The Neighbors

Andr Mos

It is a largely recognized universal law that if you are looking for a new place to live, and you find one unoccupied, it’s available.

Once you narrow that down to individual species and cultures though, 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. Unfortunately, so are 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 expelled for it. A hefty consequence, to be sure, but apparently the situation had warranted it.

When they had fled their home system, they tried to retain as much of their culture and knowledge as possible. Unfortunately, due to the haste in which they were forced to flee, much was lost.

Beyond their cultural affects, a necessity was a road-map, so to speak. The Manisae had been a space-faring people before their events and had documented their stellar locality in some detail. The star Buris had been tentatively mapped, and indicated that there were two promising candidates, as well as a number of others that could possibly act as waypoints to better options. Those two 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 Buris was already occupied.

As the Manisae arrived within observational proximity to the inner planets orbiting Buris, they were disappointed, to say the least. Of the two hopeful candidates, only the Buris-3 had a reasonable amount of easily accessible liquid water and a thick enough atmosphere to sustain the refugees’ biological needs. Only that one planet was within a reasonable temperature range that it would be able to accelerate the reconstruction of their culture and civilization. But it was already occupied.

They were thankful to not detect any life on the Buris-4 though, and so made that their destination. A careful transit was plotted to limit visibility of the weary Manisae fleet to the occupied third planet by staying behind the star. If detected, this would not be their first time meeting an unknown species. It would be the second, in fact. The first 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, to move in quietly, as it were. They knew that they had the right to claim what was unoccupied—in this case Buris-4—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 population of Buris-3 though, and could not assume mutual understanding, or even the capacity for alternate perspective.

As they crossed the orbit of the sizable asteroid belt nestled between Buris-4 and the gas giant of Buris-5, their observational drones began to send back more detailed images of their hopefully benevolent future neighbors, and the target of their own colonization hopes, Buris-4.

Images of the latter were hopeful. Despite a few scattered mechanisms that had likely been sent from the third planet, there was no earnest attempt at colonization and the derelict machines could be easily avoided or returned if need be. There were also hints at intelligent engineering both on the surface, as well as the shallow penetrating scans, but no evidence that the Buris-3’s 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 restore it, as well as the almost disintegrated electromagnetic field around the planet.

The more distressing images came from the drones pointed at the third planet. It was fully colonized on the land masses that were not covered in ice, and appeared to be approaching critical mass in many places. At least that’s what the Manisae could deduce from the distribution of massive energy-dissipating activities around population centers and agricultural regions.

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 told the Manisae that they were pre-space, and did not instill hope for friendly relations in the new refugees. The Manisae compared the patterns of civilization that they saw to analyses of their own history. Their neighbors had a long way to go to become a viable space-faring species, but there was hope.

But as is said, ‘Those with nothing, have no choice.’ The Manisae chose a landing site near one of the larger plateaus on Buris-4, and began to install the instruments and habitations they would require to restart their civilization.

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

A vast system of great machines, called AGOs were placed at strategic points around Tiras, they begin the processes of ecopoiesis. 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 surface. The Manisae named their new home Tiras—which means ‘barren’ in their language—as was dictated by the right of naming for all first claimants. The remainder of their displaced population remained in orbit, monitoring the progress of their advance wave as well as the reaction from the third planet.

Within a quarter revolution of the third planet around Buris, many of their most expansive destructive activity appeared to abate. Despite the Manisae’s lack of understanding of the languages being used, they did have the technology to plot 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.

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 confirmed the theory that this was 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 chemistry. 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 Tiras. It depicted in a similar cipher an image of the Buris system, complete with the first eight 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 across Buris-3, 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 Tiras 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 Tiras. Their technological progress had stalled, likely due to the sweeping conflicts that they had interrupted by the unannounced arrival of the Manisae. 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 Tiras. And so they were not concerned with violence directed at them by the Humans.

Five revolutions passed on Tiras 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 Human 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 Tiras 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 their own expansion to Tiras, it also had prevented development of their moon. As there was no other location that both the cautious Humans and the Manisae would be comfortable meeting in, the Earth 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, representatives from each species emerged from their vessels into the tunnel. A Human female and male, and the three representative genders of the Manisae Genaj, Datae and Ejdis.

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, eyes wide but unthreatening. When the five 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 species returned to their respective crafts, 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.

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

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