translated by Andrew Stallard


“WHOOSH!” said a message on a screen.

The pilot announced there would be turbulence as the result of another craft passing by them too closely. Of course, this was not actual turbulence, but terms from the days of airplanes were still in use. This was from another Warp Craft leaving gravitational waves in its wake from the accelerating nanoscale rotating black holes being manufactured on its stern side.

An astronomer who was a passenger said out loud, “The excrement-headed mining ships think they own space. The Emperor needs to put them out of business if they don’t want to follow protocol!”

“I hope everything is all right,” a stewardess said.

The astronomer replied, “The Outer Sol Mining Company has an arrogant disregard of the rules comparable to the pirates of old.”

“Are you sure they meant to do that?” the stewardess said. “I’ve worked on some of those mining craft and they have issues controlling the warping of space-time with all of their cargo. At least that is what their pilots have told me.”

“That is probably the case,” the astronomer replied. “In fact, I know the head of the Outer Sol Mining Company. I will visit his office on Starbase !ZingChen when we get there. I guess I am a bit anxious about the conference.”

“Yes, I’ve heard,” said the stewardess. “That you have discovered intelligent life on a planet in the inner solar system.”

“Yes, most likely,” the astronomer replied.

“You scientists always keep your cards close to your chest while the business folks always boast about how they are going to take over the neighboring galaxy any day now!” the stewardess said as she gave the astronomer a drink. Absentmindedly, he gripped the bottle with two fingers and dropped it.

“I am so sorry!” said the stewardess. “I will get you a new one pronto.”

“I’ll try with three fingers next time,” the astronomer replied.

“EVERYBODY STRAP IN YOUR COMPRESSION PODS. WE WILL BE LEAVING WARP IN FIVE !!BONGONS,” the message on the screen stated while the pilot repeated the same.

As he was entering his compression pod, the astronomer thought of his grandfather, who defined the modern time unit of a !!bongon as exactly 7 x 1046 units of the smallest resolvable amount of time possible.

After all were secure in their compression pods, the craft dropped out of warp and began to decelerate. The docking at the Starbase proceeded normally and the passengers disembarked.


The Starbase was located on the far side of the largest object of the outer asteroid belt in the system. This was where it was placed so it would be hidden from the potential prying eyes of our possible intelligent residents inside. There was a closer asteroid belt, but mining there was forbidden by imperial degree for the same reason.

At the Conference on the Discovery of Intelligent Alien Life, the astronomer stepped up to the podium and began to speak.

“Good evening.

“For centuries, we scientists mocked science fiction writers for depicting alien species as being like us. Their adventure stories on the page and cinema had beings with two arms, two legs, a head and torso and with whom we could share food and mates. We scientists mocked them because we knew that if life evolved on another world, it would be radically different from the conditions than those on our home planet and hence radically different selection pressures and hence would result in radically different phenotypes than those of our own world. Even on a planet in what we astronomers called the habitable zone—that is, with astronomical, geological and geochemical conditions similar enough to our own planet to support life as we know it—the specific local conditions would create radically different paths natural selection would take the evolution of any life were such life to arise. Particularly our intelligence was theorized to be a one-off successful adaptation in our own species whose probability of both arising and being favorably selected would be incomprehensibly tiny. Most claimed the search for extraterrestrial life, particularly intelligent life, was pointless because it would be so alien we would never recognize it when we found it.

“It turns out that the science fiction writers were far more correct than we would have ever imagined. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know we have found a planet in this solar system in the habitable zone. It orbits a star similar to our own from a similar distance. The planet also has a similar size and mass. In addition, the chemistry of the planet is also similar. It turns out that this planet has a biosphere similar to our own as well. There are prokaryotic and eukaryotic one-celled organisms. The eukaryotic organisms can also be multicellular. They mostly breathe oxygen. They have what we would call “plants” that use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose via photosynthesis. They have what we would call “animals” that get their energy from eating these plants and each other; these animals also reproduce themselves with two sexes, as those of our world. Some of their species might be called “mammals” which, like our own, are warm-blooded and have mothers that gestate their young, even though their bodies seem to be covered in this weird, keratin-derived substance we lack. Finally, the dominant species on this planet, one of the mammals, really does have a head, torso, two arms, and two legs like our own. They even have opposable thumbs. They do have much smaller eyes and have an additional finger on each hand. Some think this species is intelligent, but it is not conclusive.

“Now, how could this be the case? The answer is convergent evolution. In our own world, for example, eyes evolved several times. Despite the fact these eyes are different, they serve the function of helping the organism navigate through space via the light that is all around us. Both mammals and fish have the ability to swim in our oceans, and theirs is not different in that respect. Natural selection will tend to converge to similar solutions given similar problems. This does, in my opinion, militate against another stock trope in science fiction: the time traveler who goes back aeons in geologic time and steps on a plant and, upon returning, finds the entire world dominated by rock-eating fish or something similarly absurd. The world would likely be unchanged at all by the time traveler’s actions. Life is like a marble at the bottom of a bowl that is the environment surrounding it. Disturbances can knock the marble around, but it always returns to the same equilibrium position.

“This does not mean the differences between our worlds is trivial. Even though we are both built up of amino acids, they are as different as right and left gloves. In our world, it is D-configured amino acids that comprise the proteins of our life, and it is the L-configured on theirs. We would be unable to digest their food and contrawise and the sharing of mates is equally impossible, even if you actually desired this shows picture, crowd laughs. Yes, despite those differences in chemistry, natural selection has guided life on both of our worlds to anatomically and behaviorally quite similar solutions.

“Behaviorally, oh yes! Now it’s time to discuss what most of you came to hear: whether this dominant species on the planet is in fact intelligent. The answer seems to be mixed. They have what at first glance appears to be technologies for communication, transportation, energy production and even to observe the outside universe. They also appear to wear clothes. The rules the emperor imposed forbidding long-term enterprises in the inner solar system so we would not be discovered would, at first, seem to be justified. However, it appears not be the case. They seem to make chattering noises like animals, but without a real language. We cannot make our universal grammar algorithms fit. The one exception seems to be a band of creatures who live at the hunter-gatherer stage of existence who live on a continent between the equator and the planet’s north-seeking magnetic pole. It is uncertain if they are the same species than their much more numerous and apparently dumb cousins.

“Other evidence suggests this conclusion. We did an experiment on a large island near the planet’s south-seeking pole (we chose that island because the native subspecies seems to be being rapidly displaced and we wanted to study them) in which we drew diagrams on what we would speculate was near the lands of their upper class because of the great distances between their homes indicating they controlled much property. We had attempted to encode information within that referred to physical quantities such as the mass of their star and planet and the decay rate of uranium-238, which some appear to be using for energy production, and we also left clues for a means to contact us. Nothing came of it. There were merely a few instances of these creatures simply carving superficially similar drawings like animals imitating what they see. There was also another ill-fated attempt to capture one on another continent; all he did was scream, so we decided to let him go.

“The conclusion we have drawn is that this species, with the exception of the group first mentioned, are philosophical zombies. They act like they are sentient and even have the ability to develop technologies, but they are not truly self-aware. They are doing this all on instinct. Further evidence supports this conclusion. While they seem to have the technology for observing the universe comparable to our own, they appear to have scant interest in conquering it. It is as though they are operating by reflex, desiring to look based on atavistic memories of being attacked by predators and not any thoughtful, reflective action. What this means for the nature of awareness and consciousness is something that I leave to the philosophers.

“Thank you for your attention!”

After the astronomer left the conference, he made his way to his room. He anticipated meeting up with a old friend the next day.


After he awoke the astronomer went to check out the office of an old friend who was now the head of the Outer Sol Mining Company. He found the office on the Starbase and the secretary let him in and said, “Professor, the boss has been expecting you.”

Surprised, because he did not inform his old friend he would arriving, he walked into his office.

“I’ve been expecting you. Please sit down,” said his old friend.

“Why?” the astronomer replied.

“Because unlike most your colleagues, you don’t whine to the emperor when anything upsets you. If you have a problem, you deal with it man to man,” the businessman stated.

“So you know what this is about?” replied the astronomer.

“I can hazard a guess. No doubt it is the violation of some regulation related to our new friends in the inner solar system,” said the businessman

“Well, your crafts have been flying too closely to the passenger liners,” replied the astronomer.

“This is intentional,” said the businessman.

“Why?” replied the astronomer.

“In order to phase out the gravitational waves so that our friends in the inner solar system won’t find us before we are ready to reveal ourselves,” the businessman said.

“What? I am quite pleasantly surprised you actually care about the rules, but our friends really have no understanding at all. They are, except for a few hunter-gatherers, philosophical zombies,” the astronomer replied.

“You are wrong,” said the businessman. “They know exactly what they are doing. If they have not already developed the technology for gravitational wave detection, they will do so shortly.”

“How do you know this?” replied the astronomer. “Have you been mining the asteroid belt in the inner solar system? The Emperor will remove your charter in a heartbeat if he finds out!”

“The Emperor and his charter means about as much as the bits on his computer it is stored on. Out in deep space, we do exactly what we want,” said the businessman

“Well,” replied the astronomer, “the Emperor has battleships and you don’t.”

“Ha! Ha!” said the businessman. “Back in the days of land warfare, the first army that ran out of food lost the war. When we took to the sea, naval victories were determined by the location of ports where ships could restock. Air warfare boiled down to being able to refuel the planes and space battles were determined by who could cut off his enemy’s oxygen supply. Logistics always had the upper hand over tactics and strategy. Here in deep space, it matters more than ever. We are miners. We have the tools to make the exotic matter necessary to drive those battleships. His Space Warriors will have nothing but what they can carry. As soon as the gravitational waves start changing at the frequencies indicative of an assault, we can 3D print enough weapons to meet the initial attack, and after that they will be too busy screaming for oxygen to do anything else. This is deep space. I am the law here!”

“Okay,” replied the astronomer. “So you are mining the inner asteroid belt, then?”

“No, I’m not,” the businessman said.

“Well, what are you doing in the inner solar system, and how do you know so much about the creatures who live on that planet?” replied the astronomer.

“What did we use to call the planetary language back on the home world?” the businessman said.

“That was music,” the astronomer replied.

“Now, poetry is the root of music lyrics, and in poetry lies the origin of language. If you can crack the code of a culture’s music, you can crack the code of its language as well,” said the businessman.

“But they have no decipherable languages. However they communicate, it is outside of universal grammar,” the astronomer replied.

“’Universal grammar!’ ‘Philosophical zombies!’ Good grief! The inane concepts that beguile the minds of academicians are like the totems worshiped by our hunter-gatherer ancestors! These creatures are intelligent and speak real languages that we are now understanding. They also have very real technologies whose functions are exactly what they seem to be: observing the universe.”

“Well, that seems strange,” said the astronomer. “It seems they observe a lot and not do much else. That seems doesn’t make sense.”

“That’s because they are ruled by people like you!” replied the businessman. “This is a planet of incels and nebbishes! They understand goodness not as virtue but as weakness and obedience. The whole planet is one big day nursery.”

“You seem to even know much about their politics. Honestly, it sounds like you’re pulling my leg at this point, but I’ll play along. Exactly how did you figure this out? What did you do? You mentioned music,” said the astronomer.

“We have invited one of their musicians to join us, apparently one of their greatest. He was badly mistreated by fellows and was in poor health when we found him. He is doing much better with us. We found him on the same continent your joyriders did that ill-fated kidnapping,” replied the businessman.

“Wow!” said the astronomer, as he felt a sense of contempt for creatures who would ill-treat one of their great men. “You really don’t give a damn about the rules, do you?”

“No, we don’t!” replied the businessman. “But we do respect proper scientific protocols.”

“So can I meet him?” the astronomer said, full of piqued curiosity.


The two walked through a door on the back of the office and went down a hall. They greeted and shook hands with a biologist and 3D printing tech who gave them some audio devices as they passed.

“These are to help him understand you. They are both voice synthesizers and translators,” said the tech.

They put the devices on and went through another door. The astronomer was shocked to see the alien standing before him. He still shook his hand. The businessman said into his device, “Hey King, play any of your hits.”

The alien picked up a microphone and a strange device that he placed around his arm, then began to sing:

“Are you lonesome tonight
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?”

The astronomer found the lyrics incomprehensible, but he found he could still dance to the music. The businessman then picked up an instrument similar to the one the alien was playing and tried to play along. The businessman said, “Instead of what you were doing with those large drawings, I want to go to one of their cities personally and start playing this thing for an authentic first contact, but first I want to get to be as good as him.” The King’s four fingers made for much smoother playing than the businessman’s three. It was obvious to anybody there was perhaps an unbridgeable gulf in skill and almost certainly not only because of the alien’s extra finger.

The King played a couple more of his hits and some of the office girls joined in for a short dance party. They seemed to be having a good tie. Then he made a peanut butter and banana sandwich in the 3D printer. The astronomer said, “What is that?”

The businessman said, “It’s something he likes. We can’t eat it, but I can make you a D-configured version of the same thing.”

The astronomer declined.

The king then sang “Amazing Grace” and thanked God he’d escaped the petty drama of Earth and for the good time he was having with his new friends.


Of course, Andrew Stallard could not have actually translated this, like Joseph Smith before him who was given golden plates by the angel Moroni and seer stones to interpret them. Your translator was given this story by a fairy on a platinum Chromebook with what seemed to be coke-bottle glasses to make the words comprehensible.