One in a Million: Chapter 5

Ali placed the tile but did not lift his finger from it. He examined Caleb’s face, lifted the tile, placed it again, waited and finally lifted his finger. Caleb’s expression did not change as he placed a worker on it and placed another tile next to it.

“Dammit,” said Ali.

“You made the same mistake last time,” said Caleb.

“Did I?” asked Ali. He pulled a tile from the stack, looked at it, sighed, shrugged and placed it without much thought.

“Much better,” said Caleb, but placed one of his owner worker pieces and another tile anyway.

“How can you tell?” Ali said then tossed his stack of unplayable tiles on the table. “I concede. You are the master of Flatland.”

“Good. I was getting bored,” said Caleb.

Ali started putting the game away. He pursed his lips against his irritated retort, then said, “The aliens are doing something new. There’s a press conference or something on tonight.” Caleb did not respond. “Maybe it’s about the new medicine?”

Caleb grabbed two beers from the refrigerator and brought one to Ali. “I doubt it. It has been released in Europe already.”

“Well, it’s something big enough to preempt the Series. They’re probably going to turn the UN into a one world government or something.”

“I don’t think they care about our politics at all. It’s not like we make troops of chimpanzees get along.”

Ali frowned. “Do you really think that’s how they see us?”

“If we’re lucky. If we aren’t they see us like herds of cattle, or an infestation of termites.”

They sat drinking in silence for a long time.

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

One in a Million: Chapter 4

Caleb moved quickly, securing the cables together with zip ties every few feet and separating out cables as necessary. They were not marked, he simply knew which ones were which. It started as a thick rope of dozens and ended up with a single plug at the end. Along the way each of the workstations was tethered to the network.

“You’re not going to write down which cable goes where?” asked the fat, balding middle manager that hovered entirely too close to Caleb as he worked. “What if I need to do something with them?”

“You won’t,” said Caleb.

“Sure, you say that, but what if you messed it up.”

Caleb clipped the tail off the last zip tie and stood. “I did not,” he said. “And if I did how would it help you for me to write it down? It would still be wrong.”

The man gaped for a moment then said, “Hey, I was just saying. This is my office. I might have to fix–”

“You won’t. You couldn’t anyway. You aren’t smart enough.”

The man’s face flushed. “Wait a second. You can’t talk to me like that. You’re just a contractor.”

Caleb sighed. He knew what he was supposed to do in these situations: apologize, get the work order signed and leave as quickly as possible.

“Yes,” he said, ignoring his own internal advice. “I am a contractor. That means I do not work for you, which is good, because I am not sure I could take eight excruciating hours of your useless micromanaging and inane yammering every day. You are obviously talentless and very probably the cousin, brother in law or nephew of someone far more important than you, otherwise you would be failing at managing a MacDonald’s.” He held the work order out to the exasperated man.

Purple jowls trembling with incredulity, the man signed the work order while muttering something about Caleb’s future on the unemployment line.

Chapter 3

Chapter 5

One in a Million: Chapter 3

Allie flexed her thighs and pulled Caleb deeper into him. He grunted. She grunted. They moved. Moments later, she released him and they were lying side by side, sweaty and out of breath.

“Isn’t it kind of weird that your booty call has the same name as your best friend?” asked Allie. She reached down and started rubbing herself.

“No,” he said. “Why would it be?”

“I don’t know,” she said. She caught her breath then continued, “I think it would be weird is all.” She made a hungry sound.

“It’s not.” Caleb sat up on the edge of the bed and stretched.

“So, aliens,” said Allie. She bit her lower lip.

“Yeah.” Caleb went into the bathroom. He left the door while he pulled off the condom and urinated.

“Think they’ll eat us?” she asked and then came again.

“I don’t think so,” said Caleb. He started collecting his clothes from the floor. “If they were going to do that, why would they be signing trade agreements?”

Allie exhaled. She turned on her side to face him while he dressed. “Does it bother you?”

“The aliens?”

“No, when I get a second after we’re done.”

“No. Why would it?”

“It bothers some people. Guys, I mean.”

“It doesn’t bother me.” He was dressed except for his shoes.

Allie sat up suddenly. “Do you like me, Caleb.”

Caleb considered her. Her skin was the color of mahogany. Her breasts were perfect teardrops. Her hips were narrow but her ass was nicely round. “I like it when we have sex,” he said, then added, “and I don’t find you annoying.”

Allie blinked. “Okay.”

“Okay,” he said and left.

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

One in a Million: Chapter 2

Ali was talking fast but somehow still managing to shove hunks of fried, sugar dusted dough into his mouth. When he intended to breathe, Caleb had no idea.
“Can you fucking believe it, man? I mean, aliens making contact. Like, for real. And not coming to blow us up or turn us into chicken nuggets or any of that shit. They just want to, like, do business or whatever and humans get to, like, skip a thousand years of bullshit. I mean, holy shit, right?”

Caleb sipped his coffee and let Ali continue to rant between bites. Finally, when the last of the fried dough was gone, Ali paused, breathed, and said, “Fuck,” over and over like it was the most sublime of mantras.

“You know,” said Caleb when he calculated enough time for reflection had passed, “it’s not really going to be that big of a deal.”

“Of course. Yeah. I– wait, what?” Ali looked at once incredulous and something akin to angry. “How is it possibly ‘not going to be that big of a deal,’” he added in his ‘this is Caleb being Caleb’ voice.

Caleb shrugged. “Look, it’s going to be big when people read about it in a hundred years. And it’s probably going to be big for people that live in third world countries or totalitarian states. But they are buying water from Europa and paying for it with technology we won’t even be able to use for decades, let alone master. Sure, some rich assholes will get richer selling us alien iPhones but nothing is actually going to change in our day to day lives.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Ali, “you really are an asshole.”

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

One in a Million: Chapter 1

Everyone remembers where they were when the Spiral Hegemony star cruiser first appeared in orbit. It was visible out the window of the International Space Station, and soon the images were beamed to every phone and television across the planet. It happened at 2:06 PM Eastern Standard Time, so most of the Western world was either at work or school, settling in for dinner, or heading out for a night on the town. People would talk about it for years to come, regurgitating the same stories of fear, awe and wonder over and over again, embellished by time and the natural tendency to want to tell a more compelling story than their friends.

Caleb Farnsworth did not remember. In his defense, it was because he was unconscious, because he was drunk, because he had been broken up with, fired and evicted all at once the night before. Free advice: do not start screwing the landlady while working as a menial repairman in the apartment building in which you live.

He woke to the buzzing of his phone. He fumbled with it and denied the call. It buzzed again. He threw it across the dingy apartment. It kept buzzing and he kept ignoring it until he felt more awake than dead. Finally Caleb rolled off the couch and crawled to where his phone lay. He looked at it: 43 missed calls, at least one from pretty much everyone he knew. He opened the messenger and looked at the first text.

ALI: Look out the fucking window!

He did, and he basically shat. By then, the cruiser had sent its fleet of contact vessels to every major city on Earth. These ships looked essentially like large blimps and the underside appeared to be a massive screen. In massive illuminated letters, the screens read — and I shit you not — “We come in peace.”

Chapter 2

The End

It took humankind ten thousand years to go from the first farm to the Moon. Ten thousand years after that, we had colonized the solar system out to the Kuiper Belt. We had sent probes and explorers and colonists into interstellar space, but to no avail. They were all lost and, ultimately, forgotten.

Three and a half trillion sentients populated the system: human, uplifted, engineered, cybernetic and energetic. Lifespans ranged from a standard century to a millennium. The only beings older were the artificial minds and they had become so alien they existed only in the quantum network anymore. For everyone else, it was the usual struggle of life, if perhaps on a protracted scale.

It came as a surprise, then, when The Probe entered the solar system. With a mass as great as Pluto’s, it was obvious to all the sensors as soon as it crossed the Outer Banks. It emitted constant signals, but could not, or at least did not, communicate. After a century of touring the solar system, it sent a powerful signal into the depths of space and then went quiet and dark.

The longevity of the inhabitants of the solar system served our greatest weakness. We were used to taking decades to analyze, discuss, plan and solve issues. We were still debating whether to begin physical exploration of the probe when a signal replied. The Probe returned to life and moved immediately toward the Sun.

Some of us understood the danger immediately. We gathered in the few remaining Greatships and launched into the interstellar void. There were only nine million of us. The rest braced themselves, hoping for a miracle where we saw the truth.

Eight hundred years later, we still do not know why. Was it because of the size and breadth of our civilization? Did we represent a threat? Or was it the opposite? That we had not established an interstellar civilization in so long a time, was that the black mark against us? Were we simply irrelevant, so alien and/or minuscule as to not warrant a disruption in their plans? Perhaps someday we will have the answers. As it is, we only know the result.

The Probe caused Sol to destabilize and collapse, ultimately going Super-nova. That our sun did not possess near the mass necessary to do so means The Probe did more than upset the balance of the star. In any case,the trillions of beings in our system were wiped out. Worlds were burnt to cinders and all that was left was a small singularity.

From our vantage point nearly two light years away, we watched the first massive vessels emerge from the singularity and launch their Pluto sized Probes toward stars not unlike our Sol.

We move outward, looking for habitable worlds. Even in the face of utter Armageddon, humanity’s children go on.