by Andrew Fraknoi
Flammarion’s Announces the Auction of
an Extra-terrestrial Machine from the Kuiper Belt
For sale by the estate of the discoverer
(Warning: Other claims may apply)
Contact: Cassandra Taylor, London Office
Flammarion’s is proud to offer for immediate sale a unique item: one of the extra-terrestrial machines found during the recent exploration of the inner Kuiper Belt. Only 12 such machines were transported to Earth, before the Zurich Treaty outlawed moving any alien artifacts. This one was returned by Chinese astronaut Wang Chiu Lee, who then defected to New Taiwan with help from the Restoration movement, taking the machine in its shielded container. Since the other 11 machines are in laboratories under the control of their respective governments, and no further transfer of such artifacts to Earth is envisioned, it is unlikely that another such offering will be made in the foreseeable future.
This machine consists of many black cubes of different sizes, which absorb all light falling upon them. The overall shape is extremely irregular, but well-balanced. Exact specifications will be shown to qualified buyers. No electromagnetic emission or other activity has been measured since Wang brought it to Earth.
Upon the advice of lawyers associated with the Restoration movement, Wang set up a trust and deposited his machine with a bank in New Taiwan, expecting that his government would most likely undertake actions to recover it. Within days, Wang’s body was found in an abandoned lot. The coroner controversially ruled it a case of suicide; control of the machine then passed to the Trust managed by the Seven Stars Bank. The Trustee, having sole discretion, has decided that selling the machine as soon as possible is in the best interests of the Trust.
The Bank has authorized Flammarion’s to auction the artifact to any interested buyer, including individuals, corporations, academic institutions, or governmental entities. Flammarion’s has made private arrangements to bring the probe to a European warehouse with the security needed to protect such a one-of-a-kind and controversial item. The machine remains in its shielded container, meeting or exceeding the specifications in the Zurich Treaty.
Images taken by the Remote Explorer spacecraft showed mechanical artifacts on and near a number of the icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt. This launched the new Space Race, whose ultimate outcome no one can presently predict. Based on the findings of the Russian, American, Pan-European, and Chinese missions to the Belt, the number of cataloged alien machines is now understood to be over 300, but this may only be a fraction of what is out there. The machines are not all alike, but show a variety of shapes and albedos.
At present, we do not know whether these machines come from a single civilization or from a range of alien species. Given the diversity of designs, most experts suggest that a number of other extra-terrestrial civilizations were at work. Flammarion’s makes no representation about such questions.
We can only speculate about the purpose of all these alien machines at the edge of our solar system. Suggestions include: scientific monitoring stations (like our probes to the other planets in the Solar System and to the Alpha Centauri system); variations on the idea that our system is a cosmic garbage dump; various survivors of a war among a number of civilizations fighting via machine proxies; and trigger alarm mechanisms to alert alien civilizations that life here has reached space-faring capability.
It is this last possibility, which implies that any attempt to engage with the probes could induce them to send a message warning an extra-terrestrial civilization that humans are now a potential competitor or customer, that led to the Zurich treaty. So far, all 12 of the artifacts brought back to Earth (including the one on offer) have remained inside protective and shielded containers designed by the science and engineering group the UN 2.0 established after the first discoveries. However, the actions of the machines before they reached these containers have varied and are not at present fully cataloged or understood.
Flammarion’s and Seven Stars bank assume no liability for the machine once it is sold. The purchaser shall take full legal and political responsibility and shall respond to all claims from governments, individuals, and groups, whether existing at the time of the sale or submitted later. The purchaser will affirm that it understands that defending the ownership of the artifact against China or other interested parties will likely involve large investments of resources and/or personnel.
Although the Zurich Treaty was not in effect when the machine was deposited with the Trust, it has meanwhile been accepted by all the countries that have space-faring capability. One or more of these countries, as well as the UN 2.0 Chamber of Deputies, may take action to repossess or protect the machine at some future time and responding to such actions will be the sole responsibility of the purchaser.
The Trustee and Flammarion’s are unable to warrant that moving the probe to Earth has not already triggered some sort of alarm that has eluded detection by our instruments. Should such an alarm have been set off, the purchaser shall take full responsibility for all consequences, financial or strategic, that might arise, immediately or in the future.
The probe is presently at an undisclosed location in Pan-Europe. Legitimate bidders for the item (who must submit audited statements of net worth) may apply to examine the item after the signing of a non-disclosure agreement. It is expected that relatively few of these applications will be approved. Examination will take place only through remote sensing, and under no circumstances will the probe be removed from its protective container or from the chamber in which the probe is suspended during the bidding process.
The minimum bid will be disclosed only to approved bidders, but is expected to be appropriate to the uniqueness of the item and the costs already involved in bringing it to auction.
Cassandra Taylor will be happy to answer any additional questions.
Andrew Fraknoi is a retired astronomer and college instructor. He is the lead author for the free, online, introductory textbook “Astronomy” from the nonprofit OpenStax project, which is now the leading astronomy textbook in the U.S., having been used by more than 700,000 students. He has also written two children’s books, edited or written a number of books for science teachers, and published five other science-fiction stories. His colleagues have named Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi in recognition of his work in science outreach.
I am a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute, the scientific organization engaged in the search for life in the universe. I am fascinated by the possibilities of alien contact and have long felt that the ways it happens in popular science fiction are too limited. Just as we have found that robot probes are an economical and efficient way to begin our space exploration, so others may decide that such probes, sent to promising planetary systems, might be the best investment in learning about the development of technological life elsewhere. In the science literature, such probes have now come to be called “lurkers” and this story explores a future where many lurkers are discovered at the edge of the solar system.