The Five Races were present. Two members of each race acted as representative, reclining around a long table. Each waited expectantly, watching the being at the far end of the room.
"Lad... er... Gent... um... Members of the Five Races, I greet you in the name of humanity. We of the planet Earth welcome you!"
Zaxx yawned. It wasn't a bad introduction; the man spoke well enough, and managed to choose words completely free of social meaning - a must when mentioning gender was a horrible faux paux. Or at least, that's what the members of the seven-gendered Squillion Collate said. Zaxx couldn't understand who would ever need more than three genders, and was fairly certain that at least two of the so-called genders were surgical inventions. Still, introductions were introductions, and were generally well-rehearsed and well-acted. It wasn't until the Questions that the real fun was to be had. Zaxx made a mark on his notes and tuned back in.
"...We have, as you well know, had many wars. Some were fought between nations, and some even within those nations. We as individuals shun war, but in many instances, physical strength is the only way to settle differences. We protect that which is ours."
That caught his ears. Zaxx leaned forward, studying the man. He was speaking frankly, truthfully; Zaxx knew as well as anyone that there was no such thing as a planet without war, but speaking about it so openly was almost unheard of. The Chssxxsckkttkk dared to say it, and were rejected from the Five Races - then Four - because of it. Well, that, and the fact that the Chssxxsckkttkk leader was assassinated the next day. The fact that the human mentioned entire wars actually spoke in his favor - though that statement about protecting their own was a bold statement. "We want to be part of your club, but if you don't let us in, we might blow it up." Very Rallian. Zaxx liked the Rallians; they were such a passionate bunch. They hadn't made it into the 'club' either, at least not until they were taken over by the... whatever their names were. It's hard to spell words that were communicated only in color. Pink-black-orange-green-greenish-purple... something? Anyway.
"...our technology may not be as advanced as that of the Five Races, but we are eager, curious, and creative. We cannot offer you advanced technology, but we can offer you technology advances. Our scientists and engineers constantly strive to create and to improve. With access to even the smallest new technology, humanity has and will always produce newer technology. We push the boundaries, and we do not give up."
That was very true, and a point that won humans great favor in the Five Races; humans, it seems, were a very creative bunch. Their works of fiction treated advanced science as commonplace; most of it was very wrong, but the fact that a group of humans used to fossil-fuel-powered locomotion could watch a video presentation of space ships and alien races, and accept it without question was amazing. Even more incredible was the fact that they would then spend days discussing how the technology worked. Technology based on fiction! Imaginary technology some writer with no scientific background wrote down because it sounded good - and humans went on to read, and watch, and make that imaginary technology a reality! It was breathtaking, really. Zaxx scribbled a few more excited notes, until something the speaker said caught his ears again.
"...diverse. We have our rich, and our poor. Our strong, and our sick. Though we strive for unity, we know that there will always be dissension. And we welcome that dissension; a force without opposition is useless. Without new ideas - ideas that are different than the norm - there cannot be growth. Humanity is diverse, and in our diversity we find strength."
The great philosopher G'Naah once said, "Know yourself." It meant, as far as historians could fathom, to understand your own inner workings, and use your knowledge to accept and reject the options of the masses. Zaxx liked the statement; it turned out that nearly every planet he visited had invented a similar phrase - even the Chssxxsckkttkk. This planet was no different, though they seemed to take it much more literally. Few planets were as self-knowledgeable as this one. Even some of the Five Races could learn from them. Oh, they were a war-loving race, to be sure, but their philosophers could still impart a bit of wisdom to the Greater Collective.
The speech went on for another hour, with the man carefully outlining how Earth would like to join the Five Races, what they would do for them, and what they would expect in return - another bold move, considering. The humans treated the Five Races like equals, rather than intellectual giants or powerful monsters to be appeased. The carefully worded speech was almost casual, compared to the flowery wording of most of the planets they visited. It pleased Zaxx greatly to see it, too; the Five Races needed a young, eager race. The council was getting too old, too stuck in bureaucracy. Unless the questioning went very badly, Zaxx decided to throw his vote to the humans.
"In conclusion, Earth welcomes its chance to join the Five Races. We would like to thank the council for hearing us, and also to extend thanks to those watching, both those far away, and those here on Earth. And now, I believe that there was to be a time of open questions?"
The room sat, stunned. Not a hand, foot, tentacle, antenna, mandible, maxillae, or gill moved. The man smiled, bowed, and stepped back, ready for questions... but none came. Finally, a few terse whispers started in the outer rings, and a few messengers darted for the exits. The representative from How'Ool cleared his throats and carefully phrased his first question:
"How far has your technology progressed?"
The man smiled, ready with an answer. He was very, very good; if he noticed the change in atmosphere, he never gave a sign. Zaxx swallowed hard, and carefully read over his notes, comparing them the intelligence reports he had received on the humans, as well as those obtained from other races. He carefully controlled his breathing, willing the line of hairs on his back to relax. The questions came more quickly as the Five Races recovered from his speech. Maybe... perhaps he didn't know? The Five Races were an odd bunch, but only Zaxx's race were even remotely humanoid, and even then it was only a passing resemblance. It shouldn't be possible for the human representative to be able to read them like that.
But how did they know? The speech was peppered with phrases designed to incite the maximum amount of trust. They were truthful, not padded with too much saccharine veneration, nor too barbed with thinly veiled threats. They were young and strong-willed, rough around the edges, but creative and caring nonetheless. And yet, he closed his speech with that statement: "to extend thanks to those watching, both those far away, and those here on Earth." They knew the Five Races had sent spies to their planet! He actually thanked them for sending the Watchers! What lunatic would be thankful for murderous spies?
Zaxx turned his ears back to the speaker with some difficulty, pushing down his own fears to be able to concentrate. And it was a good thing, too, because at that moment, the man looked straight at him. "And - I apologize if I mispronounce your name, you must forgive my human tongue - Ambassador Zaxx, of the El Arm Da, do you have any questions?"
The man smiled warmly, as if giving Zaxx permission to speak. Zaxx fought down his panic, and blurted out, "What do the members of your race think of being... watched?"
Zaxx felt his blood run cold. Why would he ask that? A sharp, painful voice in his head screamed the question - why would Zaxx ask that question? Zaxx could hear the man respond, but was battling the urge to scream in pain and retch in revulsion. One of the Watchers was Watching him. He could feel the white-hot pain in his lower leg as the Watcher probed his neural paths. He forced himself to ignore the pain. "...don't mind it a bit! In fact, many of our race enjoy being watched, and many more enjoy watching. We've created devices to help with this, though it is much more enjoyable in person, of course."
Zaxx felt the pain leave, and he took a steadying breath, fighting the urge to vomit. These... these human were insane! They enjoyed Watching and being Watched? What kind of monsters...? Unless... unless it - Zaxx forced his thoughts to stop. He stood, carefully, and bowed to the human. "We thank you for speaking to us, and sharing your planet with us. We will confer, Unwatched, and determine if we wish you to join our Races."
Zaxx's mind burned with the possibilities. He knew what the Watcher thought - that humans had the ability to Watch as well. A whole planet of death-dealing spies. It would be like Voxpasta; a planet too dangerous to allow to survive. The world would scream, shake, and die. And yet... they enjoyed being Watched! If it caused no pain, then they would not die; they would grow stronger! And if the Watchers knew... he had to find out.---
"Thank you, Representative. I appreciate your meeting with me. I had one further question..."
The man smiled. How he could smile so warmly was beyond Zaxx; he face radiated good will.
"Before induction, a member of your species must undergo a... treatment. You must be Watched. I will monitor you."
"I would be glad to participate. Do I need to do anything?"
Zaxx smiled - a grimace, compared to the man, but the first time he had smiled in a long time. "No. Just relax."
He felt the dreaded pain in his leg again, and though, "He is ready. Watch him. Watch him, that the questions may be answered in full."
His pain dulled, and he saw the man's brow wrinkle slightly. The man reached down and rubbed his leg, stretched, then folded his hands in his lap. "So, what is this procedure, exactly? I hope there's no probing involved!" He laughed.
When his communicator pinged, Zaxx laughed, too. Humans weren't a race of Watchers. They watched a device called television; a screen that would deliver live or recorded video and sound. Sometimes, they would attend a gathering, where they were observe performers dancing, speaking memorized lines, or doing feats of strength, daring, or acrobatics. It made perfect sense - but that was not the reason for laughing. Zaxx laughed because the Five Races were no more. No longer were they enslaved to the Watchers, because the Watchers no longer mattered! Five Watchers had probed the human. It would have been enough to kill any of the members of the Five Races, and anyone on every other planet they had visited - but not a human. Some strange pattern in their neural pathways created something akin to a static shock - a tiny zap that fried each and every Watcher that tried to Watch them. All five Watchers had died instantly.
Zaxx turned to the man, and extended his hand in the customary handshake. "The Five Races have conferred. Your race will not be part of the Five Races."
The man's smile slipped. His disappointment was obvious, but he recovered well. Zaxx continued, "You will no longer be known as 'Human.' Your race will now be known as the One Race. I, as representative of the El Arm Da, beg inclusion into your collective."
Zaxx bowed low, not daring to look up. The man cleared his throat. "Uh... I will have to talk to me people about that, but I don't see that that would be a problem. Do you need sanctuary? What is going on?"
A knock sounded at the door, and the representative of the Squillion Collate barged in. "Please forgive my intrusion, but the Squillion Collate demands inclusion into the One Race collective!"
The human watched as each member of the Five Races skidded into his room, each requesting inclusion into the One Race Collective - he was going to have to change that name. But for now, he needed a direct line to the President.
"Mr. President? I... have a situation here. No - well, yes, but it's not like that. No sir. If you'll let me explain - they don't want us to join them. They want to join us! Yes, that's what I said. No, I don't understand it either, sir, but it looks like we get to write the treaty. That's right - whatever we want. No, sir, they seem - uh, excuse me representative - they seem very intent on joining our side. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Oh, and they're calling us the 'One Race collective' - no, I didn't like it either. What would you - oh, brilliant, sir! I will let them know. Call me as soon as you have something for them to sign. Thank you, sir."
The man turned off the phone, and stood silently, as the various creatures from the collective formerly known as the Five Races waited for a sign. Finally, he turned to them and grinned broadly. "I don't know about you guys, but I could really use a drink right now."