The Planet Sessesspressny, Andromeda Galaxy, 2120
Anjal and Jens were standing at the site where the wormhole had spit them out, along with about a dozen curious Gleeze who were suddenly very interested in the mystery of how the bipeds from Ga-Zanna had unexpectedly appeared via the ancient Iris network. Nothing of this magnitude had happened on their planet for thousands of years. Or maybe hundreds, who could say? The terminus had opened inside a cave that pocked a grassy hill, and it was a few kilometers from the living pod village where Anjal and Jens had been staying. Anjal’s face paled when Nalla explained that sometimes the terminus doesn’t stay fixed over time, so they were quite lucky not to have transported into solid rock.
Jyilla and Nalla had assembled a team of volunteers (all the posts and positions on Sessesspressny were technically filled by volunteers, who, in accordance with their planet’s cultural heritage, didn’t have to do anything they didn’t want to do) by enticing them with information about this abandoned Gleeze technology that the humans had resurrected. Many were initially intrigued; several quickly lost interest and floated away, but, according to Jyilla, “Totally normal. You’ll always lose a few.”
The group had assembled outside the cave entrance and convened around the Sacred Cube which Nalla was searching for technical information about the Iris. Anjal had brought along the scanner she had been wearing on her belt when the wormhole deposited her on this planet and she was examining the cave walls for an energy signature that might pinpoint the location of the wormhole generator. So far, she had succeeded only in detecting some exceedingly friendly moss, and in surprising a family of six-legged lizards who, in turn, startled her, but then they all apologized profusely.
Jens sat on the grass (which was delighted to have them! A pleasure!) as Nalla explained what he was discovering in the Cube.
“The first entry regarding the Irises is from about 100,000 years ago. During that time, the Gleeze were inhabiting the Ga-Zanna galaxy, what you call the Milky Way. Our original species evolved there,” Nalla pointed with a wisp to an area that was 9 o’clock to Milky Way’s 6 o’clock, if you were okay with Earth being in the 6 o’clock arm. “In this arm. And they lived on this planet,” the display zoomed in on a green and blue world. “For millions of years. They went through the usual growing pains that civilizations must suffer in order to become enlightened. Thousands of destructive wars, oppression, slavery, destructive religions and blood-thirsty gods—you know, the usual. Eventually, they emerged as a unified people and were ready to travel to the stars.” Nalla looked up from the cube’s display. “I’m paraphrasing, by the by. There’s quite of bit of dull material in here, as I’m sure you can imagine. Hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of records and most of them naming endless family relations.” Nalla wisped at the cube until the holo display showed a crude-looking spaceship which closely resembled the quintessential 1950s subtitled sci-fi movie rocket with fins. Jens thought the shape was perfect.
Nalla magnified until the view opened up to show the inside of the space ship and both Jens and Anjal were surprised to see a bipedal crew, slightly larger than the Gleeze. Jens turned to Nalla with a puzzled expression. Nalla, understood the cause of it.
“They don’t look much like us, do they? Our species has… changed. I’ll explain more about that later.” Nalla continued his narrative. The graphic displayof the rocket ship morphed into subsequently more modern designs until thechanges stopped and what remained was a sleek-looking golden craft thatresembled a terrestrial wasp. “After many eons of space exploration, they foundyour planet 70,000 years ago, and they made contact with your species.” The display showed a recording of Paleolithic humans in a group in front of a cave with a small camp. Jens was shocked—they were watching video of people who lived millennia ago! It was like watching the Discovery Channel but with live footage instead of so-so actors in loincloths. “My ancestors found your ancestors somewhat…blank; smart enough to use fire and hunt, cooperative enough to live in groups that gave them protection but not using sophisticated language or symbols to communicate much more.”
Jens looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“The word they used is xirit– it’s a word that can’t be exactly translated. It means ’empty’ but not like a vessel.” Jens shook his head as if he still didn’t understand.
“He’s trying the say ‘the lights are on but no one’s home’.” Anjal had approached silently some minutes ago and had heard most of Nalla’s narrative. She startled Jens when she spoke. “Humans of this era were anatomically the same as modern humans, but they weren’t all sentient yet.” Nalla’s antennae shot up, and it flung its wing back with a flourish of shimmer dust, making Anjal cough.
“Yes, that’s it! Xirit, non-sentient. Not all of them, though. The Gleeze found individuals who possessed a spark that belied their consciousness. They had fabricated a completely unique tool or fashioned some sort of décor object which implicated an artistic expression that most of the others did not have. So the Gleeze thought it would be best if they fixed the rest of the people.” Jens’ eyes opened wide and Anjal’s jaw dropped.
“What do you mean by ‘fixed’? The Gleeze made humans sentient? How?” Anjal demanded. Nalla shifted its wings in a Gleezian shrug.
“They researched the difference between the sentient and non-sentient humans and located the anomaly in their genomes. It says they used some kind of… um… biologic, maybe a virus, coded to edit gene sequences.” Nalla scanned more text and popped up a three-dimensional DNA strand, showing the edited proteins in blinking red. Since no one in the audience was a biologist, they all nodded. “The Gleeze seeded planets all over the Milky Way galaxy with intelligence, sentience, and consciousness. And not just planets.” Jens raised an eyebrow and shot Anjal a puzzled look. Anjal shook her head slightly, she didn’t know what the Gleeze meant either. “They were one of the first few civilizations to emerge in the galaxy. There were others, but many of them were antagonistic, warlike, territorial and tribal. The ancient Gleeze were optimistic that the worlds they had seeded would flourish so there would be many cultures and civilizations to exchange ideas and technology and art. Did they succeed?” Nalla inquired, one antenna bent in question.
“We haven’t met any other intelligent species or civilizations. We’re still in our own solar system.” Jens answered. Nalla nodded and bobbed his antennae.
“It’s just as well, I assure you they are not all friendly. Particularly the younger civilizations. No offense.”
Anjal asked, “Why don’t you explain how your ancestors are bipeds but you’re not?” Nalla manipulated the cube again for several minutes until the projection showed a biped. It was 150 cm tall and had indigo skin covered in iridescent scales. It had silky hair and amethyst eyes and a compliment of four arm-like appendages.
“Is that a male or a female?” Jens inquired.
“Yes.” Nalla answered definitively. “Single gender, just like us. This is how they appeared when they were actively traveling in space. They were intrigued by Earth’s butterflies, which they encountered during their original visit and then again during subsequent visits. As their civilization aged, it began adapting fantastical characteristics based on features that belonged to various species on planets that they particularly liked. And they liked your planet a lot.” The display showed bipedal Gleeze in various physical stages sporting wings, feathers, tentacles, fins and flowers. “Eventually, many Gleeze became enamored with the romantic idea of being able to fly so they gradually modified their forms genetically until they arrived at a body-style similar to we contemporary Gleeze.”
“How often did they visit earth?” Anjal demanded. She thought about the depictions of UFO-like objects painted on cave walls and found in hieroglyphs of ancient civilizations. Some scholars had insisted those images represented contact with aliens and they had taken a lot of shit off the establishment for it. She felt slightly vindicated for those dubious researchers. Stick it to the man.
“They returned every few thousand years to see if the species they had uplifted were thriving. The last time they visited your planet was about 50,000 years ago. They felt proud of your species’ advancements in language and symbolism and cooperation and felt assured that you were on the track to intelligence and curiosity and that you would leave the less desirable traits of tribalism behind as your civilization matured. I assume that is the case?” Nalla asked hopefully. Anjal scrunched her nose and shrugged, and Jens waggled his hands in a comme ci comme ça motion. Nalla’s antenna curled slightly in the Gleezian version of an eye-brow raise then continued. “That was when they deposited the Iris on the far side of your moon. They didn’t want you to discover it before you had developed at least modest space travel and had a better chance of understanding what the technology was capable of.” The display now showed a titanic spaceship shaped like a stylized sperm whale. Jens rolled his eyes. “This is the generation ship the Gleeze boarded when they had finished exploring and were ready to retire and just exist as butterflies.”
The display now showed a miniature of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, and a glowing red line plotted the trajectory of the whale ship. “At their ship’s fastest speed it was a journey of 2000 years to reach Bezza, Andromeda as you call it. When they arrived, they found a much older galaxy inhabited by many ancient civilizations like themselves who had also moved into the next phase of existence. For some of them, it was a specific corporeal form that they preferred; others ceased to exist in a body and became electromagnetic clouds or light waves or other non-physical forms.” The display showed various pink blobs, lightning bolts, sentient feathers, wisps of smoke and dozens of other improbable configurations.
“Is that a bubble?” Asked Anjal incredulously. Nalla nodded its antennae.
“The Hoom. You’d think a bubble would be fun, but they’re rather stuffy.”
Jens stood up and stretched his legs as the grass called, “See ya later!”
“Well, this has all been very informative, but I think the Iris will not reactivate itself, yah?” Jens stated impatiently; a throwback to his former character, to Anjal’s ironic satisfaction. “Have you found the manual yet?” Nalla moved its wisps rapidly through the index. After a few minutes, the display showed a schematic. It turned to Anjal.
“Set your scanner to detect this element.” Anjal squinted as she tried to discern an image of an atom that was not listed in any periodic table she had ever seen. She entered the impossible number of protons using the scanner’s interface and tapped the search key and returned to the cave. Nalla and Jens continued to search the Sacred Cube for instructions to activate the Iris.
Several of the attending Gleeze had wandered into the cave and were rapid-firing personal questions at Anjal, specifically requesting a detailed description of human propagation and exactly how would that work with two genders? Anjal, still scanning, answered them by spinning an elaborate narrative amalgamated from dozens of romance novels. The attending Gleeze were enthralled. Anjal stopped her story abruptly when her scanner detected the element she had been searching for. She moved the scanner around until it was pointing straight down, then the signal beeped rapidly. She was standing on it. She kneeled on the cave floor and used her laser tool (another item on her belt that completed the journey with her) to evaporate the soil and rock until she exposed the not-metal, not-concrete, symbol-engraved surface of what she hoped was the wormhole generator. A small hot pink butterfly named Myssa tapped Anjal on the shoulder with its antenna and said, “But what about Jonathan and Francesca??”