Become a Fan
By Christopher Bonn Jonnes
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
What if we could travel faster than light and then look at the light that left earth earlier? We'd be viewing the past.
Christopher Bonn Jonnes
"How much longer?" Herman Spear asked, looking across the small control room. He shared the two-man, Faster-Than-Light spacecraft with its pilot and Four Nations representative, John David.
"Fifty-seven minutes. Isn't your unit operational yet?" John said.
"It'll be ready," Herman said, gesturing with a bony translucent-skinned finger at the younger man, "you worry about stopping this ship where you're supposed to."
John David personified Herman's dislike of the Four Nations and life on the Unified Earth. He'd been born after the Change, the bloody revolution that created the Four Nations government and pulled humanity from the brink of self-destruction forty-five years earlier.
John eyed Spear for a moment, shook his head and returned his attention to the ship's computers and his task of stopping their spacecraft at the specified point in space and time.
"Those fifty-seven minutes can't go too fast for me," Herman said as he swiveled his chair and checked a monitor. "Nine months out here with you is plenty."
"Are you going to start arguing again? It's nine months home, remember."
"You still don't have a clue, do you?"
John rolled his eyes. "You've told me. Sounds like what's coming out of the universities on the glory of war. It's people like you who'll lose the Peace for us all. I can't understand why the Space Council let you fly this mission. They knew you were bitter because they didn't pick your target for the Scan. You're a risk. They should've replaced you."
Herman laughed. "Who were they going to get? It was me or no mission. You're the one they should have replaced. There's a thousand competent FTL flyers who could've flown this mission, and any of them would've made better company than you."
John's eyes narrowed.
"You were tit-fed peace," Herman continued, "you've known nothing else. With your book-learning you're able to spout about the evils of war and the virtues of a Unified Earth, but what do you really know? What have you to compare it to? You weren't there. You can't comprehend war or the passion for life that existed before the Change simply by reading books or viewing recordings."
John scratched the back of his hand. Clumps of dark hair covered stubby fingers that appeared better suited to manual labor than the delicate manipulations of FTL cruiser controls. "I'm tired of arguing religion and politics. Just make sure your TLS is ready in time." The Telescopic Light-Scanning device and the information it would hopefully garner for the Four Nations government were the basis for their mission and the sole purpose for Herman's presence aboard the craft. "I only hope your contempt for the Four Nations hasn't gotten the better of you. If you've sabotaged this mission, you'll live to regret it."
"Young fool," Herman said, rapping a long finger on his armrest, "Yes. I'm upset over the target they chose for the Scan, but you don't understand why. You talk as if I love war and would like to see the Four Nations dissolved so we can go back to anarchy and chaos. You forget that I spent thirteen years fighting that damn war. I saw friends and family fall. I fought my guts out trying to build the Four Nations so that a snot-nosed generation of kids like you would never have to know the horror of it all."
"See? There you go again, glorifying it."
"Negative. I hate war more than you'll ever understand, because I know what it is. You don't. It's not the war that I miss; it's the feeling of camaraderie people who cared had for one another. There was a depth that's no longer there. I think the Four Nations is great, but I don't believe it can maintain the Peace. Love and peace aren't political things, no matter how many governments use them as goals. They come from the heart and soul. You can't mandate or adjudicate them. The Four Nations is successful because for once peace is what people want. It's the result, not the cause. Until there's fundamental change in the inherent nature of Man, war and peace will be a continuous cycle. I don't fault the Directors or the Space Council for trying, but the phony props they use to convince the people are ludicrous."
Generations had been born into the Four Nations and known nothing else. The Unified Earth and the Peace were being taken for granted by a restless populace. The holocausts were forgotten. The Four Nations was struggling to keep the people unified in purpose: maintaining the Peace. Seeds of dissention were sprouting around the globe. The strict historical education system for teaching the horror and futility of war was not enough to quell the rising political spring-fever of the young. Revolution was in the air.
"You're just a cynical old man, Spear."
"Yes, and I'm tired of them selling the Peace like so much deodorant."
"You act as if peace is a bad thing. What difference does it make what methods they use if they work?"
"Peace is good. I'm just not sure it's in Man's destiny to ever get there."
"We're already there! What do you think the Unified Earth is all about?"
"But if you look back through history, my young friend, Man's greatest moments come during the never-ending struggle for peace, not during peace. I think that's what God had in mind for us."
"Don't start with the religion. You old guys from before the Change won't let it go. What had religion done for us in ten thousand years? War after war, that's what. Now you say that's God's plan? Kill each other, century after century, because that's when we're at our best? They told me God was for love and peace. I'm glad I never bought into it. Thanks for straightening me out."
Herman moaned as he ran veiny fingers through silver hair. "Forget God for a second. I believe; you don't. That's fine. Just let me explain why I think this mission is all wrong."
"Do I have a choice?"
"This is the two-hundredth FTL flight, right? An 'historic' flight. Let's face it, the first one-hundred and ninety-nine were, for the most part, a boondoggle."
John threw up his paws and opened his mouth. Herman cut him short.
"Let me finish. The whole idea of these flights has been to get whipped out a few parsecs into deep space FTL, and stop. Then we study the light from a particular stellar object and fly back to Earth FTL with the images. Because it'll take how-many-ever light-years for that object's light to reach the Earth, we report what amounts to Earth's future in relation to that stellar object. Right?"
"Well, in all those flights, we've seen a few things of interest, granted, but nothing that's had significant impact on science or the survival of Man."
"What. Now you're against FTL flights too?"
"No. I'm all for them. That's why I spent my whole life developing my TLS system. My point is, these flights present problems for the Directors. They're expensive beyond comprehension; the young radicals have more to harp on. The Directors have to deal with the humanitarian issues of crew selection and the impact of Time Separation on family members. This puts pressure on the Directors to justify the Space Council's activities. They may lose the space program.
"Then the two-hundredth flight comes up and the wise Director's say, 'Let's select an FTL mission worthy of continuing the program. Make it worthy of such an historic and significant flight number as two-hundred.' So the search is on; the scientific community is asked for ideas on an appropriate target.
"That's how I got my chance. I'd been bouncing off the Space Council's Review Board for ten years with my project, but suddenly it's of great interest. I made a presentation to the entire Space Council--not just the Review Board--and a delegation of Four Nations Directors as well. I described my TLS system and proposed that for such an historic flight why not, instead of aiming it toward an unsure future, aim it back at Earth? That got them going.
"Having pondered for decades, I decided that perhaps the most important event on Earth in the past ten thousand years was the birth of Christ. I proposed that be the mission's target."
John's fingers went to the bridge of his nose and he shook his head. "No wonder they refused. You expected them to set a religious event as a Scan target? We'd have lost the Peace right then and there."
"It's a rational choice. Whether or not one believes in Christ doesn't change the fact that his existence is one of the more significant unproven events in the history of Man."
"You've got gall going to the Council with such a selfish request, Spear. Obviously Christ means more to you than anyone else. Who cares? Why'd they allow you to make this flight?"
"Selfish, perhaps, but remember, I invented the TLS and no one else can operate it. I've been recording the knowledge and procedures, but it'll be years before others will be capable. I expected, given that fact, that I'd have some say in the first target. And remember, call me a beast, but I'll probably not live to see the second use of my system. The choice of first target is of greater importance to me than you. You may live to see a half-dozen."
"That's why you've hinted at scuttling this mission: because you didn't get your way."
"I have not, Mr. David, hinted at scuttling this mission. Do you believe I'd pass on my only opportunity to witness the use of the TLS, regardless of the target? There's a significant difference between expressing discontent and committing sabotage. You suffer from paranoia, my friend."
"My job is making sure this mission goes as planned."
Herman nodded sardonically and responded to a flashing prompter at his workstation by deftly flicking several switches and rotating a dial. He smiled inwardly. The TLS was now prepared.
"My frustration with this mission," he said, turning again to John, "has more to do with why they chose their target than the target itself. From a scientific standpoint, any target could provide useful information. Their choice may prove to be as informative as any. See, the Council was intrigued by my idea of looking back. That's why this mission has taken on such importance. They hit upon the idea of selecting a past Earth target with significance to the premise of the Four Nations and the Unified Earth. By showing a key event that supports the doctrine of the Unified Earth, they'll renew interest and support for the space program, and it'll be a major coup for their efforts in managing the Peace. They'll be able to show the world this historical event of which no recordings exist. No need to rely on the interpretation of ancient books. What we'll see will be, essentially, live. They hope to rally the people."
"And that's bad?"
"It's the precedent. It's like propaganda. Here's an opportunity to look at Man's history, and they pick some insignificant political event to serve their own purposes rather than look at, say, an ice-age, or the dinosaurs, or something truly momentous."
"Like the birth of Christ?" John smirked.
"Make it Buddha or Mohammed or anyone else, just not some political garbage."
"The purpose, Spear, is for the sake of peace. How can that be wrong?"
"Because politics can't create true peace; it can't change what's in the heart and mind of men. If men are animals and their destiny is to fight wars, no political dogma can prevent it. As much as I'd like to believe, I don't see the Peace lasting. This mission won't make a difference. It's a wasted opportunity to learn something significant about the nature of Man. Until we learn what makes us tick, what makes us make love or war, we'll only be treating the symptoms."
"Spear, you're misguided. The Peace is simple: without it there's no war. It's true , I've not experienced war firsthand, but I've seen enough recordings to know I want none of it. The Four Nations is fighting to maintain the Peace. That's worthy enough cause to devote one's life to. What point is there in arguing whether or not war can be blamed on government or human nature? We can't change human nature. We can change government. Government's role should be to maintain peace. Ours does. You somehow feel that peace is boring, that there's some mystical something about making war that makes us better people. You're like a kid who stands around a playground fist fight, fascinated, stirred by some animal instinct. Maybe you're an animal, Spear, but I've evolved. Don't include me in your summation of the plight of the Homo Sapien."
Herman crossed his fingers. "John, I don't disagree that governments should strive for peace. I only wish we'd spend our time more wisely. It's not only us old ones from before the Change who've begun to get restless. We shouldn't be wasting the opportunity this mission affords us on cheap politics. We should be searching for hard answers to our make-up so that we can all live in peace happily--if that's possible."
"Possible? We've been doing it for forty-five years."
"Happily? I don't know. Just peace? Yes. We can be proud of that, but we'll be looking back at it in the future and wondering why we couldn't keep it going."
"I don't give up as easily as you do, Spear. I joined as a representative twenty-two years ago. I've devoted my life to this cause. I've held off on starting a family so I could have the opportunity to serve my planet by flying for the Space Council. I spent twelve years in school learning to do the crack-the-whip maneuvers we do around these star's magnetic fields to go FTL out here and learn what we can about our future--and now our past. I've spent nine months flying this thing around and I'm still not allowed to know what our target is."
"Suppose I tell you?"
"Why do you think you're not allowed to know?"
"Standard security procedure. Too many pilots went space-wacky with Time Separation," John said, gesturing out at the void, "Too many decided their target wasn't worth it all and botched the mission one way or another. They must have explained that in your training."
"And you think that's all there is to it?"
"Of course. To ensure mission integrity the target is kept secret from the crew. The Scan assignment is kept sealed as a time-released computer message until the Scan is to begin. Our flight is different with you aboard, of course. You know what the target is but, like you said, they had to send you along anyway to run the TLS."
"John, doesn't it seem odd that this wonderful government of yours doesn't trust you enough to tell you what it is it wants you to do out here?"
"It's not a matter of trust. It's a rational solution to a common psychological problem in FTL space travel."
"But how can you trust that the target is worth years of your life?"
"Unlike you, I thought the first one-hundred ninety-nine missions were worthwhile. I'm willing to take a chance that this one will be as well. Why do you quibble about everything the Directors do?"
"There's got to be more to life than just controlling the Peace."
"What is it you want?"
"Love I suppose. Take you and me, for example. Neither of us particularly cares for the other, yet we're able to spend months together in close quarters without violence. We've controlled peace. But we're not happy, see? That's what's going on back on Earth. The Four Nations has kept everyone from each other's throats, but the tide of dissent is rising. People aren't happy. The Peace isn't enough."
"You ask a lot," John said, "you're afforded the luxury of wishing for this ubiquitous love because the burden of war has been lifted by the Four Nations. You no longer spend your life fighting wars, but thinking of ways to be happy all the time."
"I agree, and I'm grateful. Yet I wish there were more. I was hoping my project would be used toward that end."
"There's your human nature: never satisfied. You've got peace and look; you want total love. Next you'll want perpetual orgasms."
Herman slapped his knee and laughed. "Mr. David, I realize you're a Company man and I won't cause you undue stress by prematurely revealing our mission's target and breaking your oath of representation, although I'm confident you'll be thoroughly pleased with their decision. I've had a nagging thought, though. What if after a good Scan the target isn't as expected?"
"What do you mean?"
"You don't know which, but you do know the target is a political event that supposedly supports the Four Nations Doctrine. What if what we know about that event is false? What if after viewing this thing it turns out not to support the cause, but to be a scandal?"
"Depends on the scandal, but I suppose it could damage the Peace."
"You better believe it would. You may not know what the target is yet, but back on Earth they've been talking this up since the day we left. They couldn't afford to wait and see the real goods. They started a PR campaign and have been telling the world what they're sure they'll see and how great it is. If we don't come through, the Unified Earth is in jeopardy. So what do you think we should do if we discover something strange?"
John David rubbed his chin.
"Ah, so there you are," Herman said, "to me the answer is easy. We bring the bad news back. It's our job to do it for one thing. That's something you can understand. But more importantly, if it's the truth, we owe it to the world to share it."
"But if it risks the Peace--"
"Even if it risks the Peace. If the Four Nations isn't strong enough to withstand a little truth about one of its heroes, it doesn't deserve to be our government. I believe in survival of the fittest--even for governments. There may even be some good derived from such a lesson. Maybe then the world will see the need to study our real roots, not political roots."
"I don't know," John said, fingers behind the ear now, "that'd be a tough call--one we're not likely to have to make, though."
"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that, Mr. David. I've studied a bit of history in my time too. Remember, part of my research was spent choosing an appropriate target for my TLS. Reality is that much of Earth's history our generation takes for granted as truth is actually folklore, conjecture, wishful thinking, or pure fabrication for political expediency. For two hundred years before the Change there was one political or religious purge after another. Most accurate world history has been destroyed in book burnings and propaganda rewrites. Unfortunately, centuries worth of recorded history has been lost because the old celluloid films deteriorated. Since the advent of FTL space travel and the Council's program of mapping the future, our generation has turned its back on history. It's as if it was all old news and held nothing of interest or import. Only fragments remain for us to piece together to suit our needs."
"I'm sure the Directors took that into account when deciding on a target."
"The Directors are politicians, not historians. There could be a surprise in what we'll see. The Directors are taking a chance."
Commander John David diverted his attention to an indicator light on his console and then brought the Faster-Than-Light spacecraft to a complete stop in relation to Earth at the prearranged location 155.52 parsecs from home. There began their thirty-day research program to scan their appointed target, compile the data and return to Earth FTL.
Their location in space was five hundred seven light-years from Earth. The light reflected off Earth at that point in space had left Earth five hundred seven years earlier. It contained Earth's past.
Herman Spear deployed the scanning devices attached to the ship's exterior, which would relay data to his series of onboard computers. He directed the complex scanners toward Earth.
The scanners were not the unique part of Herman's TLS system; they were essentially the same scanners used in all previous missions. They were capable of incredibly accurate readings of all forms of radiation emanating from a particular source. Herman's system was unique in that it filtered out all but electromagnetic radiation between 3800 and 7600 angstrom units, to which the human retina is sensitive: light waves. His series of computers, using the program he'd developed--the heart of his invention--then fragmented these light rays, studied them through trillions of nearly instantaneous computations involving assumptions of what the light particles reflect by checking them against Herman's pre-entered catalog of Earth images, and then reconstituting them on a viewing screen. The result was a surprisingly clear, accurate, moving, real-time image, which was simultaneously recorded for future viewing back on Earth. In this case the image would be of Earth five hundred seven years ago. By manipulating the scanners, Herman could develop an image that represented any part of the total light source, telescoping to a scene as small as one recognizable person standing on the planet. The system offered the capability to watch and record history as it happened.
Sound waves don't travel through space, so the system had its limitations. The Earth's atmosphere and rotation, too, presented challenges. By allocating thirty days to the study of a chosen target, it was hoped that after returning to Earth and having lip-readers and other experts review the images, a clear idea of what had transpired could be had.
Herman completed his preparations. Before setting the system in motion he notified John that the time had come to read the time-sealed mission instructions.
John punched a personalized code into his terminal and the machine responded with a short written mission statement, which he read in silence. A smile came slowly to his lips.
"It's Hitler," he said, "I should have guessed."
"I thought you'd be pleased," Herman said.
"That's brilliant. The Directors can pat themselves on the back for this one."
"Let's hope you're right."
"How can you even question this as a target? It's perfect. Hitler's one of the all-time most respected heroes of the Four Nations. He epitomizes everything the Doctrine stands for. If your contraption here works and we're able to pick up some of those legendary speeches he gave, the Peace will last a thousand years. He's the founding father of the concept of the Unified Earth."
"We don't know that much about him."
"What more is there to know? He was an incredible orator, able to rally millions to his cause; and his cause was a Unified Earth."
"The facts may have been distorted over the years. Remember, so much has been lost--"
"I know why this bothers you. He wasn't a religious man. You hate the idea of idolizing any important man who hasn't achieved greatness through means you approve of."
"Not true ," Herman said.
"His concept of separation of church and state was radical," John continued, "he was before his time. Imagine, five hundred years ago someone suggesting the world come together as one, retaining religious freedom for those who still cling to it, but severing it completely from the legislative process. What did he call it?"
"The Final Solution."
"Right. The Final Solution: complete world unity achieved through peaceful means, a democratic system allowing the maximum of personal liberty. All the peoples of the world joined against common enemies: war, violence, poverty, racism, crime, and ignorance. That's what the Four Nations is founded on."
"Maybe so, but as far as we know he never accomplished it. My heroes are those that I know accomplished something, not some cut-out history-hero from a schoolboy's textbook."
"Like your Jesus? Well, Mr. Spear, that's what we're here to find out, isn't it? Why don't you turn your widget on and let's find out who's a hero and who's not."
Copyright ©2000 Christopher Bonn Jonnes
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Christopher Bonn Jonnes