Distress Call

For decades Loipos had been the sole Xenoi speaker of English. Anglo humans fascinated him, and through intergalactic auctions he had amassed a respectable collection of movies, music, and stories written in or translated into English including Milton’s Paradise Lost, Beethoven’s Mass in C major, and Lucas’ Star Wars.

Being thousands of light years away from Earth, the study of English was obscure to the Xenoi, and only a handful of them were even aware of the language’s existence.

Recently, however, the Xenoi had become curious about the planet previously inhabited by humans. News had come from the Andromeda Galaxy that Earth was no longer supporting life. Humans were known to have self-destructive tendencies, but theirs was a slow self-poisoning, and their suicide not due for another millennium or two. Something external must have contributed to the rapid deterioration of the species.

The Xenoi wanted to learn what had happened to Earth. They assembled a team of scholars to investigate the humans’ demise and salvage any artifacts worth saving. Loipos was an obvious candidate for this mission. When asked, he was delighted to join the archeologists, anthropologists, and linguists headed to Earth. At last, the decades of lonely study would be validated. Not only he would get a chance to see the place that inspired the Lord of the Rings, The New Testament, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but he could also add to his collection.


He spent the long journey to Earth brushing up on his favorite major musicians: Peter Frampton, Frank Zappa, and Yo-Yo Ma. He reread important authors like William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Edgar Allen Poe. He also digested a variety of films, which epitomized Earth life including Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather, and Weekend at Bernie’s. Loipos felt confident enough in his command of English and knowledge of American culture to translate and interpret anything written in 21st century English.

The investigation team members were sent to cities all over Earth. Loipos’ assignment was Hollywood, CA, which was the epicenter of English speaking culture at the time of the humans’ extinction.

As the team’s ship entered Earth’s orbit, they could observe little from the outside. The planet wholly concealed by a dark grey cloud like a dull, black marble. The images that appeared on the view screen showed a landscape covered in ash, which was good evidence for Extinction Scenario Number Two. Scenario Two involved the eruption of a super-volcano, covering large portions of the planet in ash and cloud of dust covering Earth. Scenario Two was an investigator’s dream. Artifacts and corpses would be kept in tact by the ash and the rainless clouds would allow neither sun nor water corrosion. Because of the reaction between Xenoinian physiology with which Earth’s ashes was uncertain, the team members were commanded to limit their exposure time.

Loipos was giddy with anticipation during the short shuttle ride to Hollywood. As soon as he walked out of his shuttle, Loipos looked up and noticed a large grey spelling of “HOLLYWOOD.” A wave of optimism took him over. Not only did he know that Hollywood was a city on the Western Coast of the United States of America, but he also knew that holly was a plant and wood a substance derived from arboreal life.

After digging through the black powder for less than a minute, he found a well-preserved human corpse just below the surface.

He dragged the body aboard his shuttle and checked the corpse’s pockets. He found a brown billfold, a thin blue plastic tube, and a communication device, which he knew was called a cellular telephone. This was it! This cellular phone would provide details of the last moments of human existence, and only he had the ability to unravel its mystery. It was even a camera phone. His hand held the last words and images of a dying race in his hand.

Loipos infused the device with a low charge of energy. Three musical tones came from the phone and the word, “Blackberry” appeared on the screen. Loipos’ delight increased as he recalled that a blackberry was a small fruit that grows on a bramble bush.

“NEW MESSAGE! OK?” appeared on the screen. Perhaps, a message of warning that was never received. He hit OK. The screen read:

“gtg, ttyl <3 u”

In his decades of study, Loipos had never seen any of these combinations of characters. Perhaps it was some sort of code. Of course! The message of warning was encoded to prevent mass hysteria. He scrolled down to read, “LMFAO! c u l8r” It would take time to decrypt the message, but Loipos would determine what had happened on planet Earth.


Clyde K. Elsie is a Franciscan Friar and high school teacher in New York. In his spare time he enjoys playing tennis, palindromes, and wearing crocs. His favorite authors include Raymond E. Brown, Neil Gaiman, and Louis Sachar. He is currently mourning the death of Battlestar Gallactica, but looks forward to its ressurection in Caprica in 2010.