[My journal of alien contact]
This post continues the story I started two days ago with Instantaneous Communication: Part I. I'm making this up as I go along, so details are bound to change. I'm hoping that the two made-up acronyms don't make your eyes glaze over from resistance to techno-babble. I don't know any techno-babble, and I'm not going to try to slip quarks and parseks into this story. If there is a glaring scientific error somewhere, I'll be happy for you to point it out (or even give me ideas, if you so desire), but I'm not even going to attempt to write in-depth about future technology. I am trying to imagine what it would be like to be a human being in a future century who can talk with with someone who may not be human, but who is definitely a person. Here goes:
Part II: Crazy Geniuses
Who knows how long it would have taken human beings to leave the solar system if it hadn’t been for the crazy geniuses with unlimited funds. Even after we received the Sarterean probe, the International Space Administration Program (ISAP) had dragged its bureaucratic heels on the development of the transgalactic instantaneous communicator (TIC). When Mieko Alleyn-Cates III, the scion of one of the great houses of crazy-geniuses, stepped forward and said, “We are going to make this thing, and I don’t care how much it costs,” she got her way. There was some quibbling over the name of the TIC, but Alleyn-Gates snorted, “We’ve been talking about ‘universal’ values for centuries before we even got to the outer planets. The universe is a big place. In the grand scheme of things, ‘transgalactic’ is a bit smaller. Why not start small?”
Despite the protests of world leaders who said Alleyn-Gates was wasting precious funds on publicity stunts, we had pen-pal stations set up all over the world. Alleyn-Cates was concerned that Earthlings not be represented by one small privileged group of humans. We 20 humans were part of Alleyn-Cates’ penpal club. You couldn’t buy your way into it, and you certainly couldn’t get in by any claims of who your ancestors were. We all met some sort of criteria, but Alleyn-Cates wouldn’t tell us what it was. Some politicians protested at this secrecy, citing possibilities of discrimination, but Alleyn-Cates said, “Back off! This is my project and I’m funding it. It’s not as if your lot ever cared about ending discrimination, anyway.”
Thanks to Alleyn-Cates, I had unfettered access to the TIC except when it was down for maintenance. I could write anything to my Sarterean penpal with the understanding that nothing was private. I will spare you the in-depth explanations of how Earthlings and Sartereans devised a language that was easily accessible to us. Unless you’re a linguist, you’d find the whole thing tedious. Suffice to say, I had two years of intensive study in the language before anyone let me near the TIC.
In the beginning, we all had sets of questions to ask and answer to ease us into conversation. We got to choose screen-names for ourselves (we weren’t allowed to use our real names). Alleyn-Cates rejected my first three choices on the grounds that they sounded too “old-timey science-fiction.” Apostrophes were absolutely forbidden, as were hyphens. (Was the irony of the second rule lost on Alleyn-Cates herself? Somehow, I doubt it.) I finally settled on the name “Marisol.”
“’Marisol’ sounds a bit spacey to me,” Alleyn-Cates said.
“It was my grandmother’s name,” I said, and Alleyn-Cates let it drop. Any references to Helios-G2 as “Sol” or “the sun” were embarrassing. We didn’t like to be reminded of the times in which we thought we were at the center of the universe. In fact, ISAP would have been quite happy had we not mentioned the matter at all to our penpals.
“Propriety is important,” ISAP said. “You are responsible for representing Earth in a positive light. Don’t make us look stupid.”
“Are you kidding?” Zeke, my penpal said, when I told him of the whole interchange. “We still have factions on Sarter that insist we’re the only planet in the universe with sentient life. Arrogant stupidity is not exclusive to any one species. We’ve got people constantly trying to cut funding for the TIC.”
“What stops them?” I asked.
“Crazy geniuses with unlimited funds,” Zeke replied.
Next: In which I attempt (in vain) to conceal my crush on my Sarterean penpal.