Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Greetings, Humanity! Welcome To Your Choice Of Species!

Hello, there!

If you have received this telepathic mailing, you are a member of the species currently self-designated Homo sapiens, as evolved on the planet locally known as Earth, orbiting the sun locally known, for some reason that escapes us, as Sol. Most of your kind is already aware of the legal proceedings just completed in Session 3,975,216.7b of the Exalted High Tribunal of the Interstellar Commission on the Minimum Standards for Worthiness of Indigenous Cultures (Blue-Ribbon Enforcement Division), which has considered your past conduct toward your own kind and other life forms within your biosphere, as well as the odds toward any of these factors improving at any point in the foreseeable future. Learned representatives of your species were allowed to speak on your behalf, and present in your defense your greatest spiritual beliefs (see Bible, The; Koran, The; Tuesdays With Morrie, others), as well as your most treasured artistic works (The Collected Works of William Shakespeare, The Sistine Chapel Ceiling; the films of Akira Kurosawa; the musical collection Some Old Bullshit by The Beastie Boys, others), and while these were compelling arguments, the court has unanimously decided that your kind is one of the universe’s failed experiments, a contagion that must be eradicated before it can spread to the stars.

As discussed when the subpoena was delivered to all your terrestrial governments, our customary solution to the dilemma you present is not genocide, but genetic reassignment. It is within our power to physically and psychologically alter each and every one of you for inclusion in some already extant, more acceptable species which has agreed to accept you as new members of their respective societies. Because of the widespread distaste with which your own species is now regarded, your options are fewer than most who have trod this path before you, but these are all highly advanced, respectable races that have demonstrated their inherent nobility of spirit by taking it upon themselves to offer yours a future. You will see that there are not many. Out of over 10,000 recognized sentient species in our collective, only eight have offered their worlds as sanctuary to ex-human beings. However, between them, they offer enough open spaces to accommodate your entire population. Please review this list and mark the empty spaces next to each entry with numbers 1-8 to establish its ranking in your preferences. Be prompt and be sure to rank every option, including those you find distasteful. We cannot guarantee that every one of you will get his or her first choice.

[__] SPECIES 975. This asexual and invertebrate race, which to you resemble giant earthworms, spends its entire life cycle burrowing through the soft nutrient-rich soil of its home world. Though blind and deaf, they enjoy a stimulating existence via their primary sensory apparatus, the cilia that taste the chemical make-up of the surrounding dirt, in which they find implanted the deep philosophical meanderings of all the fellow worms who have passed through that soil before them. The network of tunnels that contain all their collected musings on the subjects of charity and faith will provide ex-humans with the most promising grounds for exploration. As a plus, specimens of 975 are extremely long-lived by human standards, promising your most scholarly a life of the mind that may potentially go on for millennia. You may want to avoid venturing too close to the surface, as their numbers are kept down by the local equivalent of robins.

[__] SPECIES 1036. This porcine race is a recommended destination to those among your kind who believe they cannot live without belligerence. As you can see, they resemble angry, bipedal pigs, and carry clubs. This is because they are violent and like to use those clubs, the most advanced technology in their possession, to assault the crania of those with whom they feel even the slightest irritation. They are capable of cooperation and can maintain alliances of as many as six or seven of their kind, in order to attack others of their kind in concert. It may seem a small miracle that any survive to adulthood, but in fact many do, a fact attributed to their thick skulls and deeply uncomplicated neural structure, which allows for only one real emotion: festering pique. Cognition is more advanced, even if it is mostly limited to justifications for walloping others of their kind on the head; their reasoning as children and as young adults can be quite complicated, and indeed almost poetic, often encompassing literally hundreds of articulate steps and great leaps of impassioned argument, before arriving at the precise reasoning for any particular act of club-wielding aggression. These attributes are, however, limited in life expectancy, as the damage they’ve suffered from such almost constant concussion almost always results in a middle age of advancing, and irreversible, drooling idiocy. Nevertheless, their generosity as a species is best measured by their eagerness to welcome as many ex-human beings as possible. Those of you who take this option will not be provided with your own clubs.

[__] SPECIES 1427. Many of you are now expressing awestruck admiration for the accompanying illustration of this race, which as you can see is a creature of ethereal beauty, flitting to and fro on delicate wings much like those of your extinct terrestrial butterflies. They are indeed one of the most aesthetically pleasing species in the galaxy, creatures of brilliant color and divine character who waft on perfumed winds beneath delicate pink skies and the golden light of a sun that makes the ripples on the azure seas of their home world sparkle like so many jewels. Those repulsed by species 1036 will be relieved to know that species 1427 has never known war and that it dedicates itself exclusively to celebration of the beauty of life, leading to an existence they devote to riding those warm skies, spreading pollen, and singing the praises of the divine in voices that, alas, sound like screeching violins. Human beings who accept reassignment to this species will unfortunately retain their prior aesthetic preferences for music, a serious drawback to be sure, but one that will not much impact the novelty of being one of these creatures who otherwise know nothing but transcendent joy for the entire five minutes and sixteen seconds of their average lifespan.

[__] SPECIES 2562. Most of you, examining the adjacent illustration, will not be able to make sense of it. You will see it as a chaotic collection of clashing colors, like an abstract by your Jackson Pollock or like a pizza where some of the layers of cheese have been dyed green. Be apprised that this species possesses no physical appearance at all and that what you’re looking at is at best an approximation, a graphic used by the galactic census to map this race’s ebb and flow through the eons. The longest-lived of all the options being offered you today is that phenomenon you likely never even suspected, a sentient idea. 2562 is an argument that has grown self-aware, that has become capable of respiration and procreation and interaction with its competitors in the vast community of ideas. It is also unfortunately capable of mutation in much the same way as many terrestrial ideas have been, to the point where though it still superficially resembles the epiphany it started out as, it has now come to stand for a premise precisely opposed to it, as in humanity’s “Democracy.” Former humans are sought by this collective because of your kind’s strange talent for bizarre self-justifications. Choose this option and you are assured of a long life, if not a particularly useful one.

[__] SPECIES 3712 (not currently extant). This wholly extinct species, once known by the name of Pylthothi Screaming Stink-Moss, has been the object of multiple preceding attempts at resurrection by genetic reassignment, all of which have been doomed to failure by its primary characteristic: a thorough and undiluted disgust for everything about itself. We are required by interstellar law to provide this option but do not recommend it, not even for human beings, who can relate.

[__] SPECIES 7712. Human beings are not equipped to understand the image of this ancient and widely respected species, which dwells on a frigid, airless world far from its solar system’s central source of heat and light. The world in question possesses some twenty-seven point three times the mass of your Earth, with a gravitational pull to match. Its surface temperature is only a few degrees above the constant you know as absolute zero, and its surface is unrelentingly flat, in large part because any surface features that ever attempted to form there were inevitably driven to the uniformity of the entire planetary structure by their own crushing weight. By most laws that govern evolution in this cosmos, this world would have never been expected to develop life of any kind, but as per your popular mind experiment of the infinite number of monkeys at their infinite number of typewriters, any system allowed an endless number of repetitions will ultimately produce the most ridiculous and unlikely results, and so we have these creatures, who are best described as what happens to protoplasmic forms when they’re squashed flat every moment of their lives: not so much blobs, as one of our own most gifted savants once wittily said, as stains. This species, which is about four of your meters in diameter but never more than two complex molecules thick, forever drags itself across the surface of its inhospitable world, feeding on the negligible heat of a sun that is, here, little more than a prominent star in the sky. Slow-moving because what little energy it can spare for locomotion only barely exceeds its immense weight under the world’s gravity, an individual of this species can take up to twenty terrestrial years to travel even one of your kilometers, and that’s only if it sees the point in traveling any direction across a map where every patch of ground is wholly identical to every other patch of ground. And yet it can spare energy for sentient thought, not to mention communication in those cases where one encounters another. Our studies have succeeded in translating a number of the phrases that mark their social interactions, among them, “It’s cold,” “It’s dark,” “It’s very cold,” “It’s very dark,” “Is there any anything even remotely interesting in this direction?”, “No, I’m sorry, I just came from there and there’s not,” and “{Expletive}, I am just so {expletive} sick of all this cold.” Warning: Any of you who fail to express a preference will be provided this genetic reassignment by default.

[__] SPECIES 8883. We are happy to report that those of you who fear eviction from the planet of your birth do have one option to stay. The species pictured here is the very same one that reported you to the Commission, a species that some of you recognized as quite possibly sentient, but never quite enough to modulate your behavior. You will likely recognize them as one subspecies of terrestrial dolphin, whose testimony about you during the hearing included the most stirring tribute offered by any of your world’s unprecedented eight existing sapient races, to wit: “Some of them aren’t all bad, and it’s a shame that even the good ones have to go, but by and large, we’ve had it up to here with them.” As per this highly mixed review, a limited number of you will be permitted genetic reassignment as members of their kind. You will share all the advantages they enjoy, including a high level of spatial intelligence, grace in the water, and a fine sense of humor. You will also find yourself in oceans that have been all but swept clean of fish, that will continue to turn acidic as the products of your civilization continue to degrade, and that will continue to resemble overheated plastic particulate soup. You will find all of this as pleasant as they do. Our other caveat is that Species 8883 has requested that all human beings who take this option must be clearly marked, and recognizable to the rest of them even at a distance. Honesty requires us to advise that we doubt their motives.

[__] SPECIES 9998. Finally, there is this race, whose open invitation to yours we regard with undiluted awe. You will note that of all your offered options, they most closely resemble your kind, but only to the degree that you resemble the terrestrial chimpanzee: To wit, you’re clearly relations, but the difference is that between your kind’s most idealized statuary of its Gods and the average couch-bound human being, farting and masturbating in turn. You are pathetic. They are titans. A few of you, noting that this species literally glows with a light that you can barely stand to behold, are even now tremulously asking whether the accompanying illustration is in fact, actually, that of a pantheon of Gods. Our response to you is that these glorious beings you see before you are indeed as close to the Gods of your myth as the universe has ever known, that they are regarded with unparalleled awe, and that your accidental vague resemblance to their kind is one reason why you’ve been able to get away with as much mischief as you have before this intervention. They are immortal, they are possessed of astonishing powers, they are the Lords of All Creation, and they have made it clear that they will take a very limited number of you to dwell among them. We are required to advise you that they will only accept the most wise, the most noble, the most principled, and the most learned. Those of you who qualify will enter their presence with all the power and potential that implies. We must warn you in advance that you will not immediately enjoy the same status, or the same privileges. You will indeed be put to work cleaning their stables, mending their clothes, and enduring their abuse as royal fools. You will be treated with the most divine contempt and you will be subject to draconian, cruel punishments at any time. This you deserve, even the best of you, the few of you who make it. The only real consolation is that, given a few million years, you might work your way up.

One final note: In the past, members of other species in your position have elected for an option familiar to you as the premise “None of the Above.” Another way of phrasing this is “Better Death than Surrender.” This was, of course, always your option, up to the day the Commission met. However, it is not practical now. In the first place: To avoid unseemly delays caused by the indecisive and/or stubborn, this telepathic missive, and your immediate visceral responses, are already processing. No revisions will be permitted.

And in the second place: While these opportunities are indeed your alternative to extinction, they are not necessarily intended as mercy.

Thank you very much for your time.


Jzudti Ghuman, Sitting Court Clerk

Exalted High Tribunal

Interstellar Commission on Minimum Standards of Worthiness of Indigenous Cultures

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Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro. A sixty-year old bearded white male showing extreme love for a cat of siamese ancestry.

Adam-Troy Castro made his first non-fiction sale to Spy magazine in 1987. His books to date include four Spider-Man novels, three novels about his profoundly damaged far-future murder investigator Andrea Cort, and six middle-grade novels about the dimension-spanning adventures of young Gustav Gloom. Adam’s works have won the Philip K. Dick Award and the Seiun (Japan), and have been nominated for eight Nebulas, three Stokers, two Hugos, one World Fantasy Award, and, internationally, the Ignotus (Spain), the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France), and the Kurd-Laßwitz Preis (Germany). The audio collection My Wife Hates Time Travel And Other Stories (Skyboat Media) features thirteen hours of his fiction, including the new stories “The Hour In Between” and “Big Stupe and the Buried Big Glowing Booger.” In 2022 he came out with two collections, his The Author’s Wife Vs. The Giant Robot and his thirtieth book, A Touch of Strange. Adam will be an Author Guest of Honor at 2023’s World Fantasy Convention. Adam lives in Florida with a pair of chaotic paladin cats.