What is it to be human? If you'd asked that question just a decade ago, the answer would have been obvious. To be human is to have human DNA. Or, if you were being philosophical, you might add that to be truly human you have not only to be a biological human being but to behave in a human way, do the sorts of things that humans are expected to do.
How wrong we were. No-one knows for sure how long the aliens lurked amongst us, but the most probable theory is that they first landed in large numbers under the cover of a meteor shower that lit up the skies around the New Year of 2020. Shortly after that, the first test devised by by NASA scientists was successfully used to identify an alien posing as a nursery worker in New York.
The consequences if authorities hadn't been quick to act were unthinkable, the US President said in her address to the nation. Within a month, two thirds of the inhabitants of the United States had been tested. Other nations were quick to follow suit.
Holding camps were set up in every country around the world for the tens of thousands of alien creatures identified by the test, while the UN debated what to do with them.
I was transferred from my job as a detective in the LAPD to lead a SWAT team, rooting out the remaining suspects who had gone into hiding rather than submit to testing.
It was an exciting time. The places those crafty aliens hid, you wouldn't believe — behind false walls, the bottoms of lift shafts, in one case an abandoned hangar at Cape Kennedy.
I remember one incident where we found an alien posing as a university professor. 'They used to throw suspected witches in the water to see if they would sink or float!' Those were his last words as we led him away. That gives you an idea of the kinds of crazy things the aliens would say to distract and confuse us. We ignored them and just carried on with our job.
Little by little, the remaining aliens were rounded up. Finally, I was able to go back to my detective work. In the UN, a resolution passed by an overwhelming majority. We wouldn't be safe as long as the aliens in the camps were allowed to remain alive. So we did what we had to do. When I saw the TV news, I wasn't sorry about it.
No-one was surprised when the scientist who devised the alien test, Dr Jane Allen, was awarded the Nobel Prize. In her speech at the award ceremony, she praised the efforts of her team and thanked the US Congress for the generous grant funding to NASA which had made the research possible.
But something happened recently which has made me very worried. I still had the test equipment at home, just in case it was needed in an emergency. I was alone and feeling bored so I tried it on myself. In the early days when they were gathering the SWAT teams together, there was a lot of confusion. I don't know how it happened exactly, but somehow they never got round to testing me.
I did the test — and it was positive! I did the test again, and then again. Positive each time!
By now, I was in a cold sweat. Thank heaven my wife was still at work. I am usually cool in emergencies, I'm not one to panic. I decided that I was going to reason this out. Time to put my detective hat on. I poured myself a large Scotch.
I KNOW that I'm not an alien.
If I am not an alien and the alien test is positive, then there must be something wrong with the machine. But how likely is that? The possibility of error due to malfunctioning equipment was one of the first issues we had to resolve. Each set of testing apparatus is subjected to rigorous examination. Not only that, every time you switch the machine on, it goes through a five minute self-test procedure. I switched the machine on, then off, then on again. All the coloured lights flashed as normal. On the dials, the electrodes showed the correct voltage.
So then the thought occurred to me, what if the aliens themselves didn't know they were aliens? They were waiting for the signal to wake up and remember who they were! That would explain a lot. Some of the aliens we apprehended were so convincing. You could see the terror and disbelief in their eyes.
But it followed from that, with remorseless logic, that I might be an alien and I would never know!
Whoah! Wait a minute, steady on there.
Let's go through this again. Dr Allen. Suppose SHE was an alien. My god. Allen — alien! The test wasn't an alien test, it was a human test! The aliens had used our own technology against us. They'd found the perfect way to eliminate all the human beings on the planet! And we did it all ourselves!
That would mean they were here long, long before we discovered their existence. The so-called 'alien test' was a cunning plan to mop up and dispose of the remaining remnants of humanity!
In that case, I am human, after all. Because anyone who tests for 'alien' is human. For all I know, I could be the last human alive.
I gulped another Scotch and stared out of the window in disbelief. The last human being!
Oh no... no...!
Then, finally, the awful truth hit me...
© Geoffrey Klempner 2012