“What about the Drake Equation?” I said. “Why isn’t there extraterrestrial life out there?”

“The Drake equation in correct,” the Oracle said. “Intelligent life is very common in the universe. However, they almost all drive themselves to extinction before they are able to make themselves known. It is like a great filter. Environments are so fragile that the intelligent life will destroy its own native world. The distances between planets, let alone solar systems, are so vast that the amount of energy needed to travel between them exceeds what can be safely generated on a planetary scale. Extinction is all but inevitable before interstellar travel.”

I let this sink in a moment before grasping at a crumb of hope: “You said ‘almost’ and ‘all but inevitable’ just now,” I said. “Does that imply that this is not always the case?”

“Of course. But the changes to biology, energy requirements, and outlook required mean that even those vanishingly few civilizations that are not driven to extinction must evolve into forms that are inherently unlike any life we are prepared to witness.”

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