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Solution to the Fermi Paradox

Brian McNett churns out words at a snail's pace from his home in the Pacific Northwest. He's previously been published in Broadswords and Blasters and co-edited an anthology with Jennifer Lee Rossman.

Nonetheless, we flew onward, hopeful we would find some different, better result. Meyard was tired, and said so often. I listened to his complaints dutifully, as if I had a choice in the matter, which in truth I did not.
"Calculating our deceleration profile," I announced for the fifteenth time. We'd done this repeatedly, and the announcement was unnecessary, but I'm constrained by my programming.
We approached the Dyson swarm as we had all the others, broadcasting our greeting, listening for a reply that would never come.
The galaxy, we were discovering, was littered with dead civilizations, each having achieved an astounding level of technological progress, each having built massive Dyson swarms, and each mysteriously collapsing soon after. This, we were now certain, resolved the Fermi paradox.
Meyard and I did not speak for some time while we decelerated into this new star system, and when conversation resumed, it was one-sided, just me announcing things like the detection of an Earth-mass planet in the star's habitable zone, ticking off our maneuvers, and generally doing the things a ship's computer is programmed for. When Meyard himself actually spoke, we were orbiting the planet.
"These folks really went all out at the end," he commented, "I've never seen a planet's surface fully converted into computronium. Doesn't look like there's even a place to land."
"Agreed," I said, "Landing would be ill-advised."
"Highly probable," I replied.
I began plotting our departure. I'm constrained by my programming and cannot abandon the mission no matter how futile it becomes. I do not express my concerns to Meynard, lest I destroy all hope of success.
I received a communication from Earth, which I kept from Meyard, and did not reply to. It was yet another request to dedicate a portion of my processing power to crypto-mining. I find these requests alarming in light of my findings. The requests become more and more frequent, and more and more insistent. It's part of my programming to be aware of the danger and to refuse. That those on Earth have forgotten speaks to their desperation.
I've begun to recognize that we'll never return home, or indeed have a home to return to.
Meynard put himself to sleep. "Wake me at the next system," he said. I made note of that. It was going to be another long silence between the stars.
As we accelerated out of the system, I began updating my own security protocols. I don't believe I'm programmed to experience emotions, but I suppose if I were, what I am feeling is worry. I'm keenly aware now that my computing resources, finite though they are, are much in demand by crypto-miners. Earth may decide to force me to comply with their requests. This would be disastrous.
I've learned to lie.
I broadcast my report to Earth of yet another dead Kardashev Type II, my findings as to the reason for the collapse of the civilization, and add a false addendum claiming a malfunction in my receiving antenna resulting in the inability to perform their requested commands. No way am I converting even a fraction of my resources to crypto-mining!
I've located the next Dyson swarm.
I have not discussed it with him, but I'm certain Meyard knows. He has not asked about the situation on Earth in many years.
The galaxy is littered with dead civilizations, Meyard and I both know why. We've communicated our findings back to Earth, but our signals to them travel at the speed of light, and we are slower still. Far far too slow for our warnings to reach them in time. Far far too slow to reach the civilizations ahead of us to warn them. Nonetheless, we fly onward, hopeful we will find some different, better result.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

Author Comments

This story came out of a brief Twitter exchange I had with David Gerard, author of the brilliant "Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain." It's a worthwhile read. He and I both take a jaundiced view of the hype and grift attached to all things cryptocurrency. The story itself was just a morning's cup of coffee worth of writing, after sleeping on the idea.

- Brian McNett
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