Scratch that. One: a message from Sagittarius A*.
It had to be a mistake. Everyone knew there was nothing there but a black hole pulling at the starry fabric. It was the center of the solar system, for crying out loud.
Yet, there it was. A single, solitary bright point of light indicating that a message “for his eyes only” had come from that most improbable of locations. Despite himself Krapp’s interest was piqued. He loved a good mystery. Maybe it was a Trojan horse; some crackpot organization or hacker syndicate had faked the message so that a curious recipient—more credulous and naïve than Krapp, of course, and unable to resist the temptation—would open it. Some older citizen not used to receiving such incredible messages.
Well, Krapp hadn’t been born yesterday. He wouldn’t fall for such shenanigans. The message would remain closed.
Krapp decided first to get rid of any messages concerning extraterrestrials, especially those pesky Andromedans. It wasn’t that he was a xenophobe. Some of his best friends were aliens. Back when he had had friends, before he had become a social shut-in just as his wife had warned. But really, what was out there for an old fellow like him these days? Nothing but sin and debauchery, where were the values he had grown up with? When a man had only two or three wives his whole life?
Oh stop it, you old fool. He told himself.
“Promotions/social: xenons.” He commanded, then: “Andromedans.”
The array changed and Krapp plunged down the rabbit hole.
As usual Faux News had the most ground-breaking up to the micro-second news. Quite a few of their messages purported to provide incontrovertible, irrefutable evidence that President Pushkin had been kidnapped by the Andromedan Intelligence Agency. Krapp knew he should just erase all these, but…. One message opened a video feed of President Pushkin with a sackcloth over his head, was being forced into a spaceship! Another message contained a link to an article written by an well known vegetable clone expert claiming that President Pushkin had been grown in a vat on the prison-planet, Andromeda IX!
It only got worse.
The thing that claimed to be President Pushkin had felt the political pressure to prove he was the real, and had released his entire genomic helix in order to quiet the accusations, but the Faux News pundits reminded readers like Krapp that those things could easily be faked.
Krapp shook his head. What should he do? He had promised himself he would just delete these damn messages and be done with it, but as a citizen of the United Countries of America, he felt conscribed to ascertain whether his homeland was being ruled by an alien clone or just a naturalized Russian centenarian!
He took a deep breath, and once more, duty triumphed over common sense.
A few lights twinkled at the fringes of the Milky Way. He brushed his fingertips across their virtual vellum. Golden boxes appeared containing truncated synopses.
“Do no delete—this messa….”
“This is Magnus Magnuson of Faux Ne….”
“Ignore this message at your own per….”
“The real President Pushkin needs your hel….”
Krapp paused tremulously at the last. The ‘real’ President Pushkin. Was this evidence at last of his duplicity? There was only one way to find out.
He highlighted the message and tapped it two times.
The interface went dark. Somber strings thrummed. In the far corner of the screen a distant planet drew closer. A chorus chimed and the music rose in crescendo as the orb, whorled with white clouds and glossy blue seas grew ever nearer until suddenly—
Silence, broken by a single voice: “Andromeda XIV. That is what we in the Galactic Federation call this bright jewel at the edge of Federation space.”
The voice was vaguely familiar. Wait… was it that Pan-Bollywood actor, the one who had begun his career on Big Baba? Krapp could not for the life of him remember his name.
“But to the natives, the name of this green gem loosely translates as ‘Eden’. Once a barely understood planet at the edge of the galaxy, Eden now forms the beach head against Andromedan aggression!”
And then Krapp was in virtual free fall, plummeting through the clouds to the planet’s surface. His stomach lurched, tricked by the P.O.V.
The voice continued: “Former Secretary of Galaxy, Priscilla Pinkerton, has lived among the natives for many years. She knows the real President Pushkin, the generous and big-hearted man that he is, and in his glorious name she is begging you, she is pleading with you….”
Krapp leveled off perhaps a hundred feet above an alien village. Just outside, a spacecraft landed. A dock swung down disgorging a platoon of alien warriors. They raced towards the peaceful settlement, firing purple ray guns at the fleeing villagers.
“DO NOT DELETE THIS MESSAGE. The Edenians depend entirely on your generous-“
“Delete!” Krapp roared.
And everything disappeared: the earnest narrative, the flame jets spouting from the fungal hovels, the smoke billowing from the strange topiaries.
Krapp unbunched shoulders dripping sweat. He couldn’t believe the content nowadays! Did these damn kids think everything was just a video game? He certainly didn’t want to see the slaughter of innocents one million light years away, even if it was just in simulation.
It probably served him right. He should have known better than to open the damn messages! Krapp just needed to get rid of these messages and be done with it.
But that single message, drifting at the universal cynosure, still whinged.
“Isolate Message/Sagittarius A*.” he said, almost hushed.
Everything else disappeared.