The following story is from best-selling science fiction author David Brin, who will be speaking at the Atlantic Council on May 18 for an Art of Future Warfare project event on the future of conflict in space. To register for the event or join for webcast coverage, click here.
Race for the Stars – Year 2070:
Mariner 16 sets off for Avalon
The first craft to emerge from the venerable “100 year Starship Program” — Mariner 16 — uses pellet fusion motors to blast all the way up to one percent of light speed. Based upon early Project Daedalus designs, it speeds toward the nearest planetary system that seems a candidate for life, nicknamed “Avalon.” Mariner’s mission: to probe the unknown and report back on the likelihood of interstellar civilization.
Race for the Stars – Year 2120:
Prometheus 1 speeds past Mariner 16 on its way to Avalon
Prometheus is a tiny, sold-state probe made of holographic crystal, propelled by a photon sail that’s driven to 8% of light speed by a giant laser orbiting Earth’s moon. It races past Mariner 16 carrying intelligent greeting-patterns aimed at conveying human values to any creatures who might be living on or near Avalon.
Race for the Stars – year: 2195:
Gaia 6 speeds past Prometheus 1 on its way to Avalon
Propelled by stored antimatter, Gaia 6 zooms past Prometheus 1 at 12% of light speed. Along the way, it destroys Prometheus 1 with a pulsed particle beam. Times and attitudes have changed on Earth and the great Commonwealth of Sapient Minds does not want to be embarrassed by primitive and callow thoughts expressed in the Prometheus crystal.
Race for the Stars – 2273:
Athena Marie Smith speeds past Gaia 6 on her way to Avalon
Downloaded into a ship-brain, the renowned genius Athena Marie Smith bypasses Gaia 6 at 22% of light speed. She carries in her cryo-womb the templates for 500 species of Earth life and 10,000 human colonists, along with their memomimry records, to be bio-synthesized from local materials when Athena reaches Avalon, which advanced telescopes now show to have a ready, oxygen atmosphere and no forms of life higher than a kind of paramecium.
Along the way, she scan-absorbs the meme content of Gaia 6, leaving its shell to drift.
Race for the Stars – 2457:
The Interstellar Amalgam of Earth Sapients and Avalonian Paramecium Group Minds intercepts Athena Marie Smith.
The tense alliance of humans, dolphins, AIndroids and Avalonians survives its fifth great test when all agree to form a police force charged with clearing this stellar cluster of unfortunate early Terran space missions. It’s first act: to seize Athena Marie Smith and place her under arrest before she can commit planetary genocide.
Race for the Stars – year 4810:
Mariner 16 arrives at Avalon
Unnoticed by anyone, Mariner 16 sweeps through the Avalonian system, excitedly beaming back toward Earth its discoveries – clear detection of helium byproducts, above-background radioactivity and blurry images of abandoned space structures, suggesting this system was once the abode of intelligent civilization!
Some traces seem almost eerily human-like…
…before the lucky probe, humming with cybernetic contentment, swings quickly past the star and onward onto the black night.