By Harris Tobias
Commander Maraz walked up to the white board and wrote two letters on its surface—Ob. Then he turned to face the class of young cadets. Square jawed and handsome, Joseph Maraz was everything you’d expect a scientist/spacer to be. He could have slept with half the lecture hall if he wanted to. But he didn’t want to. He loved teaching and understood his position.
“The Ob left very few traces of their civilization.” As he spoke the whole lecture hall became a holographic representation of the Ob world. “They lived and thrived for thousands of years in perfect harmony with nature. They trod lightly on their world. Everything they built was bio-degradable; they used only natural materials for shelter and natural fibers for clothing. From the very beginning the Ob showed a deep and abiding reverence for their planet.” All around the room the holograms changed to show the unspoiled vastness of the Ob planet. There were gasps at the pristine grandeur of it.
“In many ways the Ob lived like the native cultures on old Earth. Only the Ob were not a primitive tribal band, they were a sophisticated, planet-wide civilization. Even after developing technology, the Ob did not alter their behavior and rape their planet for its resources. The Ob kept to their unspoiled ways. For example, the only metal they used was what they could find on the planet’s surface like that from meteorites. They refused to dig mines or drill below their planet’s surface. To them there was no greater sin. As a result, the Ob were forced to find ways to use organic materials with which to build their cities and their machines. As a result, they became masters of organic chemistry, filling all their needs from the natural abundance of the bio sphere. They fabricated ceramics harder and stronger than steel. They made plastics from plant matter and everything they made was degradable, natural and impermanent. There is much we could learn from them.”
A hand shot up from the audience, the professor gave the student permission to speak. “Is that why there is so little trace of them?” a young woman asked.
“That is one reason,” the professor acknowledged, “but not the only one.”
“What was the main reason?” the student asked.
“We will get to that in a moment but, for now, it is enough to look upon the paradise of the Ob world and marvel at its beauty. It is said that the Earth was like this once. Long before our species set sail for the stars, there was a time when we humans occupied a world so unspoiled.” Holograms of artist’s renderings of a preindustrial Earth filled the room. The students sighed en mass.
“So the Ob found ways to get what they needed without destroying or polluting, without landfills and industrial waste. They managed their population so their society enjoyed a shared prosperity. There was universal education, health care; starvation, poverty and warfare were unknown. Their cities stayed small and manageable. They were stewards of the land in the truest sense of the word. There is much we could learn from them. They would no more do anything to harm their mother world than they would walk off a cliff.” The holograms showed an artist’s rendering of beautiful towers and park like grounds. The students groaned with longing.
“Eventually Ob technology developed to the point where space travel became a reality. Even their ships were designed and fueled for minimal impact on their world. At first they explored their own system but, after a while, their scientists developed ships and drives that took them to star systems many light years away. It was this contact with other intelligences, we believe, that led to their undoing.”
Hands shot up all over the room, Maraz called on one. “Was it an alien disease that wiped them out?” a young cadet asked.
“It was not,” replied Maraz.
“Alien invasion?” asked a young man in the back row.
“Not that either,” said the teacher. “Any else care to make a guess?”
“Neither of those.” The room fell silent. The students had run out of possibilities. “Here is how the Ob world looks today.” The room once again filled with the incredible abundance of the Ob planet, alive with flocks of colorful birds and flowering plants.
“You’ll notice that, absent their cities, there is almost no difference. The planet is just as healthy and thriving as it always was; its air and water are as clean and clear, its bio-diversity still intact. Everything is perfect except the Ob are gone. They have been reduced to a few scattered primitive bands. What could have caused such a reversal? That is the great mystery.
“From the few scant records that remain, our scientists have been able to piece together what seems to have happened to the Ob. Their results are quite startling and should serve as a lesson to all of us as we begin our careers among the stars. For all intents and purposes, it looks as though the Ob were undone by an idea. An idea so insidious that it undermined their entire way of life. Is there an idea so powerful it can destroy a people? It turns out there is. The idea that stopped the Ob in there tracks was the idea of God.
“Nothing in their history prepared them for the idea of a supreme being who created the universe, including their world. A being who made laws and dispensed justice, determined right from wrong, punished non-believers, demanded worship and sacrifice. An all knowing being that rewarded believers and condemned non believers and gave his subjects dominion over his creation. This was something the Ob had never considered and when they encountered this idea, when this strange notion penetrated their brains, they simply imploded.
“All their careful nurturing of their planet was thrown into question. They began to question the most fundamental premises of their beliefs. Why had they made life so difficult for themselves if the planet was theirs to plunder? Along with the concept of God came other destructive ideas, things like a priesthood, prayer, property, salvation, heresy, blasphemy. Ideas that poisoned their harmonious existence and managed to tear them apart. The Ob faced a crisis of epic proportions. A powerful idea once it has entered the consciousness of a people cannot be removed. Ob civilization sputtered to a halt and withered away. You can say it was a divine extinction and it remains a lesson to us as future explorers—sometimes an idea can be the most destructive thing of all.
Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of several novels and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Dunesteef Audio Magazine, Literal Translations, FriedFiction, Down In The Dirt, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and several other publications. His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com/
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