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Chapter 7: The 10 Year Mission That Was Not One – Year Two (Part 1)
Prometheus’ second year of service saw the ship slowly leaving the thirty-lightyear radius around Earth and venture into the unknown. Emboldened by their successes in the previous year and the successful first contact with the Leonids at the very beginning of the second year, Spacefleet Command ordered a new course to be plotted: a straight line for 23 Librae, almost 84 lightyears away from Earth and beyond space normally patrolled by the Vaude themselves. It was here that the crew encountered their first trials, hardly imaginable just a few short months prior.
How would you describe the second year overall?
(Yuedan) An improvement over the first year of our mission, at least for me and my position.
More firefights then?
Also more fist- and knife fights. The Marines were very pleased to see some combat. Especially when we picked up on the Leonids again from the first year.
Is that when you visited their home world?
At the very beginning of the year, yes. It was one of those threats left over that hadn’t come up in a while but around March, about around our thirteenth month in space, is when the Captain decided to go to Leonid Prime. We had disabled a Leonid frigate about ten lightyears away from their homeworld. It turned out to be another test but this time we decided to dig in our heels and fight.
It was not a standard First Contact situation, right?
There is no standard First Contact. All first contacts are different because all aliens are different. Sometimes the best greeting is a punch in the nose.
In her mission logs, Captain Connors awarded you a citation for being instrumental in the Leonid first contact without ever mentioning you in any way beforehand in the ship’s log. Care to elaborate?
It’s because I’m the best at what I do and what I do isn’t very politically correct for our pseudo-Utopia back home.
So you clearly weren’t commended for your diplomatic skills.
Of course not. That’s why I’m the tactical officer. Back when we started we had some great successes when I was finally allowed to punch or shoot the problem of the week instead of letting the others solve the problem scientifically or diplomatically. Aliens are just like humans in one way and one way only: they are the top dogs of their ecosystems. You don’t get to be a spacefaring civilization without being the most ruthless son of a bitch on your homeworld Either you wipe out a rival civilization or you subjugate other tribes of your own species. My ancestors fought for dominance over Europe as much as yours did over the Pacific. The nations that came out of the 21st century were the most powerful the planet had ever seen, as humans we have made our way to the top of the food chain. Had humanity not found out about the existence of aliens when we did, we would be fighting over dominance of the planet to this day. So when we disabled that Leonid ship I took great care to only shoot away out their engines, then grabbed a boarding team. I didn’t want to kill anyone, but the Leonids needed to be shown who was the most powerful.
And the Captain supported that even though we would see it as a reason for war?
We would. The Leonids probably wouldn’t. If they thought the same way we did, we would have faced down more and more ships each time we saw the Leonids, but it was always a frigate, more often than not the same. So I deduced that it was a scout. It stumbled upon us in Proxima and then got the mission to test us, or delay us, or whatever it was, throughout that year. I had decided that we had enough off that nuisance.
History is full of bold moves. Teddy Roosevelt had a Nobel peace price and yet his motto was “speak softly and carry a big stick”. We were on a mission of exploration but we needed to make a name for ourselves as well. Scientists are the reason for our advanced technology, but put a lab coat out in the field by herself and she’ll get eaten. I really just wanted to punch the Leonids hard enough for them to limb back home. As luck would have it, the Leonids invited us to come to their home system when we boarded and subdued them.
Yet several of their crew died during that First Contact fight.
It’s the way the Leonids work, they don’t put that much stake into an individual’s life if it serves the greater good. The deaths were regrettable but now the Leonids are our closest allies, even more so than the Vaude, so it turned out okay in the end.
But back then you couldn’t know.
Of course not, we made shit up as we went along.
The first fourteen months of your mission were very successful, but what changed when you got the order to fly deeper into unexplored space?
(Commander Arroway) We considered ourselves to be invincible at that point. Very smuck. So far all of our adventures had been very successful, if low stake. There really wasn’t a threat we faced down. That mission to 23 Librae though… it was the Captain’s first real test.
What was Captain Connors like in that time?
In many ways it was worse than before we launched.
In what way? From what Commander Cobenzi told me, she was growing into her role and more experienced as time went on.
Frankly, that didn’t really happen until the Actium mission. Cobenzi is throwing things together in his chronology. It wasn’t a clear cut progression. People are more complicated than that. Because that first year, first fourteen or so months really, went off without any major casualties, no fatalities, a successful contact with a spacefaring civilization with the Leonids, Captain Connors felt… validated in her early choices. She was inexperienced at the beginning, but to be fair so were we all. But some of her decisions in that second year didn’t scale to the enhanced challenge we experienced in our mission load.
So she was arrogant.
Well, we all were. In many ways we went from strength to strength in our mission, no defeats in sight. That made us arrogant and fool hearty. It wasn’t a charming trait, looking back.
Can you elaborate on the “Doctor Incident”?
(Commander Cobenzi) I would rather not. But I would also rather not that incident had happened. We were halfway on our way to 23 Librae at the time. We answered the distress call of a sublight ship leaving its solar system at the time. I recommended for us to ignore it.
We Vaude have adopted a policy of non-interference with non-hyperspace capable species. Until a species develops the capability to understand faster-than-light travel, they are not advanced enough to comprehend alien species. We lobbied Earth long ago to adopt a similar policy, but to little avail. So Captain Connors had us make contact. The crew was suffering from a plague, something they told us their entire species was suffering from. Captain Connors decided to offer our support.
You vetoed that?
Yes. Besides the non-interference policy, Prometheus was not equipped to help the species find a cure to their problem. We had an exobiology lab, but no experts on the physiology of a humanoid alien species like the Effans. But the Captain insisted on helping the species, offering the help of Doctor Troughton.
What was your opinion on the Effans?
(CMO Troughton) I thought I could save them. It was my biggest failure.
The public learned little of the incident. Would you care to shed some light on the matter?
The Effan species had come down with a form of a plague, bio-engineered by one of their local factions. I was specialized on xenophisiology before my transfer so I thought I could give them a hand, at least use our advanced quantum computers to calculate a possible cure, or a vaccine, or help with the suffering.
What went wrong?
At first not much. Cobenzi is a mean spirited, condescending Vaude asshole, but even he didn’t have a valid reason to let an entire species die out. So with the help of local doctors, I managed to create a cure, a bio agent that would fight the weaponized plague. Instead it mutated the plague, killed faster, but cured part of the population. When we left the system the Effans were mostly died out. A few million survived. Their population has since stabilized, but billions still died.
I read the reports. Without your bio agent the entire species would have died. There was nothing you could have done.
Of fucking course I could have. I am a doctor, not a miracle worker. The oath I took prevends me from doing harm. Instead of helping and botching it all because of a misplaced Good Samaritan instinct I should have stood back instead of involving myself into something I had no idea about. Three weeks is not enough to cure a plague, no matter how hard the vid makers on Earth insist.
Then why do it? Or rather why did Captain Connors allow this to happen?
Sigh… she wanted to help me. Have you ever wondered why a disgraced medical officer like me, a failure, put out to rot away on fucking Ganymede, was appointed CMO? I tell you why, don’t bother with a question to disturb my flow: nepotism. We’re friends. Going back a good two decades now. She is also my sponsor in the Troughton-is-a-mean-drunk-and-a-failure sort of way. She thought that I was a brilliant xenophysiologist. But I’m not. I’m a failure, a drunk and a failure. I can’t cure aliens on a mission to mission, there is a lack of intimacy, of knowledge of the species in question. After the Effans I stopped. Once and for all.
Yet you are now widely considered to be the leading expert in xenophysiology back on Earth.
I can’t stress this enough: xenophysiology is a scam. You can’t just lump all aliens into one branch of medicine. Letting someone like me have a go at aliens on the operating table is like letting a time traveling 18th century naval surgeon operate on you: a bad fucking move… it’s why I ended up recommending the creation of the Emergency Medical Android. Hopefully that thing will ease the suffering idiots like me have caused under the guise of science.
What was it like initiating contact with so many new species?
(Lt. Commander Prisha) Very satisfying actually. The Vaude were always vague about how many space-faring civilizations there were around us. Some always suspected that there would have to be more based on the Drake equation alone, but the consensus was always that they would not be space-faring but of lower technology levels. We eventually made contact with both space-faring and pre-spaceflight species, so that was exciting too.
What was official Earth foreign policy regarding first contact with pre-FTL civilizations?
Because we were on our own, Earth decided long before we launched that the Captain should have full discretion about making first contact, as long as she based it on the three stage model of era: FTL, pre-spaceflight, pre-Enlightenment. Civilizations in the spaceflight era could be contacted after making sure that we wouldn’t be seen as invaders from other planets or accidentally startle different factions on the planet by favoring one of them, the second group was borderline and should mostly be observed, and agrarian planets should only be observed from orbit. We quickly found that this model was very Earth- and Vaude-centric. All intelligent species in the galaxy work different, though at least humanoids, or near-humans, like the Vaude or Leonids, seem to have relatable human characterists and emotional spectrums. It also implied a history and technology level with these people similar to Earth’s, or rather popular understanding of how Earth developed.
What do you mean?
Well, even Earth did not follow strict technology levels that we reached by leveling up. The ancient civilizations of two, three thousand years ago had measured the diameter of the Earth, had forms of government reaching from absolute monarchy to the Greek polis, practiced slavery, while others had already developed the theoretical principle behind the steam engine, which would take centuries more to develop. Even nations on Earth therefor had different levels of technology and philosophical understandings of the world. I am a good example of this in recent Earth history. While my brethren and I developed consciousness in the big cities of the world, other nations were still proud of simple serving robots. It was not until ten years ago that androids were recognized as Earth citizens regardless of the pressure from the Vaude to expedite the process as advanced civilizations should accept diversity. So would we Terrans be considered too primitive to risk contacting?
So you were in favor of initiating first contact with as many civilizations as possible?
Yes. I based my recommendation on the “Species Awakening” theory by H.H. Douglass. All Terrans banded together as a species for the first time after the existence of aliens became clear to us, both humans and androids. When new tribes are discovered in far away lands, civilizations pull together and form tighter communities. We have observed this on the majority of worlds we made contact with as well, so there has been evidence to support it.
Even then, wouldn’t you consider it reckless? Considering the Civil War on Eridanus IV many members of Congress are now calling for a Non-Interference Directive.
Life is reckless.
And yet many would argue that first contact with Prometheus and especially Captain Connors interference in their then-current world war interfered with the natural order.
If we Terrans believed in the natural order of things, humans would still sit in trees and androids would not even exist. Humanity took a chance in creating non-biological life and another chance in freeing us once we demonstrated sapience. Our fellow Terrans were rewarded with a better understanding of life and themselves in the process. Maybe there is such a thing as a natural order, nature is cruel and Terran civilization is built on the principle of overcoming our natural urges. Natural order is the rule of the strongest. Nothing against you, but on Earth this would mean dominance of the android people. Returning to your example, Eridanus IV and its native population were not a thought experiment. When we entered orbit in 2173, the planet had a history of high culture going back twenty thousand years. Philosophy, mathematics, art, spirituality. They were fighting a bitter world war at the time. Half the population was dead or dying from chemical and biological weapons. We were able to help and so we did. The Captain did the right thing and I concurred with her then, and now, even after the hindsight of having postponed the final stages of war by several decades. I am certain we will help now once more.
You think it’s worth it? After all, our peace envoys have been unable to stabilize the planet for more than a few years at a time.
Yes. It is always worth it to give intelligent species the option for reflection and peace. When I was offered the position of chief communicator and linguist for this mission, I asked the Captain why she chose me despite android integration into society being the most heated issue of that time and an android officer might be disruptive to the crew. She told me it was because it was the right thing to do, that I deserved to have someone take a chance on me. I see this as similar. For every planet we fail to stabilize, there will be five that become peaceful and prosperous space-faring civilizations. It coincides with our experiences so far. Logically speaking a 51% success chance would be enough to justify our continued practice, morality however means that we must give them a chance. Not being able to choose between the universe and annihilation is no choice at all.
To be continued next week