It could happen today, or in a dozen
Years from now. The news could break
As you’re making your next cup of tea,
A “We interrupt this program” message flashing
On the screen as you reach to turn off the TV,
Heading out to fill up the car, or hang out in a bar
With friends. But whenever it happens
The First Age of Man will end; human history
Divided by a neat, coloured line; on one side
“Before the Signal”, on the other, “After”.
As for who will draw that line, chances are
It will be no doe-eyed, Ellie Arroway
Sitting on a dusty jeep, hugging her knees,
Headphones pressed to her ears,
Scanning the light years for Radio ET.
They’ll probably be a teenage geek,
Sitting at their PC in their battlefield of a room,
Or a 30 year old Citizen Scientist,
Surrounded by Cylon toasters and faded X-Files posters,
NASA TV playing 24/7 in the background.
They won’t be able to keep it secret, of course.
Not in this day and age. Word will get out.
The cat will leap out of the bag,
Into our laps and laptops, screeching.
But how will we hear? An OMG! Tweet
From an intern who just overheard SETI boffins
Whispering through an almost-but-not-quite-closed door?
An embargo-busting blogger, desperate to post
The Biggest Story Of All Time
An hour before the President, nervously straightening
His tie behind a podium, tells the world
Cue all the well-laid plans for secrecy
Being swept away as gaily-coloured banners on TV screens
Around the world declare “Breaking News –
Message from aliens received!” as shocked and disbelieving
Anchors, fingers in ears, or peering at under-desk screens
Stutter “We’re getting reports…”?
A “Where were you when..?” moment to be sure;
Right up there with the death of JFK,
Challenger’s final flight and the toppling
Of the Towers.
Will you be on your own, reading it on your phone,
Riding the bus to work or killing time,
Sighing in a supermarket queue?
Or will you be at home, micro-waved meal
Balanced on your knee, waiting to see
Your favourite show start on TV only to see, instead,
A studio full of talking heads, figures famous
For their planet-sized brains suddenly just
The same as us – trying in vain to take
It in, the news that We Are Not Alone…
God, I hope I’m not at work that day!
I want to watch it all unfold from my sofa,
Drinking one cup of tea after another
As word ripples around the world, confirmation
That a voice has been heard calling to us
From a faraway star.
I want to watch the endless interviews
With sci-fi scribes and scientists, all insisting
“I knew it all along, the numbers alone
Meant it was impossible for it to be just us!”
I want to watch reporters prowling city centres,
Asking Man or Woman in the Street
How they feel about the news,
Carefully choosing people who they think might actually care,
Just one or two with spiky- or brightly-coloured hair
Approached for comic relief.
Oh, I want to see the politicians preening,
Declaring a sudden, new-found love for science
After years of slashing its budgets to the bone
Like migraine-maddened bears;
I want to see priests scrambling to rearrange their faith
Like kids with Rubiks Cubes,
Twisting and turning the pieces, clicking and clacking
Their beliefs until they’d “known it all along”
And hadn’t been wrong at all.
I want to see Brian Cox standing on a windswept summit
Somewhere, hair blowing in the breeze,
His young Einstein eyes wide with wonder,
Smiling that knowing, Northern smile…
I want to see the first, leaked grainy
Screenshot of The Signal, its discoverer leaning in
From one side, beaming proudly,
Blissfully unaware their messy, Post It Note-
Smothered monitor is The Key
To a real Pandora’s Box.
I want to see the so-called experts struggle
To juggle each new scrap of news,
Refusing to admit they have absolutely no idea
Just what the hell is going on,
Adding two and two to get ten million,
Joining in the greatest game of Chinese Whispers
…and at the end of that historic day,
The Day When Everything Changed,
I want to head out into the night,
Find somewhere quiet to stand alone beneath
The starry sky, look up and say
© Stuart Atkinson 2012