I picked up another
/r/writingprompts prompt. This one is basically the opposite of the last one:
As the Empire descends upon Earth despite the Federation's best efforts, the Galactic Council watches in horror; their invasion force will soon be wiped out, and when they are, the most violent species in the galaxy will have access to space age technology. source
In general, I'm not into "Humanity, fuck yeah!" stories and the glorification of human violence so I'll see where I can lead this to to make sense.
Dereck sat in their pod and watched over the screens. Another day, same shit. They asked their symbiotic assistants if they were ready and the ship jumped in and out of real space, exiting at the edge of an unremarkable star system. It had intelligence on one life, everything else was deserted by even the simplest organisms.
The system had been identified some million years prior and quaranteed from the Symbiorg communications and presence. Dereck's ship pierced the quarantine and they were greeted with an onslaught of human activity. But all of it had been already categorized, analyzed, and understood. At least in theory, in reality, no one cared. Old algorithms ran the whole thing. The bright minds of the world rarely cared about the vast wealth of garbage civilizations produced on their own.
Plus, Dereck thought, once they're either part of the Symbiorg, or once they sign the treaty, humans themselves will do the hard work.
This had been the first attempt at communication, and the first request for humanity to join the Symbiorg, or at least form a long-term peace treaty. Symbiorg generally had no stake in this.
"It's a shit job," Dereck told themself. They had assimilated a hundred intelligent lifeforms already. Life teemed with it. There was no end to it.
The first contact protocol was clear but also boring. Send out a probe to introduce yourself to the new intelligence. Send out a request to join.
If the intelligent species replied with worship, start assimilating them to the galactic society. If they replied with violence, set them back a few hundred years technologically. That way, they get another opportunity to grow intellectually before achieving space-faring again. If they replied with peace, offer peace or assimilation into the Symbiorg.
Dereck has had to set back a dozen species but once Dereck had to revisit them, they had grown substantially and readily signed a prosperous peace tready. First contact always left a mark. Most species that opted for a peace treaty assimilated willingly within a few hundred years. There was no reason not to.
The first probe launched and jumped through space once more into Earth's orbit. It should be visible from their own artificial satellite.
Dereck set back. They hated the name Dereck but he had to pick some name that was familiar to the humans. And it wasn't their only name. Dereck introduced themself as a whole crew of diplomats.
Jarmila Moravec had finally gotten her telescope time. It was uncommon for the requesting astronomist to actually show up to an observatory but Jarmila liked the thrill of being in the same room as the machine that controlled the telescope and the computers that crunched the numbers.
Being an amateur astronomist in her spare time, she had spotted a strange flicker far off beyond Jupiter the previous night. Shunning all thoughts of her actual work aside, she decided to use her precious time to track that flicker rather than get more data for her grant.
The Observatory attended gave her a sideways look but let her through. He had been used to the oddball scientist actually showing up. Alas, that meant that he had to put his headphones on and watch movies quietly rather than using the Observatory's projector and the blank wall opposite the computers. Kuba put the candy away, too. He had to look professional even if just for those two hours out of that day.
Jarmila typed in the coordinates and let Kuba enjoy his horror slasher on his laptop in the break room. The observatory's canopy opened and the telescope painfully slowly moved toward the right location. The scientist saw several flickers from Earth's satellites but not the one she wanted to see.
"Kuba! Do you have data from last night? Can I see it?" she yelled out and Kuba yelled back an affirmative without getting up.
Jarmila went to another computer and pulled up the history log. Fortunately, the telescope had been set to pan over the area late previous night. Jarmila saw a flicker on that data as well but at a different time than when she observed it. This suggested a possible new pulsar which fit right into her research.
Pulling up the data directly, she sat down and started analyzing it. Her theory went right out the window when she realized the flicker had moved. It wasn't where she expected it. The spectronomy showed that the object had been closer to Earth than was possible. And the object had moved several light minutes -- again an impossibility.
She submitted this data to be further analyzed by the institute after watching those same two spots for another hour. She left home elated that she had found something different, something new but defeated because she could not figure out what.
The first announcements and discussions filled the following year from night to night. A great recangle descended toward Earth from the skies, keeping an orbit synchronous with the moon's face. It spoke many different languages but always relayed the same message. The Symbiorg has invited humanity to join in a great intergalactic civilization.
The world united to give an answer but it could not decide. They recognized that they have no idea what they're dealing with Jarmila's astronomy photos and research propelled her career and she became a head of Extra Terrestrial Intelligent Life Research.
Symbiorg and assimilation sounded scary to everyone. A peace treaty sounded acceptable to most. But religious sects and smaller governments all over the world felt that the floating monument was a trap.
Jarmila Moravec's team sent out signals to the main ship they discovered at the edge of the solar system but the response came from the flying rectangle instead. Dereck, the leader of the peaceful mission, had made themself known.
They answered all questions that were posed to it. A World Council formed to streamline this process. And the world deliberated like they have not before. The rectangle and its deep dark surface starred at humanity as it made up its mind. Some countries took votes, some countries simply decided, and others hung in the balance. There were no rules about what the entire planet will do but the United Nations had suddenly become the place where everyone looked.
Jarmila had given presentations before the UN many a time. The ambassadors tried their best to understand all the nuances of the situation. One of the grim realities had been the fact that humanity was purposely cut off from the rest of the galaxy and that did not sit well with many.
"Miss Moravec, do we have any data to understand what the universe really looks like? Beyond this -- I believe you have called it -- coccoon, what does everything look like?"
Jarmila responded immediately, "We have requested that data from Dereck but they did not give us anything of value. We cannot see the coccoon and as such, we are not able to detect where our solar system and visibility ends and the uncensored universe starts."
The many different sides argued and they often asked Dereck how long humanity had to answer and Dereck always answered the same, as long as they need. However, there was a soft limit that Dereck mentioned which shook everyone to their core.
"We have to cancel the mission, Martin, the UN council thinks it's too risky," Jarmila videocalled NASA who had been preparing to launch a new type of satellite into space. One that would seek out the hypothetical coccoon's edge and possibly peek through, "And honestly, so do I. We have specific instruct--"
"I know about the instructions but don't you feel claustrophobic by all of this?" Martin frowned.
"What I feel is that --"
"And don't you agree that it's unfair? We have to give a blind response without knowing what's really beyond?"
"Martin, philosophy aside we have to --"
"It's just ridiculous. We can't just stop --"
"MARTIN," Jarmila yelled out at him, "If you refuse to let me finish one goddamn sentence, then consider this call done. I am giving you a heads up as a professional courtesy --"
"What you're doing is --," Martin was seeping with anger but Jarmila did not care, she promptly hung up and sighed.
She rubbed her eyes, it was late at night. She had other calls to make but she no longer felt up to it. She sent out her prepared emails and went to bed.
Travel beyond Pluto had been strictly prohibited as long as humanity as a whole was still deciding about the Symbiorg. Dereck had made it clear, while Earth still deliberates, they cannot venture beyond the solar system. Dereck arrived at precisely the point when humanity would start to venture beyond their small planetary neighborhood.
Jarmila had sketches that she flipped through and more data coming in from a satellite that had stayed on Pluto. No indiciation of where the coccoon might be but theory suggested that it must be somewhere just beyond where Voyager I had ventured out to. Somewhere out in interstellar space but not too far into it.
The scientist yawned and went to sleep even as the response emails poured in. Every mission had been cancelled. Every except for one.
Even Jarmila did not know about the mission. The Tourist I launched from a moon on Jupiter, a moon that sat opposite both Dereck's ship and the probe they had sent out. It shadowed planets, moons, and meteors giving out no radio signature until it was safe again and away from the prying eye of the Symbiorg. People relayed messages from the Tourist via various observatories and bases across the solar system.
It took years until the Tourist made it to Pluto and to the exoplanets but when it did, Jarmila finally heard about it.
"We found the coccoon!" Martin from NASA exclaimed, "It's out there and it's tangile. We were easily able to detect its presence and just as we expected, it exists as an invisible barrier just beyond Voyager I's last known position. It must be like an alarm to let Symbiorg know when a species achieved space-faring capability."
"We had explicit orders not to do it, Martin. The council will be furious. And who knows how Dereck will respond. We don't even --"
"But we did it, Jarmila!"
Jarmila gritted her teeth, she could not stand talking to the American and being constantly cut off. Email, she thought, I'll just email him next time but knowing Martin, he'll read the first sentence, answer that, and ignore the rest.
"Don't bring me into it," she told him back in a terse tone, "I did not agree to this --"
"We're all part of this."
"I don't want to hear another word about it. I'm leaving and --"
"Jarmila, calm down," Martin laughed but Jarmila hung up and made sure to ignore any of Martin's attempts to contact her.
Dereck received communication from their subordinates across the ship. None were distinct separate organisms but they were all distinct enough that communication between them was buffered. It did not happen instantenously nor did it happen automatically.
The humans had breached the coccoon and looked beyond the veil. Dereck looked worried and eyed his mission protocol. Breaching the coccoon could result in contact break off -- and the destruction of any space-faring technology.
It had been a harsh practice but Dereck reminded themself that it worked out every time. No casualties, just setting back research. The probe had revealed all major sites of propellant mining, all major sites of engine manufacture, and all researches bases -- even the "secret" ones. The probe had enough time to enter the world wide communications network.
Dereck could cut them off any second. But they waited. They probed the coccoon but only with a probe. Should they destroy it? Would that be a deterrent enough?
The deliberation had already been taking longer than in any other cases. Dereck grew impatient when Earth had made another rotation around its star. The humans sent out several more probes to map out the sector. Dereck wasn't happy about it.
They let its cohabitants on the ship know that they would have to make a decision soon. However, just as Dereck said it, an alarm went off. There was an attack on the probe.
Jarmila held her breath as the news broke. Some faction had attacked the probe. World leaders sent messages to the probe, denouncing the attack, sending planes to protect the probe so that no one could touch nor harm the enormous black rectangle in the sky.
But it did not matter. Dereck transmitted a message, listing humanity's offenses against Symbiorgs peaceful arrival. Dereck mentioned the probes piercing the coccoon. They mentioned the attack, the long deliberation, even the probes that had observed their own ship. They discussed the hidden bases.
Humanity's secrets and slyness had been exposed.
Jarmila could not imagine the ramifications of such an action. Would Symbiorg leave forever? Would they be stuck in the coccoon forever? Would they be destroyed? Just what would happen?
The news theorized and then, the attacks began.
Dereck took no pleasure in doing so but the black rectangle had been ordered to dispose of humanity's spacecrafts, manufacturing plants, and research centers. It even disposed of aircrafts, testing facilities, and any satellites in its vicinity.
The destruction continued on their mass communication network where physics research was erased, schematics, plans, and even videos were all wiped out. The virus worked its way through each and every connected machine. It then stood guard for any attempts to recover that information.
Dereck left a final message and disappeared, leaving behind an apocalypse.
Just two years later, Jarmila made it on television, again. She stood in front of the old UN council to discuss the exciting news that a whole ninety nine percent of data already been restored to the vast human knowledge.
Jarmila had organized the hunt for knowledge early on using her Research Center's unaffected machines to start a brand new network -- one parallel to the old Internet. The old Internet stayed plagued by the virus. A single online message to someone else mentioning Rocketry or Astrophysics was erased before it even sent.
And those that tried to fight the virus would be re-affected as soon as they rejoined the network.
Yet, Jarmila Moravec had distinguished herself for creating an ad-hoc mesh network that ended up covering the entirety of the planet -- and the Internet had been turned off just a decade later.
The effort had been accelerated by the fact that many apocalypse-fearing people had built underground shelters, complete with vast libraries and backups of humanity's knowledge. The latest and most important textbooks. Not only that, but they kept copies of copies of copies, on different media formats, none networked, and some even locked in safes.
Dereck couldn't have known about the power of paranoia on humans. For once, Jarmila welcomed the doomsayers because they were right this time.
Manufacturing plants were being rebuilt and humanity worked together as it never had before. They had a common enemy and a real-life clock that counted down their return.
What surprised everyone had been the discovery that the black rectangle did not use some engimatic energy blasts to destroy everything. It used projecticles that burned brightly as it was activated. The remnants had been found, along with alien technology that scientists and politicians wanted to study.
Jarmila never got her hands on any of the projectiles but she had the pleasure of compiling the information and sending it into her knowledge network.
The projectiles carried fuel that could be made abundant. It could transform any silica it came into contact with, into more of itself. The fuel itself could not be analyzed sufficiently but the running theory had been a sort of molecular radioactivity that rearranged silica molecules to be the same as the fuel itself.
In a matter of years, the fuel was used everywhere and by everyone. Every household had a a "fermenter" for electricity. Entire house grids disappeared. In a funny turn of events, beachy cities became energy and innovation centers. Desert towns grew exponentially and Sahara became an endless mine for energy.
The fuel burned cleanly and eventually broke back down to silica and oxygen after enough time.
Decades flew by quickly. Directors changed in institutions. New institutions and studies arose while others withered away as humanity progressed. People still faced many internal problems but the focus stayed. And the fuel equalized humanity because energy meant wealth. The fuel had been abundant and so had been silica.
In the early days of the fuel discovery, scientists spread the fuel across the globe before any regulation could stop them.
Other developments emerged from the projectiles. New propulsion methods, new metal alloys, and a wealth of information for alternate circuitry architectures for electronics.
It did not take long for people to return to space. It took even less time to capture the probe rectangle and mimic any of its signals back home.
A base had been setup on Mars where researchers discovered alternate fuel which the alien fuel converted to when exposed to the different silicates the planet had to offer.
Three hundred years after the Symbiorg appeared, we are ready, Jarmila Moravec thought. Dereck would come back and weigh in on humanity, again. Humanity was prepared; however, they were not prepared in the way Symbiorg would them to. That much people had gleaned from their encounter.
Now people waited and they would be ready. No one dared to venture out of the coccoon and humans worked on the principle that it was visually impenetrable both ways, hence Dereck's ship having to be within the coccoon to operate their probe.
Jarmila stood at the bridge of a diplomatic space barge that hovered close to where the Dereck had entered the Solar System. She commanded all within and their job had been to establish a peace treaty but one that worked in the favor of Earth. The several hundred other crafts scattered across the Solar System had been a natural technological evolution. Cheap fuel, cheap energy, and cheap production means meant that not only did humanity, as individuals, prosper but humanity as a whole had wealth they could use to protect itself from the Symbiorg.
Dereck arrived as everyone had predicted.
"Open a channel directly to the Symbiorg vessel," Jarmila had commanded. An indicator let her know that her microphone was active.
"Welcome, Dereck," she started, "We are pleased to see you fulfill on your promise to return."
The channel crackled but Dereck did not reply. Instead, they opened fire on all vessels in its surroundings.
Okay, this is the first time this has ever happened, Dereck muttered. I hate that I have to do this, they told themself, but it has to happen. The other parts of the crew agreed and with the unanomous vote, Dereck's ship fired on all Earth satellites.
It had been a prime breach for a non-Symbiorg civilization to use Symbiorg technology. The humans may not have realized it, but they were burning parts of the Symbiorg organism itself. The Symbiorg organism, which included Dereck, interconnected innumerable organisms together and parts of its biology had been creating fuel cells. Every Symbiorg body used and create the fuel within itself. Even the ship itself was part Symbiorg.
What the humans were doing was unthinkable. Large energy beams penetrated the hulls of the observing probes that quickly swarmed of their position. Dereck shut off any communication the humans tried to send.
The protocol had been clear. If a civilization attempts to harness Symbiorg technology, dismantle them completely. Survivors could be left behind but otherwise, it meant xenocide. Dereck exhaled deeply. They knew why this had been done. Every time the Symbiorg tried to reason with a hostile species that somehow got ahold of Symbiorg's technology, things escalated into a war. They simply could not leave the civilization alone with so much power without the binds to Symbiorg.
They sent information to hire-ups for a quick confirmation and the confirmation came quickly. Several probes launched from Dereck's ship and headed to any colonized outpost. The battle should be short, Dereck reasoned.
Unsurprised by the move, Jarmila asked her ship to respond in like and several beams destroyed the black rectangles before they had a chance to jump. The Symbiorg ship was suddenly joined by a dozen others of similar calliber. They launched their own offensive but humans did not budge nor did they incur any substantial losses. Communications had still been cut when several of the dozen ships were destroyed in counter-attack.
Dozens of other vessels came to reinforce the enemy but they proved to be of little trouble. Each one was quickly either disabled or destroyed by human ships. And the human ships barely broke a sweat.
Scientists had enough time to figure out how to use the fuel to create impenetrable shields. Impenetrable shields become projectiles that could not be diverted but only stopped. Projectiles became self-propelling missiles. And the missiles developed to work as cluster bomb weaponry.
The Symbiorg countered with their energy beams and the projectiles similar to the ones that landed on Earth, three hundred years prior. Those could be detonated before hitting any ship, deflected, or simply enveloped in an energy barrier until they exploded.
"Get ready," Jarmila commanded her ship, "Fire."
A missile headed toward Mercury, jumping through space and arriving seconds later. The missile found a spot on the southern pole where it blasted off a chunk of the planet. The coccoon faded and humanity finally saw what the galaxy looked like. The veil fell.
Dereck screamed through the noise and the shaking. The humans had disabled their engines and burned their fuel. Reinforcements arrived in waves but the humans not only defended themselves, but they fully prevailed having taken no casualties beyond their automated satellites and probes. Dereck scanned through the available weaponry options and fired cluster missiles. But despite the thousands of small explosives, not a single one made it anywhere close to any of the human ships.
"How is this possible?" Dereck's higher-up yelled into the channels for every Symbiorg to hear.
Dereck retreated behind the military ships that had arrived to provide aid. Then, Dereck scanned through blackbox surveillance of the solar system and there he saw it.
They called back to the higher up, a coordinator of some sort. And told them everything.
Dereck told them how humans had used the previous encounter to collect residual matter from both Dereck's ship and the remnants of the missiles which had destroyed humanity's space-faring technologies. They grew the matter because a growth-inducing type of silica had been hyper-abundant on their planet.
"Hyper-abundant? Just how much?"
Dereck swallowed, "Half the weight of the planet."
Silence followed, everyone had listened.
"And you're sure it's the growth-inducing variant?"
Another silence followed. The billows of missiles and attacks crashed against Dereck's ship and they had to retreat further. Emergency military dispatch had been issued. Military vessels from the entirety of the galaxy jumped toward the Solar System.
"And they've learned to hardness it?"
Dereck described to the coordinator how the humans had eclipsed Symbiorg's technological levels because of the abundance of the silica. And while Symbiorg could retrieve such an amount scouring a whole galaxy, humans were standing right on top of it. Well, not anymore. The humans focused on weaponry in their research -- weaponry and warfare. Having a sole focus on that topic, they had surpassed anything Symbiorg could do.
Symbiorg had no requirement to advance their weaponry because they were already vastly ahead of any other species. It would have wasted everyone's time. But humans were driven.
They mined indiscriminately their crust for silica and migrated billions of people to Mars and to an artificial Mars moon which had served as a space station as well as an attack vessel. But they never stopped. Uncertain of what Symbiorg could bring back against them, they threw their entire lives into the project.
"Unbelievable. And you say that they violently attacked the probe and the coccoon the first time you met them?"
Dereck confirmed that.
Another silence followed.
The coordinator broadcasted on all channels again, "We were commanded to retreat. The military will take over fully."
Dereck turned and jumped immediately, just as the coccoon's barrier disappeared.
Ludmil Novak's ship hurtled through space at several times the speed of light. Him and his crew of five crossed through the solar system, then past it until they hit the coccoon a single second after it disappeared. Further and further away they moved, crossing any previous record of human reach. The ship automatically deployed small probes that created a network along with fourty one other identical ships. The probes would created a three dimensional surveillance network as well as a communication relay.
As soon as they departed from the superluminal starcraft, the probes activated and started sending signals back to Earth so that everyone could see what the world beyond the coccoon really looked like.
"There are millions of ships," Novak noted, "Against our few thousand."
"No worries, Novak. Just focus on your job. This is exactly what we predicted," the Command responded. Novak kept an eye on the luminal radar which fired hyperspeed particles in all directions and then collected their positioning so as to indicate any stray large masses -- the masses of the Symbiorg ships.
"The bandwidths are busy, Command. All of the stars from our immediate vicinity, including Alpha Centauri, are emitting signals on various frequencies."
"Okay," Command sighed, "it's what we thought would happen but I never thought our immediate neighbors could hold life."
Novak hurtled toward Alpha Centauri, the vehicle propelling in speed until it could lapse a whole light year every few minutes. The dispesion of the probes started to dissipate. The counter quickly ran down a zero when the ship deccelerated and looped around a star to launch back to Earth.
As they did, the ship verified probe locations and even fixed several problematic ones on the way back.
"Great job Novak. Commend your crew," Command signaled them when they finished their braking ellipse around the Solar System. The crew had covered a straight line of several thousand light years.
The Symbiorg retreated after several years of fighting where it was clearly visible that humans were holding back, hoping to negotiate peace but have a show of strength as well. They did not wish to negotiate, they never did after an attack. An attack was an attack, Dereck thought, and it didn't matter why it happened nor what people wished to do after. An attack costing casualties could not be taken back or negotiated.
What humans were proposing was non-sensical and a trap. A trap that would eventually spring -- whether it was immediately when they sent down diplomats, or years later after they had reformed their military.
Yet, they prolonged the war longer than any that Symbiorg has waged in recent history. Humans pushed the line several times over time. Once to encompass all of Solar System's main planets, another to surround the exoplanets and debris as well, and then a third time so that they held their border beyond the solar sphere and could presumably observe the Universe without the interference of their star.
Dereck wondered if their power had been a ruse. Why hold the line for so long and showing barely any effort? No probe could penetrate their border but theirs could penetrate Symbiorg's defenses. Could that have been the peak of their power? Perhaps their resources are depleting too quickly, Dereck mutter, but then, Dereck did the math and that just could not be true -- still though, at the rate they had last witnessed, the humans will be completely out of fuel in a thousand years.
They ran other theories but could not pin it down.
After that final push, humans solidified their line and no longer cared to push further but they could be mounting a final attack. The truth was impossible to tell, especially when they reactivated their cocoon but turned it the opposite way so that now, the Symbiorg only caught a small glimpse of reality.
Dereck attended yet another meeting to discuss how to proceed but no one knew nor had a solid plan. Investments poured into weapons research, hoping to outwit the humans. And logically, the Symbiorg should prevail but somehow, humans stay one step in front of them.
Lukas Svobodny sat down to face the United Nations. Obsolete name, granted, but it still served its purpose. The interplanetary civilization needed to have some place to gather and discuss humanity as a whole. The UN took that role and kept that role since the pre-Symbiorg era.
"We are facing a crisis," he started speaking, scanning the room, "Half the Silica that powers our technology is gone and we predict the rest will be consumed within the next thousand years."
One lifetime, Lukas thought, not very long.
"Depleting our silica reserves means that not only will we lose the main fuel which powers all of our technology but that we have destroyed the only self-sustaining planet in the solar system.
"As good as Mars is, and it is a great place, it still heavily relies on importer Silica. So do the belt colonies, and other bases. Once we run out, there's no way to get more. Once we run out, we'll have destroyed our home planet."
Some nods agreed with Lukas. Others shook their heads in frustration with the situation. Yet others made jokes to each other, whispering and making light of the situation.
"The other significant threat is the Symbiorg. Should they ever find out we depleted our silica, they will come, and they will destroy us."
Nods continued. The jokes were gone. Even those the denied the silica shortage and the impact of mining it, took the Symbiorg as a serious threat. Because they were all there and they saw how the Symbiorg acted.
Lukas finished his talk and upon checking the news, he saw the usual debates. A thousand years is a long time off, some argued, why worry now? Others pushed for alternative energy sources -- including harvesting Sun plasma ejections. Yet others claimed it was a hoax -- or that other planets aside from Earth held the same silica. But there was no evidence of that, Lukas thought.
It went round and round and Lukas felt his voice extinguished by the layers of denial, bureaucracy, and even greed.
"We have to send in another probe," Dereck argued, "It's been way too long."
"They still have their military ships at the perimeter, ready to blast anything out of the sky."
"I think we can bypass them," Dereck argued back. The Coordinator had been firm. They did not care much for the quiet but the quiet had been better than losing. It was an uneasy time. No one knew what the humans planned and when they'd be back. They could attack at any moment and most were baffled as to why they had not.
Symbiorg still struggled to catch up technologically but they were getting better.
"I can't ask anyone to risk their lives for a chance like that."
"I'll go. By myself. We can spare the ship."
The Coordinator nodded and let Dereck prep their ship for the voyage.
The military ships did not move nor did they care about Dereck's probe ship. May be it was too small, maybe too far away, or maybe the humans were so arrogant as to let the enemy in and vaporize them behind the walls of the coccoon, so that no one would see the carnage.
Dereck did not like the unknown. The whole affair had been confusing but they needed to see what was going on. Humans had slowly gone silent over several millenia since the first conflict. Their massive battle ships cruised around the coccoon and the heliosphere in strategic patterns.
Dereck counted down until their ship crossed the coccoon.
Within, they saw more battleships -- but none moving. A quick scan of the Solar System showed machines occupying every section of the system. Every planet had satellites in its orbit. Every major moon, even the asteroid belt had been occupied. But no energy signatures.
Dereck pushed forward, and sent out small probes which returned with the same information. Machines, ships, satellites everywhere but no humans.
Finally, Dereck turned toward Earth, made a small jump and found the planet deserted except for a few small encampments inhabitated by a few hundred people at most each.
Not knowing what to make of it, Dereck turned toward Jupiter and turned off the coccoon. They had been catious but no ship followed theirs. No weapon fired, nothing scanned them.
"Coordinator, the humans are largely gone," Dereck said and the Coordinator was speechless.
"The Solar Mystery still holds until today," the teacher told her students, "The Symbiorg collective, as it was known back then, searched high and low but could not find the human bodies. The fleet did not detect any craft leaving, and the humans that stayed behind had built a primitive society eager to join the Symbiorg.
"Some conspiracies believe that the first ship that visited the Solar System had planted some bomb, but there had been none. Nor was there any indication that humans had built a different sort of transport undetectable to the Symbiorg and the researchers that arrived afteward."
Xi raised their hand, "Will we ever find the lost humans?"
The teacher shook their head, "I don't believe so. Much time had gone into finding the lost humans but no new evidence of the cause of their disappearance could be found."