What if first contact with an intelligent species made humanity feel more, rather than less, alone?
In this powerfully melancholy story, @thiefree makes something heartbreaking out of @glempy’s prompt. While the idea of emotionless aliens is an idea older even than Spock, RULES STALIN has not seen it tackled like this before – and he’s not sure how it makes him feel.
STORY NUMBER: 18
PROMPT PROVIDER: @glempy
Towards the end of the 23rd century, most people are distracted by peculiar philosophies. Scientific research falls by the wayside, becoming the domain of resourceful hobbyists. When contact with alien intelligence is first established, only a handful of enthusiasts notice or care.
Recently divorced dentist/physicist Chidambar Ganaka is first to get the Spin working. A small group develops it, seeding entangled electron beacons throughout the galaxy. Hello, I am here, can you hear me? For the first time in a hundred years, humanity reaches out.
Finding himself with time on his hands, Ganaka watches his set-up of the Spin obsessively, and is first to notice when someone responds.
It takes a week to establish a language, and two to transfer the greatest works of humanity across. The physicists spend every moment possible watching sub-atomic particles spin like an ellipsis in an online chat.
In return, they send a factual portrait of our species. Here’s what’s special about you. Semi-jokingly called the “Welcome Pack” by the scientific community, it makes three main points: Your base temperature is higher than average. Your life span is shorter. You experience emotion. We’d like clarity on this third point.
They explain that no other sentient species has feelings. We’re inhabited planet #187, and the only ones who get brought down by rainy days and Mondays. It’s Ganaka, in the lab in his garden shed, with his reliable Spin connection, who has to explain this.
> Humans are unlike the rest of the community. Emotions cause you to act deliberately irrationally.
> I suppose so. Must be confusing!
> What is confusing?
> A feeling caused by not understanding, knowing, everything you need to know in order to make sense of something.
> This state would be resolved by gathering more information.
> Yes. But until then, we feel confused.
> Until a resolution is found, you experience conflict within yourself, even while performing unrelated tasks?
> Well it does sound funny when you put it like that.
> Funny. Yes… How does that one work again?
Ganaka, ambassador for humanity, asks for support. At first, his colleagues think they aren’t explaining emotion properly – that, like left and right, there’s no empirical point of reference for happiness and sadness – but it becomes apparent that hope, love, regret, are all the proverbial bicycle to the fish.
> You’ve never felt loss? Never missed a loved one?
> No. We remember them, of course; accurately, but without sentiment.
> I’m not sure who has the better deal there.
They ask how a feeling begins, grows, mutates into other emotions. The divorce does come up. Ganaka’s learned to stop mentioning it to his few local friends, but hadn’t thought about avoiding the subject with extra-terrestrials, so he doesn’t. It’s almost like making a friend, thinks Ganaka, at first.
After thinking it over, he wonders whether their questions could be construed as patronising. Accusatory. Superior. This vast, unknowable network of beings trade technologies with one another, and what does he have to show for their conversations? A pamphlet about how humans look from the outside. He feels they’re keeping him at arm’s length.
One late night, his pride bruised by an unpleasant conversation with his former sister-in-law, he voices these concerns through the Spin. He hears nothing back for eight days. Ganaka sends a message every three hours.
> Of course, I understand these things take time. Sorry if I’m impatient; it’s that shorter lifespan making me rash!
> Hoping you’ve had a chance to listen to the Chopin I sent. Would be fascinated to learn about a non-emotional response to music. Hope to hear from you soon.
> Is your Spin functioning? Our seems fine. Just wondering why we haven’t heard from you.
For the second time in as many years, he spirals. There’s no media adulation. His peers seem less respectful than they should be, given his position, and in fact spend every spare moment criticising and suggesting and “just saying.”
> Prolonged radio silence is worrying the others. Are we doing something wrong?
> You can’t freeze us out, it isn’t fair. Not now we know you’re out there.
One morning at 2 am, as Ganaka paces the garden lab, he notices the Spin is active.
> It has been discussed that perhaps you are suffering from confusion. We wish to alleviate this state. 1/3
> You equate silence with malicious intent, and demand reassurance. You claim that we keep secrets because we are petty, and cruel, and that this is harmful to you. These behaviours are described by your relationship experts as “emotionally abusive.” Could this be why they have no effect? 2/3
> We shall cease contact with your species, due to the erratic behaviours you display. It is thought that there’s no place for you within the galactic community. Humans could experience anger during border disputes. Jealousy, during trade negotiations. You cannot be relied upon to act for the greatest good. These communications pose a risk that outweighs any benefits humans could provide. 3/3
> You’re just going to cut us off? Leave us all alone in the silence?
> We recognise this may cause hurt, anger, and sadness. These are not empirically viable reasons to continue communicating. Understand: we shall do what is best.
And that’s it. For two months, possibilities stretch boundless and scintillating ahead of humanity. It ends before we learn anything of value, but we cannot fault their decision. It’s the rational one.
Some months into the hurt, Chidambar Ganaka confides to a sympathetic lady, one of the physicists who helped to make a beacon out of the Spin:
> It’s not like we encountered Vulcans, some ‘equal but different’ counterpoint: it’s that we’re the only emotive species. (1/?)
> The only feeling beings, discounting certain Earth animals, that ‘laugh, cry and wonder why.’ (2/?)
> We’ve found life, we’ve even found intellect, but we have not found company. (3/?)
> What a profoundly empty feeling, to be the only lonely ones. (4/?)
She says she knows the feeling, but he doubts it.
PROMPT: Humanity enters the galactic community but discovers it is the only species that feels emotion.