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» June 27, 2007
Not Enough Lasers: An Interactive Fable
The first alien spaceship appeared over Blair House in 2001, followed quickly by others that positioned themselves above the White House, the Pentagon, the Capitol (there were a lot of spaceships over the Capitol), the State Department, and most other government institutions. One sneaked up very low -- under the radar, although they couldn't actually be picked up on radar -- to a spot above CIA headquarters.
Once people realized what they were, they started seeing them in places where they'd actually been for a couple of years, just somehow unnoticed, in Atlanta and New York City where giant media "news" conglomerates had their operations. One was seen flying low and slow across the Atlantic to take up residence in the airspace of Downing Street.
A flurry of concern and trepidation passed over the world when humans first realized they were not alone. They didn't know why the aliens had come. They didn't know why they just flitted about the cities they appeared in. The one over the White House would disappear frequently, and eventually its absences from Washington, DC were linked to the appearance of a spaceship in Texas.
A variety of attempts were made to contact the spaceships, with no results. Their obvious unearthly origin was apparent but nothing could be discerned of their secret inner workings. While a few generals suggested attacks on one of the outlying spaceships to see what would happen, cooler heads prevailed and no aggressive action was taken. The fears of most people settled down and a lot of people just grew to accept the spaceships.
Then, just under a year after the spaceship over Blair House showed up, things started happening. A few spaceships would take off to nobody knew where and in a short time word of incredible damage to a city or country would make its way back. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the attacks. Nobody actually saw the spaceships attack, they were so fast when they moved, but people figured out soon enough that when certain of the spaceships got together that there would be trouble to follow.
After years of the attacks, the generals who had suggested a test strike on the spaceships were given the go-ahead from people concerned that the next target would be in the US. They debated the best course of action. The spaceships -- except for the one that visited Texas so often -- spent all of their time over populated areas. That made the use of the most powerful weapon -- a nuclear-tipped guided missile -- problematic. Even if the population of a city could be evacuated without alerting the spaceships over that city, by the time all of the spaceships were eradicated with nukes, most of the major cities of the nation would be radioactive ruins, and the majority of the country's population would be homeless.
An attempt to shoot down one of the spaceships with a squadron of planes equipped with air-to-air missiles resulted in the destruction of the squadron even before the missiles were launched. At that point, one of the missiles was tried, and while the city of Minneapolis was destroyed, the spaceship just zipped around in the air -- somewhat querulously -- then almost seemed to shrug its shoulders before heading off to the east.
One of the generals overseeing the operation had participated in the development of a secret weapon, and he'd been ready with a Plan C. He had truly hoped not to have to suggest a test of his project, because the last time he had, it had blown up in his face. Well, not literally. Literally, it had blown up in the faces, torsos, and legs of about fifty engineers and scientists working on the project, but it had been nearly ten years since that fiasco.
They tested the weapon, a giant laser, on a spaceship above San Francisco. The beam blinked on, the spaceship turned into a cloud of fine dust, and the dust fell to the ground.
The general and his crew were celebrating their success and their continued existence when news reached them that the spaceships had gone on a rampage to destroy missile silos and missile submarines around the world. They cut their celebration short, and dispersed to a variety of locations, except for the general and a driver who stayed with the mobile laser. They waited for many hours and nothing happened. This attack at least had taken the aliens by surprise.
In the corridors of power, however, things were happening. For the first time, the aliens had contacted the humans below them. They were hideous creatures with big, clacky mandibles and grasping claws that which their demand only too believable. They had been content, they said, with the status quo, but now that their ire had been aroused they were demanding nothing less than the flesh of the children of the human race. Round them up, the order went, and put them in open fields in exactly one month's time. We will take care of the rest. Sluuuurp!
You have a month. You have one laser and there's no possible way to build enough of the beasts to knock out all of the spaceships. What do you do?
- Capitulate. There's not enough lasers. Say goodbye to the kids.
- Compromise. Make a sumptuous counteroffer of half the children and offer to host a BBQ.
- Fight. Build lasers like crazy and hope that you can manage to take out enough of the bastards to make them think that maybe they've tried to bite off more than they could chew.
Dedicated to the memory of Damon Knight, who was always a gracious host to an aspiring writer.