I remember the day they announced they'd discovered life on another planet. There was jubilation throughout the observatory. The Chief Astronomer came round to thank every single employee personally for their contribution to the work, even me, the lunch-order chef. "Without your delicious sandwiches and bagels," he'd said, "we'd never have had the energy to keep searching the stars."
The President came to visit the observatory the next day, to mark what he called "An historic landmark in man's understanding of the universe." He met many of the staff involved in the discovery. I didn't get to meet him myself, but his wife, the First Lady, came into the kitchens and we shared a joke about how we both cooked for the most important people in the world.
The media fell on us like a swarm, everyone was interviewed about their role in the discovery, even me. I joked how I'd have to open a sandwich shop on Omega 5 now that I knew there was a marketable opportunity. My remark was a hit with the media, light relief for the 24-hour news channels, and I became a minor celebrity, appearing on news items, talk shows, even a cooking show where I launched my new range of ”interstellar sandwiches.”
The media fed on the story of the discovery for weeks, every newspaper cartoon featured green, antennaed aliens. Nearly all the press was favorable at first, celebrating the American scientists who'd made another great leap forward for mankind. Only a few of the far-right websites dissented from this view, saying that we made up the findings just to get more government grants. The public was, in the main, pleased to know that we weren't alone in the universe. It somehow took some of the pressure off mankind's shoulders.
As weeks passed though, a few religious leaders started to speak out against the discovery. The Chief Astronomer showed me some of the articles he'd collected. I always took the Chief Astronomer a breakfast bagel if he'd worked an all-night shift, which in recent times had been most nights. He had always been one to work long hours when work required, and I had gotten into the routine of bringing him snacks.
"Look at these," he said, tossing me a pile of press clippings. I read through them as ordered. Religious leader after religious leader attacked our findings, saying that they were an affront to good Christians. ”The bible said that mankind was special, therefore proving that there is life on other planets is blasphemous,” was the typical argument.
"What's an astronomer to do?" the Chief Astronomer asked me mid-sandwich, spitting flecks of bread at me as he did so. "Should scientists stop reporting the truth in case it offends?"
He then reached in another drawer and pulled out another pile of papers, this time all letters and printed-off emails. I read the first one: “If you want life on other planets you should go and live there, you atheist scum.” The next email was more succinct, it just said: “I hope you die.”
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