In October 2008, mankind sent a message to the Gliese 581 star system. In April 2029, the Gliesans responded. This despite the fact that due to the distance between the stars, mankind had not expected a return signal until almost 2050, if ever. In terms of the speed of light, the Gliesans had returned Earth’s communication almost instantly.
Even more astonishing: the signal, once decoded, was a video showing how to make certain parts for a machine, and assemble them. It appeared to be a communications device that would allow instant exchanges between worlds — some NASA staff member who loved Urusla LeGuin christened it an “ansible.” Mankind, ever cautious, assembled it on the moon…just in case there was more to the device than was apparent at first glance.
It worked as advertised.
Over the next four years, the humans and the Gliesans exchanged much information. In scientific and medical areas, the Gliesans were far superior. They had already discovered cures for most of the diseases that afflicted the people of the Earth, which (due to similar biology) needed very little adaptation. They shared their techniques for producing massive quantities of satisfying artificial food, and for the first time all the people on the planet could be fed. They showed mankind how to grow skyscrapers and craft near-perfect power generators. Cities sprouted up across the vast unyielding deserts, and the whole world was covered for the first time in a blanket of electric light. And there were more marvels hinted at…such as spaceships that could travel up to five times as fast as the speed of light.
In cultural exchanges, mankind held the upper hand. The Gliesans had very little in the way of art or popular entertainment, and they eagerly leapt upon each new thing sent through the ansible, from the greatest of Russian novels to the strangest of Japanese game shows. Men were gratified to witness performances of Shakespeare in the great public parks on the Gliesan planet, to see exhibitions consisting of reproductions of Da Vinci and Picasso. And if they were somewhat more embarrassed to see Gliesan concerts featuring imitations of American pop stars…well, their stellar neighbors were eclectic, that was all.
Perhaps the most fascinating exchanges were the historical ones. The Gliesans seemed quite homogenous as a people, and top sociologists speculated that they had solved racial, social, and sectarian differences so long ago that no trace remained of those conflicts in the culture. Because of this, there had been some debate about whether to show all of Earth’s history to the first intelligent species we contacted. Not all our differences had been solved, after all, and we did not wish to appear barbaric.
Still, mankind ultimately opted for honesty, and presented to the Gliesans an unvarnished history of their race. This is who we are, said men. We have conquered neighboring states, brutalized fellow humans, raped sister cultures. We are not proud of this part of our past. But we are learning, slowly, to live together. We are coming to appreciate the deeper ties of the species that bind us all into one whole. We hope you can understand.
The Gliesans puzzled over the massive transmission for several days, then sent back: “You attempt to live together? Wouldn’t things have been much easier if you had just wiped each other out?”
Mankind only had a day to ponder the implications of the message before the first Gliesan warships appeared in the sky and started culling the population.
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