Featured Fiction: PORT 101-7

Planetary Observation Report Transcript 101-07

Universe: MMM – GH998-98756-234586-376453-9875768-2

Range: 78/04/30*45/15/12*20/59/13*166/06/00 PRT – 10

Subject Age:  4.5*108

Present:  Mission Captain, Agent Facilitator, Agent Alpha, Agent Beta

Commence Transcription

Captain:  The transcription has commenced.  Please proceed, Facilitator.

Facilitator: Very well, Captain.  Alpha, I think we should begin with you.  Please start by reminding the Captain what your specific objective was.

Alpha:  Yes, Facilitator.  Captain, I was charged with Observation Protocol 1.  All of my data pertains to evaluating intelligent life on the planet.  I’ll tick through the top priority items in order if you don’t mind.

Captain:  Go on.

Alpha:  Thank you, Captain.  Priority One, there are virtually no Travelers in the current range.

Captain:  What happened to them?

Alpha:  Many have advanced, Captain, and a few have died.

Captain:  Yes, Alpha, but why have there not been new ones?

Alpha:  Great numbers of sentients on the planet have rejected the psychic disciplines.

Captain:  Rejected them? I… don’t understand.

Facilitator:  If I may, Captain… I believe your confusion comes from the notion that if the sentients have rejected the psychic disciplines, that can only mean they’ve chosen to return to a pre-sentient state.  Is that correct?

Captain:  Yes, most correct.

Facilitator.  But… and please check me if I’m wrong, Alpha… I believe Alpha observed that the sentients replaced the psychic disciplines with something else.

Alpha:  That is correct, Facilitator.

Captain:  Something else? Like what?

Alpha:  Digital information technologies, Captain.

Captain:  You mean machines? Like our transcriber here?

Alpha:  Somewhat like the transcriber, yes.  They, like us, often use machines as mediums of communication -- to gather, store, and translate information -- so they can more efficiently share knowledge, particularly across multiple cultures in time and space.

Captain:  Of course.  What other purposes could machines serve?

Alpha:  The sentients we observed invent machines to replace telekinesis and telepathy, Captain.  They even intend to use machines in inter-dimensional travel.

Captain:  What… still using the psychic pathways? The ones that we and other Travelers use?

Alpha:  Unclear, Captain.  They experiment mostly with conventional propulsion systems, which we already know will lead them nowhere.  But they’re also integrating mind and machine for other purposes entirely, opening up the possibility that they will discover the pathways by chance.

Captain:  Facilitator, that notion makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable.

Facilitator:  Indeed, Captain… the route of using machines as a shortcut for the psychic disciplines does suggest giving sentients abilities for which they’ve not been properly trained to cope.

Captain:  In your assessment, is this a valid danger, Alpha?

Alpha:  Affirmative, Captain.

Captain:  Well, that’s troubling.  But, Alpha, if you don't mind, let's back up a bit.  What brought about this drive to create machines that replace the psychic disciplines? Did they find psychic abilities lacking in some way?

Alpha:  I'm glad you asked that question, Captain.  To answer it adequately, I must point out that the very first digital information technology developed among the planet's sentients was not in a synthetic form.

Captain:  It was organic?

Alpha:  Indeed, it emerged as part of the biological evolution of the species.

Captain:  So the sentients, themselves, are digital information technologies?

Alpha:  That's one way to put it, Captain.  Their method of aspiration involves a complex system of tubes and sacs and fibrous constrictors that essentially allow them to billow air in and out of their bodies.  Let the record show that I'm presenting a visual aide regarding the anatomy of the species.  Transcriber, attach visual aid to file.

VISUAL AID ATTACHED

Alpha:  As you can see, they're bi-pedal and possess spheroid craniums as we do, but their eyes are much smaller to make way for these external organs here.

Captain:  What are they?

Alpha:  The protruding part is called a nose.  The sphincter located just beneath it is a mouth.  Scans reveal that the chest contains distinct organs related to the function of these two external organs.  There you can see the two main billows called lungs.

Captain:  I've never seen anything like it!

Alpha:  Nor had we, Captain.  But allow me to draw your attention to the cut-way view of the neck, where you'll see an organ called larynx.

Captain:  Yes, I see it.

Alpha:  When the lungs, here, push air out through the larynx, it can create vibrations that allow the organism to expel sound from the nose and mouth.  With the help of the outer portion of the mouth, called lips, and this fleshy organ in the mouth, called a tongue, and these bony parts in the mouth called teeth, the organism can shape, if you will, the vibrations coming up from the larynx.  In this way, the organism can create a variety of sounds that are relatively easy to distinguish from each other.  These sounds represent discreet bits, or digits, of information.  When these digits are strung together, they make words.  To communicate in this way is called speech or talking.

Captain:  The wonders of the multiverse never cease!

Alpha:  Well said, Captain.  But I feel compelled here to point out that, in the given range, speech is not the predominant digital information medium used.  Rather, a technology called text is their primary mode of communication.  Since this concept is also completely foreign to us, may I elaborate on its characteristics? I realize this level of detail is straying mildly from my original objective.

Captain.  Please do elaborate, Alpha.  I'm intrigued.

Alpha:  Very well, Captain.  Let the record show I'm presenting a visual aid regarding text.  Transcriber, attach visual aid to file.

VISUAL AID ATTACHED

Alpha:  Captain, these well-ordered blotches are recognized by the lead sentient species as distinct symbols that represent specific speech digits.  By speaking aloud the sound of each symbol in turn, they can discover words encoded using the symbols.  For example, these three symbols here represent a special grouping, as you can tell by the extra space on either end of the grouping.  So we begin with this symbol called c and make its sound, followed by the sound of the symbol called a, and then thusly straightaway to the symbol called t.  Together, the sounds make the word cat, which is itself a symbol denoting one of the planet's semi-sentient species.

Captain:  So it's really just a method of recording their speech?

Alpha:  That's one way of looking at it, Captain.

Captain:  It seems to me like a rather tedious way to go about it. 

Alpha:  Even so, this particular technology serves as the basis for almost all of their other technological advancements.  In fact, the lead sentient species appears to be convinced that they would have no civilization at all without text.

Captain: I'm not following, Alpha.  Didn't you say that they have machines like our transcriber?

Alpha:  Yes, Captain, and they do.  However, with their machines, they input commands and information as text, sometimes called code, and the output is text or generated by a textual process.  And so they believe text is a prerequisite for sophisticated technology.

Captain:  Well, how long did the lead sentient species exist before they invented text?

Facilitator:  The pre-briefing didn't say, Captain, but before this meeting I did try to find that out myself.  Analysts are still tabulating, but the final figure will be in the hundreds of thousands of revolutions.

Captain:  And there were no cultures of consequence in all of that time?

Facilitator:  On the contrary, Captain.  I quickly checked that also, and before text existed anywhere on the planet, there were many societies of significance.  Speech appeared to serve as a perfectly adequate technology for the creation, dissemination, and preservation of information.  It performed nearly as well as our psychic technologies.

Captain:  Why then, Alpha, does the lead sentient species in this range place so much importance on text?

Alpha:  Unknown, Captain.

Captain:  Can our transcriber even be made to generate text output?

Alpha:  Funny you should ask that, Captain.  I've already shared some of these findings with our transcriber technicians.  They actually intend to make the necessary adjustments on a transcriber to see if it can produce a transcript in the text of one of the thousands of speech varieties that can be found on the planet.  They think they'll try the one called English.

Captain:  Do tell me how that turns out, would you?

Alpha:  I shall, Captain. 

Captain:  But before we continue I just have to ask what all of this means.  If I had to guess, I'd say the reason that speech and text technologies evolved is because psychic abilities in the species declined.  But what caused that to happen in the first place?

Alpha:  Our observations suggest, Captain, that while, naturally, all sentience pre-supposes passive psychic abilities, active psychic abilities have never been present in the evolutionary history of this sentient species, even going back to the first organism in the line to have a brain.

Captain:  How is that even possible?

Alpha:  The answer to that question is related to functions that the mouth and its structures serve aside from facilitating speech.

Captain:  You mean speech isn't the only thing they're used for?

Alpha:  I mean speech isn't the original thing they were used for.

Captain:  No?

Alpha:  No.  But Beta has more to say about that than I do, so perhaps I should wrap up my report?

Captain:  Ah, yes, by all means, Alpha, proceed with the Priorities.  My apologies for steering you onto a tangent.

Alpha:  Not at all, Captain.  We’ve covered Priority Two.  Sentients were discovered on the planet.  Priority Three is the question of whether or not the sentients are suitable for contact, and this is where it gets a bit complicated.

Captain:  Complicated?

Facilitator:  As Alpha has already hinted, Captain, this is probably a good place for Beta to offer some insight.

Captain:  Certainly, if Alpha has no objections.

Alpha:  None at all, Captain.

Facilitator:  Beta, if you would please start by reminding the Captain what your specific objective was.

Beta:  Yes, Facilitator.  Captain, my objective was to make contact with sentients on the planet if that was deemed appropriate.

Captain:  And was it deemed appropriate?

Beta:  Not exactly, Captain.  For you see, one of Alpha’s earliest discoveries was that the planet is inhabited by a dazzling array of… of, well… non-photosynthesizing organisms.

Captain:  Sorry… what?

Beta:  Organisms that don’t photosynthesize, Captain.  Many varieties.  But we just called them all “fungi”.

Captain:  I’ve never heard of such a thing.

Facilitator:  It gets better, Captain.  Please continue, Beta.

Beta:  The photosynthesizing organisms were much like us, Captain, with a few exceptions.  One of them being that they're green instead of blue on account of their sun…

Captain:  Ah, I was going to ask why the two of you looked a bit greener.

Beta:  Yes, Captain.

Captain:  Anyway… I beg your pardon for the interruption.  Please continue.

Beta:  It’s quite alright, Captain.  Another exception we discovered was that they are, for the most part, immobile and not terribly sophisticated in their modes of communication.

Captain:  You mean, like our own evolutionary ancestors?

Beta:  That’s right, Captain.

Captain:  But… doesn’t that mean… the sentients you’ve already told me about, Alpha, are… fungi?

Alpha:  Correct, Captain.  And they are the most prominent sentients on the planet.

Captain:  I don’t think I like where this is leading, Facilitator.

Facilitator:  The logic certainly is grim, Captain.

Captain:  So how is it for our photosynthesizing friends on the planet, Beta?

Beta:  I can scarce bring myself to describe it, Captain.

Captain:  Be of good courage, Beta.  We must faithfully record our observations.

Facilitator:  Just tell the Captain what you told me, Beta.

Beta:  Very well.  As logic suggests, Captain, the photosynthesizing organisms are used for food by the fungi.

Captain:  Monstrous!

Beta:  As it turns out, some of the fungi even eat each other.

Captain:  Gruesome!

Alpha:  The sentients that are the most prominent have become so, Captain, by first becoming the most voracious fungi of them all.  So you see, the mouth's most basic purpose is not speech, but, rather, to facilitate the tearing and crushing of other organisms, to grind them into a paste from which the sentient can more readily extract nutrients.

Captain:  This is simply an incredible tale, Facilitator!

Facilitator:  Nevertheless true, Captain.

Beta:  So, Captain, as you can imagine, we did not deem it appropriate to make contact with the lead sentient species.

Captain:  I understand.  That caused you to skip the rest of the Priorities in the Protocol, yes, Alpha?

Alpha:  Correct, Captain.  I skipped to the General Observations section.  We’ve shared a number of those already.

Captain:  Well, you might as well share the rest.  I can’t imagine how the news could get worse.

Alpha:  As you wish, Captain.  For simplicity’s sake, may I call the main sentient species “Fungi Prime”?

Captain:  You may.

Alpha:  My gratitude, Captain.  Of particular note regarding Fungi Prime, we observed at least sixty gender categories, although, oddly, culturally they seemed to insist on recognizing only two.

Captain:  So… compared to us, they have more genders, but they believe they have fewer than we do?

Alpha:  Yes.

Captain:  Why would they do that?

Alpha:  We couldn’t figure it out either, Captain.  We suspect, though, that it has something to do with a fundamental lack of understanding they possess regarding their own method of reproduction.

Captain:  Method? Not methods?

Alpha:  Correct, Captain.  Just one method of reproduction.

Captain:  Bizarre.  Some species think we're the odd ones for only having four.

Alpha:  Yes, Captain.

Captain:  Sorry, Alpha.  You were drawing a connection between their method of reproduction and their distorted views of their genders?

Alpha:  Yes, Captain.  You see, their method of reproduction requires a contribution of genetic material from at least two individuals, as most methods do.  However, in this species -- and among many species on the planet, including some of the photosynthesizing ones -- there are key differences between their method of reproduction and the methods with which we're all already familiar.  Let the record show that we're activating a new visual aid.  Transcriber, attach visual aid to file.

VISIUAL AID ATTACHED 

Alpha:  First, two and only two individuals are required.  Second, there are only two ways for the requisite genetic material to be produced, where in one case the material is called egg and in the other case it's called sperm.  If an individual is going to be reproductively viable, said individual must be able to produce egg or sperm and will not be able to produce both.  And three, the two individuals submitting genetic material for the purposes of procreation cannot do so in the same way; that is, one must produce viable egg and the other must produce viable sperm or else combining the genetic material will not result in procreation.

Captain:  Mind-bending!

Alpha:  I hypothesize, Captain, that these biological imperatives mislead many of the sentients to over-simplifications and over-generalizations regarding gender. 

Captain:  A compelling idea, Alpha.  What else?

Alpha: It appears that Fungi Prime could find plenty to eat without killing other organisms, but that would require them to subsist mostly on… um…

Facilitator:  Go on, Alpha.

Alpha:  It would require them to subsist mostly on the shed ovaries of the photosynthesizing organisms.

Captain:  The what?

Beta:  Forgive me, Captain.  I failed to mention that particular feature of the photosynthesizing organisms on the planet.  But I assure you, while it sounds wrong to us, they are quite used to it and experience no pain in the process.

Captain:  Ah, yes.  Quite right, Beta.  Please forgive my somewhat judgmental sense of alarm.  This is just all very different.

Beta:  Understandable, Captain.  We had similar responses at first. 

Captain:  Please continue, Alpha.

Alpha:  Well, Captain, the oversimplifying of things into only two categories continues in many other areas of experience in the lives of Fungi Prime.  The two genders are “male and female”, but there is also “good and evil”, “us and them”, “free will and determinism“, “self and other”, “conservative and liberal”, and the list goes on…

Captain:  Interesting.

Facilitator:  Might I pose a question with the aim of framing an observation, Captain?

Captain: Please.

Facilitator:  Alpha, could many of these dualities have their origins in a fundamental duality between that which consumes and that which is consumed?

Alpha:  I hadn’t thought of that, Facilitator, but that could very well be the case.

Beta:  I concur.

Facilitator:  So, Captain, it would seem the fundamental and defining characteristic of this planet is its fungi and the antagonistic relationship they exhibit toward the photosynthesizing organisms.

Captain:  Yes, I see how that basic relationship could ultimately have a dire, polarizing impact on Fungi Prime.

Alpha:  Indeed, Captain, war and oppression are constant features of life on the planet.

Beta:  Although there is much more good than bad in the lives of most members of Fungi Prime.  I should note here that for any sentient species cooperation and compassion are the foundations of life.  Fungi Prime is no exception.  In fact, these principles undergird their most popular religions, their most celebrated heroes, and their most cherished stories.

Captain:  But all of their dualities would seem to directly contradict such noble sentiments.

Beta:  If I may hypothesize, Captain, I’d say that the dualities are merely a symptom of the greater fungal infection that plagues the otherwise green planet.  Fungi Prime struggles with the contradictions daily and on a grand scale.

Alpha:  This is true.  And these struggles are many times at the expense of our green friends.

Captain:  You mean beyond the fact that they’re eaten?

Alpha:  Yes, Captain.  On top of being used for food by fungi, the photosynthesizing organisms are underappreciated by Fungi Prime.  Fungi Prime has caused the extinction of many organisms and threatens the biodiversity of green populations.  They also speak of photosynthesizing organisms in derogatory ways.

Captain:  Oh?

Alpha:  Yes, Captain.  They call them “weeds”.

Captain:  Weeds, did you say? Are you sure? By what factor are you translating this word into our language?

Facilitator:  92% similarity, sir.  Almost a one-to-one correspondence.

Captain:  How awful!

Beta:  Oddly, Captain, I observed that greens sometimes use the term “weed” to refer to one another as an amusement, but they categorically reject the use of the term among fungi.

Captain:  How very fascinating.

Alpha:  In all, Captain, the greens are so frustrated as to wish that all other organisms on the planet would be destroyed except one species called “bees”.  They’d settle just for the destruction of Fungi Prime.

Captain: Hm.  Yes, well, we don’t do that sort of thing.

Alpha:  I told them, Captain.

Captain:  Very good, Alpha.  Please continue.

Alpha:  All of that concludes my observations, Captain.

Captain:  And you, Beta?

Beta:  I can only add that Fungi Prime is not all apathy and cruelty, Captain.  In spite of the weird “consuming” dynamic, I think it is possible for all of the species on the planet, green and fungi alike, to live together in harmony.  That said, I must say that I also do strongly sympathize with the anguish of the photosynthesizing world.

Captain:  Noted.  Is that all?

Beta:  Yes, Captain.

Captain:  Facilitator?

Facilitator:  After I reviewed the reports of Alpha and Beta myself, I took the liberty of venturing into a +50 range, Captain.  Even that far out the probabilities of certain events are fairly solid.

Captain: And?

Facilitator:  Well, it appears as though over time Fungi Prime will decline due to cataclysmic climate effects related to an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused generally by their machine technologies.

Beta:  Carbon dioxide is good for the greens.

Facilitator:  Precisely.

Captain:  So there’s a strong probability that in about fifty revolutions of the planet around their sun, Fungi Prime will decline while conditions improve, environmentally speaking, for the greens?

Facilitator:  Correct.

Captain:  And while you were in +50, did it appear as though Fungi Prime will accidentally stumble into the psychic inter-dimensional pathways?

Facilitator:  No guarantees, of course, but so far it doesn’t seem likely, Captain.

Captain:  Ah, well let’s send someone down to tell the greens the good news.  Many of them will live longer than that, right?

Alpha:  Many of them will.  If they’re not outright destroyed first.

Captain:  Right.  Well, again, sadly, there’s little we can do about that.  Although…

Facilitator:  Captain?

Captain:  Perhaps we could leave some sympathetic agents to give comfort and intervene in ways that don’t violate protocol.

Facilitator:  They could also continue to monitor the technology situation and activate quarantine if need be.

Captain:  Yes, Facilitator, good point.  How easy is it to stay hidden from Fungi Prime?

Beta:  Most of them are so dull in terms of psychic ability, Captain, that there are many entities on their own planet to which they’re completely blind.

Captain:  That is so difficult to imagine.

Alpha:  But it is so, Captain.  Moving about on the planet without being detected by Fungi Prime is no challenge at all.

Captain:  Very good.  Facilitator, if you’d be so kind to work up a list of potential candidates…

Alpha:  I’d like to volunteer to stay, Captain.

Beta:  As would I.

Captain:  Yes? Why so willing to remain on such a planet?

Beta:  I can’t speak for my colleague, but I’m moved with compassion to do so, Captain.  For the sake of all living things there.

Alpha:  Yes, that speaks for me as well.

Captain:  Very well.  I will approve the mission if your Facilitator does.  It’s a delicate thing, taking a post on an alien planet, I should think especially one like this.

Facilitator:  They will be properly screened, Captain, but I don’t anticipate any problems.

Captain:  Very well then.  Both of you shall be missed.  Especially when your command rotations come up.  I know I personally enjoy the periods when either one of you is captain.

Alpha:  Thank you, Captain.

Beta:  It’s kind of you to say so, Captain.

Captain:  So then, are there any other points any of you would like to cover?

Facilitator:  No, Captain.

Alpha:  No, Captain.

Beta:  No, Captain.

Captain:  Right.  Then  I commend all of you for a job well done.

Facilitator:  Thank you, Captain.

Alpha:  Thank you, Captain.

Beta:  Thank you, Captain.

Captain:  Report concluded.  Please halt transcription.

Transcription halted

Transcript forwarded to officers present and CC.

EOR

Tag:  Filed

Yeah...

Scientists 'listen' to plants to find pollution

...but fungi prime has a tendency to treat plants as a lesser species so they don't really pay attention that well.

Lesser species

Fungi prime invented name calling. Plants = (microbial) scum.

We can't help that we were born without chlorophyll...

... or that we must feed off the chlorophyll of others to survive.  We can't change the fact that we're dwellers in the shadow of the canopy, averse to the life-giving light, forced in cloak of darkness to suck vital nutrients from the tender veins of our hosts!

But empathy is the foundation of sentience... it is part of our nature as well!  We can transcend the pattern of our evolution and become allies with our beneficent green friends!

"Fungus by birth... HUMAN BY CHOICE!"

Smile

The oaks can't help their feelings...

...if they like the way they're made.

The Trees

I am not a fungus!

I am a human bean!

;-)

Evolution?

Anyone have any thoughts on evolution?  Here's mine...

Humans did not evolve from apes. 

Evolution?

Well BG, I think you're in agreement with evolutionists 'cause they don't think humans evolved from apes either.

What is your thought about where humans came from?

What?

That's monkey talk!

*snicker*

Brilliant! :-)

Ees Brilliant!  Certainly raised my chlorophyl levels Cool

That everything but plants would be labelled fungus is hilarious (and makes so much sense).  And that all dualities are based on consumer/consumed--that is just great.

I wonder what photosynthesizers would think living in harmony meant, and whether it's possible for fungi...