Friday, September 13, 2013

Fiction: Voyager

I wrote the following bit of fiction after reading about the Voyager 1 probe leaving our solar system, I'd love to know what you think of it, even if it's really bad (which it might well be, I've never written anything sci-fi-ish). Cheers.

A picture of Voyager 1, courtesy of

“Let’s start with a question: which single person is responsible for the greatest number of human deaths in our recorded history? Here’s a little clue, in case you’ve been asleep for the past few years: it’s not any of the first few names you’re thinking of. Hitler? Too obvious. Pol Pot? Ditto. None of those depraved motherfuckers managed to rack up as many corpses as this guy. Worst thing? Dude wasn’t even trying to be a killer, he was just an explorer.”

Ian’s finished, and he’s looking at me for an answer, his usual smug grin spread across his face. He knows I don’t know, and he loves it.

I shrug, “Man, you know history ain’t my thing, it could be Elvis Presley and I wouldn’t have heard. It’s got to be whoever you’re holding responsible for all this though.” I wave a hand in the direction of the armoured glass window separating us from the outside world. Earth, and that’s about all that’s left out there now. Barren and scorched, there’s nothing left of the lush, green world I grew up in. Everything’s grey now. At least it makes camouflage easy.

The grin gets wider as Ian soaks up this tiny victory, uses the feeling to nourish his soul for a moment. “Sorry man, trick question. No-one even knows the guy’s name. Whoever signed the order to go ahead with the old Voyager program. Death warrant for humankind that one, not that he ever could have known. Or she. Could have been a woman. Not sure NASA was much into the equality struggle in the sixties though. Leave that to the hippies I guess.”

So it’s going to be a Voyager day. Great. Ian’s favourite. I’ve heard it all before, more times than I can remember. Still, if it keeps the conversation away from some of the other great debates (Slayer or Metallica, Android or iOS) I’m not about to complain. Not that it would make a difference whether I complain or not; Ian is a great talker, but listening isn’t a strong suit.

“Anyway, mister or missus NASA signs the papers and Voyager is go. The scientists and engineers beaver away for a while and in ’77 the thing’s ready to be flung out into the abyss. Past Saturn and Jupiter, sending us the digital postcards as it goes. That big red spot on Jupiter? A storm big enough to envelope Earth, made of superhot gasses. I tell you man, that film Twister? Would have been a lot shorter if they’d been chasing that storm! But photos of Jupiter and Saturn were just the starters for Voyager, it’d been built to last, and the NASA boys wanted it to keep on going. So they aimed it at the edge of the solar system and away it went.”

I’ve got pretty good at looking like I’m interested in what Ian’s saying, when I’m actually keeping an eye on the monitors for any hostile movements outside, so these history lessons really just wash over me now. That’s good, as they tend to last a while. I don’t have anywhere better to be right now, or ever, and most of the time the background hum of Ian talking is preferable to the background hum of the micronuclear generator keeping this place going.

“It’s sort of funny when you think about it, some people worried about the gold disc on Voyager being an invitation to any megalomaniac aliens to come and get scrappy with us, in the end it wasn’t what we had to say that mattered, it was where we were saying it.”

He’s stopped talking, and is staring at the semi-automatic rifle he has in his hands. Before all this happened, he’d have loved to get his hands on something like that. Ian had been one of those guys who really enjoyed a bit of simulated war. Airsoft, paintball, Call of Duty online with a battalion of other players who were well off enough to know damn well they’d never be called upon to look down the barrel of a gun that fired something more real than a plastic pellet, thimbleful of paint or a collection of visually accurate pixels. Until now. And that same semi-automatic weapon, the pinnacle of human design, full of carbon composites and Computer Aided Death, suddenly looked like bringing a knife to a gunfight once the BHLs showed up.

That’s Beyond Heliosphere Lifeforms, by the way. Named after the theoretical limits of the Sun, our sun’s, influence on space. Once you’re out of the heliosphere, you’re really in outer space. You can also stop worrying whether you’ve applied suncream. A tan is the least of your worries though, because it turns out there’s a whole lot of other intelligent life in the galaxy, and they’re mostly just as capable of being nasty fuckers as we are.

The only reason we didn’t hear from the BHLs before is because of Interstellar Law. Any species with the capacity for interstellar travel is forbidden from entering another inhabited solar system, until such time as the inhabitants of that system send something physical outside of its boundaries.

Something like a 700kg, nuclear powered space probe called Voyager, with a gold disc attached to it which spells out just what galactic n00bs we are.

The rest of the universe gave us just over a year to get ready, and turned up on the same day that those cheerful, clever bastards at NASA proudly announced to the world that Voyager had left the solar system a year before. It was Friday the 13th too. Typical.


  1. Great! Really enjoyed this BB. Love the swing and pitch of it. Ian's the kind of guy I think we've all met before; a ranter (I think I may be a ranter on occasion :-/).

    I've read quite a lot of your short form stuff and I've always been impressed. Have you written any long form fiction?

  2. (Father-in-law again) As a (selective) science fiction fan, I thought this was really good and would like to have read something longer.