Our common sense and intuition can be mistaken. Our preferences don’t count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
– ‘Man In His Arrogance’, Carl Sagan
The child stared out the spaceship’s window, visibly moved. He strained against the glass, unable to rein his wonder in. His little tentacles wiggled with emotion and his antennas stood erect. Out the window, distant in the blackness, floated a planet. It was the oddest he had encountered so far. A perfect ball of worn-out blue with a smattering of wispy whites and dull browns.
‘Onbe, isn’t that Earth?’ the child asked.
‘Veta, Vak-Pak, it is’, replied his older and greener mother. Onbe had many more tentacles than him- thicker and longer. She lay on her side on a bed of neatly tucked white linen, watching her son through large black eyes. Dressed in a blue corset that glimmered in the spaceship’s dim lighting, she possessed all the grace of the galactic elite.
Vak-Pak turned around, leaving smudges where his face had been pressed against the glass. ‘Why are’t we stopping, then? Ante always told me it was a very good planet.’ He hoisted himself onto the bed and snuggled up to Onbe.
‘Veta, Vakko, it is. One of the universe’s best’, said Onbe. She softly caressed his green arms as she spoke. ‘But we will not stop here, Vakko. It is dangerous.’
‘Why?’ came the question, immediately. Vak-Pak still stared out the window, his face lit by the faint glow of the lonely planet.
Onbe smiled at the suddenness of the question- the brisk curiosity of a child.
‘It is because of the aliens that live on that planet. They have two hands like us but no tentacles. Instead, they have two legs, much like our monkeys. These things, Vakko, they are really, really bad. They will’- she broke into a whisper- ‘kill us. First chance they get.’
‘Why?’ the question came again, more urgent this time.
‘They just can’t bear anything that looks different. You know, Vakko, these things kill each other just because they can’t bear the difference!’
Vak-Pak sucked his thumb as he listened. He still gazed at Earth, though it somehow looked duller now.
‘Why?’ a third time- more subdued, more deep.
‘They are a bunch of fools Vakko, even worse than our monkeys. They fight over everything. You know, they all believe that there is a Bigger Alien above their planet that can hear them talk and’- she broke into a soft giggle here- ‘that It actually created Earth. These things think that this Bigger Alien made them, too!’
Vak-Pak shifted position and chuckled, eyes twinkling in amusement. ‘But Onbe, that is just silly. Onbe, it is silly because nobody can make an entire planet! If you can, then you can do anything, Onbe! Anything!’ he stretched his arms out as wide as he could to emphasize his point.
‘Veta, Vakko, I know. But these aliens think the Bigger Alien is real. They keep talking to It and nowadays, your Ante told me, they say even the Bigger Alien talks back to them!’ said Onbe. The spaceship had moved along considerably; Earth now a tiny, blue dot.
Vak-Pak sat up, thumb out and back straight. ‘Talks to them?’ he said, dragging each word out to convey his astonishment.
‘Veta, Vakko. Some of these things say the Bigger Alien asks them to kill and hurt each other. A few of these aliens say the Bigger Alien asked them to build a city, some- a country. Some even say It asked them to write songs and win at games!’ said Onbe, fully lying down on the pure white bed.
Vak-Pak lay down by her side, antennas still erect and twitchy. ‘Onbe’, he whispered. ‘Onbe, how does this Bigger Alien look? Does It also have two legs and hands? Is It bigger than the other aliens on Earth, like a giant?’
‘Yella, Vakko, they don’t know what it looks like.’
‘Where does this Bigger Alien live? It looked empty above Earth!’
‘Nobody knows where it lives, Vakko.’
Vak-Pak looked into his mother’s face- one final question burning within.
‘Onbe, why does this Bigger Alien even help them? What is so special about these aliens on Earth? They sound like really bad things.’
A ghost of a smile played on Onbe’s lips as she drew her son closer to keep him warm.
‘That’s the crazy thing, Vakko. There is nothing special about them. Nothing.’
The spaceship had by now left Earth behind- indifferent to the joys, worries and prayers on that distant pale blue dot.