http://wanderinghorse.net/stories/bob/

Bob


The following story was written spur-of-the-moment in December of 2004 and posted to an online group of gamers, the intention being to use it as the basis for a roleplaying game campaign. This story is released into the Public Domain.
Revision History:
- 2004.12.03: original revision
- 2007.04.28: typo corrections
- 2007.06.25: typo corrections

Sometime in the very near future...

First off, allow us to apologize for the urgency with which we contact you, and for the necessary lack of details we will provide you at first. As time progresses we will reveal all that we know.

Secondly, please allow us to apologize for this rather atypical introduction. This message is being broadcast over a large number of your communication channels, in more than twenty human languages. We have attempted to avoid interrupting any systems which are critical to your infrastructure, such as those used by your transportation control systems, and we apologize for any inconveniences caused by our interruption of your services. We are quite certain that in a few moments you will come to appreciate the measures we are taking to contact you.

We have chosen to broadcast our introductory message to humanity in general, without going through the preferred channels of global and local governments, because our simulations suggest that had we chosen to go through your official channels, our message would have been distorted, misunderstood, or even ignored. By sending our message to the world as a whole it is hoped that we can "capture everbody's attention" at once, and leave as little room as possible for false interpretation.

We expect that you will have a huge number of questions for us. Be assured that we will, in time, answer them all. First, however, we must explain why we have come to you, and why now.

We come to share, as so many of you like to say, "good news and bad news." Contrary to your customs, we have chosen to first reveal "the good news," because we are concerned that many of you might not hear what we have to say after the "bad news."

The good news is that we are here to help you. Travellers from our world are currently planning and we calculate that we have ample time, provided that your societies can cooperate fully enough to achieve our up-coming goals.

The bad news is that in a little more than 300 years your sun will cease to provide enough power to sustain life in this star system. Your own technologies will not be able to detect this condition for another century or more. The task of saving humanity from extinction will occupy your species for the next twenty generations or more.

Before going into the details, which will take years to cover, we will now give you some information to help you understand your situation, and ours, more clearly.

As you have certainly guessed, by the fact that we address you in your languages, we have studied your race for a number of years. We cannot survive in your atmosphere, nor you in ours, so it is unlikely that many of your spieces will meet any of ours face-to-face, and then only in very controlled circumstances.

You will undoubtedly want to know who we are and where we come from. Our names are unexpressable in all of your written and spoken languages, so we have adopted the policy of allowing humans who speak with us to use a name of their choice. The first of your species to speak directly with us chose to call call us "Bob," and that is the name we use when humans choose not to use a name of their preference.

We have observed your species since the year 1908 and, with the help of a few of your members, learned many of its languages and customs. We have avoided directly intervening with your species' activities, but we have come to the conclusion that if you were in our positition you would be driven to do what we are doing now. It is our plan to help relocate the population of your world.

As soon as this introductory broadcast ends we will begin sending a variety of technical data, using data structures commonly usable by your information-processing systems. This information will include details of our origin, what we know about the condition of your sun, and preliminary details about our plans to help you. Once the most critical information is conveyed we will restrict our general broadcasts to a small number of channels, so that we do not interrupt your systems more than necessary. We will continue to broadcast a constant flow of information in the form of what might be called encyclopedias. These data feeds will contain primarily information which we consider critical to the survival of your species, such as technologies to expand your manufacturing and food-production capabilities.

In parallel we will contact the world's leading organizations directly, such as your United Nations, in an attempt to coordinate our efforts through your infrastructure's standard logistical channels. We will provide information to as wide of an audience as practical, but our numbers are far fewer than humanity's, and many of our efforts must therefore be focused at the international levels. We expect that your governments will cooperate fully, as not doing so could well spell the end of your species.

And so it begins, the cooperation of Bob and Humanity in an effort to save the human species from extinction. Bob cannot save Humanity. Humanity cannot save itself. But together we can all save Humanity.



And so it began, indeed...

The message was not only broadcast on many common radio frequencies and broadcast on thousands of satellite-fed television channels, but also simu-posted to thousands of text-based internet-based services such as blogs and usenet, emailed "spam style" to millions of people worldwide, and even webcast via video streams. Those people who didn't see the initial broadcast didn't have to wait long - it would be repeated an incalcuable number of times through almost every media outlet over the next few years.

Governments very quickly realized that the constant "encyclopedia flow" from Bob could not be controlled in any conventional sense of the word, and most decided to "go with the flow", calling on everyone with any level of technical skills to help decode, organize, analyze and interpret the constant streams of information. The raw amount of information was enough, on a weekly basis, to keep humanity busy for years. Not that the data had to be decoded - Bob transmitted in XML!!! - but the sheer amount of information overwhelmed humanity's processing power. Governments calls upon the people of the world to help them sort through the streams, and distributed networks were quickly set up worldwide to help categorize and prioritize the data.

For the first time in its history, humanity as a whole had a coherent goal, and the effects on society could never have been accurately predicted. Of course, there were sceptics, especially in the beginning, but it quickly became clear that, whatever your opinions of Bob or "their" motives were (Bob never used a personal pronoun), humanity as a whole really had no choice except not only to go along for the ride, but to also build the car. Conspiracy theories abounded, but none could seriously discount the openness of "the Bobs", and the vast majority of humanity would eventuallly come to see them as saviours, or at least as benevolent friends.

Bob's information systems, fed primarily through humanity's satellite networks, coordinated most communication between major world organizations, allowing unprecedented levels of cooperation and information distribution. Much to the chagrin of many world leaders, Bob put absolutely no priority on "information security", and refused to encrypt any communications. "It is for the best," Bob always said.

Bob was not just "Bob himself," who was sometimes known as "the First Bob", but was the name used to address any member of the alien species during communications. Some people did indeed choose other names to call Bob, but to most people "every Bob is Bob." It doesn't appear to make a difference, one way or the other, to Bob.

For logistical reasons, two-way communications were normally established only with officials at the highest levels of governments, but many other organizations were also asked to take specific roles in The Plans, such as the International Red Cross, the United Nations, and boards of some of the largest, most influential organizations. Bob played no favoritism at all - every part of The Plan got as much careful attention as every other part.

The Plan essentially boiled down to building a massive number of ships over many years and gradually getting humanity on its way to a suitable replacement planet. Bob admitted that they didn't currently have a specific replacement world in mind, but that all effort was being put into finding one. Of course, organizations such as NASA and the ESA provided Bob with whatever information they had on extrasolar systems. It is rumored that when Bob was told that they would be receiving this information, they uncharacteristically broke their serious manner to quip, "we have been reading your space-based telescopy information for many years."

The Plan provided many different logistical challenges, including, but not limited to:

- Transportation for billions of humans. Bob had only a couple ships based on Earth's moon, but many more were on the way. They weren't to be used as taxis, but as construction teams.

- Raw materials. Earth simply didn't have some of the materials that Bob would need, at least not in the quantities needed, and others could not effectively be transported from Earth. Bob was to manage the importation of raw materials, primarily from the asteroid belt and gas giants. The vast majority of the construction would be required to take place outside the atmosphere, and Bob's transportation capacity would be extremely limited until "the construction crew" arrived.

- Even though most of the work would be planet-bound for the first few generations (Bob's ships are not, to the disappointment of science-fiction fans, capable of faster-than-light travel), humanity would need to shift its infrastructure to even more information-based system. Luckily, humanity was already well on its way to interconnecting its people, so this posed little challenge other than the number of people who would be needed to learn new skills. There was, of course, no shortage of volunteers, and Bob made sure that there was no shortage of information flow. Information lines and networks were established specifically for Bob's use, and "Bobnet" was to be the official source for information from, or regarding, Bob and The Plan.

- World markets. Humanity's economic systems suffered greatly, as they simply were not designed around the concepts of freely sharing information and services. This specific aspect would be one of the greatest hinderences to the implementation of "The Plan", at least for the first couple generations (further generations would be born learning of The Plan, and would be much more social-minded). Eventually markets would adapt, to remain both profitable and productive, while also advancing The Plan. Humanity simply wasn't ready, psychologically and logistically, to reorganize its economic basis over a period of a generation, and supply-demand economics was to be a major hinderence for a number of years. Bob provided many technologies which would help humanity ween itself from the need for such economies, at least on such massive scales. (There would always be a place for free markets, but their direct influence on society as a whole was to decrease dramatically over the next several generations.) The perception that "Bob is a socialist!" is common, though humanity knows very little about Bob's culture (not for lack of interest, but for lack of priorities). On this point, Bob has admitted to withholding information, "to use as a carrot, as it were, and help motivate your species. Once we are together, off of your planet, in space you will learn everything about us."

- Getting people to believe. Despite the constant influx of information from Bob, and Bob's ever-helpful demeanor, many people believed in a number of conspiracy theories. "They're just getting us to build these things so they can take us over!" or "It's all an elaborate prank being pulled by a group of super-hackers!" The list goes on and on.

- The population projections for humanity over the upcoming centuries were simply too high. Humans as a whole would have to start controlling their growth *now* if the entire of the population were to be helped. Bob were always very specific about "non-violent" population control measures, and abstractly hinted at retribution for any organizations which took to "inhumane measures." Conveniently, Bob provided information which could be used to create extremely effective birth control medications. This "fuck or flee" conflict of interests, as it was often called, put two of humanity's deepest instincts at odds with one another, and of course this would help to feed some conspiracy theories and inter-ethnic conflicts.

- Interaction between the species. Bob could not survive in Earth's atmosphere, largely due to Earth's strong gravity. Getting humans into space was still not an everyday occurance, and making this happen required massive efforts on the part of humanity. Bob had shared instructions for building a system of so-called "space elevators" (which Bob admitted to learning about from human literature), but the space-side facilities would have to wait for The Crew's arrival. All communication were only via transmition for the first six months, until Bob arranged for a visit from a small team of international scientists from several countries.

- Bob's unwavering "genuinely nice and helpful" attitude, regardless of which Bob one is dealing with. While not hand-walking humanity through everything, Bob are always willing to answer specific questions related to The Plan, and help provide solutions to solving specific problems. The small number of Bobs (estimated to be less than 1000) means that not every governor gets his own personal Bob liason, but the advanced information systems of the Bobs allow them to process data, such as large simulations, more effectively than Terran systems (see below). Despite the perception that Bob may be a pushover in negotations, nobody has ever seriously challenged Bob's judgement. That is not to say that Bob simply lays down all the instructions - they do not. They provide the overall guidance and adapt their plans with input from their human contacts.

- Technological limitations. Many of Bob's advanced technologies require materials which must be manufactured in zero-gravity, and some, like their supercomputers, are made of parts so tiny and precise that they will not function properly under the influence of any significant gravity. Thus one of the early challenges in The Plan was Bob building space-based information systems for handling supercomputing tasks, such as ship design and large-scale, high-detail simulations. On a per-unit-of-space basis, Bob's computer systems outperform Terran systems by hundreds-to-one.

- Communication with Bob's home world is limited to light speed, and the planning involving The Crew must be correct, as there is not time to arrange and mobilize another effort from Bob's side. That is, if something happens and The Crew does not arrive, or otherwise fails to meet expectations, Humanity will be working a lot of overtime to try to make up for the difference.