In a galaxy without the convenience of faster-than-light travel, why bother contacting less technologically advanced species at all? Part of the reason in the Human Legion universe is revealed in a new series of articles in the Classified Military Data section, which I’ve reproduced for your convenience here…
Category: Politics & History
==ATTENTION! This article was last updated 2572 A.D. and needs to be rewritten in light of recent events.==
Earth before contact with aliens: a serene jewel blissfully unaware it was about to be plucked.
It’s easy for us today to believe that Earth was a pastoral idyll before humanity’s first contact with intelligent alien species. We still know little of certainty about that Contact period, but we know more than enough about the preceding time to demolish the idea that it was any kind of idyll. Earth was far from serene, beset by conflicts between confrontational ideologies, religions, ethnicities, and clans. In fact, it seemed to many human philosophers of the period that humankind was built for conflict, not peace.
As we shall see, it turns out that this observation was closer to the truth than they could ever have imagined.
Some of that same class of human philosophers and scientists pointed out another unsettling observation.
If there are no other alien species out there, they asked themselves, then why not? And if there are, why can we not see evidence of them?
To a few deep thinkers, that question felt paramount, but to the majority of Earth’s citizens, such existential paradoxes were but a fleeting fancy, a distraction from the really important thing in life: the competition with rivals, little realizing that the absence of alien evidence and the competitive nature of humankind were tightly linked.
What they didn’t realize was that Earth had been seeded.
For centuries – maybe longer – the ignorant humans had been steered and redesigned to increase their competitive streak. Plagues were introduced periodically, not to kill Earth’s inhabitants but as vectors, so that the human genome could be virally rewritten to suit alien purposes.
Records from the Cienju (a species that appears to be key to the Contact story) describe a particularly successful viral plague they unleashed. In human speech we call this syphilis. The Cienju claim it led to a flowering of human scientific enquiry, caring nothing about the hundreds of millions of deaths it left in its wake.
The humans of Earth probably still catch this syphilis. Still die too, but the work has been done, and that rewriting of our genetic instructions has been spread throughout all of us.
And to what end was all this endless alien meddling in human affairs?
Imagine putting a pre-Contact human into even a fifth–rate starship and watch their face as the zero–point engine lights up. It would be unwise to try this with a pre-Contact human engineer or scientist because their brain would burst with wonder.
But to one of the senior alien races, zero–point engines, with their ability to mine quantum–scale void fluctuations and stitch them into the starship momentum continuum, are commonplace. In fact the origins of the technology are so ancient that even the species who first developed the zero-point engine has been forgotten. Most likely the species went extinct, and then passed through first historical obscurity and then out into oblivion. Utterly forgotten.
We no longer need their designers because the engines work, though, and work well. So who would dedicate their life developing new engine technology? Who’s arrogant enough to think they could do better?
The practicalities of interstellar commerce at sub-light transportation speed add to this ossification of ideas. The practical logistics of a supply chain between depot and customer site is measured in decades or centuries of journey time. This means that standardization of parts is of critical importance. Think about it: you can’t sit in space dock for two hundred years while your part is on order from your nearest supplier. Even if you made a better engine part, could you update the entire supply network?
To a pre-contact human the zero–point engine presents a tremendous opportunity, because its practical speed limit is 0.7 C. How much better would be a faster–than-light drive? Could it be done? That’s the question an ancient Earther would ask.
Of course, local space time has a firm speed limit of c, but why not cheat? Wormholes, hyperspace, time dilation, jaunting, the teleport drive: these are staples of fantastic Earth fiction. They aren’t there by accident. Aliens have seeded the idea, amplifying our ancestors’ naive flights of fantasy.
Look deeply into human history and you will see 100 innovations that fail to solve a key problem – a thousand – a million! – but this vast ocean of failure is all but forgotten by history because eventually one person will stumble across the breakout innovation that does work.
Let us return to our ancestors’ questions:
Why see no evidence of aliens?
Because by the time they had radio telescopes to scan for comms from other stars, a shield was in place in Earth’s atmosphere to screen out any signals it decided were artificial.
As for the more noisy evidence of advanced civilization – such as Dyson Spheres, stellar engineering and the like – as far as we know, civilizations don’t endure long enough to achieve such greatness. They are wiped out too soon [see entry on Trans–Species Union]
In conclusion – the purpose of the human species in the centuries before Contact was to be mined for its greatest natural resource – the unfettered imagination of its dreamers and doers.
From the perspective of alien eyes, was it worth it? Did humans ever deliver on their potential for innovation?
People often cite the bicycle as an example of great human innovation.
It is true the bicycle is an impressive device, unique to Earth, and now spreading through the galaxy. However, only the most militant cyclist would suggest the bike has had a galaxy–shattering impact in the way that, say, an FTL star drive would do.
What other key inventions have humans produced?
We don’t know.
Maybe we really have developed a fresh perspective on a key engineering or scientific problem. But if so, whichever race possesses that insight keeps their advantage secret until ready to unleash.
But there are two tantalizing pieces of evidence that imply a human–inspired innovation might just be coming soon.
Firstly, we weren’t the only species mined in this way. Take the bacterium bomb, and FTL communication using cubits: these advances arrived shortly after a pre-Contact species was admitted into the Trans-Species Union.
Here’s a second thought:
The history of Earth’s Contact experience has been written in so many contradictory versions that it is difficult to know what actually occurred.
The stories of that violent time agree on only one point, and it’s a crucial one: after centuries or more when Earth’s inventiveness was patiently mined by different species, in the late 21st century there was a mad scramble by several alien races to claim exclusive ownership of Earth and its innovations before their rivals.
What sparked this mad rush? Could it be nothing more than regular rivalry between species? Nothing more than an instinct to deny your competitors something they think is a valuable, even if you don’t value it yourself?
But the contact strategies of the various alien races seem so rushed, so unprepared and rickety, that maybe somewhere in the late 21st century, a team of Earth engineers or scientists was on the cusp of developing something New, something so galaxy–shattering that every nearby power was panicked into action, because the prospect of their rivals possessing this innovation was so terrifying that they could do nothing but stake everything on claiming the Earth.
But what was that innovation?
And does Earth possess it still?
If we are right in our assessment, the galaxy won’t have long to wait before the truth is revealed.