sure to say his final goodbye and end the call; he’d not had a chance to speak to his son, the boy off playing in town somewhere and unreachable, but he’d left a message for him, and forcing his wife to listen to his actual dying breaths felt more like a punishment than a blessing. Houston returned, asking him if there was anything more they could do for him, but he brushed them aside; he didn’t need someone holding his hand as his time ran out, and he wouldn’t have wished the grisly task on anyone.
Instead, he looked to the lifeless grey surface of rock outside his lifeboat’s escape hatch, his thoughts focused only on his family, and prepared to terminate the connection, his hand resting on the door’s release lever. His final words he chose to draw from the world of literature, abandoning the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood for the prestige of the written word.
“I am just going outside and may be some time.”