Day 118. 151 pages, 68,136 words.
A total of two thousand, one hundred and seventy-three days (Centre / Mind standard) passed in a monotonous sequence of eating, lulltime, passing of waste, checking of trajectory data, and exercise in the cramped and almost-zero gravity environment of the Speed’s Virtues (Survival). Predericon, Gyden and Lelhmak did what they could to keep their minds occupied and avoid confrontations with one another that would have nowhere to go in the tiny, hurtling disc. On the whole, they managed quite well.
Predericon had been disappointed to leave her sculpture behind, and she was fairly sure they were all missing the lower archives and the endless vaults of diversion they had represented. But there was still material to read and entertainment to be enjoyed on the computer – for a six-year flight, entertainment became almost as much a necessity as flight path calculation capacity, even for a species as comfortable in their own minds as Molren were – and each of the three travellers managed to keep themselves occupied without tormenting one another.
Their entertainment was greatly augmented from a not-entirely-unexpected source: the inhabited ballworlds of the inner system were transmitting loud and clear.
Almost immediately, of course, these transmissions became cause for concern, then consternation, then weeks and weeks of fruitless debate that the researchers often had to consciously curtail in order to maintain the peace. For a start, although the Destarion had been confident that Earth, Hell and Cursèd had been deconstructed and reshaped into spherical planets, and that the result had been three ballworlds with viable populations and infrastructure, two of the worlds appeared to have gone silent in the intervening centuries. A lot of this, apparently, was directly attributable to their orbital distance from the sun – one had been too close, and had wound up as a boiling inferno; the other had been too far away, and had ended up as a frozen, practically airless rock.
Only the planet in the centremost orbital path appeared to have maintained an environment with long-term survival potential for Molren, humans, and the other species that made up the Four Realms alliance. And that was where the next complication began.
The world that had survived the transition to stellar body – they’d unanimously agreed that it was Earth, or at least most of Earth – had not done so completely intact. Indeed, it appeared as though the newly-forged ballworld had suffered a collapse no less catastrophic than that suffered by the research team and the Godfang. Technology had failed, governments had collapsed, and the priesthood had apparently lost all trace of power beyond a sort of superstitious grip on a suddenly-bereft population. Of course, as far as these survivors were concerned, Heaven had vanished. Whether this meant the Pinian Brotherhood had been left behind and no longer had control over the solar system … well, that was one of the things that was very difficult to establish.
Earth remained an enlightened theocratic dictatorship, although the enlightenment had boiled away and the theocracy had fractured into a dozen different faiths that all seemed to echo the Pinian religion – and those of some of their key resident allies – while not actually being Pinian anymore. And the dictatorship had likewise fragmented and fallen into the hands of a hundred different human groups.
Human only. There was no mention of Molren or Gróbs or any other species that the researchers could discern. Any more than there was mention of the Pinians themselves, although they did find plenty of talk of God, or Gods, and some more dubious mentions of ‘Disciples’. It didn’t seem to be in reference to the Firstmades who were supposed to be running the place.
“It makes sense,” Lelhmak said at one point. “Humans have very short lifespans. Within a couple of hundred years, especially with a breakdown in modern conveniences and medicine and information, there wouldn’t be a single human alive who still remembered the way things were under the Pinians. They’d just have stories passed down from generation to generation.”
“They wouldn’t just have oral tradition, though,” Predericon said reasonably. “What about books? Databases? Pictures?”
“It seems as though most of the solid-state electronic data has been destroyed, or has simply vanished,” Gyden said. It was true, they’d been unable to raise a response from any of the Four Realms repositoria or artificial intelligences. “Maybe it all got left behind, like Heaven did.”
“And they do seem to have some means of recording information,” Lelhmak said, “although they’re not exactly talking about it in a useful way in their broadcasts right now. Books and such, most of them are recreations of recreations and the originals have long since fallen apart. They consider them fiction. Myth. It’s not uncommon, for an enforced-dumbler population. Especially one with such short individual lifespans. Look at their religions.”
“Traces of the Firstmade faith, but generally a hodgepodge of ritual and superstition,” Predericon agreed, “acting as a thin veneer for pure human authoritarianism.”
“Not many better ways of keeping a society in check than the fear of God,” Lelhmak said. “Why d’you think the Firstmade Brotherhoods do it in the first place?”
“It usually works better when there’s an actual God to back up the priesthood’s demands,” Predericon pointed out.
“True, but when the priesthood has an army of torture-happy zealots to swing around, the God generally becomes surplus to requirements,” Gyden replied. “Without the Firstmades to do it with millions of years of experience, the humans are just doing it to themselves. Badly.”
“Actually, it’s easy to listen to some of these broadcasts and just dismiss it as monkeys flinging crap and saying it’s the will of the Big Crap In The Sky,” Lelhmak said. “The interesting thing is, all these little mushrooms-after-the-rain-faiths have played an integral role in giving the survivors a drive, a sense of community, something bigger and more long-lived than themselves to strive for.”
“That’s not what seems to be giving them drive at the moment,” Predericon noted.
“Nonetheless,” Old Man Lelhmak insisted. “In the absence of actual immortals, or non-human sentients so long-lived as to seem immortal, they went ahead and recreated that cultural construct as well, which is very interesting in a surrogate-civilisation sense. The only drawback is, they’re humans so they can’t bake a pie without committing genocide.”
“Speaking of non-human sentients,” Gyden said, “where are they all?”
“In a pie,” Predericon murmured, “if I had to guess.”
The world’s infrastructure had collapsed so thoroughly, in fact, that it was almost as if the human survivors had been forced to start again from scratch. They had rebuilt their civilisations from practically nothing, clawing their way back to the point where they were once again beaming communications signals out into space, albeit accidentally. Indeed, for a time the Molren had assumed there was nothing left alive, because the channels on which they had originally been broadcasting and attempting to receive were completely dead. Only far more primitive radio-wave transmissions were coming from the ballworld. This technology, it seemed, the humans had simply reinvented out of nowhere, because you couldn’t fit enough information into a sequence of waved flags.
And that wasn’t all they had done. Predericon was impressed in spite of herself at the way the shattered species had pulled itself back together, reunited its various nations using boats and – only just recently – flying vehicles, and brought itself to the brink of spaceworthiness once more. Considering how much they seemed to have lost, it was hardly any wonder they hadn’t made it out to Lelhmak’s Moon yet. But it was only a matter of time. If the Destarion had taken another twenty or thirty years recompiling the Molren, Predericon and her companions might have woken up to find humans on their doorstep.
Then again, maybe not. Predericon was less impressed at the horrendously bloody wars the humans had waged as they rediscovered one another, and the way those humans who had been able to recreate more advanced weapons had murdered and subjugated the others. It was true that humans had found community in their half-remembered religions. It was only unfortunate that they’d found such small communities, and then allowed them to clash so destructively with others that were essentially the same.
Mind you, that was humans in a nutshell. Tell five humans that killing was wrong, and each one would try to kill the other four in the attempt to convince them that its interpretation was the only correct one.
Even so, the signals were fascinating. The planet seemed to be in a state of full-blown war as the Molren passed around the gas giant and began intercepting signals, but it appeared to be a relatively new development, and not permanent. Predericon didn’t think a war of this ferocity was sustainable, even by humans – the planet simply didn’t have the environment or the space or the materials, and the humans didn’t have the technology to clean up after themselves. There was a lot they were missing as a result of only hearing a small cross-section of those signals that were specifically being beamed around the planet, and an awful lot of it was fuzzy and fragmented because it was originating from such primitive equipment. It wasn’t intended as interplanetary communication. In fact, a lot of it was barely making it from one land-mass to another down there.
Still, what they were managing to sift out of the background radiation was enough to tell them that there might be three dead rocks in orbit around the star by the time they arrived.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.