Probing Further

In assessing the governmental and cultural structures of a world to determine whether contact should be made – or, indeed, further interactions carried through – it is best to approach from a cosmopolitan perspective.  The cultures of the greater galaxy vary widely, and we must not allow parochialism with regard to the details of any given culture to blind us to its virtues.  Despite this, a certain selectivity is required – in dealing with the pre-starflight civilizations which we are discussing, it is generally permissible for the Empire to deal with autocracies and suchlike, as such interaction can often serve to bring them closer to Imperial cultural norms in those areas.

However, an important aspect of pre-Contact study is the determination of so-called “intrinsic barbarian” cultures.  It is not the policy of the Empire to have formal contact or dealings beyond the necessities of the Accords with cultures whose values are fundamentally antithetical to its own, even when those values are in and of themselves not sufficient to have a world placed under exotoxicity interdict.

Note: this may prove particularly difficult when a given pre-Contact world is divided into multiple polities or cultural blocs.

– Imperial Exploratory Service, An Introduction to Contact


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.”


“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.”


“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.

Mentoring Newbies

“One of the most challenging diplomatic posts – in my own opinion, right after being posted to a hostile star nation – is that of ambassador to a planet that has only recently been contacted by the Exploratory Service.  While the Contact team will have done their best to explain to the newly contacted planet the essentials of the milieu in which they now find themselves, the details of ‘the Galactic way of doing things’ will frequently be yours to convey.  In addition, while most star nations have had the rough edges rubbed off their cultures by exposure to the greater galaxy, the same cannot be said of recently Contacted worlds, which therefore pose additional challenges.”

“Another aspect of such ambassadorships is that newly contacted worlds are frequently the recipients of large amounts of attention, both diplomatic, if other star nations are active in the area, and commercial, as starcorporations and trading combines both Imperial and foreign descend in the pursuit of new products and new markets, while the recently Contacted world itself will often seek to establish relationships with greater galactic powers, and to gain technological advancement through trade.  Helping a newly Contacted planet navigate these shoals while avoiding the appearance of attempted domination is one of the most difficult balancing acts the Diplomatic Service has to offer, and successfully doing so often a crown to an individual’s career.”

– Calen Minaxianos-ith-Minaxianos, “Ninety Years Abroad”

First First Contact (3)

Galáré Actual, Galáré System.

The noösphere of Galáré sang with electromagnetic voices.  The galari themselves, crystalline creatures of carbon-wrought silicon,  were the most complex voices in the song, exchanging trills and dithyrambs of information, an endless symphony of knowledge framed in multi-layered harmonies of incredible complexity; not a singular overmind, but a continual conversation on a million topics, each seeking its own harmony.  The simpler voices of lesser orders, the stony plantimal-forms from which the galari arose, the spun-crystal worker-machines, and the computer minds embodied in the planet’s greatest monoliths filled out the chorus; and Galáré itself, so much of its surface worked into matrices in which the knowledge and history, the memories, of the species were imprinted, echoed the song back to them.

Now, though, the song was disturbed.  For centuries, the music of Galáré had been serene, a slow adagio towards a well-planned future, filled with calm and order, endless self-reflection and contemplation of the sciences and philosophies stored within the galari’s great archives.  But today the astronomers sang quick, sharp arias of warning: of the 18.3 MeV glow the oneirists thought most likely for a fusion drive, with blueshift and parallax showing its path clearly.

Someone was coming to Galáré, and the divergent imaginings made the song stutter in jagged dissonance.

First First Contact (2)

CS Extropy Rising, one light-day outside Galáré system.

Sophont intervention required.

Supercargo processor: Engage emergency revival sequence for Command Conference in accordance with protocol 1030.

Core, Cryobay Ess Zero.

Fire and ice.

Microwaves hammered at the frozen bodies hanging in the thick blue gel that filled the cryotubes, bringing them slowly back up to a temperature suitable for bringing them back to life.  Tapping their energy as flesh thawed, the crude nanites perfused into the bodies’ tissues before chill-down came sluggishly into action, attempting to patch the gross damage of cryostasis with a sensation like ten-thousand red-hot needles, then sending painful trickles of electrical current down raw nerves to coax activity from reawakening muscles and organs.

Flight Commander Svínif Andracanth-ith-Cyranth leaned over the side of his cryotube, wet, naked and shivering, and spewed a long stream of greasy gray-green freezer-porridge onto the deckplates; then hung there, caught between coughing, retching, and trying not to do both at once.  Around him in the bay, he was aware through the sick throbbing in his head of the rest of the command crew doing much the same.

“…I repeat: Non-emergency critical exception in progress.  Command Conference to the bridge, please.  Command Conference to the bridge.”

Trope-a-Day: Benevolent Alien Invasion

Benevolent Alien Invasion: Well, sort of.  It’s almost never an invasion (although there are some groups, like, say, the Sanguinary Enforcers of the Liberty Ethic, who don’t mind holding Blast The Shit Out Of The Oppressors And Bugger Off Again Day from time to time).  Much more common is the First Contact Whose Aftereffects Are Pretty Benevolent, But Really, All They Had In Mind Was Entering A New Emerging Market.

First First Contact (1)

One light-day outside Galáré system.

The long plume of the fusion torch flickered out, and the great ship began to rotate slowly, end over end, bringing the foreshield once more into alignment with its direction of travel. The wide radiator vanes of the drive module glowed a bright cherry-red from the torch’s waste heat.

Extropy Rising, the eighth sleeper-ship of the Deep Star program, had finished decelerating into the Galáré system.

In obedience to the programming set up before it had left its construction slip in Talentar orbit, the triple-triple computers which controlled the Rising completed the flip, then turned their attention to the next steps in the entry procedure. A centrifugal ring spun up, throwing a sextet of probes outward to safe ignition distance. Sensors, unused since launch, slid out from behind the foreshield and powered up.

As the computers gorged themselves on the influx of new data, ongoing critical paths were adjusted at thousands of decision gates, fine-tuning the remainder of the mission to match the newly revealed local conditions; precise solar spectra, orbital elements, atmospheric composition…

Extensive electromagnetic emissions from the third planet in the log-8 to log-10 bands. That was outside all defined parameters.

Sophont intervention required.

Hello, World

“In general, you will find in fiction that most Contact missions are portrayed as relatively subtle.  In reality, this is almost never the case.  The experience of the Exploratory Service shows that when one makes contact in too subtle a manner, one is actually signaling – in a remarkably effective pan-species manner – that one is being too sneaky for the Contacted civilization’s good.  A number of historical contact missions have gone wrong this way.  In addition, this can prove particularly perilous when making Contact with a multi-polity world; the contact cruiser may be taken for a superweapon or signs of an attack by some of those polities, and the Contact attempt may start a planetary war.  Even when this mistake can be cleaned up afterwards, such missions rarely end well.

“Consequently, Imperial Contact doctrine eschews subtlety, wherever possible.  Be big, be loud, be brash,  send messages across half the system to announce your arrival, make sure the local watchers see you – take a hundred hours off the life of your hull shooting atmosphere entry, if you must, but make sure that the Contact can be detected by as many people as possible, and cannot possibly be seen for anything other than what it is, a genuine extraplanetary Contact.  It almost always pays off in the long run.”

– Imperial Exploratory Service, An Introduction to Contact

Trope-a-Day (R): First Contact

First Contact: Happens quite often.  Not so much of a big thing these days for the Empire, who’ve really grown quite blasé about such things since that colonization mission discovered that Galáré was, oops, already inhabited back in the day, or other been-unbound-for-a-while star nations, but still the full-blown Very Big Deal for everyone who gets contacted by interstellar civilization.

It does have one interesting wrinkle: given the nature of the expansion of the wormhole nexus (see: Corralled Cosmos), by far the majority of first contacts are made by lighthugger starships operating outside it.  Which is to say, by antimatter torchships decelerating into the contactee’s system.  And a lighthugger’s antimatter torch is bright enough to be seen for at least the best part of a light-year.  This unusual astronomical event has been known to have a few contact repercussions on its own, for which the traditional color-quote runs as follows:

“The Arrival was heralded, as the technology of relativistic starflight makes inevitable, by a new star in the sky, blue-white and baleful; fortunately, this being a modern and rational age on the planet below, no new religions were founded around this celestial oddity, and its appearance merely resulted in a socially acceptable level of rioting and apocalypse-cultism.”

And, not incidentally, means that sneaky first contacts and scouting around beforehand for whatever reason are really, really hard to pull off, assuming any level of technological civilization at all, really.