The Fermi Paradox

Posted on 30-01-2022 | Last edited on 01-02-2022
Sentience is something most peculiar. Innumerable mutations may occur before one leads to intelligence and, eventually, self-awareness. There is, in spite of these astronomical odds, a planet on which a species has been that fortunate. The planet orbits its yellow star at a comfortable distance, is engulfed in water, and is teeming with life. The dominant species - the one that developed sentience - consists of bipedal creatures who owe their dominance to an innate sense of curiosity. It was their yearning for knowledge that led to a mastery of tools and, more importantly, communication. And for generations, they have looked up at the stars in wonder. They ask themselves "Is there anybody out there?", "Are we alone?".

Your part in this story begins at a time when an answer to those questions is finally in sight. You are one of the lead scientists at your country's second-largest ULO (Universal Life Observatory). You are in charge of monitoring interstellar drones capable of transmitting data across virtually any distance. Despite your predecessor's warnings, you find the job less exciting than you'd hoped. Ever since the first launch of such a drone, the hope of finding aliens has been declining steadily. The drones are simply not finding anything of note. The cosmos appears as desolate as it is vast.

Just as you are about to call it a day and head home, the transmission indicator on your display lights up. You immediately sit back down. Unscheduled transmissions only happen when the drone's AI decides it requires more measurements than is routine and needs to clear its cache early. The drone in question entered the gravitational field of a new star system late last year. The star in question is an unassuming one of the main-sequence variety some twenty-six thousand lightyears from the galactic core. But the star is not the reason for the extra readings. One of the star system's planets is more obscured by orbiting objects than it should be given the number of asteroids in the vicinity. Seeing as you don't have anything planned for the evening anyway, you decide to stay a bit longer and await the rest of the readings.

As soon as they arrive, two things stand out; The objects making up the orbital cloud from the previous data are following unusual trajectories, and the planet's atmospheric makeup is quite similar to that of your own. There has not been a more promising lead since one of your colleagues noticed a comet with an unnatural dustcloud following it two years ago - though that turned out to be due to a collision with another lab's drone. You eagerly write up a report, attach the readings, and send it to your colleagues.

The following morning, you awaken to the sound of your phone buzzing. Eleven missed calls and forty-two new messages. A senior astrophysicist living in a different timezone has apparently been analysing the readings and has publicly claimed that your report contains strong indicators of alien life. You have to catch yourself from falling out of bed. At long last, first contact is on the horizon.

Your work at the lab turns into a blur as preparations are made for further investigation. You and your colleagues are absolutely dead-set on getting a glimpse of the planet's surface. Seven months, three weeks, and one day after your discovery, a drone is finally able to see through the haze of debris. What it sends back is more shocking than the planet's initial discovery.

The planet lies in ruins. Towering, derelict structures of stone, metal and glass are scattered across a barren wasteland. You stare at the video feed, aghast at the contrast between this harrowing sight and the enthusiasm that preceded it. The only thing that keeps you from simply turning the feed off, are the messages that dot the wastes. They take the forms of many languages, scripts, notations and images. This constitutes decisive proof of sentient life. Despite the variety, a single pattern emerges; The species that once called itself 'Humanity' is long lost to the universe. Time has claimed its victim. The search continues.