This feature by Vernon Miles, originally published in IMAGE+ magazine.
It’s hard to remember a time without the Consortium. It’s hard to remember the complete isolation and loneliness of an Earth completely disconnected from the interstellar community; a time with no alien visitors and no water engine. There was once a time when the biggest port near San Francisco handled ocean-faring traffic, but now it’s a planetary hub for travel across the Galaxy. But for all the advances over the last few years, we still know so little about the Consortium. In their new book PORT OF EARTH, Zack Kaplan & Andrea Mutti from the Earth Security Agency’s communications office give us a groundbreaking look inside the special relationship between the Consortium and the Earth.
VERNON MILES: From what you know, what is life like in the Consortium? These aliens have seen much of our world, but we seem to know very little of theirs.
ZACK KAPLAN: Well, the Consortium is simply a business that represents thousands of alien planets. They provide their customers access to refueling and supply posts along safely charted interstellar routes. The Consortium seems to operate much like most capitalistic human businesses, with hierarchical management structure and specialized responsibilities for employees in exchange for compensation. However, the Consortium representatives have provided little detail about their operations. Their mothership remains in our planet’s orbit, but we’ve never been allowed inside. Despite the fact that we built the Port, we are not authorized inside there either. As for the alien home worlds the Consortium representatives come from, they have shared nothing. We still know very little of them.
VERNON: I’m sure few of us could ever forget the first tragic event in San Francisco a few years back. Mr. Kaplan, what can you tell me about the aliens that were the unfortunate victims of human violence before the days of the ESA?
KAPLAN: The first three aliens to break the Port’s restrictions and come to the mainland were of a species called Bethans, a species who has become known for breaking the rules and visiting human cities. But at the time of the first incident, people were quite fascinated with seeing aliens, but also quite afraid. Some were angry at the deal or the changing economic landscape. All that emotion and confusion created a powder keg, and tragically, someone fired on the aliens, and the Bethans responded aggressively. Several of the pre-ESA incidents occurred in similar fashion, with emotion and confusion creating dangerous circumstances. It’s understandable that human beings would become scared when suddenly facing more advanced and armed alien species. Unfortunately, an aggressive response is the worst thing a person can do, as these aliens can be very dangerous and easily provoked.
VERNON: Mr. Mutti, what has the ESA learned about the different appearances of our alien visitors?
ANDREA MUTTI: We all must understand that these aliens come from deep in the universe, from different planets with different cultures, histories, and traditions. Of course, they are all different, and they are strangers in our strange land. They have very clear feelings, and many are curious, like us. Communication with them is the hardest, and the “fear” about the misunderstanding is so high. In our own history here on Earth, there have been similar experiences, such as when Columbus arrived at the new world. I think that we are in a similar dynamic here. The ESA agents achieve the best approach without any conflicts in their minds, so along with all the respect they have for our “new friends,” they have respect for the human beings too. Respect is the rule, respect is the law. Respect over an alien’s appearance, over the fear of the different. History teaches us this, and while it’s not always easy, we must do better than the past.
VERNON: As our readers know, we live in a careful balance with our visitors. Many visitors wreak havoc while law enforcement watches. Are there lines that cannot be crossed that will cause the ESA to intervene?
KAPLAN: Absolutely. The Consortium has demanded all sorts of protocols in order to protect the lives of their visitors. Many alien cultures and civilizations view our rules with confusion or disdain or alien perspectives we can’t understand. Some aliens do not believe in the concept of ownership, so how can Earth be our planet? Others believe themselves to be advanced or even divine, and therefore free to roam as they please. The Consortium can’t have us executing their customers simply because of a difference of galactic perspective. So it requires a tremendous amount of care in handling a visitor who is breaking our rules. ESA agents are trained to enlist various peaceful techniques and then restraining techniques before using force. Even when visitors threaten human lives, per our contract, the ESA must approve the use of force with the Consortium mother ship beforehand.
VERNON: Mr. Mutti, we’ve witnessed a spectacular variety of strange alien species and ships. Can you tell us a little bit about some of those that you were particularly impressed with? Were there any designs or life forms that are particularly unique?
MUTTI: The ships are simply incredible to us. I could spend hours discussing their shapes and propulsions. We are still trying to understand everything, but it will be a long process, and it’s unclear at what point it will all become clear. Forget the flying saucers and other B-movie stereotypes. We are looking at high evolutionary technology that is simply breathtaking. The most incredible thing is that we see so many different spaceships among different alien species. It’s not like here, where a US satellite is similar to that of a Japanese satellite. These spaceships are so different, but that is normal in the galaxy. Many of these alien species are really far from each other, separated by millions of light-years. It’s incredible. Sometimes, when I am under my porch and I look to the sky, it feels like a long and deep dream, wondering how it can all be possible, and there are no right answers, but every time a ship opens the sky, I seem to be born again.
VERNON: Obviously, it seems standard for us now, but there was once a time when the idea of aliens on Earth was purely science fiction. What can you tell us about some of the early days of humanity’s interaction with the Consortium? What sorts of things did those sci-fi writers of the past get wrong?
KAPLAN: We’ve learned that just like the human species, each individual of an alien species doesn’t act according to the same interests. The Consortium arrived with several members of different alien species—Keteltus, Tor Ulurs, and Kueleas—and yet the aliens our leaders met with did not represent any home world or nation. They represented a company. We simply failed to realize the power of commerce. The other assumption we made was that human nature is something completely unique in the galaxy, as if we would encounter aliens who had never met a species like us. It turns out that we were quite typical. Our interests and requests offered very little surprise to the Consortium.
VERNON: What are some ways that human society and culture across the world has changed in the wake of first contact? I mean obviously there’s the water engine.
KAPLAN: The changes to our world seem very open to interpretation. For every group or pundit claiming the existence of extraterrestrial life is a rallying point for human unity, there’s another group or pundit using the topic to divide us as humans. There is conflict over the technology rights of the water engine, the placement of the Port, the communications with the Consortium, and more, all of which has spawned trade wars between countries and cultural protests throughout the world. The biggest change, of course, is the water engine technology. Our world now acquires 70 percent of our energy from water generators, and experts say in the next five years, we will increase that number to 100 percent. The transition has not been without growing pains, with drastic changes to the work force, but the impact is clearly monumental.
VERNON: With all of the knowledge brought to us by the Consortium, what are some misconceptions or new discoveries about the universe outside our little star system our new partners have shed light on?
KAPLAN: It’s become clear that life is very common and comes in millions of variations. Unfortunately, the Consortium has shared little knowledge with Earth about the galaxy beyond. We’ve been forced to study the ships and species that come to our planet in the hopes of learning more about the universe. However, some of the visitors that come to our planet use technology that we simply can’t understand. The Consortium’s arrival and the Port of Earth’s construction have raised only more questions about life in our universe.
VERNON: In PORT OF EARTH, we see the Port’s exterior but don’t get to spend very much time inside. What is life like in this place where the familiar and the alien meet? What do we know about those three months it went black?
KAPLAN: The Port of Earth is constructed entirely out of materials found here on Earth, and yet the structure followed a very alien blueprint, making it very alien in nature. The interior contains over two dozen habitats that can be altered in their vegetation, atmosphere, gravity, and other physical properties in order to host different life forms. There is a common Earth-like terminal for aliens to experience Earth’s atmosphere and vegetation. But we know very little else about how alien visitors interact with each other or how the Consortium aliens stationed at the Port run their operations and manage the habitats. When the Port went black for three months, the Consortium simply halted operations. No change to the Port was made, and it would seem they were simply assessing what level of responsibility to allow Earth in its own Port security.
VERNON: Your story is mostly told from the perspective of two ESA agents, George Rice and Eric McIntyre. What can you tell us about these two? In the process of writing and illustrating their account, what made them interesting points of view for a reader to go back and get a better understanding of the events leading up to where we are today?
KAPLAN: Agents Rice and McIntyre are model agents with impeccable records, the perfect demonstration of ESA excellence in the field. Both agents have been with the agency since its creation, and both have logged hundreds of hours responding to alien searches. They were the perfect candidates to follow, and the ESA has complete confidence that the ride-along with them will inspire people across the planet to feel more secure and comfortable.
VERNON: The ESA had to develop suits, vehicles, and gear for its agents—and an overall operational approach. Did the Consortium direct us, or did we have freedom with ESA? Is the ESA a military organization, a police organization, or something else?
MUTTI: The ESA is not strictly military, but perhaps the closest model is the US National Guard or United States Customs and Border Protection. So we might call it the Alien Border Agency! The equipment is very hi-tech, along with Consortium-provided alien weapons in the case of an escalated situation with alien visitors. But with the Consortium, we share the same goals of maintaining order.
VERNON: San Francisco was picked as the nearest city for the site of the Port. Aliens are arriving to a very unique experience on Earth, as San Francisco is known for certain weather and aesthetics. What effect does that have on the experience?
MUTTI: It’s a glimpse into the real life of ordinary human beings with all the problems and trials they face. The atmosphere is gritty and solid, and if the aliens find the weather or the aesthetics of their experience here on Earth off-putting or creepy in any way, well that is an unfortunate reality of sharing the human experience.
VERNON: We frequently hear about the huge death toll for humans at the hands of aliens. The latest numbers put it at 3,000. How are these deaths occurring? Are these murders? Acts of random violence? Or are there other factors playing a role in this death toll?
KAPLAN: Sadly, 3,000 human beings have been killed during encounters with rogue aliens who have broken Port protocols and appeared in various human-inhabited areas. Some call these murders, while others call them self-defense. The truth is that each incident is subjective because we’re dealing with cultures with entirely different languages, customs, and perspectives on the galaxy. Some aliens might feel threatened by a human wave, while other aliens might fire their guns away from human beings as a show of honor. It’s easy to see how, without understanding, these incidents can quickly deteriorate into violence and death. That is why the best thing anyone can do when encountering an alien is walk away without word or signal, and then call the ESA.
VERNON: What does humanity’s current role as an interstellar way station mean for the future of human ambitions in space?
KAPLAN: The arrival of the Consortium has inspired humanity to participate in the galactic economy as quickly as possible, and countless countries and companies are now pushing forward to achieve that goal. However, the tensions with the Consortium demonstrate that if we cannot execute our own planetary security and keep the Consortium happy, then we will be cut off from their interstellar network. And as far as we can tell, their interstellar network is the only network. This is what is at stake every time an ESA agent responds to an alien visitor incident. Essentially, in order to participate in the galaxy, we must run a safe and trustworthy Port on Earth.