You might want to sit down with a cup of tea for this one; it’s immense. RULES STALIN is fascinated by the idea of alien religions, so he threw this prompt into the pack to see what would happen. The result, by @amuchmoreexotic, is one of my favourite #SFSwap entries. One of the things SF is great for is exploring counterfactuals, and the “what if” here is a mindblower – what if all the theory presented in fringe religious “science” textbooks was 100% workable? This is science fiction, with fictional science:
STORY NUMBER: 17
PROMPT PROVIDER: @frogcroakley
At first, we thought the alien starship was built out of sedimentary rocks, which would have been weird enough. It wasn’t until we got close that the Sensors Officer realised it was 90% skeletons.
“That’s not even the weirdest part,” she said as we suited up. “Let me tell you about the iron.”
She hadn’t had time to get herself properly worked up until we were actually clambering along the tether that joined our interceptor to the starship.
Realise that it all happened very fast: the week before, we’d been on asteroid deflection patrol. The Captain didn’t allow us to fire up the atomic emission spectroscopy array until after we’d deployed the tether; ground control thought firing lasers into an alien vessel to analyse it might come across as hostile, so we stuck to passive sensors (plus transmitting the prime numbers on every frequency) until it came time to deploy the harpoon. They didn’t bother sending us any prime numbers back, not even the easy ones like three or five.
“The skeletons are probably some inscrutable alien cultural thing,” the Sensors Officer continued, “but the underlying hull and the cap on the main dome are made of really low-grade iron. Their drive signature shows they’ve mastered electroweak baryon annihilation, far beyond anything we’re capable of, yet they’re still using iron that’s literally out of our Iron Age.”
“Well, of course, their technological development may have taken a different course…” dronesplained the Security Officer.
“So they’ve learned to dismantle atoms and convert them into a neutrino stream, but not to throw a bit of charcoal in with their iron to make steel? I don’t buy it. And the iron is rusty! Did they leave their interstellar ship out in the rain before launch? And there’s a complete lack of micrometroid damage, which is impossible if -“
“Tell us more about the skeletons,” said the Captain, in her most soothing mode of stridulation.
“They’re *endo*skeletons. Like a carapace that fits inside you, made of-“
The Security Officer: “So they have their organs on the outside?? So weird.”
I raised a leg to correct him, but thought better of it.
“- made of calcium salts and an elastic protein. Obviously for structural reasons, they’ve had to use a lot of duplicates of the longest bones, but some of the decorative elements represent complete specimens. As best we can tell they only have four limbs each. The All-Mother knows how they walk and use tools at the same time!”
The Security Officer waved his free limbs in agitation. “You’re assuming the skeletons belong to the ship-builders. Clearly, they’re the remains of a species that the ship-builders subjugated, being displayed as trophies to intimidate us. Look how this one is mounted-“
The Captain cut him off.
“No. Those remains belong to the species which built the ship. We’ve been receiving transmissions from their home planet for the last hundred years or so. That’s classified information, by the way.”
We climbed along the tether in silence for a while, until we reached the airlock in what the exoanthropologists back on the ground called the ‘atrium’.
The alien was lying inside the elaborately decorated interior. Its organs weren’t on the outside, exactly, but it didn’t look healthy.
It expelled air out of its mouth parts. I assumed it had some kind of digestive problem, until the Captain’s suit translated the noise into stridulation: “I bring you good news!”
The Captain spoke and her suit translated: “We got your transmissions.”
The alien jerked the upper half of its grotesque, soft body upright. It only had two tiny eyes, which locked on to the Captain.
“[A supernatural entity/father] sent his [male/drone offspring] to redeem us all, and I can prove it with particle physics!” it belched. “Our [communion system] failed and starved the rest of the crew, and I’m also dying, so please let me explain quickly.
“Our salvation happened many generations ago. [The male/drone] could perform miracles, transmuting matter, walking on water, even destroying his body and assembling a new resurrection body!
“Until recently, we only had anecdotal accounts of all this. Some artefacts associated with [the male/drone] and [virtuous/prominent drones], were reputed to retain miraculous powers, resisting decay or producing [circulatory fluid/lymph]. Most of our scientists didn’t take these claims seriously, until we found [genetic material] from [the male/drone]. And we learned how to produce miracles!”
“Through electroweak baryon annihilation,” the Captain said.
“Yes. Destroying his body should have released a disastrous amount of energy, unless he converted it into neutrinos. And to walk on water, he emitted jets of pure neutrinos, just like this ship’s engine. These artefacts: bones, flesh, iron nails… they can copy and repair themselves… by manipulating them we have built a ship to travel between the stars and bring you the good news!”
“That’s nice,” said the Captain. “Thing is, we have many religions on our planet. Some with similar themes. But none of them came with this gift of magical technology: we’ve checked very thoroughly. Why your world?”
The alien was silent for a moment.
“Well, [the supernatural entity] works in mysterious ways.”
The Captain gave a signal and the Security Officer trained his weapon on the alien.
“Your species can colonise the galaxy with this magical technology. Or send out relativistic kill vehicles to shatter our planet. This ‘good news’ is an existential threat to us, and the best you can say is that it’s ‘mysterious’?
On the return journey, I was able to keep the alien alive and in pain long enough to extract all the key rituals.
And – well, you know the rest: that’s how we built this magnificent navy. With the help of brave recruits like you, we can intercept the next wave of cathedral ships, destroy them all – and take the fight to this ‘Jesus’ on his home turf.
PROMPT: Incredibly Religious Aliens Build Starships From the Bodies of Their Martyrs