Discover more from A Cruising Voyage
a chronicle of the discovery of alien life
I believe I was in math class when I first heard the news. The headline looked like a joke, but I can’t blame them. It sounded fake no matter how you phrased it.
We Are Not Alone
The details were unclear at first; the scattered frenzy of journalists pontificating distorted the true source of the discovery. In hindsight, perhaps this didn’t really matter. Scientists had detected evidence of alien life — that was dramatic enough.
The news spread across the classroom like a fire ripping across dried brush. Uncontrolled, and lighting up each student’s cell phone, gluing them to their screen. Some began to chatter. Was school canceled? Could we go home? No one knew, and endless speculation consumed the rest of the day. I think I even saw a teacher crying.
I can’t articulate why, but I felt scared. It seemed appropriate. When I got home, my Mom was watching a panel show discuss how groundbreaking this was — I’d say they weren’t any more animated than usual. My solace, however, was found in chat rooms and feeds, assuming that I’d be the first one to hear any more news about it. Dad didn’t care at all.
More information soon filtered through the standard institutions. It wasn’t War of the Worlds. A research team was playing around with a fancy new telescope and discovered Clio-456f, a small planet in a solar system far, far away. And on this world, alien life.
I had envisioned a crude photo of a silly-looking green thing, as any child might. But the evidence was instead a dizzying graph showing “clear evidence” of a bronze-age level society — something about the gasses in the atmosphere. We would have to wait weeks before getting our hands on images. For me and many others, seeing was believing.
Early political-laced discourse and memes accelerated once glimpses of the alien world were published. The pixels felt voyeuristic — as if a false god was staring back and mocking them. Pundits twisted observation data, creating a sort of fan-fiction appealing to their own beliefs and doctrine. Though, I can’t blame them for the projection. I sure as hell didn’t understand the data either, and their descriptions were a lot more entertaining. Social media made quick work of this; a whole world distilled into crude hashtags representing a people we knew nothing about.
Behind the frenzied storytelling, a new reality was constructing itself before us. A world teeming with life, blessed with blue oceans and regal mountain ranges stretching across its extreme latitudes. From space, Clio-456f looked like a child’s rendition of Earth — jumbled continents in watery soup. Rivers jutted into the landscape, etching striking geography and snaking their way through vast plains and pristine dark blobs believed to be forests. The flora was particularly beautiful, though I’m certain they took artistic liberties in their renderings. Recognizable yet distinctly foreign; looking at these plants construed a feeling much like what I imagine early explorers felt trekking through the Amazon. Specks of complexity dotted key junctures on the planet’s surface, particularly the mouths of rivers and rare natural harbors cut into stretches of coastline. I couldn’t help but notice that, at this scale, life on this planet seemed to form a solitary organism. Cities formed brains, and primitive roads fashioned a cardiovascular system enveloping the vicinity. To a careful eye, this alone was the alien, a beast so foreign in its symbiosis that it unmasked the sinister nature of our own urban sprawl.
Caricatures of the care-takers of this planet went viral, and the Clions, as they were called, developed personalities of their own. They were said to look like us, but with slender limbs and cavernous, dark eyes. Experts weighed in on their culture, as deduced from scant data reasoned from our own human insecurities. It was difficult to know for sure what their hair or clothes looked like, or even what language they spoke, if at all. A fertile playground for the imaginative.
In the excitement, many had forgotten to ask how we came to find this planet in the first place. Initial shock evolved into pure spectacle, and tacit recognition of the their relative primitiveness made them feel less alien. Within days, we were humbled. Scientists had waited to confirm data with other experts before making it public, but it was now clear that this new world was in trouble. We had discovered the planet while tracking a peculiar, rogue object zooming through deep space. Ironically, fringe theorists first hypothesized that this object itself was alien, only to later determine its more mundane nature. But I guess during this process someone decided to plot out where it was headed — leading us right to Clio-456f.
Playful banter and shallow discourse ossified into a protection instinct, as if we were somehow responsible for them. I remember attending a Clio Action Rally at my local city center. I’m not sure what we intended to induce, assuming that something could even be agreed upon. That said, I, too, expressed reckless compassion, surely a virtue that transcends species, no? Of course, hubris clouded what any scientifically literate folk already knew; there was nothing that could be done. In fact, given the vast distance that separated us, the alien world was already wiped out. The ancient light reaching us each moment was all that remained, and soon our lens into the past would be extinguished, too.
In this new morbid reality stewed a solemn understanding. What began days earlier as the discovery of endless possibilities was now a front-row seat to the end of life as they knew it. Mainstream coverage morphed into what sounded like an obituary, and the memes stopped, spare the more factional corners of the internet. Some religious groups attempted a type of galactic baptism, and I heard one of the early scientists got a book deal. Society is ever adaptive and resilient.
I’ve always assumed that mankind had a primal lust for violence. That the Colosseum’s rows of cheering fans were not a reflection of warped Roman society, but of a broken and distorted desire locked deep within us. In retrospect, this was an obvious oversimplification. Spectators were isolated from the gladiators, composed like gods peering down upon beasts. Present, but not really there. Divinity was secured behind the lens of a telescope, but that mirage was lifted in realization that apocalypse was hurdling towards a planet much like our own. We, too, are on the sand, and spilled blood terrified us.
As the object approached, we were told that the Clions would see a bright spot in their sky grow in size until, ultimately, devouring them. It’s understood that this period of time saw much activity across the planet’s surface, eclipsed by eerie calm as they neared oblivion. A cheerful mind might suppose they put their affairs in order before meeting their maker, but I suspect something more sinister.
My friend and I watched a pirated live-stream of The Apocalypse on a Thursday evening after school. Of course, there was nothing truly live about it, and it was probably heavily edited anyway. Mainstream channels were pressured not to show it, to the chagrin of many I imagine. But the free-market ensured the spectacle was served up for the curious and callous. Bright light signaled the death of hundreds of millions, and that was it. A cheap bang and depressing whimper. I’m glad we didn’t pay for it.
The next day at school was weird. Last moments played out before our eyes, yet sports and weekend plans dominated conversation. Curious, I asked others if they had watched the event the night before. Most said they hadn’t, but wanted to go see the documentary when it came out later in the year.
The Clions were entombed alongside other wonders turned banal. Religions rewrote doctrine, and some particularly progressive legislation was passed defining alien person-hood. But these were but aimless vestiges of a brief moment when the entire world was captured by a single discovery. A surge in scientific funding expanded the search for other alien life, but, after a decade with no results, the fervor died down and budget subsumed by other programs.
I feel a sense of nostalgia for life before the discovery. A time of gleeful certainty and few unanswered questions. The universe felt smaller then. Much of humanity remains drunk with conceit, time corroding the reminder of our true place in the arena. Yet, I can’t help but feel compelled to continue the hunt, dreadfully sobered by sheer cosmic horror. Even if I must face this mystery alone. Much like we are now, again.
Sometimes I look up at the stars and wonder if someone’s out there watching us. I hope not.