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“As we are the first aliens to make contact with humanity, you must have many questions for us.”
“What of the Fermi Paradox? We plugged our best numbers into the Drake Equation, and the Galaxy should be teeming with intelligent life!”
“It is. Your Drake Equation is missing a factor.”
“The fraction of alien civilizations that want to be discovered.”
My friend Ciarán has a shop: he sells nothing but four-leaf clover merchandise. Real ones, in tiny green pots, crystallized with sugar, or pressed dry in cards.
“You must be the luckiest man alive,” I say as I glance around me. He beckons me into the back of the shop. Row after row of hydroponic planters, fed with biological stressors and RNA viruses, ensure that his crop is almost entirely four-leaf clovers.
Ciarán grins. “Good luck is too important to be left to mere chance.”
It was the most exquisitely preserved Cretaceous fossil ever found. Right down to the skin: we could see every detail of texture and—miraculously—colour.
We sent it off to the synchrotron for detailed 3D imaging. When the scans came back, they surprised us. The pigmentation wasn’t inside the skin but on top of it.
None of us could explain this, until we showed it to the only woman on our team. She paused about two seconds and concluded, “Makeup.”
I used to believe in the inexorable advance of progress, that society’s annoyances would gradually be engineered into oblivion.
Then one day I casually mentioned to my grandmother about how USB plugs—contrary to the laws of physics—had to be rotated at least three times before they were properly seated.
She responded, “So you’ve never tried to put the first corner of a fitted sheet on a rectangular mattress, then?”
I no longer have faith in progress.
Our travelling circus rolled into town a few days ago. We have two jobs. By day, we perform, and I like to think we are pretty good at that.
The other job is more of a community service and it can only be done at night. We make ourselves available to bands of children who are convinced that something sinister is going on at our circus. The kids never forget their adventure and they tell stories of us to their children.
Both jobs now done, we pack up in the morning and move on.
It was touted as the first true cure for jetlag: a machine that put you into stasis for up to 24 hours. You stepped into it after landing, and it paused you for whatever length of time was needed to resynchronize your body clock with local time.
No one travels any more, of course, but I still use mine twice a year. I pop my kids and pets in there each spring and autumn so that they don’t wake me at oh-god-o’clock after the clocks change for daylight saving.
My mate is such a prankster. When time machines became affordable, he went back to Rome in the time of Julius Caesar, and convinced the senate to rename the month of Quintilis to July.
Then he went forward a generation and got them to do the same to the month Sextilis for Augustus Caesar.
Now I think of him every time I look at a calendar. And so do you. My mate Jason plays the long game.
Our church has eight bells so it can play rudimentary melodies. Over the years certain melodies came to correspond to certain broadcast messages. “Time for worship.” “It’s a girl.” “You’ve been rickrolled.”
But this melody the Bellmaster is playing now, I don’t recognize. I rush to the church. “What’s happened? War? Alien landing?”
The Bellmaster smiles. “That is my melody for summoning the curious. It works.”
I bought a game. Celestial Mechanics. It’s one of those kinetic puzzles where you flick tiny balls (“asteroids”) in just the right way to hit four moving targets (“planets”) in the middle. I sucked at it: I kept hitting the negative-point “gas giants” instead. I put the game in a box and forgot about it.
Today I hear beeping from the box. The game is flashing “Level 2” and one of the “planets” is launching things back at me.
Be right back; gotta practise my asteroid flicking.
I travelled to 1730s Leipzig to hear the original organ of the Nikolaikirche. Bach himself played it. It was like the voice of god.
Finding the seat temporarily empty one day, I succumbed to temptation and played it. I fumbled a few baroque pieces and then—you would do the same—snuck in the instrumental from “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. I didn’t think Bach was listening.
Now, back in my own time, that melody is classified as BVW 1181, and the Procol Harum song has changed.
Everyone knows rosemary‘s for remembrance. Shakespeare also knew that fennel is for infidelity and columbines for insincerity.
What he didn’t know is that every flower stands for a state of mind. Some are quite specific.
Pohutukawa symbolizes the joy at seeing a friend totally own a celebrity on Twitter. Jacaranda is for the awkwardness of being too tall for an old cottage ceiling. Rafflesia is for the embarrassment at saying “you too” when a waiter tells you to enjoy your meal.
Humanity has unified and colonized Mars, and I am the first to scale Olympus. Now, as I near the central caldera, I pass through an invisible veil, and see … a different Mount Olympus.
There is Aphrodite, and Artemis, and Dionysus. All the major deities. Except one. “Where’s Ares?” I venture.
“You’re standing on him.”
I look down and realize I am standing on a grave. What…?
“We had no use for a god of war here.”
Sorry, shoulda CW’d that to begin with. Also sorry for the earworm.
Hilbert’s Paradox of the Grand Hotel is a thought experiment about countable infinities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilbert's_paradox_of_the_Grand_Hotel
Fantasy afterlife, death mention
It might have just been a thought experiment about infinity to David Hilbert, but it’s my reality.
The night after I died, I found myself in a sumptuous hotel room. Room 1, I read on the door as I left the next morning.
Next night the hotel had to make space and I was put in Room 2. Next night, Room 4.
8, 16, and so on. It’s a mite inconvenient. Is this heaven or hell?
Plenty of room at the hotel Hilbert thought of.
“Humans are the only animal to make tools.”
“Ok, but only humans have theory of mind.”
“Fine. Only humans make art.”
Every time someone makes a bold claim like this, a chaotic god ensures that we soon discover a counterexample in the animal kingdom.
So I’m saying it here: humans are the only animals to rick-roll themselves.
The flying saucer landed in my back yard, and two figures descended to the ground from the underside. I approached them. “Do you want me to take you to my leader?”
“No, we already have one of those,” spoke their translator box. “Our world has completely eliminated friction. We have come to see a—“ (the translator paused at the unfamiliar word) “—knot, and to hear a—“ (another pause) “—violin.”
Consider this a friendly, local pub. Make yourself at home, bring your friends, have a good time! Meet new people, have a laugh, enjoy the ambience, and the Oxford commas.