Humans were a small, worthless race. Their planet completely unprotected in the shooting gallery of space for five billion cycles, pretty long cycles too. Heavy-worlders, so they just couldn’t quite escape their gravity well in mass. Their technology turned inwards eventually. Sure, most of it was military, but that’ expected of any non-unified race. There’s no point in judging a species for remaining true to its roots.

What we do judge them for, is their lack of preparation. If you were to tap into their communications, you’d know that disaster and death was on the very tips of their tongues at every moment, but they do nothing real to stop it. They wait till they’re dying by the thousands to bother with vaccines. They stockpile nuclear weapons in cold war, refusing to put down their weapons because the other is waiting for them to do it first.

We make a point of observing. Earth had no strategic value to us. It’s people not inherently valuable. The stellar system not particularly rich. Only thing of note was we had to pass by them on one of our main shipping routes. So we kept post and watched from slipspace. Every once in a while, someone in the private sector would do a buzz job on their atmosphere and the apes would go into a small frenzy, but none of them were stupid enough to make actual contact.

A shame we were stupid enough to think they hadn’t contacted us.

As it turns out, in their arms race, the missiles had gotten more and more sophisticated over the years, and detection had to grow to match. Without even really meaning to do it, they’d found their first FTL pings thanks to a certain particle accelerator, and made short work of weaponizing it. We’d gone on alert when they started breaching slipspace intentionally, but they were orders of magnitude below background static, they didn’t have the technology to get inside it.

But they knew how to listen from then on. And they kept their ears open.

For ten of their cycles they listened in on us, eaves dropping on an alien highway, trying to decipher meaning from trucker loud mouthing.

Our first suspicion came when we detected a relativistic meteor on a collision course. No way for them to detect it with it riding its own light waves. Had to shut down the route because of the slipspace ruptures that could come from such an impact. We parked our military asses down in their asteroid belt where we could blend, and waited.

They cracked it with a nuclear shelling, sending it just slightly off course till it crashed with their moon. And we didn’t know how they did it.

Now it was our turn to listen.

First thing they did was shoot down the next adolescent driver who thought it was a good idea to spook the “idiotic apes”. They hadn’t been able to get off planet because of rocket restrictions. Now they had a slipspace engine.

We were forced to make a show of force, throw off the masquerade and try to force them into a satellite state. They responded by seeding the shipping route with nuclear mines. Didn’t have an engine big enough to get a ship through, but hundred kilo mines were no big deal anymore.

Negotiations dragged out as they ran us in circles trying to figure out how much they did and didn’t know. Homeworld didn’t want war, but the economy was suffering between the lost route and the sudden military expenditures. Meanwhile, they were disseminating the FTL designs globally. Handed it over to businesses to make incomplete engines and start piecing them together. 

Would have taken a genocide to root it out and put them back in the industrial age. Governments can be strong-armed. Not enthusiasts, not on our budget anyways. Space became a playground for the rich or hard working. Nothing long distance yet, but enough to jump out of atmosphere. Alien Skippers they were calling them. The influx of rare metals from the asteroid belt sent their economy into a frenzy while ours was languishing.

The word finally came in. We were caving to denizen rights, marking the sector off as lost and restructuring. We cut off ties with them and pulled out, but it won’t be for long. Humanity just broke out of stagnation and into a new golden age. The technological jolt was rippling out to every aspect of their lives as they drank it deeply like a drowning man who just found air. Space is too small for us to not meet again soon.

So, See You Later, Space Cowboy…