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art by Shane M. Gavin

An Open Letter in Defense of Our Alien Overlords

Katherine Heath Shaeffer is a graduate student living in Gainesville, Florida with her boyfriend and two cats. This is her first published story.
Our alien overlords meant us no harm.
I understand the frustration and resentment that this sentiment will no doubt inspire.
I know that none of us who were alive then will ever forget the devastation that we experienced in the long, bloody weeks that followed first contact. And yet it was a relatively bloodless conquest. This may sound like a contradiction, but I ask you, just for a moment, to put emotion aside and think about the time that followed our conquest logically. How many of the deaths that we suffered were actually a result of the Machine Lords' aggression? How many more did we lose to suicide and the riots? The independent militias who took up arms after our surrender lost many of their number, that is true. But as we learned much later (to our great cost), the aliens' machines--the giant robots we initially mistook for the Machine Lords themselves--had built-in defensive capabilities designed to prevent tampering. It was our own assault upon the lumbering towers of metal that transformed them into engines of war.
You will tell me that who fired the first shot does not matter, that it was nonetheless the Machine Lords' presence that acted as the catalyst for one of the greatest disasters in our world's history. You will tell me that they were still aggressors, that they were and are to this day an occupying force. You will tell me that they simply had no business being here.
And I agree. We do have a prior claim to this world.
But were we good to it?
I am not just making the environmentalist rationalization, though that theory gained some credibility in the early years of occupation due to our overlords' clean air, clean water and forest restoration initiatives.
I am asking if we took our responsibilities seriously. Did we always try communication before turning to violence? Did we respect each other? Were we able to look past our own self-interest, to value each other's differences, to protect those creatures, human or otherwise, who could not protect themselves?
If we use these criteria to measure effective mastery of this planet, then I must say that the Machine Lords are doing the better job.
Not because they have forced upon us a strained world peace, though even the bitterest dissenters cannot begrudge them that achievement. (Or at least, they should not.)
But because, if we examine the actions of the Machine Lords, it becomes clear that they do, in fact, value our differences, both amongst one another and from themselves. They have done everything in their power to preserve the histories and arts of our varied cultures, and though it would be easy for them with their greater force to steal our sculptures, our film reels, our paintings and our tribal masks and put them all into one great museum for their own enjoyment, they have instead used their robot slaves to take detailed holographic records of these treasures, never disturbing or displacing the originals.
And they are not just interested in old artifacts. They have encouraged progress in art, learning, literature, and science. Their clean power generators have dramatically increased access to schooling for low-income youth in underpopulated areas. Their robot slaves have taken on the most dangerous jobs in our societies, and yet the workers they replaced have been carefully relocated to jobs in other fields, all ones furthering science and art.
Though they have enforced our nonviolence, our alien overlords have never asked us to take up other aspects of their culture. They have not forced their alien customs upon us. They have not forced their religion (if they have one--or many, for that matter) upon us.
They did, I concede, implant the identification microbes, which appear as long number-strings on our lower backs when viewed under ultraviolet light. The microbes were transmitted that first week through what acted very like a painless airborne virus, and are now communicated genetically to our offspring, who are born with their unique number-strings--which seem to indicate lineage, birth order, and a few other factors we have yet to identify. We thought the numbers signaled the death of our humanity, and yet it has been over thirty years now and my ID string has had less effect on my day-to-day life than my Social Security number ever did.
The misconception came from the fact that we were imagining what it meant for humans to tie identification symbols to the bodies of other humans. We were imagining camp tattoos and the branding of slaves. And yet I have never been asked to identify myself using my ID string. I do think, however, that our Machine Lords have a way of 'reading' the strings, and through these readings, can perform a regular, automated census of our global population.
We have been denied freedoms and powers that as a species we once took for granted. I am not saying that the Machine Lords created a paradise here. But I do think that the Machine Lords have given us a world that we must acknowledge is in many ways an improvement over the one they once conquered.
Tensions have risen lately. The massive spaceships that hover above us have lessened in number and changed formation. The militants say that the first wave of the long-lived Machine Lords was just a vanguard, and that they are now leaving to regroup with their main force. They say that the Machine Lords are preparing for a second attack in an attempt to quell the lingering murmurs of human resistance, solidifying their position as the undisputed masters of our world.
I say that there was never a first attack. I say that our Machine Lords are not regrouping, but leaving.
This is because they are not a military vanguard, and they never were.
They are conservationists.
This is a tag and release program. And it's the "release" part that worries me most.
The Machine Lords are giving us back our freedom.
God help us all.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 5th, 2012


I read William Tenn's Of Men and Monsters as a child, and it has been simmering on the backburner of my brain ever since. A couple of years ago, my boyfriend introduced me to the vocal stylings of Jonathan Coulton, and "Chiron Beta Prime" quickly became one of my favorite songs. Most recently, I saw an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" in which Sheldon says he would willingly become a house pet to a race of hyper-intelligent aliens. All of these "alien encounters" probably qualify as inspiration for this story, but it was Sheldon's one-liner that really got me thinking about what an ethical alien invasion might look like from a human point of view. This story is dedicated to my parents, for loaning me the William Tenn.

- Katherine Heath Shaeffer

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