Systematic Destiny (Part 1)

Dr. Joel Green is a Project Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. StScI is a research institute of astronomers, engineers, software developers, and staff that operate the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA. Firaxis had the opportunity to have Joel Green in to discuss his research and how it relates to the sci-fi world of Beyond Earth. Inspired by the conversation, Joel and members of the Civ dev team went off and wrote a series of blog posts set in the Beyond Earth universe. Come back each week for the continuing saga.

The gray-streaked older man handed a teacup to me as I sat in the comfortable, if overly dusty chair.

"Tell me, my son. Presume that we survive the present, trials of modernity, and humankind comes of age in the Universe. The far future is ahead but achievable. Which do you consider more likely, and which is mere mythology: that we would achieve faster-than-light travel, or that we will master the secret of life and death, bringing back those who are gone?"

I snorted derisively. "A simple question, and a simple answer. One day we shall travel the stars, but death is the ultimate barrier, a one-way journey to the abyss. Watch any futurist film; Galaxy-wide empires loom larger, but to bring back the dead is to become gods, which we are not."

"Fascinating," the older man murmured. "You would agree that both seem unachievable today?"

"Of course."

"Why?"

"They violate our current understanding of physics."

My father nodded, absently adjusting the time on his pocketwatch. "Physics: the laws that govern the Universe; based on the two basic postulates: that the laws of physics do not change with time, or with place. That the laws are the same regardless of where or when I stand."

I agreed. "What is your point?"

"So to travel faster than the speed of light would require new physics that we do not even suspect today? No evidence for faster-than-light travel exists, and in fact would cause several contradictions in causality: the simple idea that if something 'happens' for one viewer, it must 'happen' for all viewers. If two spaceships crash, no matter what vantage point or speed we take to observe, we must observe the collision."

"Agreed. Faster-than-light travel is likely impossible, unless there is new physics, like wormholes or some such."

"Now let us consider the second possibility: life and death."

I frowned. "We do not resuscitate the dead."

"Do we not? We can create machines that resemble life in many respects; fix broken pipes to former glory. I see you do not apply this reasoning to machines," he added hastily, seeing my frown deepen. "We can even mend bones, cure diseases, and prevent many lethal ailments in humans."

"Yes, but once dead, there is nothing we can do."

"And yet, we bring the dead to life all the time, in a womb. Materials collected from soils, nutrients, genetic material, zygotes, all combine to form new self-replicating genomes, the basis of life. And yet, what was once not alive becomes alive. Is this impossible?"

"That is plant matter and simple animals. Can we bring humans back to life?"

The older man nodded. "With complete understanding of the brain and body, perhaps fully. Of the two, I put to you that the sacrosanct boundary of life itself is less of an imposition to our grasp than the vast gulfs between the stars."

I spared my father a long, silent stare. "How can you believe that?"

"Because you are me. You are life from unlife." He uttered the phrase with such a strange cadence that my heartbeat quickened.

"What do you mean?" I demanded.

"You are not only my son, but my twin. My clone. You are me, rebooted. I have but to instill my memories in you, and you will carry me to the new world after I die."

"I'm a copy? Of you?" My head spun.

"Yes. But you will carry me across light years, eons, to a distant future world, never to return to this world while civilization as we know it survives."

I turned, and staggered out of the tent. Cries from behind me: "Wait! My son! We must do the transfer tonight!"

I left, never to return.