Colonel Kuen pressed his forehead against the cool glass of the spacecraft window. Before his gaze, the twinkling fabric of the universe lay bare.
Quietly, Colonel let out a half-suppressed sigh.
With only five inches of fused quartz separating him from outer space, Colonel peered pensively into the starry abyss. It was a perfect metaphor for his own web of pulsating neurons. He wondered if there was a solution hidden deep down there. Somewhere.
Tomorrow morning all eyes will be on him. Everyone will expect from him a final decision. But Colonel Kuen did not have one.
He knew full well how he found himself in this situation. The Galactic Council was too busy solving internal conflicts and logistics problems. They did not have time for philosophical debates. Philosophical questions are the hardest to solve because they don’t have correct answers.
It’s been a while since the United Kingdom of Galaxies last had contact with Earth beings. Last time, it was decided to put off contact indefinitely. The Council could not come to an agreement about their course of action.
“They are so barbarian,” – said Advisor Menl, Colonel’s colleague on the mission back then.
Advisor Menl was Espidian. He had pale, motionless lips and four tentacles coming out of his head – each crowned with a crystal-like eye. Like all Espidians, he was highly rational and never allowed emotions to get in the way of his thought process.
Colonel Kuen let out another sigh. He wasn’t feeling well.
He walked over to the scanning compartment and Axel, his onboard computer, ran a quick check.
“Check completed”, announced a friendly female voice.
Axel and Colonel Kuen shared a special relationship. In many ways, his onboard assistant was his closest friend. She knew everything about him, including most intimate details. She’s been with him 24/7 for the past 20 years. She knew when Colonel Kuen fell in love for the first time, even before he realized what was happening.
(It was during a mission to Ketamp. The intergalactic task force was made up of all sorts of beings. Colonel Kuen was particularly impressed with Hae, a blue-skinned hermaphrodite who was the Chief Commander of the Ansuvian Army. Hae was graceful like a female, but had a lanky muscular body, a full sensuous mouth and expressive dark eyes. When Hae placed their hand on Colonel Kuen’s shoulder during a meeting, the latter felt as if some hypnotic force touched him. His thoughts were immediately confused because of the blue-skinned commander.
The first one to figure out what was going on was Axel. Axel told Colonel that what he was felling was love. Colonel Kuen concluded that his feeling could harm the mission and asked his supervisor to be transferred elsewhere and to never work with Hae the Ansuvian again.)
Nothing that was happening to Colonel Kuen was a mystery to Axel.
“According to the scan results, it’s recommended that you visit hot springs,” said the assistant. “This will lower the level of stress hormones in your system and normalize blood pressure”.
Axel recommended Ismaliar – a lovely planet with 5 moons that was famous for its hot springs. Colonel Kuen figured he had enough time for that. He walked over to the teleport booth and put on pitch-black sunglasses. On the panel, he entered the coordinates of planet Ismaliar. For a few seconds, the teleport booth got filled with blinding bright light. Then everything went normal. When Colonel Kuen walked out of the booth, he found himself at the reception of one of Ismaliar’s resorts.
“Hello!” – he addressed the reception robot who was a hologram. Axel had already made a reservation for him.
“Welcome back, Colonel!” – the robot greeted him in a friendly voice. “Please proceed to changing room number 25 that we reserved for you.”
Colonel Keun changed into comfortable trunk shorts, put on slippers and grabbed a towel. He walked outdoors into the never-ceasing Ismaliari daylight. Ismaliar went around its axis in 37.5 standard hours. Yet, because of its 5 moons, it was permanently lit with sunlight. The only difference was that, when the sun was up high, it was a lot “sunnier” then usual.
Colonel Keun went outside and was immediately pleased with the weather. It was a nice change after three weeks of being locked up in a spacecraft. The sun was up high, and the increased amount of sunlight put Colonel in a good mood. It wasn’t at all hot. Colonel Kuen’s naked torso was being washed by soft breeze that was coming from the mountains.
It was early fall on Ismaliar. The hot springs area was known for its unusual trees. They had jagged silvery leaves that usually turned slightly orange in fall. The mountains in the distance were also silvery, with streaks of amber and brown in them.
As Colonel Kuen approached the basin, he saw an elderly man and a little girl sitting on the bench. They were the only people there. The girl spotted Colonel’s UKG Space Force-branded ear implant that resembled an ear clip. She whispered something in the elderly man’s ear.
The man turned to the girl and said in a low voice, as if not willing to disturb the Colonel: “So what, we shouldn’t bother this gentleman with questions. He is here to take a rest.”
But the Colonel heard him anyway. His virtual assistant, Axel, was programmed to listen to far-away whisper and play back the amplified version to his earpiece. It was a security measure that many among the Space Force personnel were taking. “Colonel, it will do you a lot of good to have a little chit-chat with these people,” said Axel’s voice in his ear. “It should take your mind off of tomorrow’s meeting.”
– Good afternoon! Nice weather today, isn’t it? – the Colonel greeted the two strangers as he submerged his body in the hot water basin.
– Excellent weather indeed, fap! – replied the elderly man. (UKG citizens referred to one another as “fap” when they didn’t know the name of the person).
– I’m Kuen Selastien of Space Force.
– I’m Dodu Tsumaren of Ismaliar Sound Research Institute, – relied the elderly man. – And this is my granddaughter, Dodu Matub. Nice to meet you!
– Are you the famous Colonel Kuen by any chance? – asked the girl suddenly, her eyes big with excitement.
The elderly man said something like “tshhh” in an attempt to shush the little girl, but both stared intently at the Colonel, wondering if he was really the celebrity militaryman who was all over the news those days.
– I am afraid I am, – the Colonel said with a weak smile.
– And you are in charge of the Earth negotiations, is that right? – asked Dodu Tsumaren, letting his curiosity go loose.
– That’s right.
– Oh, then, may I ask you… please forgive me my intrusion, but… what are we going to do with planet Earth? Are we going to have contact with them? – both the elderly man and his granddaughter gave the Colonel another stare, impatient to hear the news first-hand from the Space Force commander.
– I’m afraid I cannot tell you that at the moment, – said Colonel Kuen with a sigh. – It hasn’t been decided yet.
– I see, – the old man looked disappointed. – I wonder if what they say is true… I wonder if Earth indeed was the first planet in the universe to get intelligent life. But look at what happened to them! Savage and uncivilized, aren’t they?
– It’s hard to tell, – said the Colonel lazily, although it was unclear which of the old man’s two statements he was referring to. The hot spring had had a relaxing effect on him. Colonel Kuen did not feel like talking about Earth for the time being.
The elderly man understood that the Colonel wanted to be left alone:
– Matub, didn’t you want to go to the mountains while it’s still sunny, dear girl? – he asked the girl.
The girl nodded. They bid their goodbyes to the Colonel, got off the bench and left.
Finally left to himself, Colonel Kuen focused entirely on his body sensations and let go of the daunting mental task he needed to perform. He stretched his muscles, reaching a pleasant sensation in his feet, and moved his head from side to side to relax the neck.
An hour and a half later, Axel quietly beaconed him, which meant he had reached the necessary relaxation and could head back to the spacecraft.
When the Colonel returned to the starry orbit, Axel prepared him a nutrient drink that had just the right elements that the Colonel’s body needed at the time. When Colonel Kuen’s head touched the soft tissue of his bedding, exhausted, he fell through to sleep. He did not have any dreams that night, his sleep being closely monitored by Axel.
25, 26, 27, 28…. The elevator stopped at the 28th floor where the Galactic Council meeting was scheduled to take place. Colonel Kuen took a deep breath, exhaled and stepped out of the elevator into the large and spacious meeting room. The ceiling was at least 5 times higher than the tallest beings on the board, and the tallest beings were Ansuvians.
Planet 748 was an artificial planet. It served as the headquarters for the Galactic Council and the only inhabitants there were its members, their close relatives, and robotic personnel. For many Council members the planet served as a meeting point, meaning that they didn’t live there permanently. It was true for some 90% of the staff.
Colonel Kuen knew he was taking a risk, but he didn’t really care. He had done this trick multiple times before. When you absolutely can’t make a decision, you leave it until the very last second. You step into the situation, into the life-flow, into the thick of unfolding reality – and then you just go with it.
He came up on stage and put on the sound amplifier. As he had anticipated, all eyes in the room turned to him. The Colonel scanned the room for five long seconds and caught a glimpse of a pair of dark hypnotic eyes, which – he could swear with his life – belonged to Hae the Ansuvian, his long-time blue-skinned flame.
But Colonel Kuen was feeling completely balanced at the time. He was even happy that Hae was there to share this historic moment with him.
– Blessings to you, honorable Galactic Council members! – he began his speech. – For those of you who don’t know me, I am Kuen Selastien, Colonel of UKG Space Force. I am also currently Head of the Earth Negotiations Special Committee created by the Council to put forth a strategy for our further communications with this planet.
– Yesterday we spent the entire day discussing Earth matters, – he continued. – We listened to 10 honorable Special Committee members who shared their vision with us. We are now to make a decision as to whether we should make contact with Earth beings, or continue to monitor them for signs of high-risk activities like experiments with the Elementary particle or attempts to travel outside of the Solar system.
The Colonel paused for a moment, trying to read the room and absorb the general mood. This observation was going to form a basis for the spontaneous decision he was about to make. Colonel Kuen took a deep breath as he looked into the eyes of fellow Council members and sensed their excitement, curiosity, and their willingness to contact Earth beings. “So be it then”, he thought to himself.
– Eventually, it has been decided… – started the Colonel.
But his speech got interrupted by the ding-dong sound of the elevator, announcing the arrival of a new Committee member. The sound got amplified by the earpieces that everyone wore in the room. All heads turned in the direction of the elevator.
Being late for important Council meetings was unheard of. Council members were very considered to one another. When one person spoke, nobody dared to even whisper or listen to their virtual assistants. No-one was ever late without a grave reason. And, if someone was late, they’d rather skip the meeting, unless they had something to say that was of utmost importance.
The man who emerged from the elevator was an elderly person. It was hard to tell how old he was, but he certainly looked aged. In addition, he looked like he came from a by-gone era: the ribbed fabric of his clothes, his ancient-wizard-like hat, and his long hair were totally out of style in UKG. The only modern item he was wearing was the characteristic Space Force earpiece.
The old man raised his palm in a greeting sign and bowed to Colonel Kuen who was on stage.
– Sorry to interrupt, – he said. He knew that the sound of his voice would be amplified by everyone’s earpieces and that everyone would hear him. – I am Pratt Golsvani, a Space Force secret agent. I have been working undercover on planet Earth for the past 570 standard years.
Everyone in the room gasped. Colonel Kuen was taken aback, too. A secret undercover agent! Who would have thought! Apparently, there were things the secret department wasn’t telling the larger Council.
The Colonel invited Pratt Golsvani onto the stage and passed him the sound amplifier for the room.
– Thank you, – said agent Golsvani. – I apologize for crashing the meeting, honorable Council members. I left Earth as soon as I learned about it, but there were some matters that detained me along the way. So! I think there is something you should be aware of before you make the decision.
The secret agent spoke softly, in a rather low voice. Everyone realized he was no longer accustomed to sound amplifiers and was afraid lest everyone should go deaf if he spoke too loud.
– Do any of you, honorable Council members, know the origin of our standard calendar? – he continued. – Do you know what served as the basis for our standard hour, standard day, standard year, and so on?
Council members exchanged curious looks. Most shook their heads.
– It’s not surprising that you never asked yourselves that. The standard calendar emerged such a long time ago that we barely know where it came from. However! If you travel to Earth, you will discover that their day equals exactly one standard day, and it takes exactly one standard year for the planet to go around their sun!
Council members looked surprised at hearing that.
– From what I discovered on Earth, that planet was really the cradle of our entire civilization! – Pratt Golsvani moved his hand in a persuading gesture. – And let me also tell you this… How do we, UKG citizens, know when to rest, what to eat, and when to go to sleep? We have virtual assistants for that! We invented virtual assistant a long time ago to help us figure out what’s good for us. However, if you look at Earth beings, they have no virtual assistants. Yet, they know when to eat, when to relax, when to sleep, what they are feeling, why they are doing what they are doing – because they haven’t lost the ability to listen to themselves!
Those in the rooms nodded in agreement.
– A long, long time ago, – continued the secret agent, – ancient Earth beings left their solar system and went on to explore what laid beyond. They kind of got lost and then founded our current civilization. We have achieved a great deal since then: we have created diverse species, experimented with our genetics… I mean, we can build artificial planets and suns – we have mastered the Elementary particle! But there is something precious that we’ve lost, and we can only get it back if we learn from Earth beings.
Agent Golsvani looked at Colonel Kuen who was still on the stage.
– You are the head of the Special Committee, aren’t you, Colonel?
– I am.
– If I were you, I would covertly lead humans to discover the records of their ancient interstellar mission that gave rise to our civilization. This would prepare them psychologically for contact… well, of we decided to initiate contact with them.
Both men looked each other in the eye. The decision seemed clear. Colonel Kuen was smiling.