TRANSCRIPT This story is written by Ansel Burch. Ansel is a writer, actor and producer. Right now he is producer and contributing writer for the live comedy show and podcast Starlight Radio Dreams. He is also the Curator for this series. This story is “Connections”
The tall one shook its head. This wasn’t very helpful, agent Johnson reminded herself, as she had no idea what this gesture meant to these extraterrestrials. Even so, it was pretty clear that these visitors were not impressed.
They’d gone through the protocols, of course. Then, deemed unthreatening, she and a team of agents had taken these aliens to see the White House, the Pentagon, Congress, Times Square, Niagara Falls and the barbed wire museum. That last one was just on the way. Sadly the aliens cared about the Carolina double twist almost exactly as much as anything else on this weird road trip. Now, here they were in the particle accelerator of Fermilab and all the damn aliens would do is shake their heads.
When they’d first showed up, the joke around the agency was to call them Larry, Curly and Moe. The shorter one was physically more of a Shemp but regardless, these intergalactic tourists were the opposite of the stooges in every way. They were not quick to respond to any provocation though eye gouging and ladder comedy had not yet been employed. Now they’d lost interest in the collider itself and were now staring dutifully at a classic gameboy which someone had left on a desk.
Johnson took a moment to breathe. The protocols had said nothing about a non-communicative but compliant alien who doesn’t carry special technology to trade or weapons to destroy us. All of the manuals had made the assumption that any aliens willing to fly light years across space to land on our planet would have a good reason for doing so. These aliens however, seemed perfectly happy to stare at whatever was put in front of them with an air of genuine consideration before shaking their heads and staring at another thing.
There was an awestruck scientist vibrating quietly in the corner of the room with his eyes fixed on Curly. Johnson asked if he could fire up the collider and show them how it works. The conversation got all three aliens to consider the hoodie clad man in their usual manner, which is pretty unsettling the first few times. He made a noise that started to sound like the answer should have been no before the answer was enthusiastically yes. While Larry, Curly and Moe each got distracted by other bric a brac, Doctor Kirby flipped a few switches and spent a lot of time in front of a computer terminal from the 90s.
This gave Johnson more time to think. The aliens hadn’t been interested in government, historical points of interest or centers of scientific discovery. When the last of the team had left her alone with them in New York, Johnson’s only express mission was to provoke some response toward communication. How was she going to do that?
As the accelerator spooled up and began to hum and whirr, the aliens turned and stared directly at the accelerator. Not the little window where Catherine imagined you’d be able to see the atoms smash together. Instead they were staring at the solid metal cylinder. They stared at the housing full of electromagnets with the exact same look they had given the President and the Statue of Liberty and the sword of General Washington.
“Provoke a response.” That’s what they told her. She was out of options. The thrumming filled her ears as she focused on her breathing, reached to her waist and unclipped her holster with a practiced thumb. She breathed in deep and slipped steel free from leather. With one smooth exhale she raised the barrel and drew a solid, steady bead on the side of Moe’s head. No one in the room acknowledged the change.
“Frieeenaugh!” The noise that came out of her was something between a lions growl and the noise of air escaping a balloon. “Everybody, look here.” screamed out of her, unbidden. “So help me, you are going to respond to something today.”
Larry, Curly, Moe and Doctor Kirby all turned to regard her. Kirby was the only satisfying one as he went quietly apoplectic behind his console. The aliens all stared at the gun. Kirby managed to squeak out something like “electromagnet” but Johnson didn’t care. She was in brace stance with a clear, point blank shot at Moe. This was now a combat scenario. She breathed in through tight lips and the world seemed to slow. She allowed her focus to pull back, taking in the whole room. Kirby was reaching for a big red button, the accelerator viewing window was putting off some weak light, the gameboy was falling and about to hit the ground and the aliens were passively standing there, looking at the gun as though it was no more dangerous than the souvenir snow globe she’d bought them at the Canadian border.
Provoke a response. They didn’t understand. How could they understand any of what they’ve seen with no context. They were in a structure just like any other one full of humans which were just animals which were like any other life form. What could they understand when they understood nothing. They needed a language. The idea floated in her mind like a big glowing button labelled “push me”.
She angled the barrel 15 degrees off of true, moved her finger onto the trigger and squeezed one round from chamber to muzzle to the air. it was now a demonstration. What does the gun do? Moe had seemed to ask, now he would be aware.
Maybe it was like a car, Johnson told herself. The aliens had seen people arrive in the car, step out of the car and then step back into the car and go away. When a car had come to take the aliens to the processing facility, they had complied. They knew what a car did.
Maybe this would be like the penny smashing machine at the barbed wire museum. They had been shown the metal going in, the moving of the gears and the resultant piece of metal that was returned. They knew what that machine did. What they had never gotten was why.
Why did they get in the car? Why did they sit quietly for the entire drive from New Mexico to Washington? Why had they allowed themselves to be ferried all over this damned country if they didn’t get any of it?
Johnson couldn’t handle them not getting it any longer. They needed to figure a couple things out right away and the first one was going to be that she was in charge and when she needed a response, she was going to get one.
That’s when Moe stopped the bullet. He stopped the goddamn bullet in midair by just staring at it. Then what did he do? He and Curly and Larry stared at it hanging there. Like it was nothing or everything. As they stared Johnson sagged. Not even deadly force would provoke them.
As she slipped her gun back into its holster and clipped the strap she looked back to Doctor Kirby. He had taken to sliding the various knick knacks on the desk toward him, whether to protect them or himself, she wasn’t sure. She turned her attention back to the aliens just as something changed dramatically. Curly reached out a single knobby finger and booped the bullet’s nose ever so gently. It began to travel back along its original path. Back to Johnson who had a great deal of context for it.
Johnson had served in Afghanistan for three tours doing counter insurgency. She’d been the first to enter countless houses full of newspapers, religious paraphernalia and strange food containers. Eight confirmed handgun kills were on her record all at close range. One even closer than this little tableau. She knew the sound of metal tearing through flesh and organs. She’d taken three bullets herself, the last one to the neck where it had only just missed her windpipe, jugular and spine. She knew bullets very well. As the next few nanoseconds passed, Johnson reviewed all of her bullet context while Larry Curly and Moe stared, the way they did.
That’s when it all went shiny. It was to Johnson as though the bullet itself had opened up like one of those mylar blankets they pass out for survival situations. Suddenly she saw all of it exactly as Moe had seen it. He had understood but through a mirror darkly. He knew what a president was, why law was on a hill and why the colorful, illuminated beacon they had seen from space had been built. They knew why that bullet had transited the space between her and them. They knew the children they’d left behind 3 million years ago had failed.
Johnson and Kirby woke up later. The aliens were gone. The particle accelerator was whirring louder than a freight train. Kirby observed, unhelpfully, that these masses were only theoretically possible before the accelerated atoms smashed together, scattering starstuff to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. Hydrogen bound back to hydrogen as it always did. Some connections are elemental.
Alex B Reynolds began acting as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade. Since then, they have played Shere Khan, Gandalf, Iggy Pop, numerous zombies, Jason Voorhees, Luigi, and Skeletor. Character acting is kind of their wheelhouse. Their voice can be heard on the Filmthusiast Final Cut podcast and the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast.