Keeping the Airwaves Free
by Wes Jones

It was sweeps week, so Peter preempted the President's speech to show an encore presentation of Hollywood's Most Gratuitous Sex Scenes III. He wanted to replace an installment of Cooking With Alice with The World's Most Inhuman Atrocities, 3-D, but people did have to eat, after all. Market research showed that many families would starve without the daily guidance of Alice, and the network would lose ratings to the casualties. Peter was still trying to squeeze some more graphic sex and blood-drenched violence into Prime Time when the aliens arrived.

His secretary buzzed him on the intercom. He absently pressed a button and said "What? I'm busy." No answer was forthcoming. He looked over at the machine, pressed the correct button, and repeated himself.

"Sorry, sir," said the secretary, and then hesitated a moment. "There are some aliens here to see you, sir."

"Do they have an appointment?" he said, crossing out a showing of the Wizard of Oz and writing in an airing of Dead Hookers from Hell.

"No, but they've just vaporized the coffee maker, so I'm going to send them in."

"You're fired." he said, and took his finger off the intercom button. He heard his door open, but didn't look up.

"I expect you to pay for that coffee maker," he said, "now get out of my office." There was a bright flash of light, and his desk disappeared into thin air. Peter straightened in his chair and looked at the aliens for the first time.

There were three of them, each about seven feet tall. Their thin green bodies sported three arms, and were supported by three legs, all distributed radially around the central trunk. Some sort of bright pink growth sprouted from the tops of their pointed heads. Each of them had three large, glassy eyes, one above and between each pair of arms. Peter thought they looked silly. However, one of them was pointing some sort of silvery object in his direction, so he refrained from voicing that particular opinion.

"What do you want?" he asked instead. One of the beings held a plastic box with a funnel-shaped object attached to it by a thin wire. It held the funnel up to its "head" and made a variety of beeping and chirping noises, which seemed to originate from within the pink growth. A tinny, quiet voice was emitted from the box it held.

"We want you to stop broadcasting your audio-visual signals." it said. Peter stared at the trio of aliens.

"You want us to stop transmitting television signals?" he asked. The aliens beeped at each other a moment, and then the one with the translating box spoke to him again.


"What if we don't?" he asked, eyeing the vaporizing weapon one of them still pointed at him.

"Then we will vaporize your transmitting towers, and stop the signals ourselves." it said. "We have a fleet of ships ready to strike at a moment's notice."

"So you've come here to threaten me, then?" he said, crossing his arms defiantly. During any given day he went up against censors, advertising executives, and/or strongly outspoken mothers of impressionable young children, and wasn't about to be pushed around by a bunch of ridiculous-looking tripedal tulips.

"Nothing so barbaric." The translating box said. "We simply wish to stress the urgency of our concerns."

"What's so urgent about you not liking our new Fall line-up?" Peter retorted. The aliens beeped and squeaked at each other some more, and then spoke again through the translator.

"It is much more serious than that. You are damaging the minds of our people." it said. Peter sighed and shook his head. He'd heard this argument before.

"There is no hard evidence linking television with violent or antisocial behavior. It is up the individual to -"

"You misunderstand," the alien interrupted him, "The wave resonance of your transmissions causes rapid neurological decay in our people, destroying memories, higher reasoning functions, and motor control systems."

"Oh." Peter said, frowning. It was sobering to think that the Eleven O'clock News could cause physical trauma, as well as sell toothpaste. "Wait a minute," he said, his brow furrowed in concentration, "if that's true, how can you be standing here in front of me? Shouldn't being at ground-zero have turned you into gibbering, immobile vegetables by now?" Once again, his words provoked discussion among the aliens, who Peter was now beginning to think of as very large beans.

"Our protective suits allow us to survive in this proximity to the source of the signals." they said. Peter blinked in surprise. Their bodies seemed relatively seamless, and he had assumed that the aliens were wandering about unclothed.

"So that's not really what you look like - it's just a suit?" he asked.

"Of course it's a suit!" said the lead alien, sounding insulted. "You don't think we normally look like this, do you?" Peter attempted to stammer some sort of apology, but the alien interrupted him again. "Never mind," it said. "Turn off your transmissions."

Peter was thinking fast, but had to stall for time. There had to be some way out of this.

"Where is your ship?" he asked.

"We landed on the roof of this building." the alien said. Peter was suddenly very curious.

"Can I see it?" he asked. The aliens were reluctant, but Peter continued to ask, refusing to talk about anything else until they finally consented. He and the three aliens headed for the roof of the towering office building. Peter stepped through the door at the top of the staircase and walked out into the open air. There was a large flying saucer on the roof.

"That's your ship?" he said, unable to conceal a certain amount of disbelief. "It looks pretty goofy." The alien sounded very insulted, and perhaps a little hurt when it replied.

"We designed this ship specifically to insure that our reception here would be favorable!"

"You mean that's not what your ships usually look like?" he asked incredulously.

"Certainly not!" the alien said. "Such a design is totally impractical! It took our engineers many of your months to design a ship poorly designed enough meet your expectations, yet functional enough to bring us here." Peter blinked, a bit perplexed by this revelation. Then something else occurred to him.

"Why did you come here, to me? Why not talk to our government?" he asked. The aliens stood silently a moment, then beeped at one another for a short while. They turned back to him at last.

"Your government has control over what you show on television?" the alien said, confusion creeping into the tinny, artificial voice.

"No, not really." Peter admitted.

"Then why should we speak to them?" asked the alien. Peter nodded, and conceded that they had an excellent point. "No more delays," the alien said impatiently. "Stop the sending of the signals."

Peter knew he couldn't stall them any longer, and considered his options. On one hand, he could comply with the aliens' demands and be consumed by the riot that would ensue as people were cut off from their favorite talk shows, soap operas, or whatever particular variety of entertainment kept them happily in their homes and not out on the street tearing people apart with their bare hands. On the other hand, he could refuse them, at which point they might disintegrate him. That wouldn't do anything but save him from the riot, which would come anyway after the aliens destroyed the transmission towers. Neither of these scenarios seemed appealing to him. Then he had an idea.

"May we make one last transmission, to let people know what is happening?" he asked. "I just need some time to prepare and broadcast the message, then we can cut off the signals." He gave then his best sympathy-inducing look. He didn't know if it would be interpreted correctly, but he figured he might as well give it a shot. "Please?" he added. The aliens discussed the matter in voices that sounded to Peter like electric chickens.

"Very well," they replied at last, the gravity of the translated voice contrasting strongly with the absurd beeping. "You have one Earth day. If the signals have not stopped by then, we shall stop them ourselves."

It turned out it wasn't as hard to convince the other networks of what was happening as Peter had feared. The aliens themselves visited some of them, and others he spoke to had simply seen a flying saucer through their windows. They all agreed with the wisdom of his plan. It was set up within the hour. Peter decided to give the speech himself. His position as a network programming executive meant he was a respected authority figure, and it would help to rally people to the cause.

Eileen was tired and depressed. She'd just returned home from her incredibly demeaning job at Empire of Footwear, and all she wanted to do was curl up in front of the TV and watch some talk shows. It always made her feel better about herself to learn about people with even more dysfunctional and miserable lives than her own. Like most people, she left the TV on all of the time so that she wouldn't miss anything in the precious few seconds it might take to turn on the set. Walking into the bedroom, she was immediately greeted by the dancing world of color contained within the beloved plastic box. On the screen was a man whose face was tattooed to resemble the muscle structure present beneath his skin. His nose sported two rings in each nostril, and his eyebrows had been bleached pure white. Eileen recognized him as the host of the show. She flopped onto the bed and gazed contentedly at the flickering glass, feeling utterly at peace with the universe.

Mark considered himself a very lucky man. He possessed absolutely no useful skills whatsoever, but had just enough endearing qualities to make staying involved with him worthwhile. This meant that his wife was willing to support them herself, which allowed him to spend all of his time at home. Even when he was forced to leave the glowing comfort of the TV for a few minutes to do some laundry or go to the bathroom, he was at least still able to hear the token pieces of dialog that filled in when no one on the screen was having sex. Life was good.

Simon burst excitedly through the door of his house and flung himself in front of the TV, letting his lunchbox clatter across the floor and crash against the far wall. His mother wouldn't be home from work for another two hours, and it was time for Excessive Violence Theatre. Of course, the channel showing the program was locked out for his particular set of fingerprints while the show was on, but the system was disabled easily enough by Simon's ten-year-old ingenuity. The channel his mother had left on for him presented him with colorful cartoon characters that wanted more than anything for him to sing about the number 5 with them. He fiddled with the remote and was soon enveloped in the anguished screams of people shooting, stabbing, and otherwise mutilating each other for his amusement. He grinned hugely.

Suddenly, every major network channel in the world was interrupted simultaneously, and it's regular programming was replaced by Peter's grim face.

"Loyal viewers," he began, "my name is Peter Lumiere. I am the Chief Executive Programming Director for one of the major global television networks, and have been selected by my peers to present to you the direst news imaginable. This message is being broadcast across every channel, an unprecedented event that should impress upon you the seriousness and validity of what I am about to tell you."

Peter suddenly realized that everything he had just said was almost certainly boring and beyond the comprehension of nearly 90% of his audience. He decided he'd better cut to the chase.

"Aliens have come to our world and told us to stop showing television shows." He paused a moment to let that sink in. "Their ships are, at this very moment, poised over our television transmission towers. They intend to destroy them. We cannot allow this. I urge all of you to take up arms and repel these monstrous beings. Remember that you fight for the freedom to enjoy quality television programming."

Eileen leapt to her feet, her eyes burning with righteous indignation. How dare these aliens do this? How dare they?! Without support from the TV she could feel her self-image tarnishing already. She opened her sock drawer and withdrew her .357 Magnum (purchased for home defense), then donned the bulletproof vest she wore to all the really good sales. Screaming like a banshee, she charged out her front door, ready to kill in the name of Freak Parade, Look at That Guy!, and Socially Maladjusted and Loving It.

Mark sputtered in rage. Not only were these aliens asking for the ultimate sacrifice, but the message that told him about it cut off World of Nudity during the climax of a love scene! After further consideration he realized that the latter was almost a forgone conclusion, but the former still made his blood boil. He went to closet and retrieved a baseball bat with several nails sticking out of it (constructed for home defense). His heart overflowing with pride in the values of society, he strode purposefully to the door, prepared to mutilate anyone or anything that dared try to come between him and his continuing education in human sexual activity.

Simon was almost happy to see the message. Watching televised violence was great, after all, but probably a dim echo of the real thing. At last he would be given to chance to kill something in real life! He ran to his toy box, flinging aside plastic guns, swords, knives, axes, grenades, and other pretend implements of death. Reaching the bottom of the box, he slid aside the false bottom. His tiny hands gripped the cold metal of the submachine gun (ordered from a mail-order catalog with his mom's credit card in the hopes that one day someone would dare try to take his lunch money) and he began to giggle uncontrollably. Donning a plastic soldier's helmet, he ran outside to his bicycle, and then pedaled towards the glory of bloodshed.

Within moments, huge crowds of rebellious humans surrounded the towers. Everyone knew exactly where the tower closest to them was, of course. Not only were they far too large to escape notice, but many citizens revered the towers as holy places, and visited them each week to leave flowers and candy at their bases.

In a small town on the East coast, the people swarmed around their tower and screamed at the aliens, and the aliens looked on in confusion. The aliens had seen the message from Peter, and it was obvious to them that they had been duped, and these wretched humans had no intention of willingly shutting down their transmissions.

The aliens shrugged their three shoulders, and then proceeded to vaporize the towers. The people below howled in rage in frustration, throwing rocks, bricks, and garbage up at the ships. Those with guns fired ineffectual shots that either missed or deflected from the hull. The people were about to despair, when their salvation appeared.

A trio of huge tractor-trailer trucks rolled into the town square, their red, white, and blue paint shining in the bright afternoon sun. The side of each truck read, in huge, cheerful letters, "Pepsi-Cola presents: The Army." At last, the US Military had arrived, and everyone agreed that their presence was much more refreshing since Pepsi had taken over the job of national defense. The doors of the trucks opened, and out spilled dozens of troops clad in bulletproof plastic body armor, emblazoned all over with the Pepsi-Cola logo. Within seconds they had assembled a portable surface-to-air missile launcher and locked on to the flying saucer and its bewildered crew. The officer in charge shouted an order, and the missile streaked into the sky, colliding with the hovering ship and triggering a spectacular explosion. The saucer ripped in half, flames blossoming in the air. The crowd cheered even as flaming debris rained down upon them.

The scene was repeated around the world, and in the place of every lost tower an emergency backup was put into place. Regular programming was resumed, with information scrolling across the bottom of the screen, to let everyone know what was happening. The aliens would probably be back, they warned, and everyone must be ready. Finally, an appeal was made to the general public for their personal support.

"Are we going to let a bunch of aliens tell us whether or not we can watch TV?!"

"NO!" came the deafening reply of millions of viewers.

"Without TV, who would teach our children the alphabet? Who would teach them to count? Who would instill them with the basic moral values of our society?" The responses to this were varied and somewhat uncertain, since these questions taxed the minds of many of those hearing them.

"Who is James from The Rich and the Degenerate sleeping with this week?! Is Tori from Unfaithful Express going to recover from her private plane crashing into that burning dynamite factory and get back together with Mark? How will you find out without TV?" This was a much simpler set of questions, and the people responded with a resounding cry that they wouldn't be able to find out. The despair in their collective voice was enough to bring tears to the eyes of the producers of such shows.

"That's why you must join the Volunteer Reserves! We're fighting for nothing less than our right to television!" The cheering was deafening, and thousands of people immediately called the number on their screen to enlist in the war for the preservation of TV.

The aliens knew they had to do something about the situation. Humanity had refused to shut down the transmissions, and had actually murdered their representatives instead! It was horrifying. Something had to be done.

The aliens were too civilized to have any weapons of mass destruction on hand, but that didn't mean they couldn't make some. In short order they had prepared enough explosives to level every man-made structure on Earth, and maybe even a few natural geologic formations. Their medical engineers, given information on the human immune system, quickly whipped up some biological agents that would scour the earth clear of human life. The geologists even put together a device that could conceivably shatter the planet's crust, washing away the blight of humanity in a cleansing sea of molten rock. This would only be used as a last resort, of course.

Once all of this was ready, the fleet went out, determined to put a stop to this TV nonsense once and for all.

Humanity had other ideas. Some of the alien craft had been brought down more or less intact, and the unprecedented cooperation of the Pepsi-Cola Aerospace Division and the Strategic Weapons Department of Disney Enterprises meant that Earth had a fleet of ships bristling with nuclear weapons ready within a matter of days. The volunteer militia supplied the strike force with plenty of pilots, all of whom were relatively expendable, as far as Pepsi was concerned. When the aliens arrived, they were somewhat shocked to be ambushed by the fleet of marauding humans. These same humans then calculated the trajectory the aliens had taken to get to Earth, and followed it back to their home world - which turned out to be Saturn. Powered by space-folding drives, it took mere hours to reach the planet, and soon the fleet was laying waste to the ancient civilization that dwelt there. The unfortunate aliens and their highly civilized culture were totally eradicated, and TV was safe at last.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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