So vast is the Universe
There is a bright wood fire on the beach with low seats around it. We make ourselves comfortable and listen to Elga. We can hear the sound of the waves and the crackling of the fire: I feel time moving extremely slowly and wonder once again at the science who brought us together here. Elga says:
“Let me explain first some of the things you need to know about us beyond what Gabrielle has already told you. Like you we are individuals organised in societies. Since we have been science-based – I think this is the right description – for much longer than you have, we started contributing – perhaps the right word is influencing – our evolution a long time ago, say, back several tens of thousands of your millennia. We now live in collectives, what you would possibly call covens, although as individuals we still have autonomy. For example Gabrielle – not one but a cluster of us – is nearly on her own in your world, but all of us can follow and are aware of her actions and interactions on Earth. This way of life has led us early to take an interest in other societies and other intelligent species.” As Elga speaks I observe my companions: Sarah and Jane are listening intensely, Melissa’s looking at Sarah, smiling. Gabrielle appears deep in thought, eyes closed behind her thick glasses, and I guess she may be communicating with others in the coven.
“So it was, continues Elga, that some of us became specialised in space exploration. By this I mean not only geographical space exploration, but also the physics of space time, and the complex engineering techniques that eventually led us to what we can now achieve: near instantaneous transportation. We made many mistakes at the beginning: we lost people in ill-planned premature adventures, we got frustrated at not meeting anyone “out-there”, a feeling that some of your own scientists know well. After several millennia we understood that time was the issue: intelligent life is plentiful in the universe, but synchronicity – the wide enough overlap between two civilisations to permit communication and meaningful exchange is only a small probability. Again some Earth scientists have come to that conclusion too, but the consequences have not been drawn yet. So the project was born, and we called it the Search… We had to acquire the ability to travel through the entire space time continuum in order to meet others. At that point we influenced our biology again, and this led us to virtual immortality, although we no longer see it that way. This allowed us to colonise our own galaxy over about three millions of your years, and took us to yours, the Milky Way. Relatively recently we came to your world, to Earth. Sol and her system was noted for its relative friendliness to intelligent life. So when you finally appeared, we were not that surprised.” Elga paused, as she and Gabrielle appeared to be both somewhat absent. Minutes passed. Then Gabrielle appears to wake up. And Elga resumes her story: “The project has several aims, the most important is to support and observe – as innocuously as possible – civilisations with good prospects for lifespan. By this we mean societies that are capable of technological and scientific development with low risks, or manageable risks, of ruining their environment or sinking in warfare, and thus are probable candidates for some synchronicity. Another is the protection of our own species and our allies’ against any malevolent species that could become a danger to advanced intelligence, the “high risks” cases. There is third one, which is to prospect for past civilisations that may have perished, and research the reasons for their disappearance, what you would call cosmic archeology.” I am looking at Elga and she is looking at me, a direct gaze that signals to me that she, or “they”, is searching my mind. “I understand, I say, what you meant by “special roles”… You meant that we are to help you, maybe provide evidence, for the Search to assess whether we are in that category of potential risk to you…” There is another pause. Sarah and Jane are now looking towards me, and so is Melissa. Elga appears to be thinking, her classical face suddenly showing a range of feelings. It is Gabrielle who answers me: “Yes, Julian, you are witnesses, and also part of the evidence we need”.