A military vet reflects on the words that saved the human race.
|No one ever expected them to give us a chance.
All the stories, all the movies, not even the academics anticipated what first contact would mean. The movies always had us fighting an evil alien force and triumphing by our indomitable human spirit and snappy one-liners. Kid stuff, but damned if the Secretary of Defense didn’t buy into it 100%. He wanted nuclear strikes on the ships within an hour of their ultimatum. The professors and researchers all came up with important-sounding theories like the “Methuselan Principles” or the “Paradox of Contact.” Not one of them could explain why our search for extraterrestrial life was so damn futile, though. We’d been active in our local stellar region for generations, and had scanned the skies long before that for any sign of a message. We hadn’t heard a single thing; not until they wanted us to.
Their ships showed up 8 days ago. Our automated defense satellites and drone ships were blown out of the sky before we knew what was happening. The most advanced shielding and armor technologies that humanity had to offer lasted between 4 and 8 seconds. They uncloaked in a near Earth orbit, and spread out to encompass the globe minutes later. They held that pattern until we scrambled a quick-reaction force of diplomats, military personnel, and scientists. The entire world held their breath as we made our first contact with an intelligent alien species. Our ship approached theirs and suddenly stopped. I remember being in the command center that day, and the panic in the voice of the pilot. He had no control of the ship anymore. Every system had been overridden. That’s when they spoke to us.
Through our ship, they broadcast a message to all of humanity. They had studied our development as a species for millennia. They watched us develop tools and harness fire. They were impressed when we unlocked the secrets of the atom so quickly thereafter, and noted our passion for exploration. They had intentionally kept themselves hidden from our sight, in order to study our development without interference. The tragic actions of a few misguided individuals in Roswell were regrettable, but their existence remained hidden.
Until now, that is. We had grown faster than they ever anticipated. The experiment that was human civilization had run its course. Earth was to be sterilized, like an old petri dish. They tried to explain the process in comforting terms, but there aren’t many ways to make “We’re going to superheat the planet until your atmosphere combusts and your world melts” sound like a good time. The aliens were sympathetic to our negative opinion of that plan, of course, but assured us this was standard protocol for cases involving reasonably primitive races like ours.
Unless, of course, we could justify our survival. The aliens explained that if we could provide them with proof of our continued value, they would of course let the experiment continue. If we could give our executioners a good enough reason to spare us, they would. After all of our struggles and challenges, after millennia of bloodshed and generations of triumph, the fate of humanity came down to one thing: What were we worth?
Immediately the world set itself to one task, and one task only; distilling all that was good about humanity into words. Poets, economists, philosophers and generals sat in what were probably the weirdest focus groups of all time trying to come up with the combination of words that were our salvation. The first few results were, generously speaking, rough drafts. “Our value is expressed in the fraternal bonds we have formed.” Touching, but we just spent the last hundred generations inventing great new ways of killing each other. Our alien overlords probably didn’t give a shit anyway. “Our civilization is a symbol of triumph of reason over base wants.” Right, because human beings are such a great paradigm of rationality and logic. “Humanity is continuous movement forward.” What the hell does that even mean?
You’d never believe where we got the answer. I mean, of course you do, because everyone knows the story by now. But who the hell would’ve thought some 26 year old nerd working on his PhD. would inspire the response that saved our planet? David Spooner, from God Knows Where, Ohio, submitted his entry to the government website, and within hours it had passed clear up to the top. We had our response. Now we had to hope it was good enough.
We sent it up in a specially designed capsule. Lead-lined, titanium-coated, and basically as invulnerable as we could make it, we wanted to make sure that our bid for survival made it to its destination intact. Due to the sensitive nature of the mission, we didn’t want to risk sending any broadcasting equipment with the message. We’ll never know exactly how things went down that day. But I like to imagine it going something like this:
It took early humans 110,000 generations of using stone tools before we harnessed the power of fire. 20,000 generations after that we had developed a written language. And only 250 generations after that, we achieved spaceflight. We’ve been searching the stars now for hundreds of years. You may try to end us now because we’re a liability, but are you absolutely certain we haven’t prepared for this? If you decide to attack, know this; you’d better kill every single one of us, because if you don’t, we’ll end you. In less than 250 generations.”
72 hours passed in silence, and then the alien ships departed the solar system. They haven’t been seen or heard from since.