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The Fermi Question, Answered?

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In the following text, 〈〉① indicates content redacted to those without security clearance. The number indicates the degree of security clearance required to access enclosed content.〉①

Likewise, 〈〉‡ indicates content based on redacted quotes from “Akemi Homura, an Official Biography,” (MSY Internal), 2405. MSY-classified material is viewable only with permission from Leadership Committee.〉‡

When Enrico Fermi asked his famous question—“Where is everybody?”—at lunch in 1950, there was already considerable reason to believe that intelligent aliens existed. As he explained further at the time, and as was eventually codified into the Drake Equation a decade later, the Milky Way alone is vast, and old, and someone ought to be around besides us. And as time went on, the matter only became steadily more perplexing to scientists; estimates of the galaxy’s stellar population ran into the hundreds of billions, and the portion of stars found to host planets approached 1. Likewise, the barrier to life itself proved to be low, as evidence indicated that life evolved on Earth shortly after the ingredients gathered, and as proof of ancient, simple life was discovered on Mars. When Humanity began colonizing space, scientists couldn’t help but shake their heads at the abundance of human-habitable worlds, full of their own complex life, which rivaled Earth in all but that essential spark of thought.

Many solutions to the apparent paradox were proposed throughout this period of uncertainty. Early on, it was often said that the Universe was simply too vast, and the speed of light too restrictive. During the Unification Wars, the popular hypothesis was that intelligent civilizations always destroyed themselves before they reached the stars. By the 24th century, it was commonly theorized that humans must simply be the first. Compared to the future lifespan of the universe, after all, the elements and conditions for advanced life had arisen just yesterday. And when every single FTL probe sent out into the Milky Way saw no signs of civilization, when no solid evidence of artificial signals or antediluvian ruins could be gathered despite strenuous effort, what other explanation could there be?

All of this remained ivory-tower philosophy until Governance began seriously pursuing the deployment of a Dyson swarm around Sol, in order to deliver up the free and otherwise wasted solar energy to its citizens. Unlike mere FTL travel, or even the diffuse propagation of ordered EM waves that come with civilization, a Dyson swarm is obvious. The collection of such vast energy gives off easily detectable infrared radiation, and the resulting dimming of the star is not much harder to miss. In effect, the construction would be a declaration to the galaxy at large that a new, vulnerable civilization was on the map. The absence of such megastructures was indeed often held up as proof that no other alien civilizations could exist; who would dare waste such low-hanging fruit? Naturally some suggested, rather vociferously, that this “Dyson Dilemma” constituted a rather different solution to the Fermi Paradox: namely, that every species foolish enough to make themselves so visible was soon relieved of the capability. But this was readily dismissed. If there truly was some terrible menace out there, it was argued, then there were a dozen other ways they could find Earth. The business community, which was driving hard for the project, often asserted that even if there were any aliens in the universe, they’d likely be so advanced that they could have been living alongside humans for the last ten thousand years and no one would be the wiser. There could be no justification for sabotaging Humanity’s future in the blind hope of stopping a “threat” so unknown.

The “Aliens live among us!” argument struck many as profoundly unscientific and more than a bit strange, considering the wealth of viable alternatives, but it found credence among key Governance officials nonetheless, and the Dyson swarm was built. Not until the end of the masquerade and the unmasking of influential magical girl CEOs and Representatives would a satisfactory explanation be provided. And not apart from this did both the long-smug MSY scientists and their counterparts receive quite the shock: for the latter, the revelation that Incubators had in fact been actively interfering with Humanity throughout all history, and for the former, the galvanic Cephalopodan bolt. Suddenly, the universe was all too crowded.

〈For its part, the MSY had long believed that it was free from alien threat. The Incubators 〈had offered to intervene just before the Unification Wars, in order to preserve civilization. This was declined, as leadership 〈—especially First Executive Akemi Homura—〉‡ felt that they〉④ were not particularly reliable, 〈but this still was taken as proof that Humanity would never really be at risk. Incubators couldn’t be trusted〉④ but they did always tell the truth, and their constant pronouncements on the irreplaceable value of magical girls were reassuring. In retrospect, protection against alien invasion was never promised, though the “miscommunication” has continued to slightly sour relations, much to the Incubators’ consternation.〉②

And yet, Fermi would likely be unsatisfied. Both the Cephalopods and the Incubators remain deeply mysterious, in origins, in motivations, and in capabilities. The Incubators have demonstrated abilities often scarcely distinguishable from the magic they help unleash, and combined with their usual reticence to share information, little can be sensibly speculated. Who can say where they come from, or what they are truly like? The Cephalopods, though also considerably more advanced than Humanity, are at least somewhat comprehensible. Nonetheless they only raise more questions when it comes to the prevalence of intelligent life. Early in the war, there was plain bafflement; FTL probes had long passed through what became known to be their territory, and had found nothing. How had such a civilization, so nearby, remained hidden? Those who had argued for concealment as the solution to the Fermi Paradox and opposed the Dyson swarm project on that basis felt vindicated. Soon, though, the apparent logistical constraints on the invaders, the clearly post-New Athens encirclement of Human space, and the discovery of the wormhole generator in Sahara all indicated another explanation. Perhaps, the Cephalopods are not native to the Milky Way at all? It is another question still unanswered.

— Julian Bradshaw, personal blog, 2456.