Author: Hillary Lyon

The coronal mass eruption went unnoticed by a good many sentient creatures on the fourth planet from the sun. Engineers, though, noted communications equipment and most industrial machines continued to run without benefit of terrestrial power sources. Moreover, they witnessed those same devices spark—with some even catching fire. The engineers suspected the sun. The clergy blamed the cohort of trickster gods who bedeviled their society from time to time.

A great public debate raged between the two factions, until old Maz slammed his staff down on the polished floor of the Senate.

“It wasn’t the work of trickster lords, nor a random burst from our life-giving star,” Maz declared. “It’s the depletion of our population’s auras! Our halos aren’t as strong they once were—too much easy living, too much decadence. Not enough courage, self-reliance, and patriotic pride.”

A great murmuring rose in the audience. Had they brought this upon themselves? Did this signal the end of their empire?

“Both sides—science and religion—are important to society.” Maz continued, “We need a healthy balance; we can’t function properly without it.”

The audience buzzed. Sure, sometimes one faction held sway over the other, but the pendulum inevitably swung back. Though currently, one faction cast an opaque superstitious shadow over their lives—

Again Maz’s staff slammed down on the floor.

“My nephew Ewton,” Maz crowed, “is brilliant. An engineer! He’s built a device to scan the aura of every citizen. A device to gauge not just the strength and length of individual auras, but also the color.”

Now the audience roared—aura colors were private! They contained personal information only shared with intimates. One’s aura colors were none of the Senate’s business! But some argued, if corrupted auras did cause this strange event—then Senators had to be informed, so they could craft laws to save the empire!

Though fights broke out and blood was shed, the Senate voted to use Ewton’s machine. A law passed compelling every citizen to submit to testing. Trust in the Senate fell into two camps: total suspicion, versus total blind faith. Some citizens packed up their families and in the dark of night fled to the mountains, never to be seen again. Others, thinking obedience was the highest form of patriotism, waited in line for days to be scanned. Society splintered; some cracks would never be repaired.

* * *

Ewton oversaw the test results himself. The Senate gave him an official uniform.

Standing at his console, Ewton twisted knobs, pressed buttons, flipped switches. One by one, citizens passed through the polished arch of the Aura Scanner 3000. The arch beeped and flashed.

“Your aura,” he said pleasantly to one bright-eyed young citizen named Cara, “is pale blue with overlapping shades of pink. So healthy, it’s positively iridescent!” Before the end of the test, Ewton asked Cara out for dinner.

To numerous other citizens he was more somber. “Yours is a sickly dark green. You’ll have to be recycled and repurposed into someone more useful to society.”

Ewton’s work lasted a year, until every known citizen was scanned. He amassed a personal fortune.

Maz was scanned last. When he passed through the arch, there was no beep, no flash.

“Hmmm,” Ewton began, worried Maz would be repurposed. According to the machine, Maz possessed no aura. Impossible! Ewton fretted: Was Maz so old his aura had dissipated? How—

A coronal mass ejection, this one magnitudes larger than the last, slammed into their planet knocking their empire back into the dark ages; a strong-armed blow from which they would never recover.