Small Fish (2006)

Another early attempt at flash fiction, this time trying to poke fun at humanity’s sense of self-importance in a big universe. It’s about as successful an attempt at humour as almost all of my stories, i.e. not very successful. And of course, Clarke had already done far more with the core idea of this story ten years before I was born.


Small Fish

Mankind has always borne the weight of immense hubris. From Earth as the centre of the universe to God in our form, we have always held that there is something that little bit special about us. So when panicked astronomers began telephoning their families and fellows around the world to announce the arrival of a new celestial body, we were briefly humbled. The International Space Station confirmed that it had not been there the previous day. Once she came out of shock, one International Space Station Amateur Telescope operator claimed that it had not been there the previous second.

It was massive, too. Anomalies were observed in the orbits of nearby Jupiter’s satellites. More alarmingly, the orbit of asteroid Eros had been reversed, so as to avoid the newcomer’s path. That the newcomer could do that was far more impressive than its size.

That the arrival was a starship there was no doubt. It had very efficient radiation shielding and was invisible to radio telescope. It appeared to be on a heading to pass Earth’s orbitĀ and had despatched a few smaller vessels towards Jupiter. Science fiction writers and astro-physicists smugly claimed that these must be helium scoops. A lot of people started writing books on how the alien ship must power itself.

Once they had gotten over their initial fear, Earth’s leaders scaled back their plans to build bigger guns and instead focused on how best to ‘welcome Earth’s alien friends’ and initiate advantageous trade. The EU, the US, the Chinese bloc and the African New Democratic Union all started organising competing festivals. Pop stars and celebrities were suddenly in high demand. Large flat areas were cordoned off, under the assumption that the aliens would require this to land their diplomatic dropships. In unrelated manoeuvres, military detachments established nearby field bases.

One piece of information that everyone had apparently chosen to ignore was that all attempts to communicate with the starship had failed. Radio, tightbeams, concerted light arrays, physical message pods – nothing seemed to entice a response out of our honoured visitors.

Also selectively ignored was the fact that the ship was actually gaining in velocity as it approached Earth intercept. Whenever anyone did mention this, they were shushed with claims that any aliens who could reverse the orbit of a sizeable asteroid were perfectly capable of coming to a sudden halt – inertia need not apply.

And so the day approached. The international squabbling quietened down and China and the US sent emissaries to Africa and Europe once they realised that they would be quite literally in the dark when the visitors arrived. Countdowns were initiated. People began drinking, smoking, meditating, praying or flipping safety catches off. Speeches were nervously practised and official dress carefully adjusted.

The starship, of course, did not stop. It went sailing straight past us. Various scientific groups observed what may have been high-energy scanning of Earth’s surface, particularly its population centres, but apparently that was all the attention we were worthy of. The ship, clearly visible to the naked eye, passed by the Earth and continued in towards the core of the system. Once the befuddled presidents and ministers and Generals recovered from their disbelief, a new consensus was reached – the starship was part of an invading terror fleet and planned to detonate our Sun. Missiles were launched, but they disappeared long before reaching their target. The alien vessel did much the same a few weeks down the line, apparently having decided to move on.

Hopefully we can, too.

[‘Small Fish’, Shaun Green, 2004. Image taken from the Spey Fishery Board.]

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