This site tells you what reading level your text is. You can either copy&paste in or give it a URL. I put in The New Yorker and it has a reading level of 7, easily understood by 12 year olds!

In a dark, windowless basement, a bored graduate student was sifting through camera feeds of various alien planets. They'd been told that these were all the cameras trained on planets without intelligence, but someone had to make sure they hadn't missed anything. It mostly entailed watching a feed for a few hours, seeing various animals wander about, then move on to the next one. Hours and hours of dumb animals. Not a glamorous job for a xenobiologist in-training that focused on intelligent life.

The grad student grew sick of this. They glanced around to see if their advisor was distracted. Not even in the same room. They decided to tune back in to an old favorite: a little watery planet that scientists called an anomaly. It had the seeds of intelligent life, but the animals on it never seemed to grow minds. Nonetheless, the grad student liked to watch it. At least watching vaguely people-like animals was better than watching completely dumb animals. Suddenly, a beacon caught the grad student's eye. Something giving off signals. It was a satellite.

Dumb animals don't make satellites.

"PROFESSOR! I found intelligence!"

The professor skittered over as fast as he could, "Cjoulf, this better not be another false alarm like the M-372 canal incident..."

"Professor, it's Sol-3."

"Oh! Did they finally get out of living in the dirt and grow some minds?"

"Professor. They have satellites around their planet."

The professor nearly fell over.

"That's impossible! We've had our advanced intelligence scanners on them for eons! They never even made any universal translators! No empathy readers! How did they communicate with one another? How did they do it well enough to make it to space tech??"

The grad student pointed at a camera feed.

"Sir, I've been watching them... for a while now. They didn't make those because they... don't need them. They've been independently working on these things for decades."

The professor's eyes grew wide.

"Cjoulf, you're a fool. No intelligent life holes themselves up in little groups and wastes their resources on themselves! That would mean they would fight and bicker over the most basic things!"

"Professor, I looked through past logs of the planet. They did. They did fight and bicker. So they never developed universal translators. They never made empathy readers. They didn't have to. And when they finally did reach the point where they needed to collaborate, they just... pointed and flailed like animals. And then traded! But... they mostly just... killed each other for resources."

The professor narrowed his eyes. "Cjoulf, do you know the definition of intelligent life? These are dumb animals!"

Cjoulf shook their head. "Dumb animals don't build satellites."

The professor rubbed his foreheads. "I think... I think I need to make some comm calls."

He skittered away. Cjoulf looked back to the screen. How in the known universe did a species entirely skip the universal communication stage of development, yet still make it into space? All they knew is that they were gonna get their name on some pretty big papers.

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