The Chimera Problem

windmills

© Jules Paige

The first settlement on Hansen’s Planet was zealous about shifting totally from nuclear energy to renewable, sustainable, “green” energy within the first twenty-five years after arrival.

The problem was no matter what they tried, the indigenous bird-like creatures they called “Chimera” seemed just as zealous about committing mass suicide using their “green” technology.

“Various solar panel designs didn’t work because they’d fly into the concentrated light and burn or smash into the photocells, Bill.”

“Anita, I was hoping your Wind Turbine design would discourage them, but they’re flying right into them through the inhibiting air currents they generate.”

Bill Anghal was the Colony Planner and Anita Kahn was Chief Engineer, but they and the design team couldn’t develop a “Chimera-proof” power generation system.

“What are we missing, Bill?”

“I’ve got it!” They turned and saw Rolf Ingram running up. The eclectic scientist had been studying the “suicides” for months.

He arrived out of breath. “Look,” he wheezed. Deaths…not random…bodies form…patterns.”

“What?” Bill and Anita both grabbed at his iPad.

“Damn. The patterns formed by the Chimera corpses…” Anita let her voice trail off.

“Right,” Rolf leaned over her shoulder. “It’s a language. The Chimera are intelligent. They’re trying to communicate.”

I wrote this story for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of December 31st 2017. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for writing a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

The image immediately made me think of all of those wind turbine farms, and then I thought about the problem they pose to birds and bats. I did a small amount of research looking at articles such as Will Wind Turbines Ever Be Safe For Birds? and Wind farms are hardly the bird slayers they’re made out to be—here’s why as well as Solar Farms Threaten Birds and Why Solar Power Is Good for Birds. Like it or not, there is no such thing as a 100% safe form of energy generation for the environment and wildlife.

So what happens on another planet when the first established colony settlement wants to go totally green avoiding the mistakes of people on their mother planet only to discover that a native life form insists on exterminating itself using your best efforts at sustainable power production?

The story’s conclusion was one idea I had for an answer. An intelligent alien race that couldn’t think of any other way to communicate except by how they arranged their deaths.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

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28 thoughts on “The Chimera Problem

  1. So were the Chimera trying to say: “Don’t go green!”? Or perhaps merely “Yankee go home!”, and, “take your *@#$ technology with you!”? You didn’t have space in a mere 200 words to indicate any Chimerical reaction to the settlers’ nuclear power plants, or to any other signs of human presence or technology. Of course, the real source of their problem was what you revealed most economically in your last two lines, which was that the settlement planning teams and advance planetary survey teams failed to recognize that the planet was already inhabited by a sentient species and that colonization would therefore be morally problematic as well as practically so.

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    • The interesting thing about aliens is that they’re alien. Their perceptions and thought processes might be so different that even if we had a language in common, it still might be difficult to understand their motivation.

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      • Indeed. It begs the question about whether the nature of sentient life must have common needs which form a basis for communication. For example, if a species lacks an instinct for self-preservation, it will become extinct before it can develop advanced traits like socialization and communication. Now, it could be said of ants that they have little apparent sense of ‘s-p’, but have ‘s’ and ‘c’. Their survival depends on massive reproduction, but sentience seems to require something more. Are these Chimera sentient? Cross-species attempts at communication suggest a self-awareness that may so indicate. The next question should be: “How do they communicate among themselves, and for what purposes?” And then: “Can we emulate that communication methodology to exchange even elementary symbols of meaning?”

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      • Admittedly, I hadn’t given all of those questions a great deal of thought. I was going for a surprising if not shocking reveal for the story’s climax. Let’s assume they have a large enough population to be able to spare a few hundred or a few thousand members of their species.

        The question of why any particular species would develop consciousness and sentience is a very great puzzle unless you presuppose God. God granted humanity sentience so that we could be caretakers of Creation, His servants, and His special children, but if we assume a Godless universe, then the answer to that question becomes a mystery. Technically, the Earth would get along just fine without a sentient species (and some would say we are an actual detriment).

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      • In the StarTrek TNG series the notion of sentient species and the morality of interaction with them was discussed quite a bit, but they never really addressed the difference between sentience and intelligence, apparently presuming they were inseparable. Linguistically, sentience represents self-awareness and feeling, while intelligence represents communication, technology, tool-making, et al. Presumably, humans are capable of both, though they don’t always act accordingly. One drawback of “artificial intelligence” is that it never seems really to apprehend sentience. And when intelligence is subcategorized in terms of “emotional intelligence”, “social intelligence”, “spatial intelligence”, and more, further drawbacks may appear. Some of these touch on realms that would be included in the notion of “sentience”. But one could consider a rarer sense of intelligence, which might be deemed “moral intelligence”. It is shortcomings in this realm that best explain the sentiment you cited about whether human presence may be deemed detrimental.

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  2. What extravagant lengths to go to for the sake of communication. But it reminded me of something I learned a few years ago from a Vietnam vet. He said when he was POW, and the prisoners were not allowed to communicate with each other, he and other prisoners were so desperate to communicate that they went to great lengths to get blood from their own bodies, dip sticks into the blood to write notes onto any bits of paper of cloth they could get hold of, and then slip those notes to other prisoners.

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    • I just commented to ProclaimLiberty that when dealing with a species from another planet, there might not be a way to fully understand what motivates them, even if you crack the “code” of their language. They’re trying to communicate, but communicate what? Thanks, Sandra.

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  3. Positively brilliant. Yes, aliens would likely be so very different from us it would be hard for us to understand what they’re doing. This is an excellent example of Scifi.

    Happy New Year!

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  4. Another excellent story. I toyed with the idea of ‘talking to aliens’ but couldn’t come up with anything. Your idea is probably not so far-fetched. I hope the Earthlings get the answers they need before the Chimera annihilate themselves.

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      • I read an old article about a SETI convention where this topic was discussed. You are probably familiar with it LOL. After years of Hollywood Sci-Fi, it’s no wonder most of us think that whoever is out there would easily be able to communicate with us. In the article, the comparison was made between human and insect communication (and I believe we were the insect).

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      • The thing about SciFi is that it really isn’t about totally alien beings or environments. If it were, the readers or audience could never relate. We find Star Trek’s Mr. Spock so interesting not because he’s an alien, but because we can relate to his struggle to contain his emotions and at the same time, not let his intellect isolate him from others. In real life, if we ever encountered intelligent, sentient alien beings, we probably wouldn’t have a clue how to deal with them (unless mathematics is truly a constant among intelligent beings, then perhaps that would provide a common communications platform).

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      • The Star Trek universe seemed to be founded upon an assumption of commonality between virtually all sentient species. One cosmological implication of this is that this universe was initiated by a single prime mover — perhaps even a single “Creator”. Thus there was a reasonable expectation that communication should be possible between all the various species to which viewers were introduced. One episode (“The Chase”) even asserted that virtually all the humanoid species in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants of the galaxy had been seeded with DNA from a single ancient humanoid species into a variety of pre-sentient non-humanoid species, thus engineering them into a humanoid commonality. Also considered were cultural influences upon linguistic structure (such as the Tamarians in the episode “Darmok”, and the Shelliak in “Ensigns of Command”). that rendered communication difficult and complex. There were also other examples where communication was depicted as difficult because common referents were hard to identify.

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      • Yes, I remember those episodes because it was STTNG’s attempt to explain why so many species were humanoid (besides the fact that all we have to work with are human actors).

        I like what they tried to do with “Darmok” but I can’t imagine how they developed technology like interstellar spacecraft if they could only talk in metaphors. They must have had a separate “technical” language, but if they did, why didn’t they use it in attempting to communicate?

        In the episode “The Ensigns of Command, the Sheliak were very difficult to communicate with due to both the complexity of their language and the arrogance of their species.

        Still, in the end, communication became possible, but that’s only because the writers of those episodes made it so. If intelligent, sentient, alien life does exist in our galaxy, we have no idea how they think and conceptualize the universe, thus in what ways they would communicate.

        In the first season episode “Home Soil,” a crystal-life life form tries to communicate to a group of terraformers who, not realizing there’s any life on the planet, is trying to radically change the world’s environment. Ultimately, they have to resort to murder to get some attention.

        It was nearly impossible (for everyone except Lore) to communicate with the Crystal Entity which destroyed the planet on which Data was developed and in the end, one grieving mother found she could use such a method to destroy the being.

        In my story, the same difficulty is there but instead of acts of violence against the human colonists, the Chimera chose to “communicate” through suicide.

        Now that they’ve gotten the required attention, one wonders what they have to say. I’ve sometimes imagined such a situation where the indigenous population is willing to share their world, even to the point of developing a symbiotic relationship with the other worldly invaders.

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  5. Thank you for an inventive story about my photo. It is true that even the greenest situation for energy has some loop-hole that doesn’t sit well with something else. You made me also think about airplanes and how birds get caught in their engines. One would think that a design could be made to prevent that…
    As well as some green energy design that wouldn’t create fowl death (however intelligent).

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  6. How terrible. By going green they’re exterminating the local population of Chimera. Now the colonists have to figure out what the Chimera are trying to tell them. They better get busy. Good writing, James. —- Suzanne

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  7. WHat a way to communicate. I wonder if the birds were actually bodies or actually hosts and they are brought back to where they started from and placed into a different host. Or they are reincarnated instantly.

    Either way, I am sure there is some way they survive the “suicide”. Good story on how we are the aliens.

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    • Those are some very interesting question. The main thing I was trying to communicate is that sometimes “aliens” should be incomprehensible. As I’ve probably mentioned before, most science fiction has to make aliens (robots, whatever) relatable otherwise the story would make no sense. In my case, I wanted to write about aliens who were truly alien.

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