Years of SETI research and broadcasts into the void, and all we received back were three words: “THEY are coming.”
Nobody knew who had sent the message. What alien world had fallen to this mysterious “they”? Had our friendly greetings found friendly antennae? Had we lost our first extraterrestrial allies before ever meeting them?
Whatever the case, we would not let their sacrifice go to waste. Earth prepared. And Earth waited.
My platoon came back from perimeter duty one day to learn that the VLA had picked up a ship zipping into the solar system from the direction of Gliese 832.
The ship was purple.
We didn’t expect that.
It was also broadcasting grating, dissonant sounds that caused vomiting in most listeners.
We assumed it was part of their attack. Earplugs became standard issue gear, providing just enough sound dampening to stop everyone from puking. I volunteered for a task force that would be shipped to wherever the aliens finally landed. I wanted to see these creatures face to face. I wanted to test myself against them. This was the crisis of our generation.
The ship achieved geosynchronous orbit over Area 51, because apparently “they” had a sense of humor. Our Chinook landed there a couple hours later, and we joined the perimeter around the empty area of dirt that would be the probable landing site.
Reporters from every major news source in the world formed a secondary perimeter behind the military. We told them it wasn’t safe, but without exception, every single one of them stuck around. Gotta admire that job dedication.
Someone yelled “Incoming!” All heads turned upward to watch the ship descending from the sky. It was bright violet, about the size of a baseball field, and shaped exactly like a stereotypical UFO. My gun felt heavy in my palms. This was it.
The saucer made no sound other than the screeching, and a moment later even that cut out. No wind, no clearing of throats. Silence. It stopped over the open area, and its base detached and began to lower to the ground.
I watched through slit eyes and realized something was wrong. The thing coming out wasn’t a gun platform or a vehicle. In fact, it looked remarkably flat, like a giant tabletop. And the silhouettes on it – they weren’t armored ranks of soldiers. There were only five of them, and they were standing spread out, all facing the same direction as if unconcerned about being flanked.
The platform hit the dirt with a resounding thud. The alien in front spread his arms, haloed in the light from the hovering ship. His voice was a bit fuzzy through the earplugs. “Excellent. You have your media here. You received our message.”
I glanced behind myself at the ring of reporters and cameramen. What, did they want the first bloodbath to be broadcast?
Without warning, the backlighting from the ship went out, and new lights sprang up from the platform to illuminate the aliens clearly.
They were roughly human-sized, but they had two sets of arms and olive-colored fur instead of skin. My eyes went to their multiple hands. Each of them held elongated, strange objects, though I didn’t think they were weapons. In fact, that one looked remarkably like –
“Let’s give it to them!” shouted the lead alien. The other four slammed fingers on the devices in their hands, and more of that nauseating screeching sound sprang out of them. “Hello, Earth! We’re thrilled to be making our first appearance here to such an impressive turnout! To all the viewers watching at home, we hope you enjoy!” He began making odd warbling noises in his throat in time with the screeches from the other aliens’ devices.
I turned to look at my lieutenant, who was staring open-mouthed at the scene. All around us, guns lowered to point at the ground as the confused soldiers watched the jamming quintet of “invaders.”
Beneath the saucer, I could just make out a dangling banner. I’d missed it in the earlier tension. “Interstellar musical sensation THEY are coming to a world near you!”
“It…” said my lieutenant, as if unable to believe his own words. “It was a marketing campaign?”
As I watched the alien quintet rocking out on their alien instruments, I had to conclude that yes, it was. After all our efforts to reach other worlds, all our preparation to adapt to the supposed warning, all our decades of striving toward this moment, our first interaction with other life forms boiled down to brand recognition.
It was soul-crushingly disappointing.
It was also effective. Nobody on Earth was ever going to forget THEIR name.