Cathy nudged up her Vint & York Adeline glasses as she studied the data on her screen. It was unmistakable. A signal.
Until that moment, Cathy had believed the future of the planet to was hopeless. Global warming, inequality, pollution, the mistreatment of animals–so many issues. And there was no way out. People were too driven by their own selfish desires.
But what if we received help from another race of intelligent beings? One that travelled the stars would know how to transform this planet into a truly sustainable ecosystem.
Following first contact protocol–each person at SETI kept it in a laminated binder on their desk–she alerted the US Air Force. A dozen F-16s were scrambled to protect the nation’s airspace.
The the other 98% of the earth’s surface area would have to fend for itself.
On The Hand of God, currently circling this system's fourth planet, Booba leaned back in his chair and put all eight feet on the starship’s control panel. After the hard work of choosing which BlodChat reply to send to this planet—the AI had produced 27 different translations–he did the Bloderian equivalent of flipping a coin, and chose one randomly. Exhausted, he was ready to start another gaming session.
On the game menu, he selected a flamethrower and began poking his tentacles around corners, searching for two-legged pests to exterminate. Oh how he enjoyed first-bloderian-shooters. Perhaps it was the visceral thrill of blasting away at bipeds. He would try to get over his distate on the current assignment. Visualization was key. He would imagine them as normal creatures with shiny exoskeletons and multiple legs and tentacles.
Cathy, despite her gloomy views on the future of the planet, maintained a flowery disposition with people, one nurtured growing up in the beautiful pine covered foothills of Boulder Colorado. Far away from the ravages of the mining industry in the west and the blight of industrialization in the east.
She looked at the decoded alien message. The words were in English but they didn't make any sense.
“There must be a coded message in this. The Taliban hid their messages into the pixels of jpeg photos,” she said to the large and growing team in SETI’s office.
Behind he loomed General Sputz. The military was now trying to muscle in on the action at SETI and capture the glory of first contact. “We need answers.” He looked around at everyone else. “No one slacks off until we get to the bottom of this.”
General Sputz grew up in Akron under the merciless eye of an abusive father. He lacked Cathy’s positive outlook. But he knew better than to blame his parents, so he blamed the toxic pollution in Ohio’s drinking water.
They both studied the message again:
Smoked like bacon
Feel our sound
All for taking
Lift your hands
Booba is your man
This friday night
Make my day
Cathy wondered why an alien race would communicate in meaningless nonsense.
Another man cleared his throat. Professor Hall, the linguist from Berkeley, spoke up. “78% of the radio transmissions from Earth that leave the solar system are music. This message looks like pop music, doesn't it?”
Cathy groaned. “So…decades of SETI broadcasts sending earth's knowledge to alien planets, was drowned out by Top 40 radio.”
“From the lyrics, I’d say the pop music of the 90s. Space travel has a time shift. If the aliens didn't know anything else, they would think pop music was our main form of communication.”
“Sad,“ Cathy said. She was trying to stay composed while watching someone else uncover the mysteries of first contact. “What do you think it means?”
“His name is Booba, and he’s looking for a date Friday night.”
General Sputz was now staring at Cathy oddly. “Date night. You're the best looking woman here. Are you willing to serve your country?”
“What do you mean by that?!” Cathy said incredulously.
“Save the world. Think about it?”
“I am a scientist,” she said, looking at this General in his polyester uniform with even greater disdain than before.
The next day, they sent the message they laboriously wrote together:
‘Thank you for paying homage to our 1990s pop music. We would like to invite you to meet our leader at the White House on Friday.’
The reply was quick. The voice of an alien was heard by earth for the first time.
“I’m meeting Madonna? And why did it take you so long to reply?” spoke the deep, resonant voice.
“Sorry, it took us time to understand the message. And we have a new leader now.”
“A new leader, let’s celebrate. You should throw a party for Booba on Friday.”
The ground began shaking, an earthquake. SETI's office was close to the San Andreas, but it seemed like too much of a coincidence.
“Did you do something?” she asked Booba the alien.
Cathy glanced at General Sputz. His face was ashen. He leaned over and whispered, “Tell him yes. We’ll throw him a party on Friday.”
On The Hand of God, Booba tinkered with the control panel while thinking about what he should wear to the party. The earthquake he triggered in Northern California had gotten their attention. He wanted make an even grander entrance on Friday.
Booba had studied their history and wanted to give Hiroshima a break this time around. They were treated so unfairly in the past.
“How about we nuke Antarctica as our opening act?” he said to his assistant Zagbed. "The tidal wave would be 100 meters tall."
His assistant found it challenging to disagree with his boss, but he mumbled, “The way they party might be different than yours, boss.” Zagbed cowered, prepared to dart from any weapon discharge in his direction.
“Just because you don’t know how to loosen up, doesn’t mean they don’t,” Booba roared. He believed he and Zagbed had the sort of friendly employee-manager relationship in which one could be utterly frank without any hard feelings.
Zagbed inched for the door.
After the alien caused an earthquake in California, General Sputz knew things on earth would never be the same again. It was an alien feeling to no longer be in charge of the world's most powerful military.
He wondered what type of party Booba might be expecting. This was out of his wheelhouse. He would need to rope in the Pentagon’s cultural diversity team.
Cathy, at first repulsed by the General’s suggestion that she should be Earth’s alien dating escort, now toyed with the idea. She remembered her childhood aspiration to improve the planet. And, what would it be like to be the first wife of an alien race? This could be a historic act affecting future generations. A sea change in the perceptions of extraterrestrial marriage.
She made up her mind. But first, she needed to know what Booba looked like.
Booba received a request for a photo on a private radio frequency. But sending selfies was not the Bloderian way. Most non-Bloderians had only a millisecond to look a Bloderian in the eyes before they were exterminated.
But due to the labor shortage, the bureaucrats back home insisted Booba not get trigger happy, and he didn’t want to spend another 100 years doing community service. So as a compromise, he asked the ship's AI–trained on signals received in the 1990s– to make a recommendation. A deep fake photo based on David Hasselhoff, with “From, Booba” handwritten in red lipstick on it.
The next day, the first thing the General noticed was Cathy dressed much nicer than usual. She smiled at the General as if she knew something that he didn't.
“I'll speak to the alien first. Quiet everyone!” Cathy said. When there was silence in the command center, she switched on her microphone. “Good morning, Booba. We are all looking forward to meeting you Friday. We would be eternally grateful for any help you could give us with the pressing needs of our planet, such as CO2 emissions—”
The deep, powerful voice of the alien cleared his throat.
“Excuse me. We can cover the nitty-gritty...“ Booba said, “After we get to know each other better. First, we need to agree on your nation’s unconditional surrender, so there will be nothing to ruin the mood on Friday.”
Cathay blinked furiously a few times. “Unconditional surrender?” she said. “I'm going to have to pass you to the General.”
The phrase ‘the buck stops here’ went through the General’s mind, and then panic set in. If he surrendered, his name could be attached to the most shameful event in United States history. Last century’s word for a traitor was Benedict Arnold. Would 'General Spitz' be next century’s eponym for being a shameful disgrace?
Sputz picked up the microphone. “We are prepared to...cooperate.”
“Cooperate, means surrender?”
“We will do what you want from us.”
General Sputz thought of something intelligent to say at this historical moment. Such as Douglas Armstrong’s famous quote from the moon. He thought some more, and then simply said, “We’ll try our best.”
Booba wondered why this man kept talking in circles. He was fairly certain he used the right words. Perhaps some things just don’t translate. It didn’t matter. The big decisions had already been made.
“Let’s move on. Surrender, Cooperate. It’s all the same to us.”
Bloderians had their own protocol to follow when conquering alien planets. He pulled up his 13-pages of notes and began going through the bullet points.
Cathy listened to Booba rattle off details about which documents needed to be signed by whom. The right order to shake all eight hands of the conquering General. How they would go about transferring the national savings to the Central Bank of Bloderia. Booba was speaking so fast, it was obvious, he was just trying to get this over with.
There was a pause, and then Booba said, “And, to make it all easier, you’ll soon be getting help from Bangladesh. We have been training their civil service in implementing our Bloderian regulations.”
“You know, collecting taxes, calculating the correct minutes of the day to show homage to the Bloderian Gods, enforcing the 29-day work week, special benefits for the 8-legged population, stuff like that…”
“A 29-day work week? Bangladesh is ok with this?”
“The first class of trainees finished our 3-year civil servant training program. They didn’t complain.”
How were people in Bangladesh being trained by an alien civilization without anyone knowing about it? Cathay wondered if the CIA had put so much effort into spying on Russia and China, they missed a spaceport in Bangladesh.
“Can we receive training too?” Cathy asked. She wondered if her plan for intergalactic marriage needed acquiring some new skills.
“Sorry. The training manuals have only been translated into Bengali. Their grammar for postpositions is similar to ours.” Booba said. “Moving on. The last item I’m obliged to inform you of today is…we will be extracting the iron from your earth's core, so your planet may experience some shrinkage.”
“Yes. The earthquakes get a little rough. On the positive side, lower gravity is great for parties. Do you acknowledge our terms and conditions.”
Instinctively, Cathy said “yes", before she had time to realize what she was signing up for.
Many have reported experiencing a sudden moment of clarity in their life. An instant when suddenly their entire perception changes. Cathy experienced that while watching the flickering neon dot of the alien spaceship orbiting Mars on her screen. Cathy switched allegiance. She now believed humanity was Earth’s only hope.
Booba cancelled his RSVP to the party at the last minute, citing important political developments. In fact, he just wanted to finish the last level of the Battle of Lookai, the game he was currently playing.
The civil servants from Bangladesh arrived the next week. When there was push back on the 29-day workweek, Booba put in the time to launch anti-matter torpedoes at a dozen major military installations. After that, everyone fell into line. In coming years, the Bangladeshis would often remind others about their special communication line to the Bloderians upstairs. There was a theory they might be making it up and simply deciding things on their own, but no one wanted to test it. The people of earth learned to follow all the new Bloderian regulations according to the manuals coming out of Bangladesh.
After the entire planet's surrender, the US military continued to spend trillions of dollars defending the nation against threats that didn't exist except on Flox News. General Spitz proudly wore the same polyester uniform that he always had before. He and the military successfully denied that they had anything to do with the nation’s surrender.
Cathy’s life would set off on a different trajectory. She would relocate to the new planet’s capital of Dhaka, learn Bengali, and then over time, working within the system, build a resistance movement that would build the world's first nuclear space laser. This weapon would one day free the planet from the ravages of the Bloderian mining industry and put it back into the hands of Australians.
Luckily for the Bangladeshis, by Independence Day 2065, the world’s population had become so used to following Bloderian regulations that, even after the roll back to a 5-day work week, they kept their iron grip on middle management positions for the centuries to follow.