Columnist John Sheirer: Signs of intelligent life

Published: 9/11/2019 7:00:14 PM

Scientists discovered the technology to observe the alien world so similar to our own back in the 1950s.

Communication wasn’t possible — only observation. The process was surprisingly simple: applying atomic energy to telescopic lenses and radio waves. Unfortunately, space flight was many decades behind the ability to watch, so meeting these cosmic neighbors wasn’t yet possible.

Instead, a team of government officials, scientists, philosophers and educators studied every aspect of the intelligent life on that far-off planet for nearly a century while they simultaneously worked to build a ship to visit the new world.

During those many decades, the observers saw the planet’s relatively primitive occupants gradually advance in significant ways, growing technologically, socially, morally and artistically. Their progress wasn’t perfect, and they suffered many setbacks, but they seemed destined to make their world into an advanced society with peace, cooperation and equal opportunity, given enough time.

But then, just when the observers thought that the alien race might advance enough to make a compatible ally, disaster struck. Frightened and confused by their own progress, they let a leader emerge who represented their worst instincts and preyed upon their weaknesses to lead them down a path of hatred, xenophobia and deceit.

Following his example, the alien creatures eventually descended into bigotry, violence, environmental neglect, and, ultimately, a devastating world war that wiped out all living creatures in less than five years.

This distant tragedy took place only a few years before the observers banded together to complete their great spacecraft for the trip across the gulf of space to the parallel planet. The sad irony was not lost on those who put away childish differences and saw that what united them was far greater than anything that could divide them.

They had hoped to come together in peace with the beings on this new world. Sadly, that would never be. As they helplessly watched the other planet destroy itself, they vowed not to let the same fate befall their own existence.

When, at last, their ship landed on the strange planet, two crew members stepped out into the still-smoking remains of the ruined world. This place had once been so lush and full of life, but it was now something from a child’s nightmare.

The travelers immediately went to a graveyard where the most intelligent beings on the planet went to die. The first crew member bent down and lifted a long, white bone from the dirt and held it aloft for her companion to see.

“I’m honored to hold what’s left of a being so wise and dignified,” she said.

“Yes,” her crewmate replied. “They were majestic in every way.”

The first crewmember held the bone out to the other. “If only these elephants had governed this world,” she said with a sigh.

The second crewmember extended one of his three arms and gently lifted the elephant bone from the eight-fingered hand of his crewmate.

“If the elephants had led this world instead of those foolish humans,” he mused, while examining the bone with five of his seven eyes, “then perhaps there would still be intelligent life here on Earth to greet us.”

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. This short story and many other tales about life on this world and beyond make up his new book, “Too Wild: Flash Fiction,” forthcoming this fall. Find him at

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