by Shin’ichi Hoshi
At that moment, a bright red button was gently pressed. It was one of a large number of buttons lined up on the wall. A languid sound came out, and the machinery instantly carried out its instructions. A missile carrying a nuclear warhead consequently launched.
That obedient hunting dog made of cold silver happily flew into the sky; the crimson flames that spilled out of it looked like a tongue licking its lips as it chased down its prey.
“Now then, please send the guidance signals to make sure it hits the target.”
“Also, please don’t be negligent in your observations in the off-chance there are obstacles blocking its path. Just because you’ve done this many times doesn’t mean you should become careless.”
From the spaceship’s control room, the captain announced his orders in a clear tone. He checked to see if his subordinates were properly starting their tasks and then looked out the opposite-facing window made of sturdy glass.
An infinite amount of jewels lay scattered about in this lake of frozen black ink. The view from the ship ceaselessly expanded, containing only the stardust and deep darkness that one became so tired of from seeing so often. The view from the front window was different, however. In it was the solar system’s sun, radiating a violent yellow. In this view floated a single, unknowing planet. It was the ever-approaching missile’s target.
I say this, but as if in jest, the missile hadn’t actually been launched yet. About 50 hours earlier this planet had been first discovered, so the spaceship made a stop and carried out various surveys. It had been ascertained that there were many aspects of the planet that showed it to be very similar to Earth. The computer worked furiously and produced a report indicating that the planet rotated around its sun and around its axis in a very similar way as well. Apparently, the atmospheric temperature was a bit high.
A small unmanned rocket carefully approached it and brought back a sample of the atmosphere. The men lying in wait then sent a box of guinea pigs. In the end, these guinea pigs, who had their metabolism increased through medicine, showed absolutely no symptoms of any kind. As a result, it was concluded that this planet would have no ill effect on a being from Earth.
The captain peered through a high-grade telescope. In the cloud scattered skies below, he found an assortment of beautiful cities with beings resembling humans walking about. He magnified that area, and found a great deal of very elderly inhabitants. This planet’s population was possibly even healthier than Earth’s.
After considering all of this, the button for the missile was pressed.
A member of the crew came to the control room to report.
“Captain. The missile’s course is favorable. It should make impact in due time.”
“Even still, how unfortunate.”
His voice, however, didn’t contain much sympathy. The captain nodded in agreement.
“Yes, it is certainly unfortunate, but I suppose we can’t stop halfway can we? If human civilization were still in its selfish adolescence, something being ‘unfortunate’ might have been reason enough for us to try and stop halfway. These days we are much more mature, however, in an age where we send our spaceships out into the universe. We must be realistic and throw away those kinds of thoughts that might inhibit our mission.”
“I understand. Mankind’s appetite knows no bounds. In order to satisfy that, we must find more places to colonize. It is our duty. If we neglect our job, Earth will once again return to how it was in the past. Fighting amongst ourselves like that, simply imagining it terrifies me…” he said ambiguously. A list of all the weapons fitted on the spaceship floated through the crewmember’s head, and he imagined the situations that would force him to use them in a conflict over Earth.
The captain pressed a brown button and coffee flowed from the console. As this was going on, the captain said, “That’s exactly the case. Furthermore, we must do our jobs efficiently. In our quest to obtain barren planets and spend an ever-increasing amount of money to fix them up, it can’t be helped. In that respect, this planet appears to be extremely promising.”
The crewmember finished his coffee, threw the cup into the washing hole, and as if he suddenly thought of it, he asked, “Yet, how long will this period of ‘maturity’ continue, I wonder. When will we become an elderly society, and what will that entail?”
“I have no idea, but we probably don’t have to concern ourselves with that. That’s a story for the far future. It has no relationship to us. …Isn’t it about time for the impact?” asked the captain to the staff of all ship divisions. The missile hadn’t ran into any obstacles, so it appeared it was still traveling smoothly.
The captain once again pressed his eyes to the telescope. At last, he observed the missile making impact, a sharp light flashing, and black smoke rising.
He continued to observe the planet, however, no counterattack of any sort happened.
“Alright, it appears there is no resistance. Start landing, but be careful.”
The spaceship quivered with excitement. Flames began to spill out, and it picked up pace as it headed towards the planet.
The radar spit out electric signals, and sucked them back in again. If there was anything that might suggest resistance, it would immediately prepare weapons for the counterattack.
Yet, the warning alarm didn’t ring at all. In the telescope, the inhabitants seemed to be in a state of panic, but they didn’t seem to be intending to put up any sort of fight.
Soon enough, the rocket hovered in the planet’s atmosphere and then began to descend.
“Well then, we’ve landed. Our friends here don’t seem to have any weapons to resist us.”
They finally arrived at the spot of nuclear impact, the smoke bellowing from the earth. The bomb they used was a kind that didn’t produce any radiation and besides, the planet already had a small amount of inherent radiation on it; the geiger counter displayed that the levels were safe.
“Captain, this appears to be a high-quality planet.”
A crewmember said this while peering from a window. At the edge of the destroyed circular area was a vibrant array of immaculate buildings. The walls were ornamented with intricate carvings. The crewmembers’ eyes were transfixed, but they didn’t let their guard down. In the event of any mysterious change, he was ready to press a button with fingers as swiftly as a pianist to engage in offensive action within an instant.
“Yes, that appears to be the case.”
The captain moved the telescope. This time, he was close enough to see the facial expressions of these inhabitants, who seemed so very similar to humans. Even though he could certainly feel their shock, there were no signs of hostility being communicated from their faces so far away.
“It seems they are dumbfounded. They appear to be a peaceful, slovenly bunch. Well then, let’s disembark.”
The captain gave this information to all hands on the ship and passed his order down.
“Let’s send out a reconnaissance party. Five of you go out there and check it out. But remember, don’t forget to be cautious.”
While preparing their weapons, a number of crewmembers began to head in the direction that appeared to lead to the center of the city.
The reconnaissance squad returned to the ship much more quickly than expected. The captain met with them, rather puzzled, and asked, “That was worryingly quick. What happened?”
“It makes no sense to use so much effort on the investigation. We found a more convenient method.”
“What is it?”
“We brought three of this planet’s inhabitants. It would be simpler to just ask them.”
“If you can do that, I have no objection. Up to this point, however, we have made contact with countless humanlike inhabitants. Even then, to properly communicate with any of them took quite a bit of time. What do you plan on doing in this case?”
“In just the short time we have been speaking to them, they have already begun to speak our language.”
“Are they gifted with languages?”
“That doesn’t appear to be the case. They had a little piece of equipment that allowed us to communicate. It appears to be an all-purpose translation device.”
“Even though they don’t have weaponry, what a high level of civilization they appear to possess. …Well that’s fine then, bring them here.”
The three beings were guided there. They wore slack clothes and appeared to be full of youth. Yet, for some reason, their expressions seemed to lack a certain sense of liveliness.
“Hey, can you understand me?”
As the captain asked this, the inhabitant placed a phone receiver-like device against his ear and mouth, and then responded.
“We understand you.”
“That’s a convenient device you guys have there. Did you make it?”
“Yes, however strictly speaking, it would be more correct to say our ancestors made it. It was sitting in a museum. This was not made by any of us here today.”
The captain became somewhat curious, however, when compared to this translation device, his usual questions held priority. Firstly…
“Do you know who we are?”
“We do not.”
“But, when your city was destroyed, certainly you felt rage.”
“We weren’t particularly angry.”
“Then do you fear our strength?”
“We do not.”
“Well, what then? What kinds of emotions do you feel towards us? Do you like us? Do you hate us?”
“We neither like you nor dislike you.”
“I find this hard to believe. Tell me why.”
“That is impossible. You cannot attach an explanation to one’s emotions. Is this something you can do?”
The captain couldn’t respond. He tried asking the same questions to the other two inhabitants. As expected, however, the results were the same. He began to ask more questions.
“What do you guys call this planet…?”
He asked them a large variety of questions about the planet, and in a short period of time compiled an extensive report. He learned things about the temperance of the climate. About how their lifespans were currently around 200 Earth-years. About their abundance of delicious food. About how they appeared only pursue their hobbies rather than work.
Of course, the captain was still in a state of disbelief. He had each of his crewmembers confirm it, one-by-one, however it was just as they had said.
What perplexed him the most was that fact they had seemingly no emotions and that they were void of all liveliness. The ship’s resident doctor conducted a thorough health diagnosis.
“Captain. They do not appear to have any illnesses. If we assume they possess a defect of some sort, it could be a mental one, no?”
“Do you mean to say their intelligence is inferior?”
“No, their intelligence is exemplary. It seems like their IQs are even higher than ours.”
“What an incomprehensible phenomenon. Have they gone mad?”
“Even that does not seem to be the case. If they had gone mad, there would be no public order, and they would not have been able to go on living like this.”
“It doesn’t matter, I suppose. Maybe that’s just what their form of civilization looks like. Anyhow, we should report this.”
The captain arranged all the information, and sent it back to earth via powerful electromagnetic waves.
We have discovered a new planet. The climate is favorable, and the inhabitants are docile…
Instructions from Earth returned.
We are grateful for your discovery of this wonderful colonization site. For the time being, we would like you to supervise this planet. We think it will serve as a suitable health resort. Our sightseeing course can be extended to that planet. In addition, we would like you to send some of the inhabitants back to earth to function as domestic workers…
Finally, spaceports were built, and large ships began launching into space. Travelers from Earth and other colonized planets also finally began to arrive in order to rest and relax. There were also those who came attracted by the stories of a 200-year lifespan. They imagined that if they stayed there, they could also extend their lifespans, so as a result, many of them didn’t want to leave.
Whenever there were open seats on a flight back to Earth, they would have inhabitants fill them, and consequently be sent back as laborers. The inhabitants never displayed any particular resistance towards this. Physical labor was impossible, but as they obeyed all orders and displayed little desire, they were popularly brought in as domestic workers.
The ex-captain, now serving as an administrator on the planet, received heavy praise from Earth.
“I appreciate all of the acknowledgement, however this was all purely chance. These kinds of inhabitants being on this kind of planet, all of it luck.”
He muttered this to himself in his room, in a large building next to the spaceport. From his window blew a cool breeze; the view of the city was magnificent. The gentle, green hills undulated in the city outskirts, and the flowers and food let out a great fragrance. Countless fish were being caught in the rivers, and the outdoor hot-springs boiled.
No complications had arisen with the inhabitants, and the planet’s visitors at least experienced nothing detrimental to their health. Everyone had accomplished what they intended to do at the resort and left.
“…I still don’t understand it. Why is everything working out so conveniently? I suppose it’s just anxiety from everything going so smoothly.”
At that moment, a man who was previously his subordinate from the spaceship and who was now in charge of drawing up this planet’s maps came in.
“Captain. Very carefree these days, I see.”
“Yeah, it’s too peaceful. It’s gotten to the point where I almost want to go out searching for a new star to fire another missile at. I haven’t handled a weapon in what seems like forever.”
“Actually, it concerns the issue of weaponry. I’ve come with some information.”
“Something about weapons? Has a new type or something arrived from Earth?”
“Not Earth, this planet. I discovered a curious piece of technology.”
“I didn’t think anything like that existed on this planet, but could you guide me there?”
The captain left with his subordinate. He was led to an ancient-looking building, previously assumed to be a simple storehouse. It was entwined in ivy, and when the door was opened, a stale smell escaped.
The subordinate pointed towards some machine inside it.
“What does it do?”
“Its structure is complicated, so investigating it took some time, but I was surprised when I figured out what it did. It’s a truly fearsome piece of machinery. It’s a weapon that makes matter lose its cohesion in an instant using electromagnetic waves.”
“Tell it to me simply; what kind of weapon is it?”
“Anything that comes into contact with its electromagnetic waves is disintegrated in an instant, ignoring any form of defense. When we first arrived, had they used this in a counter attack, the ship would have… All of us would have…” said the subordinate, as he took a deep breath.
However, with a calm voice, the captain responded, “I’m sure the inhabitants didn’t understand how to fully utilize the weapon. After all, here they seem to have become entirely entrenched in their lethargy.”
“That’s not the case. While its mechanisms are complicated, using it is simple. The translation device is the same way.”
“If that’s the case, I’m hopelessly confused. Why didn’t they use it then?”
“I’m also perplexed. That’s why I came to you with this information in the first place.”
The two of them lowered their heads in deep thought, however with the information they had up to this point, they could not come up with an answer. The captain spotted a boy who was fishing next to a nearby river. Using one of the translation devices, he called out to him.
“Hey, kid. Could you come over here?”
“What is it?”
The boy put aside his fishing equipment and slowly walked towards the two.
“The thing inside this building, do you know it is?”
“Yeah, it’s a weapon.”
“Do you know how to use it?”
“Yeah, it’s simple.”
The captain exchanged glances with his subordinate once again and then continued asking the boy questions.
“Even though you have this amazing weapon, why didn’t you use it when we humans came?”
“Using it is fine and all, but you had weapons too. Needless bloodshed would be pointless, wouldn’t it?”
His reasoning made sense, but there was something that didn’t add up.
“If that’s the case, then why make something like this in the first place?”
“Our ancestors made it. It had meaning for people back then, but now no one has the will to use it.”
“Could you explain exactly what you mean? Why did your people’s feelings change like that?”
Why did the inhabitants of this planet, possessing such powerful weaponry, become this extremely pacifistic? The boy laid his back on the grass and said, “Man, this is tiresome. You already know the answer, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t. Please, won’t you tell me?”
The boy gave a very brief explanation.
“There is no future on this planet.”
“No future…? That can’t be the case. There are young people like you here. Won’t you naturally become an old man?”
“You have a future then, don’t you?”
“While that’s the case, it’s also not. It’s a matter of time.”
“Meaning…?” The captain leaned forward.
“We realized it a lot time ago. At that time, we lived to be over 300 years old, however now we can only live to be 200. I will mostly likely die when I reach 100. For every generation, our lifespans are shortened bit by bit.”
“It looks like you understand now. We have no future promise to protect anymore. Again, even if we won the fight, we have no future to pass that victory onto.”
“I understand. I truly sympathize with you. However, is there really no hope of recovery?”
“Apparently it’s useless to struggle. After all, even our ancestors who were so advanced in their knowledge of science eventually gave up.”
The captain turned to his subordinate and said while blinking, “What a pitiful fate. I suppose the end of his race draws near. This is what is means to be an elderly society.”
“That much is clear, captain. We have solved the riddle, I suppose. They are smart, but they have no energy. They do not like conflict. They have refined tastes, and are obsessed with the upkeep of their city. They enjoy pursuing their hobbies, baths, and fishing. I suppose those are the traits of the elderly after all.”
“But the inhabitants we sent to earth seemed to be fairly in demand.”
“On Earth in the past, there apparently used to be jobs that were primarily worked by the elderly. Even though they could freely do whatever they wanted, having so much free time became boring to them, so they continued working in jobs at more or less an acceptable pace.”
The captain nodded and turned towards the boy. In a comforting tone he said, “I’m sorry, we didn’t know. I’m sure there is nothing we could say to cheer you up, however we humans will make sure to take splendid care of your planet.”
“That’d be nice if that were the case, but…” replied the boy in a bored tone. The captain responded.
“What do you mean?”
“It has nothing to do with my people’s natural lifespan. It’s a disease.”
“Yeah. Our ancestors were truly incredible. They had those weapons, and they rode out into space, fearlessly conquering countless planets.”
The boy’s manner of speaking resembled that of an old man reminiscing about his youth.
“However they ended up catching it on a certain planet. It was a virus of infinitesimally small size.”
“So, you mean it was a disease that shortens a species’ natural lifespan,” said the captain with a quivering voice.
“Yeah, we didn’t realize it right away, and when we did, it was too late to do anything.”
The boy talked as if he was an old man making fun of himself and the worries he carried in the past.
“Why the hell didn’t you tell us sooner? Why would you do something so terrible?”
“I guess it was because you didn’t ask. If you had politely said, ‘please tell me,’ I’m sure any of us would have done it.”
The boy said this as he stared up at the captain. That young face of his was betrayed by the expression of an old man, his eyes containing a far-away look and a tinge of envy…