SERVED • by Micah Joel

The aliens served us twice.

The first time I read up on in law school. A solid iridium disk the size of a manhole-cover fell from the sky, embedding itself deep in the great Ziggurat of Ur in southern Iraq. It had obvious writing on it, but legal (and eventually armed) conflicts kept it tied up for years. Once scientists finally got their hands on the disk, they set upon the task of deciphering — and found a secret so powerful that nobody would fight over oil again. It was a document that described, in painstaking detail, the method and system of obtaining massive amounts of zero-point energy literally out of nothing at all. A second renaissance swept across the planet, and we never figured out who to thank…

Until the second service. I was in-house counsel for a client that had perfected technology to teleport people short distances. We were fighting off a copycat that had appropriated our IP, and worse, lined up the same bloodthirsty lawyers that had litigated the disk incident. There was no dirty trick these guys wouldn’t pull, so I was in a foul mood as I left the deposition, which of course took place in their preferred venue of their own offices.

As I pulled away from the parking platform, out of nowhere, a manhole cover punched through the roof of my car like tissue paper, missing my head by inches. My thoughts about crushing the competition fled as I struggled to control my vehicle. There were too many levels of traffic between me and the ground to maneuver my vehicle down safely; the best I could manage was a hairpin turn to crash-land on top of the lawyers’ building. I’d have to settle for damages, but at least I’d live to tell about it.

My door wouldn’t open so I squeezed through a shattered window and brushed myself off. From the outside, it looked worse — the disk had nearly cleft the car into pieces, and it jutted out of the frame at an awkward angle, not quite all the way through. It was odd: the first disk targeted a world heritage site. The second targeted legal offices. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

A lawyer materialized in a nearby televator, but slipped past me on his way to the… car? No, the disk. More arrived. Before long, a whole squadron of 3-piece-suited lawyers had gathered, and in what had to be some kind of a precedent, not one of them served me papers or even threatened me. They huddled around the disk, capturing footage of it with their expensive 3D cameraphones. I slipped closer to observe. I made fleeting eye contact with the head lawyer from the deposition — the gaudy illuminated pinstripes were unmistakable — and there I saw my three favorite things to see on the opposition’s face: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

His phone projected text in front of him, and I discreetly snapped a picture of it. Holograms don’t photograph well, but I could make out most of the words.


SETI translation; preliminary rendition (97% confidence); translator: NPK; additional annotations by JMS

To sentient beings of Sol III:

Galactic Ventures, LLI (“Galactic”) holds the license to certain intellectual property granted by the Imperium for a period of one Q-sector [we estimate 2,000 years]. We have become aware that sentient life forms in your planetary system are infringing on our energy-production patent, registered as [we can’t translate this identifier of about sixteen glyphs]. In accordance with interstellar law, which we ourselves were instrumental in drafting, the Galactic patent has been registered on durable communication disks and published to technological societies in exchange for monopoly protection. By reading the disk we sent, you have accepted its terms and conditions.

If you are interested in obtaining a license for these patents under reasonable terms, please contact us. Several systems have arranged licensing with us in exchange for indenture of as little as 68% of their sentient population, including offsets for a high percentage of legal professionals. If you are not interested in obtaining a license, please confirm that your planet has terminated its infringing activities and contact us so that we can amicably discuss how to redress infringing activities that have occurred to date.

Regardless of whether or not you want to obtain a license to the patents, we require a response to this letter within one R-sector [we think this is only 2 years] or we will assume you do not want to amicably resolve this matter.

To respond, leave your durable communication disk on top of our ziggurat.

We look forward to your response.


I sat back down on my ruined car and dialed up the CEO I reported to. “Something new has come up,” I said, “I resign. Earth’s going to need all the lawyers it can get.”

Micah Joel is a Viable Paradise graduate and high-functioning computer geek who lives in Silicon Valley.

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