The first thing Jane knew about it was a flash in the sky. A small flash in a clear blue winter’s sky, followed by a shower of condensation trails. It looked like a backwards firework, she thought as she watched the various components falling to earth. There was a period of panic as she thought one of the large pieces might hit her but fortunately it crashed some distance away in a thicket.
Curious, she moved closer towards the dull metal shape. She stood for a short while, wondering whether she should do anything. Then the door in the side of the object opened and a tall grey alien stepped unsteadily out.
‘Wow!’ the alien said and shook its head.
‘Are you all right?’ Jane asked it.
‘Think so. Thanks,’ it replied. ‘Bit of a mess,’ it added as it looked at the remains of its space-ship. ‘Poor old Daisy.’
‘My ship. She was a good old girl.’
‘I was shot down by one of your missiles,’ Witgain, the alien explained. ‘Thought I could dodge it but they must have improved the tracking technology since I was last here.’
‘How is it that you speak such good English?’ Jane asked.
‘I can’t,’ Witgain replied. ‘We’re communicating directly mind-to-mind, concept-to-concept. That’s how I know your name’s Jane and you know mine is Witgain.’
It went back to the smouldering wreckage and looked in through the hatch.
‘Bum! Can’t see me fixing that little lot. Have to get some help.’
He disappeared into the interior and re-emerged carrying what seemed to be an i-pad. There was a pattern on the screen which Witgain manipulated with his appendages.
‘Quantum-entangled with its receiver,’ he explained to the completely scientifically gormless Jane.
‘Oh, I see,’ she replied. ‘Whatever you do on that screen is reproduced back in your home, instantaneously by electron or positron destruction. Hence the questions with yes or no answers – less data transfer required. Simple and elegant.’
‘Your people are working on it,’ he said, ‘but they’re a long way from making it useful.’
Witgain held the screen so that Jane could see it more easily.
‘I’ve already answered most of these,’ Witgain said. ‘I just hate forms and questionnaires, don’t you?’
‘Know what you mean,’ she agreed as she continued to read the questions. ‘Especially tax forms. I don’t suppose you have such things…’
She looked up at the alien who was raising what passed for eyebrows. ‘Oh – I see that you do,’ she said.
‘Tax is pangalactic,’ he told her. ‘Even the Pprangdiddlewat of Fflitt isn’t immune. It taxes itself.’
Jane nodded as she accepted the universal truth and continued to study the questions on the questionnaire as Witgain answered them.
Are the residents dangerous?
Can they be trusted?
Have they reached interplanetary capability yet?
‘Have you?’ he asked her.
‘Sort of. We landed a robot thingy on Mars.’
‘I’ll put that down as a yes.’
As she continued to read the questionnaire, a group of soldiers burst from the undergrowth and surrounded them.
‘Oh bugger,’ Witgain said, twiddling the questionnaire. He held up the closest he had to arms, still grasping the questionnaire. ‘I come in peace,’ he announced to the soldiers. They didn’t understand him, or rather, they didn’t understand the concept and so they shot him rather more times than was necessary.
The one who was in charge was thoroughly miffed. ‘We’re supposed to capture it alive,’ he told his underlings.
‘He was going to attack us,’ one of them claimed.
‘No he wasn’t,’ Jane said.
‘What’s that in his hand if it isn’t a weapon?’
‘It’s a quantumly-entangled questionnaire,’ she explained. This time there was no psychic link and so she might just as well have been speaking Witgain’s home planet’s language, so she qualified; ‘It’s a communication device. He answers questions and they see what he said back where he comes from.’
‘So what does it say?’ the leader asked.
‘Well, now you’ve killed him, I’ll have to try to remember…’
She began reading out the questions from;
Is there any sign of intelligent life?
Is it aggressive?
Would it save us a lot of bother if we just annihilate them?
‘Did he answer that last one?’ the one in charge asked, somewhat nervously.
Jane shrugged. ‘Couldn’t see but I suppose we’ll soon find out.’
Jonah Jones has written for stage, radio, film and publication. He had his first stage play performed in1976 and his latest film (which he also directed) is currently touring the film festivals.