Return to Earth

I could feel every eye in the court room on me as I took the long walk to the stand. I got in the witness box and took the oath and sat down. The prosecutor stood and gave me a sympathetic smile, though I know he’s not on my side.

“So if you would, please take us through the events of Progenitor V’s third mission and leave nothing out,” he said. 

I took a deep breath and this is what I told them.

The engines screamed, telling me that the Captain had disengaged Progenitor V’s Neutrino Pulse Drive and that we had at last arrived at our third and final destination, a small and battered terrestrial planet in the inner sector of a solar system on the edge of the galaxy.

By the way, my name is Adam and I was the mission’s artifact development supervisor. They gave me the title of supervisor, but I didn’t actually supervise anyone because I was the only person in the artifact division. I pointed this out to Mike, the captain and thereby mission commander when he gave me the promotion.

“Well, as a supervisor, we don’t have to pay you overtime,” Mike had said.

I laughed at that, but then saw the puzzled look on Mike’s face and understood Mike was not kidding.

Now, this third mission was the important one, and not only because we were to go home after it, but because it was a preservation world. That means we were seeding our own kind on it to make sure our species survives. 

Why do we need to seed other planets? 

Well, because our ships have to be small and nimble to travel across the great distances of space and because it takes a tremendous amount of resources to create a Neutrino Pulse Drive. Resources that we don’t quite have enough of due to our history. We used up a lot of those precious resources thousands of years ago making consumables to distract people and of course there were the wars. Those certainly didn’t help. Anyway, that’s what this seeding project was about — giving our species a chance to start over and get it right this time.

See this little planet on the edge of the galaxy was perfect. Very similar to our own, but it’s not near anything, so the rate of evolution would not have to be great due to a lack of competition. We estimated…

Um, that would be Alec, our geneticist, estimated that on this planet, our species could evolve and not face the kinds of interstellar wars and competition we did and that in, oh, 50 to 100 million years, they would be ready to explore the inner galaxy and probably come greet us and maybe even help us in any conflicts we might have.

Why 100 million?

Oh, this planet, where it is in the galaxy, passes through a particular rocky patch of asteroids every 100 million years. And there was proof that this is what happens, as we arrived just a century or two after the planet had gone through this very passage.

Just let me tell the story, you’ll see. 

So the engines screamed and then we reverted to the local humming rockets as we set up our orbit. I reviewed the data coming in from the probes sent to the planet earlier. The planet had supported pretty advanced life for a long time. And they were big. I mean this was a monster world. These creatures were huge and dangerous. But the asteroids pretty much finished them off.

Now the real work for us was about to begin. The data showed a mass extinction event that had left very few advanced life forms alive on land or ocean. And those advanced ones that did survive were of two types, scary and dead ends. The dead ends were ones that had achieved a level of evolution beyond which they could not hope to advance and would in fact die out anyway. The other ones were just scary beasts.

The planet itself was hospitable. Good balance of land to ocean. Great thermodynamics scores and raw materials were abundant for such a tiny body that the eventual inhabitants should have no problem in their mission.

The cabin door buzzed and I called out, “Come in.

“You ready for this?” Alec, asked.

“This is not my first show, as you well know,” I told him tersely. I was  a bit annoyed by the implication that I didn’t know what I was doing. They were always looking down on me because I wasn’t involved in the genetic seeding, but had to plan out ways to interact with the rising life forms that geneticists like Alec were creating. Of course, people always blame the artificer if something goes wrong on a planet. It was never a bad DNA code. oh no….

“I know, you’re ready. I mean have you heard about planet-side leadership?” Alec said interrupting my thoughts.

“Isn’t it Jabari and Jen?” 

“Nope,” Alec said.

“Why not?” 

“Got a dispatch they want new leadership on this one. So the captain made a new appointment. Instead of two heads, he went with one, you know because this one is so important. They want to make sure of the direction on this.”

“So, who is this director?”

“It’s you,” Alec said.

“What?!” 

“Just kidding. It’s Gregor.”

I shook my head to make sure I heard Alec right, but I obviously did. “Sheesh, I stand by my first reaction.”

“Well, he’s the captain’s nephew.”

“I know. So if we don’t go along, we could lose our ride. How’d Jabari and Jen take it?”

“Jabari said he’s glad to have some time off, but Jen was fuming.”

“I’ll bet.  Well, I guess I better finish up my artifact lacing plan. Are you able to get me any estimates on the early industrial period?”

“No. We got our work cut out for us on this one. The asteroids this planets smashed through did a job on the genetic materials on the planet, so I’m still gathering data no what I’m going to be working with. I can have you some early estimates by two or three orbits.”

Alec delivered his projections and just ten orbits later I had finished my work up of the artifact seeding plan and submitted it to Gregor for review.

Yes, that’s it. Exhibit 23.

Things were going to plan until we got onto the planet. Gregor, was a vice captain and had certain ideas that were in conflict with the rest of the team.

Yes, I’m aware no seeding mission came in so far under budget as the one he led, but look at the results..

Yes, your honor. Sorry. I will attempt not to editorialize. Sorry, your honor.

Gregor was concerned about the cost of a lot of the things we were doing because we had to replicate so many things. My plan, which called for a systematic revealing of clues to new advances and technology was gutted.

By how much?

Approximately two-thirds of the plan was cut.

What was left out?

Each section was cut dramatically and the final three parts were cut entirely. There was no guidance of purpose on the obelisks we were to leave on each continent. No guidance on development of responsible industrial techniques. No guidance on genetic restructuring. 

Well, in the beginning, there were various cave drawings and initial tool examples that were not provided to the rising humans. Instead, I was only able to provide the most basic. illustrations of hunting and cooperation. They were meant to be able to be replicated by the rising humans. I was also told to only replicate arrow heads.

Yes, just arrow heads. 

Well Gregor came to me on the fourth day of our planet side excursion and sits down with my plan. 

“Adam, this won’t do,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“Your plan for our future species. It’s coddling them. They already face a disadvantage without having other species to compete with like our ancestors. This will be too easy.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“There’s no reason for all this guidance. You know Adam, I’ve studied our history and am quite well versed in your field. I could probably just do your job down here, but I am so busy overseeing everything else. That Alec and his team are a real pain in the ass. It’s been difficult getting them to make any changes.”

“Changes? What changes?”

“Like I was saying, we don’t need a bunch of soft humans showing up in our part of the galaxy 100 million years from now. We need a people as fierce as we are and as tough.”

“Uh, huh.”

“So I’ve had him make some modifications. Not only will we introduce humans to this planet, but we will be creating several sort of genetic cousins for our species to compete with and dominate. Then, the new humans will be able to build a civilization as great as ours. So I need you to just replicate the kinds of things from our pre-historic past and then leave them to their own devices. Nothing too lavish. Just weaponry and some hunting paintings for those cave people. Well, better give them a pyramid or two for later and you know, hints about other weapons.”

He handed me a revised plan, which I read through quickly, because it was only three pages.

“Gregor, you are aware we are out here seeding this world because our own history shows that a failure to grasp the need to conserve and preserve resources can doom a world. I was specifically trained to create artifactual record and clues to guide the rising humans to avoid some the heuristic choices we ourselves made that led to the periods of wars, greed and the whole 50/50 age.

Huh? Whats the 50/50 age?

It’s what we artificers and historians call the post industrial age in which our world adopted a hyper-competitive social construct that led to a concentration of resources in the hands of a small number of people while the masses worked harder and harder under an illusion that they would some day achieve the success of the elite. However, that period also was seen as such an unstable one that the historian Drew Roberts said the chances of our species survival was 50/50 due to this imbalance.

Gregor said I was crazy. Those periods made us who we are and helped us create the Neutrino Pulse Drive and the Progenitor Ships. We were masters of our world and several others, he pointed out.

“But Gregor, if we do what you say, these people will probably get stranded out here on this planet and never achieve the pulse drive and develop the star ships we have. They might even end up fighting themselves out here without any real direction. And they only have 100 million years before they plow into the same asteroids that killed those giant beasts.

What did he say?

“We must protect our values, and do it at a low cost.”

As expected, I was convicted for the crime of the destruction of a human civilization. My sentence?

I am on my way now aboard Progenitor V back to the scene of my crime. I am to serve my life sentence on Earth alongside the doomed humans that ride this planet towards the same field of asteroids that wiped the slate clean and allowed us to plant their ancestors upon it.

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