Posterity | Shot of Science Fiction

The statue stands on the bank of the first discovered subterranean canal. Its monumental mass and design has withstood the entire history of the settlement. The face is expressive, depicting quiet joy – for the system of canals that Sen Treesman discovered proved to be the pioneers’ salvation. The hydrogen rich fluid coursing ten metres under the surface was easily converted to water, and this process created a surplus of energy.

Treesman was digging alone, the only one of the five settlers to believe that the planet’s life blood might be down below. His corpse was found at the base of an eight-metre pit, his suit scorched and fractured.

The tiny hole in the crust through which the highly pressurised fluid had escaped emitted a column of vapour that rose into the upper atmosphere. The others saw it, and the rest… well, that is history. Deeper excavation, identification of further streams and canals, the arrival of a second wave of settlers and scientists, the discovery of this immense cavern, the meeting point for five canals in a huge natural space.

So much for history. The planet’s time is now past. Better, kinder planets have been found, planets with modifiable atmospheres and harvestable oceans. Sen Treesman’s discovery has become irrelevant in the context of immediate human need, although most would still agree that it was his discovery that confirmed the feasibility of planetary colonisation.

Now though, Treesman’s legacy seems parochial. We are five hundred years further on. The technology used in the H-mill is as laughably basic as its name. Our ships are no longer bound by the De Groot Radius, and our pioneers no longer have to rely on cryostasis.  The infusion of euthermic cellular jackets allows us to maintain vital enzymatic functions for two centuries, enough time to reach all points in the near quadrant. The galaxy is open.

I stand before your booted feet, each one of which is twice my height. Your body, cut from the rock, rises up before me, and from here I can see the underside of your chin, the slight flare of your nostrils. You were carved in the final decade of your longest surviving colleague’s life. He pressed for some form of memorial, even though the colony was still struggling and there were no spare human or physical resources to devote to it. Yet he won the First Five Thousand over. He convinced them that the colony, the planet, needed to be mark its own history.

Tomorrow we will fill the cavern. It has been decided that the mill must be buried and canals returned to the obscurity in which they lay for millions of years before our arrival. I am chief ballistic engineer. I have placed the charges. I will activate them when my colleagues are well clear and the last ship is heating its engine. The same signal will activate charges at other mills all over the planet, near towns that have been deserted for over a year now. The folk are gone. The families have resettled. Their history will be obliterated with yours.

The reason I’m writing this is – I’m not sure we will remember you. The human race has now spread itself over parsecs, the narrative is fragmented. Earth’s history is nothing more than a ten-word trivia answer.

I am afraid, Sen, that your feat of persistence will not become folklore, nor even form a chapter in a student’s textbook. Without your sacrifice the second wave would not have been sent and the next generation would not have been born here.

I will do my best to keep your memory alive. There is a charge in the small of your back, because one of my team calculated that cutting you in two would increase the chance of the cavern collapsing properly. There is a risk, don’t you know it, that your head will splint the roof!

When I was a student I often wondered why you were out digging on your own. It broke all the rules. I tried to find out more about your colleagues. Each had a profile in the library, which is still rudimentary in all but the technical departments. Three men, including you, and two women. Five in all. Did they ostracise you? Did they form couples? Is it a coincidence that odd numbered parties were never sent out to settle again?

I know the names of the other four, but I am very unusual. Their roles in the survival of mankind have diminished into… anonymity. Their heroism was as large as yours, I think, but only you have anything resembling a chance of posterity.

A chance.

I have decided. I will disobey my orders and my own common sense. I have deactivated the charge in the small of your back. You will stand for millennia to come. Then, when mankind reaches some kind of comfort in the galaxy, we may have the inclination to return and excavate again. We may find you here, standing tall, your happy face metres below the roof of the cavern. We may look at you quizzically. We may touch the gash in your left shoulder, the result of a hydrogen blow-out three hundred and fifty years ago, and we may wonder how you came to be here.

The planetary archaeologists may piece it together; the story, the discovery, the sacrifice. And then you may be relocated to a museum. A great, towering room in the capital of the administrative centre, wherever that may be. And if they do, you can thank me for leaving you whole. I don’t expect to be remembered for it myself, but just in case I am inserting this document (various media) into the hole that I drilled into your back, alongside the now redundant charge. If they find it I may merit a line in history, a footnote to the chapter that you so greatly deserve.


Main Image Source: NASA

This Short Story was part of our monthly Shot of Science Fiction. If you have a short science fiction story under 2000 words in length that you would like to be considered for this series email it to [email protected]