There Will Be No Alien Invasion

Edited by Yanni Kuznia

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

August 2021

3077 words — Reading time: around 15 minutes

Day 1

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: There will be no alien invasion.

Look, I get it. You need your nerd hero. You need them to decipher your alien star maps, to develop your nearly-as-fast-as-light drives, to clone your dinosaurs, and to otherwise push your entertainment forward. And that’s great. But it’s also not my problem.

To be clear: I am busy. For at least the next two years. Because getting to do research in the super-techy lab requires a doctorate these days, an obscene pile of peer-reviewed publications, and the networking abilities of a ninja. I am busy with those things. Namely finishing the doctorate. Thwarting an alien invasion? Not on my to-do list.

So that thing where I came to the lab this morning to find your phosphorescent eggs floating in alien amniotic fluid in the vacuum chamber? Not cool. That chamber cost half of my research grant. And you know what? Despite my two undergrads begging, I didn’t try to clone your eggs like only an idiot (or undergrad) would do, even though you painted a slimy path from the eggs down the hallway, up two sets of stairs, and down another hallway and to the PCR machine in the biology lab. Instead I raided the janitors’ cart for supplies and bleached your eggs. That’s right. Bleach kills all things, even alien eggs. The duct tape of death. No invasion is coming from those eggs.

Day 1, Later

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: P.S.

I’m not ready to let this go: the vacuum chamber that you ruined. Do you know how hard it is for someone as low on the academic totem pole as me to get a vacuum chamber? Even one that needs to be resealed, regreased, and retrofitted with metal plates, and that was purchased on Craigslist from a senile professor emeritus best known for wearing amoeba costumes in public? Do you have any idea how many hours it will take to make that chamber functional again?

Day 4

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: There will really be no alien invasion.

We need to talk.

I have this radio-frequency receiver, the low noise amplifier of which took me three and half years to design and perfect, and it should be receiving no signals. Why, you ask, do I believe that it should be receiving no signals? Excellent question.

A: It is sitting in an anechoic chamber. Surely a super-advanced species such as yourself must know how this works? Anechoic chamber: A big enclosure made of conductive material and stuffed with egg-crate-like foam, the whole of which shields receivers from picking up any electromagnetic signals — external or reflected, bizarre or otherwise.

B: It is also sitting in a helium bath. The bath is dropping the receiver’s temperature so low that its molecules can barely move, thus all but eliminating internal electromagnetic noise. I spent three days getting the vacuum chamber up and running again, together with its helium circulator, just so it could sit in that bath.

No internal sources of electromagnetic noise, no external sources of electromagnetic noise.

And yet.

It is receiving truly bizarre, repeating signals: a data packet, on repeat.

After taking apart and putting back together every piece of equipment, after testing each component for functionality, I decoded the bizarre data packet — and there it is: your ridiculous catalogue. Who the hell else have you been broadcasting this to?

“Alien invasion for the adventurous! We will invade six major cities and overrun all ocean-adjacent theme parks, all for the low cost of thirty-five thousand bars of chocolate. For maximum entertainment, invasion includes a nerd hero who will eventually thwart the invasion. Actual level of carnage varies.”

And there, under the message, a photo of me next to the words “nerd hero,” so close up that you can see my nose hairs. No one — least of all me — wants to see that. And at some weird dramatic angle, bleaching those stupid eggs as if it’s heroic.

First, are you really going to eat thirty-five thousand bars of chocolate? How many of you are there, anyway?

Second, here’s what I’m not doing tonight: I’m not reading the very dense “Introduction to Our Alien Species” pamphlet that you left on my desk, looking for clues for how to thwart your invasion, because there will be no invasion. Instead, I am going to find out how the hell your electromagnetic junk mail is making it into the anechoic chamber to contaminate my readings. I’m putting an end to it. And then I’m finishing enough work to submit to a particular, exclusive conference, the abstracts for which are due in two weeks.

Tell you what: I recommend my labmate Ernest for this position. I’ll give him your little pamphlet. You swap his photo with mine and beam him up. Ba-bang. He’s been “finishing his doctorate” for eleven years now, and his breath smells like stale tuna fish. My advisor might pay you to take him. If he doesn’t, I will.

Day 5

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: (no subject)

I was kidding, you assholes. Bring Ernest back.

Day 7

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: LA LA LA I can’t hear you.

I want you to know: I did the direction-finding thing. I traced your obnoxious electromagnetic junk mail back to a hole in the floor, where the bleach-plus-egg mixture seems to have conveniently melted through the linoleum and subfloor. My advisor is pissed.

I still don’t know the source of the signal, this signal that’s so loud that it’s leaking into a freaking anechoic chamber, but I also don’t care. I patched that hole, and now the anechoic chamber is quiet as a tomb, and I have the undergrads tooling away, business as usual.

I am whistling.

Day 14

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: LA LA LA LA LA I still can’t hear you.

The undergrads are monitoring anechoic tests from the control room. They’re also watching news reports streaming in about alien invasions in Seattle, in Portland, and in Boston. Each with my silhouette hovering over the sky, together with pathetic, uninspired scrolling phrases like, “Where is your savior?” One undergrad keeps saying that the silhouette looks oddly like me. But I’m not watching. I don’t care. Find another nerd who cares.

In fact, I walked right past the wormhole you set up in my office, together with its convenient little sign: “Wormhole to alien spacecraft!” And in smaller letters: “Thwart alien invasion here!”

You should send Ernest back, however. He’s useless to you. By a mechanism I can’t fathom, he came to our electrical engineering lab with a philosophy degree, and no technical competence has rubbed off on him over the last eleven years. He can barely operate a toaster oven. He hasn’t figured out the difference between an electromagnetic and an acoustic wave. If you keep him for any appreciable amount of time, you will spend your entire invasion budget on coffee and canned tuna, and he might talk you to death. Just a friendly diplomatic heads-up from one species to another.

I have to go. One of the undergrads walked in with the How to Thwart This Terrible Alien Invasion textbook that you left yesterday. (I don’t know why you bothered. I wouldn’t read your two-page pamphlet. Why would I read a whole textbook?) I locked the textbook in a cabinet, and the undergrad burst into tears. There’s that to deal with. Now that we have (excellent) baseline data for the receiver, we can start tomorrow characterizing the minimum signal that it can pick up. I’m not letting hysteria get in the way.

Day 15

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: Are you fucking kidding me?

I see it now.

I have in hand the lab’s one flashlight, and I’m sitting in the otherwise pitch black with my two sniveling undergrads, who yesterday were trying to explain to me what they read on page 1 of your How to Thwart This Terrible Alien Invasion textbook: “If this textbook is locked in a small space, it will trigger [insert long explanation of complicated mechanism] that will cause a massive power outage.”

Are you serious?

That is the most contrived bullshit I’ve ever heard of.

And while we’re on the subject of bullshit — it wasn’t enough to cause a power outage in my lab?

Because here we are, listening in the dark to a hand-cranked emergency weather radio, and it seems that your power outage has taken out the entire northeast part of the country.

Worse — I’m down to one undergrad. The other one ran off to tell the media about my Great Error. How am I supposed to get that abstract done?

Educate me: What is the intergalactic equivalent of “Fuck off, alien turd wads”?

Day 23

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: About your wormhole.

You may have noticed that our lab has no windows. I spent the last week tripping over loose cables and inventing increasingly creative ways to curse your entire species to somewhere not particularly nice.

But as of yesterday, I gathered everything I could need. I crossed into your stupid wormhole with half of the tools in the lab, and then spent ten hours rigging up a mechanism to funnel power from your oversized spaceship through the wormhole and straight back to my experimental setup.

Most of the country may have plunged into an alien-induced darkness with no air conditioning, no refrigeration, and be newly dependent on international aid. The university might have boarded its doors and windows against rioters who had heard rumors of the Great Error. But I have electrical power. I threatened my remaining undergrad with expulsion (which I have zero power to act on, but the undergrad doesn’t know that), and between us, the electrical power, an apocalypse-level ramen noodle stash, and my advisor (who has a tendency to disrupt rather than enable work and is using the blackout as an excuse to go on vacation to somewhere tropical), research goes on unabated.

Day 25

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: Post-wormhole musing.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it. You know what pisses me off? Your spaceship. It’s stupidly show-offy. Okay, the curved, shiny white walls are fine, but the broad windows with sweeping views into space? Are those practical for serious space travel? The airlock — very intuitive. But — then there’s just junk, everywhere. Boxes, display shelves, things that look like a second-grade human’s artwork, bizarre sculptures, star charts. Is your home planet made of fuel? How do you get this much crap out of the gravity well of planets?

Day 26

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: Shit.

I came back to my apartment feeling good. Fed both cats and recarpeted the part of their cat tower that they destroyed. Ate lukewarm ramen since I don’t have gas. Spent a good hour listening to the cats’ sharp little claws tearing up the new carpet. Sounds of joy. Took a pleasant lukewarm shower. Got into bed, ready to start work in the morning.

Woke up startled, like from a nightmare. (Do aliens dream?) Had one cat asleep on my foot, another one across my neck, and I kept thinking of the chart on your ship. The one with the names of the universes. One label said, “This spaceship is located here in THIS universe.” The other label said, “The alien invasion of the small blue-green planet called Earth is in THAT universe.” Where the “THIS” label and the “THAT” label were not pointing to the same universe.

Was that a joke?

What does that mean, for your ship to be parked in another universe? Nothing — no particle, no wave, no information whatsoever — can ever escape from a universe, not ever. How could any being ever know of more than one universe, let alone move between them? It’s a logical fallacy. It doesn’t make sense.

You know what else doesn’t make sense? You being here. Haven’t you seen those analyses? Where they estimate how many stars emerge per year, and how many of those stars produce habitable planets and have likely produced life, and how much of that life is likely to be intelligent— Okay, yes, there should totally be aliens. But the known universe is 93-some billion light-years across, and humans have only been around for 0.001% of it. The density of intelligent life is… not a number large enough to make sense of. So when you consider the odds that we might coexist — YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE. Or we shouldn’t.

I’ve spent three and a half years building petty variants of a radio-frequency receiver that can detect unimaginably tiny signals so that I can detect foreign objects in space better than anyone else. And it seemed like the greatest thing — super publishable data and therefore infinitely exciting — until just this moment. Now it seems stupid…. Tiny….

Day 38

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: What now?

I sent my last undergrad away, and I’ve had only the cats to talk to. Photon and I have had superb late-night discussions about the meaning of the word “universe,” about the reasons for coffee over tea, and about the illusion of matter in a holographic projection of space, but Muon only cares about getting his canned food on time and destroying a felt trivet that my sister gave me to put hot pans on. The emergency weather radio says that the electricity is back in some areas but not others, but that the invasion has spread to Madrid and Tokyo. My downstairs neighbor told the police I’ve gone raving mad. Rude.

Did I really walk into another universe?

Day 40

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: On cosmic noise.

I packed up the receiver that took three and a half years to perfect and dragged it through the wormhole.

It’s ridiculous — I’ve barely started the experiments that it was built for, and once I eject it into space, I will never get it back. Even if I were willing to build another, I wouldn’t have the funding. And yet it is the perfect thing (if overkill) for listening to cosmic background radiation.

In our universe, the peak is in the microwave range — 160 GHz, somewhere in the D band. I have this theory that if the wormhole leads to another universe, the cosmic background radiation signature might be different. Of course, it might not be. And then I will have wasted years of work and have no answers.

Anyway, I got to the airlock, and under the sign marked “Airlock Button!” was this little asterisk. After the disaster with locking the textbook up, I learned my lesson: Read the text. All of it. It was written in some alien language — yours, I imagine. After several days of effort — which for reasons I can’t fathom involved deciphering alien star-maps for clues, writing out the equations for nearly-as-fast-as-light drives, and parsing the DNA of a dinosaur (what the fuck?) — I solved it. It read: “This button will open the airlock.”

And in the fine print: “…and also teleport all kidnapees — including the smelly and aggravating Earth-creature called ‘Ernest’ in its native tongue, the seventy-two innocents, the twenty-six important political dignitaries, and the two octopuses (though the octopuses shall henceforth be welcome to visit at any time) — back to their natural habitats. It will also end the alien invasion.”

I sat on the floor for a long time, maybe hours. I stared out through your obscene windows at the stars in their cloud-like clusters, and I contemplated the clusterfuck my life has become since you invaded it. Then I started to laugh. I laughed until my chest hurt and until snot and tears streamed down my face. When I finished, I pushed the red button and sent the receiver into space.

Day 41

Memo: Earthling to Aliens

Subject: I don’t miss you.

A 210 GHz peak. Not our universe. I don’t know what it means, in a philosophical sense, but there it is. Mind. Blown.

The news channels are playing the most absurd mishmash of what happened. Videos of me deciphering maps, parsing dinosaur DNA, bleaching eggs, coming to the rescue (?!) of the kidnapees (I certainly did not), and ultimately thwarting the alien invasion. The media has thrust me out of comfortable anonymity, and the federal government is trying to give me some stupid Freedom Medal. You have ruined my life, and I can’t even be mad about it.

The news said that a private billionaire in Chengdu launched a rocket full of the world’s finest chocolate in the direction of a retreating alien pod.

I hope that made you happy.

A lifetime ago, I would have hoarded the only dataset from another universe and used it to boost my h-index — a quantifiable awesomeness meter in the land of the academic nerds. I made it publicly available this morning. Raw data, nothing withheld or altered. In a bizarre burst of niceness, I apologized to both undergrads, including the one who turned me into the media, since that undergrad was kind of right. Then I packed up Photon and Muon, a lifetime supply of kibble, and went to try the wormhole, but it was gone. I wanted to know what else was out there. That option being unavailable, I went and sat outside in the university courtyard, disguised in a wig and giant glasses, staring up at the trees and trying to decide what to do with my life.

For as long as I can remember, I always thought astrophysics was inferior to electrical engineering. Like okay, you get to contemplate the great mysteries of how the universe began and will end, and the most extreme dense blocks of mass, and the most empty vacuums of spaces — but you can’t test anything. How do you prove that you’re right? You can’t be like, “Well, this phenomenon should take twenty-eight billion years. I’ll just set up my telescope and wait and see what happens.” But — it’s oddly satisfying to see the bigger picture. And so I signed up for some classes, just to see what else they’ve figured out that I don’t know. And right — I wanted to tell you. It was kind of okay, the whole thing with you invading.

© 2021 Sam F. Weiss

About the author

Sam F. Weiss

Sam spent her first year after college working as a chemical engineer in southern India. She completed a doctorate on the mathematics of river meandering and now works as an applied mathematician at a radar research laboratory. She loves to run, to write, to read. She and her adorable, nerdy husband had one of those early-pandemic micro-weddings. They live just outside Boston in a house that is painfully and obviously the most deteriorated one on its street. (They’re working on that.) One of their cats wishes to explore every corner of the universe and greet everyone while doing so. The other prefers to purr on keyboards or on shoulders and has perfected a useful skill during the pandemic: snatching and darting off with entire treat bags between his sharp teeth. Sam is a grateful graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, without which she has no doubt she would never have been published here. Her work has appeared in After the Orange: Ruin and Recovery (B. Cubed Press, 2018) and in Prismatica Magazine (Issue 11).