t first no one noticed amidst the slate grey sky. The vessel hung perfectly still over the White House. Identical crafts appeared around the globe. Was this a greeting or a threat? World leaders conferred discreetly. At first the Russians were suspected, but they quickly dispelled accusations. One hung over the Kremlin, after all. Already in his red and gold pajamas, the Chinese Premier expressed his displeasure with a ship’s appearance in Beijing. The nations of the Middle East were ruled out one by one with each coming craft. Even North Korea issued an innocent plea (though no vessel revealed itself in their airspace).
At 5pm GMT, TV signals went out. For a few moments screens were black. White type fizzled: a fifteen-minute countdown. Families gathered around their sets, professionals rushed home, passersby congregated outside any storefront with a television playing.
On baited breath, mankind watched the final seconds tick away. A broadcast engaged: lights were struck, revealing a simple desk not unlike a newsroom's. Someone sat behind it. Or something.
A body, humanoid, but longer and with a rigid posture. Most striking was it’s complete lack of facial features. In the severe lighting it was but a flat, smooth, white figure- whiter than any snowcapped hill or milkman's delivery. A living silhouette; a Pallid-Man. It glowed beneath its skin, pulsing… but not the familiar percussion of the human heart. It was truly alien!
There was a keen silence; then in perfect English- as stiff as its stance - it said: “Good evening, Human Race. By now you have seen the vessels of my species floating above the political centers of the Earth. We are here in an ongoing quest through the galaxy to discover intelligent life beyond our home planet.”
It paused, not knowing it had touched upon the dreams of every curious child, wanderer, and lonesome soul.
“For eons our trek has been in vain. Though we have encountered many creatures with language and law, none match our achievements. It has only been through sheer strength of will that my race has prospered. Thus, we regard new species in one of two ways: equal or insignificant.” The Pallid-Man’s voice was even in tone and speed.
“As is customary in these encounters, we will reside for ten of your planet’s rotations. In that time you must send us evidence of your significance as a race. It can be evidence of any kind, any order. But it should singularly prove your preeminence or uniqueness to us. If you fail to meet our standards we shall vanquish you and harvest your planet's resources. Choose wisely.” Static. Regular programming resumed. Having lost all perspective, everyone watched AfterMASH.
The effects of the vexing visitors were felt the next day. Fathers stepped out for cigarettes and rushed home, mothers declared a preference for what dinner they prepared. In some towns the people marched, in others they prayed. Many wrote highfalutin think pieces. The leaders of the world convened for an emergency meeting at the U.N. It was decided that a Council would be assembled, made up of the greatest thinkers alive. It would be their job to decide what was sent to the vessels. The fate of the Earth would rest in their hands- nay, their minds!
Upon their first session, the Council held extensive introductions. Each appointee fascinated their peers with the qualifications that lead to this highest of honors. Degrees and awards were rattled off, glasses adjusted; interpreters nipped coffee.
Eventually their work began. Despite the unparalleled genius gathered, an agreement could not be reached. What singlehandedly represented mankind’s capabilities? Which emblem of humanity would satisfy? A Nobel laureate pushed for Beethoven, it was squashed by an EGOT. Mensa's President suggested Mozart but was silenced. “Kind of Blue!” cried one. “The White Album!” came another. “Reign in Blood!” “Only Billy Crystal’s Mahvelous can prove man’s worth!” All the while time passed.
A single work of Shakespeare’s could not be chosen. Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot, Keats, Neruda, Da Vinci, Hokusai, Picasso, Rodin, Pollock, Alan Moore, Coco Chanel, Gaudi, Pavlova, Aristotle, Confucius, Kant… The Bible, The Vedas and The Quran were thrown out.
Charlie Chaplin was vouched for, as was Casablanca, Rashomon, Psycho, The 400 Blows. “Something with Brando!” “The King And I!” “No, The Catcher in The Rye!” Star Wars was dismissed for obvious reasons.
Some thought to appeal to the warlike side of the pale pirates. But like all good explorers, the aliens must have thought themselves opportunists and not conquerors. The speeches of Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela would surely mean nothing to the invaders. Days were gone now.
Outside the walls of this room people tried to live life well. The anxiety of what was coming created an unspoken bond of humility. People were kind to their neighbors, crime plummeted; everyone considered going vegan.
After a week of fervor in the U.N., discussion broke down and compromise seemed impossible. Birds were flipped, thumbs bit, mannerisms mocked, reports torn and slurs slurred. The eighth day featured a surprising amount of silence. Would these scholars be saviors or saboteurs?
And then only hours remained. The vessels did not hang any lower or point weapons. Military leaders awaited instruction but knew none would come. This was it.
Without pomp or circumstance it was declared that the Council had submitted a selection to the Pallid-Men. The public was not informed of the specifics, but no one seemed to mind. The residents of Earth wanted to enjoy their final day and be with the ones they loved.
In some horrifying symmetry, the intergalactic imperialists commandeered the televisions of Earth at five PM on the tenth day. This time, word of mouth spread the news as very few people had their sets on when the broadcast began.
“Good evening, Humans.” It began. The tone was different this time, the creature seemed to be straining. “As my race has come to expect, you have taken the maximum amount of time to prove your worth. We have reviewed your submission. We had never had to learn the entirety of a recreational activity before, but it is only fair that we do so to properly judge your existence. Cricket is interesting indeed.
“At first, my race was puzzled. We have sport in our culture but nothing like this. Cricket seems to be athletic in nature and yet requires no real feats of strength or speed. It is an activity pioneered by the aristocratic and yet most beloved by the hopelessly impoverished. Enthusiasts pride themselves on tradition but the game changes to maintain popularity.” It paused, was it for emphasis or a lack of words?
“It is organized for amusement and yet takes multiple full days to complete a single match? Tea breaks? It just seems so counter intuitive… To…” It struggled. “For the sake of brevity, I’ll say this: my race has never seen anything as complex, needlessly or otherwise, as Cricket. Despite our complete immersion in the lore we are still unsure we have grasped any meaning. Is there even a point?” It tilted its head away from its audience. There were sounds, ungodly noises, from off screen- somewhere within the vessel.
“The goal of this quest was to find species equal to our own. Along the way, we have destroyed great militaries and parasites. But this Cricket is… far too calculated and sinister for us. We wish you well in your continued survival as a species and hope to have no further interaction. We will now leave.” Static. Then television resumed. The vessels disappeared as inauspiciously as they arrived.
There was celebration. People joined hands, walls were torn down, charities thrived. Cricket matches sprang up in the street (most broke various rules and were left unfinished). A ceremony honoring the Council was announced but due to organizational difficulties each member received their own parade.
Time passed and the vessels became a distant memory. It seemed to the humans that their civilization had not been justified so much as proven indisputable. Things went back to normal. Hatred was remembered and wars resumed. Summer was fast approaching and Cricket season was near.