Sometime in the not-too-distant future ... unbeknownst to Earth, the Galaxy is home to a number of spacefaring societies. This confederation enforces a strict protocol forbidding any contact with civilizations that have not yet achieved both a substantial spacefaring capability and sufficient maturity to control the technology explosion before triggering their own extinction.
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While this policy is intended to only bring in peaceful new members, matters change entirely when the confederation is threatened by some unknown entity - is the menace real or imagined? The confederation decides to break with the rules and sends a delegate to Earth to hire one of the supposedly belligerent Earthlings to investigate and to revive the confederation’s long-unused starfleet. The Earthman agrees, but demands a high price: should he succeed, the confederation will have to accept Earth as a new member. As the threat becomes ever more acute, the question soon becomes which mission will prove harder - saving the confederation or convincing it to accept the deal!
The extensive appendix, written in non-technical language, reviews the scientific and technological topics underlying the plot - ranging from the Fermi paradox, space travel and artificial/collective intelligence to theories on possible universal convergences in technological and biological development.