In the centuries leading up to the 2250s, humanity had remained resoundingly alone in the universe. Whilst it turned out that around half the stars in the sky had habitable planets around them, and the vast majority of those bore complex life that was compatible with humans, living intelligent life was nowhere to be seen.
That wasn’t to say that humanity hadn’t found evidence of intelligent life. The first traces were discovered in 2136 when a routine orbital survey of Laris C, a Mars-like world, indicated ruins of non-human origin. It was later discovered that they were constructed by a race of aliens who had died out tens of thousands of years prior who had never progressed beyond a bronze age level of technology. Humanity realised they were not alone, and despite the underwhelming fate of the Larisians, it spurred a whole new way of thinking about the cosmos.
In the century following the discovery of the Larisians, humanity discovered thirty six distinct alien civilisations on a hundred and seven different planets. At the forty ninth interplanetary symposium on xenoarchaeology, a disturbing trend was revealed. About a half of all alien societies never made it into space, and they tended to die off from disease or pollution or their own nuclear self destruction, but all but two spacefaring alien species discovered so far were killed off by some unknown external force. There were three known events in which spacefaring civilisations were destroyed, where over the course of one or two hundred years, something swept across the galaxy and killed anything intelligent enough to build spaceships.
Humanity was divided. Across human space two factions emerged: those who wanted to seek out whatever had killed every other spacefaring civilisation before them, and those who wanted to hide. Despite better judgement, the UNM agreed with the former and established a team to search for it. They established a base on Nihalas, a system on the very edge of human space which research showed was at least in the direction whatever had killed those civilisations had gone the last time it passed through this region of space.
Between 2239 and 2243, they searched sixty two star systems and found nothing, until a miscalculation caused a survey vessel to jump to the wrong star. Designated S9-K22V, it had originally been discarded as telescope surveys suggested it had no planets. When the survey ship arrived, they found the entire solar system was littered with giant crystalline structures, obviously fashioned by some intelligence and moving about space with a definite purpose.
When they returned, it was revealed that a rival team in the IP3 had made their own breakthrough. Academics studying some of the alien ruins had deciphered one of the aliens’ languages and made an alarming discovery. They spoke of an unstoppable crystalline alien entity that called itself the outsider that swept through their solar systems, destroying anything that bore the mark of civilisation. They spoke of a desperate fight for survival, of increasingly unlikely plans, of ever more dire last stands. They had found the last records of a civilisation on the edge of extinction.
Despite the fact the two groups were technically at war over an alleged border incursion, they shared their discoveries. Without further data, it was impossible to know if humanity should prepare for the outsider in years or centuries. The only thing that was certain was that humanity was in an unprecedented situation. No other species had ever spread so far or so fast, and if anything this was going to be their one saving grace.
Two years after the initial sighting of the outsider, an observatory in Nihalas sighted a series of bright flashes from S9-K22V. A survey ship was dispatched and when it arrived it found nothing. Where there were once tens of billions of crystal structures there was nothing. The realities of astronavigation meant searching interstellar space was functionally impossible but every available telescope was deployed to Nihalas and the surrounding stars to scour the sky for any sign of what had happened.
Historical records indicated that the outsider was not capable of faster than light travel, and whilst interstellar space was functionally empty, at relativistic speeds even lone atoms hitting a starship can do catastrophic damage. A large collection of unknown objects were spotted about half way between S9-K22V and Nihalas, which were about two light years apart, putting them at a speed of half the speed of light. More worryingly, by this point the mass had spread. Whilst a great deal was on course for the star, much more had begun course corrections, with the only reasonable answer that they had picked up signals of life around other stars and already made plans to eradicate it.
Continue reading First Contact.