The flustered ambassador adjusted his tie for the tenth time, his own neurotic nature mingling with the resonating effect of his father’s ceaseless diatribes on self-reliance and frugal living. Even on the most important day of his life, or perhaps even in all of human history, he refused to be dressed or made up by anyone but himself or his wife, and she was quite preoccupied with watching the news from half a country away. When the Secretary General of the United Nations specifically reached out to him to head this monumental task, he accepted without much emotion, always keeping an even keel as trained. On the other hand, when he informed his wife of his new position, she was left speechless for over a full day. She had to call in sick from work, although that was a separate issue entirely. And yet now that the moment was finally here, the gravity of this task finally seemed to rest on his shoulders. He took another sip of water, clearing his throat. Would these creatures even understand human speech? He would be flanked by four different highly-esteemed linguists and specialists in communication. But in speaking with visitors from another world… that seemed to him a woeful under-preparation.
“Are you ready, sir?” A young woman asked from the other side of his door. “We’re going to run behind schedule, and I don’t know if it’s wise to keep our guests waiting.”
“I am ready,” he declared sternly, the words more confident than the man.
The two began walking down the hallway as countless scenarios replayed in his mind. For the past few nights, he had imagined that these visitors might appear in all sorts of shapes and forms. Perhaps they would be more humanoid like the lazier science fiction films he had seen as a child. Perhaps they would be robotic, having long since shed their biology for the efficiency of machinery. He even imagined they might be forms of life heretofore unknown on Earth, ethereal beings made up of silicon crystals or a sentient gas. In the end, no one knew anything about these visitors. Many considered them a hoax until every government on Earth began to take them seriously almost overnight. He was not told why they all suddenly did. Just that they did.
The young woman had been trailing behind him, dressed in a well-fitting suit. When they came to a stop before a door, she started to speak, “Mr. Ambassador, there’s been a slight change of plans.”
“What do you mean?” Dread creeped down his spine. When anything was possible, changing plans meant new anxiety.
She took another look at the touch-screen pad in her arms, “Umm, it seems they specifically requested only one person meet with them, and um, that person is you, Mr. Ambassador.” It almost seemed like she couldn’t believe it either.
“Only one?” His mind raced, diving right into paranoia. Was this human sacrifice? Was he selected out of some sort of vendetta from someone on the UN Security Council? He flipped through countless faces and names thinking of anyone who might want him out of the way, but in his long and distinguished career, he had not made any enemies with enough influence to place him in this position. “Did they explain why? Does this mean that these visitors can communicate with us?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Ambassador,” she said, her expression too real to have been rehearsed. A lie would have been easier. “I was told to leave as soon as I told you, as well. It seems everyone else here has been evacuated on their orders.”
“I don’t understand,” he stuttered, a bead of sweat forming on his forehead.
“Me neither, sir.”
They paused and stared at the ground, until she pursed her lips and offered, “Good luck in there, sir,” before twirling around and leaving with swift, long strides, the clack of her high heels growing distant as he stared at her shrinking into the distance and rounding a corner.
His eyes returned to the door before him. On the other side could be anything. He swallowed his fear and twisted the door knob. He had negotiated far worse situations with some of the most authoritarian regimes on the planet as a diplomat in his younger years. He had been the victim of kidnapping, assassination attempts, and even bombing, but still he survived. He would survive this too. He convinced himself of it and pulled the door open.
He was alone. As far as he understood it, no human being on Earth would back him up. He was disconnected, stepping into the territory of a strange, unknowable civilization.
There in the otherwise unremarkable room was a table with two chairs. In one of them was a bald man, seemingly nude. Cheerfully, he stood up with a welcoming grin, “Come in! We’ve been waiting all day!”
“What’s the meaning of this?! Who are you?”
The man was far too pleased to see him. “You don’t really have words for what I am in your language yet, but think of me as a translator between your kind and our kind. Just like what you have on your mobile devices. It took us a few days before we could engineer me, but here I am!” he smiled, pulling back the other seat for the ambassador to take. “Please sit, we understand this is the most comfortable position for you to conduct diplomacy.”
He did as he was told. The nude man seemed satisfied and took a seat across from him, folding his hands in front of him. “Now, let us begin. We would firstly like to ask you how you all have been as a species since we left you.”
“Yes, that’s right. We uplifted the great apes and embedded an override gene within you all long ago. It’s taken a long time but we’re very pleased with your progress. So how have you been? Well?”
“We… have been well.” The ambassador shook his head, “I suppose, if you want a state of the union of collective mankind, then we could be better. Divisions between nations have started to crumble since the climate crises have forced us to re-evaluate our collective survival strategy.” He stopped and added, “When you said ’embedding a gene,’ are you suggesting that you created mankind?”
The nude man shook his head, “No, no, we let natural selection determine most of that. What we did was make the intelligence and selfishness mutation more likely. Altruism and lack of hunger would lead to a stabilization that we simply could not abide by. We could have picked any creature but the great apes were closest to developing simple tools and they lived in climates most conducive to selecting for intelligence. Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves in explaining all of this.”
“How can we know what you are saying is true?”
“I suppose you cannot, but the results speak for themselves. When we first spied your planet, it was a perfect environment for our kind. Lots of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Growing reserves of methane. Amazing. Breathable. We set off to settle, but as soon as we got here, imagine our surprise to find that life had sprung up and began oxygenating everything! What a catastrophe! We had no hope of living on a planet filled with so much toxic, burning oxygen,” the nude man sighed and stood up, pacing about the room. It was only now that the ambassador noticed there were no nails or hair on the man. Even the face seemed to be oddly plastic and perfectly proportioned, “We tried asteroids. More than once even, but it wasn’t ever permanent enough. But now after our uplifting intervention, we’re slowly starting to see the planet return to that pre-oxygenized state.”
The ambassador started to think back on his science courses in college, but the nostalgia did not soothe his utter disbelief. “This is ridiculous. What manner of prank is this?”
“Hm? This is no prank. We are very happy with your progress so far. It won’t be long before you’ve liberated all of that wonderful carbon back into the atmosphere from the clutches of these wretched photosynthesizers. Seriously, fantastic work. This has all happened so much faster than we were expecting. In any case, the reason why we wanted to talk with you is to encourage you. Your incredible diligence in extracting as much as possible from your surroundings is commendable. It won’t be long before most life on Earth is exterminated and the atmosphere is back to what it used to be.”
“If that’s true, then why have you decided to contact us now? Shouldn’t you have just let us be?”
“Certainly, if we hadn’t noticed a few hiccups. There’s a powerful group of people out there trying to prevent recarbonization from happening, and it would be in our best interest if they stopped. We don’t necessarily mean for them to be killed or anything. That seems awfully crude. Just give enough incentive so that they stop trying so hard to prevent the recarbonization of the atmosphere. Yes, that is why we have need to speak with you.”
“I do not have any sort of power you seek…”
“But you do have insight into who does. Find the right world leaders and orchestrate something to keep this environmental destruction all on track. We didn’t know who to trust, so we decided to just work with one person at a time. It didn’t really matter who we picked. Anyone that we speak to will be elevated to a position of authority, but you made the most sense for first pick, Ambassador.”
“How do you know I will agree to this?”
“Yes! We’re glad you asked. The obvious answer is that you have to. Don’t worry! We’re not going to forcefully coerce you. We don’t need to do anything drastic. You will want to help us yourself.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Look, if you listen to us, we will give you and your direct descendants the means to live forever. Simple as that. Refuse, and we’ll find someone else. How do you know that they won’t take us up on the offer instead? You don’t, and so you have no choice but to take us up on ours. Will you truly trust your peers not to act in their own self interest? Are they all so high-minded and selfless?” The bald man seemed to grow manic, “Or could it be that you don’t believe it is possible for us to offer this to you? It’s not like you have a choice, right? In the end, human nature has been rigged against your own selves. You know it, too, right? The end of the world is inevitable because there’s no way to build enough trust and organization among all of you. We are your one and only salvation. Selfish or not, it’s the most logical choice you can make. What do you say?”
“So you want me to go and stop the climate strikes around the world? Stop all environmentalist efforts? This is utter madness. The cat is out of the bag, if you’ll excuse my turn of phrase, and so people will work to preserve the Earth.”
The man snapped his fingers, “Yep, you got it. Just for another thirty years or so and it’s basically irreversible. Don’t worry, you’ll have our help. Disinformation campaigns take almost no effort at all.”
Disinformation. There was so much of it already out there. For a while, climate change denial was all the vogue among conspiracy theorists, but it had been beaten into silence by most everyone else. When the first war was fought over water in the Middle East, it had become clear that this was a challenge that would soon affect the entire world. And even still, so many alternative theories had come forward ranging from natural warming due to the age of the Earth or there being no such change happening or blaming it on specific countries and their industries.
“Once cloud cover is gone, the planet will warm up considerably. At that point, the oceans will create a feedback loop and absorb more sunlight. This warmth will likely drive more plant growth, but that can be offset with the survival of humanity. We want to ensure that the planet warms enough to obliterate the possibility of organisms rebalancing the Earth. Just a thousand years without humanity can mean the Earth goes back to the way it was, and we don’t want that. So, to encourage cooperation, we’ll even throw in proof of our good will towards you. Your wife is currently in the hospital in order to receive a surgery tomorrow, yes? This is the third time trying to rid of her cancer? Pernicious little problem, isn’t it?”
Slamming the table, he stood up. He felt the hairs on his neck rise, and his throat clench, “If you so much as-”
“Please, there’s no need for such drama,” the nude man brushed the ambassador’s warning aside before he even finished, “Your wife will never have cancer again. In fact, you can call her as soon as we’re done and find that she won’t need the surgery either.”
Still standing, he asked, “What do you mean? You saved my wife? You cured her cancer?”
“We cured everyone’s cancer. You all were surprisingly close but you needed a few more tweaks and the appropriate delivery vehicle. The news should break in a few days. How do you think it is we made our presence known to your various leaders in the first place?”
“I don’t understand… if you’ve already secured cooperation with the leaders around the world… What do you need me for?”
“They’ve only agreed to keep quiet about our existence. Actually, can I say something funny? Some of them got mad that we found the cure for cancer. Something about making less money by making it public. Well, even if you don’t find it funny, we found it humorous. So amusing. Anyway, we’ll continue to ensure the survival of your species even past the point of no return until we’re ready to settle on Earth ourselves.”
“Then the world leaders must be aware of your intentions at least. How could they all have agreed?”
“Like I said, no one knows our plans but you. And listen, we like humanity. You all have been immensely helpful, and we don’t want to pay back your valuable efforts with extermination or terror, but there’s too much of you who have hyperactive self-preservation instincts. If people were to find out that they were making their own planet inhospitable to themselves… why, imagine the outrage! Imagine the disruption! It would be bedlam. That’s why we need your help to conduct these things from behind closed doors.”
“No one would believe this. I can scarcely believe this.” But he knew that someone else might. For all he knew, he would be killed for disagreeing because he could arrange something against these creatures with the “influence” that they had given him. One bad actor would spell the end for mankind — for all life on Earth. Just one.
The ambassador had been in the room for only thirty minutes before he eventually left more confidently than when he had entered. No cameras or recording devices were allowed anywhere near the facility, and so no one could truly know what they had discussed in there but the ambassador himself. Moments later, he exited the facility by helicopter and left for a different secure facility where he would give his debrief to the UN Security Council. Out of his window, he glanced up and saw a glint before a crescent moon, shining like a star, blinking out of existence, almost like the aliens winked at him.
As he departed, in a single simultaneous instant, every major leader around the world then received the same message from the alien visitors. “We’ll be back in thirty years to see how you all have done! Have a good time!”