It's then that another ship pings you, reaches out to you with a quick, direct burst of energy that would be virtually indistinguishable from stellar background noise if it wasn't aimed directly at your vessel. It's like a poke, a nudge between students sitting in the back of class while the teacher isn't looking. Sensors quickly locate the ship, identify it as alien, label it as belonging to a friendly species, a known species, FTL capable, with a penchant for collecting extensive archives on primitive civilizations and cultures. A quick exchange of data confirms it, leads to a friendly conversation about the world, the people who call it home.
The planet itself is unremarkable as far as worlds with intelligent life go. Hydrogen, neon and argon are the primary atmospheric gasses, but hazardous fluorocarbons are on the rise. Sprawling factory complexes float on the turbulent seas, all automated, all spewing waste into the waters and skies. Data in the cultural packet indicates the factories are owned by an elite few, that the mass media saturating the planet's populace hails these owners as heroes of the people they are so carelessly (and intentionally, it turns out) poisoning. A totalitarian corporation-corrupted worldwide government keeps resistance in check, but not everyone on the world is blissfully dying while drowning in immersive, interactive media. Some fight, and every so often one of the factory complexes explodes, sinks to the bottom of the sea– the target of terrorist attempts to overthrow the ruling elite.
The data is thick, comprehensive. You spend hours absorbing the media, the propaganda, the games, immersing yourself in the simple entertainments of a primitive alien culture. When you get bored, you strike up a conversation with the alien vessel that sent you the data packet, exchange what commentary and viewpoints you can through the civilization barrier that garbles the humor and critique you share. It's hard not to get caught up in the plights of the people on the surface, hard to ignore the suffering of individuals dying by the hands of their own people, but you both realize you can't interfere. There's too much that could go wrong, too many factors that can't be controlled. In the end, all you can do is watch, study and wait. Thanks to the alien vessel sitting in orbit, the culture on the planet is being preserved, will exist in some form as long as there's an intergalactic network to preserve it, but the future of the people themselves is, and always will be, only in their own hands.
Knowing this, you leave the friendly alien ship to the observation and study of the world, make your way back to between-space. The transition comes smoothly, but your mind– your mind stays with the world, with the struggle unfolding across its watery surface.
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