Article: 178987 of talk.bizarre
From: (Crisper Than Thou)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: F2S: "(E) None of the Above"
Date: 1 Dec 1994 23:58:42 GMT
Organization: <a href="">The Crisper Mind</a>
Lines: 167
Message-ID: <3blnvi$>
Keywords: fail to suck
Status: O

Wing-Overseer-in-Training Lasszlu examined, once again, the reports which
 spread out across his display in a fan of color. He could no longer fight
 the growing suspicion that something was very, very wrong with his test
 flight. It should have been fairly simple, in theory: survey an assigned
 world in the distant reaches of home-space, assess its potential, and make
 a report to Centerworld. In theory, it was just a matter of physically doing
 what he'd already done, in practice, a square handful of times back at the
 Academy, during his oral exams. In theory, they should be orbiting a
 random backwater world on the far side of the inhabited disk; said world
 should demonstrate a number of the challenges which Lasszlu, in his training,
 had been trained to expect and assess.

But the blue-green ball rolling around beneath the training ship was not just
 similar to some of the test worlds he'd worked through in his training; it
 was in fact identical, in every way, to one of the one hundred twenty-one
 sample survey worlds listed on the oral exams.

The odds were staggering. Gravity, water-to-surface ratio, solar orbit
 characteristics-- all the basic characteristics were within a 2% margin.
 The sun was the same type; it had one dead moon. The categories of native
 life were remarkably similar, and the dominant lifeform was an exothermic
 biped with a number of Class 1 technologies but no Class 2 achievements.
 Lasszlu retrieved the oral sample in question from his memory and looked
 it over again. The two worlds were not just similar; they were virtually

What were the odds? Impossible. It had been immediately apparent to Lasszlu
 that the exact correspondence between this world and the one on the test
 was not some astronomical coincidence. The test question had obviously
 been taken from this very planet... except that the orals were supposed to
 be perfectly theoretical textbook cases. They were all absurdly simple
 or insanely complex-- one extreme or the other, never like the sorts of
 things one would actually find in real work. That was the point of the
 test flight, to confront a real-nature example.

All one hundred twenty-one samples in the orals had fallen under the same
 question: Classify this world and recommend a course of action to the
 Centerworld, given these survey results. There had been sterile rocks,
 verdant jungle planets devoid of mobile life, post-war wastelands with
 small surviving populations, billion-year-gone civilizations, developing
 turmoil worlds, young planets, old planets, moons, asteroid fields-- any
 thing which could come up in a survey had to be covered. There had been
 worlds that were obviously nothing but traps set by one of the Other
 Kind; there had been paradises, too.

And there had been this planet, tucked in there innocently. The sixty-second
 world. Blue-green, abundant variety of life, several major categories,
 evidence of atomics in occasional use, able to escape their gravity well
 but not doing so regularly, electrical power sources, stable population
 of more than 2^32 individuals. A race clearly on the verge of some sort
 of population collapse, and which has made the basic discoveries for
 most of the Class 1 technologies, but which has not made Class 2 advances
 in even a single classification.

Lasszlu had thought it all sounded pretty implausible. Yet here it was. How
 could such a world exist? It was ludicrous.

It took ten thousand years to assemble and train a fleet for the Distant
 War; not so bad when you considered that it would take them even longer to
 reach their designated battlefield, in one of the clusters or spiral
 galaxies between them and the Other Kind, and that their first tour of duty
 would last between seventy and ninety thousand years. Lasszlu would be
 fighting the Other Kind for the next half-million years, possibly longer
 if he made sufficient advancement; the millenia spent on training him,
 building his ship, and testing him on a sample world in the safety of the
 home galaxy was a mere drop in the bucket.

Still, what could possibly be served by having him actually visit a planet
 he'd already worked through and reported on?

They had not told him the correct answer, of course, in the orals. They
 simply noted his complete procedural report and went to the next world.
 And he knew what his recommendation had been: Sow chaos, feed the
 governments conflicting information, brace the population for some sort
 of social singularity, drop bits of higher technology, make them dependant
 on outside support before they even know it exists, watch for Other Kind
 activity or presence, and unveil before the race as soon as they made their
 first Class Two discovery. Then, take them in as a fledging species, arm
 and indoctrinate them against the Other Kind, and use them as a decoy
 when open combat reached the area. If the Other Kind manifested prior to
 the emergency of any Class Two technology, destabilize the species into
 mass destruction and make it look like an accident.

But should he do that now? One of the test questions had been a solar
 system that fit a very basic, simple category in almost every way, but
 which had an inexplicable anomaly in one of its gas giants. Further
 examination of the anomaly had clarified its nature and, sure that it
 was an Other Kind trap, Lasszlu had suggested the system be remotely
 detonated. His instructor, who had witnessed the orals, candidly informed
 him later that his hunch had been correct-- if a survey is inexplicable
 in some serious way, it is almost certainly a trap, and it's rarely
 worse to detonate a system than to salvage it for something.

So-- nurture the sentient race? Detonate the system as a trap? The test
 flight was the final, most significant test-- an incorrect answer here
 would seriously harm his entry rank into the fleet, no matter how well
 his orals had gone.

And another thought, a frightening one, occured to him now: This world
 could have been built. What if the test question had not been taken from
 this place, but rather the place had been built based on the test
 question? It was possible, he supposed. But again, what purpose could be
 served in sending him to a system that he'd already seen, except to
 confuse him?

Could it be an Other Kind trap? Not a theoretical one, like the gas giant
 anomaly, but the real thing? There were stories of Other Kind infiltration
 in the home disk; could they have somehow managed to get a look at the
 Academy test and build this system in his path?

No; he doubted their presence in the home disk could be anywhere near that
 great-- the war would have been lost long ago if that were the case-- and
 once again, the purpose seemed unfathomable. Why go to such effort to
 trap a cadet? Why lay something before him that was surely going to make
 him suspicious?

He sat in contemplation as the planet below them went around its sun
 a few times, and slowly an answer descended upon him-- an answer unlike
 any he had given on the orals. Not really an answer to the question
 of what should be done with the planet below at all, but then, he'd
 already answered that question on the orals, when confronted with this
 planet's shadow-twin.

To build a system from the ground up would have taken hundreds of millenia,
 but to seriously reshape an existing world would take much less time-- as
 little as ten thousand years of work could have produced this mad little
 system below him. That was less time than the delay between tests. Yes,
 the Academy had almost certainly made this world and then put it on
 the oral exam, as well. And the fact that this would cause confusion was
 not a problem; it was, in fact, probably the very point of doing so.

Opening a channel to Centerworld, he made his report. It was much shorter
 than any of his answers on the orals had been.

"The world in question is virtually identical to one from the oral exams--
 sample number sixty-two. To recommend the world for subversion, cultivation,
 or destruction would be to overlook the more important issue: What should be
 done when confronted with a planet identical to a known implausible theoreti-
 cal case? My recommendation to the Centerworld team is that the Academy be in-
 formed of this event and that one of the sample worlds in the orals be re-
 placed with a sample in which the trainee is confronted with a world that is
 identical to one of his test questions."

Report made, he settled down and watched the flashes of day and night across
 the blue-green ball. Such busy little grubs the natives were; he wondered
 how they enjoyed being test material. No doubt they would be cleansed away
 once the fleet departed, so that their system could be restructured for the
 next test group in another ten thousand years.

It occured to him then that his case was probably not unique. He imagined the
 entire fleet-in-training tripping over stupid textbook examples across the
 galaxy and the thought made him bubble happily. He doubted most of them would
 figure it out. No wonder the final outgoing fleets each ten-K were so much
 smaller than the initial Academy class.

Report made, he ordered the crew to prep the ship (his ship, he knew it would
 be HIS ship, soon) for departure. The busy little exothermic grubs on the
 blue-green world never even saw his ship come and go.

	--The Elder Dan
	(testily crisper)

"Dop DWEEEEEE, dop-dop-dop DWEE-dah!" -- Animated Tick theme lyrics
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