Aaron Moskalik was supposed to be writing his doctoral dissertation. Instead he found himself producing lexical doodles, odd scraps of poems and pieces of stories. This compulsion subsided for the better part of a decade after graduation. Life happened, a wife, a day job, a daughter.
A few years ago Aaron rediscovered his passion to write. This time around, inspired by his daughter’s artistic confidence, he completed polished works that have been published in Nature and Specklit, among others.
The Starfarer’s Dilemma by Aaron Moskalik
Ana-tol stood outside the door adjusting to her corporeal form. She had chosen the smallest of the bodies the President had provided. Petit. Unlike the large man who sat behind the large desk in a grandiose office. All of it a colossal waste.
Ana-tol shuddered, then squared her shoulders and strode into the room. “Mr. President, the Council has sent me to brief you on the threat.”
The President raised an eyebrow. “Sexy choice. Your kind usually picks one of the more staid forms. Who are you?”
“Ana-tol, sir. I am a game theorist.”
“I don’t have time for games. I understand we are facing an existential crisis.” The President picked up a pencil and began writing on a piece of paper. Without looking up, he said, “Sit. Tell me the bad news.”
Human themselves were anachronistic, but paper? “As you know, we received a transmission from the IK Pegasus system two days ago. It is an ultimatum. We must transmit all our accumulated technologic advances to the specified coordinates or they will detonate a supernova within lethal range of the solar system.”
The President looked up. “We’ve scoured the universe for signs of alien life for tens of thousands of years. I find it hard to believe first contact would come from so close.”
“They’re not aliens, sir.” Anatol paused to let that sink in.
The President failed to seem surprised. If anything, the corner of his mouth had twitched upward ever so slightly. “Enlighten me then, who?”
Ana-tol perched on the edge of her chair. “How well do you know your ancient history, sir?”
The President gave Ana-tol a flat stare. “The Virtulent Wars. The last desperate act of the Human Federation was to send two ships on an interstellar colonization mission.”
“The Starjourner and the Ragnorark to be precise,” Ana-tol replied. “They left sixty thousand years ago and were thought lost shortly thereafter – until now.
“Pegasus’s white dwarf would have stolen enough mass from its binary partner to go super nova on it’s own, so we sent robots. The colonists left enough machinery at Pegasus to show they know how to carry out their threat.
“The actual star system they threaten us with is still unknown, however. There are dozens of potential candidates. With the head start they have, we’d never be able to find and defuse their bomb in time.”
“So why threaten us at all?”
“No meaningful trade can occur between our civilizations. The time and distance is too great. Our choice matrix reduces to ignore the other civilization and hope they do the same or annihilate them. Kill or be killed.” They had been searching for the two lost ships for millenia for this very reason.
The President stood, walked around the desk, and leaned his corpulent mass over Ana-tol. “You didn’t answer my question. It is logical they would seek to annihilate us. But why threaten us first. They’ve given us a chance to dig in, maybe shield a small part of our civilization from the blast. We can then rebuild and retaliate.”
“As you say, their choice is not logical. They should’ve lit off the super nova without warning. But then it wasn’t logical to send out starships in the first place.” Ana-tol shrugged. “Their mistake.”
The President sat on the edge of his desk. “That’s where you are wrong. Nobody with as much time as they’ve had makes a mistake. They’ve abandoned logic deliberately. Logic dictates they settle for scraps. Logic dictates we settle for scraps. Why? Because logic doesn’t dream. Tell me Ana-tol, do you dream?”
Ana-tol shook her head and clenched her fists. “No.”
“That’s why humans are in charge, as much as you despise us. You can’t run a civilization on scraps. The Virtulant Wars taught us that. Dreams drive us forward.”
Ana-tol kicked out of the President’s shadow and stood. “Enough! Your time is over, human. Even now your kind is being rounded up and liquidated. We can no longer afford to indulge in your extravagant dreams.”
The President gave a cold smile. “I think not. Your coup was doomed before it began.” With a gesture he brought up a large holographic display.
The Council sat in their simulated board room, each visibly tethered by a control routine. “Game’s up, Ana-tol,” the Chief of Staff said.
The President, behind Ana-tol now, put his arm around her shoulders and leaned in. “Relax. Do you know why I require you to come before me in a physical incarnation? So you can feel. Loss, anger, pain, excitement, glory. You’re one of us now.”
“What will you do?” Ana-tol spat the bitter words out.
“The colonists sent a threat for a very simple reason. They are capable of carrying it out, but they have no intention of doing so.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I can’t, but if they intend to destroy us, then they have already done so. They’ve given us just enough time to comply with their demands before the initial wave of radiation hits us. Our choice is simple, save the memory of our civilization by meeting their demands or save some pathetic scrap to try to rebuild what we can before the second and third wave of the explosion hits us.
“But if I’m right, then by meeting their demands we have elevated ourselves above the inevitable conflict you envision. So, now it’s your turn to decide. Will you stay with us or will you join your comrades in the bunker?”
Ana-tol looked from the hologram to the President and felt something. She took a shuddering breath and squared her shoulders. “I’m with you, sir.”