First published April 19
They stopped my car and took me up
Inside their sphere of crystal glass
They forced me down upon a slab
And pushed some forceps up my **s.
And when the bubbles in my nose and ears
Still blinded and insensate in their craft
My only thought that while the pricklings in my nether parts
I suffered yet the scumbling, misdirected claws of leverets
Or be going daft.
Time glitched then
Ceased, ’til from afar
The noise of nightbirds, crickets woke me cold and rumpled
In the darker shadow of my defunct car.
The alien craft was gone, erased.
And so in time my anger, hurt, humiliation too,
Transformed to wonder in a later phase:
They are from beyond vast gulfs of swirling nebulae
Veiled by mysterious dust clouds
And the grinding chaos of the galactic core
Lured by the ruddy glow of an unfamiliar sun they came
And found what they were looking for.
– George Smiley
This was written many years ago when abductions were being reported regularly. The alien intent seemed so absurd as to make the reports a joke. It was assumed the victims were pathological liars or clinically mad, imagining that interstellar visitors would be anal obsessives just like they themselves, as if early toilet training has a lot to answer for here and therefore throughout the far – flung reaches of the galaxy.
At the same time Homer Simpson was also confronted by aliens; “Duh … Oh I get it! You wanna probe me! Well, let’s get it over with.”
And so as with everything and everyone else, Homer was happy to export even his microbiome off to the stars for little or no return. We shrug complacently; whatever the resource, its origin, destination or function there’s always more where that came from.
But if the folks at NASA and the US Air Force had thought a little harder it might have raised alarm bells; the very absurdity and consistency of the reports should have been a reason to examine the whole issue more closely. Everyone in those agencies back then would have read H.G. Well’s ‘War of the Worlds’ in which he anticipated that an alien invader would not be defeated by military force but by earth’s unfamiliar microbes. This was an astonishing intellectual leap when space travel was hardly a dream. But Wells was always ahead of his time and his simplistic version was a foretaste of our own leap of understanding. The nature of our co-evolved, commensural gut bacteria would be the most important piece of intelligence any extraterrestrial could wish to acquire if they were something like us and intent on a serious incursion of the planet.
The next question we might ask is how they would go about this. One solution to imperialist frictions in human history from the year dot has been to maintain a fifth column of traitors to provide home rule and thereby maintain a semblance of peace. A simple accounting decision is all that’s required; it’s so much cheaper and easier to give free reign to some vicious home-grown, thieving dictator than bear the impossible costs of garrisoning a nation, continent or possibly a planet from afar when it is so easy to induce the locals to oppress and kill each other, thereby limiting resentments and avoiding perpetual wars across racial and cultural lines.
So the tyrannies of interstellar distances being what they are you would expect a superior technological culture with a completely different biological origin but probably parallel evolutionary pressures to set up shop here hidden amongst our own population as ourselves.
External features could be easily altered to pass as an earthling in public, but the more subtle aspects of terrestrial chemistry could prove more difficult, so it would take some time to design and acclimatise themselves internally with a microbial interface compatible with nutrition in our world. Approximately 40 years have passed without incident since that first spate of reported samplings, and with microbial generations measured in hours we can assume a determined program could easily have achieved evolutionary perfection.
The finer points of social ecology – our inborn intuitive processing of tiny cues of voice, body language and facial musculature eliciting a gamut of considered and emotional responses in both directions is a difficult hurdle but unlikely to be a sticking point; we already have a population of such people in place who we describe as narcissists, also known popularly as ‘a**holes’ who are very much at home in positions of power, especially in an impersonal urban environment. This is not a disease so much as a spectrum where normality lies somewhere in the middle between paralysing inhibition and blind, uncaring self-certainty. At that end considered judgements become difficult and even native cunning falls by the wayside against the all-consuming will to wealth and power.
So having placed themselves advantageously in our midst they could then decide whether or not to let their own microbes sweep us away without firing a shot (even as we did so serendipitously in our colonial past) or whether we are useful tools proficient at mining and other technologies to help further their own campaigns. The pluses would obviously have to be balanced against our own exponential population growth and consumption patterns.
Whether we live or die, accessing strategic materials and associated local energy consumption for their purposes would be foremost in their minds – it will require a lot of power for the next vault into space. Gas and petroleum are essential for transport locally and as feedstocks for sophisticated materials and fuels. Although the Chinese pioneered rocket science with black powder (carbon and sulphur plus an oxidizer ) crammed into paper tubes with clay stoppers and successfully used it to scare the Mongol horses in the 12th century it has too many disadvantages. Once you have lit the fuse you are committed to an uncertain blast off, blow up or fizzle. And chemically coal is hardly suitable for seriously lifting heavy loads into orbit, being bulky and requiring two and one- half times its own weight in oxygen to be confined and simultaneously lifted into the void.
On the other hand when consumed at the surface in a stationary plant it is relatively safe, cheap and plentiful. It has downsides of mercury emissions and sulphurous acid rain, while CO2 emissions increase planetary temperature, and acidify the oceans; both of which are anti- stasis factors that supplement climate and ecosystem disaster. Coral, planktonic and bivalve skeletal formation is inhibited or halted, thereby suppressing CO2 sequestration. But these are fairly slow processes compared to the speed of technological innovation which will allow time for an alien race to prepare their next leg of interstellar contagion with re-usable boosters, massive spending programs and propaganda.
They can’t possibly be planning to co-exist here for the long term. We have gone through the earth’s primary forests in three generations, with a similar time span to deplete other essentials for affluence, war and even survival in numbers, which are fisheries, oil, phosphates, fresh water, and soil carbon, the list goes on. But there is still natural gas and uranium in quantities large enough to generate power and produce fertilizer or sweep us away by transforming the planet to another Venusian hellhole if liberated inadvertently and they would understand it’s time to move on.
In the forty years since the abduction epidemic; hardly anyone since has reported being taken up with its associated inconveniences by which we presume their program was successful. On the street you may occasionally glimpse badly-rendered external features; ears, noses, and eyes that are odd, even on the borderline of possibility but still arguably in keeping with the norms.
So the deceivers have done a good job; poverty, wars and rumours of war abound with earthquakes and meteorological disaster, focusing earthly minds on earthly tribulations and ongoing alien programs are almost unnoticed in consequence. Who can find time to so much as read the budget and confirm my suspicions for themselves? Or go beyond the dreams of poets like John Lennon and imagine a world where living for today with a large cerebrum and an opposable thumb is possible in the long term against the bleak mathematics of biological survival with its basis of possibility and death? Orang utans aren’t a bad template, living for the long term automatically in a deeper sense but seemingly without a thought for the morrow and whose numbers are limited by the seasonal productivity of their fruit trees on the supply side and demand regulated by failed alpha males falling out of trees; their hands broken by unarmed combat along with a broader selection of the unfit, clumsy and unlucky. It’s necessary, it’s called evolution and it’s a Greek tragedy in Borneo and everywhere else. There’s always a revolving chair at the top.
Meanwhile we, the original, the good and the true wait patiently for the aliens to depart. In a post-psychopathic era we hope and imagine we will settle our differences in our own fashion and recreate the world from this, our much abused and used-up husk to something like it was and can be once again in some distant, blessed eon long after these, our migratory parasites, have made their fiery exit.
*George Smiley is a sometime wannabe author, artist, jack of all trades and master of a couple. Retired and living on a block with sheep, orchard and a workshop, dabbling in alternative energy and occasional updates to his georgesmileyblog and georgesmileyart blog