You know how when you just stop looking for something it eventually appears? Well, it happened again, in a worldwide fashion. Photos and videos of mysterious and incredible things were pretty usual back in the day. You would have to be rather lucky to see Bigfoot wandering around, and even luckier to have your camera at hand when that happened, remain calm and take the picture. Same thing goes for the Lock Ness monster, the Yeti, werewolves, vampires and such. And, as luck would have it, it was easy enough to find “material proof” of all those beings. But these are all mythological creatures, in a way. What about something we can be sure it is out there somewhere? Like aliens. Yeah, with billions of stars in our galaxy alone, and billions of planets gravitating around those stars, there might be at least another one with life. Maybe more primitive life, unable to even think beyond its instincts. Maybe more advanced life, capable of feats we can only dream of. Maybe life in a way similar to what we humans have here, same capacities and limitations. In two of those three cases, we couldn’t know. Because our most advanced technology can’t break the light speed barrier. It would take 12 light-years to get to the closest supposedly habitable exoplanet. It might not look like much, but it is. Let’s put it this way: if the sun exploded right this moment, we here on Earth wouldn’t know for eight minutes. Eight entire minutes, that’s how long light from the sun takes to get here. And, in interplanetary measures, the sun is right there. Another thought experience for you: if you would communicate with that exoplanet, any message you sent with our current technology would take 12 years to get there. Another 12 for the response, if any, to get back. Talk about silent treatment. So, it is far, and we are not even close to building a ship capable of traveling at the speed of light. The only chance we had being they, whoever they are, coming for us.
But I digress. We know there are something out there. Is it just logic. Statistics. But is it hard to get here – or for us to get there. Nevertheless, there are photos and videos of encounters with extraterrestrial life. Many, blurry photos and bad videos made on low-quality tech from decades ago. Less than reliable. But, hey, these days most everyone has a fine enough camera at hands at all times. So you would think that photos from our galaxy neighbours would start appearing a lot more, with better quality too. So why they reduced, instead? A guy named Enrico Fermi elaborated a clever intellectual discussion about the conflict between the mathematical arguments for life elsewhere and the complete lack of reliable evidence. It’s called the Fermi Paradox. It is interesting reading, you should look it up. Well, coming back to earth, since photos and videos of extraterrestrials didn’t get any more common with more people with cameras at hands, most intelligent people just stopped looking. They are there, but we can’t get to them, they probably can’t get to us, let’s just let things like this. But there’s another guy, Murphy, that created a law saying that anything that can happen will happen. And extraterrestrials visiting Earth can happen.
And it happened. An uncountable number of ships simply appeared in the sky. And, as if they knew some people might doubt it, they appeared mostly everywhere. Nobody saw them coming – at least that’s what the guys that keep watching the sky told us. One moment they were there, that was all. You could see it on any news channel on the first day. On the internet, any other topic was utterly forgotten. Even cat videos. You couldn’t open any page without the mention of the ships. There were multiple photos and videos, good quality ones, professional and stuff. The videos weren’t interesting, since the ships didn’t move. But from so many sources at once, that was no way to be fake. Especially because if you just stepped outside and looked up, chances were you were going to see one. That’s how many ships they brought. They even put a ship over Antarctica, just to be sure.
Then what? Nothing. Really, nothing. They appeared, but didn’t move. Governments that once argued about funding out-of-this-world expensive interplanetary defense systems just sit on their chairs, afraid. There was a simple reason for that. One scientist guy on TV said that there were many explanations for why our satellites and radars didn’t pick up their coming. One was the materials in the ship deflected our radio signals. Other, and that was the one that frightened the governments the most, was that they were so fast that our tech simply couldn’t detect it before they stopped. And they stopped at once. Do you know how much force does it take to stop a moving object? And do you know how much force does it take to stop a moving object in the near vacuum of space? And do you know that the bigger the object, the more force is required? You don’t need the math to tell you that, whichever kind of thrusters the ships used – the scientist guy on TV guessed ion thrusters – they needed a boatload of energy to pull that stunt. Imagine hundreds of suns depleted of power in an instant. Imagine what that kind of power directed in an attack towards Earth could do. It was pretty much like a bully confronted with someone carrying a big gun. The armed one might mean no harm but, hey, it is a gun, I’m sitting still.
But they didn’t attack. They stood there, letting everyone know they existed. Maybe that’s what they wanted, to end the doubts. In your face, Fermi! The astronauts on the ISS wanted desperately to come back, but they were also afraid that the returning pod would startle the newcomers. No sudden movements, you know? The first day was of speculation, crying, prayer, hope, and desperation. It was like the whole world was put on pause. No riots, no wars, just a bunch of people watching the sky. On the second day, people started wondering when the end would come. Because, why else they would come here, if not for our resources? What could we earthlings offer them? If they were watching us down here, one thing is for sure: they would be amusing themselves. There were still people that didn’t believe. Even when you could just look up and see for yourself. “Collective illusion”, they said. So there was a lot of arguing on the second day. Just imagine what the religious leaders were saying about that. It was hilarious. Terrifying, but hilarious. Some people swore they saw something coming out of the ships. Others said they saw the ships moving. Hoaxes, obviously. Almost every ship was being monitored nonstop. One ingenious amateur astronomer calculated how many ships were over us: 256. Seems like a random enough number, but it isn’t. It just happens to be two to the eighth power. Every mathematician on earth went nuts after this information, even if there was no immediate consequence to that. A few malicious minds said they were able to tune into the ship’s communication frequency and released audio clips of noises that would be the aliens talking. But both the governments and the serious radio amateurs insisted they have been trying every known frequency without luck. For all we knew, they were either silent or communicating in a way we couldn’t detect. During these experiences, they were able to determine the distance of the ships and their size. They were an average 282.213 kilometers from sea level, or exactly three-quarters of the way between us and the moon. Each ship was 1,5 times as big as our natural satellite’s diameter. So, huge. And they made quite a view up there.
By the third day, commercial flights resumed – they had been grounded since the appearance. The anxiety of the first two days tuned down a little, but having a bunch of alien ships above us was not exactly soothing. People started demanding answers from the governments, scientists, religious leaders, psychics. The first two had none, of course. The latter two, as usual, had their generic non-answers. Some waited an attack. Others waited to be saved. Confused people were camping in places they believed to be precisely under a ship, showing banners saying variations of “take me”. But most people had had just enough of all that. We can’t be waiting forever for some overlords from outer space to make their move, right? So people went back to their routines. Yes, there were a couple hundred spaceships directly above us, all around Earth. So what? It’s not like everyone’s bosses would release everybody from delivering that report, anyway. The world went on.
On day four, someone on the internet brought up an old theory about life on Earth, the one that says life began outside our little planet, being brought here by comets and stuff. A little tweaking and it wasn’t the comets, but an advanced alien race. It also wasn’t microbes and unicellular beings, but fully-formed complex organisms. You can see where this is going, right? Humans would not be natural from Earth, according to that theory. We have been planted here, making our blue marble little more than a human growing farm. And it was the time for the harvest. But, since a few thousand years had passed, they had to check the quality of the product, hence the delay. Their scanners would be sampling every human being, selecting the best individuals, that would then be taken up to fulfill their part elsewhere, or remain alive on Earth to give birth to a new, improved herd, depending on who you asked. Other theory: the ships are only drones. They are examining the planet to see what they can collect that is valuable for the aliens, and as soon as they figure out what they can mine here, they will take it, all of it, and be gone. So, some expected every single bit of a particular substance or element to start disappearing soon. Some said water. Others said carbon. There were a fairly high amount of people bidding on sodium chloride – or, as your mom used to say, salt.
On day five, someone at NASA leaked pictures taken from the ISS, showing the ships above the station in more detail than any other publicly available image. The spacecrafts seemed like smooth pebbles, diamond-shaped with round corners, no perceivable cuts or separations that could indicate doors, hatches or any kind of instrument. Had they not stayed still since their apparition, one could easily mislead them for oddly photogenic meteors, blue-grey with a matte metallic finish. Someone correctly pointed out that the ships weren’t still. They were just in a geostationary orbit. It might sound like a technicality, but it was important. In order to remain in such an orbit, there has to be an intention. They didn’t want to move. They also didn’t want to disrupt our artificial satellites, so they remained way above our own pieces of equipment in the sky. Meanwhile, it was becoming harder to dodge the crescent of hoaxes, people claiming having seen or heard something, people saying they were visited by little green creatures, having collected some sort of debris from their backyards that pertained to the ships. Since no one had any real information, and people were hungry for anything that could shed a light on the matter, the chances of anyone being heard and believed were greater than ever.
Day six, and North Korea announced they would release a nuclear missile directed to the ship above its sovereign nation. They made sure, in the message, to say they were being serious, and that the aliens would feel the power of the supreme leader. As usual, other nations didn’t pay much attention. As usual, they did nothing. On day seven, news about the ships were downgraded to a small column or disappeared completely. Because, you know, there weren’t really no news. Some people started wondering if all that wasn’t just a marketing stunt for the next sci-fi Hollywood flick.
Then, on the eighth day, when much of Earth was growing used to seeing the things in the sky all the time, when people finally switched from commenting about the aliens back to discussing the weather, they left, just like they came. Only that time there were people watching, closely enough to see the smallest movement before the rapid acceleration leading to the complete disappearance of the ships. Science nerds used the videos to calculate the rate before the ships disappeared. Imagine a geometric progression, but instead of each new number being the former multiplied by a common factor, it would be the former multiplied by itself. So if the ships parted from zero, accelerating to one kilometer per hour in one-tenth of a second, by the second tenth they were already at two. Somewhere between seven and eight-tenths of a second, they reached light speed and vanished from the sky. Hypothetically, by the end of the eighth second they would be at a whopping 18,4 sextillion kilometers per hour. So, not your usual roadster. Under here, nothing changed. For most of mankind, at least. Since the ship’s appearance, since the first moment when the sky became spotted with the ships, Patrick started hearing something. A message, as clear as someone talking directly to his ears, above any other noises that could prevent anything else from being heard. A voice that appeared to come from inside his head. He kept hearing the same message, again and again. Every 4 hours and 14 minutes, every day, until the ships left. And he was not the only one.