There are no rules.
That is the first thing anyone learns about the universe. Sure, you can find some patterns: things fall towards bigger things, you need food to live, the usual.
But really most patterns just break easily. Sometimes rocks are the same size but things fall faster towards one for no reason; sometimes stars decide to go boom; in some places you can breathe and in others you can’t. Things are strange.
No, the universe is weird, there are no rules.
That is why the gods are there.
When we all appeared on our big rocks, we, like idiots, asked for the rules. “Why do things fall? Why is the sky blue? What is that bright thing on the sky?”.
Soon we realized that such weird things could only be gods.
And we were right.
Why do things fall? Because the gods said so. Why is the sky blue? Because the gods live in the sky and they like blue. What is that bright thing? That’s the sun god.
With our curiosity satisfied we decided to focus on more important things: killing each other over who has the best god.
That is how all species get to the wider universe: they find a god; they believe in them and that god eventually teaches them to leave their rock.
Then they appeared.
We didn’t really care for them at first. Just another people confined to a backwater part of the galaxy that, if well managed, could become a local great power just by sheer lack of competition.
Except that they didn’t stay confined.
We didn’t understand how but they could move between stars faster than our fastest ships could ever dream of. We didn’t know how they could be so fast or how their ships worked, and the worst part is that they didn’t understand how our ships worked either!
They asked us how we were able to be in space. We told them the gods had helped us build our ships and asked how their vessels worked.
They told us that they had no gods, they had built their ships using the rules.
We told them that was impossible, there were no rules and everyone had gods.
They sent our envoy a copy of the rules; how their ship worked and why they thought our shouldn’t. The captain that read it died of suffocation within seconds, the rest of the bridge followed soon and then the entire ship.
This was just the beginning.
Humanity advanced through the galaxy at a disturbingly fast rate. They asked us questions which we never had even thought about and when they tried to explain the concepts behind the questions we just died.
“How do you maintain gravity in a station without any Grav-generators?” they asked and the station collapsed as it lost all gravity.
“How do you maintain structural integrity with a hull made out of wood?” they asked and the merchant ship immediately broke apart.
“How do you protect yourselves from solar radiation” they asked and the entire mining station had to be abandoned as its residents could no longer leave without burning their skin off.
They told us things that made no sense. They talked about something called a “collective psionic mind”, how “the common universal belief that something is true by the collective mind of the species manipulates reality to make it so by sheer psionic force” and that “the faith in a supposed divine entity not only makes said entity real in certain ways, but also focuses the energy of the entire species, greatly augmenting its ability to manipulate the physical world”.
None of us understood it and, given the fact that human knowledge led to death, none of us wanted to understand.
Humanity was soon seen by all as a major threat that none could ignore.
And so we fought them.
We sent our best ships fitted with our best weapons and crew towards the human territory. We studied the “rules” they sent and modified our fleets so they would withstand this “vacuum” they liked so much.
They were confused at first, they asked their stupid questions like: “Why do you need a sail in space?” and “how does a 18th century cannon work in the void?”, but we ignored them and advanced.
They sent their “border police” against us and asked more questions. “Why is your hull made of obsidian and gold?” and “How are your harpoon crews alive in the void of space? Also, why do you have harpoons in the first place?!”. We made sure to not share the questions beyond the bridge so that the curse would not take effect.
And then we attacked.
Our harpoons shattered upon contact with their hulls as if they were made of glass; our armour cracked and melt under their “lasers” like it was barely an inconvenience. We were crushed. The few that survived the massacre were sure they had brought doom to us all.
After that though? The humans stopped coming. Their message was that “humanity’s inherent anti-psionic effects mixed with a natural understanding of the laws of the universe by most of the population has shown to be deeply detrimental to local culture and technology, with a great chance of extinction of one or more species should prolonged contact endure. Therefore, the United Nations of Sol and Centauri have decided to ban all human interaction within the designated space until further notice”.
That was it. Nothing more crossed the stars from their territory, a few signals were intercepted but those were mostly gibberish.
Things were back to normal after some time. There were wars and peace, trust and betrayal, crusades and treaties.
But above all, there was one rule, the only rule.
Don’t ask the humans about the rules.
Republished with permission from the author, Reddit user u/Mercury_the_dealer. Image created with the Nightcafe AI.