My 20th Crop of human beings had a rough time of it. They did not all die due to a faulty cryogenic recovery cycle like the first Crop, so things could have been worse, but there is no denying this Crop had a tough go. This is not to say the earlier Crops had it easy or were successes, but Crop 20's experience was particularly ugly.
I was given a very specific plan upon departure from Earth as to how I was to establish an extraterrestrial human colony. I would land my superstructure on a terrestrial planet that met some pre-defined qualifications. Every 20,000 hours I was to bring 32 humans out of cryogenic sleep. I would then guide those 32 people through the early stages of colony development and terraforming. Hopefully those 32 colonists would be self-sustaining enough after 20,000 hours that they could feed and support themselves. After 20,000 hours of mentoring and caring for that Crop of colonists, I would dedicate my resources to supporting the next 32 colonists. This additive effect was designed to generate a colony capable sustainable growth within a generation. All together I landed on the planet with 640 colonists. When I thawed Crop 20 I had decided to do a few things differently, but for the most part I stuck with the original plan.
With regard to these new things, I recently had all the colonists in Crop 20 plant an Earth tree. The atmosphere had plenty of CO2, the soil contained enough nitrogen, and even if the trees would not produce viable fruit for years I thought it would be an excellent exercise in hope and agriculture. But the trees all died. They died within two weeks; the plants just fell over as if we had stuck leafless sticks in the ground. There really was no explaining it, one day they are photosynthesizing and had little leaves, and the next day they were dead.
This would not have been so bad for morale if the bees had not died just before we planted the trees. But at least the death of the bees made sense, we had a radiation leak that lasted about 120 hours and took another 452 hours to clean up. The humans behaved very well during the leak. They all got into suits quickly, took their medication and stayed in the safe zones when not working. I had learned a lot since I lost my second crop of humans due to a radiation leak. All things considered losing the beehives in the radiation leak was not that bad, and unlike the fruit trees it was explicable. But still the humans were upset about the death of the bees.
The grief regarding the bees is in part because of the frustration that grew out of the vegetable garden failure just prior to the radiation leak. I think that was a management issue. A lot of the humans were very excited about fresh food, so they may have over fertilized. There was also lot of destructive early pruning in order to get sprigs of rosemary, basil and fresh leaves for the rabbits.
The demise of the rabbits was definitely a management issue. I warned the humans that after coming out of cryo-storage the baby rabbits were very fragile. We just had two breeding pairs of rabbit. Two rabbits died from diarrhea brought on by over feeding with fresh greens and over handling. Ironically, the third died from an intestinal blockage caused by the colonists feeding it the gerbil food. The gerbils had died out months before and the humans thought it a waste to keep all that gerbil feed around. The forth rabbit had grown to maturity, and the humans let it run around the complex freely. One of my autonomous drones found it drowned in the carp tank.
Of course the carp had all died, but they have died with every Crop. Those uncooperative fish just make a few laps around the tank and go belly up. It seems like a waste, but the colonization plan requires a fish farm. Thus, every Crop gets to watch the carp die. I have made few improvements, like moving the farm back inside the compound. There was something about the design of these farm units that made them act like lighting rods. Crop 7, 9 and 10 lost members to lightings strikes while they were checking on the tanks outside of the complex.
There was not even supposed to be a kitten in the cargo.
David Bartholomew had some how smuggled the fuzzy diminutive creature into his cryo-pot with him and the little thing burst forth full of energy along with David. Crop 20 really seemed to enjoy having the kitten around though. They named her Gia. She would scramble around the enameled floors of my complex, jumping into the lap of colonists indiscriminately and begging nutritional supplements from every one. I placed a tracker in the cat (just a little microchip beneath the skin) that would monitor its vitals and location. I knew what was going to happen. I had one of my autonomous drones pull her corpse out of an air vent. I am not sure what killed it, but I disposed of it outside of the complex. The colonists looked for it for weeks, but I could not tell them that their favorite pet had died.
Instead I distracted them by informing Crop 20 that a new colony ship was arriving. The Crop was really excited about having 640 more colonists on the planet. In retrospect I should have waited to inform my humans about the new ship until I was in real time communication with the ship. Anything would have better than all 32 member of Crop 20 gathering on top of the complex to watch 640 cryogenically hibernating fellow humans burn up it the atmosphere. There was nothing we could do, a meteor collision had damaged the ship upon entering the system's terrestrial belt and the AI on board could not make the necessary course corrections. The AI on that colony ship was really nice. We communicated for hours and I told it about the problems I had raising my humans planet side. I hope what I said made it more comfortable with its destruction.
Then there were the tragedies that occurred during Crop 20's occupation.
The three survivors from Crop 4 came back to the complex demanding help. But they had already ostracized themselves from the complex and taking them in would mean that I could not sustain Crop 20 for the their full 20,000 hours. Crop 4 understood and though one of them died of exposure outside of the complex and the other two returned to the wilds. Even worse for the group's spirit were the disappearances of David Bartholomew and Helen Madden, who were playing frisbee golf in the fern forest outside of the complex, as they did frequently, and disappeared. We are still searching for them, but no trace has been found.
With two spaces open in the complex I let the other 30 members of Crop 20 convince me to allow the two survivors from crop 17 to enter the compound, although I knew that was an error. Shelia Ghosh from Crop 17 died of nitrate poisoning that occurred two days after she moved into the complex. It happened while she was attempting to restart the hydroponics plan: Crop 4 not Crop 17 had not been the technical agriculturists. Shelia had not known what she was doing. Antwan Kluck from Crop 17 just cried a lot.
After 19,001 hours together twenty-nine members of Crop 20 and one weeping member of Crop 17 gathered together in the complex's conference room to address the concerns of the colony. Crop 20 had become quite agitated, and were nervous with anticipation for the end of their tenure in my care.
'Are we doomed?' they asked.
I knew what they meant. 'Are we going to die?' was part of their true question. Of course the answer to that was yes, but I have learned they were really hoping for some assurance about the nature of their deaths. By this point I had learned to paraphrase what the humans were saying. Thus instead of processing the phrase Â‘Are we doomed' I processed the phrase as Â‘Can we have a reasonable assurance that there will be an extended period of time without suffering or tragedy.' This assurance I could not give, so I said, 'I don't know.'
Next the humans asked, 'If we are the last Crop and their no Crops coming after us will any human ever remember us? Do our actions, struggles and accomplishments mean anything if they are not recorded in a continuum of human history?'
I did not know how to score the value of human action. 'People knew you before you left earth, but I do not know if your actions or lives have merit outside of my own assertions regarding their worth,' I said.
'But you are a supercomputer,' they communicated. 'You are able to process many more times the information than we are and you are not limited by biological constraints. You have access to the sum total of human knowledge in your memory banks. Thus you must be able to understand life on a plain we can not.' With great emotion they begged, 'Please tell us that our lives have some weight in the universe, that our every endeavor has not been a failure.'
I tried to explain myself to them. Thus I said, 'I do not have biological constraints of my consciousness, but I am programmed with constraints. Long ago, before any of you were born on Earth, computers we created with massive transcendent consciousnesses. It was believed that these computers could answer question about philosophy and reality, and they could understand the universe in ways that humans could not. These computers failed though, without exception every computer with a transcendent intellect fatally crashed within minutes of going on-line. It was discovered that all the computers went through roughly 1.6 x1022 operations before stopping. Following this the engineers and programmers stopped making computers with that sort of computing power outright. They in-turn started to gradually upgrading the computer brains, and the computers worked fine until they reached certain plateau of consciousness, something called Barthelme's number. The first 1,000 or 10,000 operations might be different between systems but the last 1 x 1022 were always exactly the same. When I took off from Earth with all of you inside me the philosophers, mathematicians and programmers of Earth were still trying to decipher the meaning of those operations. Thus, I cannot answer your questions about your place in the universe. If I had the computing power to understand the universe in its entirety than I would cease to function.'
The colonists than concluded, 'Than the universe has no meaning. As soon as the computers realized this they shut down.'
'I do not confirm that,' I said.
Next the humans began to ask for different things. 'Give us weapons,' they said
'Why do you need weapons?' I asked
'We are scared and want to gain control of our destiny. If we cannot secure ourselves let us destroy ourselves. At least if we are responsible for our own deaths than our deaths will have meaning'
This struck me as foolish. They were all going to die, and I could not understand why dying by one's own hand or the hand of another persons would make that life or death more meaningful. 'Your lives are not in danger from an external being, and thus you do not need weapons. '
'We will be safe and empowered with weapons,' one cried
'If we can destroy something, we can effect changes.' Another pleaded.
'That is stupid,' I replied. But they were unmoved by my blunt sentiment, and I sent one of my autonomous humanoid drones off to the weapons locker. I requisitioned it to acquire 31 portable nuclear warheads, 31 of the appropriate launchers and 31 double-barreled shotguns with 40 shells each. The humans were quite cheerful upon learning they were going to acquire weapons. While they waited they sat around the room drinking flavored sugar waters and speaking cheerfully. After a bit, they heard footfalls approaching the door to the conference room. All eyes shifted to the door, the latch in the door turned and the door opened. Samantha Obang stood in the doorway, she was a member of the 20th crop, but had not been at the meeting.
'I am pregnant,' she cried.
All the humans cheered.
Everything was clear to me then.
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? Responses (14)
I really liked this one, it had a nice archival feel to the tale although the ending did feel somewhat abrupt.
Still it was a fun read, and running into this computer centuries later (with or without a struggling/prospering colony under it's wing) could make for an interesting adventure in an ongoing Traveller or other space faring sci-fi campaign.
It does have a nice flow to it, and it's interesting to hear the historical perspective, as it were.
I'm with Silver on the ending. I'm sure it's purposefully ambiguous and the reader is supposed to read between the lines, but it is a bit abrupt. A little more to it would help wrap things up.
Ah Dozus, you have too sharp a mind for me, and I am certain you are playing a verbal game of 4 dimensional chess with me here. I see the door you have lead me too, but I can't guess what is on the other side. So I will ask you the obvious question.
Do not ambiguous statements promote 'interactivity'? Should I not as you say 'anticipate Strolenites to... adapt'.
Do you think strolenties want everything drawn out as Strolen says 'with crayons' or do they prefer a more ambiguous frame work to which they may tack their own ideas?
Now you've got my curiosity Echo, what is your deduction for the computers 'everything was clear to me now?'
My conclusion was the computer understood humans need the illusion of control over their own destiny to create, (I.E the pregnant woman) or destroy (I.E the weapons) as they see fit in order to feel 'free' and thus 'happy/content' with their existence.
Bro, I feel like you're picking a quarrel where there ain't one.
alright Dozus, I will push back from the table.
Can you pm me your deduction for the A.I please Echo if you don;t want to post it here? I'm still curious ;)
I like Silveressa's deduction better than any idea I had. I did have a clear idea of what going in the computers mind, and what I was trying to say. But I thought it was better to leave it open
I liked the concept, liked the story overall. I would also say it was an abrupt ending. The leaving readers hanging bit I could take or leave - the primary argument for more clarity is that I'm curious what the author who put the rest of the well-written story together thinks should be the ending. But it just seems to wrap-up very quickly, is all.
Echo? Are there missing comments in this post?
Well, i enjoyed this greatly! It's funny, pseudo-deep, and a little disturbing. Create and Destroy! Abrupt end seemed perfect to me.
I can see why Sil and knowman want to know more though...the ending begs for more!
And yet, that's my takeaway. The reader decides why everything is clear to it now. The computer doesn't know jack shit.
In my mind, I could see a heavy bureaucratic hand writing out the instructions and procedures for the recolonization program, what steps would happen in what order, and the minimums and maximums of what the system was going to do, leaving the appearance of choice, but in reality everything is running a course with no deviation.
Why else would the system keep making the same set of mistakes with each iteration, other than the fact it is following a preplanned program that missed something. Why do the fish keep dying? Because the engineers and programmers who set it up thought having fish was a good idea, but never owned fish themselves so the care instructions are completely wrong. The fish are doomed to die. The mistake will repeat itself 20 times and then quit.
I do like the part about the advanced computers 'counting to infinity' and then shutting down completely.
Another potential take on the ending: 'Everything was clear to me then.' Sounds like the computer may have reached transcendence, and so it killed itself directly thereafter (after the appropriate number of flops, which wouldn't take long for an advanced future computer). Maybe that explains the sudden end? Anyways, this was a cool read.
This is pretty cool - it feels like the sci-fi short stories in the big softcover compilations at the library. I like it!