I have been a way for a while. In that time I wrote this short story, with a view to sending it into an anthology. While the publishers told me they liked it (yay), they didn’t select it (not so much yay). But still, I wrote a story about aliens, which is something I wouldn’t have done otherwise (I don’t overly like sci-fi literature) AND I got some very useful constructive feedback from some other local writers, which is always a good thing. It was the first time time I actually submitted my work to anything like that, and it won’t be the last! Onward and upwards!
This story is about mankind’s first (well, technically nineteenth) contact with a group of extremely advanced extra-terrestrials…it’s called Saf-Tee First. Enjoy!
In the closing days of the seventh decade, of the second millennium of the Common Era, humanity learned that it wasn’t alone. For the second time though, as technically humanity found out it wasn’t alone in 2053, with the discovery of space badgers. But they were a nuisance rather than an intelligent, space faring race so the powers that be decided that they didn’t count. The invention of faster than light travel in 2079 attracted the attention of a group of super-advanced extra-terrestrials to Earth. From time immemorial, mankind had always dreamed of meeting the inhabitants of worlds beyond the firmament. What would alien life look like? Would humanity even recognize it as being life? Would meaningful communication be possible? Would they be hostile? How would life on Earth be affected by First Contact? Would aliens appreciate the music of Gary Numan? Mankind learned the answers to all these questions, and they were not easy to listen to. What follows are the journal entries of Dr. Anna-Leigh Prober, chief engineer in the Faster Than Light Initiative (FTLI), and later the Lead Diplomat in the Xeno-Relations Working Group (XRWG). The events of the First Contact had a monumental effect on Earth and its people. But, probably not in the way you think. Dr. Prober’s journal provides answers to the questions asked above, except for one, which will be answered now. Aliens really love Gary Numan.
21st December 2079 – 2200 hours
Today, with the N4-Hasselhoff, we achieved something we thought we never would – faster than light travel! All our hard work and effort has finally paid off. Who’d have thought that faster than light travel would be so simple? The manned vessel made the journey from Earth’s orbit to Jupiter in three seconds! We received a transmission from the pilot, Captain David Icarus, reporting all systems are still working and from what he can ascertain he is suffering no ill effects, other than a mild headache. The only issue was that the N4-Hasselhoff hit a space badger when coming out of faster than light mode, making quite a mess on one of the view screens. David will make the return journey to Earth in three hours, at 0100 hours, GMT. In the meantime, the team and I will treat ourselves to a glass of bubbly.
22nd December 2079 – 0130 hours
The N4-Hasselhoff has returned to Earth’s orbit! However, the communications system has been damaged. As such, we cannot contact David and will have to wait until a recovery shuttle, the USS Magellan, can reach the Hasselhoff. Perimeter satellite cameras do show, however, that the vessel has struck another space badger. Despite the efforts of the government’s recent cull, they appear to be more of a problem than ever.
22nd December 2079 – 0630 hours
The recovery crew discovered that the N4-Hasselhoff was in good mechanical condition, but David was in a very distressed state. He’s been taken to a medical facility. I think the rigors of light speed may have been too much for the human mind to handle. He is generally unresponsive to questions, and the only words he will speak are “They’re coming. They’re coming. They’re not happy.” He has been repeating this for hours and shows no signs of saying anything else.
22nd December 2079 – 1300 hours
A massive object has been detected in the orbit of Jupiter. Its movements suggest it is not of natural origin, and it is on a direct course to Earth. Could this be extra-terrestrial life? I am hesitant to say this aloud, but I write it in the privacy of my journal. I know I am not the only one. We do not want to risk our scientific reputation on a fool’s hope. I feel that this could be linked to David’s trauma. Many in the FTLI share the same opinions.
22nd December 2079 – 1720 hours
The massive object has indeed turned out to be a space craft, originating from a world unknown. It entered an orbit between Earth and the Moon, and it has begun transmitting a communication. The vessel itself is a massive saucer, not dissimilar to those of pulp sci-fi films. Bizarrely, who – or what- ever these aliens are, they speak English! What are the chances? They are requesting to meet with “those who created the faster than light transport.” They apparently have no desire to meet Earth’s political leaders yet. The President of the United States of Europe has given the go ahead for the FTLI team to send a message, requesting that we meet these aliens in person. In view of the world I’m deeply honoured, but here in the confines of my journal I’m pants-shittingly-excited! The meeting is to take place tomorrow morning, at a Travelodge, just after Junction One, on the M2 motorway. An odd choice for a First Contact, but the aliens insisted, saying that they didn’t want to look like they were ‘showing off’.
22nd December 2079 – 2100 hours
Received a letter, apparently from the aliens. Teleported straight to me. While they speak English, apparently, they do not write using the Roman alphabet. Why would they? It was silly to assume. I cannot make head nor tail of it. No doubt I can ask the alien representatives tomorrow what it means. It looked very official and had some sort of strange logo at the top of the paper. It appears to be a broken circle, with arrows in the breaks. I’m sure I have seen something like it before, but I cannot for the life of me think where. Something else perturbs me, however. Why, when they have access to the most advanced technology we have ever seen, did they send a letter? It seems very archaic. Truly, very bizarre.
23rd December 2079 – 1345 hours
I am now in my bedroom at the hotel. We are taking a break for the day. A well-deserved one, as this has been a very trying day so far. The aliens, or should I say the Saf-Tee, as they call themselves, are originally from a planet in the vicinity of Rigel but have expanded from their home world to multitudes of planets across the galaxy. They appear humanoid, but their exact features eluded me, as they wore something very similar to hazmat suits, covered in a substance almost like bubble wrap, with tinted glass visors on the helmets. They all appear to be at least seven feet tall, and their hazmat suits give them very deep, rumbling voices. The leader of the delegation, Puwer-Loler explained that the atmospheric conditions of Earth were not conducive to most other forms of life in the universe, and that they needed protection, hence the suits. The bubble wrap-like material was there to protect them from impact damage, as their race was prone to bouts of uncontrollable falling down when stressed. He (I assume he is a ‘he’) asked if I had understood the contents of the letter that they had sent last night and asked if I signed it. They were quite eager that I did. They said that for such official matters only a hard copy would do, hence why they didn’t send it electronically. I explained that their alphabet was different from ours and that I didn’t understand a word, but I did explain that I was almost certain I had seen their logo before. They expressed their happiness at that. I had so many questions to ask them, but the main one was “Why have you come to earth?”
I had assumed that they wanted to congratulate us for our scientific milestone. I had assumed they wanted to share their knowledge with Earth and invite us into the galactic community; they seemed peaceful, after all. I was wrong. Not about them being peaceful, but about their purpose. They were here to audit us. Puwer-Loler explained that he was the Chief Executive of the Galactic Health & Safety Imperium, and that he wasn’t very happy with what he saw regarding the N4-Haselhoff. An audit. They are here to fucking audit us. A planet-wide health and safety audit, as the Saf-Tee seem to think we have violated the Galactic Safety Order No. 3, whatever that is. I asked Puwer-Loler, but he said he couldn’t possibly comment, and that ignorance is no excuse for not complying with the law. The future relations between Earth and the Saf-Tee are dependent on the results of the audit according to Puwer-Loler. He says it will begin in two days. I can’t help but wonder; what happens if we fail?
23rd December 2079 – 2130 hours
I learned a lot today. First of all, I now know why the logo on the consent form was familiar. During my career I was responsible for managing various teams of people, so the powers that be insisted on some health and safety training. The logo on the latter from the Saf appears to be a variation of the ‘Plan – Do – Check – Act’ method of health & safety management from the government guidance document; HSG65, first published back in the first decade of the 21st century. From what Puwer-Loler tells me, undercover members of the Saf-Tee visited Earth in the past to help set up the fledgling health and safety departments throughout the world. Ironically, many of them were killed in work related accidents. However, they did manage to convince government officials to introduce legislation and regulations as per the Prime Directive of the Saf-Tee’s Galactic Health & Safety Imperium. Some of them were named after their own Chief Executive, apparently. PUWER and LOLER. Puwer-Loler. It’s so obvious now. Our regulations for the provision of work equipment, and lifting operations are named after a bloody alien!
He also seemed to suggest that most civil service departments had their origins from undercover extra-terrestrial sources. Thinking about it in hindsight, that probably makes a lot of sense. The Saf-Tee really love the red-tape of bureaucracy, but he had to fill in a permit to tell me that.
He also told me that only one person had ever sussed them out. Apparently, this man, Mr. Adams, wrote a book about it in the twentieth century, but everyone had assumed it was a comedy.
The leaders of the Earth have now made me the Lead Diplomat in the Xeno-Relations Working Group. The title seems great, but I’m the only member of the group. They say they have the utmost faith in my ability to handle the pressure of an audit. I’m not so sure.
24th December 2079 – 0830 hours
It’s Christmas Eve and I am the Lead Diplomat, responsible for aiding aliens who are carrying out a Health & Safety audit of the Earth. Am I drunk? Is this really happening? The world leaders have just washed their hands of it, leaving me, only me, as the responsible person. Why are they not taking this more seriously? “It’s just health and safety gone mad,” the President of the USA had said. I’m meeting Puwer-Loler and his assistant, Riddor-Coshh, at 0900. Are all our health and safety regulations named after aliens?
24th December 2079 – 1230 hours
We’ve broken for lunch. This morning was spent in the conference room of the Travelodge discussing risk assessments. Puwer-Loler asked if we had carried out a risk assessment, to which I replied “of course.” It’s true, we did. I showed the paperwork; all the potential hazards that could occur during the N4-Hasselhoff mission, right from its manufacture to the actual mission and the effects it could have on David. He wasn’t overly impressed. He asked me if I had considered the effects of unnotified faster than light travel on other inhabitants of the cosmos. We hadn’t of course, we didn’t know there were others, except for space badgers. Puwer-Loler explained that unnotified faster than light travel was a very high risk, especially if the course of the offending vehicle was not set correctly, as you could end up flying through a planet, or another ship. Riddor-Coshh, was silent for the most part, except for the occasional tutting noise.
Throughout the morning, Puwer-Loler explained to me that they have visited mankind throughout history, attempting to advise on health and safety matters, but they haven’t been to Earth in the equivalent of five hundred solar years. Apparently, the Saf-Tee are very long lived, and five hundred years to them is like a drop in the ocean to them. He said he was very keen to investigate any incidents and near misses that have happened in the meantime. I’m not particularly sure what he was talking about. The only incident in the N4-Hasselhoff flight was the mental deterioration of David Icarus – which they caused! I will have to ask him about that after lunch.
24th December 2079 – 1730 hours
I’ve desperately been trying to contact the leaders of Earth but cannot get an answer from any of them. ANY OF THEM! The audit, it isn’t just about the health and safety involved with the FTLI and N4-Hasselhoff. It’s about humanity over the course of the last five hundred years! They want to know about incidents and near misses regarding the health and safety of humanity, as a whole. I’m not usually one for melodrama, but I’m pretty sure we’re screwed.
25th December 2079 – 0900 hours
Puwer-Loler explained late last night that it was he who has prevented me contacting the world leaders. He doesn’t want any outside interference in the audit. I cannot talk with Earth’s leaders, nor can he and Riddor-Coshh talk to theirs.
I have begun a ‘site inspection’ with Puwer-Loler and Riddor-Coshh which will last six days. Christmas be damned! The world leaders have still not responded to me. They still don’t know the true nature of this health and safety audit. They took me away from the Travelodge on a tour around Earth, via teleportation.
On our first stop, Riddor-Coshh has wanted to visit a place he fondly remembered from his last visit to Earth, five hundred years ago; a village called Thiepval. He was not happy when I told him it had been obliterated in the early twentieth century. He and Puwer-Loler made several disapproving mumbles when I explained World War One to them, and they both made some sort of mark on their clip boards with a red pen. I still find it odd that they use pen and paper, despite their high technology. It was quite tense, and it only got worse when Puwer-Loler asked “What do you mean, World War One?” Emphasis on the “One.” He then revealed that the next site visit would take us to two of their other favourite sites on Earth; Chernobyl and Hiroshima. Shortly after describing the recent history of both cities, Riddor-Coshh suffered one of the bouts of uncontrollable falling down they had warned me about.
26th December 2079 – 1800 hours
Today was a tiresome experience. They made me fill in a risk assessment and method statement for eating lunch. The bread I used to make my sandwich was slightly stale, so Riddor-Coshh made me assess the risk of food poisoning, and the risk of getting cut by the edge of the hard bread. They made me redo it when I failed to identify that I could have suffocated, if the slice of ham had blown onto face and covered my mouth and nose. I had to do it again when they realised I had used blue ink, instead of black. I try to keep my frustrations to myself, as I have to remember that their ways are not our ways, and I do not wish to cause offence.
31st December 2079 – 1915 hours
I tried contacting the world leaders again. They don’t want to know. They keep saying that health and safety is just a formality, and that they are in talks with other members of the Saf-Tee delegation, who advised against asking me about the audit. They did say, however, that they are keen for me to get back to the FTLI and ensure the N4-Hasselhoff can be tested again soon. The only good news is that I have been informed that Captain Icarus has made a full recovery, but he has no memory of the maiden voyage of the N4-Hasselhoff.
It has been a busy few days, visiting all the places on Earth that Puwer-Loler and Riddor-Coshh had previously enjoyed so much; Rwanda, South Africa, the Balkans, Syria, Bhopal, and the site that formerly was the Great Barrier Reef. They really were not impressed when I had to explain genocide, apartheid, more genocide, general killing, despotism and environmental disaster. They informed me that they were concerned about the amount of ‘incidents’ that had occurred on Earth over the last five hundred years. My two alien companions advised that they have finished their audit and will report their findings soon.
1st January 1580(19/20) – 0900 hours
We failed. I knew we would. The leaders of the world are probably livid, but I wouldn’t know as there is no way to contact them quickly, not anymore. As per the date of this entry, it is now 1580(19/20). The Saf-Tee have issued us with a both a prohibition and an improvement notice. As such, humanity is prohibited from having advanced technology, and they have, somehow, returned our technological capability to that of the sixteenth century. There was blinding flash of light, and everything just changed. The Travelodge turned from a concrete tower block into a timber framed inn. The tarmacked roads, turned to dirt, the nearby power station transformed into a water mill, satellites in orbit burned up in the atmosphere and the Earths eco-systems recovered.
The prohibition notice has a five-hundred-year term, and the improvement notice term runs concurrently. Puwer-Loler explained that they will return for a follow-up visit at the end of the term, and if humanity has not major efforts to improve upon their general health and safety they will be once again returned to the technological capability of the 1500’s. According to Puwer-Loler, this has happened nineteen times previously, and humanity never seems to improve. In line with Galactic Health and Safety Regulations, there is a twenty-strike system whereby all civilizations are given twenty chances to demonstrate their commitment to health and safety law.
Puwer-Loler shook my hand and handed me the results of the audit, along with his recommendations. I now know why they used pen and paper – we weren’t guaranteed to have electricity to read any digital communications. Riddor-Coshh also bid farewell and advised that he looks forward to his next visit to Earth.
The world has a great deal to learn about its new situation. We have gone from a fledgling space faring level of technology back to the Elizabethan age in a matter of seconds. Surely none should have the authority to judge a whole civilization in the way that the Saf-Tee do? Puwer-Loler laughed it off and simply said that “this is the way it always has been”. But this isn’t the most disturbing part, believe it or not. If any future person finds this journal, you must know my final question for the Saf-Tee before they left; “What happens if a civilization fails the twentieth time?”
Puwer-Loler’s answer was simple, and to the point;
“We have to consider the health and safety of the rest of the galaxy. We send you back to the Stone Age.”