This story idea was written by David Ball.
I was given this idea from the first few episodes of the Babylon 5 episode ‘Grail’ which I caught on TV a few days ago. The episode starts with a short sketch that isn’t much related to the rest of the episode, but I actually think the concept could be developed into a full story.
In this sketch on Babylon 5, a Human in a courtroom is accusing a grey-skinned classic ‘Roswell’ style alien with abducting his grandfather years ago, and claiming it affected his life, and future generations. The man makes his case, turns to the judge and says ‘I want damages.’
This is a short throwaway scene, presumably added as a joke, but I think it can be expanded into a full story about how events in one man’s lifetime can affect future generations of his family.
The story idea starts and ends with a courtroom. It’s the future, far from now. Humans and the aliens involved live peacefully together. Lets call the aliens the Dulmm (a name created by the alien species generator). A Human (let’s call him John Watkins) is accusing one of the Dulmm of abducting his great grandfather. Or maybe his great great great grandfather, it depends how far in the future the story is set. He’s claiming that the damage these aliens did to his past relative’s mental state was the primary cause for his own current misfortunes and poverty.
The Dulmm, of course, were curious about our physiology, so they abducted Grandad Watkins for study, probing, all the usual X-Files type stuff in the mid 1990’s, and sent him back down to Earth with his memory wiped of the experience. But Grandad Watkins started to remember, it made him paranoid, it affected his concentration, he lost his job, his family became impoverished.
In the far future courtroom, this is the kind of story many people have heard before. Dulmm and Humans live together, but peaceful relations between them have been difficult because of these early encounters. They’ve tried to move beyond them to coexist peacefully, but racial hatred is still rife, especially after several interspecies wars.
The Dulmm have records proving that the abduction took place. The difficulty though, the judge says, is to prove that Grandfather Watkins’ abduction was the cause of the current Watkins family’s problems. But John Watkins has a trump card. He brings out a device capable of giving the entire jury a shared hallucination, showing what Watkins life would have been like if he hadn’t been abducted. In Futurama this device is called the ‘What if’ machine, but it can be called anything. We’ll call it a Quantum Console.
Each member of the jury lives important scenes from Grandfather Watkins life, seeing what life would have been like if he WASN’T abducted. An enthusiastic man, he keeps his job and gets promoted, moving his family and young daughter (born before the supposed abduction) to California where he invents a self-tightening stem-bolt. A small but important component onboard the Mars rover.
The jury aren’t just watching this, they’re assuming the roles of Watkins family, coworkers and friends. The judge is playing the part of Watkins himself. But has no independent control over his actions of course, he’s just playing out what would have been.
We jump forward in time, and inspired by her father’s success, young Marie Watkins grows into a scientist and is involved in creating an anti-grav sled for NASA’s first manned mission to Venus. Her father is so proud that he buys her a token gift – what can he get for the girl who already has a large paypacket? He buys an acre of land on Venus. It’s a gimmick, for a bit of fun. The land has no real value at the time, but it’s important much later on.
The next generation of the Watkins family is called Nigel. Crippled from birth, Nigel has a genetic condition affecting his spine. But with the anti-grav technology developed by his mother, he pioneers an agile new wheelchair. Nigel is incredibly bright, and he dedicates his life to the study of language. He’s employed by NASA to study an alien language they’ve detected broadcast across the galaxy. It’s the language of the Dulmm. Nigel writes a program to decipher it, although Humans will never make official contact with the Dulmm in his lifetime. Nigel’s spine problems don’t stop him and his partner from being able to start a family. He marries a bio-engineer called Ted and they splice their DNA to create a healthy daughter, Jayne, who grows to be a biologist, and one of the first colonists on Venus.
Jayne left Earth at the age of 35, heading towards her and her fellow pilgrims’ new home on Venus. Their job was to establish a colony, with buildings that would be 3D printed upon arrival by a fleet of automated spider robots. A few months after landing, the pioneers discover a fledgeling colony of Dulmm, and Jayne is among the group who make first contact. It’s her Father who discovers the deeds to the plot of land bought by his Grandfather, which happens to be one valuable piece of real estate. Jayne sells the land to fund plans for an orbital ring, something that goes ahead in the later years of her life.
A generation later, and Jayne’s son, a man called John Watkins is President of the United Republic of Venus. He’s half Human and half Dulmm, but has no father. He was genetically altered to be a hybrid, to be the perfect Ambassador between the two races. His citizens are a mixture of Human and Dulmm, living together peacefully. For a time, Humans and Dulmm argued over who should govern the planet, and even for a time had separate governments. John smoothed this over though, with a promise to treat both Human and alien equally. Their first cross-species project was to construct the Venusian orbital ring planned by John’s mother. Construction finished ahead of schedule, due to good cooperation on both sides. The ring provided luxurious accommodation for the rich, including John. He lives a good life, and the planet is peaceful.
Our story returns to the courtroom, where the real John, a shabby-looking man who lives on Earth, where travel to Venus is commonplace. A newspaper shows the headline ‘Terrorist attack on the Venusian ring’, and an accompanying image shows the half finished ring being blown to smithereens. His case is presented, and the judge submits his verdict.
Admittedly, this story is nothing more than a vehicle for demonstrating a fictional timeline. We don’t see the Watkins’ actual timeline, only assuming it’s much worse than what is presented by the Quantum Console. So perhaps scenes of the Watkins’ real life could be mixed in, highlighting how different they are.
Written by David Ball