The first person to see the aliens was an English scientist named Seth Caraway. He spotted a slight abnormality in space – he called it a “blurring” — that he said must be a ship or a life form. But Caraway was something of a crank and his work was not respected by the science community at large. In truth, Caraway’s reasoning had been flawed. The blurring could have been any number of unknown phenomena, and his guess had been a lucky one.
They plummeted to earth and set up what seemed like camps. The ships were invisible, but the large divots in the ground and the debris the awkward creatures left behind were not. Several leaders, including the president of the United States, thought they should try to communicate with the aliens and sent the secretary of state with a handful of flowers and a computer tablet with the history of humanity stored on it. The secretary was a tall man who’d been a prisoner of war and now felt he’d been destined his whole life to carry out this dangerous mission. But when he entered the zone near the Delaware River with a message of peace one of the creatures stepped on him, splattering blood in a large circle. It didn’t seem intentional.
Why, people wanted to know, were the aliens so aloof? What right did these tall creatures that looked like skinny, pot-bellied frogs have to use the earth for their project? What the hell was their project?
After the secretary of state’s accident, the President felt she had no choice and summoned the military. Many had been clamoring for this, including the congress and leaders of several nations, while others – mostly the people at large — urged caution: the aliens were too powerful. The first tanks approached one of the divots near Duluth, Minnesota, where the first ship had landed and destroyed one-third of the town as it touched down. As the tanks closed in the president thought of an old science fiction movie she’d seen on television late at night in which tanks fired at an alien ship and the bombs simply evaporated like drops of water on a scorching day. In reality, the bombs hit some kind of invisible barrier and bounced straight up into space where they took up orbit. The terrified men on the ground waited to be destroyed, but the aliens simply went about working on their project. This mysterious, but industrious behavior was happening at all the sites.
The leaders of the world gathered at the United Nations and talked about what to do. After three days of debate it was decided that the world must come together in a concerted effort for peace. Perhaps, the leader from Egypt argued, this is exactly what the aliens wanted: a sign that humans could be a peaceful species, that we could learn to lay down our arms and, as one cynical reporter amusingly put it, sing kumbaya.
The President didn’t think the aliens actually cared about human affairs, however, and after the other nations had dismantled their armies she used the opportunity to launch an attack on several oil rich countries. These nations, it turned out, hadn’t fully laid down their arms and a world war ensued. The United States claimed they were fighting to bring democracy to immature civilizations, while these wealthy nations said the fight was about oil. After only 400 thousand or so deaths the war ended. When the world turned its attention back to the aliens, it discovered they were still working on their project. This incensed an already inflamed public discourse and a vote was held to send another peace offering to each alien landing site: a gift in the shape of a giant horse filled with gifts. Secretly, though, each giant horse would be filled with a nuclear device that could be detonated once the aliens took the gift inside their invisible barrier. Many happily heard this plan echoing down the halls of human history: we’ll show them what humans can do! Others – the public, in general – said we should leave the aliens alone: they weren’t hurting anyone as far as we could tell so live and let live. The new President, who had defeated the last President by promising a weary people to end our country’s military ambitions, was one of the few leaders to oppose this plan, but the nations of the world voted against him. The horses were made of an advanced polymer that was thicker than lead so it was impossible to x-ray them and discern their contents. They were painted by our greatest artists and, in the end, many thought they rivaled the most beautiful art humanity had ever created.
Each horse was lowered by helicopter into place. They sat there gleaming as humanity waited, leaning forward as a species toward our television sets. It took several days before anything happened, but finally each of the horses were gathered by the aliens and taken underground. There was a communal and somewhat bittersweet feeling that moved from human to human across the globe: we’ve got you now. Some tried to picture the creatures with faces so they could imagine the expressions on them when the bombs detonated. Others felt it would be terrible to waste this opportunity to learn from an advanced species. Humanity put its collective finger on the button, covered its ears and pressed. Let them know we exist!
After ten days it became apparent that the bombs were not going to explode and a new religion swept over the world. People dressed up in rubber frog suits to match the appearance of the aliens and marched to the various sites around the world to pay tribute. At points there were as many as a million human beings at each of the zones who bowed and made up new prayers. Here’s an example of a new prayer: “You came from space, you came to teach us; you are the great beacon of hope; we believe in our hearts that you will bring us peace.” Since the aliens predictably ignored the zealots and continued working, a leader of the Astroists (the unfortunate name chosen for the new religion was “Astroism”) arose, a short man named Dave Benzini. Dave had been an unemployed house painter who dabbled in watercolors and surfing before rising to power on a message of eternal salvation through love. The general public felt the new fanatics should be left alone and the governments agreed until Dave said that Astroism was the only true religion. The new religion toppled several governments, including two in Asia, two in Europe, four in Africa, four in South America, Australia and, strangely, Canada, where Dave took up power and formed an army. Another world war broke out and this one was much worse than the previous one. More than one-hundred million people were killed and several countries were decimated by nuclear fallout. The Astroists would have won except for a crack team of assassins culled from the best soldiers from several countries who broke into the Astroists’ capital in Edmonton and killed Dave Benzini and his underlings. It had been almost three years of war and even the fanatics were tired and seemed happy to surrender. The borders of many countries were blurred and new borders were formed and new countries arose.
Fifteen years after the aliens landed, they suddenly gathered their tools into their invisible ships and flew back into space. They left behind large holes in the ground and a few tools. Some believed the invasion had been a good thing and pointed to the benefits: the earth seemed unchanged, we now understood that we were no longer alone in the universe and it appeared that it was no longer necessary to put Fluoride in water — reports of cavities diminished by fifty-seven percent! A minority pointed to the negatives: two world wars, countless deaths and terrible suffering. The optimists felt the pessimists were unfairly blaming the aliens, however. Human nature was immutable and destructive. And now third-world children would have strong teeth.
The governments of the world put up barriers around the sites and forbade people from entering them. Most obeyed these edicts and went back to living their lives as if the invasion had never happened. Seth Caraway, the scientist who thought he was the first to spot the aliens and who now imagined himself to be a scientific leader, approached one of the sites without authorization and attempted to pick up what looked like a shiny two by four left by one of the alien workers. He was transformed into a blue and white butterfly. It was a breezy day and the wind carried him quickly south.
Jonathan Kravetz is the founder and former editor-in-chief of the literary webzine, Ducts.org. His plays have been produced in New York, Dallas and Brighton, England, and he holds an MFA from Queens College. His short story, Conch, was named the fiction category winner for the Fall 2017 issue of Cardinal Sins. His short story, The David, was turned into a podcast by Welltoldtales.com. He has had fiction published in Plasmotica and his essay, The Shawshank Redemption Redemption, published recently in Drunk Monkeys.