A Culturally Inappropriate Armageddon

Part 1
C-RES Is on the Air

April 27, 1991

Emily Porter was exceptionally nervous. It was a very big day, but she seemed to be the only one who cared about its significance. Aaron Bomberry and Tracey Greene hadn’t arrived at the station yet, and they, too, were scheduled to begin their broadcasting careers in fifteen minutes, at high noon. Where the hell were they? This was her brainchild… Okay, maybe the other two had helped deal with the grants and the complex and mercurial powers that be at the band office and various levels of government, but C-RES had her blood and sweat all over it. If it had had DNA, it would have been hers.

The first community radio station on her reserve, one of the first of its type in this part of Canada—this was her baby. She planned to nurse it for the rest of her life. The world needed changing, she thought, and she was just the person to do it… well, at least her part of it, by providing news, weather, sports, music and talk about and for the Iroquois people of her community. Standing out on the dirt driveway, she looked up and saw the huge antenna towering above her, as if giving that distant high-flying 747 the finger. That humongous chunk of metal and wires had taken five years of rattling government and corporate offices, shaking down money, often, it seemed, pennies at a time. But there it was, standing tall, beautiful and on this bright sunny Monday, about to broadcast in 250 glorious watts the spirit of her people.

While the station was being constructed, Emily spent endless hours hammering out the broadcast schedule, the shows and hosts, the content and personnel. Now, in fourteen minutes, she and her small community would make history. It was a glorious moment. So where was everybody? Not even their brand-new news reporter was here to cover the event. Not exactly an auspicious beginning. Worse, it looked like it was going to rain. Her grandmother would have said it was a bad sign, but she also believed cats were little furry demons that coughed up hairballs on purpose.

If Aaron was in town at another movie, Emily was going to kill him. Aaron was a technical whiz. She had employed him to wire the whole place together. After that, she promoted him to radio technician. Why he would prefer the world of science fiction films to the excitement of operating a radio station, Emily couldn’t understand. So as an extra incentive she had said Aaron could host a movie review show at 1:30 on Tuesday afternoons, to be repeated Saturdays at 4:00. Both Emily and Aaron knew working at the reserve radio station was as close to Hollywood as he was likely to get. Tracey agreed to the plan as long as Aaron would provide solid cinema criticism from an Iroquoian perspective—another first C-RES would achieve.

And Tracey? Hard to say where she was. The new station was almost as important to her as it was to Emily. Emily was the station manager—she loved that title—and Tracey was the program manager. She should be here to oversee the first-ever broadcast. Tracey had given up her job teaching conversational Mohawk at the local college to try her hand at broadcasting. She felt embracing new media would provide a future for her people. Since the Iroquoian languages were in danger of dying out, one of the promises she elicited from Emily was that the station would provide its listeners with weekly on-air language classes and traditional music. Emily doubted the ratings would be stratospheric, but still, it was a good thing to do. This was, after all, a community radio station, emphasis on community.

Thirteen minutes to go and still no sign of either. Near the chain-link fence bordering the parking lot, she spotted Karl Maracle’s truck, identifiable by the dozen or so decals extolling the virtues of hunting and cats. So at least he was here… somewhere. Good old Karl—she never had to worry about him. So far.

Then, Emily saw a 1984 Toyota Corolla rolling up the long driveway. Finally! She realized she’d been holding her breath and exhaled with relief.

Tracey’s feet hadn’t even touched the gravel before the apologies started. “Sorry I’m late. I was doing an interview with the CBC about the new Kanien’kéha language immersion program we’re starting at the community centre.”

As always, Tracey preferred the correct name for their people, Kanienké’hà:ka, which translated to “People of the Flint Place,” instead of Mohawk, a name given to them by white people. Tracey knew people in many of the other nations in the Iroquois Confederacy—Cayuga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Onondaga and Oneida—felt the same. When she was growing up, Emily’s family had always used the term Mohawk, and Tracey was determined to break her of that, as well as the I-word. You did not say Iroquois around Tracey, only Haudenosaunee, under penalty of a withering glance and a lecture.

“This was the only time they could fit me in,” Tracey continued.

Today, Tracey’s skirt and patterned top were both red, her favourite colour. Even her hair had a touch of auburn to it.

“Did you mention the station? Huh? Did you?”

Emily felt it was imperative to establish the success of the station immediately. Everything in the universe must revolve around the healthy birth of the station. It was an old midwives’ belief—a good, proper birth led to a good, proper life. Without waiting for an answer, Emily grabbed Tracey’s arm and hurried her through the front doors and into the lobby of C-RES, as in “the Res,” as the employees were required to call it. Again, Emily’s idea—clever, funny, punchy and memorable.

Stopping just inside the door, Tracey tried to stamp the mud off her feet—no need to destroy the new carpeting so soon—but Emily’s enthusiasm would not be deterred. Dragging Tracey along, Emily made her way into the interview room, where guests would sit and chat with the DJ or host.

“Yes, I did, but there are things happening in this world other than this radio station.”

“No, there aren’t. Today it’s radio station, radio station, radio station. Only radio station. Where’s Aaron? He’s late. He’s very late. Aaron should be here.” Emily tended to repeat key words as she got more and more agitated.

“I’m right behind you.” Indeed, there was Aaron, halfway through an apple, wearing his ubiquitous Batman T-shirt.

Emily was perplexed. “I didn’t see you come in.”

Biting off a huge chunk of fruit, Aaron sat down with a thump in the technician’s chair. “I live about a hundred metres over there, remember? I would have driven but I’m kind of low on gas.” He chomped. “There a problem, honeybutt?”

Emily and Aaron had dated for two years back in high school, and he still liked to use his old nickname for her. It usually infuriated her, but then, of course, that was the point. He twisted his neck with a flick to swing his combination ponytail/mullet free from between his back and the chair.

“Geez, I wasn’t sure you’d show up. And don’t call me that. We’re professionals.”

“Yes, here I am. And yes we are.” It was then that Aaron noticed the full pot of coffee across the room. For him, this was an auspicious sign. He got up to get himself a cup. “You seem kind of… excited.”

Tracey nodded. “Yeah, doesn’t she?”

Aaron nodded, his eyes sweeping the interview room. “We got any milk?” Coffee was not coffee without milk, be it skim, cream or Carnation. “Probably not,” he said to himself. He was the only one at the station who drank his coffee with milk.

As usual, Emily was ignoring Aaron and his coffee fixation. “I hope Ontario and Canada are ready for C-RES. Eight minutes to go.”

“You do realize we are just adding to the cosmic radio pollution this planet is giving off. We are like the radio-wave oil spill of the galaxy,” Aaron said. The interview room, probably the entire building, was milk free. There was a farm next door, and logic suggested to Aaron that quite possibly a cow was located somewhere on the premises.

Emily was pacing back and forth across the narrow hallway, stealing glances at the clock. “What are you talking about?”

Deciding to bite the bullet, Aaron took his first sip of black coffee. It was strong and harsh, but strong and harsh coffee was better than no coffee.

“Oh, good! I get to give you a history lesson.” He sat back down in his command chair. “Ever since Marconi and his wireless telegraph experiments, then the creation of radio broadcasting early last century, and then short-wave, television and every other method of transmitting anything, radio waves have been spilling out into space. In every direction. Travelling at the speed of light. C-RES is just going to add to that mess. Right now, solar systems sixty to eighty light-years away are receiving radio broadcasts of Amos ’n’ Andy and The Lone Ranger.”

Tracey said, “Oh great, now aliens are going to think all Native people talk with personal-pronoun problems.”

“That’s just fascinating, Aaron,” Emily lied. “Feel free to mention that at the next board meeting.” Why had she ever dated this guy? And why did she ever hire him?

“I’m just sayin’,” Aaron rolled on, “we are joining a crowded room where everybody’s talking.”

Suddenly, the host of the inaugural show on C-RES brushed by them carrying a giant Tim Hortons cup. Karl Maracle was the only one of the four who actually had radio experience. Two years of college and four years of working at a small station in Mississauga had made him the station’s most valuable employee. The problem was Karl was forty-six and hadn’t done any radio in eighteen years.

“I hope I remember where everything is. Good luck, guys!” Karl raised both fists in an enthusiastic “Let’s-go-get-’em” gesture that to Emily seemed slightly hostile. Aaron wondered if there was milk in Karl’s big cup of coffee.

Behind her back, Emily crossed her fingers. It was a silly habit but a hard one to break, she knew. Tracey gave Emily a good luck kiss on the cheek, and Aaron celebrated the launch of the station by eating his apple core. “Hailing frequencies open, Captain,” he added.

Emily managed to say, “Break a leg, Karl.”

“Actually,” interjected Tracey, “in the Native community, it’s more correct to say ‘wound a knee.’”

“So wound a knee!” Emily and Tracey said it together, and with a determined look on his face, Karl stepped into the sound booth for his first noon-to-four shift. C-RES was on the air!

October 10, 1998

Emily was growing increasingly weary of these conversations. In a million years, she had never thought her station would devolve into the classic battle of ratings versus content. But it had. Emily was responsible for getting the bills paid. Tracey was in charge of feeding the souls of their listeners. But for some reason, Tracey’s grasp of what could be done with a radio station never really developed beyond using it as a teaching tool. Yes, that was one of its functions, and it could be a pretty strong teacher. But people don’t like to be taught all the time. People like fun and, quite frequently, to hear what the other 30 million people in the country are listening to.

“I don’t know, Tracey,” Emily said.

“You have to do it. We have to do it. It’s part of our mandate.”

“Look, Tracey…”

“I hate it when you say ‘look,’” Tracey said. “I am looking. I’m not blind, but you might be. I know what this community needs.” Today, she was dressed in a cerulean blue motif.

Sitting behind her desk, Emily sighed what must have been her seventh or eighth sigh of the morning, if anybody was counting. Already it felt like it was going to be a long day. “Maybe, but I know what this station needs.”

“What do you have against the Kanien’kéha language?” Tracey placed her knuckles on Emily’s desk and leaned forward in an attempt to get closer. Walking around the desk to face Emily directly might have seemed a little aggressive.

“That’s a stupid question and you know it. I have constantly supported you and your cultural programming, but occasionally you, Ms. Greene, have to tune in to reality. We have your language show. We have your Mohawk—”


“Kanien’kéha, then, your Kanien’kéha cooking show. Your Kanien’kéha fashion report. You’ve only done four shows and already you’re running out of topics for the fashion show. I even let you have your specials. The one about the existential view of Kanien’kéha was actually interesting. ‘I think Kanien’kéha, therefore I am Kanien’kéha.’” Emily paused in the hope that her compliment would take the edge off Tracey’s stance. No such luck.

“Let’s be honest, Tracey,” Emily continued in a softer voice. “Your audience is dwindling. Even Aaron’s Kanien’kéha interpretation of Starship Troopers, the radio play, had better ratings than your latest Kanien’kéha programming. People just aren’t interested in our language. And I’m talking about our people.”

Tracey was getting tired of the truth. “So what? You want us to just play country music?!”

“Not just country music. You know we program a wide selection of genres to please the diverse audience across our community. My guess is that listening to archival drum music on the morning drive to work is probably not going to be—” Emily knew exactly what Tracey was going to say next.

“That show is not archival, it’s historical! Either let me do it, or I will quit.”

Emily waited for a moment. Should she call Tracey’s bluff? “Fine! You don’t have to pack up your office. You can have Sunday mornings, 8:30. Only half an hour, though.”

“I’d rather have Mondays at 7:00 in the evening.”

Emily shook her head. “No, I promised that to Karl for his radio bingo show. In lieu of a raise.”

“But Karl’s…”

“I know. But we can’t cancel a show that’s already been promoted. We’ll just have to find a new host. So it’s Sunday 8:30 or nothing.” Now it was Emily’s turn to wait for a response to her ultimatum.

Satisfied with her partial victory, Tracey took her knuckles off Emily’s desk. She had her show. Now she had to get to work putting it together. “Thanks, Emily. You won’t be sorry.”

Emily already was. She hated these head-to-heads with Tracey. Somewhere back a few generations they were cousins. And Emily actually liked her cousin. Last year, Tracey had joined Weight Watchers after being diagnosed as prediabetic, and she had applied to weight loss the same force of will she brought to the station and cultural preservation. As a result, she had dropped twenty-three pounds. Unfortunately, she was short, and the added weight had helped make her a formidable physical force to be reckoned with. Now she was just short and lean. During the wet spring that year, her front door had swollen shut, imprisoning her in her own house until she phoned for help. The old Tracey would never have let an eight-by-three-foot piece of wood and glass get the best of her. Being a skinny Native woman has its drawbacks.

Emily, however, had recently been morphing into her grandmother, an imposing figure with a rather matronly physique. Running a radio station and babysitting half a dozen employees left her little time to burn calories or eat a balanced diet. She was on a first-name basis with the employees of several drive-thrus circling the reserve. Physically, Emily was now the sole alpha woman in the room and at the radio station.

As soon as Tracey left Emily’s office, she found Aaron, huddled over his precious editing suite, working on something that may or may not have been for the station. He had so many pet projects that it was difficult to know what he was working on at any given time. After years of keeping the station operating, nobody questioned what he was doing because all roads, be they sound or systems, led to him. Focusing on the minutiae of a circuit board, Aaron didn’t notice Tracey enter the room.

“Aaron! Aaron! Earth calling. Hello.”

Turning off his headphones and shaking out his new shag cut, Aaron finally looked at Tracey.

She certainly was looking good these days, thought Aaron. “You look like somebody blew up your Death Star. What did the Emperor have to say?” After years of working together, Aaron could no longer find endearing nicknames for Emily. Theirs was not the first relationship to be altered because of hierarchical office structure.

Tracey pulled up a chair next to Aaron. “It’s a go.”

Aaron looked mildly surprised. “She went for it? Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. This is so not her kind of show.”

“You just need to know how to play her,” Tracey said smugly. “First thing we have to do is find a way to digitize all the old records I found.”

“Did you threaten to quit again?”

“The communications between the station manager and the program manager are privileged information,” Tracey said with a full stop. “Do you think you can filter out all the scratching noises? Make them broadcast ready?”

Aaron was silent for a moment before answering as solemnly as he could, “If you bring them, I will do it.”

At a garage sale put on by Tracey’s cousin Joseph five months earlier, Tracey had found something very interesting.

“They belonged to Granny,” Joseph wheezed due to his deviated septum. “Just found them a month ago when I was cleaning out the basement after the flood. She left them to me when she died. I didn’t know what to do with them. Interested?”

Tracey didn’t want to show how interested she was. Stacked in two beat-up boxes were countless thick polyvinyl slabs of Haudenosaunee culture. Sometime in the 1920s, an anthropologist had come to their village seeking to record traditional songs of their people. He graciously made copies and sent the records back to their grandmother as thanks for her help. Authentic, vintage and original Haudenosaunee social songs and, with any luck, specifically Kanienké’hà:ka ones. C-RES listeners and the world had to know about these.

Tracey could dimly remember her grandmother playing the records while she babysat Tracey and her cousins. Occasionally, snatches of the songs would creep out of her subconscious like the faint aroma of some delicious pastry made by a loved one long ago. As soon as she found the records, she knew this new way of generating more interest in her people’s heritage was practically heaven sent. Now that Emily was no longer the main stumbling block, she could put a program together that truly showcased the traditional songs of her people. It might even foster more unity within the Iroquois Confederacy, not to mention placing another brick in the dam that held back the flood of the dominant culture’s influence. C-RES—all social music, all the time was her motto.

A few minutes later, lugging the treasured boxes into Aaron’s sound lab, a place he liked to call his “magic suite,” Tracey was ready to start immediately. At that point he was huddled over a non-responsive and ancient Ampex reel-to-reel recording machine. His curiosity piqued by her story, Aaron stopped his labours long enough to rifle through Tracey’s precious box of records. A look of concern popped up on his face.

Tracey noticed it instantly. “I know that look. What’s wrong?”

“My bad. I… these records…” He took a deep breath. “These are 78s—I didn’t realize when you said records they would be these old, massive hunks of wax.”

“Why is this a problem?”

Leaning back, Aaron stared at the box, but his mind was elsewhere, already working on rectifying the problem. “They may just take a little more time. I think I have one of those old-time record-player arms that can handle these artifacts. Give me a second.” He started to rummage around in a large box full of what appeared to Tracey to be vintage tech equipment.

Tracey was amazed. “You have one of those? In here?” She had heard rumours that Aaron had UFO odds and ends that had been rescued from Roswell hidden somewhere in the labyrinth of his office.

Finally, she heard an “Aha!” as Aaron’s head and right arm emerged from the crate, victoriously holding a large metallic device. It reminded Tracey of the arm that had been on the record player she had owned as a teenager, except this was much larger and more ornate.

“Never throw anything out. That’s my rule.”

Aaron, the problem solver, had come through for her once again. Already he was busy attaching it to a worn stereo.

“It’ll just take a second,” he said, grabbing his soldering iron.

Tracey leaned against a counter and looked around the room, wondering what other marvels were lurking in bins and shelves. All around the half mixing/editing, half repair room was a hodgepodge of wires, circuit boards, equipment and tools. An altar to man’s insatiable need to tinker and invent. It looked like a Terminator had exploded in here, which suited Aaron’s aesthetic just fine.

A few minutes passed before he spoke again. “There.”

The confidence and finality in how Aaron said that single word gave Tracey hope that she and her community might actually be able to hear what was on the records she cradled so protectively.

 “Let’s take another look at those babies,” Aaron said. Once more, he began leafing through the contents of the box. “I haven’t heard of half of these songs. You sure they’re authentic?” Aaron’s great-aunt was a clan mother, so he was no stranger to the songs of his people.

“Of course they are. I’ve researched and double-checked as many as I could. I can’t tell you how cool this is! Look, one of the earliest recordings of ‘The Alligator Dance’ known. Same with ‘The Smoke Dance’ and ‘The Pigeon Dance.’ This is priceless.”

The Haudenosaunee people were well known for a variety of social dances and songs, usually sung with a unique water drum. Who knows? She might get one of those Aboriginal Achievement Awards for her show.

Aaron was holding up one record, studying the worn and faded wording on the label at the centre. “I’ve never heard of this one… ‘The Calling Song’?”

“Me neither. I looked everywhere. It seems to have disappeared sometime between when it was recorded and now.” Unfortunately, that applied to a lot of Haudenosaunee and other First Nations cultural offerings in the New World. Segments of precious history lost in the progression of Manifest Destiny. But moments like this made her feel there was hope. “Can you play it?”

“Can and will do. Actually, this is kind of exciting. A lost archive of mysterious records containing unknown songs. A very Indiana Jones kind of thing.”

“Just play the song.” Tracey’s pulse quickened.

Try as he might, Aaron couldn’t get rid of all the scratching sounds loved by vinyl fans. Then, faintly, a water drum could be heard, reminding Tracey of the sound of a heartbeat, specifically a baby’s heartbeat but at an even higher rate. The rapid succession of thump-thumps echoing back from the water in the drum was the sound every Haudenosaunee knew and was proud of. The sound gradually built. The rising volume of the water drum was followed by growing voices that sounded like a dozen Haudenosaunee elders singing in unison. The song seemed to have all the characteristics of a traditional social melody, but then it grew increasingly discordant. Each voice seemed to find dominance over the next, as if the elders were proclaiming their place in the universe. The discord lasted a couple more minutes before returning to the more familiar keen of the traditional social song. Slowly the voices ebbed away, leaving the water drum. Then there was a scratchy nothing before the sound of the needle being lifted. Aaron turned the machine off.

“Well, that was interesting. No wonder it didn’t catch on. What do you make of that?” Aaron asked. As if Tracey had any idea.

She was silent for a moment, letting the vestiges of the sound slowly evaporate from her mind. “It was very different. Most of our songs have a purpose or a meaning. What did the label of the record say it was again?”

“‘The Calling Song,’” Aaron said. “Maybe if you’re looking for a moose!”

Tracey gave Aaron a quick swat on the back of his head. “Be respectful.”

“Always,” Aaron gave back. “Are you really going to broadcast it? It’s worse than a Klingon opera.” Grabbing his big mug of coffee with his left hand, he handed the record back to Tracey with his right. “I mean, I can clean it up all you want, but really… You think people will want to listen to that? I mean, I’m as proud of our culture as the next Mohawk—”


“Kanienké’hà:ka, then, but that sure ain’t our best work.”

Tracey had to agree. “It would be a bit intense first thing in the morning.”

She knew this song had to have some significance. It came from her community, so maybe somebody in the listening audience might know.

“Still, it’s our heritage.” Tracey’s imagination and enthusiasm ran on. “I mean, it’s a previously unknown social song. Do you know how important that is? Maybe what we should do…” Her mind was still whirling. “Maybe we should put it in heavy rotation and run a contest for the best information leading to the meaning of ‘The Calling Song’!”

Realizing his mug was empty, Aaron stood to adjourn to the interview room. “That might work. Look, I’ll do what you want, but I’m predicting a disaster.”

 “Disaster? You’re being overdramatic,” Tracey scoffed. “What’s so disastrous about this song?”

“Oh, any number of things. We don’t know if it’s authentic. We just have the word of a long-dead cultural anthropologist. And you know how considerate they were. It doesn’t sound like any other social song we know. You might just be setting yourself up to fail. And,” he paused for dramatic effect, “I don’t like the song. Makes me uncomfortable.”

“Don’t worry,” Tracey said. “It’ll be a great mystery for the community to solve!”

Knowing it was futile to even attempt to dissuade her, Aaron asked the bigger question as he walked out the door. “Hey Tracey, can I get a ride with you to Karl’s funeral tomorrow?”

December 17, 2018

Emily, Tracey and Aaron huddled around the television in the interview room, watching the special report coming from the CBC news network. They hadn’t moved in almost twenty minutes. Movement took premeditated thought and choice, and all free will had been stolen by the television. If a CD of Robbie Robertson hadn’t been playing, there would have been dead air emanating from the C-RES antenna.

“Do you think…?” Emily ventured.

“Shh!” Aaron wanted no interruptions while he soaked up what was the most amazing event in recorded history. Barely registering Aaron’s rebuke, Emily placed one hand over her mouth at what she was witnessing. Tracey’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the table, still dusted with sesame seeds from bagels and doughnut sugar. Aaron found the remote and turned up the volume.

“It has been confirmed. It appears there is life beyond Earth, and it is on its way here. Earlier today, in a joint press conference, a panel of world leaders combined with representatives from NASA, SETI and various other space exploration organizations announced the approach of what appears to be a large spaceship originating beyond our solar system. At the moment, it is located somewhere between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, approaching at approximately fifty-two kilometres a second. Officials are either reluctant or unwilling to speculate on the origins of the large ship, estimated to be over four miles wide. Needless to say, the world and its political, religious and scientific leaders are furiously discussing the implications for the people of Planet Earth of such an event, which we are now referring to as ‘contact.’ In an attempt to communicate, greetings in all known languages have been broadcasted to the approaching ship.”

“Betcha not in Kanien’kéha! They always leave us out, goddammit.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Give it a break, Tracey.”

Almost inaudibly Aaron breathed, “Independence Day.”

“What?” snapped Emily.

“A movie. Shh.”

“The Pope and the leaders of all major countries have called for calm. As the alien ship moves closer, we are all wondering if this will be the greatest event in Earth’s history or perhaps the most tragic. It seems we are fated to find out. For more background—”

Emily muted the television, prompting protests from the other two. “Be quiet, both of you. We should really get on the air with this.”

There was a moment of silence as Emily’s suggestion worked its way into their cerebral cortices.

Tracey was deep in her own political meltdown. “Did you hear what they’re calling it? ‘Contact.’ Does that sound familiar to either of you? Man, I bet both sides already have people drawing up treaties.” She was practically yelling. “But now the shoe is on the other foot, isn’t it? The more things change, the more they stay the same. That should be our lead story!”

Aaron gesticulated wildly at the television. “Spaceships! Spaceships?! Turn it back on!”

Emily would not be deterred. “Don’t you see? This is our chance to shine. Let’s take this story and run with it!”

Tracey was nodding vigorously. “I agree. I think one ‘contact’ is enough in any culture’s existence, don’t you? Let’s get a panel together of clan elders and—

Once again, Aaron felt the need to contribute his two cents. “Shut up! Spaceships! Spaceships!”

He lunged for the remote, but Emily kept it just out of reach. He felt the need to pull his hair out in frustration, but unfortunately he had taken to sporting a brush cut.

Moving quickly and ignoring Aaron, Emily entered the broadcast booth. “Tracey, you want a panel discussion, then you put one together. Hurry. I’m going to go on the air with this right now.”

“But you never go on the air!”

“I do when Earth is welcoming aliens from…” The news crawl at the bottom of the television screen revealed the ship had come from the direction of the Pleiades cluster. “Pleiades… Where the hell is that? Sounds Greek. Besides, our news announcer hasn’t shown up today. He’s probably at home watching this. I guess he’d prefer to watch history rather than be a part of it. And where is Pat? I need him to write me up some copy.”

Emily was on fire now. There had been rumblings from the board about the station taking a new direction, exploring different options. Emily knew this was just board-speak for getting a new station manager. She had rolled with all the new technologies over the years that had transformed the once small and humble radio station into a slightly larger organization, one of the only independent broadcasters left in the province. After twenty-seven years with her at the helm, maybe those fine listeners who owned the smoke shacks, gas stations and an arts and crafts store felt the pot known as C-RES needed to be stirred a bit. Emily was desperate to keep this job she so loved and hated at the same time. This just might be the way.

“Come on, work with me. Can we give this thing an Aboriginal spin?”

Tracey seemed animated by Emily’s question. While everybody in the world was dealing with the scientific and social implications of this so-called “contact,” Tracey saw a plethora of Kanienké’hà:ka and Haudenosaunee connections. She adjusted the purple dress and scarf she was wearing and smiled.

“I have a few ideas.” Seldom, Tracey felt, had she said so much with so few words.

“Like what?” For the first time in a long time, Emily felt adrenalin coursing through her veins.

“The return of Sky Woman, for example.”

Emily nodded, immediately understanding. In their nation’s creation story, a pregnant woman fell through a hole in the sky and, with the assistance of some geese, landed on the back of a giant turtle. From there, she and a variety of aquatic animals created Turtle Island, otherwise known as North America, and all life sprang forth.

“I love it. What else?”

Barely half a second had passed before the increasingly excited Tracey managed to get her next suggestion out. “You said they were coming from the… the… What did you call them? That group of stars?”

Emily checked her computer. “The Pleiades. Why?”

“Why does that name sound familiar? Aaron?”

Finally managing to tear his eyes away from the screen, Aaron spoke. He was well versed in two subjects: how to fix and set up broadcasting and audio equipment, and anything to do with science fiction or facts about the universe. “Pleiades. A star cluster consisting of seven fairly young stars, often referred to as the Seven Sisters. But in our culture they are referred to as—”

It came to Tracey in a flash. “The Seven Dancers.”

Emily smiled, making the connection to the well-known tale of seven children who danced so long and so hard, ignoring their responsibilities to prepare for the coming winter, that eventually they rose up into the sky and became part of the cosmos. “Wow, this event almost seems tailor-made for us. This all sounds fabulous. Let’s get to work.”

Motivated and mutually animated, the women huddled together, concocting a battle plan. For once, Emily’s fists were clenched in enthusiasm instead of frustration.

Seizing the opportunity, Aaron grabbed the remote and turned the sound back on. Once more, the calming voice of Peter Mansbridge filled the room.

“It’s estimated this extraterrestrial craft will enter the Earth’s orbit by…”

Aaron mused aloud, “You two get this, right? This could be either Contact or The Day the Earth Stood Still,or like I said earlier, Independence Day.” Aaron drained his big mug of coffee, not noticing the lack of response from the room. “This could end one of three ways. It could turn out that they’ve come to just say, ‘How’s it going? Nice to meet you, neighbours. Can we borrow a cup of oxygen?’

“Or they could have a message to give us. Like ‘Quit polluting the electromagnetic spectrum with reruns of Friends.’ Or ‘Watch it, that Voyager thing you sent off into space a couple decades ago scraped the side of my new ship. I hope you have insurance.’” Aaron was uncharacteristically grave.

He took a deep breath. “And then of course, there’s the third option: food, slaves or target practice.” Looking around, he noticed he had been talking to himself.

Emily had shut the door between Aaron and them.

February 14, 2019

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Aaron said as he scratched his bald head, seeing the flakes from his scalp float to the ground like dermatological snow. “Radiation poisoning sucks,” he added as an afterthought, though briefly admiring the irony of the situation. With the recent scorching the Earth’s surface had received, his skin flecks were the only snow to fall that winter.

Emily, Tracey and Aaron huddled miserably under a cement overpass beside the now torn and shattered highway leading into the reserve. There, partially protected from the damaged and damaging elements by several feet of cement, debris and earth, they were trying to make the best of their situation. This was pretty much all that was left of North American civilization, give or take a few thousand, down from a worldwide population high of six billion or so. Unlike the famous quote, the world had ended not with a whimper but with a series of loud and genocidal bangs.

Communication had been remarkably limited. It seems once the Zsxdcf had taken note of the international space station orbiting this big blue marble called Turtle Island, and the variety of satellites in orbit and probes spreading throughout the solar system, the decision had pretty much been made. This civilization was sticking its big toe into space travel. Orbital bombardment was followed by several high-energy wave sweeps. Evolution would have to start all over again. A lucky few hundred thousand in North America had managed to survive the first onslaught, living hand to mouth off the land, hiding in holes in the ground or caves like their furry little ancestors had during the time of the dinosaurs.

Aaron had managed to build a small fire, and Emily was busy roasting a raccoon over it. So much for job security, she thought bitterly. Everybody on the C-RES board of directors was either dead or working in the limestone mines for the Zsxdcf overlords. Who would have guessed limestone was such a valuable commodity on the galactic market? So far, the trio had managed to escape, scurrying from hole to hole, but at the moment they were not revelling in their freedom.

Eager to sample some of Emily’s raccoon, Tracey smoothed out her pantsuit. It was mostly earth tones, the majority of the colour coming from the actual earth and dirt encrusting her clothes. “Can I have a drumstick? If you can call a raccoon limb a drumstick.” That was definitely a question she thought she would never have to ask.

“Call it whatever you want. I managed to salvage some ketchup from a crater that used to be Smith’s convenience store yesterday.”

“Always looking after your employees. You were a good boss, Emily.” Aaron let loose a series of phlegmy coughs after his compliment.

It was nice of him to say that, she thought, especially since he had kicked up such a fuss after she had suspended the Christmas bonuses on account of the destruction of Earth.

“Personally, I blame Albert Einstein. He’s just another white guy who lied to us Indians.”

Neither Tracey nor Emily had the energy or interest to respond, so they let him rant.

“I mean it. Him and his precious theory of relativity. He told everybody nothing could travel faster than the speed of light—it was the intergalactic speed limit. It was supposed to be absolute but, you know, in almost every science fiction movie and story that never seems to be a problem. Warp speed, wormholes, stuff like that. People—I mean, aliens—found a way around it. It should have taken that ship four hundred years to get here, if—and I repeat if—it could travel anywhere near the speed of light, which in itself was unlikely. But no, somehow it got our signal in just a few years and managed to come knocking on our door in a ridiculously short period of time. See? It doesn’t make sense. Einstein’s such a liar.”

Exhausted by his outburst and radiation sickness, Aaron leaned back against the wall. Just over his head and to the left a bit, faded after so many years, “Aaron + Emily forever” sat amid the other graffiti.

Catching his second wind, Aaron noticed Tracey, the weight of the remaining world on her shoulders. She was staring into the fire, lost in thought. She looked kind of… down.

“Hey Emily, Tracey can have my drumstick.”

Tracey smiled weakly in his direction. “So much for calorie counting now,” she muttered.

Using a slightly bent steak knife she had found, Emily started to cut up the roast beast. Luckily the thing was still fat, despite the razing of the planet, so it glistened as she sliced pieces off onto a hubcap. All things considered, it looked tasty.

The wind was picking up, but an overturned bus at one end of the overpass acted as a windbreak. They watched Emily carve for a few minutes before Tracey spoke, more to herself than either of the other two survivors.

“I can’t believe it. The Haudenosaunee are responsible for the destruction of the Earth.” She took a deep breath. “I feel so embarrassed.”

Another spasm of coughing preceded Aaron’s response. He felt a piece of lung come up. He spit it out, as he had done with the others. “Yeah, but you didn’t know. Nobody did. Nobody could. It’s quite clever, actually.”

“Only you could be amazed during a time like this. Hand me your Frisbee,” Emily said. Aaron watched weakly as his former girlfriend and boss slid several choice pieces of barbecued raccoon off the hubcap and onto his Frisbee.

“It was like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only more clever.”

“So you keep saying.” Emily gave Tracey the four drumsticks and kept the remaining torso and head for herself. She knew what Aaron was talking about. The breakthrough in understanding what was motivating the Zsxdcf had come too late to stop them, but it always helps to understand why you’re being destroyed.

The seeds of Earth’s annihilation had been sown thousands of years earlier, during a devastating interstellar war between the Zsxdcf and another civilization long forgotten. After many protracted and costly battles, victory finally belonged to the Zsxdcf. To ensure such a conflict never arose again, members of the Zsxdcf spread across the known galaxy seeding potential new civilizations with hidden coded messages that would reveal themselves in, of all things, music. Music, after all, is the logical progression of communication and ritual, involving an evolved sense of imagination. And an evolved sense of imagination can create beauty, or mass destruction.

“The Calling Song” was a sort of intergalactic insurance policy. The visitors from the direction of the Pleiades had peppered a handful of cultures across the planet with such songs, buried deep in their genetic code. The Haudenosaunee had been one such people. Several weeks ago, as they cowered in an abandoned Tim Hortons, stuffing their faces with five-week-old doughnuts, Tracey had pointed out how the Haudenosaunee tongue was so different from all the other languages surrounding it. Almost like it had been planted arbitrarily, smack in the middle of the Great Lakes region.

“I always knew we were out of this world,” noted Aaron with a laugh.

Various other languages around the world had been infused with a similar hidden genomic blueprint, but as is the nature of human development and evolution, some societies rise to dominance and others disappear from the pages of history. The Haudenosaunee had survived and prospered to broadcast one such implanted song, a message Tracey, Emily and Aaron sent out to the universe basically saying, “Hey, remember us? This planet has the technology to broadcast now. Better come and take care of business before the people on this hunk of rock decide to come knocking at your door.”

All three ate their raccoon in silence, lost in their own thoughts and memories. Aaron coughed some more. Tracey looked in the direction of the crater that had been their radio station. And Emily bitterly remembered thinking, all those years ago, how much she had wanted to change the world.

Part 2
Old Men and Old Sayings

Just a couple of months earlier and half a province away, on a small Anishinabe reserve named Otter Lake, there lived a small man in a small room.

His name was Willie Whitefish. It had been many years since this ancient man had done much of anything noteworthy. Mostly, he watched television, listened to the radio and read. Having been forced to master the art of Western literacy sixty-odd years earlier in a residential school, the man had developed a fondness for the dominant culture’s literature. He was not well educated in the conventional sense, but he was well read. His legs had long ago abandoned the concept of being useful, and with practically no family, Willie lived a quiet, uneventful life in his little room at the seniors home.

But outside his diminutive domicile, the world was abuzz. A spaceship was coming from some place farther away than he could see. It would arrive any day, and the whole planet was going crazy about it. Most of the world was frightened, excited, perhaps fearful that this might be an emissary from God. Willie, however, had other thoughts. And those thoughts made him smile. Not the pleasant or jovial kind of smiling, more like the “I know something you don’t know” kind.

“Aliens… people from outer space! These are strange times.”

Willie could hear Angela’s voice outside his door, talking with whoever was on shift with her at the seniors home. Willie liked Angela, as much as you can like somebody who touched you way too much. Whether it was to smooth back a lock of hair falling over his forehead, fasten an undone button, brush some dandruff off his shoulder or just give a reassuring pat on the hand, she never passed on a chance to engage in physical contact. It wasn’t that Willie was afraid of germs or people touching him; it was just that person-to-person interaction, like money, should be used economically and with purpose, not willy-nilly. But what can you do, he thought, I’m just an old man who doesn’t matter anymore. Still, he was sad to know she was going to die.

“I don’t believe it. That’s just silliness.”

Outside the door, Angela’s voice rose a level. “What do you mean you don’t believe it? It’s true. They got all those scientists and their scientific equipment proving it. There is a big spaceship that’s supposed to be here in a couple days.”

“Nah, I don’t believe it. It’s just somebody playing games, trying to pull one over on us. I betcha it’s the government trying to get our minds off all the terrible things they’ve been doing.”

Now Willie recognized the voice. Bernice. In a world populated by conspiracy theorists, Bernice was of the Indigenous variety. Simple, logical explanations of a bureaucratic nature were a lot easier to swallow than people from another planet flying through space to Earth. As is the Aboriginal philosophy, when in doubt, blame the government.

Both women had worked at the seniors home for a number of years, looking after the dozen patients, and they would do so until their own time came to become residents.

Smiling his secret smile, Willie took a sizable book from the stack by his bed and thumbed through it, looking up occasionally at the television screen. There had been practically nothing else on any of the channels since the ship had first been detected. People weren’t interested in sitcoms or crime dramas or game shows anymore. This was the ultimate reality show. Once again, sitting across from Peter Mansbridge was some expert, talking about a topic he couldn’t possibly know much about.

On his night table, Willie had piled a collection of books about the colonization of North America—everything from Columbus straight through the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, to the Trail of Tears, to the impact of the sale of Alaska on the Inuit and the Aleutians. He had watched documentaries about the Beothuk and the Carib people, nations destroyed because of the arrival of new people with new ways of killing. It was a tough and sordid history of Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal conflict. Part of him had become permanently angry the more he read, cursing the fact he’d learned to read. But another part of his soul just shook its head in disbelief at what evil humans do to others, and what others let be done to them. Montezuma and that king of the Incas were way too trusting. They should have known better.

All in all, his seventy-odd years had been good ones. Children would have been nice, but sometimes this was not meant to be. Willie had once had a good woman, two of them, in fact, but as with many things that time had passed. He had never expected to end up in a seniors home when he got old, since there were no such things in his community back when he was young. Elders stayed with their kin. That was the way. But ways change.

Finally finding the page he was looking for, he laid the book down on his lap, open.

Voices in the hallway again.

“Do you hear what’s happening in Toronto and Ottawa? People are holding these welcoming parties! For the aliens! All around the world, too. People are saying that when they get here, maybe they can cure cancer, fix global warming, all sorts of stuff like that. It’s a new age, they say!”

Again, Willie smiled at Angela’s enthusiasm. It would be a new age, for sure. He would definitely miss that woman… but then again, he would quite probably be dead himself. Perhaps the best way to phrase it was that he would feel sorry for her. It meant nothing that an old, paralyzed man like himself was leaving this world. His time was behind him. It would be no great loss. But Angela, barely over thirty, with three kids and a husband who loved her… that grieved him.

The old man read the quotation in the book to himself. A long time ago, he had underlined it. It had taken him a decade to truly understand what it meant. It was a quote about forgetting that had been forgotten. Memory can truly be short.

For the last time, the old man read the line out loud. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Willie Whitefish closed the book, nodding his head solemnly.

He hated it when white people were right.