Almost three centuries after human-alien contact, we are now used to seeing members of some Galactic sapient race strolling the streets of an Earth city, often accompanied by a duenna-robot for "protection on a primitive world."
Only in Reserve Areas can humans, neo-Chimps, and neo-Dolphins escape frequent reminders that the universe has arrived and is here to stay. Basic Galactography and Sapientology are taught in schools. It takes a stretch of imagination to recall what it was like so long ago, when we thought ourselves alone in the cosmos.
Back in the early 22nd century, many decades before contact, the Solar Confederation approved construction of several antimatter-driven starships for the purpose of exploring nearby star systems. Early vessels of the unmanned Hawking class plunged beyond the orbit of Pluto, then the cometary Oort Cloud in the late 2100s. Later, the first human-crewed vessels--Isaac Newton and Jane Chen--departed, bound for the Tau Ceti and Alpha Centauri systems. Even allowing for relativistic effects, these missions involved long periods of hibernation for the crew, who never expected to see home again.
Leaders of Earth had prepared contingency plans for encountering other life-forms, but the first seven expeditions found only ruined worlds in the Geminga Starfield, the local zone surrounding our solar system. Soon, this region came to be known as The Ash, for its disheartening array of burned-out planetary ecosystems. Civilization had once swarmed across this sector, it seemed, but those former occupants left behind only deserts and desolation. Now our part of the universe was empty and humankind seemed to be alone.
Who could tell how far The Ash extended? For all we knew, it might stretch to the limits of the Galaxy. Perhaps this was the reason we had been alone for so long?
Thus it came as a shock when the Earth ship Vesarius had a sudden chance meeting with the Tymbrimi vessel Cuthmar. No one had envisioned encountering a civilization as vast and complex as that of the Galactics--so incredibly ancient, so fearsomely intricate and dangerous, spanning not one but five galaxies! Beyond the narrow moat of The Ash, there dwelled a bewildering range of beings whose powers seemed nearly godlike.
Our predicament was made worse by the fact that Terrans were the first "wolfling" clan discovered in several million years.
As the most primitive starfaring race seen in eons, we had reason for worry! How well we recalled the fate of indigenous peoples back in the 16th and 17th centuries, who suffered when they were overwhelmed by European technology. The disaster at NuDawn only reinforced our fears about what seemed to lie in store for Terran civilization.
Two lucky strokes saved us from immediate and dire consequences.
Our first break came at the very moment of contact, because we ran into the Tymbrimi before any other race. Though often quirky or irksome, the Tymbrimi have proved helpful friends. Their advice proved crucial on many occasions.
The other piece of good fortune had roots in the very nature of Galactic culture. Vastly older than we could have imagined, the loose Civilization of Five Galaxies is founded on a single unifying principle, that of Uplift. Under this ancient tradition, older species continually "adopt" younger, promising races that have not yet reached full sapiency, raising them up to starfaring status. Ideally, each client race then earns the right to uplift clients of its own, continuing a line of succession that is much like raising children--when it works well--a cycle of sponsorship stretching back to the misty dawn of Galactic civilization, the era of the fabled Progenitors.
By fortunate happenstance, humanity had already engaged in this "sacred" activity, not once but twice, just before contact! After two centuries of genetic and cultural experimentation, the Solar Confederation had just granted citizenship rights to neo-Chimpanzees (Pan sapiens), and was about to give neo-Dolphins (Tursiops amicus) similar status. Thus we were already "patrons" to two client races.
Because of this remarkable coincidence--and by using some fancy political maneuvering--our Tymbrimi friends lobbied for us and won formal recognition of humanity's patron status, with all the rights and responsibilities that attain thereto. This astonishing coup was unprecedented. On occasion, other "wolfling" races had been discovered, but never before was one elevated suddenly to the middle ranks of Galactic Society.
This victory turned out to be a mixed blessing, provoking friction with some of the more conservative factions in ET culture. Several hostile groups keep trying to prove that humans are unfit to be patrons. They aim to have humankind--as well as Dolphins and Chimps--put up for adoption. "To a trustworthy guide," as a Soro breed-mother once put it, "for the Earthlings' own good."
For survival we must assuage these groups, not giving them any cause for grievance. For this reason, the Terragen Uplift Oversight Committee and Foundation for Promotion of Sapience abide strictly by Galactic rules in continuing work on neo-Dolphins and neo-Chimps.
In brief, we must be a very clever little tribe, using diplomacy, flattery, and sometimes trickery, striving to win friends and keep mighty forces at bay as we study hard to catch up.
History warns of dire penalties if we fail.Timeline
NOTE: This is based on historical summaries offered by Earth's branch unit of the Galactic Library. For some reason this unit grows ambiguous and evasive as we look further back in time, using language that becomes increasingly vague and oracular. Entries over 300 million years old must be taken as only generally valid, and possibly mythological.3.1 BILLION-2.8 BILLION YEARS AGO
Massive terraforming campaigns separately transform Galaxies One and Two. Evidence of repeated world-shattering conflicts leaving vast domains of "ash." Few decipherable records remain, though evidence points to an age of domination by the Machine Order.2.8 BILLION-2.2 BILLION YEARS AGO
Oxygen-breathing cultures in Galaxy One discover whorl-link to Galaxy Two. A combined civilization emerges, then dissolves in horrible war. Only the Progenitors survive. The Paean of Loneliness appears to date from this age, as they search among the animals for potential companions and begin the process of Uplift. (At this time, early single-cell organisms dwell in Earth's seas.)2.71 BILLION YEARS AGO
Transfer point to Galaxy Three discovered; traces of wrecked Galactic-level civilization discovered there.2.7 BILLION YEARS AGO
First Machine Wars. Resurgent AIs nearly recover their former dominance. Digital cognizance and nanotechnology restricted. Institute for Foresight is created.2.3 BILLION YEARS AGO
Progenitors retire, gradually separating themselves from affairs of lesser races, leaving behind laws and edicts regarding tradition of Uplift.2.26 BILLION YEARS AGO
Progenitors physically leave the "Many Galaxies" (according to Inheritor legend), or transcend (by Awaitor lore) to another plane of reality.2.25 BILLION YEARS AGO
Contact made with Galaxies Four through Eleven. War breaks out with hydrogen-breather civilization spreading from Galaxy Six. Both cultures are nearly ruined before coexistence is established via treaty with the Zang. Few reliable details about this agreement are accessible to sapients in our life-order and at our status level.2.22 BILLION YEARS AGO
Progenitors "pass on" (according to the Transcendor faith).2.2 BILLION YEARS AGO
After a near-total collapse, Galactic society attempts to reorganize without Progenitors, aided by an early version of the Great Library.2.1(?) BILLION-1.9 BILLION YEARS AGO
Formative stages of present Galactic civilization.1.9 BILLION YEARS AGO
Institute for Civilized Warfare formed.1.6 BILLION YEARS AGO
Contact is lost with galaxies that had (till then) been designated numbers Seven, Nine, and Eleven. Remaining galaxies are renumbered One through Eight. Cultural upheavals. First wave of memnetic plagues.1.4 BILLION YEARS AGO
Modern Library and Uplift Institutes reorganized and essentially assume their modern forms. (Eukaryotic organisms take sway in Earth's seas. Primitive life-forms colonize land.)1.1 BILLION YEARS AGO
Contact lost with Galaxy Eight. Memnetic plagues lead to lawless warfare and spread of The Ash.830 MILLION YEARS AGO
Contact temporarily lost with Galaxy Five. (Earth begins to explode with multicellular sea life.)620 MILLION YEARS AGO
The "Lions" seize control of many spiral arms, flouting tradition, colonizing, and terraforming without restriction. The Ash spreads through 30 percent of Galaxy One and 20 percent of Galaxy Two. (Complex organisms swarm Earth seas.)618 MILLION YEARS AGO
The Tarseuh forge a coalition to overthrow the "Lions." Communications are seriously disrupted. Contact with Galaxies Two and Six permanently lost. Galaxies renumbered again.598 MILLION YEARS AGO
Ultraconservative Institute for Recovery of Honor, dedicated to repairing damage wrought by the "Lions," dominates main Galaxies. It has since become dormant.590 MILLION YEARS AGO
Institute for Recovery of Honor wracked by ideological disputes; Obeyor/Abdicator holy war results. This is judged to have been a memnetic "plague" outbreak as moderate consensus emerges from chaos.400 MILLION YEARS AGO
An abused client race, the Karrank, are released from clienthood and granted the planet Kithrup as a "recuperation home."320 MILLION YEARS AGO
Contact temporarily lost with Galaxy Three, where Hydrogen and Oxygen civilizations engage in high levels of cooperation. Flat-space expeditions sent toward lost galaxies to discover their fate. (Era of amphibians on Earth.)280 MILLION YEARS AGO
"Revolt of the Data." Subtle memnetic diseases affect nearly all computers. Outbreak, blamed on Machine Order, is suppressed violently. Library purged of seditious or "irrelevant" information. Present system of neutral/passive data storage instituted, promised to be plague-resistant.230 MILLION YEARS AGO
First "Gronin Collapse" of Galactic society. Library purges reach a point where major blocks of information are deeply sequestered and possibly lost.205 MILLION YEARS AGO
A time of intense rebuilding. The Institute of Progress is raised to the highest point in its history as research and learning become important again for a while. (Age of the dinosaurs on Earth.)150 MILLION YEARS AGO
Social discord over redevelopment initiates a second "Gronin Collapse." Loss of contact with Galaxies Four and Seven. Remaining galaxies renumbered.141 MILLION YEARS AGO
All major sapient races form a union, slowly regaining confidence.133 MILLION YEARS AGO
Brief coalescence of oxygen- and hydrogen-breathing cultures in Galaxy Three ends when that galaxy is reunited with the others.60 MILLION YEARS AGO
A medium-scale "Time of Crisis." A zone of ash forms in Earth-local space. Twelve-Spin machine civilization is scapegoated and suppressed. (Dinosaurs and many other life-forms die off on Earth, making way for Age of Mammals.)41 MILLION YEARS AGO
Rediscovery of transfer points to galaxies originally numbered Seven and Eleven, now renumbered Two and Four.33 MILLION YEARS AGO
Thennanin uplifted by the Wortl; join Abdicators Alliance.12 MILLION YEARS AGO
The last recorded "wolfling" race, the Paranaj, is discovered; within a few hundred years it is extinct. (Forebears of apes and humans dwell in African forests.)2.1 MILLION YEARS AGO
Soro uplifted by Hul. (Homo erectus starts to spread from Africa into Asia.)50,000 YEARS AGO
The Bururalli Holocaust wipes out most higher animals on planet Garth; the Bururalli are destroyed as punishment. The Nahalli ulsu-Bururalli are reduced to clienthood and indentured to the Thennanin for rehabilitation. (Humans on Earth showing early signs of agriculture, and control over domestic beasts.)4,000 YEARS AGO
Patrons of the Tymbrimi, the Caltmour, wiped out in Galactic war. The Institute for Civilized Warfare calls it an "unfortunate error." (Time of Egyptian Middle Kingdom on Earth.)2,491 YEARS AGO
Beginning of Common Era Calendar on Earth (1 a.d.).531 YEARS AGO
First human space travel.431 YEARS AGO
First human slower-than-light interstellar travel.390-300 YEARS AGO
Earth dominated by The Bureaucracy (2102-2192 c.e.).389 YEARS AGO
Effort begins to uplift Chimpanzees.366 YEARS AGO
Effort at Dolphin Uplift begins.350 YEARS AGO
NuDawn, our first interstellar human colony, settled on a promising world within The Ash.290 YEARS AGO
Jacob Demwa is born.280 YEARS AGO
First successful Galactic contact--by starship Vesarius, with Tymbrimi vessel Cuthmar. This was a little over 44 choduras ago, by Galactic measure.279 YEARS AGO
The Catastrophe at NuDawn. Earth's colony "sequestered" in a disastrous encounter with officials from the Migration Institute. Earth learns the news two years later.265 YEARS AGO
In a surprise diplomatic coup, humanity is formally recognized as a patron-class citizen race. Neo-Chimps and neo-Dolphins granted Stage 1 client status.251 YEARS AGO
Neo-Chimps recognized as Stage 2 clients.249 YEARS AGO
Small branch of the Great Galactic Library installed on Earth.240 YEARS AGO
Sundiver Incident (2246 a.d.). Humanity now has three colony worlds. In another surprising coup, Earth is granted mid-Planetary-sized Library branch as reparations for illegal activities by the Pila and Soro.161 YEARS AGO
Neo-Dolphins recognized as Stage 2 clients.98 YEARS AGO
Garth licensed to be colonized by the Terragens.5 YEARS AGO
Human-Galactic relations stable. There are now ten Terragens colonies, all of them except Calafia on less desirable "recovery worlds."3 YEARS AGO
Experimental Terragens survey ship Streaker--crewed by 120 Dolphins and 7 humans--encounters a fleet of ancient derelicts in an isolated Galactic tide pool; psi-cast message sends Galaxy One into turmoil. Corrupted Institutes prove incapable of intervening. Streaker forced to flee.2 YEARS AGO
Garth colony invaded by the Gubru. Invaders expelled after many months of struggle by the mixed Chimpanzee and human population.2 YEARS AGO
Intercepted Soro time-drop message reports that Streaker fled planet Kithrup in the Kthsemenee system. Images of the bizarre and wondrous incident on Garth transmitted throughout Galaxy via hyperspace shunt. Neo-Chimps achieve Stage 3, though their ceremony was interrupted. The Thennanin adopt neo-Gorillas as new clients and become reluctant Earth allies.0-CURRENT DAY
(2492 c.e.) Earth is temporarily safe thanks to our new Thennanin Alliance. But a general breakdown of law and order means that our colonies are in great peril. Also, rumors tell of plans by several major alliances to somehow coerce Earthclan into revealing secrets uncovered by Streaker. These plans may possibly include invasion by massive force.50-1000 YEARS FROM NOW
Horpie region to be opened for settlement sometime in this period, with Terragens holding three colony-option credits--assuming that law and Galactic Civilization still exist at that time. And that we still exist, too.The Institutes Governing Galactic Society
From trace records left by the first Galactic Golden Age, the earliest starfaring race--the Progenitors--realized that managing a cohesive centralized government was impossible between two planets, much less across several galaxies. But the alternative--letting diverse species engage in free-for-all battles over Galactic resources--would only result in more regions like The Ash, filling every spiral arm with desolation.
To prevent this, the Progenitors realized they must work with the drive for self-advancement that pulses within each race and individual. They came up with a plan to ensure that it is in everyone's self-interest to protect the future.
Excerpted from Contacting Aliens by David Brin and Kevin Lenagh. Copyright © 2002 by David Brin and Kevin Lenagh. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.