This is the perhaps the most unimaginative corner of Above Top Secret. Behold the tedious procession of evil grey mannikins and descendants of the
Edenic Serpent, the endlessly regurgitated accounts of alien proctologies and secret saucer bases on the far side of the moon. Can the aliens among us
really be as obvious, as inept, as obsessive as this? Why are they so compelled to live down to the expectations of ignorant humanity? Was it for this
they crossed the gulf of stars? To accomplish such a journey requires immense knowledge and power; do they somehow forfeit these qualities when they
enter Earth's atmosphere? Is there some terrestrial force that obliges them to behave just like stupid, squalid human beings?
Consider, by way of contrast, the agents of Special Circumstances, the dirty-tricks division of Contact, which is that aspect of the Culture
specializing in transactions with alien species so primitive they have not yet achieved interstellar travel. SC agents are meddlers. Their job is to
prepare their hosts for the culture shock of integration into the Culture. They take their time: decades, centuries, millennia if necessary, subtly
altering the course of history on planets whose inhabitants have yet no inkling that the sky above them teems with life and thought.
The people of the Culture are largely human. That is to say, they conform to a phenotype, commonly found throughout the Galaxy, which we on earth
share and term human. Details of the phenotype differ from planet to planet: some humans are blue, some have only three fingers per hand, some have
gills, others sport wings. It depends on the environment in which they evolved; the phenotype is the outcome of convergent evolution, not a shared
genotype. The Culture contains representatives of all these types (though none from Earth).
Whatever the details of their normal appearance, SC operatives have no difficulty in disguising themselves to fit in with the locals on the primitive
planets they visit (Earth is one). The Culture can easily muster the technologies necessary to achieve the necessary outward appearance, odour, etc.,
and can even, at need, reverse-engineer out the genetic and prosthetic enhancements, the drug-secreting glands and neural nets that would betray them
to their unwitting hosts in the event of an autopsy. The locals never
suspect that there are aliens among them.
Likewise their technology. Most Culture machines are intelligent to some degree, and many are far more intelligent than the most heavily
re-engineered, neurally networked Culture human could possibly be. These machines are treated as sentient beings, with the rights and legal
protections common to all members of the Culture. They are equal partners with humans and other biological life-forms and many of them are SC agents.
Some of them are giant starships. Others, called drones, are more human in outlook and scale (and may appear in the company of a human SC agent on
some backwoods world disguised as a robot servitor or a briefcase). For protection, most SC operatives are armed with devices like the knife missile,
a munition so small as to be practically invisible, yet packing a finely-calibrated punch whose effect ranges from that of a actual punch to that of a
small nuclear explosion. Virus-sized surveillance devices and the like are also part of their armouries.
The Culture doesn't exist. I'd better repeat that, for the sake of the determined fantasists among you: the Culture doesn't exist
. It was
invented by the science fiction writer Iain M. Banks
. So was everything else I've written about in the preceding
four paragraphs; none of it is my work, greatly though I wish it was. But fictitious though they are, Banks's ideas are far more interesting and
imaginative than anything found in the UFO/abductee subculture and also a lot more credible. If there really were aliens among us -- aliens advanced
enough to cross the ocean of stars, aliens rich enough to waste the absurd amounts of energy this requires simply in order to pay attention to
insignificant humanity, aliens sensitive enough to our possible reactions to want to keep themselves largely hidden -- then this, I am sure, is how
they would do it. Abductees, if any, would never return to tell their tale. The mask would never slip.
So to my point. If there were indeed aliens among us, they would be like the Culture. They would disguise themselves impenetrably, their technology
would be potent and invisible and their machinations entirely unsuspected until they chose to reveal them. And yet, and yet... we humans are no fools.
Somewhere, somehow, there could be clues. Enigmatic, almost unnoticeable, but clues all the same.
When someone comes up with an aliens-among-us story like that, I might
begin to believe it. Wake me up when one comes in.
More on the Culture