For a moment, the War Room is almost completely dark. The lights have just gone down, and the massive view-screen along the east wall off has not yet come on.
For that moment, the only illumination in the room is the faint blue glow of the flat screen monitors embedded in the boardroom-style table. That glow casts itself against the bodies of as many people as have ever occupied the space. Indeed, every kind of consultant is there: scientists, pollsters, military men, diplomats, linguists and, of course, the President himself.
For a moment, they are all visible only as dimly lit blue shapes against the blackest of backgrounds.
And then the main monitor comes on.
The image it displays is not of ICBMs, maps of foreign countries, predator footage, a foreign dignitary or even a profile of a wanted terrorist. The image is a live video feed from an almost empty field near Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, it is sunny and bright. As the feed comes on, the darkness of the War Room is lifted.
“What are we seeing?” asks the President. A former general, he has inherited a country in despair. During the election, he put himself forward as a hard-core, take no prisoners, problem-solver. Despite his intelligence, drive and powerful executive skills, Washington has proven tougher than any foreign assignment ever had. So while he considers himself successful, few others share that opinion. And the struggle against those others has left him a harried man. His eyes are tired, his once fit body has generously filled out and he has the look of someone who has gone 10 rounds against a far superior fighter.
But every man in that room knows that looks were deceiving. They can think of no better leader for the kind of situation they are facing.
Awakened in the dead of night, he was sharp and alert. He had taken an atmosphere of panic, and given it order.
“Uh, Sir,” says the Director of NASA, “We detected an object moving towards Earth in a slightly unusual pattern. It appeared to be somewhat free of the normal constraints of gravity-”
The President cuts him off, “I don’t need your analysis, I need your conclusions and a brief description of how you reached them.”
“Yes, Sir,” says the Director. NASA hasn’t been a national priority in some time – he hasn’t been through any briefings with this President. “What we’re seeing, in the middle of that field, is an alien space ship. It moves like a device independent of gravity, ruling out a natural explanation for the device itself. Judging by its size, it is probably a pod of some sort.”
“Thank you, Director” says the President, “Is there anything else I need to know at this point?”
“We have pretty much every sensor in our arsenal pointing at the thing. I’ve got a team running constant analyses for me. If I see anything interesting, I’ll let you know.”
“Good,” says the President, “Keep an eye out for other devices, this could be a decoy. Chairman?”
The Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff, the President’s military advisor, answers. “Sir, we have a full ground perimeter established, multiple air units overhead and nuclear warheads on standby. Albuquerque itself is being evacuated by the New Mexico National Guard. I have to advise, Sir, that we be extremely cautious about the use of military force against whatever comes out of that pod. We know nothing about these visitors.”
“Noted,” says the President. “Sec State?”
The Secretary of State states simply, “We’re keeping our counterparts in Russia, China, the EU and Brazil informed. So far nobody has told us anything we didn’t already know.”
“Thank you,” says the President, “Can we zoom in on this thing?”
An operator seated near the screen flicks his wrist and the image expands. The device is clearly an alien creation. It hovers about 2 feet above the ground, without any visible means of support. It has smooth black skin, sharply angled edges and flat sides. It is lined with vents which seem to jet out steam at uneven intervals. It looks like a Stealth Fighter with four noses.
The entire thing is no more than a foot high and a foot in diameter.
Every person in the War Room cranes their necks forward for a closer look.
Then the pollster speaks up, “Sir,” he announces, “This is a small device and quite possible harmless. Anonymous polling has indicated that we can spin this as a friendly visit, no matter what the outcome.”
In this Administration, everybody ignores him.
And then, with a puff of gas, a hole appears in a section of the side of the space ship. It then expands outward – like the pupil of an eye adjusting to the dark.
The War Room is silent.
In a moment, a small furry brown creature leaps down from the side of the craft. The creature looks as much like a rabbit as anything else.
“Let’s try talking,” says the President.
With his order, a robot scurries into view and towards the alien. It is carrying a metal sheet of greetings in 73 human languages. The small brown alien looks at the robot.
The robot starts to speak – first in English, then Chinese, then Russian and then Spanish. The alien hops up next to it, licks it once, and then takes a bite out of it. With loose wires hanging at odd angles and large chunks of metal missing, the robot is disabled. The alien eats the rest of it, including the sheet of greetings, and then goes back to the grass.
“Anything, Director,” asks the President.
“Obviously, the alien is eating an enormous amount given its size,” says the Director, “It is also producing significant amounts of methane gas.”
“Thank you,” says the President, “State, let’s send a human to go talk to it.”
On his order, a human diplomat steps into view. He approaches the alien, quivering in fear. The alien looks at him and then falls into two parts. Now, there are two aliens.
“HOLY SHIT,” says the Chairman.
His words echo a broad sentiment.
In front of their eyes what appears to be a mammal just multiplied like a single-cell organism – without sex, it just divided by two.
The on screen diplomat turns and runs.
“Did that creature just divide?” asks the President, calmly.
“Yes, Sir,” said the NASA Director, helpfully.
“Monitor any signs the aliens are talking to each other,” says the President.
“Why wouldn’t they?” asks the NASA Director. His inexperience is showing through – his job is to follow the order given.
The President doesn’t bother to answer, but his Chief of Staff politely sends the Director an instant message.
The pollster speaks up, “The aliens appear to be harmless and furry and cute. Our initial polls indicate that people would be happy being at peace with a cute and furry alien species.”
He is once again ignored.
After a moment of waiting, the NASA Director speaks up, a surprised lilt in his voice, “Sir, we do not see any signs of communication.”
The President is not surprised.
The aliens divide again – now there are four. One of the newest accidentally walks into the edge of his own spaceship. It shakes its head, stunned, and goes back to eating.
Over the course of 15 minutes, the population of small rabbit-like creates expands exponentially. There are now over 60 of the little creatures – eating and reproducing with gusto. They routinely walk into each other.
And then one of them begins to walk straight towards the ground perimeter.
“Orders, Sir?” asks the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
“Use a megaphone or something and tell the creature it is approaching a perimeter.”
An authoritative voice gives the warning, “APPROACHING ISOLATION PERIMETER, TURN BACK.”
The alien ignores the command.
“Orders?” asks the Chairman.
“Can we slow it down?” asks the President.
“I don’t know,” says the Chairman, “But maybe we can let it pass. We have no idea what kind of inter-species diplomatic and military problems we’d face if we killed one of these creatures.”
“I won’t let the alien past the perimeter,” says the President, “Fire a warning shot.”
A crack rings out over the New Mexico wilderness.
The alien looks up.
The Chairman of the joint Chiefs asks, in an uncertain voice, “Are you sure you want to play this game?”
“He might call your bluff,” said the NASA Director, worry in his voice.
The alien pauses, and then keeps moving. Some of his compatriots have started digging tunnels. A few have started flying.
The one approaching the perimeter is within five feet, when the President gives the order.
Another shot rings out and the alien falls over, dead.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs turns white in fear.
None of the other aliens, who now number over 100, react.
“What’s going on?” asks the NASA Director.
“Let’s try to approach peacefully,” says the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, “Maybe they are some kind of collective mind that doesn’t care so much about the death of a single one of their species.” He is a man hoping for redemption.
“Director,” asks the President, “If these creatures continue growing like this, how long until they eat Albuquerque?”
The NASA Director turns to his computer panel. A few quick touches with his finger and he has the answer – “Maybe three hours.”
“Thank you,” says the President.
“Joint Chiefs?” he asks.
“Yes?” answers the Chairman.
“Kill them all,” says the President.
“Excuse me?” says the Chairman.
“Kill every alien, all at once,” says the President.
“Sir,” objects the Chairman, “They are clearly intelligent creatures. Look at their ship – it is more advanced than anything we have. They could destroy us. We might be able to explain the one dead alien – approaching our perimeter and all. But all of them?”
“Kill every alien,” says the President, “Every single one.”
Reluctantly, the Chairman whispers his orders into his secure phone.
“The public will praise you for strong action,” says the pollster, “According to my test polling.”
Everybody ignores him.
Moments later, the quiet field in Albuquerque is overwhelmed with heavy caliber machine gun fire. As the fury of the guns lifts from the scene, it is clear that every one of the aliens is dead.
And every face in the War Room is white with fear. They have no idea what the President has unleashed.
The President justs laughs.
“What’s funny?” asks the Chairman, “Other aliens might come back for revenge.”
“It doesn’t matter,” says the President, “They aren’t here to conquer us or to make friends.”
“How do you know?” asks the Chairman.
“Because,” says the President, “Those creatures were too stupid too have such lofty intents.”
“Why would idiotic aliens visit our planet? How would they visit our planet?” asks the Director.
“Folks,” says the President, “When we think about colonizing Mars, what’s our first step?”
“Bacteria,” says the NASA Director, suddenly getting it, “Bacteria to make the planet inhabitable by humans. They would show up, eat, multiply and create someplace we could live.”
“Exactly,” continues the President, “These aliens were simply somebody else’s bacteria. Apparently, they breathe methane.”
“It doesn’t mean whoever sent them won’t visit again,” says the Chairman.
“No,” says the President, “It doesn’t. But I’m sure they won’t be any more angry just because we eliminated the contents of their petri dish.”
“And if they come in force?” asks the Chairman.
“We’ll face that when it happens.” says the President.
And then he concludes, “For now, let’s try to be happy that we saved Albuquerque.”