Saturday, April 12, 2014
A Cosmic Comedy of Ants
(Author's note: Blame Neil DeGrasse Tyson for me once again beating a very dead horse. And as usual excuse the awful typos. Leaving for a four-day trip to Puerto Rico late Sunday night and cannot take my laptop, so I will be out of contact for awhile.)
The president of the United States sat at his desk and quietly watched as dozens of his staff, scientists, and uniformed military types milled about the Oval Office trying to look competent and useful despite the totally unprecedented event currently unfolding. Along the walls several large television screens had been hastily mounted displaying a constant feed of either computer generated graphics or the ceaseless babel from the cable news networks. For a moment the president looked at the screen showing a graphic of the inner solar system with the Earth a tiny green dot on the upper left following its usual orbital path. The planet Mars was a red dot also following its normal path on the lower right. Intersecting the two was a yellow line showing and unknown visitor who had suddenly appeared from the depths of interstellar space and was now on course to pass by the Earth. At the top of the screen a countdown clock had a little over forty-two hours before it reach zero signifying the exact time the ship was closest to Earth.
The television next it showed a computer representation of the alien craft drawn from pictures first taken by the NASA Cassini probe still orbiting Saturn, then by radar signals bounced off the craft from radio telescopes from different locations on Earth. One part of the alien ship was spherical, which roughly measured out to be four-kilometers in diameter. Attached to the forward edge of the sphere was another segment that looked like an umbrella, or mushroom whose diameter was about a kilometer larger than the main body.
The best rocket boys and girls across the planet had surmised that the umbrella was some sort of shield to protect the main hull from collisions with interstellar particles. What collectively sent all the scientists to the nearest liquor cabinets was the fact the alien ship appeared to be using a non-Newtonian mean of traveling between the stars. There were no huge rockets pushing the behemoth, it seemed to simply glide through open space at speeds only dreamed of in science fiction.
In the space of a week after speeding past Saturn the ship had casually changed course and cruised by Jupiter, then Mars, and was now heading towards Earth. Following long established protocols the United Nations, in cooperation with several international scientific agencies, attempted to establish radio communications with the aliens. Teams of linguists, mathematicians, and astrobiologists beamed several carefully crafted messages toward the approaching ship and then eagerly waited long hours hoping for a response. There was none, it wasn't long before several nations, feeling their sovereignty was being violated by the United Nations began beaming their own messages of welcome. With still no known communications coming from the aliens things quickly devolved further with thousands of different groups taking matters in their own hands by cobbling together long scrapped television satellite dishes and ham radio transmitters to make their own attempts.
With nothing in the way of a response from the aliens the humans tuned their radio telescopes to listen for some sort of message from them. Thousands of frequencies were scanned but all they heard was the normal background static.
The undeniable arrival of an advanced extraterrestrial species had sent hundreds of millions of people on the Earth into a blind, mindless panic while others retreated into some stronghold praying the situation would go away. For others the arrival of the starship meant something wonderful with them believing the aliens would at least offer humanity membership into some sort of galactic community and at best take protective custody of the misbegotten naked primates and usher in an utopian age for them.
However, the prolonged silence from the visitors had begun to worry some members in the latter group and send even more into a panic like the former. For the president the best example was the strange person ranting on one of the other television monitors.
He was a fundamentalist preacher who looked to be in the midst of having a massive heart attack. His eyes were huge broadcasting both fear of what he knew to the depth of his soul was the approaching Apocalypse and anger that no one else on the panel MSNBC had assembled to discuss the unprecedented event about to happen was taking him seriously.
Adding to the impression his own demise could come at any second the preacher's 1950's style glasses were now canted at a strange angle off their proper position on his face because of his wild, panicky gyrations. The thin, but steady amount of drool flowing from the corner of his mouth was the proverbial icing on the over dramatic cake causing a multitude of home viewers to email into the news network pleading they call the paramedics for the man.
“I tell you,” he said slapping his Bible on an unseen table in front of him, “that craft is piloted by demons out to usher in the rise of the Antichrist. I plead with everyone who can hear my voice that now is the time to get right with Jesus. The Rapture is imminent and those left behind when the righteous ascend to Heaven will suffer the terrible torment of the defiler and his hell spawn.”
Chris Matthews, always one to enjoy a spirited discussion irregardless to whether it had any basis in fact or reality just smiled and nodded. “Well pastor,” Chris began as he looked down to review his notes, “none other than the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has directed the Vatican Observatory to beam a radio message of welcome and goodwill to the aliens.”
Like an exploding volcano, spittle flew from the preacher's mouth spraying Chris and his co-host, Rachael Maddow with a fine mist. “The Pope is an agent of the devil!” He clearly screamed before his rage turned the rant into gibberish.
The president shuddered to think that he had sat next such an ignorant fool seeking his endorsement back during the campaign of 2016. Of course, he consoled himself that at the time he was just the Vice Presidential nominee and that his running mate, the now deceased former governor of New Jersey, had been desperate to secure the support of the extreme right-wing of the Republican party.
President Steven Hedges came to politics reluctantly. Years before he had joined the ROTC in college to help pay for his education and as his reward ended up leading a platoon leader in the worst areas of Afghanistan. During those long days he dreamed of nothing but serving his time then going home to teach high school math and science. It was a mountain-side ambush by Taliban fighters in which Hedges rallied his platoon and then counterattacked the enemy force that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor that changed those plans of becoming a teacher.
Upon returning home he was courted by both political parties but it was his father who convinced him to become a Republican despite his unspoken and major misgivings about their behavior. A few meetings and interviews later the party more or less volunteered him to run for an open congressional seat. A couple of years later he is noticed by the New Jersey governor who wanted someone young and with military experience to share his ticket. But it was the self destructing Democrats that assured Hedges again moved up the political ladder. Their 2016 nomination process turned into a suicidal bloodbath when a significant number of their members refused to support the former secretary of state who they thought had sold out to the corporate powers. Hillary finally secured the nomination after a long fight but there was enough disgruntled people who stayed home to let the Republicans secure a narrow victory.
Hedges made the final jump to president barely six months after taking office when his running mate began choking on a big bite of a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Alone at the time the now deceased president bounced around the White House living quarters trying to cough the meat and cheese combo up for several seconds before rescue finally arrived. During that time he popped several large blood vessels in his head and died minutes later after a secret service agent performed the Heimlich Maneuver which launched the gooey mass out of his wind pipe and into the air to splat on the face of Dick Cheney's official portrait.
With the fundamentalist preacher now writhing on the MSNBC studio floor Joe Scarbrough rushes in to point fingers at Matthews and Maddow claiming they purposely rigged the interview to make him look bad. The discussion lost all formality and reason as the liberal duo and the lone conservative blowhard launched into several nasty rounds of accusing each other of intellectual bias, outright arrogance, and being a humongous and obnoxious dick.
President Hedges wanted to throw the remote at the screen but instead he just tuned it to Fox News just out of a morose sense of curiosity. There he was rewarded with the all the major network personalities demanding the president declare war on the aliens for invading the solar system. Former United Nation ambassador John Bolton was adamant that he had evidence the aliens were supporters of Al-Qaeda and in fact were bringing back Saddam's long missing weapons of mass destruction. The insanity and blatant ignorance of Fox's panel was the final straw for long-time anchor Sheppard Smith who took that moment to tell his coworkers and supposed experts what he actually thought of them. He then declared that he was in fact gay and in a secret relationship with CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Once again feeling he had cast his political lot with a collection of dangerous morons Hedges switched over to CNN and was rewarded with Wolf Blitzer discussing the implications on whether the arrival of the aliens had any implications on the nasty divorce proceeding between Kayne West and Kim Kardashian. Cooper, who had just heard that his lover had finally come out of the closet seconds earlier, had just left leaving his empty chair still spinning.
President Hedges turned off all the televisions displaying news coverage and instead began reading the various intelligence reports concerning the present situation. With the world's attention riveted on the aliens several nations had taken that moment to attack their neighbors in an attempt to settle longstanding quarrels. Hedges took some solace in the fact that none of the combatants in the dozen or so new conflicts had used any nuclear or chemical weapons, yet.
More disturbing was the breakdown in authority in several countries, including large areas of the United States. Religious groups were especially the worst, as the preacher on MSNBC had shown with his highly animated breakdown. With their views of reality and reason so violated some had retreated to bunkers fearing Judgment Day was at hand while others committed group suicide. Active army units had been sent in to these troubled areas to reinforce National Guard units who had been pushed to the breaking point while trying to keep order.
Despite the low-level clamor of all the people in the Oval Office, Hedges heard none of it and just starred at the screen showing the graphic of the approaching ship. He couldn't help but wonder with all the Hell breaking loose on Earth what the aliens thought of human civilization.
Speculation on the alien craft had taken several different angles, some extreme and quite ludicrous, since it was first discovered passing Saturn. The two most likely were that it was indeed a ship full of intrepid explorers or, given the perceived extreme difficultly associated with interstellar travel, some sort of probe guided by an artificial intelligence. It would have pleased the former to learn that the craft was indeed a ship crewed by an advanced species.
A species so advanced and long lived that their civilization had developed space flight about the time multicellular life first appeared in Earth's early oceans. Those believing it was a crewed ship would have also been fascinated to learn that this was not just a ship of simple exploration but that it had a discernible and practical purpose for traveling the uncounted light years since its departure from its point of origin.
For that species engineering and scientific experimentation had taken on a scale that humans would have compared with some god. These creatures had no intention to establish communications with a contentious and extremely primitive group of hairless primates. Their ultimate goal was to contact other civilizations, but it involved scanning for signals across whole universes for intelligences similar, or greater, than themselves.
To accomplish such a feat took a material that they could not readily fabricate. Namely a delicate form of matter that could only be created in the core of some gas giant planets like Jupiter or Saturn. This substance was exceedingly rare because too much pressure, like that at the center of a neutron star, would destroy it before it even existed. So fleets of ships were sent out to find and collect this substance so the device could be built. It was a tedious and time consuming duty but for a civilization nearing a billion years of existence well within their capabilities.
Caught up in their own microscopic and self destructive pursuits the people of Earth barely had time to notice that the starship that had so disturbed their preconceived notions of where they fit in the universe simply passed them by and within a day once again disappeared into the darkness. Many on Earth would spend their lives speculating as to why the aliens did not contact them. As with all things involving humans the reasons ran the spectrum from the possible to the utterly insane. A few did guess at the truth but they largely kept to themselves since to many it was just to great an insult to human arrogance. They realized that the aliens did not contact Earth for the same reason humans did not attempt to carry on a conversation with ants living in a pile of dirt they might find along a highway.