Ok: hope this isn't too boring. Tried to make some sense of the District 9 setting...
The ship’s computer did its best, really. The sub-space storm that badly damaged a number of essentially systems had also destroyed the control interface, making communications with the overseers impossible. In a relatively sensible maneuver, it proceeded to the nearest habitable planet and parked itself in an area where climatic conditions were most suitable for the Well-Ordered People. Unfortunately, it was too damaged for any sophisticated analysis, and basal programming did not cover what to do in case of contact with a previously unknown and potentially dangerous alien civilization.
1982. Access to the alien ship which had parked itself roughly 200 meters above the outskirts of Johannesburg was of course demanded by all major world governments. It was not like the South African government could conceal the fact, with almost every foreign press agent in the city reporting its presence within five minutes (those few who slept through its early evening arrival usually suffered considerable career fallout) and it being plainly visible by both US and Soviet satellites. While the South Africans spent a few days in nationalist huffing and puffing, some rather heated discussions ensued on Red phones and other private means of communication between the great and powerful. With Brezhnev deep into senility and the mantle of succession still far from firmly in place of Yuri Andropov’s shoulders, the Soviet response was somewhat unclear and muddled: the only thing that was certain was that the Soviets would not tolerate unilateral Western access to the mysterious aliens.
On the first night the ship hovered like a black cloud: the few people who lived in the half-rural setting beneath it had been evacuated, and more not directly under it but close by had fled. Around 3 AM, radar momentarily indicated something moving rapidly between the ship and the ground. Government troops, which had been hastily assembled to roughly cordon off the area under the ship, reported hearing a distant thud: a few claimed to have seen a metallic flash. A local resident claimed to have seen a “flying saucer” swoop down from the main ship, but his bona fides were doubtful. An inspection of the area under the ship by troops with jeep-mounted searchlights revealed nothing, although a more careful examination in the morning revealed a patch of disturbed soil: after some digging revealed nothing of interest, further examination of the site was abandoned.
Arguing and political posturing went on for a few days. The South Africans were secretly threatened with sanctions or even military assault if their full cooperation was not forwithcoming. Publically, the US President made some harsh statements about the dangers of the Evil Empire getting their hands on super science weapons by befooling well-meaning but ignorant aliens, but Reagan was privately a more cautious and compromising man than his Republican Warrior persona, and behind the scenes efforts were made to forge diplomatic agreement.
In the mean time, various panics, large and small, were briskly brewing. Some were horrified by the notion that the aliens would get their first impression of humanity from the racist South Africans. Some wondered if their choice of landing site indicated something ghastly about the aliens themselves. Others of course expected the aliens to begin attacking at any time. People began claiming to have been abducted by the aliens, or having seen the rest of the invasion fleet through their home telescopes. Many loudly petitioned the US or Soviet government to nuke the aliens before they could strike – something being considered seriously by some strategists employed by those governments. (The fact that this would also destroy much of Jo-Berg helped cool such bravos a little). Seeking to raise their ratings, pundits ponderously pontificated re the possibility of alien arrival triggering atomic apocalypse.
In the meantime, the aliens were being rather stubbornly uncommunicative. The ship was bombarded with radio signals, attempts were made to attract their attention with flashing lights, and perhaps inspired by “Close Encounters”, various forms of music were broadcast by loudspeakers. None of these inspired the least reaction. On the third day, a helicopter pilot disobeyed orders and landed on a flat section of the ship: he was fired for his boldness, but this ploy proved as pointless as any other. By the time a Happy Shiny International Agreement was announced on the fifth day, the South African mood could be summarized as what the hell are these aliens playing at?
Under the terms of the Marienbad/Marianski Convention, South Africa would allow full access to the alien ship by foreign “science teams” of up to 500 individuals from the US, the USSR, China, Japan, France, the UK, India, and teams representing the rest of the EC and the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact members. The rest of the world would either have to negotiate to get some of their people on one of the nine teams, or fuck off: after all, it wasn’t like they could nuke the ship, no? The South Africans had managed to make some gains out of the agreement: the Americans and Europeans had pinkie-promised not to place any sanctions on the South Africans for their icky racial laws, while the Soviets and Chinese had agreed to heavily cut back on their support for revolutionary movements and groups to the north. The South Africans, although publically grumbling about being bullied, privately were fairly satisfied: what the hell were they going to do with the alien space ship, anyway?
(And if large parts of the “science teams” were made up of military men, spies, and other types of spooks – well, it was in nobody’s interest to point such things out).
So, afore long, several thousand foreigners and billions of dollars worth of equipment were occupying a tent city around the alien ship, and communication efforts went to a new level.
And again, achieved exactly nothing.
The peculiar behavior of gravity in the area just beneath the ship nearly wrecked one helicopter: within a week of that event, the first spindly tower had been erected beneath the ship to allow scientists to take measurements in situ. And as they say, familiarity breeds contempt, and within a month, helicopters were regularly landing on the alien ship, efforts were being made to scratch off bits and bobs for analysis, several people began loudly banging on the hull with crowbars to attempt to attract attention, and one apparently inebriated British scholar actually fell off the alien ship to his death.
Nearly three months after the ships arrival, the ship was cut open. (It would have been sooner, but there was a great deal of arguing between national groups re the possible dangers, and further delay took place developing a sufficiently air-and-virus tight barrier to place around the area entry would be forced, in case the ship was carrying some sort of plague that had wiped out its crew). The US and Soviet governments already had missiles secretly aimed at the ship, so if anything really nasty came out, sterilization would take place in less than twenty minutes.
Given the extremely high melting point of the alloy making up the ship’s hull, it took several days to cut what appeared to be an airlock open: the barrier stretched as the somewhat denser air inside the ship flowed out, but remained airtight, such a possibility having been prepared for. What the discovery team in their sealed environment suits would encounter within, however, was nothing that had been expected.
Within the ship, several hundred thousand dying aliens, vaguely insectoid creatures, lay in their own filth, many scarcely able to move. As it was eventually learned, the ships’ food-making technology had ceased to function two months ago, and the aliens were simply starving to death, unable to even open the airlocks to leave: the ship was locked down, and nothing except the environmental controls and the antigravity machinery would function.
Of course, things were initially rather sketchy, given the total lack of a means of communication: it was uncertain if the aliens were sick, hungry, undergoing a molt, or what, and even feeding them was a serious risk: could they take human food without being poisoned? The situation was not aided by the fact that the aliens were scared and, given their advanced state of malnutrition, not thinking very clearly: it was impossible to explain why one was trying to remove bits of flesh or blood, and those strong enough to still move were also strong enough to kick like a horse, (and outjump a kangaroo) and more than one “regrettable incident” took place on both sides.
Fortunately, the aliens were able to digest most terrestrial foodstuffs, although finding animal tissue generally rather more palatable than plant tissue. (Cabbage, it turned out, was actively poisonous ). For the moment, what to do with the aliens was put on hold while the largest airborne supply mission since the Berlin Airlift was put to work feeding over a quarter of a million survivors, and efforts were made to translate their language.
Also fortunately, the alien’s natural grammar, and visualization of the universe, although with its peculiarities, was not so different from human viewpoints that communication was impossible, and their clicking language occupied a range of the sonic spectrum within the hearing range of at least relatively young and rock-concert-free humans. While no human could duplicate most of the sounds in the aliens speech, and the aliens had little success with a language requiring a tongue, both could come to understand the other – one American linguist described the experience of learning their language as “only a little harder than Cantonese.”
It was eventually deciphered that there was no ship’s crew – the ship ran itself, with limited input from a tiny group of “overseers” which were the only ones capable of communicating with the ship’s semi-sentient computer.
What had become of the overseers, none could say. The aliens were proud, hard-working members of the laboring caste, a vital portion of the Well-Ordered People. They had come to work on a new world, leveling forests, planting crops, digging mines, damming rivers, and other tasks necessary to make it a proper place for the People. Something had gone wrong with the computer, and the ship had come here. They hoped new Overseers or perhaps members of the Planning or Technical caste would arrive to help them either return home or travel to their original destination.
In the meantime, the ships’ interior was scoured for any functional technology. There was none – or at least, none outside the claws of the aliens. Their tech was at least partly biological, and only the most harmless (or useless) of technology would operate without interfacing with the genetic material of a living alien. And the ships controls, in turn, would not work for any alien save the missing overseers. With some coaxing, some of the aliens were persuaded to operate some odds and ends of equipment, some of which made tweeting and buzzing noises and displayed incomprehensible information, others which made horrible grinding noises (which were later determined to be alien music), others showed moving images largely invisible to the human eye due to a rather different color spectrum sensitivity range than the human eye. And some – especially the bulky equipment in one of the larger storage areas – which they refused entirely to use on the ship. This was noted.
Every single piece of movable or detachable equipment aboard the ship was carefully documented and photographed and identified by a member of each international team before being moved to a secure storage location built in under a month on the ground, where it was received, checked against records, signed off on by another member of each team, and then put in a locker secured by multiple passwords. Random checks of lockers occurred frequently – it was, after all, a paranoid nightmare. Nobody wanted any unique item of equipment in the possession of a hostile nation. After, what might be the gadget which would lead to the technological breakthrough that would overturn the balance of power? Everyone spied on everyone else, and everyone suspected everyone else of trying to steal alien artifacts. And of course, some did try: the guards with the metal detector were amazed that the size of the piece of machinery that the Chinese agent had managed to shove…never mind.
Tension shot up sharply when some aliens were brought to the ground and, after much difficulty, coaxed into demonstrating what would be known as the “landscaping equipment.” The machines were meant to cut down trees, separate out ores, dig tunnels, sterilize soil, break up boulders…but from the point of view of primitive terrestrials, they looked like some pretty convincing super-weapons. Nothing as powerful as an atomic bomb in scale, of course. But if the basic principles could be derived…
This in turn invoked the problem of how to study the technology. (The more complicated machines, the machines that would not work without an alien’s input, would have to wait at least until communication had become relatively smooth, but simple things, the alien equivalents of can openers and snowglobes and electric toothbrushes, could be operated and examined.) But how to do it so nobody gained an advantage?
So, what was later called “the most expensive madhouse on Earth” was built on the Veldt outside Johannesburg, the “International Center for Xenotechnology Research.” It was much touted as a center for international cooperation and information-sharing, but what it actually was an information valve, all information emerging through a narrow spigot that could be controlled and monitored. All reports went into computers which sent information to all governments. Every word and gesture was recorded and tapes sent to all governments. Every pencil, every scrap of paper, every doodle on a napkin at lunch had to be accounted for, and woe betide the scientist who wrote down something and could not later explain exactly what he (or she: not too many in 1983) had been thinking of. Each nation fielded a small army of code experts to ferry out any secret messages hidden in the reports of other nation’s scientists: a great many secret messages were of course found, usually existing only in the imaginations of the decoders.
In the meantime, the costs of transporting all goods by air and the increasing squalor of the ship (more equipment was shutting down, apparently in a power-saving moving by the ship’s computer, including the sanitary facilities) had led to a decision to move the aliens to the ground: a large camp (the word “concentration” was carefully avoided) came into existence under the ship (the resident population having long since been bought out), and soon helicopters were flying up and down again almost continuously shuttling aliens to the ground.
The flowering of the Kafkaesque nightmare that was to be the ICXR was still in the future and the fortress of a lab was still under construction (things were delayed by contractors from different nations stopping construction ever now and then to make sure foreign national weren’t sneaking in spy cameras and such) when it’s prospects received a blow. The aliens informed the human researchers that they would no longer operate any of their more dangerous technology or attempt to explain how the technology worked: to do so would be against the best interests of the Well-Ordered People. When asked how this decision had been made, the humans were involved that “word had passed around,” or alien terms to that effect. From who? How had the “word” started? No alien could say.
There was a temptation of course to simply torture the information out of the aliens, but with everyone watching everyone else and the world as a whole watching in turn, such naughtiness simply could not be kept quiet or sold to the global public. There was admittedly a lot of subtle pressure tactics applied, and the fact that the alien settlement zone AKA “district 9” was a bit of a squalid hellhole from the start was due to aid and resources being withheld as part of these efforts. There were a lot of threatening interviews once the linguists really got the hang of the alien’s language, and a great many efforts to suborn individual aliens with promises of special privileges.
Further problems arose aboard the alien ship as scientists gingerly tried to remove some of the fixed components of the ship, after a careful examination of the ship’s architecture convinced them (most of them, anyway) that they had identified the ship’s power generating mechanisms and the anti-gravity generator. The machines were not designed to be disassembled without special tools, some of which humans couldn’t use and others only imperfectly described before the “information blackout” set in. And as it soon turned out, important components would not allow themselves to be broken down improperly, at least not without command-level permission, and defended themselves with electrical attacks of increasing power. After some efforts to remove built-in equipment escalated to pitched battles that reduced several parts of the ship’s interior to smoking metallic rubble, efforts to extract further ship’s hardware for analysis were severely curtailed.
At first this did not discourage the scientists too much. After all, even if they could not operate the portable machines, they could take them apart and see what made them tick. And if they could not take the ship apart, there was a load of loose equipment they could use for analysis. After all, they had the resources of the better part of the world behind them…how could they fail?
Technological progress, alas, does not stand still after some point. A transistor radio would be almost incomprehensible to a natural philosopher of the age of Voltaire, and that’s just a couple centuries. To duplicate a truly advanced technology, one will need to build the tools to build the tools to build the necessary tools, and probably several more iterations, each step a stumbling fumble into obscure and poorly lit territory. Things were learned, but not necessarily things having anything to do with the super-science world governments salivated for…
2010. Some 27 years after the “arrival”, the ship still floats and the slum city of the people now widely known by the slur of “prawns” still sprawls beneath it. It is no longer just beneath it, though: as the aliens population has grown, so has District 9 expanded. It is now a long, narrow wedge of territory extending for miles outward from the city. The aliens, intended to be colonists on a new world, have a strong drive to reproduce. And reproduce they have, in their rather disgusting normal manner, incubating their larvae inside animal carcasses for lack of the genetically engineered hosts a functioning colony would have available. Increasing outside pressure to stop having babies, damn it, have failed to prevent the population from growing more than sixfold in the intervening time, to some 1.8 million. The Pundits point out in ominous tones that at such rates the aliens will number in the billions in little over a century, and “population control” methods on part of the authorities have become, to say the least, brutal.
The International Center for Xenotechnology Research shut down in 1998, fourteen years after its opening, when it became clear it served far more effectively as a generator of neuroses than of scientific breakthroughs. The alien “landscaping equipment” proved impossible to duplicate, as did most of the other technology examined. Even the basic principles behind many of the machines remained obscure. Some valuable discoveries were made, but they tended to be unexpected spinoffs and new ideas and ways of looking at things arising from contact with alien mysteries rather than breakthroughs in the alien technology itself. The room temperature superconductor, the new super-strong construction polymers, the new biosynthesis process that made it possible to make food at reasonable prices from wood or weeds or even coal – all were valuable additions to humanity’s technological package and made some people fabulously rich. But they weren’t a patch on such things as antigravity, high-level genetic engineering, molecular-level semi-organic computing tech, what sounded like (from scattered comments by various aliens) to be some sort of nanotech capable of rewriting the DNA and the physical structure of living things on the most basic of levels – it was frustrating, and infuriating. The power systems and the antigravity generator of the ship couldn’t even be closely examined, for fear of interrupting their function and dropping the ship out of the sky (statistically speaking, if you looked at the various theories about the power system and the antigravity generator, they predicted a 60% chance of something truly apocalyptic taking place if both were rudely dropped to the planetary surface).
As knowledge of the alien’s language continued to improve, it became clearer that even if information _were_ tortured out of them, it might not prove too useful. Aliens, like humans, varied in their level of intelligence, bravery, and gullibility, and many aliens, isolated from other members of their species, were tricked, frightened, or in some cases bribed into giving away information about their gadgetry over the years. Unfortunately, much of what they _did_ know was phrased in a technical jargon that was simply untranslatable due to the lack of equivalents in any earthly language, and attempts to try to start with fundamentals foundered - the laboring-caste aliens were skilled at the _use_ of their equipment, and knew how to do maintenance and basic repairs, but didn’t know much about the actual basic principles behind the machinery. That was for the technical and theoretical castes.
Aside from the growing conviction that nothing truly earth-shaking was likely to come out of the ICXR anytime soon, the international tensions that had led to its peculiar fishbowl existence had sharply decreased in the meantime. China continued its path towards “communism with Chinese characteristics” (curiously similar to late 19th century robber baron capitalism) on which it had already been set by 1982, after a brief alien-related panic which allowed the more ideological members of the government to whip up some support failed to seriously change things. In the USSR, the unnerving game of espionage and counter-espionage and alien gadget theft between the US and USSR butterflied away Gorbachev’s general secretary job in favor of a more conservative and hawkish candidate, but the Soviet Union’s economic problems were not aided much by any of the new technological developments, which it lacked the organization infrastructure or entrepreneurial class to properly exploit anyway. A balance of payments crisis, another bad harvest, another explosion of nationalist protest in Poland (followed by one in Romania, where Ceausescu was shot while reviewing underpaid and unhappy troops): which was the trigger or whether it was a cumulative thing is hard to say, but a struggle broke out in the Party leadership, there were briefly two “official” governments of the USSR (one in Moscow, one in Kiev), people came out onto the streets, soldiers were not enthusiastic about shooting them, and before you know it it’s December 12, 1993, some of the old leadership are on a fast jet to Vietnam and busily memorizing Swiss bank account numbers, and the USSR is suddenly the Federated Republics of Eurasia: 15 initially, 12 two weeks later, and dropping.
Study of course would continue, but no longer at the ICXR. Several new international study centers were created abroad, but without the obsessive security of the original. Mysterious gadgets were equitably distributed between the major powers to take home to look at (and when a final accounting took place, everyone expressed Total Ignorance of why a number of gadgets appeared to have gone AWOL during their stay in the supposedly super-safe ICXR), and some of the dinkier nations were given a few toys to play with to win diplomatic points. (As host, South Africa got a nice share). Some of the more mysterious and unusable gadgets ended up decorating cafeterias or as office paperweights: studies went on, but now on a budget and with high paperwork hurdles requiring some indication that they would yield something useful or at least not cover ground previously covered by someone else. (By 1998, the “null results” experiments files would fill a small library in paper form). The world by the turn of the chronological third millennia had resigned itself that the ray-gun millennium was not going to happen soon.
The aliens had passed in and out of the news cycle over the years. The hermaphroditic prawn-people had never been very successful in charming people, although their difficulties did incite occasional bursts of sympathy. Initially, they had all been kept carefully under guard and segregated from the population in case 1. They carried some disease 2. They were planning to escape into the wild and breed like cockroaches or 3. Some foreign national were to kidnap one and torture science information from them/create a creepy foreigner-Prawn planet alliance. 1 no longer really worried anyone but the Deep Crazies after a decade had passed without alien bacteria developing any taste for terrestrial life, and by the late 90s nobody really expected any breakthroughs to come from squeezing the aliens for information (to the great unhappiness of the four different foreign super-secret agencies that had succeeded in kidnapping live Prawns (as they were by the late 90s widely referred to) under the cover of fires, “gas explosions” and terrorist attacks that had supposedly blown them into small enough pieces to make identification of individual remains impossible).
However, 2 remained a worry, especially since the Prawns did multiply with alarming speed. Also, after a decade and a half of exposure to them on TV, most people everywhere had come to develop a rather strong NIMBY feeling about them. They were ugly, they sounded odd, they reportedly smelled bad, they were angry and temperamental, they grew their young in decomposing corpses, they were addicted to cat food (actually a mix of preservative chemicals in a few brands, but it was cheaper to buy the cat food), they ate people's pets, they could not speak any terrestrial language and their own language was know by few, and while the original generation from the ship had their own complex social structures, their children, growing up under alien conditions and restraints, deprived of the ordered place they had been bred for and with no higher-caste aliens to speak and give orders with chemically and mimetically reinforced authority, were a wild and often brutally violent sort. Their very body movements were off, jerky and disturbing to human watchers.
There were a few efforts to establish Prawn settlements (under protective monitoring) elsewhere, but none lasted. Isolated locations in Canada or Siberia were out because the Prawns found cold weather distinctly bad for their health, efforts to find them employment did not go well at all (finding jobs for largely isolated communities is bad enough for _humans_, and locals did not like the idea of aliens competing for their jobs) and they _would_ keep breeding until locals began to scream about the danger of being overrun with swarms of the aliens. Young bravos _did_ run off into the wilderness to “go it alone”, leading to Prawn-hunts which ended tragically in some cases. In any event they soon gained a reputation as “shifty” and “unreliable”: most aliens felt a certain pointlessness in carrying out idiotic jobs for the benefit of humans rather than fulfilling the great purpose they had been born for, while a few neurotically attempted to “rework” the land in a feeble, ritualistic imitation of what they were supposed to do, building strange roads to nowhere, constructing random “housing” complexes, chopping down trees for no purpose, and making use of homebrew explosives to blow up “obstructive” rocks. In the end, these efforts were all shut down and the aliens (often rather quite a few more than had first come) were shipped back to South Africa.
In 2010, District 9 had a population density of over 180,000 per square mile, substantially higher than Calcutta. Its inhabitants live in crowded tenement-like buildings, constructed – largely by the aliens themselves - of whatever cheap materials international charity and local government have been willing to supply. Some of the buildings seem to grow together in odd ways, forming amorphous complexes of huge size, possibly echoing arcologies on their home world. Fire is a constant hazard; plumbing, utilities, etc. generally lag far behind growth. The Prawns, once the center of the world’s ardent attention, have now become a burden most do not want to think about. They are yesterday’s news, part of the amorphous mass of global refugees, another poor, miserable, and really rather disagreeable people washed up on some distant foreign shore, thank goodness not here. The Marienbad Convention powers grumble about the costs of keeping District 9 afloat, and wonder aloud as to whether the South Africans are being careless with their money. The South Africans wish there was someone they could offload them on.
The spaceship is still a good draw, with regular tourist tours, external helicopter ones for a low price, a trip inside for a higher one. A few somewhat demented scientists carry on experiments here and there within its bulk, and a network of cameras (monitored by bored rent-a-cops in case anything changes in the almost entirely dark and shut-down ship) feeds to a superconductor cable running out through the hole cut some many years ago: for ease of access, several other holes have been cut and quite a bit of scaffolding arranged around the side of the ship. District 9 retains a certain cachet with the Extreme Tourist crowd: the variety of release forms that must be signed before entering is truly impressive. Once within, a system of “local guides” and their human partners (translators) work together fairly amicably to separate them from any form of currency they may have.
There is a small community of hard-bitten humans living in District 9. Initially, the government and the big powers kept all but carefully vetted personnel out, lest they “exploit”/learn secrets from the aliens, but as technological marvels failed to emerge and public opinion shifted increasingly to Don’t Give a Fuck, the South African government became increasingly casual about visitors permits, and eventually about going in to get people after they outstayed their permits (after all, finding them in a city of 1.8 million bad-tempered aliens would be an unpleasant job). Some are scientists and anthropologists with a great deal of patience and bravery: other are nutty artists and writers looking for inspiration: others are criminals looking for action to take a piece of.
There is after all a fair amount of money to be found floating around district 9. The discretionary funds given to the city government (district 9 has one, albeit corrupt and weak) often end up where they should not, and a lot of aliens do piece-work for Jo’burg businesses: they have picked up a great many human technical skills over the years, and work cheap enough to compete with the human working poor (another reason most Johannesburg natives want the aliens gone far, far away). Then there is the “alien artifact” business: folks will pay big bucks for the alien equivalent of a cigarette lighter (about the most advanced tech the aliens were allowed to bring down with them), or for a piece of “alien technology” built right here on earth (usually some meaningless collection of wires and bits of machinery put together by some alien with artistic flair), or for genuine “alien art.” And then there are the more shadowy things: criminal organizations have uses for communities almost entirely opaque and impenetrable to outsiders, especially if, say, they have the tech savvy to build a drug lab. District 9 is still sealed off, but the guards are fewer than they used to be, and are no longer elite, hard-to-bribe types. And then there are the tunnels…
The local gangs and outsiders such as the Nigerians battled for supremacy of sorts, but currently something of a shaky peace prevails - after a few Prawns got caught in a cross-fire, a large part of the criminal human element in District 9 “softly and suddenly vanished away”: the leadership got the message. (What happened to them is unknown, but the most popular theory is that it had something to do with lunch).
Of late, some odds and ends of alien technology have been coming back into District 9. Bits of unusable and non-flashy (no death rays) tech have found their way into private hands. Some have been quietly purchased by intermediate agents: in some cases, traded for new and more interesting gadgetry, gadgetry which actually does something. And, through various and devious paths, they have found their way back into Prawn hands. But they’re bits of machinery that never did anything interesting, even when used by Prawn hands: so why and what for?
Science fiction is more widespread and respectable than OTL, but has some major differences: aliens are likelier to be non-humanoid, and tend to be both stupid and unpleasant, and after some difficulty get their asses beat into the ground by humanity. Techno-optimism is looked upon more skeptically: the idea that the Singularity or True AI is right around the corners is generally met with heavy eye-rolling. On the other hand, there are rather higher hopes for the presence of life of some sort on Mars, under the ice of Jovian moons, etc. “Star Trek: the Next Generation” never got made, but perhaps in cosmic balance Scientology never really took off. The universe is generally seen as more alien and hostile and dangerous: Lovecraftean stuff is doing well. There’s more “traditional” space-opera planet-explorer stuff since it appears the barriers to manned space exploration and interstellar travel aren’t as high as some SF writers in out reality would hold.
Human space exploration took a bit of a back seat while the alien ship was being studied: why screw around with silly rockets when anti-gravity was just around the corner? (Besides, the enormous alien craft made anything on the drawing boards look like embarrassingly cheap crap). But a bit of a “humans into space, let’s show these damn prawns who are secretly laughing at us what we can do” reaction developed by the late 90s, and the positive test results for the new plasma shielding for solar eruptions (those room temperature superconductors really helped) mean that the joint US-European-Chinese-FRE (now down to 5 full member republics and 3 “associated”) expedition to Mars should be good to go in 2014.
There are a lot of orbiting nuclear weapons, pointing outwards. Just in case.
The First Supervisor (known as “Christopher” to humans quite unable to pronounce his/her real name) finally grew philosophical enough to stop kicking him/herself around 2003: hir’s not sure, after all, that hir could have recreated the control interface even given the three months before the humans broke into the ship, and after all, removing and concealing the command module, with its emergency equipment, and concealing him/herself and the other supervisory staff before they could be identified, was the smart, cautious move. How was he/she to know they would be so cautious about entering the ship when all the TV images seemed to show they were aggressively crazy? So, with the limited resources available, it had taken him nearly 30 years to create a new biological control mechanism: given that his/her caste had a lifespan of several centuries, it hadn’t been that long. The important thing was that it was finally almost done, and the command module could emerge from where it was buried, 15 feet below the ground floor of an "arcology"...
The world is generally richer than ours, thanks to the various bits of alien-inspired technology that had been developed over the decades, less hungry thanks to synthetic food production, more wired and brightly lit. People still starved in Africa, AIDS remained a problem (although with all the bright lights of publicity focused on South Africa, the severity of the local AIDS problem was recognized earlier and more effective measures taken at least locally.) Iraq remains fragmented after the US and the Federal Republic of Eurasia reacted rather strongly to Saddam Hussein’s revenge-nuking of Tehran in 1995. The Reds remained in control in Afghanistan rather longer, and Osama Bin Laden died in a cave full of burning napalm. (On the sinister hand, a Japanese apocalyptic cult did manage to infect several hundred people with anthrax). Thanks to the new synthetics, the Gulf oil state’s building projects are even more over-the-top than OTL.
Apartheid held on a bit longer, helped by decreased outside pressure and the income arising from certain complex negotiations involving patent law and rights to any technological innovations developed on South African soil, but the black African population would not take no for an answer, and a longer, slower and more troubled transition to equal rights than OTL took place from 1996 to 2003: the existence of District 9 actually proved useful, as the Prawns could be used as an “other” to unify black and white against, as well as those selfish foreigners who refused to take them off South African hands and proved as intrusive and bossy with the first black politicians as they had been with white ones (some historians and social scientists claim that without these convenient “others” and scapegoats – the South African share of maintenance costs for District 9 were (dubiously) claimed to be seriously hurting the economy – South Africa might have faced civil war (there are also those who claim these arguments are a bunch of dingoes kidneys). The White population holds a larger share of the economic power than OTL, but the overall economy is larger, and AIDS prevalence is close to 6% rather than 18%.
The government contract for MNU United, which was to move the aliens to a dozen new “clean, sanitary and secure” resettlement zones off in the middle of nowhere, would later turn out to be a marvel of corruption, in which a number of the very highest officials would be implicated. What was meant to be a big savings for the South African government and other bodies paying to keep District 9 afloat would in the end prove considerably more expensive than maintaining things as they were, while the resettlement zones were only clean and sanitary in the sense that they were so before anyone showed up (secure, on the other hand…). Admittedly, as things turned out, the taxpayer was not burdened with the actual operating costs of the “Prawn Camps."
In many places across the earth, secret research institutions exist. They are run by half a dozen nations, and research into Prawn technology – especially the kind that blows things up good – continues. The humans have help here. Smuggling adult Prawns was always a bit of a problem, but once efforts to stop the Prawns from out-breeding their means had reached the level of destroying illegal egg-hatching programs – well, smuggling out an egg was a lot easier. The resultant youngsters, although raised by humans speaking the Prawn language only through electronic synthesizers and consequently very badly socialized (in some cases near-feral), could be persuaded (or frightened into) operating all sorts of machines, so they could be studied in operation.
MNU United runs one such program in partnership with the South African government – providing the government with an extra layer of immunity (“we knew nothing of what MNU was up to!”) while allowing MNU to charge extra for its “official” purpose. As another bonus, the most demented cases of human-raised Prawns were always available for biological research – after all, developing effective bio-weapons in case their relatives should ever come calling was a major priority, as well as having a deniable means of thinning the Prawn population if things were to ever come to that…
2014. District 9 is no more, having been reduced to slag. Of course, that is not the only place that has become more, hmm, low-lying in the last few months.
The departure of the alien ship in 2010 made the panic of ’82 look like a mild case of indigestion, and everyone of course realized that Someone Else than Them had been guilty of treating the Prawns, er, the Well-Ordered People, shabbily. Fingers were pointed, circular firing squads were formed, and everyone was under suspicion until proven guilty. Of course, those who had never believed the aliens claims that their ship was faster than light were less worried, and suggested we probably had decades at least before vengeful aliens showed up. They failed to reassure the majority.
The plan to ship the aliens off to the desert was put on hold. District 9 community leaders did not exactly help the situation, tending to loudly gloat about the punishments that would befall their oppressors: one suggested that the human race surrender to them and make them their overlords, thereby avoiding the whole bloody conquest thing. (Actually, the laborer castes knew little about high-level policy re alien races or what the response from back home was likely to be, but after decades of a combination of cruel and negligent treatment and imprisonment, they were very happy to make the humans squirm).
A variety of options were debated, varying from killing them all and telling their relatives when they arrived that they had all died of the flu, to moving them all into pricey hotel suites. In the meantime, human-bred specimens were moved into even more secure locations, under mountains and such, and experimental schedules accelerated. (MNU killed all their specimens, burned them to ashes, and buried the ashes deep, and put on expressions of injured innocence when rumors emerged that they had been involved in “secret testing” of kidnapped aliens.) All humans living among the aliens were evacuated (forcibly in some cases): the aliens had become far bolder and more aggressive in responding to anything that could be interpreted as a slight, and MNU or South African security forces were no longer tolerated. In fact, it turned out that the aliens had built up quite a little arsenal of home-made weaponry over the years, including home-brew high explosives and even flamethrowers: when an intruding MNU forces was decimated after an accidental shooting, the local leadership claimed that District 9 was now “territory of the Well-Ordered Race” and any humans who came in would do so under their conditions.
There was some call to strafe District 9 from the air, but there was some uncertainty as to whether the aliens would be able to retaliate in some way. Finally, the decision was made to seal off District 9 entirely: its inhabitants would be provided with as much food, raw materials, and electricity as they desired, and all the catfood they could stomach, but otherwise a strict separation, to avoid any further incidents, would be observed. Large parts of Johannesburg adjacent to the district were evacuated. Newer and higher walls were erected. And a number of small radio-controlled nuclear weapons were placed in concealed places along those walls.
Three very tense years went by. There were constant demands from District 9 as the aliens pushed as hard as they could: there was bloody fighting in District 9 as the Pride of the Race faction attempted to forcibly put to an end catfood use. Then there was the time a coalition of young bloods attempted a mass breakout and capture of the still human-populated parts of Jo’Berg...
Many people bought loads of survivalist gear and headed off to build a redoubt in the mountains, only to find other survivalists had taken the best spots already. Some burrowed into the earth, or built under the floors of lakes. Others built bomb shelters or repurposed old ones dating back to the 1950s and 60s. Others spent a lot of time praying. There was an explosion of new cults promising protection from alien invaders or escape to other planets. The more paranoid government investigated their cultists in the chance that some of them actually were in contact with other aliens.
(The only actual non-Well-Ordered-Race alien in the world, who lived in Tokyo, wasn’t interested in interfering: its study of the interactions between a barbarian race and a semi-civilized one was garnering praise back home, and the arrival of a rescue force would no doubt provide all sorts of interesting new data).
Governments crumbled, many political careers raced into the toilet, and an alliance of third world nations arose, claiming loudly for the record that they had been shut out of the debate on how to treat the aliens by the big powers – the same powers that had oppressed them in the past, which established solidarity between them and the aliens, right? The global economy slumped into a deep depression. Suicide rates went up sharply, as did conspicuous consumption and the use of drugs legal and illegal. A religious leader of some importance claimed that the inhabitants of District 9 were not aliens, but agents of the devil, the hordes of Gog and Magog, now multiplying endlessly and soon to emerge to overrun the world. The End of the World became a running theme in music and literature.
Orbital weapons were enhanced. All sorts of crazy defensive weapons systems and plans were discussed as if there were a realistic chance of their being built. Three years on, an energy wave that caused rock to crumble with little fuss or dangerous shrapnel (and made human bodies vanish in a moist puff of pink vapor) was finally duplicated, using a mass of machinery roughly the size of the space shuttle…
…and then an alien fleet of some 50 ships appeared near the Moon.
Everything human built in orbit ceased to exist some five minutes later. The message, on all frequencies, which overrode every still-functioning radio and TV signal on earth and took the place of missing satellite broadcasts, was fairly pithy.
WE HAVE COME FOR OUR PEOPLE
ALL OF THEM
RETURN THOSE WHICH YOU HAVE STOLEN
AND WE WILL BE MERCIFUL
Of course, governments and a certain corporate agency denied the existence of any such.
YOU WILL SHORTLY BE ALLOWED TO PROVE THE TRUTH OF YOUR STATEMENTS
Several ships swooped down to South Africa. The walls crumbled and the inhabitants of District 9 began to stream aboard the ships. A number of flying, vaguely spider-like machines emerged from the ships, and soon returned carrying struggling humans from the nearby city. That was when the South African government made its bold (or amazingly stupid) move and announced that the ships, along with District 9, were now their hostages. (They had perhaps not really thought the situation through: it was unlikely the aliens could provide a getaway car big enough for the planet).
Shortly after that, the remaining fleet took 15 minutes to reduce 1/3 of the face of the Moon to radioactive slag, incidentally wiping out the site of the first Moon landing.
There were no further efforts to prevent the evacuation of District 9, in spite of some posturing over the status of the fourteen humans that had been brought aboard the alien ships. As the last ship left, it paused to reduce the site to a sea of glass, with such economy of energy that the nearest human settlements some two miles away didn’t even lose a windowpane.
The next message came a week later.
WE HAVE STUDIED THE NERVOUS SYSTEMS OF OUR CAPTIVES
WE REGRET TO SAY THAT TWO OF THEM HAVE SUFFERED SOME PERMANENT IMPAIRMENT AS A RESULT – THEY SHALL BE RETURNED WITH OUR APOLOGIES
WE HAVE HOWEVER SUCCEEDED IN MAPPING THEIR BRAINS TO THE POINT WHERE WE CAN ASCERTAIN WITH OVER 90% CERTAINTY WHETHER WE ARE BEING LIED TO
WE THEREFORE DESIRE TO MEET WITH THE COMMANDING PERSONS OF YOUR MAJOR NATIONS SO THEY CAN REASSURE US YOU ARE NOT HOLDING OTHERS OF OUR PEOPLE CAPTIVE
FAILURE TO ARRANGE FOR THIS WILL BE SEEN AS AN ADMISSION OF GUILT
CONTINUED FAILURE TO COOPERATE WILL LEAD TO A GEOMETRICAL PROGRESSION
BEGINNING WITH YOUR SMALLER CITIES AND WORKING OUR WAY UP
WE KNOW WHO THE MOST LIKELY NATIONAL CULPRITS ARE AND THE NAMES AND FACES OF THEIR COMMANDERS
OUR EXILED PEOPLE HAVE BEEN WATCHING A LOT OF TV
Some unpleasantness followed.
In 2014, there is a frantic, vengeful mood. Some five million human beings died by orbital bombardment before full cooperation took place, and there is a substantial bitterness, some directed at the politicians who stalled and temporized in fear of the treatment of the alien “orphans” coming to light, some directed (a bit inconsistently) at those who cooperated, especially the handing over of the heads of the MNU and the French research team (who had taken a similar “bury the bodies deep” approach to their little peccadilloes) to the aliens.
But mostly it is directed towards the “Prawns.” Oddly, the aliens were understanding about the experimentation thing: it was the irreversible act of killing the younglings that, in their view, mandated punishment. It was a rule of the Well-Ordered People that the unprovoked murder of their kind by aliens was always to be punished, and severely: Civis Romanus Sum and all that, don’t cha know. Most humans did not deal well with this, and found the broadcast of the executions of a few dozen leading figures in the prawn experimentation program, carried out with the traditional oversized crab cracker, a bit much.
Humanity’s pride has taken a severe blow, and the turmoil of 2010 has easily been exceeded. In some cases, this has had positive results, such as the overthrow of the Communist Chinese government and the establishment of a (still shaky) republic: in other cases, such as the incipient neo-fascist takeover of the French government, rather less so. There are calls for a world government, for the execution of all those who cooperated with the aliens, the impeachment of all those who had anything to do with the secret experimental program, and the destruction of all radio stations to prevent other and even less pleasant aliens from detecting us. Many are consumed by a feeling of helpless rage, as those who smacked the crap out of us are entirely unreachable and impossible to hurt: Americans in particular have suffered an almost existential blow to their pride, 9/11 having never taken place to shake our sense of invulnerability. The consumption of crustaceans has risen sharply.
There is, on the other hand, a great deal of giddy relief: the aliens returned, and we didn’t all die. They’re gone, and hopefully won’t come back. Like cancer victims who have undergone spontaneous remission, many feel that they have a new lease on life. Others can’t make themselves stop worrying, though: although a lot of survivalists have come home, others gloomily suggest that this is simply the first encounter – like the Pacific Islanders after Cook, we have been discovered, and there will be further visits – and deepen their bunkers.
Studies of the alien’s genetic material continue: some researchers managed to squirrel away samples of alien tissue without informing their superiors, who honestly replied to aliens equipped with Truth Machines that as far as they knew, they had given the aliens everything. The Mars mission is back on, in spite of the continued ghastly condition of the global economy, and a prominent US politician has called for the US – in cooperation with other nations, yet – to send a probe to Alpha Centauri within the next decade. The private space industry is getting a lot of money, as the world struggles to rebuild its satellite infrastructure.
Global warming denialism – long the province of the total loonie fringe (the aliens had expressed puzzlement that anyone could fail to notice the correlation between large-scale use of fossil fuels and climate change – it had happened on their planet, too) – has reappeared in public consciousness, as the deniers claim that global warming theory is in fact an alien conspiracy to weaken our industrial development.
Interestingly, the aliens did not bother to remove the technology along with the younglings: it was simply too scattered in any event, and too many odds and ends had simply passed out of the hands of official government. In any event, the leaders of the expedition concluded, given that it had taken the earthlings some thirty years to duplicate a Smoother-of-Rocky-Paths – and then by purely empirical methods, with a distinctly shaky grasp of the theory behind it – they were unlikely to learn enough to become a serious threat. They were largely correct, but not entirely: although humans would not become a problem for some seven hundred years, when they finally did, it was a real doozy of a problem.
2064: Wikus was dumped, along with a floatation device (barely adequate, in his opinion) a bit off the shore of South Africa by a radar-invisible automated probe, having been genetically restored to human form on the alien’s homeworld. He was rather displeased to find out that the ship had dropped the slower-than-light little probe (his body in suspended animation) off a number of light years from Earth, *Christopher having insufficient pull to get a subspace-capable ship to go that far off the beaten galactic path: he had not been informed of the details, and therefore the fact that fifty years had gone by came as a wee bit of a shock. However, all the money he pulled in from 3dv appearances did soothe his pain a bit, as did the new designer drugs. And they probably would have hanged him in 2014.