“Technology ranking?” Surveyor Morgth asked, holding his clawed appendage up to the monitor.
“Post-industrial… Ah, level seven,” Observer Fuunth said, tapping the metallic railing ahead of the viewport. “Scratch that. Level six! They’re still using fossils fuels!”
Morgth grunted, dragging the indicator level down one. His two pair of eyes—bulging and dim—dropped to the next item on the list. “Unity?” he asked, causing Fuunth to bellow out in laughter.
“None,” Fuunth managed between breaths. “Observation drones recording cultural exchanges, languages and currencies in the hundreds all over the planet.” Both pairs of Morgth’s eyes shot open wide. How a civilization was supposed to advance with such disunity was a strange prospect indeed. Morgth’s claws tapped the screen again.
“What crime did we ever commit to be sent to such a terrible backwater, Morgth?” Fuunth asked, turning away from the viewport that displayed a vibrant blue and green orb.
Morgth shrugged, his eyes glued to the screen in front of him. “The Survey Corps is not a bad life. There will be better—more interesting—worlds to come.” His smaller set of eyes blinked, indicating the viewport.
Fuunth turned back around with a growl. Other surveyors were assigned to civilizations who had colonized multiple worlds or discovered radical new technologies. Morgth and Fuunth had been assigned to a race simply labeled EJ-1K. They were physically frail, with a weak endoskeleton and underdeveloped brain. They had not yet colonized outside of their home planet and resorted to killing each other over the amount of melanin in their skin.
“Average Lifespan?” Morgth asked, clearly trying to get on with things. Fuunth fumbled with the viewport. He turned and poked at several beams of light across the Earth’s surface. Streams of data shot up.
“Drones recording varied information. Anywhere from thirty to eighty planetary cycles with outliers as high as one hundred and seven.” Morgth’s claws danced on the screen again.
“Last one.” Morgth snorted, moving the display around a bit. “Military strength?”
Fuunth rotated the sphere of Earth again, clicking the appropriate beams of light. The data streams came up empty. “Unknown.”
“Unknown?” Morgth asked, looking up at the viewport.
Fuunth nodded, a pair of claws scratching idly at his heaving, scaled chest. “No sizable military conflicts ongoing. Drones report sporadic regional conflicts, however.”
Morgth rechecked his list, as if something else were to suddenly pop up. Nothing else did. “You know we cannot leave this sector until our survey is complete, Fuunth.”
“What do you want me to do?!!” Fuunth gurgled, his twin pair of eyes desperately searching the Earth for a war that did not exist. “They fight and kill and murder one another every day, but a global war seems unlikely, considering how fractured they are.”
Morgth huffed, then turned one set of eyes back toward Fuunth. “I recall one survey crew had to stay in orbit of a world for six hundred cycles before a global war broke out.” Morgth licked his lips as Fuunth’s chest deflated at the thought.
“We should use the Appropriator on one of the captured specimens,” Fuunth suddenly said aloud. The Appropriator allowed the systemic firing of certain neurons to activate impulses within the brain. However, it could only trigger impulses that existed, but had never been acted upon. Morgth was unsure if the Appropriator would even work on the feeble minds of the citizens of planet EJ-1K.
“Does the Survey Corps allow for the use of the Appropriator in that manner, Fuunth?”
Fuunth licked his lips. “They have no rules citing against it!”
The Appropriator was a small handheld device that fit easily enough in Morgth’s hand. They relocated to the Specimen Holding Chamber, a long hallway of over a thousand possible subjects. Held in stasis long enough to be scanned and analyzed, they were then shuttled back down to the planet—only to wake up hours later, unaware of what had happened.
“I have chosen a specimen,” Fuunth said after inspecting the database for a long while. “Young by their standards, and retrieved from a highly populated area.”
“And what if it has no impulse to kill or cause war?”
Fuunth licked his lips, walking the hallway to find the correct stasis tube. “Have you learned nothing, Morgth? These puny organisms—if nothing else—find new ways to murder one another regularly. If it fails, we simply try again.”
They reached the stasis chamber of Fuunth’s selection. He had been in stasis for half a revolution of the planet and was already prepared to be returned to where they had retrieved him. “How do we know the Appropriator will not destroy his mind?” Morgth asked.
“We shall use the VR display to find out. Quick, turn on the Appropriator!” Fuunth demanded, walking to a nearby terminal. Morgth complied, raising the device toward the specimen and squeezing the double handles. The rod emanated then faded. “Did it work, or has it ruined the specimen?”
“I’m not certain. Create a VR reality of where we extracted him using the drone’s sensors,” Morgth said, stashing the Appropriator at his side. “Oh, and the translation communicator as well.”
Fuunth clicked his claws against the panel and the hallway faded away. Instead, a damp countryside manifested with a single gravel road, pockmarked with puddles from the rain. “You resemble one of them now,” Fuunth said, pointing one of his five, fleshy appendages at Morgth.
“As do you,” Morgth said, his face contorting as the VR finalized itself. “Release the specimen, and let us see if his brain retains function.”
Fuunth flicked something along his side and the tube opened. The specimen fell to the floor, coughing as his body returned to homeostasis. He looked up, his eyes wide with fright. “Hello,” Fuunth said. “Are you well?”
“Who are you?” The specimen asked.
“I am… Fuunth,” he said, and the specimen’s face contorted. Confusion. “And who are you?”
“Gavrilo,” the man finally said. “Gavrilo Princip.”
Theo Taylor is a writer, fitness freak and world traveler. Aside from his debut novel Rogue Cosmos, his short stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Aphelion Stories and Thought Catalog. He is a graduate from the University of Central Oklahoma with degrees in biochemistry and French language. He lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.