What do you say to an alien intelligence?

Do you understand what we’re talking about? Conspiracy, without mitigating factors: the effort to deceive the government and evade its security interests, for the sake of a personal satisfaction and ambition. I know too well what that means; I’m a dead man already several times over for the little I’ve shared already, let alone what other connections and preparations I’ve made. This was already more than Gary was mentally ready to accept, and he knew that if Alice really felt viscerally how close they all were to deadly force, then this whole configuration would simply shake apart. Whatever the reality, the danger wasn’t something that Gary could convince her of. She needed to feel it, see the facts, put them together and feel the force of the inevitable conclusion. Until then, she was a woman oscillating, according to her own pattern, between excitement and dread, interest and doubt.

So — what does Gary do? He was at the limit of his ability to conceptualize a functioning conspiracy. You can’t blame him too much. There is a great indifference called “liberty” that we all take for granted, and when you find yourself under the scrutiny of those who accept no indifference, there may also be no limit to what you fear. — Were there agents following him? Was he bugged? Was he tagged? Was his every communication intercepted? Was there an assassination squad waiting for the final orders or for the right moment? Or would they wait to see if he attempted to spread word? Was the act of dissemination the main point?

After work, Gary went to a local drug store and bought a Polaroid instant camera. A single copy, no remnants and no proliferation. He ate dinner and downed a couple beers, deciding whether he would carry out the next step in his plan. When he went outside, the sky was just obscured enough that he plucked up his courage and decided yes. No satellites watching tonight.

He put the apparatus and the soup in his car. He drove down to the nearby gas station and bought a detailed recreational map, highlighting a number of small country roads. He knew approximately where he would set up, but he wanted to have alternate routes just in case. The resolve in him began to feel real as he went through his cautionary steps, with no one to interrupt with the ugly what- ifs.

Gary drove for an hour or so, and that took him out of the populated zone of his metropolitan area. Woody fields — or rolling fields — or a hillside studded with sentinel cacti — waited for Gary. He stopped the car, got out and looked around in that endlessly guilty way we know so stereotypically from the movies but that our minds seem unable to disassociate from — an instinctual set of patterns, not unlike the involuntary responses when your conscious mind tries to lie, that bounds our willful actions. No one was visible, but he knew that even here there were boundaries and warriors who walked the borders. He had resolved to be quick.

He set the apparatus and its bowl of Jell-O on a large boulder. The antenna still had the green stain, though it seemed fainter out here in the wilds. Perhaps it was simply the contrast: the green was an unnatural hue, like the ectoplasmic counterpart of chlorophyll. He set the camera on the ground near the rock, and staged himself so that he was projected from any blast. He set up the fire extinguisher he’d brought from his kitchen. Then he flipped the switch. There was an interminable wait, during which Gary twice decided that nothing would happen, but each time, when he began to move, he could sense the burns and head throbbing from the time before and he stopped.

It was before the third and final decision that there was sudden hiss of air burning and then after a heart beat a giant flash of red-tinged light and a resounding “fooommmmp!” When the green spots finally cleared from Gary’s eyes, he looked up and saw the glow of the green laser light. He stood up. Sure enough, the shape was rising out slowly out of the bowl of agar. It took about five minutes for it to form completely and then for the lens to begin to look for Gary. It settled on him quickly. He was recognized.

What do you say to an alien intelligence that has traveled the farthest reaches of time and space to be with you?

Gary almost spat out, “Welcome,” but he thought better of it, thankfully. The intelligence was there not to be greeted by self-important earthlings, welcoming a somehow needy super-intellect to our perfect little world. No, the alien at the other end was no doubt all too conscious how “nasty, brutish and short” our lives are. It was here for another purpose. Experience. Study. Interaction. Gary was at best its guinea pig.

After a moment, he began to talk, a steady stream relating almost everything that had transpired to that point from the moment Alice had called him. The camera eye was satisfied just to follow him without imitation, for the time being at least. He realized that, first, it was unlikely that the someone at the other end understood what he was talking about and, second, they would need some form of training that would allow them to bootstrap their knowledge of earth language and culture. A knowledge of nothing about our world, except perhaps the assumption that the tall skinny creatures were an intelligent species worthy of further study.