Maurice Mbeke of Congo spoke in fluent French, but the ambassador’s message, like his dashiki, was distinctly afrocentric. “I think—no, I know—that I speak for many others in asking why the aliens have expended so much effort in communicating with us. We will resist interstellar colonialism, physical or cultural.”
Matthews was not entirely surprised: this was a perspective with which Matthews had become familiar, though not accepting, from innumerable discussions of the Media & Education committee. What did take Dean aback was the level of support Mbeke had. Speaker after speaker, especially from the nations who’d recently joined COPUOS, endorsed what Matthews thought was a head-in-the-sand view of the situation. To the physicist’s astonishment, even some industrialized countries shared a concern about ET.
The Russian ambassador, Anatoly Shuskov, took the floor. “I ask the indulgence of the committee to have a distinguished member of my staff comment in my place.” Once permission was granted, Shuskov ceded the floor to General Antinov.
“Ambassadors, thank you for hearing an old soldier. I am proud to have defended the Soviet Union for many years. I am proud to have taken part in Russia’s transition to democracy. As a past member of the rocket forces and the cosmonaut corps, I believe I have credibility in defense and space matters.
“Ambassador Shuskov asked me to assure the committee that our forces have searched for evidence of coming aliens. We found no such evidence. As a cosmonaut, however, I tell you frankly: if ET did visit us, it would mean that his technology exceeds ours as an aircraft carrier exceeds a sailboat.”
The simile came painfully close to accusing ET of gunboat diplomacy, a comparison not lost on the Chinese ambassador. Matthews wondered whether the association was intentional.
“I am known for being direct. If ET can come, and opts to, he will. Nothing we say or do will stop him. If ET wishes only to talk, we may choose to listen. I urge COPUOS to listen.
“It is better to know what ET can do than to not know.” His eyes swept the committee. “I will state clearly what most only hint at: some nations have had cause to fear the superior technology of others. Where nations differ has been in their response to that challenge. Those who learned eventually prospered. Those who clung to their old ways soon suffered.”
Pausing for a sip of water, Antinov studied his audience. Some of the former certainty was gone from their faces. “Nothing this committee can do will reduce the risks of new knowledge. You may decide not to listen to ET, but you cannot stop other countries, universities, corporations from listening. From learning. You may hope to keep ET’s message from your society. You will be no more successful than you were at keeping out blue jeans or rock and roll.
“I give you a final thought. The cost of restricting knowledge is onerous. It takes a police state to even try.” He smiled sadly. “We Russians learned that lesson well.
“And to bear the burden of such restrictions, only to see other countries master new technologies from ET … that would be truly a tragedy.”
* * * *
“…So since we were made in God’s image, some bug-eyed thing across the galaxy can’t be one of God’s creatures.”
“Interesting point, Rick,” said the deejay. His enthusiasm sounded forced.
“The way I was taught, God sent his only begotten Son to redeem us. Jesus died for our sins, right here on Earth. That tells me that ET must be damned.”
“As a good Christian, is it your duty to bring Jesus’ message to ET?”
“You’re not listening. They’re not in God’s image. They’re damned. In my book, that makes them devils.”
* * * *
When COPUOS reconvened for a second day of hearings, the opponents of the task force had fine-tuned their approach. No one sought to rebut Antinov’s defense of listening. Perhaps it had registered that ET was no longer talking.
The skeptics today turned to exaggerated praise. The task force has done the hard work and ET’s message was in the can. Anyone who was interested was welcome to finish deciphering the message.