"Is it true you were once a member of a voyage to another planet?" a student asked.
"It's true," the old man responded. "I was one of several hundred selected for the mission. Decades of scanning the cosmos for a world with an atmosphere similar to earths had detected one that could be reached in 3.5 years. Faced with a hopelessly degraded environment with dire consequences for humanity ours was the task of trialling a human outpost there."
"What happened? Why did you return?"
"We'd been agreeably comfortable on the planet for a year when the expedition commander shared the data collated by the expedition's scientific team. He started by saying many of us would have anticipated the findings but that the implications were both profound and in some ways unsettling. "
"The geologists confirmed the planet was seismically subdued. Sonic probes showed that the movement of the tectonic plates was of a very slow and regular kind. There were none of the sudden shifts and wrenches that generated quakes and tsunamis on earth."
"Climatically the seasons we'd experienced in a year conformed to the norm. Fossil pollen from low-lying land indicated cooler and warmer cycles in the past but without extremes such as ice ages, droughts or excessive flooding. We were at the time of our visit in a gently warming cycle predicted to peak in another 3,000 years."
"Biologists scanned the entire planet and found the full range of life-forms typical of such an ecologically sound environment. Curiously there were no hominids and only one species of anthropoid ape. Presumably the evolution of higher forms of intelligence there lay in the future."
"Cycling of nutrients and the productivity of the oceans followed the pattern one would have expected from stable and widely interrelated food chains. In the absence of cold winters terrestrial productivity was sustained year round. The fruits, nuts, and roots we had gathered month after month could be taken as normal. There was no 'lean season!'"
"Aside from the usual decay following death from old age or injury all the biota was singularly free from disease. We found ourselves on 'planet perfect,' a strangely unnerving idea."
"How do you mean?" the student wanted to know.
"Well, in the days following the commander's address each of us reflected deeply on the implications. They are not what first meet the eye; how were we to conduct ourselves there? Does that sound like a strange question?"
"Our ancestors, centuries ago on earth, had gone out to 'tame the land.' What land would we set about 'taming?'"
"The system of comfortable and well ventilated limestone caves we'd been living in looked onto green slopes, flowing rivers and the radiant ocean. They suited us admirably. I guess we could have cut down trees and built conventional homes but no one seemed inclined to."
"We could have collected seeds and developed vegetable gardens, but what for? The entire planet was a garden. And with the rivers and sea teeming with fish there seemed little point in keeping animals."
"As for owning land we asked ourselves: 'What's there to own?' The idea of sectioning off parts of the landscape and calling it 'mine' seemed peculiarly distasteful -- like an act of thieving one part of the environment from another."
"How would we occupy ourselves? There were none of earth's conventional motivators such as earning a living, returning a profit, vanquishing an enemy, surviving hard times."
"So it was after a week or two the commander called us together and we solemnly aired these matters. It was apparent that as a race our stage of consciousness did not accommodate a vision of the future; that the technology which had empowered the space journey had outpaced the inner qualities of what it means to be human; that we had a karmic debt to another planet far, far away.
"Someone in the gathering murmured 'on earth, as it is in heaven.'"
"Not many days later the commander issued orders to prepare for our long journey home. All agreed to return; we had work to do."