Discovering Earth

Discovering Earth


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**Translated by the U.S. Department of State — Office of Language Services**

I felt like I was in a dream.I felt my feet loyally pass me through two ajar steel doors– from which extended silvery, square plates that had been bolted in with precise care and towered high above me like a metal tsunami, forming the smooth curvature of our ship– and into the shiny interior. When I looked up, I saw all the others– there were about 20 of us– scurrying to their appropriate positions in the above floors like preoccupied ants, focusing on their screens or their papers but effortlessly weaving amongst each other without collisions, and when my eyes flickered amongst the excited surroundings on my own floor, I saw important-looking papers scattered around the bolted-in, metallic tables that were to operate as our desks and a vast array of varying-colored buttons lighting up and darkening and lighting back up and informational, tech-savvy words and instructions swirling around my ears in circles. I followed the several others that shared my position; it was our duty not to sporadically shuffle and analyze papers with numbers on them but to glue our eyes to the screens in front of us that displayed the surroundings of the shuttle through radar. In short, our duty was to ensure no obstacles prevented us from reaching our destination.

Oh… our destination. This must’ve constituted the fifth time I’d again remembered the bizarre purpose of this mission. The surrealism of the situation was overthrowing simple truth– I had already been reassured by authorities that the existence of this place had been confirmed beyond any doubt– yet my mind could seemingly not grasp the factuality of the situation. For so many centuries my people had lived by ourselves on our personal ball in space, assuming we were the only ones to have emerged a life force, became intelligent and established civilizations on our lands. And then… we found another stable, civilized planet. Our telescopes detected many, many life forms roaming its lands. How could one accept the confirmation of something that for so long was an unsolvable mystery for his or her people?

After many, many years of my peoples’ scientific progress, we evolutionized radar by developing a radio wave that stretched far into space, beyond my imagination could comprehend. It was only 3 months ago a bright, young scientist earned his name in our planet’s historic records when he detected a peculiar system of planets, which I later learned was the galaxy Earth belongs to. We sent cameras that observed Earth for years, so as to ensure safety for our attempt to communicate. This footage was also used so people from my planet could study the geography, culture, and languages of Earth. My people have long been fascinated by the mystery of space, and began embarking on experimental constructions of rockets not long after discovering the miracle of electricity. That was thousands and thousands of years ago, and my people work efficiently and passionately; we’ve been making exponential progress with developing inventions that will improve our planet’s well-being. Our rockets have been able to roam further into the unknown regions of unilluminated space as a result of several discoveries by several scientists that I could not personally explain to you. This mission was to be composed of a team of 20 efficiently powered rockets– I apologize, as I do not specialize in engineering, I’m not quite sure how it works– whom would all land in various detected capitals of their lands to greet and exchange information with their people through the use of a computer-like translator, which was developed by our scientists from years of footage from Earth’s people.

I, again, trusted my feet to travel to the desk from which I would be scrutinizing every inch of the radar displayed on my screen during our journey. I watched my brothers and sisters, all dressed in the same, shimmery, silky uniform that adhered to my form, shuffle around to their seats and positions until our commander’s voice boomed over the speakers calmly informing us that our departure was to occur in ten minutes. Any of those persons left scurrying amongst the ship carefully hastened to their stations. The following ten minutes seemed to take ten years. Four minutes till lift-off our group was wholly seated in our organized manner, ready to execute our assigned, individual strategies, nervously waiting for the voice of the captain to signal us to go. Legs tapped, hearts hammered. We toyed with our papers, our levers, buttons, etc., repeating in our heads the already-memorized processes of how to navigate them, perhaps as a formality for something to occupy our bodies with as a failed attempt to disguise our child-like exhilaration. We all just fiddled in a mutual silence, waiting–the silence broke when I overheard a few whispers of exclamation to my right:

“I wonder what they’re like.”

“I wonder what they’ve invented, I wonder if they’re smarter than us.”

I don’t think any of us could really believe what was happening. Two different species of life forms were going to intertwine for the first time. Who knows what great accomplishments this is to catalyze for history? Within that shared silence was the greatest noise– we could all feel it. As my eyes shuffled from face to face they detected the same intense degree of pondering within each one. Our questions roared in the air above us and pounded down upon us, demanding to be answered; but still silence. 1 minute until lift-off. My heart raced as the captain counted down the seconds. I hoped this new species would be kind. I hoped that we would be able to share our intelligence with each other, and create. I occupied a position of little authority, and was meagerly informed of the nature of the species, which led to an enormous amount of possibilities for my mind to ponder.


All my thoughts raced in my head collectively with such speed and intensity that, at this point, I wasn’t really thinking anymore. I was one big ball of nervousness and wonder. I had been trained for this, but nothing compares to the feeling of knowing you’re about to face mystery head-on.


A thunderous, vibrating boom was heard and felt beneath us. The walls quivered, and as I gazed out the window, a view of the familiar pink-orange sky replaced the previous neon yellow of the ground. “Here we go,” I thought.


Months passed the way the first day passed. Slowly, and filled with questions. My team and I didn’t often have to alert the captain, only identifying 2 comets in our path we had to avert through radar. My team and I adopted many hypotheses concerning the manner of the life forms we were to interact with, but none quite hit the mark.

It was the last day of our journey and  my nerves were racing. We all had our individual theories, and I was itching to see what lay ahead of us. A few hours after waking up that day, it was finally time.  The commander signaled that we would be landing, although I was already excited by my view of Earth through the window. It was a glowing blue sphere with seemingly random, but secure, splotches of green and white wisps traveling its circumference. The captain had informed our team we were to land in an area called: “Washington, D.C.” It was a peculiar name and I could hardly pronounce it. The people of my planet had been able to decipher the language of their people, and they had been able to decipher ours; but I, personally, had not taken the time to learn the language they called “English.” The sounds of their language did not flow from my tongue with any grace or fluidity. Apparently, our captain had made arrangements with the leader of this area to land there and communicate with their beings in peace. I watched, through the window, our rocket inch closer and closer to the bright, mysterious sphere that lay before us. The captain’s voice was heard over the speaker, directing all of the rocket’s inhabitants to strap themselves down to their chairs. I pulled my belts across myself and secured them in the locks. Right as the captain warned of turbulence the rocket began to tremble violently, and I could feel Earth rushing towards us. More and more pressure pressed upon us, and my stomach seemed to flip inside me. I kept my eyes fixed on the window.

Soon enough, our rocket seemed to smash into an opposing force, as our team all lurched forward in their chairs; my body felt like it was being squeezed as my belts compressed me into place. I looked around excitedly– we were all fine, and the Captain’s voice was again heard: “We’ve landed in the Chesapeake Bay of the United States. The rocket is initiating watercraft mode so we will cruise to Washington D.C.” Others around me nodded with understanding; I suppose they did more research on the lands of Earth than I did, as these names of location were completely foreign to me. I felt my eyes snap to the window. It was filled with a murky brown-blue. I heard a person next to me explain to someone that a bay was an inlet of the sea, meaning we were, supposedly, immersed in water. I was confused. The water on my planet is a crystal clear turquoise, but the color that surrounded us seemed cloudy and didn’t fit to my understanding of the physical properties of H2O. I, then, reminded myself that this was a whole new planet. Although it’s the same compound, water must appear different on this planet because of the way it interacts with its surroundings. I stopped paying attention to the water when the ship halted and the captain instructed us to exit the rocket through the bridge that led to something called a “dock”.

Finally. We’d spent months in this ship, and shiny as it may be, it had become awfully claustrophobic. I followed the orderly line of people pouring out of the doors of the ship and onto a large, wooden, rectangular construction that harbored a multitude of small boats and yachts. Before I’d really had time to react to these new, original surroundings, my ears recognized the sounds of the English language being spoken– no, yelled – in our direction. My eyes flashed to what lay ahead: about 10 large, shiny, black vehicles with wheels attached. I had heard of these: “cars” they called them. My people had actually developed cars a long time ago, but soon replaced them with hover-vehicles that run on electricity on account of the damage the exhaust fumes were afflicting on our atmosphere. Although there were 10 of these cars, only three figures dressed in sharp, black clothing appeared before my people. The leader of our ship remained in front, holding the translator in his hand, which was repeating, in my language, the following messages from the speaking figure:

“You must come with us quickly. Your presence has brought a panic upon the less civilized people of our world. Please, allow us to guide you to our President’s residence where we can discuss these urgent matters in private.” Our leader consented, and that was that. We piled into their black vehicles, 2 or 3 of us in each one. I was wildly confused– we had previously contacted the government in the capital of The United States and received confirmation for our visit– why would anyone be caught off guard? I looked out the window as our drivers raced to our location.

When we got there, we were hurried into a dark room with screens of all sizes displaying, seemingly, the same scene in different places. In all these different locations, our people were landing in known capitals of Earth. However, I was less focused on the panic amongst Earth’s people than on the horrible conditions of their planet. There was a screen for New Delhi, India, a screen for Beijing, China, a screen for Berlin, Germany, etc. I had seen pictures of these places– there were supposed to be towering buildings that shimmered with lights from within, trendy shops splashed with color and clean people selling ripe fruits on the streets. But what I saw was quite the opposite. The New Delhi screen revealed to me that normal, everyday India had no traces of cleanliness like the pictures of the Taj Mahal seemed to promise. There was so much… junk. What was all that stuff? The swarm of panicking people of all ages, dark with the sun and with the dirt that glued itself to their bodies, clumsily tripped through garbage of all kinds as they ran from our rockets. All of the garbage was mixed with dirt and grime, but under that layer of dirt were shiny, metal things, bags made of thin plastic, wrappers, plastic cups, plastic soda-holders– there was a lot of plastic. I felt anger race through my veins. What the hell were these people doing? Didn’t they know they can’t just throw their plastic and garbage all over the place? Didn’t they know it would end up in the throats of other organisms of their Earth, that it would clog the pores of their planet to the point at which it could no longer breathe with life? As cameras panned over the situations currently taking place in other locations on Earth, the garbage and plastic did not stop. It never stopped. There was always more grime, always more garbage and always more pollution to strip the rivers of their natural blue color, replacing it with a tarnished, dusty brown. Brown, brown, brown– I could not defer my eyes from detecting it. There was brown dirt, brown garbage, brown water. Disgusted by the conditions in India, I sought solace in the screen displaying Beijing. The cameras, seemingly attached to helicopters, soared over the city. There were areas that were clean, and pretty, and colorful, but this was a very limited area, as the outskirts of Beijing promptly brought the degradation of the landscape: buildings were crumbled, and I found the same amount of garbage was strewn among the poor parts of China. There were actually a bunch of people wearing masks over their mouths! I presumed this was to protect themselves from sucking in the contaminated air. I scanned every screen, and it was the same way. There were obviously richer parts of these cities, but it seemed that the clean parts with money always faded into grime and poor conditions, which continued on for miles until the next rich city appeared. There were holes in the ground filled with nothing but trash and plastic and rubber and nonsense. There was so much filth. Every screen, just filth. I didn’t understand. This isn’t what I expected. Not at all. Sound emitted from the electronic translator.

“We need you to withdraw the rockets that have landed in the rest of the world besides here. As you can see, the rest of our people are not as educated as those in our privileged country. We had knowledge of your visit, yes, but we did not expect landings in other sites. If your leader does not immediately order the removal of your ships, we will consider your visit a threat.”

This last sentence, spoken in a tone of concrete seriousness that strongly revealed their readiness to strike, scared me. Although their planet was thoroughly filthy, my team and I had agreed we definitely only wanted peace between our peoples. I averted my eyes to, again, the screens. My people, freshly released from the squeezing interior of their rockets, tried to establish their presence as a benign matter of curiosity, exclaiming that they were not intending to harm anyone, but the people of Earth obviously did not understand. They screamed and didn’t attempt to consider the possibility of a peaceful exchange between our peoples. My leader spoke back, and again, the translator resonated throughout the room, this time in English.

“We did not mean any harm by landing our rockets in other locations. We were simply trying to establish a thorough means of communication across all lands of your world, to improve our interactions. I will order them to return to our planet immediately, and then I hope to learn of your world as I shall teach you of mine.” The leaders of Earth nodded, still very seriously, as our leader started to dispatch messages to the commanders of other rockets. I watched the screens as our people, team by team, were ordered back into their respective rockets. My heart pumped with empathy for them. I knew what torture it was to be confined to such a small space for months on end, and they were only freed from it for about 20 minutes. Either way, apparently, it was necessary for my people to leave, as it brought a great panic upon the people of Earth, whom I felt equally sorry for.

When the last rocket had taken off, temporarily whipping up mounds of trash into mini-tornadoes that chased after the ship, a light-skinned man with blue eyes, a balding head, a slick, black suit and a polite smile turned to my commander and the Chief Overseer of our planet, who had seemingly already been with the group, but whom I did not previously take notice of amongst the crowd:

“Thank you for removing your people, I acknowledge you meant no harm. Now, it is of my understanding that the Chief Overseer of your planet has arrived via his private rocket, and so I ask your permission to dismiss this fine team of yours to the conference room adjacent, wherein our ambassador would love to answer any questions they have about the nature of our planet, while I ask the Chief Overseer’s and your company to discuss confidential matters in the privacy of the oval office of the President of the United States.” I wondered how and why this man was so content when the state of his home was quickly deteriorating, and then I wondered what feats of history were to be discussed in that so-called “oval office”. In such exciting times such as these, how could he feel the necessity to mention the shape of the room?

After that, we were ushered through a glossy, wooden door into a room with a long, glossy, wooden table and situated ourselves in seats made of glossy wood. Not a lot of variety, but it was certainly aesthetically pleasing. I perked my head up towards the woman in front, dressed formally in blue, who stood in front of a podium with a smile. I had so many questions to ask. However, apparently, everyone was just as concerned as I was, and I heard most of the questions on my mind asked within the first thirty seconds. The woman’s smile diminished as she spoke to us, and the translator commanded, in our language:

“Please, please, one at a time. If you would be so patient as to raise an arm there I will call on you one by one to answer all your questions.” Arms went up, she pointed to one in front,  and the translator deciphered our words.

“Why is there so much garbage on your planet? The screens in that other room revealed that trash litters your planet quite thoroughly!”

“There are about 7 billion people on our planet. We did not mean for it to become this bad, and countries such as the U.S., England, Australia, and other civilized countries have launched programs to advocate recycling and general clean up, but alas, the population of our planet is so huge and there are so many uncivilized people that the job just isn’t getting done.”

Someone called out, “Aren’t you afraid of what is going to happen? Is there not immense damage being done to your environment?”

She answered, “There is already significant damage underway. Us humans burn fossil fuels, an irreplaceable source that takes billions of years to form,” (I already knew that), “and it adds incredible amounts of pollution to the air. The rate of depletion of ozone in our atmosphere is steadily increasing at 1% every decade, the amount of ozone having already decreased 4% in total since the 70s. Despite this, there are those who deny the existence of global warming, a result of the damage to the atmosphere, and people are simply refusing to play their part in saving our planet. People dispose of their trash in the streets, or throw their metal and plastic rubbage in trash cans, which end up in the ground anyway.” Again, she pointed. “Yes?”

“You say you burn your planet’s fossil fuels, but how much? Is your population in trouble of losing power in the near future?”

“The United States alone makes up less than five percent of the population on earth, yet we easily consume over 30 percent of its resources. So yes, something must be done, but we aren’t technologically advanced enough yet to know what. The damage done to our planet’s environment is a huge problem, and we were hoping your people might be able to help, considering your technology is sophisticated enough that it has enabled you to travel farther into space that our people can comprehend.” Having finished answering the question, her eyes again scanned the room, and this time, fell on me. “You there, yes?”

The screens in the other room made the conditions of this place look so horrid, I wanted to know just how bad it was, and why. “May I ask why you use these toxic means of obtaining energy? Do you have any statistics you could share with us?”

She shuffled a few papers in front of her. “Yes, um, we use toxic means of obtaining energy because we have no other means, you see. A huge improvement in transportation for us, the car, is a significant source of that toxicity. If the number of cars on our planet keeps increasing at its present rate, there will be over one billion by 2025. There are currently 700 million, which exert 900 million tons of carbon dioxide each year– 15% of our total output. The substance these cars run on, motor oil, is horridly damaging to our planet. One, single quart of motor oil can contaminate up to two million gallons of fresh water. I could continue, but I see the horror upon your faces, and I must ask, does your planet not experience damage of any kind?”

Our voices all hurried to describe how drastically different it is on our planet, but the translator could not explain it to her with all our voices mingling at once. My team conversationally fiddled until they decided to let a man who’s known to be a swell speaker describe the advantages of our planet to the woman:

“From the moment our species evolved to develop intelligence, we were proud to be inherently aware of the importance of our planet’s well-being. We, like you, grow our food, and constructed irrigation systems that are gentle with the soil. We, a unified planet with one language, established worldwide laws ensuring the survival and flourishing of our planet’s nature. We have trees and plants, like you, and clouds. There is, however, an immense difference in pigment. Our planet’s trees are splashed with a bright purple where yours would contain brown, and our flowers are usually black or dark grey. I digress, we set limits for the amount of harvesting of trees and all vegetation, and we equally distributed our rations of food, electricity and water amongst each other. We do have a currency and stores, and we can earn more currency the same way your people can, but every citizen is in our computer system and accounted for. Our government provides every family with a comfortable home, but if they earn more currency and wish to purchase a house of a higher standard, they can. Everything is regulated so that resources are recycled or restored after they were once used, and everyone participates to recycle and take care of the planet. It actually never occurred to me that another species would think any different.” Others around me nodded in agreement.

“We also resolved to keep our population under control — although it is a sacrifice, couples may only have 2 children at most. It is illegal to exceed that limit, or to have a child without being officially, well, our version of married. Although it is a law, the people of our planet are a peaceful, logical people, and there are none of us who wish to disobey it; we all have a mutual connection with our planet and know our laws are for the good of us all. Meanwhile, our scientists always work immensely hard to discover the mysteries of life, and to uncover safe and efficient technology that improves our conditions. You see, our scientists have discovered a means of acquiring and recycling energy in such a fast and safe manner that we never needed to worry about burning fossil fuels. It’s nature, which can be further described to you by our scientists, is such that our machinery never gives off damaging waste. I’m sure, with time, our scientists can teach your scientists our methods. I think that about covers the basics.”

He had been talking for a long time, and I had entered a sort of trance in which I was dreaming of back home, of being immersed in the bright, healthy, neon-yellow grass, gazing at our strong, impenetrable atmosphere that I perceived as a pink-orange sky, a hover-vehicle grazing past me, emitting no waste from itself. The woman in front seemed very enthralled now, her eyebrows high on her forehead and her eyes wide with excitement.

“I’m sure our leaders are now discussing the continuity of our species’ intertwinement and how we can help each other; I do, personally, greatly hope your scientists can help us.”

Although I wasn’t quite sure how the people of Earth could help the people of my planet, I had an urge to save the people of this planet. Although there was a large population to sustain, we could provide the resources, and we could teach them our methods, and we could save them!

Just then, the glossy, wooden door from which I had entered not so long ago opened and from it emerged my team’s commander, the Chief Overseer and the men in the slick, black suits. My Commander spoke:

“Team: It is time we must go, for our advancements on this planet must be taken in secret. The people of this planet do not understand us, and it will be hard to make them understand us, but there is progress to be made. So, the Chief Overseer here is to be joined by a large team of our best scientists as soon as possible, who shall work with the scientists here on Earth to improve their conditions– I’m sure you all wish to help these people in need as much as we do. They are to work in private, and to be concealed from the public for the entirety of their stay until it is safe, which should take a considerable amount of time. I digress. Thank you, President, and others for welcoming us to your planet.”

“It is a pleasure; I cannot accurately express my immense gratitude for the help your people plan to extend forth to us.”

A man in the same black suit they were all wearing and black squares over his eyes started to speak, before the commander could answer:

“Please follow me to the vans in the back of the building quickly; we will transport you to the dock at which your rocket currently awaits you.”

And before I knew it, I was back in the spacious rocket whose walls would feel as though they’re closing in on me for the following several months. It was such a short visit, but the day had passed like it was infinite. There was barely any time for me to absorb my thoughts, and now that I had placed myself back in my radar-station, sitting patiently and awaiting the commander’s orders like I had in blissful ignorance months before, disappointment rushed through me. Before the poor conditions of this place had been revealed to me, I was really hoping Earth would contain an intelligent people who could teach my people things that would blow our minds. When I was first informed about Earth, the image conjured up in my mind was a reflection of the image of my own planet; I had imagined a bright, colorful planet that held all the knowledge we could need. I had imagined people time travelling, and being able to press buttons that would produce whatever they needed out of thin air. Looking back, I felt childish and embarrassed for my hope, but at the same time, who could have guessed that the one other planet with life forces was close to being ruined by those life forces?

I imagined the formation of Earth, and the evolution of its people. I imagined them cutting down and burning all their trees, industrializing, creating factories that exerted thick, black smoke into the air, throwing the wrappers of their food on the ground without a second thought. It was astounding, unfathomable. How did their nature go against their planet? How did they think that way, failing to care for their surroundings? How did they watch their rivers slowly turn from blue to brown, and pretend it wasn’t happening?

I thought of the people running from our rockets. They were so scared, so dirty, so uneducated– and it wasn’t their fault. They lived in places that simply weren’t organized. I wanted to do something about it, but I had been working in the same field for ages. I couldn’t just let those poor beings scavenge their dirty Earth for food while others on the same planet basked in huge mansions, wasting resources. I couldn’t let the ignorant people of Earth destroy the planet while there were so many innocent who simply couldn’t control a situation that was so far gone already. We had to help them, we had to. I needed to help our scientists that would venture to Earth. What if they didn’t accomplish the mission to save this planet in time? Their ozone is depleting at such a fast rate, I wouldn’t be surprised. Within the first few minutes of being alone with my thoughts again, I had resolved to enroll in an education of the study of our methods of obtaining energy, and I was going to think of ways to clean up their poor planet, and I was going to help these people. I was going to put my brain to work, and I was going to be as intelligent and determined as my species allows for, because I knew I had it in me and it wasn’t the human species’ fault they didn’t evolve as efficiently as my people did. And most importantly, because I could still see the distress in the face of the woman who spoke to us about the conditions of her dear planet in my mind. She looked desperate as she read aloud those statistics on the paper. The numbers must’ve sounded so big to her, so undefeatable. I watched the ground sink lower and lower under our rocket through the window as we took off and thought to myself that Earth hadn’t seen the last of me.