By Kris Ashton
Artwork by Jose Baetas.
The Supreme Leader raised a pseudopod and the assembled truth-bringers slowed their quivering, gelatinous bodies until there was quiet in the Great Hall.
"Thank you for congregating with me," said the Supreme Leader. The vocalising apparatus, now verging on vestigial, was reserved only for ceremonial occasions or the most important announcements. "As the Great Communicator intimated, I speak today to impart information of the gravest nature."
The Supreme Leader changed colour from green to red. "Our Most Esteemed Scientists, while studying the heavens, have detected an aberration in the orbit of our planet. It is believed this occurred after the volcanic eruption that obliterated Smoke Island in the Eastern Sea. According to our Most Esteemed Scientists, if our planet continues on its errant trajectory, it will collide with the second sun in exactly three months from this day. The result would be catastrophic - the total annihilation of our world, and everything that dwells upon it."
The assembly of truth-bringers glowed red and slapped their torso flaps. The cooler minds among them sent the first information impulses to their designated communal networks. The Great Leader changed to green and again lifted a pseudopod.
"Do not despair, valued truth-bringers. The Most Esteemed Scientist known as Erog has devised a way to avert this terrible occurrence. It believes a similar artificially-created explosion, detonated at a precise point in the arid lands to the west, will correct the orbit and ensure our planet remains safe and habitable. Arrangements have begun. Detonation is scheduled two weeks from today."
One of the truth-bringers extended a pseudopod and waved it back and forth. "How do the Most Esteemed Scientists know this second explosion will not create a different catastrophe?"
"The Most Esteemed Scientist known as Erog has toiled over its calculations day and night since conceiving this plan and two of its peers, Raback and Inkev, have reviewed them. They agree that the calculations are flawless and will return our planet precisely to its original orbit."
Almost as one the truth-bringers faded to orange and then turned a luminescent green. Hundreds of information impulses entered the ether, where relay towers passed them on to the population at large.
The engineer known as Declinus was at rest in its home pod when the first dispatch from a truth-bringer reached its nervous system. Its body cycled through a series of colours as it processed the information. When the final impulse had been analysed and stored, its body pulsed different shades of green.
In its free time, Declinus enjoyed astronomy and mathematical problems, and this potential disaster (along with its proposed solution) intersected both interests. It moved to the far side of its pod and touched a small panel. This created a link between its mind and the central intelligence database.
At the speed of thought it located the Most Esteemed Scientists' calculations and sent them on to a memory cache in its pod. Then it brought them up on a screen so it could study them with its translucent eyes. Most of its kind now had little use for vision beyond communication of mood, but as one who built things and watched things and needed to externalise complex computations, Declinus relied on them a great deal.
Several minutes into its analysis, Declinus flashed orange and then began to scroll back through the lists of formulae and equations. It used a pseudopod as a mental aid while it calculated and recalculated the figures before it. When it was certain, its body changed to a mottled red and orange.
It opened the hatch to its home pod and joined the fluid stream that would take it to the pod of the Great Communicator, Siennen. The first sun emerged from the boiling clouds above, and Declinus flattened its body so it might absorb the enriching yellow glow with maximum efficiency.
On arrival at the Great Communicator's pod, Declinus found the access valve closed, indicating Siennen was holding an audience with another. It used this delay to revisit its calculations and its intended speech, to ensure it could convey its concerns concisely.
A short while later the valve opened and an individual emerged. It flashed a blue acknowledgment to Declinus and then propelled itself forward into the fluid stream. Declinus entered and the valve closed. A slender tube guided it into the pod, where the Great Communicator sat in the centre of a bank of screens, eight pseudopods at work independently of one another. As it approached, Declinus felt Siennen make contact.
"Greetings, engineer known as Declinus. Please state your business."
Employing its vocalising apparatus, Declinus said, "I must be allowed an audience with the Most Esteemed Scientists."
The Great Communicator glowed red. "Do not insult our leaders with such impudent behaviour. Speak in the new way."
A pink fringe appeared around Declinus' body. "I did not intend to cause offense. I chose to speak in the old way to convey the seriousness of what-"
"My time is precious. Do as you are instructed or you will be dismissed."
Declinus began to transmit its thoughts. "I received impulses from the truth-bringers, as did we all. Out of curiosity, I accessed the central intelligence database to review the calculations of Our Most Esteemed Scientists. I believe they have made an error."
"The science is undisputed. Did you not comprehend the impulses conveyed by the truth-bringers? The Esteemed Scientist known as Erog toiled day and night to ensure its computations were accurate, and two of its esteemed peers reviewed them."
"I do not doubt that is true," said Declinus, "yet they are in error."
"You are an electrical engineer, not an astrophysicist. What do you know of such matters?"
"Mathematics is mathematics, is it not, no matter who is making the calculations? I am certain that if the Most Esteemed Scientists read my review of their equations, they will see that they are in error. It is the most minuscule of oversights, but one that-"
"You dare question the authority of the Most Esteemed Scientists!"
Declinus began to quiver, its body fading to the colour of ash. "Surely they, too, must bow to the authority of mathematics? My corrected equations show that the volcanic explosion in the Eastern Sea had but one per cent of the claimed effect on our planet's orbit. If an explosive is detonated as per their recommendations, our planet will skew out of its orbit and drift away from both suns to such a distance that all life will perish."
Impulses raced through Siennen's body at such speed that it they began to crackle. "I will tolerate no more of this outrageous allegation! Speak another word against the authority of Our Most Esteemed Scientists and you will be sent to the arid lands for discontinuation. Now, return to your pod and speak no more of this. All your impulses will be monitored for further insolence. Do not try to spread your denial to others or you will be punished."
A sudden pressure pushed Declinus backwards. It was expelled from the Great Communicator's pod and the valve closed.
For some time Declinus floated in the emissary fluid, pondering what it should do next. It could already feel the Great Communicator's nearest transmission relay probing its thoughts. With no other obvious recourse, it re-joined the main fluid stream and returned to its pod.
Less than a day later there came strong impulses from the truth-bringers. The information relayed came directly from the Great Communicator.
"It is with dismay that I must inform you access to the central intelligence database will henceforth be restricted. One among us attempted to use its information to discredit Our Most Esteemed Scientists and create dissent which could doom our planet to destruction. I am certain you will understand this restriction has been put in place for the greater good. Please rest assured that preparations have begun to correct our planet's orbit, in accordance with the advice of our Most Esteemed Scientists, so that future generations might thrive."
Declinus began its computations. It had less than two weeks to design and build a craft that could escape its planet's orbit.