Author: Ross Clare
“What exactly have you been doing all this time?” the alien demanded.
The scientists of the Legacy Project stood in a loose group before it, shuffling awkwardly from one foot to another. Many were desperately attempting to avoid eye contact by absolutely any means necessary.
One scientist attempted a response.
“Mnh!” The sharp interjection from the alien was intended merely to instate silence. It was accompanied by a very stern look, raised eyebrows, and a single raised index finger.
The finger was eventually lowered, and the alien took a deep breath as if about to deliver a lecture on responsibility to a roomful of adolescents.
“When we came here,” it said, “those many, many years ago, we left specific instructions on what your kind were supposed to do. And, how to do it: how to move forward, how to achieve space travel, unity, technological sophistication… and perhaps most importantly, how NOT to live.” This last point was enforced by a withering look in the direction of no scientist in particular.
“Your ancestors, however many times over, were to pass our guidance down through the ages. Did they forget? Is that what’s happened?”
It looked around, finding no-one. For none dared confirm that their ancestors had not, in fact, forgotten at all.
“Why isn’t your region of space filled with intrepid cosmonauts? Where is your quantum technology? Optronics?”
“Have you seen what they’re doing in Andromeda? Do you know what they’ve accomplished over there?” As if to say: ‘why can’t you be more like Andromeda?’.
It continued. “You do realise, don’t you, that we left an entire cache of fresh water beneath the surface of your Moon? What do you suppose that was for?”
It didn’t wait for an answer.
“It was a waystation, of sorts. A kind of service stop on the way to greater things. Now,” and it said this word with serious energy, “I find you’ve been there… once? In all this time?”
Even as it paused for a little longer than before, the scientists were far too busy attending to matters around them that were, suddenly, of the utmost importance: using their fingernails to chip away at painted walls, scratching a sudden itch on their shoulder, reassessing the pattern of the ceiling tiles.
“We stopped by Mars on the way here, you know,” it informed them with a cutting scorn entirely unbefitting the comment it was underpinning it. “All of the planets in the system, in fact. You see, we’d left materials, resources, supplies on every single one. Every one! And it turns out the food we implanted under the Martian dust is now… dust! Been there so long, it’s a desiccated bed of microscopic fossils. Useless it is, now. A waste.”
It wasn’t done. “My my, we surmised, something terrible must have happened on Earth this past millennium. Yes! Yes, it had. You!” It raised its arms up in half-mocking exasperation. “You happened.”
It stopped here momentarily, to let disgrace sink right in, before going on.
“We find that your world is on fire. Literally, in some instances. Everyone hates each other. Then, when they find other people to hate, they form loose groups of like-minded folks and hate collectively. Lies are the new truth, facts are now fiction, and science, oh!” No, not science! “Nobody trusts science anymore. Nobody trusts you,” again, an almighty emphasis on this last word for maximum efficiency of shame-allocation, “though now I’m starting to understand why. You’re not going out there into the great unknown – you haven’t even got to grips with things on the ground!”
That one brave scientist, once chief of the Legacy Project and now a mere mumbling man-child, ventured another response.
Oh, but it was willing to hear them out now. You’d better have something good, chief.
“Go on! Enlighten us, please… No? I ask again, then. What have you been doing all this time? What, from our set of very specific and generously provided aims, have you achieved?”
The chief thought for a moment.
“We—” he began. And then: “… We’re sorry.”
The alien took this in. With hands now placed on hips, it began nodding, though it kept its eyes looking regretfully toward the floor.
“Yes. Yes, I understand. You’re sorry.”
Then it turned its face to theirs once more.
“And so am I.”
It feigned sympathy – or was it sincere?
“You see… I’m not angry. No, not angry.”
The scientists awaited the death-knell they all knew approached.
“I’m just disappointed.”