Say Cheese

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by James Tucker

Say Cheese

by James Tucker

 

“My name is unimportant, what I have to say is. I am telling the world this not out of bravery but simply because I know not what else to do. I am too old to bear this secret; it crushes me. The second I hit send I will have committed treason (though I am not sure to which side) and, as I am no survivalist I will be hunted, found, and terminated swiftly.”
“In the early 80’s I was one of many scientist working in tandem with Harvard University using the Harvard/Smithsonian radio telescope at Oak Ridge Observatory as part of the SETI project; code named “Sentinel” with the goal of finding transmissions from extraterrestrial civilizations. Astonishingly, we did; only not as anyone ever expected. What we discovered were rasterized grids of pixels though they were not called that at the time. What was perplexing—soon to become frightening—was that we did not intercept these transmissions from space to earth but from earth to space.
It took the indefatigable effort of a team of scientists, engineers, and code breakers to create the algorithms, hardware, and software to decompress an intercepted stream of bytes back into an image. The work expedited a technological innovation—commonly known today as a JPEG. The great shock was that after a year of labor the image we were finally able to discern was not of our nuclear sites, Washington seats of power or any military installations. It was of a normal family standing next to the Grand Cannon.

Our nightmare started when they decided to take home mementoes. It was then that they resolved to invent their soul-catching machine, though that was not what they called it, nor was it (it is their claim and my hope) ever their intention. A device that could actually capture the essence of the humans they were coming to watch on their vacations. Our planet had very quickly become one of the hottest vacation destinations for their kind. We know very little about them. Nothing really, compared to the vast amount of data they have collected on us, and when you get right down to it, everything is about data.
The irony was twofold: first, how easily and second, for how long they were able to pull it off— and right under our noses. The ingeniousness of their machinations was the fact that they actually got us to do the work for them. I still marvel at how slowly yet steadily we decrypted all knowledge of ourselves to them while gradually giving them the very quintessence of our being. When they first invented it, our indoctrination to its use was effortless; a simple click, then a flash. To this day, it is still unknown what they call their device; however, we know it as— the camera. With it, they acquired insight into our lives as well as our souls. In return— we got pictures.
Is there a better way of gaining knowledge of (and experiencing in) the human race? Pictures give a detailed diary of a person’s or family’s existence while also giving a tremendous, albeit extrapolated, look at society as a whole. A single family for instance can be observed quite unobtrusively through their pictures i.e., their lives as singles, the start of a relationship blossoming into a marriage; wedding photos showing the different idiosyncrasies of family and friends; pictures detailing some of our most intimate moments and behaviors; pictures of life at home, at school, at work, on vacation, etc. Then, last but not least, pictures of the children. It is quite feasible to gain an analogous retrospective of an individual’s life simply by examining the chronology of their pictures from birth to death. All this culminating into a montage of glimpses of the individuality of life, then lives together and then the children from birth to adulthood; repeating the process over-and-over. A picture may be worth a thousand words but a photo album or today’s Smartphone is worth a lifetime.
It was not as if we, a very small number of us, did not see it coming. There were those among us who, in retrospect, new exactly what was happening.
They were the ones who throughout time have been most in touch with their surroundings—with their spirit. There are many stories of certain peoples and tribes—in the Amazon, Indians, African tribes and their descendants in Haiti, Tibetan monks and                                                                                         various shaman spread throughout the earth—that all refused to have their picture taken, all believing that said pictures took the soul.
The procedure had different effects on different peoples; however, there was one group whom seemed to suffer its effects much more and much quicker than others did; Native Americans. Perhaps there was something in their genetic makeup that did not provide the semi-immunizing effect that most Europeans seemed to have acquired or perhaps, as I suspect, they simply knew what was happening. It is reminiscent of when seemingly healthy people find out they have cancer. They go downhill much faster once presented with the knowledge.
In the first known pictures of the American Indians, they looked proud, strong, confident, and stoic. Slowly they began to look weak and defeated, drained, and vacant; their life force ripped out of them. They looked…hollowed. Even their ancient songs and dances, once a celebration of life and nature became sepulchral; the culmination of this took the form of a ritual resurrected by the Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull known as ‘The Ghost Dance’.
As their appetite for ‘knowledge’ of us ever increased so did the technology allowing them ever deeper into our lives and cultures. The old daguerreotype cameras (yes, they have been at it for a very long time) were much to slow in siphoning from us that which was required to feed their ever-growing appetite. They quickly improved on their technology, passing it covertly to a small number of soon to be very prosperous companies making photography available to the masses. There was still however, the problem of having to retrieve the pictures. It is now obvious to those old enough to remember the golden age of film-photography, that the “people” in those old Photo-Huts never seemed quite right.
The development of digital photography and their clever manipulation of the internet allowed them to send their pictures through space making the scheme much more efficient, which only had the catalytic effect of increasing their desire for more. Ever larger numbers of their kind came to visit taking back their souvenirs while (intentionally or not) draining the souls of our planets inhabitants from all corners of the globe. An intrinsic passion of most humans for having their picture taken played right into their hands; a sort of Souls Gone Wild.
This culminated when the narcissistic phase of taking selfies became such a global phenomenon. So many solipsists uploading images, beautiful and stylish pictures of men and women filling the internet, feeding the aliens hunger. If only they could see themselves for how they really looked on the inside— depleted grotesqueries; husk of their former selves.

It was somewhere in Montana where a much too sanguine Visitor violated one of their most important directives pertaining to on planet visitation. Extrapolating data from pictures had given them a cloudy view of humanity, everything so happy and perfect. Most humans prefer to take photographs of their more joyous moments while foregoing the bad. While birthday, holiday, and wedding pictures are expected, who ever heard of a funeral or divorce photographer? It is most likely that the cheerful pictures of the human family he was observing was the cause of his transgression— he decided to pay a visit to the nice family in person. His picture perfect view of our existence was shattered when the family’s German Sheppard instinctively mauled him (dogs have shown to be our best means of identifying them).
Though not killed, his illusions of blissful life on our planet were completely shattered when upon his release into the custody of two non-descript (they wore black is the only thing anyone could recall) government officials, he was promptly extradited to an   unknown military base. There he, of his own free will, eagerly divulged to us all the information he possessed after only 30 minutes of water boarding. A process he undoubtedly had not seen pictures of yet.

Although it quickly became evident that he was merely a low level subordinate on his vacation with very little knowledge of the scientific intricacies involved, the interrogators were still able to learn the means by which they were observing and absorbing us and of the euphoric sensation they derived. It also became evident that the intoxicating effect did not occur when viewing pictures of any other earthly scenery, but only of humans. Unfortunately, that was not the most-frightening revelation. It was when their captive admitted that our images were like a drug to them —they did not just want more they needed more— that the elucidation occurred. They had begun to crave the essence of humanity.
Others captured eagerly gave up their knowledge of what was happening; not because of any enhanced interrogations but simply due to the horrible withdrawals they suffered. It was not until a small group of their scientist —outraged by what was happening not to us but by what the addiction was doing to their kind— met with the most elite scientist of our planet did it become apparent what was occurring. While our kind was enduring the sapping of their spirit, theirs seemed to be suffering an addiction with a vampirism effect that was changing them mentally and physically. Though never admitted officially, a few of their scientist revealed that there was a division among those on their ship bordering on mutiny. It was at this time that a small contingent of them divulged the coordinates of their mother ship. There were more than a few astonished faces on NASA and UN heads when our telescopes were able to read the name of the craft. It was the first of their words we had translated: The Kodak.
Keeping this from the public (and with very few exceptions most world leaders as well) was a priority. The implications were just too staggering. The powers-that-be who were aware, realized schisms would form planet wide. Theologians on every corner of the earth would begin proselytizing that all this was because of our sins while others would believe that the aliens were actually gods themselves. Fortunately, more levelheaded, science-minded, intellects were working to solve this dilemma. To our relief, both sides agreed upon a covenant that they would leave our solar system immediately.
What came next should have been of no surprise. With humans spewing out every aspect of their lives in real-time detail, it is somewhat amazing they did not come sooner. The transitory glee felt by those who were in-the-know was shattered when recently our telescopes viewed yet another of their ships entering orbit around Saturn, its translated name: The Facebook.

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