“What is the most unpredictable thing in the universe?”—a question of the Sages
To my good friend and Counselor, Koesun
I know how concerned you are about the rioting on Delta One, since you have direct oversight of the penal colony on Galapar and would feel the effects of a change in your numbers there. I understand that it is not a pleasant duty for you. It truly is unfortunate that you were brought into the picture by these leaks because there is nothing to worry about, but since you now know something about our program, I need to fill you in on some details that are not publicized. I refer to the techno-social pattern-recognition software which we in the Galactic Operations Center (GOC) developed. We are charged with the responsibility of foreseeing all human activity in order to prevent undesirable outcomes, especially of the kind that you are all too familiar with, the murders and wars of the past. Gone are the days when a detective must solve crimes after they happen, and when so many have to be incarcerated. Mankind is the winner.
Science has been moving in the direction of our work for many centuries, you know, and my team has refined the data, establishing important variables for our algorithm, with the aid of our supercomputer. You see, we sought to discover an algorithm by which we could anticipate all human actions before they occurred on the basis of past decisions, and so prevent those which were negative. One of the concepts which originally launched the quest was the old belief among writers that there were only so many “stories” that could be written, primarily because people act only in certain ways under certain conditions. There was the theory of the sixteen personality traits. Basically, this has to do with how people experience their world. Some people preferred the idea of “tones” to describe the state of a person at any moment, which is even more precise.
You might be wondering how we surmounted the enormous challenge to determine the individual personality and tone for each person in each community on all of our planets and then combine all the data to make one mathematical formula, or algorithm, for the entire system. Do you recall the Great Vaccination Project when we brought all of the communities on every planet, one at a time, to the Operations Center? During their stay, we monitored every single citizen, and everything about them: their interactions, conversations, relationships with family, friends, and strangers, and the history they revealed in passing. We also had monitors on the transports, so that we could see how they reacted coming in and going away. We even had hidden devices to measure their heartbeats, blood pressure, body chemistry, and brainwaves. All of the data went into our supercomputer. The theory was that we could input the data into our techno-social pattern-recognition software and get our algorithm. It was an unqualified success, by any standard.
You should know that there was no true violation of privacy in our program, because only the computers received the raw data, and from them we got the conclusions, in accordance with the programming. Furthermore, what our operatives see now is only the “story” of each individual, along with the predicted behaviors for certain circumstances. It is enough, along with ongoing observation from our local posts, for the Operations Units to take action to prevent any negative outcomes, both on the individual level and in the communities of all our planets. I should say that we took some actions immediately on the conclusion of the project, so as to rectify unstable environments and prevent outbreaks of undesirable behavior from the beginning.
We are actually in the process of moving some communities, and even people-groups, to “better” locations (qualitatively, from their perspectives), all paid by Central. We have also removed some individuals as subversives. Of course, if evidence of this was not available, we manufactured it. It would not pay to wait for the behaviors which we know are coming. Even in your isolated situation, I believe you were somewhat aware of our actions in this regard since probable offenders were sent to you. Even today, when the citizens bring their children in to be vaccinated, we do the same personality tests for them, and thus keep abreast of the data. The removal of negative associations and negative stories is by itself often enough to change a person’s or community’s behavior for the good. Rest assured also that everything we are doing is for the good of mankind.
Since any deviation from predictions tends to throw the whole program into disarray—that is, because of these so-called “unpredictable” events—should you have any further questions or observations about the program, please refer to the “Q factor,” which stands for the question we musts ask.
One: The feud
Ronan Mancio knew what the Sirenians were up to, what they were always up to: patrolling the planet and looking for Maronites who were alone. They hated everyone who was not a Sirenian and had made it clear that they were just waiting for an opportunity to make non-Sirenians disappear. This planet was not big enough for them and others, but especially Ronan’s people. Many years before someone on the Sirenian side had killed a Maronite in a duel, and that had started a feud. It made no difference that the original family members had died. Most Maronites simply wanted to forget all about the past, but a few people on both sides continued to flame the fires of hate. But now things had taken a dramatic change for the better—at least, that is what most people thought—although it meant that the Maronites were leaving their homes.
The Galactic Federation of Planets had issued an order: one of the two races must move to a new planet, one that was not far away. This was their solution to the problems of race hate and violence that had gone on for so long. They had decided which people would move by an old-fashioned method: luck. One thousand names from each people were inserted into a computer gambling program and sorted. The one that came up first was a Maronite.
Thus, the Maronites would move. It just so happened that there was a mining planet nearby that few people knew much about and that was held in common by the Federation planets. It produced industrial minerals that were quite valuable and useful, even in space craft. The Federation was willing to turn the planet over in its entirety to the Maronites, with the stipulation that the people would take up mining in the place of the Federation workers. This would assure everyone a good income and future. It was not as bad as it had seemed at first, and the bleak picture of a planet ruined by mining did not turn out to be correct. There were deserts and plains, and that is where the mines were, but more than half the planet was good, fertile land, forests, jungle, and ocean. Half a planet of that size was far more than they had on Polantris. It was only a matter of minutes to get back to their homes on any hemisphere by molecular transportation. The people had voted on it and nearly everyone was for the move.
Yes, things were looking up for his people, Ronan thought. For him, as a co-pilot on an inter-planetary cruiser, it did not make too much difference, except when he came back from a trip. That is when he had to watch where he went and who he associated with. But it would not be that way any more. Yet, despite this good news, he was not happy. And all because of Jubilea.
Ronan sighed and leaned back in the co-pilot’s seat of the cruiser. He knew that it was not practical, but she was beautiful beyond description, even though she was black as the night. He was dark enough, being as brown as the bandoc tree, but that made the difference in his world. Ronan could not see it. Her eyes were golden and he often dreamed of them. They had met by chance when they both had been cadets in the Federation navy. The Federation used people from every planet, it made no difference what they looked like or where they came from. Ronan had seen everything on his trips as well, and the situation on his planet seemed so provincial to him—so “old world.” That was the phrase used when anyone wanted to describe the way it had been before the Federation had joined all the planets as one. Now, each planet had the choice to do things as they wished, except that occasionally the Federation intervened, as they were doing now. Old ways persisted here and there. The Federation knew this; Ronan was aware of it because of his training. In the navy, prejudice had been carefully weaned out of him, not that he had ever had much in the first place. His people had always allowed strangers to come in among them, as long as they adapted to the ways of the Maronites. After all, it was their cohesion that made them strong.
Ronan did not know where Jubilea was now. She had gone away on a different cruiser and probably forgotten him. They had spent some good times in the garden bay, talking about their people and their differences. From her, he had seen another side of the Sirenians, but he was not quite ready to accept all of them on his planet. “It’s just like that anywhere,” he had concluded. “Some good, some bad.” There were Maronites whom he would not trust either. He had gotten close to Jubilea, but she had not allowed him to become intimate with her. Her people apparently had a complicated ritual concerning relationships with the opposite sex, and any socializing with another race was forbidden. It was enough that they allowed their people to join the Federation navy, but that was because of the Federation’s reputation for neutrality and fairness. Jubilea had hinted once that her people thought it “useful” to have some of them with the Federation and able to gather information from time to time.
“You wouldn’t tell them about you and me, would you?” Ronan had asked.
“What is there to tell, Ronan?” she had answered with an innocent voice.
“There might be something if you’d let me spend a little time with you in the virtual reality room.”
“Oh, no. If anyone found out about it…” Her golden eyes had grown very large then.”
“So…that’s your only objection, then?” he had countered.
“Isn’t that enough? You don’t know my people, Ronan.”
“No, but I know you, Jubilea.” Ronan put an arm around her shoulders.
“You know that I like you, Ronan, but it just wouldn’t work.”
And Ronan had to admit that it did appear she was right about that. They would have had to run away, to a place where there were no Sirenians.
“And what about your people?” She had retorted, to which there was no answer he could make.
Two: The Blossom
Ronan exited the tube from the cruiser at the thirteenth level and strolled out toward the waiting heliports. He would catch a flight to the restaurant decks and see a last sunset on Polantris over the water. His group departing the planet would load up the next day. He shrugged. What could he do? He wanted the best for his people, and to make the Sirenian’s go away—in a kind of backwards way—was a good thing, for all but one person. Jubilea was heavy on his mind. This was a new feeling, really. Ronan took things in stride generally, even his relations with women. Men and women these days had little to do with those of past centuries, he reflected, since the new programming had been instituted by the Federation in the last Galactic cycle. Everyone had agreed that it was good, at least vocally. Emotions had been proven to be negative for mankind more often than positive, so they were reduced in people by means of conditioning. Sex was easy and natural, and nothing was done to reduce or limit those feelings, which were really considered more to be chemically driven and a necessary part of evolution.
But those eyes! Jubilea’s eyes haunted him in a good way. When stress built up, all he had to do was envision her looking at him and he was calmed. “What’s wrong with me?” Ronan asked himself. Perhaps he should go in to see his Counselor. Everyone had one and it was his right to go as often as he needed to. But he did not want to. He turned suddenly, realizing that he had to use the privacy room before he left, and stopped abruptly. Her eyes were staring at him, here in the wide foyer of the heliport.
“Jubilea!” he exclaimed, “what are you doing here?”
She smiled mysteriously, and then broke into a grin. “I live here, too, remember?”
“Yes, but—are you returning from mission?”
“Right. It seems we’re in the same place at the same time again. Remember?”
“Yes, the gardens of Ismelda.”
“But there, you had flowers in your hair.”
“It may be again.” Her smile was replaced by a frown. “I’ve missed you, Ronan.”
“You have? The last time, you said—”
“I know what I said. But now, you’re going away.”
“Let’s go somewhere. To the garden rooms of Kulahi.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
“I’m sure.” Her eyes were mysterious now, undecipherable to Ronan. “Are you?”
“With all my heart, Jubilea.”
They left the heliport and, instead of going to the restaurant decks, took the elevator to the street and boarded a sea cruiser for the short trip out to an island just off the coast. As they were boarding the cruiser, they were not alone. An agent of the Sirenian guard stood by the side, and he noticed that they were holding hands. He spoke into a mouthpiece on his lapel, “Inform the Overseer that Jubilea Antiara has left the city with Ronan Mancio. Destination unknown but traveling east over the water. Assumed destination, the garden rooms of Kulahi.”
Ronan and Jubilea held hands after leaving the heliport and embarking on the sea cruiser. She wore a white flower blossom in her long, black hair, which he had bought for her in the gift shop of the cruiser. As they watched the foam flick up into the air behind the hovercraft, Ronan patted Jubilea’s hand and said, “Jubilea, I want to take you somewhere far away, if you are willing to go with me. It’s the only way we can be together.”
“Oh, Ronan, I am,” she replied, leaning over and putting her cheek against his. It was wet with tears.
“Ronan touched her face and looked at the tears in wonder. “I have never seen these,” he whispered. “I’ve heard of tears, but never…”
“They’re tears of love, Ronan,” she whispered in reply.
“Love? Yes, that’s what I feel, love. Why didn’t I understand it?”
“They’ve tried to breed it out of us, Ronan. Or train it out. I’ve…I’ve never felt this way before.”
Ronan touched the flower in her hair. “It’s pink,” he said. “Blushing.”
“I’ve heard an old legend about this flower, but never believed it,” she answered. “When it changes color, that is a sure sign of love.”
“How quaint, and yet…”
To the Counselor of Galapar
My dear friend, I thought that, after our discussions and the recent amazing happenings on Polantris, I had to write and tell you what you cannot hear from the public news services. The bloodshed there, and the peaceful aftermath, simply cannot be accounted for by our algorithm, and my superiors are seriously thinking about closing down this program. As you know, a certain Federation co-pilot and a female crew member were murdered on the planet and, of all places, on the so-called “Isle of love,” the garden rooms of Kulahi.
I say that they were murdered because that is the story given out, but it is more intriguing than that, and what happened afterwards may be the real story here. The man was going to the front desk to order some kind of room service and was stabbed by members of the Sirenian guard. But here is the interesting part. He did not die. The woman heard the commotion and ran to the front, only to see him lying on the floor. She, thinking that he was dead, picked up a pen knife lying on the counter and plunged it into her breast. Then he revived, with people all around them both. It was said that he would have lived but, to the astonishment of all, after seeing her dead body, he used the same pen knife on himself.
I tell you, this was an absolutely incredible outcome and totally unpredicted. But what followed was even more unpredictable. Someone had overheard them professing their love to each other, and that news rippled through the populations of their planet. You are no doubt aware (who in the Galaxy is not) that they had been feuding for almost a century, but now they have reconciled completely. The deaths of these two young people who loved each other changed everything overnight. Of what good, my superiors ask, is my software and algorithm when we have outcomes like this? And I tend to agree.