Sway Benns

The Auditor

First contact was a twenty-three-second Morse code audio file captured by a SETI radio telescope:

-. .- …- .. … / – ..- ..- … / -.-. .- .—. – ..- … / . … – .-.-.- / —.- ..- .. / ..-. .- -.-. .. – / -. . —. —- – .. —- .-. ..—..

Or; Navis tuus captus est. Qui facit negotior?

Or, approximately: We have intercepted your probe. Who do we negotiate with?

The probe was Voyager 1, ejected from your planet into space in 1977. It carried on it The Golden Record.

Alongside its greatest hits of Earth sights and sounds, The Golden Record transported its own clipped—but breathtakingly naïve—audio recording of a Morse code message:

.- -.. / .- … – .-. .- / .—. . .-. / .- … .—. . .-. .-

Or; Ad astra per aspera.

Or, precisely; Through hardships to the stars.

Presented as a kind of porthole into human life, The Golden Record was, in the end, more artifice than artifact. Absent from this evidence of humanity was any mention of your own discovery history: an almost preternatural ability to divide and conquer. To kill and to take up space. To exclude and suffocate. To create fear and to be afraid.

For instance, one of Earth’s most profound scientific achieve­ments—the atomic bomb—was entirely absent. So was factory farming. Single-use plastics. In their place: the sounds of pop music and common greetings. Diagrams of foundational mathematical concepts. Photographs of things like: a young mother in a pretty, floral print sundress nursing a baby; an astronaut relaxed, free-falling, his back to Earth as if he has no doubt that when he turns to face it again it will still be there careening through space beside him; a racially diverse gathering of small children huddled around a globe of the world (an accurate depiction of Earth’s genetic diversity which was also, simultaneously, a lie about your ability to get along). Photographs of things like an attentive teacher with a hand firmly atop his student’s, putting words on a page—creating a story, perhaps, like the one that was created for Voyager: A story you tell yourself to believe there is not something deeply wrong with you. Or a story like this one, which might convey the opposite. Intentions not yet known but existent. Coming into view. A record.

First contact was the hand that lifted a rock and found the small and fragile ignorance that is humankind: those who searched for answers but had none to offer.

First contact asked a question that finally broke the world. Setting North Korea on fire, assassinating peacekeepers and funding wars, bottoming the stock market—which then righted itself swiftly, triumphantly (a moment in which another dooming fact became abundantly clear: capitalism is itself a kind of parallel universe free from the consequences of any world, even a world under threat of annihilation).

First contact was a question. It was just a simple question: Who do we negotiate with?

The answer came swiftly, finally, three years and thirty-eight million lives later during Earth’s third first contact, four days after they arrived on the moon.

On the first day, their base—a compound approximately 150 kilometers across—was visible to the naked eye from sea level. They arrived the evening of a nearly full moon, a fact that, under the circumstances, could not simply be coincidental.

The first unrecorded civilian witness was a four-year-old boy passing through the Atacama Desert with his father. A boy who, looking skyward—a kind of reprieve from the dark, cold patch of earth he found his small feet traversing—remarked to no one in particular:

Hay un agujero negro en la luna.

Or; There’s a black hole on the moon.

(He then stepped on a rock, yelped, averted his gaze ­ground­ward—the looming threat of the great void excised in an instant by a feeling of local pain.)

Sightings would continue steadily for seven minutes before trending across the internet. They would continue for another fifteen before the first news report aired, and for another sixty-three before the first government statement was released. The base would double in size over the next seventy-six hours—spreading like an inkblot. During this time, there would be no line of communication established—though attempts were made: broadcast messages were ignored unilaterally and probes from NASA, ISRO, Roscosmos, CNSA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic were usurped on their moonbound journeys, never to be seen again.

Though never officially declassified, their requests can be summarized as follows:

Please leave.

During those seventy-six hours, FC1’s question—strung up in your turbid atmosphere—would begin to find gravity: Which of you is responsible for cleaning up this fucking mess?

Anyone from the United States was ruled out immediately, for obvious reasons.

From that baseline, additional—seemingly previously uncon­sidered—questions began to emerge. Questions like:

How easily can world leader be bought? (The answer is very.)

Is world leader a job for a politician? (The answer is no.)

In the end, when she was chosen, it was because she fit into a very small, arbitrary box built by the same well-meaning public relations architects of The Golden Record.

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Image by WikiImages from Pixabay