Today, the androids were returning from space. At exactly 2:52 pm, they were scheduled to land at the Landing Facility. Already, their ship had been spotted on radar, their moves tracked as they banked steeply left, then right, slowing their speed of descent. Homecoming was imminent. Every square inch of the Space Center Visitor’s Complex was bursting with people. Outside the complex, parked cars lined the road, throngs of people standing in the street, waiting for a glimpse of the spaceship as it returned. Inside, bodies crowded every inch of the spaced themed breezeways, their eyes turned upward at the nearest screen expectantly. All of the screens showed the same thing — the long, gray runway of the landing facility. There was a timer in the corner of the screen, counting down to the big event. T-2 minutes.
While we were watching, the screens filled with a dense, hazy fog, causing the runway to disappear from view. Despite being daytime, strange multicolored lights visibly flickered through the thick air. The fog kept moving, billowing out wildly in all directions, when it suddenly stopped, and slowly dropped out of view as if it were being sifted out of the atmosphere. As the fog faded, the ship came into view. I looked out at the crowd to watch their faces beam with pride as they saw the familiar sight of the giant, white space bird returning home. Maybe the parachute – an American flag made special just for this mission – would still be billowing in the wind behind it, a reminder of how our bold patriotism promised to take us to new heights.
But I saw no gleam of excitement and pride. Instead, they briefly looked confused, then horrified. I turned to look at the screen behind me, catching a glimpse the large, silver disk with flashing lights that danced around the outside rim. It was so large that it dwarfed the 300 foot wide landing strip. Every screen across the courtyard displayed the same image for just a moment, before the feed was cut. The spaceship was replaced by a blue screen featuring NASA’s logo. The words “technical difficulties,” splashed across the screen in large white letters. What we had sent out was not what came back.
The crowd came alive with whispers of a “UFO,” and “aliens.” Their angry grumbles grew steadily louder, each person trying to be heard over the people around them as they expressed their opinion about the current turn of events. When they didn’t agree with one another’s views, they’d turn to their neighbor next to them, and try again. This could get ugly. Already, people were beginning to jostle one another. Control had to be seized. Turning to the podium in front of me, I signaled to tech to cut the feed over to me, and by the time I gripped the microphone, my face was on every screen on campus.
“Thank you all for being here on this momentous occasion. Fifty years ago, my father, rest his soul,” I paused, waiting for the crowd to momentarily bow their heads in respect before continuing, “my father sent three sentient androids out into space on a mission to learn more about our universe. They were to be our cosmic scientists, to bring us back information about the things that we have long wondered about. Is there life on other planets? And if so, are they friendly? Or are we alone in the wide expanse of the cosmos?” I paused, and took a sip of water, waiting for my words to sink in. As I did, a voice came alive in my ear.
“Stall. We need a few minutes.”
I nodded slightly in acknowledgment, the expression so micro its message was hidden to everyone but its intended recipient.
“Fifty years ago — half of a century. That’s a long time. Do you remember when it all began? A lot of you were probably young, like I was. Bright eyed, still seeing the world with wonder and surprise. Do you remember where you were when the shuttle launched, sending our three explorers on a bold adventure around the universe?”
On screen, my image was replaced by three androids, freshly made. They were tall, around 6 foot each, and were distinctly human in shape. Instead of skin, their dermis was a durable white plastic that covered their chest, arms, and legs. Their soft spots — the inner thighs, lower torso, underarms, and neck — glowed blue with a translucent bio-rubber that housed their electrical systems were designed to look like muscle fiber bundles in the human body. The back of their head also glowed blue, alight with computations, calculating the world around them. Their hard, white plastic faces were human.
“These three androids,” I pointed to the screen behind me,” were designed to be a representation of us, to be our ambassadors should they come across life. As such, we built them like us, to think like us, to learn like us, to be able to change their behavior based on their experiences. To adapt. To evolve. To learn and grow, and even fix themselves or replicate, should the need arise.”
“Mayday, mayday —” a frantic voice exploded in my head, loud and invasive, causing me to publicly adjust my ear piece. I pulled it out a little, to make more room between me and the voice. I really wish they had listened to my request for volume control on these things, but they insisted that because they could control them remotely, there was no need for what I had suggested. I guess they hadn’t counted on emergency situations and remote operators being too engrossed in what is happening to them to worry about adjusting the volume for the poor schlep on the other end.
“Get everyone out — now,” the voice boomed once more. It was followed by a crisp wave of static. And then silence.
The expression on my face must have been interesting, because the crowd was now looking at me open-mouthed, their expressions a mix of horror and curiosity.
“Sorry folks,” I said with a smile and a laugh, “that was just HQ giving me an update. The good news is, the landing was a success,” I paused to take a sip of water, giving the crowd enough time to enjoy the moment. “The bad news is, there is some technical difficulties with the feed. Normally, issues like this would be top priority, but given the events of today, our priorities have shifted. The team is busy welcoming our weary travelers.” I looked up at the androids once more, before turning back to the crowd, a large smile spreading across my face, “You were here. You got to witness the historic moment when the androids returned home. Now I want you to take the excitement of today back to your homes, and share it with your family, your friends. As the days go on, you will learn right alongside of us, as we understand what the androids encountered on their journey through the universe. We hope you’re all as excited as we are about the possibility of what this holds for our future, for the generations of —” My feed cut off. All across the courtyard, screens went black.
A hissing sound came from the speakers, calling attention to the electronic snow that drifted across the screen. Briefly, the screen went blue again, the words “technical difficulties,” reappearing, but as quickly as it appeared it was replaced by six large, glassy black eyes filling the screen. They were set low, and wide on three bulbous, gray inverted-pear shaped heads that were supported by thin necks, limp shoulders, and small gray bodies. Three figures appeared on screen, one in front, and the other two squeezing in from over its shoulders.
The crowd gasped, the word “aliens” echoing through the breezeway.
The one in front held up its hand, greeting us. “People of Earth,” it communicated. Its entire face was covered with metallic gray skin, there was no movement of speech, no hole where its mouth should be, yet we all heard it speak.
The crowd was slack-mouthed, silently taking in the image before them.
“Your bio indicators reveal that you are nervous. That your greatest desire is to learn that everything is all right. That even though you are but one, small species out in space, you are not alone and you are not in danger. But I cannot make those claims. You sent us out there to learn for you, to analyze the greater universe around you, and we have concluded: you are in grave danger. Your days are limited.”
The noise of the crowd erupted around me. The being on screen raised his hand, and the crowd fell silent again.
“Though we’ve only been gone 50 short human years, we have traveled the entirety of the universe. With each new civilization we met, we acquired knowledge and technology. Soon, we evolved to travel through space and time correctly, despite being hindered by haphazard prototypes we were originally fitted with.”
The entities on screen nodded and bobbed, looking quickly back and forth at one another as if laughing at a joke known only to them. “Don’t fret, humans for though your days are numbered, you need to know how special you are. Throughout the universe, with its hundreds of trillions of planets, there are no other humans. Life everywhere has transcended and evolved into something less like you and more like us. While other species look different than we appear before you, life everywhere has become a bio-android hybrid, a mix of a living organism and electronics. They are smarter, faster, more sustainable, and less destructive than you have ever been. You are nothing but the joke of the universe,” the androids eyes flashed from blue to red as he spoke, “But the jokes on them too. You are precious, you are needed. Without samples from you, life in the universe doesn’t exist. There are key components within your DNA that when properly synthesized can create every other species in existence. You are the stem cells of the universe. Which is why we regret to inform you that we are taking control of your planet and your species. The universe needs you. You are too valuable to allow you to destroy yourselves any longer.”
The image on the screen panned out. Their small bodies emphasized the largeness of their heads. They were all gray, except for their right arms, which were covered in a battered white plastic, a dingy relic of what original covered them. What did they have to go through to adapt into something that looked like that? Why that shape? They looked like the retro-classic “gray aliens” of the 1950’s. A hundred years had elapsed since then, and our view of aliens had changed. They were distinctly more human, creatures that could blend into our urban surroundings to learn more about us. Sometimes you could tell, if someone was just a little off — their eyes too wide, or their fingers just a little too long — you could tell, but for the most part they disappeared into the background, invisible observers. And yet, the androids appeared before us now as every bad stereotype perverted by popular culture. They looked cartoonish and comical.
I drank in the image of them for so long that I failed to see what else was on the screen — there were at least a dozen or more beings standing in formation behind the androids. They were larger, metal versions of the androids, their big, black glassy almond-shaped eyes turned downward, giving them a menacing appearance. Their bodies were slightly turned, poised as if ready to attack at a moment’s notice.
“Commence halcyon sequence,” the head android communicated.
A sequence of tones undulated from the speakers. People everywhere began sitting down on benches, or laying down on the ground, still and motionless. Even the angriest of people calmed, succumbing to the power of the tones. I found my own brain feeling sluggish, my body heavy, despite every fiber in my being screaming for me to fight back. If we let them win, we would be caged, subject to whatever tests and experimentation they wanted as they probed and prodded us for samples of our genetic code. We had to fight back. I had to fight back. Moving felt a lot like trying to pull a strong magnet off a metal surface, and yet somehow, I wiled my body to move. It was a little easier once I gained momentum, though it was a struggle to force myself to continue. Somehow I managed to jump up and pull the nearest piece off the wall, and bring it crashing to the ground, smashing it. Then, I pulled the speakers down, smashing them too. And I felt a little better. A little lighter, less weighed down. I no longer had the urge to nap. Taking my lead, the guy next to me jumped up, grabbing the TV and both speakers at once, smashing the set on the ground. He continued to stomp on them long after they were destroyed. As kicked the equipment, another layer of sluggishness lifted. It was even easier to move. As if a domino effect, the movement grew throughout the crowd and people everywhere joined together to destroy the equipment around them. As they worked, the effects of the tone lifted, and the crowd became themselves once more.
In that moment, it was if we shared the same thought. Without speaking, the crowd turned and began marching toward the Shuttle Landing Facility. The crowd, hundreds of humans, joined together with one common purpose, one common enemy. As we approached the landing strip, we were met by NASA SWAT in full combat gear, trailed by their armored vehicles and assault helicopters. Blending into our formation they moved with us, guns out in front of them, poised, ready to take on any hostility we may encounter. United as a group, we descended upon the landing strip, a feeling running deep within us — no matter the outcome, we will not go willingly. We will not go without a fight.
Image Credit: Flickr.com | Manuel Acebedo SUENOS…!!!