Chief Bodon is well into his presentation at the meeting.
“The root of the difference appears to be in their atmospheric condition. If you look at the planet in the visible light spectrum, you notice that you can see all the way to the surface in some places. This difference has a subtle effect. It means that surface dwellers can look up and see the stars on almost every night. On most worlds, they look up and see only variations in clouds. The effect of seeing stars regularly has been to make these surface dwellers aware of an off-world environment almost from the beginning of their history. They are born understanding the many-worlds concept.
“On an average virgin world, if you tell an average citizen that there’s a big galaxy above their atmosphere they say, ‘A what?’ The people on this world went through that first consciousness-raising step a long time ago. They not only say ‘of course’, they have included the concept of other worlds in space all through their popular entertainment and religion.
“This means we are not bringing a revelation to these people. In spite of our technology and knowledge, we are not seen as gods by these people, we are seen as merely a tool for accomplishing something they have imagined for uncounted generations. Our role is enormously different from what it is on the average world.
“In conclusion, I would like to thank Mr. Krazley and Mr. Jax for their alertness to this difference. Had we continued on with business-as-usual, we would have gotten increasingly unpredictable results.”
La-Di-Da says, “Let me get this straight: You are saying our prediction tools will not work here? We are flying blind?”
“We are outside the bounds that our parameters usually deal with. The tools will make predictions, but they will be much less certain than we are used to. On the good side, we will be adding enormously to our database.”
Just like a goddamn scientist to think of that at a time like this! Every council member is thinking, “Unpredictable! And a Rendezvous is coming up. We know how to say ‘Cut bait’.”
I pose a devil’s advocate question. “Chief Bodon, what if we leave and come back? This is not a densely populated sector of the galaxy and Rendezvous will collect most of the local ships.”
“It’s not densely populated, but if we take twenty years ship-time to leave and come back, roughly 200 years planet-time will have passed. This world is not pre- or post-historic. Two hundred years during the historic era of a world changes the social parameters completely. It won’t be the same world when we come back. As a rough guess, given their view of the stars each night, they have a good potential to be a limited spacefaring species by the time we come back, and on their way to contributing to the Spacer community, just as we do. Or they could do what average civilizations do and either transcend the historic era without developing spacefaring, or blow themselves back into prehistory with some run-amok technology.
“As Administrator Jax is trying to imply, in all of these cases, the Tarrack-style exploiting opportunity is missed, and is very unlikely to be available to us upon return. We have to be here, now, if we are to exploit this opportunity.”
Finally, Bodon sounds at least a little greedy. It’s taken long enough!
I say, “Council members, we all know society is important. We have all seen ships that have been isolated for too long. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Furthermore, if we do this right, if we become a symbiote with this world, it will replace Rendezvous as a social stimulant. What can be more socially stimulating than total immersion in restructuring another species’ social perspective? If our people take ‘field trips’ while we do that, it will hugely satisfy our requirement for ‘other peoples, other ways’ experiences.”
“Yes, it will do that,” says La-Di-Da, “but that is only one of the requirements we grow deficient in. We are behind on genetic diversity and community lore as well. Face facts, Jax, we’ve been out of circulation for a long time now.”
“We have, Councilor, and if this was an ordinary world, I’d agree: We should either cull what we can quickly, or cut bait and leave. As the Councilmeister pointed out earlier, if these people had been post-historic, and had goods or colonists in stock, we would have conducted our business and been early to Rendezvous. If they had been prehistoric, we would have just flown by and not given them another thought. But they are not either. They are historic, and not just historic, but historic in a unique planetary circumstance: They see the stars!”
“Thank you, First Administrator Jax.”
Inwardly I cringed. By the Councilmeister using my full title, I was being censured, Planet Mode-style. He’d heard enough!
“Chief Bodon. How many people can we get on board in the next ten years?”
Bodon’s body language reeked of discomfort.
“This is an oddball world. Its people see stars—see them every time the sun is blocked by their world—night time they call it. They see them more than we do! Astronomy is one of the basic sciences taught to all people of this world, it’s not something esoteric like nuclear physics. Stars are in their religion! Every child growing up here is as star savvy as a spacer. You can’t expect these people to respond to us like the average planetary yahoo.”
“Have you ever had acne? Probably not, but I did when I was a teenager … something of a throwback in my hormonal makeup … anyway, my face and upper body was covered with sores, and sometimes they itched and stung. When the sores got old enough, I could ‘pop’ them. I’d squeeze them, and white pus would pop out, and they’d hurt like hell for a few minutes, and then they would start to heal up and go away. But I always wanted to pop them early … before they were ready. When I did that it was a disaster. I’d squeeze and it would hurt like hell, and only a little white would come out, or just some clear fluid. Worse, the sore wouldn’t go away after I tried to pop it; instead it would swell up to about three times the size it would have if I’d left it alone. Messing with one of those sores early never paid off, but that didn’t stop me from trying. God! I hated them!
“This world is like one of those sores. These colonists we want are pus from this world’s acne sores. If we try to squeeze them out too soon, we won’t get many, and we’ll inflame this world’s condition badly. If we mess these people up, they’ll hate themselves terribly for being such brutes to each other. And they’ll hate us outsiders for generations. Given their high awareness of space to start with, they could spread that hate to the stars one day. And if they do, watch out! Do we want that on our conscience? Do we want to hand that threat to our grandchildren?
“What I’m saying is: We either cut bait on this world now … before we do a thing … and head for Rendezvous. Or we plan on staying here for the duration: We symbiote with this world, and introduce them to the stars as responsible spacers should!”
My jaw dropped. This was Bodon saying this? Krazley I could see saying this, but Bodon? My respect for him went up a couple notches. I looked around, and I could see that the other Council members were equally surprised by this answer.
Loran finally spoke. “Let me get this straight, Chief Bodon. You are saying we have a moral obligation to help these people reach the stars? You are saying this, Chief Bodon?”
I can only imagine how Chief Bodon looked when he proposed to his wife, but when he answered, that is sure what I thought I was listening to.
“Yes. That’s what I’m saying. The more I look at the numbers from our tests, the more uncomfortable I get. These people are not responding normally.
“Keep in mind that these people have just conceived of genetic engineering, and they are still using chemical fuels for most of their energy production. And yet they have used these chemical fuels to launch hundreds of satellites into space. They have even launched some of their own kind into space! Most cultures are well into the Fusion Era before they begin proposing doing research in what is typically called super-atmospheric science—what this world calls ‘exploring space’.
“These scientists discovered quantum mechanics only a hundred years ago, and yet when I intimated to one of their citizens that the speed of light is constant and time can vary, he asked me in a patronizing way, ‘Well of course, what high school did you take science courses at?’ and he started telling me about black holes!
“These people are not standard. They are off every prediction chart I have. This is a one-in-a-million circumstance, and I have no idea, yet, as to how it will turn out. This place scares me. I, seriously, don’t think we can walk away from this place and rest easy at nights. We just don’t know what it can turn into.”
When he finished these words, the Chief sat down quietly and was looking into himself.
It was a while before La-Di-Da said, “All this fuss, just because this world has an atmosphere transparent in the visible light spectrum?”
Krazley replied, “It’s a one-in-a-thousand phenomenon on worlds with this much atmosphere, and only one-in-a-thousand of those are life-creating. This is not a common world.”
La-Di-Da snorted, “Rats! Why couldn’t we have just found a planet spouting diamonds from its volcanoes? It would have been so much simpler!”
“It could be simpler than that.” It was Krazley again, with a kind of amazed look on his face. “I just thought of this: This could be the original Spacer Homeworld! They could be ready to migrate again!”
We all sat in silence, pondering this.
I finally said, “If it is, this will be the biggest, most special Rendezvous the galaxy has seen in a long time.
“I take it that we are all in agreement that if this truly is Spacer Homeworld, we will stay and symbiote?”
Nods were all that was needed.
“Then let’s get planning what we do to confirm that, and what we do to get these people ready for their next Migration to the Stars.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Seeing Stars.It seems like such a small thing, but what a huge difference it could make in the course of a civilization.
Seeing the stars may be something very distinctive about living on Earth. After all, it’s the only planet in our solar system that has a significant atmosphere that is transparent in the visible light spectrum. If that rarity is typical in the galaxy, we may begin our starfaring much earlier in the civilizing process than other life forms on other planets.