57 minus 47: A Discovery of Ignorance

Posted: 1 July 2021 in 57 minus, 57 minus new fiction, fiction, new fiction, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple story.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, which is suitable because it’s about looking for something so far no-one’s seen.

I came across the following image this morning while looking for something else.

This is the story that it inspired.


A Discovery of Ignorance

As the clamps grabbed the floating debris, and brought it into the ship, he hoped that he’d found it, that most elusive of things… something new.

He’d been travelling the space lanes for most of his adult life. A delivery here, a pickup there, occasionally getting involved in something that was by any measure none of his business, but it was always in service to the discovery of something… new.

He’d been bored on his home planet, and, after he’d done his military service, he’d bought an old wreck, spent far too long tuning it up, and then set out to make his mark on the universe. He was still hoping to do that, but while he and the universe were waiting for that to happen, he needed a hobby.

So, he looked for space wrecks, for specific bio-signatures, to disprove a theory he’d developed about the utter self-centredness of life. Life cannot be always selfish, he’d once suggested idly in a bar. The laughter and the mockery had turned what was a trivial utterance into a quest, albeit one that of necessarily was interrupted by him earning.

It was true that he’d by now lost count of the times he’d been disappointed, how many times his hopes had been dashed, how often life demonstrated that it was indeed not only selfish and self-centred, but knowingly so. He didn’t believe it was inherent, though, not to all sentient species.

He’d never found any evidence to justify this hypothesis. Yet.

But maybe this time. Maybe…?

A light lit up, a siren blared. He switched both off. One of these days, he said to himself, he’d disconnect the circuits that triggered them. His mouth creased as he realised he’d said that before. Many times.

The monitors showed the automatic salvage units working away; he’d quite literally picked them up for a song, a bawdy dirge performed to a group of demonic nuns in the far sectors. How they’d ended up with the units was something he’d quickly realised not to ask. Not when he saw the orange ichor he’d had to clean from the units’ insides.

“Come on… come on…” he muttered, impatient for the bioscan to confirm, and then there they were, the five words he’d hoped to see. Plain and simple, and exactly what he was looking for:

LIFE. SENTIENT. SOON TO EXPIRE.

When something was about to die far from home, he’d long ago realised, they had no reason to dissemble, no motive to lie. They’d be at least honest, and – hopefully – demonstrate selflessness.

He activated his personal forcefield. Only a mark VII, but it would suffice against bacteria and viruses. Or at least it had so far. He opened the relevant file to check the field’s acquisition date and winced when he saw his own handwriting saying to get a new one… The note was dated… he did the calculations… and winced again.

OK, next time he passed a traders’ post. Definitely.

In the meantime, there was the soon-to-be dead entity in his hold to examine.

The creature was damaged; he didn’t need equipment to tell him that. The arms – he assumed they were arms, although there were only two of them and he couldn’t see anything suggesting more had been ripped off – were fleshy, and flabby, and partially covered in a browny-red viscous liquid which he guessed passed for this species’ blood.

There were various puncture wounds covering the body and head but, he looked anxiously, yes, the skull looked intact. There were two covered holes on one side; when he lifted the fleshy – why so much flesh, and so little resin, he wondered – there was a ball floating in each; one was still, the other slowly, randomly, moving.

He attached the leads either side of the skull, where the machines told him to. And waited for the machines to dredge the information, translate it as far as it could, and present the information he was looking for: proof that in their last moments, some species, some individual, wasn’t as self-centred as he believed they were, as they had all been.

While he waited, he wondered what he would do if he did find that elusive creature. What would he do? He had ideas of course, but—

The machine bleeped. There was some text on the screen identifying the species, and even the creature’s name and likely home planet.

He ignored it all.

Then the final sentence, in a language he didn’t recognise. He forgot. He always forgot. The final sentence was always in the language of the soon-to-be-deceased, a final mark of respect from the machine’s programmer… a respect he didn’t share one bit.

“Translate from original.” He spat the words out.

Letter by letter, the message became legible. As he read the translated words, his spirts fell. Once again. Once again, all they cared about was themselves. Always the same message. All about the glory they’d soon have, all about how they’d take their discoveries and make themselves rich, and famous.

He swore, left the hold and hit the big button to fry the remains, and expel the dust.

WHY? WHY was the universe and everyone in it so-self-centred?

He went back to the cabin and set the scanners to check for the next sector. All he wanted was to find someone who wasn’t so self-centred. If he did, wow, if he did… why he could take that information and make himself a fortune.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked by message the other day: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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