A Short Talk about Earth
During his second year with us, Henry started pilot training. Jonas instructed him on how to manage all the Banga’s systems. Henry rarely communicated with non-whale members of the crew. Apparently, he only spoke to Uzi, for practical ship control reasons, and me when I worked on his transmitter.
The Save the Whales gang tried to talk to Henry. Sunshine swam with him many many times, but he never spoke with her via the transmitter.
After I completed Henry’s two-year tune up Jonas appeared. I climbed up on his back and lay looking out the glass roof of the lagoon beach. Watching the stars overhead.
“The whales like to come here to look at the stars as well. Henry tells me he’s been asking you about humanity and the Earth. I know you have many questions that the ship’s data banks probably won’t answer for you.”
He took in a large gulp of air through his blowhole and settled in the water. I think laying on Jonas’ back was the safest place on the entire ship. He really had an aura about him, if you believe in that kind of thing. I cleared my thoughts before I began.
“I know I’m not human, but feel that I am. I have such a solid memory of my life before. Though it does seem to pale in importance and relevance now that I know it was all Echo-1. I guess I have a part of me that feels like I should go to Earth and help the humans that still survive. I’ve learned so much and I feel like I could teach it to them. I also wonder, why didn’t they make it? Why aren’t humans in space? Why didn’t they develop spacefaring technologies in time to avoid natural disaster?”
I realized I was asking a lot of Jonas, but those were my questions and he asked.
“So, are you familiar with the Earth theory of the Drake Equation?”
Jonas paused and my no answer told him I wasn’t aware of it. He continued.
“It’s a mathematical formula for measuring intelligent life in the galaxy. It works well to take into account time and whether a species will evolve enough to make advanced technology. It also takes into account natural disasters and communication abilities. It does fall short in its vision to really predict the ability to become a spacefaring civilization. Which is, after all, the only real way to survive over time in nature. Planets will eventually die, suns and stars die too. Species can outlive their planet and their sun by becoming space travelers.
“The thing that the Drake Equation fails to look at is the number of habitable planets in a particular system, be it a single solar system, a binary system, or even a group of stars that form a larger system themselves. Think about the Varan system which you have recently visited. It is not unlike the Earth solar system. It has one sun, inner and outer planets, and an asteroid belt. It also has a primary species that evolved to become technologically advanced. The Varan, comparatively, had the perfect set up, planetarily speaking. Early on in their technological development, they discovered that Varanidi also had life. It was the second habitable planet in their system. This simple fact helped them tremendously as a species. They were motivated to travel to this other planet. It gave them a greater vision for themselves as a species and their place in the universe. They became explorers early on and colonized the second planet right away. Varanidi had life, but it didn’t have technologically advanced life. The Varan came to see themselves as the only advanced species, but they understood that life evolved naturally on different planets and they were motivated to find more. They completely explored their system. They found more life in the asteroid belt of all places and on the smaller moons as well. They continued to push the limits of exploration.
“They also had the benefit of superior physical development that allowed for extremely slow metabolism and extremely long lifespans. Over time they developed into the perfect space traveling species.”
Jonas blew air out and sprayed me with water.
“Of course think about the oddity of a cold-blooded species that loves warm swampy places traveling in the freezing dry cold of space. Their second world, Varanidi, was an ice world. When they colonized it, they adapted. They evolved physically over the eons. Now they can handle extreme cold without any problem. Their environment was perfect and they used it to their advantage.”
As Jonas talked to me I was playing through my experiences with the Varan thus far. They were an extremely interesting species. I wondered how the Inuit were doing on Varanidi. I thought about how much Blunt seemed to respect them. The Varan who had advanced so much as a species, who had traveled to the farthest reaches of the Milky Way, who’s very evolution seemed to point them in the direction of space travel, they prized the primitive. They held above all else, a unity with nature. They had transformed their homeworld into a primitive natural sanctuary for their species, even though an ultra-advanced space station orbited the planet. After thousands of years of space travel, the Varan would return home to live out their last years in harmony with nature. Their second planet with its epic mountain city made of diamonds in the snow was still mostly preserved as a simple natural ecosystem. They were certainly onto something, those Varan.
Jonas took a large suck of air in and continued.
“Now, Earth, on the other hand, is the only planet in the system that contained life, well as far as the humans knew. The Varans had been there of course as well as others. They helped take my species off the planet. You know I consider myself an Earthling. It’s my ancestral home. I suppose we share that same connection. Whales have been in space for more than 25,000 Earth years. Best not get too hung up on time as it is relative, and constant, I’ll have to try to explain that one to you one day, but for now I’ll just stick to Earth and what happened with the humans.
“Humans are very self-centered creatures as a whole. For the most part, they didn’t really connect to the available opportunities developing all around them. I mean they completely missed the boat, as it were, on the the fact that the greatest space navigators where their mammal cousins in the sea. The lack of reachable, nearby, other planetary life is something that eventually crushed them. The more they learned about the universe around them, the more alone they became and they turned in on themselves technologically. They didn’t develop the ships they would need to even move around their solar system effectively. They viewed the other planets as inhospitable and therefore had no reason to visit them. It is a huge commitment to go into space and it is, as you’ve experienced, an extremely dangerous place.
“The cost in lives and time is a big one, species generally need a catalyst to push them into the evolutionary step of space travel. You’d think survival would be good enough, but it isn’t. Just look at the dinosaurs of Earth, then take a look at the Varan. Now, of course, that isn’t totally fair as species have to navigate many different challenges if they want to survive. Systems with only a single planet where life develops have a much higher percentage of never making it to space travel. The galaxy is incredibly huge and the distances and technologies that need to be overcome are stupendous.
“A species almost needs to evolve in a system with neighbors that are detectable and reasonably reachable. That is the first step generally speaking of space travel. The first place you go is the place next to your home. If there is nothing there of interest or value to your species, then you probably won’t bother to go. Problems and issues at home will always outweigh visiting pointless barren rocks in space. Staying on one planet also stifles the galaxy-wide viewpoint that is absolutely necessary for a species to move out into the stars.”
Jonas paused there for a while and let it all sink in.
We never made it, not because we were inferior or stupid. We didn’t make it because the right environmental elements were not in place for us to adapt to it. Humans turned in on themselves and went crazy until they destroyed the planet. By the time they realized they needed to colonize Mars for their own survival it was too late. And Jonas was so right, people that believed in UFO’s were considered crackpots almost. Humans, feeling so self-important, didn’t bother to look anywhere but in the mirror. It made me want to distance myself from them. But I was torn. I knew there was, right then, a human colony struggling to survive on Mars.
“You are a very complex individual, Hands. I had no idea that an artificial entity could evolve out of my simulation and then truly take form in one of our synthetic units. You and the others plucked from the simulation have come into your own in such a complete way.
“I want you to know that you are most welcome to stay with me for the rest of your life. However, I know Mox is courting you to join his crew. He’s a solid captain and holds ten times the galactic experience I do. If you wanted to join his crew and make your way to Earth, I certainly wouldn’t hold that against you. In fact, I would like nothing more than for you to find and fulfill your destiny. After all, that’s what living beings do. The real story of my people started when we were removed from Earth, I think your story started when you found your way out of my program.”
Jonas bobbed up and down in the water. He was done talking to me. I jumped off him and dove under. I looked into his giant eye.
“I’ll let you know if I make any big decisions.”
I started to swim to the shore.
“You have a great choice ahead, you get to choose who your family will be.”
I turned swimming backward and watched Jonas casually moved away from me. He returned to the depths of the Banga’s inner sea and, as usual, the last thing I saw was the red tips of his fluke.