Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

The Shian are a spacefaring race. They are both reasonably telepathic and fairly omniscient: they are also our allies. We – that is, the human race, nothing to do with me personally – built a machine that taps the same frequencies as a Shian biological relay, the natural structure which grants them their telepathy. Apparently, this surprised them. Shian ships blinked into existence all around the earth. They batted away the missiles and the more exotic close-orbit defences that we’d set up, secure in the knowledge that we honestly didn’t know any better. They learnt the language, set up an embassy, and started paying attention to us, in much the same way a teacher pays especial attention to a particularly precocious child.

The Shian were obviously better than us. It wasn’t long before they set us up on the interstellar scene, putting us in touch with their other contacts.

This helped our growing racial inferiority complex no end.

Out of all the contacted species, humanity is physically the least imposing, the shortest lived, and has the dullest senses. We’re not especially bright. In our own sphere, we are a match for most of the minds out there. But as soon as the higher-order physics that the Shian dabble in are brought to the table, our best scientists are suddenly like mewling kittens: confused, worried and scared.

The only thing we seem to have going for us is a certain adaptability and a capacity for survival. Naturally, we wouldn’t need those traits if we could put a one of those automated nomad manufactories in orbit. Or if we had a functional Shian dark drive to reverse-engineer. Or even a working nanoforge. That’s the butt of a lot of jokes in the commercial sectors, I tell you – every damn species seems to get a kick out of our inability to create and stabilise nanomachines.

If you ever see a Nomad on a refuge base, watch them closely. They walk with a kind of jerking shudder. Now, you need to see them in a nonhuman environment to know that the jerk-shudder isn’t just the way they walk. I eventually figured it out. It’s the way they laugh. Our all-environments, everything-proof, top-of-the-line-in-every-field bases are a running joke.

And of course, every species is guaranteed a permanent patent on every one of their native technologies. Not that humanity has much that needs protecting. All the patents mean is that we can only afford to lease extraterrestrial techs, rather than licence them outright.

Anyway. I was making a regular cargo run between Asylum and Third Eye, both of which are human-administered refuge bases in the thin strip of space between the Ekkt and Shian polities. Now, I’m used to working with Shian lossless drives: they work, every time. The junker that I had been assigned was a retrofit. An old Shian Swifthull with a native terran jumpdrive.

Shian propulsion tech is of somewhat superior quality to ours. Shian drives tend to jump the whole ship, rather than just the drive section.

Drifting on my own, with the atmosphere slowly leaking from my capsule, I finally began to get the joke.


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