Fermi's Lament

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This story involves a crew of threee attempting to find the answer to Fermi's paradox

Submitted: September 30, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 30, 2009



The Mayor intoned loudly and clearly into the microphone, the sound techs felt a stab of pain for a brief second

“Today we launch the USS Fermi on the ultimate voyage of discovery. Its crew of three will begin a grand tour of the cosmos to find are brothers and sisters among the stars. Never before have men embarked on such an ambitious mission to travel so far and wide to see so much. Gentleman I envy you.”

The mayor waited the appropriate amount of time for the applause to die down, stepped away from the podium and shock hands with each crew-member. He wanted to talk more but knew he would get plenty of chances with the media in a little while. What a great show he thought. Not even an election year.

There were many such speeches that day. The crew sat on the platform on little metal folding chairs and smiled. Occasionally shock hands with those that spoke. Later on Fritz would remember a fat women speak about the importance of science education he wouldn't remember why she stood out. Dr. Jabal would remember how hot it was in those stylish astronaut suits on that sunny platform the captain would remember nothing but his overall mood; never any details. He had trained his whole life for this, today was his wedding day in many ways.

The last living astronaut on the third mars landing was the one that smashed the bottle. The third mars landing was the first one that completed a round-trip the first two had been one way deliberately. The ship launched with much fanfare. Including several protest groups who were held back by stern police officers. After launch NASA was immediately taken to court for violation of the 1967 nuclear introduction into space treaty the case was dismissed in less then an hour. The president approval rating went up by one Gallup point.

The ship followed the prepared list and headed to the single most likely target. Yellow sun, four earth sized planets all in the Goldilocks zone (not to far away from the sun not to close). The second one from the star had life and a somewhat loudly repeating artificial radio signal coming from an island.

“The majority of them had what appears to be boils around there reproductive organs. However, the ones found on the island with the transmitter lacked them. I admit we don't know too much of this species but it doesn't look like these “boils” were removed, the islanders simply lacked them.”

The captain said

“Not to pervert the scientific method by jumping to rash conclusions but is it possible this is a form of venereal disease?”

Doctor Jabal responded

“It is possible the structure of them does seem to indicate a wart like growth. It is significant that they have held up too decay longer then the rest of the bodies. However, why did I find traces of the same protean structure in the ahem “lungs” of them as well?”

Fritz said

“An air born variety perhaps? At first it was a venereal condition then it mutated into a an airborne pathogen. Spreading from one to the other until extinction?:


“But what of the islanders, they managed to live?”

Dr. Jabal

“Maybe they got lucky just some natural immunity, they survived the plague migrated to the island and broadcast signals to attract other survivors to them”


“So where are they now!? Why didn't they repopulate there species?”

Fritz and Dr. Jabal looked at each other for a minute then Fritz said

“If the entire planet got wiped out by an STD would you have sex?”

Why should our love be corrupted by such horrid things. Can we not love truly without regret and loss?

In every house we found the same object. Well, not the same no snow flake is ever exactly the same, no river is ever the same river more then once, but near enough too sameness. The material was like wood it curved slightly completing about an arc of 8 degrees over about a 1/3 of a meter width and a height of 2/3 meter. The thickness of the not-wood was about 3 cm. Looked like a piece of thick paper a color between brown and yellow with stains and knots in it slightly curved. Each one had enumerable holes running through it running through them were multicolor threads. The holes seemed to follow no pattern the entwining of the threads around each other and through the not-wood seemed to follow no pattern as well.

It was a kind of pretty if you liked multicolored thread entwined through a piece of not-wood. At one end of the not-wood stood a ball-like substance apparently pressed on to a nail through the not-wood. Each home had different color balls, some even more square-like. Each home had different patterns of strings, different holes, different levels of staining. In short it all varied within some level of specifications.

They found the city by infrared of all things. A warm dot on a dark night-side continent. As they approached they found the city. No human city had ever been so large. It put BosWash to shame, perhaps five BosWash together could compose it. The race definitely was old and advance. The drills had found a separate underground layer to the city complete with buildings and roads. Maybe the poor ones lived there was the Fritz's suggestion, the others if they purposed anything kept it to themselves.

The source of the infrared was revealed. Have you ever seen a domed sporting arena? Imagine one cubed then imagine one next to it and another. Imagine a line of them stretching 5 km long by 5 km wide. Giant domes. The surface of all a mirror. Had the team found it during the day blindness might have occurred. The reflected light of 25 square km of 150 meter high reflective domes looming over and beyond you.

Fritz took the core readings. His conclusion was that the reflective substance was originally an under-layer that on top of it was multiple layers of some type of bond able plastic. Sampling of dust found around the dome showed the tall tale signs of rust. Apparently outside of the plastic was solid iron layer.

The decay through it surprisingly a short amount of time. It is believed because neither the plastic or iron was properly laid down due to the short amount of time remaining. After three days of drilling they broke open the dome with thermite and C4 charges. Inside filled 110 meters high were the not-wood pretty things. After checking 10 more domes at random they stopped.

A detailed search of the buildings showed no sign of any corpses. Across all radio bands nothing but static. The night view showed no lights. This planet was empty of all intelligent life as well as all life of any noticeable size (save insects). So with lack of a better option they began to explore the underground.

Most of the underground consisted of roads what appeared to be apartment buildings and factories. All the apartment buildings were identical, all of the factories were as well. Miles of identical buildings. The buildings were still populated by furniture most of it in a advance state of decay. Still no corpses of the original inhabitants were found.

They moved on to the factories. Each contained a series of steel vats with drums placed by there side. As they moved on deeper from the main entry point the factories began to get younger. Clearly they had built the ones further away at a much later date. The vats also increasingly became of lesser quality. Steel lead its way to bronze which lead its way to copper. There shapes became more irregular more riddled with defects.

Dr. Jabal said

“I still don't understand the lack of corpses and the total lack of any animal life above insect level.”

The captain turned to him and said

“I should think it is rather obvious what happened to them”

Silently the men considered the fate of the inhabitants.

Beauty is just beauty it isn't true, wonderful or even particularly sane

“Well caption this is the 34th world we have found that is nothing more then a radioactive iceball hurtling through the void. A monument to their species' folly.”

The caption glared at Fritz and said

“If you would please keep your poetic euphemisms to yourself, it should make our mission more tolerable. Now, this planet out there what signs do you have that the intelligent dominate life form is extinct?”

“Well both FM and AM spectrum are empty, there is a complete lack of lights on the night-side, the infrared shows no deviations at all in fact suggesting that even the large grazing animals have been wiped out, radar shows no aircraft, are sonar probes show no submarines, the neutrino detectors register nothing hinting at a complete lack of nuclear power, and finally the average surface temperature of the planet around the equator is hovering at -20 C.”

“Couldn't there be an underground bunker somewhere? Maybe there leaders prepared for this and are just waiting to emerge when the planet is habitable again.”

“Its possible sir, but considering that nuclear event happened 15,000 years ago by our estimates it doesn't seem likely. Even if they had done so I assume 15,000 years underground and in isolation would have driven them to a new form of madness.”

“Your assessment seems accurate. Tell the Doctor to launch the seed pod and set course for the next planet on the list. That will be all.”

As Frits left the room the captain stared out the port window looking at the near dead world below. Wondering why the hell this scenario was so damn common.

Fire cleanses better then water and more permanently. Radiation keeps a planet clean.

“The poor bastards, I don't imagine they had much warning”

So spoke Dr. Jabal the others heard him through their radios in their suits. The suits were a definite need. Wouldn't be fun to breath in sulfuric dioxide. They stood on this world in yet another ruined city the concrete of the wall next to them was rotting away, acid rain had taken its toll on it. To be exact 700 years of it. With the exception of this wall nothing remained of the cityscape. Approximately 4,000 km away a looming mountain smoked. Slowly pumping trace amounts of noxious gas into the atmosphere of the already dead world.

“I am betting the underwater life survived the longest, there is still bacteria in the soil”

Fritz said

“I just cant believe this one, a geological accident, not anything the species did?”

Captain responded

“It does seem that way the roentgen count is a bit high but no more then expected given the exposure of the crust, and its hard to imagine them actually digging a hole deep enough to cause this event”

“Sir, I wish we brought along a geologist. I don't like this at all. How could it just happen this way, what are the odds?”

Dr. Jabal said

“What is the problem Fritz? Geological events happen all the time. Its a coincidence nothing more.”

“How the holy hell can this be just bad luck? Are you telling me this planet spent 2 billion years developing and that these bastards spent tens of thousands of years progressing just to be wiped out at the last possible moment by the mother-of-all earthquakes!?”

“What other possible conclusions are there?”

Fritz didn't respond he just turned away and looked at the wall. Reaching out he ran his hand along it, through the glove he felt very little not even its texture. The captain gave the order to return to ship once in space they set course for the next world.

The idea of Gaia is foolhardy the idea of a planet being intelligent is bad enough, the idea of it being intelligent and loving you is even more absurd.

52 solar systems with inner planets showing no oxygen at all. No oxygen doesn't prove that they are lifeless, but it does hint at there being no advance life on them. It takes a while to even find the inner planets, so small. First find a nice resting place, block out the sun from view, track each point of light to find the strange ones. The word planet comes from the Greek word “wanderer” which is very appropriate. Most of the planets found were mars type. Kind of big, dry, cold, and near airless. A few Venus-type hell holes with no free hydrogen or oxygen for life. The Venus-types couldn't be transformed in any known way. The only hope for them to ever support life is that maybe in the next cycle of solar rebirth they would be part of a more life-friendly world. It was doubtful however, most matter was contained in suns.

Very little matter in the universe ever got to take part in that strange chemical reaction known as life. In this respect the Venus-types were kind of screwed. No seed pod landed on them. About 8% of the planets were mercury types. Baked nearly or completely tidal locked zooming in close orbit about a sun. No seeds wasted on them either. 2% were super-earths 8 or more times more massive then man-home. No sings of life were found on them. Two binary worlds were found, had there been intelligent life on them they would have developed with a spectacular view. Instead only simply alga and lichen was found on both, so new that oxygen was wholly lacking.

52 solar systems with little too no life and no companions to talk with. 52 possibilities tried with a result of 52 failures both by the universe and the crew of three.

A running streak of bad luck was bad on moral. So the captain tapped into the whiskey stock and gave his two shipmates a night off. Fritz got so drunk he wet himself, his fellows never told him that they knew.

We tell our children that life isn't fair, but that isn't very accurate. Its not that life is unfair its that the universe clearly and without a doubt was not setup for our convenience.

It is a common place that there are only two types of stars that can support intelligent life; red ones and yellow ones. They are the only ones that last long enough for it to evolve. Red ones are colder so planets should be closer to them which increases the chances of tidal lock which increases the chance for any atmosphere to either burn off or freeze. However, even in this day and age the universe has a way of surprising people so it was decided to take a chance on a close examination of this red star.

Approaching a planet 20% or so more massive then earth the first shock was finding out it that it had an oxygen atmosphere. The second shock was detecting neutrinos but no light on the night side. Frits after presenting these results declared to them

“This is it baby! There is nuclear reactions going on and the planet has life on it.”

The captain turned to Dr. Jabal and asked

“How much life do you make out?”

“Well, from what the probe sent back it does look like a rich ecosystem, there is little doubt that it is at least a billion years old”

“Exactly how much energy is being produced there Fritz?”

“Wont know for a little while sir, it doesn't look like much, perhaps there very efficient or maybe they just got started on it. Who knows?”

The captain said

“Well, I am a little curios about the lack of radio and lights present”

“There could be a million reasons for that sir, in another day we will be close enough to begin a landing.”

The craft approached the surface of the planet. It pumped out prime numbers from gamma rays to very long radio. Drones were sent out to bath the planet in radio waves on all sides. The drones also deliberately tried to give off the greatest possible radar signal they could manage. Still no response was given.

Dr. Jabal purposed that the oceans might be a place to look. So water drones were dropped. High and low frequency sound wave were emitted. A point was reached where they even dropped a few explosives in an attempt to communicate. No one responded.

With great reluctance they headed towards the source of the nuclear energy. The protocols of the mission was to try if possible to be greeted by the aliens not in any way sneak up on them. The logic was simple: intelligent life should be carnivores, and carnivores are territorial. If they were herbivores or scavengers they would be paranoid which made sneaking up on them even worse.

The source of the energy came from a giant inland lake, about 3 times larger then the combined size of the great lakes in north America. The captain ordered them to land 100 km from the source. After Dr. Jabal performed his tests to ensure the safety of the air the crew emerged. Traveling by an all-terrain vehicle they approached the source of power. It was when they were within 25 km that the metal detector went off. Below the ship about 10 meters down the seismic sonic pulses revealed the pipes. Following them they found that they led to the giant lake.

Fritz said

“Well, they at least mastered irrigation”

Dr. Jabal responded with a nod and said

“But, why 10 meters down running for 25 km. Repair would be difficult, so would expanding the pipes later on”


“A guess. They have no intention of repairing them or expanding them. Perhaps they were adequate enough for there needs”

They returned to the vehicle and proceeded to the location. As they drove they slowed and sent more sonic pulses into the surface. The closer they came to the source the more pipes they discovered. Arriving with 300 meters of the highest reading and spending a day looking they encountered a hatchway. It took 3 days with a plasma pump cutter to open a hole.

The corridor was immense, dark, and a little gloomy. The floor was caked with dust. Dr. Jabal's attempt at estimating the age failed. He was able to determine that the corridor was over a 100 million years old but that was all. The corridor split off in a hundred ways. It was decided to follow the larger pipes. After a day of heavy marching the arrived at the fusion plant. Or rather, at the complex of them. Several hundred. The pipes didn't fill it directly but instead lead to a cistern. From the cistern it flowed into the planets. All by gravity, no pumps required.

With a great deal of difficulty they determined the flow rate at about 1 liter per earth day. From this they were able to estimate that the cistern had enough water to support 1 million years of use even given no inflow from the ocean. Other pipes flowed through what looked like desalination plants.

Fritz said

“OK, doubtless these guys built this operation to last, but what is it powering? The energy output is very low. Constant but low.”

It was decided to flow the main wires to the destination. In the a new corridor stood it. Clearly, a computer but clearly one unlike anything humanity had devised. Standing 20 meters tall surrounded by large sheets of glass. With no output or input ports present. The captain asked to Fritz to try for radio communication. Underground they picked up no signals.

Dr. Jabal said

“OK, they constructed a computer much larger then any other in history. It had no way to communicate with the outside world, It is drawing power and will most likely draw it until the end of the universe. So it must be running some program. Now, why would we do this?

Captain responded

“Perhaps it was running a program but when the inhabitants vanished it was forgotten about”

Dr. Jabal

“If that was the case, then why no outputs or inputs. I say, they designed it to run a program forever. Which would explain why the power source is so impressive”


“So why do they care if the program is running at all? Why build it in the first place?”

Dr. Jabal

“The only conclusion is that the knowledge that the program is running at all even if no output is given somehow benefits them. What kind of being would benefit?


“One that was a program itself”


“Wait are you telling me that the population is in there?”


“It would appear so, Dr. Jabal please log this and Fritz help me pack up the stuff, we are heading back to the ship now.”


“Sir, with respect we cant leave them like this. Our mission is to find intelligent life and make contact”


“for at least 100 million years they have been living in that box. Whatever might be in there it is so far removed from what it used to be that communication would be impossible. We are going Fritz and that is an order”

Once in space the captain without informing the crew sent a weapon probe inside the corridor. The probe had enough to wipe out a small city. No death cry was heard from them.

Fritz thought the dance, if that was what it was, was ugly as hell. One of the most distressing facts they had discovered was that biological symmetry had apparently only occurred once on earth. Dr. Jabal thought this wondrous, what biologist wouldn't? The others didn't share his ascetic tastes.

Calling it a dance made a bizarre kind of sense. There were about one hundred thousand of them moving at once. And outer circle of about a few hundred remaining perfectly still. In almost rings they “danced” each ring had a pattern. A pattern of thrusts, of “arm” raises, of “tail” waving, of noise emission. In a month of observation the pattern of ring 12 had changed slightly. The “arm” was raised a millimeter higher then before, the frequency of the noise (music?) went down 1.2 Hz.

All the “dancers” were encased in glass dome. The dome had an above ground tunnel connecting to a building. Inside of which a Giant egg queen produced more dancers. They started out small, at about 75 earth days old they mated with another egg queen. In another 75 earth days they progressed to the outer ring. For those 150 days of non dancing life they played and sang to each other. As they aged they turned more red, at some point the the other shied away from them. After the 150 or so days were complete the dancers former playmates begin to push on him. The dancer fought against the pushing strained against there collected masses. However, 20 on 1 weren't good odds. The pushing stage lasted a few hours until finally they managed to get into the tunnel. In the tunnel the struggle stopped. The lights in the tunnel would flash rythmatically. Blue towards the start red towards the direction of the glass dome. The dancer would begin a drunkard walk towards the red lights and emerge about a day later in the dome.

The parts that seemed to be eyes would fix on the rings, the body of the dancer would remain stationary. For 10 days it would remain like that, not a muscle moving then it would emit a noise. 9 times out of 10 or so the noise was apparently wrong. In which case the outer ring of dancers would approach the still paralyzed one and sting it. The poison would kill it, its body would be dragged towards a gutter around the dome wall. Over a period of 12 days or so the flesh would melt pour into the gutter, flow through the tunnel and be fed on by the egg queens.

In the larval stage before they enter the dome the dancers feed on a type of root plant found outside of the building. They defecate in the building's gutters and in the area they pull the roots from. They only pick the plants from the area where they seem most abundant.

For the “lucky” 1 out of 10 of them that pass the test the reward is to join the innermost circle. During the period of observation one dancer moved from an inner circle to an outer one. It is unclear how often this occurs. Dr. Jabal's opinion was that the outer ring was populated by only the most old dancers.

The dancers are fed by insect like creatures. The crew believed that the insects provide them with food by landing on there “skin” and fed themselves off a secretion by them. The insects live off the defection of the younger dancers.

All attempts to make contact with the creatures failed. The dancers will ignore anything except that which interferes with what they are doing. If interfered with they will attack with stings and raw numbers. The queens when seeing the crew members attempted to move there bodies as far as possible. No amount of coaxing would get them to remain calm. The young dancers willingly played with the crew members but stubbornly refused to do any form of meaningful communication.

There are no similar structures as the doom and the building found anywhere else on the surface of the planet. No signs were given of any form of intelligent life other then these two buildings. The ecosystem is diverse and well developed. Strangely, there seems to be two different types of life on the planet. The roots, dancers, and the a series of insect life all were based on radically different chemistry then the rest of the planet. Worse, still nothing resembles the dancers or the roots.

It became clear what had happened to Dr. Jabal

“The dancers are from another world. This planet has yet or will never develop intelligent life on it. The dancers are decedents from a colony ship most likely.”

The captain responded

“How can you explain the state they are in now? Un-intelligent mindless drones performing a meaningless ritual?”

“I cant, sir. I really don't know how they could have came to be in this state”


“I for one, do not want too know”

Come play with us, forever and ever. Even after the sun has gone down and the dew condenses on the grass. Even after the storm clouds gather and long ago the world has slept. Play with us forever it will be ever so much fun.

“Do we even bother returning to earth, sir? What is the point.”

Dr. Jabal said

“They already know what we know, all our logs have been transmitted”


“I am beginning to see it you way Frits, I don't want to return to what looks to be a dieing world”

Dr. Jabal

“You know it doesn't have to happen to us, we could be the lucky ones”

Fritz responded

“In some ways thats what makes it even worse”

No one should ever be given the burden of uniqueness for it separates him from his brothers, he might have gained pride but the cost is loneliness.

© Copyright 2020 isiah. All rights reserved.

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