Humanity's discovery of alien civilization went a bit differently than they thought it would. They found aliens quickly- far, far more quickly than they had expected. The only problem? Every single one of them was dead, apparently mostly from violence and suicide. As humanity explored further into space, the pattern repeated itself, over and over. Aliens were plentiful, and some civilizations had even managed to build interstellar empires. However, everyone in said empires was always dead, and it was always from violence and suicide. In hundreds of years of exploration, humanity only found one other living sapient species- an extremely violent and suicide-prone insectoid race that never exited the stone age and only managed to survive because of their extremely high birth rate. The whole race seemed insane.
Meanwhile, humanity expanded into the empty space, advanced significantly, built up their own civilization, and never did discover exactly what caused the aliens' insanity and death or why they were immune. Eventually, the United Terran Alliance controlled roughly 87% of human territory. There were a few rogue states, and piracy and smuggling adapted quite well to the space age. Life went on.
And then the UTA built the Supremacy, an extremely advanced and enormous (7 miles long) dreadnought. It was sent to explore a new world, just beyond mapped-out space, since long-range sensors had detected space-age technology. Everyone thought it would be more of the same- ruins, with potentially some usable resources harvested before whatever race had built the stuff killed each other off.
They were wrong. That planet was actually an outpost for the spacefaring Kondar, who were very much alive. In fact, it was humanity that shouldn't have been alive- Earth was inside the Veil of Madness, an area covering roughly 3% of the galaxy that drove any sapient being that spent enough time in it insane. One very bad first contact later, and humanity ends up as the boogeymen of the galaxy. No matter what they did, they couldn't convince anyone that they weren't anything like this, so they eventually began playing along with it, only appearing in deliberately-scary power armor and modulating voices to sound garbled, like that first transmission.
The story can be found here.
Veil of Madness provides examples of:
- Black Speech: Due to differences in technology between the Kondar and humanity, we come off as sounding like this. Later invoked by future human ambassadors to keep up the charade and intimidate the aliens.
- Cool Starship: The Supremacy.
- Cross-Cultural Kerfluffle: Played for Drama (or at least very dark comedy). The Kondar don't have a concept of warning shots, so when the Supremacy fires one (in response to a panicking gunman firing at the Supremacy), they think that the ship is attacking them and counter-attack. The Supremacy then has to blow up a ship in order to escape.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The Supremacy vs. the Kondar. The Supremacy quickly destroyed the Kondar ship in the way of its escape vector.
- The Dreaded: Humanity to the rest of the universe. Humanity, to be fair, originally tried to correct the misunderstanding, but just ended up going Sure, Let's Go with That and playing along.
- Driven to Suicide: The Veil of Madness causes all those affected by it to be very prone to this.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Another symptom of the Veil.
- Hate Plague: Staying too long in the Veil causes this.
- Humans Are Advanced: It's explained as happening because humanity had a lot more room to grow than other races, since they live in a section of the galaxy that drives everyone else insane.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: Being able to live in the Veil of Madness makes Humanity this to all other sapient species.
- Humans Are Insane: Not as much as other races who live in the Veil, but enough to play what's basically a galaxy-wide prank on absolutely everyone else.
- Insanity Immunity: Why humanity can live in the Veil- they were a little insane already. The narrator notes that the fact that they're basically playing a practical joke on the galaxy is pretty good proof of that.
- In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: The Veil actually causes this in any race unfortunate enough to evolve in it. Humanity, however, averts this, since they're immune to the Veil.
- Poor Communication Kills: The human/Kondar first contact was pretty much made of this. Both the Supremacy and the Kondar were taken by surprise, since the Kondar hadn't had any first contacts for a long time and humans were expecting every other race they met to have died off before first contact. The Supremacy tried to communicate, but due to a mismatch in technology (humans were more advanced due to having more elbow room for expansion) the words sounded horribly garbled. A Kondar gunman had a panic attack and fired, and the Supremacy fired a warning shot in return. Unfortunately, the Kondar didn't have a concept of warning shots, so it looked to them like the Supremacy was trying to attack them.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Humanity tries to project the image of being 'wicked, but not unreasonable' (even though in reality, they aren't even that villainous).
- Space Pirates: The UTA has a chronic problem with them. They also contribute to humanity's bad reputation with the rest of the galaxy with their raids.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Humanity's eventual response to finding itself unwittingly considered The Dreaded of the entire universe; politely trying to correct the mistake, before just giving up and going along with it.
- We Are as Mayflies: One of the reasons that the only living non-human race in the Veil is still alive- they have very short lifespans and high birth rates.