Some people say humanity is alone in the universe. To me, this is the height of hubris. Some people say ‘if there are aliens out there, why haven’t we found them yet?’ When I hear this, I often imagine aliens on some distant planet saying the same thing, but in alien, obviously. Does that mean we don’t exist? Of course not. When we detect a strange signal from space, the first thing the scientists say is ‘it’s not aliens’. One day, whether in our lifetime or thousands of years in the future, they’ll be wrong. It will be aliens. Imagine that!
One piece of advice writers are often given is ‘keep a notebook on you at all times’. They are, of course, absolutely correct. If you have a great idea while out shopping you might have forgotten it by the time you get home. So write it down, straight away before it escapes. As you might have guessed, this story came from one such note. On one side I’d written ‘but what if it IS aliens?’ and ‘why do they always land in the US?’ On the other side it simply said ‘Kew Gardens’, I’m not sure why. All these ideas resulted in the short story you’ll find below. I hope you like it.
* * *
Something was approaching Earth, directly and at some speed. For many years there had been talk about what would happen if a huge rock came hurtling towards the planet. Ideas had been proposed, from atomic missiles to simple lumps of metal fired at extremely high speeds. Drawings had been made, costs estimated, but no one had actually got around to building any of them.
The various military agencies scrambled to catch up and actually launch something and had even constructed some prototypes. And then someone pointed out, it’s not a rock, it’s an alien spacecraft. They laughed. It’s never aliens. We hear a signal, see a light on the other side of the galaxy, find something new in the universe: It’s aliens. It’s not aliens, they said, again. It’s never aliens, ok?
It was aliens.
The craft, when they managed to resolve the image, was huge. It was a shiny dark grey with rows of lights along the side. It had a front shaped like a pyramid, and a glow around the rear suggested engines of some kind. It was coming straight towards Earth and wasn’t slowing down. As it got closer, more and more Earth-based telescopes were able to see it. An amateur astronomer found it and told all their friends. It hit the internet, was ‘revealed’ as a hoax by the governments desperate to avoid panic, proved to be real once more, went viral, and the rest is history.
This time, it really was aliens.
Humans, being humans, reacted in one of a thousand different ways. Some went and hid under a mountain. Some found a wide-open space and wrote messages of welcome in every language they could find, including emoji. Some were convinced it was the end-times and flocked to their holy buildings, some were convinced it was the end-times and threw wild parties. Most people carried on as normal but with one eye on their phone screen.
A while later, the ship became visible without the use of telescopes, and, to prove once and for all it wasn’t just a rock, it began to slow down. At some point, it had flipped over and the blue glow of the engines could be seen. Now, some said, would be a great time to launch one of the rock-busting atomic missiles, straight up its exhaust pipes! Unfortunately, the scientists said, that won’t work, because these prototypes are made of cardboard.
A fancy computer worked out the ship would land, if it kept on its present course, on Salisbury Plain, somewhere near Stone Henge. It was, as a rough estimate, over a kilometre long. If they were good at landing they could easily miss the ancient stone monument.
Several days later, the alien ship was parked in orbit directly above London. The world waited with bated breath, no more so than those in the capital. Would the aliens use a beam weapon first, to soften up the ground troops, then land their own forces? Would they launch thousands of flying craft to gain air superiority, or would they just demand submission under threat of annihilation? Or, maybe they’d go straight for the annihilation and then steal all our water and precious metals.
At local dawn the next day, a smaller craft, still 50 metres long, emerged from the larger craft and spiralled down towards a landing in Regents Park if the computer was correct this time. Military forces were hurriedly repositioned from their fortified emplacements on Salisbury Plain to form an outer perimeter to contain the alien invasion.
The huge craft flew in an ever-tighter spiral until it was able to come straight down, landing with a bump and a huge pulse of blue light. All fell silent, breaths were held, triggers became slick with sweat. The politicians watched from their bunkers via remote camera. The soldiers in the hazard suits and gas masks began to question why they’d signed up.
The entire world’s press was watching as the doors opened on the craft, sliding aside with the expected whoosh. A shape moved in the doorway. It emerged, followed quickly by another. Each was wearing a spacesuit in red with purple stripes, loose-fitting but revealing a possible four legs and two arms in a kind of centaur fashion. They stood three metres high to the tops of their spacesuits. Each was carrying a large, tube-like weapon. The two aliens approached a meeting point set up by the military, volunteer soldiers holding signs with various mathematical symbols on them.
The aliens stopped a few metres away, pointed their weapons at the soldiers and spoke. Their language was deep and booming, but they had some form of translation device.
“Good morning,” one of them said, “could you direct us to a five-star hotel?”