Courtesy, photograph by Troy S. Alexander

This week, Terribleminds tasked us with identifying the structures described in this Wired article. They are beautiful and unexplained. Here’s my take. Enjoy!

The Scout ran at full stride down the corridor to the office of the Overseer. The General was already there, talking about the positioning of the automated drones around the blue-brown world that turned beneath them. The Overseer folded its primary appendages across its chest as the secondary pair set down the report it had been reading.

“Something urgent, Scout?”

“A thousand apologies for the interruption, Overseer, but… the natives have discovered our devices.”

The Overseer’s mandibles clicked. “Well. That is unfortunate.”

“We knew it would happen sooner or later,” the General put in. “They’re not stupid.”

“Some of our telemetry would suggest otherwise.”

“It suggests primitive, mammalian tool-users with a modicum of intellect. They do have very limited space travel.”

“I know.” The Overseer gestured towards the expansive windows behind it. “Look at them. They hurl these hunks of metal into the void without nary a thought for orbit degradation or collisions with future launches. And they still have yet to colonize their sole satellite, to say nothing of the other bodies in the system!”

“We estimate they have had the capability to at least land expeditionary domes for twenty or thirty stellar orbits,” the Scout offered. “Perhaps they do not realize…”

“…that they are populating their homeworld to death? That they are on the brink of suffocating on their own numbers?” The Overseer’s antennae twitched, a common gesture of annoyance. “There is a reason our hives are able to thrive. The Queen, Ancestors protect her as Descendants praise her, never allows more mating pairs than the generation can handle. These creatures have no sense of control or direction. Our Observation Posts have demonstrated that much.”

“How?” The General’s expression was quizzical. “The Scout said they have only just discovered the Posts.”

“But many more remain undiscovered. In their fields, in their hives, in their very cocooning structures, Posts are everywhere on that planet.”

One of the Overseer’s primary appendages touched a control on the desk. Several displays came up of the dominant species on the planet: their governments in action (or lack thereof), their eating habits, how they mated, how they filled their days, their wars, their struggles, their hunger, their emotions. The Scout was, for a moment, overwhelmed by the diversity of it all.

The Overseer stood, looking at the displays as it paced. “I wonder sometimes if they would welcome us. We could obviate a great many of their problems for them. Their star is quiet young, rather vibrant, and produces an abundant amount of energy, yet their facilities for harnessing that energy are pitiful. Only a few of their more developed nation-states approach what would be considered the bare minimum for the lowest of hives on our worlds. Additionally, while they have abundant supplies of water and even mobile atmospheric patterns, they continue to use far more primitive and toxic means to heat their hives and power their machines.”

The General grunted. “They’ve been stuck on nuclear fission for dozens of stellar orbits. Maybe they just enjoying blowing themselves up.”

“It would seem that way. There are deliberate, casualty-causing explosions in areas where there are no active wars.”

The Scout cocked its head to one side. “Why would anyone do that?”

“Terror.” The General’s antennae gave a twitch of irritation. “Instead of negotiations, diplomacy, or up-front warfare, some of the members of this species conscript others of the species to cause damage to civilian populations. If the population feels it is unsafe, they could destabilize as they scramble for self-preservation, or shut down for fear of exposing themselves to future attacks.”

The Scout was silent, watching the monitors, stunned by this knowledge. The Overseer gestured at what had once been a forest.

“They wantonly destroy swaths of the vegetation they need to survive to expand personal territory. Countless members of the species are destitute, left without the means to feed themselves, while others seem to live in luxury while producing nothing for the good of the planet. The Queen has her position and prestige because of the hard decisions she has to make for the good of our species, and she sees to it that mating pairs are well-matched and successful. These creatures do nothing but acquire more material wealth.”

“And then there are those who are renowned for nothing but said wealth.” The General shook its head. “They have no honor from the battlefield, won no struggles to improve themselves, produced nothing of value. Yet the native society all but bows down before them. It is madness.”

“So what do we do?” The Scout dreaded the answer to its question, but asked anyway.

“Bio-targeted purge. We isolate the genetic structure of these parasites and cleanse the planet of their scourge.”

The Scout watched the General as it spoke. Then, without prompting, it touched one of the Overseer’s controls. The images changed to vibrant, colorful views of works of art, static and in motion, and the room was filled with musical strains, one song cross-fading into the next.

“Look, my superiors, and listen. This is what the planet produces in spite of all you have said.”

The General and the Overseer looked at the displays, and then each other, and then back. The Scout observed them, as it did with other species. As much as he had been selected as Scout for his curiosity and insight into alien races, he still found his own just as fascinating.

“Beautiful,” the Overseer said at length. “I had no idea that kind of barbarism could produce so much beauty. For such creatures to live this way, in their moments, so immediate and visceral… there’s beauty in it.”

“Does it change anything?” The General seemed unmoved. “Is preserving this art, singular as it is, worth consigning a planet this rich and vibrant to its fate?”

The Scout’s mandibles clicked. “I felt you should know the species you would condemn to death better before committing genocide.”

The Overseer waved an appendage. “Leave me to think. You will have my answer soon.”