Alone Together Prose in Astra Planeta | World Anvil
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The winners of the 2024 Worldbuilding Awards have been announced, and Alone Together won the category of Best Article!!! I am so immensely honored to be chosen by the denizens of World Anvil as one of the best worldbuilders on the site! Congratulations to my fellow winners and nominees!!!

Alone Together

This piece won Best Article in the 2024 Worldbuilding Awards!
This essay was originally published to the astranet journal One Small Step by an anonymous author on October 3, 2745 CE. It has since been reprinted in many well-known literary collections and has been entered into the USSC Cultural Heritage Library's Keystone Post-Contact Works collection.
  Every now and then, someone will ask, "why is it still called first contact?" They think they are clever, apparently, by pointing out that we already know intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, and so it should simply be called 'contact.' But it is clear that they do not understand the weight these words carry.   Far back in 2145, humankind made first contact on a small, airless, inner moon of Uranus. Except... no one was there to greet us. All we found were the remains. Within a week, our understanding of life in the universe had gone from hopeful optimism to somber concern: had we really been so close to contact, only for our elder and only counterparts to vanish? Research on the ruins revealed that the ancient starfarers had wiped themselves out in a catastrophic civil conflict, and we feared what that meant for us. We resolved, then, that we would do better, not only for ourselves but for the ones who had come before us and lost their way. We had given up one kind of loneliness —that of simple ignorance— for another, far worse kind of loneliness: that of the sole survivor.   Our loneliness was not to last, fortunately. In 2191, the crew of the Arete mission to Proxima Centauri encountered a species of lifeform on the frigid moon Calypso which exhibited unusual intelligence, and in time discovered the great settlements they inhabited. After two years of study, the Arete explorers established rudimentary two-way communication with the Calypsians and grew a conversational relationship with the people of one nearby settlement. Humankind was overjoyed: here, at last, were the interstellar neighbors we had longed for.   But eventually the Arete mission had to return to Earth, and the Calypsians would not achieve interstellar radio transmission for a hundred more years. Even once they were able to communicate with us across the great void, we found that our species were too different to have much in common aside from scientific interest. Thus, we were faced once more with a new and uniquely tragic kind of loneliness —almost that of estranged cousins.   In 2220, our prayers seemed to be answered at last by a stray radio signal from Tau Ceti. Though it took time, we were able to decipher its meaning and sent a return message, followed by a probe. The initial course of contact was slow, as is always the case with remote contact from across the emptiness. Over patient years of interaction, we learned how to communicate with the skae, and eventually sent a crewed mission to their homeworld of Ra'na: Andromeda One, the first of many.   We discovered the skae were a younger civilization than us, by several centuries, and so took responsibility for teaching them to be more like us. We taught them the secrets of nature and technology that they had not yet uncovered- of black holes and quarks, of the microchip and the fusion reactor. They accepted our gifts with wonder and gratitude, and in turn taught us their ways of terraformation: new methods to accelerate the healing of our own world and transform others from dead waste to bountiful gardens. Together we founded a Coalition, to unite all civilizations seeking starflight under the common purposes of curiosity and betterment. But although this was everything humanity had ever wanted, we still felt the pangs of loneliness: the burden of the elder and mentor.   It was our good fortune, then, that elder civilizations were watching us. Just a decade after founding the Coalition, Earth received a radio message from the star Epsilon Indi. It was a direct greeting, excited and hopeful. "We are shyxaure of Delvasi and ziirpu of Viirvv. We saw you," they said, "and you have done well. We have ached to reach out for centuries, but worried over what would follow if we did. The alliance you have forged with the people of Tau Ceti is assurance that we are, truly, alike in thought. We are proud to call you neighbors, and hope to soon call you friends."   While we waited for their embassy ship to arrive as promised, humanity reveled in passing a test we had not known was ongoing. We had proven ourselves worthy of contact, worthy of inclusion into the interstellar community... and yet, a new loneliness seeped through the cracks of our joy. We had anguished in isolation for so long, all the while our cosmic seniors watched from not so far away. For hundreds of years, we had not realized there were new friends just beyond the horizon. And so, in secret, we mourned this loneliness: that of what could have been.   In the centuries that have followed we have discovered even more sapient beings around us: the rimor of the Eridani Network, the Xib Zjhar of Xiilu Qam, the pluuniima of Niima. We have even recognized and reached out to the fledgeling sophonts of our own home planet: orcas, crows, elephants. We are connected to each other in many ways, but the most important of these is simply that we share the gift of sapience. In this vast and quiet universe, any fellow mind is infinitely precious because we are the only ones, as far as we know. Every contact event is first contact, all over again, ​because every new sophont species that we encounter will expand our horizons just enough for us to wonder: "was that last contact? Is there still someone else out there, or is that the end of roll call? Are we alone together, now?"   This, the grandest and most poignant of all mysteries, is why the motto of the Coalition is "solum habemus invicem et stellas" – "we only have each other and the stars."


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Dec 15, 2023 21:58 by Makenzie Turney

I love the examination of the different kinds of loneliness Humanity experiences! This is an amazing article, I love it!

Dec 16, 2023 01:49 by Doug Marshall

Thank you!! I spent a lot of time thinking about the psychosocial effects of each first contact event on the human species, and I started to realize that some shape of loneliness is sort of inevitable no matter who we meet. The universe is so big. Even with friends, it's still empty enough for the silence to gnaw at our hearts.

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Dec 15, 2023 22:04 by Diane Morrison

Thank you for bringing this to my stream for a showcase! This was *outstanding*. I want to explore your world now and I embrace this beautiful and optimistic view of whom we might share the universe with.

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga. Mother of Bunnies, Eater of Pickles, Friend of Nerds, First of her Name.
Dec 16, 2023 01:43 by Doug Marshall

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this!! I pour so much of myself into my work, and hearing that others love it as much as I do makes me very very happy! Welcome to Astra Planeta, friend: it's all uphill from here. :D

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Jan 5, 2024 03:15 by Devin

I love this! This makes me want to delve deeper into the sci-fi world you are creating for us...and as a bonus, it's so beautifully laid out and the light/dark options for layout are so neat.

Jan 9, 2024 08:35 by Doug Marshall

Thank you very much!! I'm really glad to hear it's so enticing, hehehe.   The light/dark mode options are a built-in feature of the prose template, actually! I've done quite a bit of tweaking to make it look nice with my custom theme, though I haven't quite worked out how to perfect the footer section for the light option.

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Jan 26, 2024 22:29 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Love how you've written this and to see the different relationships humanity formed with other species <3

To see what I am up to: my Summer Camp 2024.
Jan 26, 2024 22:41 by Doug Marshall

Thank you very much!! :3

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Mar 23, 2024 15:57 by Chris L

This is amazing, definitely gave me echoes of David Brin's "Uplift Universe" which is one of my favorite series. Followed your world based on the strength of your writing.

Learn about the World of Wizard's Peak and check out my award winning article about the Ghost Boy of Kirinal!

Mar 24, 2024 06:20 by Doug Marshall

Oh, that's very high praise, thank you so much!! I have not read Brin's work yet, but it is very high on my list. I'm very flattered by the comparison! ^w^   Ironically enough, though, at this point I've decided fairly definitively that there are no uplifts in this setting (unless you count artificial virtual sapients, which were sort of an accident)! The nature of consciousness and sapience is still not fully understood here, so directly engineering uplifts would be extremely difficult if not impossible. The listed Terragenid examples in this article are under the protection and study of humanity, but humans are unable and largely unwilling to directly accelerate their evolution.

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Apr 17, 2024 08:42 by Kerry

....literal chills... I never considered different types of loneliness, let alone so many.

Apr 18, 2024 02:42 by Doug Marshall

Heheh, yep, it definitely kind of took me by surprise when I was looking for the common emotional thread across all contact events. Space is big, and sophonts are few and far between out there. Glad you enjoyed it!

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May 19, 2024 07:51 by Annie Stein

Congratulations on winning Best Article! You might've been surprised, but I wasn't. This left such a strong impact on me. So well deserved!

Creator of Solaris -— Come Explore!
May 20, 2024 02:56 by Doug Marshall

Thank you so much Nnie!!! That means a lot to me! ^w^

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