by Nicholas Siennicki
“Have you been able to establish a connection to Earth?”
“I’m inclined to believe what the Old Man is saying.”
“Understood, Captain. What is our next course of action?”
“I… I don’t know.” Silence on the other line. The Captain sniffed softly to himself as he rolled back his eyes. “I thought things were different.”
“Would you like me to come to the arboretum, Captain?”
The Captain closed his eyes and took a deep breath, “Negative. Run full diagnostics on our systems and calculate how long it would take us to reroute to Earth.”
The Captain rubbed his brow as he walked back to the clearing, where he found the Old Man on his knees, spade in hand, carefully inserting the flower the Captain had been working on planting into the ground.
“I haven’t done this in years,” He said, straightening out his back and dusting his hands. The Captain looked over him sadly, folding his own hands into his pockets.
“It doesn’t seem important now, does it.”
“Oh, I’m not sure,” The Old Man said, “I think it must be now that it’s the most important.”
“Whatever can be said of humanity, nature will endure.”
The Captain nodded bleakly, “So it should be us to ensure it endures in the best way?”
“People at your age are so quick to shed their optimism. Live in it. Earth is at war, yes. Such things happen. Powers collapse, people replace them. Death, toil, and torment occurs. But your mission? And your ideals? Regardless of the reasons they came about, they still exist for a reason, don’t they? You still believe them for a reason.”
“Why did you come to tell us this, then, if you don’t want anything to change.”
“I’m tired, son. I’ve lived a long life. I wanted to talk to somebody about things.”
“You act like you’ve been holding onto these words for years.”
“And yet the War has only just begun?” The Captain’s words were greeted with a handwave, and then an invitation to finish planting the Alien-Orchid before it found itself suffering. Sadly, with great reserve, the Captain complied.
“Nature and technology,” The Old Man said after they patted down the soil and watered it using small condensation coils to create water from air. “Something incredible, isn’t it?”
“Seems like the one controls the other.” The Captain replied, placing the coil back into the gardener’s box he carried with himself.
“It’s all linked together, how it all plays out. Power, and resources, and nature, and technology.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, we grow so much and for so long, that we forget what the inevitability of nature subjugating technology is.”
“You seem remarkably unconcerned with the fact that the Human Federation has entered, what you’re selling at least, a civil war.”
“I’m not unconcerned, I’m just trying to understand how it all comes together with what matters.”
“Nature and technology?”
“Why do you think so many enterprising captains have arboreta, and maintained so delicately?”
“I’m sure you’ll lecture me on the reason.” The Captain’s emotions were strained with a topic that felt so tangential to the matter at hand.
“Son, you’ve seen so many worlds, interacted with so many people. Fought in wars, resolved crises, and bedded more women than you’d care to admit, even to yourself. Especially to yourself. Taking some time to be lectured by an old man might do you some good.”
“How do you know all this, about me?” The Captain pressed, but the Old Man’s reply was nothing more than a chuckle and a shake of the head. The Captain shook his own head, trying desperately to clear it, to make sense of it all.
“‘Man oh man, we’ve got everything, but we can’t have it’.” The Old Man said, after some silence, “It’s an old quote by a man from hundreds of years ago, Bukowski, I believe. Summarizes us pretty well, don’t you think?”
“Maybe— I don’t know.”
The Old Man creaked from a sitting position, his eyes dancing across the arboretum as though it were an old home, “We went so far with our technology to subjugate nature, to bend it to our will, to literally inverse space-time so that we could do what we wanted. It’s just like the ancients did, with the destruction of forests, with the pollution of the skies. We did everything we could to get everything we had. It’s the same reason this war is happening. We want more. We always want more. You want more—to find more planets, to explore more people. People want more power. More control. More… of everything.”
For the third time, the mood had dramatically shifted. Now that same tone of resigned sadness gripped the Old Man as he slowly made his way from the clearing, through the underbrush, and back towards the door.
“It’s a good metaphor, even if it’s painfully obvious,” The Old Man said, glancing back at the arboretum. I hope you hold onto it. Believe in the communion of nature and technology, and how they can work together.”
“Can they work together?” The Captain was tired by this time, more than a little exhausted with the influx of information, with the heaviness of it all.
“I don’t know,” The Old Man said as they walked down the hall to the Teleporter. “But giving up on that dream is created me. Don’t become me.”
The Captain nodded gravely, and shook the Old Man’s hand a final time. A small smile spread over his thin lips as he stepped into the Teleporter and the Captain began his long walk back to the bridge.
In some way, in some small, twisted, way, it all made sense. Or… did it? He figured he understood now, who the old man was, and what his point was in coming to this place, to this ship, to say what he said. But did his words hold any merit? Was there this grand link between the communication between technology and nature, and the cold, immutable nature of man that was causing another war to break out? Or was it all a conspiracy theory fabricated in the mind of someone who muddled with Time Travel too much?
He waited as the doors slid open again, and he walked slowly to his chair. He sat down with a deliberate gravity, as people waited on his words.
“It’s true, I think. Earth has come under Civil War. We will divert course to the nearest Starport so that anybody who would like to be relieved of duty can be. Otherwise, we will continue our mission.”
With that, he stood up abruptly, and made to walk out of the Bridge. His First Mate caught him by the shoulder and looked him in the eyes, “Captain, why? Who was that man?”
The Captain looked towards his First Mate and smiled grimly, “I’m not going to give up on the dream that we had when we first set out. I will see this through to the end, if not for them, then for me.”
The Captain held out a hand, silencing his First Mate, “Do you think we’ve done something wrong, here? With the Federation, with our purpose? Do you think we’ve molested nature into submitting to us with technological progress?”
“Answer the question, as honestly as you always do.”
“Sir, I think— I think we’ve all made mistakes Sir, and the times are never perfect. But I think that we’ve been doing our best. I thought that, at least, until just a few hours ago.”
“I think maybe we, as a group, we have failed. But I want to hold onto to just a little bit of goodness and optimism, and follow through with everything we set out to do, for the right reasons.” He turned and started to make his way back to the arboretum, “And I’ve to finish my little collection of trees.”
“Sir, do you know who it was that spoke with you?”
The Captain answered without looking back, “It was me, from the future.”