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"It was thought during the middle of the twentieth century that the discovery of nuclear weapons would end up destroying life on earth," said Viggen. "But it wasn't nuclear weapons that spelled the end of humanity -- though they played their part -- it was the rise of the biological sciences."

Between us, the row of Sages on one side, Jorgensen and I on the other, the Tri-D floated, showing the Earth spinning, time-lapse images taken automatically from First Moon over a period of several hundred years, images of destruction, of death, the history of our species, our civilization, the fires burning, then slowly dying out, the rust-brown air slowly changing, becoming transparent once again, the clouds white, high cirrus spreading lacy filaments across the planet, isolated thunderstorms forming, then dissipating, the flash of their lightning obvious from our vantage point, the planet once again a blue and white oasis in the loneliness of space, clean, beautiful, like it was in those historic photographs, the Apollo 11 Mission, deep in our world's youth, its innocence. A time when its future still lay before it, glorious in its potential, its infinite possibilities...

"Then all that is left of Earth and its people, its civilization, is PDU-1?" I asked, appalled.

"We can't be sure," said Peters, the other programmer who was present at the meeting and sat between Morgan and the quiet, watchful woman named Wong. "But the fact that our instruments continue to show an absence of radio/TV transmissions, or, on the dark side, artificial light, strongly suggests the absence of intelligent life."

"Technological life," dryly corrected Morgan.

"Whatever," said Peters.

"It was the Tragedy of the Commons, expanded to the entire planet," said Viggen. "Uncontrolled breeding, rampant consumerism, a culture of mindless greed and kelter orchestrated by corporations who couldn't see beyond the next quarter and politicians who couldn't see beyond the next election. Extensive crime and corruption at every level of society. Trivial and reckless exploitation of irreplaceable resources with no concern for tomorrow, a widespread attitude that the future could take care of itself."

"Which it did," said Morgan, deadpan.

This excerpt from PDU-1: A Novella of the Remote Future Copyright © 2000 by F. E. Potts, all rights reserved.

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