August 11, 2022

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

The winning entry for the 2021 Sci-fi Writing competition, written by Qiu Xia

By Qiu Xia

“3…2…1…”

The muffled soundscape of clanking stopped, and a deafening quiet settled over the spaceship.

We had arrived.

In a series of over-practiced motions, which have become as ritualistic to us as breathing, we each execute the procedures as the spaceship’s gate opens with an insistent whirring.

My suit stiffens as I step out. I eye my crew members and we nod to each other.

Mountains with towering spikes like lone sentinels bisect the horizon in mystical layers of emerald on emerald. An abundance of chromium which has carved itself into strata of viridescent minerals.

Breathing support not required,” the voice of Inanna, my suit’s AI, sounds through my earpiece. “Safety levels: green. Oxygen: 22%. Carbon dioxide: 0.03%. Nitrogen: 79%. Hospitable conditions similar to Planet Earth.” The words end with a flat line of muted silence.

There is a tingling sensation in my fingertips; I want to touch something belonging to this vivid world, with its sky’s bold bricks of yellow and pink colour blinking in and out of existence.

A humming grows louder. “Object approaching. 97.7 kilometres per hour,” Innana announces.

I instinctively glance at the crew.

“Attention!” The voice of Andiana, our Commander, reaches my ears. The seven of us spread out into a star-like formation, with Andiana at the front.

The object, a dark grey hovering carrier, halts in the air and lands. Its sides shimmer like a glass screen collapsing into infinite blocks, re-arranging themselves into disappearance. It delivers five slender figures, tall and dressed in a reserved grey and airy ensemble.

“Welcome to Planet Dius,” one of the figures says.

My composed expression falters at how human the voice sounds. Andiana takes two steps forward at a measured pace and bows her head in respect. She lays her palms out in front of her, each of them facing skywards.

“Thank you for hosting us.”

A Diusian comes forth from behind his companions. With his index, he draws a circle in the air. Between us Earthlings and Diusians, a large circular table and stools materialise. I swallow nervously.

“Let’s be comfortable, shall we?” The Diusian offers, extending his hand. His long face, nearly elf-like, glows with an iridescent purple sheen.

“My name is Anu,” he says as everyone sits down. We each proceed to give our names.

“We are glad to have Earth visitors here.” Anu holds our gaze, an impish smile playing on his lips.

“We have come, young and curious, to seek answers Diusians would perhaps hold the knowledge to,” I state.

“There isn’t much we know that Earth hasn’t already explored.” Anu replies softly.

I edge forward on my stool. Next to me, my crew member’s voice rings out with clarity and poise: “For the longest time, Earth has been investigating the statistical paradox for the existence of far more advanced intelligent species in the Universe. When we connected with your message ‘we have watched over you since the beginning,’ it sent shockwaves through Earth’s human population. We were humbled. And we would be honoured to learn more.”

The Diusian sitting across from me raises an eyebrow, her long silvery hair catching the dancing reflections of Dius’ twin suns. “I sense a large retinue waiting not too far from Planet Dius, ready to land. They must be equally curious about history.”

I freeze. Our two hundred and fifty spaceships are waiting at a safe distance, near undetectable. This was to be humanity’s largest mission in our exoplanet-bound trip to date.

“We were hoping that this exchange would be fruitful in opportunities for us to share knowledge and culture. We come as friends, bearing utmost respect and gratitude for you welcoming us on Dius.” Andiana smiles warmly, each word weighted with genuine sincerity.

“That is all well and good,” interjects the child-like Diusian, Neith as he smiles back at Andiana with crushing innocence. “It is true that we have watched humans for a long time. We do not like to intervene for it offers space for peace.”

“Perhaps it is us who are too curious to know how long we have shared bonds with you.” Andiana acknowledges.

“Time is a concept refined by humans.” Neith’s gaze meets each of ours. “We originally created it to offer a sense of purpose.”

Created. For the first time, I feel mounting distress as I furtively lock eyes with my closest crew members.

“Then, to which reality do we belong?” I ask.

“It isn’t necessary to know which simulation you belong to. We were simply curious that we, the Creators, meet our creations. We wanted to know: what would happen to the primal drive of humanity if they were given a chance at the universe? What would happen to humanity’s ego and the collective human consciousness?”

Thoughts of our waiting fleet of warcraft flash in my mind. There would be rebellions on Earth right now. My heart drops. Will they fail our simulation?

“It was a pleasure to meet you.” Neith’s smile is transfixed on her delicate childlike face.

In front of us, the Diusians vanish. Time slows.

A spectrum of humanity’s collective light sears into my retinas. Half a thought starts and then dissolves in the same instant.