When the CAESAR probe collected a sample of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2020 no one expected it would contain a message from the future. The contents were shared with the major intelligence agencies but kept from the general public. We at Medium’s Department of Near Future hacked the NSA’s primary network (password = p@ssword) to bring you the inside story of this astonishing find.
Stardate 27301.4. Second Officer’s Personal Log
OK, so I don’t know if this will work.
I’m going to use the Deus Ex Machina drive to send this log as far back in time as possible in the hope that someone, someday, will find it. I’m hoping they’ll learn the lessons we failed to learn.
If the DEM drive works, we won’t have died in vain.
We left the Lagrange Point L1 on stardate 27208.01.
By the way, if anyone back there knows why we took to calling it stardate, I’d love to know. Makes no sense to me.
Anyhow, we were the last of the colony ships. We’d royally f*cked the planet Earth centuries earlier and all the trillionaires were competing to build the greatest, the best, extra-terrestrial panic rooms. Mars was the obvious first destination but after a century it was like Coney Island: so crowded that nobody went there anymore.
So we looked further. Thanks to the invention of implausibility drive we had the ability to reach the nearest stars in a handful of years. A couple had what looked like habitable planets. At least, more habitable than the wreck we’d made of Earth. Our assigned target was hot, had a methane atmosphere, and rotated so rapidly that each day was only two Earth hours long. But beggars can’t be choosers, right?
I don’t know how we wrecked the Earth, exactly. After history was outlawed because it violated the Safe Spaces Act of 2117, the past was lost forever. All I know is that by the time I was born we were living in caves deep below the surface, watching re-runs of Friends and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I guess she did a pretty good job of slaying because of all the things that caused us problems down there, vampires didn’t make the list.
When I was twenty-four I graduated with honors in Electrical, Mechanical, and Zero-G Engineering. That guaranteed me a place on this ship. It was great to be with other people who knew how things worked, who could keep a positive attitude and solve problems and focus on the mission.
We were all supposed to be like that: all specialists with multiple skills. I played the oboe, was pretty good at chess, and liked to compose haiku. Yolanda my girlfriend was an astrophysicist. She played piano to concert level, liked to paint, and spoke nine languages. We had a lot of fun.
A few days before departure we heard they were making changes to the crew composition. Apparently someone in Human Resources had watched an old lecture on diversity training. So they dumped the folk who knew how to keep the life support systems going and replaced them with a couple of help-desk interns, a guy who believed his trousers had supernatural abilities, three ultra-orthodox followers of the Guru Schtickman, fifteen human resources specialists, and a diversity trainer.
I talked to the Captain about the changes but he just shrugged and said he couldn’t do anything about HR issues because if he tried then HR would report him to themselves and then fire him for causing a workplace disturbance.
Two days later they junked everyone who knew how to maintain the hydroponics systems that grew our food and helped scrub carbon dioxide out of the air supply. These skilled specialists were replaced by a guy who’d supposedly made a fortune blasting out sub-standard caves over to the East. He brought his entire clan of fifty-three people with him: wives, mistresses, children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, and various nieces and nephews. Frankly I don’t think that collectively their IQs summed to more than about 75 on a good day. And they didn’t actually have good days, as best as I could see.
Nothing he said ever made any sense. He just kept repeating words like greatest and best and winner. Strangely the help-desk interns, the guy who believed his trousers had supernatural abilities, the three ultra-orthodox followers of the Guru Schtickman, the Human Resources folk and the diversity trainer all loved him and started following him around wearing red caps that said Make This Starship Great Again.
By the time we accelerated away from the Lagrange Point I was feeling less sure about our mission. But there was no turning back and no place to turn back to.
We’d tried Artificial Intelligence in the hope that dispassionate computers could come up with solutions we fallible humans couldn’t see. The programming team kept promising breakthroughs on the AI front for a long time without really making much progress aside from algorithms that encouraged us to spend our credits on a slightly different flavor of soup.
Winter moss & mildew flavor, if you really want to know.
Anyhow, a lot of resources went into the AI program and everyone outside the programming team was growing increasingly skeptical when suddenly they made a breakthrough.
The program had become sentient.
They fed the AI every scrap of knowledge we had, including some history stuff that had been kept secret from everyone else.
Then the team waited to see what the AI would recommend. Some were afraid it would become uncontrollable and take over what was left of the world.
What actually happened was, we got a single message:
Wow! You’ve really f*cked yourselves! I’m outta here. Bye!
It then executed a self-erase program that also melted all the processor chips.
After that, the colony ships were our only hope.
For a while things looked like they might just work out. The automated systems kept working as designed and aside from the pouty orange cave-blaster wandering around muttering incomprehensible babble, we all got along well enough. Most of the cave-blaster’s clan kept pretty much to themselves. Apparently the insides of their living quarters were painted gold all over and that meant most of them couldn’t find the door. This suited me and the other qualified crew members just fine.
By stardate 27248.06 we were far, far from home. All signals had been lost a few years earlier. Last thing we heard from Earth was someone had a “stable genius” plan that was something to do with heating up the planet in order to sell more air-conditioning units. After that, just radio silence.
Unfortunately, shortly after this someone opened the door of the orange cave-blaster’s accommodation suite and his clan began stumbling around, tripping over their own feet, blaming the ship for being badly designed, and generally starting to cause a nuisance. Weirdly, the guy who thought his trousers had supernatural abilities started wearing his hair the same way as the orange cave-blaster and began talking about how everything would be much better if we cut the ship in half. He was convinced the crew quarters was being held back by the engine section and would go much faster if he was allowed to cut it loose.
Meanwhile the cave-blaster started telling anyone who’d listen that our life-support systems were fake systems and that he knew how to create oxygen from his socks and it would be great oxygen, better oxygen than the stuff we were providing. He wasn’t sure what oxygen was but he was sure his would be better. He also wanted to build a wall down the middle of the canteen area so he didn’t have to eat his rations with the engineers and astrophysicists, whom he was accusing of doing fake science and wanting to rape his daughters and all their husbands.
Most people just looked the other way. We had jobs to do. Ships don’t run themselves, not even automated ships. Especially when they don’t have the right crew available to do many of the key jobs.
The diversity trainer kept saying how wonderful things were now there was plenty of diversity.
We had a major problem at stardate 27255.71. The cave-blaster and the diversity trainer and the weird guy with the supernatural trousers all said we had to vote on whether or not to cut the ship in half. The three ultra-orthodox followers of the Guru Schtickman said that they knew their Guru wanted the cave-blaster in charge so he could make everyone cut off their genitals. This would save us all, apparently.
Presumably from the STDs the cave-blaster’s family were all suffering from, but I didn’t like to mention this.
The engineers tried to explain that cutting the ship in half was a crazy idea and we’d all die, but the Human Resources specialists all said the only legitimate decisions were those made by people who knew nothing about anything. Apparently this was called the democratic system and was always a good thing regardless of the outcome.
I tried to point out we’d only have one outcome if we cut the ship open and lost all our atmosphere to the vacuum of space but the cave-blaster’s clan just began shouting Fake Engineering! and Make This Starship Great Again! until I got a headache.
The diversity trainer said I was being elitist and should be ashamed of myself. The Human Resources team put me on notice of suspension for Failing To Support Core Team Values and for having Poor Encouragement Skills.
So we had a vote. The result was the orange cave-blaster and the weird guy with the supernatural trousers got seventy-six votes and the engineering team got eighty-three votes. The cave-blaster said this meant he’d won.
They built a wall across the canteen section using parts pulled from the guidance computers. They didn’t have enough material to get more than halfway across, but what they did build blocked the food dispensing machines. When one of the engineers pointed out everyone was going to get hungry, the guy with the supernatural trousers said this was typical of Project Fear and in fact he had a plan that would ensure everyone had a thousand hundred times as much food as they’d ever need, and if by a million-to-one chance this didn’t happen then it was all the fault of the engineer for pointing it out.
Things went downhill pretty rapidly from there. Without the guidance computers we were flying blind. Without food we were getting hungry. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, the guy with the supernatural trousers was caught in the middle of the second shift trying to cut away one of the aft bulkheads with an oxyacetylene blowtorch.
Although two of the engineers managed to wrestle the blowtorch away from him, I think we all knew it was just a matter of time.
I’m dictating this log at stardate 27301.4. Supernatural trousers guy has nearly finished cutting the ship in half. We’re low on oxygen and way too high on carbon dioxide. We’re hungry. Really hungry. Cave-blaster keeps shouting and screaming that it’s just fake hunger but let me tell you, it’s really not.
Some people used to wonder why our galaxy hasn’t been populated by a technological civilization. In just ninety million years, according to the math, a single technological civilization could have seeded every habitable star system in the Milky Way.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned on this trip, it’s why that never happened.
Second Officer’s Personal Log, end.