In the late 1940s, an alien spacecraft crashed on Earth. No, it didn’t crash at Roswell. Absolutely nothing crashed at Roswell, though the rumors did serve as a useful distraction for the conspiracy theorists and other people who would get in the way of the extraterrestrial research program. Still, something did crash, and it was recovered by the United States Air Force. The government promptly assembled an expert team of engineers and mathematicians to examine artifacts recovered from the wreckage.
It was a small craft, piloted by a single occupant. Unfortunately, the craft was heavily damaged and most of it was deemed unsalvageable. At the time, the technology simply didn’t exist to properly analyze the wreckage. Only a few objects and the body of the pilot were recovered.
The pilot was promptly autopsied and preserved. The medical examiners found, to their surprise, that the alien’s body was basically humanoid, though it was covered in black fur and possessed a long, prehensile tail. The entity’s hands and feet had sharp, retractable claws, while its head had a clearly defined muzzle filled with sharp teeth, eyes like a cat’s, and ears like a jackrabbit. Without knowing anything of the alien’s physiology, the best guess was that it was a young adult male.
The most interesting object recovered from the craft was a thin, jet black box. No one knew what to make of it, and no one wanted to disassemble it for fear of permanently destroying it. Some of the engineers hypothesized that it was some sort of electronic device, and this guess was confirmed several years later when someone accidentally discovered how to turn it on.
One side of the device was actually a screen that displayed strange symbols and icons. Different team members performed experiments to test the ways the displayed information could be manipulated. For a long time, no one could make heads or tails of it, and the project languished. It wasn’t until the 1960s, with the advent of the earliest precursors of graphical user interfaces, that they took a second look and realized they were dealing with a computer – one much smaller and more powerful than anything humans had ever built.
The program was restarted. Cryptologists and linguists were added to the team to attempt to decipher the alien language. It took decades just to translate the computer’s interface. After endless trial and error, poring through hundreds of pages worth of text files stored on the alien device, they gained a rudimentary understanding of the language.
Most of the available files seemed to contain personal information about the owner. From a sociological point of view, it was fascinating and revealed much about the alien culture. However, technical data was what the researchers truly wanted. They hoped to find something that would allow humanity to leap into a golden age of progress.
Nothing among the available files contained any kind of hard scientific information, but they also discovered a large chunk of encrypted data. There was still hope. Unfortunately, twenty years later they were still trying to break through.
That’s why one scientist sat alone in a lab late one night, staring at his computer screen. He had spent his entire career on this project, and whiled away many lonely nights testing new code breaking techniques and theories. Many had given it up as hopeless, but he was determined. He believed that whatever data remained hidden on the alien computer would prove vital to the development of humanity.
And tonight he had a good feeling. He was sure he was close. All he had to do was wait for his latest decryption program to finish running. There was a soft beep from his computer, stirring him out of his reverie and telling him that it was time to check the results. Despite his optimism, he didn’t expect to actually succeed tonight. He figured he was close, but not there yet.
Imagine his surprise when the output window claimed success. After a lifetime of work, had he finally cracked the code? It was the discovery of the century, maybe even the millennium! He quickly browsed through the newly decrypted directory. The initial analysis was correct – there was a huge amount of new data here. Still, it wasn’t quite what they had expected. There was very little text; most of it appeared to be picture or video.
Maybe they had intercepted some kind of spy computer. Perhaps the alien had been gathering intelligence on Earth. Or was it some kind of survey mission? There was still a small chance that it contained engineering data. With any luck, one of these files contained schematics for some kind of alien technology, or maybe starship designs.
He was so overwhelmed with hope and possibility that for several minutes he neglected to actually open any of the files. He simply allowed his mind to race through all kinds of fantasies.
Finally, he opened one of the picture files. At first he was confused by what he saw. The form was so unfamiliar that it took time to recognize it as a picture of one of the aliens. He mentally compared it to the pictures he had seen of the autopsies. It was definitely the same species, though he suspected that it was not the individual recovered from the crash site. This individual was sitting on some kind of table. Could he have stumbled upon some kind of medical diagram?
He looked at another picture. It was similar to the previous one. Yet again there was a member of the alien species, apparently unclothed, in a position that showed off parts of its body. It certainly seemed like an anatomical reference, but something was off.
“No. It couldn’t be.”
This time he opened one of the videos. The data was compressed and badly degraded, but he could still make out the basic movements of the two aliens in the frame. His mouth hung open as he realized what he had uncovered.
“My God – it’s full of porn!”
A member of an incredibly advanced race had crossed who knows how many thousands of lightyears and could have brought with him any number of vital technologies. Instead he brought this. Humanity had spent decades and billions of dollars… for this. The scientist wept. He wept for humanity, and he wept for this strange alien race.