Earth's one and only off-world settlement, dedicated to non-violence, equality, toleration, balanced development, and all politically correct good things has been overrun by sword and spear-wielding creatures. As the authority overseeing the development refuses to acknowledge the problem or even tell Earth's governments, the authority director shanghais a reservist soldier along with a rag-tag group of ex-cons to fight the creatures. But what can this tiny band do given that the colony has no weapons and what about the settlement's young people, sent away by their parents to a summer camp? Then there are the mysterious creatures who live in an equally mysterious structure who want to be left alone. The answer, the humans realise, lies in rediscovering Earth's violent past.
The sudden appearance of a huge ring of metal in mid-distance earth orbit initially caused confusion, then concern, then puzzlement and, finally, curiosity. How had it been placed there and who or what had placed it? More importantly, why had it been placed there? A scan of the electromagnetic frequencies showed that The Ring – it was simply known as The Ring – was broadcasting the same statement over and over in all of the earth’s major languages.
“Use this device to visit our planet. You may live there, mine and farm it, but do not disturb us.”
A probe was sent through The Ring. It vanished then returned hours later with pictures of a world much like Earth but with no cities, civilisations or sentient species. More probes were sent, until one found a building in the uplands of a continent in the planet’s temperate zone. This huge structure was suspected of being connected to the ring in that both were featureless and made the same amount of sense.
A party of earnest young scientists was sent. After checking carefully for nasty diseases, they landed on the surface and walked around the structure, as big as four football stadiums arranged in a square, and about as tall. All of the outer walls and the roof were made of concrete-like material. They measured and studied and wrote dramatic bulletins about their attempts to make contact with whatever alien intelligence was inside/behind the structure and The Ring. They found that the structure was hollow and gave off a small amount of heat. Weak, varying electromagnetic fields were detected. Obviously, something was happening inside the structure, which extended well underground, but what?
The one visible feature in the structure was a single door – actually a slab of metal that was about the size and shape of a door for a human and set at ground level, but without doorknob, door knocker or doorbell. The space behind it was hollow, as near as they could tell. They knocked on the door. No response. They pounded on it. Nothing. The expedition had a hammer. This was fetched and, after some agonising over exactly what constituted an aggressive act, it was used to bash the door. The hammer left no mark but made the metal ring like a gong. That brought a response, in the form of a message sent on the same frequency as the message from the gate.
“We asked not to be disturbed. Use the rest of the planet as you wish but leave us alone.”
Well, okay, if the aliens wanted to be left alone that was cool, albeit unsociable. But why wouldn’t these creatures communicate? Fiction was full of Aliens who dismissed humans as primitive layabouts or lectured them about their wasteful ways. Other fictional aliens worked for decades to subvert human society to their own ends, or who skipped that boring subversion process in favour of blowing stuff up. Now that was communication. What could anyone do about aliens who invited humans to a whole new planet and then did not want to communicate at all?
Academics were consulted and, after much discussion and conferencing, came up with an answer that suited them. The aliens did not consider humans worthy of their time because the human race had not paid enough attention to fixing all the problems of the moment – poor minority rights, domestic violence, gender inequality, reduction in biodiversity and environmental degradation. The answer must be to build a community on the new world – now named Haven – that would show-case human abilities in sustainable economic activity, living peacefully and in creating a nurturing, caring, non-violent environment for their children, with inclusive decision making and respect for the rights of all. A few sceptics pointed out that the messages did not indicate that the aliens thought the humans unworthy, only that they wanted to be left alone. Perhaps, the sceptics speculated, the aliens just wanted humans on the planet to prevent anyone else settling there and making a nuisance of themselves. These sceptics were promptly condemned by right thinking academics for spreading “misinformation” and shunned.
More people arrived at Haven and set up a settlement by a river on a fertile plain about two hour’s drive by electric car from the structure. They built a road from the resulting city, called just Haven City, to the structure. There was a small gorge just beside the structure with a river at the bottom of it, so the road required a bridge. Having undertaken such intrusive work on the peaceful natural landscape, the humans decided they might as well extend the same road out to a large summer camp where they sent their children to have constructive, sustainable fun. Later they put in a road junction with the joining road going out to a launch and receive site for rockets from Earth in the hills above the structure.
With that work done the governing committee realised that they might as well build a visitors centre across the road from the structure. They cut the grass, after some debate about whether grass cutting intruded too much on the environment, put in a car park, picnic tables and benches and then got on with the job of living in a peaceful, sustainable community without net emissions, and with full consultation on such matters as which set of toilets transgender individuals should use. Machines were brought in to do the work for what was mostly a community full of academics who had a whole world to investigate in a non-invasive way. A Haven Executive Office (words such as authority or department were considered too dominative, and the term colony was right out) was set up on Earth to organise delivery of more machines and parts through a network of orbital stations, present the settlement to the world and provide support to the ethical decision making process on Haven.
One early, major crisis occurred when the emissions free, sustainable energy network of unsightly wind turbines and square kilometres of photovoltaic arrays, plus some truly colossal batteries, could not be made to produce enough electricity for the colony. Worse, it occasionally failed to produce any electricity at all. After various academics finished justifying this failure on the basis that the theory was not wrong, just the execution of it, and that green energy still ruled, Earth sent a whole nuclear reactor.
This was not one of the huge reactors with gigantic water cooling towers and rooms full of computers, but a standardised, small scale reactor – an adaption of the type used on nuclear submarines for many years, and about the same size as one of those vessels. It was installed, encased in concrete and all working parts were sealed. The builders told the settlers to connect power cables to it, instruct the reactor’s operating system to make up any shortfall from the renewable energy network, but not to mess with the machinery. ‘Don’t open the inspection hatches or you’ll void the warranty big-time’, they were told. ‘We’ll be back in five years to change the fuel rods.’
This new installation was sited well away from Haven City and never mentioned in public announcements. It was evidence that renewable energy networks did not work as idealists endlessly declared that they should, therefore it was part of a big-energy conspiracy which should not be acknowledged.
Another self-induced crisis was the introduction of horses. The use of such animals – for which there was no local equivalent - would be a fun way to get around and interact with the landscape in a not-very-invasive way, especially when tourists finally came to the planet. But what about the rights of the horses? Did they want to hang out on another planet? Could they be made to eat the local grass species? What about the dung the horses produced? Would the Haven ecosystem break up that dung or would it just sit there providing ideal breeding places for the local flies? These and other questions were answered and horses introduced, but the tourists to undertake treks using these horses never arrived. Tourism in all its forms was deemed to be far too invasive for Haven’s fragile ecosystems. Some settlers took up horse riding and that was tolerated, just.
Apart from these crises the settlers got on with the job of proving themselves worthy of alien attention with sustainable practices, a caring and consultative approach to community life and a nurturing approach to raising children. The children for their part wandered around the new world, exchanged bootleg copies of media programs they were not allowed to access, wished that they could attend concerts and fantasised about eating hamburgers. Only meat substitutes derived from plants were permitted on Haven. When they became older they adopted the odd habit of hiking up into the hills and howling at Haven’s two moons, much as wolves might howl in earth’s forests. ‘It’s just something to do,’ they told their parents.
Such eccentricities, however, did not interfere with the main business of the settlement being run in an ethical, non-judgemental, inclusive way as a community at peace with itself and the universe. Conflicts were resolved through discussion and the children were taught that violence was never the answer to any question. For above all the settlement would be at peace.
The aliens in the structure would somehow see all this virtue, so the theory went, conclude that the humans were worthy of their time and come out to play. As the older settlers frequently told themselves, what could possibly go wrong?