HIE-156-CZE (Jesters)
Jester ideogram
Image from Steve Bowers
Muuh tactile ideogram apparently representing a memory or legend of the Jester xenosophonts. Whether this ideogram resembles the form of the Jesters in any way is not known for sure.

"The Jesters" is the unofficial name given to the extinct alien species designated HIE-156-CZE by the Hamilton Institute of Exopaleontology. As is the case with HIE-300-CZE, no ruins or artefacts corresponding to this civilisation have been found as-yet, and all available data about the species is taken from ancient Muuh records. It should be noted that although Muuh accounts tend to be quite unreliable, descriptions of this species have remained notably consistent, suggesting that there may be some truth to the Muuh's stories. All records containing information on HIE-156-CZE were donated to the HIE in 10,096 a.t, and contain much additional information on minor starfaring polities active during the middle Cenozoic era.

Approximately 51 million years before present, the Muuh set up a colony on a Titanian moon of a Jovian planet orbiting a G-type star located (at that time) in the Perseus Arm. This system was home to a small Gaian-type planet with a rich biosphere, which had been studied by the Muuh through the use of autoprobes. Roughly five million years after the colony's establishment, Muuh astronomers confirmed the presence of several large spacecraft of unknown origin orbiting the garden world. Although Muuh scientists were eager to learn more about these mysterious visitors, the spacecraft departed the system far too quickly for the Muuh to intervene. An uncertain amount of time later, the Muuh discovered the presence of a primitive, stone-carving civilisation on the small planet. The Muuh speculated that the visitors may have been responsible for provolving one of the planet's many land-based species to sophonce. The Muuh would go on to study this primitive society's development for millennia to come.

It is from their peculiar (and somewhat disturbing) metaculture that this species gets its nickname: jokes and pranks served as the backbone of HIE-156-CZE civilisation.1 As various societies rose and fell on their home planet, the theme common to all of them was pulling pranks on one's friends and family. Most of these jokes were relatively harmless, but at worst, these pranks would result in great humiliation, injury, or in some cases even death for the victim. In most HIE-156-CZE societies, murder was considered perfectly acceptable, provided that the victim was not an aristocrat/politician, and that the circumstances of their murder was deemed sufficiently amusing by the local council. "Death by pranking" appears to have merely been an accepted part of life amongst HIE-156-CZE, and was apparently not seen as a threat to social stability. Pranks that resulted in mass injury/loss of life were generally not accepted (typically resulting in long-term imprisonment or execution), although they did happen from time to time. Some records even suggest that HIE-156-CZE had to at least partially rebuild its civilisation on no less than two occasions as a result of nuclear war triggered by "over-pranking". Interestingly, these are some of the only known accounts of HIE-156-CZE being involved in war - the Muuh have made several claims that despite the nature of some of their "pranks", HIE-156-CZE were "petty cowards", remarking that bloody battle and revolution was almost unheard of in their society.

Some of the most respected members of HIE-156-CZE society were the "grand clowns". Muuh depictions of these individuals tend to differ greatly from those of other HIE-156-CZE members. It has been suggested by xenologists that grand clowns may have bioengineered themselves into more amusing forms, splicing in genetic material from animals found on their homeworld. Periodically, grand clowns would host extravagant festivals, rife with food, music, dance, sex, and above all, comedy. Those attending these festivals would often be targets of demeaning, painful, and often life-threatening pranks played by the grand clowns. Aristocrats attended these festivals if they wished, while members of the general public could only attend if selected in a lottery.

Eventually, HIE-156-CZE began to expand into space (something seen as a miracle to both Muuh and Terragen historians), setting up numerous colonies on their homeworld's moon, and on several nearby planets. It was not long after this that the Muuh's presence on a nearby moon was discovered by autoexplorers. It is known that several grand clowns suggested a "mass pranking" of the Muuh (which almost certainly would have been devastating to the local society). However, the Muuh were well defended by their AI defence system, the System of Response, who informed HIE-156-CZE via proxy that their civilization would face devastating consequences should they attempt an attack on the local Muuh colony. HIE-156-CZE seemed to take the hint, and the Muuh were left alone, free to continue living on their colony without fear of alien attack. There exist reports of later HIE-156-CZE attacks on this Muuh colony, although the Hamilton Institute has deemed it likely that these are purely fictitious accounts.

Although many of the jokes played on their homeworld were undoubtedly cruel, the worst of HIE-156-CZE's "pranks" was yet to come. An interstellar probe launched to a binary system roughly six light-years away from the HIE-156-CZE homeworld confirmed the presence of a small, life-bearing world (based on descriptions, it is believed to have been of the To'ul'hian subtype). This planet was home to a civilisation at roughly an Iron Age-level stage of development.2 A large group of grand clowns announced that they would be pulling their "greatest prank yet" on this species. Some time later, a large spacecraft was dispatched to this system, carrying a crew of grand clowns kept in suspended animation throughout the journey.

After arriving at their destination, the grand clowns taught themselves a number of prominent local languages, and masqueraded worshipped in the planet's various mythologies. The "gods" threatened to bring about the apocalypse unless their every command was obeyed by their "subjects". The grand clowns forced the natives to engage in a variety of painful and/or humiliating acts, which was recorded by their probes, and relayed to their home system for the amusement of their people. After some time of this, a nearby asteroid of sufficient size was redirected on a collision course with the planet, devastating the local civilisation. It is known that a small number of natives were rescued and taken to the spacecraft in orbit (being told they were some of the "chosen few"), before being ejected from the airlocks.

After this incident, the few AIs that had been constructed by HIE-156-CZE turned against their creators, devastating all inhabited planets and moons in their home system (with the exception of the Titanian world colonised by the Muuh). Their motives for this are not clear, although some Muuh records state that the AIs had become "fed up" of their creators destructive behaviour, perceiving them as a threat to other intelligent species.3 These AIs would later go on to form an interstellar society of their own (known as the "post-Jester" civilisation), and expanded across a region of space roughly twenty-thousand light-years in diameter. However, after roughly twenty thousand years, this civilisation vanished without a trace. There are no records to suggest exactly what became of the post-Jesters, although a myriad of causes have been suggested by xenologists (including war, transapient burn-out, or possibly an attack from the mythological Dawn Hunters).


1. HIE-156-CZE's penchant for humor was so great that many have raised the possibility that their unknown provolvers may have bioengineered this obsession into them for unknown reasons.

2. The chances of two intelligent species existing within such a small region of space during the same million-year period are incredibly low. It has been suggested by the HIE that this species may have been provolved by the unknown xenosophonts who provolved HIE-156-CZE itself.

3. Some xenologists have speculated that the post-Jesters' extermination of HIE-156-CZE may have been part of a "mass pranking" set in place by the AIs. However, this seems unlikely, given that later Muuh records seem to suggest that the post-Jesters had an entirely different culture from their biological predecessors. Indeed, whether or not any AIs constructed by HIE-156-CZE shared their sense of humor is not known at this time.
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Text by James Rogers
Initially published on 21 January 2016.