Harris Tobias' Fiction

May 2, 2010

Short Story–Peaceful Intent

Filed under: Author Interviews — harristob @ 9:35 pm

Peaceful Intent

by Harris Tobias


It was a shock to see how small they were, a great relief too. All that ridiculous posturing by the military in the months leading up to the landing wound up making everyone look foolish. The generals fretting over the alien’s superior technology, bracing for Armageddon. All the media hype about invaders from outer space. The country on heightened alert. And for what, the Fleb? Give me a break. they turned out to be fodder for late night comics.

The message from the aliens was clear enough: “After a journey of many years, the Fleb are coming, in peace, to make contact with our Earth brothers.” That was all the message said. Just 19 words. It was enough to set the entire planet into a tizzy. The message was analyzed and dissected endlessly in the media. What did they mean by “a journey of many years?” Were they being deliberately vague about where their home world was? How many years exactly? Did they travel at light speed or slower or faster as some predicted? And how about that little parenthetical phrase, “in peace”? Just tossed in there like an afterthought, thrown in to appease us. And the term “Earth brothers”? Those two words alone spawned an entire cottage industry of speculation. Did they look like us? Descendants? The whole world held its collective breath as the big day arrived.

Looking back on it now, all our fears were misplaced. It was the Fleb who should have been afraid of us. When it finally landed, the Fleb ship was no bigger than a good sized mail box with the diameter of a dinner plate. In other words, squat and small. Disappointingly small. Ridiculously small.

When the Fleb finally emerged from their ship they turned out to be not much bigger than terrestrial mice and just as cute. They looked so adorable standing there at attention in their tiny space suits. The world switched from fear and apprehension to cuddly, I-want-one-cute in an instant. The people of Earth opened their hearts to the Fleb, our visitors from afar and bid them welcome. You could hear the sighs as the generals, politicians and the public relaxed. We had been preparing for a worst case scenario— an alien invasion complete with death rays and a B-movie script. What we got was an oversized bird feeder piloted by cuddly beings four inches tall. We could squash the Fleb in our bare hands if we had to. The generals high fived each other and said things like, “better safe than sorry,” and “semper fi.”

The dignitaries, gathered for the historic “first contact” ceremony, were also embarrassed by their guest’s diminutive size. An iconic photograph taken at the time shows the Vice President on all fours accepting a tiny scroll from the aliens and presenting them with a neatly folded American flag. Unfortunately, the flag was the size of the entire space ship and far too heavy for the Fleb to lift. That picture has done more to make us look like the stupid humans we are than almost anything else. To be fair, the tiny aliens proved diplomatically awkward in every situation. The only thing that might have been worse was if it was the President giving the oversized flag to the Fleb. Fortunately the president had been kept in seclusion by the secret service until the threat posed by the Fleb could be properly assessed.

The media was disappointed that the alien’s command of English was limited to the 19 words of their initial greeting and soon grew tired of hearing it repeated over and over. Linguists, trying to decipher the Fleb language, made little headway. Without being able to interview the alien crew or turn them into celebrities, the media soon lost interest and moved on to more relevant matters. Except for the growing market in cuddly alien dolls, pajamas and bedding, the Fleb gradually disappeared from the public mind. The general feeling was, they’re cute, they’re not a threat, let’s move on.

The Fleb turned out to be exactly as advertised— a peaceful, nonaggressive race of space-farers. Too boring for the military to take seriously but perhaps still useful. Shortly after the welcoming ceremony, the military took charge of the aliens and whisked them out of sight for their own protection. The Fleb crew was separated from their ship and kept in a special enclosure in a secure location where biologists could study their behavior. Physicists and space scientists were dying to study the craft itself. The alien engineering, their propulsion, communication and navigation systems were all of special interest. The scientists insisted on access. They made such a fuss that finally the president had to order the military to hand over the alien ship for study.

How the aliens felt about having their ship taken from them and disassembled can only be guessed at as they soon took ill and began dying one by one. Some biologists attributed the alien deaths to foreign pathogens, others to their diet noting the aliens had not eaten much since being separated from their ship and its supplies. But rumors of euthanasia still persist.

Having dead aliens proved a boon to the science community who, to their credit, felt queasy experimenting on live ones. Having dead aliens to examine helped our academics avoid the messy business of having to murder a few of them. More than one scientist quit the program claiming that is exactly what was done. The dead Fleb were carefully dissected, photographed, cataloged and preserved in little jars for posterity. Their tiny space suits were carefully examined and reverse engineered. Of the 20 original Fleb, twelve were still alive when they managed to cut a hole in their enclosure and escape— four males and eight females vanished without a trace.

The military hushed up the escape for as long as they could but their incompetence soon came to light as did their inhumane treatment. After a series of articles exposing Fleb-gate, several low ranking soldiers were punished and the public was roused from its slumber to blog about it.

Fortunately, much had been learned about Fleb biology before they disappeared. None of it encouraging. Biologists provided the generals with some alarming statistics: The gestation period for the female Fleb was about 16 days and the average litter was eight or nine offspring. The tiny spacesuits proved to be a sham as the Fleb were perfectly adapted to breathe our atmosphere.

The result of the Fleb escape is either an infestation or an invasion, depending on how one looks at it. Today it is estimated that there are well over four billion Fleb in the U.S. alone, living amongst us, in our walls, our schools, our laboratories, observing us, learning from us for purposes unknown. What’s more, they no longer trust us and may very well be plotting against us. Our high handed treatment having destroyed any chance of mutual cooperation. And since they no longer trust us, and probably never will, we have to accommodate ourselves to their presence. It’s our own fault, we should just suck it up and learn to live with them. You have a mouse that steals the bait? It’s a Fleb. Something in the walls the cat can’t catch? It’s a Fleb. You feel like you’re being watched/ you are. It’s an unfortunate situation but one of our own making. Once again, the generals are concerned. As for the American public, they don’t have to know.


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