Bon Voyage

'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.' George Orwell, Animal Farm

'They came; they saw; they said: "We love Lucy too!" Yes, you wouldn't believe it but they've been here eleven months and twenty-nine days and time is nearly up: they want our answer...!'

'Why did they come?'

'Shh! Just watch.'

'…Sally Mitchell: as if we need reminding, take us back over the biggest story ever to hit planet earth.'

'Okay, Geoff. Well it was exactly one year ago tomorrow, August twenty-ninth, that a bright new star suddenly appeared in our skies. That was the first most of us knew we had been contacted for the first time by an alien species! Little did we know our military had been picking up their mysterious signals for over six-months. As they hurtled towards us at close to the speed of light listening stations all over the world began receiving the same four words. Yes, you guessed it: "We love Lucy too"!

'They were perplexed: what was it they were hearing? News leaked out – the whole planet was intrigued. Could this be a reference to the globally-loved nineteen-fifties sitcom "I Love Lucy" starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz?

'Meanwhile NASA began tracking an enormous energy source – bigger than a comet, bigger than some planets, Object K133-6 – or as the public came to call it "Moon Lucy" – got bigger, and bigger in our skies until by August twenty-ninth she dominated the sky of the northern hemisphere.

'What's a hemisphere?'

'Half of the world. Now may attention, this is educational.'

'Governments told us not to panic: easier said than done. Marshall law was imposed in many smaller countries; here in the USA saw the biggest one-day spike in gun sales for two decades. Rumours of rogue paramilitary groups were rife and I have to say that even this reporter was a little worried.

'But we needn't have been – turns out "ET" really is friendly! Here's the first view we had of one of the visitors looking the now familiar pear-shape with the single pincer that if you'll remember became the must-have toy last Christmas.'

'What's Christmas?'

'Shh!'

'Moon-Lucy took up orbit and this piece of nifty hardware – a modified Apache helicopter equipped with advanced communications hardware was sent to make contact. Well it wasn't as dramatic as the films would have us believe: turns out they've been studying our many languages for decades based on the huge volume of telecommunications we've been accidentally transmitting out into space. And that first communication they heard from us all those years ago, the first thing we sent that made it out of our solar-system? Yes, you guessed it, it was the TV programme "I Love Lucy." Archivists have since concluded it was episode three from the 1951 run called "The Diet" where Lucy hilariously, you guessed it, goes on a diet!

'Anyway, in exchange for handing over all the episodes of Lucy ever made our visitors made us a rather startling offer… But we'll pick the story back up after these words from our sponsors…'

'There's no escaping haemorrhoids…sppp.'

'Why did you fast-forward: is that bit not educational, Miss?'

'No. The bits in between are just silliness.'

'Oh.'

'And we're back. The weather forecast for the big day tomorrow follows; and a reminder that we will have full coverage from daybreak right through to the launch. But before that, and again, just in case you've been asleep or, ahuh, out of town for the past twelve months: Sally, where did we get to?'

'Well Geoff, we left off just before we got to the now famous offer. Our world is dying, Geoff: looking a bit old and tired, unable to support the huge population growth in the East. As the great Billy Joel said, we didn't start the fire, Geoff: we tried to fight it, but it was starting to make things difficult for the rest of us.

'Seeing this, and seeing what a highly developed civilisation we were, our visitors made us an offer. They said they had technology advanced enough to transport a whole continent to a newer world far away.'

'Though not far in time, time being, as Einstein rightly said, a relative concept, Sally...'

'That's right Geoff. You and your Einstein! They offered effectively to save at least part of the over-populated planet earth, possibly to a world to where the rest of the human race might emigrate in the future.

'Well – I think it's fair to say there was shock, and not a little disbelief. It took a small demonstration to convince the non-believers, an unpopulated island in the South Pacific being made to vanish as these dramatic pictures show. Wow! It's still a shock seeing that island just…disappear.'

'I personally was reminded of Saint "Doubting" Thomas being invited to place his hand in Our Lord's side, as I watched that, Sally…'

'Erm…of course you were, Geoff. As I was saying after the demonstration the debate heated-up. The visitors – the Lucians, as they were christened - gave us one year to decide which continent would be allowed the one-way-ticket to, well, to paradise.

'The UN proposed a six-month enquiry to decide. The World Health organisation suggested quicker action, and that it would be fairest to send Africa as the poorest continent. The Middle East was thrown into chaos – no change there, Geoff – with threats including nuclear devices if you believe the internet. The EU held a week-long emergency council during which it was concluded that only nations attached to mainland Europe would be counted. But then there was doubt about whether Switzerland would be allowed to go, and if not would they be left as an island...'

'Plus how would they get all the chocolate out.'

'Thanks for that, Geoff.

'Worse was to follow: the European countries couldn't even decide on how to decide. Germany proposed a basket of hard economic indicators. France proposed a fashion-based points system. Italy suggested football whilst Great Britain claimed it should be based on wider cultural influences namely that fact they produced The Beatles and had a Queen.

'I think we all remember the chaos that reigned for a good three months. NASA, trying to find out more about the powerful technology to be used asked if there was scope for more than one continent, or for a completely hypothetical selection or exclusion of individual countries. The Lucians said no.

'But no matter: quite unexpectedly the governments of the world got together and in fact within another six weeks had come to the unanimous decision. We all recall that fateful night, the results show was broadcast live to over three billion, though what the other six billion were doing heaven knows! And of course we all know now that the country - sorry, continent – chosen to make the historic journey, pioneers for mankind as they have been throughout history, is good old North America!'

'Thanks Sally well as you say, exciting times! Now we've been providing advice on preparations for the journey and what to expect when we all get there. To help us answer your questions tonight we have assembled an expert panel from the scientific community alongside some of your favourite reality TV favorites…

'First question to the panel: what to where for the journey…?'

'Arrr! Why are you fast forwarding? Does it get silly again?'

'Most of it's silly, but it's important we learn from this – you may not think these people have anything to do with us but it's history, our history. And if we don't learn from it…?'

'We're doomed to repeat its mistakes.'

'That's quite right. Now – this is the day of the launch. Settle down, class.'

'Good morning America! And welcome to live coverage of what is already being termed, the "New Independence Day"...'

'Why are you switching over?'

'I want you to see another channel. That was the people who were going, this is some who weren't. It's important to get different perspectives.'

'Perspectives?'

'Views, opinions – what they think. This TV footage is priceless: it doesn't tell us what happened – I can tell you that – it tells us what the people were actually thinking. Here…'

'Welcome back to BBC Breakfast. Well, looks like they're off then, on what some are already calling our "Independence Day". Better or worse than Brexit? You decide. Send us your thoughts. In the meantime Carol, what's the weather going to be like for the big day?'

'So the ones left behind didn't mind?'

'Some did, some didn't. There was talk of corruption around how the decision was made. As soon as it was made there was an immediate lock-down of people entering North America, but there were rumours of government officials from other countries – ones who'd voted for North America – sneaking in. But when the dust settled there was a feeling in the rest of the world that they may just be better off without them. The wealthier nations saw a reduction in competition; the poorer as there being one less nation to bully them. And everyone agreed that, in theory, there was less mouths to feed so more resources to go around; the Americans used more than their fair share.'

'Why?'

'Just because; when you're big you tend to get to do what you want. And of course they thought they were going to the promised land – just like when they'd first arrived on the continent many hundreds of years before.'

'You said thought they were going: did they not get there?'

'Watch and learn, child.'

'So just how is this unimaginable feat going to be achieved? Over to Lawrence Tetley, the BBCs Science Correspondent who takes up the story.'

'Just how do you help a continent leave planet Earth? That was of course the big question in the early days of the Lucerian's visit. In fact only once they'd performed their demonstration on the island of Manuti in the South Pacific did people really start to believe it possible. But an island no bigger than Birmingham is one thing – North America is quite another. The island was removed using something called a "graviton-field", a technique hypothesised by scientists in the sixties but never proven, at least by humans. But even they admitted it is not powerful enough to lift an entire landmass.

'An additional complexity came with the revelation that it was not now the North American continent that was chosen to "emigrate" but just the United States itself. Conspiracy theories abounded, but from a technical point of view this meant the country would effectively have to be "carved-out" from Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The recently-erected boundary wall ironically providing a helpful marker for what will soon be a new coastline.

'Here you see the first wave of tiny, self-directing, so-called robot "nano-diggers" dropping from Moon-Lucy to the applause of crowds. Only six-inches across each can shift ten-times its weight in earth each and every second, and as you can see there were millions deployed. Our graphic shows how they are designed to "eat" down into the earth, creating a fifty-yard wide, mile deep channel at the border, before turning to eat right beneath the chosen land-mass before emerging at the sea.

'They performed the first successful "separation" on Alaska last month and with only limited unplanned disruption – here we see some of the property accidentally destroyed: a town which thought it was leaving will actually now be staying, but the population have been given the option of crossing to the emigrant landmass over myriad temporary but strictly controlled bridges.

'Indeed these new border controls have been amongst the more controversial aspects of the entire operation. With the earth in the ecological situation it is, many consider departure to a fresh, clean world a good thing. But that's by no means everybody. We've seen as many people trying to leave the United States as trying to enter. Land of the Free indeed.

'Well, the nano-diggers completed the carve-out of mainland USA last week, the last of the bridges was demolished at midnight yesterday, and now we wait with bated breath to see how the visitors are going to lift it. Lawrence Tetley; BBC Science Correspondent: Toronto.'

'Thank you Lawrence. Well of course there is still that very big question "how will they do it?", and there are those who remain sceptical, convinced it may still be a con-trick. With us on the sofa is Irene Lethrington, Professor of Engineering at Manchester University, and Kevin Pritchard who runs the website "Conspiracy: or is it?" Let me turn to you first, Professor…'

'Arr! We were watching that!'

'You can't watch all of it, it's getting late. You need to watch the important bits. See…'

'…and with the big clock behind me counting down – only…three hours to go - the crowds down here in Times Square continue to go wild! Back to the studio, Sally.'

'Thank you very much Christie; Christie will be reporting live throughout the day. Well after all the discussions and the debates, after the tests and the digging, today's the day folks, a new future for America!'

'So they were happy to leave?'

'Very.'

'And everyone else?'

'Not as happy, but maybe happy enough.'

'Why?'

'Not everyone likes everyone else, you know that. We get on better with others like ourselves.'

'I get on with everyone, Miss!'

'No you don't: what about the birds – you don't like birds.'

'But no-one likes the birds, they're not like us…'

'There you go. Or wasps.'

'Same with wasps.'

'Anyway, I've fast-forwarded to an important bit: now watch this.'

'So, Kevin Pritchard, you've heard the technical evidence: it can be done. So what's your evidence that all may not be as it seems?'

'This recording, intercepted by members of our Web Community yesterday…'

'Sorry…recording of whom?'

'The visitors – them. They're talking about us…'

'But even our authorities have no contact with them?'

'Yes they do – the government have been lying: they've been listening, they know what's really going on.'

'And what is really going on, Kevin?'

'Listen!'

'- We had thought the creatures were advanced, that they were outward looking and eager to evolve. But closer examination has revealed this not to be the case. Unfortunately the planet has become infected. We have identified the cause and are about to remove it so that the planet may renew itself. The cure is drastic, but necessary. -'

'Hang on, sorry but I thought they did not speak English?'

'We had to run it through a translator we found on Google...'

'Sorry this all sounds immensely far-fetched.'

'No, no – they know: our government know – they know that the Americans are being removed but they will all be killed! And they don't care: they and the other western governments think they'll be better off without them! It's all a conspiracy! Hey – get off me! Ow! Get your hands off – I know my rights…!'

'Apologies for the interruption there, viewers. Obviously there are differing views about what's taking place. That was - ahem – one of the more extreme ones! Anyway – I see from the clock in Trafalgar Square that there is less than an hour to go now – and the crowds in London are just as excited as they are in Paris, Madrid, New York, Washington – you name it! This really is the event of a lifetime. In years to come your grandchildren will ask: where were you on Independence Day…?'

'What was that man saying – that they weren't being taken to a better world after all?'

'That's what he said.'

'And was he right?'

'We have no way of knowing really, do we? Not now.'

'Oh. So what happened?'

'Okay last part, here we are for the lift-off. Watch and learn.'

'Welcome back and as the clock ticks down, just look at the vast, jubilant crowds across the US and indeed in London, Rio and Moscow where the populations have gathered to wish us all well. Look at them! Hundreds of thousands – no, millions of people, the greatest farewell in history!

'With just five minutes to go we now pass to…yes, I'm being told it is the White House; for an address by the President.

'Ladies and Gentlemen – the President of the United States.'

'My fellow Americans: once more this great nation of ours stands on the precipice of history. Once more we go forth into the unknown as proud pioneers, not just for our fine nation, but for the whole human race. And this time it isn't the army, or the astronauts or the scientists who lead us there: it is all of us – every single US citizen who is at the vanguard as we seek our destiny amongst the stars. We have conquered this world, now it is time we sought a new challenge and conquered a new one. We take not just our spirit, our ingenuity and our resolve: we take the very soil beneath our feet. And of course we take our our souls. God bless us, God bless the Lucerians, and God bless America.'

'Well, stirring words from the President there and you can see what they meant to the crowds. Judging by the faces and body language possibly a little less well appreciated in other countries but hey: jealousy's a horrible thing, right?'

'I don't know about you, but I'm getting just a tiny bit nervous, Geoff. The clock says…yes, just one minute to go. Are you ready, folks – are you ready for the ride of your life? Have you secured your valuables?

'Thirty seconds! Hold on to someone or something tight: this may get bumpy!'

'The people in all those cities are all cheering…'

'Ten…nine…'

'They all believe things are about to get better!'

'Six…five…'

'But they messed this world up…'

'Four…three…'

'All of them…'

'Two…'

'They're…'

'One…'

Pause.

'Floating! All the people are floating, Miss! How did they…the gravity thing.'

'Yes.'

'But…it's not just the Americans – all the other sorts, in all the other cities – they're all floating away too!'

'That's right – all of them.'

'So…the Lucerians, they took all of the people, not the land?'

'Nope: the land's still here – you're standing on it.'

'But no people anymore?'

'No – no people left at all. These are the last television broadcasts ever made. After that: nothing. No radio, internet – nothing.'

'Wow! So that crazy-man was right – the aliens did mean to take the people? But not just the American ones, ALL of them. That was the "cure" to make the planet better?'

'Looks like it.'

'And did it? Did it make the planet better?'

'Well – that's rather up to the rest of the animal kingdom now, isn't it?'

'And did they also teach us to talk?'

'Indeed they did. A kind of leaving gift. And the first thing they did was to leave us a message. It boomed out from Moon-Lucy as that bright-light revolved round the Earth one last time.

'They said "Make sure you look after it for us better than the last lot."'