``So, and meaning no offense, that's what I think has been your biggest failing in contacting alien life.''
``Nobody in the organization would disagree, but, `haven't made contact' isn't an original observation. I'd say dozens of people have noticed our shortage of alien contact.''
``Good! Shows you're an organization worth managing. Manageable. We can get to solving the big problem without unnecessary arguing.''
``But it seems like solving that problem is out of our hands. I mean, either the aliens contact us, or they don't. Success is in their hands once we've done our part.''
``Ah, but we haven't done our part, have we? What do we do in order to get aliens to talk to us? Sit here listening? That's no solution. Just sitting there listening is great if you want a reputation as a brilliant conversationalist, but it depends on someone picking you to talk to. What's missing is the chance to get picked.''
``We've been sending out signals. Now and then on purpose.''
``Sure, but what kinds of things have you been sending out? Demonstrations of arithmetic? Maps of the human genome? Coding schemes that tell you where pulsars are? What in any of that suggests 'here's someone to talk to'? Imagine I come up to you ---''
``I can almost see it already. It's like you're already here. I wonder who it really is.''
``--- Right, then I announce myself by counting prime numbers up to 23 and tell you about amazing things I do with adenosine. What are you going to say to me?''
``Exactly! I'm doing well if you don't turn and run. And there's the core problem. You need to start sending out signals that beg for a response.''
``We've heard that joke before. Send out some pompous declaration that's got an error and wait for corrections to pour in.''
``Never work. That whole tricking scheme is nothing but a canary.''
``It's a canard.''
``A canary. You can tell by the teeth and the feathers. Also the biteyness.''
``No, no, I mean it's a canard. It's something they say that's not true.''
``So you agree, that's a scheme that'll never work. I know how to get aliens not just to talk but to start popping in for visits, as much as we can stand, until we get tired of cleaning up the apartment every weekend for them to come by.''
``And if we hire you to generally run things you'll let us in on the secret?''
``You're on the brink of figuring it out already.''
``To ... ask more interesting questions? `Is that galaxy crashing into ours?' ... No, wait, it has to be ... more ... ''
``Interesting questions usually have some abstractness at their core, like, `Are kittens?' or `What about south?' or `Are you eating that?', with the right distressed face.''
``And when we start questions like that, we'll get aliens answering us?''
``Not ever. You've ended up in the wrong place.''
``What's the right one?''
``Send out an announcement that we of Earth are forgiving all the aliens' debts. We've just passed a millennium --- ''
``Who cares? There's enough calendars somebody's sure to be coming off of one, and are they going to care when they get the good news? We tell them we're feeling so good we don't care if they borrowed 250 talents from some Sumerians.''
``Why would aliens have come all the way to Earth just to borrow 250 talents from Sumerians?''
``They wouldn't, if there were anyone closer to home they could touch for it. And now why else not talk to Earth unless they don't want to be asked for it back?''
``Hang on, if they've owed it to us for thousands of years there should be a good payoff.''
``We're doing all right, though; why scare off all the aliens over a little money we don't really need? What would we rather have, anyway, 260 talents or the Galactic Federation of Light?''
``You're right ... in fact, I'm sold. OK, boys, move in, take him!''
``What --- hey --- who are these --- wait!''
And that, dear children, was how we caught the alien trying to trick us into giving up the lien on over twenty major nearby star systems.
Trivia: In 1968 the Lincoln division made its first profit since Henry Ford bought the Lincoln Motor Company in 1922. Source: Ford: The Men And The Machine, Robert Lacey.
Currently Reading: The Rising Gorge, S J Perelman.