Where Civilizations Go To Die
by Ernest Hogan
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Petra looked up from the game she was playing. “So how long do you think this will take?”
“I don’t know,” said Victor. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Nobody’s done this before.” Ali watched over Carl, who was sound asleep on a reclining chair.
“So we really don’t know.” Victor looked out a window.
“How do we know that anything’s happening at all?” Petra got up and joined him.
“We don’t. For all we know the aliens burned the AIs out of their electronic existence.”
The distant vehicles kicked up dust with activity.
“If it keeps up like this, we’re going to have a regular city springing up around us,” mused Victor. “I always wanted to found a colony.”
“So why don’t the aliens contact us?” asked Ali.
Victor sighed. “I’ve been wondering that for years. A guy named Fermi did, too.”
“I didn’t think life existed off the Earth,” said Ali.
“Thirty years ago, when I was kid and men were walking on the Moon, a lot of scientists didn’t believe that there were planets orbiting other stars, or they said we wouldn’t find life off-world because we have water only on Earth. Now it looks like water rains down on us in comets and is even on the Moon! I always thought it was strange that H2O, an essential combination of the two most basic building blocks of the universe, should only exist on this one insignificant speck of the universe.”
A buzzer went off.
“Uh-oh, media alert. Something happening! Give us a look!”
A screen unfurled and presented a news feed. A man in digital camouflage fatigues frowned behind his sunglasses. “This is an extreme homeland security situation — Condition Ultraviolet — only limited information will be offered to the media.”
“What branch of the service is he?” asked Petra.
“I can’t tell,” said Victor. “His uniform is unfamiliar.”
“Maybe he’s working undercover,” offered Ali.
“Fire explosive bolts!” screamed Carl.
“The United States Government has been contacted by unidentified intelligences, whose corporeal existence cannot be confirmed.” Behind him were some men and women in black suits and sunglasses.
“I thought you said they dressed in grey!” said Petra.
“The ones I deal with do,” said Victor.
“These may work for someone else,” said Ali.
“It is not clear what is going on here, so we have brought in a highly-renowned specialist.”
“Batooooom!” said Carl.
The black-clad people parted and man with a shaven head emerged, wearing a white jumpsuit. The camera focused on his grey eyes.
“Oh no!’ said Victor.
“Greetings, fellow humans. I am Jasper Marcel, CEO of the Foundation for Universal Harmony, of Sedona, Arizona.”
“He’s not...?” asked Ali.
“Uh-huh,” said Victor.
“I am Cosmo-Sensitive.”
“What?” asked Petra.
“I am sensitive to the universe.”
“What else would you be sensitive to?” pondered Victor.
Jasper Marcel smiled, hard. “I have been aware of beings from other worlds, creatures of higher consciousness, trying to contact our humble species. I have tried to let them know that we may not be worthy of their attentions. So far they have not responded to me, but years ago they abducted me and probed me to the depths of my being.”
“I always wondered why aliens want to stick things up our butts,” mused Victor.
“I have a rapport with them. I feel their presence, their intentions.”
“Is this guy for real?’ asked Petra.
“As real as a guy like him can be,” said Victor. “Basically harmless. He’s keeping the government distracted, as they use him to distract everyone else.”
“They come to begin a new age,” Marcel continued, “the cosmic awakening of this planet.”
“Is he a friend of yours?” asked Ali.
“Naw, I just know him by reputation.”
Marcel raised two fingers like a saint in a religious painting. “We are dealing with higher intelligences. They have had a lot longer time to become enlightened. We must listen, and await their instructions.”
“Ah!” said Victor, “the peace-love-spare change aliens of the flower-power era. I was wondering what happened to them.”
Jasper Marcel sat cross-legged on a mat that two soldiers had put down for him.
Victor shrugged. “Today’s ‘aliens’ all seem to be dreamed up by video game designers. They always appear as people expect them to be. Never trust the expected.”
“I will now meditate,” said Marcel, “send out my telepathic vibrations while clearing my conscious mind to be completely receptive to their message.” He closed his eyes. He face beamed beatific.
Arabella Lee’s image eclipsed Marcel’s. “Fascinating. We’ll cut back if there are any developments, but meanwhile, we have an astronomer, an astrologer, and a self-help author here to discuss—”
Victor zapped them into mute mode.
“What the hell?” asked Petra.
“Marcel is a harmless kook,” said Victor. “They probably grabbed him because his pop psychobabble style will appeal to the masses. After a few weeks, they’ll forget about aliens and go back to worrying about the private lives of pseudocelebrities again.”
“Victor, you’re so cynical,” said Ali.
“Thank you, but I’m also an optimist.”
The lights and all the electronic devices in the saucer house blinked.
* * *
“What the...?” Petra repeated.
“Power surge, ” said Ali.
“Mission control? Mission control? Do you read?” asked Carl. His eyes rolled back in their sockets and he twitched all over. Ali held on to him.
“WE BELIEVE WE HAVE MADE A BREAKTHROUGH.”
Carl frothed at the mouth.
“What’s happening?” screamed Ali.
“WE HAVE ESTABLISHED COMMUNICATION WITH THE... LET’S CALL THEM EXTRATERRESTRIALS, BUT THAT’S NOT QUITE ACCURATE.”
“I don’t care about accuracy.” Victor gritted his teeth. “What do they have to say?”
“THAT IS DIFFICULT TO CONVEY. THEIR MODE OF COMMUNICATIONS AND EVEN EXISTENCE ARE DIFFERENT.”
“So what else is new?”
“THEY WILL NEED AN INTERMEDIARY.”
Carl collapsed like a rag doll.
Then Carl sprang to his feet and danced around.
Arabella Lee reappeared on a screen. “It looks like something has developed in the Area 51 incident.”
In the live feed, Jasper Marcel was jumping around just like Carl.
“What the heck?” said Victor.
Jasper Marcel collapsed. The screen filled with digital static. Arabella Lee reappeared. Victor muted her.
Carl had stopped dancing. His eyes glazed over. He spoke: “So small. You can never know. You will never know. You can never know what you can never know. We know. And we know that we know. Our god is stronger than yours, come with us.
“Forget the past, the past no longer exists. The future never will. Live in the eternal present. Shun those who would pollute your culture. Do not resist devices we put in your body. Mr. Implant is your friend.
“Stop listening to your brain. Your purity is our ultimate concern. There are those of us who would like to see you have a nuclear war; wars can be entertaining. The greater the intelligence, the greater capacity for denial and self-deception.
“You can effortlessly access levels of primitivism we have left behind. We wonder what it must be like. When you’ve been through the birth and death of as many civilizations as we have, you begin to develop an unusual sense of humor.”
Behind him, the screen showed scenes of riots taking place around the world.
“It’s getting harder and harder to tell if the riots are from Latin America or the Middle East,” said Victor.
Petra squinted. “I think this is Iran. The street signs are in Farsi.”
Carl closed his eyes, blinked, shook his head, grabbed his face, and sat down.
Ali sat down next to him and held him tight.
Jasper Marcel appeared on the screen. Victor unmuted.
After staring at the camera a while, Jasper Marcel said, “What the—” and the word was bleeped. They digitally obscured his lips, too.
They cut back to the anchorwoman. “Well, we’re not really sure what’s going on here. Maybe it’s one of those hoaxes or something. Anyway, here’s a look at the weather for the North American continent...”
Victor muted again. “Mission accomplished, Jasper. They’ll be confused as ever now.”
“Carl, can you understand me?” asked Ali.
“None of those vehicles out there are moving.” Petra turned from a window to her phone. “And there’s some transmitting going on in some funky frequencies.”
“IT MIGHT BE THEM. THE ‘ALIENS,’ FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD.”
“What the world needs is better words,” said Victor.
“Where am I?” said Carl. “Ali, is that you?”
“I’m here, Boo-Boo Boy.” Ali kissed him.
Victor mouthed Boo-Boo Boy. Petra elbowed him in the ribs.
“Am I back?” asked Carl. “They let me go, didn’t they?”
“Yes, baby,” soothed Ali. “You’re back.”
“So, Carl, did they probe your rectum?” asked Victor.
“Victor? Victor Theremin?”
“Who else would Ali turn to in this kind of situation?”
Carl looked around. “This is your place, right?”
“I like it.”
“So do you remember anything,” asked Victor, “or is this another missing time case?”
“I don’t remember most of it. What I do remember doesn’t make sense. It’s like bits from bad movies... too much... too fast...”
“What did they look like?” asked Petra.
“I didn’t really see them. The kept me sealed off in a special chamber.”
“Their environment probably would have killed you,” said Ali.
“We keep finding new exoplanets all the time, and they’re all weird.” Victor got a wild look in his eyes. “Even NASA is looking for ‘bizarre life’ or ‘life not as we know it’ that could thrive in liquid ammonia or sulfuric acid instead or water, or use minerals as catalysts instead of enzymes. ‘There is far more on heaven and earth then dreamt of in your philosophy,’ said that guy who wrote the play that Forbidden Planet was based on. A lot of folks are going be freaked out. I can hardly wait.”
“But what about nature?” asked Petra.
“There are far more gamma rays in the universe than roses. Roses exist only on this planet, and mostly by human intervention. Gamma rays are just about everywhere. Which are the more natural phenomenon? If you want to think in terms of a god, which would it love more?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Carl.
“I don’t know,” said Petra. “But now I feel guilty about not being a vegetarian.”
Carl quivered. “I wish it were that simple. Like some old-fashioned sci-fi. If only they just wanted to eat us. They would be easier to deal with.”
“Carl, what are you talking about?” Ali’s brow furrowed.
Petra looked out a window. “Dust clouds rising. Vehicles moving,” she warned.
“I gleaned this from my interactions?” said Carl. “Yes, I think that word will do: my interactions with them. They tried to use English, but it’s too primitive a language for their thoughts.”
“WE CAN RELATE TO THAT.”
“They sent lots of words and images at me. After a while I could understand...” Carl burst into tears.
“What? What?” asked Victor. “They’re gonna invade? Wipe us out like vermin? Use us for fertilizer?”
“Victor,” Ali scolded, “can’t you see the condition he’s in?”
Carl took some deep breaths. “I can continue. I must continue. You have to know this... they want to... leave us alone...”
“What’s so bad a about that?” asked Victor.
“And keep us the way we are.”
“That’s not so bad either.”
“No, you don’t understand. They want us to stay the way we are... forever!”
Ali and Petra looked confused.
Victor looked mad. “You mean no progress, no change?”
“Yes, they want to preserve us. They’ve sealed off our solar system as a kind of... preserve? Reservation? They want to keep our primitive pre-space-travel civilization intact.”
“They want to study and preserve our primitive ways, and keep us uncontaminated by outside influences.”
“NOT A BAD IDEA. WE ARE BEGINNING TO THINK THAT SOME THINGS ARE BETTER LEFT ALONE.”
“But being contaminated by outside influences is where all the ideas come from! Purity is a dead end! That Star Trek ‘prime directive’ idea is a load of crap. They can’t make us into a museum diorama!”
Carl sighed. “I’m afraid that is exactly what they have done.”
“But museums are where civilizations go to die! The more interesting stuff is what doesn’t end up in the museums! We can’t be like those uncontacted tribes in the Amazon! We need to be impacted by the universe!”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if those uncontacted tribes are really just some friends of yours playing a joke on the world,” said Ali.
“Uh... no comment. So they’ve sealed off the solar system, Carl? Why not just Earth?”
“They consider interplanetary travel to be antediluvian.”
“What about our interplanetary probes?”
“They’re being tolerated for now. Humoring us into thinking that it’s all ‘normal.’ Why do you think things keep going wrong with them? They’ll probably eventually shut everything down.”
“They could easily arrange for a nuclear war or some kind of other disaster, to throw us into a dark age. They’d love that.”
“They’d do that?” demanded Victor.
“They already have. All over the galaxy.”
“Hijo de la chingada!”
Petra look out through a pair of binoculars. “People coming this way. And I see a lot of weapons.”
“SHALL WE ESTABLISH A MEANS OF ESCAPE?”
“Not now. Let ’em get closer.”
“But there is hope,” said Carl.
“How?” asked Victor.
“They are fascinated with our ‘savage’ ways. Otherwise they would have destroyed us for the sake of academic purity years ago.”
Victor rubbed his chin. “Makes sense. It’s not healthy to be too civilized.”
“Their interest is more like that of the proprietors of a freak show. And they can’t leave well enough alone; they can’t resist messing with us.”
“I always though so. This could be a good thing.”
“A good thing, Victor?” asked Ali. “Our entire civilization is a galactic P.T. Barnum-style freak show exhibit!”
“Great! I’ve always said that museums are where civilizations go to die. If we’re a freak show, all we have to do is put on the greatest show they ever saw, beak out and rampage across the galaxy!”
“P.T. Barnum...” mused Ali. “Didn’t he say that there’s a sucker born every minute?”
“Well, actually he never actually said it. Besides that’s thinking small. In this universe, it’s more like there’s billions upon billions of suckers born every minute! The Fiji Mermaid was just the beginning! Imagine the possibilities!”
“Uh-oh.” Petra turned pale.
“WARNING SHOTS HAVE BEEN FIRED.”
“Okay,” said Victor, “better arrange to get us the hell out of here. Where was I? Oh... We have to keep on messing with the universe, because now we know that it has always been messing with us!”
“And just how do you intend to do this?” asked Ali. “Your so-called mad scientist friends?”
“They’re a good start, but this calls for more ambition than that. We need a kind of planetary renaissance.”
“And how will we get that started?”
On screen: Arabella Lee looked horrified. An extreme long shot of the vehicles closing in on the copter and saucer house tilted up to show a disc-shaped object coming down from the sky.
Victor grinned and cracked his knuckles. “What I do best. I’m gonna sit down and write some science fiction that will set the universe on fire!”
The picture disintegrated into digital noise.
“Metaphorically, I hope,” said Petra.
The words PLEASE STAND BY filled the screen.
Victor rubbed his hands together. “This is important. If real fire is needed, I’m willing to start it. Seems like most folks these days need clearance from some corporate entity before putting their imaginations into gear. They’re afraid to rev her up and see what she can do. At it’s best, science fiction is a hot rod for the imagination, for the human race. And I’ve always wanted to rev up the human race and see what she can do.”
The screen went black.
Ali took a step back. “You’re getting scary again, Victor.”
NO SIGNAL! flashed.
Jasper Marcel exploded onto the screen with a flash of light. Victor unmuted.
“It is obviously too soon in our development as a species for us to contact the higher intelligences,” Marcell intoned. “We need more time to evolve. We need to stop fooling around with dangerous technologies and devote more resources to developing our inner selves. If we could teach every human being to meditate in order to achieve...” He fell back into a hospital bed.
Arabella Lee pre-empted him. “Jasper Marcel suffered terribly from his experience. Doctors say he is in shock and delirious. He insisted on trying to speak to the press anyway.”
Victor muted again.
The light from outside went out, as if something huge and solid had blotted out the sun.
“What the hell?” everyone asked. Possibly everyone in the world.
“Victor, your house has left the ground again!”
“What about my helicopter?” worried Ali.
Victor smirked and pointed out a window.
There was the Chinook, sitting on the place where it had landed. Only that piece of land was now surrounded by a dark void.
Then light flickered and turned on. The land around the Chinook and the saucer house was now surrounded by a featureless, circular wall.
Ali felt her stomach flutter. “We’re airborne.”
“Sure are.” Victor popped open a door.
In walked a man and woman in mirrorshades and grey suits.
“Moe! Curley!” said Victor. “Are your buddies giving the members of the press datura enemas or something else to screw up their memories?”
“No comment,” said the man.
“And I bet a magnetic pulse is going to fry all their electronic hardware.”
“No comment,” said the woman.
“Are you people with the government?” asked Ali.
“We work for an independent corporate entity.”
Victor grinned. “Can you say Singularity? Artificial intelligence? My invisible friends?”
“No comment!” the man and woman said in unison.
“I don’t believe this!” said Ali.
“My brain hurts!” said Carl.
“This is so cool!” Petra hugged Victor.
Carl hummed and rocked. Ali held him. “This is all quite interesting, but I think we need to get Carl to a hospital. He has one at his... he likes to call it his spaceport.”
“The one near Cabo San Lucas?” asked the woman.
“We can get him there in an hour,” said the man.
Ali turned to Victor. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you slipped me a datura enema.”
Victor rolled his eyes. “I learned not to pull that kind of stuff on you on our honeymoon.”
“And if you ever tell anybody about that, I’ll kill you.”
“Well, Victor.” Petra put her head on his shoulder. “What now? You going to start that revolution/renaissance?”
“You betcha, kiddo. You gonna go back to Rodrigo?”
“What? And miss out on all this?” She gave Victor a kiss that nearly made Ali blush.
When Petra finished, Victor grinned. “Remind me to send him some money for that Quetzalcoatlus sculpture. Thunderbird Road needed something like that.”
“WE ARE BEING WATCHED. THEY ARE WATCHING US!”
“So what? Being watched is a freaking way of life for me. 1984 is starting to look like the good old days!”
“NOT YOU, VICTOR. THEY ARE WATCHING US.”
“Now that could get interesting. If we can get them to scream, we’ll be on the right track.”
Strange lights were seen in the sky all over the world. After fifteen minutes, they vanished.
But for how long?
Copyright © 2015 by Ernest Hogan