GIVETHEREADERSWHATTHEYWANT!
One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.
ADAM GILLETT

Three parallel stories in the “not-to-distant” future, introduced at the opening:

Grave robber exhuming remains of two graves:

  • Old man, not particularly likable but nothing against him (crotchety)
  • It may be best to refer to him in pronouns only (He / his / etc., third-person quasi-omnipotent)
Professional woman working with SETI:
  • In a time of economic & world pressure, she was the sole political voice to continue the SETI project
  • It may be best to refer to her in pronouns only (She / her / etc., third-person limited)
News stories about global collapse / stress:
  • Probably told as broadcasts that the grave robber is listening / viewing while he works (concurrent events)
  • Overpopulation, lack of resources
  • Distinct lack of concern from anyone, including authority & government (everyone is just “letting it happen”)
Over the course of these three stories, we discover (in proposed order):
  • We see the grave robber is wearing a overall uniform, complete w/ name tag: Mr. Stevens  – he’s a custodian. And at this point in his life, filled with regret.
  • The news stories are the “last stories” before they stop transmitting.
  • The woman fails to fund SETI, but manages to keep one array in operation and allow hobbyists to continue the project.
  • The grave robber (an estranged divorcee) reminisces about his family, whom he lost in a vehicle accident 15 years ago (daughter and grandson).
  • News stories of mass rioting, looting – but toward the goal of territoriality, not chaos. (i.e.: it’s organized, but still selfish).
  • The woman becomes one of the “hobbyists” herself, and is effectively the voice of the group. Although with this work, she quickly falls out of the public spotlight & political circles (hobbyists are not news stories).
  • News stories continue in quick succession (headline style): shortages, aggression and territoriality, disappearance of certain authority figures from public view.
  • The woman eventually makes a remarkable discovery, a confirmed coded transmission from Alpha-Centauri (greetings, salutations, social info – no detail is really necessary). (If you’ve read / seen Contact, you get the idea – though this particular item is not the POINT of the story, it is the crux).
  • News stories then discuss the Alpha-Centauri issue, about how a large-scale manned mission is being planned, and how it has elevated all the stressful global issues.
  • The woman is now back in the media (obviously), but is still just a hobbyist (no political power or wealth). Shortly after the public announcement, she is involved in a fatal car accident – so bad only ashes remain. The obituary reads “Miss Y. Stevens and son killed in car accident following her announcement of the greatest discovery in human history. A private service will be held and their remain buried at their traditional family cemetery.” (or something like that). (Note: this is the first time where the difference in parallel story chronology is made – up until this time they should all read as present & concurrent events.)
  • The grave robber leaves the cemetery, and we can see the “Stevens Family Cemetery” sign. It should be very apparent that he’s the father exhuming daughter’s and grandson’s remains (in urns or something similar)
  • News story focusing on some details of the large-scale manned mission, including comments that it is more of an exodus, despite knowing NOTHING of what they will encounter on the way to or arriving at Alpha-Centauri. It is merely the hope of something better (unknown) that drives the mission, and enrages those left on Earth.
  • In the final scene, the “grave robber” Mr. Stevens is checked passed security at his job – at NASA. He is part of the team responsible for the final cleaning & maintenance check of the spacecraft, and he carefully places the two urns in the back of a storage compartment. He knows he cannot be saved, and his future is inevitable, but is thankful that his family will eventually make it to their new home.
The theme of the story is what I find more compelling than the plot. What (in this story) exactly drives people to desperation (too many people / too few resources), and what exactly drives people to hope (the unknown). It’s the idea of placing all your hope in something so (literally) alien and giving up on your fellow man / humanity. And, despite being a crotchety “grave robber”, how one man reacted to it – by sending those who deserve it on the hopeful path, yet assuming his fate with the rest of humanity. In some ways I guess it’s the sci-fi morality version of parenting: it’s no longer your world (to conquer / make a mark / consume / etc.), it’s their world (and your job is to make it better, and full of possibilities / hope).
That’s a very rambling version of what was rolling around in my head. It may end up somewhere totally different, and that’s okay by me.

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