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IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. Made at the beginning of the pandemic, the following episode comes with three endings, corresponding to my feelings in March of 2020 how COVID will play out. You can get the alternative two endings by becoming a patron, or subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts.ANNOUNCER: Today we present you a short story written by the late sci-fi author Jakob Miller from the town of Neumat. With Jakob’s career cut tragically short, many of his works are either unfinished, or don’t exist in a definitive version. Today’s story was discovered with three different endings. If you would like to hear the other two versions, listen to the instructions how to do so at the end of the episode.
ANNOUNCER: Today we present you a short story written by the late sci-fi author Jakob Miller from the town of Neumat. With Jakob’s career cut tragically short, many of his works are either unfinished, or don’t exist in a definitive version.
NARRATOR: Aliens landed on Earth on the 16th of March, early in the morning. They announced their approach 60 days in advance, via a tweet. Unfortunately, the account they took control of had 27 followers, with foreseeable impact for their social media reach. It was only after astronomers detected an object approaching Earth at rapid speed that someone remembered seeing a message stating the vessel’s landing location in the south Pacific and the exact arrival date. The time to react however was now cut from two months to two days. Which meant a significant number of balls was likely going to be dropped.
Flat-footed leaders of the G7 immediately convened an emergency meeting. This was no time for fearfulness; they knew a resolute response was expected. Not as a gesture towards the aliens - heavens no, if the extraterrestrials were hostile we were all bamboo in a panda zoo. All they would need to do is park in orbit and throw rocks on us and the best we could do was open an umbrella. Instead, the bold move the heads of the G7 deliberated was lowering the interest rates. After all, it would be a tad embarrassing if the aliens came to visit and the economy was in recession.
Mercifully, the fact that the aliens messaged in advance suggested their intentions were benevolent - generally speaking, one does not send an RSVP for an invasion. So the world leaders started to discuss the best strategy to receive the unexpected guests. Their usual impulse to close the borders wasn’t exactly an option in this case, so they began setting up a welcoming committee, the goal of which was to show the visitors just enough decorum without it getting interpreted as a moving-in party.
Therefore they stuffed the room with sociologists, linguists, and behavioural scientists, who all recommended choosing one representative to greet the aliens, both in order to avoid overwhelming them, and to ensure the message was kept on point. However, as is often the case with scientific advice, it suffered from an acute lack of geo-political feasibility. I mean, who would dare to assume such a responsibility? We were talking about a situation in which a single diplomatic faux pas might lead to annihilation of the entire human race, which would surely not go down well with the general electorate. With all the eyes in the room on them, the leaders found theirs pointed squarely at the floor.
It was then that the Italian prime minister stood up and solemnly declared that he would take the role of the ambassador, which prompted the rest of the leaders to deeply reflect - both on what it meant for their public image not to appear in front of the aliens personally, and why was Italy in the G7 to begin with. Not wanting to be outdone, one by one each of the leaders rose and proclaimed they would welcome the aliens in person as well. Some even volunteered to bring their spouses.
Standing in line next to a wall, the scientists observed with a mixture of horror and disappointment how their advice to pick a sole envoy produced a posse of more than twenty people. But not even their sad looks could sully the glory of this moment, in which the heads of governments shook hands and valiantly vowed to dispel this foreign menace.
The jubilation only deflated when a junior aide shared the news that Russia and China had already dispatched warships to the south Pacific.
On the day of the first contact, every head of state with a modicum of self-respect was standing on a navy boat in the South Pacific Ocean, sporting a rarely seen fashion combination of a tie and life jacket. Unsurprisingly, the media embraced the topic with ardent enthusiasm, covering the approach of the spacecraft in real time. News stations broadcast consisted solely of interviews with experts, as if alien invasions were an area in which it was possible to find specialists on LinkedIn. Their predictions were diverse, but all shared a common sentiment: nothing was ever going to be the same.
Zoomed in to the max, the cameras mounted on ships finally caught a grainy glimpse of the approaching object burning in the upper atmosphere. It was a small capsule, approximately the size of a minivan. Once it reached a lower altitude, the module’s descent was retarded by three simultaneously deployed parachutes, and it splashed down with the elegance of a cannonball.
It took a few moments for the module’s floatation devices to inflate and for it to stop wobbling. Once it did, its entrance graciously opened, and six creatures emerged. They were wearing red astronaut suits and their anatomy was clearly humanoid. This was anticipated by some experts who surmised aliens might take human form to minimize alarm caused by their real appearance. Whether this was the case or not, it was definitely handy, as having hands meant that the aliens were able to gesture to the observers to approach.
A motorboat containing the joint G7 crew separated from the rest of the flotilla and set its course towards the still steaming module. The Russian and the Chinese boats decided to keep their personal space.
Once the motorboat approached to a shouting distance, aliens removed the helmets of their space suits, and ambassadors could clearly discern their faces. All six of them looked like men in their late 60-ies and early 70-ies. One of them even had a mustache.
It was the Canadian prime minister who spoke first, enthusing the people of Earth are honoured to offer their hospitality in the spirit of cosmic brotherhood. Then he repeated his reception in French. The aliens looked at each other, a bit confused. Finally, the mustached one spoke, saying in fluent English they too came in peace and brotherhood. He then added he doesn't speak French.
As a matter of fact, English was the only language the aliens spoke. And no, they hadn’t taken this form in order to not frighten members of the welcome party. In fact, they sounded slightly annoyed when asked about it.
The atmosphere was getting a bit awkward, as if both sides were expecting the other one to make the first move, even though it wasn’t all that obvious what that move should be. Finally, it was the German prime minister’s wife who asked the aliens why they came.
The aliens again looked at each other in confusion, and then answered that they didn’t really have that much say in the matter. As it happens, they were sent here by their superiors. As far as they were concerned, sending them on a fifty-year one-way trip wasn’t the best use of their time.
The long voyage was the reason why the aliens spoke English so well - apparently they had plenty of time to practice. They were also learning to speak Russian on their way here, but they dropped it once the news of the dissolution of the Soviet Union reached them, and could now only say a couple of swear words.
The aliens’ level of social awareness turned out to be inversely correlated to their perceived degree of self-importance. Psychologists were unsure if this was the repercussion of a long time spent in isolation, or if they were like this to begin with. Numerous social studies established that aliens practiced customs we would recognize. Their intrinsic moral code was largely identical to ours. It seemed however that their culture placed an above average emphasis on individualism. Their society for instance didn’t have a concept of retirement, and didn’t seem to particularly value medicine - or at least not universal access to it.
Five of the six astronauts professed religious affiliation, citing a belief in a universal Creator. On closer inspection however their teachings contained evident contradictions and logical fallacies. When pressed to explain some of the fundamental theological understandings of their doctrine, it quickly became apparent none of the subjects could agree even on the most basic principles.
Alien science was by their own accounts “highly advanced” but all six of them were basically military pilots - the fact they knew how to fly a spacecraft didn’t mean they knew how it was able to fly. The interstellar module that had brought them over the chasm of comos was abandoned at the border of our solar system, which is when they transferred into the descent module that was never designed to be anything but a single-use landing vehicle, meaning it offered no great scientific insights.
The astronauts turned out to be equally imperfect teachers of their planet’s history and art. They were carrying a 200 exabyte collection of artworks from their culture with them, but it got fried on approach. A few of them were able to hum a few songs of their people from memory and one knew how to play an instrument that looked and sounded a bit like the kazoo, but that was the extent of their artistic prowess.
The six explorers were proffered joint accommodation, but they politely declined the offer: they spent almost five decades crammed in small quarters together, and they were all quite fed up with each other. So different countries hosted them separately; each one was given a nice house with a backyard. None of them had shown much interest in travel afterwards and rarely left their neighbourhoods. They did keep sporadic contact over Zoom.
The last of the alien astronauts died 34 years after first contact was made. The media noted his death as a curiosity.
[The Program main theme]
ANNOUNCER: This episode of the Program was made by three people: Jacqueline Ainsworth, Christien Ledroit, and IMS. If you would like to hear the two alternative endings, please support the show by making a donation. You can find instructions how to do so on programaudioseries.com. Cheers!