To say the arrival of the Kmil was a disorienting experience for humans would be an enormous understatement.
Arriving in ships millions of miles long, that could travel faster than light, and stay in one spot indefinitely, despite the pull of gravity. That could even allow objects to pass through them as if they weren't there and even change shape at will. Not that the Kmil needed the ships, since they could travel from one spot to another instantaneously with just a thought, as they demonstrated once their ships took up position outside the moon's orbit. In thousands, they materialized in all the capital cities of the world, burning brightly and exuding a sense of utter amicability. Communicating directly with their audiences' minds, they explained their purpose and why they brought their ships.
They were going to establish a universal coordination hub, whatever that was, in the solar system and they didn't want the human race to be discomfited by the sight. They intended to use a spot further out in the system, so it would not be in the way of humans. And it wasn't necessary for them to tap the resources of the worlds around the sun to do it. What they didn't transport with them in their ships, they would simply bring into being from the nothingness. Machines they could manipulate at a distance with their minds would do much of the work while the Kmil could fraternize with humans, and convince them of their benign purpose.
Shining golden and perfectly proportioned as humans, completely unthreatening, even compassionate, they had little difficulty in generating a feeling of acceptance among humans as the residents of earth watched the Kmil's dazzling accomplishments.
Creating tiny patches of the universe where the laws of nature were rewritten to fit their purpose.
Possessing not only the ability to occupy the same space as other objects, but also being able to exist in more than one spot at the same time.
Having the power to travel backward in time to make minor changes.
Capable of healing all wounds and curing all ailments, not that the Kmil ever displayed any, and of living forever.
Spectacular, stunning, easily trusted, eminently likeable.
Which made one aspect of their behavior so surprising.
Withitall, they utterly refused to share their technology with humans.
They would allow them to observe the work being done, but not to operate their technology. They would even use their facilities to assist humans, but they would have to be the ones behind it. And they provided no clues to the basis for their equipment's operation or the principles behind them.
They offered to solve problems like transportation, agriculture, construction. They proposed humans accompany them to space even to visit new races. But they would never permit the human race access to their science.
Requests from governments, earnest and eager, had been made early in the relationship. Hopes of incredible advances in earth civilization were legion, expectations high. Celebrations were everywhere, plans drawn up before anything was received.
But, then, the requests were just as swiftly, if politely, rebuffed. The Kmil would not interfere with human affairs, they would not abscond with earth resources, they would not endanger humanity in any way.
But they also would not release their technology.
They would provide assistance to the human race, but they had to be the source, humans would not be provided the knowledge of how the Kmil accomplished it.
Reponse was equally quick. Urgent exhortations of compromise and accommodation. Promises of non-interference, even assistance. Offers of everything from profit sharing to out-and-out bribes. Thinly veiled suggestions that withholding information would cause harm to Kmil.
And requests for an explanation.
It was the requests that received something other than consistent refusals, but they amounted only to explanations that the Kmil did not judge humans qualified even to know the source of their technical superiority.
How quickly what began as optimistic jubilation turned to perplexed dismay and, finally, utter despair. Letters imploring the Kmil to reconsider flooded newspaper offices. Demonstrations trying to convince the Kmil humans were worthy were staged across the planet. Carefully worded critiques were broadcast everywhere.
The Kmil responded to say only that they stood by their decision.
Calls for an explanation of what led the Kmil to their decision resulted in the enigmatic, "The decision was out of our hands."
Exceptionally earnest and particularly determined requests for elaboration were greeted only by the infuriatingly vague, "You had your chance."
And work proceeded. Jupiter was moved twenty million miles further out to provide the adequate position for the hub. An operations office big enough to be seen without a telescope was set up in Jupiter's previous orbit. More ships arrived with equipment and supplies and, piece by piece, the station was assembled.
At once both exciting and infuriating. Like an insult, rubbed in humanity's face. Even more so once collaborators with the Kmil both in the building of their station, and in being the most technologically sophisticated creatures known, began arriving. Where the Kmil were sun bright and sublimely humanly proportioned, the Oorooloo were like trees made out of emerald and the Votok were masses of tentacles that shone like chrome. The sluglike OckOck; Durrigek, who could fashion new limbs at will and make them reposition themselves as desired; and the Milia, who seemed like living electricity. And they seemed to be only the tip of the iceberg, they were assisting the Kmil only because they weren't involved in other projects, like creating their own universes. But there were many, many other species, equally as sophisticated, but involved in their own programs, and certain that the Kmil could do well without them. No small number of humans were tempted to ask just what it was that made the other races deserving and humans not. Many were moved to no small degree by a simple distaste for the physical appearance of the species sharing the Kmil's power, compared to humans, that is. And most of those could not see how any form or degree of difference could separate the others' mental capacities from humans'. A sentiment of resentment entered many people's minds, and a suspicion of a kind of bigotry informed much discussion on the matter.
And the sight of the progress on the Kmil project only fed the frustration and stoked feelings of anger. The Kmil walked the earth calmly and amicably. They dealt with humans with the epitome of grace; their interactions with each other were easy and without conflict, as if they could read each others' minds. The station steadily grew in size, the presence of the Kmil and their collaborator races increased. It occurred to the discontent to ask if there were other species out there that the Kmil had likewise refused access to their technology. They replied readily that there were quite a number. At all levels from discovering fire to harnessing electromagnetic space drives, examining the structure of elementary particles and employing practical robots.
But the number of races as sophisticated as the Kmil outnumbered those by many times.
And, incidentally, no races more powerful than the Kmil were to be found!
A great number of societies relatively primitive compared to the Kmil, even if that meant interstellar travel; many, many more who had achieved the same level of sophistication as they; and none more powerful.
It was a mystery at once incredibly grating and eminently practical. What led to races like the Kmil attaining such power? How did they manage it? How soon was it after their equivalent of humanity's atomic or space ages? Why did they not transcend that level of sophisitication?
If it was at some point just past the level of those who could traverse between the stars, why not reveal it? Surely those advanced races would have no problem revealing their science to earth. If they were only a step away from being like the Kmil, why not tell humans? Why wouldn't the Kmil tell those supposedly on the verge?
It couldn't be that they were envious or afraid of competition. The superior races mixed well and amiably. And they wanted for nothing. Was it, perhaps, that the Kmil couldn't say just what it was that took them in a single step so far beyond the rest? But, after comparing notes with the multitude of other similarly capable species, couldn't they come up with an answer? Was this, perhaps, a test, to see if humanity could achieve Kmil status? But, if the races that had interstellar travel couldn't manage it, how could humanity's technology possibly make the leap? And was there really evidence that there were no more superior races? Might that not be a lie to thwart human hopes for accommodation?
Discussion after discussion among panels of experts and still no solution came.
Which only added to the resentment, slowly turning to anger. The Kmil and their collaborators in station building maintained their warm, friendly attitude toward humanity, but, more and more, humans looked upon them with disgust. Any act against them would be considered unreasonable. Among other things because of the fear of reprisal, but also because, in minor set-to's with angry humans, the Kmil and the other races responded with absolute patience, and unruffled determination not to share their technology. Any violence against the Kmil or their compatriots in technical superiority would be unavailing in the extreme.
Some turned to trying to replicate what they saw the Kmil employ. Their experiments came to little at best.
Some tried to contact the species more sophisticated than the Kmil, certain they would be more amenable to sharing. They didn't try translating their message to some kind of universal code since they felt any species more technologically advanced than the Kmil should be capable of translating any message. Of course, standard electromagnetic signals would take years to reach any stars that could harbor such being. Since the Kmil likely had mapped all nearby systems, it was likely it would be many, many, many years before such could be contacted. The hope was that, somehow, such sophisticated beings would be able to discern approaching messages even before they arrived. But no such communication resulted.
And, as the station grew, so did its magnificence increase.
A graceful, bright beacon, out at the edge of the solar system, but easily seen by the naked eye. Traffic in the form of the huge ships the Kmill and their collaborators employed circulated about the station or angled for traveling between planets or outward, to interstellar space. And, for smaller level interplanetary traffic, bright shining belts crisscrossed the sky, with gleaming transports moving along them. The question suggested itself.
Why weren't Kmil projects seen around other stars?
The answer, if the Kmil didn't make special provisions, the humans wouldn't see these manifestations. Humans would not normally be able to perceive the works of the Kmil or their associates. It is only because they wanted the humans not to feel left out or ignored that they permitted them to see their works.
It didn't help that the Kmil added to this that, under no circumstance should humans try to touch the Kmil or their fellow advanced beings.
With that chastening, consideration turned to the few comments the Kmil had provided, that humans were not qualified to understand or deal with the source of Kmil sophistication, and that humans had had their chance. What could disqualify someone from being able to utilize technology? How could it encompass principles that humans could not conceive? What would keep humans from being able to follow instructions and operate Kmil technology? And if humans were not able to handle Kmil devices and science, how could they once have had the chance to? And why would humans not be capable of perceiving Kmil technology? Did they mean that humans would look right at a mil project and so nothing out of the ordinary? But what they saw being erected in the deeps of space was obvious as anything! They could never fail to recognize that for what it was. Or, at lewast, for nothing ordinary.
And what was that about not touching the Kmil?
Bewildering. Befuddling. Bedeviling.
Could that all be a lie? Could it be that the Kmil were jealous of humans? That humans had some quality, some knack that they lacked, the Kmil, the Oorooloo, the Milia, all the species with the powerful technology? That the humans, and all the ones like humans, had an ability to utilize Kmil equipment in ways even the Kmil could never conceive? That humans could not see Kmil works elsewhere in the universe simply because they didn't exist? Had the Kmil come here specifically to exploit humanity and were using this as a ruse?
Then operational staff for the station began to arrive. Kmil, Milia, OckOck, Votok...and others. More and more technologically surperior races. Sillimin, like man-sized tumbleweeds; neon glowing Vumia; hundred story tall Aaligeth; and...humans?
They were! Genuine, earthian humans! Not an identifical species, but actual former residents of earth! Literally! They had joined the Kmil and the others thousands of years ago and were now returning to their homelands.
Reaction was instantaeous and determined. If they could find relatives, hundreds of generations removed, of the humans who accompanied the Kmil, perhaps, through them, they could arrange access to Kmil technology. Painstakingly, they worked to ascertain what lineages the individuals represented. There was a possibility it would not succeed. Maybe an entire family tree had gone with the Kmil, leaving no relations on earth. Maybe, if there were family lines still existing, they wouldn't be able to chart them. They could try substituting carefully chosen individuals for their distant relations, but it was more than likely they would be able to tell and, while nothing bred ill will in the Kmil and the others toward humans, it couldn't make conditions better to try to foist a fake on them.
That was by the way, however, something more important presented itself.
These were humans! Humans manning Kmil technology! How could they say humans were not capable of understanding their science, managing their devices? This wasn't right!
Complaints, even more insistent than before, but still carefully polite, were directed to the Kmil. They were denying use of their technology to the majority of humanity, but still allowing these few to operate it. How can they continue to say humans were incapable of understanding their science if those who arrived with the Kmil could?
And, to that, the Kmil answered that they never told the residents of earth they were incapable, only that they weren't qualified.
Spluttering exclamations of surprise. Declarations of disbelief. Uncomprehending requests for explication.
With the incredible powers Kmil technology demonstrated, went the explanation, was it not just as conceivable that a race could use them to destroy? And destruction would be eminently simple for them. They could lay waste to galaxies at a thought!
The prospect sent shivers through entire swaths of the populace as they contemplated Kmil science in "the wrong hands".
And yet, it didn't happen. In order for the universe to exist, it can't have happened. To the extent that the universe shows no particular innate proclivity to inherent self-immolization, can it not be that unwholesome intent is fundamentally inconsistent with possessing Kmil technology?
Many, many blinked their eyes in amazement.
Can it not be that to even be able to handle Kmil technology, one needed absolute and complete well-meaning and utter righteous nature? The machines and devices of the bargain basement phenomenology that humanity had called "science" could be handled by anyone, friend or foe alike. And the results were obvious. And it wasn't that they programmed their technology only to work for wworthy goals. The Kmil science could only be operated by one who deserved it. They dealt with forces that were...discerning...that did not work for just anyone...and they had found in the Kmil's favor.
That's what they meant by "not qualified".
Which raised another issue. It had been obvious from the start, but, in the excitement, it had been overlooked. But, as the presence of Kmil and Votok and OckOck multiplied, it became more than apparent.
There was...something...about them. Much of it was obvious, the Kmil shining like the sun, the Ooorooloo looking like walking gems, the chromelike Votok, the electrical Milia and the neon bright Vumia. Bright, shiny, glistening. But, more than that, almost possessed of a quality beyond, of a character that transcended, of a nature that would need libraries of books to describe. A confidence, an assuredness, a sense of limitless insight.
Even the humans they brought with them were like that.
With the description of earth humans not being qualified, the issue turned on its head. It was no longer a question of the Kmil and their fellows being cruel or selfish or jealous. The source of Kmil reticence to share their technology lay with those in the human race who would misuse it! Unscrupulous corporate chairmen, crooked political figures, unsavory societal darlings. Individuals without morals, ethics or values. People who would stab anyone in the back for a penny. They had long been seen as holding mankind back from higher goals, now they were cast as the villians denying man the heights of technical superiority! Sentiments turned very quickly against those who already took everything that wasn't nailed down and returned nothing back. And actions mirrored the sentiments, with everything from vandalism to fire bombings.
But there were those who counseled taking a longer view. That the corrupt had certainly dangled the carrot of dalliance before mankind's face, but, in the end, it was the public overall who had failed by reaching for it.
As they now were endangering the Kmil changing their attitude, through their acts of violence.
But those humans who shared Kmil technology must surely have been in the same environment as so many others, yet they had transcended it and made themselves worthy in the eyes of the Kmil.
They were soon treated to much the same as the unprincipled powerful.
And there were those who cautioned that, if some humans could be found as deserving by the Kmil, more today could also achieve that same goal. They recommended hurriedly requesting the Kmil to explain how all who were qualified had managed it, before strife over the cause of humanity's situation consumed the planet.
Reponse was swift, and it was not encouraging. The Kmil replied that they had not sought their superiority, it had come to them. Unlike so many in humanity who decided what whim they wished filled and designed a means to accomplish that, the Kmil had not put energy into pursuing technology as a means of personal gain. If there was anything the Kmil had pursued, it was using whatever was at hand for noble and high minded causes. The technical sophistication they displayed could be said to have sought them out and they utilized it.
In not seeking mastery over matter and energy, they had achieved the ability to have it manipulated at will.
As definitive as that explanation was, it was little help in defraying the violence wracking the planet.
Simple assaults had graduated into full out attacks. Many, seeing the sophistication of the Kmil forever denied them, no longer cared about appearances or impressions. They were angry and they were determined to express it. Even if those they now targeted were not among those who had prevented mankind from ages ago achieving the powers the Kmil had, they still saw them as of the same breed, and culpable. Police forces were called out. Militaries were mobilized.
Calls to the Kmil were urgent and desperate. There was likely to be genuine disaster if they did not intervene.
If you are shown how to handle a situation, was their reply, you may forever after be aware enough to counsel others. But your one chance to discover it for yourself will have been lost. And if that act of personal discovery is part of what distinguishes the discovery, makes it what it is and can develop into, how explain it to yourself that you have lost it?
The ever escalating violence, however, left many with a feeling of no alternative. If the Kmil could not at least reconcile the issue of their refusal, circumstances were certain to worsen. Maybe to the point where not even the Kmil could solve them.
Finally, the Kmil relented.
The site of the revelation was decided to be the lawn before the White House. At the assigned time, a ship of the Kmil appeared above and, in a nimbus of light, Kmil, Ooorooloo, Milia, Sillimin, Vumia and human representatives descended. When they left the aurora enveloping them, one of the Kmil came forward, a tall female.
"This distresses us, the turn of events have taken, and we cannot allow ourselves to be the cause either of circumstances as they stand or what they can turn into. Against our wishes and best intentions, we will comply with your wish to examine the source of our abilities. We offered you to share the benefits of our powers, even to accompany us as full partners. But we denied any assistance in achieving our prowess. You would not be refused. We emphasized that it was not advisable, even reasonable, that you could only gain it on your own. But you insisted. We provided only enough of an explanation for you to derive the truth for yourselves, but having your wishes met meant more to you than understanding your failures. And, in your anger at being refused, you placed your own race in danger. Even when we revealed that to be told what informed our capabilities would place you forever outside the ranks of those who could have achieved our power but failed, you would not be satisfied. Being obeyed was all that was important. Headstrong obedience to the necessary primacy of your whims outweighed all else. Meekness, patience, self effacement were abandoned. We, therefore, now will illustrate our capabilities.
"To begin with, it is not based in technology, or even in an understanding of the nature of the universe. We do use the equivalent of machines and devices, but they do not endow upon us our abilities. And we have a familiarity with the ways of reality, but that is not the foundation of our achievements. Among other things, the reality we undestand exceeds that which your science acknowledges by infinities. We transcend the speed of light, create energy from nothing, suspend natural laws at will, travel in time not because of secrets you could emulate, but because it iws part of our very physical substance. The material that comprises you will never be able on its own to achieve those feats, that which comprises our forms alone is capable of feats you cannot comprehend. That, incidentally, is why we required that you not touch us. The experience could be most jarring for you."
That all explained, the representatives quietly moved closer, formed a semicircle near the female, clasped their hands before them and bowed their heads reverentially. In silence, they stood that way for a few seconds. Then, the female raised her head and intoned, "Dear God, source of all power, we beseech thee,..."