Shorting the Earth

(Alternate Title: Blue Hill)

Memo from:

Palindroma 19

(full identifier: 91979 7787757727 3833733533 1319118115 1131101117 5323571110 1131151181 1913133533 7338372775 7787797919)

Employee Relations Director, Galactic Macro 

I’ve got to be honest with you: I’d never even heard of your planet until recently, and I certainly never thought I’d be writing for a journal on it. At first, when the request came in—well, never mind about that now.  You want to hear the story. About Earth.11—at least, that’s her employee designation for our database. Some of you may have read what she wrote, a while back, for a website you call Responsible Investor.  In case you missed it, here is what she said:

I’m an intern at Galactic Macro, a hedge fund in the star system Alpha Centauri. At a meeting I attended today, an analyst—green-skinned, with a tall, cylindrical body, and lots of long thin antennae that stick out from his head like metallic angel-hair spaghetti—was presenting to a group of colleagues on a potential investee planet. He spoke quickly, just running through bullet points, his voice a steady drone.

“All major ecosystems in catastrophic decline; policy response weak and uneven; investors and private sector pursuing business-as-usual; estimated time-to-irreversibility under 30 years—”

“Short,” said the Chief Risk Taker, her antennae drooping in boredom. She nodded at me to enter the trade.

I turned to the console before me, and entered the coordinates. They’re just numbers, and we do this all the time. But in the program we use, just before you hit “Execute,” a picture of the “underlying,” as we call it, comes up. And this time, my screen filled with a familiar image: a big blue marble, floating in the blackness of space.

“No!” screamed my mind, and they heard me, telepathically. But it’s logical, they all answered silently. Can you articulate an alternative thesis? And I desperately want to, but I can’t. Not alone. Can anyone help?

Humans tried.  She got some answers.  But nothing that was persuasive to outsiders: nothing mathematical and logical that could tilt the odds.  Then this big human meeting happened in—Glasgow, I think was the name of the city.  Our analysts had agreed—just out of kindness, really—to reevaluate after that, but nothing really changed, and then a little while later, the news came down.

“Earth’s being delisted.” I was the one that had to tell her. I’d called her to my office, asked her to sit down, closed the door, and said it. I’ve found it’s best to be direct when an employee’s planet moves from the short list to not even being in the investable universe. Hearing that your home world is no longer a going concern is typically devastating, because we all know what usually comes next: mass starvation and/or nuclear war, or some other combination of factors leading to permanent uninhabitability for intelligent life. There’s no question that’s a downer.

The good part, of course, is that Galactic Macro offers permanent Alpha Centauri citizenship to anyone that happens to—it’s a core pillar of our diversity, equity and inclusion program, and definitely helps with recruitment.  But that first conversation is always tough.

In this case, the Earth intern just sat quietly for a minute, looking down at her hands.

  “I’d like to take my compassionate leave,” was all she said after that.

“Of course,” I agreed.  That’s a benefit we’re very proud of—I’m the one that got it added to the employee handbook. Any employee whose home world is set for delisting gets a paid leave to go back and say goodbye. And if they want—this is just optional, not required—they can write something up about what they observe. Like any signs of hope, or of change. If they find that, they can submit it to us, in employee relations, and we commit to giving it an honest review.  If we think it’s warranted, we can recommend to our private equity team that they make an acquisition and hand the planet over to their turnaround team. We have to have really strong conviction, because our allocation to PE is small. Also, we know almost anyone facing the death of their planet is going to say “no, no, it’s really deep value, this is exactly the time to buy in.” So we take anything in these reports with a big grain of salt, and it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll actually recommend an investment. But it has happened, on rare occasions, and it’s good for morale that we let people try.

“I’ll write a report,” she said, and I said fine, and I sent her off to the Travel department—but then she couldn’t go back.

Because they had a virus on Earth just then: this thing humans called COVID-19.  I hadn’t clocked it because honestly, she was our only Earth intern, and I’ve got employees from the whole galaxy to keep track of—our diversity record is one of the Milky Way’s best. But Travel is totally on that, they track infectious diseases galaxy-wide, and viruses turn out to do great in space and love to hop rides on interstellar conveyances, and so traveling to Earth, just then, was an absolute no.

I was worried about how to break it to her. But then the new IT guy from Sirius said he might have a way to let her go remotely. He could adjust our virtual reality deck, he thought, so that her brain waves would lock on to one particular location on the Earth, and she’d be able to perceive things that happened there—and the software could transcribe what she perceived. The transmission might be a little wonky and uneven, and she wouldn’t be able to interact with anyone because they wouldn’t perceive her. Also, it might take a little while for her mind to lock onto a spot, and once it did he had no way of predicting what the location would be—because it involved unconscious resonance imaging, which meant finding a place that was the right mental docking spot for her. And to be 100% honest he couldn’t guarantee there’d be no physical or mental side effects, because he’d never done it for travel-to-a-planet-on-the-brink before.  Basically, the whole thing was very much in a beta phase. But we explained that all to her and of course, she went for it. It was better than not going at all.

So they got her all set up and left her alone in the VR deck, and for an hour or so the monitors over in IT showed her mind was skipping all over the place—deep sea ridges and Pacific islands and European capitals and coastlines in Africa. But then they called me in to see how her brainwaves were settling, rotating around and around a single location on the Earth, in every-smaller circles. She’d locked on.

“Where is it?” I asked, hoping I’d recognize it from the quick review of Earth geography I’d done that afternoon, when I also reread her personnel file. New York City, was my first guess, since she’d lived there, and she seemed to like it a lot and still know a lot of people there. But no, the IT guys said, this was further north, somewhere I’d never heard of:  it was in a place called Maine.

And it wasn’t even in the capital, or in the principal commercial city of this Maine.  The Earth intern had mind-locked onto what humans call an inn, or more specifically a bed-and-breakfast, in a little town that shared the inn’s name.

Blue Hill.

To be continued

~ Kimberly Gladman ~