by Tala Bar
Chapter 5: Visions of Earth
part 1 of 2
Nine people — five women and four men — aboard the starship Incentive flee a catastrophe on Earth and head for the colony planet Astria. Swept off course, the Incentive lands on a hot, desolate planet, which the travelers name Lunari. They realize they must change radically in order to survive, and to do that they will need all their ingenuity as well as guidance from others...
On the ship, Nogah sat at the terminal with some trepidation.
“Her name is Gahn, and you’ve done much harder things than talk to a philosopher,” Lilit encouraged her.
“I understand they don’t use words at all, so how am I to converse with her?”
“The computer will turn her thoughts to words for your sake, as it will turn your words into her system of shapes and colors,” Lilit explained. “Each of you can use your own mode of expression. I’ll leave you now. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how to communicate with an intellectual.”
She was gone, and Nogah tentatively pressed the keys for “Hi, Gahn, how are you?”
The exchange of greetings was short, because Gahn plunged immediately into an observation. “I hoped so much but never thought I would see it. Strangers! People from a different world! Most members of our society never even imagine there are other worlds!”
“Our main world — humans’, I mean — is Earth, where we developed through evolution and where we have now come from. It is very different from Lunari. We’ve called this planet after Earth’s moon, you know...”
“Listen,” Gahn interrupted her, not particularly interested in the physical side of things, “I don’t know what ‘Moon’ is, but what I am interested in is what makes the world — the human world, I mean — go round, so to speak. Are you familiar with ideas on that subject?”
“That’s the main thing I deal with — I have studied many aspects of social relations, but basically, the history of human society. I would love to hear from you about your own society. It seems to me, with your telepathic communication, it should be an open, forcibly honest society with no possibility of lying, hidden thoughts, or any way of social deviation. I should think it was the ultimately perfect society!”
Gahn made an expression, which was transferred to Nogah as “Ha!”
“You don’t agree?” Nogah asked after a short pause.
“Perfection is such a tall order. And I don’t know other societies I could compare with. We have our faults, you know. Can you tell me something about your own society? I understand, for instance, that all of you on that ship belong to something called a ‘family’. What is that?”
“The family unit is a group of people created for the main purpose of breeding — rearing children — and is the basis of any and every human society that has existed since the first humans on Earth.”
“Rearing children? Ours are bred by specialists in the Incubator. I suppose that’s the reason that, besides the professional breeders, we don’t bother with it much on Lunari.”
Nogah shivered. “But the family framework gives children much love in their first stages of life, when they need it most. Are you telling me that they spend this particular period in the incubator?” She decided not to comment further for the time being.
Gahn continued with her questioning, not noticing her blunder. “But tell me, I understand, from your very existence, that we — the sole creatures on Lunari — did not originate on this planet but came, as you did, from that place you call Earth... Of course, it makes sense, because we’re the only living creatures here, but it also forms food for thought and speculation.”
Nogah was puzzled. “I don’t understand why you don’t know all that. I’m sure all the information has been incorporated in the computer’s memory — or what do you call it? Your Controller.”
“But we haven’t been allowed to approach the Controller for generations! I’ll have to talk to Oul about that.”
“In the meantime,” Nogah asked, not knowing how to regard Gahn’s last words, “can you answer me one question? What is the core of your society, then, if there are no families?”
“The individual, of course. Individuals go through a very severe genetic selection before being allowed to develop. They are as close to perfection as possible. But as I said before, perfection may be a goal that can never be completely achieved.”
The two thinkers dived into an exchange of descriptions of their different conditions of living.
Nogah pondered for a while before she commented, “You don’t mate, then; you never have sex...”
Nogah received a message of Gahn’s abhorrence of such physical closeness, which she felt intuitively, rather than understood intellectually.
“Soul-mating can be such a satisfying experience!” Gahn added, recalling her last one with a kin-minded philosopher.
Nogah, remembering her own physical experiences, blushed slightly. Nothing would induce her to agree with the woman on the other side of Time...
“What about Lunari’s leadership?” She was diverting the conversation; there was a time when she compared various political systems existing on Earth before all life and civilization had been eradicated on it. How could they ever bridge over the emotional differences between Earth and Lunari’s people, she asked herself.
“The Controller is our only leader,” Gahn replied, drawing her conclusions about the subject with the help of the computer. “All rules for living come from it, with our Guides and Councilors teaching us how to apply them to our lives. Oul, for instance, is one of those, entitled Councilor of Education.”
“Are these Councilors appointed or elected?”
“They are appointed by the Controller, according to their merits of abilities and character.”
“Then you’re really ruled by a computer! That’s a first, indeed!”
“As far as I understand, it was you who had arranged it to be so!” Gahn pointed out, and added, “Actually, I have expressed myself much about that subject, both in the Academy and to the High Council, but we haven’t found yet any better arrangement. Maybe we’ll learn something from you now,” she added with a mixture of resentment and jeering, which Nogah found both distasteful and engaging.
“There must be a better arrangement for you to use the computer, I’m sure,” Nogah said. “Perhaps it was our descendants who blocked — will block — your use of it. And perhaps there was — will be — a good reason for it. I’ll talk to the Family about it and try to transfer to you some ideas about the proper ways of leadership. At least, perhaps this is the right time for the Controller to be open to your observations and learning. I find the situation you’ve described to me utterly impossible!”
With much to think and talk about, the two women parted, turning back each to her own world.
* * *
“You know, Nan, I don’t quite believe in this telepathic communication with the future,” said Leshem, poring over the microscope.
Nan, having received some results of their examination of Lunari’s ground on the computer terminal and used them for various calculations, said, “I haven’t given it much thought one way or another.”
Lyish, though, working on his own terminal on the other side of the laboratory, said, a little more critically than was his habit, “That’s because you prefer to deal with material things rather than the elusive stuff of dreams and visions, Leshem.”
The laboratory was well equipped for scientific study on their prospective planet; they were now experimenting on various ways of combining the planet’s sterile stuff with organic matter taken from their own bodies and from the plants on board. Leshem thought the effect should be quite interesting as well as useful.
“You’ve been talking to one of Them, haven’t you?” The physicist turned with a trace of accusation to the biologist. Why should he be more open-minded that she was? The thought nagged in her mind.
“I suppose we are Them... for them,” Lyish remarked. “But your turn will come as well, and I hope you’ll enjoy that meeting — it’s really one of a kind,” he promised.
Leshem twisted her beautiful face into an attractive grimace.
“I wouldn’t mind at all meeting these people,” said Nan, surprisingly. As to being open-minded, she had always been as interested in meeting new people as in having new rocks to investigate.
“I’m going to fetch more stuff from the Garden,” Lyish said. At least, as long as the vegetation was still holding, it was a good source of organic material for the compounds they were trying to create.
The silence of concentration fell between the two women, until Nan cried out suddenly, “Hey, what’s that?”
“What?” Leshem turned to her, dropping a fine tool. “Look what you’ve made me do!”
“Look at the screen!”
A strange, white-blue beam of light appeared, moving here and there as if searching for something.
“What the hell...”
A string of letters appeared, gradually arranging themselves into a line of words, “Who’s there interrupting my work?”
“What do you think it is?” Leshem asked, trying to lighten up her apprehension with a jesting attitude.
“I think it must be the Other People,” Nan answered quietly.
“Let me,” Leshem ordered the younger woman, who cleared the seat for the physicist to sit at the monitor. Leshem started manipulating the keys. “What do you want?”
“It’s what you want that I’d like to know,” came the rude answer.
* * *
Shahm sat at the computer terminal, his fingers rapidly moving over the face of the monitor, activating the machine with the energy flowing from his brain through his fingertips; he was concentrating on his usual line of work, trying to ignore the various ideas and suggestions sent at him from the people in the area.
Everybody always thought they knew best, but he knew only his own ideas were good enough for the solution they were seeking. He and the machine were working together as one entity — that’s why he could not understand the deviations manifesting themselves before him now.
At first, he was just slightly annoyed. A couple of odd numbers appeared on the screen, which did not belong to his calculations; then, a strange wavy motion in the pattern, which distorted his ideas, disappearing as soon as they had appeared.
He dismissed them again as a computer glitch, but then he remembered Oul’s words, and this time he waited to see if anything more coherent happened. The interference persisted, half formulas and equations changed their character right in front of his eyes. Then the drawings for the job he was working on changed. An odd shape appeared, which he had never seen before, could not even give a name to.
Am I going out of my mind? he thought, suddenly afraid in case the thought was projected to his audience. Insanity, a deviation of mind from what was considered the ‘norm’, was the one basic crime recognized by Lunari’s inhabitants, punished in the one way known to these perfect people — elimination.
“What’s the matter, Shahm? Is something in your calculations going wrong?” somebody asked, while the others looked on silently, wondering.
“No, no.” He quickly demonstrated some comforting thoughts. “But I’ll have to work on it longer than I had in mind.”
With a shaking hand and a quivering mind he dismissed them from his presence. ‘I must be on my own to work out the problems,’ he told them, satisfied to see them obeying his request.
When they had gone, reluctantly, Shahm was better able to concentrate a determined mind on the screen. He let his hands off the monitor, as their energy had been for some time directed to it to no avail; he continued to sit, watch and absorb, thinking something might transpire in the end.
After a while a picture appeared on the screen, so astonishing that for a long time he could not believe his eyes. He saw a construction quite unfamiliar to him, gradually taking shape on the monitor.
It was smooth all over, having a bright, metallic surface — not unlike human skin, as he knew it, only this one was particularly monochromatic, with no personal sheen as human skin usually had. Its form certainly did not look human, or like any machine he had ever known.
As Shahm was wondering about its size, the measurements suddenly appeared on the screen. It was the largest object Shahm had ever known, bigger than any building on Lunari.
Then the neutral, gray background of the computer’s monitor started changing, turning as dark a color as Shahm had ever seen. In this ‘darkness’? — the term actually popped into his mind — little dots of light appeared, with his immediate recognition of their name as if he had known it all his life — ‘stars’. But he did not know what ‘stars’ were...
Where are these terms coming from, appearing in my mind? he thought, suddenly realizing as if he had known it all the time — from the Controller, of course! The Controller of all life on Lunari was now passing this mysterious information to him!
The picture stayed on the screen for some time, as if allowing Shahm to get used to it. Then he noticed the structure was constantly changing its position in relation to the stars in the blackness, as if moving. “This thing is moving,” he commented to himself.
“Yes,” he received in his mind, “it is a spaceship.”
Both words and their concepts were so wonderfully strange to Shahm that he boggled. “Space? Ship? What are those things?” After a moment of reflection he added, “Is that you, Controller?”
“Indeed, and who else? I am showing you how the Ancients came to Lunari.”
“The Ancients! But that’s not possible! Where could they have come from?” Shahm was not used to pondering about the unknown; in fact, he rejected the very idea of the existence of something unknown and strongly objected to others’ believing in it. His world had always been ordered and clear, its images connected only with things that could be seen. The new ideas he had been exposed to lately were very disturbing to his regular mind, upsetting his whole essence.
“You’ll be connected now.”
He received the Controller’s mysterious message, and the screen turned blank.
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Tala Bar