Miranda was right: I had had the thought before. When something is impossible to explain, you post the GIF of the guy with the hair saying, “ALIENS.” It’s just what you do. I mean, “Don’t Stop Me Now”? No video footage of them showing up? The fact that none of the Carls had been moved, though no one seemed to have tried super hard? The fact that no one, after almost two full weeks, had taken credit or spoken out about what must have been a massive logistical undertaking?
I think a lot of people thought “extraterrestrial,” and of course plenty of people were saying it on the internet. But no one wanted to be the weirdo advocating for the “It’s aliens!” theory on cable news. You can’t say the word “aliens” without teasing your hair up and bugging your eyes out first.
So the thought had been there, but it seemed like just a normal “my brain is thinking stupid thoughts” thought.
But Miranda didn’t seem stupid. She seemed really cool and smart and like she knew an awful lot about material resonance and thermal conductivity . . . things that sounded important and legitimate. She also was clear that maybe it wasn’t aliens; it was just maybe not a bad idea to operate, at least privately, as if it were.
I would probably have been more skeptical, but I remembered what it was like to touch Carl and it did feel weird—like nothing I’d ever touched before, like when I got semielectrocuted when my house got struck by lightning and I unplugged the TV while the wires were still all overjuiced. Not painful like that, just an entirely new sensation.
The only other thought I had was that it was some kind of top secret military thing, but why? What did any government have to gain from putting robots in a bunch of places all at once and then leaving an odd Wikipedia trail to three chemical elements? Just to say, “Hey, we can do this! Scary, right?! Don’t mess with us!”? That made some sense . . . but then they would have taken credit, right? I could already feel my eyes bugging out.
While I was unable to sleep in that glorious bed, I figured out the real reason I was freaking out. Not because we maybe weren’t alone in the universe or because my life was changing forever and I was going to need a new email address. It was because I needed to make a decision. The kind of choice that you only get to make once and you can’t take back and it makes your life totally different, and even if the path is clear, it’s still deeply unsettling.
Option 1 (the sane option): I could detach from all this as much as possible. Stop doing TV things, definitely do not meet a strange science girl at a Walmart in Southern California to buy smoke detectors, never do anything on the internet ever again, pay off my loans. Buy a big house with a gate with the licensing revenue that would, no doubt, if this were real, keep flowing for the entire rest of my life, and have dinner parties with clever people until I died.
Option 2 (the not-sane option): Keep doing TV, spice up my Twitter and my Instagram and have opinions. Basically, use the platform that I was given by random chance to have a voice and maybe make a difference. What kind of difference? I had no idea, but I did know another chance like this wasn’t going to come along . . . ever.
Given the laundry list of other potential culprits, it was difficult to realize that this was the thing that was freaking me out. But once I knew it, I figured the only thing to do was to make the decision, which would then maybe allow me to sleep in that mountain of pillows.
With my brain full of fear and fog and excitement (and far too impressed with itself), I made my decision. As is often the case, it was the easier choice to make and the more difficult choice to live with.
Having made that choice, I immediately wanted someone to talk me out of it, so I called Maya.
She didn’t answer the phone.
It’s weird looking back on the little insignificant moments that completely change your life and maybe all of human history. There’s one, right there: Maya Didn’t Answer Her Phone That Night. It didn’t go straight to voicemail, so her phone was on—she just didn’t pick up.
I texted her, I need to talk about some stuff, and then, with one last look at that magnificent bed, I grabbed my laptop, walked out of my room and down the hall, and knocked on Andy’s door. And then I knocked again. The third time, the door opened and Andy stood there looking like I had just taken away the most beautiful thing in his life, which I pretty much had.
“I have news,” I said.
“This is reminding me very specifically of another time you woke me up with news.”
“And that turned out OK, right?”
“You may be convincing me right now that it didn’t. Please, whatever is happening, can it please, please wait for six hours and twenty-three minutes?”
“No.” I pushed past him, turned on all the lights, and walked into his hotel room, which, despite Andy having only been in it for a few hours, was a complete mess. “Whoa, was there a bomb in your bag?”
“I couldn’t find my toothbrush,” he moaned.
“OK, I need to tell you a few things.”
We sat on his bed, and I pulled out my phone and read him the email exchange with Miranda.
He was very quiet after I finished before finally saying, “Carl is an alien?”
“I know, I realize it sounds absurd, and, look, it’s probably not aliens. I mean, ALIENS! It’s not a real thing that happens.”
“Yeah, well, there are obviously aliens. The only question is whether they have the technology and desire to visit.”
“There are obviously aliens?!” I said, a little perplexed.
“Yeah, I mean, April, do you have any idea how many planets there are in the universe? Literally more than the number of snowflakes that have ever fallen on earth! Or something. I don’t know, it’s a really impressive number. The point is that the odds that intelligent life happened just one time are basically zero.”
“Oh, so this isn’t such a big deal then?” I ventured.
“ARE YOU KIDDING? If this is real, it’s the biggest deal in the history of big deals!” He actually yelled at me.
“Whoa, OK, yes, OK, yes. Yes.” I almost said “OK” again, but I realized I was starting to sound like my brain had broken. So instead I said, “I know this seems unlikely, but I have more news.”
“You’re right, it seems unlikely that any other news matters much right now.”
“I Skyped with Miranda and told her about the Freddie Mercury Sequence and she figured it out.”
“WHAT?! GODDAMN IT, APRIL!”
“Why are you mad at me?!”
“I don’t know! I don’t think I’m mad! I think I’m having a weird and unpleasant dream. Or, if I’m not, then I’m just overwhelmed and tired. This is allowed to be overwhelming, right?”
“Yes, absolutely. So do you want to know, though?”
“I mean, yeah.” But he didn’t sound so sure.
I walked him through Miranda’s thoughts, her discovery in the citations, and that you can apparently buy uranium on Amazon.
And then I said, “Which is all to say that if you thought we had a scoop before, we now have a very different opportunity and I would like to suggest that we take it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if I made First Contact with an alien life-form, that’s a bigger deal than me making a viral YouTube video,” I said, using Miranda’s term.
“And so people are going to talk about this for the rest of time. Maybe we can be a bigger part of the narrative.”
“April, if, if, IF—and it’s a big, huge, Jupiter-sized if—if this is real, it’s going to be way bigger than us. Every world leader is going to be on the news the moment it breaks. No one’s going to listen to you.”
“Exactly.” I paused. “Unless we work our asses off right now to be out in front of the story. And also, unless we work out and implement the Freddie Mercury Sequence before anyone else.”
“Oh, do you think there are other people who know?”
“They’re already talking about it on the talk page of the article. If we get to it first, not only are we the discoverers of New York Carl and the initiators of First Contact with an alien civilization, we’re the ones who worked out the first system they’re using to communicate with humans.”
“April, are you sure this isn’t a bad idea?”
“No! In fact, I’m fairly sure that it is. But I have investigated the other possibility, which is leaving this alone and disengaging completely, and that doesn’t sound like any fun at all.”
“I can’t believe I’m the one trying to talk you out of this . . .”
“ME EITHER! So stop!”
“You know that maybe Carl isn’t an alien, right?”
“Yes, but we’re going to act as if he is. Make decisions as if he is. We’re not going to talk about it, or say it. And if it turns out he’s not, we’ll have invested in the wrong reality. But if he is, we’ll be three steps ahead of everyone.”
“Is that a good thing to be? Shouldn’t, like, the president be three steps ahead and not a bunch of . . . whatever-we-ares?”