Quiet Time Has Begun
by Rick Pearson
Livvy lifted her head. “You don’t know how reality works. You and your parents harp endlessly on the evils of Western Imperialism. Just think in terms of role reversal. We’d be the innocent aboriginals, and the technologically advanced extraterrestrials would be the heartless Western explorers.”
John crossed his arms. “It wouldn’t be like that. A civilization advanced enough to travel between the stars would be socially and morally advanced enough to avoid that kind of negative impact.”
Livvy snorted. “In the real world, when primitive civilizations are discovered by those more technology advanced, the less advanced society almost always suffers. Even in the most benign case, there are huge upheavals in the primitive society. In the worst cases, the aboriginal population is nearly wiped out. First contact with an advanced civilization would be a nightmare. I wouldn’t want our boys or us to live through that.”
“You’ve been spending too much time on your thesis topic. Not every first contact goes as badly as the encounter between the Aztecs and the Spanish. You need to get away from your Conquistadors for a while. They were a rum lot,” John said.
Livvy shut her eyes. “Yes, they were a particularly nasty group. Of course the Aztecs were, in many ways, worse. Reading about either group is depressing. Still, the first contact between those two cultures shows us what the worst-case scenario looks like.”
“Besides, if advanced civilizations are so benign, why didn’t they build those radio beacons the early SETI folk assumed they would? Isn’t it a bit ominous that nobody in our stellar neighborhood wants us to know they’re there?” Livvy said.
Surprised, John said, “Ominous?”
“Of course, if you move into a new neighborhood and nobody comes by to welcome you, that doesn’t bode well. If everyone hides indoors and peeks around the drapes at you, that’s weird and scary,” Livvy said.
John was getting concerned that Livvy was working herself up over this extraterrestrial stuff. He had to calm her down. “Look, did you read about the ‘Fermi Paradox’ when you Googled SETI research?”
“I think I did. How did it work again?” Livvy asked.
“Basically, if extraterrestrial civilization were as expansionist as your Conquistadors, they would have overrun our planetary system long ago. Given a few million years, an advanced civilization using sub-light space travel would have plenty of time to spread colonies throughout the habitual part of our galaxy. A million years is the blink of an eye in galactic time. If such an expansionist space empire ever existed, it would long ago have colonized our Earth. Humans wouldn’t have evolved here and we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” John explained.
Livvy smiled up at John and gave him a wink. “If that’s the case, thank God for Fermi and his paradox. You’re saying if the aliens aren’t here now they’re not coming. Good!”
John was happy to reassure Livvy. John kissed his ‘wildling girl’ and trotted off into the house to catch some sleep.
* * *
One Hour after SETI Success
The Very Long Baseline Array had been aimed at a very promising planet. It was only a few light years away, Earth-sized and well in the “goldilocks” zone of its parent star. At first, the team thought the signal was coming from the target planet and got very excited. They soon realized the source couldn’t be on the target planet.
The motion of the signal was all wrong. Also there was too little noise in the data, and broadcast power was way too high. The team calculated the origin of the signal several times because they couldn’t believe it. The signal originated at the edge of the solar system. It was within the Oort Cloud, the halo of comets that surround the Sun beyond the orbit of Pluto. It was on their cosmic doorstep.
The signal was strong by radio astronomy standards, but too weak to be picked up by commercial radio receivers. The signal was right on the 1420 MHz hydrogen line where early SETI researchers had first looked. The signal was too perfect to be natural. John recalled the morning’s conversation with Livvy about extraterrestrials and his stomach tied itself in a knot.
The signal was from a beacon like the early SETI folks had hoped to find. The problem was, it wasn’t at some safe interstellar distance. It was as if they’d been looking for distant wildlife with binoculars and suddenly found themselves focused on the front of a bear close enough count to its eyelashes. It was terrifying.
The signal wasn’t subtle or hard to decode. It was in standard ASCII code. The characters spelled out a simple message. The message was repeated in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The languages that operators’ of the radio telescopes receiving the signal would understand. VLA team was soon printing out the message text.
“So Fermi was wrong about his paradox,” John said.
“Maybe not. I think they’ve probably arrived in the solar system long before we evolved. Apparently, as an interstellar civilization didn’t bother to colonize planets like the Earth anymore, Fermi was wrong there. Once we appeared, they probably assumed we would destroy ourselves and they wouldn’t have to deal with us. The attempt to establish a Mars colony likely triggered the decision to constrain us by sending the message,” Tom said.
“John, contact the government and tell them about the message while I continue to analyze it,” Tom said.
John had no idea who in the US government was responsible for responding to demands by extraterrestrials. His first call to the White House ended in voicemail inbox and a promise to respond in sixty to ninety days. Fearing that the Earth might be vaporized by impatient space invaders during the two to three month wait, John resolved to try further down the organizational chart.
Dealing with the alien’s demands would probably require diplomatic skills, so he googled U.S. Department of State. He was directed to search the frequently-asked questions section of the website. John was unaware people frequently asked DoS about space aliens, but was willing to try anything at this point. Searches under extraterrestrials, space aliens and SETI produced nothing. A search under “threats by extraterrestrials” did produce a phone number to call.
An automated voice said, “What is the nature of your threat?”
John responded with, “Demands by extraterrestrials.”
The robotic voice responded with, “Uncategorized threat profile. From where does the threat originate?”
John responded with, “Oort Cloud.”
The computerized answering system picked the closest entry in its database and said, “Ottawa. There have been no significant threats originating from the Government of Canada since the end of the War of 1812. Please specify group within Canada posing a threat to the U.S.”
John said, “Aliens of unknown origin.”
The robocall said, “Aliens of unknown origin fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. Connecting you now.”
The next robotic voice said, “Welcome to CBPA’s alien entry reporting hot line. To report unlawful entry across the Canadian border, press 1 now. For entry across the Mexican border, press 2. For all other contact with entering aliens, press 3.”
John started pounding the 3 key. The phone-tree then said, “All of our agents are currently busy. Please hold for...,” John slammed the phone down.
Tom saw the end of the exchange and said, “I have friends at SpaceX. I’m sure they’ll be in contact with the government. I’ll send them the message. They’ve the political influence to make the government listen. Go home and be with your family.”
* * *
Six Hours after SETI Success
After a long, lonely drive, John finally pulled up in front of his house.
Livvy rushed out to meet him. “What happened?” Livvy asked.
John twisted his wedding ring. “They’re here. The extraterrestrials sent us a message. They forced the Mars colonization fleet back to Earth.”
Livvy stuttered, “The colony fleet returning like that did sound bogus. What did the extraterrestrials say? Are they going to land?”
John held out the printed page. “This is what they sent.”
Livvy grab the sheet and scanned it. Then she scanned again. Her face changed, and John was afraid she’d break down in front of the boys. Then she began to laugh. Not the hysterical laughter he’d feared, but genuine laughter. He was shocked. “What! What are you doing?”
Livvy giggled like a school girl. “I’m sorry, I’m just so relieved. I expected a message announcing an invasion by space Conquistadors. A raid by cosmic Vikings murdering and pillaging across our planet. This... This is a note from the local planet-holders association tell us to quiet down and stay within our property lines. Our species has been spawned in a galactic retirement village and they’re telling us to pipe down.”
“But they’re cutting us off from the rest of galaxy,” John said.
Livvy gave John a wink. “You know nothing, John Snowson! We couldn’t have handled a military invasion by an advanced race. We’d have been annihilated like the Aztecs. This ‘threat’ we can manage. Their civilization is old, tired and staid, I can tell. Ours is young, dynamic and ambitious. Our sons’ generation or, at worst our grandchildren’s, will end up running the local planet-holders’ association. The human race always seems to produce an endless supply of busybodies, bureaucrats, rule promulgators and committee-formers. Just the type of being that thrives in a planet-holders’ association. The poor old, little green men have no idea what they’re in for,” Livvy said.
With that, John’s ‘wildling girl’ threw her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.
Copyright © 2017 by Rick Pearson