Michael Shaara's "All the Way Back" (short story, first contact, free): An answer to Fermi's Paradox
If the theory says galaxy must be full of habitable worlds & intelligent life, why haven't we met aliens yet? Light read, occasionally amusing, but with a dark ending.
Story summary.300 years after setting foot on Mars, & 200 years after exploration of neighboring stars began, humans have found only 4 dead & unusable worlds in all the nearly 1000 star systems they've explored. Fifth one, discovered during the course of this story, is achingly earth-like & spells doom for explorers & may be humanity too!
Jansen & Cohn are in a scout starship. They've been off earth for 11 years, & have examined a lot of star systems - none with a planet, let alone a habitable one. They go into cold sleep during the long ride between stars.
Next one they're about to examine, the star Mina, is the last before they head back home. It's here that they find an earth-like world. It appears devoid of animal, or even insect, life, but it is full of plants. And parts show signs of old intelligent construction & radiation. We will later learn it was wrecked in a nuclear war. But that is long past; they touch down in a radiation free area.
Their entry into Mina system was noted by a patrol of Galactic Scouts; looks like there is of government covering large areas of galaxy - the "Galactic Federation". The aliens we meet are not only humanoid, but physically indistinguishable from humans! And these Scouts employ a "Mind-Search" staff that can telepathically do a lot of things to sentient beings at distances as great as a light year! Amusing parts are where aliens are tracking the human ship.
Anyway, after the humans touch down, the representatives of Scouts come to make contact. Communications is no problem because of telepathy. They tell humans about the already claimed status of this world, the terrible reason the star systems around Sol are void of not only life but worlds, & the unhappy fate of humanity...
Fact sheet.First published: Astounding Science Fiction, July 1952.
Download full text.
Related: All first contact stories.