The Greatest Philosophical Question In The Galaxy






The Great Hall in El-Aaiun was starting to fill up as the delegates began to file in. From his place on the podium, the Commandant General of the Polisario Front, head of State of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic watched in satisfaction. They had been waiting a long time for this meeting. There were a ridiculous number of nations on Earth now and when the Terran Union had agreed to a rotating Presidency their fight for freedom from the Moroccan oppressors had not yet been won. 

Two centuries later, they were free and the Presidency of the Terran Union had finally rotated to them and the Commandant could not be more pleased. Most nations had spent their Presidencies on mundane things like economic development or mining the asteroid fields or repairing relations with humanities now far-flung colonies across the local spiral arm of the Milky Way. Those heady days of colonization had slowed somewhat and the Terran Union had preoccupied itself with more internal affairs these days. These meetings had become brief and largely ceremonial, little more than a symbolic summit between various heads of state who enjoyed canapes, booze, and the occasional erstwhile tryst. The Commandant grimaced at that last thought: when the Transnistrian Prime Minister had been caught boffing the Moldovan President during the Kigali Summit two years prior, the scandal had hijacked the agenda and more or less ruined whatever plans the Prime Minister of Rwanda had for their turn at the Presidency.

The Commandant was hoping that they could get through this summit unscathed.

The Hall was nearly full now, by habit, the Commandant scanned the back of the hall until he found his Deputy, Yazmin Ghali who met his gaze with a knowing smile at his growing impatience and held up her thumb and pointer finger close together. The Commandant smiled, recognizing the sign. They were almost all in…  then the fun could begin.

He glanced up at the flag of the Terran Union, royal blue with its seven interlocking rings forming a circle. Next to it was the familiar green, white, red, and black of the Sahrawi Republic. The Commandant smiled at them, suddenly convinced that this was going to work. The question was a simple one, but it would take the delegates by surprise and in that surprise, he’d sharpen his arguments until they were undeniable. A flurry of motion at the back made him glance up and he saw them begin to close the heavy doors at the back of the hall. He waited until he saw the sign from Yazmin and then he picked up the ceremonial gavel and pounded it a few times on the sounding block.

“Order, order! The delegates will come to order!” 

The general chatter and bustle in the hall began to subside as the various heads of state and delegates began to sit down and compose themselves. Various ceremonial robes were adjusted. Sashes were smoothed out. Politely bored expressions that gave away no hint of any emotion or reaction at all were assumed. Silence fell.

The Commandant took a deep breath. Showtime.

“Honored delegates, friends, colleagues…  it is my great pleasure as Commandant of the Polisario Front and President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic to welcome you to the Summit of El-Aaiun “

Polite applause greeted this statement and he felt some nervousness begin to grow in his gut, but he forced it back down. He took a deep breath, set his shoulders and opened the folder on the podium in front of him, and began his speech.

“Most of the time, whoever holds this Presidency takes the opportunity provided by their year in power to announce some grand initiative or pursue some new colonial venture or scientific advancement. Our government has contemplated all of these things and has a few ideas we will happily share in due course. But a bigger question occurred to us that we wish to put to the delegates today.”

He turned the page. Now it was time to drop the big one on them.

“Humanity has advanced outward into the stars and continues to spread further and further with every passing year. Technology has advanced. We can live for centuries now. We have moved beyond the dead ideologies of centuries. We have no need for currency. Our energy is limitless. Our resources are infinite. We have become a post-scarcity society, so we are left with one conclusion: are we, the Terran Union, still even necessary?”

“This is the motion we wish to bring before the delegates today. A motion to dissolve the Terran Union and its respective governments from existence. The government has become superfluous. Unnecessary. An outmoded relic of centuries ago. The key to this motion is unanimity of agreement. We must all agree to do this or not at all. If only some agree to our motion, will withdraw it. We cannot risk fracturing the union and going back to the old ways and rivalries.”

A murmur of astonishment and unease ran through the hall. The Commandant held up a hand. “I know this seems like a ridiculous idea, but consider: everyone on Earth can now get whatever they need, whenever they want. There is no hunger. There is no poverty. Our medical technologies work wonders. People are free to pursue their own meaning and passions and to live their lives here or out beyond the stars. The power of whole nations is available to every human being on Terra. So, we ask you, the delegates of this Terran Union: is the concept of government itself outmoded? If we are but relics of a distant past, should we not acknowledge this and simply cease to be. Let humanity live their lives as they see fit, whether by themselves as individuals or banding together as collectives to pursue shared goals, ambitions, and dreams.”

“Let’s abolish the government,” the Commandant proclaimed. "And acknowledge the freedoms that many have fought for and dreamed about for millennia. It is time for Terra to be truly free!” 

The final syllable echoed across the Great Hall and for a moment there was silence. Then, all hell broke loose. 

The screen flickered and then turned a myriad rainbow of colors as the footage faded in and out. Zarheel slapped at the monitor a few times.”Cursed thing! Why won’t it work?”

Harfalen sprung forward in alarm. “Easy, Zarheel. It’s centuries old.”

“I thought you said this was supposed to help us solve the problem?”

“That’s what the archives said,” Harfalen shrugged. “And they weren’t wrong, exactly. It was a significant moment in Terran history, but-”

“But it doesn’t answer our question,” Zarheel replied. “And you know the Council is going to be asking about our lack of progress.”

“I’ll call them now for an update,” Harfalen soothed. “They’ve got to understand that we’re sifting through the ruins of entire civilizations here and their question it’s…”

“It’s important!” Zarheel looked shocked at Harfalen’s implication.. “It is the greatest philosophical mystery of our time. Whole departments of philosophy argue about this question to this very day! The University of Tau Ceti-”

“Burned to the ground during an academic conference about this very subject,” Harfalen finished, rolling his eyes. “Zarheel, I’m aware.”

“So, why aren’t you more upset?”

“Because I’m not on the Council and neither are you and the great mystery of the Bard Syemon and his ballad of riddles hasn’t been solved for centuries and another day won’t hurt.” Harfalen stood up and slapped their knees. “You keep looking. I’m going to go and update the council.”

“But where should I look?” Zarheel looked defeated.

“Try something in the late second millennium, maybe in music?” Harfalen suggested. 

Now it was Zarheel’s turn to roll his eyes. “Oh, just in music, huh. That’s sure to be a nice, easy and limited search.”

“We gotta start somewhere.”

“Give my regards to the Council,” Zarheel grinned.

“Thanks,” Harfalen replied. Then he ducked out of the low-slung bunker and began climbing the stairs. He grimaced as he did so. Terran gravity was so hard on his knees and while he had a few decades left before he either died, uploaded, or sublimed into a new plane of existence, he was starting to notice little things like that more often these days. It didn’t bother him too much: that was life, after all. It was more of an unwanted annoyance.

He pulled down his face shield and adjusted his robes before he pushed open the hatch and stepped out onto the sands. The pulsing red sunburned above them and in the distance, he saw their ship on the edge of the ruins.

Now that it had been rediscovered, Terra was an archeologist's dream. Some worried about the state of the sun, which was already showing signs of age, but no one thought that a supernova was imminent anytime soon- but that didn’t stop treasure hunters, tourists, and anyone looking for a quick buck to come and try their luck at finding relics.

From what he was able to discover, they were outside the ruins of the old Terran metropolis of New York. They were at the southern end of an island that the records thought was called either Stay-ten or- Harfalen tried the word out in his head. Man-hay-tan? He said it aloud, quietly, so no one could hear him: “Man-hay-tan?” Odd name for an island, but he wasn’t an old Terran. Who knows how their languages had really worked. He picked his way across the rocks and down to the ship parked on the shoreline. He hit the activation code on his wrist com and watched as the ship’s ramp smoothly opened up and extended out down to the beach.

Harfalen paused for a moment and stared up the ramp into the dark belly of the ship. It was a nice ship. There was decent food, sumptuous quarters, everything a galactic traveler could possibly hope to have. But…  

“Might as well get this over with.” He muttered to himself. The Council was not going to be pleased. Then, he set his shoulders and walked up the ramp and into the ship. A minute or so later, he was standing in the black void of the communications room.


“Yes, Harfalen?” 

He sighed heavily. “Please open a channel to the Galactic Philosophy Council.” Instantly, the black void of the communications room turned into a blur of color that gave the impression of motion as his image was projected across the light-years to the fourth planet of Tau Ceti VIII where, on a University campus made of ziggurats and pyramids, he was projected into a conference room very high up in the prominent pyramid that was the headquarters of the Galactic Philosophy Council.

“Ah, Harfalen,” Professor Selsung Vijan Jar An croaked. “So good of you to join us.”

“About time,” Talfar Professor Javin snapped. “Do you have an update for us?”

“I do, but it’s not exactly good news,” Harfalen replied. It was an odd sensation, this holo-communication. Most ships didn’t bother with it, but the Galactic Philosophy Council had plenty of money to waste and had insisted on being as active in the hunt for answers as they possibly could be.

“The footage wasn’t about the riddle?” Professor Selsung asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Harfalen replied. “It covered a key summit that lead to the development of a United Earth government- after a period of relative peace and as Terra was beginning to emerge into a true post-scarcity society, they proposed to abolish government entirely.”

“Anarchism?” Another one of the Professors- a newer one, a visiting Professor from Proxima asked. Harfalen shook his head. “Not particularly- at least not in the way the ancient Terrans conceived of it. With the rise of replication and three-dimensional printing, it got to the point where people could make whatever they needed to fulfill their needs. The entire underpinning of their capitalism fell apart. Hell, all their ancient ideologies couldn’t live up to the present moment. Government- such as it was really was becoming more of a formality more than anything else. Sentiment, really. Old identities were starting to fray with every passing generation and-”

“This is all well and good,” Professor Javin interrupted. “But do you have an answer to the riddle? What great works of the Great Ballad Sye-mon have you found that might answer this question?”

“None, I’m afraid. It is as I told you, we can find no explanations.”

Professor Xealimatian leaned forward, a perturbed look- well, if his species could look perturbed, it would be a perturbed look. “But there are so many other clues in his songs! The fragment of the ballad one of the team’s found last year: why deny the obvious child?”

“And this bridge?” Vijan Jar An croaked again, “Why is it over troubled water?”

“Who is being laid down?” Another Professor put in. 

Harfalen braced himself, Here it comes, he thought.

“The bridge is irrelevant! We must find this koda-chrome he sings of!”

“You fool, it is not the koda device we must find! It is this fair! Where is Scaraboro?”

“No! None of that answers the underlying question. It is this Boxer we must figure out! If we figure out who the Boxer is, then they will lead us to the true question!”

“ENOUGH!” The argument was halted before it could deteriorate any further. At the far end of the table, the head of the Philosophy Department, an ancient feline-like creature named Crex whose specialty, as it liked to remind anyone who was foolish enough to ask, was riddles and other philosophical problems from the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy. “We have argued about this question ceaselessly for decades now. I do not believe we are any closer to solving the greatest philosophical question of the galaxy.”

Crex pushed itself upward and, a little unsteadily, pushed its chair back from the table. “You all have favorites,” Crex accused as it began to pace. “Some think it’s the kodachrome! Some think it’s the Boxer! Or the mysterious fair in Scaraboro or wherever the hell that’s supposed to be! Few of you,” it grinned. “Well, mainly Professora Diana Atalanta from the Denebian Matriarchy, think it’s the mysterious female, Cecilia who holds the answers.” Professor Atalanta adjusted her robes primly but returned Crex’s acknowledgment with a slight incline of her head. 

“But all of you are wrong,” Crex was implacable. “All you forget the question! The underlying mystery which we have fought about and argued about for decades now!” Silence ruled the room now. He held the audience in his grip. Harfalen resisted the urge to roll his eyes. What a gasbag, he thought to himself.

“If there are fifty ways to leave your lover, why does the great Ballad Sye-mon, only list five?” Crex had completed its circuit of the table and whirled to stare down the length of the table at Harfalen. It raised a forearm and unhooked a claw at him: “Harfalen, you will redouble your efforts! Find this mysterious Graceland and maybe, the redemption that the Sye-mon speaks of can be found there. Along with answers.”

“Yes, Professor,” Harfalen inclined his head and, recognizing a dismissal when he heard one, cut the connection. There was another blur of light and color and then he was back in the black void of the ship’s communications room. “Thanks, Ship,” he said aloud as he spun around and headed for the door. 

Zarheel was going to love this. 


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