Nobody knew when the kill-safe switches first appeared. Learned historians estimated it guardedly. “A thousand years ago,” a brash young historian might say before blushing and muttering that he didn’t really know; that it could be anywhere from five to one thousand years ago; that evolutionary history was a difficult field with few if any definitive answers; that his parents were disappointed but supportive about his career choice.
But, for as long as anybody could remember, everybody had a switch.
A curious knob of nerves and membrane located right beneath the left forearm, the kill-safe switch would end the user’s life. Not temporarily, not painfully. An end; a proper end. It was customary to walk to the local kill-safe clinic. You could reserve a booth and hire cremation services for a little money—most of the cost was subsidized by people who scribbled “solution” by the word “money” in the thesaurus.
In this way, the people lived and unlived for centuries and fillenuries, a unit of time so alien to us that we could not possibly conceive of it—that is to say, quite a long time.
And now, lights.
“Lights!” cried the child, pointing skyward. The mother walked onward, carrying groceries. “Come on, Michael. Hurry up,” she says. It’s hard to count just how many extraterrestrial attempts at communication have been lost on mothers carrying groceries, but scientists have examined it, and it’s certainly “many” if not “a lot”.
The flying craft seemed to curse. “Shit!” Then the lights went off.
“Shhhh,” hissed Captain Steer. “And why’d you turn on the goddamn lights on the goddamn disco setting?”
“Clumsy hand,” muttered Admiral Klutz.
The Second Battalion’s FSS Encounter glided quietly through the sky, thankfully without any more sightings by nosy, sticky children. It glided past the forest, where grandmothers with a poor sense of real estate lived. It glided past the city, which sparkled with poverty. It glided past the river, the meadows, the farms, the unused hills. It glided past the mountains, though “collided” would be a more accurate word. It went down, with a crash. At the end, it exploded in flames. That just seemed appropriate.