Story: An Issue of Image

By: Michael C. Keith


The heavens call to you, and circle about you, displaying to
you their eternal splendors, and your eye gazes only to Earth.

–– Dante, 1300

They’ll think we’re grotesque creatures given our eight legs and red protruding eyes. Of course, they look horrible to us with their pathetically stunted appendages and tiny recessed optics,” said Malin Gota, Commander of the Kaxbar Planetary Expedition.

Very true, Malin. And that’s why we must approach humans very carefully to avoid a hostile reaction from them. Certainly our appearance will provoke them if they’re not convinced that we mean no harm and can benefit their species,” answered Tekor Mnn, Vice Emperor of Kaxbar.

They are such an unbeautiful breed and violent as well, but you think we can help them, Lord Mnn?”

Of course, from our vastly evolved perspective as Kaxbarians, they may not appear worth our effort. They are not a noble genus. Indeed, they are a collection of primitive warring tribes, but we––members of the Supreme Council––believe we can lift them from their nascent slime and assist them to become a more refined life form. Ultimately it will benefit the universe if we succeed. As you well know, Commander, that is our sacred purpose with these expeditions”

So what is to be done, Vice Emperor?”

First a series of messages. We’ll introduce ourselves through the various non-visual communication media they have. We will not show ourselves until we have fully convinced the Earthlings that we are a force for good––one that wishes to provide them a better existence. At that point, we’ll have explained to them our physical attributes and prepared them to see us as we are.”

We look exactly like the giant mutant spiders in their horror movies. How will they ever get past that, Lord Mnn?”

We have devised a strategy. First, we will acknowledge having received one of their crude space signals. Our reply will contain a benign greeting indicating a desire to have further contact with them. With each communiqué, we will build a relationship with them designed to diffuse their fear of our physical form when we visit.”

It will be difficult to allay the Earthling’s fear of one of the things they find most dreadful––huge spiders.

Their fear is understandable Malin, because many of their planet’s arachnids are venomous and can cause them great harm.”

Actually, only a tiny percentage hurt humans, sir. It is their literature and film that portray them as treacherous vermin. They don’t know the truth.”

Well, that will be something we will try to address in our missives, Commander.”

* * *

The first interplanetary communiqué sent by the Kaxbarians consisted of a simple acknowledgment of the Earthling’s greeting. Rather than the 20 years it took the humans message to reach the alien race, the reply from Kaxbar reached Earth in just two seconds. It was detected by SETI and immediately taken to the White House.

This has been completely verified?” inquired the president. “There’s no mistaking its origin? Totally vetted? No chance of a prank, Dr. Gibbens?”

No, sir, it is a legitimate message. Every computer program corroborates the coordinates.”

And that is . . .?”

The Virgo Supercluster, sir.”


It’s the closest galaxy to our own. About 42,000 light years away or 25,000 light years from the boundary of our own solar system.”

How did they get a message from us at that distance? How is that possible?”

We’re not sure. Possibly aided by a black hole.”

So this is it? ‘Greetings from Kaxbar. We wish to share words of peace with you.’ Nothing more?”

No, sir, not at the moment.”

This situation is not to get beyond these walls, Gibbens. We don’t need a panic. When, or if, you get more, let me know immediately.”

Of course, Mr. President.”

By the way, did you respond to the message?”

Yes, sir. We asked them what words of peace they wished to share.”

Four hours after the director of SETI spoke with the President, another message from Kaxbar was received. This one was more detailed:

Dear citizens of planet Earth, it pleases us greatly to have made contact with you. We have had similar contact with many other distant civilizations. Our purpose is to unite the species of the universe as a means of benefitting all. We have advance knowledge in technology and medicine to improve the quality of your lives and we wish to share it with you. But before that is possible, we must convey to you the characteristics of our appearance. We do not look like you. In fact, our appearance will no doubt repel you, but we are not dangerous and do not wish to harm you . . . quite the opposite. It is our objective to provide you with information to make your lives better. So then, allow us to explain why our appearance may, to use a colloquial phrase of yours, freak you out. We have several legs, and they are covered in black follicles. Our torsos rest atop these appendages. Our optic orbs are large and crimson with crosshatching. All three are accompanied by what you would call antennas. These long thin rods serve to detect sound and direct sustenance into our primary consuming orifice, which contain two rows of teeth. The closest thing on your planet that resembles us is your tarantula spider, which we realize most of you find horrifying. We are not predatory and do not possess toxic venom, toxic or otherwise. Please do not fear us because of what we look like. We know your planet does define objects by their appearance, but we ask that you transcend your disdain of arachnids, or things that appear like them, so we may come together in harmony and peace. We have so much good to share with you––information that will eliminate a great many your physical ills and provide you with enhanced happiness.

Two repetitions of the communiqué were received within minutes of each other.

* * *

Holy crap!” exclaimed the president, upon listening to the Kaxbarian’s message. “They sound hideous looking.”

Yes, sir, but we believe they are sincere about contributing to the betterment of humanity.”

So you recommend inviting them, Gibbens?”

Mr. President, this could change everything. Imagine if they could cure cancer and eliminate famine and drought. California has become a dustbowl and the world is experiencing more conflict than ever. They could relieve these woes and allow us to progress as a species.”

Other countries are of the same thinking, and want them to come. But what if they are hostiles? What then?”

Every indication so far is that they are a magnanimous presence with altruistic intentions. We stand to benefit from them in countless ways . . . if we trust them. We believe they possess many solutions and answers we have long sought.”

You act as if they’re the second coming of God.”

They could be just that, sir. Here to put us back on course. To provide us salvation.”

Now, don’t get all religious on me, Gibbens. Okay, tell them we await their arrival. Find out when that will be. We need to brace the public for what it is about to see . . . giant benevolent spiders. Shit, why couldn’t they look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, or a combination of the two?”

* * *

SETI sent an invitation to the Kaxbarians advising them to come on the 26th of the following month, giving the governments of the planet time to assure their citizens that the tarantula-appearing extraterrestrials were coming in peace with great gifts for the human race. Every hour of every day, announcements were transmitted over all media, advising people not to be frightened by the alien’s appearance.

The Kaxbarians were directed to land their craft on the historic Washington Mall, and at noon on the date of their designated arrival, the sky was filled with a number of foreign objects. The largest of them touched down in front of the Lincoln Memorial as the world watched on all manner of digitized screens. The streets around the landing site had been cordoned off to keep crowds away. Only the U.S. President and high officials of the planet’s foremost governments formed the official greeting party.

Jesus, this is it. We’re really making contact with an intelligent life form from another heavenly body. Look at their spaceship. It’s covered with piece symbols . . . amazing!” observed the president to his uneasy staff.

It reminds me of the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still,” commented the vice president.

Except we’re about to see giant spiders. I’d prefer Michael Rennie in his Tin Man outfit,” quipped the president.

Shortly after the Kaxbarian ship landed, its portal opened and Commander Gota began to crawl down the ramp.

The gasp coming from the awaiting crowd of dignitaries was loud, and it caused the emissary from the Virgo Galaxy to stop its descent.

Okay, we knew what they’d look like,” said the president, reassuringly. “Stay cool. We’ll take care of this.”

As the Kaxbarian leader approached, a shot rang out. In the confusion that followed, the alien ship lifted off, leaving the body of the fallen victim in its swirling wake.

What a wicked web we weave,” snickered the vice president.

That’s a good one,” chuckled the president.


Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes fiction.

Categories: Fiction

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