The Callous Conservators: Does the greatest disappointment in our search for extraterrestrial life come when we actually find it?

Vicious alien
It was the mother of all longings for aliens... Freud would be proud. And as Mephistopheles glowered (he's always telling the most depressing stories) to Dr. Faustus in his study, this time over tea, the tale was unfolded.

The world was striving, yet the world was dying, as the
1012th century rolled by. The earth had been pulled out of orbit to timidly bask in the sickly light of another dying star, but now star formation was ceasing, and the humans did not possess the energy to perform a similar operation. The screeching wails of the underground gods--the machines that had been set up to extract precious resources from the inner depths of our planet--were still audible from the surface of the barren landscape. It was the distant thunder in what would be the rainstorm of humanity's passing. If the universe had a funeral dirge, they would be drums that drove it, like a group of grumpy wotans, with their hammers, they pounded away unrelentingly filling the void with cacophony. It was a constant reminder to the sorry creatures that time still moved on, even though business had stopped.

With all but stubborn depression it moved, ground forwards by the pitiless beast of the second law; it scoffed at the dejected scientists that had studied its progress as "thermodynamic." It was neither warm nor dynamic; it was the supreme eviscerating frost and it grated and scraped and scratched until no heat, no life, no feeling, no beauty, could sustain its self. Even the machines retreated farther and farther into the depths and their numbers dwindled as they wore away and broke, causing the thunder to become more distant and faint. And as this erosion of timeless eternity progressed, the landscape became more barren. Thinking this providence, the ignorant surface creatures--brutish slimy and stupid--posed a relation between the fading thunder and the bareness, and so, set up shrines to the underground gods, the numens of their netherworld.

The surface slime were only alone in their superstitions in the strict sense of being physically different and separated by distance, and by earth, and rock walls, from the underground. It was in the underground where humanity plumbed the depths in quiet desperation; at a loss as to how to fix the collapsed ecosystem on the planet's surface and at a near impass when it came to their own sustenance, as they hobbled through the underground fields of mushrooms and algae baths. Having long rejected the religious traditions of their heritage as primitive and outdated they had no solace in prayer, or in divine love, or providence. It was because of this that they turned their minds to the surface and upwards, to the stars, where they imagined all sorts of deity like aliens and creatures with whom one day they might commune.

Through all this, they were locked in a struggle of torturous dejection with a stubbornness so self intoxicating that is was almost deadly; an instinct descended from the most primitive of sci-fi novels, a longing not just for another world, but for another intellect and for hope. A hope that one day that intellect would rescue them and reveal the vast secrets of the universe, allowing them to escape across the landscape; this time referring not to the barren surface, but to the vast, unendingly vast, multi-verse.

At this point Mephistopheles stops and mentions that the rest of this story was told to him by a brain implant, which had recorded all the thoughts of a certain government official (by the name of Johnathan) up to his death. (These brain implants were issued secretly to all officials after the water gate scandal to prevent disloyalty.)

Anyways, one day, it looked like this hope would be fulfilled, as a small alien ship came plummeting to the ocean. The sensors of humanity detected it and there was great celebration, but it was only months later that the humans found it, and a conversation with the occupants ensued. The conversation took place on the planet's surface between a group of government officials who were wearing the latest "protective suites," and the aliens, who were in the even later "even more protective suites".

A group of my colleagues and I (Johnathan) approached the ship noticing with some interest, that from it, echoed some of the same noises as from earth's depths. The ship's booming disquietude was quite a good imitation of our underground machines. We also noticed with slight suspicion that some odd looking mounds (possibly religious in nature) built by the slimy surface creatures had sprung up around that sight, and we readied our weapons for we knew a little of the dangerous brutes.

However, the shock of seeing the unusual visitors for the first time quickly placed our minds on other things. Also, it was after all a glorious day; these beings must have wondrous technology, judging by the array of exotic particles we had detected before the ship came to rest. I too had become very found of the dream that was shared by many of us, and was recited over and over again on the relay system (like a radio station) that we listened to every night. If this went well I might be able to tell my wife that there was a future for our children, maybe, just maybe, we would be able to jump through this vast paralyzing abyss to an exotic universe not in the clutches of heat death, a universe bright and beautiful. They just might be our wondrous Conservators. We tried for hours to greet the aliens before efficient communication could commence, which engendered a great deal of tinkering with the computerized translation system and a number of amusing interactions that resembled charades. It was hilarious, for instance, one of the aliens.....

I (Mephistopheles) will leave out these details to keep the already mortally wounded brevity healthy enough to utter her last words before I drive a stake through her heart.

The snout nosed squid built aliens informed me (Johnathan) and the other officials that it was their custom to mate with any new intelligent creatures they found before conversation ensued. We responded that although we appreciated the efficiency and wished that there was a similar custom on our own planet, we regretted that it would be impossible, since we all had a rare disease called "extreme revulsion" which took away our ability to mate with other creatures. The representatives of both our parties now stepped forwards and the following dialogue was recorded:

Conservator: Take me to your leader *beep*.... hahaha!

: Ahem.... Would you tell us of your home world?
Conservator: Our world is dead, like yours.

Official: Oh, have you not found another?
Conservator: We do not have the impetus to look for a new one.

Official: So are you in the same predicament as we are? (he does not understand the meaning behind the alien's response)
Conservator: Some have escaped across the landscape, but no longer are the same in their minds; it is nearly certain that they are the lucky ones and have chosen rightly.

Official: Who do you speak of? And what happened to make them different in their minds?
Conservator: Ages ago there was a split between the philosophers and the futurists on our planet. The philosophers wanted to follow knowledge and wisdom wherever it might lead; the futurists wanted to have long life, and to follow pleasure wherever it might lead. During this time, there was rapid evolution in our brain complexity because of the rigorous capitalistic standards our government had implemented for schooling and research. Those who could not make it through school, and those who were not both creative enough and independent enough to make and sell art, or other inventions, in order to provide for themselves, committed suicide. Not only because they were either destined for experimental drug practice by large companies, or for prison, but because there was a lot of honor and duty ingrained in our culture, and those who could not succeed at being above average were considered to have failed, and hence were considered worthless.

As our sapience increased our depression and suicide rates grew worse, until even those who were successful frequently succumbed, or started to take illegal drugs. (Similar but less severe things have happened in your civilization's history as well.) The futurists stepped in politically and argued that something should be done to allow access to technology that would prevent the user's brain from experiencing too much depression. (There were previously laws against such things for many different philosophical reasons) The philosophers responded that depression was not necessarily a bad thing, and that the question of whether there is a meaning to life was a legitimate one and those who came up with negative answers should have the freedom to live (or not live) up to their conclusions. The futurists denounced the former as burlesque, and since they did not have political power of the philosophers with which to make their beloved technology legal, they announced a succession.

And after much strain in relations between the two sides there was a war which the philosophers were too depressed to win. They surrendered, and after a time were repudiated as dangerous and suppressive persons (i.e. aliens) and were exiled. We are descended from the latter. All we have heard of the futurists after that was that their.... formerly our... planet died, and they rode the stars, (alien idiom for orbiting a star and absorbing its energy in preparation for space travel) caught a worm hole, and were gone across the landscape.

Official: In what way did this technology make them different other than eliminating their depression?
Conservator: It is precisely the way in which they eliminated it that made them different, less sapient, and less knowledgeable. It is the only way to eliminate it though...... the only way by which beings with brain complexity of our order can hope to feel joyful. There are some truths about the very essence of existence and meaning that are too terrible to think on. Some of your philosophers have touched on it, brushed against it, maybe even run straight into it; Bertrand Russell may have been one of them. I think he put it quite well, although it would take much longer to explain why it is this way:

(The Conservator at this point lifted up its eyes to the sky, and as a dash of blue penetrated and reflected in its already radiant whitely opaque sockets, a look of revitalization overcame it, though only shortly, like a virtuoso musician formerly imprisoned in a coma, finally coming to, and about to pick up his instrument... before he realizes the paralysis in his fingers. It recited in a melodious and wrenching sad voice an excerpt from "A Free Man's Worship," and recursively defined Mephistopheleses and Faustuses stared at each other from infinitely regressive abysses of impossibility)
"To Dr. Faustus in his study Mephistopheles told the history of the Creation, saying:

"The endless praises of the choirs of angels had begun to grow wearisome; for, after all, did he not deserve their praise? Had he not given them endless joy? Would it not be more amusing to obtain undeserved praise, to be worshiped by beings whom he tortured? He smiled inwardly, and resolved that the great drama should be performed.

"For countless ages the hot nebula whirled aimlessly through space. At length it began to take shape, the central mass threw off planets, the planets cooled, boiling seas and burning mountains heaved and tossed, from masses of cloud hot sheets of rain deluged the barely solid crust. And now the first germ of life grew in the depths of the ocean, and developed rapidly in the fructifying warmth into vast forest trees, huge germ springing from the damp mould, sea monsters breeding, fighting, devouring, and passing away.

And from the monsters, as the play unfolded itself, Man was born, with the power of thought, the knowledge of good and evil, and the cruel thirst for worship. And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrous world, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few brief moments of life before Death's inexorable decree. And Man said: 'There is a hidden purpose, could we but fathom it, and the purpose is good; for we must reverence something, and in the visible world there is nothing worthy of reverence.' And Man stood aside from the struggle, resolving that God intended harmony to come out of chaos by human efforts. And when he followed the instincts which God had transmitted to him from his ancestry of beasts of prey, he called it Sin, and asked God to forgive him. But he doubted whether he could be justly forgiven, until he invented a divine Plan by which God's wrath was to have been appeased. And seeing the present was bad, he made it yet worse, that thereby the future might be better. And he gave God thanks for the strength that enabled him to forgo even the joys that were possible. And God smiled; and when he saw that Man had become perfect in renunciation and worship, he sent another sun through the sky, which crashed into Man's sun; and all returned again to nebula.

"Yes,' he murmured, 'it was a good play; I will have it performed again.'"

"Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.

"How, in such an alien and inhuman world, can so powerless a creature as Man preserve his aspirations untarnished? A strange mystery it is that Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurryings through the abysses of space, has brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother."
At the end of the recitation my colleagues and I stood dumbfounded. In those words there was a bold prying that stirred something painful and sore we had managed to keep in the back of our brains, like a dentists deftly scratching for a cavity. A cry of pain ensued:

Official: What does this have to do with anything!? We are running out of time! Let us examine your technology and you may examine ours, let us trade, tell us how your brethren escaped and let us all be gone from this stolid cosmos!
(The alien nodded understandingly)
Conservator: The last of the sentences in Russell's quotation lead us towards implications and hence conclusions that neither you nor Russell could accept; we have not and cannot accept them either.

Official: Goodness gracious let's get to the point; who are you and why are you here?
Conservator: I am the last of the sane and non-depressed philosophers. I was their former leader. However, I have now decided that I cannot go on living in torturous gnosis. I have abandoned my post and my already demoralized citizens have abandoned theirs. All have either scattered or committed suicide. I have come to your planet to become intoxicated. I have read of it in your books, and I am amused by how rich a history you have of it.

Official: Well we have banned those things, and it is now nearly impossible to grow it except in the underground. We have stashes of it there that are privy only to our government, but we will not share it with you unless you tell us how to get out of this universe!
Conservator: (Laughing) I do not wish to give you this knowledge. Why prolong your suffering? And even if I did, you would be able to do nothing with it. It takes massive effort, skill, materials, and energy to build "Cosmic Reavers," (a class of spaceship capable of breaking through the cosmic fabric and escaping the universe) and you do not have enough of any. You would see this instantly if you saw the plans for one. So, I have decided not to waste time bargaining with you, but instead to enjoy your pitiful demise!

At this instant a massive ball of slime, muscle, and spikes, erupted from a nearby swamp. With the slyness and ferocity of a frenzied crocodile it pounced on us. "For the Numens of the Netherworld!" croaked a brutish voice in its own disgusting language. I, Johnathan, was shot through the lunges with a spike of poisoned slime. And as I riled in pain, and as my throat was gorged with my own blood, I realized with some relief that I was joyful. It was a feeling I had not felt in so long, for now I realized that I had fulfilled the mission that we had approached the ship for. I would be gone from this stolid cosmos! As the void wrapped its arms around me, and the abyss opened its mouth to reclaim me, and as my senses reeled in poisoned disarray, I found new hope. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to jump through this vast paralyzing abyss to an exotic universe not in the clutches of heat death, a universe bright and beautiful.

"What happened to the humans?" Inquired Dr. Faustus.
"The aliens blew open the underground hatches, and they used the surface slime to penetrate the depths and kill off all the government officials. It was far better for them in the end anyway," glowered Mephistopheles. He continued: "The aliens recruited all the civilians who were not loyal to the officials (many weren't, since they had been forced to work long hours in conditions fit for moles), and together they raided the government stashes of drugs, and got so high that they made Cosmic Reavers look like an outdated form of universe travel. They all overdosed, and both species are now extinct."

(I apologize for the depressing story, the ideas for this happened to be bouncing around in my head at the time, (but thankfully no longer are) that is all I can say)


Kraxpelax said...

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http://winmir.blogspot.com/ /My I Ching studies. I can assure you, a thriller for Peers. Commons will not get a shit of it.

http://singleswingle.blogspot.com/ /My Poetry.

- Peter Ingestad, Sweden

Kraxpelax said...

Ballo again! Thank you for visiting my blog Vagabond. I appreciate that and looking into your own blog again, I think this is one for me. I'm an alien myself, but, I'm NOT like that cutie. I'm rather mean, honestly.

- Peter Ingestad, Sweden

Dwielz Camauf Descartes said...

Thanks for checking it out, let me know if you think the title of my last post gives away too much about the story. That is what my friend and I were discussing, (im in the process of editing some of it now)