Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Ten)

Monday and Tuesday were intensive work days. Renn and I took things apart with tools that were too blunt for the job, but we succeeded well enough. (And I took more photos.)

Renn did find some malfunctions that would have preceded the impact (some kind of overload damage), but not enough, and not in the right places, to support any clear explanation.

We didn’t talk a great deal as we worked, except about work: “Please hold this,” “push here,” and so on. And on the way back home we were tired. But by Tuesday afternoon we had completed our work and nailed the probe back into its crate. We agreed to take a slow morning, a long breakfast and a long conversation the next morning. After that I’d take Renn to McCarren Field.

Our breakfast was the thing I remember most of Renn’ visit. His work was done, he wouldn’t have to fight the Earth ambient much longer, and he relaxed a bit. I know he also understood me a lot better by that point, which made him less guarded.

It was nice just to be a friend with someone like him; we talked about our families, we talked about music, we talked about our daily lives. I learned, for example, that Renn’s daily life was more or less pre-modern. That is, he lived most of the time in a rural community (it sounded a bit like a Swiss valley town), where he woke with the sun, went to bed with the sun, and spent several hours in the middle of the night doing his most contemplative and meaningful work.

Renn’s children and grandchildren (and so on) were also ancient by our standards, and their relationships were hard for him to characterize in our terms. But he did insist that they were deep, warm and meaningful. And I laughed out loud when he confessed that he hadn’t had a child, “in quite a few centuries.” It provided an absurd contrast to my sense of normalcy. He laughed a bit with me.

His friendships seemed a lot like ours, though conducted over massive periods of time. He regretted that so many of his friends lived terribly far away, and that he saw them infrequently. That has been a problem for me too, and so we mourned together on that point.

The part that struck me especially hard, however, involved science and technology. As we went through the spaceraft… the probe… there were a lot of things that I didn’t understand at all. Renn was very open about telling me what they were, and I understood their basic functions (a light source, a radiation shield, etc.), but I didn’t understand how they did it.

The problem,” Renn clarified, “is that you lack underlying references. You’re fine with electricity and basic mechanics, but how can I tell you how a radiation buffer works when you know few of the materials and less of the theory?”

I asked him about those theories, and specifically how long it would take me to learn them moderately well.

I could teach you the basics in a week or two,” he said, “but what would you do with them?”

I said something along the lines of “I don’t care, I want to know anyway,” at which he smiled, then got very serious.

And if you had both the knowledge and the materials, what, really, would you do with them in your present world?”

At that I stopped cold. He waited patiently, knowing more or less what I was being forced to consider. I lowered my head and let the concepts flow.

I guess I couldn’t…” I muttered… “I’d have to be very, very careful about putting them into the world… I couldn’t for most of them until the general tyranny breaks.”

I looked up to find him nodding.

I’ve written about that,” I went on, “I called it elite capture, and I fear that I’ve already done some of it. We worked very hard to get optical fiber and the Internet into the world, but then the overlords took them over… them and sociopaths with some technical understanding. And right now they’re using them to mentally imprison a huge segment of the human race. We built it, they stole it, and now they’re manipulating our relatives with it.”

I’m sorry,” he said, again with emotional weight. “It was a problem in my world too, a long time ago. So long as your instincts can be effectively manipulated, hierarchy and centralization will remain as death incarnate. I suppose there could be methods to control whatever technologies you came up with, but developing them would be almost as hard as developing practical devices.”

So, there are a few things that I know can be done, and I have a few minor clues, but I have limited interest in working on them, or even leaving them for future generations. So long as dominance hierarchies remain and are worshiped, our environment will be geared for elite capture, followed by enslavement and abuse. I have no interest in feeding that process any more than I already have.

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Paul Rosenberg