by Anna Rosé

To the residents of Earth, Halley’s Comet is just a giant rock hurtling through space and leaving streaks of light in it’s wake. But not to the Zephyrians, who have been keeping patrolled watch on Halley’s Comet, Earth and the inhabitants thereof since Neanderthals came to be. After about one hundred thousand rotations of Earth around its sun the Zephyrian patrol ship was scheduled to pass close to Earth. A few dozen solar rotations before nearing the planet, they received a message on an emergency subspace frequency from an outpost stationed on the dwarf planet Pluto. The message reported that the inhabitants of Earth had been making a mess of things within the past one hundred rotations, with multiple accounts of ecological terrorism, plain stupidity, and of Ky’Dol — the failure or refusal to change actions or behaviors for the betterment of oneself or the whole–, which the Zephyrians considered an immensely shameful transgression.

Upon receiving this emergency update, the ship’s crew of 123 Zypherians, led by their dual captains S’Xine and Rohg’Bd, discussed what to do. Should they just continue their observations and refrain from interfering? Should they relay the message on the emergency frequency back to Zephyr, their home world? Or should they go ahead and make contact with the Earthlings? S’Xine wanted to relay the information to Zephyr and proceed with the observations and data recording. Rohg’Bd wanted to follow the moral code:, if a species is ever able to evolve to the point of space travel, they must first learn to live cohesively among themselves on their home planet. Otherwise, that species could be destructive not only to itself but also to other worlds.

The lead scientist, Drah-Min, direct descendant of the first scientist to discover the existence of Earth, was concerned for the well-being of Earth’s creatures, as well as their potential effect on the rest of the cosmos if the inhabitants ever successfully made it off their planet. Ultimately, the two captains and Drah-Min decided to test the Earthlings with the Empathy Examination, a scientific protocol that had been developed to deal with the occurrences of Ky’Dol on Zephyr. This examination entailed subjecting the offender to the thoughts and emotions of those individuals affected by their malevolent actions. If the offenders could acclimate to the protocol, they would learn to consider more seriously their actions and behaviors; if they could not acclimate, then either their bodies or their minds would not survive the process. Either way, the cosmos would be better off.

Preparations for executing the Empathy Examination took about one of Earth’s solar rotations, during which time the observation ship relayed the initial outpost message to Zephyr along with their plans for proceeding. The ship agreed to implement the examination protocol in as inconspicuous a way as possible. A vessel disguised as an asteroid was outfitted with a small core filled with atomic- sized technobots calibrated to the bio-metrics of Earthlings (The initial decision of some rogue Pluto outpost members to acquire a few inhabitants for closer non invasive study was frowned upon by the Zephyrian majority.) Between the data acquired from the technobots and from the rudimentary satellite devices invented by the Earthlings, now known to self-identify as “humans,” the margin of error for the Empathy Examination was 46%. Not ideal, but these “humans” matured and reproduced at an alarming rate, and they exhibited a level of aggression suggestive of a potentially volatile outcome should they discover the existence of what they call “aliens. With the observation ship still twenty solar rotations out, the launch of the disguised “asteroid” vessel went as planned. It would follow its programmed trajectory and land next to one of Earth’s most inhabited settlements, known as “Beijing.” The techno bots inside were programmed to replicate rapidly upon contact with Earth’s atmosphere, then rapidly disperse when the vessel would break upon impact with the planet’s surface. The Earthlings took little notice when the vessel crashed near Beijing, and the released bots slowly infused the Empathy Examination protocol throughout the population. One solar rotation later, the protocol was activated and every human was bombarded with the thoughts and emotions of others. Seizures liquefied the nervous systems in a third of the population, spreading confusion and terror around the globe. Paralyzing migraines left some people catatonic in their beds, chairs, cars, and even in the middle of streets. As the initial outburst of chaos slowly subsided, the Zephyrians noticed that the younger the Earthling was, the more readily they adapted to the Empathy Examination. This was also noticed in certain individuals and groups that regularly practiced self-reflection and meditation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who were rooted in their own convictions, justifying their thoughts, /actions, and /behaviors to the complete exclusion of other people’s influence, suffered agonizing effects.

Upon the second orbit after depositing the Empathy Examination vessel, as the Zephyrians expected, every region the humans classified as a “country” and the societal infrastructure thereof, collapsed. What the Zephyrians were surprised by was the effect the Examination had on human genetic makeup. Though the technobots were working on relatively thorough information about the human genome, that had still left gaps in exactly how the bots were to complete their tasks. As a result, the bots unlocked certain genetic characteristics previously unknown to humans, including psychic powers, heightened senses, and exponentially amplified speed, strength, flexibility, and reflex responses.

Fascinated by the unexpected results of the secret intervention, the Zephyrians kept observing. After another one hundred rotations around the sun, they noted that the Empathy Examination had wiped out nearly 67% of Earth’s human population. The human race slowed its societal and technological progress. With their never-before-experienced sensations of knowing another being’s emotions and thoughts completely, some humans lashed out in fear; others no longer knew how to process anything and became isolated. While a significant majority chose to try to understand what caused this bizarre occurrence, without being able to discover or identify the technobots remnants the humans investigations were inconclusive. Their thoughts and concerns turned to what the next step for their species should be. And that was something that would take Earthlings decades to figure out, let alone implement. But eventually they did.

By 2467 A.D. in the Gregorian calendar, humanity had found a balance of nature and technology, leading to living tree buildings, solar panels on vehicles and low-orbit spacecraft, and the recycling of old metals and plastics with minimal environmental impact. Fighting and war mongering diminished greatly, and the occasional disputes were resolved quickly. Though life was not a perfect utopia, humans of all walks of life and evolutionary ability learned to coexist. One day on the Lunar Outpost, a group of scientists in charge of communication relay were looking for a faster way to communicate between spacecraft and stations to improve Martian exploration. In the middle of their experiments they manufactured a device intended for the task. When they turned it on they weren’t expecting to find an incoming signal, and they had a hard time understanding the odd language they heard coming over this subspace-frequency radio.

Only time will tell if the cosmos was ready for humanity.