“Sir! Star system ahead!”
The young Navigator’s voice was hoarse with childish excitement. The spaceship was close to completing a long and largely uneventful voyage across the Milky Way. Most of the galaxy’s constellation arms were sparsely inhabited. Exploring one empty star system after another was as tiresome as going through long rows of identical cans in hope of finding one with some food in it. Even the Captain had nearly lost his patience.
Things started to look more interesting when they began cruising in and around a curiously shaped belt about twenty-five thousand light years away from the galactic center. They had discovered a beautiful planet populated entirely by fairly small quadruped, fur-covered, halfway sentient mammals; according to the Universal Translator, these creatures called themselves sons of bitches, and were very proud of that designation. The Captain mentioned interstellar cooperation, but they did not seem to comprehend that concept. In the end their loud, incessant barking had become unbearable.
“Clearly unredeemed,” the Captain concluded, returning to the ship. “Still waiting for the Anointed One. Let’s move on, and somebody get me a cup of coffee already.”
Not too far from that planet was another star system bursting with activity. It was inhabited by aliens boasting three genders and a confusing number of various appendages. The aborigines went by the nickname Voz, and readily admitted that they had been colonized by a race of advanced space travelers two thousand years ago. The level of their scientific knowledge was disproportionally high compared to their spiritual development, even though they possessed old religious books written in the ancient languages of the colonizers, Russian and English.
“I like those guys,” the Psychologist declared when the ship took off. “Especially the three-gender thing. Man ... think of all the possibilities.”
“Very funny,” the Captain said. “How about some Redemption evaluation instead?”
“I’d say they might have had an indirect contact with the Anointed One,” the Psychologist said seriously. “Maybe that fellow Alexei Men, the one who founded their civilization, can be considered a messenger of sorts. I’m just saying.”
The Captain was somewhat taken aback by that suggestion. Classification of civilizations by Redemption status was no easy task, and that corner of the Milky Way seemed to contain the oddest cases they had encountered so far.
But the biggest surprises were still ahead. The travelers came upon a planet with a horribly mutilated surface, as if a giant monster had walked on it, stamping and demolishing everything in its path. There was nothing left except hideously deformed landscape. The Navigator had a strange nightmare the following night, replete with war cries and blood.
A closely grouped, densely populated star system located nearby housed a strange remote planet with nothing but a lone dome-shaped laboratory standing on one of its continents.
“Now that’s really weird,” the Historian said, observing sterile corridors and complex equipment held in pristine condition. There was no trace of life in the laboratory. “I’d even say scary ... Where is everyone?”
The Captain carefully plugged into a strangely looking device placed at the very center of the building. For several minutes he just stood there, seemingly enchanted by what he saw. After he disconnected, he didn’t say a word and briskly walked out of the laboratory. Only a few hours later, when they were on the way, he shared his experience with the rest of the crew.
“I don’t understand,” the Captain said. “This must be a new technique of ... creation? If I dare say so.”
“What are you talking about?” the Psychologist asked impatiently.
The Captain shook his head.
“That device ... it contained a whole world. A whole programmed world, with creatures that have a free will. Some of them worship a being they call Oduya. I’m fairly certain that’s their real creator. The owner of that lab.”
“But how is this possible –” the Psychologist began.
The Captain raised his hand.
“That’s not all,” he said. “Comparing evidence and data from the other inhabited planets we have visited, I am convinced that this mysterious Oduya, the civilizing hero Alexei Men, and the deities of those barking savages all belong to the same race of sentient creatures. And something tells me they are connected to that destroyed planet as well.”
They went silent for a moment.
“Wow,” the Historian said finally. “That’s ... incredible. Are you saying God-like power was given to one race? Can Redemption even go that far?”
“I don’t know what I think,” the Captain said abruptly. “All I know is that this whole trip was useless if we don’t find the origin planet of that super-race and establish contact.”
They stumbled upon an inconspicuous, medium-sized bluish planet only a few days later. It was orbiting a modest yellow dwarf and at first appeared civilized – even monstrously so, according to the Historian. Ruins of grotesquely tall structures, veritable nightmares of glass and concrete, covered large portions of the surface. It was clear that once great powers had thriven here; a single look upon any of the demolished gigantic cities convinced the crew that they finally found what they’d been looking for all along.
But there was no life on that planet.
No sentient creatures of any kind. No animals. No plants. The atmosphere contained heavy doses of radioactive substances and biological hazards. The planet was dead, suffocated by heaps of inorganic matter of various kinds, a few hard to discover fossils, and many large skeletons, probably belonging to an unknown species of mammals. It was the most depressing view the space explorers had ever been exposed to.
They stayed for a few weeks. The young Navigator aimlessly wandered through deserted streets, inexplicable longing and sadness overcoming him. The Captain seemed to be more addicted to coffee than usually. The Psychologist was puzzled and angry because he could not fathom a civilization that would indulge itself in self-destructive megalomania. In all his years of studying and practicing interstellar psychology he had never encountered such a case.