The war on rape: the logic of the lynch mob returns

Five ways in which today’s feminist war on rape echoes the KKK’s war on rape.

By Branden O’Neill, editor, Spiked.com | December 15, 2004

BelieveKKKWe are in the midst of a war on rape. From American campuses to British courthouses, from newspaper op-ed pages to the weird world of online petitions, ‘zero tolerance’ of rape has been declared. And who could possibly be against it? No one is ‘pro-rape’. So surely everyone will cheer a war on rape. Not so fast. Wars on rape have been declared before, and often for deeply reactionary reasons, having the effect of harming society rather than helping women. Consider the ‘war on rape’ declared in America’s Deep South in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the KKK and other racists likewise declared zero tolerance of rape – rape committed by black men, that is – and signalled their determination to wipe out this ‘ultimate transgression’. There was little positive in that crusade. And here are five ways in which today’s non-racist feministic ‘war on rape’ echoes the lynch-mob logic of yesteryear’s racist ‘war on rape’.

1) Always believe the accuser

The rallying cry of today’s apparently liberal crusaders against rape is: ‘Believe.’ They always believe the accuser. To doubt the accuser is to risk being branded a rape apologist. Campaign groups with names like We Believe You and I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault speak to the readiness of campaigners to accept every accusation of rape as good coin. Even in the wake of the Rolling Stone scandal, where an allegation of gang rape at the University of Virginia has been exposed as a tissue of lies, a writer for the Washington Post insisted we must ‘automatically believe rape allegations’, because ‘incredulity hurts victims’. From Dylan Farrow’s accusations against Woody Allen to various women’s accusations against Bill Cosby, the cry ‘I believe!’ has rung out, as activists have rushed to declare, without the benefit of a court case, that these women were raped.

Automatic belief of rape accusations was a central principle of the KKK’s war on rape, too. This was one of the things that most shocked Ida B Wells, the early twentieth-century African-American journalist and civil-rights activist. ‘The word of the accuser is held to be true’, she said, which means that ‘the rule of law [is] reversed, and instead of proving the accused to be guilty, the [accused] must prove himself innocent’. Wells and others were startled by the level of belief in the accusers of black men, and by the damning of anyone who dared to question such accusations, which was taken as an attack on the accuser’s ‘virtue’. The great nineteenth-century African-American reformer Frederick Douglass was disturbed by the mob’s instant acceptance of accusations of rape against black men, where ‘the charge once fairly stated, no matter by whom or in what manner, whether well or ill-founded’, was automatically believed. Wells said she was praying that ‘the time may speedily come when no human being shall be condemned without due process of law’. No, rape suspects aren’t lynched today. But, as we can see in everything from the destruction of Bill Cosby’s career to the demand to banish from campus students accused of but not charged with rape, they are often condemned on ‘the word of the accuser’ and ‘without due process of law’. Now, as then, ‘I believe’ is the rallying cry of crusaders against rape, and now, as then, such ‘automatic belief’ reverses the rule of law.

2) Saving women from cross-examination

One of the key claims of today’s non-racist crusaders against rape is that the cross-examination of rape claimants is too tough and we need softer, less combative ways to establish the guilt of rape suspects. The Guardian says rape claimants who are subjected to a rigorous trial process feel like they have been ‘raped all over again’; cross-examination is ‘humiliating and needlessly gruelling’. The UK Labour Party says ‘cross-examination is too harsh for rape victims’ and has promised to change the law to restrict cross-examination in such cases. There are already special measures in place to protect rape claimants. In the UK, rape claimants enjoy anonymity, and a recent Court of Appeal ruling said courts must rethink how they question ‘vulnerable’ people. On campuses in the US, special academic courts with a single investigator rule on allegations of student rape: the aim of such extrajudicial, unfair courts is to avoid the ‘adversarial, evidence-gathering criminal-justice model’ and ‘spare complainants from cross-examination’.

The KKK was likewise obsessed with sparing women from cross-examination. It also justified its extrajudicial activities — in its case, mob-delivered capital punishment of suspected black rapists — as a way of saving rape claimants from being publicly questioned. As Crystal Nicole Feimster says in her book Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching, lynchings of rape suspects were justified as a way of ‘spar[ing] the female victim the humiliation of having to appear in court to testify before her alleged assailant, an all-male jury, and an audience of courthouse rowdies’. Deep South racists depicted women as too fragile to cope with cross-examination in court. In 1899, a racist correspondent for the Atlanta Constitution said he was repelled by ‘the very thought of a delicate woman being forced to go into the publicity of a court and there detail her awful wrongs in the presence of the brute who had inflicted [them]’, arguing that lynching was a better form of justice for the woman. Also in the 1890s, a Southern newspaper singled out rape as a special crime that should not be tested in court in the same way as all other crimes. It is wrong, it said, to force a ‘delicate woman’ to ‘[testify against] her ravisher’. ’Let every other crime be dealt with by law’, it went on, ‘but do you see now why lynchings are the only way to deal with this [crime]?’. A Southern editor said it was wicked to make a rape claimant ‘face a staring public’.

So the arguments of today’s crusaders against rape – about women being too delicate to cope with cross-examination and society therefore needing less rigorous procedures to rule on this crime – are not new. Their effectively extrajudicial measures might only be special campus courts or restrictions on cross-examination, rather than the lynchings preferred by the similarly women-pitying KKK, but in both cases the logic is the same: women are vulnerable, rape is a special crime, and thus we need parallel systems of ‘justice’ to deal with it.

3) Spreading panic about a ‘rape culture’

The buzzphrase of our age is ‘rape culture’. Fearmongering feminists claim women are surrounded by the threat of rape, as evidenced in everything from the Sun’s Page 3 to the continued existence of raunchy rock music, and are drowning in what one melodramatic columnist calls ‘a sea of misogyny’. Activists make videos of themselves being catcalled in the street to demonstrate that a ‘culture of rape’ is all around. Even as the statistics suggest that actual incidents of rape are declining — the US National Crime Victimization Survey records an 85 per cent decline in the per-capita victimisation rate of rape over the past 35 years — still the panic about rape is stoked up. Magazines like Rolling Stone run graphic stories about grotesque rapes, publishing houses churn out rape memoirs, and online forums are set up for women to tell, in as much detail as possible, their stories of being raped – all contributing to a feeling, however unfounded, that women are at risk from lustful men.

So it was in the Deep South, too. One of the main ways in which racists there maintained social divisions and social order was through the spectre of rape. They promoted the idea that white women were under constant threat from ‘lustful black men’. Even though the black rape of white women was not a major problem, still the idea that there was a menacing culture of rape was indulged. As one historian of the South put it, crimes of black-on-white rape ‘gripped the white imagination far out of proportion to their statistical significance’. Such was the fear of a black culture of rape that ‘rape and rumours of rape became the folk pornography of the Bible Belt’ — just as they have today, in the ‘folk pornography’ published by Rolling Stone and memoir houses, in these often unhinged, rumour-fuelled rape stories designed to shock and titillate readers. Some will say that today’s ‘awareness raising’ — modern parlance for fearmongering — about a culture of rape is at least not racist. It is true that modern feminists are anti-racist, but sometimes they rehabilitate old prejudices. The New York City catcalling video that went insanely viral two months ago, and reignited the debate about ‘rape culture’, featured what Slate called ‘a young white women [being] harassed by mostly black and Latino men’. The notion that white women are at risk from ‘lustful black men’ survives.

4) No redemption for rapists

Deep South racists lynched black men for all sorts of crimes, including the ‘crime’ of disrespecting a white person. But they peddled the myth that most lynchings were for rape because rape was seen, in their words, as the ‘ultimate transgression’ and thus they knew there’d be little blowback for lynchings that punished this crime. The finality of death was justified for the black rapist of a white woman because there could never be any earthly redemption for such a heinous crime, they argued. They depicted their lynchings of suspected rapists, their destruction of a rapist’s life, as a means of cleansing society of evil. In 1909, one pro-lynching newspaper described the destruction of a black rapist in the following terms: ‘Almost like the lifting of a fog when the morning sun bursts forth was the change in spirit in the city today after vengeance had been claimed and justice meted out to the negro.’

Today, too, feministic crusaders against rape claim there can never be redemption for rapists. Of all crimes, the committers of this one alone apparently can never be rehabilitated and returned to normal life. The online campaign to stop footballer Ched Evans from getting his old job back shows that rapists are once again considered beyond redemption. At the weekend, The Times’ resident feminist Caitlin Moran, a square person’s idea of a cool person, explicitly insisted that rapists can never be redeemed. In a chilling piece headlined ‘The limits of redemption’, she said even rapists who have served their time should have their lives made ‘publicly, endlessly awful, unrelentingly humiliating, without prospect of absolution’. Perhaps ‘men who have raped do need to see their lives reduced to ash’, she said — the use of the word ash speaking to the stake-preparing, fire-wielding sentiment behind much of the modern crusade against rape. Moran says ‘perhaps the only way society can be good… is to stop believing in redemption for a while’. Moran is not a racist. Yet there is a striking similarity between her demand that rapists’ lives be made ‘unrelentingly humiliating’ as a way of renewing society and that old racist’s justification of the humiliating public destruction of a rapist as a way of ‘lifting the fog’ and ‘changing the spirit’ of society. In both cases, punishing rape becomes less about justice and democracy and more about vengeance, humiliation, spectacle, the destruction of a man’s life, either through death or permanent exile from normal life, for committing the ‘ultimate transgression’. At least the KKK had the courage of its convictions — if Moran really believes there can be no ‘prospect of absolution’ for rapists, then she will surely want to kill them, too.

5) Infantilising women

In the old Deep South, there were some brave female voices, including white ones, which challenged the panic about a black rape culture on the grounds that it both victimised black men and patronised white women. Jessie Daniel Ames was a Texas-born well-off white woman, a Suffragette and an anti-racist, who in 1930 founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching. She argued that the lynching of rape suspects was fuelled by ‘assumptions as degrading to white women as they were oppressive to blacks’. She believed that the hysteria over rape and the war on rape were carried out under the ‘guise of chivalric protection of white females’, which ‘actually demeans women and reinforces the myth of female vulnerability’. She called on women to throw off ‘the crown of chivalry which has been pressed like a crown of thorns on our head[s]’. So it is today. Today’s war on rape also heightens the myth of female vulnerability, depicting women as incapable of negotiating work life, university life and street life without assistance or special rules and regulations to protect them from men. Ames launched what one historian calls a ‘revolt against chivalry’. Where are today’s female revolters against chivalry, challenging the myth of a ‘rape culture’, a myth that simultaneously demonises men and infantilises women?

Mercifully, no one is lynched in the modern West, for rape or any other crime. But the logic of those old lynch mobs is making a comeback. From the instant acceptance of the word of rape accusers to the demonisation of fair and rigorous criminal-justice procedures, from the spreading of panic about a ‘rape culture’ to the depiction of women as vulnerable creatures at permanent risk from ‘lustful men’, all the prejudices that fuelled the old racist war on rape are being rehabilitated on the back of the new non-racist feministic war on rape. Both men and women should fight back against this new poisoning of the relations between the sexes and stand up to the fear, hysteria and elevation of vengeance over justice that lie at the heart of the modern public debate on rape.

___________________________

The story in this report can make college men want to avoid campus women like the plague:

A sexual harassment policy that nearly ruined my life

And the story in this report could produce the appalling effect of making many men leery of all women throughout their lives, including wife, daughter, neighbor, classmate, co-worker….

“A Nightmare of False Accusation That Could Happen to You”

Women may soon be complaining about the most severe man shortage ever!

Posted in Feminism, Gender Politics, Male "Power" and "Privilege", Media Sexism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pushing white guys rightward on the political spectrum

Punching-bag

The punching bags are punching back.

How else to interpret exit polls showing 64 percent of white men who participated in last week’s midterm elections voted for Republicans?

That’s almost two out of three — more than enough to offset big Democratic pluralities among younger women and minorities.

So what did President Barack Obama and the Democrats do to hack off white guys so badly that we voted GOP by the widest percentage since Ronald Reagan wiped out Walter Mondale in 1984?

For one thing, there have been incessant and noisy claims by Democrat higher-ups that Republicans are waging a “war on women.”

The accusation seems overheated. Take abortion. I may favor a woman’s right to choose, but a lot of reasonable people of both sexes do not. So ever since the Supreme Court’s pro-choice Roe v. Wade ruling, pro-lifers have been chipping away at the margins, pushing legislation ranging from reasonable to ridiculous, from a ban on tax-funded abortions to a requirement that women view ultrasound images of the fetus before undergoing the procedure.

Other highly divisive fights have broken out in Congress and state capitals over requiring equal pay for women and the funding of special programs to allay violence against women.

My unscientific hunch, however, is that these legislative fights, however shrill, aren’t what has guys on the defensive. After all, opinion polls have shown that anti-abortion crusades tend to be net political losers.

No, there are other, more subtle things happening in the economy and the culture that are pushing white guys rightward on the political spectrum.

One that gets me frosted is the routine depiction of white men in commercial advertising as dumb dads and/or macho morons. The tide of political and gender correctness has been so powerful that straight white guys are now the only demographic that can be safely ridiculed.

Women are no longer shown venting frustration over waxy buildup on their kitchen floors, and that’s good. But it’s OK to depict beer-guzzling guys in sleeveless tees, sprawled on the sofa, mesmerized by TV sports even as something far more important begs their attention. It’s a staple of modern advertising.

Consider the new Cadillac commercial that shows a dapper but dweeb-ish guy walking down the street thinking women are staring at him — when actually they’re ogling Caddy’s new ATS Coupe for 2015. Reshoot that ad with a female or minority playing the fool and advocacy groups would be talking boycott.

In better times white guys let such mockery roll off their backs. But these are not better times, especially for the vast majority of guys not at the top of the economic pyramid. Sure there’s still a wage gap and a lack of women in executive suites and boardrooms. But lower down, where the middle class lives, the gender/wage gap is closing in an economy that increasingly rewards feminine tendencies toward cooperation and attention to detail over masculine brawn and impulse.

Women now predominate at degree-granting colleges and professional schools. Of 15 job categories expected to grow fastest over the next decade, ladies dominate all but two. Traditional good-paying “male” jobs, especially in manufacturing, are being off-shored or automated.

Men feel too intimated to publicly protest liberals’ and Democrats’ antimale sexism. They give the impression that all is well with them — until they protest in the voting booth. -Male Matters

So it’s an awkward time to be claiming there’s a “war on women” or, for that matter, a supposed epidemic of rape on college campuses or a sudden outbreak of unreported domestic violence. Sexual violence and domestic abuse are never to be tolerated, period. But a growing majority of us wife-and-daughter-adoring, please-and-thank-you white guys have lost patience with widespread male-bashing — and with the Democratic Party’s propensity to pile on.

So I selectively crossed over last week — and voted for some Republicans beginning with state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. If the male-bashing keeps getting worse, more of us will be crossing over in 2016.

John McCarron teaches, consults and writes on urban affairs.

See also: “Republicans don’t have near as big a woman problem as Democrats have a man problem.”

Posted in Gender Politics, Male "Power" and "Privilege", Media Sexism, Men Expressing Feelings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fiction For Relief: A Sci-fi Novella

Last Journey

RATED_PG-13

Dedicated to my adorable granddaughter, Olivia, whom I hope to inspire, for as long as I live, to look upward, to gaze beyond the moon, beyond the sun, and to learn, to know, and to wonder….

 

March 2010

An alien-world adventure

After fleeing an imminent Earth killer, they arrive on another planet only to find themselves facing another crisis. They then stumble onto something even more shocking.

Gliese 581 (1)

I

The thundering, brutal vibration whipped his weakened arms against something hard, again and again. Where the hell was he? In a box? A coffin? And speeding down the world’s worst road in the world’s loudest truck?

Thirty merciless seconds dragged by before he gained the strength to pin his arms against his sides. Save for the restraints over his head, chest, and ankles, and the padding underneath him, he might have been juddered senseless. If he had been drugged and abducted, his captor had a kind streak.

“Captain Jason Pearce.” The metallic female voice jarred him. He heard it even above the fierce booming. It seemed to come from above and reverberated in all directions.

“Are you fully awake and comprehending, Captain?”

He realized he hadn’t opened his eyes — couldn’t open them. He assumed he was in total darkness; no light passed through his eyelids. He worked his jaw, struggled to clear his throat.

“I… Y-yes ….I think…so.” His voice, sounding muffled, shook uncontrollably in the vibration. “I’m…Jason–?”

The memories crashed in and a shock wave of fear ripped through him. His body bucked against the restraints.

“Air is reestablished,” continued the voice. “Nutrients are supplied. Lighting up. Your preservation gel has been siphoned away. Your brain and heart are functioning normally. The Restoration Handbook states that everyone must remain on board for three hours to allow the ship’s oxygen to fully purge your body of the gel residue.”

He fought the angry vibration to bring a hand up to clear his eyelids of the film that smelled faintly of charcoal and which he could tell still thinly enveloped him from head to toe. His gummy eyes finally opened. In the dim red light, he saw his preservation cylinder’s translucent canopy less than ten inches from his nose and under which he lay naked.

He realized that the rattling, sounding now like a series of rapid explosions, had awakened the ship’s computer, which in turn had processed him from his preserved state — had “restored” him, as the scientists would’ve said — and begun speaking to him. So far, he thought, everything miraculously appeared to be operating as designed.

Most important, the preservation gel, which enveloped his body inside and out, had kept him alive.

He’d been briefed on how the gel functioned but he had little more than a broad-brush memory of it. The gel contained a protectorant that, once the gel was driven deep into his body’s cells by his cylinder’s moderate pressurization, was supposed to suspend growth of all cells and preserve them intact – miraculously with no loss to bone mass – until the gel was purged.

What he more vividly recalled was that the gel was experimental and had been rushed to a completion after being tested only a short time in monkeys and lemurs. Yet it had succeeded, preserving him for what his senses were telling him was a very long time. A mind-warping accomplishment, given that in those last weeks most of the scientists connected to Project Survival had fled to be with their loved ones, and those seeing the project through had been over-taxed and desperately hurried.

The final instruction concerning the gel had been given to Captain Pearce by the hefty, balding project manager, Victor Powell, as the man sat behind his computer-screen-littered desk:

“The Restoration Handbook will be provided, but you’ll have little need for it. Just direct your questions — about the gel and everything else — to the AI. It will handle the whole shebang. Your role is minimal, a backup if the AI fails.”

The AI, speaking to him now, had the name DORIS, the acronym for Destiny Organization’s Restoration and Invigoration System. DORIS’ data and computational/analysis capability had been rated by Destiny’s engineers as 99 percent reliable and error free.

“Primary velocity was reduced 95 percent prior to approach,” said DORIS. “To terminate the roughness of atmosphere-entry and mitigate restoration and invigoration, I am taking Hope into orbit above the atmosphere.”

Moments later, the roar and bone-buffeting vibration subsided. Only the distant drone of the ship’s engine could be heard. The Captain became aware of a rising nausea, triggered less by the violent shaking, he figured, than by a mix of excitement and the dread of maybe many horrors to come.

“Before you, I restored and invigorated Dr. Angela Diaz. She is now able to begin making rounds. I am proceeding with Commander Faye Sullivan, Lieutenant Tom Ross, Ensign Olivia Appleton, then the civilians.”

Maybe ten minutes later – an eternity –  a heavy click blasted his ears. The canopy yawned open with an annoying whir and receded underneath Pearce’s cylinder.

Not without a bit of sore-muscle agony, he undid his mesh restraints and in the weightlessness righted himself to a sitting position on the edge of the cylinder’s pad. In a small chest at the foot of the cylinder, he found a watch, a behind-the-ear comm, underclothes, jumpsuit, weapon, mag-boots, a towel, and a C4 brick with a blasting cap and fuse. Holding on to the cylinder, he wiped off with the towel, slipped on his dark-blue jumpsuit, then his boots.

He gazed down the length of Hope’s primary compartment. It sprawled long and wide under a low arched ceiling, the evenly spaced, curved support beams that reminded him of the ribs of a giant whale skeleton.

It was a sight he prayed he hadn’t seen for an astonishingly long time.

The other 100 preservation cylinders, resembling giant larvae that gleamed in the dusky red glow of the wall lights, were arranged in five columns that stretched to the far bulkhead wall.

Beyond that wall was another compartment containing a box-car-sized computer-systems niche and seats for Dr. Diaz and the 100 civilians. Past this were smaller compartments stocked with a seed vault and other provisions and tools, one of which, Pearce recalled, was an exoskeleton that had enough stored energy to last a month of continuous use.

Soon the civilians — each of whom except for the children was skilled in such professions as carpentry, architecture, medical care, farming, and community organization — would be stirring.

Pearce’s thoughts returned to his last, dreaded briefing with Project Survival’s increasingly sullen manager….

The unshaven, drained-looking Victor Powell removed his Coke-bottle glasses and massaged his eyes with thumb and fingertips.

“You know the reconfiguring of the ship was completed without the usual certifications,” he said from behind his desk. “Not enough time; just my own tests, four days ago during a walk-through in those god-awful mag-boots.”

After the Captain gave a nod, Powell blurted, “The secondary ship – it’ll just go to waste, damn it!” His face red, he slammed a flat meaty hand down on a scattering of papers.

“Mars will never be son-of-a-bitching colonized! I — we were so close! All we needed was six stinking more months, and everything would’ve been in place for launch! If only the grav tug rocket hadn’t malfunctioned. Those lazy, worthless union workers! And curse those greedy-ass nations that left everything to us!”

He sat still for a moment, then sniffed. “Okay, you’ve picked your crew, so now you can pack up your allowed items. You should stay alert on the premises. I worry about some of the angry scientists around here who weren’t picked. And the few soldiers left guarding the perimeter won’t be able to hold off the mobs for much longer. In any case, the shuttles have to get everybody and the supplies up to Hope — that’s the boring new name our unimaginative Prez gave it — in the next three days so it can launch a month before…before the — so we’ll have time to address any glitches—” His voice broke off.

After composing himself with slow, deep breathing that swelled his sizable girth, he continued, “A couple reminders: As you know, weight restrictions have severely limited what you can take with you. Hardly any luxuries. Few of the high-tech gadgets you’re accustomed to. One old-fashioned, relatively light exo-skeleton to do your heavy lifting – not a four-hundred-pound, fuel-draining bot. I don’t have to tell you you’ll have to rejigger your lifestyle big time. Sumptuous living is out. If you think the Pilgrims had it bad….”

 He slumped back in his chair, stared vacantly at a spot to Pearce’s left. After a long moment, his gaze slid back to the Captain, his eyes cold and reproachful. “Tell me, Jason, should we be playing God?”

“Sorry?”

“That’s what we’re doing. We human beings don’t deserve to live on. We’ve failed and you know it, and now I figure it’s our just desserts we’re getting. Almost all species have been down this road.” He gripped the arms of his chair as if to rise. “Well, that’s it. My last words to you?” He flipped a hand. “Just get out.”

Pearce exited the office but paused inches from the closed door. “Bastard,” he whispered. Powell had never trafficked in warmth, he knew, recalling the gift of a broken nose Powell had given a union leader for refusing to end a strike. But this was the first time he had given Pearce the scum-bag treatment. The Captain sighed. He had to chalk that up to one simple, brutal truth: the project manager knew all was lost for him and soon he would be dead.

…The other cylinders in Pearce’s row clicked and whirred. Moments later, he heard Commander Faye Sullivan, his 35-year-old First Officer whom he’d admired for several years and called Sull, gasp in a hoarse whisper: “I can’t believe it worked.”

She’d donned a jumpsuit identical to his except for her commander’s insignia. Her shoulder-length black hair, in Hope’s weightlessness, drifted about her head and face like sea grasses in gentle currents. She bore the gaunt, blanched appearance of an athlete who had just completed a grueling decathlon.

She must have caught Pearce’s alarmed stare. She smiled. “Jason, pretty sure you look every bit as bad as I do. Wouldn’t worry, though. You’ll get your rugged handsomeness back in no time.”

“Yeah?” He was relieved that she sounded okay and looked as good as could be expected. “So will you — I mean, get your, uh, prettiness…back.”

She chuckled, her pleasant gaze lingering on him. Then the pleasantness withered. “If this worked, it’s…just one more shock—”

“Guess we’ll know soon enough,” he said with forced cheeriness. “At least we’re not DOA, wherever we are.”

Despite his pre-flight psych counseling, grief sucker-punched him when he realized how much he already missed his parents, his friends, and his neighbors. He even missed his daily routine of rising early in his coastal bungalow, padding into the kitchen, checking the sky through the window over the sink, collecting his cereal and coffee, then settling down with his iPad to pore over his latest writing project, “What ET Really Looks Like: Not So Different,” an elaboration on the convergent-evolution theory stating that species from different taxonomic groups evolve toward a similar form.

But his eyes began to sting when his thoughts turned to those heart-breaking days he had spent taking care of his ill wife Diane, who died of cancer six months before Hope left.

All this was gone. Maybe unthinkably long gone.

A figure approached. It was Lt. Commander Angela Diaz. The ruthlessly efficient flight surgeon – “on the wrong side of 50,” as she put it – wore her round glasses half-way down her nose. She’d been degreed in medicine and psychology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and herself had once held a command position. Preferring “Dr. Diaz,” or plain “Doc,” to Lieutenant Commander, she was also Hope’s psychologist. In the weeks before departure she had helped counsel Pearce and his team of officers, as well as all the passengers, to enable them to better handle what lay ahead. A task, thought Pearce, that must have daunted her, given that what lay ahead couldn’t even be imagined.

Ashen and near-zombie-looking like everyone else, she apparently had already come to terms with their staggering achievement. She smoothed out her white smock with one hand and scowled at a med scanner held in the other. Both the smock and the scanner had been pulled from one of the wall storage units containing smaller items of immediate need.

“Ahhh! Who can expect me to do much with this piece of retro crap?” She sighed richly, then studied the Captain over the top of her glasses. “This is rough on all of us, both physically and mentally. How are you coming along, Jason?” Concern was evident in her raised eyebrows.

He nodded toward her scanner. “Weight considerations, natch. Must have beat out the latest version by at least a milligram. Hey, I’ve been shaken worse than a Moscow Mule just like all the rest of us, to answer your question. A real ride, eh?”

He waved off her offer to do a scan of his vitals. “I’m good with DORIS minimally green-lighting me — with her limited capability. Damn near feel fine, now that I’ve stopped marinating in my misery. Speaking of which, you may have to put on your psych hat again for some of the civilians…the shock of what’s happened. I realize we all got counseling, but you had to make it a rush job like we did everything else. Also, asap I need all personnel except my crew secured in the rear seats to wait for my instructions from the cockpit.”

Her eyes gauged him. Presumably she was assuring herself he was up to par. She then nodded a “got it,” the motion enough to bounce her grey-streaked, banded hair, and left, moving as purposefully as her mag-boots would allow.

“Just remember,” she said without looking back, “with my limited equipment, I’ll be strapped if we have a big enough emergency. I don’t even have a disease sniffer.”

She stopped. “Oh, one more thing. DORIS says it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit down there in most of the probable landing sites. Thanks in advance for remembering my low heat tolerance and not including me in your expedition team. Otherwise, your ability to breed would’ve been compromised.” She flashed a grin and wiggled her fingers at the Captain. “Have a nice day.”

She continued on toward the civilians. Pearce chuckled and levered himself off the pad, allowing his mag-boots to engage. He watched Diaz’ less-than-graceful retreat — heel-toe, heel-toe. Now that the lights had finally brightened, his gaze drifted past her to the stirring civilians. Most were talking, examining themselves and each other, and flexing their limbs. Some were high-fiving, but a number of others stood bent and sobbing uncontrollably. Diaz would have her hands full.

Evidently doing fine was 37-year-old Lieutenant Tom Ross, flexing his joints at his cylinder on the other side of Commander Sullivan’s. His dark-brown hair billowed atop his rangy, six-foot-three frame. When penciled in for Project Survival, he had been serving for several months as a combat flight instructor at Naval Air Station Key West. Because of his medical background, he had often punched in at the base hospital to maintain his skills.

As he continued to bend and stretch, he eyed Ensign Olivia Appleton.

The ensign, 36 and a late Navy joiner, had been transferred to NAS Key West two months prior to launch, and had been one of Ross’s students. She stood at her cylinder next to his peering down the length of the jumpsuit she’d just pulled on. She seemed to be avoiding his scrutiny.

Ross spoke: “This is totally mind-blowing … if it worked. Say, Ensign, what’s the matter? Your onesie doesn’t fit? Too small, probably.” She continued to ignore him.  “Just wondering,” he said, ” if you’re jonesing for me yet. Or still amped up and working that same attack-doggy persona of — we hope — oh-so-long ago?”

Appleton had brown, minimally curly hair with a faint burnt-sienna tint that revealed itself only close-up. When in gravity, it hung not quite shoulder-length. Now it was an exploded mess around her head. Her dark eyes bored into him. “Way out in the weeds on that one, loo-tenant. I attack only he who’s got it coming.” She turned away, doing a few last adjustments to her jumpsuit. “Is it just me, or is it stupid in here? Doesn’t the man understand I’m a no-go zone?” She gave him a sidelong glance. “By the way, was it necessary to watch me dress?”

Ross looked exasperated. “Still wearing your hate face. Got some deep scar tissue, y’know that, Appleworm? And a ‘by the way’ for you: Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

Pearce was stunned. Despite all they’d been through — and all that still awaited them — the two of them were picking up right where they’d left off before Hope launched.

He’d heard the backstory on the couple. Late in their training for the journey, they’d become involved romantically, intending to marry before departure. Early one morning Appleton had wanted to surprise Ross with a breakfast carry-out from a restaurant on the military base where they and the rest of Hope’s passengers, volunteers selected by lottery based on skill sets, had been sequestered and were being secretly prepared. Approaching his small condo in her car, Appleton spotted him outside standing at the driver’s side of a white SUV in which sat a woman with long dark hair. To Appleton’s astonishment, Ross bent and kissed the woman, then stood waving as she pulled away. Ross explained to Appleton that the woman was a close cousin he’d grown up with and who lived near the base; she’d obtained permission to stop by and congratulate him on his engagement and see him one last time before leaving to be with her family in Arizona. When Appleton sneered, he’d pleaded, “Just call her. She’ll tell you.” “Sure,” she’d spat, “I’d hear a story you two concocted just in case!” In despair over one bad relationship after another, and convinced she’d mindlessly dived into this latest one as a kind of solace for the horrors ahead, she’d given back — thrown back — the ring which it was rumored Ross still carried in a zipped pocket.

When Pearce heard the story, he’d worried the two might be a problem, but it was too late to find and prepare replacements.

He gestured for the two, who were grumbling and frowning at each other, and Commander Faye Sullivan to follow him.

“DORIS, open the cockpit door.”

As they entered, Pearce’s eyes adjusted to the low light. The bickering between Ross and Appleton dried up faster than a spoonful of water on the sun side of Mercury. All four officers gasped, almost in unison, their eyes riveted to the scene occupying most of a side viewing window: the huge, bright, fuzzy arc of the planet’s night side against the black oblivion of space. In the weightlessness, Pearce and Sullivan took the two forward seats at the curved instrument panel.

“Still having a hard time with this….” Sullivan said, Pearce only half-listening. As he pulled the Captain’s Log from a small compartment and nervously began writing in hand, she added, “Sorry, but I can’t wait.” She keyed her access code into the chronometer.

“June 3, 2048,” Appleton reminded them unnecessarily, her voice low and taut, “was our departure date.”

Sullivan toggled a switch. “Brace yourself.”

Ross snorted. “Cruel joke’s what I’m bracing for.”

Red lights sputtered behind a read-out panel. Numbers that were being calculated from a shielded radioactive-decay-based “clock” raced incomprehensibly fast.

An agonizing 30 seconds later they stopped. The cockpit’s occupants sat dumb-founded.

“DORIS,” Pearce said, laying aside his log without taking his eyes off the numbers, “cockpit only. From your own internal system, can you independently confirm the date we see?” He held his breath as he waited for what seemed an eternity.

“The current Earth time and date,” DORIS replied without the reverberation normally heard throughout the ship, “are as follows: 3:19 p.m., Wednesday, December 9, 139,034.”

Pearce felt his cheek twitch. He looked at the commander. She looked at him. Neither spoke.

“DORIS,” Pearce ordered firmly, knowing the AI wasn’t 100 percent error free, “scrub your date and time data, recalculate, and give us just the Earth year.”

Three seconds later: “The Earth year, Captain Pearce, is 139,034.”

Ross let out a soft whistle. “Mind-melting. One hell of a long time to be mothballed.”

“DORIS, state the distance traveled,” the Captain pressed, “and ID this planet.”

“Distance traveled: 20.51 light years. Planet: Gliese 581g.”

“DORIS, I assume your ID is based on the atmospheric signature and the planet’s location in the GNS.”

“That is correct, Captain. To be brief, Hope’s fractional angular shifts relative to the locations of The Twenty Pulsars in the Galactic Navigation System’s Sub-Region Two correspond to the exact distance and direction from Earth to this star.”

“Not so brief,” muttered Appleton. Nerves speaking? Pearce wondered.

Pearce fought his own rising shock, which he hadn’t anticipated considering all the counseling he’d received.

Sullivan shook her head once as if to shake loose something.

The Captain whispered, “If anyone feels like crying – or throwing up – go ahead. We can forget we’re suck-it-up military for a moment.”

“We did it!” whispered Appleton tightly.

“DORIS,” said Commander Sullivan, apparently having pulled herself together, “commence scanning for a landing site on the planet’s day side. Also, what is the atmospheric composition relative to Earth’s?” She breathed to herself, “Never mind that it’s too late to fret about such things.”

DORIS replied with her almost singsong placidity, “The atmosphere contains one percent less nitrogen and nearly three percent less oxygen than Earth’s. You will be able to adapt with modest side effects that will cease in a short time.”

A pause, then: “Suitable landing site located in an otherwise hilly terrain.”

Lieutenant Tom Ross said, “This is happening too fraggin’ fast.”

Pearce toggled the all-personnel speaker. “Dr. Diaz, what’s up back there?”

Her voice cracked on. “Everyone’s settled down now. All seem to be coming to grips. Health-wise, some upset stomachs, headaches — things I’d expect from the preservation and restoration, not to mention the stress of—”

“Good,” said Pearce. He looked at Sullivan, who nodded.

“Attention, everyone. Commander Sullivan and I have just verified that our journey…” — he hesitated for effect — “…is a success! We have reached Gliese 581g!”

The cockpit speaker exploded with loud cheering and applauding.

“Buckle up tight and prepare to descend to a field on a hilly terrain near an ocean and an ingress river! DORIS, I believe you said we must remain on board three hours before disembarking?”

“Correct, Captain. Only 35 minutes of that time remain.”

Pearce twisted toward his three officers. “Ready?” He then said for all to hear: “DORIS, take us down!”

The last thing Pearce heard before Hope again slid into Gliese 581g’s atmosphere with a deafening roar and a violent shaking was more applause and shouts.
 

II

After Hope delivered its 105 passengers to the planet’s surface, rolling its huge bulk to a stop on a level field next to a gently sloping hill, Pearce updated the Captain’s Log. With his team of three officers, he went aft to the next compartment where the still-buckled-up civilians were seated. Speaking loudly to the huge group, he informed them that the three hours needed to purge themselves of the preservation gel had elapsed, but before he could authorize anyone to disembark, he and his team would go out and explore the ocean coast, search for drinking water, and determine the area’s security level, weapons at the ready.

DORIS spoke, her powerful, metallic voice plangent throughout the ship: “Captain Pearce, you need not worry about security. The planet is at a stage roughly com-parable to Earths’ Cambrian Period in the Paleozoic Era of 570 million to 500 million years ago. Only marine invertebrates likely exist.”

Pearce couldn’t hide his annoyance. A machine telling him what not to worry about! “May be, DORIS, but look, your operative words are ‘roughly’ and ‘likely.’ This is an alien world. Unlike Earth’s Cambrian, it has soil and plants, so it might also have a velociraptor or two.”

“Could be DORIS is operating from her unreliable one-percent error zone,” Ross whispered, Pearce catching the sarcasm. “DORIS,” said the Doc, “Reconfirm the exterior temperature, please.” “Ninety-one point three degrees Fahrenheit.” “Ouch. Won’t do me well at all.”

The Captain continued to the group: “While my team and I are away — no more than 24 hours — Dr. Angela Diaz will mind the helm. She’d be too uncomfortable adjusting to the heat out there, and I need a team that won’t be hindered from staying alert and focused.” He paused, swept his eyes over the sea of anxious faces. “There’ll be plenty of time for all of your questions later — but I will take one right now. Just one.”

A hand shot up. It belonged to 15-year-old, bright-eyed Ted Mitchell, Dr. Diaz’s nephew and one of the eleven teens. “Sir,” he said with a polite smile, “could anyone on Earth have survived the impact?”

Pearce gazed uncomfortably at the boy. The children had been left out of most of the briefings on the pending disaster, so he thought just the broad strokes would be the best approach. Then Dr. Diaz spoke: “I think they can handle it at this point. Yes, they should hear the whole unedited story so we can get it out of the way.”

He breathed in, collecting his thoughts. “Consider first the instant massive earthquakes rippling around the entire globe. Millions were killed in a flash, many by – I probably shouldn’t add this – having their legs rammed up into their bodies. Of course, lots of people could have survived both the earthquakes and the blast shock waves. But fires, hundreds of millions of them, were sparked worldwide when the white-hot impact ejecta that was launched high into the atmosphere rained down. That dramatically raised Earth’s temperature — global warming on steroids — and poisoned all the oceans. In the following weeks and months, a winter holocaust developed, created by the shroud of ash and toxic chemicals that spread globally, blocking sunlight, ending photosynthesis, and putting Earth into deep-freeze. Remember, this asteroid was three times larger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65-million years ago. And, not to get overly technical, in addition to high velocity it had a rapid spin that contributed a lot of angular momentum and rotational energy. The consensus was that the asteroid had too much speed and mass for our nukes or laser cannons to have an effect. So, no — no one could’ve survived for long, no matter how deep underground.”

He looked down at the floor, pushing the edge of a thumbnail back and forth across his forehead. “Here’s the thing, though. Everything I just said is child’s play compared to the real damage. Nearly all the leading scientists considered the asteroid so massive it might not only alter Earth’s rotation, but also nudge Earth out of orbit into a spiral toward the sun. I’ll say out loud what probably most of you have already accepted: Earth is gone.”

Ted’s smile had not left his face, but it had left his eyes.

III

Captain Jason Pearce and his team of three, each carrying a backpack, lumbered cautiously down the ramp of the black 500-foot-long Hope. The planet’s red dwarf sun peeked over the horizon between distant silhouetted mountains forming vertical claws and sharks’ teeth. The sun’s early-morning peach-orange light cast long fingers of shadows across the field in front of them. The field, Pearce noticed, was carpeted with short weed-looking flora of several colors but predominantly lime green. Here and there were head-high, stocky trees — if they could be called trees — brandishing bluish, fist-sized blossoms that jutted from spindly, thorn-riddled limbs. Other plants resembled small renditions of the baobab trees he’d seen on Madagascar years ago. Overhead, shards of mauve and pink clouds stretched across the blue-green sky. Low over the horizon opposite the sun, he spotted a tiny pair of faint, milky-silver disks that were the planet’s moons.

His body floated, it seemed. Was he dreaming? Hallucinating? Were they really on an alien world?

A warm breeze lapped against his cheek, dislodging him from his trance. He thought he could smell ocean water. That might have calmed him a bit, had he not then noticed the eerie, utter silence. Had Hope’s roaring retros terrified away every creature within ten klicks? 

Sweat dampened his forehead. When he swiped at it, his hand trembled. Little wonder he was already becoming a basket case: This world, tantalizingly beautiful though it was, could be more dangerous than their eons-long journey across trillions of miles of unforgiving space. Would Pearce, his crew, and Hope’s passengers be able to endure past the next few weeks? Or even the next few days? He took in a sharp, involuntary breath. He believed Project Manager Victor Powell had understated it when he said they would face as many risks as did the Pilgrims in 17th-century America.

Raking his gaze warily from side to side, the heel of his hand resting on his weapon, he led his team 75 yards out to the foot of the hill. He stopped, inhaled deeply. “Everyone breathing okay?”

The other three, glancing at each other, shrugged and nodded.

“Olivia, your Geiger’s acting civil,” Pearce observed, squinting at the sunrise beyond Hope’s bow.

“One hazard down, how many to go?” said Appleton. She extracted her weapon. Twice a red-hot line hissed and chipped out a smoking, foot-deep hole high on the hill.

“A double-tap of this’ll give our velociraptors something to ponder,” she said. Ross’s grin was copious. “What a sharp-shooter! You hit a mountain standing right next to it.”

He followed suit behind Peace and Sullivan.

The test firings completed, Pearce hailed Angela Diaz on his comm. “Doc, so far the air’s good to go.”

“…Big relief,” came the crackling reply.

“Heading out. Give me 100 percent antenna. Put together a rescue team, just in case. And start unstrapping and moving essentials to the off-loading deck.”

“Copy that, Captain. Good hunting. Buzz me if you find something interesting — as if nothing on the planet were!”

Pearce pulled his sheet computer from the side of his backpack, studied an aerial photo downloaded by DORIS.

“The ocean,” he announced, pointing toward the top of the hill, “is that way, about three klicks. Half a klick up the coast is a feeder river. Hopefully with decent water. One problem when we get to the other side of this hill: a rather dense forest is in our way — containing who knows what.”

The three seemed to reflect on that with minimal angst.

Ross jostled his backpack higher on his shoulders, then, nodding toward the hill, he spoke to Appleton, who despite a calm, sometimes icy exterior had not stopped scrutinizing their surroundings. “Need me to carry you, Apple Of My Eye?”

Her snicker erupted in a way that told Pearce she was more nervous than she was letting on. “I’m surprised,” she said, her voice thick with indifference, “that you think I need you for anything. Why don’t you be nice and quit while you’re way behind?”

Commander Sullivan alternately gave Ross and Appleton a sour look. “Can you two not just…not? Try keeping your eyeballs on the surroundings, not on each other.”

The three officers fell in line up the hill behind Pearce. Feeling the warmth of the rising orange sun on his neck, the Captain wound through waist-high thickets of brush as he ascended. When they reached the hill’s spine, a silver curve of ocean water sparkled just beyond the rolling forest that loomed darkly at the bottom of the hill.

Ross, after drinking in the uplifting view and, no doubt, their accomplishment thus far, traded “Booyahs!” and high-fives with Commander Sullivan.

Pearce jammed the small field glasses he’d been squinting through into a side pocket, satisfied that he had detected no movement within a wide range between their position and the forest edge. He snapped, “Let’s not spend any more time on this hill’s skyline announcing our arrival.”

Appleton’s head bobbed up and down. “Yeah. Not good to ring the dino dinner bell.”

They continued down to the line of towering broad-leaf flora. Pearce said, “We need to leave a trail, troops. In case we need a rescue. Machetes out. Weapons in the other hand.” He stepped warily into the dark forest.

For the next hour, progress was slow. They hacked as if one swing too loud would bring a herd of ravenous creatures down on them. Weaving through multi-colored under-brush, they chopped lower limbs off the tall flora and on occasion paused to inspect and smell various odd-looking vegetation, all the while an eye out for their environment. Although the sun had climbed higher, the light reaching the forest floor was still less than optimal. “Wasn’t a mountain I hit,” mumbled Appleton. “A hill.” Ross looked at her, continuing to step forward. “What?” As he turned his head back, he said, “For crying out–” He walked his face into tree limb, the encounter audible. He grunted in pain and clasped his hand against his nose. “Let me see,” said Pearce. He moved Ross’s hand aside. “You’ll live. No blood. Tom, damn it, pay attention. Do I have to gag the two of you?” Ninety minutes later and tiring, they entered a tennis-court-sized clearing at the base of a treed slope that, as far as Pearce could determine, rose perhaps 150 feet.

Pearce wiped sweat from his brow. “Let’s break.” “I’ll take that as an order,” said Ross. He took a drink from this canteen, his second in the last half hour. “Considered slowing down?” the Captain asked. “Gotta have something to believe in. I believe in staying hydrated. Another canteen-full in my backpack.”

After weapons were holstered and backpacks lowered, Commander Sullivan, hands on her hips, surveyed the forest up the slope and around the opening. “Have you noticed? Haven’t seen a single little critter scurrying around anywhere. Maybe 99-percent-accurate DORIS is right.”

Appleton snorted. “It’s her other one percent that concerns me. My money says the little critters are hunted by the big critters, so they dig in for the day.”

Pearce faced the direction of the ship. He assumed the antenna was high enough for a decent direct line of sight. He hit his comm. “Doc, no threats to report — yet. Why don’t you go ahead and start off-loading, after you harden up around the ship: establish a perimeter, sensor fence.”

“Wonderful!” Diaz replied, though the signal was weak. “Best news in a hundred millennia!”

“Remember to always close the airlock behind you, coming and going. Out.”

Appleton looked at the Commander, then spoke to the others. “There, see?” She took her weapon back in hand. “The Captain feels the same way. Doesn’t want a six-ton meat-eating thingy wandering on board when everybody’s guard’s down.” She arched her brows at them. “Make sense? Duh.”

Ross apparently couldn’t stop himself: “Meat-eating thingy? Tell me, when you were a kid — not terribly long ago, factoring out our little trip across the void — were you a bed-wetter?”

He evaded her disgusted look by turning and striding up the slope. “Reminds me. Going to the potty.”

Forest Slope“Not surprised,” Sullivan said under her breath. “Keep leeward! And watch your step!”

Appleton: “A loo-tenant’s gotta do what a loo-tenant’s gotta do.”

“Not too far!” Pearce shouted at the retreating figure. “Stay mindful of meat-eating…thingies.”

Ross’s fist pumped. “Not to worry. There aren’t any fraggin’ ‘thingies’ here.”

“Should the Cap go with you,” Appleton yelled, “to hold your hand and talk encouragement?”

As Ross continued to climb, his fist reappeared and sprouted a middle finger. He boomed: “I’ll tell you what you can hold.” Six seconds later, he’d vanished up into the forest.

“Well, if the thingies didn’t know about us before, they do now,” groused Pearce.

Commander Sullivan frowned at Appleton. “You know, Olivia, I worry about dangerous creatures, too. But honestly, if a T-Rex came crashing through here, I don’t think either you or Tom would notice.”

Captain Pearce eyed one, then the other. He said only, “Chow time.”

They plopped down and pulled water and food parcels from their backpacks.

“What delicious, synthesized garbage do we have for our first meal in more than a thousand centuries?” asked Appleton. She wriggled around into an alert face-out guard position and leaned against her backpack, food parcel in her lap and weapon on the ground by her hip.

“Chicken and roast beef,” said Sullivan, more upbeat. “But word is they taste the same.”

Appleton clucked her tongue. “So one could say we have…chicken and chicken?”

Sullivan put up a finger. “No, I’m pretty sure it’s roast beef and roast beef. No, wait — chicken entrails and—”

Pearce sighed loudly. “Any chance you two can just eat?”

Appleton’s smile was small as she half-turned his way. “Are you going to write us up in your Captain’s Log?” She glanced skyward. Her smile collapsed. Slate clouds had suddenly moved in, darkening the clearing. She did a little shudder and refocused on the surrounding forest.

Sullivan, too, took in the sky. “I guess acting silly is our way of dealing with all the wear and tear on our nerves.” She gave the forest an uneasy scan. “With a lot more wear and tear to come, no doubt.”

“No doubt,” said Pearce. He tore off a piece of the “chicken/beef” and eyed it suspiciously.

“Hey,” said Appleton. “I just realized, the smell of this crappy food could attract—“

Rapid crunching sounds quieted her. Her hand arced to her weapon.

“Relax,” said Pearce. “Tom’s finished his business.”

Appleton had a wicked grin. “Knew that. Was just going to graze his ear for practice. Gotta be sharp if a velociraptor shows up for a meet and eat.”

Moving fast, Ross came into full view on the slope. “Tell ‘em, Apple. You missed me. You always miss me. Always will, right?”

She patted her weapon. “Yup, I’ll always miss you ’cause I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Hey, admit it, you got a few embers still burning for me— Whoa!”

His foot whipped out from under him. He collapsed onto his side with a heavy thud and rolled into the clearing just two yards away from Appleton.

“Awww…you’re still alive. Bummer, dude” was the Ensign’s dry offering after she gave Ross a quick once-over and lifted her head again toward the cloud cover.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Livvy the Lizard.”

Sullivan shook her head. “Tom, what is the matter with you? The second accident in, what, two hours? This is not you. You’re one of the most cautious and careful people I know. If you and Olivia weren’t always at each other’s throat, you’d have had a better eye on where you were stepping. You could’ve seriously hurt yourself and jeopardized our mission.”

Ross got to his feet, his eyes retracing his steps. “Duly noted, Commander. Now what the fraggin’ hell did I—? Ah!” He hurried a short way back up the incline and dropped to his knees next to something dark poking several inches out of the side of a small mound of forest-floor debris. He nudged away the little sticks and mixed-colored leaves covering the object. “Hey, take a look at this.”

“What?” asked Pearce as he and Sullivan approached.

“Chunk of metal sticking out of the ground, looks like..”

“Meteor maybe?” asked Sullivan.

“FYI, ma’am, meteorite’s what you want to say,” said Appleton, joining them.

Ross looked at Sullivan with a scowl. “She does that. Corrects people. FYI.”

“Nuh-huh,” Appleton said under her breath for all to hear. “And another unforced error.”

“Unclench, you two,” snapped Sullivan. “Enough of the insult-fest.” At the edges of her mouth, a tiny smile formed. “Sidebar notation: I do believe you two still love each other and are trying like the devil to hide the fact.”

While Ross and Appleton were sounding off in unison a “Like hell I do!” Sullivan glanced at Pearce. Their eyes locked. Pearce noticed the color had returned to her cheeks, and she looked beautiful — still a bit frazzled but beautiful. He suddenly wondered: Was he hiding something? Was he making a transfer from a love no longer possible, his wife, to one that was? Guilt – and an uncomfortable warmth – stopped him from thinking about it.

Sullivan slowly took her eyes off him, and he said, “Mates, let’s focus, shall we?” His index finger pecked the air toward the object.

It was shaped like a slightly flattened horizontal cone, its rounded, 12-inch-thick tip protruding about a foot down-slope at an angle parallel to level ground.

“What about fossil bone?” Sullivan asked.

“Too smooth to be that or a meteorite,” Appleton said. She had knelt on the side opposite Ross and now wiped away the remaining soil from the dark-grey surface. “It’s not radioactive, if you’re about to ask. My Geiger’s quiet, like I wish Tom would be.”

The Captain bobbed his chin at Ross. “See if you can jog it loose.”

Ross grasped the object firmly with both hands and pulled with increasing exertion, until his face was blotchy red and his neck veins stood out like cords. Zero movement.

“Let’s dig it out,” said Appleton. She peeled away to the clearing and returned in less than two minutes with an arm-load of collapsible shovels taken from their packs.

Dirt was heaved in all directions. The pungent smell of damp soil and semi-rotted leaves hung in the air. Twenty minutes later, four times as much of the metal was exposed.

“Shaping up to be right-triangular,” said Pearce.

Ross scowled, “Where does this thing end?” He gave the object a couple of hard yanks. “Frag it! Stubborn as a brachiosaur tooth!”

“Impressive,” said Appleton coolly. “Didn’t know you were a dentist back then.”

Ross appeared disconsolate. “Livvy the Ankle Biter.”

The more they dug, the deeper they had to excavate up into the slope. Progress became increasingly slow.

When six feet of the object lay exposed, Pearce took a hard look. It was indeed shaped like a right triangle. And smooth, polished. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled.

Commander Sullivan, on her knees digging across from Pearce, stopped. She pushed the back of her wrist across her forehead, studied the Captain’s face. “What’s the matter? Your heart stop—?” She looked back at the object. Almost inaudibly: “I think I’m thinking…what you’re thinking.”

A queasiness assaulted Pearce’s stomach. “Try one more time to move it. As if our lives depended on it.”

Ross said, “Let me try this first.” He sprawled out on his back and began furiously kicking the thing with both feet. “It won’t…give…one fraggin’ millimeter! No vibration, nothing!” He sat up, grimacing. “’Cept I may have flattened my arches.”

Pearce lightly palm-slapped the side of his head. “There’s a reason it won’t give, and I feel like a fool for not thinking of it sooner.” He pushed to his feet. Inhaling with care, he regarded the other three steadily, trying to keep his composure. “People, this thing – it’s pretty obvious…it’s an artifact, I believe made by civilized beings here.” He let his shovel drop, then half-stumbled backwards down the slope a few feet. “Or…it was made by extraterrestrials who came here thousands of years ago, from the looks of it. In fact, if I’m right, this thing is how they got here. I’ll wager that’s because” — he threw an arm in a sweeping gesture — “it’s part of an ancient alien spacecraft!”

Appleton’s brows furrowed. Her lips parted but no sounds came out.

Ross blinked. “Wha…? You mean we got ourselves a real Area 51? Only 21 light-years east of the phony one? But wait, maybe it’s part of a buried building, a home — or who knows, maybe an entire city!”

“Sull,” said Pearce, “you cut your teeth in cockpits, and know a thing or two about aircraft design. Tell me this thing doesn’t look like the tip of a wing or tail fin.”

She froze. She turned her head to the object, then back to the Captain. “Yes, yes, thought it could be…. Was afraid…to say….”

Ross was obviously humbled. “A first encounter….” he said quietly, amazement in his eyes.

Pearce keyed his communicator.

“Go ahead, Jason,” Dr. Diaz crackled after a few long seconds.

He kept his voice and breathing steady. “How about a progress report first.”

“Sensor fence up. Off-loaded some priority items: dome homes, food, water. Charles Duncan is doing the heavy lifting in his exo-skel—”

“Good. You said buzz you if we found something interesting. Sit down.” After describing the object, he heard silence. “Doc?”

“…Here!”

“I know, I know. Incredible. But I need you to keep a lid on this for now, Doc. It’d create an uproar. They need to stay focused on their tasks.”

“Agree.”

“Doc, I want to get inside this…craft, assuming there’s more to it than what we see.” If what he was looking at were a stabilizer fin, it had better be a horizontal, he thought; otherwise, the craft would be on its side and likely in pieces, hindering or blocking interior movement. “I’m hoping we can extract useful material and technology — if everything isn’t too degraded and we can work around the alien language. I need you to dispatch a crew of six. Equip them with all the excavating tools available. And explosives, C4, whatever. We need four head lamps, oxygen tanks, masks. Include Duncan in your crew. His exo will remove trees. They’ll see our path on the other side of the hill.”

IV

When Dr. Diaz’ crew of six entered the clearing, 15 feet of the object lay visible within the three-sided, ever-widening cavity that now rose six feet at its highest up-slope point.

The crew members stopped, their faces frozen. They quickly erupted into fast-clip, back-and-forth chatter: “Can you believe this?” “Can’t be possible!” “What the hell is it?” Pearce approached the exoskeleton, worn by the helmeted Charles Duncan, a 36-year-old, 6-foot-five, brown-bearded Scot and former cyber-security cop who had trained at the National Security Agency. The exo-skeleton was a tall, intimidating robot-looking apparatus of bulky metal arms and legs moved by cables which, powered by a fuel cell on its back, rendered Duncan, a muscular weight-lifter who looked capable of wrestling a grizzly to the ground, 75 times stronger.  Pearce greeted the towering man, who gave a curt nod and again fixated on the sight before him. 

“You’ve worked hard,” Duncan said.

“Charles, I’d like you to first try to dislodge it. Maybe a wing or fin’s all there is. At least in this area.”

“Very possible. Will give it my best.”

“That’d do it!” Lieutenant Tom Ross bellowed. “Say, Charles, for warm-up why don’t you hurl Olivia back to the ship? No, wait, into the ocean.” His crooked grin said he savored his little joke.

Olivia Appleton, standing fifteen feet away, twirled a finger. “Bzzzt. No question — you’re the anchor holding back my ship.”

Duncan chuckled lustily and eyed Pearce. “Navyspeak for ‘You’re a drag’? Bring these two along for comic relief, did you? Not a bad idea. Genuine tension breaker.”

Pearce gave that serious thought. He had to admit the couple’s quibbling sometimes amused as much as annoyed, and so on occasion did provide him a bit of relief from the stress. Maybe it did the same for them. Maybe escape from their nightmarish reality was the unconscious reason they acted like kids. How ironic, he thought; the two people he’d pegged to get on everyone’s nerves might actually be helping, in some small way, to prevent everyone’s nerves from unraveling in their new, frightening circumstances. And the big burly Charles Duncan had recognized this before he had.

He dispatched another member of Diaz’ crew to check out the other side of the slope. Maybe another wing or fin was protruding there.

Duncan strode away to the huge slab of grey metal with surprising fluidity, his exoskeleton’s cables and pulleys whirring as the titanium-carbon Frankenstein thudded across the forest floor. He stopped at the tip where Ross had tripped hours earlier. After extending his left mechanical hand well underneath and flattening it against the metal, he tapped a recessed button on his chest once to activate for 60 seconds the powerful magnet in the palm of that hand to prevent slipping. Next he reached under with his right hand and placed it over his left. “Let’s liberate this thing!” He strained upward. The exoskeleton’s “muscles” protested with louder whirring and jerky fits and start. Three more attempts, and Duncan erected himself. “No way. That would’ve flipped a bull elephant over.”

Excited by that, Pearce asked Duncan to clear away some of the trees higher up the slope. Forty minutes later, only the thickest trees remained there in a large, roughly semi-circle patch. An immediate benefit: more light filtering through.

When the crewmember returned from the other side of the slope with nothing to report, Pearce instructed an explosives duo to insert low-power C4 packs with blasting caps into the soil several feet above the metal. He then scurried off, shooing everyone away.Ten seconds passed, then three loud bangs. Dirt, stones, and root pieces flew high into the air, rained down and clattered noisily on the metal surface.

“Jason!” Pearce did a little jump, then realized it was Diaz barking over his comm.

“Talk to me, Doc,” he practically yelled. “What’s going on?”

“We have an ill civilian. Nothing serious apparently. Mild nausea. Low-grade temp. Weakness.”

“One of those that got sick after restoration?”

“No. Ted, my nephew.”Pearce paused. “Psychological after-effects? Post-traumatic stress?”

“Haven’t ruled it out. At the moment, I’m not overly concerned. Will continue to monitor his vitals. I’ll try immunity enhancers and antibiotics, though I’ll have to go sparingly. Just thought I’d inform you right away.”

“You did right. ‘Preciate it.”

“And I appreciate your not asking me to come along with you. It would’ve taken me too long to get accustomed to the temp. I would’ve been a drag. Out.”

He hurried back up the slope, telling the regathered shovelers, including Ross and Appleton, that he wanted the debris pile-up on the metal removed and more explosives set.

Commander Sullivan appeared at his side plucking debris from her hair and jumpsuit. Pearce told her about Ted, then asked her to dispatch a pair from Diaz’ group to the coast to find the ingress river and test the water. “Meanwhile, we’ll keep trying to get to the hull of this thing — if one exists.”

Three hours later, 50 feet of the metal lay exposed in the massively dug-out slope.

Charles Duncan, holding a large shovel, stood on the structure facing the dirt wall that rose two feet above his head and oozed tendrils of smoke from the explosions. With one hand, he rammed the shovel blade into the soil at waist level. A loud clank rang out, the cavity in the slope amplifying the sound in Pearce’s direction.

Everyone froze, eyes on Duncan. He had struck something solid. Rock? Or metal? He repeated the thrusting at different points along a level line. Each time came the same solid clank.

A grin cut across Duncan’s bearded face. “Found something!

“Good work!” replied Pearce.

The explosives duo inserted a series of low-power C4 packs into the soil six feet above the expanse of metal. But Pearce signaled them to hold on. Ted’s illness re-turned to mind, and a thought chilled him: What if any alien remains inside harbored pathogens that he and the others had no immunity against? Was he about to open a Pandora’s box?

Commander Sullivan came up. Her brown eyes measured him. “Afraid your curiosity will assassinate the cat.” 

“The whole damn species. Sull, I don’t think I should be rolling the dice with the few human lives we have left, after what we’ve gone through and been given a second chance.” Her hand touched his arm. He recalled it had been there often, helping to assuage his misery in the months before and after his wife’s death. Remembering how comforting the gesture was, he was grateful for Sullivan’s kindness.

“I feel the same way,” she said softly. “But you know as well as I do we can’t ignore this. Sooner or later, we will go inside to extract any needed matériel. So it might as well be now while everything’s in place and we have a minimum of people exposed. We’ll take precaution, and if something goes wrong, there are still nearly 100 others back at the—”

A sizzle on his communicator interrupted. “Go, Doc. What’s the good news?”

“Sorry, Captain,” said Diaz’ tinny voice at his ear. “You’ll have to get that from someone else. Ted has worsened. And five more have become ill. Same symptoms. I moved them from a quarantined dome home to a compartment inside the ship where I can tend to them better and keep them more isolated, in case we have a contagion. As you know, I don’t have a lot of arrows in my quiver. I can’t do a proper diagnosis, not even comparative blood tests or a chem panel for toxicology. Can’t study organ tissue at the molecular level to detect minute changes. And not a single simple oximeter on this ship to measure blood oxygen. I feel like an 18th-century quack. I knew we’d be traveling light but not this light! I fed all the known facts to DORIS, knowing full well she wasn’t programmed for this kind of work. As expected, she was as helpful as my magboots.”

Pearce felt cold sweat on his forehead. Weren’t the Pilgrims decimated early on by diseases unknown to them? Was this the fate awaiting Hope’s people? After all they’d been through? He said quickly, “Could we’ve brought a flu bug with us?”

“No, though I admit most of the sick have symptoms that mimic influenza — fever, weakness, fainting. Remember, before we left, Hope was scrubbed and all of us were found to be free of anything more than a cold. As for harmful agents on the planet, airborne or otherwise, which may cause septicemia, my chem detector — glad I have that — hasn’t been able to find any. To be on the safe side, I may give one or two more of them antibiotics to see if I get a difference in—”

“What about radioactivity in the soil, despite none being found by me and my crew on our way here?” 

“No,” she said. “The symptoms would be very different. But we checked anyway, 200 yards out in every direction. About 150 samples with the soil tester we thankfully have. I can test the soil better than I can my patients! The sick didn’t go anywhere the others didn’t go. Didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.”

“This does not inspire confidence.”

“Hard lift, for sure.”

“Want us to come back?” Pearce asked, half hoping she’d say yes.

“And do what, exactly? Get sick so I can quarantine you, too? No. If you have an alien craft on your hands, please get inside it. Maybe you’ll find medical equipment that can help me — assuming we’d figure out how to operate it. Remember to keep your distance for at least half an hour before you enter. No telling what’s inside. Gotta go.”

Pearce felt Sullivan’s eyes on him. He started to speak, but she said, “Heard it. What the hell’s going on, Jason?”

“Don’t know, Sull.” He looked off at nothing. “But I think we should worry. At least you and Diaz helped me realize I should continue on here.”

He called Ross and Appleton over and briefed them on Diaz’ reports on the mysterious disease. After they had recovered somewhat from the blow, he waved a go-ahead at the explosives team.

A minute later, light dirt and debris shot toward them, cascaded like the briefest rain shower. Pearce, who’d crouched behind a tree, rose and took a step forward. His jaw dropped. Clearly exposed was a sizable curved wall of dark-grey metal that dispelled all doubt about whether here on this planet was a long-buried alien craft.

In the fading light, something caught his eye. He could make out the indistinct outline of an airlock door, likely for maintenance and/or escape. His heart pounded in his ears. Access to the interior!

His next words were jubilant: “I’d say we got ourselves a tail fin, a horizontal stabilizer. Not a wing!”

While everyone else gawked in silence, Pearce quickly bridged the fin to the hull and wiped dirt away along the door’s edges. He called out to the explosives team, “How about a dabble of C4 all the way around?”

Pearce warned everyone that the escaping air might not be exactly healthy, and told them to stay 100 feet away until he gave the okay.

After the C4 blew, the door was crumpled but still attached. Around its edges were gaps big enough for Duncan to get a handle and wrench it off.

Twenty-five minutes later, Pearce could wait no longer. He nodded at Olivia Appleton, who donned her mask and O2 tank and moved to within five yards of the hull with her Geiger. “Harmless,” she said loudly, her voice muffled. “Only 0.2 millirems. You get ten with a chest X-ray. Source is probably a nuclear engine.”

Pearce flipped a hand at Duncan. “Grip and rip!” The moment of truth.

The exoskeleton clanked along the fin. Duncan inserted the rivet-jointed fingers into a gap on each side of the warped, 40-inch-wide door. He pulled. Metal groaned and screeched, the sounds rippling through the forest like the keening cries of strange beasts. The door snapped free of its internal hinges and anti-blast moorings. Duncan carried it, parts dangling, out of the way to the far side of the fin, where he carefully laid it down.

“All aboard, Captain!” He gave a salute. “What else you need? Got a dinosaur you want knocked out cold?”

In the dimness of dusk, the opening was a vertical rectangle of ominous black. Pearce felt a tingling in his spine. This is it, he thought, human beings’ first encounter with extraterrestrials, dead though they may be. At the very least, it was a first encounter with alien technology. A good second best.

Lieutenant Tom Ross, sporting an expansive grin, edged closer to Pearce. “Cap, if you think it’s too dangerous, send Livvy in first.”

Appleton, who had rejoined Pearce, flipped Ross the finger. “You’re so brilliant, you shine like a black hole.”

“Just thinking out loud’s all.”

“Loud, yes. Thinking, no. I’m thinking you’re truly a sign of the apocalypse.”

“Haven’t you noticed? We’ve already had the apocalypse.”

Pearce eyed the two with pseudo-sternness. “C’mon, stay on-problem. You’re both coming in with Sull and me. Olivia, I obviously need you, to continue rad-checking. And I need Tom’s medic background if somebody gets hurt. Anyway, four sets of eyes beat two. All right, tool up. Tom, grab your med-case. Everybody, masks, tanks, head lamps. Weapons we have but shouldn’t need.”

Diaz’ voice sputtered: “–you there, Captain?”

“Doc!” he replied, “‘Fraid to talk to you!”

“You wanted good news. Got some, but it’s qualified. Although my binnacle list keeps getting longer — eight more have acquired the symptoms — three of the first ones appear to have stabilized.”

“The ones that received antibiotics?”

“No. The ones I gave antibiotics to were the last ones brought in. They’ve deteriorated somewhat.”

“Hmm. Part good news, part bad. Is that what you meant by ‘qualified’?”

“No. Over the years, seen far too many patients stabilize like this and even improve — only to relapse and die.”

Pearce chewed his lip. “Right, shouldn’t get too optimistic. All we can do’s play wait and see, I guess.” He took a breath. “We do have good news here. It’s a tail fin and it’s attached to a hull. And a door’s already open!”

“Christ, it’ll be hard to keep this to myself.”

“Mum’s still the word, Doc. We’ll be going in pronto and we’ll be out of contact until we come back out.”

“Is it a crashed ship?”

“No way to tell yet,” he said. “If it is, that could mean aliens aboard, though they’re probably just clumps of dust. And they may be hard to get to, depending on how mangled the interior might be. If it’s not a crash, we may have something even more interesting to figure out. Wish us luck on humanity’s first close encounter. Speaking of, Doc, if things go sideways in there, humanity’s all in your hands. Gotta jump. Stay frosty.”

She chuckled. “I intend to. Feel sorry for you guys in that heat. I’m much better off in here, at least as long as the ship keeps the cool.” Pearce faced Ensign Appleton. “Tom’s right. You have to take point on this. The second that ticker bleeps trouble, you back us out of there.”

“Understood,” she said, tight-lipped. “But this ought to be above my pay grade.” She seemed careful to avoid eye contact with Ross, no doubt to deny him the chance to gloat.

But Ross still twisted the knife: “Yes, a great T-shirt idea – ‘Sacrifice Ensigns First’.”

“Straight-up bad.”

Pearce told Charles Duncan to return to Hope if they weren’t back in sixty minutes and to talk about this only privately to Dr. Diaz. Facing his three officers, he said, “Check your time. We have one hour of O2.”

V

At the door’s blackness and two feet ahead of Captain Jason Pearce, Olivia Appleton tweaked her green back-lit Geiger counter to a higher sensitivity. She re-secured her oxygen mask over her nose and mouth, flicked on her head lamp, then stepped through onto a narrow catwalk that ran 30 feet to a ladder descending into darkness. “Still harmless grays,” she said over her shoulder.

“Good. Soldier on, Ensign.” Pearce’s nerves were already jangled.

Behind Pearce, Ross called out over the Captain’s shoulder, “Sweat not, Apple. Got your six.”

“A real howler, Tom,” came the mask-dampened reply. “Somehow that worries me more than not having my 12 covered.”

After negotiating the catwalk and arriving at the bottom of the ladder, the four found themselves standing between two bulkhead walls in a ten-foot-wide passageway that apparently ran the craft’s full width.

Lieutenant Tom Ross glanced back and up. “Catwalk and ladder similar in size to ours.” His breathing was ragged in the mask.

“Not surprised,” Pearce said looking around, his nervousness ratcheting up. “The aliens — assuming they aren’t robots and the ship itself isn’t one — probably aren’t a lot different from us. I believe the evolution of intelligent beings favors a physicality like ours. Size-wise, the vast majority of ETs probably range between primordial dwarfs and the tallest basketball players. If we find a preserved alien — or at least some clothing — I think it’ll support that.”

“Want to spec on where they came from?” asked Commander Sullivan.

“Been wondering about that. A possibility would be 118 Libra c, a planet in the goldilocks zone of 118 Libra, a dwarf star, like Gliese, discovered just two years ago. Electromagnetic analysis showed that Libra c’s atmosphere is as conducive to organic life as Gliese 581g. Maybe more so. But it’s another 15 light years away from Earth. Too distant for Hope, I imagine.”

Pearce found a partially opened sliding door that he was certain would take them forward. Another door was on the other side of the ladder in the opposite bulkhead wall; he presumed that door provided access to the engine room. Adjacent to the first door, he found a recessed box and threw the lever inside with unexpected ease. The sharp clunk of the lever startled him in the alien craft’s tomb-like quiet. Under his effort, the door receded into the wall with surprising smoothness. Colder, eons-old air from the ship’s deeper interior washed over them.

“Brrr,” said Appleton. “Nice freezer-locker effect.” “Sure could use that robocam we couldn’t bring,” said Commander Sullivan. “Among other things.”

Ross snorted. “All that and not very high techy to boot. Look. Not one alien scribble or symbol anywhere.”

“I suspect it’s all embedded,” said Pearce. “Nothing shows up till she’s powered. Just like Hope. So I’d expect at least the same on this ship.”

He peeped through the door, slowly directing his light from side to side. Sprawling out before him was an empty compartment, maybe four times the size of the basement of his house. On the floor were intertwining scrape marks and what appeared in the poor light to be rows of evenly spaced bull-ring retractable tie-downs.

“A supply compartment,” he said. He lit up the side bulkhead wall and was not surprised to see a huge door that interrupted a line of carabiners. “Probably opens out and down into a ramp. No indication so far that the ship crashed.”

“Then what the hell happened?” demanded Ross.

“Patience, please. Olivia, your Geiger talking to you?”

Ross asked, “How you holding up, Apple?”

She answered neither. As she stepped past Pearce and through the door, he caught a flicker of fear in her eyes.

“We’re going to be just fine,” the Captain said, briefly palming her shoulder and not totally believing his own words.

“Into the belly of the alien beast,” said Ross.

Appleton pointed. “A regular crew door.”

Once they’d crossed the compartment, Appleton wasted no time sliding the door open. They entered a narrow corridor that ran about 40 feet before ending at an opening. Pearce’s nerves were ready to fly out of his skin. What in hell would they find there?

Appleton spoke: “Here goes, if you want me to be point….” She started moving down the corridor slowly, her free hand sliding along the wall as if it were protection. Close to the end, she stopped. “If my hunch is right, their computer system’s in here.” Her breathing sounded irregular and hard, and she’d struggled to get the words out. She advanced a few more steps, hesitated for a moment, then proceeded quickly into the opening. She made a turn and was out of sight.

“Olivia, wait!” shouted Pearce. His heart pounded. They were about to lay eyes on an alien technology they could possibly reverse engineer, or at least scavenge for parts.

Appleton abruptly reappeared, startling Pearce and almost bumping into him, her light momentarily blinding him. The expression on her face stopped his heart. Above her mask, her eyes darted wildly. She struggled to speak. “No! I…. I can’t believe this!”

What?” Sullivan shouted.

In two seconds the other three turned into the opening, with Appleton trailing. Their shaky lamps lit up the banks of a large computer main-frame. Pearce’s mouth opened but emitted no sounds. He staggered back, reaching for a wall. “What in…?”

“This is not poss—” Commander Sullivan’s voice choked off.

They gaped in silence at the dull-silver inscription across the top of the mainframe:

DORIS

“DORIS….” Appleton rasped.

Pearce ripped his mask off and flung it over his shoulder, letting it hang from the tank by the hose. A cough burst from his lungs. He sucked in the pungent, dead air he knew was slowly being replaced by outside air. Bending and clasping his trembling knees, he retched twice, burning his throat and stinging his watering eyes.

He raked the back of his hand across his mouth and straightened. Breathing hard, he said out of a dry throat, “I… believe…this is the smaller ship assembled in orbit alongside Hope. It was intended to be a rescue ship if Hope had gone to Mars and run into trouble.” Ross ripped the mask away from his face. “Wait, what?” Pearce took a moment. “To know anything for sure, to answer all the baffling questions flying around in our skulls, we have to find the Captain’s Log. Let’s pray it was safeguarded and preserved.”

The other three removed their masks, letting them dangle from the tanks. Commander Sullivan, leaning against a wall, nodded, her lamplight bouncing wildly off the ceiling and walls. “It obviously left earth after we did. But since it had to be reconfigured, it could not have left sooner than at least several months after. And it must have an advanced engine that brought it here…thousands of years earlier? That has to be the answer.”

“Yes. But same engine,” said Pearce, looking around, his light sweeping. “The craft’s smaller mass meant faster speed.”

He trained his light on a door opposite the main frame. “There’s our way to the cockpit.” Sullivan took a breath and trained her light on Ross. “What’s almost as shocking as all this is that we found this ship. The odds against that — against you tripping on the damned thing — are staggering.”

“Another reason I’m a little spun,” said Ross.

“Me, too,” Appleton said. Did Pearce catch a bit of  sympathy in that? She added, “Don’t take that the wrong way.”

In her light, he smiled dryly. “I won’t. Thanks anyway. Oh, and don’t take that the wrong way.”

“Ice it, you two,” said Pearce. “I want to do this clean and quick.”

“Do what clean and quick?” Appleton asked.

“Just follow me.” The Captain thought maybe the Ensign hadn’t fully recovered from her shock.

They removed their masks and tanks and laid them on the floor to be recovered later. Moving rapidly toward the door, Pearce heard Commander Sullivan shout to his back: “Jason, wait. You realize the asteroid must have missed!”

He paused at the door and looked at her. “Yes. Or did far less damage than projected.”

“So if civilization survived, why is this ship here?”

“That’s one reason we need the log, which I hope isn’t digital.”

“And the ship’s passengers. Did they soon die off? Otherwise, think about it — wouldn’t they have reproduced exponentially, built whole cities, states, even nations, in all that time?”

“I’m hoping the log will explain.”

“But what if the cockpit door is locked?”

He allowed himself a smile. “Did I mention I brought along my personal stash of C4 and detonators for just such an occasion?”

Ross and Appleton had caught up. Her light beam began wavering. “Captain,” she said weakly, “I’m feeling funny. Think I’m running a fever.” She dropped her Geiger, which hit the metal floor with an irritating clink!. Sullivan scooped it up and secured it to her belt.

Appleton’s knees started buckling.

“Livvy!” yelled Ross, catching her. He lowered her to the cold metal floor, one hand under her neck. “Look at me!”

Her glistening forehead knitted as her eyes struggled to focus on his face.

“Talk to me!” Ross demanded, panic rising in his voice.

“Tom—? My wingman… You always had my six. My … bad. Go on … without me. I’ll wait…. Still…have lots of embers burning for you.”

“Livvy, no way I’m leaving you. You’re not thinking clearly.”

“Is she…really your cousin?”

“Wha–? Livvy, was! Damn it, yes, she was my cousin. Look, Livvy, the most dangerous thing anyone in the universe could ever do is get between Tom Ross and Olivia Appleton. Anyway, she’s been dead for thousands of years!” He paused as if absorbing that for the first time. He twisted, fixed his headlamp on Pearce and Sullivan. “She’s running a temp. You two go on. I’ll take her to the ladder. Charles’ll help me haul her up and back to the ship. I’ll leave your backpacks.”

“Looks like she’s got what Doc says the others have,” said Pearce. He cursed under his breath. To Tom, he said, “Don’t speak to anyone but Diaz about this ship. And remind Charles and his crew to keep quiet. If any of you is asked about Sull and me, the answer is we’re still exploring and will return shortly. I don’t want rumors flying around. And panic. I’ll explain everything to them when we get back, hopefully with some clues about this mysterious ‘disease.’ And about what happened to Earth.”

Ross nodded once. He rose and hoisted Appleton to her feet. Almost without effort, he wrangled her small frame onto his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. “Hasta la vista.”

Pearce turned to Sullivan. “Full throttle up.”

VI

Captain Pearce and Commander Sullivan dashed into a long, wide compartment, then stopped in their tracks. Their lights bathed row after row of preservation cylinders, all open and empty.

“They must have died outside,” said Sullivan, her fore-head furrowed in bewilderment when Pearce turned her way.

He tapped her arm. “We have to go.” They raced past the cylinders toward the cockpit, the pounding of their boots echoing off the bulkhead walls.

Pearce held his light steady ahead. “The cockpit door! It’s open!”

Nearly out of breath, Sullivan said, “I think they were hoping we’d find their ship.”

Inside the cockpit they quickly took seats. “The safe,” said Pearce. “Where? Here! Damn! It’s locked. After all this—!”

“Sealed to protect the contents,” Sullivan suggested.

Pearce blew out air. “You’re right. If they banked on us getting inside — assuming we ever found their ship — and made it easy for us to move about, that means they wanted us to have access to everything, including the safe.”

He looked around, then returned his light to the safe. He leaned closer and scraped his hand back and forth along the front edge of the safe’s top. “Looks like…a crude etching. Numbers. Eight, nine, ten numbers. The combination! They made sure we could open it without blowing off the door and damaging the contents.”

After punching in the combination and wrenching the safe door open, he directed his light inside. “There. A log just like mine. Good old ink-pen technology.”

He opened up the log on a retractable table. “The date! 7 November 124,583!”

“That’s…more than fourteen thousand years ago!” cried Commander Sullivan. “Incredible, now that we actually confirm it.” Her tone softened. “In space…how close did they pass by us, I wonder.”

Pearce shook his head once in disbelief, began scanning the log.

“The essential personnel data,” he mumbled impatiently, his finger tracing down the lines of the first page. “Crew names, ranks. Passenger list. Fifty total. Ship’s captain is…Norma Binson.” He paused. “The ship was renamed Hope II. Decent of them.” He went on. “Here. Departure date 24 May 2050. Two years after we left!”

“So what the hell happened?

“The asteroid obviously wasn’t a planet killer,” he said rapidly, “which is hard to believe. But maybe in time it was going to be, by destroying all life as a result of long-term effects: global fires, toxic ash encircling Earth, blocking sunlight and creating a winter holocaust that caused vegetation to die, then herbivores, then carni—”

He felt her hand on his arm. He resumed skimming pages. “Binson must have made notes about the asteroid to keep us out of the dark…. Wait — Bingo!” He read aloud from a section dated 15 April 2050, which Binson had dubbed simply “Pre-stasis”:

“Immediately after the grav tug rocket veered off and missed the asteroid, people everywhere in the Global Media began demanding that nukes and the orbital laser cannons be used to deflect it, despite scientists’ warning that both used together would be useless to deter an object of this mass and momentum. Several countries — Russia, China, and France, as well as the U.S. and others — coordinated a simultaneous launch of hundreds of missiles programmed to detonate together as laser cannons fired. This effort did alter the asteroid’s path, causing a near-miss of Earth, but the blasts splintered off a 700-meter chunk which unfortunately slammed into the caldera at Yellowstone National Park. The impact and the crust’s subsequent bounce not only set off a series of massive earthquakes, killing hundreds of thousands, but also created such a disturbation that volcanologists predicted an extinction-class eruption in the caldera to occur sometime in early June 2050.”

When Sullivan softly gasped, Pearce realized he was holding his own breath. He exhaled. Extinction-class! He knew about the huge caldera. The 70-kilometer-wide volcano beneath it erupted roughly every 600,000 years, the last eruption occurring about 640,000 years ago. An eruption could end life as efficiently as the asteroid.

In the oppressive darkness and silence of the buried Hope II, he said numbly, “If you shake a can of pop, then snap off the tab — boom. It blows. That’s what the asteroid chunk set up to happen with the magma and poisonous gases trapped below the caldera.”

He looked at Commander Sullivan. Her eyes glistened. “Jason, we are the last members of the human race.”

Did she just now realize that? Or had she until now clung to the hope that life on Earth somehow hadn’t perished and would go on? Who, he had to admit, would not cling to that hope?

She angrily arced her hand. “Why did Hope II make a 122,000-year journey to a planet that might turn out to be uninhabitable? Why not just orbit earth in a preserved state for a few thousand years to give Earth time to heal?”

“Sull, I think you know the answer as well as I do. In that time span, how often would Binson’s ship have collided with space junk and the countless satellites, to say nothing of meteors? The collisions over the years might’ve caused a decay orbit, which would’ve brought the ship back down into the atmosphere while Earth, too, was still uninhabitable. Their DORIS would’ve been activated to begin restoring everyone. Then Captain Binson, on learning of the premature entry, would’ve had to re-implement preservation — assuming they had extra preserving gel to do that — while oxygen and other valuable resources were being wasted.”

He paused, gathered his thoughts.

“I suppose DORIS could’ve been programmed to first verify the elapsed time after she was activated, detect that it was too early, then take the ship out of the atmosphere and into orbit again. But this process could have repeated dozens if not hundreds of times over just a few thousand years, putting the ship at risk of running out of fuel and DORIS’ power supply being exhausted. Not to mention that considering DORIS’s one-percent error capacity, a miscalculation with serious consequences could have been made somewhere along the way.”

Commander Sullivan did a little toss of her hand. “I know, I know. And anyway, I’m convinced they had a secondary reason for coming here: to colonize this planet so their descendants could surprise us with a new civilization. It would’ve been glorious!”

“Yes…,” he said, staring at her and reflecting on the possibilities. His attention then returned to the log. “Oh, here’s a sad note:

‘The day before Hope II launched, Project Manager Victor Powell committed suicide.'”

“Any reason given?” asked Sullivan.

“Nope. Just that statement. Maybe he wasn’t picked for the Hope II journey, either. If so, he of course knew he was doomed, had nothing to live for. No doubt thousands, maybe millions of people chose that ‘easy’ route. Powell’s bitterness, though, struck me as particularly acute; I remember those eyes….”

He sighed. “Back to Hope II’s people and what happened to them.” He went to the last pages of the log in Captain Binson’s “Post-Arrival” section. “Her handwriting has deteriorated.” His finger zig-zagged hurriedly over the next two pages, then stopped. “Listen — believe I have something:

“Date 7 Nov. 124,583, 13:46: Johnson and Tarasov became ill this a.m., and later Dr. Sato. Sato described her symptoms as flu-like but ruled out a virus. She will do more tests with the minimal equipment she has. But her energy is fading.

“Date 8 Nov., 09:15: Four more are ill. Sato has quarantined herself and the others in a dome home on the fringe of the camp. She is communicating via radio, though her voice is weakening. She said her air and soil tests revealed no toxins.”

Captain Pearce marked his place with a fingertip, looked at Sullivan. “This sounds like—!”

“The same thing affecting our people!”

A tightness building in his throat, he resumed:

“Date 10 Nov., 21:36: Five more sick. Dr. Sato is barely able to work. Moments ago she said she initially had wondered if DORIS had erred in her analysis of the atmosphere. So she deleted DORIS’s analysis result and had her do another from scratch. The exact same analysis was reached. The doctor then reviewed the data on the effects of 581g’s atmosphere. A table in a pamphlet displayed a range of extremes of atmospheric compositions and where in that range humans could endure. She confirmed that 581g’s air fell within that endurance range. She admitted to being perplexed. She said she will continue thinking about it, but her physical state is deteriorating quickly.

“Date 11 Nov., 10:19: Dr. Sato is dead. So are Johnson and Tarasov. Another six have become ill. We have converted two more dome homes into quarantines, even though I think this is of little value, since I do not believe we have a contagion.

“Date 15 Nov., 18:27: It is looking bleak for us. Forty-four have died as of last night. We have filled a total of six dome homes. I, too, have become ill, and it is difficult to write. A disease ‘that cannot be a disease’ has spread throughout this tiny fledgling group of humans, and has made it certain that we will not achieve our mission of building a civilization to await the passengers of Hope.”

“There, that confirms what you said, Sull.”

“Date 17 Nov., 07:33: Only three of us are left. This is my final log entry. I have instructed Rachel and Phillipe, who still have strength, to turn on the transponder (though it will last only a few years). They will store the Captain’s Log in the cockpit safe, open or unlock all interior doors, then exit Hope II for the last time, sealing it up as they leave.”

“Listen to this — though her handwriting’s a terrible scrawl:

“To: Captain Jason Pearce of the Hope: If by some miracle you found this, it saddens my heart knowing what awaits you. I pray that”

“That’s it. Her last sentence. Too weak to finish.” Pearce slammed the log shut and tucked it under his arm. “Sull, we’d better get back to the ship pronto and figure this out. Otherwise –“ he mimed a pistol pointed at his head – “game over.”

VII

“Have we made the last journey humankind will ever make?” Dr. Diaz spoke softly. She did not expect an answer, nor did she get one.

She stood inside the closed cockpit with Captain Pearce, Commander Sullivan, and Lieutenant Ross. None of them took much notice of the activity outside the ship: supplies being carried into dome homes, a rectangle of land being cultivated and readied for seeding….

Diaz had finished reading the highlights of Captain Binson’s log and, like Ross, had mostly recovered from the horrible story about what happened to Earth and to Hope II’s crew. Now, slightly hunched over, with arms crossed at the waist and elbows cupped in her hands, she appeared frightened. “Captain, we’ve got ten more sick! No disease, no radioactivity, no toxins to be found. What, then?”

Exhausted, Captain Pearce dragged the palm of his hand down over his face. He regarded the doctor.

“You said Appleton, too, has stabilized since you put her in quarantine with the others. All of our sick have stabilized; Binson didn’t mention that any of hers had — though ‘stabilized’ doesn’t mean our sick are out of the woods, as you pointed out. All of Binson’s people died. They had virtually the same symptoms. The only difference between our sick and their sick is that ours were quarantined inside and theirs outside, according to Binson. The Earth-level O2 is richer inside the ship because we’ve kept it on and kept the airlock closed behind us for safety. But that shouldn’t matter since 581g’s lower O2, which hasn’t changed since Binson’s time, isn’t harmful.”

“Something else….” said Commander Sullivan, her voice tense.

“Yeah,” Ross mumbled.

Pearce nodded absently. He looked at Diaz again. “We have to comb through everything. Grab up all your re-cords: atmospheric data printouts, test results acquired on Earth, anything and everything. I don’t know what to look for, but maybe something will stand out. My very best bad plan.”

As Diaz accelerated out of the cockpit, he spread his hands and confessed: “I don’t know where to start.”

“Well, you know — they say the beginning’s good, if we’re going to look at everything,” said Ross.

“Yeah….” Pearce gave him an acknowledging glance. “If only I knew where the beginning is.” He gazed upward at no particular spot as he always seemed to do when addressing DORIS. “DORIS, play back everything you said after Hope reduced speed, arrived at the planet, and made its first entry into the atmosphere.”

“Yes, Captain:

“Captain Jason Pearce. Are you fully awake and comprehending, Captain? Air is reestablished. Nutrients are supplied. Lighting up. Your preservation gel has been siphoned away. Your brain and heart are functioning normally. The Restoration Handbook states that everyone must remain on board for three hours to allow the ship’s oxygen to fully purge your body of the gel residue.”

“DORIS, stop.”

Diaz had returned loaded with binders and stapled documents. She lowered them onto a shelf Pearce had pulled down out of a bulkhead niche.

“Bear with me,” Pearce said to her. “You did verify our air quality, O2 level?”

“Of course,” she replied, a bit of defensive tightness appearing across the bridge of her nose.

“Excluding me, what about everyone’s heart and brain function?”

“Took a few hours but I checked everyone to the extent I could with my limited equipment. I found nothing and DORIS confirmed my findings, to the extent she could.”

“Okay, a ‘maybe’ area we can revisit later if necessary. And the gel residue? Fully purged from everyone after three hours?”

A hint of irritation flashed in her eyes. “You know I don’t have nano probes or even a decent microscope. Couldn’t examine them on a cellular level. Anyway, DORIS said—”

Pearce wiped sweat from his upper lip. “I know. Three hours and the gel’s gone. But somebody once said, ‘Trust but verify.’ That certainly applies when it comes to a machine without 100 percent reliability. You’ve personally verified everything — to the extent you could — except the gel purge. So that’s an unknown, as for as I’m concerned. It’s probably a pointless trail, but we should look at it anyway. Pull out the Restoration Handbook — which Victor Powell told me I’d never need! — and find the section on the gel.”

Moments later she rotated the handbook toward him. Her finger tapped. “Here.”

“Have you read it yourself yet?”

“No. Look, I’ve had my hands full.”

He nodded. He skimmed, then read aloud from a mid-page paragraph: “In a variety of atmospheric compositions, the gel, which permeates and preserves … so forth and so on … was found to be completely purged after three hours … Well, I guess there’s nothing here — Wait —!” Pearce’s voice choked off. He thought his head would explode. “I—I can’t believe this! It says ‘completely purged after three hours in Rhesus monkeys and lemurs!‘ In goddamn animals! In humans, it says ‘the minimum time for complete purging is three days‘!”

Commander Sullivan’s sharp intake of air was audible. “DORIS…she made a critical error. Substituted —”

“Hours for days!” exclaimed Pearce. A dark thought hit him. Was this Victor Powell’s prophecy being fulfilled, proof humans didn’t deserve to survive?

Tom Ross spat his anger: “Well, that craters my morale to hell. Those fraggin’ engineers. Couldn’t make DORIS 100 percent error-free, and humanity will pay the price. Never put your total faith in a machine!”

Diaz had her head down, the back of her fist pressed against her lips. Her eyes showed she was frantically trying to gather her thoughts. Finally, understanding seemed to work across her face. She looked at Pearce. “If the gel residue’s still in us when we’re outside, the lower oxygen can’t fully purge it. The gel’s likely trapped at the microtubule level long enough to interfere with normal cell function, blocking adenosine triphosphate from supplying the energy for powering cells…which could lead to a lethal breakdown of organs….”

Tremendous relief exploded inside Pearce. “Doc! You’re our savior! What you did … it’s a wonderful thing. You put our sick into the compartment where they breathed the ship’s oxygen—”

“Which,” she said, her own relief evident, “was sufficient to break down the gel and flush it out of their bodies. As was designed to happen.” She shook her head and smiled grimly. “And to think that just before you and Commander Sullivan returned, I was preparing to put all of the ill back outside, figuring the fresh air might help! I had brought them inside because I can’t tolerate heat well. Outside, I would’ve been a wet rag for quite a while and not really good at helping the sick.” Her smile brightened and she alternately looked at Sullivan and Pearce. “Thank our lucky galaxies, we have a five-day supply of O2 left!”

Pearce pivoted to Ross. “Get everybody inside and lock down!”

VIII

Captain Jason Pearce, along with Commander Faye Sullivan and Lieutenant Tom Ross, had gathered in the computer-systems niche near the quarantine compartment. They stood slightly behind and to the side of Charles Duncan, who, still a hulking presence without his exo, had lit up DORIS’ holographic monitors. They watched the former cyber cop intently. One of his big hands scampered back and forth across a keyboard, as the fingers of the other gesticulated in the air, alternately spreading, pinching, and twirling, engaging a large hologram that nearly encircled him. These motions magnified, paused, then backgrounded one layer after another of a complex, hierarchical computer-code schematic.

“Scanned her neural networks, cognitive and learning algorithms – associative memories, all twelve billion or so of her main and sub-routines, ARA — that’s abstractions, problem reformulations, and approximations. They all provide her with a decent version of human intelligence and common sense. No glitches. Nanophotonic quantum phase switching unaltered. Heuristic analysis shows….no viruses— ”

“So what’s the subtext here?” mumbled Ross. Was his patience being tested by the technobabble, as was Pearce’s somewhat?

“Keep your anchor down, Lieuy,” Duncan said, giving Ross glancing attention. “Don’t want to fall through a trap door. I know everybody’s all buzzed up about that three-hours thing…. Now rounding third…. Checking updates, most recent programming activity… Hold on… Okay, have something. Yeah…about that, the three-hours thing. It’s not an error we can pin on DORIS’s infamous one-percent unreliability. ‘Tweren’t an error at all; DORIS didn’t retrieve the wrong word by way of, say, a referencing failure due to her aged circuitry. Nope, ‘hours’ showed up in place of ‘days’ solely as the result of human intervention. So what are we talking about? Not glad you asked.” His finger tapped twice at a line of green code in a narrow data column near the edge of the hologram. “Right here; it’s time-stamped. The system recorded the deletion and substitution at 22:36, May 27, 2048, a week before we left. This, sorry to say, appears to be plain old sabotage.”

Sullivan and Ross, stunned and speechless, stared at Duncan. Pearce felt the stirrings of nausea.

“A fraggin’ saboteur?” Ross spat. “What bastard would do something like that?”

“On both ships!” cried Sullivan.

Duncan turned to the Captain. “I found the evidence. Can’t help you with the culprit. Any ideas?”

Pearce caught Sullivan’s anguish fading as she faced him squarely, reading him.

“Jason…? What? …Yes. I can see it in your eyes — you know who it is, don’t you?”

Ross spoke. “One of the passengers?” He then raked his eyes across the three: “One of us?”

Pearce put up his hands. “No! No no no. No one on this ship. It was …. Victor Powell.”

The three exchanged glances. “You sure?” asked Sullivan.

“A lot of the people working on the project,” continued Pearce, “were angry over not being picked for the journey. But only Powell had everything that was needed to pull off something like this. Only he was authorized to access DORIS’s database. He had knowledge not only about DORIS but also about the preservation gel. He was the only project worker who didn’t have supervision constantly peering over his shoulder. He was supervision. He must have had the opportunity to make the change during his pre-flight walk-through of the ship four nights before his final meeting with me, when he went up with a crew of inspectors.”

The Captain shook his head. Powell, reaching out across the millennia and trillions of miles, had tried to fulfill his verdict that the human race should die!

Sullivan said, “But why not do any one of many other things more efficient at killing us? Why not program DORIS to stay in sleep mode when we entered the atmosphere? We would’ve crashed and all been killed instantly.”

“That kind of reprogramming,” Duncan asserted, “is more complex and would’ve taken far too long. Powell probably wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible without attracting curious eyes.”

Pearce gave a nod. “Especially the eyes of the inspectors who may’ve been members of the union Powell despised. That would also explain why he didn’t steal the gel handbook.”

“A quick and easy word substitution was the ticket.”

“My hunch is,” Pearce continued, glancing at each of them, “it wasn’t premeditated with our ship. His bitterness and anger may have peaked and driven him mad, and the word-switching idea came to him while he was putting DORIS through a final series of tests. Of course, on Hope II, it was premeditated.”

Sullivan looked at the Captain. “My money says he committed suicide because he came to his senses and was over-whelmed with guilt.”

Ross cleared his throat. “I hope so. But I guess it really doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Well, I suppose that’s that,” Duncan said. His index finger descended on the ENTER key with dramatic flair. “I declare DORIS to be ninety-nine point nine percent error free!” He added with a grin: “Best I can do.”

Dr. Angela Diaz approached from the quarantine compartment wearing the vestige of a smile despite appearing frazzled. The smile evaporated when Pearce began giving her the Powell story.

Finally, with no small tinge of bitterness in her voice, she said, “Single-handedly he almost terminated what’s left of the human species. He was apparently not just angry but insane. Probably driven that way, like many others, by all the horrors coming down on us.”

“Yes,” agreed Pearce. “And he no doubt felt greatly cheated knowing that his life-long love — the Mars mission — was snatched away from him at the very last moment.”

Diaz continued: “He may not have premeditated his evil deed with Hope, but I wonder why he purposely okayed a not totally necessary 200-pound exoskeleton, instead of an extra 200 pounds of badly needed medical tools that might  have cracked our mysterious ‘disease’ right away. I can’t help thinking the man planned in advance for us to die.”

“Noted,” Pearce said. “At least I understand now why he seemed so insistent that I rely not on the handbook but solely on DORIS for any questions about the gel.”

Diaz shook her head in disgust, then took a deep breath. “Okay, some good news. All of my patients are recovering. And I don’t anticipate relapses.”

The other three expressed their relief. Sullivan lightly applauded.

“How’s this for recovery, Doc?” Everyone turned to see Ensign Olivia Appleton. She’d walked out of the quarantine compartment without assistance. Though pale and weak-looking, she seemed grateful to be on her feet. “Most of us are up and milling around. They’ll be walking out soon.” She looked quizzically at Diaz. “Tell me, why were we affected at different times, to different degrees?”

“A simple matter of our different physiological makeups, different matabolisms,” Diaz replied pleasantly. “Same reason people are affected differently by ordinary meds.” She looked from Appleton to Pearce. “She seems strong enough. We can bring her up to speed on everything.”

A few moments later and composed, Appleton shook her head. “I feel so terrible for Captain Binson and her people.”

“They didn’t die in vain,” said Sullivan. “If it hadn’t been for them….”

“True, but let’s be honest,” Pearce said, “a lot of credit has to go to the Doc here. If she hadn’t kept the sick on board, a lot of lives would’ve been—”

Diaz waved him off. “Was only making it convenient for myself. You know, my thing with hot weather. But I had been thinking about moving the sick back outside. For the ‘fresh’ air!” She did a “Whew!” and swiped at her forehead. “Glad I was selfish.”

“You’re all forgetting Tom,” said Appleton. She directed a rueful smile at the Lieutenant.

Ross stiffened a bit and returned a questioning, semi-hard stare. “Say again?”

Though Ross had clearly been happy to see Appleton up and about, Pearce figured the man had to be asking himself: Now that she’s back to normal, is she back to normal?

Her smile broadened. “Just think,” she said to the others, keeping her eyes on Ross. “If Tom hadn’t had a bladder issue at that moment, and hadn’t been such a clumsy oaf….” She moved tentatively over to Ross, reading his face, and put her arms around his waist. “People are too important, life is too precious, for you and me to be so petty and mean to each other. You and I need to reboot.”

Pearce fought off picturing his dead wife for more than a second, then the billions of lives lost on Earth for even less than that. He nodded, thinking, Yes, people are far, far too important…. His gaze drifted to Sullivan.

“Well,” snorted  Ross, looking astonished. “Knock me over with a velociraptor feather. A fraggin’ hug out of you?”

“You still have my ring?”

He patted his side. “Right here, Apple Of My Eye.”

Resting her head against his chest, she said to Pearce, “I know it’s not above your pay grade to hitch up couples.”

Pearce laughed. “True enough. But — you two must agree to head up our morale committee. I want you right off to do skits based on your interactions with each other up to now. Sort of like an old TV show….’The Honeymooner, I believe it was called.”

They looked at each other and shrugged. “Would be fun,” Ross said.

Sullivan, Pearce noticed,  was gazing at the floor.

“S-u-l-l…,” he teased, “what’s going on?”

She glanced up, then off to the side. “Oh, nothing. Just…you know….wondering.” Her gaze shifted to the other side of Pearce. “Jason, do you think you…and I… we could ever—?”

“Commander!” barked Pearce. “I—”

Sullivan had put her palms up. “No no no no. I was just, you know, thinking hypothetically—” She pushed her hands down shaping a rooftop. “Okay, cards on the table, and I don’t give a crap who hears.” After she gave the others a quick glance, her face took on an apologetic, almost painful look. “Jason, remember when I told you I divorced my ex-husband because he changed his mind about wanting kids? Well, that was only part of it. I divorced him mainly because I fell in love with you. I have loved you practically from the day we met.” Flashing an uncomfortable-looking smile, she interlaced her fingertips and gave him a relaxed — relieved? — gaze. “There. Sort of easy to go for broke after what we’ve all been through.”

Pearce felt himself blush. “Hey … back atcha. Sull, I was—“

“Get a grip on those emotions, Captain,” laughed Ross.

“By the way, sir,” said Appleton, “I did catch you and the Commander taking your eye off the ball a time or two and putting it a bit too long on each other.”

“At ease, everyone. As I was saying…. Sull, I was about to float an idea before you interrupted me. Glad you did now, because I didn’t know how you were going to react. I was going to put my cards on the table and ask what would you think about a double wedding. I’ll authorize Diaz to perform the ceremony.”

Her small, nervous smile exploded into a full-fledged grin. “Well, we are going to need lots of babies around here!”

“The first one’s on the way.” Appleton drew all eyes again. She beamed sheepishly up at Ross. “Dr. Diaz tells me I’m two months along.”

For a moment, Ross had the look of one who realizes he has just been stabbed in the stomach but does not yet feel the pain. “Uh!” he coughed. “You — you  mean I’m going to be a daddy!”

“That gel truly is remarkable.” She  looked at Diaz. “I just realized. You’re another one that’s only 99 percent error free. Obviously I’ve been pregnant for almost 137,000 years! Make me  the first entry in the next Guinness Book of Records.”

As they laughed, Pearce placed his hand on the small of Sullivan’s back and guided her away.

“Sull, we have to ‘do the town’ at least once before we shackle each other, y’know.”

Cracking jokes about cheap dates and where to honey-moon, they ambled their way fore, dodging fast-moving children jinking left and right in a game of tag among the cylinders and passenger seats. Once inside the cockpit, they stood admiring the colorful landscape of the human race’s new Earth.

“It really is beautiful,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Good water, fertile ground. We’re going to make it.” She took his hand and looked at him with misty eyes. “I don’t know how to thank you for urging me to sign on with you, though you just found out you didn’t have to try too hard.”

Victor Powell, Pearce thought, had been wrong. The Captain turned to the woman he now knew he loved. “We do deserve to live.”

To her quizzical look. he said, “I’ll explain later.” Without the slightest attempt to smile: “There is a way we can thank each other. DORIS — and you’d better be 100-percent reliable on this — close the cockpit door.”

________________________


What could shock you more than knowing you’re going to die in just a few seconds? See my much shorter story “Swirling Away.”

Want to contact Jerry? jabbog48152@yahoo.com

If you didn’t read this story as a download, getting to the end means you possess far more patience than the average Web reader, who apparently skims and then jumps to another site after about ten seconds. My congratulations on your perseverance!

Tech notes and attribution:

Gliese 581g, a real planet, was discovered on September 29, 2010. See info at Universetoday.com.

118 Libra is not a real star; hence 118 Libra c is not a real planet.

Artist’s impression of Gliese 581 & planets. Credit: Lynette Cook; NASA

Posted in Fiction For Relief! | Leave a comment

Guest Commentary of the Year: A Better Feminism for 2015

Strange, that I picked as the best guest commentary of the year a commentary published on the last day of the year.

By Cathy Young | Time.com | December 31, 2014

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

Half of successful advocacy is knowing to pick one’s battles

Cathy Young of Newsday

Cathy Young of Reason.com

Was 2014 the year feminism won the gender war, or jumped the shark? One could say it has had a pretty good year, with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Beyoncé Knowles and Emma Watson and with gender issues often dominating the news.

And yet all too often, the publicity backfired.

The campaign to nix the word “bossy” as a putdown of assertive girls was criticized and mocked not only by conservatives but by liberal and left-wing feminists. The #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag created in response to Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree and his YouTube rants about female rejection elicited a groundswell of sympathy for women’s stories of violence and sexism—but also unease from pro-feminist men and women who felt all males were being unjustly shamed. A social media group called Women Against Feminism sprung up, many of its members stressing that they were for equality but against male-bashing, gender warfare, and contempt for traditional choices. Even the movement to curb sexual assault on college campuses faltered late when diverse critics voiced concerns about the rights of the accused—while the unraveling of a sensational magazine account of fraternity rape exposed the troubling zealotry of advocates for whom believing rape claims is somewhat akin to a matter of religious faith.

Do we still need feminism in 2015 and beyond—and if so, what kind? Advocacy for women’s basic rights clearly remains an urgent issue in many places around the world. Even in the United States and other advanced democracies, a movement for gender equality still has valid issues to address. Here are a few guideposts to keep such a movement from turning irrelevant, toxic, or both.

Intellectual diversity is important; labels are not. Some leading feminists are so concerned with ideological purity that they fret over too many people embracing the term while failing various litmus tests. But supporting feminism, in its dictionary sense of the equality of the sexes, doesn’t bind you to any particular position on gun control, capitalism, or the environment. Even respectful dialogue with people who consider themselves pro-life feminists would benefit both sides.

Conversely, if some people are pro-equality but won’t call themselves feminists because of they don’t like the word’s connotations, chastising them or explaining why they are “really” feminists is unhelpful and arrogant. Feminists, humanists, egalitarians, even (gasp!) men’s rights activists—why not work with anyone who shares one’s overall goals? A gender equality movement can only have a future if it’s a big tent.

Equality should not mean that men and women must be identical in everything—it should mean treating people as individuals regardless of their gender. Too often, the debate about biology and gender pits dogmatic denial of any innate behavioral or psychological differences between the sexes against broad Mars-versus-Venus stereotypes and claims that traditional sex roles are nature’s way. It’s entirely possible that even absent any gender-specific social pressures, women would be much more likely to become full-time parents, nurses, or kindergarten teachers, while men would be much more likely to become CEOs, professional athletes, or engineers. But while many differences in personality traits and cognitive patterns may be innate, they are tendencies, not absolutes. Flexibility is part of human nature, too; and, just as many feminists exaggerate the role of socialization, many conservative critics of feminism underestimate the impact of cultural biases. We can work to reduce such biases and ensure that nontraditional choices are not stigmatized or discouraged—without demanding 50-50 parity in everything.

The other side of sexism must be recognized. Former Jezebel editor Lindy West has argued that such “men’s rights” problems as unequal treatment of fathers in family courts or bias against male domestic violence victims are rooted in patriarchy and that feminism is already addressing them. Unfortunately, facts say otherwise. On these and other issues, feminist activists and commentators have tended to side with women, oppose measures to help men, and promote women-as-victims, men-as-bad-guys narratives. Such double standards need to be confronted.

Despite protestations that feminism helps both sexes, West and many others also claim that our society systematically empowers and advantages men at women’s expense. This is a gross distortion of contemporary Western reality. Biases rooted in traditional norms affect both sexes (and are perpetuated by both sexes). Women may get less support for pursuing high-paying careers; men have less leeway to choose fulfilling but lower-paying work. Women may be unfairly stereotyped as weaker; men, as more violent. While British feminist writer Laurie Penny asserts that our culture “hates women,” researchers including feminist psychologist Alice Eagly find that if anything, both sexes view women more favorably than men.

The perception of pervasive, one-sided male power and advantage can create a disturbing blindness to injustices toward men—even potentially life-ruining ones such as false accusations of rape. A true equality movement should address all gender-based wrongs, not create new ones.

Justice knows no gender—and demands concern for both accuser and accused. There is a real history of legalized sexism toward women seeking recourse for sexual and domestic violence. But achieving justice in cases that hinge on conflicting and often ambiguous accounts is an extremely difficult balance. Choosing sides on the basis of gender is textbook sexism—and insisting that women are entitled to belief is a feminist version of the old-fashioned pedestal.

The personal is not always political. Men behaving badly to women in personal relationships—unless such behavior has social and institutional support—is not necessarily a gender issue. Neither gender has a monopoly on insensitivity, rudeness, manipulation, dishonesty, or entitlement. What’s more, policing relationships in the name of ideology—for instance, trying to dictate how people should express consent to sex—is always a bad idea. Let us by all means have a conversation on changing sexual norms; but this can be done without using coercion and penalties to enforce someone’s version of healthy interaction, or focusing almost exclusively on male mistreatment of women.

A narrative is only as good as its facts. From “women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar for the same work” to “one in five college women are sexually assaulted by graduation,” a number of statistics commonly used by women’s advocates have withered under scrutiny. So have some recent tales of alleged misogynist infamy, such as the University of Virginia gang rape and cover-up or the supposedly sexist firing of New York Times editor Jill Abramson. Too often, the feminist response to such debunkings has amounted to declarations that the big picture matters more than specific facts and figures. But the big picture had better be made up of accurate details. Campus rape certainly happens; so does workplace sexism. But addressing real problems requires solid research and reporting. We badly need more of both when it comes to gender issues.

Trivial pursuit is not the path to equity. Feminism is now battling the alleged scourge of men who take up too much space on public transit by spreading their legs? Not only is this selective male-shaming (social media users quickly noted that female riders are guilty of different-but-equal sins), it is also a comically petty grievance that could suggests the aggrieved have no real issues. Half of successful advocacy is knowing to pick one’s battles.

The biggest unfinished business of gender equality in the West is “work-life balance” and caregiving. This point was eloquently made by Judith Shulevitz in a recent New Republic debate on feminism’s future. Whatever role discrimination may play, childbearing has a major effect on gender disparities in career achievement. Even women who are satisfied with these trade-offs often feel the conflict acutely. But this tension is not just a women’s issue. In a Pew poll last year, almost as many working fathers as working mothers (50% versus 56%) said it was it difficult to balance work and parenthood. Overall, twice as many fathers as mothers—46% versus 23%—felt they spent too little time with their children.

Like many feminists, Shulevitz sees mainly government solutions. Others would counter that the flexibility and creativity of markets and civil society offer far better answers. But this is the kind of debate people should be having in the big tent of a true equality movement.

Could such a movement get its start in 2015? In the waning days of 2014, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Posted in Feminism, Gender Politics, Gender Violence, Gender Wage Gap, Male "Power" and "Privilege", World of Children/World of Work | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Year the Crusade Against ‘Rape Culture’ Stumbled

 Reason.com | Dec. 26, 2014 

 rinoshea/Flickr

rinoshea/Flickr

December has not been a good month for the feminist crusade against the “rape culture.”

The Rolling Stone account of a horrific fraternity gang rape at the University of Virginia, which many advocates saw as a possible “tipping point”—a shocking wake-up call demonstrating that even the most brutal sexual assaults on our college campuses are tacitly tolerated—has unraveled to the point where only a true believer would object to calling it a rape hoax.

At first, when investigative reporting by The Washington Post revealed major holes in the story, activists as well as feminist commentators chastised those who were too quick to declare it discredited. Just because Rolling Stone screwed up its reporting, they said, doesn’t mean that Jackie was not sexually assaulted or that her complaint was not neglected by the university. Just because Jackie changed her story, they insisted, doesn’t make her a liar—merely a likely rape victim whose trauma-fogged memory caused her to get some details wrong. (Her story, let’s not forget, had changed from being forced to perform oral sex on five men to being vaginally raped by seven men, punched in the face, and cut on shattered glass.) “The man that Jackie describes, named ‘Drew’ in the story, is a real person on campus,” wrote leading feminist pundit Amanda Marcotte, referring to Jackie’s date who supposedly brought her to a fraternity party and lured her into a rape trap. “He just happens to belong to another fraternity on campus. Which means that, while there’s a chance she’s lying, there’s also a very big and very real chance that this all happened and she just forgot what frat house it was at.”

Now, it turns out “Drew”—or “Haven Monahan,” the name Jackie originally gave her friends—doesn’t seem to exist after all, on the UVA campus, anywhere in the United States, or probably anywhere on the planet. His name is straight out of a particularly cheesy romance novel; his photo, which Jackie’s friends got in text messages, turned out to match a former high school classmate of hers who goes to a different college. It also looks like Jackie made up both “Haven” and the sexual assault he supposedly engineered in an attempt to get the romantic attention of Ryan Duffin, one of the friends she called for help that night. Tellingly, her lawyer has not commented on these revelations. The only alternate explanation is that Jackie is the victim of a diabolically clever frame-up by her ex-friends.

Assuming Jackie is a fabulist, one can debate how much blame she deserves. It’s clear she’s a troubled young woman, and somewhat in her defense she did not falsely accuse any actual men (though it certainly seems that she falsely accused her former friends, two men and one woman, of treating her brutal rape as a minor unpleasantness far less important than invitations to frat parties). It is also clear that she was exploited by author Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and arguably Rolling Stone too, in pursuit of a sensational story. But some of the blame must go to the movement that encouraged her in turning her fantasy of victimhood into activism—especially when that movement is so entrenched in its true-believer mindset that some of its adherents seem unable to accept contrary facts. Katherine Ripley, executive editor of the UVA student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, continued to post #IStandWithJackie tweets for days after the “Haven Monahan” story broke. Two other UVA students made a video thanking Jackie for “pulling back the curtain” on campus rape and praising her “bravery.”

Meanwhile, even as the UVA saga unfolded, the “women’s page” of the online magazine Slate, Double X, published an outstanding long article by liberal journalist Emily Yoffe examining the excesses of the campus rape crusade—from the use of shoddy statistics to hype an “epidemic” of sexual violence against college women to the rise of policies that trample the civil rights of accused male students. The piece was retweeted nearly 2,500 times and received a great deal of positive attention, partly no doubt on the wave of the UVA/Rolling Stone scandal. Some of Yoffe’s critique echoes arguments made earlier by a number of mostly conservative and libertarian commentators. But, apart from the extensive and careful research she brings to the table, the fact that these arguments were given a platform in one of the premier feminist media spaces is something of a breakthrough, if not a turning point.

Just days after the publication of Yoffe’s article, the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new study boosting her case (and based on data she briefly discussed). The special report, “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013,” shows that not only are female college students less likely to experience sexual assault than non-college women 18 to 24, but the rate at which they are sexually assaulted is nowhere near the “one in five” or “one in four” statistics brandished by advocates. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), from which the BJS derives its data, found that approximately 6 out of 1,000 college women say they have been sexually assaulted in the past year. Over four years of college, economist Mark Perry points out, this adds up to about one in 53. Still a troubling figure, to be sure, but it does not quite bear out claims that the American campus is a war-against-women zone.

Journalists who embrace the narrative of campus anti-rape activism, such as The Huffington Post’s Tyler Kingkade and Vox.com’s Libby Nelson, have tried to rebut claims that the new DOJ report discredits the higher advocacy numbers. Kingkade asserts that the NCVS “doesn’t look at incapacitated rape,” in which the perpetrator takes advantage of the victim’s severe intoxication or unconsciousness. Nelson argues that because the survey focuses on crime victimization, respondents may underreport acquaintance rapes which don’t fit the stereotype of the stranger with a knife jumping out of the bushes.

But neither criticism holds up. The standard question used in the NCVS to screen for sexual victimization is, “Have you been forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity by (a) someone you didn’t know before, (b) a casual acquaintance? OR (c) someone you know well?” In other words, respondents are explicitly encouraged to report non-stranger sexual assaults—and, while they are not specifically asked about being assaulted while incapacitated, the wording certainly does not exclude such attacks.

Kingkade also suggests that the numbers are beside the point, since the effort to combat campus sexual assault is about people, not statistics—specifically, “about students who said they were wronged by their schools after they were raped.” Of course every rape is a tragedy, on campus or off—all the more if the victim finds no redress. But if it happens to one in five women during their college years, this is not just a tragedy but a crisis that arguably justifies emergency measures—which is why proponents of sweeping new policies have repeatedly invoked these scary numbers. (Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, has now had the one-in-five figure removed from her website.) And while the stories told by students are often compelling, it is important to remember that they are personal narratives which may or may not be factual.  Only last June, Emily Renda, a UVA graduate and activist who now works at the school, included Jackie’s story—under the pseudonym “Jenna”—in her testimony before a Senate committee.

Of course this is not to suggest that most such accounts are fabricated; but they are also filtered through subjective experience, memory, and personal bias. Yet, for at least three years, these stories been accorded virtually uncritical reception by the mainstream media. When I had a chance to investigate one widely publicized college case—that of Brown University students Lena Sclove and Daniel Kopin—for a feature in The Daily Beast, the facts turned out to bear little resemblance to the media narrative of a brutal rape punished with a slap on the wrist.

Now, in what may be another sign of turning tides, the accused in another high-profile case is getting his say. The New York Times has previously given ample coverage to Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student famous for carrying around a mattress to protest the school’s failure to expel her alleged rapist. Now, it has allowed that man, Paul Nungesser, to tell his story—a story of being ostracized and targeted by mob justice despite being cleared of all charges in a system far less favorable to the accused than criminal courts. No one knows whether Sulkowicz or Nungesser is telling the truth; but the media have at last acknowledged that there is another side to this story.

Will 2015 see a pushback against the anti-“rape culture” movement on campus? If so, good. This is a movement that has capitalized on laudable sympathy for victims of sexual assault to promote gender warfare, misinformation and moral panic. It’s time for a reassessment.

Posted in Female Violence, Feminism, Gender Politics, Gender Violence, Male "Power" and "Privilege", Media Sexism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A rape epidemic — by women?

Glenn Harlan Reynolds | USA Today | September 23, 2014

RapeCultureWriting in Time, Cathy Young notices something interesting in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures on rape: Women rape a lot more than people think.

If the CDC figures are to be taken at face value, then we must also conclude that, far from being a product of patriarchal violence against women, “rape culture” is a two-way street, with plenty of female perpetrators and male victims.

How could that be? After all, very few men in the CDC study were classified as victims of rape: 1.7% in their lifetime, and too few for a reliable estimate in the past year. But these numbers refer only to men who have been forced into anal sex or made to perform oral sex on another male. Nearly 7% of men, however, reported that at some point in their lives, they were “made to penetrate” another person — usually in reference to vaginal intercourse, receiving oral sex, or performing oral sex on a woman. This was not classified as rape, but as “other sexual violence.” And now the real surprise: when asked about experiences in the last 12 months, men reported being “made to penetrate” — either by physical force or due to intoxication — at virtually the same rates as women reported rape (both 1.1% in 2010, and 1.7% and 1.6% respectively in 2011).

In short, men are raped by women at nearly the same rate women are raped by men.

According to a recent study from the University of Missouri, published by the American Psychological Association, male victims of sexual assault are often victimized by women: “A total of 43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95% said a female acquaintance was the aggressor, according to a study published online in the APA journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

This shouldn’t be so surprising. Back in the old days, when talk of “rape” or “sexual assault” generally meant forcible penetration at the hands of a stranger, rape was unsurprisingly pretty much a male-committed crime.

But feminists pushed for a broader definition of rape, going beyond what Susan Estrich, in a very influential book, derisively called Real Rape, to encompass other forms of sexual coercion and intimidation. And so now the term “rape” as it is commonly used encompasses things like “date rape,” sex while a partner is intoxicated, sex without prior verbal consent and even — at Ohio State University, at least — sex where both partners consent, but for different reasons.

Unsurprisingly, when the definition of rape — or, as it’s often now called in order to provide less clarity, “sexual assault” — expands to include a lot more than behavior distinguished by superior physical strength, the incidence of rape goes up, and behavior engaged in by women is more likely to be included in the definition. (At juvenile detention centers nine out of 10 reporters of sexual assault are males victimized by female staffers.)

Thus, as Young points out, the CDC finds that men make up over a third of the victims of “sexual coercion,” which can include such things as “lies or false promises, threats to end a relationship or spread negative gossip, or ‘making repeated requests’ for sex and expressing unhappiness at being turned down.”

Critics tend to dismiss these as trivial, suggesting that the men involved should just “man up.” But, of course, there’s no reason to think that such coercion is any more trivial where men are concerned than where women are concerned, unless you believe that women are such fragile flowers that they cannot possibly withstand things that men are supposed to ignore.

It will be interesting to see how college disciplinary boards handle this. If, in light of the data, women exhibit a similar predilection for sexual misbehavior to men, then surely the colleges should be punishing roughly as many women as men for such conduct. If they are not, the only possible explanation is some form of institutional sexism. That should be good news for Title IX attorneys, at any rate.

Finally, all this talk of rape on campus must be making college enrollment officers —already having trouble filling seats — even more nervous. Telling female students that they have a one-in-five chance of being raped (even if it’s not true) isn’t going to make them, or their parents, more likely to spend six-figure sums sending them to college. It might even push them toward online alternatives, as a YouTube parody video suggests.

With rape rates actually falling sharply, the current moral panic over campus rape seems more like political agitprop and mass hysteria than anything else. Like all such, this, too, will pass. But it will also do damage along the way. May reason assert itself sooner, rather than later.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself.

—————————-

Further reading:

When Men Are Raped

The Sexual Harassment Quagmire: How To Dig Out

It’s a detailed look at what I think is the sexes’ most alienating and destructive behavioral difference, which is responsible for much of what is called sexual assault of women.

Posted in Female Violence, Feminism, Gender Politics, Gender Violence, Male "Power" and "Privilege", Sexual Harassment and Economic Harassment | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Sexodus, Parts 1 and 2

Giving up on women

“My generation of boys is f**ked,” says Rupert, a young German video game enthusiast I’ve been getting to know over the past few months. “Marriage is dead. Divorce means you’re screwed for life. Women have given up on monogamy, which makes them uninteresting to us for any serious relationship or raising a family. That’s just the way it is. Even if we take the risk, chances are the kids won’t be ours. In France, we even have to pay for the kids a wife has through adulterous affairs. 

“Nobody in my generation believes they’re going to get a meaningful retirement. We have a third or a quarter of the wealth previous generations had, and everyone’s fleeing to higher education to stave off unemployment and poverty because there are no jobs.

“All that wouldn’t be so bad if we could at least dull the pain with girls. But we’re treated like paedophiles and potential rapists just for showing interest. My generation are the beautiful ones,” he sighs, referring to a 1960s experiment on mice that supposedly predicted a grim future for the human race.

After overpopulation ran out of control, the female mice in John Calhoun’s “mouse universe” experiment stopped breeding, and the male mice withdrew from the company of others entirely, eating, sleeping, feeding and grooming themselves but doing little else. They had shiny coats, but empty lives.

“The parallels are astounding,” says Rupert.

*

Never before in history have relations between the sexes been so fraught with anxiety, animosity and misunderstanding. To radical feminists, who have been the driving force behind many tectonic societal shifts in recent decades, that’s a sign of success: they want to tear down the institutions and power structures that underpin society, never mind the fall-out. Nihilistic destruction is part of their road map.

But, for the rest of us, the sight of society breaking down, and ordinary men and women being driven into separate but equal misery, thanks to a small but highly organised group of agitators, is distressing. Particularly because, as increasing numbers of social observers are noticing, an entire generation of young people—mostly men—are being left behind in the wreckage of this social engineering project.

Social commentators, journalists, academics, scientists and young men themselves have all spotted the trend: among men of about 15 to 30 years old, ever-increasing numbers are checking out of society altogether, giving up on women, sex and relationships and retreating into pornography, sexual fetishes, chemical addictions, video games and, in some cases, boorish lad culture, all of which insulate them from a hostile, debilitating social environment created, some argue, by the modern feminist movement.

You can hardly blame them. Cruelly derided as man-children and crybabies for objecting to absurdly unfair conditions in college, bars, clubs and beyond, men are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: ridiculed as basement-dwellers for avoiding aggressive, demanding women with unrealistic expectations, or called rapists and misogynists merely for expressing sexual interest.

Jack Rivlin is editor-in-chief of student tabloid media start-up The Tab, a runaway success whose current strap-line reads: “We’ll stop writing it when you stop reading it.” As the guiding intelligence behind over 30 student newspapers, Rivlin is perhaps the best-placed person in the country to observe this trend in action. And he agrees that the current generation of young men find it particularly difficult to engage with women.

“Teenage boys always have been useless with girls, but there’s definitely a fear that now being well-intentioned isn’t enough, and you can get into trouble just for being clumsy,” he says. “For example, leaning in for a kiss might see you branded a creep, rather than just inept.”

The new rules men are expected to live by are never clearly explained, says Rivlin, leaving boys clueless and neurotic about interacting with girls. “That might sound like a good thing because it encourages men to take the unromantic but practical approach of asking women how they should behave, but it causes a lot of them to just opt out of the game and retreat to the sanctuary of their groups of lads, where being rude to women gets you approval, and you can pretty much entirely avoid one-on-one socialising with the opposite sex.”

“There are also a lot of blokes who ignore women because they are scared and don’t know how to act. It goes without saying that boys who never spend any time alone with women are not very good at relationships.”

Rivlin has noticed the increased dependence on substances, normally alcohol, that boys are using to calm their nerves. “I’ve heard a lot of male students boast about never having experienced sober sex,” he says. “They’re obviously scared, which is natural, but they would be a lot less scared and dysfunctional if they understood ‘the rules.'”

The result? “A lot of nice but awkward young men are opting out of approaching women because there is no opportunity for them to make mistakes without suffering worse embarrassment than ever.”

Most troublingly, this effect is felt more acutely among poorer and less well educated communities, where the package of support resources available to young men is slight. At my alma mater, the University of Cambridge, the phenomenon barely registers on the radar, according to Union society president Tim Squirrell.

“I don’t think I’ve really noticed a change recently,” he says. “This year has seen the introduction of mandatory consent workshops for freshers, which I believe is probably a good thing, and there’s been a big effort by the Women’s Campaign in particular to try and combat lad culture on campus.

The atmosphere here is the same as it was a year ago – mostly nerdy guys who are too afraid to approach anyone in the first place, and then a smaller percentage who are confident enough to make a move. Obviously women have agency too, and they approach men in about the same numbers as they do elsewhere. There certainly haven’t been any stories in [campus newspaper] The Tab about a sex drought on campus.”

“I think that people are probably having as much sex as ever,” he adds. At Cambridge, of course, that may not mean much, and for a variety of socioeconomic and class-based reasons the tribes at Oxford and Cambridge are somewhat insulated from the male drop-out effect.

But even at such a prestigious university with a largely middle- and upper-class population, those patronising, mandatory “consent” classes are still being implemented. Squirrell, who admits to being a feminist with left-of-centre politics, thinks they’re a good idea. But academics such as Camille Paglia have been warning for years that “rape drives” on campus put women at greater risk, if anything.

Women today are schooled in victimhood, taught to be aggressively vulnerable and convinced that the slightest of perceived infractions, approaches or clumsy misunderstandings represents “assault,” “abuse” or “harassment.” That may work in the safe confines of campus, where men can have their academic careers destroyed on the mere say-so of a female student.

But, according to Paglia, when that women goes out into the real world without the safety net of college rape committees, she is left totally unprepared for the sometimes violent reality of male sexuality. And the panics and fear-mongering are serving men even more poorly. All in all, education is becoming a miserable experience for boys.

*

In schools today across Britain and America, boys are relentlessly pathologised, as academics were warning as long ago as 2001. Boyishness and boisterousness have come to be seen as “problematic,” with girls’ behaviour a gold standard against which these defective boys are measured. When they are found wanting, the solution is often drugs.

Meanwhile, boys are falling behind girls academically, perhaps because relentless and well-funded focus has been placed on girls’ achievement in the past few decades and little to none on the boys who are now achieving lower grades, fewer honors, fewer degrees and less marketable information economy skills. Boys’ literacy, in particular, is in crisis throughout the West. We’ve been obsessing so much over girls, we haven’t noticed that boys have slipped into serious academic trouble.

So what happened to those boys who, in 2001, were falling behind girls at school, were less likely to go to college, were being given drugs they did not need and whose self-esteem and confidence issues haven’t just been ignored, but have been actively ridiculed by the feminist Establishment that has such a stranglehold on teaching unions and Left-leaning political parties?

In short: they grew up, dysfunctional, under-served by society, deeply miserable and, in many cases, entirely unable to relate to the opposite sex. It is the boys who were being betrayed by the education system and by culture at large in such vast numbers between 1990 and 2010 who represent the first generation of what I call the sexodus, a large-scale exit from mainstream society by males who have decided they simply can’t face, or be bothered with, forming healthy relationships and participating fully in their local communities, national democracies and other real-world social structures.

*

The sexodus didn’t arrive out of nowhere, and the same pressures that have forced so many millennials out of society exert pressure on their parent’s generation, too. One professional researcher in his late thirties, about whom I have been conversing on this topic for some months, puts it spicily: “For the past, at least, 25 years, I’ve been told to do more and more to keep a woman. But nobody’s told me what they’re doing to keep me.

“I can tell you as a heterosexual married male in management, who didn’t drop out of society, the message from the chicks is: ‘It’s not just preferable that you should fuck off, but imperative. You must pay for everything and make everything work; but you yourself and your preferences and needs can fuck off and die.'”

Women have been sending men mixed messages for the last few decades, leaving boys utterly confused about what they are supposed to represent to women, which perhaps explains the strong language some of them use when describing their situation. As the role of breadwinner has been taken away from them by women who earn more and do better in school, men are left to intuit what to do, trying to find a virtuous mean between what women say they want and what they actually pursue, which can be very different things.

Men say the gap between what women say and what they do has never been wider. Men are constantly told they should be delicate, sensitive fellow travellers on the feminist path. But the same women who say they want a nice, unthreatening boyfriend go home and swoon over simple-minded, giant-chested, testosterone-saturated hunks in Game of Thrones. Men know this, and, for some, this giant inconsistency makes the whole game look too much like hard work. Why bother trying to work out what a woman wants, when you can play sports, masturbate or just play video games from the comfort of your bedroom?

Jack Donovan, a writer based in Portland who has written several books on men and masculinity, each of which has become a cult hit, says the phenomenon is already endemic among the adult population. “I do see a lot of young men who would otherwise be dating and marrying giving up on women,” he explains, “Or giving up on the idea of having a wife and family. This includes both the kind of men who would traditionally be a little awkward with women, and the kind of men who aren’t awkward with women at all.

“They’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and realised it is a bad deal. They know that if they invest in a marriage and children, a woman can take all of that away from them on a whim. So they use apps like Tinder and OK Cupid to find women to have protected sex with and resign themselves to being ‘players,’ or when they get tired of that, ‘boyfriends.'”

He goes on: “Almost all young men have attended mandatory sexual harassment and anti-rape seminars, and they know that they can be fired, expelled or arrested based more or less on the word of any woman. They know they are basically guilty until proven innocent in most situations.”

Donovan lays much of the blame for the way men feel at the door of the modern feminist movement and what he sees as its disingenuousness. “The young men who are struggling the most are conflicted because they are operating under the assumption that feminists are arguing in good faith,” he says, “When in fact they are engaged in a zero-sum struggle for sexual, social, political and economic status—and they’re winning.

“The media now allows radical feminists to frame all debates, in part because sensationalism attracts more clicks than any sort of fair or balanced discourse. Women can basically say anything about men, no matter how denigrating, to a mix of cheers and jeers.”

Donovan has views on why it has been so easy for feminists to triumph in media battles. “Because men instinctively want to protect women and play the hero, if a man writes even a tentative criticism of women or feminism, he’s denounced by men and women alike as some kind of extremist scoundrel. The majority of “men’s studies” and “men’s rights” books and blogs that aren’t explicitly pro-feminist are littered with apologies to women.

“Books like The Myth of Male Power and sites like A Voice for Men are favourite boogeymen of feminists, but only because they call out feminists’ one-sided hypocrisy when it comes to pursing ‘equality.'”

Unlike modern feminists, who are driving a wedge between the sexes, Men’s Rights Activists “actually seem to want sexual equality,” he says. But men’s studies authors and male academics are constantly tip-toeing around and making sure they don’t appear too radical. Their feminine counterparts have no such forbearance, of course, with what he calls “hipster feminists,” such as the Guardian‘s Jessica Valenti parading around in t-shirts that read: “I BATHE IN MALE TEARS.”

“I’m a critic of feminism,” says Donovan. “But I would never walk around wearing a shirt that says, “I MAKE WOMEN CRY.” I’d just look like a jerk and a bully.”

It’s the contention of academics, sociologists and writers like Jack Donovan that an atmosphere of relentless, jeering hostility to men from entitled middle-class media figures, plus a few confused male collaborators in the feminist project, has been at least partly responsible for a generation of boys who simply don’t want to know.

In Part 2, we’ll meet some of the men who have “checked out,” given up on sex and relationships and sunk into solitary pursuits or alcohol-fuelled lad culture. And we’ll discover that the real victims of modern feminism are, of course, women themselves, who have been left lonelier and less satisfied than they have ever been.

Some names have been changed.

Related:

The Sexual Harassment Quagmire: How To Dig Out

___________________________

THE SEXODUS, PART 2: DISHONEST FEMINIST PANICS LEAVE MALE SEXUALITY IN CRISIS

 December 9, 2014

Sexual dysfunction is not unique to the twenty-first century—nor, certainly, to the West. Japan’s “herbivores”—men who shun sex and prefer saving money and going on long walks to riding motorcycles and flirting with girls—have been well documented and are regarded by social scientists as the best example of male sexuality turning in on itself.

But although the sexodus, a new retreat into solitude by Western males, has a different flavour to it and dramatically different aetiology from previously observed social crises, many characteristics are identical. And what’s troubling about men throwing in the towel in both East and West is the rapidity with which the malaise is spreading across entire generations, fuelled not just by sexual dissatisfaction but also the economic and educational pressures felt by so many young boys.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s little wonder that in the disorientating modern world, men should seek out extreme measures to help them relate to, and get what they want from, the opposite sex. That probably explains the rise of Julien Blanc, who claims his seminars can transform the way women will respond to you. Blanc is at the extreme end of a movement known as “pick-up artists” or PUAs.

But other voices in the PUA or “red pill” movements, including Daryush Valizadeh, who goes by the pen name Roosh V, says there are structural reasons why society is evolving away from inter-gender contentment. Part of the problem is unrealistic female expectations, says Valizadeh. “Getting laid with attractive women has become extremely hard for average men. Women today of average or even below average quality desire an elite man with above-average looks, muscles, intelligence, and confidence.

“If an average girl works hard enough, she will be able to have a one-night stand with a ‘hot’ guy every now and then because he happened to be horny and wanted an easy lay. The girl then thinks that she actually can get such a man to commit to her for the long term, and so doesn’t give the average guys a chance, holding out for the type of stud that she had a brief sexual encounter with in the past.”

Valizadeh has some controversial views on the state of modern womanhood, too. He says: “It’s also damaging that the attractiveness of women is rapidly declining, mainly due to the obesity epidemic. No matter what members of the ‘fat acceptance’ movement say, men have an innate need for fit women.  What happens is the few attractive girls left get unimaginable amounts of attention.”

According to Valizadeh, today’s sexual marketplace represents a Pareto distribution in which “20 percent of the top guys have access to 80 percent of the best women,” which has the effect of leaving women holding out for the perfect man, a man who of course never comes.

Valizadeh agrees with masculinity author Jack Donovan that men have been feminised by a culture that rejects and ridicules male characteristics and habits. “Good luck naming one male role model that men have today that actually helps them become men,” he remarks. These thoughts are echoed on occasionally rude but compelling male-oriented blogs, such as the phenomenally popular Chateau Heartiste.

They are also supported by the current state of the sex wars, which are constituted bizarrely. One of the remarkable things about recent high-profile skirmishes with feminists is how few mainstream heterosexual men have been involved. In the GamerGate video games controversy, opposition to “social justice warriors” and their attempts at censorship on Twitter has come from older gay men in public life and younger geeks, gamers and drop-outs; in the case of Matt Taylor, it was geeks and other women.

Straight young men simply don’t want to know any more. They’re not getting involved. Some women, too, horrified by what lesbianised third-wave feminism claims to do in their name, opt out of the argument. The absurd result is that geeks, queers and dykes are dominating the discussion about how men and women should interact. Jack Donovan, for example, is gay, as is your present correspondent. It’s as if gays are the only men left prepared to fight masculinity’s corner.

Men want normal relationships that include sex, says Valizadeh. Some of them will read pick-up artist books or go to seminars by people such as Roosh V if they don’t get it or need to be trained out of “white knight” behaviours instilled in them by a female-dominated culture. (Men have been taught that being a nice guy gets you laid. It doesn’t.)

What strikes a lot of women as strange is how rational and systematic so much of this decision-making is by men. Many young men literally perform a cost-benefit analysis and decide that women aren’t worth the hassle. It’s girls who lose out in this scenario: men don’t need the sustained emotional intimacy that comes with a fulfilling sexual relationship and can retreat into masturbatory pursuits, prostitution and one-night stands much more comfortably.

But that’s exactly what it is, from a male point of view: a rational opting out from education, work and marriage by men who have had enough, as a remarkable book by Dr Helen Smith called Men on Strike warned in July last year. (The consensus on this stuff is growing rapidly.)

Men, driven, as many of them like to say, by fact and not emotion, can see that society is not fair to them and more dangerous for them. They point to the fact that they are more likely to be murder victims and more likely to commit suicide. Women do not choose to serve in the Armed Forces and they experience fewer deaths and injuries in the line of work generally.

Women get shorter custodial sentences for the same crimes. There are more scholarships available to them in college. They receive better and cheaper healthcare, and can pick from favourable insurance packages available only to girls. When it comes to children, women are presumed to be the primary caregiver and given preferential treatment by the courts. They have more, better contraceptive options.

Women are less likely to be homeless, unemployed or to abuse drugs than men. They are less likely to be depressed or to suffer from mental illness. There is less pressure on them to achieve financial success. They are less likely to live in poverty. They are given priority by emergency and medical services.

Some might call these statistical trends “female privilege.” Yet everywhere and at all times, say men’s rights advocates, the “lived experiences” and perceived oppression of women is given a hundred per cent of the airtime, in defiance of the reality that women haven’t just achieved parity with men but have overtaken them in almost every conceivable respect. What inequalities remain are the result of women’s choices, say respectable feminist academics such as Christina Hoff Sommers, not structural biases.

And yet men are constantly beaten up over bizarre invented concepts such as rape culture and patriarchal privilege. The bizarre but inevitable conclusion of all this is that women are fuelling their own unhappiness by driving men to consider them as sex objects and nothing more, because the thought of engaging in a relationship with a woman is horrifying, or too exhausting to contemplate. And the sexodus will affect women disproportionately harshly because research data show that when women “act like men” by having lots of casual sex, they become unhappy, are more likely to suffer from depression and destroy their chances of securing a meaningful long-term relationship.

*

It’s not just video games and casual sex that young men are retreating into. They are also immersing themselves in fetishes that to their grandparents’ generation would resemble grounds for incarceration, and which drive them further away from the formerly fairer sex. Consider, for example, the example of furry culture and anthropomorphic animal sex fetishism, both of which are experiencing explosive growth, fuelled by the internet.

Jack Rivlin’s student newspaper The Tab, which we encountered in part one, has noticed the trend spreading on UK campuses. (It’s already rife throughout the US.) Other alternative sexual behaviours, including homosexuality and transgenderism, are more prevalent on campus now too.

“It’s eminently plausible that there are a greater number of people who identify as homosexual, bisexual or other sexualities who are happy to be labelled as such these days,” agrees Cambridge Union president Tim Squirrell, from whom we heard in part one, speaking about the students he sees passing through his Union. “I think we’re becoming more open and accepting of people who live different kinds of lifestyles and have different kinds of identities.”

Gay emancipation, of course, may not have been a uniformly good thing for women. Depending on whose figures you believe—and you’re wise not to take the claims of gay advocacy groups or gay magazines too seriously, for obvious reasons—somewhere between 1 per cent and 10 per cent of the adult male population is gay. (It’s probably a lot closer to 1 per cent.)

Just a few decades ago, many of those men—at the risk of stereotyping, the most sensitive, artistic, attractive and highest-earning men; that is, perfect husband material—would have got married, had a few kids and led a double life to pursue their forbidden urges. They wouldn’t have bothered their wives for sex and they would have made great fathers.

But now they’re settling down with men, in many cases not having children at all. In other words, a healthy chunk of the most desirable men—men who no doubt would have cooed along approvingly to feminist exhortations—are now off the market, leaving even fewer eligible men in the dating pool.

(As a side note, here’s an argument you won’t read elsewhere: gay men test significantly higher, on average, for IQ, and we know that IQ is at least partially genetically determined. Gays don’t reproduce as much now they don’t have to keep up the pretense of straight relationships. In fact, surveys say they barely reproduce at all.

Is it too much of a stretch to ask whether society’s newfound tolerance of homosexuals has made society… well, a bit more stupid? Granted, it sounds far-fetched. But while there’s no doubt that liberating gay men from the shame of their secret double lives has been a moral imperative, driven by compassion, no rapid social change comes without trade-offs.)

All this comes before we even discuss the rapid growth of sadomasochistic sex among the young and the “new civil rights frontier” of transgenderism, a psychiatric disorder currently in the process of being repackaged by the Left as an alternative sexual lifestyle.

*

The response to part one of this series was colossal. To date, over 300,000 readers have shared it on Facebook. 16,500 readers left comments. Over 500 men wrote to me privately to express their gratitude and support, from every continent and in all age groups. The younger men spoke especially movingly. (Predictably, hundreds of angry feminists on Twitter scorned it as “entitled whinging from white male manbabies,” rather proving the point of the story’s premise for me.) Here are the most representative quotes from my conversations, reprinted with permission.

Mark, 24: “Everyone I know feels the same. Your article spoke directly to us. We’re not all losers and nerds, we’re just normal guys who are either scared of being accused of terrible stuff by harpies or simply can’t be bothered any more. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I just can’t deal with hassle of women any more.”

Mickey: “I say no to the whole thing, even though I am very heterosexual and would like the intimacy of a relationship based on mutual respect. Well, I thought I did, but it’s been so long and the standard of behavior for women remains so low, along with my tolerance for dating bullshit, that it does not look like a realistic desire anymore.”

Francis, 28: “I’m an athlete. My parents have a lot of money. I have plenty of friends and a good social life. I don’t hang out with women any more. Occasionally I’ll have one night stands, but mostly I fill my time with other things. I got accused of molesting a girl at college and since then I’ve just thought, whatever. I play sports instead.”

Tilo, 20: “I don’t know for sure but your article sounds like me and a lot of my friends. I do furry stuff online in secret. I’d be horrified if my parents found out but it’s all that gets me off. Girls are a nightmare. I have a brother who’s ten years older and he feels the same. We’ve given up.”

Hector, 26: “I did stick to that social belief for a brief time thinking that the need for a serious relationship would come with the age, but it never happened and slowly I gave up. Today, a few hours before reading your article, I was having lunch with my mother and she kept talking about girlfriends and how I needed to get married, meanwhile I kept thinking ‘why would I waste my life with this shit?’, and it wasn’t until I read your article a few hours later, that I realised. And I don’t think it’s just my generation that is affected by this.”

We can be quite sure now that the sexodus is not some fringe, isolated internet movement as “Men Going Their Own Way” has sometimes been characterised. A combination of disastrous social engineering, special privileges for women, the relentless mockery of white men on the basis of their sex and skin colour and the economic and educational abandonment for boys has created one, if not two, lost generations already.

Men created most of what is good about the world. The excesses of masculinity are also, to be sure, responsible for much of what is bad. But if we are to avoid sliding into decline, mediocrity and a world in which men are actively discriminated against, we must arrest the decline in social attitudes towards them before so many victims are claimed that all hope of reconciliation between the sexes is lost. If that happens, it will be women who will suffer.

Some names have been changed.

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