We’ll Keep It on File
U.N. Secretary-General Hortense Huang fidgeted in her gelatinous sour-smelling beige chair while Plagg, the Galactic Federation’s species recruitment manager, studied humanity’s resume.
Like fifteen percent of Federation species, Plagg was vaguely humanoid. His tallowy gray face looked as if it had been stretched on the torture rack of bureaucracy for millennia. He flipped through the resume in silence, oily black eyes seldom blinking.
Hortense shifted. Cleared her throat. The Federation had given her a cup of stale water, but that’d been hours ago, shortly after she’d been beamed into the Federation’s branch offices: a huge corkboard-colored cube orbiting Jupiter. She scanned the drab room for something to drink, but the cluttered tables held only paperwork and burnt toast. Lots and lots of burnt toast.
“Mm,” said Plagg, grabbing her attention. She waited tensely for him to say more, but he just snatched up a slimy pencil-shaped creature from a jar holding several of them and pressed it to the resume. The creature screamed as Plagg raked its nose over the paper, a sound so unsettling Hortense clenched her armrests. When Plagg was done writing, he set down the creature and kept reading.
At last, when the tension was unbearable, Hortense cleared her throat more loudly.
Plagg glanced up. “Mm?”
“Um, you’ve been quiet a long time, and I just….”
“Mm.” The alien drummed his fingers.
“I just wondered, you know, if you think humans will be able to join the Galactic Federation.”
The alien plucked a mint-sized creature from a tin. The creature screamed as he tossed it in his mouth. “Yes. Well.”
“Your pyramids certainly look professional. And your hula hoops seem—interesting.” The mint creature’s screams came muffled through the alien’s mouth. “This gap here, when you stopped going to the Moon—care to explain what you were doing in that time?”
“Uh. We made the internet. Smartphones. Slashed hunger and disease.”
“I know all that. I just wonder why you weren’t also going to the Moon. Or any other celestial bodies in your solar system.”
“Uh. Well. Hm.” She licked her lips. She really wanted some water.
“It’s fine. Moving on.” The manager flipped a page. “Under skills, you listed language, mathematics, tools. But no shapeshifting, telepathy, quantum hermeneutics, Zobokian gravity dancing. I trust you merely forgot to include those?”
Could she get away with lying? Hortense desperately wanted humanity to join the Federation. The windfall of technologies would be incredible. No doubt these aliens had cured aging, perfected virtual reality, and achieved staggering abundance. She just had to fib a little if it meant getting her species a seat at the cosmic table. But what if the aliens found out she was lying? Would they boot her from an airlock? Torch Earth like a weed?
Swallowing her fear, she went for it. “Yes. We forgot to include those.”
The manager frowned. “That’s too bad. We greatly dislike Zobokian gravity dancing.”
The alien flipped to another page before she could think of a save.
“Where do you see your species in, say, a thousand years?” Plagg swallowed the mint creature and tossed another in his mouth.
“Not Zobokian gravity dancing,” she joked nervously.
“That’s good to hear,” he said solemnly.
“A thousand years. Whew. That’s a long time. Expect we’ll be voyaging across the stars by then. As for Earth, I’m sure climate change will be solved long before then. When I was President of France—”
“Climate change? I thought you’d reached the nuclear age.”
“No species with fusion reactors still suffers from climate change. You must be twisting my spinal claw.”
We don’t have fusion reactors, she almost said, then grabbed an excuse: “We’re still transitioning to them. I’m sure you know how slow bureaucracy can be.”
The alien sighed, nodding. “The eternal enemy. Well, human, I can’t say I’m flattened with awe by your species’ achievements.”
Oh no. “Listen. Before you decide whether to let us join, just hear me out. We’re not perfect, I know. We have pollution, inequality, racism, war—”
“But we’ve been improving. Slowly. We used to cut out people’s hearts to make crops grow. We used to do a lot of bad things. In a hundred years—two, tops—we’ll be the Federation’s poster child for self-improvement. We can do better. Give us this chance.”
The manager sighed. A sound like a dust-clogged air duct. He leaned back in his chair, drumming his fingers and sniffing. “Well, see, that’s the problem.”
“Unimpressive as humanity is, the truth is that, well, a lot of the Federation’s member species are much worse.”
Hortense was speechless.
“Just last year,” Plagg went on, “an entire planet was obliterated in a Zobokian gravity dancing accident. Billions of—I forget the name of the species, but billions of them were wiped out. Many, many worlds still indulge in horrific wastefulness. I shouldn’t even be sharing this, truth be told. So, unfortunately, it seems humanity is a tiny bit—overqualified.”
Hortense was still speechless.
“If we let you join the Federation,” said Plagg, “it might make other members jealous. Alas, I must turn you down.”
“I don’t believe it,” she said, all her hopes throttled in an instant. “Overqualified? Us?”
The alien shrugged, popping another screaming mint creature into his mouth. “Try us again in a thousand years, after you’ve had a few more wars, a bit more pollution. In the meantime, we’ll keep your resume on file.”
About the author:
Jordan Chase-Young is an American-born SFF writer living in Australia with his wife and their stable of cyborgized battle koalas. He’s kind of obsessed with the future: What will it look like? Where will it lead? His stories have appeared in Metaphorosis, Unidentified Funny Objects 8, The Colored Lens, McCoy’s Monthly, and the Zombies Need Brains anthology When Worlds Collide.