HOW MANY WAYS have writers, astronomers, philosophers and military theorists imagined humanity's first contact with a celestial intelligence? Earth's observatories receiving intelligible signals from deep space? What about the discovery of interstellar artifacts or even living aliens when excavating ancient burial mounds or pyramids? And the appearance of ominous extraterrestrial starships over our major cities? Heavenly bodies falling to Earth, UFO's crashing? Meeting brothers in intelligence on far-off planets? Invasion? War? The extinction of everything alive...?
But when it really happened, it looked like a stupid joke, hoax or intrusive advertisement, so humanity didn't believe it was the real First Contact. One day, a popup window appeared on many popular websites, blocking off the whole screen. Despite every computer user's habitual and instant reaction, it was impossible to close. It played a video showing a furry humanoid that was somehow distantly reminiscent of the abominable snowman, but with thick dark-red fur. The tall bipedal alien had piercing black eyes, a flat dark nose and a wide mouth. Its clothing was somewhere between a suit of armor and a helmetless spacesuit. The first thing it did was raise a clawed hand and give a friendly wave to its captive audience. With a very strong accent, the humanoid gave a speech adapted to the language of the receiving country:
"People of Earth, by right of first discovery, the civilization of Shiharsa declares its authority and jurisdiction over your planet. We will provide one Tong of safety to your world, but the fate of humanity depends exclusively on what you do with that time. You have now made sufficient progress as a species, and may take part in the great game, the game that bends reality. So, come play and earn the right to take your place among the great spacefaring races!"
That was followed by strange diagrams and blueprints, then the fifty-second clip ended, and the popup window closed all on its own. You surely understand that only stupid people would believe such a primitive and artless sham. Even the most gullible viewers thought it was just an actor in a hairy suit delivering a clumsy advertisement for some new computer game.
But some naive individuals had questions. Television studios invited experts to inspect the "blueprints" from the ad, and they all came to the unanimous conclusion that even the most surface-level examination revealed them to be pure gobbledygook. The technology depicted, they assured us, didn't even have a power hookup, so it could not work even in theory.
Interest in the video of the furry alien didn't last long. The ad kept coming though. Eventually, when yet another movie, news site, or sports broadcast was interrupted by the obnoxious popup, no one cared what it was for, and just got mad. Unhappy internet users the world over installed pop-up blockers and wrote all kinds of complaints to the tech support services of affected sites.
The authorities tried to combat the viral ad and threatened grave consequences to the mysterious hackers who'd played this stupid practical joke. Sys admins learned to quickly block the bothersome video. Data-security specialists tried to determine its source, but it was skillfully masked. They all assured us, though, that they would soon pick up the trail of these impudent scofflaws. And although they were never tracked down, after just a few weeks, the ads stopped coming and the whole earth breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Thus, the greatest event in human history, settling an age-old dispute about extraterrestrial intelligence, came and went as a chaotic flop. Sure, lots of people noticed it, but practically none of them realized what it was.
There were lone enthusiasts, though, who wanted to find out more about "the game that bends reality." Despite the expert testimony calling the designs absurd, these stubborn weirdos believed they had seen a miracle and some even built the device depicted in the blueprints...
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