Beware Aliens Bearing Gifts a short story by: GF Willmetts (short story)

September 28, 2014 | By | Reply More

They were coming. At long last. They were coming. Whatever they might be.

Over the decades, we all imagined how the first contact with aliens would be like. The fearful put it down as invasions because they wanted our planet and the local inhabitants who they often saw as just scum to be quickly exterminated. The pacifists hoped that they’d be benevolent and give us upgrades so we can be more like them.

Personally, I felt that was bullshit. How can anyone know what aliens are going to be like until they got here? They certainly wouldn’t look like anything we’ve seen on TV or films. I mean, how would they think we would be peaceful like them, especially after viewing our media? The fearful might have a point, man. We look like the scum of the Earth. Others took the Hawking Objective and keep quiet lest we bring aliens who might want to get rid of us before we became rivals looking for planets to colonise and not even care about our real estate planet. Would they give us the benefit of the doubt and wait until they could look around in person? In that respect, I was in a minority of one.

However, it could be anything on the spin of a coin. Me? I was sitting on the edge of the coin. Certain questions were easily avoided. How would the aliens speak to us and, if so, how? Would they even want us to speak to them? Would they’re arrival inspire us to rejoin the space race? Knowing travelling between the stars was a done deal would make a fresh incentive. Hopefully as a collective than nations out to out-do each other.

Me? I still tended to think that our first contact was likely to be mind-blowing whatever the outcome. It would certainly change the whole world whether we liked it or not. Who would get hurt the most? I mean, not just physically but mentally. Privately, I thought it would be the most religious. After all, if we’re made in God’s image and an alien has six-legs, what does that make them or us who were wrong? Some religions have always managed to adjust to changes in civilisation but I guess that one would have them all sitting up and pondering.

As it turned out, our first alien contacts actually had two legs. They had four arms though and didn’t have anything to say about any belief system. Two arms were built for heavy work and two for more delicate things. Their gigantic generation ship was something we watched enter our solar system and came into a parking orbit at the LaGrange point between the Earth and the Moon before a series of smaller spacecraft came down for a visit.

Oh, these aliens, called the Manashi, had been communicating with us for the couple years it took to slow down. Until we understood how to modulate the speed for the velocity they were travelling, there was an unfruitful time as we made sense of what we thought was just static. They taught us their language so we taught them ours. Not just language but our maths and science. They taught this back but stopped short of giving us anything radically too new. The press jibbed that they had their own version of the First Directive and the general giggles from our comedians that they were probably ‘Star Trek’ fans having received the broadcasts in space.

Where was I? Oh yeah, two legs. Considering that they lived in space, we thought they’d be like us, unable to cope with regular gravity but they seemed ok. They just articulated their arms more when they talked. Just as well, really. Their heads had similar features to our own but were passive or maybe too subtle in their expressions. They projected through their voices and arm gestures. They even carried the equivalent of our cameras. In short, they saw themselves as tourists.

We still called them envoys as they came down amongst us and looked without touching and moving eyes, four of them, did I say they had four eyes? Although how they used them was anyone’s guess, as we showed them around our world. Someone dig suggest that one pair was for broad range and the other pair for close up. They were especially interested in our museums and our great works of art. Y’know, tourist things. As a gesture, we gave them various souvenir knick-knacks. One of them even wore an Isaac Newton tee-shirt for a while.

Although they had learnt to speak our languages, for much of these tours they let our guides do the speaking. They listened. Rarely asking questions, although everyone enjoyed their speech when they talked. Linguists thought there must be a hidden harmonic in their speech. Our cameras watched them like hawks, hoping to learn something from their body language as to whether they were talking between themselves when not to us. Some scientists even rigged portable detection, in case the Manashi were sub-vocalising in that harmonic.

However, they were there to learn about us, having been in a cultural vacuum for so long while travelling. We also suspected that they were evaluating our technology. Our media was very careful not to voice adverse comment knowing these Manashi could read and hack into it and there were a lot of D notices given and certain dissidents detained for the duration. Not so much because they were out-spoken, some were allowed to after a fashion, but we didn’t want to antagonise that giant spaceship in orbit. Y’know, in case it was armed.

We wanted to be on our best behaviour even if we felt like primitive tribespeople because they had hinted they would leave us a gift. Even the rogue states, as they were visited as well, held their peace with that in mind. No one wanted to be left out. Who knows what they would give or how world-wide it would be. Although anyone doubted they’d give us weapons, few doubted that they would be generous to all than discriminate to any one or few countries. It was the most peaceful time we’ve ever had on Earth. I suspect behind the scenes negotiations were carried out to return various hostages while this truce was carried out. Whether they were successful or not would probably not be announced until after the Manashi left and were on their way. Personally, I wish they did if for no other reason to show the effect they had on our society. I did wonder if they announced the gift to avoid anyone attacking them on Earth. No matter, everything as predicted. First contact had changed our world. Would it stay that way?

Eventually, the Manashi pointed out that they were going to use our sun as a slingshot to build up their velocity and continue on their journey. They had no intention of staying and as one of them explained, leaving any of their own kind behind wasn’t optional because it was unlikely they could get back within a generation or two. Speculation on how long these Manashi could live for, let alone how close to the speed of light they could achieve kept the scientific community busy for months. At least with the latter, they could calculate based off their trajectory. I think they were almost smiling at some sort of naivety in our knowledge of space. The same thing with any offers to take some volunteers to see the universe. We simply weren’t long-lived enough and they didn’t have the space to take a proper colony.

Although they couldn’t offer us much from their stores, they managed to give every country and from what I hear, even terrorist groups although when they met those is anyone’s guess, a package, time-locked to open after they left. That gave everyone a serious think. Was it dangerous or were they just the sort of guests who rather their hosts look at their presents after they’d gone?

That made a lot of countries suspicious. What was the saying, ‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts.’ X-rays weren’t much good. The most it could reveal was that there was no mechanisms inside. Just a slight radioactive residue. As it had been in outer space, we would have been surprised if it hadn’t. It couldn’t be a bomb. Well, not unless the release all at once led to a critical mass or unless it was some sort of virus. Someone had to ask the question and the Manashi said it was to our benefit and any problems would be of our own making unless we acted responsibly.

With that, they were gone. Throughout all of it the entire population of the Earth had been star-struck. No one had dared antagonise them or even tried to enter their scoutcraft. It was surprising that no one had invited them onto celebrity shows. Then again, they probably saw them when they received our television broadcasts and knew what to avoid. That got a lot of laughs from my colleagues. The Manashi had a rendezvous and a small window before they had to move on. As sudden as their arrival was so, too, was their departure. Our press and media would be debating for years the significance of what they spoke and took an interest in.

The real dilemma was with what they had left us. A present for each country, community and fraction they had met and spoken with. They hadn’t discriminated by going to the most powerful or even the worse nations or even, as later found out, the terrorist groups. If anything, they were the ultimate diplomats. No one was left out. Fairness to all. Mind you, it also stopped bickering from anyone screaming favouritism. Everyone had the same sized box.

Although the timers on the boxes had clicked off, none were too eager to open the lid and see what was inside. To some extent, the press more than scientists had declared some caution. The Manashi would be a safe distance away must have meant something. Had they being so nice hid a more malevolent side? Was it something that would happen had to chose to empty out the contents all at the same time. A killer virus? Nuclear material that would fission and explode at the same time. That made everyone stop to think, including the terrorist states.

The ultimate Pandora’s box of should we dare eventually became too much for one of the small nations who saw that it might be advantageous to go first. They weren’t stupid. They did it miles from anywhere and all at a distance, neatly filmed. The contents of the box gently laid out on a tray.

What did they leave? Beads!! Not on a string but just beads. As much as we thought we’d progressed in our technology, to them we had barely stepped out of the jungle. The best they could offer us was beads. It was enough to make some people weep.

Everyone thought we’d been hard done by. You know, being patronised but realising that we were seen as primitives compared to these visiting aliens. If you think about it, they were probably right. I mean, we’d only ever got as far as Mars on manned missions and these guys were slowly moving across the galaxy. We had to be seen as primitives. No one was likely to be in their class. Futurologists reckoned it would take several centuries before we could even attempt to make a generation ship and follow them. With the way our environment was going, that didn’t seem like a prospect anyone was going to live to see. Maybe beads was all they thought we deserved. By leaving us to open them after they’d gone would prevent us looking disdainfully at what we thought was a poor gift.

It wasn’t until a couple suits thought that they were coming down with radiation poisoning that someone thought to check the beads with a Geiger counter. The numbers weren’t high enough to kill but ever the cautious sort, the beads were immediately put behind lead. Maybe there was a reason why they spread the beads out like they had to avoid critical mass. It could also be toxic in some way? Had they left something to contaminate our world after all? Had we been too bold in inviting them as guests when secretly they were ensuring that no one would follow in their footsteps or whatever they called their feet? It wasn’t as though they’d left instructions as to what to do with them. Not at least on anything we could see, although there was an immediate scrutiny of the boxes and comparisons of them. Some Science Fiction wags thought that it might have been an excuse for the Manashi to get rid of fuel waste and by spreading it around the globe reduce any contamination, nuclear meltdown or critical mass. Even so, it made everyone hesitate as to what to do next.

It took a while before permission could be given to examine the beads. Who knew what critical mass it would take for a few of them to explode? Even the dissection of one solitary bead could literally blow up in our faces but something had to be done. It was alien, who knew if lead could contain it? Finally, a UN resolution was taken to test one of the beads but away from civilisation. Not on some desert island. No one wanted to risk a tsunami, so a cold station was elected in the Antarctic. That pleased the Canadians and Siberians who thought somewhere in Alaska or the Arctic would have been selected. A meltdown up there would have been even more dangerous. We might risk melting the South Pole but it was only going to be one bead. Not all of them. They even chose that dry area McMurdo hills in Antarctica which has no ice just to be on the safe side. No chance of any ice melting.

The expense of setting up a laboratory station there was nothing compared to the time it took to install it and the procedures to do the testing. All the science journals recorded the progress which invariably got watered down for the popular press. People had to be informed as this was both a world-wide problem and not a decision that could be made by a few. We could be risking all of mankind with one mistake.

Of course, there were dissenters. They wanted to abandon the beads in the ocean until someone pointed out that could contaminate the water and meant no fishing. Space wasn’t an option. Suppose the rocket taking them up exploded and contaminated the atmosphere. We’d be stuffed that way as well.

Let the bickering between nations start again. It was time to examine the one single bead. That was my job, in case you hadn’t guessed. Surprisingly, there were a lot of volunteers from the scientific community from all over the world. Depending on your point of view, I was either the lucky or unlucky one. Although there were cameras and various advisors watching, this was pretty much my show at the end of the day. The decisions were all mine.

Knowing the radioactive nature of the bead, it was not only important to find out what kinds of radiation it was emitting but also what it was chemically. I tell you, even I was just a little reticent about lasering the bead open to see just what was inside. However, the first thing to be done was to do a chemical analysis.

Don’t believe any of that Science Fiction film crap that alien material is made of unknown materials. We all have the same periodic table, it’s just the combination of elements or the radioactive half-lifes they have that might vary a little. Isolating what was causing the radioactivity was the top priority and why I was working at a distance even within the isolation lab.

Lasering the bead open was easier than we thought it would be. I should point these beads weren’t small nut size. They were more like those giant treats sweets. A slice into gas chromatography to see which elements were there. Little bits for various acid and alkali tests. All done in one operation. Just for a test medium, I dropped a tiny piece into water in case anything was soluble.

The tests stopped there and then. The thermometer reading hit the roof. Literally. The particles were having an exothermic reaction. We couldn’t risk any tests that might generate more heat. The repeat test with water gave identical temperature but the sample didn’t dissolve, just turned the water into steam.

There was a lot of heading shaking about what the Manashi had given us. This was potential bomb material after all. Had we gone alone with some proposals and dumped the beads into the ocean, well, we wouldn’t have much in the way of water left over.

I was told to take no further action and turn in for the night. What night? This is the Antarctic and this was their long night. It wasn’t going to be day any time soon. A material that could generate heat in water. A stop-off at just over 100C. I should have thought of it before.

What an amazing gift they’ve given us. An unlimited energy resource. Not enough radiation to hurt but energy to run steam turbines. We could have them up and running throughout the world in less than a year. What a marvellous gift. Would a message sent of thanks ever catch up with them at the speed they were now travelling? Probably not, unless they ever slowed down again.

Should I ring them up and tell them now? I looked at the time on the clock. They’re expecting me to be asleep right now and those who could sleep, needed their rest, too. Maybe I ought to get a few hours kip myself. After all, it’s going to be an exciting tomorrow.

 

end

 

© GF Willmetts 2014

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Category: Short fiction

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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