The Second Intelligence

Alice scratched her hide behind her earpatch with an idle claw, the way she did when she was distracted. Danny had done it again. The fishmother spawn of worms had taken her scientific paper and written a bestseller β€” neglecting, of course, to mention, except in very small footnotes, where his ideas had come from.

She tried to look on the bright side. If people understood that the First Intelligence had destroyed itself, that was something worth spreading. The Second Intelligence, her own people, should learn from that.

“Miss?” The earnest student watched Alice over his notepad. “Were you not aware of Mr. Burrowmaster’s work?”

“I’d hardly call it work,” Alice said, “But no, I have not read it yet. I’m not sure I will.”

“Really? It seems like something you would be interested in.”

“It seems like something I’ve already published.” Alice immediately regretted her unprofessional words. The people who mattered would know already; she was supposed to be above the bog of petty popularity. She wrapped her tail around herself and gripped it will all four hands.

“Could you explain Mr. Burrowmaster’s ideas?”

They were not his ideas. Alice took a breath. “Danny draws on a lot of research from field scientists like me. I think… I know… We know now that we are the second intelligence on this planet. We know the first intelligence disappeared suddenly. What I demonstrated with my research is that there is a singularity in the ice record. We have geological evidence now that there were glaciers in the past, but they disappeared quite suddenly.”

The student paused in his scribbling. “Can you explain glaciers for my readers?”

“You have seen ice, yes? Imagine great masses of it, collecting on mountain tops and slowly flowing down like a terribly slow, unstoppable river, carrying massive rocks and carving valleys. There used to be a lot of ice, we can tell by the valleys the glaciers left behind. We have to assume it all melted. That moment in geological time, give or take a million years, is when the first intelligence abruptly ended.”

“A million years?”

“It was a long time ago; it is difficult to be precise. But the evidence is overwhelming: They heated the world and melted all the ice, then they died. Countless species died then, to be replaced with a new countless. We should all understand that, lest we fall in the same trap.”

“Gustav Mudman believes that radioactivity killed them.”

Alice was impressed that the reporter for the university rag had done such thorough research, but it was time to bring him back to the fold of science. “Since the discovery of radioactive elements a decade ago it has been very popular to imbue them with every conceivable supernatural power. But there is no mechanism for them to suddenly rise up and destroy a civilization.”

“But there is the radioactive stripe.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “It is not a stripe, no matter what the popular press would have you believe. It is a hint, here and there, that perhaps a hundred million years ago there was a brief period on Earth where radioactive isotopes were more common. It would be foolish to place too great an import on that.”

The young reporter gathered himself. “Mr. Burrowmaster believes that the timing of the radioactive stripe, the disappearance of the ice on Earth, and the demise of the First Intelligence are too close to be coincidence. He thinks when the ice melted it created an upheaval that led to a war with radioactive weapons, that ultimately no mammal survived.”

“It’s a pretty picture,” Alice said, “But it’s purely conjecture.”

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