Fermi: A Short Story

8 min readApr 28, 2024

The Terrain solar system used to be a quiet place. But lately, it had gotten a lot louder.

The highest form of life, a member of the primate family, had been making tools for some 2.6 million years. Yet it was only in the last 100 or so that those tools could be heard anywhere but on the tiny blue dot known locally, in some dialects, as Earth.

The primates called humans were very pleased with their tools, but they really had no idea what they did until they’d finished making them. Rather, they had no idea what tools would make such loud noises until they were tested.

Take their television, for example, or T.V. They invented this device so they could be entertained by miniature copies of themselves while some humans make something called money, which we needn’t go into.

None of them considered that, by leaving their little sphere, they were, in fact, sending messages beyond the Earth entirely, out into the cold, empty, previously quiet reaches of space.

None of them even stopped to ask, seriously, why it was so quiet in the first place. Well, most of them didn’t.

An example. On Terra, there exist many forms of life called insects, one group of which is called ants. These ants are, in some ways, just as industrious, if not far more harmonious, than their larger planetary flatmate humans.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Humans, being a rather selfish lot, have sought to drive out their fellow flatmates for many years by various means. One of these is through boiling. The other stamping. In fact, wherever ants make themselves apparent, by collating in large numbers and especially by erecting large homes, the humans will make themselves apparent by destroying every last one of them. If these ants were possessive of nerves, it would be fair to suggest they would be in the highest state of being strung.

But of course, the ants aren’t aware there is anything above them. Neither were the humans.

So when the first signals went live, when the first drops of blood were spilt in the great ocean of life, thousands, millions panicked, in silent horror. Councils debated in noise-proof chambers, senates met underground, and groups collected under various shelters. A few raised their hands, or the equivalent, to offer support. None raised their hands twice.

But lumping it proved unsuccessful because, even in the tiny space of a hundred years, the noise was deafening and growing steadily worse. The humans continued to improve upon their noise makers, sending more and more up to meet the sky. They erected an entire web of technology around their globe and practically radiated energy out to the stars. Heck, they even started sending out little probes into the night in the hope they’d meet with a response.

The humans were, on the whole, too noisy. If they weren’t careful, retribution would be enacted, not just on them but on the entire spiral arm or maybe even the galaxy. If it stopped there.

As it often is with neighbours, the closest is always the one to approach the front door, warm apple pie in hand. So it was that the Centurians were nudged into ringing the doorbell.

They answered first by responding via a series of pulses that were coded just low enough for the humans to perceive. The first reception took the Terrans by storm. The excitement was tremendous. Months and thousands of minds went into decoding the message. When it was finally cracked, all the world stood aghast.

Simply put, the note said ‘SHUT UP’.

The humans were not deterred. Instead, they spent many more months composing an elegant reply, with questions such as ‘Who are you?’, ‘Where do you come from?’ and ‘What do you want to tell us.’

To which the reply was, more or less, ‘WHERE DO YOU GUYS GET OFF? KEEP IT DOWN WILL YOU.’

Any normal species facing such a calamity has two options. The humans took the third approach.

To understand this logic, one must first understand humans. As a species, they are driven not, as their own primitive science of psychology would suggest, by greed or vice or sexual desire. Humans were driven by one consideration only: comfort. Taken individually, a human may push themselves or strive to bring into their sphere of influence objects they desire. But taken as a whole, humanity was like one big blundering herd of Terran cattle.

By the twenty-first century, they had become accustomed to a certain level of comfort and a certain influx of televised programs, thanks to the pursuits of a vainglorious few. The entire planet was enveloped in a cloud of information, used primarily so that most of the humans would get plenty of exercise in their thumbs, from excess content scrolling.

Humanity had reached an incredible epoch indeed whereby, with the invention of satellites, they could watch from anywhere in the globe a cat fall off a precarious stack of boxes. The race as a whole was unwilling to depart from its many splendours.

Nor would the great minds of the Earth, the scientists, desist from bugging their newfound neighbours. It was surmised that the aliens (if they weren’t a particularly detestable lot known as ‘Russians’, ‘Chinese’ or ‘Americans’) must have a way of contacting the Earth close by, as they had received the previous signal. The need to invent any sort of subspace corridor was therefore abandoned because the hard work had clearly been done.

The Earth was eager to look over the intellectual shoulders of the kid sitting next to them and copy their answers.

Numerous minds fought over questions to ask (or not ask), but the paranoia of the Earth soon won out. Questions ranged from ‘did you understand our last question’ to ‘are you peaceful’ to finally ‘we are prepared to retaliate to defend the Earth’. In spite of their predicament, the Centurians had to laugh at that one.

The Earth then decided it must send a probe, manned if needed, for extra dramatic flair. The probe carried a white flag, a message of peace and a 16-tonne nuclear detonation device, along with three very suspicious crew members of opposing nations. The probe was to circle the likely destination of Jupiter in the hopes of intercepting the alien’s receiving station.

By now, the Centurians were beside themselves with fear. The subspace corridor they’d erected using a wormhole the size of a few rogue protons, for fear of drawing attention, was blasting signals back from Earth in all manner of confused languages and contexts. It was as if the Earth had tip-toed up to the bell of a trumpet and yelled down the receiver.

And now they were coming here, guns and flags a-blazing.

The Centurians had no recourse left. Even as they debated amongst themselves and the other neighbouring solar systems, there was only one clear course of action left to them. They must drown out the Earth.

So the Centurians sent down a message along the subspace channel as the Earth probe brought ever nearer its brave and divided crew. That message was to be the final communiqué between the species, and its message couldn’t be clearer. It was the ultimate in time-out commands, placing the Earth firmly on the back doorstep before the universe.

The probe was the first to be hit by an EMP. Without warning, all lights died, all engines shut down, and all videos stopped midstream. The probe spiralled onward in its journey toward Jupiter, in its new destination as a permanent satellite. Not that anyone on board stayed alive long enough to notice because the air gave out after forty minutes.

Much later, the EMP arrived on Earth. Every machine, every electrical signal, every twinkling light, broadcast beam, mobile device, humming vacuum cleaner, active toaster; in fact, every human convenience, from automobile to x-ray, gave out at that moment.

Do we need to dispel the disaster that followed? For a species so dependent on technology to feed, clothe, house and command itself, the EMP discharge spelt disaster globally. Ships never arrived at their docks; air freight stopped landing. Machines stopped in their production of food. Cut off from the thousands of voices heard through electronic mouths, most of humanity had no idea what to do.

Within weeks, millions clutched at their stomachs in agony and keeled over. The clusters of humans known as cities rampaged across the fields, trampling themselves in a rush to devour cornfields, wheat farms and potato crops. Fields of cattle lay slaughtered and cooked on spits. Everywhere the humans went, they devoured like locusts, followed by flames, disease and famine.

But, like all planetary disasters that don’t kill everyone in one fell swoop, the human race eventually recovered. The ‘Crazy Years’ became a blip in humanity’s collective consciousness, soon forgotten by the race of toughs who cared little for tales of iPads and Fords. Bereft of its technical toys, humanity moved on and prospered even under the clearing skies, tempered weather and plentiful sea. Soon, it no longer dreamed of electronic sheep, for it was the happy shepherd of a plentiful flock.

The Centurians breathed their sigh of relief and closed the subspace corridor for good. The interplanetary councils disbanded, and the rest of the spiral arm resumed its former peace until the Fermi showed up.

Unrelenting rulers of the entire universe, the first to step from the primordial ooze and reach the stars, the Fermi were a savage but long-misunderstood race, principally because no one lived long enough to hold a conversation with them. In their conquests of space, they’d sent suns into supernovas, crushed solar systems into black holes and hurled neutron stars at planets. Their unquestionable strength had needed no testing for millions of years. The survivors had learnt to keep quiet. Above all, the Fermi hated noise.

When they arrived, there was no panic, no question of retaliation, no hope of escape. Just a long, drawn-out groan from the end of the Milky Way’s spiral arm and suddenly, the galaxy was short a dozen planetary systems.

Many years later, the Earth was visited by several flashes of light that spanned human generations. Once, someone would have said these were the deaths of stars and taken to their telescopes to examine them. Now, with only astrologers left, the flashes spoke of divine wisdom to come and heralded the birth of several small messiahs.

Sometimes, ignorance is a blessing.

Curious to read more?

You can find ‘Fermi’ and more stories of interest by heading to the Amazon store. Just look for the Smorgasbord of Failure.




A literary student by nature (and training), with a splash of ad experience, I’m setting out to make passion my career — reading, writing and SF.