“WE PASSED THROUGH SEVERAL HUNDRED media-transmission shells on our way in,” the communications officer said. “Of course, we were eager to see who had made them.”
By the light of a flickering viewscreen, the captain’s expression reflected deep sadness and profound disappointment. “I can see why,” she told the communications officer. “Judging by the remains of their cities and transportation networks, they built big and dreamed bigger.”
“Indeed. They even made entertaining fictions about lives on other worlds, in other times. Some were quite remarkable.”
“Not all of them were fictions,” piped in the technologist. “On some of the local planets we found evidence of interworld exploration. Only mechanical, you understand, but with the potential for later biological missions; perhaps leading to eventual colonization.”
“I am afraid biology was not their strong suit,” said the xenobiologist. “Wherever we looked, we saw forests stripped bare, mountains plundered, oceans choked with petroleum artifacts both liquid and solid. In short, they destroyed their own air- and water-recirculation systems! Nothing could survive there past a certain point, and as you can see, didn’t.”
“Some of their media-transmissions suggested that they were aware of the problems they had caused themselves,” said the communications officer.
“Why didn’t they do something about it?” asked the captain.
“Some tried. It was a case of the universal axiom: Too Little, Too Late.”
“Nothing can stand against that one!” interjected the captain.
“True. If only –”
“Yes. If only.”
“They also had that other fatal flaw – shortsightedness,” said the xenobiologist. “They just couldn’t grow out of their infancy before poisoning themselves to death. I doubt many of them knew they were in their infancy.”
“A mistake we’ve seen on countless worlds,” said the captain. “Pity.”
“It is a pity,” said the xenobiologist. “Too bad they ruined it all before we arrived. What a time we might have had together.”