A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi
All the members of the council had gathered; the topic in question was Curiosity, NASA’s recent attempt to explore Mars.
“I think we all know why we are here, so why don’t we start the discussion!” The relatively young but charismatic member spoke in his signature style. He was probably the youngest among them, but represented a great and powerful nation.
“What is your opinion on Curiosity? Do you think the people deserve to know?” One of the council members asked him. They were all going to have a vote at the end of the discussion, but the young leader’s opinion could swing many votes either way.
“I believe it is time the people learn the truth.” He spoke casually. The others waited for him to justify his opinion but he looked to them to continue the discussion. He knew his nation was the strongest. He did not need to justify his opinions. He could very well be the emperor of the world. Yet he could not make this decision alone.
“The people are not ready. If news gets out that we are not alone in the universe; it would be chaos. People will start to question everything; religion, the meaning of life, how we govern them.” This leader represented another great nation.
“They will want us to establish contact.” The leader of the largest population in the world interjected, “And we all know how that goes. First contact, then travel, then trade, and finally war. We all know human history.” Many of the people agreed with that opinion.
“One day, the people will find out” the young leader spoke again, “It’s only a matter of time. An age will come when people will travel freely from one planet to another. Why delay the inevitable? We have an amazing opportunity in our hands.”
“We have an opportunity to save our people from war.” The leader of the largest population was not convinced, “We need to handle it the way our ancestors handled it in ancient times.”
“The literature about ancient times is filled with contradictions, so let’s not use it as a guideline.” This leader was shorter than others, but his nation was the most technologically advanced nation in the world.
“And I suppose using the sacred text as a guideline is out of the question?” this leader represented a nation known for its religiosity. His comment inspired many smiles among the council. To him and his people, the answer to every problem in the world could be found in the sacred text. Others couldn’t care less about his opinion. The importance of the strategic location of his land was the only reason he was a member of the council.
“Not everyone follows your religion; you need to keep that in mind.” The young leader gave him a friendly reminder.
“I say we do not tell our people yet. Let us send some of our representatives to their planet, as spies of course, and let us wait for their reports.” This leader had a heavy accent. He was probably the oldest person in the room and represented a nation that was once almighty.
“We have reports that their world, not unlike ours is haunted by war at the moment. There is a financial crisis in most parts, in some parts there is plague and famine. We could trade with them, establish economic relations. There are most certainly natural resources over there that we can use.” The young leader was insistent.
“It all comes down to natural resources with you, doesn't it?” The religious man could not hide his resentment. The most powerful nation was the largest consumer of natural resources, and the natural reserves of the world were depleting quicker than they liked.
“You have no problem selling them to me.” The young leader retorted, the religious man had no answer, but the two stared at each other with clenched jaws.
“I think we are getting off topic here” The short leader tried to calm things down.
“There has been enough discussion, let’s start the voting.” The leader of the largest population added.
“So we all agree we have three options.” The young leader was quick to switch back to his usual calm demeanor. “We tell the people there is life on the other planet and establish contact. We send spies and wait for a suitable time to establish contact. Or we take the usual measures to ensure there is no contact and no news.”
Virtual screens appeared before each leader. The screens contained all three options. Each leader reached out and touched the option he/she favored. The result was 80% in favor of not making any contact, and not telling the people about life on the other planet. The leaders who had not participated in the decision turned out to be the majority.
The young leader was clearly disappointed by the results. “Okay then, we feed them the usual pictures of deserts and rocks.” He sighed, “Just for the record, I still believe we are missing out on an exciting opportunity.” The other members were already on their way home, some had already reached their countries.
In an underground lab in a desert, Curiosity laid disassembled. The scientists and engineers in the lab had all gathered in a large room, looking at a large screen excitedly. “What do you think they will decide?” One asked the other, the young leader’s face appeared on screen before the other could answer. “Send them the usual pictures” he said in a disappointed yet authoritative tone.
The excitement in the room died with that order and the people started getting back to work. The one who had asked the question earlier went to his work station, and transmitted few pictures through a device that had been salvaged from the rover.
Back at the NASA headquarters, an excited group of people received the pictures with glee, not knowing that the leaders of Mars wanted nothing to do with Earth.