Close EncountersFirst contact with an alien species is a tricky situation to deal with. When handled well, these aliens could become humanity’s greatest allies, helping us to take our place on the galactic stage. When handled poorly, humanity might wind up looking for a new home, if we’re particularly unlucky. And of course, that all assumes these aliens have shown up with peaceful intentions–there’s always the possibility that it’s a trick to take over slowly, or there’s cultural differences that can lead to major misunderstandings.

For the sake of this list, we’ll think of this as the aliens coming to us, but a lot of these points are just as effective in a Star Trek situation where we’ve gone out seeking new life and new civilizations.

4. Ensure Accurate Communication

Imagine if he walked out only holding up one finger...

Imagine if he walked out only holding up one finger…

It seems like an obvious first step, doesn’t it? How can you have first contact if the two sides can’t communicate with one another? But you’d be surprised at how often the two parties fail to consider this step. If you’re lucky, the aliens will take the initiative and handle this one for you–aliens love to watch old TV signals, after all. It’s a great way to brush up on their English before landing. If your aliens weren’t so thorough and just stopped by on a whim, then we’ve got a tricky situation on our hands. As Counselor Troi once pointed out, they were relatively lucky, since humanoid aliens like Vulcans and Klingons tend to conceptualize the world in the same way as humans do; when truly alien species like the Sheliak are around, this gets exponentially more difficult. Most real life scientists suggest we try to communicate our intelligence via the “language of math.” If these aliens are intelligent as we understand it, they can count, and recognize prime numbers and irregular patterns, which is enough to signal that we’re worth a second look. Once that’s nailed down, we can work together until we can really understand one another and communicate properly.¬†Another option is to transform that mathematics into the form of music–although that assumes our aliens have something akin to ears.

This is definitely a slow process, don’t get me wrong; but it’s far better to approach the first contact situation slowly and deliberately than to risk a misunderstanding that escalates into war.

3. Avoid Public Spectacle

Some aliens like to give a little flair to their first contact.

Some aliens like to give a little flair to their first contact.

Granted, this one might not be under your control. If the aliens land on the front lawn of the White House, or start broadcasting on every TV channel, then the secret’s out on that from the start. All’s not lost, however, even in that scenario–just keep it low key from there on out.

People will respond to first contact in unpredictable ways; they might start worshiping the aliens, or become paranoid about a potential invasion and alien deception. Even those who don’t go off the deep end will have their entire world view challenged by the revelation that we’re not alone in the universe. If you make this into a huge spectacle, the productivity of the planet will be completely demolished. The most watched television broadcast ever was the Apollo 11 moon landing, and even that would be a pittance compared to the enormity of first contact. Every website would be flooded with discussion and speculation about the aliens. Even the proverbial water cooler would be nothing but alien buzz. It’d be damn near impossible to talk about anything else. Add that on to the slow speed at which communication will likely occur, and you’ve got a lot of reasons not to try to conduct all these affairs in public. Save the big ceremony for after the details are hammered out.

2. Take Extreme Safety Precautions

We should probably lock Randy Quaid up when the aliens land anyway, just in case.

We should probably lock Randy Quaid up when the aliens land anyway, just in case.

I mentioned above the possibility of people fearing an invasion by our first contact aliens. After all the invasions we’ve seen in movies, it’s no surprise that it’d be one of the first things to come to mind for the majority. However, for the kind of people who are already prone to paranoia and fear, this is a very dangerous idea.

These people could end up being one of the greatest obstacles to reaching a peaceful arrangement. I know, first contact is a huge moment in human history, and there’s a strong desire from everyone to conduct these affairs openly and publicly… but that just makes it easier for the wrong person in the wrong place to set everything off the rails. It only takes one crazy guy acting like Randy Quaid in Independence Day to ruin the peace. He’s certain he’s saving the Earth from alien subjugation, but instead he’s just dooming us to war. That’s how the Pale Wars started, if you recall. And that’s one of the more optimistic outcomes; what if an entire country objects to us making contact, especially one with the military strength to do something about it? If the aliens landed in Beijing instead of Washington… well, you can imagine the international strife. So, whatever country you’re in, treat this security matter as if the fate of the Earth depended on it. It very well could.

1. Present A United Front

A United Earth is the first step to a United Federation (of Planets).

A United Earth is the first step to a United Federation (of Planets).

Preferably, we’ll put a stop to that international strife before it starts, however. These aliens came here to meet the residents of Earth, not the residents of the United States or China or Lichtenstein. It’s critical that we remember this as they reveal themselves. We don’t know how much these aliens know about us; they could be the type that seizes on weakness, and would take infighting as a sign that Earth is easy pickings. But it’s not just a problem for us to look weak to potential enemies; aliens that come with the full intention of peace and no other goal than to help raise us to be upstanding members of the intergalactic community could easily be turned off by what they see as petty conflicts over national pride. Not wanting to help cause divisions among us, these aliens bearing gifts of advanced technology might opt to hold them all back instead. Or worse, they deem humanity to be not yet ready and quarantine us from the rest of the galaxy for who knows how long.

Whether they’re malevolent invaders or generous benefactors, one thing’s for sure: humanity must come together as one if we’re to get the most out of First Contact.

Well, do you have any other tips to ensure that first contact goes smoothly? You can let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @RetroPhaseShift. And if you enjoyed the article, please share it!