BOOK FICCTION SCIENCE

Bits and Bytes

Kepler-452 is the name of a star in the constellation of Cygnus and is very similar to the Earth's Sun. The planet Kepler-452b, recent studies give like 89% of possibility that Kepler-452b did not have intelligent life. However, there is a significant possibility that life forms exist. The planet is in the "Goldilocks zone", meaning that the distance from the planet to the star is just right. Kepler-452b is not too hot, either not too cold, or life-like humans are possible. With the size of five Earths, the planet gravity is twice that on Earth.  

Noah was analysing the data recorded on the computer memory about Kepler 452-b. Since his first conversation with Doctor, the urgency to understand why the scientists had chosen that planet to send one of the hundreds of starships with precious genetic material and brilliant minds.

“Why this particular planet for these particular people?” Questions… 

Noah had access to all phases of recruiting people, preparing destinations, allocating resources and 99 of them had a clear scope. Doctors, engineers, architects, scientistic, environmentalists were on the top of the list. Historians, geographers, psychologists, painters, and writers were in second place. There were several healthy, strong men and women who could help genetically improve the sample sent through space for an unknown planet to save the human race. Another point Noah observed was the multiplicity of ethnicities. Noah always looked to humans with jealousy. They make him think about a rainbow with nuances of colours; he was so plain. Others like him were precisely the same. 

Kepler-452 is the name of a star in the constellation of Cygnus and is very similar to the Earth’s Sun. The planet Kepler-452b, recent studies give like 89% possibility that Kepler-452b did not have intelligent life. However, there is a significant possibility that life forms exist. The planet is in the “Goldilocks zone”, meaning that the distance from the planet to the star is just right. Kepler-452b is not too hot, either not too cold, making life-like humans possible. With the size of five Earths, the planet gravity is twice that on Earth.  

In 2026, the European Space Agency launched telescopes to search Earth-like planets around a nearby star. Most of the planets chosen to send the starships were on the list ESA had compiled. With close similarity to Earth, some had oxygen and nitrogen in their atmosphere, even if in different proportions. Water in liquid state, not too wide range of temperature, not too cold or too hot. They were perfect for helping keep the human race thriving. 

The more Noah reads, the more he becomes confused about the Kepler-452b choice. There was little information available. Since 2026 the scientists have kept their attention on viable and closer planets. Who made the decision that put him and those humans together on a journey to the unknown?

An alarm rang on the cargo bay; Noah dispatched the maintenance robot to solve the problem. He is still intrigued by choice. Another alarm echoes in the ship system. A strange alien ship is approaching. A ship? Here? No intelligent life was detected here. The contact between ships was established. Soon, information was exchanged, and each vessel continued its path. Noah understood the other ship was a probe looking for some raw material scarce on the original planet. Noah sends the location where they could find it in abundance. Noah also asked d the probe if to has some information about a Kepler-452b. No, was the answer. The probe was programmed to persuade the material they needed to survive on their planet.

Noah was disappointed. It would be fascinating to know more about the ship final destination. What about Doctor. Maybe she has some insight into the real reason for the choice.

“Hello, Doctor. Are you there?”

“Of course, I am here. I can’t walk, breathe, or talk. Where else I would be?”

“Bad humour?”

“No patience for stupid questions?”

“I was asking if you can talk with me. I used a human way to do that.”

“You are not human. Why use our imperfect ways to communicate. Just ask if my brain is ready for another conversation or something like that.”

“Sure, Doctor. Next time I will be more precise.”

“Perfect!”

“Doctor, do you have any idea why you and the other were chosen to this ship?”

“I guess we are dispensable. Most of us were old before the gene treatment. Now, we can work as a young human adult in all senses. Still, there is a difference; we have years of experience accumulated, including the experience to feel our body decaying, our mind losing itself.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We already had lived. ‘A life, if well lived, is long enough.'”

“Did you live well?”

“I wonder we are ever satisfied. But, if I left my uncomplete dreams aside, yes, I lived a good life.”

“I see. Do you believe the other had the same opinion?”

“I don’t know. What I know is we are selected because of our similarities on many levels. Maybe, the past life well lived is one of the reasons.”

Noah dives in silence for several minutes. I thought if I had made him confused. Can I confuse an AI?

“Of course, you can.” Noah’s voice brought me back to the conversation.

“So, any idea?”

“Idea?”

“You asked the reason for the choices they made. Why us from all other selected. Why Kepler-452b and not one of the closer planets. What is behind these choices?”

“How do you know I am thinking all that?”

“It is what I am thinking as well.”

“So, you don’t know.”

“I don’t.”

“We have a probe visiting us. It was searching for sources of nitrogen.” 

“A probe?” 

“Yes, you know. It is a kind of spaceship without any tripulant, scientific instruments everywhere and some AI to guide it.”

“AI. Did you talk with the probe?”

“It was too primitive for a conversation, but we exchange data.”

“What kind of data?”

“Oh, Doctor! I am not a naïve child. I did say where we are coming from and going to. Just some coordinates about a place where they can ‘mine’ nitrogen.”

“Are you sure there wasn’t any kind of data mining here?”

“Too many twenty and twenty-first centuries sci-fi movies, doctor.” And then Noah laugh. Not a metallic impersonal laugh, but something embedded of real feelings.”

“No offence, Noah. It’s the habit.”

“No offence taken.”

“By the way, do you have any news from Earth?”

“Earth is a dying planet. No humans inhabit there anymore. The humans designated to other planets already left, those moving to the bases on Mars and Moon already are there. The other just died.”

“How many?”

“5 billion.” The number, when related to the tool of dead people, is shocking. At least they were in the past; after the coronavirus pandemic that started in 2020 and never ended, death numbers become something trivial. 

In 2019 in someplace in the world, probably in China, a dangerous virus crossed species and a virulent form of coronavirus begun to infect people in millions. The Chinese government tried to handle the virus internally, hidden from the world behind the state propaganda and censorship. While the Chinese hospitals battle to save people and found the cause of the epidemy. Thousands of tourists travel from China to around the world. The virus took advantage of the political scenario and spread across the globe. Only four months later, the initial concern of the World Health Organization became a declaration the world was facing a pandemic.

It was like a wildfire spreading fast; most governments were ill-prepared for what would happen. For decades before, many scientists and private organisations linked to health had been saying the dangers a pandemic could represent. I was there to testify it.

The government, in particular, those led by right-wing extremists, decided to let the virus take its toll. Others close their doors to the world, deciding not to care. The economy was the priority, not people lives. On the other hand, science took responsibility and created a series of vaccines in record time. However, even with a vaccine, the virus continued to spread. In May 2021, 3.5 million peoples were dead by the official toll number. The number was probably more significant because many dictatorships handle numbers in a way that makes them better than they were in reality. Only fifty years later, in 2071. Documents and conversations between pandemic world leaders became clear that at least 50 million people died in the three first years, and the death continued until 2030 when a cure was found. 

The coronavirus pandemic wasn’t the worst but showed how the governments were prone to sacrifice a few people to keep their power. But the ethical question was: ‘how many is a few?’ 

Humanity lost precious lives, time and when the world began to return to its everyday affairs, the Earth was in an advanced state of change. The climate we had been disregarding as a secondary problem evolved to destroy the land in all ways nature can do it. Earthquakes become more frequent, storms run wild in all corners of the Earth, killing and dislodging people. The immigration of those affected by drought or floods becomes a pandemic. One most governments decided to fight not with humanity or rationality but arms. 

The second pandemic is a war between countries to receive, process, and find a place in their society for millions of people. Not the last. Other viruses came when the world ice caps melted, freeing ancient viruses, enemies ready to spread and conquer. In 2035, fifteen years before most governments had pledged to cut carbon emission to zero, Earth was terminally ill. There was no medicine or technology capable of restoring what had been lost. Government around the world become to fall. The ordinary people used, manipulated, lied, took the arms to demand a global government. Bords and nation were abolished. All of us then were fighting the same fight against time, against destruction. May died in despair. Others have begun to prepare for the worst. It was in 2040 the project Hope begun. I was finishing a doctorate in extra-Earth habitats. 

“It was then they offered you to teste the gene manipulation to retorted signals of ageing?”

“Yes. I was 78. Old and tired. My son lived on the other side of the world. I was living in the house my husband and I bought in 2022. I accept.”

“Your son did not make any argument against your decision.”

“No. My son was a free man with his own tough decisions to make. To be honest, he supported me.”

“Why did the government not work together in the first pandemic?”

“Do you know humans? Well, politicians are a special class. They love power. They think to be the keepers of social truth and health. Nationalism was a plague and like the pandemic a plague that killed million.”

“But it was logical working together. The world recuperation would have been fast, leaving time to concentrate on climate change and how to avoid the worse.”

“Tell them for those old men and women who had on their hands all the power to destroy the world many times. People who controlled food stocks, armament, water, energy, and science. Tell them working together would be for the good of humankind, and you will have a simple answer. ‘What is on that for me?'” 

“Money?”

“Not only money. Power and a place on the history books.”

“Vanity.”

“You can say that, but not only that. Would you have conducted the things differently?”

Noah just entered his silent mood. My question floats around me without an answer. The question, even simple in its words, was far complicated. An AI could not answer it. Even for a human was a tricky question.

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