The Test

The Test

By Kathleen Lowney

It started the day I took the personality test. I was an AMXC. I've forgotten exactly what the letters mean, but overall I was categorized as intelligent and promotable. The small university at which I taught was ostensibly identifying future managers, but they had other reasons for giving the test, though I didn't realize that. Neither did my colleagues. Even so, all faculty committees voted against the test and most faculty boycotted it on ethical grounds; they were that we shouldn't be categorized on the basis of a test and that it was an invasion of our privacy.

I ended up as one of the few who actually took the test only because I had been too busy writing my book to be aware of the common stand. Writing the book consumed my life at the time. I was a historian and my topic "The social impact of the failed attempt at terraforming Mars" was comprehensive to say the least. Although this had happened long ago, and most historians concentrate on current history, I proposed that its impact still affected our society in profound ways, and that it had led to turning our backs on space -- to our becoming more inward- looking as a society. So when the aliens had contacted us, we weren't very receptive I had finished the basic research and was busy every minute of every day writing.

Of course, I would have followed my colleagues on the matter of the personality test had I known their position. What I thought would be a simple interview with the dean ended up as a short interview and a long test-taking session, of which the interview was just one part. When I finished, he beamed and vigorously shook my hand and said,

"We're happy to have you on our team!" That was a bit odd. We were never considered a "team" but rather highly individualistic scholars. Well, the dean was rather new and I didn't know him very well. He had an odd look in his eyes as well.

About a week later I was contacted again by the dean's office. By this time I clearly knew the faculty's position and had almost been labeled a scab for taking the test in the first place. Only my general popularity saved me. I informed the dean's secretary that I had second thoughts about the test and probably would not be participating in future sessions. He personally called me back a few minutes later.

"What a shame," he said, "We've identified you as the perfect candidate for the project."

"Project?" I asked.

"Yes, our university has been chosen to participate in a highly selective project to identify suitable candidates for cultural exchanges with the aliens."

"Cultural exchanges with the aliens?" I countered. " But I thought that the aliens were here only as benevolent observers?"

"True," he replied, "Very true. They cannot interfere in our lives in any way -- even if we ask them for advice. The conditions of their presence are very specific on this point and, as you know, we don't even notice their presence. But this project is an exception. It won't be interference as such, but rather exploring better ways to communicate with them."

I must admit, I was intrigued. Perhaps it was due to the nature of my research -- after all, I was interested in the Mars experiment and in other worlds. I had thought that my next project might be to assess the social impact of the presence of the aliens. Despite the fact that they didn't interfere with us at all, that we couldn't even tell who they were, I thought their mere existence must have caused some changes in the way we view the world. Also, this topic would have the advantage of being "current history" and thus more acceptable to my colleagues who thought that I was wasting my time investigating past history -- or "dead history," as it was popularly labeled. The dean then sweetened the pot.

"Also, I must tell you that your research has interested the project funders," he said. "You may be eligible for additional funding for your book, or for your future research." This certainly was a change. I had funded most of the research for my book myself. I had often wondered if anybody on earth was interested in funding such a subject -- or would ever read the book? And, had I even mentioned my future research interests during the long personality test? I couldn't remember.

I asked more questions about the nature of my participation and he reassured me that I would simply undertake some more psychological tests and some physical tests as well, such as brain wave and pattern testing.

"Don't worry," he reassured me, "I'll be participating as well."

The next test was at a testing center off campus, but not too far away. After waiting some time in a pleasant waiting room, I was asked to change into a hospital gown and entered a sterile hospital-like room with two operating tables and a machine between them. I was told to lie on one table and electrodes and wires were attached to various parts of my body. A skull cap with wires connected to the machine was put over my head, though my face was exposed and I could still see. I was ready for the test.

The dean entered the room and lay on the other table. He nodded a pleasant greeting to me. Wires were connected to him as well but at different places on his body. Some seemed not to be attached at all but floated around him. We were told to relax. The test would begin soon but the attendant would control it from another room.

I wasn't aware of the exact beginning of the test. I felt no discomfort or pain but noticed some dials on the machine working and sensed a hazy feeling in my brain. I looked over at the dean and, to my horror, watched him transform from a normal human being into a hideous monster. The shape of his body changed to a pulsating blob with protrusions all over and small round things that reminded me of large boils everywhere on his body, if you could call it that. His outer layer appeared scabby, scaly and gooey all at the same time. I saw no evidence of sensors (such as eyes or ears) but who could tell! The only thing I found logical is that in this new shape, the testing apparatus fit over some of his protrusions.

My horror gradually faded but the curiosity remained.

"So this must be one of the aliens," I thought to myself. Of course, that was what the test was all about -- improving communication with them. I looked him over with interest.

But, as the test continued, my curiosity and interest also faded.

"Who cares?" I thought. "They are here and we are too. So what?"

He gradually changed back to his human shape, and the test was soon over. After we were disconnected from the machinery and got up, I noticed that the strange look in his eye was brighter, more of a gleaming glint. Also, his shape had a liquid quality around the edges. I noticed the same qualities in the attendant and surmised that he too must be an alien.

I felt no discomfort after the test but was a bit tired. I went home and slept for a long time.

I returned to my normal, daily routine. I suffered no physical consequences, but I had lost interest in many things. Prior to the test, my book had been an all-consuming passion. Afterwards, I couldn't have cared less about it. I finished it only because I knew that my tenure review was coming up and I needed the book to keep my job. The last few chapters were combined just to finish it quickly, and I knew that it lacked the style with which it began.

"Oh well," I thought,

"Who cares? Nobody was going to read it anyway!"

Also, my students began complaining that my lectures had become dry and boring. I had always prided myself on making history come alive for the students, but these complaints now had no effect on me. In the meantime, the faculty senate censured me for taking part in the test. My popularity didn't save me this time, because I was losing it fast. I hardly socialized at all with my colleagues anymore, either on a professional or personal basis.

The dean called me for follow-up interviews but I managed to put him off. I could still detect the alien quality about him, though I don't think he realized that. He was keen to know my impressions about the test.

"Is this part of the test?" I inquired.

"Well, no, not really....." he answered in a puzzled voice.

"Then I'm very busy these days," I said, even though I had nothing to do, "I don't actually have time to chat."

"But don't you want to know the results? Aren't you interested in our findings?" he sputtered incredulously.

"Not really," I replied in my haughtiest tone.

The dean continued to call. He probably thought he'd get my attention once again by offering me money.

"The funders like your proposal about studying the effects of the aliens on our society but have some questions," he began.

"I don't recall submitting a proposal." I said in a distant voice. Of course, by now I fully understood that the "funders" were aliens, just as the funders of the "communication project" had been aliens.

"Well, I described it verbally to them," he replied a bit on the defensive.

"They would like you to revise it somewhat to lay the groundwork first, before you actually study the effects of the alien presence. Of course, they would fund both parts of the research."

"Hmmmm," I answered, I suppose with a touch of sarcasm, "Interesting comment." Of course, I never revised my proposal, which had never been written-up in the first place, and never requested research funding again. I still recognized the dean as an alien, and recognized a few more aliens on campus as well, by the same glint in their eyes and the same shimmering, vagueness in the outline of their bodies.

Eventually I lost my job. The periodic tenure review did not go well at all. My book had received mixed reviews in academic circles. My students were complaining, I didn't have any other scholarly activities as an excuse for the poor quality of my teaching, and I had lost all faculty support. The dean himself told me the bad news. I didn't really mind. I had some savings and I thought I would live off of that money for a while.

I maintained a quiet existence for some years. I had no major interests and spent my time reading, gardening and taking walks in the countryside. Around the time my savings began to run out, I was identified as a victim of the communications project. It was rather convenient because I now receive a disability pension and medical insurance. Otherwise, I'd be destitute. Of course, I knew about the project investigations from the news reports but, despite the potential financial security, I had no desire to become involved. Actually, that was typical of most victims -- they displayed a pronounced lack of interest in anything. Oddly, I was identified as a result of the faculty censure which had been recorded officially somewhere.

Of course, everybody now knows the details of the project. The victims were used as a source of vitality and curiosity for the aliens, traits they apparently lacked. It seems that my intellectual curiosity and many of my interests had been sucked out of my brain during the second part of the test. I lost that part of my personality for good. Since the aliens had agreed never to interfere with us and had purported to be benevolent, the public was outraged, and justly so I suppose. Further contact with them was severely restricted.

Though upon my identification as a victim I was subject to many personality and psychological tests, albeit none involving machines, nobody ever did discover that I had gained something during the test. I could, and still can, easily identify aliens. I'm not sure if other victims share this ability. I never asked since I don't really care.

The aliens are everywhere now. At first I knew the dean, of course, and I would see others around occasionally. Now they are all over. Even some of those involved in the victims' association are aliens! They have the nerve to provide counseling and psychological testing for us. My guess is that they have refined their "communications project test" so that victims aren't so aware and perhaps don't even know they have been tested. Maybe it happens during a regular health check up! Who knows?

Anyway, I'll never know. I'll never find out. And I don't really care.

Copyright 1997 by Kathleen Lowney

About the Author in her own words: I am an economist and have been working in the Middle East and Africa for the past 12 years in the area of economic development. Currently I am working in Jordan but will return to the USA soon. I have been reading and enjoying science fiction since high school (many years ago!!) I recently joined a very supportive writer's group and began writing fiction for pleasure. This is my first published story.

Regards, Kathleen

You can E-mail Kathleen Lowney at

Aphelion Letter Column A place for your opinions.

Return to the Aphelion main page.