Many historical accounts describe how it first became visible to the naked eye, shining low in the eastern sky in the predawn hours of early spring. It shown at first like a star, then, day by day, more brightly like that of a planet, and then as the brightest feature in the nightly heavens save for moon. There were at first many theories as to its origin, and many in those days were superstitious and prone to fevered panic and wild speculation at the onset of anything unexpected. This was the Third Century after all, and there were many, many people in those days who led busy, ordered lives punching keys on keyboards and sharing videos of their precocious cats via their handheld devices. Much of humanity had grown accustomed to predictability, abundance, and to the bliss of self-absorption.
Threat assessment was deferred to the experts appointed by the nobles the masses had elected to parent them. It was efficient to arrange society that way, in those technological days, and for the public to simply follow the perpetual stream of orders as they were beamed into their personal video screens. Just go with the flow. Any insufficiently accredited lay person, who had the audacity to attempt to question the experts and form his own personal opinion, would be quickly overwhelmed by a tsunami of data and find himself swept out of the warm sea of blissful ignorance and onto the cold, jagged rocks of mental paralysis. The Third Century was an unimaginably complex world—what with all the cat videos and cricket scores one had to process each day.
It was a widely held belief, at that time, that if an existential human crisis were ever to arise—such as the eruption of a super volcano, or the global proliferation of a deadly virus, or invasion by religious fanatics, or a massive solar flare, or a cosmic ray burst, or a reversal of the poles, or a runaway greenhouse effect, or the inevitable coming ice age, or a cataclysmic oil spill, or fascism, or an electro-magnetic pulse, or peak oil, or soil erosion, or Chinese imports, or extraterrestrial invasion— that the elected nobles would eschew their personal considerations for the sake of the greater good of all humanity, set about to solve the problem, and immediately instruct everyone as to their best course of action so that they could make proper arrangements. Regardless of how prevalent this view was, there were, nevertheless, many Ancients who absconded from this go-with-the-flow mentality and who would ask, “What in the hell is that shining light in the sky?”
This question was often either out-rightly dismissed as extremist lunacy, or reacted to by a condescending roll of the eyes by the unflappable mainstream. But occasionally, when pressed, or when the mood was right due to the ingestion of mind-numbing substances, these conspiratorial queries were entertained.
“What do you mean?” asked the unflappable mainstreamist.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Was I not clear? What I meant to ask was, what in the hell is that shining light in the sky?” replied the extremist.
“Oh that? That star up there?”
“Is it a star? I’ve never noticed it until recently.”
“Oh Jesus. Don’t start. That is just Venus.”
“No. I don’t believe that is Venus. Venus is over there, in the west, about to set. See?”
“I am quite certain it is Venus.”
“No. It is not in the right place for this time of night. Not only that,” continued the extremist, “Venus follows a trajectory across the sky along a band known as the celestial ecliptic. See that bright star over there? That is Venus. That shining light there is not.”
“Then it is something else. It must be another planet. Maybe it is Jupiter.”
“No. Jupiter traverses the ecliptic in the same manner as Venus. That shining light is in the wrong place.”
“Then perhaps it is Saturn.”
“Saturn is a planet, too.”
“Then maybe it’s a comet.”
“But it has no tail.”
“Maybe its tail is pointing directly away from us.”
“Hmm, perhaps. Or maybe it is a meteor heading right for us.”
“Ha ha ha! Are you seriously suggesting that the earth is about to be destroyed by a meteor?” asked the mainstreamist. “Because I’m sure that if it was a meteor, on a collision course with earth, I would have heard about it on CNN by now.”
“Are you certain they would have told you?”
“It’s probably the international space station. It’s very bright, you know.”
“Moving so slowly in the sky? It’s just hanging there. Satellites tend to move.”
“Maybe it’s in a geosynchronous orbit?”
“No, I don’t think that is it.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. I have neither seen nor heard any mention of it in the news. If it was something to worry about, the authorities would have told us. Try not to think too much, it will make you paranoid.”
And that was how inquiries as to the approaching light’s origin were handled, at least up until the end of April when the thing became visible during the daylight hours, setting in the west around midday. By then, there were wild speculations from members of fundamentalist sects who suggested that the star was an omen, perhaps portending the second coming of our Lord and Savior Michael Jordan.
Around that same time, all the princes and presidents of the earth had been informed by their court scholars as to what it most likely was. They had heard explanations that, based upon Newtonian calculations, laser spectrometries, and direct observations by orbiting telescopes, that there was a ninety five percent level of confidence that the approaching light was actually a metallic object, constructed by some form of extraterrestrial intelligence, that had traversed the unimaginably vast distances of space to reach earth, and that it appeared to be decelerating into a trajectory that would take it into a low earth orbit.
“And what if you’re wrong?” asked the princes and presidents of the world’s nations as they were known at the time.
“What do you mean?” replied the scholars.
“You said that there was only a ‘ninety five percent confidence’. You’re scientists. You certainly must know that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What if you are wrong? What if it turns out that it is not what you so confidently believe it to be? And if you are wrong, what else might it be?”
“What else might it be?”
“Yes. What else might it be?”
“Well, if we are wrong, which is not statistically probable in lieu of the thing’s decelerating trajectory and complex symmetrical form, than the thing we have observed would therefore be classified as some heretofore, unexplained, astrological phenomenon.”
“What do you mean ‘like what’?”
“Like what classification of unexplained, astrological phenomenon?”
“I imagine we would have to apply the Kulkarni-Torkleson scale.”
“The Kulkarni-Torkelson scale. It is a method for identifying classes of orbiting things. If, based upon new evidence, we were unconvinced that it was of intelligent design, than we would be compelled to classify it as a: Type 1, Non-Organically-shaped, Self-Propelled, Metallic Thing.”
“But for now you are proposing that it is of intelligent design.”
“Yes. We believe the evidence strongly suggests it is, with a 95% level of confidence.”
“So would it be classified as a ‘Type 1, Non-Organically-Shaped, Self-Propelled, Metallic Thing’ regardless?”
“Regardless of what?”
“Regardless of whether it was of intelligent design or not?”
“If it was deemed to be of human design, it would be a Type 2. And if it was deemed to be of extraterrestrial intelligent design, then it would be classified as Type 3.”
“I have a question,” asked a counselor from France who was known to be difficult at times. “What if its origin was of unintelligent human design?”
“Then we suppose we would classify it as ‘Type 1.5’,” responded the scholars, patiently.
“So allow us to play the devil’s advocate for a moment,” interjected another counselor. “Would you consider crystals to be non-organically shaped?”
“Hmm, well they occur organically but they can also be symmetrical which makes their Kulkarni-Torkelson classification somewhat problematic.”
“Aha! So would a giant, naturally-formed, symmetrical crystal, floating in space, be definitively classified as a Type 1 thing?”
“We suppose technically, yes,” answered the scholars.
“So you’re saying the spaceship…er…uh, the thing, if it was a sort of a celestial crystal, than it would be classified as a Type 1?”
“The thing approaching the earth does not resemble any known crystal. Crystals have a predictable, repeatable molecular organization which…”
“What if it was made of an unknown type of crystal—an exotic, complex, fractal-based geometry?”
“Uh. Hmm. Well, fractal-based geometry is not our area of scientific expertise as we are all astronomers and exobiologists and physicists, but perhaps it could possibly be that, albeit a very, very exotic, undiscovered type of crystal, that is also thirty miles long and has a self-contained propulsion mechanism allowing it to decelerate, and one that has a statistically improbable human hand shape affixed to one end of it.”
“Great. Terrific. Thank you,” replied the counselors.
And the counselors excused the scholars and then briefed the princes and presidents of the world’s nations who then congregated in a great blue hall in a place called Manhattan and discussed matters amongst themselves. They talked for some time before the delegate from Iceland finally rose to address the gathering.
“We simply must tell the people of the world what we have learned, today!” he insisted.
“Yes we must!” shouted some.
“Here, here!” shouted others.
“Without delay!” shouted more.
This caused a great commotion, and before long, the secretary general was compelled to pound his gavel to restore order.
“Do I have a motion on the floor to vote to discuss drafting a preliminary resolution to document our intent to debate the potential dissemination of this arguably important information to the citizens of the world?”
“Not so fast!” shouted the chancellor of Europa. He was a tall, portly, and balding fellow with thick glasses, who looked only slightly less menacing than the grand vizier of the United States, but had a pointier nose and was regrettably from a place called Belgium. “Before we relay this very significant information, shouldn’t we consider the economic ramifications?”
“I agree!” shouted some.
“Absolutely!” shouted others.
“Without delay!” shouted more.
“What economic ramifications are you referring to?” asked the secretary general.
“For instance,” continued the chancellor, “have we considered the possibility that announcing the arrival of an extra-terrestrial spacecraft might result in unreasonable worker demands—perhaps up to and including a widespread and pervasive call for taking time off to prepare for the possibility of alien invasion and human annihilation? Have we even considered how this worker idleness will negatively affect gross domestic product in the third quarter? We are already teetering on the brink of global recession.”
“Hold on,” objected the king of Kenya. “I don’t recall the scholars indicating that the spaceship was definitely of extra terrestrial origin. They merely said they were 95% certain.”
“What else would it be?” asked the imperatore of Indonesia.
“I have tremendous reservations regarding the effect of announcing the arrival of alien invaders,” decried the grand vizier of the United States. “Alien arrival could be very detrimental to the performance of our stock markets.”
“We should consider that the arrival of extraterrestrial beings raises many significant, philosophical and spiritual questions,” suggested the chairman of Sri Lanka.
“Like for instance?”
“Like for instance, will confirmation of the existence of aliens undermine the belief in God?” asked the prime minister of the Vatican.
“Do we even have a plan to contain them so they don’t try to take over the world or be a bad influence on China?” asked the grand vizier of the United States.
“We object!” replied the president of China.
“It seems it would be prudent to discuss these matters before informing the public,” suggested the sultan of Turkey. “Since we have not reported this earlier, it might appear to the public that we have been covering something up. Telling them now might greatly damage our credibility. It is probably best to continue the policy of avoiding the matter indefinitely…in order to preserve our legitimacy.”
“What do we tell the people, then?”
“We tell them,” advised the first lord of Canada, “that our expert scholars have studied the thing extensively and determined that it is, with nearly one-hundred percent certainty, a ‘Type 1, Non-Organically-Shaped, Self-Propelled, Metallic Thing.”
“Does someone have an acronym for that?”
“Yeah, you know, an acronym. Like: SETI for the ‘Search-for-Extra-Terrestrial-Intelligence’ or ELE for ‘Extinction-Level-Event’ or…”
“Or ACBAR for ‘Arcminute-Cosmology-Barometer-Array-Receiver’ or BOOJUMS for ‘Blue-shifted-Objects-Observed-Just-Undergoing-Moderate-Starbursts’…”
“How about TONENOSSPROMT?” someone suggested.
“Should we even reveal that it’s self-propelled?” asked another.
“We’ll just leave that part out and say that we are awaiting further scientific confirmation.”
“And what about the fact that it has a giant human hand shape affixed to one end?”
“We’ll describe that as a coincidental, complex, fractal-based geometry, for now.”
“Or a CCFG for short.”
…And so the world continued as it was, blissfully ignorant and essentially the same, save for the giant, extraterrestrial thing that finally decelerated into low earth orbit, rotating slowly in the sky. The entire massive object, including the human hand shape affixed to one end, was plainly visible to everyone on the planet, eight times per day, except to those who lived beyond plus or minus forty degrees latitude.