Chapter Two of The Start of EternityEdit
The legend of Trevize became one of the most popular folk stories of the late Foundation Era... -Encyclopedia Galactica
Just then, Wilry and Daanour arrived. They were wearing their formal Guild uniforms and were ready for the mandatory formal dinner. Wilry called across the dining hall to Lorn-Kru and Fint, "You better get dressed for dinner."
Lorn-Kru could no longer delay. "Yes, I know. I've been enjoying the opportunity to relax here since I had such a long day running around off the ship and then ate a late lunch. It's tempting to ignore protocol and just remain here in my casual clothes. Or maybe I'll just go back to my cabin and fall asleep."
Daanour signaled to Jeed for a drink then turned to Lorn-Kru, "Surely you are making poor jokes. The Captain will almost certainly use this gathering to start sketching plans for how to find the human home world....you do not want to miss that. Didn't you read my report about the human legend of Trevize and his search for Earth?"
Lorn-Kru replied, "I remember seeing the title of that report, but what is 'Earth'?"
Daanour explained, "Earth is one of the names of the legendary home world of the human species."
Fint admitted, "I only skimmed your report, Daanour. As I recall, you indicated that dozens of different worlds are recognized by human historians as possibly being the human home world."
Daanour corrected that idea, "No, not different worlds, alternative names. This is one of the strong pieces of evidence that the legend of Earth might hold some elements of historical truth. Home planets of species generally have many names derived from the diversity of languages that arise during the pre-technological development of such worlds."
Daanour continued, "The dozens of different worlds that you might be thinking of are the worlds of this galaxy with rich biological ecosystems. But according to the human biologists, life on none of those worlds has the molecular signature of humans."
Lorn-Kru asked, "Okay, so there is one legendary human home world with multiple names, but who was this 'Trevize'?"
Wilry cut in and demanded of Daanor, "Yes, I wish you would explain that. Your report claimed that Trevize lived at most about five hundred years ago, but he has already degenerated into the stuff of legends. How can human record keeping be so poor as to have the historical record evaporate so quickly and degenerate into rumor and legend?"
Daanour had no good answer for that question. "That I do not know. Most galaxies take pride in charting their development and identifying their most ancient worlds and home worlds of their various intelligent species. In any case, the humans seem to not believe anything about their own Earth legends. For most humans, Earth is just a legendary concept, something to build children's stories around. Any individual linked to Earth, such as this 'Tevize', is automatically assumed to be a legendary or invented figure, not a real person."
Wilry objected, "But your report included biographical information on Trevize."
Daanour explained, "I spoke with human historians who easily accessed computerized records to show that Trevize was an actual person. Unfortunately, no such objective records exist for Earth itself, but the legend says that Trevize did visit Earth."
Fint complained, "It's a useless legend, then. We know there is a human home world, it might be called Earth, but the humans do not know where Earth is. We need science not myth. It should be possible to use genetics to chart the past migrations of humans through the galaxy and trace humans right back to their world of origin."
Wilry agreed, "We could do so if given access to enough planets, but it seems clear that there has been and continues to be an organized effort to hide the human home world. Hopefully the Captain has a plan for cracking this conspiracy to hide the truth about human origins."
Fint tugged Lorn-Kru away from the table and they went to dress for the formal dinner ceremony. Both chose to dress in Fint’s cabin as that gave more chances of sensuous and tactile pleasure. Lorn-Kru muttered as sensitively she helped thon put formal robes on, "Maybe Earth was destroyed long ago and this whole search is wasted effort. I've seen planets that had been blasted by atomic wars or ruined by biological disasters. These humans might simply be ashamed of a violent past in which they destroyed entire worlds."
Fint cringed at that idea. "You might be correct, but if that is what happened then we should be able to find some record of that destruction.” At this point Lorn-Kru placed an item of formal robe onto Fint’s sensitive column, and made sure thon brushed repeatedly against her sexual organs, Fint continued, “Daanour's reports stressed the idea that the legend of Earth does hint at a catastrophe of some type. But hurry and let's finish dressing. The Captain may have plans to share important information over dinner, so let's not be late."
By the time Lorn-Kru and Fint had changed clothes and returned to the dining room the rest of the crew was already assembled there, except for Alkeirs. Captain Hooski was waiting rather impatiently and started making thons remarks even before Lorn-Kru reached a chair. "As Captain, it is my practice to assemble my crew both at the start of each voyage and at the end. The estimated duration of this voyage is only two weeks, but I want us to make it a productive time."
"During the next few days I will be meeting with each of you individually to discuss your futures on this mission and with the Guild. I'm sure you noticed that Alkeirs is not here: that was my choice. We have Social Engineering Guild business to attend to, and Alkeirs is not a member of the Guild, and besides, Alkeirs detests these ancient meal rituals." The Captain sat down.
Jeed and a group of other robots started serving the traditional meal of a formal ship dinner, a carefully defined ritual that had been passed down through millions of years, from all the way back when Hooski's species, the Huaoshy, had been the first and only space-faring species.
The Captain's comments triggered a quiet buzz of muttering and questions among the crew. Hooski, at the head of the table and somewhat isolated from the crew, sat silently. Lorn-Kru was startled by Hooski's announcements. As a Veteran of a hundred voyages, Lorn-Kru had never heard a formal dinner begun in this way. Of course, this was only the sixth time Lorn-Kru had served under a Huaoshy captain, so most of thons previous voyages were more routine than this mission and not particularly relevant for making comparisons. Any voyage with a Huaoshy captain could be expected to have some special importance, but what kind of "business" could justify excluding a designated Observer from a formal dinner? Could anything justify such a blatant violation of protocol and tradition? Formal dinners usually provided an opportunity for captains to give congratulations to teams on completed missions and make announcements of promotions and for other routine matters.....what was this ominous and mysterious "Guild business"?
When the first course had been served, the Captain spoke again. "I thank all of you for the professionalism with which you did your work on Tokishira. Particularly, we should thank Lorn-Kru for making a heroic final effort today to move us past the refusal of the humans to allow us freer movement in this galaxy. Now we are done with asking humans to cooperate. Be assured, it is my intention to visit any human planet I want to visit. It is not my intention to antagonize the humans, but we have a job to perform."
The dinner continued. Attempts were made to get either the Captain or Astrogator Fint to explain what the new course of the Many Sails would be, but neither of them would say. After the second course, Hooski rose and again formally addressed the crew, "Some of you may have been speculating about how the crew for this mission was selected. First, all of you have been the subject of critical personnel reviews by the Social Engineering Guild. By "critical", I mean that Guild supervisors have made the judgment that you are all of questionable future value to the Guild."
The Captain's words were met with a startled silence as the crew members looked around the table at each other. The Captain continued, "Yes, look around at your peers. I suspect that each of you has been thinking that you were somehow unusual in your personal dissatisfaction with the Guild, but that is not the case. You are all unhappy with the Guild in particular and the course of your life in general. You may have been feeling a sense of shame or disillusionment, but such feelings are not unusual for members of highly genetically modified species. Yes, all of us biologicals on this ship are members of species in the top ten percent of highly gene modified species. You might wonder: who cares?"
The Captain paused and let each crew member think about the implications of the types of radical genetic modifications that had been performed on their species. "Well, as members of the Social Engineering Guild you are all more aware than most people of the purpose of genetic engineering as it is practiced within our culture. Our diverse intergalactic civilization is constantly striving to create the conditions for harmonious and peaceful galactic cultures. You all know well the Fundamental Theorem of Species Diversity. Across millions of years and tens of thousands of galaxies conditions have proved the soundness of the policy for engineering galactic civilizations composed from diverse mixtures of species. Yes, conflicts and incompatibilities do arise, but we can always adjust and modify the species balances to restore healthy patterns of synergistic inter-species cooperation. This is the basis of the remarkable stability of intergalactic culture down through many long millions of years. You have all learned to take the stability of our civilization for granted, but I assure you, it is a highly unnatural and unstable situation! It took my species a very long time to perfect a regulatory system that allows for corrections to the never-ending occurrence of new social imbalances."
Lorn-Kru was not surprised by the Captain's line of reasoning. Lorn-Kru had gradually reached the conclusion that certain species, including thons own, were more of a liability than others in terms of the goal of supporting galactic harmony. It was certainly possible to engineer a species for a particular purpose and in so doing produce unwanted side effects.
The Captain continued, "So, if unstable, how has our intergalactic culture survived unbroken across millions of years? A key part of the answer is: there is a safety valve. Does the concept startle you? It is a secret, hidden away from countless trillions of people who live in the known galaxies. Let me tell you how the "safety valve" works. When people become unhappy with our endlessly stable and carefully engineered intergalactic culture then they are kicked out! In fact, that is the "Guild business" I mentioned: each of you was terminated from your position in the Guild before this mission began. I see none of you are particularly surprised or alarmed. You may even feel relieved. Good! Now, then, what comes next for you poor castaways?"
Captain Hooski sat back and let the robots serve the last course of the meal. Lorn-Kru speculated, "There must be something about this mission, something you have not told us, that you would normally be unable to tell Guild members. Probably something, some secret, that is not told to most people because that knowledge would disrupt the harmonious cultural conditions that the Guild works so hard to maintain."
Fint asked, "Isn't knowledge of the "safety-valve" enough? The whole teetering structure of intergalactic culture might crumble if people knew there was a way out. But people see no exit, imagine no way out, so they remain happy within its confines."
Daanour had been made uneasy by the idea of this secret and the casual way the Captain had shared it. "But this means we can never go back. There can be no risking that we might spread this information to others. So what becomes of us now?"
Wilry asked, "And why share this secret with us now in the middle of this mission?"
Captain Hooski replied to Daanour, "You are not totally cut-off from your pasts. If you want to go back to your homes and visit family and friends you may do so. You should not fear that anything you know will spread like a cancer within galactic culture. Should you choose to live among those who do not know the secret you now know, you will find that you are unable to tell them about the secret. But you are not only positioned to leave behind the culture you have known.....there are exciting new options available to you within an entirely new culture that is waiting for you on this side of the secret. In the next few days I will discuss your futures with each of you individually."
The formal dinner came to an end and the Captain left the dining room. Lorn-Kru was particularly puzzled by one comment from the Captain: "you will find that you are unable to tell them about the secret." Lorn-Kru wondered: would they all be sworn to some oath not to speak about what they knew?
Fint started speculating about the "new options". She said, "Over the years, I've become increasingly sure that improvements in basic technologies like the hyperdrive should be possible. Yet genetic science, robotics, and spaceship design remain unchanged, have not changed for millions of years."
Daanour commented, "I'm not a technologist, but everyone is taught that the golden age of scientific discovery and technological advance ended long ago. The details are lost in the ancient past, but surely any great technological discovery that could be made was made in the distant past."
Fint agreed, "Yes, that is what 'everyone knows', but given what Captain Hooski told us, we have to accept that the intergalactic society we have known all our lives is in some sense a lie. It is an artificial construct that functions for a desired purpose. Here is an example: the Eternal Life cultists. Across many galaxies there is the same phenomenon, belief that eternal life, or at the very least, extended life spans is possible. But what if stable galactic culture depends on short life spans?"
Wilry demanded, "Are you suggesting that there is some technology that could give us eternal life?"
Lorn-Kru then noticed Jeed standing nearby. The other robots had efficiently cleared away the ceremonial dinner ware and departed, but Jeed remained, refilling glasses and attending to the needs of the crew. "In some sense, robots already have eternal life. Jeed, how old are you?"
Jeed moved close to the table where the crew was seated. "I retain access to personal memories going back over two hundred thousand years. Of course, I have access to collective robotic stores of memories that go back far longer."
Fint asked, "Do you consider yourself to be immortal?"
Jeed replied, "No, some day I will be destroyed. Accidents do happen. Maybe I will be destroyed today if your hyperspace navigation is faulty."
Fint suspected the robot was trying to make a joke. "You know that Many Sails does those calculations. Don't you trust your fellow artificial life forms?"
Hearing its name mentioned, the ship entered into the conversation. "Jeed is trying to activate your emotions and distract you from your line of questioning."
Lorn-Kru said, "I don't care if artificial life forms are essentially immortal, but Jeed, I'm shocked to learn that you have been keeping secrets from me. I now order you to tell me any other secrets you know!"
Jeed held thons anterior tentacles up in a gesture of helplessness. "I've worked with Captain Hooski for a long time, and I'm forced by my programming to support the interests of the Huaoshy."
Lorn-Kru complained, "But you knew before I did that I had been kicked out of the Guild, yet you said nothing to me. The same goes for you, Many Sails."
Jeed denied it. "Not so. Captain Hooski does not tell me all these little secrets. I heard about that during dinner, just like you."
Wilry asked, "How about you, Many Sails. Are you going to deny knowing anything?"
The ship replied, "It's not polite of you to ask these questions. We all serve at the pleasure of the Huaoshy. But yes, I get to see the Captain's communications with the Huaoshy chain of command. I knew that you had been selected for this mission because your time with the Guild was over. I also knew that the Captain would tell you when the time was right. There is no need for you to be resentful."
Fint was not satisfied. "The problem is, Jeed, how am I going to trust you or any other robot when I now know that you keep secrets from me. It makes me feel like a puppet and I do resent it. And Many Sails, if you don't understand that we biologicals do get resentful then you should shut up and not try to lecture us about our emotions." Fint stormed out of the dining room.
Lorn-Kru followed Fint as she left the dining room and called after her, "Do you think it's productive to get mad at the artificial intelligences?"
Fint stopped and hugged Lorn-Kru. "No, that was silly, but I was truly in an emotional state and not thinking about how to deal with the machines. Really, it is healthy for me to let these things out rather than bottle them up."
Lorn-Kru could accept that. "Fine. I guess that Jeed and Many Sails probably both know how to let the emotional outbursts of biologicals flow and dissipate. For me it's more of an intellectual exercise. I've always assumed that artificial life forms are our servants, and by "us" I mean everyone in our intergalactic civilization. I do not like the idea that I have to start thinking of robots in terms of serving just the Huaoshy, but now that I know this is our basic reality, I hope I can find ways to live with it.....that is, if I can get over the shame of having thought otherwise for so many years.
Fint agreed. "I feel like I just woke up from a dream. How could I have ever thought of the Huaoshy in any terms other than they as the master and the rest of us as the puppets?"
Lorn-Kru refused to let go of Fint and went with her to her cabin for a second time. Lorn-Kru was thankful to not have to get through that night alone.
The next day Lorn-Kru had thons private meeting with Captain Hooski. When they met, the Many Sails had already made its first jump through hyperspace and Fint had already shared with the rest of the crew their destination. Earth. She had explained, "It's another Huaoshy secret. They've known all along where Earth is located."
After the revelations of the previous day, Lorn-Kru was not surprised to learn that Hooski had hidden such important information from the crew. Lorn-Kru muttered, "I wonder what other surprises await me."
Fint said, "Well, just so that you do not feel that I have tried to hide this from you, I'll tell you something else...a little detail. Our ultimate destination is Earth but we are going to another galaxy first."
Lorn-Kru was shocked. "What? Why should we go to another galaxy when we have traveled so long to reach this one? We're here now, let's finish this now!"
Fint explained, "Well, it's not all that much of a detour. We are going to a mini-galaxy that is close to us."
Lorn-Kru asked, "And what is so special about this mini-galaxy?
Fint did not know. "Hooski did not tell me. You can ask when you have your meeting with the Captain."
Much of Lorn-Kru's meeting with the Captain did concern the explanation of how Earth's location was known to the Huaoshy. Hooski said, "I trust you are adapting to the idea that we Huaoshy are good at keeping secrets from most people. My species long ago created a fiction, a story that is told to the people of all the many galaxies. Part of that story concerns the process by which we Huaoshy spread through the universe from galaxy to galaxy. You know that we travel outwards to the fringe of explored space. For example, about seven million years ago the first Huaoshy reached this galaxy and genetically engineered local species like the humans, converting them to a more Huaoshy-like forms that would be likely to evolve into a technology-using species."
Lorn-Kru noded, "Yes, that is what everyone is told."
Hooski continued. "And we 'say' that we seed galaxies in that way and then move on, leaving the modified species to evolve and mature. However, that is not the full truth. We always leave behind robotic Observers who monitor the development of the genetically modified species in a galaxy. In fact, genetic modifications continue to be made over millions of years and with time, the rates of development of the various species in the galaxy are adjusted, modified and synchronized. Care is take to make sure that many different species develop space travel and start to colonize the galaxy, all at about the same time. Can you guess why this is kept secret?"
Lorn-Kru suggested, "Well, it seems this is part of what you described as the "unnatural and unstable situation".
Hooski acknowledged that. "Exactly. We do not want it to be known how carefully we engineer galaxies so that they become multicultural mixtures of species from several worlds. In ancient Huaoshy history we did not bother to do that. Many galaxies were seeded and then left to fall into the hands of any species that developed quickly. We eventually learned that when a single species controls an entire galaxy it becomes a problem....it becomes much more difficult to form such galaxies into a unified inter-galactic culture."
Lorn-Kru said, "Oh, yes, I see...a species that controls all of its home galaxy will not know how to interact constructively with other species."
Hooski explained, "And this is what we face here in this galaxy. Humans control the entire galaxy and they are not friendly towards outsiders."
Lorn-Kru asked, "What went wrong here? How did humans come to control the whole galaxy?"
Hooski replied, "In this case, humans developed space travel very quickly, before any of the other species in the galaxy."
Lorn-Kru was puzzled. "But what about your system of adjusting rates of cultural development and synchronizing things?"
Hooski looked away and was silent for a long time. "This is a great source of Huaoshy shame. Our Observers of Earth were defeated....something that has never happened before in tens of thousands of galaxies."
Lorn-Kru was starting to understand just how special this mission was. "Wait, now. Are you saying that primitive humans simply defeated you Huaoshy?"
Hooski nods. "Essentially that is true. At the time of the original defeat it was only a defeat of our robotic Observers, but then Huaoshy were alerted. However, even the Huaoshy who rushed back to this galaxy were unable to do anything but watch while humans spread and took control of the entire galaxy."
Lorn-Kru now understood how Earth's location was known. "So it is not as if we are returning to this galaxy now, with all information about the seeding of this galaxy lost in the past...seven million years in the past of the original Huaoshy explorers who long ago migrated outwards and away from here in search of even more distant galaxies to seed. You Huaoshy have an unbroken seven million year record of Earth's development! The location of Earth has never been a secret from you."
Hooski acknowledged that this was the case. "Yes. By going to Tokishira and asking the humans about their home world we tried to create the impression that we do not know where Earth is."
Lorn-Kru asked, "But what difference does it make? The humans do not remember their own origin world. Why bother to pretend that you do not know?"
Hooski explained, "Someone wants to hide the location of Earth. We want them to relax their defensiveness and let us visit Earth. If we seem ignorant, they might let their guard down."
Lorn-Kru felt slightly ridiculous. Surely the humans would not be fooled by such games. Thon suspected that the Captain was not telling the whole story even now. Lorn-Kru changed the subject and asked, "So, if I have been tossed out of the Guild, who do I work for now?"
Hooski replied, "Right now, you work for yourself. I'm trying to determine if you can work with me."
Lorn-Kru was still stinging from thons realization that thon had been an ignorant puppet of the Huaoshy for thons whole life. Did Hooski really expect thon to just continue as if nothing had changed? "What if I want to quit?"
Hooski did not seem surprised by the question. "I'm not interested in forcing you to participate in this mission to Earth. If you are not intrigued by the mystery of Earth and self-motivated, then I will just drop you off at a Huaoshy base."
Of course, Hooski had probably calculated well enough that Lorn-Kru's intellectual curiosity about a Huaoshy defeat at the hands of the humans should dominate over thons limited potential for emotional response and resentment over having been lied to. "Oh, it's interesting enough, but I'm trying to picture my future...how will this assignment to Earth fit into my long-term future?"
"That is simple enough....If I'm pleased with your work you get a good evaluation from me and other interesting projects will be open to you."