Aphelion Issue 246, Volume 23
December 2019 / January 2020
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Class III

by Margaret Karmazin

Michael Wynn, behavioral scientist working for the CDC in Atlanta, skypes his wife, an epidemiologist working for same and presently in Zimbabwe. "Is it happening there too?"

She knows immediately what he means. "Yes, and I'm scared. Normally nasty road warriors are sitting around playing dominos and sipping Orange Squash. Not even bothering with beer. Do you understand, Michael? They don't even need beer to mellow out! What the hell is going on?"

"When are you coming home?" He feels a sudden stab of loneliness mixed with terror. Will he ever see her again? Why is he thinking this way?

"I wasn't planning to till next Friday, but I'm heading out tomorrow. How's Leslie?"

"She's fine. She stayed over at Julie's last night. They got her to school all right, I checked."

"Hon, I don't like this. I got Dr. Ndlovo to run a blood panel on the checker players - they didn't even mind. Hell, they wouldn't have minded if he poked a pen in their ears. Nothing abnormal showed up."

"Hurry home, Shannon. Let me know the flight schedule."

"I will," she says, unusually docile.

It is gradual, even subtle at the start. The first public manifestation in the United States is Sen. Richard D. Blackmoore (D-Conn.) refraining from his usual snide insinuation that his opponent, Sen. Nathan W. Zierdt (R-Florida) is a congenital idiot. A few days later, Rep. Craig Lewis (R-Texas) also refrains from his usual declaration that all Democrats are minions of Satan.

Across the pond, a world class French chef, known for disparaging any cuisine other than his own, is heard to say on national television that he has enjoyed a certain Thai restaurant on the West Bank.

"A day to remember in Congress," reports a newscaster two weeks later on MSNBC. "A total lack of rancor. Is the world ending?"

FOX news criticizes the Republican Senators for not being outraged. "Are they all on Xanax?" the newscaster quips.

On the playground at a school in Aarhus, Denmark, a certain bullnecked kid named Frode Vestergaard chooses not to punch fragile looking Jerrik Hermanson and steal his lunch as is his usual MO. Amazingly, sometime later, Frode actually shares part of a candy bar with a girl he usually ridicules for having sprouted large breasts at age twelve. He does not make a grab for one of the breasts either.

Aybak, a Taliban soldier and his cohort, Ayoob, are about to punish a woman who has tripped and fallen, thus exposing her calves as she attempts to get up. They are going to rough her up just a little when for no reason at all, Aybak experiences the strange sensation of compassion and lets her go. Shocked, Ayoob says nothing, for he too is feeling odd. The woman quickly hobbles away, apparently having injured her ankle, while constantly peering back at the two men until she disappears around a corner.

Maako Oshiro, a notoriously smart-ass sixteen year old, sitting in her calculus class in Nagasaki, is about to rip Sumiko Watanabe a new one when she surprises herself by clamping her mouth shut. The two are neck to neck scholastic rivals and Maako enjoys publicly putting Sumiko down whenever the opportunity presents itself. Sumiko, a gentle soul, depressed from the constant mental beating, gapes at her rival in surprise. In fact, the whole class, including the teacher, also regard Maako with open mouths.

Maako feels a bizarre urge to be kind. Possibly more than that, she experiences a moment of wondering what it would be like to be friends with Sumiko, which in the following days she will end up pursuing, never understanding what has come over her.

In Sudan, Kerieme Hasan, the commander of his rebel group, stands on a hill overlooking a village. His grandmother and two aunts lived there, but in spite of this, he and his men have planned on attacking after everyone is asleep. They will kill all the men and gang-rape the women. Kerieme has no special affection for his relatives. They have let him scramble for himself. In fact, he will enjoy seeing them humiliated and might even take part in the raping himself.

A small girl appears around the side of a hut, pulling along a small dog which she talks to vivaciously as if it can understand her. Kerieme is invisible against the moonless sky. Suddenly, he experiences what it is like to be the little girl. He knows her joy at having the little canine friend, how special she feels over the bond the two share. This revelation is severe; an entire world has opened before his eyes. He almost falls backward. No way can he harm this child. No way can he harm anyone since now he knows what he knows.

He locates his men and whispers the order to turn around. Where he will take them next, he does not know. Possibly they will turn on him. He cannot predict their response.

The President of Mexico, Manolo Salazar, is the first to publicly comment on what is happening. "It seems that an elixir of peace has descended upon our countrymen," he declares in a four channel broadcasts. "No one, not even the priests, can figure out what is going on. There were no murders in the entire country in the past five days. Other crime has dropped by eighty percent. People are being sympathetic to each other. If I were not elated, I would be terrified. My fellow Mexicans, all I can tell you is to enjoy it while it lasts."

President Salazar is followed by Okello Wadudeya of Uganda, making a similar speech in the UN. World leaders follow, one by one, then simultaneously. The US is one of the last, the Secretary of State preferring to employ the wait and see plan. But when China comes through, the American President ties up TV stations for a good forty minutes as he speculates on what could possibly be happening.

"Police seem to have nothing much to do at present," he says as his address deteriorates into almost absent-minded rambling. "A good thing, definitely a good thing. And ER doctors and nurses are spending their Saturday nights twiddling their thumbs since apparently all shootings and stabbings have stopped."

The President will surely have to pay for that one with every nurses' association lining up to accuse him of not appreciating their dealing with heart attacks, broken bones and other natural health disasters, but what does result? Nothing. In fact, no one is complaining about anything. The lawyers have run out of new clients, while older ones seem to have lost interest in their causes.

Michael calls Shannon (now safely back home) into the living room where he perches on the edge of his seat watching CNN. "Iran just called off all intentions to attack Israel. Their president made a speech declaring that he hopes for cordial relations between his country and theirs and has invited Israel's president to Iran for peace talks. What the hell?"

"Here, hon, have a cup of this fantastic coffee I just bought at the farmer's market. It's an organic blend and I've ever tasted anything so good."

"Did you hear what I just said?"

"Yes, Michael. It's about time. I knew it would happen."

He gives her a searching look. Normally, she is like him, edgy, quick to anxiety over even small things, but now she seems placid and Buddha-like. He isn't sure he likes it. She has become a totally different person and reminds him of a cud chewing cow. An attractive one, but a cow nevertheless.

"Did you take something?"

She pouts, sticking out her lower lip. "I'm not allowed to be happy? No, I didn't take anything. I don't need to. For some reason, I've never felt so...so peaceful. It's wonderful, really."

"Hmm," he says. He has noticed that he himself is considerably more mellow than normal. Is Shannon also wondering what has happened to the person she married?

"On Monday, I'm going to address this at work."

"Oh, Michael," Shannon laughs. "They're already completely occupied with the situation. How could you not know? Where have you been? The AIDS issue has fallen to the wayside, that little ebola outbreak forgotten. No one cares about the bird flu mutation. I think you bury yourself back in your office too much. Didn't you get the memo?"

He usually hates it when she makes him look the fool, which she often does, yet now it hardly seems to matter. "No, what memo?"

"Hon, you need to read your email more. Dr. Harper sent it around Friday. He said that for an indefinite period, we'll be concentrating on solving this mystery. There has to be a reason why at present, not a single war is being waged on the planet. He seriously doubts that this has ever occurred in the long history of humankind."

Michael sighs. He has been so enjoying his study of water related infections and was onto two delicious new rotoviruses.

He points at the TV. "Listen."

"There has been," announces the CNN anchor, "apparently, not a single recorded crime committed over the past two days. We've checked in with forty-seven countries and the police reports-"

Shannon lowers the sound. "Michael," she says, "this might not be good. It sounds good, but..."

She doesn't have to persuade him. He has to give up the rotoviruses for this?

An amateur astronomer in San Diego, California is the first to report what appears to be an intelligently maneuvered, enormous craft heading directly toward Earth from the direction of the sun. Smaller objects are seen accompanying it, these flickering in and out. The astronomer conjectures that the larger object has to be the size of Phobos and has been hidden by the sun until now.

Michael's friend Josh arrives for beer and Shannon's homemade pizza. A few months before, Josh's wife dumped him and while he's been inconsolable, suddenly no longer seems to care. "Hey, you guys," he says after downing three slices of the pizza, "you've heard about the sightings, right?"

"Just the one," says Michael.

"Well," laughs Josh, "there's more than just one!" He has an uncle who works at NASA. "Unca Joe called my parents last night and got my mother all upset. Seems that some kind of ship is heading our way. It's definitely not a natural object."

"How do they know, exactly?" asks Shannon. "I mean, that it's not natural."

"I don't know, behavior, light refraction. They have their ways. They can tell what something is made of, I think, by the light it gives off."

Eight year old Leslie who has been listening carefully, perks up. "You mean it's a space ship?"

Josh looks at her. "Possibly."

"Well, I, for one, am scared," says Shannon, not thinking how this attitude could affect her daughter.

But Leslie is not afraid. "Goody!" she shouts. "We're going to see aliens!"

"Of course it does make you wonder," says Josh. "I mean how everyone is suddenly getting along and now this."

"I have a bad feeling," says Michael.

"Relax, dude. You always were a pessimist."

For decades, scoffers have insisted that a real UFO should land on the White House lawn. Instead, when the ship arrives, it disappears behind the moon and sends five small ships to Earth. These hover in the sky, surrounded by a fruit fly cloud of military jets and unmarked helicopters. All mass media programming is jammed. On screens everywhere, from wide screen TVs to tablets and phones, appears a face no human will ever forget.

Michael and Shannon, both at work and stunned by the broadcast, run toward each other's office and smash into each other in the hall.

"That face," cries Shannon.

Not that it was necessarily ugly. It was, anyone would have to agree, human-like. A bit longer, paler, surrounded by colorless hair and set with gleaming sapphire eyes over a long nose and thin, unfriendly looking lips. When it spoke, everyone understood.

"What language was that?" asks Michael, as would people in Togo, Rio, Oslo, Hong Kong and Montreal. "How did we understand what he was saying?"

"Was that a 'he'? I wasn't sure," says their coworker Megan.

"What did it say?" asked Dr. Harper, dashing from the men's room, still zipping up his pants.

Michael eyes fill with tears. He slides his arm around Shannon. Several people stand with hanging heads as if they are ashamed or being punished.

"Do you want to tell him or should I?" asks Shannon.

Michael takes a deep breath. "He, she, whatever it was...he said that his kind and others of his level, his class, run things in our sector of space. A government, a sort of police force, whatever you like to call it. Understand that this was imparted, I guess, telepathically, so I need to search for the specific words to describe what he said."

The others around him nod. "Yeah, you know what he meant, but there were no words," says Marie from Toxic Substances.

Michael continues. "He said they watch and judge civilizations to see how they're growing and when they reach a certain point, they approach these civilizations with certain offers or...how shall I put this?...plans for their development or further existence."

Dr. Harper's sharp eyes are intent on Michael's face.

"We're at that point," puts in someone in the little crowd.

"The thing is," says Michael, "that point is when they decide what to do with you." He stops.

"Go on," barks Harper.

"If you've passed certain criteria, such as having moved beyond war and other violence to people, animals and your environment and you've incorporated equal rights for all individuals worldwide, you're welcomed into their...their group of governing civilizations. You are Class I. If you have not reached that point, but are showing clear signs of being able to, they'll give you some help. That is Class II. However..."

"However?" prompts Harper.

"Apparently we, the human race, don't fit that category either. We're in the one you would call 'a lost cause.'"

Some of the women quietly sob.

"Meaning?" says Harper.

"That we're beyond hope, sir. We are Class III."

Michael's mind floods with the last bit from the alien. At this point in the delivery, its face came alive, eyes flashing, lips pursed in disapproval, though later that expression would change to apparent anguish. "The alien then said, 'Even with occasional intervention, and we have sent you helpers over the centuries, your civilization has not moved beyond shortsightedness, greed and violence. You continue to destroy the environment you need to sustain you. You continue to use and kill others to further your imagined need for personal power and material objects. You persist in promoting archaic religious institutions with their useless rites and regulations instead of maturing into true spirituality. Did you learn from and truly emulate Krishna, Buddha, or Jesus? Instead, you turned them into gods to worship instead of following their teachings. Did you develop your minds and spirits instead of worshipping technology? Instead, you have become slaves to it. Did you use what intelligence you have and what medicines the earth offers to conquer disease? Instead, you focused the majority of your energy on military development promoting more advanced ways to kill each other.

"We are saddened and cannot offer you any further opportunity for advancement. Instead, we have had to intervene for the last time.'"

Harper shuts his eyes.

"Our sudden loss of desire for war, our sudden kindness toward each other," says Michael, "well, it was just something they caused us to do. They gave up on our choosing such an attitude with free will and took over."

"In other words, we are children who will never grow up," says Harper. "We will stay this way forever."

"As long as we last," says Michael. "And how long will that be without anything to strive for? We're back in Eden, happy and mindless."

He sinks to the floor and sits on the cold, hard tile as if he plans on staying there a long time.

"With nowhere to go," says Harper.

"With nowhere to go," repeats Michael.

The others are silent.


2013 Margaret Karmazin

Bio: Ms. Karmazin's credits include 135 stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review,  Potomac Review, Confrontation, Absent Willow Review, Allegory, Pennsylvania Review and Another Realm.  Her stories in The MacGuffin,  Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards. Piper’s Ash, Ltd. published a chapbook of her sci-fi, Cosmic Women. She helped write the introduction for and has a story included in Still Going Strong, stories in Ten Twisted Tales, Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance), Morning Stars; Sing, Zero Gravity, Circling Uranus, Aliens Among Us, and The Speculative Edge (Issue 5) and a YA novel, Replacing Fiona, published by etreasurespublishing.com.

E-mail: Margaret Karmazin

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