Backwater Planet: a short story by GF Willmetts.

April 29, 2018 | By | Reply More

When we sent out generation starships, we don’t expect to see them come back. More so, this was one of the earliest ones. Didn’t even have humans on-board. Just a contingent of primates. Chimpanzees in fact. Bonobos if you want to be precise. A space-buoy had signalled when it was 300 years out to say all the life-support systems were operating and meaning it was safe for humans to use the same equipment. We never got the message so the generation starship programme was abandoned before it got to sending humans.

Then the Heirtoni returned. It took a while to identify it in the historical records forgotten many generations ago. Hardly surprising as it was moving far different to the original plans. It had new engines and phenomenal speed and deceleration when we spotted it coming into Earth orbit. A starship of its type would allow mankind to leave its own star system.

When the scout-ship landed, we didn’t really know what to expect. The specs said it would have been automated to bring some bonobos down to a sustainable planet. Was that going to be the home planet? After all, we couldn’t expect them to stay on-board forever. The original plan was to see if they could survive, then so could we. Providing the second message-buoy had worked.

However, because of the change in engines, we were expecting an alien first encounter not the bonobos coming back. Maybe we expected the aliens to borrow the transport so we wouldn’t be scared by their arrival.

Nope. They were bonobos. A bit taller. Better dressed. From whatever prospective, they weren’t quite the bonobos we sent out. Their jumpsuits definitely wasn’t Earth-made. They could also speak but the language was also totally alien. They brought gifts, too. Their computers didn’t mean much and we couldn’t integrate with them. They had books as an alternative. We weren’t sure what they were made of but it wasn’t paper or plastic but graphene. It would take an age to work our way through and that was if we could make sense of the language and we couldn’t find the picture section. Again, the bonobos pointed and spoke but it was totally alien. None of us could make sense of how or what they could speak.

They were happy to let us x-ray, CAT scan and even take blood but suddenly produced a gun from somewhere as if we were planning a dissection. They were giving us limits? A demonstration of their weapon which zapped holes in a wall. They also chose to sleep in their scoit-ship at night. Somehow, I couldn’t blame them.

The next day, some of us had an invite to their spaceship. Well, less an invite and more a few pointed gestures to their scout-ship and up. Maybe the clues to understanding their language would be there. As if. The bonobos were odd, their real technology was more so. They weren’t a generation beyond us but practically a millennia. Who or what had they bumped into? We were now the primitives and they were being nice with a visit. Gestures at a porthole was pretty obvious. They were going to move on but not yet. The tour of their starship stopped at one door that stayed locked. Maybe there were things even they thought was beyond our primitive knowledge.

We muttered between ourselves that we could end up being their guinea pigs. More so when they showed us this apparatus that was man-size. One of the bonobos stepped in and we sat back and watched as within half an hour the door opened and no longer a bonobo but a tall humanoid. We weren’t being invited to test their device. They just wanted to show what they were becoming.

The nearby locked door opened and two more like him came out to join the party. The bonobos had been evolved to match their alien technology but their language was still beyond anything we could understand.

We were invited to eat with them. They must have paid attention to our diet on Earth as whatever it was was edible. It was Brofot who made his excuses to wander off. The bonobos didn’t seem to care or understand. Probably thought he’d gone off to find the john.

It was only a while later when we looked around, we found him in their evolutionary machine…or what was left of him. It wasn’t configured for Homo sapien physiology, even if bonobos were only 1 percent different from us. It was enough. Whatever Brofot was, he didn’t last long and the visit was over. The bonobos were really upset. This was obviously not in their plans.

We were all returned to Earth with Brofot’s body and it was obvious they weren’t coming back when they left us. We’d burnt our own bushes there. We had their books for the little we could learn from them. If we wanted to follow their path, then we would have to build another generation starship and hope the aliens who transformed the bonobos would do something similar for us.

Thing is, the last generation starship we’d built was over 500 years ago and we no longer knew how to build such things. The alien text probably had all the secrets but totally unreadable. We really were a backwater primitive planet after all.

Were the bonobos planning to give us a lift to the stars? Who knows? They were gone now. We were no longer in their plans. Space was theirs, not ours.

Looking up at the night sky, we could only wonder what was really out there. The bonobos had learnt well from their flight but it would be a long time before we would be able to follow them.

We know our place in the universe and it’s a very small place. A backwater planet that few would want to visit. Who could blame them?




© GF Willmetts 2018

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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