“Poor prior planning yields piss-poor performance,” My Dad and probably a lot of other Dads as well--
“Mr. President,” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs begins, “we have a first contact situation.
Unbelievable though it seems, sir, an alien spacecraft of unknown power and intentions has landed at 1200 hours in the centerfield of the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
The craft, which is the size of aircraft carrier, has neither moved nor given any indication of its intentions since then.”
You are the 45th president of the United States. It doesn’t matter what party you came from but you have taken the reigns of power with the usual issues of deficits, unemployment, racial and immigration tensions and the war on terrorism. You had plans for all these things, some might even work. But you never believed you’d be asked to deal with such a situation. Your cabinet, the joint chiefs and your press secretary are watching you intently. They are scared.
The roof has been blown off the world.
You turn to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a uniformed officer who greatly exceeded your own rank when you served as an infantry officer for operations inGrenada. This man has seen deadly combat for his country for decades.
“Do we have a plan for this, General?”
He looks you straight in the eye. “No, sir. If someone had suggested it yesterday, we’d have assigned him to the paper clip dept in Kenosha. Wre gio have to make this one up as we go.”
“Why in God’s name would they land there? Why come down without establishing communication beforehand?”
“Hard to say sir,” the CJCS says, “but it makes some sense. An unknown aircraft approaching DC or New York would be challenged probably attacked if it did not warn off. Charlottehas no such protocols yet it’s obviously a large city where there are substantial government assets. The speedway is a big open space able to take the ship. Even provides some cover as it is out of direct fire, pardon me, direct line of sight, inside the arena. It’s open and yet contained.”
You ponder. What was most important thing you have to do, and what are the other
objectives and in what order?
Answers come. One is the memory of an old movie starring Michael Rennie. A saucer lands in Washington; it’s surrounded by frightened people and National Guard reservists. One fool of a tanker pops the alien with a .45, almost ending the world. Other movies show sinister government conspiracies to capture and dissect aliens and steal their technology. As if they hadn’t possessed the ability to drop nuclear weapons of even accelerated asteroids through Earth’s atmosphere in retribution.
“At all costs,” you begin slowly, “we must avoid conflict with these aliens. They have traveled here from interplanetary if not interstellar distances; their technology is at least as far above ours as Columbus’ was over the Native Americans. Perhaps the disparity is even greater. Cultures are about to collide. One or both may be drastically changed. Conflict will likely be disastrous for
us. The survival of the human species is, and must be, our first objective determining all else.
“We have to hope their intentions are peaceful, until proven otherwise. If they were hostile then a daylight landing in a civilian area would be an odd way to open hostilities.”
Your national science advisor, an eager and idealistic young woman says. “Sir, I don’t believe we have to deal with military issues here. A people so advanced as to travel interstellar space must surely have advanced sociologically as well.”
You stare at the well-meaning young woman and wonder is someone very like her was standing next to Montezuma when he met Cortez.
The general sitting next to her has his mouth drawn in a thin line. You can tell what he thinks of that idea, but his natural inclinations must be watched too. He will see the situation as one of security and threat.
“The biggest danger right now,” you say, “is panic and hysteria. Religious fanatics in the Muslim world are denouncing these new arrivals as devils. Some of our own people are on TV prophesying the end of the world. Other hysterics are demanding immediate attack or immediate surrender. One nut apparently tried to attack the nuclear power plant north of Charlotte thinking it was making the aliens mad. I don’t want some crazed individual taking a shot at, or God forbid, crashing a plane into that ship and starting an interstellar war.
“Mr. Chairman, I want Charlotte and the counties surrounding it put under martial law. No air traffic other then government authorized in North Carolina, South Carolina or Tennessee. A total exclusion zone for fifty miles around the Charlotte Speedway. I want US Airforce interceptors patrolling that area immediately. They will have the same shoot down authority as they have for White House Airspace. The aliens must be protected at all costs!
“I want three concentric rings of security around the site. Within one mile of the craft I want everyone out but Delta Force, CIA, SEALS and Air Force Special Forces and a team of scientists and diplomats. More on that later.
“Beyond one mile I want the best troops you have. They will be setting up a military control zone.
We will need civilian labs and scientists as well as the press and other communications.”
“I’ll get the 82nd airborne and the Marine expeditionary force, moving sir,”The CJCS says. “We’ve got all Federal troops in Charlotte moving into blocking positions already.” He glances over his shoulder and a Colonel moves crisply out of the room.
“In the overall Charlotte area we will move in FBI, Federal Marshals, State and local police as well as military police to handle civilian control issues and keep the city running and quiet. We need to settle the area so scientist and politicians can do their work. This is a political situation”
“And if they are hostile?” an admiral asks.
“Our efforts must be directed at avoiding conflict but,” you finish grimly, “if conflict is inevitable, then we must have plans for that. I am summoning, to the underground pentagon, representatives from the security counsel and the UN Secretary General. While I must remain in the White House to reassure the country, the Vice President will be leaving immediately to a secure location.
We dare not risk a loss of command and control either by human actions, alien actions or simple mischance.
Ms. Vice-President, please go now in Marine Two.”
The vice-president looks startled for a second then climbs to her feet, immediately surrounded by her staff and Secret Service. “Yes, sir,” she says. “God be with you, Mr. President.” All her usual charming informality is gone. History is breathing down everyone’s neck.
You turn to the Secretary of State. “John, I have work for you too. You will head a triumvirate
charged with handling this one on scene. You will have the Chief Science advisor at your elbow and the Deputy of the Joint Chiefs. This is a political issue, John. I need to establish who these…people… are and what they want. I am sure we will be attaching a UN rep to your team eventually as well as other governments. For now you will be the highest ranking government official that the aliens can meet face to face.”
“Assuming they have faces,” John says easily. A nervous laugh ripples around the room and you are reassured that you have the right person for the job.
“Before you go,” you say, “brief the UN ambassador and any of the security counsel ambassadors that you can reach. Advise them that the US is going to go to Defcon Two. Advise that they do so as well but urge them, particularly the Russians and the Chinese NOT to respond militarily to any landing. No one of us should make this decision for the species alone or in haste. We are truly in this together as we have never been before in the history of the Earth.”
You look at the CICS. “In the meanwhile, General, you need to provide me with options for attacks with everything from Special Forces immediately in the area up to and through strategic nuclear weapons.”
The room is deadly quiet.
“The latter, ladies and gentleman, is classified ultimate secret. If word gets out of this room that we are planning for such an eventuality I will, as God is my witness, have the leaker arrested and punished to the ultimate extent. I am in deadly earnest about this. Deadly earnest. This is not politics as usual. This is not any other day.”
You turn next to the new director of FEMA and you hope to god he is the improvement that you thought he was when you appointed him. “Start making plans for an orderly voluntary evacuation of civilians from Charlotte. A lot will be fleeing anyway, let’s control it. We may need to change
it to mandatory evacuation at any point. Be prepared. Encourage any company that can transfer their operations and data out of the Charlotte area to do so. Ditto for government operations.”
“Sir,” the national science advisor says hesitantly. “Everything you are doing is reasonable, but in a human context. We are in a non-human context. We don’t know what is reasonable. We don’t know what responses our moves will call from the aliens. ”
“I am aware of that,” you reply, with a touch of impatience. “What alternatives do you have for me in perspective? Who thinks about these issues?”
The Science Advisor looks a bit sheepish. “Sir Xeno-sociology is only a word. We could bring in
some historians who have the perspective of vastly different cultures colliding. It’s happened before.”
You remember the books you’ve read about the Pacific war when Western culture fought Eastern and the savagery normal to warfare became even deeper and more barbaric because of racial and sociological overtones. Kamikazes, suicide boats, children taught to run at soldiers with bamboo spears, an enemy that would not surrender. Other episodes of imperial age combat come to mind, Zulus Vs British, everyone against the Chinese Boxers, Cortez again.
Yes the historians may help, but no matter how different the culture, it is human history.”
“There’s another group,” your press secretary continues, “science fiction writers.”
On any other day this could have gotten him laughed out of the room. Not today.
“Go on,” you say.
“Well Larry Niven wrote about a scenario like this in the book “Footfall.” In the book the president even assembled a team of SF writers for that reason. They’d made up alien cultures, thought about how they might work. What might trigger fight or flight for them?”
“Other names?” you prompt, nodding to the FBI director, who’d aid is furiously working a computer. You’re delighted that your press secretary is an SF fan
“CJ Cherryh,” The press secretary says. “She practically invented anthropological science fiction. Jerry Pournelle, Arthur C Clarke…. He rattles out more names unfamiliar to you.
“Get them,”you say to the FBI director. “They’ll probably be eager to help but get them regardless. Hire them, draft them, reactivate them, put them in black helicopters and threaten to drop them in the sea, but get them all here as soon as possible.” The FBI aid departs at a fast jog.
You look at the Press Secretary. “I am going to be before the American people and the people of the world almost hourly for the next few days. People have to feel that the government is working and that the situation is under control.”
“Is it?” the Press Secretary asks.
“Hell, no,”you reply. “Wish we had given this one some thought before today.”
Author Edward McKeown is a writer and editor