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Monday, August 9, 2010

Insufficient Data

Here's a little story that came to me as I was riding the fast train from Avignon, France, to Geneva, Switzerland. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to leave any comments. You may see some more creative writing here in the future! Marcus

 Insufficient Data
 by Marcus T. Anthony

With a thunderous roar the sky’s lone cloud parted and a most unearthly craft veered forth. Radiating an intense light in the daytime sky, it slowed almost as impossibly quickly as it had appeared, and came to rest upon the parched ground. Shortly thereafter the light emanating from the vehicle dimmed, revealing an oddly plastic-looking assemblage in light hues of grey and white. Suddenly a wall split in two, and from the brightness within, two hominid creatures sprang forth, gasping for breath. Tall and slender, the pair was dressed almost completely in white, in complete contrast to the midnight blackness of their faces and hands. Not quite male, and not quite female, their almost feline slenderness would have struck observers as being completely out of place in the dry, hostile heat; if any such observers had been there.
After a short while, the two regained composure, and turned to each other.
“That was certain genius, Dem. We had seconds of oxygen left.”
The shorter and thinner of the two responded shyly. “Thanks Lor, but I confess it was little more than pure self-preservation. Besides, the data processor informed me that there are no other oxygen rich planets with suitable gravity profiles within light years of here.”
Lor, whose stout demeanor indicated that he was clearly the senior authority, breathed deeply. “Not bad air at all, Dem. Slightly putrid, but breathable.” A small , barely visible beam of light suddenly emerged from his forehead, illuminating a screen in front of his face. He ran his hands across it, feeling the ghostly surface of it with his porous fingers.
“A little high in carbon dioxide. Traces of carbon monoxide.” He tiny eyes flittered a little as he sensed the data. “What do you know about carbon monoxide?”
“Never heard of it, sir. I’m no chemist, I’m sorry. But let me check.” A light beam immediately shone from his head and illuminated a device identical to his colleague’s. “Carbon monoxide. Well, it will kill us in sufficient concentrations, but at the levels detected here that would take about fifty years. This freezing air will more likely be the end of us.”
Lor retracted his data processor and stepped forward gingerly, feeling the rough ground with the sensors contained at the soul of his shoes. Dem followed as they moved over the small hill before them, and walked down.
“I can hardly see a thing, it’s so dark here,” lamented Lor. "Sometimes I wish we modern Truans had the eyes like a beasts of Yorda. Not that they would do us much good back home. The sun would burn them white within seconds.” Suddenly he stopped. “Did you hear that?”
Dem stood fully upright, his ears prickling in the too-cold air. “Yes. A definite rumbling sound, sir. Something large is moving this way, and quickly!”
It was too late. Terrified the two Truans stood frozen with fear as the huge, dark object closed in on them. 

Before either of them could react, the object had sped by them, and moved off into the distance.
Lor felt his heart race. “Data! Give me data, Dem! What was that thing?”
Dem’s data screen spread before him. “Give me a moment, sir.” He nervously maneuvered his hands across the etheric screen.
“Quickly, quickly! Lor demanded, towering over Dem. “At this rate, we’ll be dead meat in this shithole of a world. Is it some kind of monstrous life form?”
“N… n… no, sir. Appears to be inorganic. Metalic. But it generates heat, though, which suggests it might be a life form of some kind. Perhaps an artificial construct.”
Lor drew himself up to his full height, standing a full head above his subordinate. “Young Truan, given that no other intelligent life forms have been discovered yet outside of Trua in over one thousand years of interstellar travel. The data is insufficient, and that is not a tenable hypothesis.”
“Yes, of course, sir. I’m sorry. The data does not support such pointless querying. I must be more rational in my thought structuring.” He stopped for a moment. “Still, there is one thing which troubles me, sir. These things, they move upon four revolving circular structures. I have read that in primitive Truan societies vehicles used similar structures to mobilise mechanical transportation devices. They were called wheels. Perhaps some intelligence is causing the objects to move upon these wheels.”
Lor put a hand upon Dem’s slender shoulder. “Truans are the only intelligent bioforms in the known universe. I understand your enthusiasm, but it’s impossible.”
Dem’s face fell
“Do not despair my young friend. This matter will not go on your report. The emotive regions of your brain are assuming dominance due to your heightened fear. We almost lost our lives back there. We are on a cold, dark planet. It would be enough to test the nerves of even the bravest and most lucid minded of Truans.”
Dem let out a deep sigh, and a smile appeared upon his thin, small lips. “Yes, yes. At least we have all the oxygen we need here. We can repair and refill the tanks in short time, send out a distress call and get out of…”
He stopped. The young Truan saw the composure drain instantly from Lor’s face, the fear rising. There it was again! The rumbling. Both beings froze in terror, for this time the object was even larger and the sound quite deafening. The ground shook, and a great wind threw them to the ground. Helpless, they felt the huge, dark mass within an arm’s reach of their bodies. Then it was gone, the object fading off into the distance.
Picking themselves up, the two scrambled back to the security of their craft. Safe inside, and with the intensity of light more attuned to their eyes, they were able to relax somewhat.
Dem required no further command. He pressed his finger against a wall, and a broad data processor emerged. “The rescue signal is already out sir. There is a team on a star system within half a day of here. They will pick it up easily.” He smiled. “Perhaps we should try to get some sleep now, sir.”
Lor’s face stiffened. “Yes, but there’s one procedure we have to deal with. We are required to report all incidents which might pertain to the existence of intelligent life on unmapped planets like these. We’ll have to set up an observation post for at least half a day. That should be enough time to collect the data.”
Dem looked at his leader, his own face betraying his confusion. Had not Lor just disciplined him for suggesting that the objects outside their craft might indicate the presence of intelligent life? He blinked, then straightened his body. “That will be no problem, sir. I will now set it up the internal monitors.”
His superior looked into Dem’s eyes, which were even smaller than Lor’s. They had the slightly puffy look of a Truan who rarely used the sense of sight. Instrumentation had taken over much of that function, almost rendered superfluous by vision receptors and data processors.
“Sorry, Dem, but this will require more close-range data. Can you prepare the external data processors?” It was not so much a question as command. Dem swallowed hard, his throat dry with fear. He knew that as the junior member of the crew, he would have to assume responsibility for a task that was potentially life threatening. Truan Law stated that the senior officer on a ship could not endanger their own existence, where a lower ranking Truan was available for the task.
Dem stepped out into the frigid evening air, the planet even darker and colder than it had been earlier in the day. He shivered as he moved forward to the place where the rumbling objects had been detected. Now it had been determined that they were traveling in a straight line and along a predetermined path, he could set up the data processors knowing they would not be in the pathway of the oncoming entities. Still, when the next object roared past, he felt the surge of terror again. Yet as he went about his work, and more objects passed safely, he began to relax a little. All the data confirmed that the objects were not going to pass over the location he was standing. He hurried back to the craft.
That night Dem dreamt of the great monsters of the great Lorean folklore. With their giant teeth, eyes huge and hungry, they lusted to drag him back into the darkness of caves underground, where the monsters sheltered from the blistering Truan sun. As one bore down on him, it stuck a greasy limb on his bare shoulder. He bolted awake, a thin, dry scream about to break from his tiny throat.
“Relax, Dem, it’s just me.” It was his commander standing over him, his hand upon Dem’s frail shoulder, shaking him from his slumber.
“Sorry, sir. Bad dream.”
“The data is in Dem. Looks like there is nothing to worry about. These hideous things appear to be nothing more than naturally occurring phenomena; soulless life forms which are part of the planets’ evolving ecostructures. But I’d like you to check the data again more thoroughly if you could.”
“No need to ask sir,” his younger companion affirmed as he approached the internal data projector.
He flicked through images generated by the machine. He blinked, strained his eyes.
Lor looked closer, a puzzled expression on his eyes. “What in the universe are these things?
“I honestly don’t know sir. Irregular shapes, iron and plastic materials. There is some kind of flat, plate-like metallic protrusion emerging from the ground beside the pathway used by the objects. There appears to be some markings on the plate. Could be artificial.
“Nonsense!” boomed Lor, his face tight with agitation. “We are scientists. Stick to the observation data, please. I want facts, not wild guesses!”
Dem felt a slight surge of anger rising within him. He had been humiliated before his commander. There was no greater damage to a Truan’s professional reputation than to come to invalid conclusions as a result of miscalculating data. Thousands of years of emotion-laden chaos had led to the conviction that truth lay in fact, not emotion.
Dem brought up the image of the plate onto the datascreen. They were staring at a white, flat protrusion with dark black markings upon it.

Las Vegas
155 miles

“Well, what do you make of it, young Truan?”
For a moment Dem felt a surge of intense feeling within his mind, a distant voice calling from the evolutionary past of the Truan species. There was something both beautiful and terrifying about it, like riding down the rapids of a mountain river.
“It could be…” Dem’s shaky hands felt though the screen. The feeling almost overwhelmed him. There was a moment of terror as it seemed that he would lose control and insanity would take hold. Then it was gone. His certainty returned, strong.
“Sir, there’s no mechanism for determining if the plate’s markings represent some form of information. Yet the data we have tells the story. The large objects are indeed propelled by the dark circular units at their base – the wheels, if you like.”
“The objects move because the wheels go round.”      
“Impressive work, Dem. There may well be a promotion in this for you, after I submit my report.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“No need to thank me, Dem. Thank the system. We reward straight thinking and intelligence. Now let’s get off this cold, forsaken planet and back to the real world.”
Later, as the rescue ship sped the two Truans safely away from the planet, a proud smile lit up Dem’s face. His job was done, and all was normal.


  1. I like it! Love the descriptions. Short stories are the toughest fiction to write.

  2. Great fun Marcus - and I love the ambiguity in the story (it could be a kind of post-apocalyptic Earth where robot-driven vehicles run by themselves). Was this your intention?

    It presents a slightly pessimistic view of evolution, however: the Truans' technology is thousands of years ahead of ours, but their consciousness is stuck at a roughly Terran World War 2 level!

  3. Thanks Marcus, what an interesting piece of science fiction! It's funny to associate the ET's
    name "Truan" with truant or truth. The Truans have flown thousands of light-years like truants
    far from their parent planet looking for any truths, which appear to be only truths in the outer space, not the inner space of their own consciousness.

  4. Thanks for the positive feedback! Yes, they are a bit backward, Simon. Of course you don't need to be a genius to see that the story is a parody of a particular limited worldview and its prime way of knowing. It's not meant to be pessimistic, as in I think that this is the way things will go. It's just a "piss-take", as we'd say in Australia. Can't say that so much for the story which follows this, though! ("A Lucid Mind") I have done a lot of work with dark energy and the shadow, so have plenty of insight into that side of things.

    Glad you liked the descriptions, Trish/Rob. If I write more fiction, I'll work on that kind of thing.

    And good to hear from you Tameer. Hope life in HK is treating you well!

  5. I'm taking care of my injured left foot, which was hurt by myself almost a month ago. I quit my job five months ago. Now all time is mine. I enjoy my life. Thank you!