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[P]
The Chronicles of Davidson Creek, Human

By transient0 in Fiction
Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 02:01:26 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

Davidson Creek was not the official Observer on Systematic Worlds Contact and Evaluation Ship 104. He was not even the assistant to the official Observer. The nearest description to his actual function would be intermittently tolerated companion of the assistant to the official Observer. His status as a human being from the Sol system (not yet officially contacted) prevented him from holding any more impressive rank.

His status as a human being also prevented him from sleeping comfortably. The day cycles were too long and though he desperately tried to adjust, his rhythms just couldn't do it. What time was it?

He checked his watch. 5:04 Eastern Standard Time. AM or PM he didn't know. He'd lost count of the days somewhere near Arcturus. It was definitely 1942 though, and he was pretty sure it was August. As far as ship time was concerned, it was the middle of the night. And he was starving.


Out of the bed and over to the food machine. That was the problem with the translator: the names of everything were so implacably boring. Food machine. Space drive. Translator. Space radio. Informative names, but they had no pizazz. Why wasn't anything called the model 79a? Or the defrozzler? Because of infinite sensibility on the part of the Linguists.

Toast. Or unToast. Davidson didn't care how the machine worked or how accurate its replicas were. If there was no grain, no farmer and no toaster involved in the process, it wasn't toast. Davidson looked out the window (porthole?) at unfamiliar constellations. He had long ago given up trying to pick out Sol in the sky when it jumped across the cosmos nightly and unpredictably. He felt as though he should be thinking monumental thoughts, but instead he was considering whether to get coffee or tea.

Suddenly he remembered what was special about today. First contact.

Some world was about to have its collective window of opportunity and knowledge flung wide open. The aliens were coming, Davidson Creek thick among them.

He ordered coffee.

#

Davidson couldn't help but think about how his ancestors must have felt, some hundred and fifty years earlier when the first Europeans began to show up in Ontario. If that hadn't happened, would he still be the same person? Would he still be a reluctant warrior, only with spear and bow rather than rifle and grenade? Would he still have found himself at twenty years old screaming through the galaxy on an alien ship?

Really though, there was no comparison. After all, the Linguists had no intent to settle on... he checked Raschen's notes... Planet Dirt(Life Bearing Planetary Body Code #98233). If anything, the proper comparison would be Cook's discovery of Tahiti. Or was it Easter Island? Maybe he discovered both. Davidson had never paid much attention in history class, preferring the myths of his grandparents to those of his teachers.

Of course, the Linguists and the Committee had discovered #98233 some centuries ago, but were only now choosing to make contact. The stars had aligned. Dirter society and technology had converged upon some point which Earth must also be rapidly approaching. Some point past which the Subgalactic Committee could no longer leave well enough alone. A point in their history where the stars and heavens would open up and spit forth the long awaited "We come in peace."

#

Raschen awoke at 8:24 (by Davidson's watch) with a start.

"What the Hell are you doing?" he blinked with his iridescent flagella.

Davidson wondered just what the concept was in Raschen's language that the translator decided to render as "Hell." But given his friend's obvious state of distress, he didn't ask. "Reading," he said.

"Reading?! How long have you been awake?"

The translator did an excellent job of emotional voicing, but Davidson always found Raschen's colourful emotive displays to be even more informative. Or at least more interesting. "A couple of hours," he said.

"It's contact day! Why didn't you wake me?!"

Before Davidson could figure out what to say, Raschen was in the washroom doing whatever his species did in the mornings. In the fifteen months he and Raschen had been friends, Davidson had never once been tempted to ask what those ablutions were.

Ten minutes later, Raschen reemerged from the washroom, still sparkling in frantic shades of yellow. He hastily donned his assistant Observer's smock and grabbed up his notes. Just as he was disappearing out the door, he flashed at Davidson: "Are you coming, or what?"

#

A small field party met them in the atmosphere craft bay. The contact team consisted of six members. The captain and the spokesbeing were both Linguists. One of the security beings was from a small planet in the Lesser Magellanic and the other from Tau Ceti, practically Davidson's neighbour. Senva, the official Observer, was also there. Raschen was the sixth member of the crew.

The captain, spokesbeing and Senva were conversing animatedly with a creature Davidson did not recognize. There were only about a hundred and fifty beings on the C&E ship and Davidson was pretty sure he knew all of them by sight. From where he was standing, Davidson's translator was only picking up snatches of the dialog.

"...great potential for philosophical thought... ...productive and interesting artistic community... ...yes, several different religions and creation myths... ...scientific progress through nuclear approaching protonic... ...not wars, skirmishes..."

As Davidson and Raschen approached closer, Senva turned towards them.

"You missed the beginning of agent Gurad's report."

"My apologies, Observer," Raschen flashed with obeisance.

Gurad wrapped up quickly with a few brief statements about the world's current political dynamic and the recommended point of contact. Senva and the Linguists both made thoughtful gestures similar to nodding for a few moments.

The captain broke the silence by addressing Senva. "Pending your approval, Observer, we will be departing for the surface in one hour."

"You have it, captain," Senva said, "everything is in accordance with procedure. Although, I do fear that agent Gurad may have developed an unhealthy level of attachment to Dirter civilization. We must keep this possibility in mind when considering the report."

Gurad opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again when the captain met his gaze. It was the Observer's duty to provide an objective viewpoint on every aspect of the contact. Calling Senva's judgement into question would be a serious breach of etiquette. The Observer's statements were already a matter of record and Gurad could only make things worse for himself by commenting on them.

The captain began giving orders to his small crew. The ship must be prepared for departure. Senva and Raschen were engaged in a lively conversation about the minutiae of contact protocol and Gurad had already excused himself. Davidson was glad that Raschen had invited him to the meeting, but now he was beginning to feel in the way. He looked around for an excuse to leave. Failing to find anything suitable, he simply turned and began to walk back to his and Raschen's quarters.

Before he had travelled a dozen paces, Senva called out to him: "Sol being!"

Davidson turned around. "Davidson Creek," he reminded the Observer."

"Yes yes," Senva said, "would you mind coming over here please?"

Once Davidson had rejoined the group, Senva addressed the captain: "Do you object, captain, to Davidson Creek of the Sol system accompanying us on this mission? I would be interested in his insight."

Davidson glanced at Raschen, whose confused glittering indicated that he had been no more expecting this turn of events than Davidson himself.

"Of course not," said the captain, "we would be pleased to have the Sol being Davidson Creek onboard." The translator did not neglect to include a tinge of sarcasm.

#

They were fitted with hologram projectors on the flight to the surface which cloaked each of them in image of a creature of the same physiology as Gurad's form, but slightly larger and of different coloration. This was, Raschen explained, the image which Gurad's research had suggested the people of Planet Dirt would be most accepting of as representing visitors from the stars.

They set down just outside of a large city. The captain had already been in communication with the leaders of Dirt's largest political unit and this location had been negotiated as a landing site. A wide perimeter around the site was fenced off by the time they touched down. There was a huge crowd and a healthy representation of what are universally recognizable on any world as Cops.

The president was not waiting at the landing site, though his aide was. The spokesbeing talked with him at great length and spoke also with the leaders of the various smaller nations of Dirt who had traveled the circumference of the planet to be present. The discussions were all relayed into the ship where Senva and Raschen monitored them.

Davidson was fascinated at first, but in the end it was just politics. Alien politics, but politics nonetheless. "It is a great honor to welcome our brothers from beyond the sky" and "May I be the first to extend an invitation of total hospitality to any of your noble species" and "Do you mind good interstellar Sir if I get a photograph of you holding this trademarked product?"

Davidson took a nap.

He was awakened by Raschen shaking his shoulder.

"The crowd's gone," Raschen said through holographic vocal chords, "Senva and the spokesbeing are in the city. It will be another hour before his meeting with the president. Now is our chance to get a look around."

Outside, the air was breathable and pleasantly warm, but had a distasteful smell to it.

"High sulfur content," Raschen explained, "not dangerous to your physiology."

The crowd was perhaps smaller, but still huge. A visible and audible ripple of excitement propagated through the gathering when they stepped out of the ship. Davidson felt like a movie star. Should he wave? He resisted the urge.

"Come on," Raschen said, and led him toward the perimeter. A cop broke off from his pack to intercept them before they could actually reach the fence.

"Is there any way I can be of service?" he asked in the tone of servility beyond reproach which always suggested contempt.

"We would like to speak with one of your people," Raschen said.

"There are many dignitaries and journalists who would be very happy for the opportunity, shall I summon one in particular?"

"No, no," Raschen said, "no-one like that. We would like to talk to an average citizen. Just someone who has come to see the ship."

Davidson didn't need any cue from the translator to read the discomfort in the cop's expression. He returned to his pack and there was a lively argument involving much pointing. Finally, the cop separated himself again, went over to the fence and allowed one of the creatures through the barricade.

While the cop was addressing the creature, probably giving strict orders about the things it was permissible to say to aliens, Raschen leaned over and whispered, "Do you think she's cute? They're bi-gendered you know. Just like your species."

Davidson was about to say "so are chickens," but he was certain Raschen had no idea what a chicken was and he wasn't sure how the translator would handle it. Besides, she was on her way over.

"Greetings," said Raschen, and Davidson grimaced. Why not "Hello?" Of course, it was the translator doing the talking, but Raschen had helloed Davidson before, so clearly it knew the difference.

"Um... Greetings?" the alien said. The translator provided her a female voice. A sexy one, too.

"Tell us what part you play in this culture," Raschen said, obviously enjoying his god-from-the-stars status.

"I'm a housewife," she said sheepishly.

Davidson interjected before Raschen could speak again. "Don't be scared," he said.

"I'm not," she lied badly.

"No really," Davidson said, "it won't be that bad. I mean, it will be hard on your culture, sure. There will be a lot of new things to accept, but it will all be so exciting."

He looked to Raschen for support. He knew he sounded like an idiot, but he just couldn't stop himself.

"Just think of the new technology, the new opportunities. It means the end of war in your lifetime. I mean, who has time to fight when there are aliens to welcome and a galaxy to explore. And art, do you like art?"

"I studied art in college," she admitted.

"Just imagine, the entire cultural history of thousands of worlds laid open before you. I mean sure, a lot it is really trashy, but just think about it."

"You're right," she said tentatively, "it IS exciting. And frightening."

Just then a siren went off. Davidson jumped, but neither the alien girl nor the cops seemed to hear it.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

Raschen had grabbed him by the arm and was pulling in the direction of the ship.

"Yes, I'm fine" Davidson said.

"I'm sorry," Raschen said, "we've got to go."

"Wait," she called out after them, the cop preventing her from following, "what is your name?"

"Davidson," he called back. The translator let it slide.

"Daffidun," she said, patting her abdomen, "a good name for a child," she had to shout to continue, "a child who will grow up among the stars!"

And they were inside the ship before he could respond.

"What is it?" Raschen demanded of the captain.

"Diplomatic breakdown," the captain said tersely.

"Not a problem, I hope."

"Shouldn't be, so long as the spokesbeing and Observer got out of there in time."

Feeling the tension in the ship, but knowing better than to ask questions, Davidson watched with the others through the viewport. After a moment, a blur appeared in the sky. The captain breathed a sigh of relief as the blur resolved itself into Senva and the spokesbeing swooping in under personal propulsion.

#

The escape was slightly tense. Raschen explained to Davidson that there was no real danger. The Dirters had surreptitiously launched some variation on an EMP net (whatever that was) to prevent the contact ship from leaving. The technology of Planet Dirt, however, was incapable of harming or hindering the ship. But still, the holographic dance by which they turned the ship invisible and left a perfect image of it in their place as they departed was vital.

Within moments, Dirter militia swarmed the landing site, as the surveillance feelers had indicated they were planning to do. A cloaked missile from the contact ship, intercepted the holographic copy of the ship at precisely the same moment as the first Dirter troops. The resulting explosion tore apart the hologram, the converging forces and more than a few unevacuated curious onlookers.

To simulate a self-destruct mechanism, Raschen lectured him; it was of the utmost importance that the natives believe the the ship had been destroyed.

"But why did they do it?" Davidson asked.

"Do I look like a psychologist?"

Not at all, Davidson thought, psychologists have two arms, two legs and a head.

"It happens about a third the time," Raschen elaborated, "fear, I guess. They attack or try to seize the contact ship and we go about our business. They don't get to play in our sandbox and everyone's happy. The Committee doesn't tolerate violent parties."

Davidson was more than a little surprised. "None of the species that make up the Committee or Consensus make war?"he asked, "Ever?" He was thinking of the Earth as he had left it, with a madman charging through Europe and a million naive children crossing the ocean do die stopping him.

Senva and the captain could be heard arguing in the background. They had activated the privacy mode on their translators, so the sounds that reached Davidson and Raschen were meaningless to them.

"Well, of course they do sometimes," Raschen replied, "it's almost a requirement to be a sentient species. When resources are limited, you kill people off until there's enough to go around. It's the unnecessary violence that disqualifies a people."

Unnecessary like every war in human history?

Davidson sat in silence, feeling embarrassed for himself and his world.

#

Back aboard Systematic Worlds Contact and Evaluation Ship 104 there was an atmosphere of denouement. When a contact played out properly everyone had a part to play. And they had to be prepared to fulfil their role every time. Now that the Dirters had shown their inhospitality, there were over a hundred psychologists, scientists, anthropologists and speech-makers standing down from battle-stations.

Raschen, for his part, was busily filling out forms and reports at his desk. His account of the contact would accompany Senva's back to the Committee. He needed also to send his report and an accompanying essay back to Polaris IV University. His assistant Observer placement was earning him credit toward his degree in Xenofilial Relations.

Davidson meanwhile sat listlessly on his cot. He sat thinking about his mother. About how she had named him Davidson, after the doctor. Named him after a white man bringing an Ojibway boy into the world. Thinking about how he had been born on the reservation but turned out early into the white man's world. An alien world full of art and custom he would grow up sharing but never really absorbing. He was interrupted by an excited shout from Raschen.

"What is it?" Davidson asked, concealing his disorientation.

"Haha!" Raschen flashed joyously, "they've relieved Gurad of duty. Conflict of interests. Nearly went mad upon hearing the decision about the Dirters."

"I feel sorry for him," Davidson said, counting on the translator to find the right pronoun, "why does that make you happy?"

"Well, they still have to send someone back down. And procedure dictates that in a case like this, that duty falls to the Observer."

"Senva?"

"That's right. And the assistant Observer-- the assistant Observer becomes the acting Observer!"

Raschen was overcome by another bout of ecstatic glimmering.

"Just wait till I write home to my parents," he flickered more to himself than to Davidson, "Sure, it's only until next starfall, but still-- Observer Raschen," he tried the title on for size, "And I haven't even finished my degree yet!"

"So they're just leaving Senva here?"

"They certainly are," Raschen flashed, "the old bastard better not forget to leave his Observer's smock behind for me."

"For how long?" Davidson asked.

"Who cares?" He checked his notes anyway, "forty years."

"Why only forty years?"

"That's how long the Dirters live."

"So they're only monitored for one generation?"

"Well, of course. Then they're no longer a threat."

"What? Why?"

Raschen blinked in confusion. "Because we sterilize them, of course."

Davidson couldn't believe his ears. He imagined the girl he had talked to. Naming her child after him.

"When?" he asked frantically.

"Oh, it's probably already been done," Raschen flashed distractedly, "Standard procedure, they mix up the virus in advance before each contact, in case it's needed. What's wrong?"

If Raschen was noticing, Davidson knew his distress must be obvious.

"Nothing," he lied. He left the room immediately. He needed to be alone.

As he wandered the corridors of the ship he thought about violence. He thought about deer hunting with his father and brother as a child. About the feel of rifle in his young hands and his budding understanding of how it represented not only the power to eat, but the power to assert authority. He thought about fistfights with his brother John. Fights that John always started and usually lost. And he thought also about his basic training, two short years ago. About the nineteen other children who made up his company and about how they were all being carefully conditioned to kill other human beings, without yet even beginning to grasp what that actually meant. He thought about the base camp in England and the frequent and contradictory reports of victory and defeat on the mainland. And he thought about the first two men he killed. A grenade through a window ending the lives of a Nazi soldier and a cowering civilian both. But most of all, Davidson thought about how, for all the raping, pillaging and killing, the two greatest violences performed upon Native Americans by Europeans were small pox and influenza.

#

When he finally returned to the quarters he shared with Raschen, the alien was sound asleep. Raschen's notes were open on the desk and he was still logged into the ship's computer, the strange little moving picture screen acknowledging him as acting Observer. Assistant no longer.

Down one side was the list of planets for the ship to visit in the future. After a small amount of fiddling, Davidson was able to discern how to scroll the list. Hundreds and hundreds of worlds to be given just one chance to show their worth. And a third of them destined to miss the mark. Hundreds of peoples and cultures to wiped out forever by this single little group of travellers. Tears, of anger or sadness or both, were blurring Davidson's eyes as he read the names of stars and planets with such a short period of time to prepare themselves for a genocidal test they could not know was coming.

It was the tears that prevented him from seeing it at first, but as he scrolled back up the list there could be no mistake. "Sol-Earth"-- Estimated time of contact, fifteen years.

Davidson tried desperately to erase it, to physically scratch it from the screen, but the Observer did not have the authority. He clawed and hammered at the screen with desperation, but the words would not disappear. Maybe he could get a message out, he thought wildly, maybe he could warn the Prime Minister, the President, anybody. But what difference would it make? Would human nature change in fifteen years? Davidson hit his head resignedly against the screen and let it slide down until it rested flat on the desk. He sobbed silently and mourned the passing of mankind.

When he finally raised his head, something was different. He blinked twice at the screen before he realized what it was. Earth was five places further down the list than it had been before. Estimated time of contact, sixteen years. The Observer had the power to re-prioritize! Glancing over his shoulder to ensure Raschen was still asleep, Davidson guiltily slid Earth to the bottom of the list.

He couldn't save mankind, but he could buy them a few hundred years.

###

transient0 is also known as Frank Duff, author of Lysergically Yours.

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Display: Sort:
The Chronicles of Davidson Creek, Human | 60 comments (33 topical, 27 editorial, 0 hidden)
Odd discrepancy, ending comments (none / 0) (#6)
by xC0000005 on Sun Oct 16, 2005 at 06:55:06 PM EST

My opinion is worth about as much as you paid for it, so do as you will, but I found it odd that Sol and Earth would be the designation for the system. I'd have expected coordinates (relative center of the galaxy/w adaptations for movement?), then maybe a note regarding the race's name. The reference to "Dirters" is nice, but I'd expect it to be carried through. As for the ending, it falls flat for me. The reason, (I think) is that it seems futile and or worthless for him to buy additional time, with no agent for change. Also, why is Davidson tolerated if his species has failed? I would expect him to be erased first. Oh well. An interesting read - just didn't fire on all cylinders for me.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
what discrepancy? (3.00 / 2) (#54)
by krishna on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 09:53:57 AM EST

Everything he hears and reads being run through some kind of magic translation system. It would make sense that the coordinates or whatever designation would be translate into something more familiar to him.

Why is Davidson tolerated if his species has failed? His species has not been tested yet. The assumption is that we will fail when tested. How Davidson ended up there in the first place is in question, but your imagination should be more than capable of filling that in.


[ Parent ]

I have this feeling I know the story (none / 0) (#8)
by richarj on Mon Oct 17, 2005 at 05:44:40 AM EST

Or at least elements. It feels like Isaac Asimov writing the "Day the Earth stood still" almost. There also was a race in Stargate SG-1 that sterilized worlds it had conquered.

"if you are uncool, don't worry, K5 is still the place for you!" -- rusty
Excellent, we should be well ready by then. (none / 1) (#12)
by Russell Dovey on Mon Oct 17, 2005 at 08:27:21 AM EST

Sterilisation virus? Who cares? That'll only hurt the old-fashioned types who are still reproducing like we do now. That's if the virus even survives for very long while being hunted by the immune system of whatever meatspace hab the aliens land on.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

Great story by the way. (3.00 / 4) (#13)
by Russell Dovey on Mon Oct 17, 2005 at 08:29:04 AM EST

It's harder than it looks to write a good little piece of sci-fi like this, folks.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

good job! (3.00 / 2) (#30)
by CAIMLAS on Mon Oct 17, 2005 at 08:30:34 PM EST

I really enjoyed the story, and enjoy your stories in general. (Damn, I really need to get some of my writingon in hea!)

However, the story felt incomplete. I wanted to know how Davidson got on the ship, and what the dealings these aliens had on earth that brought him there.

What were the implications of him moving Earth down the list? Would contacts on the planet die, or would they communicate back to the space consortium that foul play was in order? Would Davidson's treachery be detected?

The story felt too final to me. Instead of addressing the issue, he kept silent. Was there a social aspect which wasn't sufficiently elaborated upon which led to any raised concerns going unheard?

Was he not brought on the planetside mission so as to provide the Observer with another perspective? Since the observer was dismissed, would any perspective provided by Davidson be seen (if any was made at all)? It would seem that Davidson is a coward (unwilling participant in combat, and unwillingness to act), but this contradicts (on some levels) his willingness to leave his home early and go out into "the Western world" as well.

There are a large number of unresolved elements in the story, and I feel it needed more elaboration. Get some of that stuff tucked away, and I say submit it to science fiction magazines; it's better than many of the stories I've read in the "best of" science fiction books, IMO.

And I'd agree, this story kind of feels like something Asimov might have written: maybe somewhat like The Gods Themselves.
--

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

War (none / 1) (#31)
by fairthought on Mon Oct 17, 2005 at 10:14:48 PM EST

I liked the story, but this paragraph bothered me:
"Well, of course they do sometimes," Raschen replied, "it's almost a requirement to be a sentient species. When resources are limited, you kill people off until there's enough to go around. It's the unnecessary violence that disqualifies a people."
I can accept that advanced civilizations still war, but I can't accept the reasons given. A statement like this damages the view of these creatures being any more ethically advanced than humans. When presenting controversial points of view like this, I think it would be best to keep the reasoning vague. Let the reader supply his own reasoning for the aliens' behavior.

I was about to explain why I felt the alien's statement incorrect, but I would have felt strange arguing with a fictional character. His statements aren't necessarily your views.

I think that's the point (none / 1) (#33)
by localroger on Mon Oct 17, 2005 at 11:01:41 PM EST

I mean they genocidally eliminate one third of the species they encounter if they fail to properly handle a one time only chance at contact. Their power allows them to define this as "ethical conduct" by fiat but obviously the human protagonist has other ideas.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
I considered that (none / 1) (#34)
by fairthought on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 12:33:51 AM EST

But I don't think that view is supported in the story. It does seem like a reasonable method of preventing a rising warlike species from wreaking havoc among the galactic community. They don't even kill anyone in the process.

If that really was the intent, I think it needs to be made more clear. This could have been done by killing the people outright, having the decision making for which species to eradicate careless or arbitrary, or by having them do something else "obviously" wrong. Probably even more effective would be to have the protagonist express his feelings over the aliens' actions. The mere act of eliminating species that handle first contact badly can be viewed as high standards on the part of the aliens more than unethical behavior.

Another point: immediately after the quotation I gave earlier, we are given this:

Unnecessary like every war in human history?

Davidson sat in silence, feeling embarrassed for himself and his world.
The embarrassment suggests to me that if humans are eliminated it should be considered their own fault.

[ Parent ]
i generally try very hard (none / 1) (#35)
by transient0 on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 02:09:20 AM EST

to avoid getting in conversations like this baout my work. preffering to let the text stand then risk screwing it up by clarifying in comments.

but if you read later parts it becomes clear that Davidson is very much in doubt of the ethical grounds on which the behavior of the aliens is based. yet he remains largely unable to affect it.

localroger basically has it right.
---------
lysergically yours
[ Parent ]

Thanks for chiming in (none / 1) (#38)
by fairthought on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 12:05:43 PM EST

My goal here is to provide constructive criticism. If you're the sort of author who likes to write with the attitude that the reader can "take it or leave it", then I'm just wasting my time here.

Are you depending on the negative emotional reaction to the possibility of the human species being eliminated to convey to the reader that what the aliens are doing is wrong? There doesn't seem to be much else to indicate it.

The feelings I get from the protagonist are primarily of sadness and fear for the human species rather than righteous indignation. His lack of faith that humans can pass this test is also telling, especially since (nearly?) everyone agrees that war is bad. The test itself doesn't seem unfair, although the punishment for failure does seem extreme. However, we were given no indication that there was a more merciful alternative so it's hard to judge the aliens wrong for meting out such a harsh punishment.

Am I missing something in the story, or am I simply not reacting as expected? Maybe I'm the only one who read the story this way, in which case it's fairly safe to ignore my point of view. If not, then it may benefit your story to find out what cues were missed, and which ones I picked up on that were unintended.

[ Parent ]

thanks (none / 1) (#42)
by transient0 on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 01:31:10 PM EST

it's not that i am of the "take it of leave it" school so much as it is that I donb't like to leave permanent records of myself interpreting my own stories. most fiction can be appreciated in multiple ways and i've always thought that if a piece can't stand a lone without knowing the author's intent then it has somehow failed.

but, despite this, in response to your questions:

the story is obviously a very thinly veiled allegory. human nature is meant to be reflected in both the contact party and in the Dirters.

The idea being that it would be NICE if we could pass such a test and interact with other like-minded peaceful and ethically advanced species, but unlikely that we ever would. And this is Davidson's first thought.

But then his second is that the alien's don't really SEEM that much more ethically advanced and that perhaps they have confused technological superiority with cultural and moral superiority, something else that humans do all the time.

Finally, you bring up the key point. The aliens have taken one of the most vital and important decisions that they ever have to make, the decision regarding the fate of an entire sentient species; and they have built it up into a false dichotomy. It is the same "with us or against us" mentality that is yet another huge and common failing in human morality. And as rusty points out in the comment tree above this one, mass sterilization is hardly a more humane solution than extermination. In fact, one must wonder, how is this act of the contact part so much different from an act of war; surely the Dirters would consider it to be one. So in the end, Davidson is forced to acknowledge that the aliens are NOT morally superior, but then neither are they worse than us.

this passage is key:

As he wandered the corridors of the ship he thought about violence. He thought about deer hunting with his father and brother as a child. About the feel of rifle in his young hands and his budding understanding of how it represented not only the power to eat, but the power to assert authority. He thought about fistfights with his brother John. Fights that John always started and usually lost. And he thought also about his basic training, two short years ago. About the nineteen other children who made up his company and about how they were all being carefully conditioned to kill other human beings, without yet even beginning to grasp what that actually meant. He thought about the base camp in England and the frequent and contradictory reports of victory and defeat on the mainland. And he thought about the first two men he killed. A grenade through a window ending the lives of a Nazi soldier and a cowering civilian both. But most of all, Davidson thought about how, for all the raping, pillaging and killing, the two greatest violences performed upon Native Americans by Europeans were small pox and influenza.

also, remember that this passage you quoted earlier is from before Davidson learns of the final fate of the Dirters:

Unnecessary like every war in human history?

Davidson sat in silence, feeling embarrassed for himself and his world.


---------
lysergically yours
[ Parent ]
Here's the problem. (none / 0) (#45)
by fairthought on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 02:27:09 PM EST

Killing in self defense is widely considered acceptable in our society. The aliens seemed to believe that warlike species were a threat. If they are correct in this evaluation then they are justified in removing the threat.

In order to consider the aliens to be in the wrong we need to be given some reason to believe that these warlike species are unlikely to ever be a threat to the aliens, or we need to be shown that if warlike species are a threat, that there is a much better way of dealing with them. The former problem did not seem to be addressed at all, so I assumed the aliens' evaluation was intended to be correct. Since the aliens avoided killing and went with sterilization, I assumed the aliens were trying to choose the most moral alternative. An indication in the story that species sterilization is worse than death would have conveyed the message that this was not the case.

I think my reaction is the natural one for most people. Killing is normally considered the most evil act. Having them avoid it makes it sound like they are intended to be considered good despite the things they must do.

The message from the story with this interpretation is that humans are hopelessly warlike and it will end up being their downfall. It seemed a reasonable enough interpretation.

[ Parent ]

ah.... (none / 1) (#46)
by transient0 on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 03:07:54 PM EST

i disagree with almost all of your above statements in re: ethics.

you interpretation IS a reasonable one and is, in fact, part of the reason i try to avoid making pronouncements on the meaning or intent of my own work.

my story may be an allegory, but i do not intend it to be a heavy-handed one sided lesson. more i suppose, i was hoping it to be a morsel to chew on for a while, a catalyst to make people consider their own thoughts on the relevant subjects (for they are, i hope, relevant even when removed from the science fiction context) rather than an attempt to make eveyone see things the way i do.

So, you see, your conclusion is as valid as localroger's or rusty's. I just happen to empathize more with theirs. I have said WHAT the characters in the story did, but I don't feel it is my place to say whether or not what they did was RIGHT.

---

one final thing to consider: I did not in anyway intend for this story to be a metaphor for the War in Iraq (in fact, the first draft of this story predates the bombing of baghdad) , but given the comments you have made above it becomes clear that it could be read that way. If someone were to read it that way, consider the very different take on the story that a firmly pro-WiI reader would have as compared to a firmly anti-WiI reader.

if i have done my job well, both readers could derive some enjoyment from the story and would, at least, spend a few minutes thinking about why they feel the way they do.
---------
lysergically yours
[ Parent ]

Surprising (none / 0) (#48)
by fairthought on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 04:39:23 PM EST

i disagree with almost all of your above statements in re: ethics.
I did not think anything in my statements was even the least bit controversial. Where precisely do you disagree?

[ Parent ]
response (none / 1) (#49)
by transient0 on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 05:04:07 PM EST

you said:

[1] Killing in self defense is widely considered acceptable in our society.
[1.1] The aliens seemed to believe that warlike species were a threat.

[2] If they are correct in this evaluation then they are justified in removing the threat.

while i more or less agree with the stance in 1 (lethal force is only acceptable in self-defence if there is no other option or if the attack itself has obvious lethal intent), i do not at all feel that 2 follows form 1.

there is a difference between self-defence and pre-emptive offence.
---------
lysergically yours
[ Parent ]

We don't necessarily disagree (none / 0) (#50)
by fairthought on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 06:03:11 PM EST

You obviously have a greater knowledge of the situation you posed in your story. The question for me was, was there any way at all to fill in the blanks in the story such that there was a justification for their actions.

Since this is science fiction, it's not too difficult to imagine a situation where a developing species could quickly gain the power to destroy the entire galactic community. Neither is it difficult to imagine a warlike species that would find using this power irresistable. The combination would make the destruction of the alien civilization inevitable if this developing species were allowed to survive. The aliens, with their advanced sciences could be able to determine accurately if this were the case. In the real world these are unlikely conditions. For a science fiction story they are everyday fare.

So maybe we don't really disagree. Maybe I just have an overactive imagination. I rarely agree much with authors' views of the future so I'm used to trying to twist my expectations for the sake of the story. Unfortunately, sometimes I twist in the wrong direction.

[ Parent ]

Don't even kill anyone? (3.00 / 4) (#36)
by rusty on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 11:08:15 AM EST

It does seem like a reasonable method of preventing a rising warlike species from wreaking havoc among the galactic community. They don't even kill anyone in the process.

Think about the lives of the sterilized generation before their species finally comes to an end. It's not like no one's going to notice that there are no more babies. First it'll be a strange statistical blip, but within probably weeks, maybe months, it will develop into a major crisis. The religious will go apeshit, there'll probably be many many stonings and sacrifices in a fruitless attempt to atone for whatever they think they did. I would give it a couple of years before civil society breaks down altogether. It's almost assured that the last generation won't live out a normal life span.

It would be far, far more humane to just kill everyone on the planet outright. By sterilizing them, the aliens take away any hope for the future, while leaving them alive to realize it.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

I wasn't extrapolating the results (none / 1) (#39)
by fairthought on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 12:44:43 PM EST

of secret sterilization. I usually give the author the benefit of the doubt for information left out of a story. Without further explanation in the story I feel it safe only to assume immediate consequences. There simply will be no future generations, and the people may be upset over that, but they will be able to live out their lives in some reasonably normal way.

Aside from that, I certainly don't believe that it is more humane to kill people than to sterilize them. After all, what hope does anyone have for the future after death? But I'm not a parent. Parents generally have a greater concern for events after their deaths through concern for their descendents.

Still, given the choice, I don't think anyone would rather be killed than sterilized. Parents I also wouldn't expect to prefer their children's being killed over being sterilized. I don't see the decision changing for many people if the question were about the entire population being killed versus being sterilized. Most people will want to live even if the future isn't as rosy as they originally hoped.

Killing an entire population in preference to sterilizing to be more humane sounds akin to nonconsensual euthanasia. I consider it wrong. With sterilization, individuals are still free to choose death for themselves if that's what they prefer.

[ Parent ]

Individual vs. species (3.00 / 2) (#40)
by rusty on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 12:55:28 PM EST

I don't think any individual would choose to be killed rather than sterilized either. But if the choice was killed vs. your whole species sterilized, I'd pick death. Life in the face of imminent and known extinction would suck unbelievably.

This is all, of course, assuming the sterilization is 100% effective. If there was maybe some chance of beating it, well obviously the situation changes. Still, given that the contact party clearly believes there is no such chance, from their POV their choice is pretty damn evil.

And while I might be looking at how I'd react as a parent, I'm also considering that even if you personally didn't care, your society would be in total disarray. It's not like you could decide whether to just go on with life as usual or not.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Suppose (none / 0) (#44)
by fairthought on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 01:47:40 PM EST

that most people do share your point of view. By sterilizing rather than killing the victims are given a choice so that those who wish to live out their lives may do so. In this scenario, those who would rather die are cursed with the knowledge of imminent species death. Is it fair to kill those who wish to live in order to spare others from knowledge of the truth before their deaths? I would say not.

Are your feelings on the matter derived from the assumption that everyone else would have the same preferences as yourself? Or do you think the good from saving those who would prefer death from knowledge of their species' termination outweighs the evil of killing those who want to live? Or do you think that no one would truly want to live in that situation and those that think otherwise are wrong and need to be saved from making a poor decision?

[ Parent ]

Psst Rusty check your email /nt (none / 0) (#51)
by localroger on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 08:05:13 PM EST



I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Ah crap (none / 0) (#52)
by rusty on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 10:29:52 PM EST

Sorry, I meant to do that forever ago. I've been ridiculously busy.

I'll go do that now.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

'k thx looks good /nt (none / 0) (#53)
by localroger on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 10:55:47 PM EST



I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
our betters (3.00 / 2) (#60)
by krishna on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 01:52:14 PM EST

There were other hints at the sham of the "superior" races.

Gurad is sacked for his empathy. Raschen is so very delighted over Gurad's dismissal. If the point was to imply that the aliens are morally superior to us we wouldn't have been given the housewife to relate to.

If that really was the intent, I think it needs to be made more clear. This could have been done by killing the people outright, having the decision making for which species to eradicate careless or arbitrary, or by having them do something else "obviously" wrong.
The mere act of eliminating species that handle first contact badly can be viewed as high standards on the part of the aliens more than unethical behavior.

The choice of wiping out an entire species based on a single meeting and a single mistake strikes me as very careless and arbitrary. We have Gurad in the background showing us a dissenting opinion and telling us of the great contributions this culture could have made. He is the one who has been observing this species all this time. He would be the one best able to judge the overall worth of the people.

Probably even more effective would be to have the protagonist express his feelings over the aliens' actions.

I don't think the point of a protagonist is to tell us how we are supposed to think and feel. That would make the story feel annoyingly preachy.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but I think parallels are being drawn between "superior" Europeans coming into contact with "inferior" natives. Hence the choice of the Ojibwa main character and the last bit of reminiscing he did.

As an aside, maybe the whole limited resources notion is their overall justification for their actions. There may be very limited resources for all the species in the universe so we might as well start with the killing the "inferior" ones.


[ Parent ]

You're right (none / 0) (#61)
by fairthought on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 05:56:59 PM EST

There wasn't much in the story suggesting the aliens were supposed to be ethically superior. Neither was there much suggesting otherwise. Typically stories like this give aliens a stricter moral code, or at least make them better follow it.

Gurad is sacked for his empathy.

Gurad was supposed to be unbiased. It was noted that this may not have been so and this should be taken into account when reading his reports. I would view this as a good thing.

Raschen is so very delighted over Gurad's dismissal.

Most people probably would consider this bad. I don't. A feeling someone has can't be immoral. Only actions based on these feelings can be. I therefore did not take this as very strong evidence that the aliens had questionable ethics. Furthermore, there's a difference between individual and group ethics. These are often related, but in a story like this one expects humanlike behavior from aliens on the individual level because that's what writers are skilled with. Your interpretation here also makes perfect sense.

If the point was to imply that the aliens are morally superior to us we wouldn't have been given the housewife to relate to.

The housewife episode gives us reason to empathize with both the dirters and with the protagonist. This could have merely been intended to show us that doing what needs to be done can be difficult and painful.

The choice of wiping out an entire species based on a single meeting and a single mistake strikes me as very careless and arbitrary.

It does sound very harsh. If this were not science fiction I would probably have the same feeling. With super advanced science and technology it's possible that the judgment of a species with such limited information is possible. I was hoping for something in the story suggesting that there was a less harsh alternative or that the aliens could have judged wrongly. If I got that, I would agree completely that the aliens doing wrong by destroying species so easily. Was there something along those lines that I missed? Because that could have been done in a sentence or two and it would be all it would take to change my perspective on the story.

We have Gurad in the background showing us a dissenting opinion and telling us of the great contributions this culture could have made. He is the one who has been observing this species all this time. He would be the one best able to judge the overall worth of the people.

I see this as more reason to feel bad for the aliens. One can similarly feel bad for people convicted of crimes and getting long prison terms, even if they deserve it. The sentencing can be correct while empathy still exists for the individual affected.

I don't think the point of a protagonist is to tell us how we are supposed to think and feel. That would make the story feel annoyingly preachy.

I agree with you. I hate preachy stories. The problem here though is that the protagonist seemed to agree with the alien's evaluation of wars. All he needed to do was express some doubt. There are many actions in stories I read that are supposed to be "good" but that I consider immoral. I need cues from the author to tell me how I should consider them. Not doing this leads to misinterpreting the characters' later actions.

The limited resources thing is what I initially had a problem with. The aliens claim that "necessary" wars were caused by limited resources. Most human wars were in some way caused by limited resources - real estate and economics. The protagonist disagreed with my view and considered all human wars unnecessary by this measure. It was this that made me start to think the aliens were meant to be morally superior to humans. I disagreed with the aliens, but the human didn't so perhaps the author expected us to agree with the aliens as well.

Thanks for your well thought out reply.

[ Parent ]

Voted up on principle (2.00 / 3) (#32)
by debacle on Mon Oct 17, 2005 at 10:42:48 PM EST

I mean he is from HuSi, after all.

It tastes sweet.
Wow (none / 0) (#47)
by wurp on Tue Oct 18, 2005 at 04:39:06 PM EST

Really, really great stuff.  It reminds me of a combination of Larry Niven's writing and Kieth Laumer's "Retief" series.

More!
---
Buy my stuff

Strange ethical hole (none / 0) (#55)
by toulouse on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 11:40:30 AM EST

Why is buying humanity a few more years any more important than buying the 'Dirters' a few more years? If Davidson is so distraught at the revelations caused by his visit to the Dirter world, their behaviour and the behaviour of the observing culture, wherefore is the purchase of breathing room for humanity any kind of catharsis or resolution? To see my point, simply switch dirter for human and vice versa at every instance during the story.

(Unless you're actually attempting to comment on humanity's propensity for slothful mass-denial of a problem until it's right in their face and probably too late, but the piece doesn't read as if that's the intent).


--
'My god...it's full of blogs.' - ktakki
--


Not really a problem (3.00 / 2) (#56)
by Sgt York on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 11:50:09 AM EST

Self-preservation includes preservation of your species. You defend yourself and your family before you defend other people.

Besides, by the time Creek found out about the virus, the "Dirters" were already done for.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

That doesn't solve the problem (none / 0) (#57)
by toulouse on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 11:57:07 AM EST

Why is it good | bad | important | noteworthy that a dirter has managed to buy the dirters a few more years when humanity's already done for? Your answer misses the ethical dilemma by simply moving the bubble elsewhere (with a statement I'd disagree with anyway, but it isn't relevant).


--
'My god...it's full of blogs.' - ktakki
--


[ Parent ]
OK (none / 1) (#58)
by Sgt York on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 12:56:55 PM EST

I assume you mean that my self defense statement is irrelevant. I disagree; it is quite relevant. If you switch Dirter/human, it's irrelevant because you cannot preserve what is already lost, but in the case presented it is quite relevant.

If you think that self preservation extends to preservation of one's own species, then it is ethical to defend your species first, then others. It's not a resolution, and is not presnted as such. It is a stopgap.

See the discussion below about the societal impact of sterilization; see if you can see the relevance to this discussion.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

important? (2.50 / 2) (#59)
by krishna on Wed Oct 19, 2005 at 12:57:06 PM EST

I don't understand the question. Where is it implied that buying humanity a few more years is more important than buying the drifters a few more years? The end of the Dirter's race is supposed to be tragic and heartwrenching.

Is there supposed to be some kind of catharsis or resolution in the ending? It's not a happy one, but it's at least a little hopeful

To see my point, simply switch dirter for human and vice versa at every instance during the story.

That seems to be the point of the story. Today we are equivalent to the Dirters. Rightly or wrongly these aliens have the power to judge us and kill us based on some moral failings.

Our protagonist disagrees with that notion. He also seems to believe that we might be capable of redeeming ourselves given enough time. He probably believes that of the drifters too, but it is too late for them. He has no power in this society; he is just some guy who happens to be the roomate of an observer.




[ Parent ]
The Chronicles of Davidson Creek, Human | 60 comments (33 topical, 27 editorial, 0 hidden)
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