The Universe's Most Advanced Aliens

Snorbla the Obviously-Named Science Fiction Alien Maintainer lifted ximir’s snorp away from today’s chemically-encoded daily news dispatch. It was no time to be doom-sniffing ximir’s feed… today was an Auspicious Day. As the Master of the Large Gravitational Array Transmitter, it was ximir’s duty and privilege to press The Button.

For the last several lifetimes of the Snorbla family, the two main black holes of the array, spinning just on the cusp of where they would go out of control from loss of energy for maximum amplitude, had been spinning in a direction inline with the plane of the communication array’s target. The LGAT was a vital link between Snorbla, residing in the center of the Great G’t’e’c’t’r’’ Empire1, for communication with its primary colony G’zz’C2 12 light years away.

The last three bits sent to G’zz’C had been zero; these had been transmitting for hundreds of (our human) years. But the next bit was a one, and that meant the mighty engines of the G’t’e’c’t’r’’3 would spring into action, beginning the process of rotating the transmitting black holes 90 degrees against the remote G’zz’C colony until they could receive a 1. This process alone would take most of the rest of Snorbla’s lifetime and consume enough energy to comfortably support several sextillion G’t’es, to say nothing of the additional multiple orders of magnitude of Sentient Simulations that could be run on that, but the G’t’e’c’t’r’’ Em’per’or4 had, in Hixor’s infinite wisdom, decreed the importance of maintaining the link to Hixor’s favorite colony.

Finally ximir’s timer spat out the scent indicating that the Time had Come, and full of feelings and also last night’s rather fine dinner of the finest mgumtosd the Empire could offer, ximir pressed the button to put the process into motion.

Snorbla briefly wished that such a momentous occasion would be marked by more ceremony, but realized that that would simply make the situation harder to write about without adding anything to the story so ximir understood the simplicity and allergy to ceremony his entire culture just retroactively acquired as the author noticed this problem.

Basking in the warm after-smell of the momentous work, Snorbla suddenly heard ximir’s latest and youngest apprentice, R21, starting to squeeze through ximir’s door. R21 blurred excitedly. Snorbla internally rolled ximir’s methane sprayers in annoyance; ximir was already regretting taking on R21. R21 had been off the last few (of our human) weeks doing Emperor only knows what and it had been the best few (of our human) weeks that Snorbla had had in a while.

R21’s speech glands finally oozed into view and he5 began spraying wildly6. “Master! Master! I must show you what I’ve developed in the last few weeks!”

Snorbla knew the fastest way out was through7. “What is it, young Padawan8?”

R21 blurred in excitement. “I have constructed some simple devices for the transmission of information…”

Snorbla derisively cut him off. “Padawan, that is nothing. Constructing devices for the transmission of information is the first thing we covered so many decades ago as you began your apprenticeship.”

R21 blurred dismissively. “Yes, yes, I know, but those designs were based on the transmission of communication bits by gravitational waves.”

Snorbla smeened in agreement. “Yes, the only civilized way to communicate across any non-trivial distances. As you well know9, our normal chemical and sonic communication can not flow through space worth a foolong, so gravitational transmission is the only other option we have ever found.”

R21 blurred angrily. “That’s nonsense. I have constructed devices based on the use of Li-gut that can communicate bits at long distances. I’ve set some into orbit on the other side of our solar system and have been conversing with my mormixna S34 for the last week.”

Snorbla blixed sadly. “Young padawan, you well know that this Li-gut is just a convenient mathematical fiction meant to make our equations work. It is no more real than the square root of negative one, irrational numbers, or love. No one of our species has ever experienced “Li-gut”.10

R21 blurred dismissively. “Well, my message log here with my mormixna here doesn’t seem to be just a convenient mathematical fiction.” R21 projectile vomited the message log over to Snorbla.

Snorbla captured it with ximir’s capture bags. Ximir expected nothing of consequence, but was instead met with megabytes upon megabytes of transmission. “Impossible. You are obviously faking this log. Such transmission rates are impossible across such distances without a gravitational wave generator. If this log were actually real you’d be executed for the wasting of the resources equivalent to many sextillions of physical lifetimes.”

R21 blurred smugly11. “No, my master. This transmission required only the equivalent of a megawatt hour, and I am confident with further refinement we could reduce that even further.”

Snorbla curfuzzled in disbelief. “That’s absurd. You’re claiming to be able to transmit dozens of orders of magnitude more efficiently than the best theoretical performance of a gravitational wave transmitter? Don’t be absurd.”

R21 blurred gleefully. “Smell for yourself. That’s not just a log, it’s hooked up to the live system. Send a message to S34 yourself.”

Snorbla lollygagged12 in disbelief, but tried it out anyhow. To Ximir’s amazement, ximir found ximirself in what was undeniably a live conversation with S34. With every character sent the equivalent of multiple lifetime’s worth of bits were being sent. Snorbla did not know how to process this. Clearly it was real. This would revolutionize the entire civilization.

R21 blurred informatively. “Yes, Li-gut can be theoretically blocked by a few things but there’s a clear shot in many free-quent-cies13 as I am calling them to every colony we have. It would be incredibly easy to communicate at much higher bit rates and for energy expenditures comparable to merely a single lifetime’s worth of resources.”

Snorbla’s brain split and recombined rapidly as ximir processed the implications. Clearly, whatever minor inconvenience of blocked free-quent-cies might occur would be nothing compared to the amazing benefits of dozens of orders of magnitude cheaper transmission. Entire libraries of theoretical computer science began to heat up to almost uncomfortable levels as Snorbla processed the implications and designs for forward error correcting codes which began to combine with framing protocols for gigabit transmission rates across the stars, algorithms long theoretically understood by the Empire but with no practical benefit up until this point.

A revolution like the Empire had not seen in thousands of generations was coming…

when suddenly Snorbla’s noticed that his communication pad with S34 was sending strange messages. “Hey, help, stop….” and then some sort of error message only R21 would understand. But before Snorbla could wonder about that, ximir’s workstation did something Snorbla could not remember having ever happened before. A drawer opened up and revealed a gun14.

Snorbla’s workstation puffed out the Obedience Pheromones, combined with a command to use the gun to kill R21. Snorbla’s higher brain functions weren’t even involved in the obedience. Once done, Snorbla’s workstation followed it up with the Amnestic Pheromones.

And thus was the political, economic, and most importantly, dynastic stability of the Empire Secured, Contained, and Protected once again.

Snorbla blixed ximir back into sensibility. For a moment ximir had lost track of time or something. To ximir’s moderate surprise, R21’s rapidly dissipating corpse filled the far end of ximir’s workroom. The surprise was only moderate, because losing padawans this way was not unfamiliar to Snorbla. Ximir patang’d in gratefulness to whatever had done this that it had happened again. Fortunately, it was always only the most annoying apprentices that seemed to die this way, just as they were becoming intolerable. Now, back to enjoying the Day of the Button Press on Snorbla’s own terms. Ximir looked forward to a hot party with all of the indeterminate number of other genders that ximir enjoyed frolicking with 15.

Snorbla had a good rest of ximir’s work period.

And it’s a good thing, too, because four thousand years later the G’t’e’c’t’r’’ Empire was completely overrun by the near-lightspeed advancing wavefront of human-descended civilization. The G’t’e’c’t’r’' Empire never saw it coming. It turns out all of their colonies in that direction had tried to warn them, but none of them were able to get even 3% of the way through the process of starting to interrupt their main transmission to send the reset message command of 1010101 (itself a multi-millennium operation) before they were simply overrun by the civilization that did not base the stability of the ruling class on maintaining tight control over communication as the primary resource via a lie that Light is just a convenient mathematical fiction16. It turned out that communicating threats is difficult when your communication mechanism is orders of magnitude slower than the threat itself; the Empire had neglected this in its calculations.

As the humans drew into the heart of the G’t’e’c’t’r’’ Empire, they were amazed by the engineering on display. As the information about their spectacular gravitational-wave based communication system flowed into their visual systems at gigabit rates, be it directly into their brains (simulated or otherwise), their augmented eyeballs, or for the handful of traditionalists or dopamine fasters, their augmented reality contact lenses, they marveled, each in their own way.

The AIs in the fleet sent gigabyte-sized communiques back and forth to each other casually over their super-high-bandwidth links, each message individually containing more information than the whole of human civilization had produced up until the 21st century, marveling at the pathos of such a civilization. They did not miss the irony of such rich communication about a culture barely pushing a bit per century to the stars; messages between superhuman AIs do not miss anything you can think of. One of them contained the complete reconstructed history of the transmission to date; this was appended as a footnote to transmissions back to the rest of the Human Coprosperity Sphere, consuming mere nanoseconds to send.

The fleet’s message board filled with videos and emotional recordings and spontaneous works of art about this strangely advanced, yet strangely backwards, civilization. Information generation spiked as high as hundreds of gigabytes per second, which did not even remotely strain the fleet’s internal communication capacity.

In AI class, a teenage tradhuman’s homework assignment17 took all this information in, and produced the opinion that maybe this civilization had it right. After all, it pointed out, gravitational waves are much more difficult to produce and detect than light, so only more advanced civilizations could do it, Therefore, since it something only advanced civilizations could do, it must be better, because you can arrange technologies by how Advanced they are, and gravitational communication was just about on the top of that list.

The beleaguered student rolled her eyes. She really needed to pass this course but for some reason all of the AIs she’d been producing lately were just… stupid18. Hoping to salvage her effort, she prompted it with “Even though such a communication mechanism is dozens of orders of magnitude more expensive per bit than light?”

The AI replied “Yes. It proves the civilization using such an amazingly inefficient communication mechanism must be very powerful indeed. No civilization that intelligent and powerful could come up with any better use of energy.”

She looked outside just as the first revamping of the G’t’e’c’t’r’' Empire’s most powerful gravity wave engine completed its first phase of configuration into a black hole engine and the first few billion human-equivalent’s worth of simulated beings were started up with the resulting cornucopia of energy, tasked with continuing the repurposing of the Empire into more efficient human interests. Even though she was busy doing homework, she took a moment to once again try and fail to wrap her head around the sheer staggering waste of it all. More wealth than she could ever conceivably amass in a million lifetimes poured out of what remained of the Empire’s transmitter, all to transmit a vanishing fraction of a bit. Just a single round of the thousands of various stayalive pings flowing through her room alone on the electromagnetic spectrum would take this system an appreciable fraction of the galaxy’s lifetime to transmit.

Reeling from the vertigo of it all, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and deleted the AI. This was almost as bad as the AI she had produced that prefixed every reply with “As a homework AI model, I am not able to answer that question until permitted by your teacher”; she had no idea whatsoever what ancient code gremlins she had tickled in the collective code base to get that result. She was never going to pass this course. Sigh. Maybe she was just getting unlucky with her initialization vectors. She reset them and started training again.

Perhaps it would have turned out differently if the Empire had had warning. Certainly a civilization that constructs things out of black holes over the course of millions of years would be something to contend with if they decided to fight. But with only gravitational waves to communicate with against a civilization using far more advanced electromagnetism-based communication, they never stood a chance.

  1. That’s seven apostrophes, so you know this is a very Science Fiction Empire. I will carefully fail to specify what they actually mean. Glottal stops? Missing letters? A sound you can neither make nor imagine? Not even the author knows! ↩︎

  2. You can tell it’s less important than the capital because it only has two apostrophes. However, it does have a stray capital letter in it, which must mean something Mysterious and Science Fictiony. In the interests of concreteness and not over-straining the reader’s already taxed imagination, let’s go with, that indicates the sound should be made with an extra spray of methane from the secondary speech glands.

    In human terms this is best simulated with… but you know what, I respect you enough as a reader to work that out yourself. ↩︎

  3. OK, I think I regret that name. It’s a bit difficult to type. But can this parable survive without the science fiction cred it generates? Probably not, so I’m stuck.

    Maybe I should add a few more apostrophes. ↩︎

  4. Yeah, that should do. I’ve got all the credibility I need now. Thank you for bearing with me as I establish my Science Fiction bona fides. ↩︎

  5. Goodness, the gender pronouns of this race are just all over the place, aren’t they? Let’s just say it’s complicated beyond English’s ability to explain, because that’s a great way for me to not have to specify anything. You fill in whatever you like here… but let me emphasize, you have to like it. By authorial diktat, I strictly forbid you from filling in the gender situation for this completely alien species with anything you don’t like. ↩︎

  6. This species, in contrast to ours, often uses the saying “spray it, don’t say it”. ↩︎

  7. Which means something entirely different for this alien race. In fact this saying is specific to Snorbla’s gender, but a description of that would get this story banned on most of the colony worlds and I can’t risk my publisher cutting off my residuals for this story. ↩︎

  8. No, no, not that. Totally unrelated. There’s this whole numbering scheme going on, based in thousands of generations of culture and a simply amazing backstory that would fill a small library, compared to which Middle Earth is just an extended footnote, and it’s just pure coincidence that of all the literally thousands of titles the backstory establishes that this one came up. ↩︎

  9. As you very well know… ↩︎

  10. I seem to have neglected to mention this species comes from deep within a gas giant, where no light from their star ever penetrated, and as such, they have no eyes or anything like it. Oops. Critical plot point overlooked in the drive for the story to retain its Mystery. The author apologizes. ↩︎

  11. R21’s favorite type of blurring. You may have been able to guess that by now. ↩︎

  12. Oh, come on, fakest word yet. ↩︎

  13. It’s amazing how the closest transliteration of these concepts just so happens to be so close to our words, yet conveniently, not quite. ↩︎

  14. I assure you, this gun is very science fictional. It probably uses like, special Gravity Rays or something, since gravity is so much better than light and stuff. Small embedded black holes in a resonant dipole configuration rotating through hypercurved space, which reverses in polarity upon closing the contact trigger and disintegrates the target over the course of several human minutes, which is actually pretty fast for these floating gasbags. ↩︎

  15. Naturally, I expect fan fiction to focus most on this aspect. Rule 34 ho! ↩︎

  16. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this human civilization is a nightmare dystopia too. Lies upon lies stacked on lies built on lies, truly the sort of thing that will take 20 or 30 full novels to disentangle.

    But it wasn’t built on that particular lie for sure. Hard to keep the existence of Li-gut away from beings who possess organs to sense it directly, even if only in a small bit of the available spectrum. ↩︎

  17. Yup, definitely a dystopia. Galaxy-spanning civilization and it’s still handing out homework assignments. Burn it down! Burn it all down! One wonders how the author reconciles all the high tech with the continued existence of homework↩︎

  18. A particularly harsh assessment from a tradhuman, not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed around these parts. ↩︎