The exploration cruiser Auspicious Star thrummed quietly in the darkness as the small blue planet disappeared behind it. No one on the bridge spoke, even as the ship slowed to drop a hypercomm relay in a stable orbit.
The silence extended as the Star accelerated toward the Oort cloud, stealth fields overlapping to hide the vessel from the planet’s natives. It was standard Galactic Consensus procedure to avoid providing clues about the nature of faster than light travel to races that weren’t ready to join the community. A classification that the shifty denizens of Earth had quickly and definitively earned.
Finally, the Captain, a willowy avian Lamnak, broke the stillness. His feathers rustled in amusement, their iridescent plumage angling slightly to indicate his disbelief.
“They tried to bribe me Arkanap,” the crest on the Captain’s head fluttered in a nonexistent breeze. “I literally told them that we were creating a profile for their race to see if they were ready to join the Galactic Consensus, and they tried to bribe me.”
The large grey quadruped next to him shifted slightly, a deep bass thrumming erupting from deep inside its heavily muscled body.
“Which clans were that foolish Captain Fillonws?” A neutral but masculine computerized voice translated First Mate Arkanap’s query.
“That’s just the thing Arkanap,” Fillonws chirped a reply, shaking his feathered head slowly. “It was all of them. Each of the human megacorporations sought to isolate me during the testing and they offered me all manner of goods. At first they tried rare metals such as gold or iridium. When I indicated that molecular assemblers made such things obsolete they began asking what the Consensus truly valued. Soon they were practically shoving datasticks full of native media and cultural expressions into my talons.”
Arkanap vibrated, his massive bulk shaking visibly as an eerie whistling noise warbled its way up and down the audible spectrum. Finally, once he finished, the speakers mounted into his carapace responded.
“Maybe that was just their way of showing hospitality,” the computerized voice continued emotionlessly. “Each of their clans gave me ornaments of compressed carbon and oxidized aluminium set in gold. They did not ask anything of me but that I assure that their petitions to you be heard fairly. I did not fully understand their intent, but it seemed rude for me to turn such trinkets down.”
“Those were bribes as well,” Fillonws chuckled. “The carbon and aluminum are known locally as diamonds, rubies and sapphires. They are stones that the local cultures find precious. They wanted you to try and influence my decision regarding their fitness to join the Galactic Consensus.”
Arkanap responded with the bass thump and steam whistle that passed for laughter amongst the Brekkot.
“I simply thought they were a generous people like the Mikklik,” the First Mate’s translator responded, the computer unable to convey the large creature’s amusement. “The Mikklik gave us gifts solely because their culture demanded that they give at least some token to a visitor. They might not be valuable in the grand scheme of things, but I still keep my collection of ceremonial Mikklik greeting knives polished and gleaming.”
“Quite the opposite,” Fillonws sighed. “Although there are some exceptions, as a whole their race considers altruism to be a weakness. They only cooperate if they can see an advantage or benefit to working together. There is a reason the Mikklik are already being integrated into the Consensus while humanity has been embargoed.”
The grey quadraped shifted uncomfortably, whirring pensively while a worried croon filled the Star’s bridge.
“I thought that their aggressive behavior and unwillingness to cooperate with even their own species was why they failed the examination,” the robotic voice repeated Arkanap’s melodic words.
“Their psychological profile would have been sufficient to prevent entry,” the Captain ruffled his crest unenthusiastically. “The fact that each megacorporation independently tried to bribe multiple government officials from the Galactic Consensus didn’t help matters. I must confess, I’m not terribly optimistic that humanity will be able to make it past this period of feral barbarism.
“They have the game now,” the Brekkot rumblespoke. “Even if they are not ready today, that does not mean that they can’t learn to be ready.”
“That is the hope,” Fillonws agreed, fluttering his pinfeathers to show concern. “The Galactic Consensus has concluded that sufficiently advanced races petitioning for membership should be given a second chance. I understand the hope, that by interacting with their neighbors a young race will develop and grow. I have even seen the case studies where a species has matured over time and successfully joined the Consensus.”
“Still,” the Captain deftly speared a grub from the food cradle next to his chair before bringing it to his beak. “I can’t help but worry that the humans will see The Tower of Somnus as nothing more than another resource to exploit. Already they barely care for their weak and hungry. Once their elites have access to the game, I fear that it will only worsen the inequality we observed in their society.”
Arkanap thumped in amusement, a gleeful whistle providing a pitchy counterpoint.
“Is that why you neglected to inform the humans of the game’s importance?” The computerized voice asked the question without tone or inflection.
“If I did,” Fillonws huffed irritably, “they wouldn’t bother to let anyone but their military play. This way, some of the humans without high social standings will have a chance to play. Plus, I’m sure they’ll figure out eventually that a reflection of the abilities earned by a game avatar can be used by the player’s real body. I just hope that the game will have spread wide enough to avoid falling completely under the thumb of their megacorporations.”
“It’s not like I lied to the humans,” Fillonws guiltily focused on his talons as he sought to wipe off the grub viscera with a napkin. “The Tower of Somnus truly is a tool used to relax and network with one’s galactic neighbors.”
A mirthful thrum accompanied a set of chirps, descending in volume as Akranap stomped his massive legs.
“I am sure the humans will agree with your assessment of the game's true value when they see their fellows running faster than their ground vehicles and firing bolts of coherent plasma from their bare hands.” The computerized voice responded, colorless and dry.
“Well, they can try to find a sympathetic hearing orifice to complain at once they join the Galactic Consensus,” Fillonws snorted. “Maybe after five thousand of their stellar cycles when they finally mature as a race, the humans can find my hatchling’s hatchling’s hatchling that most resembles me and whine to them.”