The Neighbors

Conrad Altmann

The only universal truth when moving house is that if it’s empty, it’s available.

Once you narrow that down to individual cultures, it tends to come with caveats. Some will require you to gain permission from local governments, or from the existing neighbors. Some will consider your origin and reason for moving. Some will even deny permission the more desperate you are. Thankfully, instances of the latter are few and far between among the civilized, much like inhabitable planets when yours has just been rendered uninhabitable.

Why their home was uninhabitable was a topic the Manisae would rather not broach with inquiring cultures. The truth of it—as much as could be easily explained—was that they had over-reached, and had been slapped down for it. A hefty consequence, to be sure, but the situation had warranted it.

When they fled their home system, they tried to salvage as much of their culture and knowledge as possible. Due to the effects of the event that caused their flight, much of it was lost.

The charts that had miraculously survived which mapped the localities near their home system indicated that there were two planets and a variety of dwarf planets in the system of the star Anfeuerdin. Two or them sat within an acceptable distance of the star to support a range of occupation from civilizations to mining colonies. 

What the charts didn’t reveal was that the most ideal planet orbiting Anfeuerdin was already occupied.

Another universal truth is that ‘intelligent life in its expansionist phase will always covet that which is adjacent to it.’ More colloquially, one might say ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’

So naturally, when they arrived within observational proximity to the inner planets at Anfeuerdin, they were disappointed, to say the least. Of a total of twelve planets, and dozens of dwarf planets and moons, only one had a reasonable amount of easily accessible liquid water and a thick enough atmosphere to sustain the refugees’ biological needs. Only one other planet was within a reasonable temperature range that it would be able to support the reconstruction of their culture and civilization.

A careful transit was plotted to limit the visibility of the patchwork Manisae fleet to the occupied third planet by staying behind the Anfeuerdin star. They were thankful to not detect any life on the fourth, and so made that their destination. If detected, this would not be the first instance of first contact that the Manisae had experienced. It would be the third, in fact. The last time had eventually led to the loss of their own home planet, so in this instance, they were naturally cautious.

Their plan was to cause as little disruption as possible in the system. They knew that they had the right to claim what was unoccupied—in this case the fourth planet—but experience and their own cultural history taught them that a native population did not often experience things the same way. In fact, they had been in the native position before, but on a much smaller scale, so they had learned perspective. They did not know anything about the native population on the third planet though, and could not assume mutual understanding, or even the capacity for alternate perspective.

As they passed the orbit of the sizable asteroid belt nestled between the fourth and fifth planets, their observational drones began to send back more detailed images of their hopefully benevolent future neighbors, and the target of their own colonization hopes, the fourth planet.

Images of the latter were hopeful. Despite a few scattered machines that had likely been sent from the third planet, there was no earnest attempt at colonization and their machines could be easily avoided. In other areas of the fourth planet there was evidence of a much older civilization, but no evidence that the machines had landed there. That evidence pointed to the fact that the planet had supported life through a consistent atmosphere at one point. With their own technology, they would be able to rebuild it.

The more distressing images came from the drones pointed at the third planet. It was fully colonized on the land masses, and appeared to be approaching a critical mass in many places. At least that’s what the Manisae could deduce from the distribution of war-like activity in the more densely populated areas.

Had they not known vastly different extra-stellar species before, they would have only their own history to draw from to make assumptions. Observed evidence of the natives did not instill hope for friendly relations in the new refugees. The Manisae compared the patterns of civilization that they saw to species they had encountered before. Their neighbors had a long way to go to become a viable space-faring species, but there was hope.

As is said, ‘Those with nothing, have no choice.’ The Manisae chose a landing site near one of the larger ruins discovered by their scans of the fourth planet, and began to install the instruments and habitations they would require to restart their civilization.

The surface had no liquid water, but it was present within the soil below the surface. It only needed to be unlocked. The rough layer of regolith above was impossible to cultivate, but the Manisae had brought with them libraries of helpful tools in the form of bacteria and fungi that would be ideal for breaking it down into fertile matter.

Massive pumps and evaporation furnaces were built into the ground, using power generated by the light from Anfeuerdin. The water would be extracted and evaporated into the thin atmosphere to build it up, and combustable elements would be mined to burn for thickening it. Within a generation, the Manisae would be able to work the land and breathe the atmosphere with little to no difficulty.

Settlement proceeded on the fourth planet. The Manisae named their new home Aviwm, as was dictated as the right of naming for all first claimants. The remainder of their displaced population remained in orbit, monitoring the progress of the precursors as well as the reaction from the third planet.

Within a quarter revolution of the third planet around Anfeuerdin, many of their most expansive violent conflicts appeared to abate. Despite the Manisae’s lack of understanding of the languages being used, they could plot the patterns of data as it traveled across the planet. The epicenters of information bursts shifted from centers of cultural influence (as assumed by population density) to centers of science and astronomy, as evidenced by installations of highly sensitive optical and radio sensors in isolated regions.

This informed the Manisae of the natives’ priority of importance of culture versus science, as well as the fact that they were most likely also being observed and discussed.

The fact that major conflicts had abated abruptly was theorized to mean that the Manisae appearance was a novel occurrence to the inhabitants of the third planet, and likely their first extra-stellar contact. The Manisae expected the natives to attempt contact first, and soon, as was the proper protocol. They did not have long to wait.

The natives sent a test first. Using easily replicable technology, and a simple cipher that could be translated to numbers, as the Manisae understood, a mathematical theorem. The group assigned to respond did so with the proof, and was followed with another more complex theorem. This continued for a number of cycles; the Manisae responding with the proofs to each theorem. They were simple, but understood to be a test to judge the understanding of physics and time. They had set a foundation for communication.

The next contact was through image and language. This time it was relayed through one of the machines that had been abandoned on the surface of Aviwm. It depicted in a similar cipher an image of the Anfeuerdin system, complete with the first nine planets and their associated moons. The Manisae responded, assuming it was a further test, by sending back a more complete image, adding in the remaining four planets of the system and plotting the major dwarf planets and larger eccentric bodies within the bounds of the second asteroidal belt. The reception of this response was plotted as a bold wave of data, not unlike the ripples upon the surface of water.

The third contact included new characters and related audible emissions. For this, the Manisae sent a drone to rendezvous with the relay machine of the natives. They were not ready to make themselves individually visible to them, but their technology was not immediately configured to translate the sounds that the natives had sent. From these messages, the Manisae learned the basics of the most common language on the third planet, all while continuing to expand their efforts to prepare Aviwm for their population.

The average space between communications extended further into silence after the language lesson. To the Manisae, this indicated that the natives, or ‘Humans’, as they had learned, would like them to initiate a response. So the Manisae sent characters and sounds of their own, and taught the humans their own mode of communication. Cultural exchanges had begun. And then came the questions. The Manisae understood how these interactions usually went and were anticipating this step. It was the progression to the next steps of ‘demands’ and ‘fear’ that they did not anticipate with joy.

The questions were common, and did not progress scientific understanding of the Manisae, betraying a shift in human control over communication. Where were they from, why were they here, what were their plans. The Manisae answered all as openly as possible, without revealing more of themselves than was safe in such situations.

Since they had learned to communicate in the common language of Earth, they were able to interpret the data that they had until then only been able to visualize. They were not encouraged by what they learned. Demands and fear had already taken root in the most developed regions and influence over the population had shifted from the rational voice of science to the irrational voice of culture. The Manisae understood this, but it did not help to make them feel welcome. The thing that did was that there was no attempt from the third planet to visit Aviwm. Technological progress had stalled, likely due to the sweeping conflicts that they had interrupted by their unannounced presence. The highest level of technology that they could observe on Earth and in orbit did not dramatically exceed that of the human drones that were littered about Aviwm. And so they were not concerned about violence directed at them by the Humans.

Five revolutions passed on Aviwm before the Humans made further contact. It did not come as a surprise, as the Manisae had been observing their communications. The Humans had overcome a shift in culture in the past nine Earth revolutions to favor cooperation with the Manisae. This, they were very glad to hear, but had learned to be wary of the Humans’ duplicity. Indeed, there were factions within the burgeoning Manisae population that did not favor closer ties with their lesser developed neighbors.

The small but loud movement had gained influence on Aviwm and either mirrored similar ones on Earth or were directly influenced by them. In either case, it did earn the caution of the leadership, if not the respect it desired. As is said, ‘a disrespected minority would soon overthrow the majority’, or so the Manisae had learned too many times in their own past.

Not only had the Humans’ preoccupation with violence stunted expansion to Aviwm, it also had prevented development of their own moon. As there was no other location that both the cautious Humans and the Manisae would be comfortable meeting in, their moon was chosen. The proximity to Earth caused some level of distress among the population of Humans, but the Manisae had been careful to not cause the Humans to fear them, despite their more advanced technology. In fact, the more educated of the Manisae advisors in the new field of ‘Human Nature’ cautioned the delegate against the Human advantage of numbers and proximity, and their history of duplicity, both deliberate and inadvertent.

The delegate took these warnings and lessons to mind, and proceeded to the meeting in expectant trust. They had been instructed to reveal themselves physically only as they saw fit and to make a secure retreat if any undue aggression was displayed.

The Humans sent a similar delegation with similar instructions, as was dictated by the leaders’ agreement. The sharing of technology was to be forbidden beyond that which could be garnered by open observation. The Humans, as was their nature, were more cautious of that directive than they had a right to be, and the understanding of the Manisae made sure to look past their misplaced pride.

Both vessels landed in close proximity on the surface of the Earth moon. A tunnel of a design developed in conjunction between the two species extended from both airlocks and joined at their extremities. Then, clothed in their most diplomatic garments, two representatives from each species emerged from their vessels into the tunnel. A Human female and male, and the three representative genders of the Manisae.

Both species stood stationary at their respective ends of the tunnel for a long moment, and then proceeded cautiously, but curiously toward the central connection, optics wide. When the four beings faced each other at reach’s length, they extended their limbs not to make physical contact, but to exchange small segmented and hermetically sealed bulbs, each containing a sample of the DNA of the species offering it.

This, as the Humans had learned from the Manisae was the way of contact. Each pair then turned back toward their vessels, retracted their tubes and ascended from the lunar surface, headed back to their adjoining worlds.

The two species had reached the third stage of contact. First, was visual knowledge of the other; second, the exchange of language and culture. The third was an exchange of the Self, biological data that was widely assumed to be a mutual agreement of peace, and to not offend the other in a biological manner, either through violence or ignorance.

New Release, science fiction, short story
2021-01-12 07:35:13

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