Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist – I know he's brilliant, because I read his "A Brief History of Time" book and the five percent of it that I understood was terrific – says we should be afraid of close encounters with E.T.
As he sees it, if any beings from outer space are smart enough to travel through the universe and run into us, they may be smart enough to take over the Earth.
I was going to keep quiet about it, but since Hawking's statement has led to some scientific dispute, I should now reveal that we have already had contact with an extraterrestrial.
He landed in my back yard one night last week as I was taking out the trash.
"Greetings, Earthling," he said as he hopped out of his flying saucer. "This is Earth, right?"
This is the place, I said. How, in all the limitless reaches of space, did you find us?
"No problem. I just typed the address 'Earth' into my GPS."
You have a GPS?
"Galactic Positioning System, it's great. Used to be I'd have to stop at every solar system and ask directions."
Now aren't you supposed to say "Take me to your leader"?
"No need. I see one of them sitting right over there."
My leader? Where?
"Over there, the large, shiny being with the metallic skin."
That's not my leader. That's my car.
"Don't try to fool me. We've observed how you two-legged creatures continually serve these stronger beings, which cruise in mighty herds alone the pathways you built for them. You go to great lengths to provide their food. We've even seen you washing them, proof of your subservient position."
How does that prove anything?
"Well, has your car ever washed you? I rest my case."
OK. So what did you come to Earth for?
"The usual thing: We're hostile invaders from dying planet, seeking a vulnerable world to colonize, a place where we can kill all who resist us and enslave the rest, a world where we reign supreme and make you our miserable, crawling servants. Oh, and we're also looking for some waterfront property. Any problem with that?"
Could you wait until after the weekend? I've got a fishing trip planned. What makes you so sure you can conquer us?
"Clearly we are more highly evolved beings than you. For one thing, we noticed that you have only two sexes, how primitive. On our planet, we have 19 different sexes."
Nineteen sexes? How does that work?
"It's a lot of fun. The only problem is, when you get married, you have several dozen in-laws."
But why did you choose Earth to conquer? Why not, say, Mars?
"It was a tough choice. We know Mars is a Republican planet and Earth is full of Democrats, but we couldn't tell what difference that would make."
Wait a minute. Why would you think Mars has Republicans and Earth has Democrats?
"Just by looking at them, obviously. Mars is a red planet, Earth is a blue one."
So you know about those color codes for politics.
"We have them, too, just a bit different. On our planet, politics come in attractive designer colors. Conservatives are lavender, while liberals are taupe. And I mean that literally."
Yes, I see you are, in fact, lavender colored. You're an alien conservative?
"Indeed. I'm hoping to meet your great conservative prophet, Rush Limbaugh."
You can hear Rush Limbaugh in outer space?
"He's really loud."
Back to this conquering Earth business – are you some kind of advance scout?
"Yes, I'm here to examine conditions on the ground. Tell me, what shape is Earth in?"
Let's see: We're perpetually fighting wars, a couple of billion people can't get enough to eat, there are chronic droughts, we shoot and bomb each other over questions of religion, there's an international financial crisis, the polar ice caps may be melting, unemployment is high, women can't get a fair shake in a lot of countries, lots of governments oppress their own people, it looks like the Chicago Cubs still won't make it to the World Series, gang wars kill people left and right …
"Uh, on second thought …"
And I haven't even mentioned toenail fungus.
"Look, this sounds like a lot of problems we don't want to inherit. I think we'll search for another planet to conquer. In some other solar system, far away from you."
Suit yourself. Before you go, I've got a question for you. How is it possible for you extraterrestrials to travel such unimaginable distances throughout the galaxy?
"Actually, that's another reason we wanted to come to Earth. We're not sure how we manage to do it, either, so we need Stephen Hawking to explain it to us."
Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.