Joseph Kershaw stood in the centre of Piccadilly Circus. Looking around him, he saw the crowds gathering. People were whispering to one another, pointing at him, taking out their phones and photographing him. The occasional one made a rude gesture in his direction. Discreetly sighing, Kershaw thought to himself:
I can’t blame them. After all, how often is it the average citizen gets the opportunity to meet their Prime Minister?
Waving and smiling over at the crowd, Kershaw continued to think to himself about why he was here.
I’ve been PM for two years and what have I achieved? Bugger all that’s what.
Musing it over in his head, the events of the past two years continued to ache in his brain. The uneasy coalition his party was now in, the countless defeats in the House of Commons, the bad press, with media hounds from all sides out to get him and the question he had to ask himself was: why?
What had he done to deserve this? The policies he was trying to implement, well, they were good. They would help. Well, the bulk of people, okay, there may be the occasional billionaire with more money than heart who may suffer but for all the normal people which he liked to think of himself as one of, they would be much better off. But then another nagging thought went through his head: was he really all that normal? Yes, he had managed to conjure this image of himself as a friendly old Grandpa to the nation during the election. A lot of people had been bewitched by the image maybe even he had, though was it true like the media said? That he was getting out of touch? That was why he was now here, in
Piccadilly Circus, to meet the ordinary everyday people. The butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
He would go through all of London today and then next week would travel the nation, meeting those people who he genuinely wanted to help but didn’t know if he could. Walking over to the crowd Kershaw rubbed the back of his head in that way he did when he was nervous, thanking a god he didn’t believe in that no one in the media had noticed this nervous trait. Smiling falsely, he went over to the crowd and started shaking people’s hands saying a few choice political phrases his advisors said would sound great to members of the public. Talking to members of the public and campaigning was thankfully something Kershaw was good at. He had a habit of being able to say the right thing and look incredibly interested even when his mind was elsewhere. This was currently one of those moments. Whilst answering a middle aged man’s question about the number of immigrants he was thinking:
What is wrong with my policies? I mean none of them are really bad at all. I mean who could really object to extra funding for the National Health Service, or re-nationalising the railways, or giving students free education? Yet somehow the press has managed to spin all of these stories to make me seem like the villain. Why? What have I done that’s so wrong?
Focusing his mind back briefly to the man asking about immigration Kershaw replied
“I totally understand your concerns sir. We as a government are committed to giving everyone in this country equal opportunity and will not rest until we have achieved this.”
Walking past the gentleman Kershaw secretly thought to himself what a bigoted old bastard. That man got the job because he was more qualified than you end of story!
Looking around the crowd, he smiled at a middle-aged woman and went to talk to her whilst allowing his mind to drift again. Maybe I am still in touch, ok there’s the odd creep here who’s giving me a bit of hassle but still despite the smear campaign I’m still popular. Smiling and looking up Kershaw then saw them, the “Illuminated Signs.”
The smile fell from his face. Kershaw didn’t know how and he didn’t know why but looking at those signs his mind was suddenly met with clarity. Flashing across the illuminated signs he could see them. Logos and brand names for just about everything you could imagine.
The golden arches of McDonald’s, the shell of Shell Oil, the Nike tick, that stupid little black horse of Lloyds Bank, Colonel Sanders smiling whilst he was probably cutting off a chicken’s head, the giant silver apple of Apple and oh of course a Starbucks sign. Blinking a few times and inadvertently rubbing the back of his head it was all clear now. Kershaw realised the problem. He could implement whatever changes he wanted to the country and it wouldn’t make a difference. He was left wing sure but he wasn’t stupidly left wing so it didn’t matter. The big companies backed by their friends in the newspaper agency and some within his own government would continue to run this country subtly controlling what people bought, what they looked like, how they spent their money and no matter what reforms he brought in it was always going to be a battle he would lose.
Sighing, Kershaw knew this was the case. Capitalism had gripped mankind and wouldn’t let it go. Looking at the people, he knew he was beaten. He couldn’t change the way they thought. Maybe it was just the very essence of human nature, to want to acquire more stuff.
4:00AM New Mexico The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array:
Craig Voight sat on his chair. He was bored for the past six hours. He had been going through reems and reems of data and the numbers one and two had now just blurred together with their monotony only being broken by the occasional number three or four. He was admittedly in his dream job. Ever since he had been a child he had dreamed of being an astronomer. But this wasn’t the astronomy he had dreamed of. To Craig astronomy was beautiful panoramas of nebulas, red dwarf stars forming or scenic pictures of galaxies billions of light years away. Yet here he was looking at numbers on a sheet hoping he’d see something interesting. Yes, he was in SETI, the place in the movies with all the big aerials pointing to the sky, and yes it was cool to tell this to people but in actuality his job had become boring.
The purpose of his research to look for intelligent life was pretty interesting, but the going through reems of numbers and not finding anything was tiring. People watched the movies and often presumed first contact with aliens would be some sort of grandiose event. The actuality as Craig knew was going to be very different. It would probably just be some lucky individual noticing some unusually strong narrowband hydrogen-based radio signals coming from some distant star, and even at that it would just appear as an odd set of numbers and letters on the endless reems of data he read through rather than the usual ones, zeroes and the occasional two or three that he looked at day in and day out.
Craig was currently going through the never-ending streams of ones and zeroes hoping to spot something out of the ordinary originating from the Beehive Cluster in the constellation of Cancer. So far, the signals had yielded nothing. The logic behind the idea was sound.
Hydrogen was the most common element in the universe. It emitted radio signals and with its abundance it would mean it was the most sensible way for intelligent life to communicate with the rest of the universe. Yet the reality was somewhat different. Humanity had been sending signals and looking for signals using this method for well over half a century and had found nothing. Just a lot of low-level sounds of the universe moving about doing nothing particularly interesting.
Getting out of his chair Craig moved his ever-growing ass down the hall to the vending machine. Reaching inside his pocket his hand began to search for the change for his now fourth Dr Pepper. Craig couldn’t personally stand Dr Pepper but the Coke bottles were stuck in the machine and he needed the caffeine to keep himself awake until his shift was over. Gulping down the Dr Pepper, Craig looked at his stomach. It had gotten larger over the past few years. When he was younger he had always been quite a slim man but over the past few years his metabolism had dropped and he was putting on weight fast. His wife told him his stomach was sexy but he did notice that whenever arguments occasionally broke out between them the words “fat shit,” had crept into her list of insults.
Sighing Craig walked back to his chair to continue to pour through whatever data he would find next. Sitting down Craig turned over the page to look at the next meaningless set of numbers.
“What the hell!” Craig loudly exclaimed.
Turning the sheet on its side Craig could not believe it. This wasn’t just ones and zeroes. It was more, much more. Looking through the reems of data, Craig saw the exact same recurring pattern of numbers and letters again and again and again.
8QYXYZQ8, 8QYXYZQ8, 8QYXYZQ8.
“What the hell!” Craig again muttered to himself.
Turning through the sheets of data, Craig could see the same repeating numbers again and again.
“What is going on here?”
Walking over to an old dusty landline, he phoned down to the aerial operators Mitch and Steve.
“This is a wind up,” he thought to himself,“even if we make contact it’s not going to be this obvious.”
Mitch picked up the phone.
“Hey, Mitch Marshall here, how can I help?”
“Hey Mitch, this is Craig Voight on the line. What are you guys playing at up there?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The data you sent through from the Beehive Cluster on the 21st, it’s a pretty crappy joke.”
“Ahh Craig what are you talking about? That data is fine.”
“Aha and the continually repeating signal 8QYXYZQ8.”
“Sorry Craig we’ve no idea what that is.”
“Right would you guys check to see if there’s been some sort of glitch then? You’re not going to believe this but it looks like I’m seeing some sort of recurring transmission here.”
“Yeah that sounds like a glitch. I’ll take a look at it for you now Craig.”
Putting down the phone, Craig moved his fat ass back to the chair and continued to look through the same data.
“This has to be a glitch!”
Continuing to look through the data, Craig heard the landline ring again. Walking over to the phone, he answered.
“Hey Craig.” Mitch said.
“You’d better come down here.”
11:00AM No. 10 Downing Street
Kershaw stood up. He was outraged and thinking to himself
who on earth does this junior minister think he is? Daring to call him a lame duck Prime Minister who should go? It was probably one of those back-bench rebels who had put him up to it, but the actual nerve of the little twerp to say that in front of the cabinet.
Looking the Minister in the eye, Kershaw smiled and said “Son, I’m going to make this very clear to you. In the greater political scheme of things, you’re nothing. In fact, you’re less than nothing. You’re a little pawn who’s been put up to this job by some former big-wig who needs you now but will drop you the instant they get power. So, do yourself a favour and sit down now or I’ll get one of the dozens of suitable replacements I have waiting outside my office to sit there. Understand?”
The minister sat down and meekly nodded in agreement. Menacingly looking around the rest of his cabinet, Kershaw was suddenly interrupted by a very flustered looking advisor who walked into the room.
“Sir I need to talk you immediately.”
“Ok talk,” Kershaw said whilst shrugging his shoulders.
“Um, it will have to be alone sir.”
“Right ok fine, we were just wrapping up here anyway. Cabinet adjourned.”
Getting out of their seats, the cabinet slowly left. Kershaw however got the distinct impression that some ministers were hanging around, hoping to catch a bit of what the advisor would say. But to the advisor’s credit he kept quiet and waited until everyone had left.
“So, what is this all about?” Kershaw asked.
“Well sir, you’re going to think this is a joke.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Well sir last night in New Mexico there was a radio transmission that was well detected and recorded.”
“Who from? Is it a security concern I need to be made aware of?”
“Yes and no sir, the transmission was detected by the Very Large Array. It’s a radio telescope and well, the transmission wasn’t from this planet. It was well detected from a region of space called the Beehive Cluster. It’s somewhere where, well, scientists and geeks living in their mum’s basements have been theorising life would be detected for, well, about fifty years.”
“You mean to tell me that these Americans have picked up a signal from what? Aliens?”
“And there is a recording of the signal.”
“What does it say?”
“Why don’t you listen yourself sir?”
Pulling a phone out of his pocket, he placed it on the table and then the recording started. A raspy metallic voice came from the phone.
“People of earth…”
Kershaw couldn’t help himself and interrupted.
“It’s speaking English.”
“He seems to speak whatever language the listener naturally speaks. No one’s really sure how that works presently.”
Continuing to look bewildered, Kershaw continued to listen.
“We originate in what you would call the Beehive Cluster. We have been familiar with your species for a long time and believe that now is the correct time for us to make contact. Let us be the first to say hello. Whilst transmissions will be useful for us to continue communication for the business we wish to discuss, physical contact with your race shall be necessary. Therefore, we aim to land on the following co-ordinates 56.8/4.3 in exactly one of your earth months from this transmission being sent.”
The advisor looked up at Kershaw. He had his eyes closed and was rubbing his chin, clearly deep in thought. Finally, Kershaw spoke.
“Those co-ordinates. They’re UK soil, aren’t they?”
“Highlands of Scotland sir.”
“I Guess it makes sense for them to arrive here. Fairly modern country but the Highlands are well, out of the way. Um, look, thank you, sorry, uhm, what’s your name again?”
“Herbert Smith sir.”
“Ok Herbert thank you. I want you to go out to my secretary. I want you to tell her to contact the following ministers: the minister for defence and the minister for public affairs. I want you to tell her to tell them to come here immediately. In the meantime, I have several important phone calls to make to other world leaders. I’m gathering the President of the United States is aware of this.”
“We were passed on the information by US military intelligence sir.”
“Ok good I’ll talk to him now. Anyway, off you go.”
Herbert walked out, leaving Kershaw on his own. Standing up and walking over to a vase, Kershaw lifted out a packet of cigarettes. He didn’t really smoke anymore, but he kept a few packets hidden around Downing Street for whenever he felt stressed. Inhaling the smoke, Kershaw thought to himself
Ok, obviously this must be treated as a security issue. But they sounded friendly enough. Admittedly the ending of that transmission sounded like a Christmas card sent by a relative who doesn’t care for you all that much, but the essence sounded good. They’re clearly more advanced than us. Maybe these aliens can teach us. Maybe.
Kershaw’s mind flashed back to the glowing signs in Piccadilly Circus.
Maybe they can show us a better path than the one we’re on, show us the folly of the greed which has consumed our society. Maybe this was meant to happen. They’re here to show us the way. I mean I doubt they
wherever it was they came. It’s a good thing. Now mankind can finally realise their true potential and abandon that greed which had governed them for so long.
Kershaw sat at his desk and continued to think this over. That greed, that desire for money with no regard for others, that was a very human thing. Surely if these aliens, no matter who or what they were, surely if they wanted to reach out then they had grown beyond the stage of existence where they only cared about themselves and now wanted to reach out to others. Sighing, Kershaw smiled to himself. Maybe there was hope for humanity yet. Not a man for taking a long rest though, Kershaw walked to his office, picked up his phone and promptly called the President of the United States. The two had a long conversation and despite the President’s opposition, he reluctantly agreed that since the aliens would be landing on UK soil, then Kershaw should be in charge of the situation.
One Earth Month Later:
Kershaw stood still, silently looking at the craft that now lay before him. It was large and silver, and that was all he could really say about it. The shape of the craft he couldn’t really describe neither could he really say what it was made of. Regardless, he knew himself and everyone else watching thought it was a spectacle. Looking in front of him at the craft, an opening started to emerge, and bright white light filtered out from it. Looking at the light, Kershaw saw small shadows starting to appear and then slowly many little aliens emerged. Kershaw was trying not to giggle but he couldn’t help it. The aliens didn’t really look the way he expected them to look. He had expected them to look like, well, the way aliens looked in the movies, but they didn’t. They looked to Kershaw like old-fashioned cathode-ray tube
televisions with small metallic legs to support themselves. One of the aliens, the largest one, walked towards Kershaw and in a voice which sounded eerily like an accountant said “You must be Prime Minister Joseph Kershaw. It is a great privilege to meet you.”
“Likewise, the pleasure is all mine Ambassador, on behalf of the people of planet Earth, welcome.”
“Thank you for your warm welcome. It is most kind of you, Might I ask, do you have authority to speak on your planet’s behalf on all matters?”
“I am afraid to say that I don’t have authority to speak on all matters, however I can talk to you in general terms.”
“Excellent Prime Minister. Tell me… would it be possible for my colleagues and I to try some of your restaurants on Planet Earth? We are particularly curious to dine at McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut.”
Kershaw looked a tad bewildered.
“I’m sure that could be arranged Mr Ambassador, Might I ask why you wish to try these restaurants? I could provide you with much higher quality food.”
“Not at all Mr Prime Minister. These restaurants are the exact reason why we have come to Earth. We must assess the competition before we open our own franchise.”
“Your own franchise?”
“We represent a multi-galactic food franchise company called Intergalactic Cuisine. Planet Earth, we believe, has advanced enough to house our next location.”
Kershaw rubbed the back of his head. He was both startled and bewildered and then it all clicked. Of course. It all made sense. This wasn’t about first contact. To these people this was just another business venture. They weren’t here to help mankind, they were simply here to make a profit.
Kershaw blinked, unsure of what to say and then simply said “I’ll see what I can do.”
Walking on with the alien, Kershaw was melancholy. He had been wrong. This capitalism thing, it wasn’t just a human problem, it was wider than that. It was a problem with the galaxy at large.
If Kershaw couldn’t halt capitalism on his own planet then how could he stop it in the rest of the universe? Looking at the alien, Kershaw knew he was beaten. Sighing, he reluctantly agreed to try a sample of food from the Intergalactic Cuisine which another alien forced into his hand. Taking a bite out of it, he nodded. He did have to admit, he didn’t know what it was, but it was pretty good.