Next Example

“All right, class. I think you’ll find this next example very interesting.”

Master Phenna waved the next planet into the projection.

“This is Earth. It really is quite unusual.”

Several of us shifted in our seats; this lecture was dragging a bit and I just don’t have the appetite for ancient civilizations. But next to me, Asdaa leaned closer, her curiosity piqued.

“As you can see, approximately 70% of the planet is ocean. Land masses were relatively stable until the inhabitants began mutilating the surface in search of fuel trapped beneath the layers of soil and ocean.”

Asdaa indicated she had a question. “Were there aquatic species in the oceans?”

Smiling at his favorite pupil, Master Phenna nodded. “Yes – many, many species. In fact, at one point, there were millions of life forms living there. The dominant species were called humans and they were actually very capable. They had created a complex civilization, used fabricated materials for many products in their homes, and had begun to explore their solar system. It is quite remarkable to come across a planet like this where all signs pointed to intelligence, ingenuity, and prosperity. In artifacts, we have found thousands of languages, intricate works of art, and a self-awareness as they studied the history of their planet and species.”

“We are lucky that they codified so much of their own works – there is an almost endless supply of textual evidence supporting current theory that their extinction was their own doing.”

At that statement, the room buzzed. Maybe this lecture was going to be better than I’d thought.

“This is a human,” Master Phenna waved a new image into view. “Bipedal with a well-developed central nervous system and capability for performing moderately advanced fine motor skills. They walked upright and mated sexually. Their offspring gestated in the female of the species and was born live, though they had a long larval stage as evolution placed a premium on brain development. We think their adolescent stage lasted until approximately 25 years as that is when we can see that brain development finalized in most of the species.”

“So, we’d all still be adolescents?” I marveled. I cannot imagine adolescence lasting longer than two years.

Laughing, Master Phenna said, “Yes. Even I would be an adolescent. Curious, isn’t it?”

Asdaa puzzled aloud, “You said they may have caused their own extinction – how?”

“Oh,” Master Phenna chirped, “This is the most interesting part. We have been able to tell that the progress of their civilization was stalled by two Dark Ages. The first gave bloom to a marvelous renaissance, sparked by the creation of what they called a ‘printing press.’ It enabled the written word to be distributed to the masses. Ironically, current speculation has that very written word as the downfall of their civilization. It appears that as they were descending into the second Dark Age, there was an explosion of information which became readily available to all via digital means. Humans could access information about anything at any time, they may have been inundated by information which they simply could not process, at least not without seeing it through the lens of their own perception.”

“The communication channels they used became compromised, possibly at the behest of leaders who distributed incorrect information to their subjects. Using this incorrect information, the population turned away from science and discovery. They returned to an outgrown class system where the poorest of the poor were denied housing, medical care, and education. The upper class squabbled and squandered the resources available on the planet, which was compounded when there was an incomprehensible use of nuclear weapons to render portions of the land and oceans uninhabitable.”

“Humans clustered together in stratified cities, descending into civil war. It was quite a loss to this quadrant. We believe that the death blow was struck by a pandemic of a disease which, had they continued with scientific research, should not have killed them.”

“What a waste!” I muttered under my breath.

“What was that, Sel Ruug?”

“Oh,” I cleared my throat. I don’t often contribute during discussions. “I said, ‘What a waste,’ because they seemed to have potential.”

“Yes, I quite agree. They went from being on the cusp of inter-planetary travel to utter destruction in less than two generations. Such an interesting study, don’t you think, Sel Asdaa?”

Asdaa simply shook her head, clearly feeling sympathy for these ancient humans. “I think this might be the most depressing lecture yet.”

7 thoughts on “Next Example

  1. I enjoyed the humanness of the students’ boredom at the beginning. If you hadn’t told us that Earth was an ancient civilization, the familiarity of the scene would have deceived me.
    Your forecasted second Dark Age sounds all too feasible.

  2. How clever to examine human history (and potential future) through the eyes of an alien civilisation. It suddenly brings into stark relief all that we’re doing wrong as a species. And what a sheer joy to see you on the grids more regularly again!

  3. I love when SciFi is plausible. And this is frightening so. I agree with Cyn – I really liked how the students had a very universal feel. It made it very easy to identify with them, even if they were aliens.

  4. Really nice job making the familiar strange in the course of a paragraph, Courtenay. I couldn’t help but read this story from the POV of a mother thinking about her children, but that’s only because I know you.

  5. Ooo, nice cautionary tale. I like how you steered away from describing these non-humans physically. “Asdaa indicated she had a question” vs “Asdaa raised her hand.”

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