THE YEAR 2407:
In the far reaches of the Milky Way, a lone spaceship with the words ‘Remna-13’ written in bold makes its way from planet to planet. Its engines rustle, and the green flare at its end flickers as the ship chugs itself through the icy emptiness. Inside, a young woman unstraps herself from the seat and cautiously moves to the dusty video-recorder.
A rusty screen illuminates in front of her. Bright orange letters appear to say ‘Hello Jane’. For a second, the image of a man in green uniform appears on the screen before quickly turning blank again. The woman sighs and hits the side of the screen. It stays blank.
“Hitting it won’t make it work you know”, says a voice from the front of the ship. A young woman, in her mid-20s, is seated at the front of the spaceship, her seat tilted towards a huge screen displaying the vast expanse of the Universe that lay ahead of them. The woman expertly manoeuvres the ship by carefully pressing thousands of flashing buttons at the bottom of the screen.
Jane ignores her and continues her attempt at getting the monitor to work. She knew Dr Manela was right, but somewhere at the back of her mind, Jane was hoping to see the monitor light up. The screen turns a myriad of colours but shows no sign of ever turning on commonly. She finally shuts it and heads back to her seat on the other end of the ship.
The ship is silent, the only sound being the engine struggling to maintain its speed with the little fuel left. Remna-13 had been in flight for 837 days, barely making it past attacks from the Government’s forces. Its most recent attack near the Orion Bay had cost the spaceship two of its main thrusters and one of its fuel tanks. The ship’s two-member crew, although never mentioning it, knew that they would not be able to survive another attack.
As the days pass by, Jane grows increasingly restless. The endless darkness surrounding her serves as a constant reminder of how helpless she is. Every day, a new pod would return to the ship returning with the same message, “ERROR 999: NO LIFE FOUND”. And every day, Jane would see Manela’s face slowly losing hope on their mission.
“Type 3. Type 3. Type 3.”.
On day 856, Jane is woken up to the sound of a loud voice blaring from all the speakers of the ship. “What’s happening?”, shouts Jane as she runs to the front of the vessel. “It’s one of Hall’s broadcasts. It must’ve been triggered by one of these buttons”, says Manela frantically pointing at a group of green buttons marked by the letter ‘H’. “Well, turn the bloody thing off, my ears are about to explode!”
“I’m trying, I’m trying”, ushers Manela.
“Type 3. Type 3. Type 3”.
“Try Panel B. The button at – ”. Manela’s voice slowly fades against the growing loudness of the broadcast. Jane looks around the room. It’s engulfed with flashes of red and white. Barely visible at the corner of the room, Jane gets to Panel B. She types any commands she can think of, but nothing seems to stop the deafening broadcast. She sees Manela continuing to manically press the buttons on her panel. Jane slowly closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.
The ringing noise in her head slowly fades away, and Jane’s brought back to the day she left Planet Earth. She’s in a bright room, her office at the Zener Parliament. Her table is filled with a dozen more men. She’s in a green uniform with an embroidered ‘3’ across the chest. Seated right across her at the table is General Hall, the same man on the monitor in Remna-13.
A board covered in cloth is next to him. Hall slowly gets up and addresses the men seated on the table. “Fifty years ago, when we landed our ships on Jupiter, they laughed at us. They told us we let our ambition get the better of us and we will never find any extraterrestrial species.” His voice is assertive but calm. “But we never stopped, did we? No matter how many times we were told to stop, we kept pushing forward. We broke the barriers of our existence. Humans were never meant to stay on this decaying planet. We’re conquerors!”
The men shout in applause. Jane remains silent. “The sky was the limit, but we took control of the Sun a century ago. Energy is the new currency. But the Sun isn’t enough if we want to expand our species, we need more. We don’t need to be kind to the aliens, we need to control those filthy species. ” Hall moves his hand to the board next to him and unveils blueprints of a spaceship. “This, my fellow comrades, is the Remna Fleet. With it, our species can finally start expanding beyond this Solar System and head out to the Universe beyond. Our dream of becoming a Type III civilisation and finding aliens will soon become a reality. Tonight, as the Remna Fleet launch, so will our future as a species that broke the very barriers of its existence. The men and women in this room will become leaders of a new world, and very soon, the observable universe.” The room fills with heaves of approval.
It’s three hours later, and Jane’s still in her office. This time, it’s empty. Scattered across her table are the blueprints of the Remna Fleet. At the far right is the pages for VASM, the ship’s emergency broadcast system to remind the crew of their mission, Hall’s mission.
In 1964, Nikolai Kardashev reasoned that the most fundamental way to classify the advancement of civilisation was based on its energy consumption. The more energy they consumed or controlled, the more sophisticated their culture would be. He even quantified this into three different levels.
Type I civilisation: This designation is given to the species who can harness the entire energy (10^16 W) of their planet. The Earth achieved this feat about three hundred years ago.
Type II civilisation: A type two civilisation can harness the total energy of its parent star. We conquered the Sun (10^26 W) a century ago, using Dyson spheres to control its power. We have also used the resources from Mars and Jupiter to fuel our activities.
Type III civilisation: This is the designation our species is trying to achieve. A type three civilisation can completely harness the energy of its entire host galaxy. The government believes that we might be able to control the Milky Way galaxy (10^36 W) this in the next hundreds of years.
Jane starts shaking and falls down to the ground with a loud thud. Dr Manela runs to the office, worried. “We are going to die, all of us are going to die, Doctor!”, cries Jane. Manela picks her up and gets some water. “We will be fine Jane, nothing can destroy our purpose or existence”, she ushers. Jane begins to cry, “ I told Hall! I told him that this is not a good idea. This level of technology will wipe us out completely, this move is too risky. We are approaching doomsday Doctor! The aliens and this technology will kill us all”. She then muffles her face to the pillow and sobs loudly. In the 837 days of their life in the ship, Manela had never seen her so vulnerable. Jane was always the one who keeps her guard up all the time. She never lost her cool, even when Hall sent a public order for her banishment from the planet. But in her heart, she also knew that the end is not far away.
Planet Earth had suffered years of famine, war, blackouts, and an asteroid collision that rendered half the planet uninhabitable. The new world’s leader, General Hall, is convinced that Earth’s worst days are behind them and that by achieving Type-III civilisation status, they will no longer have anything to worry about.
Jane, however, was convinced that something terrible is coming for Earth. She tried warning General Hall of all the possible ways in which humanity could still be wiped out. She tried to explain to him about the Great Filter, which is probably ahead of us. Hall insisted that they would be the masters of the Milky Way soon, and then conquer multiple galaxies. However, Jane thinks otherwise. The universe is continuously expanding, and everything is inaccessible outside our local galactic group. This makes her fear the possible, or maybe inevitable extinction of human species.
Jane wakes up after a few hours and calls in Dr Manela. “Doctor, now that all our doors are closed shut, I think that you should know about the Great Filter in complete detail. I don’t know what is going to happen next, but maybe with this information, you could help me.” She then proceeds to give a brown cardboard file labelled “CONFIDENTIAL DETAILS” to the doctor.
The Great Filter is possibly the only answer we have to the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox, termed after physicist Enrico Fermi is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of extraterrestrial civilisations and the lack of evidence. There is maybe an inevitable phenomenon which prevents life forms from developing to a level, where they can travel or communicate across various clusters of galaxies. The question then arises—wherein the evolution timeline does the filter occur?
Here are two theories put forward by the government and the scientists respectively:
- The Great Filter is behind us: It essentially means that one of the steps of evolution we passed was almost impossible to take, and all the other organisms failed to complete it. There are two contenders for this step. The first could be the emergence of living organisms from non-living matter. Jane thinks that it happens in all the planets where the conditions are suitable. The second one is the infrequent conversion of single-cell to multicellular organisms. The government believes that we are lucky enough to pass through the filter, and are the only living species in the entire universe.
- The Great Filter is ahead of us: If the filter is ahead of us, it will be the most dangerous disaster we have encountered ever. It will be such sort of phenomenon that will wipe out the entire population, with no odds of survival in the indefinite future. Even if a significant disaster kills most of us, and it takes us a thousand years to recover, it is not the Great Filter. Also, the more advanced the civilisation, the higher are the chances of them dying out. It could be maybe a genetic experiment going wrong, or AI demolishing the population. The scientists strongly believe that there is a filter ahead of us.
We, as scientists, have brought this issue up to the government, but the General has repulsed all these claims and ordered us to be silent in front of the people. The government is continuously misusing the Sun’s energy to fuel its private projects. The inhabitants have not learned from their past mistakes, and continue to exploit the resources. At this rate, the supplies will soon be exhausted, and we will not survive.
Jane then explains, “This led to a dispute between the government and the scientists. Under my leadership, we created the “Rebellion”, a group aimed at de-establishing General Hall’s imperial rule. We tried to battle it out with the Government, but the Rebellion was nothing in front of the commanding General Hall.” She then goes on, “Most of the people still believe that the Earth is the centre of the universe, and there is nothing that can stop them. Such foolish people, huh!” Manela then remembers how they secretly flew off to avoid Hall’s wrath. Hall is hell-bent on controlling life on other planets.”
“ We are the last one left aren’t we”, says Manela, grieving. “Probably”, says the despondent Jane.
Remna-13 goes on to visit thousands of planets, all without the smallest peck of life. Some worlds were ruined by collisions, others with too extreme of conditions. All of the help signals dispatched came back unanswered. Jane then realised that maybe the real question is not “Where are the aliens?”. Perhaps the appropriate question is “What happened to all of them?”. The Great Filter might have wiped out all the species who were trying to contact other life-forms. And the more attempts we make to progress our technology and go to further inter-galactic distances, the closer we are approaching to our inevitable doom. And the rate at which we are brutally using our existing energy pool and neglecting the environment, we might die out before reaching type-III civilisation.
This makes Jane further wonder—Are we alone out here? Is there no civilisation that passes the Great Filter of life? Is life even meant to exist out here, in this icy dark space that we call the Universe?
Maybe finding aliens is not a good idea. The first contact with such species might signal the conclusion of our species. Perhaps staying within our solar system and preserving our resources is the key to longevity.
But the problem is that we don’t know the borders of technology and life. Hall thinks that we have achieved the peak, but Jane knows that there is a long way ahead. In the intergalactic universe, the speed of light becomes slow for colonisation. We have spent about 85% of our existence as hunter-gatherers, and for most of the time, we thought of Earth as the centre of the universe. We still have apocalyptic weapons pointed at each other due to political disagreements. In the universal timeline, we are just embryos. The people in power fail to realise it, and hastily make arrogant assumptions about the universe. But there is only one way to find the answers and protect humanity from the impending catastrophe, isn’t it?
—Written by Alankriti Singh and Sushanth Reddy for MTTN
— Images source : Google Images