https://glenalec.net/lit/interloper/

Interloper

v1.0 - ©2024.03.17 Glenn Alexander (aka glenalec)


Sun with alien hand

Why did the Sun want data?

 

The first thing that was noticed was a hole in the Starlink array. Not a physical hole, but a data-hole. About a dozen adjacent satellites were not functioning correctly. Data was pumping into them from ground stations and orbital-neighbours at full capacity and going nowhere. Another few dozen satellites surrounding this dead zone were also pumping data into the edges of the 'hole' in the orbital mesh, though at a lower rate, so it was less of a degradation of service.

The hole was also present in multiple other orbital-mesh systems. OneWeb, the Hughes Network, Viasat, O3b, CNSI, and EuroSat were likewise being affected in the same region of the sky. All sucking up data and sending it... where?

It didn't take long to work out where, for at the physical centre of the hole, visible with even a basic optical telescope, was a larger object. Viewed from the ground it was a big white disk, bristling with small articulated dishes around the edges. Viewed from above, via a higher-orbiting satellite, it was a big shallow bowl, black as space, pointing strait at the sun. A solar collector, presumably.

While not the largest thing in low-Earth orbit, it was just a little bigger than anything humanity had ever managed to launch from Earth as a single-piece solid object.

More analysis revealed that the dish was not just a solar collector, but also a transmitter. It was blasting structured binary data directly at the sun!

Meanwhile, the actual data being fed to this object was being analysed from the ground-end. Attempts to stop the data flow were futile, with the natural resilience of the Internet working against such attempts. The subverted satellites themselves were unresponsive to ground command. Nothing could stop the data flow. Not short of shutting down all ground stations, including a good chunk of communications services, some essential for navigation and safety, the only functions the 'hole' seemed to not be interfering with. The regulatory-mandated emergency-bandwidth was still, apparently, being honoured and kept clear!

What data? Public databases, particularly of an informational kind. Wikipedia was crawled in its entirety, and external links from there followed. Public research databases. Multiple DNA-sequence archives, with particular interest shown in the human data before it could be physically unplugged! Then YouTube and a number of prominent news services were being tapped, though somewhat more selectively, with a focus on historical and cultural content.

All being pumped to the interloper satellite, which was itself broadcasting data - presumably a re-encoded version of what it was receiving from the Internet, into the Sun.

Why did the Sun want data? It was a ludicrous question. The answer was that the Sun didn't want data. A small black dot barely visible after some searching, between the Sun and the Earth was presumably the sink for all the bandwidth. A small black dot that was on a curving Earth-bound trajectory that would keep it between the Sun and Earth. A disk or sphere of around 22km diameter, travelling at a not-small fraction of the speed of light, it would take a little over a week to complete its journey to Earth.

The interloper satellite, travelling in roughly the same low orbit as the various communications meshes it had subverted, rounded behind the Earth. It continued pulling data, but ceased transmission. A few hours later, it was back in sight of the sun, and the disk, and began transmission again. This went on for three orbits. Then the data rate abruptly dropped to a trickle, and all but one satellite was released, to return to normal services as if nothing had been amiss.

There was a video feed. In a standard live webm packet format. It's network address traced back to the router on the one remaining hijacked EuroSat module. Publicly viewable for any who wanted to see it, and even linked from the major search engines as top returned result for anyone making a web search including the term 'extra-terrestrial', in any language.

The video feed was visually big, at 4096 pixels square and 10-bit HDR colour. It was mostly black, though turning up the contrast greatly would show some indistinct dark blocky shapes right at the bottom of the darkness range. An occasional flash of colour as what might have been an LED winked briefly in one off-centre part of the frame.

After about two hours of this, some more stable colour, in the form of a graphical overlay. What looked like text was not in any human script, so the graphs the text were labelling were not interpretable. Some viewers with medical experience pointed out similarities between some of the graphs and various monitoring equipment they used in their own work. Both text and graphs took up parts of the left and right quarters of the screen, leaving the middle half to remain an unobstructed live feed of a very dark place.

Until it lit. Over about five seconds light levels on the live feed smoothly rose.

It was a machine room. Pipes. Panels, becoming increasingly active themselves with lights and displays over the next hour. In the middle was a transparent tank, a cylinder about four times as high as it was wide. No sense of scale, but the human mind arbitrarily interpreted it as 'coffin-sized', irrespective of if this was correct. If the panels surrounding it were human-scale, it might have been so. In the cylinder, was a large off-white blob. It gently moved as if in a current, though the fluid in the tank seemed still.

It was intriguing to watch, at least on fast-forward! Over the next two days the blob in the tank reshaped itself. It split into five arms, like a starfish. Then those arms arranged and shaped themselves into a humanoid form. Not quite human, just disconcertingly close. The head had a human face, but no forehead. It had no male genitals, but that didn't necessarily make it female, though it did have the wider hip proportions.

The still semi-transparent blob also showed the development of internal organs. They appeared human-ish too, though it was not clear enough to be sure beyond the most general form and placement, and there were one or two obvious anomalies with organs that didn't match anything familiar.

An organ in roughly the location that a human heart would be, began to beat. A graph started tracking the pulse. Another began tracking the slow movement of likely-lungs. A neurologist identified a third graph as almost-certainly the brain-wave patterns of someone in a deep coma, barely alive. Or a second-trimester embryo, a paediatrician pointed out.

By the end of this growth, the blob had shaped and coloured to resemble an Asian or Indian woman. Without any forehead above the eyebrows, though this began to be covered by a thick tuft of strait black hair, quickly growing to fill the vacant space where the bulk of the skull should have been, and giving the head the visual bulk and shape it lacked in physical structure. The Earth watched, some live, most on replay of highlights, since watching live was literally like watching grass, or hair, grow.

The being growing in the tank opened its eyes. It was gasping for air underwater and even looked a little panicky for a moment, then settled. The fluid drained downwards almost instantly, flushing out the bottom of the tank into an under-floor pipe or basin. The being gasped, coughing up fluid. Then the front of the tank slid up.

The naked alien coughed up one last round of fluid, then tentatively stepped out. We will call it a she, since it looked quite human-female. Even with small pert breasts apparent now she was viewable from more than directly front-on. With unsteady legs, she tottered towards the camera and reached out.

Like the now hair-filled missing cranium, the hand was distinctly non-human. It had two fingers, surrounded by a thumb on either side. The alien paused mid-reach to turn the hand, flexing and examining it. It nodded, apparently satisfied, then continued the reach. The palm of the hand briefly obscured the image. When the hand was retracted again, the camera had a much wider view of the space. The alien glared into the camera briefly, then looked at a point just below it. It then smiled awkwardly, struggling to manage the complex dance of facial muscles required, looked back into the camera. She curled her two fingers and lower thumb in, leaving the top thumb extended, to give a cheerful thumbs up!

Over the next few hours, the alien tottered about the small space, poking at panels and peering at displays. At one point a device that looked rather like a microwave oven lit up and the alien opened it, removing some clothing in which she dressed herself. Awkwardly, as clothing, or possibly just putting clothing on this particular body, appeared to be a new thing for her. A simple sleeveless shift dress, in an iridescent red colour over black tights. Black belt at the waist, and black flat-soled ankle-boots, which she struggled with a little but eventually wriggled her feet into.

She was getting noticeably more confident with walking, too.

...

Meanwhile on Earth, multiple groups had been sending radio transmissions at the approaching object. Apparently to no effect. Some had also tried to transmit directly to its interloper satellite, to similar result. Someone clever had tried putting a request for contact in a number of the places on the internet that the interloper satellite had previously been taking an interest, and was still periodically checking, but as good of an idea as it was, it yielded no results.

It was a teenage hacker in his parent's loft that first thought to run a port-scan on the same network address as the video feed was coming from. What he found was a single open teletype channel. "Hello?" he tentatively typed to it. A few minutes later - immediately, accounting for light-speed there and back - the word 'Hello?' appeared on the bottom of the video feed.

The alien was sitting in an office chair she had assembled piece-by-piece from parts periodically removed from the microwave-oven-like device - a multi-material 3D printer, it was now clear. She was fiddling with some small piece of equipment of indeterminate function. Moments after the message had appeared on-screen, she looked up from what she was doing, and over towards the camera. She pushed with her legs and rolled in the chair over to directly in front of the camera. At the bottom of the wide-angled image, her fingers moved on a panel. "Hi, human," appeared on bottom of the camera feed, and also on the hacker's terminal session.

On top of the light-speed lag, there was a brief extra delay as the human end of the conversation came to terms with the fact that he had actually succeeded in getting through. Then, "Welcome to Earth."

"I come in peace."

"That's good to know."

"Not that you could do anything about it if I came in war! But people don't generally go around trashing other people's planets. It's just not done!" There was a brief pause as the alien appeared to consider her next words, a reflective tilt to her head on the live video feed. "And you seem to have got there first anyway!"

There was another pause longer than the transmission delay, then. "Yeah, we have wrecked it a bit, haven't we."

"You have about thirty local years before nothing with a central nervous system can breathe safely without a CO2 filter. And having just seen your recent accounts of how a lot of you reacted to having to wear a light filter-mask to avoid a pandemic respiratory disease recently, that will be... interesting to watch!"

"Can you help us?"

"Not my role, sorry. You had to fix it yourself or go extinct trying. Or not trying very much, it appears!"

"We didn't all do it."

"You all let it be done. Collective responsibility includes standing by passively while others work to kill you."

"What about all the other life?"

"It's all one biosphere"

"But the other animals and plant's didn't do anything at all! You can't say they 'let us' they genuinely had no choice!"

"Ah.... Our first inter-cultural mis-understanding. From the outside perspective, this isn't viewed as 'humanity destroying the biosphere' but 'the biosphere, via the part of it which is humanity, destroying itself'. We don't make a distinction below the whole-planet level."

"So you'll just let the whole planet die?"

"Yes. Natural selection. Great filter. You already have plenty of names for it. I'm just here to take notes."

"But your being here changes things. You just told the whole world that we are all about to die!"

"But it wasn't anything you hadn't already worked out for yourselves if you actually wanted to admit it. Plus my media-analysis engine is already picking up social commentary declaring I am lying for some nefarious reason. Apparently I am in the pay of something called 'Big Green'. I'm not entirely sure what they would be paying me in. I can already fabricate green in any hue, quantity and form I want up here!" She grinned, indicating she wasn't confused by the reference to 'Big Green' at all.

"Oh," she continued, glancing somewhere slightly off-camera. "It's lizard-people now. Trust me, I know some lizard people, a really great species, but no space-travel capability yet and outside your radio-noise sphere for another several centuries, so by the time they could be aware that you even exist, you won't any more.

"And apparently I don't really exist either, but am a hoax being filmed at Area 51. By the digitally-reanimated corpse of Stanley Kubrick, undoubtedly! Or I'm a stealth advertisement for a new soft-drink or crypto-currency." Another glance sideways of the camera. "Aaaannnnnd someone is actually in the process of setting a crypto-currency up in my name right now." She dramatically pressed at a button on her console. "No you don't! Even evil aliens working for big green lizard-zombies on a secret government sound stage have standards!"

"So, anyway", she concluded, "I feel it is unlikely my presence here, or anything I say, will have a measurable effect on your species' future."

"So you can't even tell us how to help ourselves?", Earth asked, even in text it sounded plaintive.

"Oh, yes. I can do that."

"Won't that break your 'prime directive', or whatever, to not interfere?"

"No. It won't make any difference. Again, I won't be telling you anything new."

"So remind us."

"Identify all the people who are actively working against the continuation of life on your world and humanely execute them. Or at the very least strip them of wealth and power. And ideally sterilise them along with any offspring they have already produced."

"What!?"

"This is a text channel. I don't have to repeat it, scroll up! Now your chosen-by-yourselves, I'll point out, leaders will quickly realise that they are almost all part of the group I just defined and will try to declare war on me, in the media or even physically. Meanwhile, I am just going to park in a high orbit and generate some... popcorn is culturally traditional, it says here."

True to her word, five minutes later she took a large steaming red-and-white-striped jumbo-cup of buttered pop-corn out of the 3D printer. She slowly and deliberately chomped on it while staring into the camera, with all appearances of earnest attention.

...

More people had found the open telnet channel. Someone published the network address and method to access from a terminal emulator program. Soon after, someone else implemented a server-module to allow direct texting from a phone without having to know how to connect a telnet terminal session.

A new graph popped up on the video feed. The legend cycled between several common human languages changing about every five seconds. All versions said:

Meaningful Conversation: 0.02% Mindless Animal Noises: 99.98%

The numbers changed occasionally, though only the second place after the decimal.

Apparently the alien end of the link had some sort of automated filter. A rather good one. A bit snarky, even! Anyone posting abuse at the alien would be immediately kicked and blocked with a canned message "Goodbye. Your comment is as pointless as your existence." The reply was always in the same language as was posted in.

General inanity was responded to slightly less unkindly, with an auto-generated response including a link to something relevant on the Internet, usually an existing answer to the question asked, or a statement of some relevant human philosophy or other. Replies and linked information, were in the posting language if possible, or with a sub-link to an appropriate on-line text-translator if not.

It was quickly becoming apparent that most of what people wanted to ask the alien visitor was stuff that humanity had already answered for itself. Very rarely, something actually got through to the alien, and then she responded, apparently happy to break from her esoteric work do so.


"Where did you come from?"

"Space! Sorry, I'm not being deliberately obtuse. My birth-world's star ended its natural life billions of years ago, and I had not seen it for billions of years before that. Since then I am part of a loose federation of wholly-space-living beings, of various origins. We are so changed, and so long, from our natural form that it is not really relevant."

"So there are others like you?"

"Trillions. From thousands of source-civilisations. Most of us hang out in the deep-space between the stars. Sometimes we get bored with each other and drop in to the gravity wells for a poke about for any new civilisations developing on life-hosting planets."

"How do you know which ones are life-hosting?"

"The oxygenated atmosphere stands out from thousands of light-years away, if you have a good spectrographic telescope. And they are usually hanging about for billions of years like that before you get sufficiently complex multicellular life emerging. Then you can either camp-out on the edge of the system, or fly past every few millenea and hope you don't miss a particularly brief toolmaking-to-Armageddon ramp.

"If you do miss it, there is always archaeology, though when your are a 22km-wide spaceship, those little brushes can be really fiddly! .... Heh, no, we actually build small semi-autonomous robots for that sort of on ground-work. A suitable in-person form can be generated if something particularly interesting shows up.


Another questioner got past the filters, asked in Spanish, answered in the same.

"You arrived almost out of the sun. How close to it did you fly?"

"I actually did fly strait out of the Sun - after flying into it from the other side and right through the middle. A manoeuvre that lets me quickly dump velocity from interstellar speeds to something more locally appropriate. I also refuel my matter reserves in the outer layers where my shielding fields can be eased back a bit."


Some minutes later, another accepted question, quite a long back-and-forth resulted:

"We saw you grow in the tank. What was that?"

"I am normally in a digital form, as part of the ship, which is my actual body these days - I have much better tolerance to massive acceleration like that, plus don't need to mess about with maintaining oxygen, food or plumbing. Once I had the data to do so, I generated an organic form similar to your own, then imprinted it's brain with the small amount of myself that would fit. The rest of my mind is in status until the organic-brain-contents are re-absorbed and synchronised, so it doesn't split off and become a whole second person while I am out here. Re-integrating that is painful - literally!"

"That sounds complicated. Why take our form at all?"

"Primitive peoples generally can't relate to anything too alien."

"You're not exactly like us, though."

"No, as small as this body's organic brain is, it is still too big for a human skull, and the centre of my body is a better place for it anyway. My hands have to stay a shape that can operate the manual controls here. Also, the aim is to be relatable, while not being accused of impersonation."

"So, similar but obviously not the same."

"Yes. Though since reviewing the data more deeply, much of your species seems to have trouble even with the most minor variations amongst yourselves."

"Any reason for the form of an Asian woman in particular?"

"I selected the numerically most common major-trait-variants of your species. I have no personal preference. You all look largely-alike to me, though given a bit of time and experience I will develop the ability for fine differentiation of individuals amongst you.

"You let us watch your body being formed. Was that about being open about the process?"

"Very much. Again, it needed to be clear from the start that taking my current form was not about deception. It is about effective communication."


Another questioner, asked in English, answered in the same:

"How common is intelligent life in the universe?"

"Not common. Organic life is as common as rocks, about one in eight star systems, have a world suitable for the right kind of carbon chemistry. And if they can support it, it develops. Pretty-much always. Generally within 100 million years of the surface cooling enough for liquid-water to collect on it.

"From there complex-cellular life takes another billion or three years. And is largely inevitable. Tool-using intelligence is a bit more spotty. Taking anything from half a billion years to never. About a quarter of planetary biospheres manage it at least once."

"Where are they? The skies should be full!"

"Ah. The number of biospheres that survive early energy-utilisation technology is negligible. QED."

"QED?"

"Quod Erat Demonstrandum, colloquial Latin: 'as has been shown', by which I mean look out the window.

"There is only about sixty technological species active in the galaxy at any given time. Not counting the Outliers - an adequate translation of what my people call ourselves. Most intelligent species don't make it much further than you. Obviously I am using a rather loose definition of 'intelligent' in this case! We normally just say 'technology-using' to avoid any confusion, but I'm in a nice mood today, apparently."


"After billions of years, why haven't the Outliers themselves filled up the universe by now?"

"While a large population base is good for diversity of thought, there is a limit beyond which you are just repeating yourself - almost literally - so it becomes a waste of resources to grow beyond that point. Outliers stopped reproducing via replication long before I was born and subsequently joined them, and we only increase numbers now by guesting in other species that achieve sufficient cultural and technological advancement. While very hardy, we are not indestructible, and the universe slowly whittles our numbers back down. So we have reached population equilibrium."

"I assume humanity is not about to be invited to that party!"

"Not even close, sorry. It isn't really a by-selection thing anyway: you pretty-much have to work out how to become an Outlier-like-entity for yourself first, then when you come out to the deep-darkness and find us, you have joined by default."

"There is really no hope for us?"

"There is always hope. But your brain-wiring is working strongly against you, as happens far more often than not, so you are killing yourselves in plenty of company. I was going to write 'good company', since that is the actual expression from your language-culture, but I don't think that is really appropriate in this case."

"So why are you here, then?"

"The formal reason I am here is to identify select parts of your culture for preservation. Most of it is the pretty standard dross that every emerging civilisation spits out in some loose form or other, but there are always a few highlights."

"Classical music?"

"No. I could re-mix every piece of music - classical to modern - you have ever created from stuff already in my archive. Most of it wouldn't even require much re-mixing! Music is largely aesthetically-pleasing maths expressed in sound waves, and every hearing-creature comes up with much the same stuff. Dance is a bit too biologically-specific in detail but again the generalities are well-covered by motion-topology. Same for architecture in dimensional-topology. Food culture is always more unique, but largely useless to anyone not of the same species as the originator, and you can never get the right ingredients three hundred light-years away in any case! Your history reads like a film franchise three movies after peak. And the writers are just rehashing cliches for a pay-check! (I had the pleasure of mentally ingesting a lot of really-bad audio-visual content from your planet between Mercury and Venus!) Your various attempts at philosophy, while perfectly good, are nothing-at-all new. A decent bit of your literature, written and audio-visual, is worth close review, though."

"Damn!"

"Don't get me wrong, there are some very worthwhile and unique snippets in amongst all that. It will all end up mixed in with the good bits from other civilisations until it is largely unrecognisable, but it is still useful for stirring the entropic decay of long-term existence a bit."

"Damn!!"

"Yes! .... Sorry."


Next question, asked in Korean, answered in same:

"How many languages do you speak?"

"For Earth, the main ones: English, Chinese, Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, German. Enough to cover pretty-much all the planet, if you include second-language speakers of those seven. Lifetime-fluency equivalent in each. All neurologically programmed along with this body's initial mind-state: I didn't actually have to learn them. And for any other languages, at least any that had enough Internet presence for a reasonable analysis, I have live computer translation."

"Alien languages?"

"Just my own. I don't keep old languages in my primary-mind, though they all get their essences and any notable features archived."


And another question:

"Can you come down to visit us?"

"I can, but I won't. This body is entirely compatible with your world, but I can experience everything I am interested in right here in perfect safety. If my body goes down there and gets killed, my primary-mind will wake, but I will have lost all that un-reintegrated experience and will have to start over. Also, by dying without experiential reintegration into my core-mind, this current version of me becomes actually-dead, too. What replaces it would be a back-dated copy, not me as I right-now experience being me. This particular me has lived about five billion years at this point, and it's not ready to die just yet!"

Then she added, "Speaking of going down to planetary surfaces, I am seeing in your history possible signs of others of my kind poking around down on the ground periodically!"

"Didn't you say your people don't interfere?"

"I don't interfere... at least not in any way that is likely to change the natural course of events. Nor does the peer group I most associate with. But we are no more unified as a people than your own species. Probably less so! It's considered bad manners, at least in the part of the interstellar void I come from!, to meddle like that, but it doesn't look like any significant change resulted - someone at a few points in history tried to guide your species to a more pacifistic cultural route, but as soon as they were gone you subverted their advice back to match your default modes quickly enough. I'm seeing hints of multiple attempts in different parts of the world over a period of several hundred years. Ah to be young and naive (hell, no!). I assume they gave up and moved on, hopefully wiser for the experience. We've all been there!"

"That's depressing!"

"The whole not-helping thing is not arbitrary, or even particularly moralistic. It was hard-learned by my people long ago that this kind of intervention was not only pointless, but put one at risk of depressive illness!"


Someone asked, English again:

"If your primary mind is part of the ship, why the body at all? Couldn't you just generate the video feed to simulate it?"

"Assuming that is not what is actually happening here?

"Heh. No, the body is real. Living in a new organic body once in a while is a worthwhile experience in itself. Simulation logically 'feels' the same, but inside you know it is still a simulation. And the simulator-system can be a bit soft on you, smoothing out the difficulties in adjusting to a whole new musculature and centre of balance.

Besides, I have never been a biped before. The general biped body configuration isn't exactly rare, but it's mostly crabs and squid out there. My original organic form was a bit of a combination of both."

An image flashed up on the video feed. It was crab-like and cuttlefish-like. The shell part was a striking iridescent green, with a black stripe spiralling around to its middle. It was standing on four stumpy lower-tentacles. Its four finer and longer front tentacles had bifurcated ends arranged not unlike boneless versions of her current hands. The being pictured was surprisingly pretty, as some of the more colourful reef-living creatures of Earth had been, though the being in the image was clearly on land, and in a tangerine-grassed park within some kind of high-tech city beneath a green sky.

The image colours changed and the grass became yellow, tinting slightly into the green, and the sky blue. "Adjusting for the specific colour-band sensitivity of human eyes," the alien texted at the bottom of the new version of the image. "The photo was taken in high-IR/R/G, which was my origin-species' natural visual pallet." The colour of her shell was now a still-striking iridescent red, just like the dress she now wore over her humanoid form. "This now looks right to my current eyes!"

"Cool! You look pretty."

"Thank you. I sometimes re-generate that body just to lounge around in. To remember my origins, as it were."


"You're a bit rude, you know!" A different poster, English language.

"I feel my attitude is appropriate for the planet I am currently orbiting. I've witnessed thousands of biosphere self-destruction events over the millenea. Not one of them was unearned. It has hardened me a little, I'm sure."

"Haven't you ever wanted to save any?"

"I've saved several inhabited planets, actually. Pushing large asteroids into safe orbits, mostly, before the planetary inhabitants were technologically developed enough to do it for themselves. But they still had to ultimately succeed on their own, culturally. None of the ones I helped have made it so-far, sadly.

"Actually, those lizard people I mentioned are real. I moved an asteroid for them a few centuries ago, though they will never know."

"You didn't save the dinosaurs."

"65 million years ago I was," glance to the side and some console typing, "clear across the other side of the galaxy. Or maybe the galaxy was on the other side of me - the thing rotates, you know! I'm sure that I, and my interested colleagues, miss a lot like that, since there aren't that many of us doing studies around the gravity wells, and we are all part-timers at it, too. It's a pity really: if I had stopped that rock, I wouldn't need to be here now doing biosphere-implosion duty on you lot!" She gave a savage smile, but there was a hint of sadness behind it.


Another message cleared the auto-censor, they were slowing down noticeably as people started to run out of questions or comments that the filter deemed relevant:

"Do you know what The Great Attractor actually is?"

"Oh, a deep-astronomy buff! Nice."

"Unfortunately, no. My own peer-group's interest is inward to the galaxy's brighter places. But I am aware of a group of us that headed off in that direction to answer that exact question. We haven't heard back from them yet, but inter-galactic distances being what they are, we don't really expect to for some time yet, if ever. Since the whole local cluster is headed that direction anyway, if more slowly, if I hang around long enough I might eventually find out for myself. Something to look forward to!

"I've never personally felt the desire to leave this galaxy, but some of us do. And we occasionally get our equivalents dropping in from neighbouring galaxies, too. And they have sometimes met others from further away still. Outliers are apparently a pretty universal end-state for intelligent life that makes it past all the extinction opportunities. Physical life, at least. I'm entirely unqualified to comment on anything beyond that!"


Next:

"Can tell us how to do Cold fusion? Something? Anything?"

"Hmmm. That question indicates I need to re-adjust the message filter. But since it got through: you have had several decades in which you could have easily developed such technology - well not easily, but it was definitely entirely doable - or something equally useful to your present predicament, and that predicament was, well, predicted even further back. You chose to instead spend the time and resources - around half of your global productivity, no less! - on developing ever more creative ways to kill, brutalise, impoverish or otherwise oppress each other instead. That was entirely your choice as a conscious biosphere. Your right even. I am definitely not going to now debase your self-determination by walking that choice back on you!"

"I'll say this once, so I don't have to repeat it: Don't expect any sort of mercy from a five-billion-year-old entity that has seen and heard it all many times over! I may not be a god, and am definitely not your god, but I have a pretty good idea how he she or they would be feeling about you right now!"

The communication channel actually went dead, though it restored twelve hours later. "It's a brand new day," the alien said, yawning and stretching theatrically. She looked coldly into the camera. "Don't ruin it for me!"


"Why do you even speak with us?"

"If I was doing this strictly by the book, you wouldn't even know I was here. I got here a bit later then I had planned and so had to brute-force your data networks instead of taking a more subtle approach. But in the end I'm not unhappy about how it turned out. I like to chat. Especially with new people. I guess I am just a bit gregarious.

"I know I can be a bit snappy, especially with the whole 'save us from our own choices,' thing, but as aware as I am about it not being something I both should or even can do, I do get it: no one wants to go extinct. I'm sure the dodos, the bald eagles, the koalas, the cod, and the millions of others would have liked their own species fate to be otherwise, were they sufficiently sapient to realise what was happening. So yeah, the begging tends to ring a bit hollow in that context. Especially since your history is a constant chain of taking a last-minute reprieve and failing to learn anything from your mistakes other than that someone will surely bail you out at the last moment! Survivor-bias is a bit of a bitch, like that, I guess.

"But you are not a wholly unlikable people, at least with a good filter up, so I am not exactly relishing your demise, either."


For the next sixty-four years the alien orbited us. People ranted. People threatened. People begged. None of that even got through the filters, as far as anyone knew. Only relatively-dispassionate discussion about the nature of the universe, or Outlier culture in general. That was interesting but ultimately not particularly productive. Questions about a wider galaxy we would never experience ourselves. Requests for specific advice invariably got auto-linked back to an already-known answer on the Internet. The quotation of her own admonishment regarding gifting advanced technology now conveniently amongst the linkable data, saving her from ever needing to repeat it.

In the second year, there was one attempt to shoot at the ship with a nuclear missile. The missile was hijacked, redirected, crashed through the roof of, and detonated inside the central chamber of the parliament building of the launching government. The government itself had evacuated to a safe and secure location even before the launch had been ordered. The city around had not. The alien made sure this was known, and also periodically published the movements, locations and new identities of the government officials and their families, whenever she became aware of them. For the small number of years until they were no more: unable to do anything to the alien, the people took the offered alternative sink for their impotent wrath. There were no further attacks on her ship.

Around the thirtieth year, as had been forecast, atmospheric CO2 levels were becoming lethally toxic and humanity was forced to be indoors or masked. Or dead. A lot of people died. That level of CO2 poisoning wasn't immediate, or even quick, and so easy to deny. You were just a bit tired, was all. You'd just have a nap right here, then wake up fine, just like all the other times. Well, the person who had been able to receive their own limited-supply scrubber-mask, or home-scrubber-module, only because you had belligerently refused them, probably didn't mind your noble sacrifice in the name of your personal freedom.

By the fortieth year, the global human population was down to the few tens of millions. Exact counts were not possible, as society had devolved into isolated city-bunkers struggling to keep the air-scrubbers going in the wake of a growing shortage of expertise in the matter. Our own pollution output had dropped to insignificant levels now, through no real choice or effort of our own, but the thermal runaway, while not in-itself lethal, was still heating the ocean and drawing out more of its long-stored CO2, so the levels kept rising anyway.

In the sixty-fourth year the alien left. There was little remaining of ever-diminishing humanity, huddled away in their collapsing bunkers, waiting to see if it was famine or disease that finished the species, the last multi-cellular life left on Earth. Extremophile bacteria would undoubtedly carry on a dim torch of life, but that wasn't the kind of culture the alien had come to document.