Brief Synopsis: Michael Fermi is what many people would uncharitably describe as a “loser.” He is in his mid-twenties, living at home with his mother and delivering pizzas for a living. His life is about to change, however, as he has been selected by an alien race which intends to install its parasitic spearhead in his body in order to use him for their own purposes. This unseen race, known as the Grand Arbiters, will use this method of bilocation to observe humanity through the eyes of the lowly pizza man, in order to determine whether or not Man should be eliminated, and his precious Earth destroyed alongside of him.
The Last Slice of Pizza
By Joseph Hirsch
What the Reader Doesn’t Want to Know
The President of the United States of America walks into the War Room, flanked by two four star generals and the Secretary of State. While there is an impressive, massive table dominating the room, this is not the War Room we have grown accustomed to from countless movies and TV shows. There is a stainless steel carafe of water on the table, centered on a tray with three drinking glass that have been left untouched. The White House Press Secretary and the Vice President of the United States are the only people in the room who are seated. Everyone else stands, either uneasily against the wall or off to the side of the President.
The Press Secretary says, “Mr. President, at three-forty five am this transmission was intercepted at Cape Canaveral along with a decryption cipher, which arrived via radio signal at ten second intervals over the course of the following forty-five minutes. At that time, all communications ceased.”
The president has his ring finger pressed against the side of his skull, the fingertip flush against his hair which became shot with gray roughly a year into his second term. His golden wedding band is dull from being rapped repeatedly against the surface of his desk in the Oval Office.
The message is then played: “Homo sapiens, you are being contacted because we wish to inform you that several tons of radioactive explosives have been placed in the molten core of your Earth. This bomb cannot be defused, and requires no secondary trigger mechanism. It has been activated by the positively charged ions, rotation, and convective motion of your Earth, which are responsible for producing your magnetic field. The bomb will detonate in twelve hours.”
A terrified murmur makes its way from one to the other of those assembled in the room. The most powerful man on Earth has been reduced inwardly to a whimpering child, though he is still man and leader enough to conceal his terror from those who look to him for guidance, and who still want to believe that he can get them through this.
“In order to dissuade you from your doubts, reticence, or your suspicion that this may be a hoax, we have decided to incinerate a star whose coordinates we have provided to your scientists at NASA. This incineration will take place roughly eleven hours before we destroy your Earth.”
The president has clasped his hands together, as if praying, though he is more likely deep in thought, as those close to him know the Ruler of the Free World to be a closet deist, a yuppie agnostic who attended church more to plug himself into the political pipeline when rallying for his senate run, than out of any sort of religious ardor.
“Each of you who have been made aware of this message is to meet at coordinates which have been provided in a document accompanying the cipher of this transmission. You three-thousand humans will be spared and taken aboard our ship. Your immediate families will also be spared. If, however, you inform anyone not included on the manifest of either what is to happen to the Earth o he manifest of either what is to happen to the Earth or of the coordinates where the airlift is to take place, you will be incinerated along with all of your unfortunate Homo sapiens friends. End…”
Static ripples, and the Vice President turns the volume down. The President looks over at the Press Secretary, who removes his bifocals and wipes the fogged glasses with the triangular end of his paisley tie. “Mr. President, a star was in fact incinerated a little bit more than two hours ago.”
“Which star?” The president is grim, but still not panicking.
The Press Secretary swivels in his seat, undoes the half-Windsor knot of his tie. “It was a star we hadn’t even located or named until its coordinates were provided in the encrypted signal.”
The president is deep in thought, pondering the greatest crisis his nation, his planet, has ever faced. The irrepressible conflict between the North and South which claimed more American lives than any other war, the Cuban Missile Crisis whereby mutual destruction may have just been narrowly averted, the banking meltdown in which economies from Reykjavik, Iceland to Manhattan Island almost collapsed due to bad credit default swaps-all of it pales in comparison to the calamity he now has to face.
Every one of the other people in the room is grateful that the decision rests with him. Never has the crown laid heavier upon the head, or the political chalice for which men competed seemed more poisonous a drink. The President of the United States of America thinks about his constituents, about his enemies, about the hardy souls who came out to shake his hand when he did his tours of the heartland damaged by tornadoes and floods. He thinks about his responsibility to them, and he is tempted to ask one of his generals if they might not be able to triangulate the source of that signal and perhaps fire upon the target. He knows that the languishing Star Wars program is a pipe dream, and that some Hail Mary fantasy of sending a nuclear payload aboard a satellite toward the hostile aliens would make a good yarn in a popcorn flick, but this is not a movie.
The President stops thinking about his voters, his friends and enemies in Washington, the sycophantic press corps. He shifts in his seat, and the Presidential seal stitched into the leather headrest frames his head for a moment like a halo. He thinks about his wife, his children, his shaggy spotted Cocker Spaniel, and the choice becomes obvious. He glances at everyone in the room, and finally lets his eyes settle on his shiny loafers, because he is too ashamed to meet any gaze right now.
“Have Air Force One readied, and give the pilot the coordinates listed in the cipher accompanying the signal from space.”
An audible sigh goes up from those assembled in the War Room. There is the sound of papers shuffling, and then they all disperse. No one makes cellphone calls or sends emails, since those can easily be intercepted thanks to programs the president himself has signed off on via executive fiat. His decision has alienated him from his liberal base, and garners him no credit from his enemies who see him as too dovish, but he has done what he thought was right for the American people. It was easy, he muses as he walks through the halls of the White House, past the presidential portraitures, to be a protestor when one didn’t receive the kinds of briefings he got daily. But to stand on that carpet and hear about the terror cells, the loose uranium, the new surface-to-air shoulder fired rockets, day in and day out, and to keep those secrets to oneself, that made the decisions that much harder. It was his second term anyway. Better to alienate the base in order to protect them.
All of it had been for nothing, though.
He runs out to his helicopter and salutes the marine as he boards, a boards, a final wash of guilt making its way over him before it is drowned out in the roar of propellers as he takes off into the sky.
The termites dance away. Another one of the little maggots makes communion with the others, sharing his secret with them, bearing tidings from aboard a vessel where the unseen until now Arbiters are assembled to speak. They wear the same metal shells as Mama, but Wichman, Mars, Kammisch and I can sense alien life pulsing beneath the scaled metal armor. One of them speaks, its voice oscillating through some kind of modulator:
“Mercury we need only for the mining of calcium and magnesium.”
This motion is seconded, and each of the steel-sheathed Arbiters vibrate as a harmonious accord flows across their ranks. A canister filled with the pseudocoelomate rotifer Nanobots recently jettisoned from Earth appears in their midst. One of the Arbiters cracks the glass case like a giant opening a walnut with his massive hands.
A scattering of thermal termites, like floating tinsel, shows the Arbiters a scene of destruction which excites them, makes their slimy, pestiferous bodies writhe inside of the steel shells that make them seem so much stronger and more o much stronger and more formidable than they actually are. The Earth explodes, and something like a gestalt orgasm makes all of the extraterrestrial trolls applaud.
The Earth is now a radiant sun, and through the observation window a fleet of ships drifts into view to form a colorless bulwark that blots out the stars. Their force fields deploy, tessellated striations of jagged lightning, a kinematic orchestration which pushes the Earth until it sits where the sun once was, shoving the sun into an adjacent galaxy. The ships groan and turn to face the other direction. Their ballistic waves of purple light press Mars until it moves where the Earth once was. The moon stays in place.
From within this vision which has been brought to us thanks to our shattering of the little bank teller’s tube, I can hear Wichman laughing. “Clever, evil bastards.”
“That was not Earth we just visited,” Mars says.
“Captain Obvious,” Wichman shoots back. Kammisch is silent, as am I. We watch the Arbiters, sated on that main course of destruction, now treated to a desert which consists of a sadistic show well beyond man’s conception.
The President has done as the Arbiters have commanded him. He has managed to beat Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice about men and secrets, and he has assembled an intergalactic Noah’s Ark, this collection of senators and their families, generals and aides-de-camp, speechwriters and their spouses. They wait patiently for their starship to come. It arrives, a facsimile of the drop ship where we now sit watching this scene unfold, only of course much larger. They board quietly, frightened, like obedient cattle, forming the shape of a new docile animal which is composed of all of their shuffling bodies, a pachyderm bound for God-knows-where.
Once aboard, their vessel launches into space, and as quickly as a rifle tracking skeet, the Arbiters watch them through the display window of their own ship and one of the aliens presses a button which sends a ray out to intercept and obliterate the vessel filled with the only Earthlings besides us four men watching in terror, as a satanic orange and red mushroom cloud consumes itself and then dissolves into shards, fanning out into the vacuum of space.
The Arbiters roil and slither inside their steel suits, pleased and hissing, tearing themselves into shapes which resemble uncoiling strands of especially pliant taffy or fiberglass insulation. They are not so much hideous as imbued with a primordial ugliness which should not know sentience. Each of us sees bits of them slithering around in their suits, thanks to the diligence of the thermal termites worming their way into cracks and joints, and though I haven’t spoken to the other men, I can feel their anger rising as just I can feel my own.
Things that look like these Arbiters, formless ooze, should not rule over us, should not control who lives or dies or the manner in which we perish. Those politicians who fed off the blood of the people deserved to be booted from office, sure, and one could maybe make a Guy Fawkes argument that they even deserved death for the betrayal of their constituents, but killing their families, their wives, and children is beyond the ken of even Old Testament Yahweh in all but his most vindictive mood.
I am, after all, something of an authority on God, as much as any man can be short of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that He empirically exists. God did not, in that Gutenberg Bible I keep by my nightstand, tell the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah that they would live, only to kill them anyway. If Lot’s wife had not turned around and disobeyed him, if she had kept her eyes forward, then God would not have turned her into a pillar of salt merely to amuse himself.
I dig my fingernails into the lifelines of my palms until they begin to bleed, cursing the slime bags for their formlessness, which leaves them no necks to even wring. I want to throttle them, too, to strangle one, but I have to keep my anger in check, because the silkworms are still spinning their web, showing me that I am in fact wrong in my assumption that we four aboard this drop ship are the only human beings left alive. The Arbiters in fact decided to keep a certain number of human beings alive for their own purposes, which were cruel, but not without a cold logic that I find hard to refute.
Several hundred sport utility vehicles, like the ones I saw around the neighborhood where I had once lived with my mother by the lake, are arranged in a long line on the rusted tundra of the Martian basalt. “Stau,” Kammisch says.
“Ja,” I reply.
But how? How or why is there a traffic jam on the surface of Mars? One of the Nanobots, not hindered by atmospheric concerns, weaves its way across the rocks toward the line of SUVs. Each of the drivers, men and women shanghaied from Earth, marooned now on Mars, grip the steering wheel of their car. Each vehicle’s porous doors and sunroofs are sheathed in a cocooning membrane of elastomeric seals reinforced with a space age polymer, like the doors on our mother ship. Nothing can get in and nothing can get out, but these men and women who have been abducted from carpools or crosstown errands do not need more oxygen than they already have, because the thermal termites will provide that, just as they would continually rewire the digestive systems of the drivers so that hunger would never become a problem, either.
Gas would certainly not be an issue, as I already know from experience. The termites are rerouting all of the atoms and molecules into a feedback loop, whereby any gas that is burned will in turn create more gas in a cycle of perpetual motion better than any sort of zero point energy theorized by Barry Mars in his most outlandish mood. The people drive in circles for days that turn into months, which become years that in turn morph into generations. They beg for death, but the termites keep their hands sealed to the wheels. The red clay of Mars looks so much like the brimstone of Hell, but nothing from Dante or Sisyphus could rival the punishment these commuters are forced to endure, as the worms in the engine blocks pump more and more fossil fuel into the Martian atmosphere.
Co2 gases form a greenhouse shell over Mars, and the Arbiters observe and laugh, this multi-century project a diversion that lasts them in their infinite cruelty the equivalent of only a few hours. Their hideous voices, rasping and scarred, carry across the desolate Martian expanse. Over one-hundred Mbar of surface pressure is realized, the temperature rising degree by degree, until the Nanobots are forced to vacate and the drivers are finally released from their torment, melting to the liquefying hulls of their Denali and Expedition and Yukon utility vehicles.
From an astral perch the Nanobots watch, nesting like lapdogs on the contours of the metal suits that the Arbiters wear. After the cars melt, the rocks begin to undergo thermal decomposition, and hissing C02 and H20 make noises eerily similar to the laughter of the monstrous aliens, gases coming in wavering steamy fingers from the ground where it cracks with molten volcanic life.
Our hatred for the evil Gods melts in that moment. No matter how wicked we consider them to be, they are giving us something that had been the provenance of no man, no matter how holy and faithful to God he was, or devoted to science he might have been. We are seeing the beginnings of a new world, the new world in fact.
A tundra region opens above the regolith, and life as small as the Nanobots appears, little pioneer biota that appeal to the part of each man that he keeps hidden, the part that wants to pet butterflies but fears how that might appear to other men.
“Oh, shit,” I think I hear Wichman say, and he starts to cry. It is contagious. We hear each other’s voices, but see only the memories of the termites, each passing on a bit of knowledge to the next in case it prematurely senesces or is consumed in flames.
The little butterflies with their purple and blue patterns are resistant to the ultraviolet rays which lash the cragged surface of this new Earth, and they excrete acids that further dissolve the rocks and flatten the mountains into low naked hills, and banded marble cliffs which form a rim around the first ocean. We can taste the nitrogen and oxygen as they are introduced, across the chasm of centuries and despite the limited sensory perception of the little wormy hosts sending back data one broken image at a time.
The one ocean of New Earth breaks into two oceans, forming an aqua-frothed Pangaea wreathed in salt in the northern boreal area and a second sea in the southern hemispheric Hellas Planitia zone. Minor tweaking is performed by the bulwarked convoy of drifting sky fortresses, which casts a giant shadow over the Earth which has become the new sun, and Mars, which has become a home for the Arbiters. Giant louvered parasol sunshades emerge from the abysses inside of the great ships, and they adjust the orbital eccentricity of every planet until the Council of Arbiters achieves that revolting harmonious accord again. They writhe in their elemental suits, and rap their chainmail knuckles against the top of their table.
The millions of aliens who have moved into the Milky Way are happy with this new living arrangement. We four remaining humans above this drop ship are less so.