Enlightenment

 

Commander Khas regretted having eaten her last meal so quickly. Rations were getting low and the rest of the crew lingered over theirs as though taking longer to digest the cubes of protein would make them go further.

But Commander Khas was a dinosaur in a hurry. The stomachs of her distant ancestors had been able to break down the flesh, entrails and bones of prey swallowed whole as they basked in the Jurassic sun. It was a remarkable heritage for the Dalgats to be proud of, even if their descendants had dwindled into spindly shadows of what they had once been.

Not that Commander Khas and her kind regarded themselves as inferior in any way; it was just such a dynamic heritage to live up to. And, although they did not know it, if it had not been for the intervention of a similar species, their ancestors would not have evolved any further.

Now they had the technology, it was time to return and pay homage to the remarkable forebears. They had been so many and varied no one was totally sure which branch the Dalgats were descended from. Finding out was their primary mission.

Millions of years had passed since the dinosaur descendants left their planet of origin. Other neighbouring intelligences who knew that most of the Dalgat ancestors had been snuffed out by a wayward asteroid might have told them not to bother. But the Dalgat were an unfriendly species in the cosmic community, so it was decided that they should find out for themselves. Given their sense of superiority they were convinced that their ancestors had moved on to an enlightened plane of existence.

Through necessity the Dalgat digestion had evolved to cope with plant material as well as the flesh of other creatures, though it was a matter of pride that the old ones had been carnivores. (Another reason why other life forms gave them a wide berth.) On the home world there was bound to be plenty of opportunity to replenish their rations, hopefully with the help of the ancestors, however advanced they now were. Communication could be the main problem, so the Dalgat had been working to solve it ever since developing interstellar travel. The investment in both could only be justified by making contact. Returning without answers to all the questions they had been asking since learning to braise their first steak was not an option.

What would the old ones look like after so long? Were they still corporeal? Could they now skim their planet’s great blue ocean with their thoughts, or build fortresses with kinetic energy? Their powers might be so remarkable they may not recognise the Dalgat as distant descendants, so neuroscientists had developed a system of communication using brainwave patterns. Amplified signals from the activity of neurons could cross species boundaries and when beamed directly in the mind (of those who had them) it never failed to get a response. (That was another reason why the Dalgats’ nearest neighbours steered clear of them.)

At last that bright planet sat like an illuminated jewel against the dark mattress of space. There was now more than one land mass and several oceans driving huge weather systems which scrolled about the world like the plumage of a huge, untidy bird. Its beauty was lost on Commander Khas and her crew who could only see wonder in volcanic infernos and bloody sunsets created by their own pollution.

Primitive radio signals wreathed the ancestral planet like an opaque blanket their scanners had difficulty penetrating. It was impossible to decipher the jabbering and judge what creatures were making it. Too many life forms crowded the continents so the Commander dare not risk a landing party until they had analysed the transmissions. Their translator’s first attempt to break down the occasional sentence from this babble of an unrelated species could only come up with messages like ‘I’m on the bus,’ or ‘and then I told that cow...’ Et cetera.

This was too alien for Commander Khas to comprehend. The Dalgat had never developed the capacity for empathic communication; their interactions varied from direct to downright nasty. (Yet another reason why their neighbours avoided them). They had no choice but to transmit a signal with their brainwave communicator and hope that there was an intellect sophisticated enough to receive it. How could their ancestors have allowed their home planet to degenerate to this? It must have surely been because they were now on another plane of existence, hopefully still able to comprehend their distant descendents’ thought patterns.

Using the purest thoughts they could muster, every member of the crew transmitted a salutation in the hope at least one mind would be compatible.

At last there was a response.

That particular crew member’s brainwaves were amplified.

The whole mission now depended on the mental fluency of the menial store manager. He was petrified. This far from any regulating civilisation, failure could have very unpleasant consequences.

He focussed his thoughts until his head throbbed.

Again came the reply.

This time the translator was able to relay the message of the old one.

The Dalgat starship fell silent at the momentous occasion as this ancestor’s thoughts declared its presence as though it had been waiting for intelligent conversation for over a million years.

Commander Khas was convinced she would go down in history as the one to prove that the species they evolved from had ascended to a state of enlightenment. Now all their pathetic, weak neighbours would have to show more respect. Many of them had evolved from species that didn’t even have backbones.

The words of the Dalgat ancestor may not be making sense now, but the expedition had been vindicated.

She put on a headset to channel her thoughts into the communication stream.

‘This is Commander Khas of the exploration vessel Jomodo. Salutations. This is an honour. Please let me know who are you?’

For a moment the audio link was filled with incomprehensible chattering.

Then a voice squawked, ‘Pretty Polly!’