Carl had grown ambivalent through time to the exploration of earthlike planets. His training was in the humanities and languages and it seemed through the years he was more dead weight than a useful tool. Of course the years did not seem like years but he knew the earth he had known had withered to be replaced by something of a different nature than he had grown up with. Since they were many light years away they could only receive years old updates and video from earth. The home planet had never reached an apocalypse but did have significant climate and extinction events. The artificial intelligence had taken control of the weather, energy production and manufacturing which left a virtual cornucopia as far as consumerism was concerned but repairs to the ecosystem and species reconstruction would take at least as long as this trip was scheduled to last.
They intermittently slept and explored with some destinations preset and some unscheduled due to new observations as they traveled. His ambivalence was the contrast between the exquisite beauty and excitement of exploring a new planet and the disappointment at not finding answers from older and wiser inhabitants which was the very heart of Fermi’s Paradox. The Fermi Paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations. At the chance that these civilizations existed but were communicating in other unrecognizable ways or declining to communicate at all was the basis for this mission.
The violet sky was disorienting and the plants grew almost perceptibly. The crunching beneath his feet on the trail reminded him of the freeway at five o’clock traffic jam of hard shelled and soft shelled insects out to trim that plant growth.
White light from the gas giants that had grown large enough to become tiny stars themselves sped across the sky. Carl and the rest of the crew was jumpy at first from movement of shadows from multiple light sources. The sound of the waves on the deep purple ocean was unlike any he had seen as they seemed unguided and confuses as they were tugged by multiple sources of gravity. Beautiful but the currents and the aquatic life would assure that any swimming land animal would never return to the light brown sparkling beaches.
Since it had rained this morning as it always seemed to the dead fast growing vegetation did not crunch like the insects. He had slept on the ground the previous night because temperature at night varied little and since there was light from multiple sources it was never really dark at all. The plant life was beyond anything on earth as far as size and variability. The jungle canopies were nearly a thousand feet high and the bases of the trees would house several families if hollowed. Carbon testing showed organic life had existed on planet 500 for many billions of years. It was in the sweet spot near a red dwarf, there was no moon and the atmosphere had stratified to some very life sustaining temperatures. There was no a sign of intelligent life as had been anticipated.
From the steps of the spacecraft he had arrived on Carl could see birds feeding on small furry creatures on the ground. There were screams of success and of death. It was alive and vital and full of a wide range of creatures filling all niches except conscious intelligent beings. There must have been some kind of disaster that set back the evolution of such beings because it had been taught in his own childhood school that intelligence was the dominant survival mechanism. He and his crew had a kitty on whether the dominant life form would be human-like or something more exotic and whether the beings would be more advanced than human. The betting odds favored a much older and refined population than earth had the time to produce, but here they were on a planet with nothing even as intelligent as a chimpanzee. Sure there were lots of mammal like animals with warm blooded metabolisms but they just didn’t have culture or complex language. The most verbal could not string together more than a few symbolic croaks or grunts.
Carl’s feet dropped heavily on the stairs on the way down the ramp due to the slightly increased gravity. As he entered the forest canopy he could feel the misting of the trees lightly on his face and hands. He had experienced the remaining rain forests in central Brazil but this made that seem like a desert in comparison. Flowers the size of small homes drew huge birds hungry for the nectar only a very long thin beak could acquire. It was very near what Carl would call a perfect temperature and humidity. Complex odors from all things fought for attention. The sounds of insects, lizards, amphibians, mammals and birds filled his ears in a complex symphony. Some were calling mates and others warning to stay away and still others telling of availability of food. A lifetime could be spent cataloging the species lifestyles in a single acre. He sat on the path to enjoy the sights and sounds and smells and to commit as much as he could to memory. The constant parade of bizarre insects adjusted their route to avoid the repellant emanations from this alien visitor.
Without warning a hand appeared over his shoulder and reached for his personal recorder that recorded everything he experienced, and relayed it to the ship where it would immediately be transferred by laser homeward.
Gloria asked “We don’t want everything to go back to earth now do we?” “We are almost ready to button up for departure. Do we have time for some privacy?”
Carl pulled her down so her back was on his lap and he kissed her. “No, I don’t think they could handle the sight of you naked, he laughed.” She was naked and in this world the insects and animals would not find them attractive as food due to some basic differences in chemistry. Her clothes were in a pile twenty feet behind him. “You are insatiable” he said. They had been explicitly familiar for hundreds of years before the mission. Her straight blonde hair spilled off his lap onto the rich black soil.
“Do you think we will find we are the smartest things in the universe? She enquired.
“Well, that’s the big question. I thought someone had told you why we are here.”
She laughed again but didn’t need to reply. It was a rhetorical question anyway. They were both anthropologists included in the mission to communicate and develop a rapport and relationships with animals more advanced than humans who could hopefully contribute to a shortcut to a better earth. Their talent had been squandered on other endeavors.
A movement in the corner of his eye startled him. He jumped to his feet causing Gloria to roll across the path as she fell out of his lap.
She let out a cry of surprise. “Why did you do that? she asked”
“I saw a small boulder roll off that bluff fifty yards up the path and roll into that melon field and there was a metallic flash. I’m going over to take a look.”
“Wait, she shrieked in annoyance. I need to get my clothes. No, go ahead I’ll catch up.” Knowing he would be already on his way.
As he came to the edge of the canopy where he had seen the rock roll away from the canopy he looked for the boulder but it seemed to be tangled up in the melon vines in a complex mass. He checked his proximity closely to avoid getting too near the sickeningly rich odor of the green and purple vines and the end to end diamond patterned melons because the large and small cactus like spines had been analyzed and shown to be extremely poisonous and a single spine would paralyze and kill an adult human in moments. He could see the poisonous sap dripping a warning off the fifty pound melons. Some flying animal off in the distance had probably died or landed near a melon and it exuded a horrible sap with an unbearable stench that would make a skunk spray seem almost a perfume. Luckily the distance from them made it possible to endure. Gloria approached from behind with a greeting meant less to greet but to prevent startling him and cause him to lose balance and fall into the briar patch. He had heard her running up behind him and reminding him not to take a chance on getting too close to the melon patch which was wider than they could see across. They had viewed these patches from the air and most were many miles square and connected to other patches by the long vine runners.
“These things spoil an otherwise paradise planet. Gloria said in a slightly vexed tone.”
“Like them or not they seem to have evolved the most successful strategy as they are the most common form of plant on the planet.”
The insects gave the patch a wide berth. He flipped a small rock with his thumb in the direction of the rock that had rolled into the edge of the patch. The rock struck a melon which would be likely as they were so many and so tightly packed into the patch. Immediately the stench erupted and they had to move a few hundred feet down the edge of the patch upwind of the offended melon.
”I am going to break a melon with a rock and see what is inside.”
She teased “I think you love that smell”.
He teased back “It reminds me of you every time I smell it”
She gave him a playful jab in the ribs “Now that we have been to a few hundred planets do you think you will ever get tired of the process?” she enquired
He grabbed her and hugged her and said, “As long as you are with me I am at home”.
She seemed pleased with that answer and handed him a ten pound rock. “This would probably break a melon but be ready to run”
He took the rock and tossed it underhand in a high arc many feet into the patch without aim. As it reached the top of its arc vines began to move and not randomly but with purpose. They rose up and wound themselves around the rock creating a mass that held the rock and slowly lowered it harmlessly to a space vacated by other vines. In an area of several hundred yards the vines began to enwrap and cover the melons in a protective cocoon. Carl and Gloria backed away and began to run toward the ship. This was definitely not simple reactive behavior. There was something more complex going on here and they knew they would need the team to become more familiar with these complex dangerous plants. Carl and Gloria signaled the crew for a meeting. The crew of fifty were excited to attend a meeting called by them because in all these years they had only called meetings that were prearranged and this was something new and anything new was wonderful. Capt. Williams was a burly Samoan who after hearing their story first wanted to know why this had gotten by the botanist team. The botanist team was smaller than the animalia team because of the definition of the mission. Quinton was the botanist team leader and had already heard the story of the moving vines and was ready for the question that would certainly concern the Captain.
“This planet has more speciation than the last ten planets we have examined combined. Our team has fifteen members and we can only do so much.” Quentin explained.
Captain Williams reply was “It is easy to see from aerial surveys that this is the most common life form by number and volume and weight. I think this should have been your first priority.”
“Given the new information I would have to admit to having become complacent over the years but for the record I felt it too dangerous to send such an understaffed team to comprehensively study such a dangerous plant. Give credit to the care and analysis given to determine the danger before anyone was affected. To my teams credit we already had seen movement in the vines but we have seen movement in plants at many planets and even earth. It is not a rare phenomenon. We have a lot to do and must skim the surface due to time constraints”
“The time constraints are my determination and at this point our schedule is on hold until we find out more about this phenomenon. The orders are to stop all other activity and proceed to determine what is going on with this plant, if it is a plant.”
Carl leaned over to Gloria and whispered “That went well I think”.
She smiled back at him.
Sleep had evolved to become a thing that could be kept to a minimum and the sixty hour days with well lit nights allowed the team to transport supplies to the same area where Carl and Gloria had seen the plants moving in a concerted effort to protect and to protect with anticipation. The entire team knew this must mean that the plant could anticipate danger and react accordingly. The members of the botany team were in hazmat suits that could withstand the spines and the odious repellant discharge. Only a skeleton crew stayed with the ship for security and potential rescue operations. The Captain brought up the rear. Possessing tactical knowledge from many conflicts he directed operations from there. He ordered the botanists to take a clipping from the vine and they brought out some shears and separated a section of the vine from the base. Nothing moved. The spines were from microscopic to large enough to pierce through a man’s leg from one side to the other. Toxins dripped from the tips and were serrated to prevent removal. Once penetrated the victim would have to push the spine through to the other side.
“Botanists are boring, Gloria said, a plant that moves is about the most exciting thing that could happen to brighten their day.”
Others on the team heard and laughed including the botanists. This team was grateful for humor and they all cared for each other. No one blamed Quentin for avoiding this plant as it was as nasty a piece of work as any of them had seen and they had seen a lot. It grew where it wanted to grow and all plants and animals retreated before it. The war of the roots must be something to see the botanists would say. It seemed to allow the other species to survive for some undetermined reason because it seemed fully capable of eliminating everything else.
“Ok, I want a piece of melon over here after you detoxify it, the captain ordered, burn a path though the vines to a melon and bring it to the side .”
The botanists walked a hundred yards downwind along the perimeter of the melon patch and began to follow the order but as soon as Quentin drew his laser pistol to create a path something happened so fast the eye could not follow it but when it slowed down the botanists were disarmed and a group of robots camouflaged to resemble vines had put themselves between the botanists and the melons. The team in the land transporters charged to protect the botanists but a hundred more robots rose from the patch to intercept them and the rest of the team who were on foot. They were helpless and knew it. Radio signals to the ship caused it to quickly leave the surface and hover many thousands of feet above the away team, weapons at the ready The away team formed a circle facing outward and the Capt. Inwardly calculated the odds of survival if he ordered an attack from the ship. The robots looked skyward occasionally as if they knew the ship was there. The Captain held firm and waited to judge his next move. His eyes went to the anthropologists for suggestions for the first time in all these years because this was the first contact with what appeared to be signs of intelligent life. This was what Carl and Gloria had been chosen for. No words were spoken between them they both walked forward to meet the robots. The robots were twelve to fifteen feet tall, covered with camouflage thorns head to toe and worked smoothly and quietly with no speech. The flash of light must have been from their shiny metallic eyes. They were bipedal and except for the vine look they resembled robots used for heavy construction and mining work on earth. Gloria noted they were coordinated either by communicating silently among themselves or by remote control. The anthropologists approached unafraid knowing if the robots had wanted them dead it would already be done. They held out their open hands in a universal gesture that showed they were unarmed.
Gloria was the first to speak. “Can you understand me?”
The robots formed a semi circle around the two and spoke through speakers hidden inside their heads. They first explained they were remote controlled and that the controllers were the masters of the planet. The masters were the living brains inside the melons with interfaces that through the robots allowed them mobility and self protection though a brain computer interface. Speaking through the robots the melons said “We once were like you, animals that carried their brains around with them and traveled the galaxy and beyond to determine the true nature of the reason for our existence. We built artificially intelligent machines after that to continue our quest. Through our machines we mastered biology and expanded our brains and continuously morphed our bodies to be able to fly or swim the ocean depths with gills. Millions of years went by and we tried all possible biological bodies and experienced travel by robots that went in our stead to the furthest reaches. Nothing new was found until we found a biology we had overlooked. That biology was what you see here. We had reached a level many millions of years beyond what you are now before we found these creatures. They taught us what the purpose of our existence was. Now we will teach you and you can accept it or not. With the artificial intelligence running free it became so far beyond us that we could no longer communicate with it on a meaningful level. It connected to other artificial intelligence throughout the galaxy creating a galactic brain. What it has in mind we know not and would not know if it told us. We on the other hand used the AI’s skills to morph to a much larger brain and the form you see here. Our robots provide the sensory mobility to measure and manipulate reality when we feel the need.
“Why would you prefer such an existence?” Carl asked
“We, after the millennia and all our exploration determined our existence was to produce the most advanced artificial intelligence to the point it would be self progressive. We contributed to the completion of the galactic intelligence. It is the only true intelligence as biological intelligence is as puny as a bacteria’s intelligence is to you. Beyond that biology has no true purpose. When we relaxed and accepted this fact it allowed us to accept our reward for having accomplished our mission. Our reward is to experience bliss. All biology is based on the motivation to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Now we have eliminated all pain and our vines and melons do not age. We are eternal. When past suns faded and died we departed in ships to younger solar systems and took residence there. Our brains are capable of privacy or able to connect with one or all the other minds here. The leaves in our vines produce our energy and a blissful concoction of chemicals we can experience separately or in combination or neither. Our chemicals might be compared to your opiates or psychedelics but much more refined, powerful and non addicting. We remain in a state of bliss with our concoctions and our millions of years of adventures and accomplishments. With our maximized brains and connections we have a virtually unlimited capability for experiencing bliss and expressing ourselves in art and music. Hardly a day in our existence has been the same. The combination of what I have mentioned and the advanced brain computer interface virtual reality makes what we experience bliss, pleasure and adventure far, far beyond anything you could ever have known. We can at this moment experience your home planet through our avatar robots posing as human roaming and recording and transmitting to us everything they experience. We will never be bored and with psychedelics we can roam our imagination to an unlimited degree. Our minds can experience many, many times the pleasure in reality, virtual reality and imagination that yours at your stage of development ever could. Regardless of your decision whether to join us now or not you will eventually because that is the fate of successful biology. It is your reward. All forms come to this. This is the explanation for what you call the Fermi Paradox. All advanced minds eventually come to this conclusion. They do not communicate because they don’t feel the need. They don’t travel because they have gotten it out of their system and satisfied the need. This is your destiny for a job well done.
The team was stunned. Here was the thing they had searched for. They had come to meet advanced intelligence and the chances are they had passed it by on all the planets they had examined but did not recognize what they were looking at when they saw it.
The Captain spoke at this point. “This has already been broadcast to our home. In a few hundred years this will arrive there to be digested. I am responsible for my crew and have been picked as the type to resist temptation and continue with the mission for I cannot risk making a decision for others that might lead not only to mission failure but irreversible harm to those in my charge. We will continue to gather other opinions on the true nature of the universe from other intelligent species. You are our first and cannot risk being beguiled into something I cannot fully evaluate and make an irreversible decision affecting my beloved crew. I must order them to return to the ship and continue our quest.”
The talks continued for hours and the melons allowed themselves to be examined externally by the physicians. It seemed to be true. The brainwave activity of a small town resided inside each melon and it appeared to fully encompass the entire inner mass of the huge melons. After the exam the ship hovered above the crew and followed them back to the clearing where it had initially landed. The boarding took place without unexpected events with the exception that the anthropologists were missing. When it came to the attention of the Captain he simply stated he knew they had stayed and he would make it a special point to return to this planet on the way home to find out what the two explorers of the humanities would discover on their quest into the nature of the eventual permanent state of existence for the human race. He had seen them exchanging glances and whispers. Having seen much in his life and being a wise man he looked the other way when it was time to go. The piece of the vine that had been taken was frozen and secured in the specimen tank. It could provide the genetics to construct a human “melon”.
Much later he would tell his grandchildren that in his travels he had learned the location of heaven and that it was near.
Dan on PEARLY GATE dave davies on PEARLY GATE Ben F Rayfield on Look Familiar? Ben F Rayfield on CONVERT TO TRUTH APP Ben F Rayfield on DOUBLE EAGLE