Aphelion Issue 223, Volume 21
November 2017
 
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The Radical's Proposal

by David Kavanaugh




“Turn it off, you fools! Stop the transmission. You’ll scare them to death!” called out Choel.

Dius shrugged. “It won’t matter. The instruments are pointing ten billion miles off target by now.”

“If you say so.”

The students dragging the heavy device across the grass rolled their eyes at the two bickering old men. They finally positioned the machine before Dius and stood, cracking their backs and sighing. The probe had left a dirty groove in the lawn, running backwards in a jagged line all the way to the edge of the platform, where the groove dropped away, along with everything else, into the wide-open starscape.

Illy had been sitting in a patch of clover nearby, pulling up handfuls of the little leaves and tossing them over the edge, where they sizzled into green smoke upon striking the invisible shield. She turned her attention away from the scorched leaves and starry expanse, however, when she noticed the group of adults gathered around the machine. She rose, wiping futilely at the grass stains on her knees, and scurried over to her grandfather’s side.

“What is that, grandpa? It looks dirty,” she asked Dius, taking his hand.

Dius smiled widely. “It’s a kind of primitive space probe. It takes pictures and readings of planets and sends them back to its origin.”

She leaned in to examine to the probe, her brow furrowed in that intense concentration only children can really master. Her gaze gravitated towards a set of fading symbols towards the bottom.

“What language is that? It’s weird?”

“Terrestrial English.”

“What does it say?”

“Voyager.”

“What does that mean?”

“That’s its name.”

“Oh,” she gave the probe a hard look. “Hello, Voyager!”

The adults laughed lightly at her ignorance before returning to their whispered arguments about what the Council would do next. All but her grandfather, that is, who stared down at the thing with light in his eyes, wringing his hands and rocking slightly back and forth on his toes.

“Why doesn’t Voyager answer me?” Illy asked him.

“It doesn’t understand you, sweetheart. Think of it as a sort of rock that has learned to say a few words but doesn’t understand what they mean.”

“That’s stupid. Why would somebody make that?”

“Well, to us it’s stupid. But we didn’t make it. The humans of Earth did.” He leaned over and brushed a bit of hair from her forehead. “Have they taught you about Earth yet?”

She shrugged. “Is that the prison planet or something?”

His smile faded. “That’s not a very fair way of looking at it, if you ask me. Earth is… well…” He sighed. “I suppose I should begin at the beginning.”

“Duh. Everybody knows that that’s where you start a story.”

Dius laughed. “I wish my peers were as logical as you, Illy, it would make committee meetings far more bearable.”

Clearing his throat, he took her by the shoulder and lead her through the throng and over to a little grassy knoll. He turned and pointed out into the abyss of softly glowing stars.

“You see that bright point of light? Right there. That’s a star called the sun, and I first visited it some four and a half billion years ago.”

“That’s a long time ago.”

“Yes it is. At the time, its system was just coming into its own, but one of its little rocky planets caught my eye. I convinced the Council to let us start the process of preparing it for life. We brought water, built a moon and began seeding it with the organic materials. It was going very well.”

“There’s going to be a but, isn’t there?” interrupted Illy.

He nodded. “There’s always a but. So, it was going very well, but events transpired that would change the project dramatically. Sapienkind was going through a sort of… growth spurt, you see. And with it came many growth pains. We were transcending our animal roots and waking to our true potential. And one by one, we passed all the tests the universe had hurled our way. Our technologies let us change the very substance of reality. We could now make splashes in the fabric in the cosmos and ride the waves from one side of the galaxy to the other. And, what’s more to the point, we could perfect our bodies so that no one need ever die. That was both exciting and unsettling news.”

“Why?”

“It brought it a new set of challenges, and the one on people’s minds was what to do with all the… all the…”

Illy groaned. “All the what, grandpa?”

Dius scratched his chin. “There have always been those men and women, Illy, who are just different than others. Some of them are harmless, but others? Well, suddenly we not only had the great minds of humanity preserved for all time, but all of the demented ones as well. Violent, rebellious, malevolent people without limits. It was a flaw in our plan for the future: a unified, galaxy-wide society.”

“So what happened to them? The bad people?”

“The Council rounded them up. What else could they do? And a debate raged on for centuries as to what their fate would be. In the end, most saw no choice but to eliminate them, so that we might start the next phase of our existence with a clean slate.” He stopped at the questioning look Illy gave him and clarified. “Kill them. They were going to kill them, sweetheart.”

To his surprise, Lilly’s eyes sparkled and grinned.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“I think another but is coming.”

“Ah,” he said. “And you’d be right. They were going to be eliminated, but then a young man stepped forward with an alternative plan.”

“You?”

“Yep. I tossed out a new proposal, and when it was accepted, I was put in charge of the project.”

“You sent them to Earth, didn’t you?”

“Something like that. We took their essence, which would later on Earth be called their souls, and planted them on my blue planet. And when, after billions of years of evolution, a terrestrial creature was ready, the souls claimed their new homes.”

“What do they look like?”

“A bit like you and me. Similar genetic components after all. They have two eyes, though.”

“Only two eyes!” she gasped. “That’s silly. So what happened to them?”

“At first, very little. For a few hundred thousand years they existed in small numbers and simply lived their lives as intelligent animals, hunting and migrating and copulating and—”

“That means sex.”

Dius flashed a toothy grin. “Ahem. Right again. But then something happened. It was like they woke up from a deep sleep, and suddenly their societies blossomed like flowers in spring. And so fast! No one could believe it. Recently the advancement has proved to be nearly exponential! What took us millions of years of scientific inquiry and experimentation, they’ve accomplished in mere centuries. And the art? The poetry? The music! It’s been a renaissance of accomplishment unrivaled in our history. And it proved my point! That the outsiders— the broken souls— were the ones with the most to offer. They were the ones needing a fresh start.”

“So this is a happy story!” she announced, giggling with pleasure.

Dius shrugged. “Yes and no. Their history was not all haiku and symphonies and quantum mechanics. They are the best and worst of our species. Sometimes at the same time! The men and women of Earth have proved their imperfect nature time and time again, with acts so heinous they’d keep you up at night, and your mother would scold me terribly if she knew I had told you about them.”

“She scolds you anyway, grandpa.”

“That she does.”

He glanced at the probe. The others had slowly moved away and were now gathered about Choel, arguing viciously as they debated who would be the first to contact the Council with the news of the probe’s arrival.

Dius took Illy’s hand and lead her back down the slope.

“This!” he announced, stabbing a finger in the direction of the Voyager. “This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, Illy, the moment that cannot be ignored. You are watching history unfold today, my dear. The sun’s heliosphere is terrestrial man’s egg, and this, their eggtooth. And a few minutes ago when this thing broke free from the solar system and we caught it drifting by, those men and women— my little folk!— hatched. Of course, there is still the great expanse of interstellar space to be conquered, and that will prove to be a far greater struggle, but this will be enough to capture the Council’s attention. The people will demand action from them.”

Illy reached out and rubbed a finger along the rim of part of the probe. It came away with a bit of colored dust.

“What will happen to the Earth people?”

Dius exhaled slowly and his shoulders slumped. “Damned if I know. There will be those that say we must finally do the inevitable and extinguish them forever, but I think eventually they’ll come around. We’ve changed as a species. We’ve opened our minds. In a few centuries or so the Council will finally recommend contact. They’ll give them another chance. Then begins the journey of reintegrating them into our ranks, of sewing back on that long-ago amputated limb.”

“That’s dumb. Why not just talk to them now?”

Dius squeezed her hand. “That is what I would recommend.”

“Isn’t it your project?”

“Yes, but my opinion doesn’t carry enough weight. They don’t trust me entirely, you see.” He blushed, but more with pride than anything else. “You know those trouble makers they rounded up? I was one of them.”

“But you’re not evil.”

“No, but I’ve always been a bit of a malcontent in most people’s eyes, and my views were generally interpreted as radical. That was enough to scare people. It took me years of delicate politics to convince them to let me run the project and not be carted off with the others. I fear it will take at least as long to help influence these next steps.”

She groaned. “Ug! I don’t want to wait.”

“I’ve never been very patient either, Illy.” He leaned and whispered in her ear. “Don’t tell anybody this, but every now and then, I like to drop by Earth for a little visit. Sample some mead or coffee. Converse with the strangest of the strange. Whisper in their ears and in their dreams. I’ve had mixed results with those meetings, and frankly most of the portraits and statues they erect of me in their temples fail to do your handsome grandpa justice.”

He winked, and she giggled.

Listening to her laugh, Dius felt his chest grow warm.

“You know what, sweetheart? Forget the stupid Council!”

He looked around to make sure the others were still engrossed in their dialog, then began fidgeting with the machine, pointing it this and way and that. Finally, he pulled a little device from his pocket it and hooked it onto one of the Voyager’s panels.

“What’s that thingy?” asked Illy.

“It will translate audio into waves the probe can read. Tell me, Illy, can you say, ‘Good morning, friends’?”

She snickered at the silly sound of the alien words, but managed to repeat them.

“Good.” He took a deep breath. His teeth were chattering. “You ready?”

“Sure.”

“Okay then.”

Dius flipped the switch, then turned and nodded for his granddaughter to begin.

The radio waves flowed.

It would take sixteen minutes for the message to reach Earth. Sixteen minutes. Then everything would change.


THE END


2017 David Kavanaugh

Bio: Dave Kavanaugh recently traded in his sunny New Mexican home for a cozy, 17th-century flat in the rainy heart of the Netherlands, where he lives with his wife, three young daughters, and four middle-aged cats. His science fiction has appeared in Allegory and Voluted Tales, and his fantasy serial “Age of Omicron” can be read on the Ficitonite App.

E-mail: David Kavanaugh

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