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Sapient Rift

I die at the end of this. It isn't a dignified death, nor is it particularly painless. Can any death truly be dignified or painless? I don't know. All I can say with any degree of certainty is that the dead are dead and I will be counted among them soon.

Dr. Rachael Carson sat on a piece of the rubble that surrounded her, breathed deep, and consulted her heads up display. She had another thirty minutes in the toxic and radioactive environment. Then her suit would begin to lose integrity. The exoarcheologist was among the first on Inusa, one of the habitable planets within local space, at least it had been habitable.

One hundred years before, at the beginning of interstellar travel, Inusa had imploded, nuclear winter and toxic levels of radiation fallout had destroyed all life and made it nearly impossible to visit or study. Besides, there were twelve habitable planets within the region - what eventually became known as the Consortium - and there was so much that was new and different and exciting to discover back then that little attention was paid to the dead planet. Until now. Now they wanted to unravel the mystery.

Rachael," came the voice over her comm. It was Lewis, her partner. "I can’t believe the level of destruction. There isn’t a lot left here. I know the scans from orbit indicated this was a large city but …"

"I found something."

"What did you find?"

"Memory crystal. Similar to ours. One of the few things that would survive."

In the ruins she had found the piece of readable crystal that her smart suit was able to decode and project onto her tablet. Well, she thought, looking around at the rubble and fallen buildings, at least we know the Inusa were technologically advanced. She also surmised that the Inusa hadn't made it beyond the Sapient Rift. This, she thought, might be the proof that validated her theory.

"You're kidding."

"No," she said, "I'm not. In the rubble, sticking out from the ash and dust."

Lewis was just a few feet from her position, walking quickly, his ash colored suit blending into the surroundings. "That means …"

"Yep. They were pretty advanced."

Lewis stood in front of her, surveyed the area. "Anything on it? And what in the world happened here?"

"There's a lot of personal records. And this." She held the tablet in front of her so Lewis could see it. He sat down next to her.

I would like to claim that I died in pursuit of something greater than myself, in service to family or community, but that isn't the case. Not really. I thought as an upstanding member of the church I was doing just that. I thought my hours of volunteer work bolstering the faith of others were hours well spent every week. Like many, I came to realize this wasn’t so much too late, past the time when salvation was possible.

Salvation. How I hate that word now. It is nothing more than an excuse to avoid responsibility. Our societies are all predicated on it, and our Gods. We can't see past it. We couldn't find a way to see beyond our own folly.

Let me explain. There are three all-powerful deities worshipped on this planet, each confined to its own continent, each viewed by its followers as the one true God. None of them - the gods, that is - have ever been present, none involved, just a bunch of old legends and stories, mostly proven lies. Yet, we still believed. How strange that seems now, knowing I will die shortly. Why did we never question this when we had the chance? Why didn't we see what was in front of us? Each God an absentee landlord, each confined to a specific culture or region. How could we not see how illogical that was? And each of them so intolerant of the others. My heart aches for my species.

"Rachael …"

"Yes, I know."

So, Carson thought - they both thought - it was the Sapient Rift, the theory in action. All intelligent species reach a point where their technology, population and resource usage becomes so great that they have the capability to destroy themselves and their planet. Sapient Rift Theory, her theory, states that a large number of species are unable to cross the rift, the divide. Gods, avarice, power and stupidity have been speculated as reasons for this. Until now it had never been documented or observed. But until now there had never been an ancient civilization whose remains had been discovered on a dead planet.

Our arsenals of nuclear weapons were no less a deterrent than any others. In the end, we chose to die rather than to submit to a different God. The details of the rise of one God over another are not insignificant. And I won't allow their names to sully the truth, because they would sully the truth. That is the way of our religions, bend the facts to their perspective, turn facts into malleable things. All in pursuit of a truth that was already known and scripted. But the simple truth is this: in the end the planet’s resources became scarce or damaged, the population too large. And when one continent has more of the precious resources than the others its way of thinking becomes THE way of thinking. Tensions rise, suffering too. Our true God - if there is one - is economics. Hunger, scarcity, fear and anger: they are the fuel of hatred. We are proof that they can be blinding.

My state found becoming second-class citizens of our world unacceptable. My God did, too. In His name we launched the first salvo. It didn’t take long for our enemies to respond, such was their anger and hatred for us. Before our bombs hit ground their’s were airborne. Now we pray to Him to protect us from the retribution that is arcing across the skies. It is the final retribution, unleashed by all three gods to defend what is theirs.

Now perhaps you understand what I mean when I say there is no dignity in my death, and it isn’t painless. While I wait for the inevitable my heart aches for my species.

Carson looked at the environment surrounding her, shards of fallen buildings, dust, barren landscape was all it was now. No vegetation grew. The sun was faint, filtered, and everything was painted with a blue tint. She thought of the millions of lives needlessly wasted, the people who would have walked in this area, dined close by, or watched children playing and laughing in the midday sun. They were neighbors, cosmologically speaking. Less than one light year away. Confronting the truth of her own theory was painful, surprisingly so, given the Inusa were a species she had never met and didn’t know what they looked like.

Lewis sat next to her in the ruins. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, shook his head and exhaled loudly.

"So sad," Dr. Rachael Carson whispered, wishing her theory was wrong.

"Warning," chimed in her suit. "You now have ten minutes remaining in this environment before this suit begins to degrade and can no longer protect you."

———
New fiction in the Consortium universe
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