Harbinger

2016_H(Alternate words: hammer, hardware, hatred.)

It was in the fourteenth year of the reign of the Third Citrine Triarchs that the new star appeared, a blue pinpoint in the Fourth House, above the beak of the Ram.

No ancient writings spoke of this. None predicted its appearance. As is customary, the Royal Astronomers were beheaded for their failure.

Fifty-seven years later, during the sixth year of the reign of the Fourth Citrine Triarchs, the star swelled in brightness, until even the commonality of the fields could see it with bare eyes. The Triarchs demanded an omen, and made it known throughout the land, that this was the Perfect’s blessing upon their lands and reign.

When three years later the Triarchs were assassinated by one of the star cults that grew up throughout the lands, as is customary, the Royal Astronomers were strangled for their failure.

It is now one hundred and fourteen years since the star appeared in our skies, in the reign of the Second Lapis Triarchs, and this very night when it passed behind the moon, it vanished as if it had never been. Only darkness surmounts the Ram’s beak. The surviving star cults openly proclaim it a harbinger of doom. The commonality, the stadtmen, even the armigers surround the Perfect’s temples. Fear grips the cities, and the palace guards no longer hold to their posts.

I myself have sealed the passages and brought down the stairs to my observatory. If all else fails, the door is sturdy, and should hold for many hours – against whichever doom comes.

– Journal of the 374th Royal Astronomer-Superior,
from Naolh (Nesthin Abyss),
in the Periphery

 

Talkin’ About Me

contact canon (n.): (also contact ‘chive) The collection of documents and multimedia resources, stored uncompressed and in simplest-possible encoding, kept for transmission in first contact situations – once basic-level communications have been established – to enable one’s interlocutors to derive a comprehensive linguistic and cultural corpus for their translation software.

To achieve this as fully as possible, a good contact canon begins with the simplest educational materials, and extends through a variety of scientific and engineering references  (for a common frame of reference, although carefully selected to avoid giving away advanced technologies), historical and cultural data, mythology, art, literature, and even contemporary popular culture (to avoid accidental mistranslations of slang and references).

The practice of the contact canon has been invented independently by many of the species with whom first contact has been made over the Worlds’ history, including several of those known for their xenophobia and/or isolationism. The irony of giving away a millennium of one’s cultural products in order to say “go away” more effectively has not been lost on anyone.

No-one outside speculative fiction writers, fortunately, has yet confronted the case in which all that art and culture is merely the communications preamble to “surrender or die”…

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Yelling at the Sky

Dirani Station
0.15 light-orbits from Anniax (Imperial Core)

Beneath the heavy lead-perfused sapphiroid of the observation gallery, the opposite side of the station twisted, or rather the view of it did. The other galleries, the enormous magnetic coils that dominated the space at the station’s center, heat exchangers, feeder-stabilizers, and all kinds of equipment gantries wavered around the edges, as if in a heat haze, while in the center, the distortion was the product of a supra-fisheye lens, or particular exotic pharmaceuticals.

Galen Larynath blinked, rubbed his eyes, and tore his gaze away from the madness beneath his feet. “I’ll take your word that it’s in there.”

“Oh, it is. It’s not much bigger than an esteyn-piece itself, though, so you’d need better eyes than ours to see it from up here. We just get,” his companion shrugged, “the lensing.”

“That is a ridiculously big kernel.”

“The largest ever built. Planetary mass. But if you want to be heard across a galaxy, you need a big speaker.”

“What are you planning on sending?”

“The usual unknown-hailing protocols: hydrogen-frequency timing pulses, some simple mathematical representations, then sequence-chained Contact language, one through eleven, and an ident-and-response burst, then repeat twice more. The data transfer rate’s everything you’d expect from throwing a kernel this big around – we’ll consider it astonishing if we can get a Kb/sec out of it – so that’s all we have planned for Phase I. By the time we’re done with that, there’ll be plenty of better ideas to choose from.”

“I have some other thoughts you might want to consider.”

“Ah?”

“My branch has been working on analysis of some of the data we’ve been picking up on the Super-Size Synthetic Aperture. We’ve been sitting on some targeted signals and possible responses that would seem worthwhile if we had had a transmitter big enough – which we don’t, EM-side, unless we knew that they had a triple-SA and would have it pointed the right way at the right moment. You, on the other hand –”

“Interesting. Let’s discuss it over in my office. The engineers have a test sequence to fire up, and we don’t want to be standing on this station when the jigglers go live.”

Trope-a-Day: I Come In Peace

I Come In Peace: Actually, the usual first words exchanged are usually something like 0000 0001 0001 0010 0011 0101 1000 1101, or some such, while communication is still being invented between the contactor and the contactee (i.e., First Contact Math).

But if we’re limiting ourselves to words spoken once the language problem has been solved, it’s probably something more along the lines of “We wish to parlay.  Could you connect us to a decisive individual, please?” (i.e., Take Me To Your Leader).  After all, until you’ve talked to them for a while, got to know a bit about them, how do you know whether You Come In Peace or not?  The honestly-inclined Imperials would hate to mislead anyone on this point out of ignorance, or accidentally.

First First Contact (4)

CS Extropy Rising, entering Galáré system.
Core, Command Bridge

Two hours later, Svínif looked around the conference table, and wished his old headache back.

“Preliminary reports. Let’s see what we have. Comms?”

“EM emissions from our target world, just as the exception said, all over from log-8 to log-10. Nothing even resembling a standard format, so I’d say they haven’t invented a stardrive while we’ve been in transit, but apart from that…”

“No chance it’s a natural phenomenon?”

“No chance at all. Definitely non-random, and the information entropy’s too high. It’s got to be sapient transmissions. My filters can’t find anything that looks like recognizable audio or video modulation – most likely data, and of a high order.”

“Sensory?”

“Nothing new, yet. We should be getting some good images back from the orbital probes in the next couple of hours, though.” She hesitated. “I canceled the launch program for the ground probes. I thought it might look hostile, dropping them planetside without asking.”

“Good thinking.” Svínif looked around the table again, mentally tallying the officers. “As nothing else has been flagged up as urgent, let’s hold the routine stuff for now.“ His head hurt abominably.

“Well, gentlesophs, this is quite the situation we’re in. If they’re as smart as their comms suggest they are, they’ll have spotted us by now, and have a fair idea what we are. And unless any of you know the universal signal for ’Excuse me, soph, could you spare a megaton of deuterium?’, it’s not like we can turn the ship around and go home.”

“If we stopped the entry burn right now,” the Flight Director confirmed, “We’d have enough Δv to swing around the sun onto a return vector. No fuel for a burn, though. Our frozen hulk would make it home in, oh, 3,500 years or so.”

“So, let’s hope the locals are friendly and don’t take our turning up with a shipload of frozen colonists too badly. Dig out the first contact set, Comms, and — wait, none of that traffic was directed at us yet?”

“Not that I can tell. Maybe they’re waiting for us to make the first move.”

“Well, send them the first sequence-set on the hydrogen line, broad-angle, and we’ll see what we get back. Until then… by the book, gentlesophs, by the book. Assume we’ll be making orbit as planned unless we hear otherwise somehow. If nothing mishcrit comes up, send your status reports to my terminal. Thank you, all.”

As they dispersed to their consoles, he rested his head for a moment on the cool vitrine tabletop.  Well, you’re in the history books now. Just – let it not be for starting the first interstellar war.