The Oval Office
We sat in a dark silence. We were essentially drifting through space. We were all smaller than we had been a moment ago. In the absolute darkness, the Milky Way became visible in all its splendor and mystery. The inconceivable vastness of the universe became clear to anyone who looked up. I suddenly felt frighteningly tiny.
“We should have backup power by now, shouldn’t we? It generally kicks in automatically.” One could always rely on Schiff to keep things practical while the rest of us were lost in the miraculous.
“Mr. President, I suspect they shut everything down to get your attention.” Fitzgerald would rip his own arms off before he would allow anyone to see the fear we were all feeling.
“They have it. What do they want?”
“I assume they’re waiting for a response, specifically from you. If Jobson is right, you just need to send them a text.” Lilith appeared entirely unsurprised by our situation.
“Is there any reason to believe they can read English?”
“Any decent AI would be able to with the vast data set they’ve received in the last ten minutes. They can probably read every language on Earth by now.”
“Rob, I appreciate your input, but I would much rather hear from the science expert.”
“Until power is restored, Mr. President, the people in this room are all you have.” Rob was apologetic.
“Mr. President, I hate to say it again, but you need to understand this clearly. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“Ya THINK?” I slammed my fist against the desk. “My National Security Advisor weighs in with world class analysis. Thanks so much!”
“In the first 60 minutes of a worldwide power outage, Mr. President, it’s likely 90% of the global population will die. Even as we speak, there are cars crashing into each other because there are no traffic lights. Those on life saving devices in hospitals will perish promptly. Within the next few minutes, panic will begin to ensue. Heat is out here, and it’s April, so it’s going to be cold for us. It won’t be long before people who don’t know what they’re doing try to light fires to keep themselves warm, and there will be no way to get firefighters to them because there is no communication. On other parts of the planet people are going to need their air conditioners to keep from roasting. In short, sir, there’s not a minute to waste. We need to reply.”
“And say what, exactly?”
“If nothing else, get them to restore power.”
“Is anyone here an accomplished texter?”
Everyone looked at their phones. No one had signal.
“It needs to come from your phone, Mr. President. They’ve obviously decided you’re the only person they are willing to talk to. At least for the moment.” McCartney glared at me. “That’s the world class analysis you pay me for.”
I took a breath, and I sent a text:
Greetings from Earth. I’m the President of The United States. We’d love to get to know you better, but, at the moment, you’ve put us in an intolerable situation. If you could restore our power, we could absolutely talk. Absent that, this is the last message you’ll get from me.
The lights all came on instantly, and the Milky Way faded from existence in the sky as our Earth illuminated itself once again. I had lost forever, though, my sense of power and sovereignty. My place in the universe was much smaller than I had imagined. So was yours.
“Mr. President, I need to order our forces to DEFCON 1 immediately. We’re obviously under attack.”
“How much good do you think that’s going to do, Fitz? They’ve demonstrated their ability to shut it all down whenever they want. Mr. President, I see no reason to respond in a threatening manner. And, honestly, I don’t know what the hell we would be shooting at anyway. Are we going to target our weapons on random space?”
The screen popped on and Ellison and Jobson reappeared. Ellison was giddy. Jobson was terrified.
“Hawking was right. He said, ‘If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.’”
“Hawking was full of shit. With this power they could already have destroyed us all if they had wanted to. They didn’t. They just needed to have your attention. Now they have it, don’t they?”
“Mr. President, I’m getting reports of casualties from all over the planet. Every news service is covering it. The White House has to do a press conference, and we have to do it now. The world is crumbling. We need a leader.”
That was when every device on Earth, in the native language of the user flashed the same message:
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl
Millennium after Millennium
“Oh, I love these guys! They’re Pink Floyd fans. I mean, like, of course they are. Text them back, have you any dreams you’d like to sell?”
“You’re advocating responding to Pink Floyd with Fleetwood Mac?”
“Okay, can I just say this whole conversation is surreal? We’re debating 70s rock lyrics while millions around the world are dead.” Schiff was quietly furious.
“Sure, President Dude. Are you kidding? It’s Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”
“Assume, just for the moment, that I’m not a complete science fiction geek, Isaac, and explain that in simple words.”
“He’s referring to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a classic called ‘Darmok.’ The Enterprise encounters aliens who speak in cultural metaphors. Darmok and Jalad were marooned alone on an island called Tanagra. They had to work together to destroy a beast that would kill them both. And that was the situation that Picard and the alien faced together. You really should check it out.”
“Actually, I think that episode is called “The Inner Light.””
“Were you the Treasurer of The Star Trek Society at your high school three years in a row, Claudia? No? Then let’s just take my word for it, shall we?”
“Would anyone like to focus on the real problem? Who are they? What do they want? How do we deal with them? I don’t really see Star Trek or music trivia as being important to the situation. Do I text them back?”
“Mr. President, billions already have. The power is back. Communication is working again.”
“They’re expressing loneliness. They’re saying they share that with us. They’re telling us there’s more than our mutual fishbowls. They’re showing us a part of reality we’ve never been sure existed. They’re offering us a larger home. They’re… they’re welcoming us to the universe.”
I smiled a moment. I knew. I texted them back:
Is there anybody out there?