In Our Own Hands
I am so totally freaked out.
Of course, that is probably true for everyone on the planet.
How could we not be, after what happened this morning?
I was sitting at the kitchen table, sparring with my mother over how much sugar I could put on my breakfast cereal—which is kind of silly for a guy home from college—when it started. The telescreen on the wall made an odd sound. I looked up—and forgot all about the sugar.
The meat puppet who usually reads the morning news had been replaced by a woman who had scaly blue skin and close-cropped green hair. Her ears were much too small for her head, her eyes much too big. Despite all that, she was beautiful, in a weird kind of way.
My first reaction was to laugh, because it was kind of cool. I figured some idiot at the station was playing a joke.
"Someone’s going to be in big trouble for this," predicted Mom. "I bet whoever did it gets fired."
We stared at the screen, waiting for the news to come back on. When nothing happened I picked up the remote. But before I could change the channel the woman said, "Greetings, people of Earth."
I burst out laughing. Mom shook her head in disgust. "What a stupid joke. Change the channel, Johnny."
The woman was still there.
I changed it again, and again, and again.
No matter what channel I turned to—and we get 208 of them—the blue woman was still there. Mom’s eyes got wider, and she slid her chair closer to mine. "Johnny! What’s going on?"
I shook my head. I had no idea. But a strange feeling—some combination of fear and excitement—was starting to blossom in my stomach.
Finally the blue woman spoke again. "I assume most of you have now realized that this broadcast is on all channels. That is because the message I bring is for all people, and it is important that as many of you as possible hear it. However, what I have come to tell you will not make sense unless you know two things."
As far as I was concerned, nothing made sense right now.
"First, we are not here to threaten you."
It was such an odd thing to say that I almost laughed again. But part of me was too scared for that. I wished that Dad was here. But he was gone, a victim of the air-quality crisis that had killed so many people the year I was thirteen.
The blue woman spoke again. "Second, you must know that we can do what we say. I will now prove that to you. Please do not be frightened. This demonstration is just to help you accept the truth of what I have to tell you."
Mom reached for her coffee. I noticed that her hand was shaking, which made me feel better about my own trembling fingers. Before she could pick up her cup, the light went out. Not the lights. The light. Darkness was everywhere, as if the sun itself had disappeared.
"Johnny!" cried my mother.
"Do not be afraid," said the voice from the TV—which was also dark, of course. "We will return the light soon."
I wondered how the TV could work with the power out, until I understood that this was not a power loss. It was a light loss.
Suddenly the light did, indeed, return. I rubbed my eyes and blinked. Glancing across the table, I saw that my mother was white with fear. The television was on again, the blue woman back in place. "If you can go outside, please do so," she said.
I don’t like to go outside; the air is too dirty, and it hurts my lungs. Also, it reminds me of how my father died. But Mom and I went anyway, as did most of the people in our development. We had taken only a few steps outside the door when Mom looked up and gasped. I looked up, too. The gray sky was nearly blotted out by a fleet of enormous red ships. They hovered above us, not moving, as if suspended by invisible cables.
"This is the Lyran Starfleet," boomed the voice, which now seemed to come directly from the sky. "It comes in peace."
If you come in peace, why are there so many of you? I wondered.
Some people were crying, some screaming. The man next to me crossed himself, and the man next to him fainted. I felt Mom’s hand tighten on my shoulder.
"Please do not panic," said the voice, its tone warm and soothing. "Now that you know our numbers, go back to your homes. We have wonders to show you."
Slowly people drifted inside. My mother leaned against me as we walked back to our door. The way she was trembling made me angry at the aliens.
When we were back in the kitchen I saw that the television was showing pictures of the Lyran Starfleet. A news announcer came on, looking terrified. "The reports we are seeing indicate that the spaceships which have suddenly appeared in our skies are so numerous they can be seen from every spot on the planet. The president has said—"
The screen blinked and the announcer disappeared. The blue-skinned woman took his place. "Please forgive us if we have frightened you," she said with a smile. "But you must understand our power before you can understand our offer."
"What does she mean?" whispered my mother.
Before I could answer—I really didn’t have any idea what to say, anyway—the picture changed.
A beautiful world appeared on the screen.
"This is our home," said the alien woman. "We love it very much."
The screen showed image after image of clean cities, happy people, pristine forests. No one looked hungry. No one seemed sick.
"Now," said the woman, "let me tell you why we are here. You have many troubles. War . . . poverty . . . hunger . . . terrorism."
As she spoke, more images flowed across the screen, ugly ones: men and women, some of them much younger than me, dying in battle; children lying on dusty streets, their bellies swollen with hunger; bombs exploding among rushing crowds; a forest, yellow and dying; a dead river, thick with sludge; the remains of Chicago.
I had seen all this before, of course. But now I felt my cheeks grow hot with shame. I didn’t like having visitors from another world know about these things. And I was embarrassed because I knew we should have done more to fix them.
"Do not feel bad," said the Lyran woman, as if she were reading my mind. "Once we had these problems, too. But we have solved them. That is why we have come here: to offer you our solutions."
Her face appeared on the screen again, smiling and gentle. "Think of it," she said softly. "With our help you can end war, hunger, and disease. We have cures for the mind and the body that can take you to a golden age."
"But what do they want in return?" whispered my mother. She was looking right at me, as if I would have the answer.
I shook my head. I didn’t know.
"If you wish," continued the Lyran, "we will leave and let you deal with these problems on your own, as we did. But you must understand that you may not survive the process. Your world has reached a danger point, and you may destroy the planet before you heal yourselves. Or, if the majority of you prefer, we will stay and teach you what we know. But you must also understand that the knowledge we have to offer carries its own dangers. We will be providing you with tools and technology far greater than any you now possess. If we simply handed them over to you, we have little doubt that you would destroy yourselves within ten years.
"So here is what we propose: In return for our gifts, we ask you to put yourselves in our h...