IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. You might notice that the show now features advertising. Over the last two years I've tried many models to make The Program sustainable. None of them attained the two goals I’ve set for the series: speed up the production schedule, and get the collaborators paid as much as their talent deserves. So when the opportunity to monetize presented itself, I felt it was only fair to take it. Ads will allow the series to remain free for both old and new listeners. If you’ve been listening to the show for a while and find it deserving of your financial support, head over to programaudioseries.com/support or subscribe to the show in Apple Podcasts. This way you'll get the stories ad-free, receive bonus episodes, and additional goodies. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Written in the early 21st century, the following story is likely an allegory on pandemics that marked that era. With the entire period now largely forgotten, contemporary critics have been ascribing various new meanings into the text - no matter how many times they’ve been politely asked to stop.
NARRATOR: Arrival of aliens was depicted in many books, films, and comics. But none of them ever imagined they would land in a village in China.
REPORTER 1: An extraterrestrial spaceship landed at a local airport in China this morning at 05:35 local time.
REPORTER 2: How does anybody take those red-eye flights, I mean they are simply inhumane!
NARRATOR: Once outside of the spaceship, the aliens greeted the Chinese delegation and wished peace and prosperity to all nations on Earth. A senior delegate asked if that included Taiwan. Visibly confused, the aliens answered it did, which is when they were politely escorted out of the country.
[sound of airplane]
Aliens next landed in the US, where they received a much warmer welcome - not because Americans were crazy about extraterrestrial visitors with unknown intentions, as much as they simply wanted to spite the Chinese. This is also where the aliens gave their first interview on live TV.
HOST: Hello everybody! And welcome to the morning show! Thank you, thank you… Alright… Let’s get this show started. Our next guests tonight are out of this world! With us today are two representatives of an alien race!
SETTE: I am Sette, and this is my clone Otto.
OTTO: Thanks for having us.
HOST: So you guys are clones?
SETTE: Yes, Otto and I separated into two entities via mitosis two weeks ago. We are identical clones.
OTTO: Except that obviously I’m the more handsome one.
HOST: Is Otto a first name or a surname?
OTTO: Names are such a homocentric concept.
SETTE: We don’t have names. We call ourselves after our generation - hence Sette and Otto.
HOST: Oh I see. What about a name for your species - what do you call yourselves?
SETTE: Translated into your language it would be Bacillus sapiens.
OTTO: Baci for short.
HOST: And how are you baci liking Earth so far?
OTTO: It’s a…
SETTE: I like the colour of sky you went with. Perhaps a tad too blue for my taste, but it’ll come back in fashion I am sure. And my Goddess -- my Goddess! -- there is a lot of water. You guys are -- you guys are really into water, huh?
HOST: [forced laugh] Forget the planet, tell me how are you liking humans?
SETTE: Humans don’t exactly have the best reputation in the cosmic circles. I mean, just look at your overall rating…
HOST: We have an overall rating?
OTTO: It’s four stars.
SETTE: …Four stars.
HOST: Out of five?
OTTO: Out of all the stars in the universe.
HOST: That sounds like it’s not very good.
OTTO: You’re also very bad at mathematics.
SETTE: Oh so bad…
OTTO: Also you’re full of bones.
SETTE: So many bones…
SETTE: Whatever little intelligence your bodies contained probably leaked out.
HOST: Leaked out?
OTTO: You humans leak everywhere! Sweating and pissing.
SETTE: You even leak water through your eyes for crying out loud!!
HOST: If you guys dislike water so much, why did you even visit?
SETTE: We crash landed, you idiot!
OTTO: What superior intelligence do you think would come to this backwater?
SETTE: Okay, we are done.
HOST: Now now now, wait a second! Why don’t we just…
SETTE: THIS INTERVIEW IS OVER!
HOST: Woah woah woah, now now now just…
SETTE: AND YOU STINK!
OTTO: AND YOU SMELL OF ELDERBERRIES!
NARRATOR: The human-baci relationship went only downhill from there. Soon a war was declared and ethnic cleansing started, as ethnic cleansings are wont to do.
POLITICIAN: My fellow citizens, we all watch in horror and consternation how the baci newcomers brazenly commit acts of transgression, even violence. To this I say: NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO OPPRESS OR MISTREAT HUMANS EXCEPT FOR OTHER HUMANS!
NARRATOR: What made fighting the baci tricky was the fact they weren’t possible to kill per se - after all, they had the ability to split into two whenever they wanted, so all it took was for one of them to survive and the whole enterprise was back to square one.
SETTE: Here's a tip - never start a war with an enemy that can multiply infinitely.
OTTO: Or better yet, never start a war!
SETTE: Cosmic wisdom for you, you silly hommos.
NARRATOR: So an uneasy truce was established, with the baci granted a piece of land to call their own. After long deliberations, they were given an island formerly occupied by the English, called “Great Britain”. While former occupants were not too keen on the resolution, the rest of the world largely considered the arrangement a win-win. Over the next few years, humanity grudgingly admitted the baci into the global community. They even got a seat in the United Nations - there was an opening, after all. Most people still hated the baci - not so much because of the things they did, but because of how well things seemed to be going for them. With their superior mathematical skills, they took advantage of the stock market and made a killing by investing in various financial instruments of suspicious value and dubious morality.
OTTO: Oh yes, and before we arrived you guys were such paragons of equity!
SETTE: Oh look at all the billionaires and famines in this utopia!
OTTO: Oh, big burn.
NARRATOR: Ten years after the arrival, baci requested to return to the TV show where they were first featured on upon their arrival - even though by then television viewership went down the toilet.
[Morning show theme]
HOST: Good morning everyone, and welcome to the show! Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. You’re so kind... Alright, alright… We have an exciting show for you today. We have with us in the studio, our old -- let’s call them friends -- the baci aliens, Mille Novecento Sette and Mille Novecento Otto!
OTTO: I’m afraid we carry not good news.
SETTE: News that is not so great.
OTTO: Dire news.
SETTE: Earlier this March, space plague reached Earth. Billions of lives are in danger - both baci…
OTTO: … And human.
SETTE: There is however a saving grace.
OTTO: Not that you deserve it, you boneheads.
SETTE: We possess technological solution that can stave off the sickness.
OTTO: A simple …
SETTE: … brain …
OTTO: … implant.
SETTE: No need to fear, all of us have already got it!
OTTO: Count yourself lucky we are even giving them to you!
SETTE: Only the brain implants can save us all!
OTTO: You do have brains, right?
NARRATOR: The baci continued to explain how brain implants would confer lasting immunity against the space plague - with no ill side effects. They admitted that the two species weren't exactly friends, but the space plague was the enemy of all sentient beings, so it was really necessary to tackle this one as a team. The baci ended the TV appearance by banging pots and pans together - a common way to show acclamation on their planet.
[sound pots and pans]
NARRATOR: Humans didn't have the technology to detect the space plague, but mortality rates for people over 70 did seem exceptionally high that year, so something was clearly afoot. Which is why scientists asked for more information on this brain implant stuff. However, all of their inquiries were quickly rebuffed by the baci.
OTTO: Do you have any idea how complicated this technology is? You walking skeletons don’t even have words for what we’re discussing here!
SETTE: All the water in your body probably diluted your intelligence.
SCIENTIST: You know, this relationship would work better if you didn’t keep insulting us.
OTTO: Oh excuse me, I forgot you are the geniuses who developed nuclear weapons - and then pointed them at yourselves.
OTTO: I mean it’s obvious we are dealing with brilliant masterminds over here.
SETTE: Oh hey, get out of the way, genius is coming through.
OTTO: But worry not, the solution is coming shortly. Yes! You just chillax in your houses and watch those internet pornographic films you love and we’re working on the brain implants.
SETTE: We’ll handle the brain implants.
SCIENTIST: It’s true that humans are unfamiliar with space illnesses, but we do know a thing or two about Earthbound pathogens. So how about we try face masks first - as a precaution, at least?
SETTE: What is this, Halloween?
OTTO: Granted, we baci don’t have a respiratory system such as yours, but why opt for experimental treatment when a proven remedy is available?
SCIENTIST: But results from first trials are irrefutable - masks clearly work.
OTTO: I swear to Goddess, if I had eyes, I would be rolling them so much right now.
SETTE: I would like to remind the humans that we are the advanced spacefaring civilization here.
OTTO: Not you, just us, not you…
SCIENTIST: Strictly speaking you haven’t left the orbit since you crashed here ten years ago…
OTTO: And you haven’t left it since 1972 - are you sure you want to play this game?
SCIENTIST: So you’re saying that masks don’t work, even though the data shows otherwise?
SETTE: What we’re trying to say is - maybe masks do work for humans, but that’s not the point.
OTTO: The point is if you don’t take the brain implants you are all MORONS.
SETTE: The point is…The point is… that the rational course of action is to take the implants.
OTTO: Otherwise this time next month you’ll be picking up dead off the streets with shovels.
NARRATOR: It definitely was true that the mortality rates continued to rise, with deaths now counted in the millions. But humans still resisted getting brain implants. So the baci, increasingly distraught, instituted a full lockdown - all businesses, schools, and non-essential services were to be shut in order to avert a complete societal collapse. Or rather, two societal collapses - the baci one, and the human one. In it together. A month passed and the worst case scenario didn’t seem to transpire, so humans suggested reopening some vital services. Naturally, the baci were aghast.
OTTO: Jesus Chris!
SETTE: Is everyone on this planet in a suicide cult?!
OTTO: The whole reason we avoided pandemonium is precisely because we instituted a lockdown.
SETTE: If we reopen now millions will die!
OTTO: Don't you care nothing about your neighbours’ lives?
SETTE: Do you wanna kill your grandma?
OTTO: We wouldn’t be having this conversation right now if you’d just let us put implants in your brains.
SETTE: They have all been approved by the cosmic food and drug regulators!
OTTO: By most of them.
SETTE: We’re giving you the cutting edge tech here!
OTTO: They’ve got 5G and everything!
SETTE: Very very expensive.
NARRATOR: But humans ignored the baci’s advice and tried reopening anyway
NARRATOR: And… It went sort of okay? Maybe the death rate went up 10%, 20%, give or take? Which is when human scientists suggested vaccinating against the plague. The baci’s response was unambiguous:
SETTE: Now is not the time to dabble in alternative medicine.
OTTO: Do you even know where vaccines come from? They come from cowpox, you idiots! Even the word “vaccine” comes from Latin “vacca” meaning “cow”!
SETTE: [despairs] Listen to me, you talking apes!
OTTO: Are you seriously saying you want bovine medicine instead of hi-tech brain implants?
SETTE: YOU BUNCH OF ANTI-SCIENCE HICKS.
NARRATOR: The baci then started disseminating cartoons in which humans who wanted vaccines had cow heads, and spread other anti-vaxx propaganda.
BAD ACTOR: I just got the cow vaccine yesterday! It put me in a really good mood. [laugh track] Everything went smooth. [laugh track] Anyways, wanna go to the moovies? [laugh track]
VOICEOVER: Brain implants are the only way to stop the space plague. Don’t be a cow-ard.
BAD ACTOR: I am not amoosed.
VOICEOVER: This message brought to you by the Society of Intergalactic Friendship.
NARRATOR: Hearing the arguments, some humans did conclude that installing brain implants might be the most prudent course of action, with uncertainty around space plague’s mortality and all.
RANDOM MAN: For me, getting a brain implant was a no brainer. I used to work in a factory. Then the government disbanded our union and outsourced all our jobs overseas. Then they left us for dead. For 20 years they’d only mention us when they needed a punchline for a joke. Making fun of us how we fuck our sisters and have bad teeth, when they’re the ones who took away our dental. And now suddenly they come and care for us? I’d rather get the space plague than have anything to do with them bastards!
NARRATOR: The uptake in brain implants seemed to have had an effect, and the spread of space plague started to slow down. The adoption rate plummeted however after a few implants exploded inside the recipients’ craniums. Roughly one in 600,000 implants proved to be fatal - and, for some of as of yet undetermined reason, they were twice as likely to blow up inside women’s heads than men’s. So humans stopped taking the brain implants and switched back to vaccines again.
SETTE: Jesus fucking Chris.
OTTO: Come on, slack us some cut!
SETTE: One in 600,000 is not bad - haha!
OTTO: Statistically speaking, your chances of dying are twice as high every time you sit behind the wheel.
SETTE: Vroom vroom - now you dead.
OTTO: [sigh] Humans and mathematics…
SETTE: Oh so bad.
OTTO: Just think of all the lives the brain implants have saved so far! We’re talking millions! Millions!
SETTE: …We’re wasting our breaths, aren’t we?
OTTO: Technically speaking, we’re not breathing but yeah.
NARRATOR: In the years ahead, the battle between the proponents of brain implants and the advocates of vaccines waged on, while the global mortality rates continued to increase and decrease in regular cycles - almost as if the affliction was coming in waves. It was not clear however if the waves were rising or ebbing, nor if the next one would be the one the baci swore would be fatal. So humans and aliens continued to point fingers and appendages at each other, left and right, right and left, and not once did it occur to either of them to point the blame somewhere else.
SETTE: Please humans, please -- we must beat the space plague together!
OTTO: Think of grandma’s continued existence!
SETTE: You only have a few of those!
OTTO: Is it possible -- can you get more grandmas?
SETTE: No, they only have three grandmas.
OTTO: Well, better not kill them then!
SETTE: I think most of your problems stem from not being able to take criticism.
OTTO: These bony leakers are no good.
SETTE: And you watch all the videos of the teenagers dancing on the personal computer phones.
OTTO: Why is the Queen valuable, why is your family valuable to you? It doesn’t…
SETTE: You just watch those documentaries about frogs and the blue planet… Oh so much water in that one.
OTTO: Never enough water with you, you silly sponges.
SETTE: You watch those Korean women smush their face into bread.
OTTO: Now go and get a Starbuck.
ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by ten people: James Jordan, Jacqueline Ainsworth, Geoff Allan, Frank Salvino, Scooter Clark, Phil Sampson, Joy Juckes, Alexander Amos, Christien Ledroit, and IMS. Based on a short story by Scott Alexander of the Astral Codex Ten. Visit programaudioseries.com for more details. Are you one of those people who listen to every episode all the way to the end? If so, you’re among our favourite listeners! The only ones we like even more are those who financially support us. So how about becoming our favourite-favourite kind of listener - the one who does both?
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: Guess what… I've got a fever... And the only prescription… is more cow cells! [laugh track]