3rd quarter 2135 CE
Northern Hemisphere President’s address
“We stand on the precipice of time.
Preparing to undertake a great adventure of discovery.
One which we can only complete with cooperation and brotherhood.
To finally and for all time answer that eternal question: Does God exist?
To set aside the now-quaint beliefs proven to be in error by the Scientific Age.
“And to continue the work of our forefathers. The warm regard still held for the great, written traditions of the ancient holy books illustrates Man’s need for knowledge on this subject. Great moral guides these books have proven to be — they are now universally recognized as some of Man’s first attempts to explain the universe and the place of Mankind within it. All were written without the benefit of even rudimentary scientific knowledge and discovery. Information that, we in our Age take for granted, was missing back then. The writers of those books tried to explain the universe in the only ways they could, using the myths and legends and general beliefs of those times, beliefs now proven false.
“We, with our vastly superior understanding of the cosmos, will now embark on a great voyage of discovery. It has been said that Science has destroyed God, that Science has rendered such a quaint belief obsolete and irrelevant. But why can not Science be employed to answer the question, Yes or No?, with finality. That is the course we set ourselves upon. A scientific search for God. A scientific search for Truth.”
It had taken decades to build the special sensor device.
That of course was the key. No other projects were even started until that was completed.
Once perfected, several months were then spent in the pinpointing of probable locations. The sensor device acted as an enormous energy analyser, capable of gleaning intricate and complex information from the cosmic rays that constantly washed over the planet. The science of the device was understood by only a select few, the men who built it. At first, almost everyone in the general and scientific communities dismissed both the device and the project. After the first mission, that all changed. Overnight, the planet’s mood went from outright disbelief to outright optimism. The device had worked, and brilliantly. Unfortunately, the civilization it found had died out, but the clear remnants of its recent existence had provided elegant proof of the worth of the device and vindication for the project. The device was the discoverer of worlds — what else was it capable of? If nothing else we were rapidly discovering just how un-alone in the universe we were.
With the device, finding intelligent life forms was very easy; the next steps however were not. Evaluation was still a man-made decision. The primary, most important, factor was whether the culture believed in some form of supreme being. Further, did the culture have some proof or basis for that belief. After just a few months of searching, hundreds of such alien cultures were discovered. There was need for a new, improved ship capable of reaching them and studying them face to face. During the ship’s construction, a crew was selected and trained.
* * *
These stellar voyagers travelled farther from home than anyone had before. The technology they used was more advanced than anything dreamt of by past scientists. The four-man crew was the proverbial cream of the crop, picked from millions of qualified applicants. These four men had the right combination of intelligence, technical expertise, and common sense, and, perhaps more important, were a fair representation of the world population in 2163. These men reflected a large segment of the racial makeup of the planet, as well as the beliefs and ideals of those inhabitants. That of course didn’t mean they all liked one another.
“How much longer?” asked Simms, known also as No. 4. There was no answer at first, and then Richards, No. 2, looked up from his engineering station and stared at Simms. Richards knew he was the only one to whom the question could have been directed; there was no one else in the room.
“What, Simms? What now?” Richards demanded, continuing to stare at No. 4 as if Simms had several heads.
“How – Much – Longer?” Simms intoned, ” Before – We – Land?” As he spoke the words he made a point of staring fixedly back at Richards. It was common knowledge that pilot 2 and pilot 4 hated each other. They were here, despite the friction, because they were the best at what they did. Most members of Mission Control had placed bets as to which man would snap first and physically attack the other — most of the serious money was on Simms.
“I don’t know Simms… check your flight scanner, I’m working over here!” With that, Richards turned away and tried to forget about Simms, whom he couldn’t stand in the least, and wanted to spend as little time with as possible. The man irritated him not just because he was an atheist but because he was so sure of himself. Simms always had an opinion on any topic, and he always wanted everyone to hear it. Richards also felt certain that Simms went out of his way to goad him every chance he got.
“You know we won’t find anything,” Simms stated, staring up at the ship’s low ceiling. He stole a quick glance at Richards, who was studiously ignoring him.
“Our sensors have detected nothing,” he continued. “That rock is as dead as a billiard ball. Whatever was there is long dead — no culture, no god. Nothing.”
“We won’t know for certain until we actually land and search,” Richards countered, not looking up from his calculations console. He hung his head for a second, then looked at Simms and continued. “Many of our religious traditions quote instances of God walking amongst His people…maybe someday we will get lucky.”
“Ha! Don’t hold your breath,”Simms said, rolling his eyes. He stared at the ceiling for a moment then added: “God, I’m bored.” He sighed, casting a quick glance at Richards.
“Simms, I thought you didn’t believe in God?” Richards asked, a slight smile of disdain on his face.
Simms stood up. “Don’t worry, No. 2, you haven’t converted me, it was only an expression, not a profession.” His work done, Simms walked away.
* * *
The four scientists, from various backgrounds, had travelled through space to this spot in the cosmos for one reason: to answer that age-old question – Did God exist?
Whatever one’s viewpoint, it could no longer be argued in an age of advanced scientific understanding that faith alone was enough; faith had to have a basis in fact to be other then self-deluded fantasy, and these men were now in a position to find out. Their individual beliefs were almost irrelevant, as all understood just how important their duty was. And some would be delighted or dejected, depending on the outcome of their search, but each knew it was better than guessing. They had seen many worlds. Each planet they had visited had once had intelligent life; this itself was an incredible discovery. Each had its own belief system, each had its own proof of god, and each had seen its intelligent life die out. Why?
The answer was as yet, elusive. The search continued.
Once a detailed analysis of the alien data was performed, each proof came up wanting. Nothing more solid or substantial than pure faith.
They were scientists, and despite their disparate theologic beliefs they did have one in common — all believed in the mission.
The advancement of human knowledge, the search for truth, was a sacred duty, an end in itself. Each traveller had bravely weathered years of cramped deprivation, far from families and friends, to be at this stage, and each knew that the constant cryostatic suspension necessary for travel through the vastness of space slowed their aging while loved ones back home withered and died. The mission, The God Project, might just as well have been named Sacrifice.
* * *
“We have touchdown,” said No. 1, the mission leader — Chin. The only response was a slight nod from Ibrahim the geologist, designated No. 3. Silence. Then Simms spoke into the com link:
“You know, back in the old days, Mission Control would have been whooping it up back home to see us land safe.” Silence. The four men looked at one another and then down at the comlink. There was only a slight crackle of static. There would be no voice from across the gulf of space. It would be a week before home even knew that they had landed. Each man knew this, but each continued to stare at the comlink anyway.
After a moment, Simms stood and brought his right hand up to his face. He spoke into his hand, imitating a static-filled transmission. “This is Mission Control. Congratulation, men, you are the greatest explorers in all of recorded history. Mankind salutes you all — especially Simms — for your incredible bravery and fearless devotion. But as we are just a little pressed for time, if you great heroes would please get your butts in gear and proceed to the location, you may have just enough time to explore a bit before the planet’s star sets.”
Even Richards started laughing.
* * *
It was another dead ball.
The civilization that had existed here was long gone. Died out, or perhaps migrated to a nearby system. Analysis would find out in the end. There were no bodies, but from pictures attached to the outside of many of the structures, houses perhaps, the crew members could see that the past inhabitants looked eerily like them.
The central chamber of the main building was noticeably familiar in its architecture: a combination of ancient, traditional designs, at first glance long deserted. The men ascended a long, low staircase. The staircase was made of some kind of shiny stone that looked slippery, but was not.
“Over here, guys,” Ibrahim shouted. He was waving excitedly to the rest of the crew. The men came over to his position.
They stood before several large placards of beautifully etched gold metal, the words — for they could be nothing else — were obviously unknown to them, of a language none of them had ever seen before.
“What the hell are they?” Simms wondered aloud.
“For an atheist, Simms, you seem to know all our catchwords,” Richards said.
“Well, whoever made these and this building certainly were intelligent life forms,” Chin said, almost to himself.
Their mobile sensors started to flash.
“What now?” Richards said.
“I think we have something,” Ibrahim said, studying the miniaturized analysers. “The mini device has picked up something!” he shouted, looking up at the assembled men. “And it isn’t a physical life form.”
“Bullshit,” Simms said. “We haven’t come across anything like that.”
“Not yet,” Richards said. The sensors were now flashing on a constant basis — they were very close to it. When they arrived outside a room off the central chamber, the sensors had all gone a steady yellow, the highest range, indicating that this was indeed the place. A large set of closed double doors with ornate crystalline handles blocked their way.
“These doors look just like something we’d have back home,” Chin stated. It did seem a good sign. The answer should lie in that room, behind those strangely familiar doors.
“Well, this is it,” Simms said.
“It certainly seems so,” Richards added.
“Lets just do it,” Chin stated.
“Perhaps we should say a prayer first,” suggested Ibrahim. Simms smiled at him.
“Why not just wait, and tell him face to face — if he, or she, is in,” Simms said, and stepped forward, pushing on the doors. They swung open into a vast room, well-lighted by outside light streaming through the high, vaulted, and ornate windows; strange pictures seemed to be melded into the window material. The men stared at this alien vista in awe. The room was vast, but laid out on one level, so it could all be taken in visually at once.
It was empty. No one was there. The sensors now all read zero.
“Hello?” yelled Richards. ” Hello, anyone here?”
“Shit,” Chin said.
Simms’ face was starting to form a smirk, and he was about to say “I told you so”, but the urge to do so quickly vanished. Instead, he whispered: “I guess, secretly, I’d hoped we might find something this time.” He looking around at his companions. “I didn’t really believe we would; reason told me that we wouldn’t, but… I still kinda hoped.”
“We all did,” Chin added.
“But something set off the sensors,” Richards said. It was true — there had been something in here.
“And why can’t we pick it up now?” Chin asked.
“Interference, malfunction?” Simms offered weakly.
After a moment, Ibrahim spoke.
“How many more?” he asked.
“At least fifteen possibles in this quadrant alone,” replied Richards. “We’ll be busy for a while yet.”
They all stood for a moment, not saying anything; then they went about their various tasks of gathering samples and taking readings. Planet AR57-03, a planet much like their home planet, continued on its trip around the star of this system. Several other planets also circled the star, two of which were much closer and had been found to be far too hot to search or to sustain any form of life.
Perhaps God lived on one of the many planets that were too inhospitable for them to search — they might never know. There had been another strong possibility as well: a similar-sized, red-coloured planet farther out, but it was found to be too cold and without a life-sustaining atmosphere. Several other even more distant planets also circled this star: one was enormous and mostly made of various swirling gases; another was graced with an incredible ring system of dust and ice pellets. There was even a striking blue planet, coldly beautiful, but as with all the others, unsuitable — replete with a caustic atmosphere and too frigidly cold to sustain life in any known form.
On this planet, AR57-03, their investigations had led them to believe that some sort of worldwide calamity had befallen the planet not long ago and wiped out all obvious forms of life, including the makers of the buildings and the etched metal placards. There had been life here once, just as the initial sensors had predicted, but now it was gone.
Life: Was it created by a god or was it just another fluke of the cosmos? Had God lived here once and walked amongst these people, then abandoned them? Or, were these people just another form of life produced by evolution? Whatever the answer — life on the planet was no more. There was no god living here, or anything else. But the mobile sensor had flashed….
By the time the four men had finished their duties, it was night. As they returned to their ship, walking together in the dark, thinking their own thoughts, they caught sight of a stirring vision: the planet’s moon was at its full display, perfectly round, and seeming so close that the men all felt as if they could reach out and touch it. They watched for a while in silent awe, then continued on towards their ship.
About the Author: James A. Ford has been writing science fiction and horror short stories for many years. It is his favorite pursuit. He was first published in 1996 in the now-defunct horror mag “Crossroads”. James stopped writing and followed various pursuits for almost ten years before he started writing seriously again in late 2006. He tries to write a story a week. “Perhaps it is self-delusion, but I think this keeps me sharp,” he says. His family, however, thinks he is “quite mad”. Story (c) 2009 by James A. Ford firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Gary Campbell is a writer and a digital artist. Ilustration (c) 2009 by Gary Campbell email@example.com