Crop Signals by Matthew Bennett

#sci-fi #fiction #shortstory

There are some calculations that are simply too difficult to describe with words. And there are some that would take longer to explain than to implement. This particular calculation should have taken about about forty Earth years. And it should have saved the planet. The inhabitants, however, seemed to be adamantly opposed to their own salvation.

Room 212, next to the only broken ice machine on Missioncraft 18 <em>Earthsaver, </em>was the Math room, and the key to their current mission. 212 performed the calculations necessary to mask the signals that the earth was constantly throwing off. And what amazing signals – massive amounts of water, plants and animals, a universal fresh air supply… it’s as if the entire planet was screaming to be attacked, plundered, colonized, or whatever the custom of the first empire to attack.

“And how are the natives supposed to defend themselves?” STH asked himself. “They have not even split a proton.” Their quantum and string theories were getting close to a piece of the truth, but their thinkers just seemed to want to be thinkers. They ask “what if” and then run nine hundred experiments, and then waste a year writing a book that says, “see, I told you so!” Meanwhile every single one of those particles that they love to watch so much is under threat of attack from so many empires that they would all faint if they knew.

STH’s job on the Earthsaver was to make sure that this never happened. He was the Mathematician on this quest. With a very unimpressive CV, he never expected to have this title. However, one lucky break, being overheard in a diner back home explaining to a friend how **X signals worked, he was approached that very night to see if he wanted to work. 187 years later, here he was on the Earthsaver. 187 years later, still hoping that his friend was back home waiting for him. He had the urge to send a text, and shrugged, remembering that this craft would return to his planet before the text. Someday, when this god-forsaken mission was done, he would invent an inexpensive means of non-linear communication wave boosting.

**X signals are what planets use to communicate. Not that planets themselves are alive. But everything communicates some way or another. Using these signals, magnets understand if they should be attracted or repelled, static knows how to pull something toward it, and objects know how to act towards gravity. There is more information given in an **X signal than any civilization will ever be able to comprehend. But the technology is there, and the empires are all starting to figure out which characteristics to look for in a signal in an attempt to locate worlds to exploit. STH sometimes wondered if all these salvation missions were worth it, given that the nature of life seemed to be theft and exploitation. Fortunately, the Morality and Ethics room was in room 4242, several kilometers away in the nice part of the ship. That’s where the Cats and the Priests just sat around talking and writing all day. A shiver went down one of STH’s spines when he thought of the Cats. They creeped him out.

This fear jarred him back into the present. Time to get to work. As soon as he entered the Math room he saw that every one of the circuits was snapped shut, a clear indication that another signal had been read. His fingers were drooling with anticipation as he hoped that possibly, maybe, his formula had worked this time and sent a masked signal. He wiped his fingers off on his jeans before pulling the lever. This opened the circuits again and readied the computer to see if he could finally finish this and go home.

“Motherffffucker!” STH shouted. “They did it AGAIN!!! It’s hard enough to do this without humans constantly screwing it up.” Months of planning, calculations, and meetings, followed by a very rough 3 day trip to cut the formula itself into the planet, and then months of waiting for the return signal to see if it worked. And the humans seemed to continually interfere.

Sadly, humans were in fact screwing it up. Changing the **X signal is a finicky thing, and although it has been proven to work time and time again, the precise placement and timing of the formulaic symbols is always trial and error, until it works. Scientists have known for millions of years about the power of symbols, and how they can influence fields and more specifically, the **X signal of an object. If a symbol can be placed in the correct position on a planet and add or subtract certain pieces of data from the **X signal, then the original signal given off by the planet is able to be manipulated. The Earth’s resources would be masked, and the planet would be sending a signal stating in no uncertain terms that it was a dead planet. The finicky part is the mathematical symbols, and their placement on the planet.

The symbols have to be placed where they can have the most influence on the entire planet’s signal. The rocky or sandy parts of the planet were no good, because they barely give off signal to begin with. Green and growing areas of the planet naturally push **X signals so that is a more productive area to place the symbols. In a strange part good/part bad situation, the most productive areas on the planet have been cultivated by the inhabitants of the planet themselves. The spots on the earth that were specifically engineered by humans to grow plants. The more fertile the crop, the more productive was the formula that was cut into the crop. The not so good part of the situation: since the calculations needed to be sometimes more than 100 meters in diameter, they could be seen by the inhabitants.

For the most part, the earth people just looked at the symbols in wonder, and talked amongst themselves, guessing how they were created and why? Some said that they were natural, others believed that they were hoaxes, while others believed something closer to the truth; that these markings in the crops were made by an alien race for one reason or another. No one had yet guessed the whole truth, though. No human had ever thought or spoken that these crop circles (as they were referred to on Earth) were made by STH himself, standing on a wooden ladder in the center, holding a Mathematician’s laser tool as high over his head as he could, for more than an hour, while the tool did its work.

That is what the humans never could have guessed. What STH never could have guessed, was that a handful of humans could so completely ruin his work for forty years in a row. Somehow, these ignorant brats were writing their own formulas in the crops, and so far they have not been helpful. They were using shapes and symbols that STH had already concluded were inappropriate – and had already helped calculate the next configuration. However, these people were copying his old patterns and re-applying them to their own cuts, which were significantly influencing his own cuts, thus negating the experiment. He’d have to do this same calculation again, and hope that for no interference next time.

He explained it his friend 187 years ago like this: If you try A, and it doesn’t work, then you try B, then C, and so on. The problem he was facing presently, was that he was trying the C formula, and the humans were adding a B, making the return signal the result of C+B, instead of C by itself. Not only were these creatures hurting their own planet’s chances of survival, they were stealing his work! When you spend a lot of time with your own formulas, it’s easy to recognize plagiarism. STH knew the irrationality of being bothered by this when his mission was so important – but knowing and being able to control emotion were two different things.

“BZZZZZT” shouted the computer. STH whipped around so fast that his tail sent a chair clattering to the floor. The messaging system on his computer was blinking bright green. He had a message. He touched the screen, taking him to his inbox, and read “YOUR PRESENCE IS NEEDED AT 4242. IMMEDIATELY.”

“Shit,” STH said.


Upper management was the same everywhere. He hated that this craft was no different than a grocery store back home. “Does anyone, anywhere in the universe understand that all caps is unnecessary?” STH thought to himself as he hopped on the beltway to the Morality and Ethics room. A summons from this room is exactly what he did not want or need right now. He had heard horror stories from other Task and Calc people. And he had heard stories about the Cats since he hatched. He always assumed that they were just that: stories; however at a time like this, it’s hard not to think of them and fear. If he didn’t have so much occupying his mind right now, he would probably have considered that these fearsome stories were spread on purpose, for a reason.

Hopping of the beltway and onto the elevator, STH tried as hard as he could to find himself back home, in front of the diner, saying, “No, I’d rather not take this job.” Unfortunately, you can’t change time. Well, you can, but the Scientists say that if you travel in reverse, you grow extra body parts, and eventually die in pain. But that didn’t keep STH from wishing that he could. He opened the door to room 4242, and the receptionist pointed to a chair. “Wait there. LBO will be out to see you when she’s ready.” At the mention of LBO, STH began to perspire. What could possibly be the reason?

LBO, short for the cryptic name The Little Black One, was a Cat. And not just any Cat, but the one in charge of the mission specifically, and in charge of Morality and Ethics in general. Not just for this ship, but for the entire known universe. LBO started the entire Missioncraft fleet, and was present on Missioncraft 1 <em>Cygnus</em>. She was the only known survivor of that mission. STH did not ever want to talk to a Cat, but especially not this Cat.

First of all, Cats are tiny. They are smaller than the pests from back home. LBO was said to be small, even for a Cat. Second, they are covered in fur, which is just weird. But what makes them scary is how all that intelligence and power can be packed into that tiny little brain. They can choose to form themselves into any shape they want, anytime they want, effortlessly, and still they choose to remain in their natural from. They can see with their physical eyes all of the dimensions simultaneously, and their minds are able to sort out all the information. And then, they can simply step into any dimension, also effortlessly. Imagine the power of a creature that can be anything, anywhere, without effort. And unfortunately for STH, LBO wanted to be right here, right now, to talk to him.

He stared at the door waiting for it to open, when a voice spoke from the couch right next to him.

“Do you know why you are here, STH?”

“Not exactly. I’m assuming it’s about the mission,” he said to the small black shape.

“That’s my home, you know. My original home. All of the Cats are from Earth,” the Cat said as she nodded towards the giant screen showing the planet.

“I didn’t know that,” STH said. “I’m sorry I didn’t know it.”

“You are here because we’ve determined that you’ve failed.”

“How is it my fault?” he said. “The humans are -”

“I did not say it was your fault, STH, merely that you have failed. Your mission was to mask the signal, and it’s not masked yet. Therefore, you failed. There is no shame in it, but it is still the truth.”

“My formulas are working. They are working, we just need to give it a little more time. Another twenty years or so, and we will have the correct one.”

“And how would you guarantee that the humans will not interfere with every experiment?”

“I can’t…”

“No, you cannot. It’s over. You can relax for the rest of mission, and we thank you for all of your hard work. We will be going home soon. We are going to try Plan B.”

“What’s Plan B?” STH asked.

“The acceleration of human technology. We need to teach them how to defend themselves against the empires. The Cats will take the form of humans and join their ranks of scientists and governments.”

“They will destroy themselves with technology like that. They are just too young of a species. Their minds just aren’t ready for that kind of power.”

“That is not your decision, Mathman.”

“Hey, I may not be Ethics material, but I know right from wrong. They’ll pulverize each other. There wouldn’t even be a planet left.”

“Once again, it is not your decision, STH. It is advantageous to our mission that if the planet could not be hidden, it be destroyed. I would not destroy it, but if the humans do, that would still benefit our task.”

“What?” STH said, surprised.

“Imagine for a moment what would happen if an enemy race were to gain control of the vast resources of the Earth. They would be unstoppable. I am curious, though, very curious, why you care.”


“I don’t know. It’s people. Beings. Living life, eating, breathing. That’s why I care. Aren’t you Morality and Ethics? How could you not care?”

The Little Black One looked angry. “Of course, STH, I care. M&amp;E have to make the big decisions, decisions like this. It is not easy, and perhaps you wouldn’t understand.”

“Look, I understand all right. I understand that you are giving up. It seems like there would be more than Plan A and Plan B. Is that all you’ve thought of?”

“Time is almost up. The empires are coming. If those signals are not hidden, and the planet still exists in the next twenty years, all will be lost. These options were all that the M&amp;E determined to be viable.”

“I’ve got another option – how about we keep trying? I can do this.”

“You cannot. You will not. We are done. STH-”

“What do you know about **X signals, LBO?”

“I understand them vastly more than you, Mathematician.”

“Then why am I here?”

“Your brain and intuition can do the calculations faster and more accurately than our own. We tend to look more towards the spiritual aspect.”

“Spiritual aspect?”

“God is in the **X signals. That is where He exists, that is the only place that he exists. He loves and controls from within.”

“God? What are we talking about here? What does God, or any god that may or may not exist have to do with my work?”

“You are aware, STH, that no Scientist or Mathematician can ever understand **X signals entirely. We understand some of the data that you don’t, because we approach it from a different perspective.”

“So you believe there’s a God?”

“There is.”

“Is this God good?”

“Good is relative, but we tend to see him that way, yes.”

“Would he be happy that you’re willing to destroy the Earth?”

“STH – “

“Then for the love of that God, give me another chance. Because He or you just gave me a better way, a better idea.”

“What idea is that?”

“You don’t want to destroy the earth, but you are willing to let it happen. Give me another twenty years with the humans. Take me to Earth, and I will teach them what I can about **X signals, without teaching them anything about weapons or advanced technology. If they are smart enough to mock my signals and cause them to fail, then they are smart enough to make their own.”

“They will not believe you, STH. It will be a waste of precious time. No government will believe or understand.”

“There are a handful of people that will. Not the government. People that are dedicated. And they already know how and where to place the formulas. They’ve made plenty on their own. If I were to find them and explain what’s happening, they would be willing to help. To learn. To take over our job.”

“It is a nice idea, but there is no time.”

“We can make the time. If I fail, you can go to Plan B in twenty years.Then they can either survive for themselves or destroy themselves. But give me that twenty years.”

“We had not considered that idea. Your boldness and passion makes your Math much smarter. I did not expect the conversation to go this way, and that is unusual for me. STH, I will grant you your twenty years. You and I will go to the Earth. For their sake, I hope that it works.”


STH left the room, shaking, not being able to believe what he had just done, what he had just accomplished. He walked into 212 still unable to control the shiver. He had to get control of himself. Had very little time. And these humans, these ignorant humans, one way or another had just twenty years to grow up. Such a small amount of time. He pulled out his suitcase, and began to pack for the trip.