As you know Bob, the discovery of the aliens in our solar system saved the world, and they will continue to keep us safe, provided that we never contact them.
It has often been said that contact with extraterrestrial intelligence would change everything. Indeed it would, and let me list but a few of the opportunities many luminaries foresaw. For instance, mindful of the imminent risk of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War, Carl Sagan supposed that advanced aliens must by definition have overcome such existential crises and have useful knowledge to pass on to us based on their own experience.
They might also have created an Encyclopedia Galactica, filled with knowledge useful for the betterment of our condition (as Diderot’s original encyclopedia was intended to be a practical handbook for civilization) or that the alien starships might be flying cornucopias, showering baubles and wisdom upon us. They should surely not be a threat in any material sense, since they had survived millennia of risk themselves and had passed accessible sources of any material supply that they might need far out in space long before they reached us. They certainly wouldn’t want water with so many icy comets and moons available and slaves are impractical and uneconomic to a species that can build starships. The common cliché that they might want women is absurd of course, and sadly reflected a tendency by some pulp writers to think of women as commodities…
Well then, what threat could the aliens be? None at all, instead they would have been cleansed and scoured by their own trials of history and made into virtual angels. Surely they must have been?
Others have argued that exploration is an inherently aggressive act, that a species that explores is by definition one that wants to increase its dominion. Maybe they are conquerors, ready to kill us after all… or even if they are angels, conversion of us into angels for our own good might be so drastic and sudden a change as to be indistinguishable from conquest.
It’s a hard dilemma to face, isn’t it Bob? Do you remember the proverb, "Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it?" Well, some wondered if we’d get what we’d wished for or feared, and all wondered "where?" The universe is old, its stars innumerable, and there’s nothing that special about our star, so the odds are that there must be civilizations elsewhere, older than our own and at least one should be ready to communicate with us.
But the skies remained silent, profoundly so. More questions arose, more possible answers. Enforcing the Great Silence there was some Great Filter—a sieve of time, distance, complexity so that maybe we were the first and the only for now, with a galaxy ripe for our taking… or perhaps, horrifyingly, there was a Darwinian battle for existence among the stars so ruthless that it had turned preemptively genocidal.
Suddenly it seemed for us that the future was one of empire or obliteration and the silence was one of foreboding. The sky became the black mirror of our history. We remembered the first contacts of our own past and how poorly the contactees had fared. We thought too of the technological and logistical resources necessary to travel between the stars and realized that the power to reach new worlds was also the power to shatter them.
And then the mirror cracked and something fell through.
It is true that the galaxy is vast and ancient and the distances between civilizations in time and space are almost insurmountable, but as we found, not entirely so. Back in the 20th century, Ronald Bracewell proposed that extraterrestrials—and ourselves, eventually—would best send out probes packed with information about their culture towards likely targets and let them sleep thousands or millions of years until civilizations arose there that might be contacted. If the senders were still around once discovery had activated the probe, excellent and if not, then their legacy would be perpetuated. A lot of faith and will is required to support this scheme, but it was the inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey, so we saw some great art as a result… and a little more seriously, it does underline the point that when you are thinking about interstellar contact and travel, you really do have to be prepared to think in the long term and with great determination.
Just such a probe has been found, out in the Oort Cloud in a wide elliptical orbit. The last time it came into the inner solar system, it was millennia ago and it would have seen and heard nothing, but now our radio transmissions have been washing over it for nearly a century and it has reached its perihelion and it is on its way back.
What is its intention? Is it to teach or is it to kill? Either way, as I have said, as you know, its presence indicates a great will. Whatever it does, it will not do slightly. What do we do? Do we wait for it to deliver its gifts? Do we rush out to meet it with welcoming or murderous intent? We too cannot do either slightly.
The Cold War proved an important thing: a weapon is most useful when its existence is known but it is not used. Both a promise and a threat are capital that can be leveraged to accomplish all sorts of tasks other than their ostensible purpose.
This explains the changes that you have been seeing all around you, Bob. Of course, with direct laser transmission and fiber optics, radio was becoming increasingly obsolescent, but now that process is undergoing an enforced acceleration and soon the earth will be silent. It will be as silent as it was in the Ice Age when the probe last flew by. It’s too late to pretend that we were never here of course, because we have already been heard, but we can pretend to be extinct, perhaps.
We don’t know if the probe will believe that, whatever passes for belief in its hypothetical mind. It might deduce that either we have truly become extinct, or knowing that we know that it knows of our existence, our silence is a charade—as it is—and that in itself is a kind of agreement. As the Cold War was waged under the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction, our existence will continue now under a cover of Mutual Assured Silence.
We still cannot think in as long a term as the creators of the probe did, we are trapped in the present. One day the silence will be broken and the probe will be revealed as a killer or a teacher or as something we have not imagined. However, that day may be thousands of years off yet, when you and I will have lived long and safe lives and have been buried long ago. It may perhaps awaken itself sooner than that, but it may note our quiescence and as I hope, and choose to read in it our agreement not to disturb it or its creators, be they alive still or dead… because even if they are dead, their will exists in it.
What kind of solution is that, you ask? What good is it to know that this thing is there and to say nothing?
Think of it as the Devil, think of it as the Adversary, so long as it is not a combatant. Remember the rule that all politics is internal. We cannot change an external circumstance such as this, but we can use it as a lever to move events here on earth, as our policy of growing silence shows. That probe and the potential threat that it embodies is…
No Bob, it is not a certain threat, but a potential threat is just as good in practical terms. In fact it is better, because fear is so much stronger when its object cannot be fully described.
There are people who are motivated by faith who will want to reach out to this visitor. Certainly it makes an excellent angel, this… shall we call it a mute Metatron, the voice of God, stilled for now, or shall we call it Lucifer? Metatron aloft, Lucifer falling…
We can intimate that we have heard the whispers of Metatron that are so subtle that no one else can hear them, or we can let it be known that we have spied upon Lucifer. Both the faithful and the fearful will hang upon our words.
To think that the governments of the world were accused of covering up the existence of aliens! No, we need them. In fact, if Metatron had not appeared, we would perhaps have invented it in time. Perhaps we did… I jest of course; rest assured that it is real. You must believe that it is real.
Whatever happens, nobody must ever find out the truth or even cause the truth to appear. That silence, that eloquent, useful silence must be perpetuated. So of course the probe is now escorted by a company of our most deadly warships. They probably wouldn’t stand a change against it if it were Lucifer of course, but then all of their guns are pointed outwards.
As it is, that ship is as useful us now as Satan was to the medieval church, as nuclear holocaust was, as terrorism was. The slightest misstep, we will say, could invite destruction, while your devotion to us will lead towards the revelation.
This thing is better than an angel or a demon because in potential, as we construe it, it can be both at once. All you need to do Bob, is believe. You can believe either or both at once, so long as you believe… and trust us.