Since the day the two aliens — an organic form and a machine from the Black Eye galaxy, a spiral galaxy some 17 million light years away — appeared on Earth, Alex Cariddi had been cursing the day he started working for SETI.
After a few days of confirming the authenticity of the contact and proving beyond any doubt that the two aliens were not some highly sophisticated hoax, humanity was ready to start paying attention. However, the world got very pissed because the aliens said that, for their convenience, they would only communicate with Alex.
At first, everything was so-so. The machine alien said that they would not destroy the planet if the humans proved worthy by coming together and solving a major global problem within a year. The biological alien said with a faint, apologetic smile that Alex would be the one choosing the problem, and he wished humanity good luck.
Alex chose solving world hunger and moved out of his apartment to an inconspicuous hotel. Soon, he started to frequent the small and very dark bar located in the hotel’s basement.
“Good evening, Alex,” said a middle-aged, extremely boring-looking woman, as she approached Alex and sat on the chair next to him.
Alex jumped. “Who are you? I am not talking to reporters or anyone else. You people should know that!”
“And we are glad you are doing such a wonderful job with that. Relax. I am one of the aliens. The biological one. Don’t argue with me, just touch me.”
Alex obliged. His hands passed through her arm.
“See? Empty space. Because I am not really here. I am a hologram.”
“You looked different the last time I saw you.”
“I was a hologram last time, too, because it turns out that humans can’t stomach my real appearance. I look like what you would call a blob.”
“What do you want?”
“Remember how we said we would destroy this planet exactly a year from now if you don’t succeed in eliminating world hunger?”
“I am trying to forget it.”
“Well, don’t bother. The machine has decided to destroy you anyway. He sent me to tell you that. But you don’t have to tell anybody. It’s up to you. The machine said it didn’t care.”
And she was gone.
Telling the world what he knew was out of the question. He didn’t want to be responsible for the mass panic that would ensue. On the other hand, keeping the secret to himself seemed extremely unfair. So, he started to fantasize about death — being killed in a car crash, or by a mass murderer, or by a quick but fatal illness. Then he ran the numbers and found out his suspicion was true — the probability of any of these events happening to him anytime soon, considering his age, general health and geographic area, was slim. Suicide wouldn’t do it — he was too much of a coward to carry it out. A few days later, as he was chugging down his fourth beer at the hotel bar, a man materialized in front of him.
“You know, Alex, you look terrible!”
“Glad to hear my plan to kill myself drinking is working. Who the hell are you?”
“The blob! It’s one of my holograms again. Call me Sam.”
“You are a guy now,” said Alex, moving his hand through Sam.
“I sensed you would be more comfortable talking to a guy tonight. I think I need to explain something. I feel this is our fault.”
“You see, my home planet is very old. We were one of the first cosmic civilizations. When we finally figured out AI, it helped us solve a lot of problems. Actually, all of them. And as a bonus, we achieved immortality. Then, one day the AI figured out how to self-replicate. They went on exploring the Universe without us. At some point they decided they didn’t like competition and started destroying all young civilizations on the verge of producing AI on their own.”
“I see. And how did you end up here?”
“The AI visit us from time to time and get very flustered because they’re programmed to never want to try to kill us. I guess this is one thing we did right when we were figuring AI out back in the day. From time to time, they try to convince some of us to accompany them on their missions and facilitate their communication with the organic forms they are about to destroy. I took the opportunity.”
“How did you find us? Was it one of our radio signals?”
“No, we sent a signal to you at the hydrogen line frequency. And you beamed back! Should you have not responded, the machine wouldn’t have bothered making the detour.”
“Someone signaled back?”
“Weren’t you the one who signaled?”
“No, I was working the night shift and happened to be taking a nap! My colleague was covering. Must’ve been her. So, why did you choose me?”
“We just thought you were the one who responded.”
Alex woke up abruptly to a commotion in the control room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he heard his colleague Jill talking to herself, “a clear narrow-band signal! This is so exciting! It’s almost too good to be true!”
“Jill, don’t touch anything!” cried Alex, as he bolted upright and rushed towards the computers. He grabbed the closest chair and smashed the neatly arranged monitors.
A lonely, highly intelligent blob turned off his remote communication with Alex’s brain and observed the result of the dream he had orchestrated. He wobbled with great self-satisfaction when the pieces of the shattered monitors fell all over the floor. He had finally found a way to mess with the machine ? by calculating the exact moment of the potential contact and warning, telepathically in the form of a dream, the creature most likely to be involved in it.
Luckily, Alex, as most primitive intelligent forms, took his dreams seriously.
Milkana N. Mingels was born in Bulgaria and currently lives in Massachusetts. She is the author of the Tales from the Mountain of Perun duology. Her short fiction has appeared in the Sirens Call magazine. She would love to hear from you on her Facebook page.
Regular reader? We need your Patreon support.