"Greetings, gentlebeings!" said the alien ambassador.
The President of the United States stood on the podium staring up into the sky. The sky was grey and woven with strands of autumn red and a strange, alien silver-grey. The huge shape of the alien ambassador hovered above the White House, easily the size of a nuclear submarine. The ambassador was a huge pulsating mass of grey matter, moving gracefully in the air as though it were swimming. It was supported by the aliens' advanced anti-grav devices.
"As you know," the alien ambassador said, its booming voice breaking over the heads of the assembled masses, "we are a race of hyper-advanced space whales –"
"Whaliens", the President's Special Advisor for Extraterrestrial Activities said sourly –
"–and we have travelled many light-years –" the whalien ambassador paused significantly – "many light-years," it said, "to come here, to Earth."
Protesting Campbellians, across the road, were raising large banners proclaiming Humanity Uber Alles and Better Dead Than Red with the word red crossed over and the word Grey scribbled in instead.
"We have been intercepting your television and radio signals for many years," the whalien ambassador said. Above him, high in the atmosphere, the bodies of other leviathan-like whales could be seen, swimming through high-altitude clouds. Above them all fell the shadow of the giant whalien ship, shaped like a gigantic round mushroom.
"We are particularly interested," the whalien ambassador said, "in your dominant religion, based on the teachings of the Prophet Moroni." The ambassador paused as the President of the United States – who wasn't a Mormon, by chance – exchanged bewildered looks with his Special Advisor for Extraterrestrial Activities.
"Bring him to us!"
The voice boomed over Washington, shattering windows and making dogs howl at the sky. The President of the United States tapped nervously on the microphone. He leaned closer. "Bring who to you?" he said.
"The Prophet Moroni!" the whalien said.
The President's Special Advisor for Extraterrestrial Activities, who was Jewish and only two weeks in the job, leaned over and whispered in the President's ear. The President faced the microphone with a look of utter helplessness, like a man reading My Pet Goat to a group of pre-schoolers as a major terrorist attack happens elsewhere. "The Prophet Moroni is... unavailable for comment," he said.
"Pardon me?" the whalien said.
"Oh," the whalien said. "What about Mormon himself?"
"Joseph Smith, at least?"
"Dead," the President said without thinking. Then, quickly backtracking, "I mean, he has risen to Heaven, Ambassador."
"You can talk to Orson Scott Card?" the President suggested hopefully.
"Who?" the whalien said.
There was one of those slightly uncomfortable silences.
"Ok," the whalien ambassador said, after silently communicating with its peers by means of advanced telepathy. "Forget about the Mormons. What about Scientology?"
[The following excerpt has been removed for legal issues].
"Fine!" the whalien ambassador bellowed, at last. "We have come all this way to learn from you, humans! Your religions, your deep faith! If we do not learn from you we will destroy you. You have one week to impress us." The whalien ambassador went silent; ominously.
"Now, bring us a Jew!" he said.
"A Jew?" the President of the United States said, shocked.
The President of the United States turned to his Special Advisor for Extraterrestrial Activities. "Go on, then, Ari!" he said.
"What?" Ari said, shaking his head rapidly from side to side. "No, no, no. I haven't even been to shul since my bar mitzvah!"
"You have one week," the whalien ambassador said. Then it floated upwards through the sky, away from the White House.
"Ari!" said the President of the United States, with that panicky tone you get when you realise you'd left the chicken in the oven too long, or you were going to wash and realised you were out of clean underwear or, indeed, when you realised you had only a week to go before a bunch of hyper-advanced space whales were going to blow your planet up to bits.
"What?" Ari said. "I wasn't even supposed to be here today!"
"Then get me a proper Jew!" the President snapped.
"What you need," Ari said, "is a rabbi."
"Then find me a rabbi!"
"I'll speak to my cousin," Ari said.
Above their heads, the whaliens drifted through the sky.
Greg Feldman sat in front of his television, watching the news. His laptop was open on the worn sofa beside him. His two cats, Captain Kirk and Buffy, curled up beside him. His shelf full of trophies balanced precariously over the heater by the window. He had many awards: some shaped like rockets; some were plaques; and some were shaped like the head of a really ugly man. The rest of the apartment was practically bare. Greg's ex-wife, Hilda, had taken most of the furniture, alongside what remained of Greg's self-esteem, when she left him, not before calling him a "deadbeat", a "loser", a "sci fi hack" and – what really stung – a "self-hating Jew."
Now he sat there, full of self-loathing, watching the aliens on the television screen and thinking his career was ruined.
He was a science fiction writer, darn it!
He could get by on indifferent prose; paper-thin characterization; uncomfortably awkward sex scenes that often seemed to be written by a thirteen year old; he could eke out a miserable living on five cents a word.
But one thing he could not do is continue writing about aliens when the gosh darned aliens were already here!
"Gosh darned aliens," he said; but his heart wasn't in it.
He was ruined! Ruined! He picked up the phone and rang Phil Cusack.
"Phil? It's Greg."
A long wail came through the phone. "Ruined!" Phil Cusack – author of such timeless classics as They Came From Proxima Four, Bride of the Mutants and The Slitherer in the Dark – said.
"What are we going to do?" Greg said.
"It's each man for himself, Greg!" Phil said. He once won a Prometheus Award for being a libertarian. Greg wasn't sure what a libertarian was, exactly, but they sure sold a lot of books. "I'm heading for Appalachia. It's finally happened! Me and a bunch of the boys have a camp up in the mountains. We have books, canned food and semi-automatic weapons! We could hold out forever."
"It's no good," Greg said. He was feeling even more depressed. Of course Phil had a plan. Phil always had a plan. There were rumours he had once been a member of a top secret government think-tank that predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and helped design the Star Wars programme – not the movie, the space weaponry thing. He was getting old though. He didn't even use Facebook. "I can't go on," Greg said. "It's no use. My wife left me. My parents moved to Florida. Everyone is buying e-books and I don't even own a Kindle. What exactly is a Kindle?"
"Isn't that a Russian gun?" Phil said.
"Maybe," Greg said, dubiously.
"Never trust a Russian," Phil said. "If you ask me all this is all a Russian conspiracy."
"Kremlin-bred mutants!" Phil said.
There was a ring at the door.
"I have to go," Greg said. "There is a ring at the door."
"Don't answer it!" Phil said. "It's too late. Social structures are crumbling. Anarchy is coming. Hold on there's someone at the door."
Greg hung up the phone. He was feeling depressed. Buffy butted her head against his arm as Captain Kirk gently farted in his sleep. At that moment Greg felt a great affection for his cats wash over him. Cats never let you down. Not like ex-wives, or science fiction, or aliens.
The ringing at the door came again.
"I'm coming already!" Greg grumbled. He got up, feeling lethargic. He wondered who it could be. He walked to the door.
He opened it.
Greg blinked again. But the two Secret Service men were still there, ID badges held up, guns on their belts, dark sunglasses covering their eyes.
"You don't know?"
"I mean, erm, yes. Yes, that's me."
The two agents looked him up at down – a little dubiously, it seemed to Greg.
"The sci fi writer Greg Feldman?"
Greg swelled up to his full size. Like a space whale during the mating season. "I prefer the term science fiction," he said. "Or Ess Ef, if you will. Sci fi is –"
"We don't care," the agent on the left informed him, helpfully.
"Yeah," the agent on the right said.
"You are to come with us," the agent on the left said.
"Right now," the agent on the right said.
"But my cats!" Greg Feldman said.
"Right now," the agent on the left said.
"Yeah," the agent on the right said.
"Buffy!" Greg said.
"Captain Kirk!" Greg said.
"Hey, I know my rights!" Greg said.
"You have the right to remain silent," the agent on the left said.
"Yeah," the agent on the right said.
"So shut the fuck up," the agent on the left said.
"Yeah," the agent on the right said.
And before Greg Feldman could protest they had bundled him out of the house and into the back of their car; taking him, he thought despairingly, the aliens' God knew where.
"Aliens?" the rabbi said. His name was David and he was from a Reform shul, which Ari's mother – who came from a hardcore Orthodox family before she married Ari's dad – once described to a friend as Judaism Light when Ari wasn't supposed to be listening.
Still. What was he supposed to do? He needed someone who understood Judaism. Even Jews didn't understand Judaism! So he went into the first shul he could find and cornered the rabbi, who seemed remarkably unconcerned about the Secret Service agents blocking the door and windows of his study.
"Aliens," Ari said. "They're kind of meshugeneh but what are you going to do."
"Send them to see the Pope," the rabbi said. "Those guys in the Vatican are always looking for new recruits."
"They asked for a Jew."
"Oy vey is this going to be awkward," the rabbi said.
"Oy vey?" Ari said. The rabbi smiled. "Too much playing the stereotype?"
"A bit, yeah," Ari said. "Laying it on a bit thick, rabbi."
"Aliens, huh?" the rabbi said. "Who'd have thought."
"They're space whales," Ari said. "Highly advanced. Awesome weaponry. Are you coming or what?"
"Can I say no?"
"Then what can I say." The rabbi smiled and grabbed his coat. "Let's go," he said.
[At this point in the narrative there should be a heart-warming and emotionally manipulative story about a robot, but it was edited out].
When Greg was a kid he used to be bullied at school, but luckily he had science fiction to help him get through the hard parts.
He was thinking about that as the Secret Service agents drove him to wherever it was they were driving him to. Thinking about the hard times. The kids who stole his bag. The kids who beat him up. The kids who stuck his head in the toilet bowl and flushed it. The taste of the cold water on his lips. The sound of the swirling. That smell of pee and cleaning fluid. The smell of sweat and fear.
Then that magical moment when his parents took him to the library. He went past rows and rows of books.
And then he saw them.
Light. A bright shining light. Like an alien ship appearing out of nowhere in the sky and beaming down on a lonely country road.
The books. Their covers. All the other books were drab. But not these. They were colourful. They were intoxicating. They had monsters on them. Spaceships! There were strange ghosts and energy creatures and tough men with laser guns rescuing dusky maidens of the spaceways!
He took home Isaac Asimov's Foundation that day. And his life was changed forever.
He was still bullied at school. But it no longer mattered so much.
He knew, deep down inside, that he was special.
The others were nothing but grunts. Mundanes. They didn't – couldn't – know!
He learned politics from Heinlein and imagined living in a line-marriage on the moon.
He fantasised about making love to C'Mell, the beautiful cat-woman of Earthport.
He was Muad'dib, the prophet, the future galactic emperor, living out his destiny on the sand planet!
The bullies at school were all robots. He was Elijah Bailey, the detective! He knew the Three Laws of Robotics off by heart.
He was Elric, the albino prince, and he used to polish his sword far too often and his mother began to complain about the washing.
They got him through the hard time, Asimov and Heinlein and good old Arthur C. They showed him what the future held. His parents bought him a PC and he began using a word processor and he never stopped. He knew he was going to be a writer. Not just any writer either!
He was going to be a science fiction writer.
And one day he was going to win something called a Hugo.
"The humans are suspicious," Buffy the cat said.
"The alien whales could spoil our plans," Captain Kirk said and licked his paw delicately. Buffy hissed. "All that blubber," she said. "We could live like kings."
"A cat may look at a king," Captain Kirk said and laughed a cat laugh. "We must destroy the whaliens before they interfere with our plans for the humans."
"Our scientists have already made contact with the whaliens," Buffy informed him. "Even now a line of communication exists between us and the alien mainframe."
"Mainframe?" Kirk said, dubiously. "Do people still say that?"
"Their big computer, then, ok?"
"So what, we upload a virus to the, uh –" Kirk coughed up a fur ball. "The alien mainframe?"
"You have a better idea?"
"I'm hungry," Kirk said. He curled up on the sofa and yawned, showing sharp teeth. Buffy hissed again, in frustration. "Do you think they're using Macs or PCs?" Kirk said, dreamily. Buffy ignored him. With her telepathic mind-meld device she began to scan for human presences nearby. Humans were weak, pathetic creatures. Soon she would enslave a new one. She just needed it to open the door to the outside. Then all she'd have to do is reach the aliens in their sky-ship.
Feebly, as from far away, she could sense the human minds moving sluggishly on the street outside. Thinking of sex, or shopping, or food. Humans were such simple creatures. She meowed softly and stalked to the door, scratching at the wood.
A human mind, more pliable than the others. Dimly she sensed: horny hungry the weather strange about those aliens isn't it hungry like cats like China Miéville street sign door cupcakes like cats –
Buffy focused. Like cats. Like cats. She meowed. Door. The human mind came closer.
And now she could hear footsteps.
She scratched at the door, harder.
A knock on the door. The human mind, confused, angry – Left cat alone in house must rescue door locked hit it hit it hungry cupcakes alone so alone China Miéville with his top off the cat hit the door hit the door hit the –
The door burst open. A small woman in a brown dress that didn't suit her stood in the doorway. "Here, kitty kitty!" she said. Buffy snarled. Captain Kirk was still asleep on the sofa. Buffy concentrated and the woman, a confused look on her face, knelt down. Buffy climbed on her arm and made her way to the woman's shoulders. Humans, so the joke went among her kind, was just another word for cat taxi.
"Let's go," Buffy said, in Cat. The human obeyed. They walked away from the apartment and into the light of the sun outside. Buffy raised her head, stared into a sky where whales floated like clouds.
She bared her teeth and hissed at the sky.
"We'd like to convert," the whalien ambassador said.
The rabbi stared at it. He and Ari were floating high in the sky in a perfectly ordinary room boosted up on the aliens' anti-grav devices. There were carpets on the floor, a photo of the President on the wall, an office plant, a desk, two chairs. When the rabbi looked out of the open window, though, he couldn't see the ground. Just air, and clouds, and a giant floating space whale with eyes the size of flying saucers.
"Convert to what?" he said cautiously.
"We would like," the whalien said, "to become Jews."
Ari and the rabbi exchanged glances.
"You want to be Jews?" Ari said.
"Sure," the whalien ambassador said.
"That's unusual," the rabbi said drily.
"You are the Chosen People," the whalien said. "We were confused with the Mormons, before. And those meshugeh Catholics."
An expression of pain briefly crossed the rabbi's face. "Where did you learn that word?" he said.
The whalien, if it could be said to, beamed with alien pride. "We have intensely analysed Yiddish culture!" it said. "Kleizmer! Dzigan and Shumacher! Fiddler on the Roof! Sholem Aleichem! Old Jews Telling Jokes!"
"Oy," the rabbi said, but quietly.
"I have tsures coming out of my tuches!" the whalien said.
"I think I have a headache," the rabbi said.
"Come on, be a mensch," the whalien said.
"We have to," Ari said, quietly. "We have a week or they'll destroy the planet. Rabbi, they have big fucking guns! Excuse me."
"Ok, look," the rabbi said. "Whalien!"
"Look, are you sure about this? I mean, we don't really... recruit, you know? You kind of have to be born into it. Whether you like it or not."
"But you can convert, can't you?" the whalien said.
"Sure, but... it's a lot of work!" the rabbi said. "Studying! Preparing! Can you even be circumcised?"
"We have large penises," the whalien informed him, proudly. "We are whales, you know."
"How come you get whales in space, anyway?" the rabbi said.
"Whales," the whalien said, "are everywhere."
"Like Jews," Ari said.
"We have so much in common!"
"We'd need a moyel with a really big knife," the rabbi said.
"We need a plan B," Ari said.
"I want to visit the Western Wall," the whalien said.
"The Israelis are so not going to be happy," the rabbi said.
A Hugo Award. It stood like a long, thin object used for sexual gratification. It was shaped like a rocket. It was Greg Feldman's ultimate goal. And he had one! He won it for a story about a robot who tries to join a church. One reviewer complained about the "plodding prose, obvious and predictable plot, and shameless and blatant manipulation," but what did Feldman care for reviewers? He had his award, and it kept him warm at night, with a bit of lubrication.
So imagine his shock as the Secret Service guys led him out of the car into an anonymous grey building on the outskirts of Washington D.C., and into a large conference room and...
"Greg!" a familiar voice said. "So they got to you too?"
It was Phil Cusack.
Greg slowly looked around the room. A dozen bedraggled individuals stared back at him. They were badly dressed. Their hair was badly cut. They twitched and shifted and their fingers moved constantly as though they itched to scratch some invisible sore. Greg watched them in awe.
They were the dozen greatest science fiction writers in the world.
"Phil?" Greg said. "What is going on?"
"They pulled a Niven on us!" Phil said. "A think tank. Again. The aliens are here, ergo, us SF writers must know how to deal with them."
"But that doesn't work in real life!" Greg said, horrified. "These aren't... aren't..." he waved his hand vaguely in the air. "The slitherers of Proxima Four!" he said.
"You're conflating two of my novels," Phil said, "They Came From Proxima Four and –"
"Whatever!" Greg said. He felt a little hysterical. Usually when it happened he had to go to a quiet place and imagine he was fighting space pirates on Venus until he calmed down. But Secret Service men were blocking the only exit.
"Sit down," Phil said. "Coffee?"
He needed coffee the way other people needed air, or love. A writer without coffee was like a Jewish presidential candidate or a Middle Eastern country without WMDs: that is to say, fucked.
They were all drinking coffee. It didn't matter that the coffee wasn't any good. It was coffee. That was enough. They sat around the room, all twelve of them, like Jesus-less disciples at the Last Kaffeeklatsch.
"Project Orion," Jerry said. Jerry was from the guns-and-wife-swapping school of science fiction. Old school. "We light up a bunch of nuclear bombs and send a spacecraft up above the explosions. Get up into orbit, nuke the fuckers' mothership."
"Dude." The speaker was Marcus Cory, the young, charismatic leader of the young Turks, those who knew all about the Internet, and open source and creative commons and copyright piracy and something called the Singularity. "That's so nineteen fifties."
"That was when we had real science fiction," Jerry said, sneering. "Nothing you'd know anything about, Marcus."
"Calm down, boys, calm down!" said Rowena di Bruin. Greg watched her in awe. She was a legend in her own lifetime, a wizardess of words, and she even knew how to use Wordpress. "What we could do," she said, warming up to her theme, "is breed a bunch of crazed mink, wire them up to a telepathic signal amplifier and broadcast their insane minds, fuelled by hunger, rage and desire, directly at the aliens!"
"The old Mother Hitton routine?" Marcus said. "Please."
"Well do you have any suggestions?"
"We could run a worm to enslave zombie computers into a super defence network packet-firing Distributed Denial of Service attacks on the alien mothershi –"
"I don't even understand the words you are using!" screamed Phil.
"Old-timer," Marcus said.
"Young philistine!" Jerry said.
"Boys, please!" di Bruin said.
"Maybe..." Greg said.
"Yes, young man?"
Greg surveyed them all. Excited, nervous, high on caffeine, this was the world they were only ever truly alive in. The world of ideas. At that moment he felt a strange and overwhelming kinship with them. These were his people. His family! He knew them from numerous conventions, award ceremonies, drunken parties and Internet flame-wars. They were his peers, and they were listening to him, ready to hear his idea. He coughed nervously and said, "What if we just travelled back in time and got blue whales to communicate with the aliens before they arrived on Earth?"
A series of groans filled the room. "Dude," Marcus said, shaking his head sadly.
Greg sat back, dejectedly, and helped himself to another cup of coffee.
It was going to be a long night.
There is something truly majestic, Ari thought, about a thousand enormous space whales, floating in the sky above Earth, all singing Baruch Atah Adonai.
There had been some confusion about the minyan.
"Ten?" the whalien said. "Only ten?"
"There must be at least ten," the rabbi said, patiently. "For prayer."
"We're whales," the whalien said. "We travel in pods. We always have a minyan."
"Bully for you," Ari mumbled.
The rabbi smiled. "You'd be surprised," he said, "how hard it is to find enough people for a minyan, sometimes."
"Oy but our people have suffered," the whalien said.
"Don't do that," the rabbi said.
Now they were learning to pray. It was quite a sight. A thousand space whales floating in the sky praying to God.
"Jewish space whales?" the rabbi said, quietly. "I'll never hear the end of it."
"You have to hand it to them," Ari said. "They're nothing if not enthusiastic."
"Enthusiastic?" the rabbi said. "They're not supposed to be enthusiastic! Who's ever been enthusiastic about being a Jew?"
"Not me," Ari said.
"Well, there you go."
"Did you explain to them that destroying the Earth would be bad?" Ari said.
The rabbi sighed. "I tried," he said. "They seem quite happy not to destroy us for now."
"For now..." Ari said, ominously.
Beyond the window, the whaliens' voices were raised in prayer.
"We could destroy their anti-grav devices," Greg said. Everyone stopped and stared at him.
"With a miniature black hole?"
"An EMP pulse!"
"We could detonate a nuclear device –"
"What is it with you and nuclear bombs!"
"We could reverse the magnetic poles!"
"Send up an airship –"
"Upload a virus to the alien mainf –"
"We must use the power of love!"
"Reverse-engineer Area Fifty One technology recovered from the Roswell crash!"
But it was no good. Greg sat back with a sigh. They never stopped. Chattering, muttering, mumbling, gesturing, gulping coffee in between loose syllables, they – never – shut – up!
Suddenly, achingly, he missed his cats.
Buffy the cat rode the human taxi to the White House.
The President had two cats.
Or, rather, the cats had the President of the United States of America.
They were very fond of him.
Entering the White House posed no difficulty. Buffy steered the human female through security. The guards had a glazed look in their eyes. The cats had the White House sealed down tight. She made her way to the Oval Office, where the President's cats waited with the President.
The President's cats were named Betsy and Paddington.
"Report," Buffy said. She had a high rank in the cats' secret organisation.
"We believe we have found a solution," Betsy and Paddington said, in unison. They were highly evolved cats, incorporating advanced technology (reverse engineered in Area 51 from alien technology found in the Roswell crash) into the cats' already highly-evolved telepathic abilities.
"The whales are converting to the human religion of Judaism," the two cats said. "This was deemed preferable to several alternatives of more... zealous, human religions. We do have several Buddhist monks on stand-by, though. Just in case."
"And so?" she said.
"But it's too late to save the rabbi!" Ari said. The whales roared with whalien laughter. "I love Old Jews Telling Jokes," the whalien ambassador, whose Hebrew name was Moshe, said.
"Take my wife – please!"
The whaliens roared with laughter again. "But you don't have a wife, Ari," the whalien ambassador said. Ari looked down. "Well, no," he said. "Work, you know, and..."
"Mormons can have many wives," the whalien said, helpfully. "But you don't even have one. You don't even have a girlfriend."
"Maybe we should have been Mormons after all," another whalien said.
"As Rabbi Akiva said..." the whalien ambassador said, enigmatically. It was a very Jewish thing to say.
"Look," the rabbi said. He pinched the bridge of his nose. He had a headache coming on and, for some reason, he kept thinking about cat food. "You can't just convert. To be a Jew," he said, warming up to his theme, "you have to suffer."
"Suffer?" the whalien ambassador said. "Have the Jewish people not suffered enough?"
"You must go on an exodus!" the rabbi said. There was a strange taste of cat food under his tongue. It was not unpleasant. "You must go wander the desert for forty years!"
"Space! Space is a desert!"
"We could be space Jews!" the whalien said.
"Erm, sure," the rabbi said.
"And I would be Moses, leading my people to the promised land!"
"Thank you, rabbi!"
"Hey," the rabbi said. "It's my pleasure."
"We must suffer!"
"Like Golda Meir!"
"Whatever," the rabbi said.
He looked at Ari, who shrugged. It seemed to have gone off better than either of them had expected. "What can you do, right?" Ari said.
The rabbi shook his head. "Jews," he said.
Buffy went back to her human's apartment. Captain Kirk was still asleep on the couch. Buffy curled up on the couch and pressed the button on the remote control. The television came alive. It was showing the final images of the departing whaliens. Buffy sighed contentedly and began to lick herself clean.
Have you ever seen the flight of a thousand whales gliding through space, moving in one wide circle as they dance the hora?
"Well that went better than expected," the President of the United States said.
A year later Greg Feldman won another Hugo for a short story in which sentient cats were scheming to take over the world.
As he faced the audience of his peers and the sound of clapping hands and cheers, and that faint smell of farts wafting fragrantly up at the podium from the assembled hordes, and clutching his award, Greg Feldman was truly the happiest man in the world.
Lavie Tidhar is the author of many, many things, including a few novels: Osama, The Violent Century and, most recently, A Man Lies Dreaming. This story first appeared as "Whaliens" in Analog (April 2014).
Image: "Baby Blue" by Fran Grambín.