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Chapter 2 – First Contact
The story as was taught in school books until this year was one of remarkable coincidence. In the year 2072, Nobel prize winning engineer and StarExpress founder Dr. Louise Jiwe piloted her privately constructed spaceship Prometheus, the first of a line of ships to bear the name. For those who don’t remember their history, Prometheus was the man who, in Greek mythology, had stolen the fire from the gods and given it to humanity. Dr. Jiwe considered the name fitting, given that, should her tests be successful, she would open the stars for humanity with her newly constructed hyperspace engine. The science behind the engine, essentially cheating the laws of physics by creating a bubble to shield the ship from the effects of Einstein space having already been theoretically proposed five years before and having gotten her the Nobel prize for her work. Since she couldn’t ask anyone to take up the dangerous task she wasn’t able to take on herself, Jiwe piloted the craft itself from Earth orbit. At 09:34 GMT Jiwe activated the ships’ small reactor and engaged the hyperspace bubble. Her test flight through hyperspace only took her ten minutes but she exited hyperspace 10.000 kilometers away from Mars orbit. The test was a success.
Ten days later, after Jiwe had made the return journey and been given a hero’s welcome on Earth, a spaceship exited hyperspace outside of Earth orbit and contacted the United Nations in a clear English translation of a speech that would go down in history:
“People of Earth, do not be alarmed by our presence. We are the Vaude, we come from a star many lightyears away from here. Our long-range scanners detected a hyperspace flight from within your star system. We rejoice in welcoming Humanity into the galactic community of enlightened species. We come in peace and offer friendship.”
Within one year Vaude ambassadors and human representatives met on Space Station I, a quickly constructed neutral meeting ground in upper Earth orbit. Friendly communications were established and humanity, with the help of the Vaude, began repairing the damages done to Earth in three centuries of war and economical exploitation. The Vaude established diplomatic ties with the United Nations, the precursor today’s EarthGov and have remained here ever since. It would, however, take another one hundred years for humanity to leave the Solar System and make its way to the stars proper.
Within one hundred years, humanity consolidated its political power into EarthGov and established colonies and mining outposts throughout the Solar System. I would be negligent at this point to fail to mention the creation of the Navy in 2100. With Vaude help humanity expanded the original Prometheus program to design a new, faster engine and ship to go out to the stars at some point. It would take another 70 years but the ESS Prometheus, the fastest and biggest ship Earth had ever built, only possible through cooperation and a century of further innovation and experimentation.
Of course new revelations brought forth by the Vaude government in response to our lifting of the PSSA have shed new light on popular conjecture on what is often called the Human Century, despite every other century in Human history having been a Human Century just by default.
From the Vaude Archives on First Contact with Earth, translations and cultural approximations provided by the Foreign Ministry:
To the Office of the Secretary for Extra-Vaude Affairs:
Mr. Secretary, I regret to inform you that the discoveries about the advanced species “Human” from planetary system “Sol” have been premature. While the captain of our exploration ship did get confirmation to proceed in initiating First Contact Protocols after surveying the species’ first successful unaided hyperspace flight, further research into the species has led us to believe that their societal evolutionary levels were as high as their technological but this is not the case. After first contact was initiated it was found out that FTL parameters were fulfilled by a private individual financed with private resources. No government was involved. A planetary governing body does exist in its infancy, though a previous attempt has already failed three of their years ago. As ambassador to Sol III it is my duty to inform you that we should have vetted the Humans much more thoroughly than we did. The damage we did, however, is already taking form. Though the first effort was a private one, the budget for a big deep space exploration project has already been approved. We suspect that within ten Earth years the Humans will be able to mount a deep space expedition. As one of the sub-groups a “Texan” had told me during a meeting yesterday, to say “howdy” to the “folks back home”. I cannot more strongly ask for the species to be quarantined for as a long as possible until an ambassadorial team can minimize the damage and make sure that the Human do not kill themselves in deep space. It would be an embarrassment to our record.
Rear Admiral Tarango, Human Expeditionary Mission
P.S.: Seriously, we need to raise that deep research budget ASAP.
Ironically, the Vaude never had an equivalent of the PSSA in their constitution and this information was publically available to any Vaude citizen since the First Contact of 2072. For them, Humanity has always been the slightly backwards galactic neighbor. A good person most of the time but in those times of trouble one is glad that they live 20 lightyears down the road. Documents revealed as part of the Prometheus Files have, however, since confirmed that it was a deal struck with the administration of 1st Earth Prime Minister Zhang Jing that lead the Vaude to keep the records away from the Human public until such a time that EarthGov itself was ready to reveal the information to the public. As the Vaude have always valued stability over anything, this information never left the Vaude Confederacy. Since no human has ever been allowed access to one of their planets, it was not hard to reach total communications blackout for all of us in this regard.
For many people this still seems strange to believe since the late 21st to mid 22nd century, the “premature 22nd century” as called by historian Tam Young, is often regarded as one of the best periods in human history, only second to the period beginning with the launch of Prometheus. Believing historical fiction and vids of and about the period, one would think the founders of our nation were mythological figures. Prime Minister Zhang, Dr. Jiwe, Secretary Cooper, Leader of the Opposition Neumann, Admiral Roberts, a quintet of great individuals who single-handedly created the first united human society and created a lasting alliance with the Vaude.
Mystification is a dangerous double edged blade for a society. It can quickly get out of hand after all once you turn men and women into mystical figures. The Founders of EarthGov were people. Intelligent and resourceful people, who knew better than to leave something as crucial as the future of EarthGov and Earth itself up to a public unaware of the greater picture. People forget how fragile EarthGov was in the first years. It was only three years since the Articles of Unification had been dissolved since the Unified Nations had not worked, a weak central government for a planet whose economy was in ruins and natural resources inefficiently used to rebuild.
These times lie in the past for us now but just because they are in the past does not mean that the decisions made back then do not continue to influence us or can give us a better understanding of what our ancestors had to go through, what tough decisions had to be made. It is always hard to believe that the Founders would deceive the public into believing in Human Exceptionalism, but for all intents and purposes the drive to believe that Humanity had been chosen to take the next step in its development, that it was ready to go out among the stars and be part of a galactic community was all that held the planet together in those early years. The idea that one intrepid scientist with a private company to back her spoke for the entirety of humanity. Contemporaries like humorist writer Eloise Temlin commented on the narrative the moment it was brought fourth. Two years after First Contact she wrote:
The term Human Exceptionalism is a contradiction in itself. As we live in a universe with at least one other intelligent species which came to us by way of the same technology we hold up as means to make ourselves bigger than we are speaks volumes about our collective mental health.
She was not alone in her expressions. Comedian Chidi Al-Jamil offered up the following in his 2079 stand-up tour:
The only thing exceptional about human exceptionalism is the Vaude didn’t cap our asses the moment we started spouting that nonsense. It’s the kinda nonsense Ronald Reagan came up with after Alzheimer’s got him by the ass.
The fact that both comments are not the height of comedy or wit that these two individuals were known for in their day should give a glimpse into how serious a situation they realized this theory was. From a quirk pushed hard by EarthGov in its early years in a hokey throwback to the days of Ronald Reagan, as Al-Jamil pointed out nearly a hundred-fifty years ago, to becoming the center of our Manifest Destiny. American exceptionalism. Britannia rule the waves. Am Deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen. There have been many instances of one people putting themselves at the peak of human achievement. One would have thought that the moment humanity united as one race, one people, this idea would be considered obsolete, but as the Austrian historian Elli Lehmann noted in her History of First Contacts:
Human history is marked by the clash of civilizations and the tribal mentality. Us versus Them. As our understanding of Us grew, our definition of Them grew smaller. First Contact with the Vaude cemented once and for all our understanding of Us but in doing so lay the road for a resurrection of Them.
One thing that historians and students of history learn in their first semester is that one should never judge the decisions of a historical person with hindsight. The problem of foreknowledge, the fallacy of prescience. Whatever you might want to call it, the concept is one that, despite its simplicity, is often a major factor in uninformed or hasty interpretations of historical events. The idea that the people hammering out the Asia Minor Agreement or the Versailles Treaty would be aware of the terrible consequences of their treaties when they had other lines of thought or couldn’t even imagine events like the Cold War or the Great Depression of 1929 from exacerbating the original problems with the agreements come to mind.
Early EarthGov was not the towering colossus of today, the governing body of all of humanity across local space and major driving force within the Interstellar Union. Early EarthGov came dangerously close to being another League of Nation, an early version of the United Nations that preceded EarthGov, so ineffectual that it was nothing more than an object of prestige. Earth was still reeling from the effects of the Resource Wars and the Global Depression of 2065. With an economy still rebuilding without clearly knowing what it was building towards and a populous starved for hope, First Contact coming when it came is one of the great chances of human history and the politicians knew to grasp it with both hands and not let go. As Prime Minister Zhang wrote in his private journal:
I have only met with the Vaude ambassador twice now but he is a deceptive being. Very smart. Cunning. You don’t get to be top dog by being nice, I suppose. I think he knows that humanity is similar. That seems to concern him. Don’t want to call it fright, but there clearly is more to this. I still don’t know what our future will hold, but humanity must stand united against any threat from the stars or any rival. As friendly as the Vaude seem, humanity has to become strong enough to stand up to them as equals. Only a position of strength will impress the galaxy at large. Even if the Vaude turn out to be as genuine down the line as they appear now, maybe the next species will not. One stick breaks easily, a bundle less so.
Whatever our thoughts on Human Exceptionalism, a topic best discussed in a longer work than this, like Shikoba’s Meditations on Exceptionalism or Arendse’s Fatal Flaws Of The 21st Century, we cannot deny its impact on planet Earth after we had found out we were not alone in the galaxy.
Isolated as we were from 2072 until 2172, the Vaude did try to guide us towards a gradual but steady advancement in our development. As was part of their containment policy for new species, they did not provide us with new technology, proving that parts of misguided philosophies like Human Exceptionalism could be true: within a century from launch of our first Faster-Than-Light test ship to the launch of our Deep Space Explorer, humanity expanded outwards from Earth in what is still the greatest public works effort in all of our history. While we never used the FTL engine to leave our solar system in those years, its usefulness for solar exploration cannot be overstated. Human colonies had of course already existed on Mars, but for the first time interplanetary travel become, in the words of speculative fiction writers, “casual”. Taking the Earth-Mars in 60 minutes, most of which included transit to a space elevator and security checks, was not uncommon from the 2130s onwards. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but we need to remember that before the hyperdrive even using our fastest ion engines our exploration ships needed months to reach Mars under the best of circumstances. I remember gawking at my mother when I was a child and she told me that there used to be entire departments at space agencies calculating the best routes and slingshot maneuvers around planets and moons to give our ships a boost to their destination, the same way that a sail ship might seem impossibly primitive to a child born in the age of the steamship.
It is often said that the hyperspace engine was the greatest transport revolution since the commercialization of air travel after the end of World War 2. I would compare it to the invention of the locomotive as well.
If we compare our solar system for a moment to a stretch of land on Earth then this comparison should become much clearer: a human can only travel so far by foot, bike, or horse, his movement is limited. In his personal world, the universe might as well only stretch 20 kilometers into any direction. Give him the ability to travel much faster though and on good roads and you open up his world to the limits of his imagination. Within one generation an economy of scale was able to turn a one-off racing ship like Dr. Jiwe’s FTL prototype into a fleet of government owned and private starships able to travel from Earth Mars in five minutes. Not months, not weeks, not days, not hours. Minutes. If it weren’t for the cost and upkeep of the fusion reactors necessary to open a hyperspace window and maintain it we would speak of personal commuting distance. This is why I brought up the locomotive: nobody owns a private locomotive but travel in one is pretty cheap when properly subsidized. Of course space travel remains more expensive than planetary transport of any regard, which is why the comparison to air travel is often made, but the rise of budget airlines in the early 21st century should somewhat break that metaphor. But whatever transport revolution you might want to compare it to, it truly was a revolution. And it changed everything for our species.
Before a stay on Mars was considered a lifelong commitment, now it was a commute for the affluent and a tour of duty for middle class workers. The security of knowing one would be able to return to Earth in an affordable way like one used to take a plane, train, or automobile, opened up new waves of colonization. The risk to reward ratio had finally leveled out to a point where taking a shot at space seemed valuable. Colonies on Mars, resource mining in the asteroid belt and the Jovian moons, the construction of O’Neil cylinders as artificial habitats to spread humanity as wide as possible. There is, after all, a reason we still call it the Age of Human Exceptionalism. And eventually we used it to create Ford Station and with it the Prometheus Deep Space Program. That is where things, as an old historian saying goes, got complicated.