The Last Leader: An Attempt at Hopeful Sci-fi

I’ve been writing more lately!

I’d hoped that doing blog posts would help me get back into it, and they have. I’ve also been freelancing a little, and I have a steady thing writing an article once a week for a local business. Being paid a little bit of money to write stuff had renewed some of the confidence that I lost during quarantine, and reminded me that writing for money is something I can continue to do, even if it feels like the world stopped spinning.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what inspires art. About the overall cultural attitude that contributes to creators while they’re creating, and how those messages change over time. Understanding art in the context of history is one of my favorite things about art, especially when the art has nothing to do with what’s happening during that moment in history.

Creating art during COVID & Trump almost feels cruel to the people who will consume it in the future. I know my writing is inspired by the world around me, even if I don’t want it to be. Even if I wish it wouldn’t be. So I’ve been trying to immerse myself in a different mentality before creating.

I’ve been trying to intentionally consume only positive and hopeful depictions of the future. I asked for recommendations on Facebook and was recommended a few things, but generally speaking, it’s been difficult to find things that don’t remind me that they were written or produced by men with very limited imaginations when it comes to the types of people who exist or could potentially exist.

The story below is my attempt at hopeful science fiction. I worry that my own imagination is sorely limited due to the time I grew up in, and the types of content I’ve consumed, but I did my best to tell a story that feels both honest and encouraging. It’s told in three parts, all many many years apart. What I ended up writing isn’t what I thought I was writing when I started, but then, nothing ever is. It’s still science fiction, and it inspires hope in me, even if it also makes me feel a bit melancholy.

But then, that’s been my emotional baseline lately: Hopeful, if a bit melancholy.

If you’re interested, enjoy reading “The Last Leader.” -Chloe <3

The Last Leader

Discovery

“The planet is called §Æ37. We first discovered it just under a thousand years
ago. Last week, for the first time, we had a probe return from the planet with
samples. We were able to gather enough data to extrapolate backwards a few
hundred million years, at least.”

Behind Analyst Seven, the slide changed from a picture of the planet from
space to a photograph from the planet’s surface: ice and snow, as far as was visible.
Then it changed again: another photograph of a stony, ice-covered landscape.

“At this point, we have no evidence to suggest that intelligent life has ever
originated from this planet.”

“Intelligent life?” Commander One stared quizzically at the screen.

“Our rover was able to gather evidence of single-celled organisms, but they
didn’t survive the return trip. Beyond that, we haven’t found anything. It seems this
planet is very early in its evolutionary cycle. If we manage to survive and continue
monitoring for the next few million years, I believe we might witness an entire chain
of evolution. The birth of new species. It could give us clues into the mysteries of our
own existence.”

“But that isn’t why you’re here, is it?”

“No ma’am.”

“Let’s get to it.”

Analyst Seven could see there wasn’t a face in the room that wasn’t locked
onto her, intently awaiting what was coming next. She clicked her remote, and the
slide changed once more. Now, it looked like an x-ray, but not of a body. An x-ray of
a planet, with chunks of stone stacked together and compressed into varying shapes
and viscosities.

But there was something wrong.

“What’s that black square in the middle? Was something wrong with the
scanner?”

“That’s what we thought at first, too. But then we checked the other readings,
and…” the slide changed to another x-ray from a different angle. This time, the
square wasn’t so square, but appeared to be a diamond. “We discovered that
something is buried beneath the surface of the planet. We’ve checked the numbers
as many ways as we can, and they all say the same thing.”

“What do they say? What the hell is that thing?”

“We aren’t sure. But it’s a perfect cube. It’s exactly 407.3 meters on every
side, it’s about three miles deep, and the top face is perfectly parallel with the
surface. Whatever it is, it was designed. It was built. And it was buried there on
purpose.”

Commander Four was first to break the silence. “Is this a joke?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. We have a few working theories about what it could be,
but we don’t have a lot to go on. All we can say for sure is—”

Commander One leaned forward in her seat. “We aren’t the only intelligent
species in the universe.”


§Æ37 — 712 Solar Revolutions Later

Commander One looked out over the encampment. What had once been a
desolate and snow-covered landscape was now a bustling hive of activity. Massive
dunes of excavated earth and stone surrounded a small city of atmospheric tents
where the geologists and construction teams were stationed.

“All teams are in place, Commander.” The voice was static in her ear. “We’re
ready to open the cube.”

The image of the surface of §Æ37 blinked off, and a new image filled
Commander One’s visor: The Cube. Surrounding it was the entire team, eagerly
awaiting the doors to be opened. Some had given up their entire lifetimes, traveling
across the universe to live on an uninhabited planet for the sole purpose of finding
out what was inside.

Commander One knew what a responsibility this was. Since her elevation
from Commander Two thirteen solar revolutions prior, she’d always known the
opening of the cube would be her true legacy. In some ways, she resented that
something they’d been working on since before her conception would be what she
was remembered for. But looking out at her team, many of whom had died on this
planet, she knew it was up to her to make sure that this moment was as historic as
the buildup.

“On your command,” spoke the scientist closest to the transmitter.
Commander One couldn’t remember if she was Scientist Three or Four.

“Bring me up,” she said.

Inside the darkness on §Æ37, a hologram of Commander One appeared from
within the transmitter. The workers began to applaud.

“I want to start by saying that I’ll keep this short. I know how eager we all are
to find out what’s inside The Cube. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention
the sheer magnitude of this endeavor. A little over 700 revolutions ago, The Cube
was located by a returning rover. Since then, countless members of our community,
including everyone here today, gave up their lives at home in pursuit of the ultimate
goal: understanding. Whatever we find inside, know that it would have been
impossible without each and every one of you, and all of those who came before.”
The hologram of Commander One began to applaud. “This is for you.”

The room cheered and applauded along with her.

“Now… who wants to open it up?!”

As the cheering grew louder, Commander One gave the order.

A small team muscled the latch open. The rest of the construction team,
strapped to one another by an enormous rope, began to pull. Slowly, the door began to swing open. It took effort, and by the time they were done, every working had broken a sweat.

Engineer One grabbed the transmitter and approached the opening.

Commander One would be the first to see what was inside. Well, second. The
transmitter had a slight delay, so Engineer One would technically be first, but that wasn’t a major issue. She tried hard to push that thought out of her mind.

The image in her visor went dark for a moment as they crossed the threshold.

When the image was restored, she found herself in a chamber. Before her lay rows
and rows of computer hardware, stacked from floor to ceiling.

“What am I looking at?”

“It looks like a server farm. Whoever hid this down here was storing a
massive amount of data.”

The engineer carried the transmitter forward, down a hallway of servers. The
room remained dark; opening the door had not triggered any sort of lighting system.
“If they’re hiding data, why did they leave it abandoned for so long? Why
wasn’t the door locked?”

Behind them, the workers began entering The Cube.

“Tell them not—” Commander One began, but Engineer One had already
ordered them not to touch anything. He wouldn’t even receive her transmission for
another few seconds. Thankfully, he said nothing when he received it.

They continued down the hallway until they reached the end. Before them
was a large, dark, empty space. As soon as Engineer One stepped into it, an
enormous white light kicked on overhead.

“Everybody down!” Commander One heard him yell as her image tilted
forward. For a few seconds, all she could see was the ground. When nothing else
happened, she heard Engineer One getting to his feet.

“Sorry about that, Commander,” he said as he lifted the transmitter and
pointed it at what had formerly been a dark, empty room. Now, she could see that
this entire wall of The Cube was a monitor, and a video was playing. On the screen,
there was a small, pale-looking creature that was speaking directly to them.

“Is this live?” she asked.

Engineer One waved his hands and called out. There was no reaction from
the creature on screen.

“I don’t think so.”

“What is it saying? Can we translate?”

“We need a whole lot more context before we can decipher their language.
We’d need access to…” Engineer One trailed off.

“Access to what?”

The creature on the screen was pointing straight at them—or, more
accurately, straight at the server farm. It opened its arms wide and paused. Or
perhaps it was done speaking.

“They’ve given it to us. Everything we need to understand their language.
And who knows what else is here… they weren’t hiding this Cube. It’s a gift. They
wanted us to find it. If we plug into this, I believe we’ll have exactly what we need to
translate. Hold on.”

Engineer One approached the screen and began looking around for
something. Then it appeared he found what he was looking for. He plugged
something into the wall of The Cube and turned around to face the transmitter.

“Analyzing,” was all he said. Commander One waited impatiently while he
worked. He pulled a device out of his pocket and began clicking buttons furiously.
Then his eyes glazed over as he contacted another Engineer. When he returned, he
pressed one more button on the device, and suddenly, the voice coming from the
creature on the screen was speaking their language.

“…tunately, we don’t have much time left. Our planet is dying, and it’s entirely
our fault. Our last-ditch effort was to combine the collective knowledge of the
human race and preserve it, deep underground. What you’re standing in is
everything. Everything we ever learned. Everything we ever built. Every lesson we
failed to learn before we destroyed not just ourselves, but every bit of life on Earth.
We have no idea if anyone will ever find this. Our plan is to bury it beneath our
nation’s capitol city, where only a sufficiently advanced technology will be able to
sense its presence. Hopefully, if our planet ever recovers, or if humans somehow
manage to evolve again, you’ll be able to pick up where we left off. If you’re watching
this, then you’re it. You’re the last hope we have. Use what we’ve learned. Combine it
with your own knowledge. Stand on the shoulders of giants. With this information,
hopefully you’ll be able to see farther than we ever could. Achieve things we could
only imagine.”

Then the human on screen began to laugh.

“This is so fucking pointless.”

The screen went dark.

The room was silent.

“How long ago was this video made?” Commander One asked. “How long ago
did these… humans live here?”

“I’ve had my team running the data. Based on the current state of the surface
and the readings we’ve been sending back, if their civilization was as large as their
data suggests, they must have been wiped out at least 20 million solar revolutions
ago.”


§Æ37 (aka Earth) — 1,000 Solar Revolutions Later

“Magnificent.”

The sky grew a more pleasant hue with each passing day. Commander One
reached forward and pressed one of her feelers against the bark of a newly
sprouting tree. A cool breeze rustled the leaves and she closed her eyes to
experience the sensation.

Every planet has its wonders.

Her communicator beeped and brought her back to the present. She clicked a
button and the face of Advisor Three appeared in the air before her.

“Everyone is in place, Commander,” they spoke. “We’re ready for you.”

Commander One merely nodded before disconnecting. She rolled herself into
walking stance and headed for the lift.

She rehearsed the speech in her mind as the lift carried her to the stage. She didn’t need to, but she wasn’t sure what else to do.

The audience cheered the moment they saw her, and continued cheering until she practically begged them to stop at the podium.

“One thousand years ago, one of my predecessors made a discovery that
changed the course of this planet forever. To the members of my species, that
number is meaningless. But to your ancestors and their base-10 counting
system—probably due to the ten fingers on your hands—that number was imbued
with tremendous significance.”

The humans sat enraptured.

“It took us a long time to bring this planet back to life. Your species destroyed
everything that called this place home. But the reason we brought you back is
because you also did something profound: the best and brightest amongst you made
a plan to ensure no one would ever make the same mistake again.

“We have restored this planet. For the last thousand years, we have worked
tirelessly to create a balance of all living things. And now, on the anniversary of the
decision to restore Earth to its former glory, we would like to give you a gift.”

Curtains at the front of the stage pulled back to reveal that it had been built
above The Cube. The humans’ eyes widened in shock and bafflement.

“This is what we discovered all those years ago. We give it to you now so that
you may learn from their mistakes—because that is what they are, mistakes—and
find redemption by continuing to explore what paths of research interest you.
“We learned a lot from you. What we learned, we will bring with us to our
home, which will likely grow and change because of it.”

A bird landing on the corner of the stage caught her eye. It chirped softly,
pruned its feathers, and took off towards a line of trees in the distance.

“There is much I will miss about this place. I’ve been here over half my
lifetime, but its time for me to leave. I must return home and lead my people
through our own challenges. I am grateful to you, because after studying this place, I
know that there is a solution. What comes next, here, is for you to decide.”

Even after she was out of earshot, the applause continued. Advisor Three
intercepted her at the bottom of the lift.

“We’re leaving, Commander? All of us?”

“Yes.”

“One of the most important lessons contained in their history is that humans need to feel in control of their own future. It’s part of what doomed them in the first place—all those people fighting for control. But if they’re ever going to learn the lesson that we learned from watching their mistakes, they have to do it themselves. I’m the last leader they will ever know who they didn’t choose.”

As the last ship exited Earth’s atmosphere, Commander One took one final
look at the planet she helped restore. It looked nothing like the videos she’d seen of
those early days, the ones that were nothing but white and gray.

Published by Chloe Jade Skye

Hello! I'm Chloe Skye. I'm a trans woman currently living in Los Angeles. I write, I podcast, & I think too much. Check out my TV review podcast "Skye & Stone do Television", or my podcast about women in history, "Broads You Should Know".

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