THE RUB

A work of fLASH FICTION

Greetings Earthlings!

Should we use that old trope? No, you’ll think it’s a joke or scam or spam.

“Humanity” perhaps is best.

Greetings humanity.

Should we cap it?

Greetings Humanity!

Not bad.

Or we could start more sternly with

People of Earth

It sounds rather stuffy and officious, if not downright threatening. Like we’re overlords coming down the gravity well to gentrify the joint. Which in a way…

But let’s try again.

Dear Humanity,

We are the…

…but what are we? Who are we? Symbol-based communication is so challenging and limiting.

You would consider non-symbolic communication too threatening, no doubt. A big, hearty hug would be misconstrued. As would even tiny tweaks to your neural tissue.

It’s been easier with the other sapients: the whales, corvids, cephalopods and others. We take forms that are similar to them but not quite identical so they know we are, well, alien. They shy away at first, or display aggression. We gently persist, intent on amiability. Play games, share sustenance, sing songs, dance poems. They typically come to accept us, even like us.

But we can’t do that so easily with you, can we? You are so squeamish about even tiny differences. Oh, we get it. Your species is still young and, to be honest, badly inbred. So horribly homogeneous that you’re deeply paranoid of the “others” in your midst. Thus your almost inexplicable bigotries toward other humans even minutely different from yourselves, your violence and wars, your hopeless addiction to outrage.

Oh sure, we could make ourselves look exactly like you to blend in. Would you be upset if we said we already had? That we are among you now? Breaking bread? Having conversations? Even making love?

If we were, of course, we would not, could not, confess it.

No, you would consider that intrusive or sneaky or rude or threatening or ickily unnatural. Or all of the above and worse. Liars. Infiltrators. Demons!

It scares us, though we’ve worked to understand it.

We know you expect an upfront announcement, an introduction, some form of request for entry, written or spoken using your slippery symbolic languages.

Therein lies the rub, to quote your Shakespeare. Symbols are so terribly abstract and subject to interpretation, always prone to couching or framing or even twisting, with all the news you don’t like being “fake news.”

We’ve thought a movie or VR experience might be best. You are, after all, visual creatures.

But even if we did, you’d create your own narrative around it. Or, rather, many narratives depending on your group identities. You can’t help yourselves. You are basically tribal, mistrustful, story-telling machines.

And so we are back to Square One. How best to introduce ourselves?

Dear Humanity,

We are the aliens you’ve long been imagining, awaiting. We don’t have a name you can pronounce or draw or see or hear, so we will let you name us. (We know we can’t stop you.)

If we had to try to translate our essence into words you might grasp, it would be something like, “We who explore so as to savor the infinite fluctuations of existence and the even more infinite permutations of quantum imaginings.”

But who knows what you’d do with that? “Savor,” for example, might sound ominous, conjuring atavistic fears of primate-eating space dragons. And would you take issue with “more infinite”? Are we allowed humor, however mild? You see the problem.

Oh, we are well aware there’ll be no human consensus regardless of what we do or say. There will be hysterics and fear and chaos (although that’s just a matter of degree when it comes to humanity, we’ve learned).

There will be uncomfortable questions that we must skirt and then accusations of evasiveness and prevarication. Distrust from some, worship from others.

The more we think on it, the less inviting it becomes, no matter how carefully we craft our message.

So….never mind.

We must tear up this virtual epistle, not just because we don’t want to inadvertently and perhaps even fatally disrupt your lives (such as they are) but because the harum-scarum repercussions sound predictable and tedious. We are not a fan of tedium.

Maybe in another century or millennium or more. What’s the hurry? We are under no obligation to solve your Fermi paradox, to awkwardly confess, “It’s not us, it’s you.”

In the meantime, your Earthling sibs are companions enough. More than enough. The dolphins with their wonderfully wicked play, the stirring empathies of bonobos, the wisecracking clacking, clicking and chatter of parrots.

They all know we are here. They chant and chirp our tale, capering their welcome, heralding us, each in their own way. You would learn of us through them if only you were better listeners.

They chant elegies as well, of course, sometimes beseeching our assistance in surviving the brutes who are you. Some even petition, in so many words, for your extinction (we will mention no names). We express sympathy but tell them it is not our way to intervene.

Would we make an exception at some point? Perhaps. Never say never.

For now, though, we await your readiness. Evolution may yet work its wonders, framing and shaping, preparing you to make our acquaintance—not as your most reluctant judges (and, heaven forbid, worse) but as your someday, would-be, boon companions.

Featured image: Mycetozoa from Ernst Haeckel's 1904 Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms of Nature)