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. With no indication which one is final, we decided to release all of them. You can find the two additional versions in your feed.
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.
To which one of them replied:
- Aliens? Who said anything about aliens?
It was then then that the misunderstanding was finally cleared up. The old alien was nothing of the sort, but a normal old-fashioned human. And they didn’t come from space, but from the future. Well, technically speaking, they did come from space, but only to land. You see - with the Earth constantly moving through the universe - jumping through time carries a high risk of materializing either in the cold void of the cosmos, or somewhere deep in the Earth mantle. So between trying to calculate the exact moment the planet is in just the right position to walk out of the time machine like a baller, or playing it safe by aiming for a secure distance and then landing from space, the conservative approach carried the greater appeal.
Hearing this the world leaders were visibly relieved. After all, it’s better to deal with fellow humans than xenomorphs with eye-sucking proboscises. And surely visitors from the future carry advanced teachings and technology for humanity to skip a few rungs and accelerate our progress towards utopia!
Well, regarding that. As it turns out, all those stubborn doomsayers were correct - the promise of infinite growth on a finite planet was unsustainable. Luckily, just as things were starting to get real bad, time travel was discovered so it dawned on people that it might not be a bad idea to go back to the time when the outbreaks of drought, disease, and pestilence were still not a day-to-day occurrence. I mean everybody was doing it. This particular group just went back in time a few months early to avoid the crowds. As a matter of fact, there’d be 200 million people coming in June alone. Apparently they were aiming for better weather.
The French president opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again:
- So, how many people are coming?
It was now the time-travellers’ turn to look at the world leaders funny - true, they were expecting the people of the past to be a bit dim, but even so, they too must realize how ridiculous that question was.
- Well... All of them.
The Japanese prime minister started to protest - he knew a thing or two about the perils of running a congested and aged economy. The time-travellers listened to him politely, then asked him kindly to please understand - the generation of today did as much to destroy the planet as the one of tomorrow - isn’t it only fair then, that they all share the consequences? Either case, there’s not much they can do - in the next 12-18 months, the world’s population would double; they could either waste time, or make space.
The G7 leaders looked at each other, and agreed this called for another emergency meeting.
[The Program main theme]
ANNOUNCER: Here ends the manuscript. If you would like to hear the two alternative endings, look for them in The Program audio series feed. The stories diverge at 7 minutes and 55 seconds. This episode of the Program was made by three people: Jacqueline Ainsworth, Christien Ledroit, and IMS. Main music theme by Matt Podd. Visit programaudioseries.com for more details. This is also where you will find a link to a webshop selling merchandise from the show. Every purchase supports the series, so open your hearts and your wallets and get a hoodie.