Speeding Toward Oblivion
Colm burst into Director Tymo’s office and threw a disc across the director’s desk. “There it is. The recording and images from the radio signals we’ve been receiving since we entered this galaxy.”
The director slid the disc into a slot in his console. A voice came on. “Greetings from the people of Earth.”
“They speak our language?” the director asked.
“No sir, we translated what they said and did voice overs. This is what they call English. It’s a rather simple language, with an alphabet composed of only twenty-six letters instead of our 140. But there were some things we couldn’t fathom the meaning of.”
“We’re not sure, but we believe a male of their humanoid species is doing something they call singing and it’s about jailhouse rock. We’ve not unraveled what that means.”
The director hit the key on the console to accelerate the speed of the disc. As images flashed by, he stared at it with his single eye. He pushed a button on the console, freezing the image of The Mona Lisa. “Who is that?”
Colm studied the image for a moment. “Oh yes, that is one of their females. Apparently she was a great leader on their planet almost five hundred years after we passed through this solar system the last time.”
The director turned off his console. “I’ll have to study this later, if there’s time. What I need to know is, can we contact them?”
Colm scratched the back of his bald, bulbous head with his six fingers. “Our scientists are working on it. We’re sending signals back to them. From what we can discern from their message, they may already know of our entry into their system, but we doubt they know that a life form exists on this asteroid.”
“We are monitoring their primitive satellite communications. It’s the term they use, Director.”
The director put his mouth on a tube jutting up from the surface of the desk, pushed a button, closed his eye, and felt a fourteen-legged shlig shoot into his mouth. It crawled around on his tongue for a moment before he bit down on it. He closed his eye as the shlig’s jelly-like innards slid down his throat. Feeling instantly relaxed, he opened his eye and spat out the shlig’s exoskeleton into a vacuum receptor. “Go home for the night. We should all be spending as much time with our families as we can right now. Return to work tomorrow and continue to monitor the signals.”
“I’ll be certain to let you know as soon as we hear something,” Colm said with a crisp snap of his heels.
“Under any other circumstances your discovery would make you a hero. If it weren’t for you we wouldn’t know about the signals from . . .?”
The suckers on the soles of Colm’s feet made slurping sounds on the crowded walkway that was lost among the same sounds made by his fellow Xephites. The glow of the shield encasing the city in a bubble, bathed everything in blue light. Meteors, and smaller asteroids, deflected by the shield created momentary spark-like flashes.
Honeycombed structures lined both side of the broad walkway. Colm stepped into a tube and shot up one hundred levels of such a structure, arriving at the entrance of his apartment. When he walked in, his daughter, Pedora, was standing in front of a mirror – gazing at the purple dots indicating what sex she was – which had appeared on her face a few days before.
“Will I like laying eggs?” she asked as she turned away from the mirror.
“It’s a female’s duty, like it or not,” Colm said. “Where’s your mother?”
Pedora glanced at the mirror again. “She’s in her nest. She’s been swallowing shligs all day. I think she’s worried about what everyone’s saying about where we’re headed.”
Pedora turned back around and looked up at him. “Should I be?”
He ran his fingers affectionately across her spots. “Let the adults worry about it.”
As his daughter turned back to the mirror, he walked into the nesting room. His wife was sprawled out on her back on a foam-like cloud, holding a shlig tube close to her mouth. Her eye was glazed over.
“You’re going to get addicted to shligs,” he said as he sat down beside her.
“What does it matter? We’re going to die when we crash into that planet anyway.”
“Hush. Pedora will hear you. We don’t know that it’s going to happen. Our calculations may be off. We won’t know for certain for several months. In the thousands of years since we left our home planet, we’ve had plenty of close calls, but here we are, still hurdling through space.”
His wife stuck her mouth to the tube and sucked in another shlig. After spitting out its exoskeleton, she said, “Earth is such an ugly name of something to crash into.” Then she passed out.
A month later.
Colm rushed into Director Tymo’s office carrying a disc. “We’re getting signals back.”
The director spat a shlig exoskeleton in the vacuum receptor. It took him a moment for his eye to focus.
“It took them long enough.”
“It’s space, sir. It takes…,”
The director waved his hand, dismissively. “Yes, yes, I know all about that. What about their signals?”
“They have visual confirmation of this asteroid. They want to know our intentions.”
The director stared blankly at Colm. “I don’t understand.”
“They think we’re in control, and heading straight toward them on purpose. Would you like to see the disc?”
“If I must.” The director accepted the disc and slid it into the console. A string of pictures of rockets, nuclear explosions and mushroom clouds flashed across the screen. “What is all that?”
“It’s a show of force, director. They say they’re ready to defend themselves against any act of aggression.”
The director hit a key on the console. The images on the screen of meetings of the United Nations, joint military exercises, and the world’s population preparing for a siege, sped by. He shut it off. “I can’t take any more.” He put his mouth on the tube and inhaled a shlig, whole. After a brief fit of coughing, he said, “Is there any chance at all that we might bypass that planet?”
“No sir. The report you received about the probable impact has been verified many times over. We’ll smash into it in less than four months.”
The director burped up a cloud of shlig fumes. “That’s not a long time. Make sure that we have enough shlig on hand to sedate our entire population.”
Three and a half months later.
Colm stood on the walkway with one arm around his wife and the other arm around his daughter. Like the thousands of other Xephites who crowded the walkways, they stared upward and oohed and ahed as the nuclear tipped rockets exploded against the shield, producing brilliant displays of light and color.
“Why are they doing that?” Phedra asked.
“They want to live,” Colm said, “and they’re willing to kill us to do it. Before our home planet exploded, we were able to leave it. From what we know about the creatures on Earth, they don’t have that option.”
Intoxicated by shlig juice, his wife said,“Is the end really such a bad thing?”