Humanity contacts intelligent alien life.
“Tell me again why we’re so certain that they’re sentient?” Alaric was staring out of a viewport at the nearest globular alien floating in the pink clouds of Saturn’s atmosphere.
Leo did not look up from his concentration on the navigation instruments. “Some of them were seen apparently helping one that lost buoyancy.”
“Lost buoyancy?” Alaric had difficulty hiding the sneer on his face. “How would an observer know that?”
“It was dropping into the deep atmosphere,” explained Leo. “Three of the others left the herd and caught it. Brought it back by crowding around it and lifting.”
Alaric was silent for a while as he considered this. Then he turned to look at Leo. “Elephants do that,” he said.
Leo shook his head. “Yeah, maybe. But they don’t heal each other afterwards.”
“That’s been observed?”
“Seemingly,” returned Leo. “A bunch of them gathered round and, a few hours later, the sick one was floating around as normal.”
“Hmm,” said Alaric. Apparently out of questions, he turned back to the viewport.
Outside, the aliens continued on their unhurried way, like a collection of dirigibles grazing in the pink meadow of a clouded and drifting environment. Although their bodies were clearly containers for some form of gas that enabled them to maintain height above the crushing deeper layers of Saturn’s atmosphere, their resemblance to airships stopped there. They varied in colour from a light and hazy yellow to a pastel green with subtle variations in between. Each one pulsed with a glow that came and went, almost as though they were breathing light. Long, dark streamers fell away from their bellies to twist in stately dances beneath them.
Intelligent or not, thought, Alaric, they were incredibly beautiful.
Many times in the next few weeks, Alaric watched the alien herd and wondered if they would ever be able to communicate with them. Their exploration vessel, specifically designed to float in Saturn’s upper atmosphere, was crammed with instruments for detecting possible media for transport of communication between alien beings. Each one had yielded no result. It seemed that they were adrift in a silent world , forever condemned to be watchers of a serene, peaceful scene that had no voice, a world that had no use for them.
And then Saturn spoke.
Alaric saw the scout ship returning after its long sojourn amongst the “blimps”, as the aliens had been named for convenience. He assisted with the docking procedures and was the first to help its single occupant with disembarking and decontamination procedures. Then the man disappeared into consultation with the scientific staff and it was days before Alaric heard more.
It was his friend in navigation, Leo, who told him the story recounted by the scout’s pilot. “He established contact with one of the blimps.”
Leo fell silent then and Alaric had to ask, “And?”
“You’re not going to like it,”said Leo, with a strange look on his face.
“What the hell would I care,” asked Alaric.
“Okay. Just remember, you wanted to know,” said Leo. He began and Alaric just listened.
“It seems this blimp was apart from the others so the scout found it easy to get close and try all the usual methods of communication. He wasn’t really expecting a response but, after a long time of repeating the more likely language media, the blimp spoke to him.
“I don’t know how it said it but, apparently, the blimp asked him to shut up. Complained about the constant bombardment of his senses and stupid questions. Maintained he was crazy enough without all the harassment.
“Well, you can imagine the scout was kinda surprised at all this. For a while he did keep quiet, mainly because he didn’t know what to say. But then he tried asking short questions and waiting for a reply, rather than repeating them over and over. It worked and he was able to establish a relationship with the blimp. And the blimp, whose name sounds like a fart, told him all he wanted to know and more.
“There was a reason the blimp was out of the herd. He was in a sorta state of quarantine during which he was supposed to come to his senses. The problem was that he kept hearing voices. Well, that wasn’t the real problem; they can all hear the voices. But this blimp was open about it and asked questions. The wrong questions.
“He connected the voices with us. And that raised a real stink amongst the blimps. There was total uproar about his heresy in even mentioning us. We don’t exist, you see.”
Alaric found himself forced to interrupt. “What? Are you saying…?”
“I said you wouldn’t like it,” reminded Leo.
“Okay, I’m sorry. Just get on with it,” said Alaric.
“We don’t exist because we don’t fit within the blimps’ theology,” explained Leo. “In their belief system there is no mention of beings other than themselves and all creation is contained within the infinite cloud of being. It is impossible for us to exist and our explanations of a universe beyond what can be seen is clearly evidence of their own insanity.
“So they refuse to see us and are forbidden to speak of the voices. The hope is that, if they deny us long enough, they will regain their sanity and all will be as it has been from the beginning of time.
“It seems that we are an inconvenient hallucination.”
There was silence as Alaric began to understand the aliens’ point of view. Having never seen land or the sky, ignorant of the stars and planets, aware only of the never-ending flow of a clouded atmosphere that shielded them from other worlds, it was inevitable that they should believe only in the existence of their known world. How could one explain the infinity of vision in space, the bright twinkling stars of the universe, the solidity of rock planets, to a being that has never seen them? It would be like describing colours to a blind person.
Clearly, the best thing humanity could do would be to leave Saturn forever, allowing the blimps to live in peace in their splendid isolation and their shielded sanity. Space exploration was proving to be a little more complicated than Alaric had ever suspected.
Word Count: 1,047