CLI By Samir Shukla
It was a warm day of Augos, when Sun invited you to go out especially if you were sitting in the cool dead grey of a large government office. The afternoon was lazy as minds hurried into the yet-to-come vacation while trying to deal with Forms Yellow, Blue and Red. Everyone was working. Working at not working.
Poor Peter, the third-born of the mighty Megans, was just one small cog in the giant wheel of the Control & Eradication Centre, that justified itself by going round and round in tasks that required everything from forms Yellow, Blue and Red to Human trivia like Peter.
Peter had everything—a corner desk in C & E, a girlfriend next door, a bad tempered boss, a pet, a car with spent shockers, a room with a view and a universe that needed fixing and tinkering with all the time. He had asked for none of it and so had got it all. Life for Peter was like Life. Life like you, me, your boss, his uncle’s sole surviving grandparent and everyone he could possibly know.
Peter was working as a subordinate in the Control & Eradication Centre at the great Management Bureau. His was not a sought after job, especially in his social class. Sitting at a corner desk in this large organization, the best that Peter could hope for were files no one else found interesting.
He was here because it allowed his aristocratic family to vaguely say that he worked for the great Management Bureau. Peter was not a dumb person, and was neither perceived as one. But such are the ways of life that we all know. So Peter did what he was asked to do. His opinions of the Big Picture were best expressed after a glass of Waki. His table in the corner at the great Management Bureau was just one more place where small files rested for small time and small planets met small management corrections.
When his boss called him over to his cabin, Peter knew the simple fact that with the approach of the Gnous hunting season he would be dealing with a lot of files that no one really cared about. In a place like C & E, this included just about everything. And Peter could, at best, be thankful for the large number of corners every Government office had.
“Peter, my boy”, said Joseph, his boss, “you have been doing some really useful work lately. Your smooth handling of carnivorous bipeds on X3 by increasing territorial instinct to a level that slowed down breeding by 0.83 per cent went down well at the Assistant Directors’ meeting. We can even hope for better files.”
A lot of eyewash, Peter thought. “Why doesn’t he tell me that he has an invitation for a hunt next week? Here come a few files of Poor Buggers that the guys upstairs think are evolving too fast for our good.”
“Well, here are some new recommendations from the Control & Eradication Committee that you may find challenging. There is even one case that has a recommendation which involves your area of specialization, control by intensification of local parasite infection.”
Peter too wished to go home for the summer, not to some dumb planet to do a dirty job. But lately with his lack of progress up the slippery rungs of government office there seemed to be a tinge of shame in his family’s attitude towards him. All the girls he had dined and danced with during his school days were dining and dancing with Executive Directors, not with corner table guys.
He looked at the bunch of files and wondered about the Poor Buggers, as the lower staff of C & E Department referred to them. If he was what they called a Deep Guy (apart from having a better girlfriend) he would have thought of his work as grand and critical, as the recruitment notices liked to put it. But Peter was well aware that he would be filing his income-tax papers along with carpet cleaners and pest control contractors. So he just saw the files in his hand as the set of government procedures they were, and moved to his desk to find the best methods to dispose of them into the oblivion of Executed (and forgotten) Tasks.
He was well aware that the lot under consideration would be slightly lucky, as they would have the Blue tag for Control, and not the Red for Eradication. He was not considered fit for Eradication files. Those went to the tough guys on the first floor who never went out for sissy things like Gnous hunting. But Blue tags meant more work. He started with the first small folder. It showed a shiny, small blue-green ball.
Looking out at the blue skies, he wondered about the Galactic policies set up thousands of years ago, when his kind had won the only Galactic War ever fought. Hidden behind the giga-trigabyte of information, the facts were hazy in the history books he had to study. But like any other kid of his time, he was aware of the wisdom of the great Sages of the past, who had saved the Galaxy from turning into a war-zone forever. Under their benevolent governance, the Galaxy now thrived with life. Wars were purged and the Galaxy was at peace.
In that distant past, sitting at the edge of the Galaxy, no one from his race had ever considered the possibility of Alien attacks. When the first inter-race war began in the Galaxy it came as a rude shock to his people. War brought about the realization that was then synthesized into Wisdom that there can be no peace in a multi-intellect galaxy.
At the end of the war of the worlds, defence funding was utilized for setting up a monitoring body, ambitiously named the Galactic Peace Keeping Agency, of which C & E was a small component.
In the earlier years, with low technology and lack of resources, C & E was a small organization with a few Scouts and researchers looking around at life bearing worlds and studying life forms that showed possible evolutionary patterns towards intellect. During the years of depression after The War, the concept of control was rarely considered. It was restricted to lowly microscopic worlds. For the rest, war generated paranoia resulted in messy Eradication jobs.
It was only after a few centuries of peace and the wild proliferation of mass media across the Galaxy that eradication had suddenly gone out of fashion. A new perception of (what the media termed) Wise Guardians of the Galactic Intellect was rolling in. Protest Marches and Lady Writers were both becoming increasingly common. The Poor Buggers of Oscabogan’s Auron culture and AT45’s Madons now also had sweet little girls shedding tears over them as they vanished into thin air.
So life was just as you and I know it to be. And for Peter it was just a job. Pest control.
Peter’s designation had the grand name of strategy planner and supervisor. He processed files that had been identified and forwarded by Surveyors. It was the boys upstairs who normally dealt with survey, as survey also involved peace time routines to lovely but sterilized planets. It was for the likes of Peter to look at the Poor Buggers and find a way to deal with their planets.
During its formative years C & E had seen young heroes who travelled far distances and slew dragons. Now a bunch of paranoids looked through a microscope at all life forms and felt threatened by anything that moved. Peter had sometimes felt sympathy for all the creepy-crawlies that inhabited distant worlds, but he knew his job was to send what came from Upstairs to where it was wanted. And he was not the guy to lose sleep over it.
Today’s files had the same assortment of semi-intelligent beings just begging to be controlled from evolving into threatening life forms in the next million years. Peter received summaries of site reports from Scout ships that did quick surveys and suggested possible control methods. The Committee giving recommendations was under pressure lately from Galactic environmentalists and was therefore pretending to control only threatening life forms, to avoid the charge that they were actually destroying the diversity of the Galaxy. So Scout ships were expected to be careful in surveillance and to suggest options with control mechanisms that would isolate only threatening species.
Looking at the topmost file, Peter realized that he was once again confronted with a typical life form that was developing rudimentary atomic technology, and had a few thousand years to catch up. Just another boringly underdeveloped culture to land on his desk. He knew that his summers were not only going to be spent in looking for a unique control mechanism, but also in administering it to these Poor Buggers.
He observed thankfully that the survey had been conducted by one of the best Scout teams and that it had listed out a fair number of isolating factors. He brightened up with the hope that this would be easy and maybe, he would still have the chance to dine and dance along with the directors at his home estate.
The Scouts had found species to be evolving at a reasonable rate and advancing towards a higher intellect with the help of technology. The captain appeared to be amused by the fact that these bisexual creatures depended on the outer appearance of their awful bodies when choosing mates. This, he pointed out, had slowed down intellectual progress and was an adequate enough reason to put this planet on low priority listing.
Now Peter knew why this file was on his desk. He resented the stupid bisexual creatures and their dirty planet. He wished to contrive a mechanism that would control these vain creatures, which seemed to have come into his life only to ruin his summer.
He looked for cultural features for modification, but the only culture these Buggers seem to have was a product of their vain nature. Any war implanted appeared to result in faster technological advances for the planet.
His last resort was pathogens. Being a cultured and well brought up boy, he never liked using pathogens for control. It was a dirty and painful process. And in the case of pathogens, he would be the one to execute the job because he was the guy at the very bottom of the ladder.
The report from the Metabolism experts was simple. This was an oxygen-based planet with a large number of pathogens that affected these creatures. Pathogens unique to this species were roughly listed in the appendix. The Scouts had spent a little time on the planet and they, like all good government report-makers, knew that ‘likely to be unique’ was the right report phrase for “unique”.
On reading the ‘likely to be unique’ list, Peter saw one pathogen and realized that divine justice was showing the way. These miserable creatures were unique hosts to one pathogen that did just the right thing. It ruined their outer appearance and would therefore he assumed that they would create a disinclination to breed.
Peter felt that a better and more virulent form of this lovely little pathogen would slow down their rate of evolution and serve them right for ruining his summer.
The process for administering it was simple. Peter had done it a lot of times and was confident of a quick return. All that was required was a quick shot of the germs into the first creature intercepted by the remote probe on landing. And then let nature take its course.
The pathogens developed by their lab had the ability to evolve into an extremely well adapted parasite unique to the host after the first infection. And it had just sufficient ability to evolve into a newer variant in case of immunity or medicines developed by the host.
The C & E was extremely careful about the secrecy of their missions. An identification of Alien intervention would not be appreciated by any world. The probes sent were small in size, and were targeted at areas low in population density and technology.
At last he found an area, a vast zone where a very few pulses indicating suitable hosts could be seen on the screen. He landed the probe and waited. He was in a hurry to administer the dose, not to get his results. He knew that such a low-key entry into any world starts showing its results only over the next hundred years. The logistic guys had calculated that within a span of a hundred years this culture would start showing an infection rate of five to six per cent, sufficient to slow down the evolution clock by tens of thousands of years. All they needed was for a few critical intellects to be infected.
The approaching creature came within range. Peter was slightly surprised at the low body mass compared to the standards provided by the Scout. But these Buggers grew from very small seeds.
He felt a tinge of regret about the under-grown target and even considered waiting for the next one. Then he looked at the low density of the area and realized that the wait could be long and costly in terms of airtime. Such a wait would not look good on his report card.
There has been a sudden mild outbreak of leprosy in the wild population of armadillos in Argentina. Local wild life authorities are taking the necessary steps for the protection of the captive population.
Biologists are surprised to discover that the infecting strain of pathogen has become typical to armadillos only. The human population faces no threat of infection from this new leprosy strain.
Here, it would be interesting to note that apart from human beings armadillos are the only other creatures on earth capable of developing a full-blown leprosy infection.
Peter’s project had come under routine scrutiny by the Scouts only to discover that his controlling pathogens had been administered to some lowly metabolism susceptible to the same, instead of the target species. Even though it was a very low probability event, which could not be taken care of due to the weak reports generated from their low budget, it was Peter who had to get into the line of fire.
Knowing that they had the C & E people by the short hair, Committee members had nearly recommended that Peter be taken off the project. Some had even suggested setting up a subcommittee for reviewing the matter. It was only the low priority of the target world and the first hand experience of Peter that helped him survive. The fact that there were no lunch dates free in the next few months also came in handy in squashing thoughts of a subcommittee.
Coming back to his desk, Peter cursed his luck and the stupid creatures that had managed to ruin his joy at having enjoyed a successful Gnous hunting season. There had been Gnous aplenty, and Peter had been good enough to entice a few. This had made it bearable to mix with deputy-directors and their like. He had, for a short time, even forgotten that he sat at a dark corner desk with no view of the sunny world.
Looking through the slim fact file, Peter wondered about the little information he had for the job at hand. The aim of C & E was to achieve a controlled growth of intelligence in, what they called, the direction of the harmonious coexistence of all Galactic species. Which, when read in high-level confidential meetings, read: Get Them Before They Grow.
Peter wondered about the strangeness of the population ratio of the planet. Although the main species shared a large amount of material, transmitted along the process of evolution, with related species, it outnumbered related species by a very large margin. During the second mission, the Scouts could only find out that the ‘uniqueness’, of being host to what was identified as a condition called leprosy, was also shared with a lower species when they drastically reduced the tolerance factor of their scanners.
Peter was proclaimed guilty on the grounds of not having checked the standard body size provided by the Scouts. But everyone in C & E knew that with the confirmation of the host Metabolism Identifiers, no one would have waited long before shooting on such an expensive mission.
Though the thoroughness of the Scouts had created a nasty situation for Peter it had also helped in justifying his method and made his future task easier. Knowing that the uniqueness was now confirmed, all Peter had to do was to fly back and ensure that the pathogen was administered to the right organism.
On missions to far off worlds Peter was always amused by the level of technology of each world. Even in his short tenure at the corner desk, he had not yet come across any semi-intelligent world that culturally perceived itself as an under-developed civilization. Each planet that lived in isolation, unaware that the Galaxy was swarming with intelligence, assumed that other technologies, if they existed, would be similar in nature. Hence, the surveillance technology of each world looked out for technologies similar to their own. All Peter had to do to avoid detection, was to use a dissimilar source of energy and information transfer to stay invisible to the hunting eyes.
Though it was amusing to look at the strategies used by his spacecraft to arrive unnoticed and to judge the technology level of the planet, it was not Peter’s job to look at these issues. Peter was expected to take basic protection to reduce the possibilities of detection. This he knew was good for the Poor Buggers also, as detection meant total and instant Eradication as a policy. And Peter was never in favour of such a drastic action.
Back home, this issue had started coming under fire from some conservationist groups that demanded the closure of Eradication programs. Peter felt that since all intelligence is primarily selfish, if they did not did not carry out such programs, some other life forms would. Control & Eradication was as eternal as the existence of intelligence.
The microscopic probes to be sent down on this second mission were mounted with host Metabolism Identifiers along with mass detectors fixed with the standard mass of the target species. The pellets containing pathogens were modified to come alive only in the target host metabolism. Researchers back home had already started working on the overall evolutionary impact of the misfired pathogen on the lower species. The pilot studies revealed a very low level of impact because the lower life form had virtually no participation in the overall process of evolution of intelligence on the planet.
While scanning the surface from the mother ship, he located a few low-energy-using areas. He had decided to stay away from the landmass containing the secondary species to avoid any further mistakes. Moving further up, he was surprised to find the planet’s highest energy using land mass. Looking at the usage pattern, Peter remembered C & E guidelines for second missions which always recommended administering pathogens to a target within such an area, as high-energy use also indicates higher growth of technology, which in turn speeds up the evolution of intelligence. He would, at last, do every thing in correct textbook style.
He decided to zoom into the periphery of a large population mass and soon located a small low-use site with reasonable proximity to the main stream of civilization. He realized that he had been cautious enough and was at last rewarded with some luck.
He had chanced upon a small gathering of Poor Buggers, who appeared to be involved in some ritualistic act in front of some device. The Scout’s report had indicated a tendency of the inhabitants to have a leader with a large number of followers. This, Peter thought, was ideal. He could locate the leader and make him the Host for the faster proliferation of the pathogen.
Increasing the host pool was not part of the agenda, but no one back home was going to be bothered if these Poor Buggers were slowed down by a few more thousand years.
Peter left for home having done his job, and having done it well. Summer had gone by, but winter was in the air. With a good report he might even shift closer to the heating vent to some not-so-much-in-the-corner desk.
“I would like you all to realize, that the time has come for the Human Race to be liberated. We, with the choice of Death, are liberated from the grind of Life. We, with the choice of Death, have shifted out of the slavery of Evolution. Let the lower orders Evolve. Let us Humans be free.”
These were the last words of Mr. Albert John, the self-proclaimed Saint of the Liberated Cult, just before he and the entire congregation jumped in to the incinerator. Mr. Albert chose the incinerator to convert Human body mass into what he called, the basic atoms of the universe.
After being intimated about his failure, Peter had been wondering about what was to come in the committee meeting. A junior staff member from the Scouts who ate his sandwiches with Peter had all ready provided him with the basic facts.
It was standard procedure at C & E to have a Scout visit planets, where control projects have failed in the first attempt. Now, the discovery of the absence of pathogens on the planet by Scouts had left him with no supporters for a third attempt, though every one knew there was no flaw in his theory. Even the logistics department had been happy with the beautiful simplicity of the method that left no signs of outside interference and yet achieved just the right kind of slowing down. There were still no takers for a third time. As a colleague of Peter put it, “A committee was set up to decide who was jinxed? Peter or the Pathogen? ”
“We find your ideas theoretically appropriate,” said Dr. Van. “But your implementation procedure has left many avenues open for failure.”
“Yes,” thought Peter, “My dad works for His Highness, and C & E is short of funds. You are not going to touch me. ”
“The Committee has jointly decided,” continued the doctor,” to reconsider the planet as follows:
A. Change Priority Status of the planet to Category C requiring immediate attention.
B. Set up a temporary unit for on the spot evaluation of all further control missions.
C. Appoint senior advisory personnel along with you for future recommendations for control missions.
D. Retain you for on-the-planet administration of control procedures. ”
“This should,” summed up Dr. Van, “be sufficient to solve the issue. The committee also recommends strict confidentiality measures on the mission till success is achieved.”
Now Peter realized that he was out of his league. The last recommendation had always meant No Holds Barred, and hence allowed measures beyond his power to impose. This was no longer the job for a corner desk menial. What it needed were people like Joseph, his boss, to underwrite high-level interferences. He was taken off and given the dirty job. The only silver lining was his escape from a subcommittee inquiry which would have taken years and kept him at the corner desk forever.
Joseph had a very simple concept for solving problems. If there was a problem, and some one keen to solve it, Joseph would let him solve it, as long as the credit came to him. Realizing that Peter was more than eager to get one over the Poor Buggers from that unfortunate planet, all Joseph had to do was to ask Peter for his recommendations for the problem. This immediately prompted Peter to sit down with all the available data on the planet and save Joseph’s weekend.
Like the introduction of pathogens, the sending of what was known as a Red Herring, was a standard mode for retarding technological growth in any fast growing civilization. It had been tried on a wide array of cultures and had been observed to be highly successful with life forms possessing high curiosity.
The concept of the Red Herring was simple. The target culture was sent an alien organism or device with little or no technical value. The arrival of such an alien object within a closed civilization was adequate for any intelligent life form to work frantically to discover the nature of such a creature or device. This worked as a diversion, interrupting any linear technological growth and retarding the advancement of any civilization considerably. Peter could cite examples where civilizations had slipped in to the dark ages of cults after the introduction of Red Herrings.
Looking at the extreme curiosity of the inhabitants of the target world Peter felt sure of the success of this scheme. Further research showed that the planet had developed an elaborate audiovisual data transmission system as an outcome of the creatures’ inclination to know every last trivial piece of information about events on their small sphere.
Peter once again found all the pieces falling into place. A simple implant into one of the data transmission centres would be a beautiful and fitting solution to the whole problem. It would be converting the host culture’s strength that allowed it to grow, into its weakness that would bring about its downfall.
Peter realized that the planet held a large number of interconnected networks and he had to randomly choose any one of them. The randomness of the task was not a hindrance to the success of the mission, but it gave Peter a feeling of leaving things to chance. The landmass he had visited during his last visit had the largest number of such transmission centres, and he hoped to be third time lucky.
He sent down a mission craft which disintegrated after releasing the alien life form, and saw it materialize in a room with devices capable of transmitting audio and visual information. His last images were of native life forms going down on the floor in reduced intellectual activity mode. He hoped that the entire civilization would follow.
Year 2005 shall go down in the history of American television as the year of one of the worst media wars.
The arrival of what was claimed to be an alien creature in front of a studio camera during a live show created an unforgettable fervour in the media world. Due to the mud slinging amongst all major television companies, no respectable researchers took any serious scientific interest in this issue. Though it may go down as an unsolved mystery of our time, it also showed the negative role media could play in serious scientific research work.
Some compared this to the arrival of first platypus in Europe….
Dr. Van had come to the office in a happy frame of mind as the department had allowed him some spare time to join in a live discussion with a leading media broadcaster where he would hope to show his deep concern over eradication issues. He loved going live talking about how serious C & E was about changing the threshold for eradication for the greater good of intelligent life.
He has always claimed that C & E was actually a research centre that worked towards developing better understanding of the universe and life. It was a fact that C & E also had a research cell but it was utilized for nurturing young fresh minds to reach a level of stagnation necessary for functioning for a government official.
C & E was a very efficient organization in true government lingo. It rarely found itself in an awkward position as its top brass always ensured that any research (and researcher) leading to embarrassing facts was buried under files that very made from the same stuff that black holes are made of. There was a recent case when a group of young mathematicians from the analytical staff of C & E who had forwarded a research paper showing the mathematical possibility of self eradication through a time warp found new appointments as account officers. Good old chaps at the top knew how to run C & E and they surely had their ways to deal with do-good upstarts. Though, Dr. Van wasn’t all that anti-research. He has always been kind enough to lend his name to research papers that suited the working philosophies. He had, in past; even allowed fellows who were barely assistant directors as co-authors in research papers on study of life cycle of nymph-octi of Aston. It was only the counterproductive nature of this finding that had prevented him and all other departmental heads from grabbing the credit.
“Oh!!! These stupid procedures!!” thought Dr. Van. He had been around in C & E for a long time and thus had developed a very necessary numbness of mind. Since its formation, C & E had evolved a system of procedures that invoked such warnings on projects that failed after repeated operations. For Dr. Van they just meant a small walk to the Control Room for authentication and endorsement of the action plan. Eradication was the norm for any operation that failed a number of times and this needed notification from Dr. Van.
Peter was finding life a trifle difficult at the moment as his failed missions had brought Joseph back from his annual break. Joseph had been cursing himself for having allowed Peter to have his way with his Control methods. He could have been eyeing the passing Gnous now if he had insisted on sending the file over to the eradication people after the second failure. Now all he wanted was to pass the file off to Dr. Van and be done with the blue and green planet that was ruining his vacation.
He too was in a great hurry. A sweet little media representative was waiting to interview him about the steps he had taken for nurturing diversity across the Galaxy. She shouldn’t be made to wait.
He had to personally go to the Control Room as such an act would need his authentication. The Control Room was a simple place, with a large simulation of the Galaxy over a screen. The grand act of destroying a planet was nothing but the click of the pointer over a small dot. A power beam from the nearest base would evaporate the planet even before one could hear the entire clicking sound that the pointer made.
Dr. Van punched in his authentication code and directed the pointer to the troubling planet that was keeping him from a sweet little thing.
C L I—
Cove pic by C-SPAN Community