Free Science Fiction Story
The Search for Intelligent Life
by Jim Esposito
It was the weirdest thing. My buddy, Skip, has a cabin in the country with a satellite dish, so he, Franco and I would drive out there Sundays to watch football. We’d grab some beer, some chips, some hot dogs, do that male bonding thing.
We’re sitting there last week, minding our own business, different games on three TVs, the Stones blasting on the CD player, having a great time, when we heard a knock on the front door. We figured it was Charlie, who wanted to come that day only he’d gotten trapped into doing something with his wife.
Skip shouted: “C’mon in!”
No one entered. We looked at one another, heard another knock.
“I said COME IN!” Skip repeated, even louder.
Still, no one entered.
Closest, I jumped up, beer in one hand, opened the door, did a double-take. Two guys were standing on the porch in these tin-foil jumpsuits.
Holding one hand up, they began: “Greetings…”
Turning to Skip, I asked: “What is it – your birthday or something?”
Skip and Franco swiveled on the couch, got a look at our visitors.
I told them: “One of those novelty sing-a-grams.”
“Either that,” Skip cracked, “or they just escaped from Disney World.”
Puzzled, the strangers glanced at each other, then held a hand up once again. “Greetings…”
“The girls,” concluded Franco, flatly. “They think they’re being funny.”
“If they really wanted to get our attention,” declared Skip, “they should’ve sent a stripper.”
Something on one of the TVs caught my eye, a player with the ball running free.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed, racing back to the living room. Skip grabbed the remote, hit the volume on the TV, turned the music down. It was Chad Johnson, scoring on a long pass from Carson Palmer, the defender slipped. A hot dog as always, Johnson did an End Zone dance. Franco had him on his Fantasy team, so he did the dance in Skip’s face, ’cause they were playing each other that week.
Skip cursed. “Now they’re covering the spread.”
I asked: “How much time is left?”
“It’s over!” Franco declared. “They’re up 18. Cleveland needs three scores.”
“Dammit!” Skip swore. “The second we turned away.”
“Yeah,” I concurred. “We were holding ’em scoreless ’til then.”
That’s when we noticed the two singing novelty-gram guys, standing there, staring at us intently, like we’d just landed from Mars.
One stranger turned to the other: “Some sort of primitive ritual.”
The other nodded. “Perhaps a mating dance?”
They talked funny, sounded like The Coneheads from Saturday Night.
“Look,” the first one pointed at the instant replay. “They seem to be colliding with one another, deliberately.”
“I get it,” Franco declared. “They’re supposed to be men from Outer Space.”
“Chintzy costumes,” Skip shook his head.
Mimicking the Coneheads, I said: “France! We are from France!”
Addressing us, one began: “I am Astor. We have come from another planet, in another galaxy.”
“Let me guess,” Franco interjected, “Remulac?”
“No, Backtor,” this joker exclaims, straight-faced, still working us. “We have come from the planet Backtor.”
His buddy added: “We have never heard of Remulac. Is it inhabited by humanoids as well?”
“Our mission,” the first continued, “is to search for intelligent life.”
“Yeah, right,” Skip waved, interrupting. “But do us a favor, will ya? We know it’s a long drive back into town. Hang out a few minutes, have a beer. Then go on back, tell our wives you really freaked us out, that you really had us going. We just wanna watch the end of this game.”
The two guys glanced at each other, perplexed.
“Good call,” I concurred. “Chill out. Have a brewski.”
Opening the ice chest, I dug out a round of cold ones, tossed one to Skip and Franco. The novelty-gram guys watched, liked they’d never seen this before, acted surprised when I flipped a can to them, which they managed to catch, though I doubted I’d start either in left field.
Cracking our beers, we settled back to watch the remainder of the Bengal game. A commercial came on. Skip turned down the TV, hit the volume on the stereo.
The guys in the tin foil were not giving in, really playing it up, like they’d never seen a beer before: examining the cans, turning them over, shaking it and listening to the contents, then huddling together when they discovered the pop top, like they were trying to figure out how we’d opened our. They finally popped one open, surprised naturally at the WWHHHOOOSSSSHHHH! It sprayed a bit.
“Hey!” Skip exclaimed. “Fun is fun, guys. But watch the furniture.”
Meanwhile, they passed the beer back and forth, took tiny sips, made faces.
Me, Skip and Franco glanced at each other, rolled our eyes.
“Must be tough,” I theorized, “being an out-of-work actor.”
“Wait’ll I get my wife,” Skip declared, jerking his head. “This shit’s expensive.”
“Not really,” Franco told him. “I hear they work mainly on tips.”
Skip laughed, shortly. “Then these guys just wasted a bunch of gas. I ain’t tipping these clowns.”
Meanwile one joker produced a shiny silver tube, which he inserted through the opening in the top of the can. Retracting it, he studied the side of the tube while his buddy awaited the prognosis.
“This liquid is almost seven per cent alcohol,” he declared.
“Alcohol?” his friend gasped.
He nodded. “Fermented, it would seem, through some organic process.”
Looking at us, the first one asked: “You are unaware, perhaps, of the effects alcohol produce when ingested by humanoids?”
Skip belched. “Well… I got a buzz.”
“Though it can produced a temporary sense of euphoria,” the guy in the tin-foil continued, “consumed in sufficient quantities over the course of time it can lead to severe tissue deterioration promoting the failure of digestive organs.”
Franco rolled his eyes. “What is this now? Some sort of intervention?”
Skip nodded. “This shit’s getting lame.”
“You’re the one,” I told him, “announced you weren’t gonna tip ’em.”
Franco lit up, really freaked out the two “men from space,” who acted like they’d never seen anyone smoke before. One nudged the other as Franco dug out his pack of Marlboro, offered one to Skip, then lit both cigarettes up with a little Bic lighter, staring as Franco and Skip took that first long delicious drag, exhaled big clouds of smoke.
Turning to his partner one said: “He is inhaling the hydroflurocarbons created by the combustion of some indigenous vegetation.”
The other nodded. “That might explain the condition of their atmosphere.”
“Hey, man!” Franco tried once more. “Cut it out already. Now I’m asking you nicely. We want to watch the end of the game. You’re welcome to have a beer, kick back a few, but cool it with the corny spaceman routine. We’re sorry our wives had you drive all the way out here, but we just think it’s dumb.”
“Perhaps,” Astor suggested, “it would be best if we address our primary purpose. Our mission is to search for intelligent life.”
“He’s got ’im! He’s got ’im!” Franco screamed suddenly, pointing at another TV. A receiver for the Chargers broke free deep but the ball was overthrown. We groaned.
“That was six,” said Skip.
Franco threw his hands up. “Well, it wasn’t my receiver.”
“Hey!” I called as they settled back down, “pass the chips, will ya?”
Franco handed me the bowl of potato chips. I went to eat one, but noticed our two alleged aliens watching.
“Oh?” I inquired. “Of course, you’ve never heard of potato chips, either, huh?”
“This…” asked the second guy, “is a food substance?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Real popular in this part of the universe.” Extending the bowl, I offered them some. “Wanna try?”
They each took a chip, gingerly, inspecting them in the light before nibbling carefully on a tiny bite.
Not Astor – the second guy – we never got his name – touched the chip with that little silver tube. His eyebrows furled.
“This substance is almost totally devoid of nutrition.”
“Here.” Franco passed him the bean dip. “Try some of this.”
Suspicious, he stuck his silver tube into the dip. Looking at us, amazed, he inquired: “You consume this matter?”
“Hey, Skip…” I wondered. “Are there any, like – sanitariums up around here?”
“It might be worth 20 bucks,” Franco suggested, “just to get rid of these bozos.”
“Okay… All right,” said Skip, standing up. “I think we’ve been pretty nice…”
The two guys in the tin foil fell back. Astor pointed this little thing, looked like a pager, clicked a button. Skip froze dead in his tracks, half turning, hands extended, mouth open. Then he turned it on Franco and me. I was enveloped by the strangest sensation, like I was glued in place. I could see and I could hear, but I couldn’t move a muscle.
“Commander,” said the second novelty-gram guy, “humanoids on this planet seem incredibly pre-occupied with video transmissions.”
“I noticed,” Astor replied. “These transmissions are accompanied by an audio narration, however these native humanoids seem to prefer an entirely different sort of auditory stimulation.”
“There are different images on all three visual output screens.”
“Yes. Basically, however, the same bizarre tribal ritual.”
“My readings indicate similar video image transmissions on many frequencies.”
Astor flicked his neat little universal remote at the stereo and it burst into a shower of sparks and fell silent. Then he pointed it at a television. The sound came on. A break in the action, time out on the field, the network cut to a beer commercial – your basic male fantasy, contingent entirely on what brand of brew you drank.
“Look,” said the other guy. “Females.”
Astor nodded. “Is that not the beverage we sampled earlier?”
“I believe so. Apparently it’s part of their mating ritual.”
“Yet the specimens we encountered have the beverage, but no females.”
Astor clicked his remote. The channel changed. Cartoons. Yosemite Sam. “I paid to see the high diving act, and by gum I’m a-gonna see it!” Click, next station. ESPN. The International Invitational Free Style Skateboard Championships from Bitchin’ Beach, California, complete with color commentary. Click. Women’s Roller Derby. Click. A commercial – our local looney used car deal slashing prices, with a chainsaw. Click. MTV. Gothic Head Bangers, guys who probably couldn’t spell Lucifer cashing in on the Satanic thing. Click. The Three Stooges. “Slowly, I turned…” Click. A boxing match. Click. An old war movie. Click. The Muppets…
The channels kept changing, faster and faster, until the picture became a blur of images. (Man, these guys could channel surf.) After a few moments the TV blew up, erupted into sparks, fizzled dead, smoking and popping.
Me, Skip and Franco could not and had not moved, frozen in the same position.
“Apparently,” Astor declared, heading for the door, “the search for intelligent life must continue.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Several hours later the three of us were sitting on the porch, passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels, staring at the stars, just totally blown away.
The paralysis we had experienced when Astor hit us with that remote control had dissipated a few minutes after they’d left. We’d stumbled out the cabin door in time to witness the departure of their flying saucer. It was big and round and silver, with colored lights spinning beneath it, making a low whirring noise as it flew off into the sunset and disappeared into a cloud.
All in all I’d have to say it was about the most convincing impersonation of a man from outer space I’d ever seen.
“Oh, man…” groaned Skip.
“I asked: “Do you know what this means?”
“Yeah,” answered Franco. “We were NOT on Candid Camera.”
I held my hands out. “We might’ve altered the course of human history.”
They looked at one another.
Skip nodded. “So we’re not going to tell our wives, right?”
“Yeah…” Franco shook his head. “Like they’re gonna believe it!”
“Tell ’em WHAT?” I asked. “That we were contacted by advanced beings from another planet, but we were too busy watching football?”
“Jeeze…” said Skip. “You make it sound so… So… So – dumb.”
I just looked at him.
He told me: “I had 50 bucks on that game!”
Franco declared: “They looked just like us.”
“And you heard ’em! They sounded just like the Coneheads, didn’t they? How were we supposed to know they were like intergalactic Jehovah's Witnesses?”
I took another hit off the Jack Daniels. This was our second bottle.
“Do you know,” I began, “for life to evolve on planet Earth was a virtual miracle, required a succession of interconnected circumstances spanning millions of years, dating back to The Big Bang, when this mass of molten rubble happened to get trapped in orbit around the star we now call our sun. Just the right orbit, too, for Venus was too close, Mars too far away. But we formed an atmosphere, and oceans, and somehow from all this lifeless matter – life! Tiny micro-organisms, which over eons evolved from algae and amoebae into animals, and then mammals, and then man. It is such an incredibly singular course of events many scientists theorize, out of simple mathematical probability, it might’ve only occurred once in the entire universe – and Earth is IT!”
Franco nodded. “You’re right. We’re DEFINITELY not telling the wives.”
“We impacted the future course of all mankind!”
“So what?” Skip scoffed. “Those guys were geeks, giving us grief about drinking beer and eating chips, smoking cigarettes and watching football. If I wanted to listen to that shit, I’d be home with my wife.”
“Yeah,” said Franco. “Millions of years go by, they don’t even call us. Then they can't wait until the end of the 49er game.”
“Besides,” Skip continued, jumping to his feet, walking off the porch, extending his arms toward the clear night sky. Out there in the country, far from any city lights, it was full of stars.
“Just look…” he said. “Every one of those stars up there could have planets.”
Franco and I gazed up in wonder at the vast array of tiny sparkling lights which comprised the Milky Way.
“You trying to tell me,” Skip pointed out, “that somewhere, in all the universe – we ain't gonna find some dudes that PARTY?”