Arcas' Bones (3/12)- Approach
The warm sea breeze did little to provide relief from the suffocating heat. The rainy season was ending, and the dry season would soon begin. It was almost unthinkable that a biosphere could not regulate its own weather, but then again Arcas was not your typical colony.
The smell of seaweed and rotten fish wafted through the air as their vessel approached the mouth of the river. Beyond it, Dr. Lineaus could see the lush forest splashed with vibrant colors, matched only in beauty by the bright sky above it. He was thankful that after nearly a week of travel, the journey was finally coming to an end.
“Oh my god, how amazing! My heart is racing so fast,” said Esmeralda, who could hardly contain herself and leaned over the deck’s railing, marveling at the scene unfolding before her eyes.
He recalled his first field trip many years ago to a mining colony in the belt, where he had gone to study a thriving community that had flourished well after the mines had been abandoned. From the shuttle’s viewing deck, he had watched with excitement and trepidation as they neared the docking port. Conflicting emotions that were very similar to what he was feeling now.
“What do you think they’ll be like?” Esmeralda said.
“Hard to say,” he replied. “I never received the reports I was promised.”
He shook his head. He felt like a man running blind into the darkness. The bureaucratic reports he did have access to were scant in details about Arcas’ communities. From what he had gleaned, there were several groups scattered across the archipelago. How exactly these groups were related to each other? What were their settlement patterns? Social organization? Daily routines? These and other basic ethnographic details were missing. There had been only vague references to decorative clothing, gender balance, and highly choreographed displays of behavior.
When it was first printed, Arcas had been the home of some of the most brilliant scientists and engineers in the Solar Union of Nations. A rather ambitious endeavor, the biosphere contained the largest artificial biomass floating in space. Fields, mountains, rivers, lakes, and even an ocean. Its early inhabitants were pioneer men and women who had been tasked with terra-forming the ecosystem and make it habitable. The project was hailed as a resounding success in human ingenuity. At least that was the case until the incident on nearby Callisto.
It is not clear what happened that day when a series of plasma explosions blew across the surface of Callisto. The SUN governing body blamed it on an accident at a research facility but provided little details, citing security concerns. This evasiveness was fertile ground for conspiracies. Some blamed it on terrorism, others believed it was a military exercise gone wrong. Even AIs were suspected. The only thing that was certain was that it had been an unmitigated disaster. Hundreds of thousands perished. The moon became a toxic wasteland. Locked in a near-lunar orbit, Arcas had not been spared either. It was assaulted by massive radioactive shock-waves and high-velocity lunar debris. Its hydraulic systems failed on a wide scale and cubic-miles of water flooded the landmass. Many had died, but the SUN governing body assured the public that all the survivors had been rescued. Obviously, the truth had caught up to them.
“Let me show you something,” Dr. Linnaeus said to Esmeralda waving his pen and conjuring up a series of concentric circles. Braided into two strands, they coiled about each other in a double-helix.
“Wow, what is it?” said Esmeralda taking a closer look.
The professor reached forward and pinched one of the circles, which smoothly slid out of its 3D configuration like a slice of salami. The circle flipped depicting a two-dimensional diagram that was divided by crisscrossing lines and surrounded by a halo of changing variables and code.
“I saw references to agricultural structures in some reports. Subsistence, you see. The basics of survival. If true, then we can start plotting the pyscho-graphic profile along several dimensions.” He tapped the disk again and three triangular shapes appeared on the radial chart. “We don’t know much about the details of this agricultural pattern- its size, composition, yield, and so forth. However, we can model three phases of development- input, processing, and output. As we obtain more information, their characteristics will become more precise, allowing us to make predictions about its future development.”
“What about these other ones?” she said pointing at the other circles in the strands.
“Each one represents a level of cultural evolution. Survival being one of the basic parameters of life, it occupies a lower rung in the ladder, sort of speak. But you mustn’t think of cultural development as a linear progression.”
“It’s non-linear! Fractal!” She said excitedly.
“Precisely.” There was a note of admiration in his voice. How long had it taken him to come to terms with that idea? Yet, this young girl so easily accepted it, as if it was an obvious fact.
“I didn’t know you were a programmer,” she said, “I don’t recall seeing this model in any of your-”
The boat rocked sideways as it entered the turbulent flow of the river. The motion caused Esmeralda to lean forward over the rail. The professor reacted instinctively and caught her by the waist. Then the vessel rocked in the opposite direction and she fell back in his arms.
“I better hold on,” she said with a small laugh.
“Good idea,” he said helping her steady herself.
The boat settled to the rhythm of the current, which grew gentler the deeper they navigated into the river. He saw other boats and crafts floating on a makeshift dock along a muddy bank. It was bustling with activity.
“We’re finally here!” said Esmeralda clapping her hands.
“Indeed,” replied the professor, his gaze focused on the shore.