Author : Alex Sivier

The large door at the bottom of the chrome craft opened with a faint hiss and white clouds billowed out into the cool Swiss air.

A creature slithered out and slapped dozens of wet tentacles against the plush red carpet to propel it towards the podium, where the president of the United Nations stood waiting.

On one side sat representatives from all nations, and on the other side, reporters from all the major news organisations peered out from behind a wall of cameras and microphones.

The president let out a nervous giggle, cleared her throat and slowly extended a shaky hand.

“On behalf all the citizens of planet Earth, I welcome you to Earth,” she said in a well-rehearsed, but slightly wobbly, voice.

The creature, dripping purple slime from its gelatinous body, raised its head on a serpentine neck and peered closely at her with seven, bulbous, unblinking eyes. It held up a small box and manipulated it in a series of quick twists, while tense security guards fingered their handguns.

Suddenly thousands of tiny dazzling lights burst outwards. The president flinched and jerked her hands in front of her face, but it was just a hologram of the galaxy, zooming into a region at the outer edge of a spiral arm. In the space directly between them, a single unmoving red star was the focal point of the zoom. Gradually, as the hologram grew closer to it, it did start to move, gradually picking up speed and increasing in size. The reason for its motion was because it was not at the centre of the zoom after all. The target was a small brown planet with three tiny moons.

The dark side of planet was covered in lights in intricate geometric swirls and lines, like the earth at night, except that the patterns were more regular and covered the whole of the unlit hemisphere.

Sounds began to fade in as the camera zoom slowed to a halt. Chirps, beeps and bubbling noises, mixed with static. It was like listening to the sounds of a forest on a radio with bad reception.

Suddenly a black cloud drifted into the frame, growing more opaque as it neared the centre. Tiny sparks exploded from the planet like welding embers, sweeping curved paths towards it. The cloud swallowed them and flashed from within, but did not stop or dissipate. Very soon it had engulfed the entire planet.

The sounds stopped abruptly.

The president gulped and a drop of sweat trickled down her temple. The whole world held its breath and stared, wide-eyed, at the writhing ball of smoke.

Finally it drifted away, leaving a charred, black planet, devoid of light and life.

With a flick of the box, the stars rushed in again, whizzed past in blurry streaks and then flung outwards once more as the hologram zoomed into a planet near a small yellow star, which was far more familiar. A patchwork of blues, greens and browns, capped with white, and partially hidden beneath swirling pale smears. Its single cratered moon swung around in a slow waltz.

More sounds faded in amid crackling static. A cacophony of words in a variety of human languages. Some accompanied by music, others with laughter, some were the sombre tones of newsreaders and a few were the passionate rants of dictators.

The creature moved its face very close to the president, who leaned back with a nervous frown. It pressed a long, slender tentacle against the larger of its two mouths and let out a single, soft, sustained sound.


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