Thoughtful Wrath

“There are those, pacifists they name themselves, who proclaim that no man’s life is worth another’s; that it is better to die, or witness murder, than to take a life. And if one first grants that all lives have equal value in some mythical sense, this may make sense upon its face.

“There are those, the grovelers, who opine that life is far more precious than the liberty to live it. And so, that ’tis better to be the live dung-worm than the dead eagle, that it is better to live on one’s knees – or one’s face – than die on one’s feet, and thus so how much better not to slay in its defense? And for those timid souls who value their lives but little, whose satisfaction is mediocrity and whose ambitions are but embers, this may also be true.

“There are, too, those who claim that no property or possession is worth a life. And once again, for those whom life is worth infinity in the abstract but nigh-naught in the concrete, it indeed boots little to give away fragments of a life, however cherished, however hard-earned, however irreplaceable, for such small Flames surely quail to fill even their bearer’s body, much less invest the world about.

“But for the sake of the principle that these things embody, that man is a means, not an end; that none exist for the use or pleasure of another; that he who kills, or enslaves, or robs even the least among us, by whatever means, for whichever cause, commits a crime not only against his victim but rebels against the proper nature of rational beings itself —

“If the world chooses to deny this principle, gentle reader, we must drown the world in its own blood.”

– writings of Rhovallis, student of the philosopher Sardonyx,
fellow of the Schola of Vigorous Praxis

Sniff, Sniff

“In reality, there is no such thing as a life detector. Vitalism long since having joined the scientific junk-heap, it is a regrettable fact of the universe that there is no quick, convenient, and universal ‘vital field’ that we can tap into to determine the presence of living beings.

“But there is a life detection routine in the computers of your scout ship, you ask? How does that work?

“The answer is: approximation.  We know a variety of things that suggest the presence of life. The most obvious example are the signifiers of technological civilization: patterned electromagnetic emissions, the characteristic neutrino products of controlled fusion reactions, and so forth. Where there is technology, there was someone to build it – at least at some point or another, and so the probable detection of technology is also the probable detection of life.

“But there are those few common characteristics that all life does have in common. Self-replication is one, not – by and large – terribly useful for quick detection. Existing within a solvent – for a broad definition of solvent encompassing everything from nebulae to degenerate matter – is another, which can at least tell us where not to look. But of most use is the last: life is an entropy pump. It depends upon energy differentials and pumps against the natural flow, maintaining and causing inequilibria.

That gives us something to look for.

“A life detection routine hunts through the data collected by primary sensors looking for such inequilibria. Reactive gases – such as oxygen – remaining a significant component of a planetary atmosphere, implying their continuous production. Sustained low-level thermal sources, suggesting managed combustion or other energy transaction – bearing in mind that what is to be considered low-level is very different for the outer-system múrast and the star-dwelling seb!nt!at! While almost impossible to detect at any but the closest range, the electromagnetic emissions of high-order informational complexity associated with cognition are the most reliable sign – for life that is both intelligent and which makes use of electronic or electrochemical signals in its ‘nervous system’. These, and tens of thousands of other experience-learnt rules, continuously updated, are programmed into the expert system that underlies the life detection routines used by the Exploratory Service.

“It’s still no more than 80% accurate, yielding commonly both false positives and – worse yet, if missed – false negatives, and so the wise scout never trusts such a system without a close, personal investigation. But it can tell you where to place your bets.”

– A Junior Explorer’s Handbook, Vevery Publishing