I was listening to a video about the Fermi paradox today (linked in the random stuff we saw on YouTube Redux’ thread) and it got me thinking about what might limit the expansion of a civilisation, which led my easily wandering mind to the fiction below.
“The year 2450 was a year of both celebration and consternation. Thirty years prior, the GTVA had discovered ‘The Codex’, a map and catalogue of every system explored by the Ancients, and the location of every stable, navigable jump node within. This finding spurred the greatest wave of subspace enabled exploration since the discovery of subspace itself. Within decades the territory explored by the GTVA had expanded tenfold, and no Shivans had been encountered since the second incursion.
By 2450 we had explored every system in The Codex, and sent probes through every catalogued jump node. We were on the brink of exploring beyond the former territory of the Ancients - until we realised there was nowhere else to go.
In a system at the absolute periphery of the Ancients’ former empire, we found no outbound jump nodes. “No matter.” we thought, “Dead ends such as these are not uncommon”. But this discovery was mirrored in the next peripheral system we explored. And the next. And the next. Soon we realised that in all these peripheral systems there were no outbound jump nodes to be found - despite our extensive searches for them. The Ancients had evidently reached this far, but seemingly could reach no further. And now it seemed we had reached the limits of our exploration as well.
Although this was not an immediate concern to the colonisation efforts - to fully colonise the systems in The Codex would be the work of centuries - it was of grave concern to the military, intelligence, and the more forward-thinking members of the government. What they were concerned about was ‘why?’. Why had the Ancients reached this far, but no further? Three main theories emerged.
One school of thought believed the Ancients had deliberately severed the outbound nodes themselves, perhaps in a failed attempt to isolate themselves from the Shivans.
The second camp believed the Shivans severed the nodes to prevent the Ancients from expanding further and to prevent the Ancients from escaping once the slaughter began.
These two camps dominated the conversation. However, a third, smaller faction voiced an altogether different hypothesis. What if those systems never had navigable nodes in the first place - because the Ancients simply had not created them yet?
It should be noted, that even now the natural processes that create jump nodes, and especially ones stable enough to navigate, remain largely unknown. Perhaps this isn’t due to gaps in our knowledge as it is usually stated. Perhaps it is because navigable jump nodes were never a natural phenomenon in the first place?
We know Knossos technology can stabilise jump nodes to the point the node remains stable even after the Knossos device is shut down or destroyed. Is it not possible then that all navigable jump nodes were made navigable in this way? We know that the Ancients had established sub-lightspeed interstellar travel long before they discovered subspace. Therefore, the Ancients would have had ample time to send ships - or perhaps Von-Neumann probes - on the decades or centuries-long trip to other systems via real space to build a Knossos at their destination. Once the Knossos was in place and a jump node stabilised - or possibly even created from scratch - a subspace node bridge could be created. Subspace travel to and from the system would then be as swift and routine as we experience it today. The Knossos device could then be dismantled for its raw materials, perhaps to either help establish the new colony, or to be used to create the probes for the next wave of expansion.
If true, this suggests we can do likewise, but that our outward expansion will likewise be limited by the speeds we can send devices out via real space, speeds which will be relativistic at best.
But this poses a difficult question - should we? Perhaps we have not encountered the Shivans again because we are isolated in this corner of the galaxy. But what if we were to open the door to territories new? What might we find waiting on the other side? Is this a risk we dare take?
I do not know what the right answer might be, but we as an alliance will inevitably need to answer it one way or another sooner or later. I hope for all our sakes that when that day comes, our answer is the right one, because heaven help us if we get it wrong.”
Memoires of a Steller Cartographer, A. Mann, October 24th 2457