Sleeping Giants Page 40

The king had two children, both teenage boys. One day, the king was asked to settle a dispute in a faraway village. His sons wanted to go with him, but the king feared there might be battle along the way. When the sons argued that their enemies might see the king’s absence as an opportunity to attack, he devised a plan to ensure everyone’s safety. He would leave his sword with his children and spread the word across the realm. His enemies would think the sons as invincible as the father if they brandished the legendary blade.

The king went on his business and, upon his return, found his entire castle in mourning. An argument had arisen between the two brothers about which of them was the better warrior, and more worthy of yielding their father’s sword. In their dispute, the oldest son struck his little brother with the blade. The cadet did not survive his injuries, but he did live long enough to see his father one last time. After holding his son through his last breaths, the king took the sword and threw it into the sea so that no one would ever have to suffer its curse.

That’s it! That’s how it ends.

—You will forgive me for asking what may seem obvious, but I prefer to deal in certainties. What was the moral of this story?

—Oh, I don’t think there’s a moral, nothing that deep. If you left a weapon with someone so they could defend themselves, and you found out they were killing each other with it, you’d probably want to take it back or get rid of it. It’s just common sense, really. But then again, maybe I missed the point entirely. Maybe it’s about something else.

Ahhh! Here’s our waitress! I’m starving.

[Good evening gentlemen. Are you ready to order?]

—Oh yes, we’re famished! I’ll let my friend here order first.

—I will have the Kung Pao chicken.

—You’re a wise man.

FILE NO. 233

INTERVIEW WITH INES TABIB, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS

Location: White House, Washington, DC

—Thank you for seeing me, Ms. Tabib.

—I’m the one who called, so thank you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I hope you have no reservations about a woman’s taking over this job.

—To which aspect of the situation are you referring? Do I have reservations about women working in general? About women holding positions of power? About women making decisions about sending men, or other women, to their deaths?

—I…

—My answer would be the same to all three questions: a resounding no. And if I had such reservations, I would probably be more focused on the fact that a woman is now the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces than on the gender of her advisors. Speaking of the president, how is she?

—She’s good. Still settling in. She wanted to thank you in person, but it’ll have to wait a bit.

—Thank me?

—We had a good campaign, but it’s no secret that we have your project to thank for such a landslide. You changed the world, starting with the president.

—I did nothing of the sort. The former president could have handled things differently. He made his own bed.

—That sounds an awful lot like: “Good for him! He got what he deserved.” Would you have handled things differently?

—I am not, was not, and will never be president of the United States. It does not really matter what I would have or would not have done in his place.

—Fine. Don’t tell me. I can tell you what I would have done differently. I wouldn’t have hidden that…How do you call the alien device? Is it a “she” or an “it”?

—To the people involved, it is “she.”

—Well, I wouldn’t have hidden her. I would have parked her in front of the White House for everyone to see.

—Your predecessor was concerned that other governments would react unfavorably to a show of strength.

—I know. It never made sense to me. He would have had to take her out at some point, wouldn’t he? Anyway, she’s out now. I don’t think there’s a single person on the planet that hasn’t heard about it. It’s really a game changer, you know. The ramifications are just…endless.

—I wish you were right. Unfortunately, I believe people will soon go back about their business as if nothing ever happened.

—That’s a little cynical, don’t you think? Of course, people will more or less keep doing what they were doing. Aliens or not, they need to work, eat, sleep, send the children to school, take out the garbage. Most of their day’s never gonna change, no matter what. I suppose that’s why people are disenchanted with politics. They expect whoever they elect to change their lives. Anyway, that’s not what matters.

Right now, all over the Earth, there are little children staring up at the stars, wondering if whoever built that robot is from there, or there, or there. They might grow up to be astronauts, engineers, anything that discovery inspires them to be. Twenty years from now, one of these kids might build a new kind of engine that allows us to travel outside our solar system, all because he saw that robot as a child.

Every major religion has to adjust to this revelation. Whatever god you believe in can’t just be about humans anymore. He, or she, has to be a god for the whole universe. Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, whatever, all these things have to be rethought, reshaped. Fundamentalists are simply denying the whole thing ever happened, but for everyone else, the world is a different place than it was before that crater in Denver.

Even the president has to tweak her speeches to acknowledge the fact that there are other sentient life-forms in the universe. You’d be surprised how hard it is to fit God and aliens in the same sentence without sounding corny.

Most importantly, everyone, including world leaders, now knows there are beings out there capable of building formidable weapons so advanced that we probably would not stand a chance if they chose to attack us.

—They would eradicate us. They could probably do it from a distance.

—Exactly. It’s a reality check for everyone, and it makes all our territorial or trade disputes seem just a little pettier. It wasn’t a cataclysm, like an asteroid hitting the Earth or anything like that, but it was a traumatic moment, and traumatic moments have a way of bringing people together. I think this is changing the way we view ourselves. That change may be slow and imperceptible, but it’s happening, I guarantee it.

—I sincerely hope you are correct. My deepest wish is for this discovery to redefine alterity for all of us.

—Alterity?

—The concept of “otherness.” What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the “other” is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light-years away, I am simply human. Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

—See, I knew you weren’t that cynical. While you’re here, the president wanted me to touch base with you, see what you thought a good timeline would be to get her back.

—When I told your predecessor it was not a permanent solution, I did not mean we could get it back whenever we wanted. It has only been four months.

—I know. I know. It’s just…There’s a lot happening right now. The president just wants to know what her options are.

—I am aware of no significant technological development in the last three months, none that pertain to our deep-sea-retrieval capabilities anyway. You can tell the president her options are exactly what they were yesterday, or four months ago, or before we ever heard of that giant hand in South Dakota.

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