Rotary/Summit Daily high school short story contest: Misguided (second place)
June 20, 2016
The following piece was the second-place finisher in the 6th annual Rotary/Summit Daily high school short story contest.
The Administrator reclined in his desk, sifting through the various messages that lit up his tablet. Most were the average trade updates and project reports that passed through his station every day; there was middle-management that took care of that sort of thing. The Administrator took it upon himself to check every message that entered his station, though he, and his colleagues, often asked why. In that exact moment, however, he was very glad he had such a habit. There was an odd one, broadcast in, was that radio waves? Such a message would have been filtered out by said middle-management as background radiation, as no known planet, government or species bothered with such archaic methods anymore. The Administrator was indeed confused, as the video clip would not register in his universal translator or was compatible with any software that the Hegemony had used for centuries. This was a puzzler, though the Administrator had other dealings, and so he saved the abnormality onto his personal chip and finished the work day.
Only two seconds later, the Hegemony's software detected the message and sent it on to the research committee.
* * *
"Sir, the Official is here," the secretary said into the Hegemon's neuro-receiver.
"Let him in."
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The Official entered the elaborately decorated receiving room and sat, addressing the Hegemon with a nod.
"We have gathered a reconnaissance team, correct?" the Official asked.
"Already packing for the mission," the Hegemon responded. "There is a … complication." The Official cocked his head. "One I was hoping you could deal with. You see, the Administrator of the communications grid that detected this transmission has been informed of the magnitude of this discovery. However, the research division has just managed to decode the language that was being spoken, and we believe this civilization to be an … abnormality. I was hoping you could convey this information to him as well as the media, as it is important not to let rumors and speculations grow."
"I'm sorry, what is the information you wish me to convey?"
"This was the first transmission we have ever received from this species. Rather than a call of peace or a search for other life, as most races do, this is practically a war cry. It was speech of a fascist dictator addressing his people. His name we believe to be Adolf Hitler."
* * *
Three weeks later, every citizen of the Hegemony was worried about making communication with this war-like species. Perhaps the most stressed of all was the Researcher. He knew the limitations of the speed of light, and, from his calculations, that message left its home planet 79 years before it reached the Administrator. That is 79 years for this race to develop its weaponry and technology. And he was leading the mission to confront these people. Nonetheless, he had his duty to history, so he finished up his plan, met the crew and set off, his ship equipped with the best radio receivers in case they could pick up any more messages the humans broadcast.
"See you in 79 years," the Researcher said as the crew laid into their cryogenic preservers. When the last one was secured, the Researcher stepped out of the ship and pulled away a trolley. Behind was the government-issued package he had received earlier that day. He pulled off the lid and lifted the automatic rifle from inside, surprised by the weight. Sighing, the Researcher returned to his cryogenic pod, set the rifle to the side and closed the lid on himself.
* * *
20 years later, the computer awoke the crew. They stretched, checked their vitals and then checked the radio receiver. The Researcher addressed his crew soon after.
"So, let's get to the point. It appears that the message we received from this Adolf Hitler was an accident. Just background noise. They weren't trying to communicate with us, we just picked it up. Whether this is good or bad, that is up to debate. What is most certainly good, however, is that it appears that this fascist was defeated by democratic nations." The crew smiled at this; perhaps there was hope after all.
"Not that this Earth is suddenly a peaceful utopia. There is still plenty of war, plenty of hardship. The Hegemony will have their work cut out for themselves on this planet."
* * *
The computer awoke the Crewman just as they passed by a small dwarf planet. He checked the systems, making sure they were decelerating enough to reach Earth without colliding into it. The Crewman was just finishing when an alert beeped onto the main screen. The steady inflow of radio messages sent out by mankind had stopped. Soon the Researcher himself was on his feet, looking through the most recent media articles, sent over television and internet, spreading the news mankind had feared for a century, and the Researcher knew that he had no use for the rifle.
Only a couple of days later, he was on the surface if Earth itself. He carried nothing but a handheld radio receiver and a Geiger counter. His radiation suit, the newest the Hegemony had to offer when they left, seemed to sag, though maybe it was the Researcher himself. They were too late. There had been no response when they had broadcast a message in radio waves to the silent planet. No response to appearing in the sky over a city. No response to finding the largest governmental structure in the world — the UN office in New York — and desperately shouting in as many languages as he had learned on their trip. No response. They had come too late.
* * *
"Tell me the whole story, start to finish." The Hegemon glared at the researcher. Old age had made him bitter, and this … failure was the last straw. He had waited over 150 years, alternating politics and cryo-sleep, just to see what the Researcher had to say about these humans.
"I suppose it started with the global warming from carb- …"
"The WHOLE story."
"… they were always violent, sir. Their history shows that there was almost always a war in some part of the world. And I don't mean like normal; all great races had violent beginnings. These humans almost seemed to want it. They had entire economies centered on war. They … their technology was driven by battle. That was how they discovered nuclear science: by making bombs. They had always funded their military more than their space programs."
"Then they learned the power of industry. They burnt carbon compounds in the Earth to fuel their great machines. A century passed, and science had proven that such an industry would ultimately destroy their planet. Yet, for some reason, they kept it up. They had alternatives, mind you, but some economic-political factor prevented them from upgrading."
"Tragic. And soon they ran out of this carbon resource and destroyed each other over the remains?"
"No, that's the tragic part. As far as we can tell, they never ran out. It was just politics, sir. Some people believed in one ideology, and some believed in another. And then there were third parties, fourth parties. They fought all the time — over resources, over politics, over some philosophical idea called religion. Eventually, they grew more and more apart. Until some people launched some missiles, and their enemies retaliated. Nuclear war, Hegemon. That's what ended them."
"But you said that fascism was dead on their planet."
"You don't have to be fascist to be corrupt, sir.
"This is most unsettling. I would almost believe that it would have been better, for the Hegemony, to keep these … disruptors from our inter-racial society. They could cause more problems for us than benefits."
"Sir, you write them off as evil, but that is not the right word. They were simply … misguided."
Tanner Fox was a 10th grader at Summit High School when he submitted his story.
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