Joke Scrawl

Daniel Murphy had been hoping it would rain on the day the invaders came. Each alien, a shimmering little packet of global warming, stepped out of the ship and read his words. The sky above tried to close over its wound the ship had made and shuttered with distaste. Murphy stepped back from the plasma screen which served as one wall of the conference room.

He had spent the earlier part of the day scrawling whatever poetry, song lyrics, quotes or letters he could think of on the walls of the government research facility in which the aliens were allowed to dock. He set televisions in the walls too. Already the Earth was feeding its neighbors false information, pulling them in to a maze where they could be studied, but it would give them Shakespeare and Simple Plan for their efforts.

"They're looking at the first scrawl," reported Lela. The specialists—Lela, Koran, Bartholomew—were clustered in a corner of the room watching via their own computers. Murphy, the architect, was left to stand beside the screen that made the diminutive extraterrestrials seem to walk beside him, their green ridged heads at his hips.

He began to hum. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's the end of the world as we know it.

"Funny," barked Bartholomew. His head half-cocked toward Murphy and the iOrg bud in his ear attested to the technician's impressive ability to multitask.

Murphy did not think that the end of the world as we know it was funny in the least. He liked the prospect, but it had lain dormant inside of him for so long that some enthusiasm was dampened. He did not allow himself to hope.

The same events which had led him to a career in science had taught him to disregard and rue the world around him. When the chunk of Real Life called middle school meant being picked last for ball, enduring the awkward moment when he finished his test faster than any other student and walked it up to the teacher's desk alone, misunderstanding the pop culture references. He set himself apart, and somewhere in his half-adult logic that meant that he needed no connection to the social structure itself.

Many afternoons he had stared at the sky and sighed, wanting it all to change. Movies did not sate him. Stories transported him, but dumped him back in a cloud of road-dust into reality when they were finished.

Science promised change.

"Air temperature normal," said the meteorologist Bartholomew. "Quantum readings won't register for another few minutes…"

There were three aliens looking around the white corridors. The landing bowl and surrounding obstacle course-like environment were in design somewhere between an Egyptian temple and a 2010's office building. Blank white walls possessing more solidity than plaster—made of real stone—were decorated with Murphy's snatches and scribbles of human literary culture. Each alien apparently wore no clothes, because its surface was a uniform blotchy blue-violet-white, but its texture was impossible to tell. To the human eye the entire meter-tall life form shimmered as if under heat waves. The shimmers pulsed through their four thin arms and two skirtlike legs. The heads were oval and stretched a bit along the vertical. Atop them ran ridged skin without so much visual distortion. Two black blobs on either side of the heads could have been ears, with one black blob in the middle of the 'face' for an eye.

The three aliens turned to stand in front of the first black quote with exactly the same motions of their legs. They turned their heads left, right, left again.

Murphy had chosen the first quote carefully. Under consideration at first had been give me your tired, your poor, your huddling masses yearning to breathe free, but even liberty had possible negative connotations. He had instead chosen a simple message he had once seem painted on a bridge over the parkway: care lively.

Elsewhere of course there were sentences in hiragana and katakana, in pictograms, in Russian. There were sentences supplied with pictures and second-language translations to help the aliens along. The only joke scrawl Murphy thought slightly, amusingly malicious was ghoti.

"Are they communicating?" Lela, the exobiologist on a planet where until today she would have been entirely out of a job with that title, spoke to Koran with impatience in her voice. The sallow-skinned tech manager, who was in charge of both studying the alien ship and sundry machines and keeping the tech on the humans' end working, did not have time for a reply before she continued. "No obvious differences between them. "

"Not yet, that's all." Murphy muttered. Lela started and glanced at him over her shoulder.

"A little hot now," said Bartholomew almost reverently.

He hailed from a Native American family, Lela from a New York Italian one; Murphy had forgotten Koran's origins. All were hand-picked for their special talents and because no one would miss them to badly if they disappeared. They knew this. Murphy knew it about himself.

The fuzzy-auraed aliens continued down a slightly curving corridor. Little was known about them; what significance they put on the written word certainly was not. This first environment designed for them required simplicity.

Their molecular makeup differed from humans. Whether from the atmosphere of their home planet or from the qualities of the star it orbited their smallest components moved faster than most of the molecules on Earth. In layman's terms, they were hot, and their temperature energized the Earth air around them. Free electrons followed in their wake. If enough came, the simulations showed, Earth's climate could be affected.

Earth defiantly did not need that.

The trio in the maze walked toward a stone dead end upon which was handwritten Quoth the raven, Nevermore! Their heads turned back and forth again.

"How do they communicate?" Murphy asked.

Lela replied, "Audibly."

"Are we picking that up?"

"They're not saying anything yet."

Murphy approached the plasma screen. The aliens were shown at their real height; he reached out and touched one on the crown of the head, as if he were petting a dog.

He thought, How exciting it would be if the world were to end.

Not if the planet were to blow up or something like that, of course, but if the regime were to change. If these aliens were to realize they were imprisoned and desire conquest of Earth. He felt that a situation such as that, one worthy of an adventure film, was also worthy of him. Daily life was not, until now.

The aliens wondered through the maze, through Tolstoy and Rowling and solitary words in various languages, speaking none of their own. The watchers tensed.

As they traversed a corridor without any words on its walls the aliens started to talk. Their chirping voices flitted out of the speakers like the ghosts of birds.

Lela was the team's de facto linguist; she had studied the long, not entirely understood discussions between the aliens and the government. Now she said, "One word I can't catch, maybe that's a name."

"Don't name them," said Murphy.


"It's like with pets."

Bart said, "It's not like they're going to be run over by a car."

Lela said, "They talk about the lack of food."

"They're hungry?" asked Murphy.

"No I don't think so, they're just saying that it's odd that there's no food."

Koran sighed and fidgeted with the wires draped around his head like the string hair of a doll. "Next step?"

Murphy paused; he did not like this part, although he had designed it and kept it secret, explained its duel significance to the politicians. "Go ahead."

A short distance away from the aliens in the labyrinth a television set into the wall turned on. The main screen in the conference room switched cameras so that it showed the TV alone in the maze. Images of sunsets, of savannas, and cities in the nighttime peacefully passed across.

The aliens had gone silent. Lela said, "They're listening to it."

Then the trip scurried on to the big screen. They turned their heads with the three fuzzy black spots forward and back.

The pictures they examined slowly transitioned to pictures of humans. Mona Lisa, couples at the beach, children. One boy jumped-rope on and off the verdant grass of a suburban lawn. A cry off-screen; the boy abandoned the jump rope and joined his brother, picking up a neon orange water gun on the way. He cradled it; water sparkling in the sun arced toward him, missing and soaking into the grass. He shot water back toward his brother. The other boy shrieked with joy and returned fire. The scene switched to a man paragliding off California.

The aliens remained silent as they ran away.

Murphy sank into a chair, sighing. Lela cried, "What?" Koran nodded. Murphy lowered his gaze before he saw Bern. His plan had worked. The global-warming aliens would leave, and debates would be had about their reason for fear for months. Maybe the debates would even get the human race somewhere. Murphy did not honestly believe that they would, but he knew how to try by now. He knew how to create little ends of the world.