If you’re like me, you were probably excited to hear an ancient sarcophagus had been found in Alexandria, Egypt. I mean, according to all the movies I’ve ever seen on the subject, this should introduce us to an ancient curse or a mummy zombie—hey, there’s a new category of TV shows for you—or maybe something more rational, like a nice plague. Or at least a stash of gold treasure.
Instead, when investigators opened the box, all they found was…old bones. Yeah, exactly what you’d expect in a sarcophagus. And also, raw sewage that somehow leaked inside. I wonder what kind of warranty they offered on coffins in 332 B.C? Think the company that made it is still around?
Also, some wiseass started a change.org petition asking for permission to drink the mummy sewage juice because… people are fucking nuts, that’s why.
Okay, maybe the end of the world was too much to hope for. But another interesting piece of science news this week caught my attention. Researchers in England say that memories from before the age of 2 are probably fake. In one study, they found that forty percent of participants claimed to have memories from their “preverbal” stage between 9 and 12 months of age. The study’s author says people can’t actual form memories at this age, and are most likely thinking they remember an event based on pictures they’ve seen or stories they were told.
I found this interesting, as I recently had a conversation with someone who didn’t think it was possible for a character in a story to remember something that happened when she was three. I thought that was silly, because I can clearly remember the plots of Sesame Street episodes I watched at that age, what I got for Christmas that year, what I wanted but didn’t get, and what my favorite t-shirt was.
So I did some Googling, and what I found was that most people don’t remember anything before the age of 3, and many memories from that time period often fade by the age of 6 or 7. The average age of a first memory is estimated to be about 3.5.
Then there’s the really exciting science news of the week: An ancient Grego-Roman dude named Galen, who was presumably whatever passed for a doctor two thousand years ago, had a fascinating theory: According to an old piece of papyrus paper that was recently translated, Galen believed women could die of “hysterical apnea” due to lack of sex. In other words, he thought that if women didn’t get laid they’d just spontaneously stop breathing. I’m going to assume he also thought he was saving a life every time he did the horizontal tango. I can just picture the bumper sticker on his chariot: “Save water, save yourself, shower with me.” Or maybe he wrote on public restroom stall doors, “For hysterical apnea treatment, call 55-GALEN.”
V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”
It was just an ordinary day on the White House lawn until the spaceship arrived. Secret Service agent Bob Wilson and his partner, Agent Jerry Hargrove, stood guard on the lawn outside the West Wing, a few feet in front of the Oval Office’s bulletproof windows. Out of the corner of his eye, Bob caught a glimpse of the president of the United States, waving his hands in the air as he talked to some foreign diplomat, but Bob remained focused on scanning the lawn for any sign of threats.
Fortunately, everything was peaceful. Nothing stirred on the immaculately manicured green lawn. Bob’s earpiece, which the Secret Service agents used to communicate with each other, was silent. He was just about to check his watch to see if it was almost time for his lunch break when he noticed a stirring in the grass.
It was the sort of thing that happened when a helicopter was about to land, and he instinctively looked up, moving a hand to the gun on his hip. Above and about twenty feet ahead hovered a spaceship. It was round, larger in the middle, not unlike some of those flying saucers he’d seen in bad science fiction movies. Unlike a helicopter, it was not loud, which explained why he had seen the grass stirring before he noticed it.
It did not, however, explain why he was cracking up.
That had to be it. This stress of guarding a guy who pissed people off more often than the average politician smiled for the camera had finally gotten to him, and he was having some sort of mental breakdown. Aliens aside, a spaceship couldn’t really land on the White House lawn. If any kind of aircraft got anywhere near the protected airspace over the White House, the Secret Service would have been notified and the White House evacuated as a precaution.
So, breakdown it was.
If I’m going to lose my mind and start hallucinating, why couldn’t it be something better than a spaceship? Like a deserted island and the Victoria’s Secret Angels? Now there’s something to—
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Jerry also had his gun pointed at the saucer-shaped object.
Bob blinked at his partner. “What do you see?”
“I see a goddamn spaceship, that’s what I see. You?”
“Same here.” Well, that was good to know. Even if he and Jerry simultaneously lost their minds, what were the odds they’d have the same delusion?
So what could it be? Why weren’t they warned when it entered the protected airspace?
“You think it’s the Russians?” Jerry asked.
“The Russians? In a flying saucer?” The ship, or whatever it was, settled on the grass, tiny feet extending from its underside to support the craft.
What if aliens really showed up at the White House?
“Maybe it’s some experimental new thing they have, and they landed unannounced to prove their technological superiority or something. Hell, maybe those rumors are true and this is, you know, a takeover.”
“You reading the tabloids now, Jerry?” But he had a point. Russia was rumored to have been blackmailing the president of the United States for months. The idea of a coup had been kicked around, but seemed bizarre.
Well, until now.
Still, fancy new ship or not, the Russians had to know they wouldn’t make it very far once they got out. Jerry, Bob, and two other Secret Service agents assigned to lawn detail all had guns trained on the saucer, as did one of the four Marines that patrolled the West Wing. They weren’t really visible, but sniper units were also stationed on the roofs of the White House and surrounding buildings, and it was a safe bet at least some of the snipers had a clear shot at the ship.
Maybe it wasn’t a coup. Maybe the Russians were finally fed up with the president and had decided to reveal the top-secret blackmail tape they supposedly had in person.
So they landed on the White House lawn in a flying saucer just to release a video of the president having sex with a life-size blowup doll of a Pokemon?
A door opened on the side of the saucer, unfolding to reveal steps. Bob aimed his gun directly at the stairway. He felt bizarrely like he was in a really bad scifi movie with terrible special effects and a title like Alien Abduction: The President.
After a few seconds, a small, gray, big-eyed creature appeared in the doorway and descended down the steps. It looked a little like one of those badly-Photoshopped tabloid pictures of aliens, except the head was less almond-shaped and more rounded. The big black eyes overshadowed the rest of its facial features, including a small opening that looked like a mouth, and slight bump in the middle of the face that might have been a nose.
“Stop right there!” Jerry yelled when the alien reached the bottom and stepped onto the grass. “Don’t come any closer!”
Bob wondered if the thing understood English, but figured it probably understood having twenty guns pointed at it.
The alien lifted its four-fingered hands in the air.
“We come in peace,” it said in a halting, robotic-sounding voice. “I am not armed. You may check me for weapons.”
“Don’t worry, we will.” Bob nodded at Jerry, then holstered his weapon and slowly approached the creature. “How many of you are there?”
“I have come alone, but my people sent me on a mission to Earth. Take me to your leader…” It paused a moment, scrunched up its face. “Please. It is of great importance that I speak with the leader of Earth.”
Bob patted down the alien, not bothering to correct his apparent assumptions about the president of the United States. “What do you want?”
“I can only discuss that with the leader of Earth.”
He moved his hands over the alien’s skin, which didn’t really feel like skin at all. It was smooth and cool, almost like rubber. He would have guessed it was clothing, but it seemed to cover the intruder’s entire body. A suit, maybe, for visiting foreign planets?
He went over the creature’s body twice, but didn’t feel anything that felt like a weapon. “Do you have a name?”
“Yes, I am…” It launched into a twenty-second string of what sounded like absolute gibberish, then paused and turned its head so the big eyes could focus on Bob. “But you may call me by my title, if that is easier for your people to pronounce.”
“And what is your title?”
“I am…I believe the closest term in your language is ambassador. I am an ambassador to other planets.”
A voice buzzed in Bob’s ear. “If you didn’t find anything, bring him to the east entrance. We want to run him through the scanners, and more importantly, we want to get him away from that ship so we can examine it. Also, hurry up, people are starting to take pictures and this shit is probably already on YouTube.”
Every door into the building was equipped with the equivalent of an airport scanner as a way to double-check that no one brought in any unauthorized weapons.
“I will escort you inside and let the president know you want an audience. You try anything funny, and all those people with guns will shoot you.” Bob took the alien by the arm and marched him toward the side door, glancing over his shoulder at the gate. Sure enough, people with cell phones gawked, and a couple posed for selfies, using a selfie stick to get themselves with the White House spaceship in the background. They could try to confiscate the cameras, but a lot of those people were posting live already. It was too late.
At the doorway, several armed guards greeted the Ambassador, who stood, still and calm, while he was poked and prodded and X-rayed so much he would probably glow in the dark for a week. Bob stood off to the side and watched, and Jerry joined him.
“We’re not seriously going to take him to see the president of the United States, are we?”
Bob shrugged. “That’s above my pay grade. But it seems like too big of a risk. We don’t know what kind of weapons these people have. What if it’s something we can’t detect?”
Just then, the president’s Chief of Staff stormed into the room, looked the alien up and down, then made a beeline for Bob and Jerry. “May I have a word, Agent Wilson?”
Bob nodded and followed him into a room full of cameras and monitors. The chief, as everyone called him, was a big man, with a red nose and sagging beer belly. His Saks suit was rumpled and he reeked of expensive whiskey.
“You told that thing it could see the president of the United States?”
“Of course not. I was instructed to bring it inside so we could examine its ship. I determined it was unarmed, and warned it that we had many weapons trained on it. I said it could wait in here while I let the president know it wanted an audience. At no point did I promise the request would be granted.”
“But now the president wants to meet him,” the chief yelled, spraying spittle on Bob’s tie. “The Secret Service had to stop him from running out onto the White House lawn to tell that thing who was boss. The press secretary had to talk him our of holding a press conference and accusing the aliens of colluding with Russia to ruin him!”
Ah, so that was it. Everyone knew the Chief of Staff was really the great puppet master, pulling the president’s strings, but Bob always suspected the guy didn’t have quite as much power of the POTUS as he wanted. Most of the time, the president would listen to his top adviser, but he was strong-willed, stubborn, and had a very short fuse. This was one of those situations where the strings just weren’t making the puppet move.
“So tell him it’s not safe,” he offered.
“I did.” The chief slammed his fist down on a large piece of equipment. “He insists he has to meet with the alien, to let him know this is our planet and illegal aliens are not welcome here.”
Bob suppressed the urge to laugh. The POTUS had said a lot about “illegal aliens” during his campaign, and he was pretty sure none of it was about this particular kind of alien.
“What if we can use their technology, sir? If this thing could travel here from another planet, probably another solar system, surely we would gain a competitive advantage if we were the only country on Earth with that capability.”
The chief’s eyes glittered. “Yes, I’ve considered that. It’s the only reason I didn’t order them to disappear this guy into Guantanamo. You know this is all over the news? If he disappears, the rest of the world will be screaming that we killed the Golden Goose.”
Security Concerns Trump Alien Disclosure
“So…you want the president to speak with it?”
“Maybe, but I want to speak with him first. We will say nothing to the press about this. If they ask, we can’t speak about it because of security concerns. Eventually we’ll say it was a crashed weather balloon or that car orbiting the planet in space coming down or something. Now, tell me about him. What did he say to you?”
“Well, I’m not sure if it’s a he or a she. I didn’t see any sexually distinguishing characteristics. As for what it said—basically he came here alone, as an ambassador from his planet to Earth, and anything else he will just have to speak with the president about.”
“All right, fine. Get him in a secure room, handcuff him to the table, and I’ll talk to him—but I want you there to make sure he doesn’t try any funny business, like alien mind control or some shit like that.”
Bob decided not to mention that his extensive training had not included a course on defending against “alien mind control.” Instead, he relayed the chief’s orders to the rest of the team.
A few minutes later, they were a white-walled room with alien, who was handcuffed to a stainless steel table.
“What do you people want?” the chief growled at the creature by way of greeting.
“I must speak with the president of the world about that. I can only speak with him.”
“The president of the world? What makes you…” The chief trailed off, stared off into space for a moment. “How did you know how to find the president, anyway? How do you speak English?”
“I have been intercepting your communications for some time,” the creature said. “I have a translation device in my suit that allows me to speak your language, or any of the other Earth languages we have identified. My device can translate with high accuracy, but please forgive me if I sometimes struggle for the right word. There are….nuances that I still have to grasp to master your language. I am still working on that.”
“Yeah, okay, so what do you want?”
“I told you, I can only discuss that with the president.”
“How do you know I’m not him?”
“I have seen your news broadcasts. I know what he looks like. You are the president’s….” It scrunched up its face. “Sorry, I am attempting to find the right word in your language. Supervisor? Nanny?”
Again, Bob stopped himself from laughing.
“If you don’t talk to me, you can’t talk to the president,” the chief snarled.
“I’m afraid I can only talk to the president.”
“Because he is the only one with the authority, knowledge, and intelligence to understand what I need to talk to him about.” The alien leaned forward slightly, and the chief recoiled, leaning his whiskey-scented bulk against Bob. “I have studied him. He says he is the greatest leader in all the world, that he is the only one who can solve all your problems, that he has the best education, the best people. If he is the only one who can solve Earth’s problems, then he is the only one who can help with the situation I wish to discuss.”
Bob stared at the alien, forcing himself to keep a neutral expression on his face. The chief made no such effort. Horror spread across his face like the broken capillaries spread across his nose. He had just realized the same thing as Bob—the alien watched the president’s grandiose stump speeches from his campaign, and after his inauguration, and believed every word at face value.
“So are you here to seek help with a problem of your own?” Bob asked, even though he knew it would piss the chief off. He was only supposed to be here to stop the “alien mind control” device.
The chief’s lip curled in disgust, but he didn’t snap at Bob to shut up.
“I can only explain my mission to the president,” the alien repeated.
The chief stood. “We’ll consider your request.”
He walked out and Bob followed.
“You understand, sir, that I cannot guarantee the president’s safety.” Bob sat next to a bank of monitors while the president’s detail captain paced the floor in front of him a few minutes later.
Special Agent John Phillips ran a hand through his graying hair. “I know that. You know that. But the president insists. Says only he can deal with this illegal immigration problem.”
Bob rolled his eyes. “Last week only he could fix global warming. The week before it was a hoax created by an air conditioner company. Just stall him until he comes up with a new lie that doesn’t require him to meet this thing.”
Phillips shook his head. “Oh no, he’s determined to meet it today. Even canceled his tee time and everything. You’ve got to figure out a way to make this meeting as safe as possible.”
Bob blinked. “Are you serious right now? We know nothing about their technology. Did anyone notice their ship on radar and warn us? No. They can somehow fake out our best systems. They’re literally light-years ahead of us. I can handcuff the thing and we can all point guns at it, but I don’t know what it has up its sleeve, and neither do you.”
“Son of a bitch.” Phillips fixed on one of the monitors, which showed the ship, still sitting on the White House lawn. A team of Secret Service agents, plus dozens more people from the NSA, CIA, FBI, and acronyms Bob didn’t even know the meaning of swarmed around it.
“Be straight with me.” He turned back to Bob. “You’ve interacted with this thing more than any of us. You were the first human it talked to. What’s your take? Do you think they’re trustworthy?”
Bob shrugged. “No way to know. I don’t believe my knowledge of body language would apply to a species from another planet. All I can tell you is if their technology is good enough to fool all our sensors and surprise us with a visit—“ He waved at the monitor. “Then if they wanted to kill the president they could probably do it without demanding an in-person meeting. If they were planning an invasion, I think they’d have just done it by now. They have the means. But I still don’t recommend letting the president near it.”
Phillips shook his head. “Secure that damn alien the best you can. I’ll go try to talk some sense into the president.”
Three hours later, the president was still devoid of sense, and the Secret Service was no more or less certain of the Ambassador’s threat level.
“We’ve put him in every kind of scanner we have,” Phillips said. “I can’t find anything that looks like a weapon, but if that ship could fool all our sensors, I’m not sure that tells us anything.”
“No one reported anything? NORAD, SETI, the Air Force….”
“Nothing. That ship didn’t show up on anyone’s system. We don’t know how they did it. Our best people are working on the problem, but they’re not going to figure it out in—“
“What the hell are you doing in here?” The chief stomped into the room, his face redder than usual. “I told you to prepare the alien to meet the president.”
“He’s downstairs in a secure room,” Phillips said. “There’s a bulletproof glass panel, like in a jail cell. The president can talk to him using an intercom system. They can talk face-to-face, but that bulletproof panel is a must. And I still don’t like this idea.”
“Fine.” The chief pointed a stubby finger at Bob. “As the first person to speak with this alien, you will accompany the president and his detail.”
Bob had a bad feeling he had just been selected as a scapegoat in case anything went wrong.
The prospect of things going right didn’t seem all that likely. He could just picture how the press would describe him: “Bob Wilson, the Secret Service agent who let the president get abducted by aliens.”
Half an hour later, he stood next to the president in one of the most secure rooms in the White House. The Ambassador sat across from them, handcuffed to the table. Their cuffs couldn’t hold its small wrists, so the agents had added about a dozen industrial-strength zip ties. The alien sat, calm and cool, the whole time.
“How do I speak to this thing?” The president flapped his hand at the alien, his lip curled in disgust.
Sweat beaded on Bob’s forehead. Had they been concentrating on the wrong threat? This could go sideways fast if the president had one of his famous temper tantrums. This was, after all, a guy who had once Tweeted he was declaring war on the country of Moroilia, a completely fictional country mentioned in a Saturday Night Live sketch making fun of the president. After one of his aides finally pointed out there was no such place, he then declared the war over and the United States the winner, also via Twitter.
What would happen if he declared war on a vastly superior and very real nation of aliens?
The chief tapped a button on the intercom system. “Go ahead. Both mics are open.”
The president moved close to the glass and glared down at the alien. “Listen here, I don’t know what you people want, but you’re not going to get it out of me. We have very strict policies about illegal immigration. You can’t just come here and take all our jobs and ship them back to—where the hell did you say you were from?”
“Blabberdywiberoldish.” At least that’s what it sounded liked to Bob.
The president turned to one of his aides. “Do I own any golf courses there?’
She tapped a tablet, ran her finger down the screen. “Uh…no. No sir, it’s not on the list.”
President Abducted by Aliens?
The commander-in-chief turned back to the alien and shook his finger at it. “This thing is a security threat! How do we know it’s not a terrorist? How do we know he doesn’t want to kidnap me and hold me for ransom? I can’t be remembered as the first president abducted by aliens!”
“That’s why we warned you against this meeting, sir,” Bob said through gritted teeth.
“That’s not what I mean.” The president glared at Bob then turned back to the bulletproof panel. “You are not stealing our jobs and taking them back there!”
“We have no desire to do that,” the Ambassador said.
“Well, you’re not immigrating here.”
“We certainly don’t want to do that.”
“Then what do you people want from us? What’s the meaning of this attack on our capital?”
Bob winced. He didn’t trust the aliens either, but he couldn’t categorize their unexpected visit as an attack, especially when they likely had the capability to do a lot of damage.
“I am sorry if my visit was misunderstood. This it not an attack. We merely wish to ask your advice, Mr. President.”
“My advice?” The president roared. “You came all this way to ask my advice? About what?”
The alien shifted in its chair and looked down at its zip-tied hands. “Our planet is a mess, Mr. President. We have too many people and too few resources. We produce much of our food in an inefficient way, we’ve polluted many of our sources of water, and our planet’s average temperature is rising rapidly. Our leaders are too busy going to war with each other to solve any of these problems—”
“So you do want to move here!”
The Ambassador blinked, or at least that’s what it looked like. A transparent layer flashed across its eyes in a second. “No. Your planet has these same problems. I was just going to keep going, to keep looking for a planet that had overcome these difficulties, when I intercepted a communication of you speaking. You said that only you could solve these problems for your people. I searched your channels and found all your speeches, but I never found the one where you explained how you were going to do it. I’m begging you, please tell me how you plan to do this, so I can take y our solutions back to my own planet.”
For once, the president appeared to be speechless. He stood, his mouth moving, no sound coming out, for a few seconds.
Finally he got back into politician mode. “How do I know you’re not lying? How do I know this isn’t all a trick?”
The Ambassador tilted its head to the side. “Why would I be lying? What would I gain from that?”
“I don’t know, but you aliens can’t be trusted. I’m not telling you a damn thing.” The commander-in-chief spun around and started for the door, his aides following him.
“Where’s my phone?” he snarled at one of them. “I need to Tweet that we’re going to war with wherever the hell he’s from. I hope you know how to spell it.”
Bob heaved a sigh. Well, we humans had a good run, but I think it’s about time we let the cockroaches take over anyway.
“Mr. President, I’m willing to pay you,” the Ambassador called after him.
The president whipped his head around and stomped back to the panel. “What did you say?”
The alien shrugged in a jerky, unnatural way that suggested it was a recently-learned human gesture. “My planet doesn’t have much in the way of food and fuel, at the moment, but maybe there is something I can offer you.”
The Ambassador drummed the four long fingers of one hand on the table. “I have studied the things your planet needs, and at first I did not think there was any opportunity for trade. Then I realized how alike we are.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?’
“I was looking for things you needed. But then I remembered how the people on my planet often care more about what they want than what they need. For example, much of our drinking water is now contaminated because some powerful people wanted money more than we needed clean drinking water.”
The president rolled his eyes. “This sounds like liberal snowflake propaganda. What’s your point?”
“It occurred to me you might want something we have in abundance but don’t really need.”
“After doing further research, I discovered that what many of you want, or at least consider valuable, is gold. Our planet has a lot of gold. We occasionally use it in some technological applications, but we have far more than the small amounts we need for that. And that’s just on our planet—when we started our failed attempts to colonize the rest of our solar system, we found a large amount of asteroids that were full of what you consider precious metals. I have some samples on my ship, which your people will probably find soon.”
The president’s face relaxed into a grin. “Is that right?”
“Oh yes, we could supply you with large amounts, if you’ll just tell us how to fix our problems.”
“Uh, sir, we should go talk about this,” the Chief hissed at the president. In a louder voice, he said to the alien, “If you’ll excuse us, we’ll discuss your proposal and get back to—“
“No need.” The president cut him off. “If they can provide proof of the gold they wish to supply us, then we have a deal.”
The Chief’s face went white. “But sir, you don’t—I mean, you can’t just give all your secret plans away to these people. We don’t know what they really want.”
“Nonsense. I’m the president, and I know what I’m doing.” The commander-in-chief brushed past his top adviser and pressed close to the bulletproof glass. “Didn’t you all hear what he said? His planet is just like this one. His people vote for leaders who care more for money than their people. I can talk to them, make them understand what a great leader I am. They’ll be so happy, they’ll wish they could vote for me. Maybe we can even form a union of some sort, you know, like we have with Alaska, so they can vote for me too. Don’t worry, Chief, everything is going to be just fine. I’m going to take of it. In fact, I’d like go visit this planet so I can address your people in person, if that’s all right with you?”
“Sir!” Spittle flew from the chief’s mouth. “You can’t! Security concerns, we have to—“
“Of course.” The alien turned up the corners of its nose/mouth/whatever it was in an approximation of a smile. “Just as soon as you tell us the first step in solving our problems, I’m sure our governing council will allow you to come and explain the rest.”
The president blinked.
Bob suppressed a sigh of relief. That was almost a disaster. Fortunately, the president couldn’t possibly have an answer for—
“Certainly.” The president straightened his tie, ran a hand through his toupee, and flashed his unnaturally white teeth at the alien. “The first step is to elect a leader who truly cares for his people, who truly understands their problems and concerns, who will get rid of all the rich people and special interests in your government. Once you do that, the rest is easy.”
“But people like that never manage to get elected.”
The commander-in-chief smiled. “They do on my planet. I’ll give you my entire playbook of campaign strategies just as soon as I see that gold.”
The alien nodded. “We have a deal.”
Bob followed the president out of the room, wondering if he’d just witnessed the beginning of the first interstellar conflict in history.
Back in the Oval Office, the president traced a finger along the top of his desk. “This was a nice planet, but I’m ready to move on to bigger and better things.”
V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”