(An old one from 1998)
How, I asked as the shuttle docked with the ship some 200 kilometers above the Pacific ocean, could such a great year go to hell in a handbasket so quick? Finally posted to the suddenly relevant United Nations (a fact no doubt enhanced by its control over the remaining Sino/Soviet/American nuclear weapons) I’d landed a highly paid and yet truly irrelevant position as chief negotiator in the extra terrestrial department. What a joke that had been I thought morosely as I sat in zero gee trying to close my briefcase, a position with all the respect, money and influence of Senior Section head, yet with absolutely no possibility of having to actually perform the function. Yeah sure, there were plans and committees, round table discussions and contingency plans, but all of it carried on much in the fashion as the builders of the Titanic regarded icebergs. Then it turned August 6th. August bloody 6th. I will never forget that day, looking out of my office 55 floors above New York and watching the opening scenes from ID4, yet this was real. A monstrous spacecraft sliding slowly over the Bay with, I was to learn later, a dozen or more doing the same thing in all the major capitals of the world. And then the damned broadcast. I could hardly stop my hands trembling when I glanced at the page that I had held on the entire flight, one of only four communications from aliens to humans, and this the longest. I couldn’t stop my eyes from being drawn to the page, and although I knew it off by heart, it was still as fresh and disturbing as that first day.
“Humans” began the message, and that voice, honey smooth and clinical, seemed to jump out of my mind again, “you have existed long enough to mature as a race, yet you have consistently proven yourselves abject failures, creatures ruled more by whim than principle. It has been decided that as you have shown yourself incapable of self control you will be directed by the Council in all future matters. Accordingly, you are hereby ordered to stop all forms of manufacturing and industrial processing; to cease all activities, including transportation, that produce air, water or land pollution; to universally adopt birth control measures; to lay down and deactivate all weapons and weapons systems; and to entrust to your United Nations all functions of your governments and control of your nations so that they may implement the directives of the Council over your planet. You have thirty days to accomplish this task, after which we will return to this spot to transport a representative from your United Nations to our vessel for further instructions”.
With that, the ship had left and the panic and grandstanding had set in. I remembered the disbelief, then the outrage; the Chinese attempt to nuke the ship that appeared over Beijing, and the resultant total destruction of that city; the Russian claims of an American plot, and the US counter claims; and in the end, the despondency when it was realised that nothing could be done but accept what had been put to us. Even in that month a major lifestyle adjustment had occurred, a new distribution of food worldwide and reversion to older methods of transport had started. At least 10 million people had died as third world nations strove to take what the first world had before that too was cut off.
I though that it would be a job for the big boys, a job not entrusted to me, but I forgot that I was the only player in town, that by September 1st the United Nations WAS the world government and, therefore, I was the world’s ambassador to ET at large. So here I was, the most airsick flying scared person imaginable, struggling to follow a vaguely female humanoid into a spacecraft floating in space over the Pacific. Thankfully, I thought to myself, I had brought my pills and they had turned gravity back on again.
Coming out of what I assumed was the docking bay, I was led along a narrow passageway that seemed to be lit from every point, but then at the same time from no point at all, within it. My guide seemed quite amused by my looks, particularly when I asked her where the light came from and where they got their gravity.
“Frankly human, I despair of your questions but thankfully we have arrived”. We stood in a non descript room with a single large chair situated in the center, facing a large tank that occupied two sides from floor to ceiling, and seemed to have no end.
“I will return when you are finished with the others” my guide commented as she sat me in the chair, “I would dearly love to see your reaction, but they have requested me not to be here for this. Apparently they have some private matters to discuss with you.” With that she moved out of the room, leaving me alone with the empty tank.
“Not quite empty though” I thought as I peered deeper into it. For out of the far reaches, beyond where the feeble light of the room penetrated, three large shapes were moving slowly towards me, Marine life obviously I thought, and alien marine life too. I chuckled. This would really give the folks back at Biakanour and JPL a heart attack – marine alien life. But then, as the three shapes moved into the lighted area near the glass wall, my heart leapt into my mouth and I began to shake. What was in front of me was a pair of dolphins, accompanied by a pilot whale. It was not the sight of these familiar forms that nearly sent me to my grave early, but the intelligence in their eyes. I sank back into the chair as deeply as I could, trying to move between the folds of cushion.
“About time we had one of you cornered” a voice boomed inside my head, “listen carefully”. I knew that I was being addressed by the pilot whale, but how?
“Telepathy four limbs, telepathy. Although I can’t quite remember if your sub species has any of that faculty left. And yes, it is me the pilot whale talking, and yes I can hear your thoughts. If it makes you any easier, you can speak normally. It makes no difference to me. “
“Christ” I thought, “what’s going on? What do fish have to do with anything?”
“Not fish”, the first dolphin thought at me, “but two related species – what you call the “whales” and the “dolphins/porpoises”. And as to what we have to do with it, well, quite frankly, we instigated this and, being the only members of Council that currently live in this sector of the inhabited galaxy, we are now the ruling body of the planet”.
I reached into my jacket pocket with shaking hands and, after tearing the cap off with my teeth, popped four valium into my mouth and swallowed.
“It won’t help you know” volunteered the second dolphin. “Our communication with you is through the subconscious link, so all the valium will do is make it easier for us. Thanks anyway for that, as it means we can get this over with quicker. After all” it said, looking towards the first, “the relays are on this afternoon and I have to watch your son compete.”
“And I” the first gloated, “will take pride in collecting that small wager from you with pleasure when it is over.”
“Stop this crap” I screamed as I leapt from the chair (obviously valium was no help. Perhaps I should switch to mogadon or heroin – I was going to need something pretty strong for this). “You’re fish. You swim in the sea, get caught in nets, end up on plates with chips and peas and perform tricks at Sea World. You sit there, no FLOAT there, and try to tell me that you now rule Earth through some Council that sits God knows where out there? Come on, you” I directed this thought at the pilot whale in particular, “can’t even outrun a bloody harpoon or hide from Norwegian “science” boats, and you’ll have me believe this? And you dolphins – the only sign of intelligence that you give is the ability or ring bells for fish and act in D grade TV shows. I must be mad!”
“No, unfortunately for you you’re not” came the reply, “although we could make you mad if you wish. Like this for instance”, with which I was no longer standing with my nose against the glass, but floating two feet in front of the whale in the tank, “or this”, and I was lying on the deck of a Japanese whaler being slit end from end as I struggled to regain the sea, “or even this”, and I was moving through the abattoirs with the rest of my herd as someone grabbed me and placed a knife to my throat … “but we Don’t want you like that.” The sentence ended as I was back in the relative safety of the chair, being sick all over the floor.
As I regained my composure (what was left of it), I realised that this was for real, and so were they. If anything was to be salvaged out of this, I had better cooperate and learn. “That” s better” the thought came, “now we can communicate, one intelligent race to a nearly intelligent one.”
“Fine, but how did you get like this? I mean, we had no idea that you were intelligent to this degree. After all, you have no artefacts, no visible science, no buildings, no … “ I was cut off in mid sentence by the second dolphin. “One of your race’s basic mistakes I’m afraid. A conviction that intelligence and material possessions are necessarily connected. Not true, not true at all.”
“You must understand”, the first continued “that we have been evolving and developing for longer than you have. In fact, while you were wasting time learning how to live on land, we were developing faster and faster. And whereas you have been concerned with personal possessions, we have developed a group culture. We did cooperate with one of your branch species, many centuries ago, but they left the Earth for different places once they realised that your particular strain of human would be numerically superior. They didn’t want a part of that, and didn’t even want you finding their artefacts in case you found them, so they even obliterated their own continent.”
“We had the chance” continued the pilot whale “to go with them, but we decided not to as we thought your race and ours may learn together and grow. We held out great hope for you as a species, and still do, although our disappointment is great.”
“What about our fishing and whaling fleets? Surely you can’t have me believe that you let us slaughter you just because you thought we had hope?”
“No” thought the first, ”not at all. You see we have a group conscience that is not tied to an individual, but tied to the species as a whole. An individual is simply the mechanism that acts, in part, to sustain the group. All thought, experience and discovery is shared by all in both our species, and, more importantly is preserved perfectly for all future generations.”
“Think on this” the second continued, “that we, like you, are carnivores. How could we eat other sentient beings, or be eaten, if we were individual consciousness?” It would be the highest crime, something that still makes your species repulsive to us, your wanton destruction of sentience. It is a fact of life that things must be eaten. Hence, we did not object to this if it was to sustain your species, as we lost nothing. We do much the same ourselves with those we feed on, excepting that we choose the oldest and weakest, ensuring continuation of the line. Our former environment was finely tuned along these lines.”
“Your consumption of us”, and by now the plot whale was becoming agitated, “was no threat to our common consciousness unless we were reduced below our critical mass. Which happened in your year of… “
“But your species is extinct”, I had finally remembered why I was so shocked at seeing it. All those WWF reports had sunk in.
“Not quite” it continued. “Once we reached critical mass, we simply moved wholesale under the Arctic ice pack and evaded you. From which point we simply left the planet, came here, and have done quite nicely for ourselves. You see, space travel is really simple once you have certain premises established. We had the ability about seven thousand years ago but saw no need to use it, that is until the troubles. Strange species” it directed the thought at the others, but I caught it, “trying so hard for something that it can’t have because it’s very methods ensure it’s failure.”
“As a group species we wanted nothing more than to be left alone to our thoughts, research and pleasures. But even this you denied us. For two hundred years now” and things were getting pretty heated. I sat down in a hurry, “you have continually poisoned and destabilised our home habitat to the point where we can perhaps never return there. In fact, you are so short sighted that you cannot appreciate that it also threatens your existence.”
“So”, thinking I had the plot, “you decide to contact the Council, establish control over Earth, and rehabilitate it enough so that we can coexist?” Not a bad plan really I thought. After all, these guys seemed to have it figured out pretty well, and a world without smog would be quite pleasant.
“Well yes and no”. The first dolphin seemed to be taking some delight in this, and it made me uneasy. “You see, we have little real control over the Council, but they do listen closely to those who know most about the situation. In that we wish to restore the planet to its original state well yes, that’s true. We also want your species to be made aware of our presence, and that of the other four sentient and intelligent land based species that have been putting up with you for the past millennia. As far as coexistence goes, well, we have found a better place that is not ruined by land based life, so we will be shifting there permanently. Your species on the other hand, has been deemed too dangerous to be allowed off the planet’s surface. By getting rid of your industry, we not only fulfil our altruistic notions of equity, but also keep you from doing to the galaxy what you did to Earth.”
I sat back as the thoughts made their way to my mind, and as they did I filled with despair. Sure, we had acted out of ignorance, but such a sentence. What had they thought? That without our industry we could not travel to space? But they themselves had done so without it so … . “So”, I blanketed the previous thought with harsh thinking, “we are to be quarantined?”
“Correct. And permanently. There is nothing left to discuss. You know what is required, and you will receive detailed instructions later. Just do what you are told.” With which the three shapes left.
As I was being taken back to the shuttle to leave, I thought to myself that yes, indeed, I knew what was to be done. With the new society that I had seen the blueprints for, without machinery, threat of starvation and war, time enough for thought would exist. If they had done it without obvious technology, then we could too. Perhaps it would take longer, but we would get there. But this time, hopefully, not as colonists or conquerors. No, we would travel and explore for knowledge, not gain.
As the shuttle left on its homeward journey three large shapes floated effortlessly in the void along side, the need for a shadow play of normalcy removed, looking into the vessel without looking, moving into the synapses and connections of one being’s mind and subtly changing it. Like replacing chips in a computer, or engines in a car, the exterior remained the same, as did the functions, but the core was enhanced. For this emissary could now link to others, not that he would know it, for no other of his species could. But his children, and all future generations, could, and the basis for real human development would be laid. Their task done, they moved with their fellows to their new home and settled into life for life’s sake.
And waited for their ancient companions to join them.