What If We Explore Other Worlds and Don’t Like What We Find? by Michael C. Keith

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America,

which didn’t turn out all that well.”

–– Stephen Hawking
On July 23, 2015, NASA announced with considerable excitement that its Kepler I spacecraft had discovered a planet much like Earth. Fourteen years later, it received better photos of what it had named Theia. From these photos, NASA was able to conclude that the existence of life on the distant orb was almost certain, although they had not determined what form it might take. That changed when Cygnus I was able to transmit close-up photos of the surface, as it approached landing on the new world.

“We see intelligent development, possibly cities, and our computers show the atmosphere can support human life,” reported Cygnus Commander Howell to Mission Control.
“Roger that, Cygnus I.”

“We have touchdown, Mission Control.”
“Those grids we first detected in the pictures from Kepler II. All along, we’ve thought they had to have been constructed by an evolved species,” said NASA Operations’ Director, Brook Clayton.

A long pause in audio followed from the vessel.

“You there, Cygnus?” asked Clayton.

“Yes, sir. Here, yes… Jesus, he looks like Hitler,” replied Howell.
The short message from the Cygnus commander perplexed those listening back at Mission Control.

“A figure that looks exactly like Adolph Hitler, except for its huge head, is approaching us.”
After a prolonged silence, Howell was asked by Mission Control to repeat his statement and he did so. “He has a swastika armband, too” reported Howell. “Got a bouquet of flowers and is smiling and waving.”

Yallo,” snickered Cygnus lieutenant commander Reese. “Ve are opening ze hatch now, mein Kommandant.”
“Wait,” ordered Clayton. “Hitler? What the hell are you talking about, Commander?”

“Hatch open,” said Reese.

“I think we found our sister planet, sir. Or maybe some kind of duplicate of our 20th Century world.”

“What’s going on up there? Are you men suffering from oxygen deprivation? Hallucinations?”

“Mission Control, we have other figures approaching our vessel. You won’t believe… Behind Hitler is another life form that looks like Josef Stalin… Wait! Hold on! In back of him are Mao Zedong and a figure that looks like Osama Bin Laden…”

“Abort mission, Commander! I don’t like this at all. Abort mission! Abort!” demanded Clayton.

“Sir, they’re carrying flowers and look friendly. Maybe they’re just doing dress up for our arrival. Got our history wrong. Think our bad guys were our good guys, or something…” responded Howell.

“Get out of there, for Christ sakes!” barked Clayton. “That’s an order, Commander!”

“Too late, sir. The hatch has been opened and we’ve been boarded,” said Reese.

“Launch now, Commander!”

“We’re into thrusters and can’t reverse now,” cried Howell.

“But, we have life forms from the planet on board with us,” shouted Reese.

“Shit, it’s too late… too goddamn late! We’re programmed for return!” bellowed Howell.

The thrusters of Cygnus I lifted the vessel off the planet and they quickly reached warp speed on an Earth-bound trajectory. There was no further communication from the returning space explorer. In Mission Control, everyone stood frozen at their workstations in anticipation of what might happen next.


Forty-eight hours later, Cygnus I made touchdown. NASA and other government officials were there to meet it. In the period since the last message from the vessel, Director Clayton and his staff had kept what had happened on Theia from the media. They were obliged, however, in the case of any odd or possibly dangerous situations, to inform the White House and Pentagon. The latter quickly prepared to defend against any hostilities that may accompany the landing of Cygnus.

By the time the doors to the spacecraft opened an array of armament was in place to take action if need be. After several tense moments, Commander Howell strode from the vessel waving his hands and giving the thumbs up sign. He was followed by the remaining members of the Cygnus crew, all of whom appeared in good spirits.

“As you know Director Clayton, we have four citizens of Theia on board, and they are eager to greet everyone. There is nothing to fear. I realize they look like Earth’s greatest tyrants, except for their head size, but they couldn’t be further from it. In fact, they’re the total opposite. The crew and I have never encountered such wise and benevolent beings, with so much to offer the human race. They …”

Before Howell could complete his sentence, the NASA chief ordered soldiers on board the Cygnus I with instructions to take charge of the aliens. The troops encountered no resistance from the Theians, who were more than happy to accompany them to a large, windowless van. As they were marched to the waiting vehicle they bowed and smiled at the assembled throng of security people and scientists.

“You have a lot to explain for bringing these creatures back to Earth and endangering our entire species, Howell. You and your crew will be confined until this whole event is thoroughly investigated.”

“They’re not a danger, sir,” declared Howell. “You’ll know that once you communicate with them. Things are not what they appear. They possess incredible wisdom and knowledge, which will be very valuable to the human race.”

He and the other members of Cygnus were led away under guard.

As the Theians awaited interrogation, they chatted softly, occasionally nodding and winking at one another. Meanwhile, the NASA hierarchy attempted to determine what to do with their peculiar visitors.

“After the med team checks them out for contagions, we’ll see what they have to say. I’ll want Corman and Barfield in on this. They conceived this mission, so let them help explain what we have on our hands… not that either of them will likely have a clue. Contact Dr. Linley so he can do an initial psychological makeup while we’re with the aliens… ah, Theians.”

No abnormalities other than enlarged craniums were found during the examination of the uninvited guests. Shortly thereafter, Director Clayton met with the extraterrestrials. In less than an hour, he and his associates were completely relieved of their concerns and besotted by this quartet of otherworldly strangers.

“They’re extraordinary,” observed Corman. “I’m just astonished by them.”

“Unique, to say the least. They speak from such unlimited depth,” added Barfield. “They have this inordinate calm and tranquility about them, too. They seem so at peace with themselves.”

“I don’t see any trace of psychosis,” commented Dr. Linley. “In fact, I felt I would actually benefit from sessions with them. They seem to see into your soul.”

“Everything you say, I agree with. But what the hell do we do with them now?” wondered Clayton aloud.

“Maybe we can get them to alter their appearance? Then we could introduce them to the world,” suggested Barfield.

“Why they even look like that is beyond me,” said Clayton. “Because they’re saints compared to their hideous doppelgangers.”


In the alien holding area, the Theians slept.

The Hitler look-alike dreamt of vast exterminating chambers to accommodate all Earthlings, and his companions shared the same dream.

When they awakened, they greeted their hosts warmly, bowing their bulbous skulls deferentially. Clayton joined them as they ate breakfast and then approached the idea of their submitting to a makeover.

“Of course,” they replied in unison. “We’d be completely fine with that. What would you have us be? We’ll be anything you like.”






Michael C. Keith is the author of more than 20 books on electronic media. In addition, he is the author of an acclaimed memoir––The Next Better Place (screenplay co-written with Cetywa Powell), a young adult novel––Life is Falling Sideways, and eleven story collections––Of Night and Light, Everything is Epic, Sad Boy, And Through the Trembling Air, Hoag’s Object, The Collector of Tears, If Things Were Made To Last Forever, Caricatures, The Near Enough, Bits, Specks, Crumbs, Flecks, and Slow Transit. He has been nominated five times for a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award for short fiction anthology and a finalist for the 2013 International Book Award in the “Fiction Visionary” category.

  1. Another great story by the master. He’s got a bit of Philip K. Dick in him, some Don Carpenter, a touch of Asimov…Keith is first-rate in any genre.

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