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Tourists

There are those who said that the Tourists had been appearing long before we had noticed, arriving at each solar eclipse to stare up at the darkening sky with obfuscated faces. Some say they arrived in vehicles shaped like saucers or cigars, while others say they teleported, or entered through some sort of wormhole. Either way, they were here, albeit briefly, and ignored us for the most part.
A few in the scientific community said that they understood why--our moon is, after all, 400 times smaller than the sun, yet also 400 times closer than the sun. This ratio gives the Earth nearly perfect solar eclipses, perhaps the only perfect solar eclipses in known space. They said that our solar events were something of a unique curiosity, so why wouldn't Tourists visit.
When asked why we only see the Tourists now, fringe groups with radio shows shouted conspiracy theories and government coverups. But other groups suggested that maybe they just didn't care, that maybe we were so insignificant they simply didn't mind if we saw them or not. Others said it was a trap of some sort. One group wondered if maybe they wanted to communicate with us, but maybe the solar radiation did something to make language impossible for them. If that was the case, asked skeptics, why didn't they just communicate at night?
Then there are those of us who simply wanted to know more about them. We watched with interest through drones and cameras from a distance as close as the military blockades would allow. We'd share these pictures on Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook, blurry images of tall, thin, robed figures, covered in translucent cloth that, depending on who you asked, covered cogs, wheels, tentacles, crab legs, dozens of smaller creatures in a stack, one giant snail foot, springs, or roots. A few individuals claimed to have met the Tourists, but nobody believed them. We hardly believed anyone anymore.
Only one person had met them, in fact.
When Harold Lancaster PhD, Exobiologist, and researcher for Cambridge, met them, he spent approximately ten minutes posing questions. Some say that the Tourists responded in perfect English, others say Hindi, Spanish, Swahili, or Mandarin. Depending on who you ask, the conversation was short or long, was humorous or solemn, was full of insights or completely baffling. When Harold Lancaster's body liquified in his plastic suit, speculation emerged that it was because he had asked too many questions, or that the Tourists gave off some yet unknown type of radiation. Others suggested it was because the UK government didn't want him to share what he had learned and that they had assassinated him, while some suggested that the information shared by the Tourists was a kind of weapon in of itself. A few said it was simply because Harold was just extremely annoying. People who knew Harold confirmed this, but others didn't believe them.
When the Tourists left, as they typically did after every eclipse, whether it be Indonesia, Greenland, Idaho, or New Zealand, they always left something behind, usually small things, like the seven-sided metal bolt that was discovered in the grass by a seven-year-old Argentinian boy named Jesus Navarro. It is said that before he stopped breathing, the bolt allowed him to walk through walls. Some claimed that Jesus appeared as a vaporous figure in a sweat shop outside Bangkok. Then there are those who believe Jesus Navarro never existed at all. A woman named Martha Green in Idaho Falls fed a story to reporters that she had discovered what looked like an antique typewriter in her barn a month after the eclipse in August 2017. Martha claimed that when she had approached the object, it continued to rise upward, turning slowly inside out, until it vanished through a small burning hole in the wooden roof.
These discarded objects were suspected to be weapons by some, while others saw them as trash, objects discarded by the Tourists, so advanced we had no chance of understanding them. They claim the objects were as advanced to us as a Styrofoam cup is to an ant--useless and wasteful, and completely beyond our comprehension. Another group suggested these were a puzzle, designed to test us.
So, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to collect them all, or at least as many as they could. A Chinese billionaire, who went by Z_Ma began collecting these discarded objects, paying anonymously, and in Bitcoin, and some say the people who successfully sold to Z_Ma never had to work another day in their lives. People claimed that he or she was a celebrity, or a businessman, or simply a front for a government agency, or that he was actually a team of hackers, or an alien himself, or that he was a fifteen-year-old engineering prodigy. In the end, he said he had collected enough in five years to make something wonderful. Z_Ma announced that the partially assembled device would make the freight industry obsolete and usher in a new Golden Age of shipping logistics. Another video claimed that it was a gateway to wherever the Tourists came from, or that it was just a hoax.
Depending on who you ask, the video of his was staged. Doubters mentioned on comment boards that if you check the IP address, you can clearly see it wasn't from China, but rather, was uploaded in Russia, routed through Brazil, and then made to look Chinese. It was said that if you looked closely at the pixels, you could see flaws in the editing that proved it to be fake, that the device was never turned on at all.
People said that the resulting incident was staged, that the three-million Chinese citizens who erupted into steaming geysers of blood never existed in the first place, that the families of the victims were crisis actors, or that the strange, glossy, flattened ground was all CGI, a trick by the Chinese government. Even after every metal object within a 500-mile radius was turned into a perfect sphere, and every building transformed into a glass cube that hovered three inches off the ground, when water rose skyward for a week, it became hard to deny that the event had, in fact, happened. The destruction could be seen from space, though some say the satellite imagery was faked as well. Z_Ma was dead, or not, or never existed to begin with, or was spoofed and impersonated by 4Chan, or deepfaked, or transported to the Tourist home world. Some disagree.
In the end, people still watch eclipses, still watch the Tourists watching eclipses, still collect the trash from the Tourists watching eclipses, or so they claim. Some say the Tourists only wanted to see something they hadn't seen before, that they only wanted to be left alone while they watched. I am inclined, at least, to believe that much.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 28th, 2022
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