Author: Alastair Millar

In a well organised world, Doug Williams thought, the proper venue for this conversation would have been a bunker deep below a heavily secured building somewhere in the world capital. Instead, they sat on a sunny balcony overlooking a pretty lake, their protection details discreetly invisible. A permanent secretary in the World Government’s Communications Bureau took his perks where he found them.

“Well,” sighed his guest, “there’s no hiding it. They came down slap in the middle of Europe, in front of God and everybody. The newscorps are having paroxysms, at least six major religions have declared a miracle, the military is petrified, and the conspiracy nuts are having a ‘we told you so’ field day.”

Jacques Perreault had spent the morning at the landing site, and his brown eyes looked worried. “And our lords and masters need a policy before they’ll stick their necks out.”

“Well nothing’s jumped out and started shooting, so we can presume they aren’t hostile.” Williams waved his fingers, “we come in peace, etcetera.”

Perrault grimaced. “Yes, but when they emerged briefly, we saw what they looked like. Tripedal. Blue skin covered in slime. Random appendages that might or might not be limbs. Or pseudopodia. Not exactly attractive. I have no idea how we’re going to spin this.”

“Obviously as a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. Interstellar travel! Imagine the possibilities!”

They sat and watched the water for a while, and began to smile.

* * *

Six months later, in a more appropriate, concrete-lined basement, they were no longer smiling.

“What do you mean, they’re leaving?” demanded Williams.

“Just what I say. Six of their forcefield ‘ships’ broke orbit this morning and are heading out of our system already. The other eight look like they’re powering up to go as well. Their shuttles or whatever have all gone – Buenos Aires, Osaka, Srinagar and Cape Town all report them closing up and taking off without warning about two hours ago.” The screen on the wall showed the first one, still sitting near Prague; for how long yet, nobody knew.

“But Jacques, we can’t let them do that! All that potential!”

“Doug, we can’t stop them, and we can’t talk to them. Hell, we don’t even know if they have sensory organs! Our best minds have tried interacting on more wavelengths than most of us even knew existed, and in more ways than we previously thought possible, and what’s the result? Nothing! Nada! Zilch! Nothing they do is comprehensible to us!”

“You think we should just give up then? Accept that we’re not smart enough to communicate?”

“I think we’ve proven that to ourselves, frankly. Imagine if it was us. We get to Mars, or Titan or wherever, and find intelligent life. We don’t know how they want to communicate, so we wait for them to make the effort. And they never do – or at least, if they do, we don’t recognise it. Maybe we reconsider their intelligence. Or maybe we just get bored, and leave. Perhaps we’ll send some biologists along later, get some universities involved. Maybe there’ll be academic papers. But for now, we’re out of there.”

“Put like that… I rather suspect that’s just what we’d do. Do you really suppose they think like us?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not an expert. None of us is, that’s the problem. But then again, perhaps they are more like us than we care to admit: only interested in finding someone they can relate to.”

They turned to the screen as the last of the visitors rose inexplicably into the once again empty sky.