People all over the planet Tarva were celebrating in the streets, celebrating centuries of peace and the abundant life all could enjoy. It was, quite literally, a utopia at the height of its life. It could just go on forever.
Or could it?
Korba looked once more at his notes – he was to give a speech before the World Council, that itself would be broadcast planetwide to all three tarvan races. This news could radically change everything for the tarvans – just because the world was a utopia, it didn’t mean that the challenges had disappeared; they had just discovered ways to deal with them in creative ways. And once again, they would have their creativity tested.
Korba sat in the hallway with his colleagues, Tsheiba the historian and Kex the geologist – each one a chief in their respective field, except Korba. Katxa the chief of astronomy was too old to travel, so her chief assistant Korba had to go to represent her. They were to present their case before the World Council, a small group that represented the interests of the entire planet. The Council was mostly nominal, with little need to exercise its power, though the power it could wield if necessary was great. It would occasionally convene when a planetary problem arose, such as now. The three experts had come to make their case as three harbingers of doom.
Korba then stood for the seventh time to begin pacing the hallway again. Tsheiba, trying not to show her nervousness, snapped at Korba.
“I can’t, the waiting is too much!”
Before he could do that the usher, a short, slim and blue-skinned teilan, like Korba, came out, “The Council will see you now.”
In that instant Korba froze, and it took some encouragement from the usher to move.
The Council Hall was a medium-sized room, with a crescent table for nine people, three chairs for a representative of each of the Tarvan races. Behind it there was a long window looking out onto the city of Gorbon. Before the table, in the centre of the room, were placed three chairs, in which the three experts were expected to sit down. Kex and Tsheiba did so straight away, used to this place and its protocols. Korba did so hesitantly.
They waited just a few seconds, the longest few seconds in Korba’s young life, then the Council entered. First came the three teilan representatives, the most populous race on Tarva. Following them came the three taller kemphan representatives, three bulky figures covered with sandy coloured scales, though slightly darker and older than the geologist Kex. Next came the three zadican representatives, pale, tall and lithe, and hardly visible under their flowing robes. There were few of them on Tarva – Korba had rarely seen any, and never this close.
Whilst the other council members sat, one teilan remained standing, and commenced speaking.
“The Council has read the report and we are in agreement over the findings, but we would request an explanation on the issue from yourselves, for our benefit and that of all tarvans.”
But the explanation isn’t half as interesting as the events leading up to it, so let us begin there…
It was four months ago to the day when Korba noticed the signal coming from the moon whilst observing a cluster of stars. At first he thought it was a glitch interfering with the radio telescope, but technicians soon discovered the source of the signal and found complex patterns within in it, which could only be understood as code. Then an odd thing happened – another signal responded from within Tarva back to the moon, and it continued, a regular interchange of signals between the planet and its moon. Korba called the chief astronomer, Katxa.
“What do we do, Katxa?”
She thought for a moment and with a flick of her wrist a screen on the wall lit up showing the face of a kemphan. It was Kex, head of geology.
“Katxa, my old friend, what may I do for you?”
“Kex, no time for pleasantries, I’m sending you some coordinates. A signal is being sent from the moon and back. There appears to be some code within it.”
Kex looked away from his monitor a moment at something off-screen and furrowed his great eyebrows.
“That is very odd, extremely. This is the site of a protein pool that has drained itself. I was just arranging to send teams down to investigate.”
Kex nodded his head gravely. Nothing like this had happened, ever. And if it happened to other protein pools? Vast swathes of Tarva’s population would starve – the protein pools were what fed kemphans, teilans and zadicans alike.
Katxa took a deep breath, “Kex, I leave you to your work. We’ll carry on here and get back to you when we’ve found something significant.”
Kex nodded again and the screen went blank.
Turning to Korba, Katxa said, “Contact Tsheiba, we may need her expertise.”
Korba was confused, why they should contact the head of tarvan history – surely dusty old tomes would have nothing to say on this matter. And he voiced it.
“She has a vast archive in which we may find clues, Korba! Just get on it.”
Meanwhile, the astronomers’ own teams were getting on cracking the code, but with little to go on they couldn’t get far. Not until Tsheiba came back with some clues.
“Katxa, we’re getting a call from Tsheiba.”
A moment later her face appeared on the video screen.
“We have found a mountain of material on codes – I’ll forward those to you now. Also, I have found a curious passage about what appears to be the protein pools. Have a look.”
When sustenance dries up, an entrance be revealed.
Armed with key, make bold steps, and to the centre you must march.
Key in place, start the process, and watch Tarva unfold into space.
Katxa thanked Tsheiba and called Kex to show him the passage.
“Most curious!” exclaimed Kex, “Yes, there is a small tunnel in the drained pool. We have investigated it, and at the end there is a door of some kind leading to a very small room with lots of buttons. Seems to be an elevator of some kind. We haven’t done anything yet, we need more confirmation of what it is.”
Kex’s image disappeared from the screen and there was a palpable tension in the room. They were really getting somewhere, except for the “key” mentioned in Tsheiba’s passage. What was it? Where was it? What on Tarva did it look like?!
And then an exciting thing happened. Korba was watching on his screen the signal going between Tarva and its moon, and then watched as another signal was being sent directly to their position! And a small gasp went up from Katxa. Korba turned and saw, to his surprise, a glow coming from Katxa’s broach, which was a sign of her office as head astronomer. It was a piece of jewellery that had been handed down to each head astronomer from time immemorial.
“It’s never done that before,” she whispered.
Korba instantly stood up and, taking a small, handheld device, scanned the broach, which bleeped in confirmation.
“This is it! This is the key! We must get it down to Kex.”
“No, Korba, you must go yourself. Do the action yourself!”
Back in the World Council’s chamber, the representatives listened to the evidence. When all had been said, a Teilan stood up.
“We have heard the evidence, as have the world’s citizens. We now turn it over to them to decide whether to keep Tarva as it is or willingly submit ourselves to this process of planetary disintegration. Let the voting commence!”
Wherever the tarvans were, they took up their devices and voted. The results were coming in thick and fast. Within half an hour, sixty percent of the world’s population had voted, and nearly all in favour. Within an hour, nearly all the population had voted, with just a few holding back, as they had further doubts and queries to voice before they decided.
Two hours later, the votes were finally counted and the result was in: an almost unanimous vote in favour, with more abstentions than against.
And that is how Korba found himself on his way down a tunnel towards the place deep within Tarva, where the process of Tarva’s deconstruction would begin.
Korba moved down the tunnel carefully, aware that a whole planet was watching his movements. He clutched the key in his hand, as it was he who had the dubious honour of turning it, and taking the biggest gamble in Tarva’s history. Kex followed just behind, and one of Kex’s assistants lead the way.
Korba didn’t understand why it couldn’t have been one of them – after all, it was their natural habitat, and certainly not his. These small, cramped conditions did nothing to instil confidence in him, and he would have run out of there screaming… if two squat and stout kemphans hadn’t been blocking his way.
Lost in these thoughts, Korba didn’t realise that he was suddenly in a small chamber filled with buttons, which made him feel even more claustrophobic with two kemphans crowded in. The door closed.
Kex looked at a chart in his hands, a chart Tsheiba had given him from some of the oldest scrolls in her archive.
“If I’m right, these buttons,” and he seemed randomly press a combination of buttons, “should take us to our destination… deep within the planet.”
Suddenly Korba felt movement and a sinking feeling in his stomach. They were going down! He nearly passed out, but Kex’s assistant kept him from collapsing.
It took a while, and Korba wondered if there was enough air in that small space to breath. Just as he was feeling short of breath, their transport slowed and then stopped. The doors opened and before them was darkness. They carefully stepped forward, not sure where to go.
Kex looked at a machine in his hand, “If what I have here is right, we go straight forward. There is a large protuberance in the middle of this chamber. I’d say we head towards that. Sound fair enough?”
Korba and the assistant nodded in assent and they all walked into that darkness, until they came to a free-standing pillar. On closer inspection, they found a small dent into which the key in Korba’s hand would fit.
Korba placed the key in its place in the middle of that dark chamber and was amazed at the foresight of their ancestors. They knew that Tarva couldn’t go on forever. At the point when Tarva was at its strongest, it would then begin to degrade, slowly but surely. There was little choice: do it in a rational and organised way and send its people out into space to create new worlds, or let the planet fall apart and the people with it.
The lifespan of Tarva had already been decided. It wasn’t quite the end for Tarva, but it was the beginning of the end. Everything they had built over the centuries must now be slowly and methodically undone. And the people had willingly decided to do it, almost unanimously.
The key glowed more and then started melting, becoming absorbed into the pillar. All over it, glowing lines appeared, stretching all around that huge chamber, along the floor and up the walls. Korba and his companions were amazed.
The process would take several centuries to complete, but it had been irreversibly begun. The first ship detached itself from the surface of Tarva and went out into the stars. A whole universe before it.