Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project: Vloss
This page Copyright © 2009, Karl Leffler
RAS598-III, 14 parsecs coreward from Monticello
The third planet of Republic Astronomical Survey 598 was a lot like Earth. Or it had been, a very long time ago. The world's people, most easily described as six-limbed endoskeletal hairless spiders, had once enjoyed a society and culture comparable in many ways to Human.
That time had passed. The archaeologists were only beginning of course, but they were intelligent and experienced beings - Humans, Eyani, Boksi, even some Nikar and Chikarans now - and they had already estimated that before men had discovered gunpowder, these people had lost the ability to generate electricity. The Vloss - so called only as their own word for "people" in what little remained of their language - were now an horrific remnant of their decayed civilization, only a few hundred thousand nomadic hunter-gatherers with flint tools, on a world that once boasted 15 billion, with science to rival even the Jeffersonian Republic's.
The most poignant symbol of all that had been lost still orbited above their world: the never-finished generation ship, a sublight vessel meant to carry the many-great-descendants of its crew to another star, another world, another beginning. Words like "mammoth" or "gigantic" were grossly inadequate to describe its twenty-kilometer length, five-kilometer diameter, gigatonne mass. Meant to carry the Vloss to the stars, it served now only to mark their grave, still moored to the orbital elevator which had nearly made its construction feasible, which still stood as an awesome monument to its builders; Helmut, one of the xenotechnologists, was born and raised on Wilson's Colony, home of the first Human "beanstalk", and had pronounced the ancient Vloss creation its technical equal (though there was no evidence that the Vloss elevator ever achieved a shadow of High City's three-quarter-million population and thriving industry). But for all of their achievements, their courage, their persistence under hardships the crew of exploration ship JRS Rachel Marsten could scarcely imagine, the people of this world lacked the one advantage possessed by the mighty Humans and shared by them with their fortunate allies and partners.
The Vloss had never discovered the Marsten Drive.
They had raced their failing resources against their frantic will, and both had lost. Vlosshome had been stripped to her very bones, of metals, fossil fuels, fissionables, arable land, everything. When the generation ship failed and escape was no longer possible or even conceivable - the evidence could be seen from orbit: the perfectly round lakes; the shattered cities, their sterilized, anciently-poisoned skeletons never overgrown - they had turned upon each other, destroying the same meager remnants they struggled to seize. Now, an estimated four thousand Terran years after the discernable end of their civilization, in a mere handful of years a Human ship had flitted between the stars at dozens of times the speed of light, seeking not the Vloss but an empty world about a warm star, to claim as their own. The ship's crew had found only a planet-sized corpse, incapable of supporting more native life than it now pitifully held.
Why had the Vloss followed this path? If they could reach space, they could reach the other worlds of their own system - moons and asteroids and comets bearing resources even their billions could not exhaust, raw solar power to process and reprocess it, power to beam down to their homeworld, power literally from the heavens. The fourth planet was even, by Republic standards at least, suitable for terraforming, or Vlossforming as the case might have been.
The Vloss need not have slipped back into savagery. They could have continued for millennia even with their own handful of worlds, until they made the same discoveries as the genius the Human starship was named for, or at least built ships that could move at a useful fraction of lightspeed, as the frail but persistent Chikarans had done. After months in orbit and on the surface the crew was still puzzling, even arguing, over why they hadn't. Instead, the Vloss had proven Malthus right as thoroughly as Humans had proven him wrong.