Sleeping Giants Page 52

—I would surmise that a few well-placed torpedoes near the sea-lock chamber would prove just as effective.

—Nice. If it breached, we’d all drown within seconds, and no one would have to know.

—Do you wish to reconsider your decision to return?

—I can’t leave Kara down there. Besides, just in case there is an afterlife, I don’t wanna spend eternity hearing how I let her drown alone in Puerto Rico.

FILE NO. 255

INTERVIEW WITH MR. BURNS OCCUPATION UNKNOWN

Location: New Dynasty Chinese Restaurant, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC

—I am on my way to the White House.

—I know. That’s exciting! And yet you wanted to have lunch. You must be famished.

—Time is of the essence so I will not waste it with pleasantries. I need your help.

—You, asking for help? You really can’t think straight on an empty stomach and you haven’t eaten since you left San Juan.

—Do I dare ask how you know so much about my whereabouts?

—Funny, isn’t it?

—What?

—How strange this must be for you. You’re usually the one who knows things he shouldn’t about other people.

—Perhaps. But everyone can guess as to how I am privy to such information. It seems logical to assume that you and I do not frequent the same circles, which would suggest a vast network of information that no one is aware of.

—I’ll take that as a compliment, coming from someone who specializes in vast networks of information no one is aware of…Did I ever tell you the story of the fisherman and…

—No, you have not, and you will not. I do not have time for stories or colorful metaphors. What I require of you now are facts, and expediency. If you are unable or unwilling to oblige, please do not delay me any further.

—No stories then, but it’s your loss, it was a good one. I should be on my way.

—Please stay. If you are concerned by recent events in North Korea, I can assure you I did everything in my power to prevent them.

—Me, concerned? If you knew what I’ve seen in the last…in the last years, you’d know it takes a lot more than that to worry me. Please don’t take this as a personal insult, it’s not, but I may have overestimated you. I really thought you understood. I wouldn’t have come forward otherwise. I’m sorry.

—What exactly have I so miserably failed to grasp?

—I don’t know where to start…Oh, yes I do. First, it’s not about you, you arrogant prick! In the grand scheme of things, no one gives a damn what you approve of, don’t approve of, what you try to prevent or what you have for breakfast. This is a grand scheme of things…thing.

Second, it’s not about me either. I’m flattered if you’re looking for my personal approval, but it doesn’t matter much in the end. They are worried. That’s your problem.

—I fully realize the extent of my insignificance in history, believe me. I have yet to form an opinion on the extent of yours. I suspect your place in it is more considerable than you would like me to believe.

Before you judge me, and by extension, all of us, you must understand that while I would do everything I can not to antagonize technologically superior beings and risk a conflict of apocalyptic proportions in a near or distant future, my first duty is to ensure that this discovery does not lead to pandemonium in the here and now.

—Of course! You have a job to do. You don’t need to justify yourself to me.

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

—I will have the Kung Pao chicken, and a cooling tea.

—I’ll have the same…Maybe there’s hope for you after all.

—Will you help me?

—I would love to help you, with something fun, but you don’t like fun. You want to talk about things like doomsday, humanity’s final judgment. Those are not fun. Why don’t we do something that will help you relax? Have you ever built a shed? It’s like building a tiny house. We can build one in a day, and you’ll feel this incredible sense of pride when we’re done.

—I feel the situation slipping from my control.

—You know what your problem is, don’t you? You place the fate of an entire planet squarely on your shoulders. Do you have any idea what that’ll do to your health?

—Please.

—Would it make you feel any better if I told you that you’re not responsible for what happens in the end?

—Do you know what happens? Do not make me beg.

—I know how hard this must be for you, but you have to work on your facial expression. You can’t say something like that with a poker face. How about this? I have absolutely no idea—honestly—what you can do to prevent all-powerful aliens from coming to this planet. I do not know that they are either. Beyond that, you should, by now, have begun to realize that I’ve already told you a lot more than I should have. What I really want you to understand—and that part may be a little more difficult to grasp—is that I can only make things worse by telling you more.

—Is there not a chance that they have simply forgotten about us?

—Not one. If there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s record keeping. You’re also very interesting at the moment. From an evolutionary perspective, most of the systems they are overseeing are either close enough to them to appear mundane, or at the earliest stages of their development, often without any sentient life or even complex organisms. Your “coming of age” is a rare event, a very exciting and important one. You can take my word when I say they are keeping a close eye on you.

—Our coming of age?

—Yes. This, all that’s happening now, this is your bat mitzvah. You can play with atoms, you can sit with the grown-ups.

—What does that mean for us?

—That means you won’t be forgiven for childhood mistakes anymore.

—How can we be accountable for our actions if we do not know what is expected of us?

—Nothing is expected of you. As I said, they’re not colonizers. The last thing they want is to interfere.

—I do not understand. They do not want us to kill one another using the weapon they left for us, yet we have been doing it for millennia using our own weaponry, and they did not raise an eyebrow.

—They don’t have eyebrows, a very resilient genetic trait as you can see.

—Nonetheless, can you tell me where the distinction lies?

—There’s no distinction. They don’t care whether you kill one another with a stick or with something they built. They don’t even care whether or not you kill one another. They will be perfectly content to watch humanity destroy itself completely. Your extinction is not the issue.

—So we need to demonstrate that we can be responsible with this newly acquired power, or they will come and take it away. Is that correct?

—If they decide that you’re not ready, yes. They’ll either take it back or they’ll send you back to the Stone Age and let you mature for a few millennia.

—How many robots would they send, should they decide to annihilate us?

—They don’t need to send any robots, they could wipe you out from orbit. But I suppose if they did, half a dozen would suffice, a hundred would be quicker, a thousand…you get the picture.

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