The Water Hypothesis
The Water Hypothesis
Toba Captain Relkoko stood on the bridge of his exploration ship, the Tiglonreo and looked at the clock in one corner of his command screen. The Quantum Jump was scheduled for much later in the day, but the pre jump checklist (quantum desaturation of the ship, calibration of the drive, and all the rest) meant that the process would start pretty soon. Captain Relkoko did a quick mental computation, glanced at the clock a second time, and made a decision.
“I’m grabbing a quick meal; I’ll be back shortly.”
Togdoree, the executive officer, nodded and stood slightly straighter, in an unconscious reaction to the burden of responsibility settling on him.
The captain walked from the bridge down the crisp white corridor past the crew lounge, towards the dining hall. Enticing smells spilled out of the room and into the hallway.
“Chef, what’s for lunch today?”
“Captain.” The chef nodded. “I didn’t think you were eating. We had ashaz steaks earlier. I would have held one for you, but -“
“Sheni stew, or roasted dailano marrow in a browned lini sauce made with -“
The captain thought of the time. “The stew, please.”
“Coming right up!”
Captain Relkoko saw an empty table, sat down, and was just about to pull out his tablet for a little light reading before the jump when Dobgolka - one of the ship scientists approached. “Captain! I was hoping I’d find you here!”
Captain Relkoko tried not to sigh audibly as he pushed the tablet back into his pocket. So much for a relaxing lunch before the countdown and the jump. “Neem Dobgolka. Always a pleasure. What can I help you with?”
Dobgolka pulled out a chair and sat down, and Captain Relkoko glanced quickly at the clock on the wall and resisted the urge to groan. All he wanted was a little quiet time, and now -
“I’m glad you asked, sir! As you know, we’ve spent the last few days here at the elko-12 star system, and our tentative plan was to jump to nenka-94 to study the planet in the habitable zone there, but after the data I’ve gathered here, I think that it would actually make more sense to -“
Oh no. What now? Captain Relkoko looked up and saw the ship’s other lead scientist, Keshvita, approaching.
“Neem Keshvita. I was just discussing with your colleague Dobgolka here -“
Keshvita reached the table, then stood and aggressively put his hands on his hips. “I know. One of my lab assistants saw that she grabbed you and ran to tell me. I’m glad he did!” Keshvita looked at the first scientist, then back to the captain. “Let me guess? She’s trying to convince you that instead of jumping to nenka-94, we should change plans - at the very last minute, let me add!” Here, he glared at his sitting colleague. “- and go to shashee-3 instead?”.
Captain Relkoko blinked and tried to form some response, but before he got a single word out Dobgolka was talking “I hadn’t. Yet. But I was about to!” Here she turned to the captain. “Sir, based on what we’ve learned in this system, going to nenka-94 would be a waste of time and energy. Visiting shashee-3 would be a much better use of our resources. My work on the Water Hypothesis is more important than-“
Here the standing Keshvita cut her off. “YOUR work on the Water Hypothesis? May I remind you that I was the one who published first on that, and without my seminal discoveries, your so-called ‘research’ wouldn’t even -“
Someone was clearing his throat. The captain looked up and saw the chef. “Your stew, sir.”
Captain Relkoko rubbed his eyes. “Pack it to go, please. I’m needed on the bridge.”
“Very good, sir.”
The seated scientist said “But sir, I need to explain to you-“
The captain stood. “The course is already laid into the computers, and we’re not altering it at the last minute. You both agreed to this itinerary before the mission started.”
She started to protest, but the captain tiredly raised a hand, “Once we have a few days in the next system, we can discuss the next jump, but we’re not changing it right now. Understood?”
The two scientists glared at each other, but each eventually nodded.
The chef returned from the kitchen and held out a packaged container of stew. “Your lunch, sir.”
One of the scientists started to say, “One more thing -“, but the captain was already out the door and pretended not to hear.
The Toba scientific research ship Tiglonreo had been in the nenka-94 system for three days when executive officer Togdoree approached the captain. “Sir?”
Captain Relkoko looked up from his star charts. “Yes?”
“Sir, the two chief scientists, Neem Dobgolka and Neem Keshvita, have been trying to reach you for several days.”
“And they complained that you haven’t been in the crew’s lounge, or the dining hall, or the ship gardens-“
“-and they say that the chef says that you’ve been taking all of your meals in your cabin, and - sir, please don’t say ‘mm hmm’.”
The captain was about to make a sound but bit it back at the last moment. “And?”
“And, sir, they’ve been bothering me, and I really wish you’d schedule time to just talk to them yourself.”
The captain sighed. “I suppose I can’t put it off forever. OK, fine. Tell them that they win - I’ll meet them in the ship’s gardens right after dinner - but on the condition that they let me eat in peace, with no distractions until AFTER the meal.”
The XO snapped his heels together. “I’ll tell them right now.” He turned crisply and left the bridge.
The captain sighed again. Piloting a starship, studying the star charts, inspecting the engineering spaces - it was so all so much fun. It’d be the perfect job, if not for having to deal with the crew.
Captain Relkoko savored the memory of the last bite of stuffed fenri pepper with ice plankton sauce as he walked between the raised beds of the ship’s garden, listening to the babbling of the water feature that fed the pond. He was just rounding the Lukona Bean tree when he saw the two scientists walking rapidly and purposeful towards him, and suddenly his dinner turned into a cold lump in his stomach.
Both of the scientists began speaking at once, and he cut them off.
“One at a time! Neem Dobgolka, you, first.”
“Sir, I know that we have an itinerary for the ship, but the mission orders also say that the itinerary can be changed, based on discoveries made en route. I propose that for our third stop, we go to rodee-19.”
Neem Keshvita harrumphed. “Yes, the mission orders do say that, but it’s important to read the full context. They specifically say that with the agreement of the full scientific staff the itinerary can be changed.” He crossed his arms and stared at the other scientist. “And I do NOT agree.”
Captain Relkoko felt his spirits soar for a brief moment. If the mission rules the science team were using were clear, then he wouldn’t have to decide, and he could get back to the peace and quiet of studying his star charts. …but a moment later his hopes were dashed.
“If you want to get into the context, maybe you shouldn’t leave out the second clause from that paragraph, which says that in case of ties, the captain casts the deciding vote. So, captain, you have to decide!”
Captain Relkoko sighed. “Alright, alright. Neem Dobgolka, you go first, and explain which system you want to go to, and why.”
Keshvita started to interrupt, but Captain Relkoko cut him off “- and you’ll go next, and tell me where you want to go, and why.”
Dobgolka spoke first. “Well, captain, as you know, I’m investigating something called ‘The Water Hypothesis’ -“
“Well, back in the Aluza system, you know Jivla -“
The captain nodded. “The planet, yes.”
“What you may not know - it’s not well known outside of a very small part of the scientific community - is that we Toba settled it once.”
“We colonized Jivla? Really?!”
“Yes. Tens of thousands of years ago. The colony was abandoned, obviously. And the reason why is interesting, although we didn’t figure it out until thousands of years later. There was something about the water on Jivla that failed to support life-“
Keshvita broke in. “It’s not that it didn’t support life. It’s that it didn’t support flourishing life. All of the plants and animals were fine. It was just Toba who -“
Dobgolka broke in, angrily. “Yes, I was getting to that! But the point is, we’ve known for thousands of years that the water on some planets is somehow different from water in other places. Jivla and Quantum Prime being the first and most obvious examples. One of the things that the science crews are trying to understand is exactly how the water is different. Which entails two things: taking samples of the water on each planet, and investigating the like forms on each world, if any are present.”
The captain nodded. “Yes, I knew that much from the briefings I got. So why do you want to change the itinerary?”
“Well, sir, the key to understanding what’s going on is to investigate each dominant species, learn what they special gifts are, and correlate that with details that come from analyzing the water on their planet. When we investigated elko-12 society, we saw that they were advanced in the arts. In this system, nenka-94, we again see that the natives are advanced in the arts. Here, let me show you on my tablet some video we’ve taken of their mosaics and murals -“
The captain held up his hand. “No, that’s ok. So anyway, tell me why you want to switch the itinerary?”
“Because, sir, we know from the robotic probes that the next system - rodee-19 - the natives there -“
The captain ventured a guess “have advanced arts?”.
Dobgolka nodded. “Exactly. I’ve got video from the probe showing their string-knot-art that-“
“No, no, I get it. But if your hypothesis is that this special water correlates with life forms that have advanced art isn’t this the perfect place to go next?”
Dobgolka shook her head. “No, we’re already somewhat confident in this theory. One more data point doesn’t do much to advance our understanding. What we’d really like is a contrary data point.
Either natives who have enhanced water and don’t have advanced arts, or who have some regular water and do have advanced arts. Or maybe there are planets where the natives are advanced in something other than arts. Engineering, for example. Or languages. We haven’t seen that yet, but there’s no reason it’s not possible.” She grew excited as she explained. “We don’t want simple ‘confirmations’ of our theory - we want the most challenging data we can get, to make sure that our theory is really robust!”
The captain nodded. “OK, so you want to change the itinerary and go to shashee-3 instead because -“
“Because our probes have shown that they have do not have enhanced water there, and we think that the natives have developed-“
The other scientist, Neem Keshvita, interrupted. “Captain, we’ve both heard enough of this. Enhanced water this, enhanced water that - it’s a boring topic, and well-studied, and any marginal discoveries in so-called water typology theory aren’t-“
Dobgolka reared up to her full height and crossed her arms “ ‘So-called’ water typology theory? Captain, I must protest!”
Relkoko was already rubbing his eyes. “Stop! Stop! Both of you. No attacks.” He turned to the second scientist. “Neem Dobgolka wants to change the itinerary because she’s already seen two planets with special water. You don’t want to. Why?”
Neem Keshvita put in an ingratiating smile. “My team’s area of study is not on the mere superficial aspects of water typology, but on a deeper question -“
Captain Relkoko saw Dobgolka rear up and ready a protest, and he cut both scientists off with a raised hand. “No attacks. Either one of you. Keshvita, just the rationale please.”
Keshvita sighed, annoyed to have his grandstanding cut short. “Fine. Neem Dobgolka and her team study the water and its correlation with cultural achievement. My team, on the other hand, uses neutrino scanning to look at structures in the core of planets, and we are investigating several theories on mechanisms that these different core structures might influence the water.”
“And you want to stay on schedule and visit rodee-19 because…?”
“Because our probes suggest that it has a tetragonal lattice core structure, which is something we haven’t seen much of before. If accepted Dobgolka’s suggestion to visit shashee-3, we know from probes that that the deep structure of the planet there has a very typical hexagonal lattice structure, which is already well studied and would add little to-“
The captain interrupted again. “OK, I get it. You - “ he pointed to Dobgolka “- want to go to shashee-3 because the water there is different and interesting. And you -“ he pointed to Keshvita “ – want to go to rodee-19 because the cone structure -“
“Core structure. You want to go there because the core structure in the planet is different and interesting.”
He looked at both of them. “Right?”
“OK. Are there any planetary systems where the probes say that there’s an interesting form of water and an interesting core structure?”
The two scientists looked at each other.
“Well, yes, but -“
“I suppose -“
“Yes or no.”
Dobgolka spoke first. “There’s the talgoki-12 system. It’s not my first choice. There’s enhanced water there, which we don’t really have any good theories about yet.”
Keshvita shrugged. “The core structure there is a mixed pentagonal matrix, we think. I’d honestly more interested in studying tetragonal lattice structures -“
Captain Relkoko surreptitiously checked the time on his tablet. “But it’s still of scientific interest?”
Keshvita saw the writing on the wall - the captain had already made up his mind. “It’s a compromise I can live with.”
“And you, Neem Dobgolka - the talgoki-12 system works for you? You can study the water, and the native’s art or whatever?”
Dobgolka sighed. It wasn’t her first choice, but…yes, she could live with it. “Yes, captain.”
The captain stood from the bench he’d been sitting at. “Very well. The next Quantum jump is scheduled in three days. Talgoki-12, it is. Now, if you’ll excuse me -“ …and without waiting for parting niceties he was gone, striding away through the ship’s gardens.
Keshvita sighed and looked at Dobgolka. Now that the compromise had been hammered out, he found his annoyance was receding, and he felt the need to reach out, to say something to reestablish the working relationship. “Well … talgoki-12 is a fine system to study. The planetary core structure will be interesting to investigate. I have read some speculation that the planet’s very large moon might have some influence on the crystalline matrix.”
Dobgolka, perhaps motivated by the same desire to mend the rift nodded. “It’s not my first choice, but, yes, it will be interesting. From what I’ve seen from probe data, the artwork of the natives doesn’t seem particularly out of the ordinary, but there are some interesting cultural things with how they interact with animals.”
“Oh, really? How so?”
Dobgolka shrugged. “The details aren’t clear, but there are records of the natives there apparently playing with animals.”
“Playing with them? As in, using them as balls or -“
“No, no. Playing with them…as if the animals were sentient. …as if they were friends.”
Keshvita was puzzled. “Really? That’s… I’ve never heard of such a thing. Hmm.” He reconsidered his earlier objection. “You know, between the large moon, the strange core structure, and this animal thing…this planet in the Talgoki-12 system -“
“The natives call it ‘Earth’.”
“‘Earth’, huh? Well, between all those odd details, maybe this ‘Earth’ will be interesting to study after all!”