The Fifth World

Chosposi the Mongwi turned to the ceramic faced attendant and requested an update. She had just woken from the Sipapu and not all of her mental processes were as sharp as they were before she had gone under nearly ten-thousand cycles ago. The mute automaton replied with a data dump into the terminal in front of Chosposi along with an injection of vitamins and stimulants.

The status of the Yöngösona was all positive, she read. Nothing untoward had happened to telemetry or life support, and traveler losses during the Sipapu were within nominal margins. Despite knowing intellectually that the Sipapu was inherently risky, she mourned her fellow travelers, even more so as she knew that their long genetic lines were now terminated. As the mechanical attendant moved on to the adjacent Sleep chambers to continue waking the other travelers, Chosposi swung her legs over the side of the bed and reflected on her mission while blood continued to fill long unused vessels. The People had been asleep for ten millennia as measured by their now long-dead planet. It had been on the verge of desolation when they left, and the planetologists hadn’t given the atmosphere more than a handful of cycles before complete collapse. Thankfully, Chosposi’s ancestors had begun The Work far before that and had sent ahead seed and algae, then thousands of frozen embryos and attendants a millennium later. This was all to prepare the way for The People to transplant themselves onto their new home when the time came.

That time had now come, and the Yöngösona containing the remnant of The People had now entered the heliosphere of their new system. At their current speed, the Yöngösona would reach the inner planets within a tenth of a cycle. Tikanna, the third from its sun, was to be their new home.

The Work had been meticulous in its planning and execution. The precursors would have had nearly as many years as The People had been asleep to prepare the planet for their arrival. The first attendants, though now long disintegrated would have taught the precursors the story of The People. As Mongwi, Chosposi had full faith that The Peoples’ higher intellect and reason would have kept the precursors on track and the planet would be the new paradise that they had planned for themselves. The Work had culminated flawlessly four times before, or so history told, so why wouldn’t it a fifth?

At half the distance to Tikanna from the waking point, the Yöngösona was passing the outermost planetary orbits of the system. This was the point that the optical systems would be able to focus and observe The Work as it stood for arrival. This was the Mongwi’s hallowed task. She had the privilege of the first sight of their new home and of reporting it to The People.

Chosposi angled the optics toward the third planet and adjusted the settings for focus. Her terminal started reporting analytics and data defining atmospheric content, technological activity and tectonic stability. But the numbers didn’t make sense. Chosposi adjusted the settings again, hoping that she had made a mistake. The atmosphere was far off of where it should be for The Peoples’ comfort. Tectonic activity should have settled down as well, but according to the readouts, there were tremors and eruptions in regions that didn’t match with plate edges.

The readouts were correct though, and Chosposi realized this as she analyzed the extent of precursor influence on their new home. Technological advancement had apparently stalled out in favor of energy production using mineral resources, which damaged the atmosphere far beyond easy repair, which also explained the irregular tectonic activity due to the search of such minerals. If the attendants had survived longer than they had, they may have been able to steer the development of such technologies, but they hadn’t. The Work was designed so that the margin of probability that the precursors would stay on track to develop beneficial technologies was high enough that The People would not have to worry unnecessarily before arrival. Apparently, this had not come to pass though, and the precursors had taken a different path than The People had intended.

But at least the precursors would have prepared for The Peoples’ coming and would be happy to see them and welcome their long lost cousins with open arms. As the Yöngösona reached the range that The People could communicate with the precursors, Chosposi readied the prepared announcement to transmit in eager anticipation. However, the Yöngösona’s communications array registered an incoming message from the planet before he had a chance to send it. Chosposi’s face sank in dismay as he read the message, easily translated by the Yöngösona’s network.

“Unidentified invader, halt your approach or be prepared for immediate destruction. You have violated the registered space of the Corporate Confederation of Earth.”

Author’s Note

I wanted to write a story about terraforming — the practice of manipulating a planet’s ecosystem to mirror Earth’s, with the intent of then colonizing said planet — but from a slightly different perspective.

My intent was initially to have the reader think that the characters were human (which they are), but having originated from Earth and who are on their way to a new planet. That perspective would then be flipped on its head as the reader realized that the people who had terraformed the new planet were coming to Earth, not from it.

I explored a number of different origin/creation stories from different cultures around the planet before I settled on the story of the Hopi, as they climb from one world to the next through a system of caves, eventually emerging into the “fourth world”, which is the one we live in now. I imagined that these past worlds might not have been levels of a cave, but different planets, and the passage that they crawl through, the “Sipapu”, wasn’t a hole in the floor, but a journey through space. This is where the title “The Fifth World” comes from. The People in the story are the originators of humans on Earth, and intended all humans to follow the history and practices of the people we know as the Hopi of the North American Southwest. Unfortunately, their Plan for populating a whole world and having everyone follow the same culture, though having worked three times before, has diverged. The People now find themselves on the doorstep that doesn’t recognize them as the ancestors and founders of humanity on Earth.

The names and terms that I’ve used in the story are all borrowed from Hopi culture and stories.

A Sipapu is a round indentation in the floor of a traditional Hopi dwelling that is said to have been the passage through which the Hopi people climbed into the current world (the fourth world in their history) from the cave that was the third world.

Yöngösona means Turtle in the Hopi language, which made sense as the name of their vessel, the home on their backs.

Chosposi the Mongwi (tribal leader) is a matriarch of The People. The Hopi people are a matrilineal culture, so their tribal leader would be a woman. Her name means “blue bird eyes”, which references her privilege of being the first to see their new world.

Tikanna is the Hopi word for Earth.

A more subtle reference is that of the “ceramic faced attendant”. I intended these to be a form of mechanical human, or android. These doubled as interstellar attendants as well as the teachers of the first people born on Tikanna/Earth ten-thousand years in the past. There is a Hopi tale of a boy who is born in a clay pot, or the “waterpot boy“. This boy has no human father and ultimately serves to renew creation. I thought him a fitting reference to some sort of mostly forgotten artificial helper in The People’s past. The tradition of pottery in Hopi culture is very strong, something I imagined The People passing on to them as they settled Earth as the first humans.