“I found the tumor!” I yelled as I brought the Range Rover to a gravel-crunching halt. “Switching to video, am I on, Doctor Wren?”
Two days ago, a giant alien spacecraft had appeared in Earth orbit. It was shaped like a three-pronged axe handle and covered with bumps that some NASA official had nicknamed ‘tumors.’ Today, we discovered that the tumors were landing craft.
No communication had issued from the big ship. The landing craft didn’t return our signals, either. Aircraft, missiles, and even AA rounds sent to intercept them dissolved into particulate mist far from their targets. They weren’t talking, and we couldn’t touch them.
Our small, isolated research lab specialized in petroleum chemistry, but as scientists, it was our duty to remain at our post during the crisis. We moved our families into the facility for safety and gathered in a silent group to watch a satellite feed track the landers. One of them came down in the wetlands just a few miles away.
I volunteered to make contact, and went alone.
“Keep calm over the radio, Morton,” Wren replied. “Are those tracks in the ground?”
I followed the tracks until I spotted it. “I can’t tell if it’s a robot or a power suit,” I reported. “It’s the size of an Asian elephant; it has six limbs, and there are no visible seams in the outer skin or shell. It’s picking up plants and mud. I’m going to try to engage with it.”
The thing moved slowly through the vegetation toward a muddy pond. I shouted questions at it until I was hoarse. At last I said, “Are you even capable of speech?”
High up on the thing’s flank, a flap of its hide vibrated like a tympanum. “I’m working,” it said in a low voice. “But I can talk while I work, if you like.”
“Did you guys hear that?!” I shouted without thinking. “What are you looking for?” I asked the thing. “What are you? Why won’t you answer our signals?”
“Useful organic compounds. I’m one who seeks. Signals are irrelevant.”
“What do you mean, ‘irrelevant?’”
“Your species has failed the Great Filter. In a short time, your ecosystem will undergo toxic collapse. You’ve passed the point where you can repair it, and you aren’t ready to escape.”
“But—you could help us! Why…”
“There’s no compelling reason; your cultures, languages, philosophies and discourse? Nothing about you is unique or beautiful or excellent. We don’t interfere with developing species, but now that you’re ending, there’s no point in hiding ourselves. We need to investigate your organics for useful compounds now, before their epigenetics degrade further.”
“But we’re intelligent—we’re not hopeless, we can learn and…”
“Minimally; but to your other points, yes and then no. You could have made true progress, but you were content with bread and circuses. I suggest you enjoy them while you may.” The thing slipped beneath the water, and would answer no more questions.