The Supreme Council of the Martian Confederation had gathered for an emergency session in its vast underground chambers deep below the surface of Mars. Two hundred years earlier, the Martians had found that the water sources and canals on the surface of their planet had started drying up. But the Martian polity—divided by ethnicity, race and tribe—could not agree on how to handle the consequences. It took another 50 years of discussion—and increasing hardships—to form the Martian Confederation. Then, the Martians agreed to abandon the unliveable surface and move underground, harnessing the polar icecaps for water. Thereafter, the Supreme Council gradually became the apex of a planetary government. Now, Mars faced a new—and unknown—threat, from Earth. This was the focus of the emergency session.
The President of the Supreme Council opened the session gravely: “Honourable members, we face an unexpected and serious problem. Let me request the Chairman of our Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), Professor Zok, to go over the background again, since several new Council members have joined us since we last discussed the subject in 2019.”
Professor Zok then explained: “We have been watching the Earthlings for over 200 years. Their rapid rate of scientific, technological and social development impressed us deeply. We looked forward to interacting peacefully with a vibrant and creative civilisation on the verge of interplanetary travel. But on closer examination, we found many disturbing features. The most concerning one was the terrible cost that their ‘economic progress’ imposed on the Earth’s ecosphere and natural endowments. Despite repeated—and grave--warnings of disastrous consequences over the long term by Earth’s scientists, there was no collective endeavour to address these issues beyond token gestures. Still, remembering our own history, we maintained our hopes and encouraged the Earthlings through detailed information sent in our unmanned probe in 1908, which unfortunately malfunctioned and crashed in Tunguska, Siberia. The Earthlings thought that this was a giant meteorite or asteroid, although novel metallic elements were later detected in the crater site. Our message carried in standard universal binary code within the capsule escaped them.
“The second attempt happened at Roswell in 1947, when we sent a manned mission. For many years prior—our reconnaissance craft—called ‘flying saucers’ by the Earthlings—were blocked and harassed by them, and our signals were ignored. But at Roswell, we were able to capture a human specimen (later released unharmed) and gathered valuable information, to which I shall return presently. We lost a few of our crew before they could attempt communication, though the complete details were never publicised by the Earthlings. “Our observations of the Earthlings also revealed their violent nature and war-like tendencies, with the recent two centuries being of intermittent but catastrophic warfare. However, an encouraging development from about 75 years ago was the formation of several global organisations, which we expected would evolve into some form of planetary government. Sadly, not so. On the contrary, global fora, on the whole, have lost whatever little clout they had, and individual nations are more inclined to follow their own narrow interests. We studied four Earth regions very closely—India, China, Europe and the United States. The first two have been highly-populated regions for thousands of years, so, clearly, they possess some very desirable features for humans. The latter two are the most prosperous and technologically advanced, and so should be—we expected—the most alive to existential threats to their future, especially in the face of increasingly frequent adverse weather events. Again, we were disappointed. All these regions seem consumed with serious internal issues, and their relationships with each other are complicated enough to make a collective and credible human response to climate change a very difficult task.
“This situation puts us at risk. Earth’s capability for interplanetary travel has grown and several missions—from China, India, Japan and the USA—are expected to land on Mars within the next few years. It is likely that our underground civilisation will be discovered, and we fear what the response will be from such selfish and violent beings who are so inconsiderate about their own habitat. Accordingly, the Supreme Council—at its meeting in January 2019--set up the multi-disciplinary SAG to advise on a plan of action that would strongly motivate the Earthlings to set their own houses in order.
Here Professor Zok paused for a refreshing gulp from his glass of invigorating hydrocyanic acid. He then continued: “The SAG came up with a plan—which we have called ‘Operation Doomtest’-- based on a deep study of the biology and sociology of the Earthlings. Its key features are as follows:
1. It is necessary to create an event on Earth which will constitute a very strong stimulus to foster global human cooperation. The stimulus-response theory applies to all terrestrial organisms—when confronted with a threat, even lower species respond by focusing on their survival. Thus, wild animals flee to safety from floods or forest fires, and in the process, they do not harm each other, often drinking from the same watering holes.
2. The stimulus must be an existential threat, and one that is imminent and not long-term. This is because Earth’s governing elites—whether of a ‘democratic’ or ‘authoritarian’ bent—are very averse to inflicting any short-term pain even if that avoids disasters that will emerge only in the far future. Similarly, their peoples are disinclined to make collective sacrifices today for the benefit of future generations.
3. However, the stimulus should be one that is capable of being countered by Earth’s combined talents and resources of current science and technology, though not without a considerable cooperative effort. Otherwise, our own stimulus will bring about the very disaster that we would like Earthlings to avoid.
These features of Operation Doomtest—carried to their logical conclusion—led to our engineering of the virus SARS-CoV-2, which fulfilled all of the above criteria. We felt that the plan had a high probability of success. Accordingly, our report recommending Doomtest was presented to the Supreme Council on November 11, 2019. I will hand over now to Madam President to continue the proceedings” concluded Professor Zok.
Taking up the thread, the President reminded members of the stormy sessions of the Supreme Council following this startling—and unprecedented—development. She said: “Doomtest confronted us with very taxing ethical choices, concerning our own fate as also that of the Earthlings. However, after consultations lasting many days, the Council assented to the SAG recommendations. As a result, SARS-CoV-2 was released in the city of Wuhan, China in December 2019. The results are not what we expected, and now we have another—and much more radical-- proposal from SAG. Let me call upon the SAG Chairman to once again take the floor.”
“I will now bring you up to date” continued Professor Zok. “As expected—and most regrettably so—the virus exacted a terrible price. But throughout 2020 we remained optimistic. The challenge resulted in a speedy and highly creative response from Earth’s scientific community. Data and experiences were exchanged amongst them, ideas were cross-fertilised and in record time, several vaccines were developed with global manufacturing sources. But that is the only good news. In most other respects, Covid--as the Earthlings label the virus—has deepened the rifts within and between nations. Turmoil and discord increased on most fronts and cooperation was minimal, with most countries turning to what is known as ‘vaccine nationalism’. The rift between China and India widened, leading to an armed clash with fatalities on both sides. US-China relations became fraught on multiple dimensions. The European Union lost a key member—Britain—who exited in high dudgeon just as the pandemic broke. Protectionism and a degree of de-globalisation constricted trade and investment across international boundaries. Nativism and regressive tendencies have emerged within nations, not excluding those who are prosperous with well-developed economic and social infrastructures.
“However, what is most disturbing are some very recent scientific findings from our analysis of the DNA sequences extracted from the human specimen at Roswell. Applying our advanced techniques of gene editing, we found that human DNA differs from ours in one crucial dimension. About 500 years ago, a burst of solar radiation caused genetic changes in one of the codon sequences of our Martian DNA. That gave us a nascent ability to recall—as a collective memory—key events in our ancestral history. With further evolutionary refinement over generations, we Martians are thus better equipped to learn the lessons of history. No doubt, this played a major part in how we could overcome our tribal and narrow prejudices and develop a planet-wide governing system 150 years ago. Although the Earthling psychologist Carl Gustav Jung speculated about ‘archetypal memory’ in Earthlings, our genetic investigations did not find any evidence in Earthlings’ DNA to back this claim. So, we are not optimistic that our stimulus experiment will work out……and humans will thus remain unable to learn from their history….
“The results of the 2021 Glasgow Summit on climate change worry us very much. Even if all the commitments made there are met, Earth’s temperature will still rise by 2.4 degrees C, well above the target of 1.5 C. As the looming disaster nears, we apprehend that a substantial number of Earthlings will use their resources, influence and Earth’s space-faring capabilities to abandon Earth and migrate to Mars. Their record of recklessness and violence (as we see today with the Russia-Ukraine war) will pose us an existential threat. SAG considers this an unacceptable risk. Therefore, we conclude that the security of Mars requires a radical approach, which we have titled ‘Operation Final Solution’. Most reluctantly, we commend it to this House,” concluded Zok grimly, as he reflected on his reference to the worst genocide in Earth’s recent history.
The SAG Chairman then handed over a single sheet of paper to the President. She read it, and her face turned ashen. With trembling hands, she composed herself, and said: “This is a one-page abstract of ‘Operation Final Solution’ that Prof. Zok has just given me. A full dossier will reach you today. The Council has never ever considered such a proposal—it requires wide consultation as the ethical problems are serious and the consequences dire. Therefore, I propose that we allow ourselves six months to deliberate with our constituents. I now close this session.” With that, she banged her gavel on the table.
To Zok, that reverberation from the President’s gavel sounded like the ultimate peal of doom for Earth.