Schrodinger’s Doomsday Device
The two Martians probably weren’t from Mars, but they might as well have been. They were short and green, and clad in bright red spacesuits, the sort of thing that Buzz Aldrin would have worn when he made his seminal journey. There were even huge glass domes covering their bulbous heads.
“Pardon us.” Said the alien closest to the house. He was the shortest of them all, meaning that he barely came up to Linda’s knee. “But could we borrow a cup of gadolinite?”
“Sorry, fresh out.” Said Linda. “We might have some Thulium we could spare.”
The Martian that was not a Martian chuckled.
Terry came up behind Linda and eyed the aliens suspiciously. “What’s funny?” He said.
“Nothing.” Linda replied. “Just a little bit of geology humor.”
“Delightful.” Said Terry without smiling.
“I am Xtor the Wise.” Said the alien after a moment. “This is my mission partner, Xtar the Wise. May we come in?”
Terry narrowed his eyes. “This isn’t about some kind of Space Jesus, is it?” He asked guardedly.
“Fear not.” Said the second Martian. Linda figured this one must be Xtar. “We are followers of the Church of the Overmind Nog. Said Overmind deems humanity as unworthy of assimilation.”
“Good to know.” Terry said.
“Plus,” said Xtor. “We left our conversion parasites at home. Human brains are deadly poisonous to the poor things.”
Linda stepped aside, letting the Martians in. The Martians took a seat on the sofa, and Terry shot her a look. She’d seen that look before. It said, Are you sure they’re not going to turn us into goo and drink us up through a straw?
She met his gaze, and her expression was also a familiar one. No. Stop assuming that all the time. It’s racist.
Terry huffed and stalked off into the kitchen. He returned a moment later, arms laden with a plate full of cookies. He set them down on the coffee table in front of the couch.
“There’s a pot of tea on the stove.” He said, making no attempt to hide how uncomfortable this fact made him.
“Be nice,” Linda whispered, prodding him in the ribs. “They’re our guests.”
Xtar took a cookie and turned it over in his hands. He-if indeed the alien was a he-had the appearance of a scientist studying a newly excavated fossil. He poked at the chocolate chip in the center, then set the cookie down again. “I apologize. We cannot digest Terran foodstuffs, but we thank you for your generosity.”
“Oh, it’s not a problem at all.” Linda said. “Thank you for your compliments.”
“What’s in the box?” Terry asked bluntly, gesturing to the brown package on the floor beside Xtar.
“A gift from the Greater Galactic Civilizations.” Xtar said. If he noticed the animosity in Terry’s voice, he did a good job hiding it.
“That doesn’t answer the question.”
Linda frowned at her husband. “What he means to say is, what sort of gift have you given us? It is a great honor to receive anything from the GGC, to be sure.”
“Oh, forgive me.” Xtar said. “I often forget that your kind is not telepathic. It is a device beyond human comprehension, the most advanced technological achievement in the known universe. To some, it is a weapon of unlimited destruction, a tool of peace with which to usher in a new golden age. And still others, nothing important at all.”
“Usually we just ask for cheese plates.” Terry said.
“Oh, hush.” Linda admonished. “May I?”
Xtar nodded, and Linda picked up the box. It weighed almost nothing, but it was roughly the size of a bowling ball. Intrigued, she undid the twine tying it and lifted the lid. Inside, there was only a small silver cube, not much bigger than a remote control.
“Doesn’t look like much.” This, of course, from Terry.
“That’s to be expected.” Said Xtar. “Your primitive intellect couldn’t possibly understand it.” This time, there was a distinct edge to his tone.
A smile tugged at the corner of Linda’s mouth, and she flipped open a panel on the face of the cube. “Is this the on button here?”
Xtar held out his hand, and his eyes widened. Given that they already took up most of his face, that was quite the spectacle. “Yes, but please refrain from pressing it unless you want to save and/or destroy and/or nothing important to the fabric of the universe.”
“Ah.” Linda said, handing the device back to the alien. “Makes sense.”
“If it’s so dangerous and/or wonderful and/or unremarkable, why the hell do you want to leave it with us?” Terry grumped.
“The whole of intergalactic civilization could not decide what, if anything, should be done with the device.” Xtar said, eyes narrowing into angry slits. “It might be too dangerous to activate, and there are concerns that even destroying it would be a problem. No one trusts it in their own control, nor do they want to give it to anyone else. In the end, we decided to hold a secret ballot across the entire universe, and you two won.”
“I voted for Sorlak the Beneficent.” Said Xtor. “No offense.”
“None taken.” Linda said.
“How the hell did we win that?” Terry asked. “Out of the entire universe, you picked us?”
“Well, it was a secret ballot.” Xtar said. “Nobody knows. That’s what makes it secret.” He put the device back in the box and handed it to Linda.
“What are we supposed to do with it?” Linda asked.
“We don’t know that either.” Xtar replied. “It’s not our responsibility to tell you, thank Nog.”
The Martians stood up and left.
When their spaceship was a silver dot in the sky, Linda picked up the box and put it in the hall closet. She tucked it away behind their winter coats and the old scrap-booking supplies that they couldn’t bring themselves to throw away. They might come in handy someday.
“I’m glad that’s over.” She said.
“Oh, come on.” Terry said. “You forced me to sit through that whole thing with the aliens, and now we’re not even allowed to push it?”
“No.” She snapped. “It might be dangerous.”
“Oh, bullshit. You know you want to.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You aren’t the least bit curious?”
“Sure, I’m curious. But I don’t want to risk blowing up the universe itself. It’ll look really shitty on my resume.”
Terry pouted, looking like a toddler who’s parents had just told him he couldn’t have a cookie before dinner.
Linda’s gaze softened. “We can always save and/or destroy the universe tomorrow.”
Terry’s face lit up. “Promise?”