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Earth's Terrible Secret.

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It is the year 2381, over 40 years removed from the day humanity was first visited by an extraterrestrial race. Whatever we did expect them to be, we did not expect this: they were human beings.

They were a bit more advanced technologically, but similar culturally, and the two peoples quickly formed a close bond, united in a desire to share what they had learned throughout their isolated existences.

All was well, but for decades, Earth had managed to withhold a shameful secret -- a secret so powerful in its implications that it threatened to tear the two civilizations apart.

What follows is a portion of an account of an informal meeting between an American cabinet official and his alien, but human, counterpart.

VELEZ. How's the mister?
REYNOLDS. Adam just called! He's in Sydney. The Department of Education is holding some lectures on panspermia, they wanted him to speak.
VELEZ. Panspermia? How did they break it to you when you were in school?
REYNOLDS. Oh wow, I was ... I would have been eight years old, because--
VELEZ. Nine of our years.
REYNOLDS. Right. Nine Earth years.
VELEZ. Nine of our years. God, at some point we'll all just point to a decaying star and say, "look, that's how we're gonna tell the time."
REYNOLDS. A dying clock? That's just going to depress everyone.
VELEZ. [stands] You want another drink?
REYNOLDS. Sure, yes.
VELEZ. So. Panspermia.
REYNOLDS. Well, they brought us all into the public room, and the professor -- he sounded really excited -- he said, "our ships have found other people, far off, near another Sun. They came into being like we did. The same asteroid that brought bacteria to our planet brought bacteria to theirs, and then that bacteria evolved, just like we did."


Some of the kids started crying, I remember that. I think that's what startled everyone more than anything -- that these kids, these little kids, just started crying.

VELEZ. God ... Oh, you want gin?
VELEZ. Soda or tonic?
REYNOLDS. Soda's fine.
VELEZ. [pours drinks, talks over shoulder] I didn't hear about Arrival until later that day. It was Oaks day, and in Louisville, schools are always closed on Oaks day. So I was out running around in the enclave with my friends all day, and I get that home that night, and the news is on, and Mom and Dad are just glued to the screen. Like, staring at it. They never did that. Here you go.
REYNOLDS. [leans forward, accepts glass] Thank you.
VELEZ. [sits, takes a drink] Well, you said you wanted to talk about something.
REYNOLDS. [pulls out tablet] I did.
VELEZ. Well.
REYNOLDS. Well, between 1970 and 2010, your years, Earth launched five deep-space probes, correct?
VELEZ. Yep. Two Pioneers, two Voyagers, and, uh ...
REYNOLDS. New Horizons, in 2006.
VELEZ. Right, yeah. We welded plaques and records to them, in case some extraterrestrial beings ever found them. They had a couple of naked folks and some basic diagrams. One had a record containing some encoded images, a Chuck Berry song, some Mozart, that stuff.
REYNOLDS. And your history indicates that those were lost, yes?
VELEZ. Mm-hmm. We lost contact with the last one in the 2060s. Once they passed the Kuiper Belt, they just couldn't collect enough energy to keep transmitting.
REYNOLDS. I have to ask ... why did NASA stop there? Why not send out more probes?
VELEZ. Oh, uh. [sips glass] Uh, there were funding issues. The financial and public support of NASA was sort of set on the back burner. We had a lot of wars to--
REYNOLDS. I know you didn't lose them.
VELEZ. What?
REYNOLDS. The probes. You didn't lose contact.

[A long pause.]

VELEZ. "Me"? You can't just say "you" when what you really mean is Earth's humanity. You know that's not--
REYNOLDS. [pulls up report on tablet] These are logs from NASA's "Retrieval Program."
VELEZ. Oh Jesus.
REYNOLDS. It starts in April 2011. It ends in 2067. It documents NASA's efforts to recover the five probes and destroy them.
VELEZ. [leans forward, holds face in hands] Oh Jesus Christ.
REYNOLDS. [scrolls through report] In ... 2041, a deep-space craft jointly operated by NASA and the U.S. Air Force successfully destroyed the New Horizons probe. Other crafts located and destroyed Pioneer 10, Voyager 1, and Voyager 2 in the 2050s.
VELEZ. [stammering] I don't know how you found that report. Where did you get that report?
REYNOLDS. [motions for silence, continues] In 2067, Pioneer 11 was finally located and incinerated by a 650-gigaton missile that detonated millions of kilometers away. That's 650 gigatons. That's roughly four million times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb.
VELEZ. [murmering] Had to make sure we got it all ...
REYNOLDS. [glares, then looks back to tablet] The detonation and subsequent fallout completely destroyed approximately 20 percent of a foreign solar system. A solar system ... [voice shakes] A solar system in which, according to our best projections, advanced life was possible, even likely, to have existed.
VELEZ. I know.
REYNOLDS. You know.
VELEZ. Yes. It ...

[Another long pause.]

REYNOLDS. For half a century, the Earth's first-world nations endured a crippling economic depression because the United States, Russia, China, and much of Europe secretly dedicated enormous levels of funding to this "Retrieval Program." All of a sudden, you were in a hurry. All of a sudden, you didn't want anyone to find you, and you were absolutely determined to destroy those probes so that nobody would find you. Why?
VELEZ. There's the "you" again. It wasn't me.
REYNOLDS. [raises voice] You knew! All of you know! You've kept this a secret! You have shared everything else, and you kept this from us!
VELEZ. We were ashamed.
REYNOLDS. I know that, I know Earth was ashamed.
VELEZ. We were afraid. No civilization could ever know what we had done, what we had made.
VELEZ. And you probably ... [points to tablet] ... I guess you have it all in there, you know what it was about.
REYNOLDS. I do. [gestures to viewscreen] Do you mind?
VELEZ. Oh Lord. Please, this isn't necessary. Please.
REYNOLDS. We're going to watch it.

[The two watch in silence.]

VELEZ. It was terrible. Butler was three-for-31 from two-point range. It was ... awful.
REYNOLDS. I've shown it to my committee. It was certainly the worst thing any of us had ever seen.
VELEZ. I mean, everyone involved was a horrible awful shithead who wasn't good at anything. They were just like, "doy, what's a basketball, doy, I don't know."
REYNOLDS. We reached the same conclusion.
VELEZ. More like the Butler Buttheads and the UConn Suckies, is what it was more like.
REYNOLDS. [nods]
VELEZ. It was the worst game ever. It was the worst thing ever.
REYNOLDS. Yes. And upon viewing it, we understand Earth's motivations. But you understand, keeping this information from us was an enormous violation of trust.
VELEZ. We didn't want to bring it up.
REYNOLDS. You're talking about a relationship between interstellar peoples like it's Thanksgiving dinner.
VELEZ. [yelling] Well? What if you had found out? What if, the day of Arrival, we showed you the 2011 god-damned NCAA Championship Game? What would you have thought about us? Would we be partners? Or would you have fired up the rockets and peaced the fuck out?
REYNOLDS. We ... I don't know what we would have done.
VELEZ. Exactly.
REYNOLDS. But a solar system is half-dead. DXR-1189 wobbled out of orbit. It harbored water. It's an asteroid now.
VELEZ. It wasn't our intention. It was just so far off, and our technology was limited. We couldn't pinpoint exactly where Voyager was, we just knew it existed somewhere within this enormous chunk of space. So we destroyed that entire chunk of space ... we made a mess.
REYNOLDS. A mess? Yes, you "made a mess."
VELEZ. We were so disgusted. So desperate.

[A pause.]

VELEZ. So afraid.

[The two sit in silence.]


April 4th, 2011. President Barack Obama sits alone in the State Floor of the White House.

OBAMA. [on phone] ... I understand. I know it's terrible. I've been watching it all night. I'm watching it right now! ... well, if NASA says this is an untenable option, I'm inclined to believe them ... listen, we're almost at the buzzer. If this is as bad as it gets, we should be able to live with this ...

Look, you're talking about wandering through space trying to find five objects that are smaller than a school bus. I just don't think it's in our ...

... Holy shit. Did you hear Nantz? Did you hear what he said. Holy shit ... Holy shit. OK. Holy shit, Nantz. Holy shit.

... Holy shit. Give me a moment.

[A pause. OBAMA lets out a long, tortured sigh.]

OK, start working. I want ideas on my desk tomorrow morning. And bring in Schwartz, I want the Air Force looped in. Yes.

[hangs up phone]

Fuck you, Jim Nantz. I mean, fuck you.