(or, Another Solution to the Fermi Paradox)

It was hungry. There had been little to feed on in the void between one spiral arm and another and what dark matter it had managed to scoop into its maw had barely sustained it on the crossing. Still, it had set itself this challenge – to seek out new life and new civilizations, distant from the crowded galactic core, where they, in all their myriad forms and habitats, were crammed together and it was spoilt for choice. Here, on the edge, sentience was harder to discern, for all sorts of reasons. Fewer stars for one thing, obviously. Which also meant fewer opportunities to detect planetary transits, despite the wide range of resources that were available. 

Once suitable candidates had been located, however, any relevant electro-magnetic patterns could easily be separated from the background emissions. Once that was done the evolutionary stage reached by the local civilization could be carefully evaluated. That was another aspect of the challenge – if the first constituted the “where,” this could be seen as the “which.” A civilization too early in its development, rooting around in the dirt and putting up stone constructions to mark the movements of the local star, well, that was hardly worth noting. On the other hand, one that had leapt out of its particular gravitational well and had started hopping between systems constituted a more interesting proposition. But also one that could be tricky to deal with, especially if there was a strong military element, inclined to regard any alien interaction as a threat.

What it wanted was a civilization that sat comfortably somewhere in the middle of that developmental spectrum and one of the few advantages of being that far out, galactically speaking, was that despite the paucity of candidates, the majority of what there were did hit that particular sweet spot. Or would, by the time it reached them, time being relative of course. And indeed, it had found one that looked perfect, tucked away in a nice little stellar neighborhood composed mostly of small red dwarves, with a sprinkling of their white cousins, and a handful of main sequencers. Which meant both hungers could be satisfied. 

Pausing to fill up on degenerate electrons torn off one of the nearby white dwarves, it pondered its next steps. This was the third and intellectually most fulfilling part of the challenge – the “how.” It recalled what had happened with its last target: situated in the general vicinity of a decently sized black hole, a small nudge to a neutron star had done the job so that as the tidal forces ripped the star apart, a blast of gamma radiation had been created which had, not long after – as it measured such things – wiped out all life in the region. Of all the engagements, it was particularly pleased with that one, not least because it had taken a lot of skill and planning to calculate the relativistic dynamics so that the star was destroyed at just the right point in space-time and to ensure that the radiation was appropriately collimated and directed. 

There were no such fortuitous circumstances here, however. Of course, one of the brown dwarves could easily be sent bowling through the system, disrupting orbits and generally creating havoc, but that seemed a crude way of going about things. And unnecessarily showy, liable to also raise a flag in certain quarters. It was mindful of the fact that others of its kind took a dim view of its activities, and strongly suspected that efforts were underway to call a halt to them. Indeed, it fully expected there to be some form of Reckoning in its not-so-distant future but until then, well…

And there it was! The answer to the question “how?” By increasing magnification across the modalities of its sensor array and then overlaying maps produced in complementary parts of the various spectra, it had spotted an asteroid belt, conveniently placed so that with just a flick of energy, a cascade of collisions would generate a satisfying inner-system bombardment. It could already imagine the panic spiking through the radio waves, the attempts to destroy or even just nudge the bigger rocks before impact, the frantic efforts to escape…All doomed to be too little, too late, of course, and then the quiet of aeons would be restored to this little system in a small corner of the galaxy, with the ice giants and gas planets and that pretty blue and green pebble, cruising along in what the local inhabitants liked to think of as “the habitable zone.” 

With an inner sigh of satisfaction, it began its approach.

— Steven French is a retired academic, living in west Yorkshire and has had pieces published in 365Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, Idle Ink and elsewhere.

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