|Sigmacastell / swampgirl|
A sequel of sorts to my 4 Precursor Aliens post. (Many thanks to sigmacastell/swampgirl for the art)
The lucky few. The blessed company of those who have passed through the Great Filters and reached the stars.
This list contains only those whose expansion spheres have come into contact with metahumanity - there are other interstellar civilizations detected in the galaxy (7 with a detectable expansion sphere of 100 light years or more and 17 smaller ones), but for now they are too far away to contact or observe in detail.
The Triple Alliance
A civilization built on the symbiotic relationship between three unlikely species:
- Enormous filter feeders, cream and orange in coloration, natives to the upper atmospheres of hydrogen giants.
- Hunchbacked omnivorous crustaceans, hailing from the interior oceans of frozen moons where they live pressed to the inner shell by buoyancy.
- Von-neumann robotics that maintain and oversee the technological aspects of their society.
The two organic members have been cyborged for mutual interface compatibility among all three member species. Together they have formed an expansion sphere significantly larger than that of humans, though due to their preferred environments they typically go overlooked or unnoticed - sometimes to the point that other species will unwittingly share a system with them. They rarely travel, and when they do their ships are designed and piloted so as to minimize detection. On their colonies they maintain a generally low-technology society, save for their integrated communication suites and the presence of Species C.
The Triple Alliance is open to some communication and trade, with most direct contract done with Species C. They have denied access to all of their worlds save designated meeting habitats and have threatened retaliatory violence if this agreement is not upheld. Scientific / historical / cultural media received via trade is clearly heavily edited for propaganda purposes. (From a human standpoint, quite ineptly, but this is due to the propagandists' inability to adjust for different psychologies)
Xenobiologists hypothesize that Species A and B were uplifted to some extent by another force, but whether that force is Species C or another party remains unknown.
A sea slug the size of a small truck, attended by a harem of their remote-controlled proxy bodies, arrives to negotiate a trade agreement between the two expansion spheres. The entire time, despite the misgivings of the current government, it is nothing but the picture of cooperative and pleasant. By the time it goes home, the human diplomats are pocketing cheap import deals and leases on six new worlds and the cybele has precisely what they want.
See, the cybeles are here to help. Here to lift humanity out of the mire of suffering that it has trapped itself in. Here to lead us towards a bright utopian future under the careful guidance of their empire of the gentle hand. They don't hide any of this, they aren't lying. That is a lot of what makes it so appealing.
The cybeles promise long lives of pleasure, free from want and pain - an easy sell for the tortured undermasses of humanity. Why not let them take care of things? Why not start adopting their mores? Take a cybele lover, take two or three; it's easier that way. Less to worry about. After so much suffering, don't you deserve to let go a bit?
The relationship grows increasingly one-sided. Cybele technological and cultural goods flood into the terragen sphere, subverting all the old hierarchies and letting them gather all the pieces into their own. Planets break away from human hegemony to assimilate with the cybeles. The slugs tut-tut the violent uprisings but shrug and welcome the breakaway worlds into the fold. Everyone is happy here. They'll deliver utopia, on time and built to spec.
The predictable far-right groups lashing out against the cybeles' influence have more in common with them than they realize. The alien leadership, deep in their coral cathedrals and far from the prying eyes of human observers, is dominated by oligarchic arch-conservatives, who view humanity as a band of idiot savages squatting on real-estate they are either wasting or destroying outright. The cybele psyche is less inclined to physical conflict, and has accordingly developed a keen strategic mind for social-warfare, one that humans have so far found themselves easy prey to.
As far as human observers know, the situation is thus: The cybele expansion sphere is larger than humanity's, though less densely populated. Their technology is within the range of what the human expansion sphere can produce, but it more efficient and effective than the terragen norm. They prefer warm oceanic worlds and leave the rest to their machines. Access to their worlds is tailored, leaving enormous dark spots in what anyone knows. Some xenologists hypothesize that they have already assimilated other species, potentially even the ones that presumably uplifted them in the first place.
Enormous ooid vessels - shimmering, chromatic, bathed in exotic radiation - emerge from hyperspace without warning. Drone fleets like locusts descend on small worlds of rock and ice, devouring them and bringing the spoils back home. Entire asteroids are dragged from their orbits and hauled back to the technicolor maws of the fleet. The resource-gatherers do not care about efficiency or grace; they will burn torch at whatever brute force necessary to lay a straight line back to their source. What would take decades by other means they will complete in a tenth of the time. And when they are done, by whatever metric they measure their task, they will vanish - slipping back into hyperspace with only a faint ripple of gravitational anomaly.
And this is all that we know for certain. In those instances when they have visited an inhabited system for their harvest, or when they have been stumbled upon by happenstance, they have remained utterly non-communicative. It is uncertain even if they are aware of humanity at all - they have yet to harvest a settled world, which makes most scientists believe that they are avoiding them, but this cannot be a certainty. Observers have thus far kept their distance, hoping to avoid a violent reaction.
The discharge of exotic energy buildup has only been measured on one occasion, and the accuracy of this data is questioned. If accurate, it indicates that the ships in question were exposed to the hyperspatial medium at Jump-1 depth for 350 - 430 Earth Standard Years. If this is the case, the inhabitants of the vessels must possess some resistance, inherent or engineered, to the mental degradation of long-term hyperspatial residence. If the inhabitants are biological, cybernetic, or the vessels themselves is fodder for white papers and conspiracy theories.
The pressures that would drive a civilization to such a risk-heavy survival method have been endlessly debated without any productive conclusion.
Candyapple-red harvestmen a dozen feet tall. In their interactions with humans they come across as curious, highly social, nonviolent and frustratingly vague at the worst moments. For reasons the explain only as taboo they refuse to use any sort of hyperspace-capable technology, leaving them dependent on slower-than-light interstellar travel. The cyborg bodies they have engineered for themselves make this easier with the aid of greatly extended lifespans and long-term hibernative abilities, to the point where they have permanently adopted a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Permanent planetary populations existed at some point in the past, but these have been either abandoned or forgotten (sources are unclear)
Their lifestyle means that they are encountered only during their resting periods which make up a very small fraction of their lives. They are willing to trade exotic matter and metamaterials for antimatter, fusion fuel collection rights, and human cultural goods - the difference in time scales on which the two species operates means that humans generate enormous quantities of novelties to while away the decades between stars.
Their few stationary permanent settlements tend to be on rogue worlds or kuiper-belt objects, only occasionally adventuring deep into a system. These settlements are occasionally abandoned without obvious cause, and likewise occasionally reclaimed. Intrusion in an abandoned habitat is discouraged.
The Dysonwood Minds
A self-replicating environmental intelligence. Enormous plant-fungal neural-analog matrices feeding off the volatile-rich innards of comets and asteroids, seeded by passing sower modules as they drift from star to star. Differences between the internal ecologies of individual trees can be radical, and only more so when comparing tress of different systems and sower-lineages, but all life found within them is based on the same source pattern, presumed to be the environments of the world of origin.
The Minds were not discovered until well after the exploration of the Dysonwoods, when contact was made with hominid-analog organisms during a cataloging expedition of an orbital grove. It was through these Interpreters (who were later revealed to have been dysonwood-native organisms modified according to recovered human corpses) that a general contact was made with the Minds themselves. With the Interpreters acting in the stead of the Minds, appropriate treaties could be made. Scientific study and limited lo-tec settlement is permitted, in exchange for distribution of Interpreter templates to groves in other systems.
Of the Minds themselves, this much can be said: like their environments, they are based upon the template of a single original intelligence. They have remained surprisingly consistent over several million years of replication drift, so that Minds light years apart will still think in similar fashions. They do not communicate often amongst themselves except with their grove-neighbors, and appear to interpret humans as aspects of another environmental intelligence. They do not actively seek peaceful coexistence but will remain within a niche without hostility to the outside.
The Interpreters, now that several generations have passed and ironed out the bugs, act very much (but not entirely) like lo-tec human societies. This is an illusion - the neural network they share with each other and their Mind grants them stability and perception beyond what a human culture would be capable of.
There's nothing intrinsically special about them; the universe is littered with hundreds of thousands of similar species, crumbling to dust in anonymous, unmarked graves. The jump to interstellar civilization selects for the patient, the diplomatic, the far-seeing and the careful, and these are traits humen have only sporadically. Their incredible adaptive pattern-recognition and robust social-connection formation serve them well, but they are perpetually undermined by an inability to recognize when no pattern exists and a low threshold for community size. Internicene conflict and self-destructive self-interest are rampant in their diverse and fractious civilization, and this makes them poor neighbors.
Their high aggression and willingness to brute-force solutions at high cost to their own population have, however, managed to carve out an interstellar civilization in a very short amount of time. The long-term stability of such an arrangement remains uncertain.