Ruby / Ae / August 30th, 2113
~So there are aliens on the news. Cool. This is both interesting yet suspiciously convenient, since now I have an excuse to skip school.
To be fair I would’ve done that anyway, since that’s why I’m watching TV in the first place. It was my kind of sleepy morning: My legs were propped up on the coffee table, my head was trapped in the couch cushions, and a big fluffy blanket was draped between the two. I was even almost finished eating a blueberry bagel before the TV blared out a stupid, high-pitch alert, and much like waking up to my alarm clock it destroyed my day. Or was it waking up at all that did it?
Luckily the interruption didn’t last long. The words ‘WARNING WARNING THIS IS NOT A TEST’ displayed on the television screen in dreary, flat monochrome, before switching to live footage of the incident. It seemed serious, but I’ve seen this disaster movie a thousand times. You’re telling me this is a real thing the government does? This is how I’ll know about the apocalypse? Are you joking?
I guess not, because I’m still watching, definitely awake, and because those are definitely aliens invading my viewscreen. Yes! We’ve made first contact! Yes! They’re sentient beings! Oh my God we’re shaking hands with them! They have hands! YES! OH MY GOD Y E S ! This changes my life in two ways!
1. Because today has now become a world changing event that everyone will always talk about to kingdom come.
2. And because they’ll ask me what I was doing that fateful day, and I’ll tell them I was sitting on my dad’s couch, half naked, wondering why the world doesn’t pause time the same way I pause my life. Not such a good story, now is it?
Too bad we already found life on Europa so we’ve all been through this rodeo. Granted that was microscopic in scale, but don’t tell eight year old me that! I was really interested in stuff like that when I was a kid. And now I’m older, and I’ve lost my heart. And the rest of the organs in me have decided this is a reasonable sacrifice as long as my stomach and clit are happy. Which they are, thankyouverymuch.
I eat the rest of my bagel and lick the crumbs off my face as the ’emergency’ broadcast goes on, which is taking place some light years away on what is not a human vessel. According to the feed it was all happenstance; something to do with radio waves and microlensing and other technobabble that’s not as important as the new bagel I’m putting in my toaster, so I don’t listen at all. But don’t worry, future me! Everyone else at school will clue me in on all the juicy details I’m missing. Assuming I even go, that is.
I re-cocoon myself back on my couch and turn up the volume, trying to pay attention in the frightening amount of time I’m separated from my comfort food. Both actors who conducted the handshake are still present, who are I notice to be obvious robots and not human and not alien in spacesuits. The alien robot is ghostly in form, with countless tentacles attached to a body that is not quite humanoid. Despite being metallic, the arms move as if they were weightless, each tentacle acting independently without shifting weight from the core. The arms themselves aren’t uniform. Some are shorter or longer. Some have fingers or suction cups. Some nothing at all. It’s hard to tell where the limbs begin and the body ends, but either way, it dwarfs our resident rust bucket in comparison. In size and in coolness.
I continue watching, waiting for a live alien to present itself, but nothing of note happens. Why couldn’t this presentation be done with the aliens present? Maybe they’re just shy. Us puny humans are there, with boring spacesuits and oxygen tanks. Why not them?
Should I call shenanigans? I channel surf through news stations only to find that no, this is real for the time being. My skepticism is raised by multiple talking heads and no explanation is given, but I eventually get an answer when I flip back to Big Brother’s direct feed. In short, a love letter by the aliens themselves: ‘Our world is very, very far away. You came across an automated salvage ship on a route through Barnard’s Star. Sorry, no monolith here. See you soon! xoxo”
The broadcast ends, so I switch to a news station. I would go back to my show, but I imagine with news like this every channel would turn off their scheduled programming for this instead. I sigh dramatically. Might as well stay updated.
My toaster beeps and I mysteriously lose all interest. I get up, butter my bagel, scorch my fingertips because I’m too lazy to use a plate, and then wave to my dad who just came back from — wait, what?
“Why aren’t you at school, honey?” he says, which is a fantastic question that I’ve thought about a lot, and my answer is to point at the television screen. Luckily, the headline ‘SENTIENT LIFE FOUND‘ scrolls just as I point. His eye contact falters just long enough for me to run for pants.
“Oh, wow. That’s different,” he says, loud enough that I can hear him while I rummage through my bedroom drawer. When I return he’s gone through a similar process of deduction: See if it’s not a movie playing, check. Flip through every news channel, check. Summon hesitant excitement before realizing Europa neutered this dream before, check.
“This is just from a movie Ru- oh. Hmm. It’s not the ten year anniversary of the Dexterity landing, now is it? No… No it’s not. Huh. It’s finally happened.”
I enjoy my bagel very much during this time.
After a short spell of standing my dad steals my spot on our couch, neglecting the cocoon for simply sitting on my blanket instead. This annoys me, but I don’t have the wiggle room to argue with him considering an itsy bitsy detail that hopefully has slipped his mind: I’m not supposed to be here. Woopsie. The bus didn’t wait for me, I swear.
I elect to play dumb for the time being, which never actually works for me, but the discovery of little green men is probably enough to get me a day off school. I sit down on the other end of the couch as we listen on. We don’t learn any new information during this time, just reruns of the same footage spliced with pundits and the occasional pedestrian asked for his two cents. It comes off as filler, which I’m okay with, but even when a round table forms and several TV analysts argue over the aftermath of first contact, all it boils down to, in essence, is ‘yeah I dunno ayy lmao.’
It bothers me, though I’m not sure why. My guess is annoyance from the political theater, given all these fancy reasons to care about an event that won’t affect me, about aliens I’ll never meet, about a new ‘age of humanity among the cosmos‘ where as far as I’m concerned, the only thing different about right now and when I first woke up is that I’m now wearing pants. So maybe that’s why I feel apathetic then. It doesn’t matter at all.
“Were you planning on playing hooky while I was at work?” My dad says, realizing his daughter is present.
I shrug, but yes. Basically.
“Well, I got the day off and slept in. But I guess I know what morning errand I have to do today, don’t I?”
I roll my eyes.
Another bagel later I’m tossed into the family car, not even able to buckle my seat belt before the engine’s lit, the radio’s blaring, and his foot crushes the accelerator, sending us off at a thousand miles an hour. I don’t even have time to realize I ‘forgot’ my backpack before he sets it on my lap. “You left this on the counter top,” he says. Oh, why thank you.
It doesn’t shock me that the radio’s commentary is identical to the television, but I listen anyway to distract myself from the bumpy car ride and my dad’s gleeful commentary on the matter. This works for a while until the radio’s volume challenges his, so he turns it down to talk at me.
“You know, when I lived at Acme Station,” he says. “None of my colleagues believed this would happen. None of them, before or after the Dexterity landing. Do you remember Dr. Hill? Oh what a stuck up prude he was. ‘Fermi paradox’ here and ‘Fermi paradox’ that, well DAMN the Fermi paradox! We found life! We did it!”
Why yes, I remember Dr. Hill. I was with you, Dad… For like, the entire time?
“Listen though,” he continues, which is the tell-tale sign to plug my ears. “The next few days are going to be pretty weird at school. The whole world is going to feel pretty weird. This is life changing Ruby. Nothing is going to stay the same from this moment on. Now I know that sounds ominous but, blah blah blah zzz zzz zzz…”
A world changing event, I said. To kingdom come, I said.
“The point I’m trying to make here Ruby is that I don’t know what is going to happen. Nobody knows. Now that humanity is aware of intelligent life, only God knows, but you should understand that this is nothing to be afraid of, no matter what happens.”
I keep my mouth shut. I nod pretending that I understand. Ugh. This is dumb.
“I can’t tell you if these aliens will be a positive or negative aspect of our future,” he continues. “But I can say this much: The next few months are going to be the weirdest, scariest, and most unforgettable parts of your life. That won’t be because of today. It’ll be because this is your senior year of high school. Enjoy it while life is simple. I didn’t have that chance. You should.”
Please kill me, Reptilian overlords! Probe my ass first because like, that might be hot. But kill me after, please!
We’re not even close to school before Dad gets us deadlocked at an intersection, allowing his monologue to continue freely while cars pile behind us. I’m stuck deciding what will damage my eyesight more, the glaring sun or the red light, but I settle for the latter because staring that direction makes it look like I’m paying attention. A small train of pedestrians walks below my field of view on the crosswalk. When a big enough blot in my retina forms, I look down and hover the blot over each face, imagining what they look like just by bodies alone. It’s a weird game that I play. I understand that it’s weird.
The first body is of the stereotypical grandma type. She has a hunched back. She’s wearing a floral dress and floral purse whose designs look nothing alike, so I know her hair is grayer than the Moon and that she aggressively knows the cashiers of every thrift store in town. I look up and see her face in my field of view. I’m on the ball: Her hair is dyed coal black, but clearly gray at the base of her scalp. On top of that, her skin is wrinkly and scattered with liver spots. Good guess on my part, but that was easy.
I reset my eyes and pick a harder target before the crowd leaves. This one’s wearing obviously male clothing, a white wife beater and dirty sweatpants. I guess… completely shaved on the top? With a goatee or soul patch of some kind? No, that’s too predictable. It’s early in the morning. It’s chilly out. That man doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. He doesn’t think about his facial hair. Why would he?
I look up and yesiree, a coarse five o’clock shadow that desperately needs to be put to a razor. I’ve gotten good at this game with only minimal permanent cataracts! Yes!
I can’t help but grin to myself like a bumbling, self-deprecating idiot. My dad looks over, and even though he shouldn’t care my spirit is immediately lost and my smile fades away. I turn from him and stare at the sun through the passenger window. I don’t care if he looks. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. I just don’t want to think about school.
A few seconds later I continue the game. After most of the crowd has passed I place the blot over a particularly odd body, who is tall, waxy, and not really dressed in anything you’d call clothes. I rub my eyes and stare again. It’s a robot helping a different old lady keep her footing across the street, and I actually smile watching them because it’s so cliche and cute. Dad catches me looking. I don’t care.
Waxy is probably not the correct word. Instead his metallic skeleton is fitted with transparent white plastic, wires and circuitry visible through the mold. As the stop sign turns green and my dad forces us to barrel away, I whip my head around to catch sight of him on the other end of the crosswalk. His hands, legs, torso, are all human proportion, but his eyes are cartoonishly big and round. The eyes bleed a deep empty white light, whiter than anything I’ve ever seen, whiter than the sun and the stars themselves.
I adjust myself in my seat before my dad wonders what I’m doing. My eyes hurt and I feel like a headache is coming on, but I think I’ll be okay.
I wonder what it would be like to have a robot. I mean, I’ve seen them before, but this is the first time I’ve given thought about it. Dogs are man’s best friend, I know that, but if I could talk to a dog and have him understand me as I understand him, then maybe I’d actually have friends for once. But it’s not like people understand me. Why would a robot?
“Ruby,” my dad says. Judging by his tone, he might have been talking this whole time, and I ignored all of it. I look at him quietly. I have nothing to say.
“You need to talk to me. At least say you’ll enjoy school.”
…It feels like I’ve got a frog in my throat, but I try for him. “Okay,” I say. It’s not like I can’t talk. I just hate it.
And besides, how can I possibly talk right now when all I can think of is, well, I wouldn’t mind a robot.~