tagSci-Fi & FantasyStarship Traveler Ch. 04

Starship Traveler Ch. 04


Starship Traveler: Chapter Four:


It takes great patience to travel between stars."

"I don't think I will ever be patient like that."

"Revekah, you are just a newborn infant, only eighty-six years old. Do not discount your capacity to learn and grow. You will learn many things."

"What did you do to pass all that time as you traveled?"

"I studied the worlds I discovered. I reviewed information gleaned from thousands of worlds. Travelers do not meet often in the expanses of space but when we do, we exchange what we have learned. When I return to my home planet, I acquire vast amounts of information and download it into the ship's data banks. When I was on your planet I recorded as much of your world's history, art, natural wonders, and scientific knowledge as I could. While you are sleeping I have been studying various chemical compounds unique to your planet that may have some marketable value on other worlds. There is much to keep my mind busy. But I missed companionship, someone to talk to, and someone to share with."

"Is there any way I can access this information?"

"I had anticipated your need to do this. The few humans on my planet have wanted the ability to access our information storage systems and have paid a great deal to our scientists to develop interface systems that are adapted to your communication styles. I purchased one of these interface systems prior to my voyage to your planet. It is not simple, but with practice I am sure you will be able to become adept. One large barrier is that my species does not need to learn the language of other species. With telepathy, we automatically understand the meaning of the words without needing translation. You will need to learn the languages of other species to understand the verbal information and learn their writing systems to read their text information, but you can still view images and listen to the sounds of their cultures until you master their languages. You will not have that difficulty with most of the Earth data because your internet primarily used your native language."

"How many worlds?"

"Do you mean how many worlds do I have information about that you could access?"

"Sort of, I guess I really mean how many worlds are there with life on them?"

"Again, I must ask a clarifying question. Exactly what do you mean by life?"

Revekah shook her head, "Xeno, we have been talking in the dark. Turn up the lights and let's try to make oatmeal and then maybe you can tell me exactly what you mean by life and we will work from there. This is obviously very much more complicated than I had originally anticipated." As the room grew brighter, she closed her eyes and imagined warm oatmeal with brown sugar and cream.

As she sat cross legged on her bed, Xeno sat down on the far corner and began to talk, "You are right; this is very complicated. There is great debate about what constitutes life at all. Must it reproduce? Must it move? Must it consume energy? Must it grow? Is a tiny single celled organism life? Most likely, but viruses on your planet have more in common with crystals than they do other single celled animals. But then again, I can show you crystals on other planets that look more like cells than minerals. Then there are the arguments about what constitutes complex life versus simple life. Is it the number of cells? Is it how they are organized? And there have been wars fought over what the definition of intelligent life is and what self awareness is. And don't even get me started on the numbers of theories and debates over what the definition of an advanced civilization is. Currently the only overriding rule is whether the civilization has independently developed interstellar travel. That ability is the required level of technological development to qualify as an advanced civilization."

Revekah scraped the last bites of her oatmeal out of the bowl and licked off the spoon. "That was good. Did you like it?"

"I liked you liking it."

"Okay, let's figure this out. Is there a legal definition for life on your planet?"

"Interesting that you use the concept of law, because my species does not have the capacity to lie to one another, there never is any question of guilt or innocence. One cannot conceal the evidence of their crimes so it is very rare for a member of my society to do anything antisocial deliberately. My culture is very tolerant of mistakes and diminished mental capacity. There is very little in the way of laws in my culture. We have rules of conduct, but if an individual chooses not to follow themm we just opt to not interact with that individual. My culture allows individuals to make their own determination when it comes to opinions about debatable things, like the definition of life. I personally do not worry too much about it. I just look for what interests me, life or not. I gather what interests me and try to trade it to other cultures for more things that interest me."

Revekah smiled, "Is it possible for me to lie to you?"

"It would be difficult. You would have to have amazing control of your thoughts. You would almost have to believe this untruth yourself, never once letting the real facts leak into your thinking from your memory."

"I can see how that would be hard."

"It took my culture as a complete surprise to learn that there were species that could deceive one another. It was a concept so alien that we studied the phenomena for many thousands of years."

"So how many worlds have been explored, that you have data on?"

"I have data on 1,756,542 worlds stored in my data banks. Of those, by my definition, over half have complex life, and over seven hundred thousand have intelligent life. Only 357 advanced civilizations have been discovered, using the definition of having developed some form of interstellar travel as a measure of advanced."

"Then by your definition, Earth is an intelligent, but not advanced civilization?"

"By my definition, that is correct. Almost all forms of interstellar travel depend upon a very specific form of radiation that travels many times faster than the speed of light. That radiation is not found in the zone of space occupied by your galaxy. It is unlikely your species will ever develop interstellar flight unless they make some kind of scientific breakthrough and discover something that no one else has."

"You said almost all. Then some other species have developed interstellar flight without this radiation stuff."

"Yes, a very few adapted to space in other ways, some creating living evolving cultures that lived out generation after generation on board vast ships that move at conventional light speeds across space. They technically did travel to other stars, but it took thousands of years to travel just a small distance. Another learned how to put themselves into suspended animation and slept for thousands of years, but it too was slow and could only take them to the nearest of star systems. My species developed nano bots and with functional immortality, it became possible to travel the distances. It was the ship species that has made true interstellar travel possible."

"Do all Travelers live as long as you do?"

"Most opt for the introduction of nano bots into their bodies, but there is a small sect of spiritualists who believe that there is an existence of a soul and that to deny death is to deny the evolution of this soul. They believe that their spirit is ultimately destined to travel to a higher plane of existence. I personally do not believe this is a valid theory."

"Is is possible to have the nano bots removed from my body?"

"It is not difficult, but they are very beneficial. They help with a lot more than just preventing aging. They keep harmful germs from damaging your tissues, they detect any nutritional deficiencies and can create the needed compounds inside our bodies as we need them, and they help enhance the rate of healing if there ever is an injury to your body. They do a great deal more as well."

"If I asked for you to take them out of my body, would you do that?"

"It is one of those things I would not give you the option of doing. I am sorry, Revekah, you would begin to age normally and die in just a few decades. I cannot allow that."

"I don't know if I would ask for it anyway. Like you, I don't really believe that I have a spirit destined for a higher plane. It was easy to look forward to death when I had nothing else to look forward to. But now, like you say I have an adventure ahead of me."

"I am glad that you are willing to accept this."

Revekah looked at the empty bowl she had been holding in her hand and leaned over the edge of her bed and gently placed it down on the floor. She watched as the bowl and spoon slowly sank out of view. "Does the ship like this, traveling with you?"

"The ship has very limited self awareness beyond a strong sense of self preservation. It instinctively will not place itself at risk. As long as it has opportunities to feed, it will continue to perform the tasks I place before it indefinitely."

"So the ship lives forever too?"

"We introduced nano bots into ships as well. Prior to that, they lived for only approximately one millennium."

"These nano bots, they are an important part of the Traveler culture?"

"In many ways they are the single most important defining thing in our culture. They are not found naturally. A very famous scientist created them from another life form. They are living things. They are dependent upon our bodies to survive and in return they make sure we survive a very long time as well. It was nano bot technology that made it possible to develop interstellar travel. Prior to that, we were not known as Travelers."

"So I am a Traveler now too, aren't I?"

"Yes, Revekah, I have made you a Traveler, more specifically a Starship Traveler, because you are a ship partner now."

"Where are we going?"

"We are going to a zone of the universe where the radiation is very rich. Our ship is very low on stored energy. Traveling to your world is at the very limits of its abilities. It will take us about sixty years to arrive there. Once we are there the ship will need to feed for another twenty years to replenish its reserves. Then we will travel on to my home planet. That voyage will take another seventy years."

Revekah giggled, "Okay, the next hundred and fifty years for a fill up. It gives a whole new meaning to running to the gas station."

"You are aware that I have been converting my measures of time to your years so that you might have a frame of reference."

"I guess so. For now keep doing that. Later I will try to learn your measures, but right now I think I am dealing with enough new stuff."

"You are doing very well."

"You keep saying that. Telling me how good I am doing, like you weren't expecting it."

"Not all alien species collected by Travelers are successful in adapting to the situation they find themselves in. It is not uncommon for there to be emotional breakdowns. Many go catatonic. I studied your mind carefully, hoping to select a likely candidate. Not only was I searching for a mind that is very sensory in its information processing, I was also searching for curiosity, intelligence, and resilience. It has been well documented that older candidates seem to have less difficulty adjusting. You have turned out better than I had hoped."

"I don't know if I should say thank you."

"I meant it as a compliment."

"Is your species capable of love?"

"Very much so, Revekah, great love."

Suddenly nervous again, she stared over the edge of the bed, and then scooted to the foot, sitting next to him. She experimentally prodded at the floor with her toe and watched as the tubes and filaments quivered and seethed in response. Then she noticed an almost imperceptible tickling and looked closer to notice a number of very fine thread-like cilia extending out to touch and explore her foot. Instinctively she jerked her foot back. "What is it doing?"

"For the wont of a better term, tasting you, it is analyzing your foot to see if it needs recycling. Once it determines that it is one of the living things it is to coexist with, it will stop."

"Weird." Revekah flipped around and carefully reached down with her hand. Again she watched as the very fine threads reached up and very lightly crawled across the end of her finger. When she slowly pulled back they stretched up and then slowly one by one let go and retracted quickly into the tube they had grown out of. She looked at her finger tip and it looked unchanged. "Do they ever grow into me, like through my skin?"

"No, the ship would not do that."

"You know, it seems like I am seeing better today than yesterday. Do you know how long it will take for all these sparkles to go away?"

"The other humans adapted at different rates. Data shows the quickest adaption to be only about thirty days. There has been one or two that did not adapt visually at all. Nearly all report that there is always some residual amount of visual distortion, a halo type of quality to their vision that is permanent, but they do not find it hampers their ability to function."

"How many humans have there been?"

"Not counting you, 152 humans were collected from your planet by one Traveler. All of them were collected almost 20,000 years ago. After some debate, it was accepted that they were an intelligent life form. Among Travelers it is generally regarded as immoral to collect intelligent life forms."

"Are they all alive now?"

"Eighty-nine, of that original number, still live. The rest are dead by accident or suicide."

"I am an intelligent life form. You collected me. Wasn't that immoral?"

"Revekah, I broke a very strict rule when I took you. In many ways I will be regarded as a deviant by inflicting this choice upon you."

She sat up slowly and looked at him with new eyes, "Will you get in trouble?"

"Do you mean will I be punished? No, my culture does not punish deviance. They shun it. I may become unwelcome on my planet. But I rarely travel there anymore."

"Then why are we going there after you refill the ship's energy?"

"I have a few pieces of unfinished business there. Plus, I am hoping you will become a willing partner and truthfully tell them you are with me voluntarily. If it is the truth, they will accept that."

"Well we do have a long time before I need to worry about that."

"Whatever happens, you will not be able to return home. There is an interstellar agreement to not trade or even reveal technology to any species incapable of interstellar flight. It is accepted to collect information, non-sentient species, artifacts, and other interesting items from just about anywhere, but it can be risky to take and not offer anything in exchange. It is general practice to try and not be discovered. You know far too much about Travelers now to return home, if you could even find someone willing to make the trip. The only valuable commodity that we found on Earth was your species."

"And it is immoral to take us."

Xeno's voice was sad, "Yes."

"This conversation seems to be going in circles. Let's talk about something else. How many chambers are there here in the ship?"

"Counting the central room, there are six, your room, the submersion room, the data storage access room, and a live specimen storage room and an empty chamber that is not being used at the moment."

"What live specimens?

"I have collected the genetic codes for a large number the non-sentient species. They are living cells that are in suspended animation. My species has a great affinity for alien life forms. We have vast reserves and zoos devoted to life forms from around the universe."

"And you can just grow them from the cells you collected?"

"It is easier to keep cell cultures in suspended animation rather than whole living individuals. We have the technology to clone endless copies from a single tissue sample."

"Could I see pictures of your planet?"

"You will need to grasp my arm again and we will walk to the data room. I will interface with the mechanism until you are able to learn its controls."

It seemed like there were more dangling tendrils, but Revekah realized it was a result of being able to see a little better. Somehow her little observations of the recycling and the gentle cilia that tasted her skin seemed to make them seem a little less snaky and frightening. "It's kind of like living in the jungle, having to walk through the swamp and work your way through the vines and shrubs."

Xeno commented, "But no boa constrictors."

Revekah's voice was a suppressed giggle, "Xeno, are you using humor?"

"I enjoy the little rush of happiness that accompanies your experiencing humor, Revekah. It is sweet."

"I like it too."

The data room had two raised platforms that were similar in color and texture to the bed in her room. They were shaped more like dentist chairs. Xeno gestured towards one with one of his smaller arms, "I had a second platform installed for your use."

As she climbed up she looked at him. "You have been planning for this for a long time haven't you?"

"Almost 10,000 years."

"What if I don't work out? What if I go crazy or catatonic?"

"You won't. It would have happened already. But if it had, I would have gone back to traveling and accumulating enough resources to try again in another thousand or so years. Just the hope of having a partner like you made the patience possible."

"Am I the first human you have collected?"

"Yes, I observed your planet for nearly seventy-five of your years. I started observing you when you were just a young woman. I watched you your whole life. I knew you were going to be the one."

Revekah felt goose bumps rise up and run down the length of her body. "And you waited until I was old."

"I knew that I could not take you away from your life while you were able to live it. I waited until your life was nearly over."

"That is very sweet in a creepy kind of way. Were you, um, sharing my experiences all that time?"

"No, only now and then I made a quick scan to evaluate your development. I did not have your consent. I know it seems kind of silly that I felt the need to respect your consent to sharing, but somehow justified collecting you to save you from death. I used that justification to meet my own needs. Someday, perhaps you will forgive me."

"I will think about it."

"Thank you. It would mean a great deal to me to know that you hold no animosity towards me for my actions. If you scoot forward to the bottom edge of your platform you should be close enough to see the screen. It works on much the same principal as the reflective surface."

Revekah found herself peering at an image that was confusing at first. There seemed to be a large number of big multicolored slightly flattened balloons sitting on the ground. All around were irregularly shaped objects that she thought maybe were trees. "Tell me about this. What are those round things?"

"The best reference you have would be buildings, but they are grown, not built. They are used for living structures."

"And these things?"

"Those are a native species, like plants in many ways but not exactly. They have been modified to transmit energy beams."

"Energy beams?"

"It takes energy to run a civilization. It must be moved to one place to another. These trees are used for that purpose."

"Cool, landscaping and telephone poles all in one package."

Next was a picture of a Traveler, standing in front of a strangely mechanical looking object. He was pointing it with one of his smaller arms. "Who is that?"

"That is an important historical figure, the Traveler that invented nano bots."

"Do Traveler's have names?"

"Yes, but not ones that are spoken out loud. It would not be comprehensible to you. For instance my real name is..."

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