Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The Great Encounter
What would the world reaction be if aliens
tried to save the earth from itself?
This is a novella and a part of The World of If.
The short stories of the World of If should be read first.
Roger Lee Vernon
10N878 Williamsburg Dr.
Elgin IL 60124
Rog47@sbcglobal.net - e-mail
"I knowed I had discovered something." - Jose Herrera
Manuel Jose Herrera watched the streak across the Arizona sky in wonder. He was walking alone down the deserted county gravel road in the late afternoon, returning home. It was obviously some sort of plane, one of a type he had never seen before, coming all the way down to land on the desert nearby. Curiosity overcame his fear and he ran through the flowering sage and around the thick yucca plants to the ridge top. Seeing nothing below, he continued on in the effortless lope of a fifteen year old across the wide plain to the next rise. Here he stood on a wide rock.
And there it was below. The most important event in human history was about to occur. Partly obscured by rising dust and a few jojoba trees was a metal cylinder, resting on its side, fifty feet long, glistening silver in the sun. There were no wings on the craft and no sign of a door.
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Jose crouched behind a creosote bush and a stunted single shafted saguaro tree cactus and watched, squinting into the sun.
A small opening in the smooth silver side slid back, not really large enough to be a door. The spaceship was a hundred feet away, and Jose looked, wondering if he should approach closer or retreat. In the Saturday morning cartoons the heroes walked into the spaceships and were made prisoners by diabolical monsters. But they always escaped. Only this was for real. His mother had often warned him to beware of the difference between what happened on the television shows and the real world.
Then the little opening filled with a shape and a metallic appearing creature emerged. "A robot," Jose muttered to himself. It was good to give it a name. The object was small, perhaps three feet high. Its body was four rounded segments, all about the same size. The creature was just floating there, a few inches from the ground, as if it were composed of a series of connected steel balloons.
Jose noted that the middle two sections of the short body had now sprouted many feelers, arms or spindly legs projecting that waved about. It was like a big silver ant, he told himself, only floating upright as a man. Abruptly beams of light played about, coming from the newcomer, circling the desert floor. It was probably examining the sage nearby and the arid gray ground. The circular sweeps
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gradually grew wider, extending outward.
That was enough. In a few minutes the light rays could reach him. It was past time to leave. Manuel Jose Herrera backed up a
step. He looked at the ridge top just above where he now stood, measuring the distance in case he would have to run for it. Reaching
the ridge would take only a dozen steps. He wished now that he had not moved closer. There was a big clump of cholla two paces behind him that he could reach easily. Back further the green yucca on the ridge top would offer better concealment.
But even his slight movement had already been noticed. Abruptly Jose was bathed in light and transfixed. It was his feeling he could
not move. He looked back at the visitor, certain that a narrow beam of light was emanating from the space monster and enveloping him. Jose felt glued to the flat rock he stood upon as some butterflies he had seen once in the museum were pinned down, transfixed.
A horrible moment passed. The visitor hovered a little distance from its ship, taking its time, examining the nearby environment with light rays that appeared to leave its body and play about among the nearby plants.
And then an example of the visitor’s pure power occurred that was terrifying. A large black raven came in overhead, curious too, perhaps. It was several hundred feet off, fairly high, floating in great sweeping circles with its wide wing span. A beam of almost
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invisible light shot from the body of the presence below and first held the bird motionless in mid-flight and then brought it down in one sweep, a heap of fluttering feathers. The raven gave a raucous caw as it came in and then folded its curled wings, gurgling softly as
it sat just beside the space visitor. The bird was a prisoner also,
not even trying to escape.
Now a voice inside his head instructed Jose in English: "Identify yourself. Are you a human?" This happened on the Saturday morning cartoons also. Robots from outer space often did not speak English or Spanish, but they always managed to put voices in the heads of the heroes who discovered them.
"Jose," he replied aloud, as he would on the playground at school or on a street in town if approached by a stranger. All Mexicans were Jose, and he could merge into the multitude and not be traced by using that name. Now this response would probably do no good at all. He was alone and felt naked.
Jose fingered his head with one hand. It was as if he were being examined. "Who is the smartest man you know who lives nearby?" The words again were in English, not Spanish, and inside his head. "The Professor," Jose declared without hesitation. He pictured the old, tall, very erect man, the epitome of Anglo culture. Jose was returning just now to the tiny rural village where he lived, after listening and discussing with Professor Jeremy West's study group.
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He had to walk three miles home instead of taking the school bus, but it was worth it to listen to the Professor and learn. The Anglo children came too, but most of them lived in town. Dr. Jeremy West was certainly the smartest man Jose knew, well beyond his high school teachers.
"You will go at once and return to me with the Professor.
You will tell no one else." The words were there. Indeed the words were imprinted on his brain somehow, and he knew he must obey them.
His mother would worry that he was so late getting home. It was almost two miles back to town.
"Yes, I will go and do it," Jose answered relieved he was still alive and being allowed to leave. But that was also the way of the television cartoons.
* * *
Jose Herrera told me his story, and he is the first true discoverer of the visitor from an alien world. Jose's tale deserves to be told, though he is already receding into the background after all that has happened. Most people think of me as the discoverer now, and as a consequence some regard me as a world-class traitor, though as you will see none of the events that followed were my fault.
Other people feel only that the astounding aftereffects, in
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which I was a central character, have made any human experience meaningless today. Yet, as the world now knows, I have no reason not to tell the whole truth in this report. The results may be extraordinary, but they did occur. This story must be told now; it is my last chance.
The media has informed the world often enough that I was 62 years old at this time and a completely unknown failure until this alien visitation thrust me onto the center of the world stage. I did not ask for the opportunity of fame. I'm past my prime, though
actually everything works pretty well and I feel great. Two years
ago I retired from an Eastern University where I taught history. I came to this small town of Las Palmas in Arizona. It was really an act of self-destruction. I can see that now.
Becoming a hermit is never the answer; you cannot escape the world. I had enjoyed the teaching, but the books I had written were unread; I might as well have stood on a mountaintop and fed the pages to the wind. Twice I was passed over for promotion to become head of the department. Still I enjoyed working with students more than the administration. That was my failure at the University, enjoying the teaching.
I still stand six feet tall. My face I like to regard as rugged. I have most of my hair, though it is white and tends to stand
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up straight when I least want it to. My nose is too big. My pictures indicate I've always been pretty ordinary in appearance.
When I came to realize my mistake in retiring, because I really enjoyed teaching, I organized some freewheeling talks every day after school with a crowd of young people from the local high school and junior college in Las Palmas. Teenagers gathered at my house. I was still teaching, but not being paid for it.
My wife, Helen, needed the dry desert air, but she had not been happy away from our children and grandchildren. There was no real solution to that problem either. Our children were too scattered. There was Don who was trying to make it in the music game in Los
Angeles, and having a flock of kids, four so far in four years, all boys. There was Betty, who had been married to three different
lawyers with a token child by each, all girls, now living in Manhattan. She worked in an advertising agency. Last there was Susan, still going to College in Florida, her fifth year in a four year program, maybe not wanting to graduate and begin life. Well, that's the story of my life.
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* * *
I heard the doorbell and punched the "save" button on my Computer. It was Jose Herrera, a tall, very thin, brown skinned youth who was part of my student late afternoon discussion group.
Jose was all excited so that his face almost glowed. "Professor West, you must to come quick. There is a great ship that lands on the desert. He ask you come."
"Who is 'He' Jose?"
"The robot from outer space of course."
"What sort of ship?" I inquired patiently.
"It is a spaceship, Dr. West."
“Obviously. A UFO?" I grinned at Jose. I was not a believer in such things. "It sounds like a case for the police."
"No. He ask I tell no one else. He want to talk to the smartest man I know."
"And you chose me. That's flattering." My smile faded away. This was curious enough to investigate. "How far away?"
"Maybe two miles down the county road. I run back most a the ways." Jose was sweating even in the dry desert air.
"You're sure now you really saw something?"
"Yes. We must go now."
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"O.K. I believe everybody once." I called across the house: "Helen, I'm going to take a ride with Jose."
"What is it Jerry?"
"I don't really know. I'll be back soon."
And so we were off. We got into my old Chevy station wagon. I did not care about cars except for transport and it showed. "The county road?" I asked.
We were soon out of town and bumping along on the county gravel, leaving enough dust to advertise our coming. After a minute I asked Jose to tell me everything he had seen and the teenager obliged. "You don't smoke pot or sniff glue?" I inquired, laughing.
"No, this for real. Top of next hill, we stop and walk."
The sun would set in maybe ten minutes. After listening to Jose's story, I decided I should have told someone exactly where we were going. Had Jose been a few years older I would have suspected a hoax, the kind of joke college students might play. The Piltdown Man discovered in the Arizona desert. Only if this were really true, wow! I had never been much afraid of anything and now I had a feeling
that I was so old my life didn't matter anyway. It was over. Still, it was stupid to take chances.
We left the car, Jose leading the way, striding in front of me. "How far now?" I asked.
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"Two hills. Then we see the silver ship." We climbed one ridge and were crossing the plain toward another rise.
"Look, Jose, the car raised enough dust to be seen. We will circle and creep up that ridge ahead from the other side. You point out the ship to me from the top. If this is what you say, we ought to let others know."
"Sure. But he say, bring only one."
"He's not deciding our actions," I insisted boldly. Little did I know. But then, while we stood for a moment in the arid valley between the ridges, the robot appeared nearby, floating out from cover half way down on our side, perhaps eighty feet away.
Now I was sure we should have telephoned others and left word. I even took a step back. But we were too far away to run to the car.
I tried to classify, organize, understand this thing. That's what people did. They took the new and considered it in terms of the familiar. The four sections of the creature were resting right on one another, all almost round in shape, but not completely so. Some of the small feelers or arms that projected from the body were jointed while others waved about as happy as wands.
Then an almost translucent stream of light played about me.
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I jumped as the light shifted to envelop both Jose and myself.
"You are the Professor?" the voice inside my head inquired.
"Yes." The only one. In retirement yet. It was amusing. "I am Dr. Jeremy West; Jerry to my friends."
I decided that I would either die out here or survive and be allowed to leave the area. If I did escape with my life, I wished to be able to report from actual personal observation more than a voice in my head and a small set of floating globes that might be somebody's idea of a robot. I wanted to see the spaceship Jose had mentioned. I walked to the left of the floating being toward the top of the next ridge. I did not feel transfixed as Jose had reported during his encounter, but I was not thinking of running away either at the moment.
This was no hoax. The voice in my head I had never experienced before. "Who are you?" I inquired.
"What shall I say to a human? I am Xan-Tu, the messenger, Dr. Jerry West." Somehow I knew how the alien's name must be spelled in English.
"Glad to meet you. What is your purpose here?" I asked, still walking, really stalling for time with my words as I circled.
"I am a mere observer for the Great Ones, Jerry West."
"Who are the Great Ones? Are you from one of the planets or moons of our solar system?" I was near the robot, now, twenty feet
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away as I climbed the ridge. Nothing had happened as yet and the diminutive size of this alien entity made me feel more secure.
"The Great Ones are those who rule. I am from a far off sun."
That is what invaders from nearby might say, to throw us off. He was talking to me as if he regarded me as a child. I paused and turned at this point, for I had passed the visitor now. In some cultures turning your back was an insult. But how would this being know a back from a front, when I could not tell which end was which on the visitor?
"I welcome you to our planet Xan-Tu," I indicated. "Would you mind if I looked at your vessel?"
"No, please do, since that is very much on your mind. Then I have a few questions for you." I walked on to the top of the ridge. It was there, fifty feet of spaceship, resting on its side, just as Jose had said. Now I would need to report this to the authorities. It would be a sensational story. Abruptly I wished I had brought a camera. Everyone who ever encountered a UFO must have felt that way, I decided. I walked back slowly toward the robot. My purpose was to get close enough to see more.
"What is your profession?" the question was inside my mind.
"I am retired. I was a Professor of history." How I had joked about that in the town, but somehow the humor always hurt. There are
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the tired and the retired, I had said. The retired are twice as tired as the tired.
"Such a profession would be highly regarded in my culture. The Great Ones believe the past is instructive and a knowledge of it is necessary to understand the future."
"You have an advanced culture." I snorted in amusement.
"Jose says you are the smartest man he knows."
"Jose is generous and kind." And not vastly traveled, I reflected.
"Are you a fairly typical human, Professor?"
"Everyone is typical and no one is typical." I replied. Even at that early moment I had some reservations about giving information without receiving any in turn. I wondered if I were being interviewed and if so for what purpose.
"I wish some practice conversation with you before I meet the public of your world. I would like an intelligent citizen to help and advise me. Will you take on that job?" Xan-Tu continued.
Such an advisor might be considered a traitor to the human race, I thought. Then I wondered if perhaps the robot was serious and had no evil intentions. Maybe this visitor was a mere onlooker, a seeker of knowledge. But if he was an observer, what might come next?
So I asked the question: "You say you are an observer. What have you been sent here to observe?"
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"Your civilization. Your state of progress. Will you accept my offer?"
"Sure." It was no good refusing. Any being able to fly here from another world probably had all kinds of other capabilities. "How would I be paid?" Let him reflect on that.
There was only a moment's pause. The robots tentacles seemed to wave about a little faster. "I understand this has value on your
planet." One of the robot's arms flipped a glinting coin into the air and it arced toward me.
I reached up and grabbed it and my hand stung. It appeared to be a solid gold piece, without any decoration. The gold piece weighed maybe six ounces and seemed extraordinarily heavy for the size of the object.
Now that gold was back to about $800 an ounce, the coin Xan-Tu had tossed to me certainly had value. I own some gold coins and this object appeared to be no larger than a one ounce gold American Eagle, but it weighed maybe six times as much. Why? There was quite a discussion about that later.
"Thank you for accepting my offer." The words were there, understood inside my head in this peculiar direct communication.
I hadn't really meant to ask for money, though I had requested honorariums for speeches I had given on lecture circuits in the past. It was a crude and rude thing to ask a visitor from far away for pay.
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Nor had I meant to enter into the employment of an alien. Rather the question of payment had been merely a delaying action while I thought of what I should do and say next. Now, to refuse after I had asked for payment appeared to compound the problem.
I put the gold coin in my pocket. Had I contracted to work? What had been said? 'To help and advise me,' were the words. That did not sound too much like a traitor.
"I will help for a time at least," I responded.
"More payments will follow. But you must carry out my orders or we sever connections. Understood?"
I certainly did not want my connections severed, whatever that might mean. It seemed time for a disclaimer. "I thank you for the souvenir from your world. I didn't really mean to ask for payment. Nothing further is necessary. I will be glad to help you all I can." Nor did I ever ask for or receive any payment again. Too much has been made of my accepting a fee at the beginning of this first contact. Probably I should never have mentioned to anyone that I received the payment from Xan-Tu and the matter never would have been known.
"First question," the robot began. "How is my English? Do you understand me?"
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"Your English is good and I understand you? Your voice is a little mechanical in my head, but that may be my perception from viewing you."
"Because of my appearance? Because you see me as a machine?"
"Synergistic perhaps. A living machine. Is this better?" The tonal quality of the voice within my head deepened and became warmer, richer, more vibrant, though it now sounded a bit like a television announcer.
I told Xan-Tu the quality seemed improved and asked, "Is this your first visit here to earth?"
"Yes it is."
"Why do you come here now? By that I mean no discourtesy. But I am told there are over 100 million suns in our galaxy alone and there are well over 100 million galaxies. Why did you choose this planet? Some men have long thought that we humans were being observed by visitors from other worlds. Some believe they have evidence that such visitations occurred in the past. I have always felt such ideas were mere paranoia given the vastness of space and time. Space travel must take a long time. Earth has been here for several billion years. Humans have been civilized only six thousand years. Why did you find your way here just now in the vastness of space and time?" Even as I
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spoke it seemed to me that robots would indeed be the most likely to be sent on long journeys.
"That is a good question," Xan-Tu replied. "The answer is, your people have advertised, Professor."
"Yes. Betrayed your civilized presence in the universe. You have set off universal alarm bells. I sat on the edge of your solar system and measured until I understood the length of your earth's days and years. For more than eighty of your years people have been sending out voice impressions on your radios and for more than fifty years picture and voice broadcasts have been transmitted on your televisions. The television pictures have gone out at the speed of light in concentric circles, spreading among the stars as they traveled. Do you know how many suns such a message passes in dozens of years at the speed of light? You advertised that you were
developing a technological culture. You are now what we call a Stage Five Civilization."
I thought about Xan-Tu's words. Perhaps television had destroyed our world in more ways than I imagined before. My wife, Helen, I privately characterized as a vidiot, a person enslaved by the tube, looking always for excuses to watch more. I felt she was almost ready to climb inside the floor model and live there. I loved Helen, but I had lost her to the tube. Since I retired we had been thrust
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more fully upon each other. We met forty years ago. In that long ago time two young people made a decision that affected middle age and now old age. How many people had done that?
How do our minds work anyway? The thought flashed upon me of a time back East before I had a cactus garden in this dry desert country. I was out destroying dandelions on my lawn, pulling off their yellow heads and spraying the plants with weed killer. And I was thinking of how the dandelions advertised their presence amid the green grass by raising their yellow flower as a signal. It made extirpation easy.
But who determines what a weed is? Was that Xan-Tu's function? Did all civilizations finally advertise their existence in the cosmos? Was he here to weed the garden of earth?
I was aware suddenly of Manuel Jose Herrera standing beside me with his mouth open. "Do you hear the visitor, Jose?"
The tall boy shook his head. "No. Only your answers."
The visitor's words were directed at me alone. It was my first inkling that Xan-Tu could aim his speech. "Can you let Jose hear also?"
"Certainly." Jose jumped and showed he was hearing now.
"How long was your journey in our time?" I asked. That would help indicate what star the alien came from, perhaps.
"Many of your years. I have plenty of time, Jerry West."
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This was not definite enough to help. Slowly I had approached Xan-Tu until I was standing only eight feet away. I positioned myself so the setting sun was not in my eyes. In turn I forced myself to examine each segment of the robot. The four globes that made up his body seemed not to be metal, but possibly some flexible plastic. I could see nothing that looked like eyes, ears, a nose, a mouth, and there was certainly no hair. The robot was all smooth surfaces. Each of the four balls that made up his body was maybe eight inches in diameter. He was under three feet high but floating in the air.
"Did you learn English from our television broadcasts?" I asked. I took a step closer to the robot. How close would Xan-Tu allow me to come? I paused and waited a bit, deciding I had better ask permission to come closer.
"Yes," the robot replied. "I chose to learn English first because it was the most widely used language on earthly television broadcasts. But there are many other languages. I have also learned Spanish and Russian during my journey. Chinese, Japanese, French,
Portuguese, and German are nearly completed. Only recently have I seen a need to learn Arabic, Polish, Italian, Greek as a root language, Turkish, and Hindi as well. How many languages will I need to know to reach almost everyone? Latin is no longer spoken much on your television." Right here I should have had clue to the stranger's intentions. I did not reply to this.
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Xan-Tu paused, then he added: "There are many forms of communication in the outer universe and sound transmission is only one of these. Learning new languages is like breaking a code. Some programs on your various national televisions offer lessons in learning languages. Only I do suspect television language is very different from your books. It is too bad you have not reached the stage of one main language on this planet."
"Many a schoolboy would agree. Learning everything you know of us from our television must have given you some interestingly shallow insights." I decided to declare myself on this matter right away.
"Your television has many contradictions, Jerry West. I am sure I can resolve these matters by personal observation. People in your serious dramas hardly ever laugh, for instance. But on game shows, the audience seems to laugh easily and for little reason. Obviously this must be stylized pleasurable expression called forth according to custom."
"Much of the laughter on our TV is canned. The director has the option of pushing the laugh button over as far as he desires. Most directors believe their jokes are very funny."
"Yes, but live audiences will laugh when someone says 'Hello' on a comic program and they do not do so in dramas."
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After watching American TV it was a wonder to me that the visitor wanted to come here at all. "Do you have television on your world?" I inquired.
"Once the Great Ones passed through such a planet-wide communication time in the far-back. Our ancestors have moved through many stages before they became deities."
I thought of that term in amusement. Was this messenger's relation to his masters that resembling dog and man?
While I was still reflecting upon this, the robot shifted the subject back. "America seems the most open of earthly societies. Therefore, I have come here first. But what will be the reaction of your people when my presence is known Jerry West?"
"That will depend upon your purpose here. You can expect some tough questioning on that score." Could the stranger be afraid?
"It is difficult to know what to expect by studying your television broadcasts," Xan-Tu went on. "Some of them appear very silly and many others are violent."
"Our own people often feel the same way about the electronic media." I took another cautious step toward the robot.
Xan-Tu's arms seemed agitated and moved around as he talked. He was definitely floating, perhaps eight inches off the ground. I still could not determine how the appendages protruded from the body.
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It seemed unnecessary to be afraid of something half my size, and yet my mental caution lights were on. "Am I getting too close?" I asked. "Would you mind if I touched you?"
"Do not do something funny please. I am fully protected and you will hurt yourself, Jerry West." It was a television speech. From five feet away I could almost reach out and touch one of the vibrating arms. If he watched our TV, Xan-Tu knew of our custom of shaking hands. I reached cautiously and encountered an invisible barrier about three feet out from the robot, which gave me a jolting electric shock. I jumped and moved back.
"Are you all right, Jerry West?" Xan-Tu inquired solicitously.
"Yes, I am fine. That was my fault. Sorry."
"People must be told not to touch me. I have a force field around me and it repels in relationship to the challenge."
"I'm glad I did not try to challenge you with more than a touch." I gave Xan-Tu a wide smile.
"The force shield is for defense against accidents as well as promoting an envelope of stable environment without changes in temperature and humidity. But also, Professor, are you aware that when I see your exposed skin, I extrapolate that you have several billion bacteria and virus covering your whole body? All of those
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microorganisms are in effect waiting for you to cut yourself or even to breath, though of course with your physiology, anything that you breathe is still outside your bodies."
"Our eyesight does not allow us to observe objects much smaller than one-hundredth of an inch or so without aids. We need a microscope to see the clouds of microbes in the air we breathe. I suppose it is an ancient survival factor. If our eyes were more acute, early man might have gone mad with the knowledge that he existed in a sea of tiny organisms. Since he could do nothing about it, this knowledge would have distracted early man from his primary purpose, that of surviving."
"But," Xan-Tu persisted, "I would guess that your outer skin alone holds more microscopic creatures than there are humans on your planet. And the size of the cloud of creatures around you is enormous."
I laughed, wishing to leave this subject behind. "I'm sure that is true," I agreed. "Yet this is 'pure' desert air here. You should see our cities." After I said this I told myself to be quiet. Don't talk down our earth culture anymore. I wanted the visitor to think well of us even then.
"You can't really see x-rays or heat rising either," Xan-Tu questioned.
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"No. Our visual spectrum is limited to what was helpful in primitive times."
"That is no doubt true. But it is no wonder that your people always are so ill and have so many pains with all those microbes."
"What makes you say that, Xan-Tu?" I was frankly puzzled.
"Your television, Jerry. There are so many advertised remedies for headaches and other illnesses."
I laughed. "I hope you don't believe all that is said on television. Our citizens have learned that most of our advertising is false."
"That is why I would like to read some of your books."
Perhaps humans should have sent messages of strength into space instead of television advertising pictures of people with colds, coughs, and headaches. The sun had set a few minutes before and twilight was coming to the desert fast now. My shadow, which had been long across the arid landscape, faded. In a few minutes Xan-Tu would have further evidence of how little we humans saw in the dark.
"It is late," I suggested. "Will you spend the night at my home?"
"You have books, especially histories and encyclopedias?" the visitor inquired. "I see encyclopedias advertised on your television."
I laughed. "Only a couple thousand books. Come on."
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"I understand that you must perform a function called ‘sleep’ when the sun goes down to meet the rhythms of this planet?" It was a question.
"It's a biological necessity for us, Xan-Tu. Some day men may develop beyond this. Two great rulers of the past had such delusions of grandeur because of their success with armies they thought they could do without sleep -- Napoleon and Frederick the Great. They tested this concept and did not succeed.”
"All languages have curiosities,” Xan-Tu confided. “In English why do you fall asleep, but wake up?"
I laughed. "Language was not invented by the professors. Would you have us go down asleep and straighten up?" Then I asked:
Will your space ship be all right here?"
"Yes. It can not be seen from the road and is fully protected by a force field. I landed here in an uninhabited area to conduct tests first before making contact. But people are everywhere on your planet now so I was seen anyway."
I watched Xan-Tu gliding over the desert floor, moving around the brush, just floating or rotating as if indeed he was merely four balloons held together. His force screen no doubt protected him from the needles of the cholla plants as well. I was glad to reach my car.
"Can you get into the back of my station wagon?" I swung open the rear door.
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"I believe so. Stand clear and I will cut the force shield to a minimum distance." The robot floated higher and entered the back, upright, just inches from the floor and the roof.
"I will shut the door now." I said this carefully. "We can open it any time. You will not be a prisoner."
"Hardly. I have seen your station wagons and how much they can be made to hold on television commercials."
"Jose," I announced, "I will bring you to your home first. Please tell your family I delayed you, which was why you were so late.
I'm going to drop you off at your home and turn right around and bring Xan-Tu to my house. Say nothing of our visitor, Xan-Tu, here.
Tell no one in school tomorrow about your adventure. You will have a chance to tell everyone later. Can you really keep a secret, Jose? It's the hardest thing to ask a human to do?"
Jose nodded smiling. "I will tell no one. I can do it."
"Good. Come over to my house tomorrow after school as usual. I'll see you then." That was a safeguard. If something went wrong, Jose at least would know.
I left Jose in front of his house and drove back, wondering how upset Helen would be. Everything upset Helen. She was a worrier. Above all, I wanted to do the right thing here with this alien. I felt that I was an ambassador for all earthmen.
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Oddly enough, Xan-Tu sensed my concern. "You are worried Professor West. You have no need to fear anything." That statement by the robot did not add to my feeling of well-being. It just made it more obvious the robot could read my every thought.
It was quite dark in spite of the streetlights in Las Palmas. I pushed the garage door opener when I was still a ways down the street and slid into the attached garage easily without anyone noticing Xan-Tu.
"Jerry? Dinner's been ready for twenty minutes," Helen called. She had heard the garage door open.
"Yes, Helen. Jose made a discovery in the desert he wanted to show me."
"It was probably much more important than being on time for dinner." She didn't mean it. Helen often spoke in negatives.
"Yes, it was. It was a ship from outer space and a robot."
"I brought the robot home for dinner." I opened the house door and ushered in Xan-Tu.
"I'm sure he will be delicious," Helen declared. Then she saw the actual visitor and screamed. It was a television response. How often these days does the tube tell us how we should behave.
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"How do you do, Mrs. West," said Xan-Tu. "I do not understand that greeting, actually. But it is customary. So, 'How do you do?' You are the female of the species?"
"That's what they keep telling me," Helen replied, recovering somewhat, patting her brown tinted hair, which was disheveled as usual. Her hair always looked as if she had just received a severe electric shock. I have tried talking to Helen about her hair, but she tells me it is the style for women of her age.
Helen had become a bit too heavy with a hint of a double chin that helped only in leaving her face unlined. I loved her mightily at that moment. She was obviously trying to cope.
I wondered what Xan-Tu thought of Helen after seeing the actresses on television. "What is going on here, Jerry?" Helen demanded, adjusting her glasses to peer at us. She would be angry later, because I had not given notice of a visitor coming and she was caught wearing a housecoat.
"Mrs. West," Xan-Tu apologized, "it is my fault your husband is late for dinner. I have watched not only your comedy programs but your nature programs as well. I understand you. You are the custodian of the eggs of the human species and highly sought after by the male, though in humans this is disguised in poetry and song."
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Helen just looked at Xan-Tu in disbelief. And so the evening began. "We are going to have dinner," I told Xan-Tu after a bit. "I take it you do not eat food?"
"No. I have no intake apparatus. Nor is it necessary. The remote ancestors of the Great Ones ate in the long ago, but that was many millennia past."
When I ushered Xan-Tu into my study, I had this mental picture of our guest sitting comfortably in my great black reclining chair, reading books. But the alien did not sit. Instead he floated high over a little table, parallel to the floor. He began reading the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which I furnished him, starting with A. He paused just a moment at each page and lights flashed in his upper globe. Xan-Tu waved a tentacle and the pages turned without his touching them.
"I am really savoring this Professor," the visitor asserted. "I want to get the flavor of your culture."
I left Xan-Tu and sat down to eat, giving Helen a shortened version of the episode in the desert.
"What on earth will you do with him? Is it a him?"
"I didn't get into sex. It's not up to me to do with. He is going to stay here and look at my books tonight."
"I won't sleep a wink with that thing in the house," Helen whispered to me. She always slept anyway, but that is the way she
Roger Lee Vernon – The Great Encounter 30
talked, a speech full of mock threats that she didn't really mean. Helen would be snoring at eleven o'clock as usual so that I would need to turn on the box fan in the room as usual to cover her noise.
When I did not reply Helen added: "Just because you're a historian doesn't mean we have to have aliens visit us, Jerry."
I nodded. How was I to reply to that. I did not feel any danger, yet I popped a sleeping pill. And so began the first day of the rest of our lives, as they say.
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"It was better than TV." - Helen West
I usually arose at seven, but I jerked wide-awake suddenly at five that morning, dressed quietly and went downstairs to the study to observe Xan-Tu. Our guest was still floating above the small table and from the stacks of books it appeared that he had gone through the Britannica along with a two volume history of the world, an English unabridged dictionary, my French, German, and Spanish dictionaries, and a world almanac.
"Good morning, Dr. West."
"Good morning, Xan-Tu. I hope you had a pleasant night."
"Yes. To change the subject, I suspected this from listening to your news broadcasts, but now that I read your world history, I fear that your planet is in deep trouble. Humanity has gotten itself into a corner."
"The planet has always been in trouble Xan-Tu. Civilizations rise and fall."
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"But a nuclear war, as you call it, would return most of the surviving earth's people from a Stage Five culture to a Stage Three. Further, you have built your civilization on easy to reach resources, coal, oil, and metals near the surface. Those easy to obtain resources have been consumed. Now that you have achieved a technological stage, you can manage to reach the resources deeper beneath the surface of your planet and utilize those minerals needing much more processing. But if you blow yourselves up, your technology may take centuries or millennia to come back. And if the war is bad enough, mankind could be finished."
"Were you sent here to save us from ourselves?" This was a common enough theme of various books recently. The theme represented a surrender of mankind, unable to find a way out. "Perhaps only a deus ex machina can help us now," I observed cynically.
"That was not my purpose. 'Dues ex machina' is not a television term, Dr. West, but fortunately I read your English dictionary this morning. It is an interesting concept. The Greeks had dramas in which the characters boxed themselves in so completely during a stage play that there was no possibility of a happy ending. So in the last scene the actors simply pulled a small statue of an appropriate God across the stage in a wagon and the God solved all
Roger Lee Vernon – The Great Encounter 33
their problems. The God in the machine. It was a simple machine, a simple solution, and a simple God."
It seemed to me that Xan-Tu was speaking more exactly and had improved his understanding of human conditions overnight. He was learning rapidly.
"And for what would the God in the machine save us?" I asked. I did not follow up on that question, since Xan-Tu did not answer. Instead I took out my polaroid camera, loaded it with film, and asked: "May I take your picture?" Certain primitive tribes felt their life force was diminished by picture taking. Others wanted money if you took their picture. Anyway, pictures were private, so it was best to ask.
"All right." Xan-Tu agreed.
All along I had the feeling that our guest might just fly away without anyone else seeing him and I would be left with an unbelievable story backed up only by young Jose.
When things were not there except in your imagination they failed to show on pictures. But the robot showed. Xan-Tu was present in all his splendor with many of his twenty-four differing arms, legs, feelers, or tentacles pictured. By this time I had carefully counted the robot's limbs. Some arms were multi-jointed, some had pinchers on the end, some came to a point, some had furry feelers, and others a pod.
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The surprise was that on the picture there existed a yellowish glow around Xan-Tu ending in a line three feet out. This was the force field, I decided. I snapped the whole twelve pictures on the roll, closing in and taking my subject from differing angles.
Then I thought of my Sony Video. "Would you like to watch yourself on TV?" I asked by way of inducement.
"I have, of course. I experimented while on my space ship, as you call it. I had to watch your television at a very rapid rate because I was approaching at great speed. But, yes you may take my picture. Your television gradually gave me an understanding of your species. You must have evolved in a warmer climatic period, for you are a bundled up people, covered with clothes not only for show, as I first thought, but for warmth. It was only when I viewed some of your X-rated movies in the last part of my journey that I realized what you humans really looked like."
Xan-Tu went right on, irrepressible: "At first your television shows were circumspect, the older ones that I encountered before I began my journey. They were primitive, but clever in some ways. In flight I picked up increasing numbers of broadcasts and finally you began to exhibit your lovemaking to the cosmos in all its details. Was such your objective?"
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"Not really." It was embarrassing, thinking what mankind had sent out as a message to the stars. I regarded most television programming as aimed at twelve-year old minds anyway.
I found my video camera, inserted a new cassette, and asked some questions as I shot pictures of Xan-Tu. When I played the video cassette of Xan-Tu back on my TV, there was no recorded sound except my voice.
"You're putting those words in my head," I declared. "The film is silent."
"Since I have no mouth to scream or talk, I must use other methods to communicate with those who can not receive me directly. However, Dr. West, if you would like a permanent message, play your tape back again and I will dub in some words." And the television premier of Xan-Tu came through with the following, somehow added to the tape: "Greetings citizens of Earth. I have made a long journey to visit your planet. I come in peace as an observer. I am interested in your world and its people. I thank you all for receiving me as a guest."
It was one of those pretty speeches that said nothing. You could tell something about the owner by watching the dog. The rule would be true with robots. We make robots in our image. I felt Xan-Tu represented an older culture. He seemed to have patience and plenty of time.
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After I took the pictures I sat in my large black reclining chair and watched the robot 'read', a process that consisted of moving a tentacle, which, without touching the page below, caused the sheets to turn. Then flashing lights scanned both sides of the page. Then the next page turned. When the robot reached the end of a volume, the book closed, apparently unaided, and floated back to the shelf. The next book came out and took its rightful place, open.
"What would you like to do today?" I asked my guest after a time.
"I have enjoyed the books, but I believe there is a faster way. I see you have a computer there on the desk. May I use it?"
I had not mentioned the computer to Xan-Tu because I had not been asked and I wondered about this alien going on the internet. How much information should I be giving him? The internet is so full of the mundane, the bad, the good, the strange, the curiosities, that it exposed too much of human weakness. “Sure, go ahead,” I replied, still uncertain.
The computer screen began showing programs, flashing faster than I could visually follow. "This is a much more rapid way of learning," Xan-Tu related. “There are programs in Spanish, French, and German. Also they have a program on human physiology. Humans seem to be a very short lived species, Jerry West."
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"The older we get the shorter the time seems to be," I observed. "Looking forward seems long, looking back over spent life seems short. In many ways we have only the moment to enjoy."
"You revere youth on your television because it lasts such a short time in your species," Xan-Tu suggested. "Dawn and sunset come so close together for you. Man does not live long enough."
"Yes, but there are butterflies that flit about only a single day, and when I lived in the East, I had in my garden tiger lilies whose blossoms opened only for one day." I shrugged. "Would it be appropriate to call a press conference later today? You should be
introduced to the world." I was not sure how one called a press conference, but it was obvious it could be arranged.
"No. I wish to lie low for the present. Am I presuming upon your hospitality?" The words were a mixture of high and low
television, which Xan-Tu had used to learn our language.
"You are welcome to stay as long as you like." If this was an invasion, now was the time to stop the robot and inform the authorities. But what authorities? I felt many of the authorities were bunglers, anyway.
Then Xan-Tu spoke again. "My immediate plan is this, Dr. West: We will return to the desert, both of us, board my ship and go to your capital at Washington D.C. There we will hold a news conference."
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I nodded agreement. "You want me to come along?" It sounded exciting.
"Do you have the time?"
"Yes. I will come." I was surely doing nothing important with my life right now. I reflected that so many people in America were so anxious to get on television or the news that they were willing to lie about their lives and participate in programs that made them look foolish.
"We will move from the microcosm to the macrocosm," Xan-Tu declared.
I must confess I felt elated at the prospect of being at the center of this adventure. I was actually enormously excited, though I tried not to show it. Then I remembered Jose.
"Some high school students will come to my house before four o'clock today, Xan-Tu. That is still ten hours away. We talk about a number of things. I will meet them at the door and tell them our
little sessions are ended for now. However, Jose can not be expected to remain silent for long with a secret of this magnitude."
"True. There are always the details. It is doubtless best that we leave today right after 4:00 P.M."
"I will get some of my things ready, then. Am I allowed to bring a suitcase?"
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I went back to our bedroom. Helen was still snoring softly. It was not yet 6:00 A.M. When she awoke, I would tell her what was happening. She would be upset. Helen was a very dependent woman and did not like to be left alone. I would arrange a plane flight for Helen to come to Washington and meet me there tonight. I had not asked to have her come along on the space ship. That would frighten her even more. She hated flying on airplanes; a space ship would be too much.
* * *
Helen was upset as I knew she would be and we argued some. She disliked any sudden changes. It struck me for perhaps the ten thousandth time that we were so different, it was a wonder our relationship had survived all these years. We had nothing in common, were totally unalike, and yet lived together and loved each other.
I have always been one of these men who was frightened of the mystique of women, though of course I never talked of this. Women in my classes at the University, women working for the University, women neighbors, were just female people, but women to be courted and loved had always been a bit beyond me. I don't know how I ever really managed it originally with Helen. Certainly I was glad to get that part over with and just be married.
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Young people have always felt the "old" to be without passion or desire, and I must confess when I was young to having such feelings also. The "old" were people who had never known love. But I did love Helen. Suffice it to say that if I had known what was going to happen in Washington D.C., I never would have gone.
But not knowing the future can be a blessing. I took a trip list from a file folder. It was a checklist I had compiled long ago and added to many times since. I had checklists for everything. The trip list was originally begun back in the days when we took vacations with the children. It included favorite children’s toys and camping supplies. But it was still useful. Now the list included all the pills I took. When you get old, at first you think it is a vitamin deficiency. I packed my things in two leather bags rather than a suitcase. What was appropriate for a space flight?
I was concerned that Jose might have given away the secret of Xan-Tu's presence and wondered if we would get a call from reporters. At 4:00 P.M. when my student group arrived, I explained our talk sessions would be cancelled for awhile. Then I asked Jose to step into the house alone. The honest boy had kept his silence. I told
Jose exactly what was happening and asked him to say nothing till that evening.
"I believe you will be a bit of a celebrity when you tell your story. Here are some pictures I took of the robot, which you may keep
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or give to the newspapers. They might command a high price. I have a video recording I made in this desk drawer. If anything happens to me, make sure this gets played." Jose agreed, departing reluctantly. I could see the boy wished he were going along, but he had not been invited. Right then I was taking his great discovery from him.
Helen drove Xan-Tu and me on the County Road to the spaceship. No darkness offered concealment this time and at the first stop light in town a child in the back seat of the car next to us pointed to Xan-Tu in our station wagon. But the child could not get his parent's attention. Then we were out of town and bumping along on the gravel of the county road. There was not much traffic out there.
Helen protested one last time. "Can't you fly to Washington with me and meet Mr. Xan-Tu there. I'll never see you again."
"Your husband will be perfectly safe," the alien interceded and Helen was silent. I was the only one she argued with. We kissed goodbye. Xan-Tu and I crossed the intervening strip of desert together. The spaceship was still lying there on its side, out of sight of the road in the desert valley. I felt the force screens around the ship open automatically as we approached, almost as a greeting. Then a small door in the side slid up.
"Sorry, Dr. West. This entry was designed for smaller creatures than you," the visitor apologized.
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Xan-Tu floated in and I stuck in my head and looked around. I thought how dark it was and lights came on. Again I saw that my very thoughts could be read. The corridor inside was only five feet high. I stooped over and eased in, holding on to some railings that ran the length of the corridor. There had to be a series of rooms, but all the doors were shut. The outer door of the spaceship closed behind us.
"Please remain right here," Xan-Tu instructed. "We will ascend soon." With these words, the robot floated off. The wall of the ship appeared translucent; I could see the desert outside. The engines came on with a soft, sweet hum and we rose swiftly with almost no feeling of acceleration. The ground simply receded, as if we were on an elevator. When we were very high, I felt a slight change in direction. There were mountains below, then fleeting glimpses of
plains, and abruptly we were high over Washington, coming down slowly. The entire journey had taken only a few minutes.
The buildings of the Capital rose to meet us and nearby was the grassy green park around the Washington Monument. Next I saw a pair of planes, military jets, zooming in toward us.
'Oh no, don't shoot,' I thought. 'Don't start something.' But the plane was already in action. A missile came streaking toward us and exploded perhaps fifty feet out as it hit the force shield. Inside I felt no shock at all from the huge blast. Then wing guns on
Roger Lee Vernon – The Great Encounter 43
the plane flashed as they fired. I could see the bullets ricocheting as they hit the force field of the spaceship. Bouncing back, some bullets struck the attacking plane. A wing sheared off one of the fighter planes and the pilot ejected.
Then the pilot, his chute half opened, the plane, and even the detached wing were caught in beams that held them immobile for an instant and finally set them down quite gently on a grassy hillside. The spaceship itself came to rest nearby, sitting upright this time, its nose pointing skyward, purposely, a large needle in the green park.
"Now, Dr. West, we will climb down and leave by the lower door."
“The planes meant no harm,” I asserted to Xan-Tu. "They were merely trying to protect our capital from terrorists.” Yet it was quite a welcome, I decided.
The robot floated below and I followed. It was easy to descend to the bottom of the corridor by bending over and holding the handrail. There must have been some internally controlled antigravity devise or some form of stabilization, for the spaceship was pointed upward and the corridor should have been straight down. Yet my descent felt level. I have often thought of that part of the journey since and I have understood it less each time. At the moment I had suspended all belief as to what was happening to me.
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"I will now open the outer door," Xan-Tu declared. "Won't you go first please, Jerry?"
Outside there was a surging crowd running toward the spaceship, pointing, mouths open. It was as if a bunch of country bumpkins were gathering in great numbers at the county fair to watch a biplane come in back in the early 1900’s. People gasped and shrank back as Xan-Tu emerged behind me.
There were sirens announcing the arrival of the police who did nothing more than try to hold the crowd back. Soon a cordon of police was established around the spaceship. I was a major participant, and more photographed in the next ten minutes than I had been in my entire life up to then.
I just stood observing, wondering at first if Xan-Tu was trying for a special effect. There was the great masonry obelisk of the 555-foot high Washington Monument just a hundred yards away and the small metallic appearing shaft of the 50 foot high spaceship of Xan-Tu's
standing on end. Somehow this ship had become an instant monument in this city of monumental structures.
A dozen military jets were flying overhead by now, just circling. A helicopter came in, landed on the grass fifty yards away and the men inside with their gray and blue suits began running toward us. They were probably Secret Service. Other helicopters were coming in waves also.
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Then Xan-Tu was speaking inside everyone's head in the whole gathering crowd. "Citizens of earth, I will make a statement in a few minutes. In the meantime keep back away at least seventy feet from my ship in all directions. The ship is fully defended and on automatic.
If you come too close, you will receive an electric shock. If you attack, you will be repulsed with force in proportion to that which you exert. I will come out of the protected perimeter now. Dr. Jerry West, who is an earthman, and I, will wait for the crowd to gather further before I make my statement."
We walked through the force shield without any trouble, I simply following Xan-Tu. We stood waiting as the numbers swelled to many hundreds and then thousands. A high percentage of the multitude were tourists, snapping pictures frantically. Reporters were arriving and taking pictures, while television cameras were being set up with power cables running back to waiting network trucks.
Then the questions began:
"Are you from Mars?" one reporter called out.
"No," Xan-Tu replied. "Please wait with other questions."
But no one waited. I was amazed at the pushy nature of some reporters:
"Are you here in peace?"
"Where are you from?"
"What are your intentions?"
Roger Lee Vernon – The Great Encounter 46
"How long was your trip?"
"What do you think of Washington D.C.?"
"How do you like American women?"
"Are you a machine?"
"Are other aliens coming?"
"What's your favorite music?"
"Is your ship a flying saucer?”
"Have you been responsible for UFO sightings?"
"Why are you here?"
"Are you from Mars?" I wish I could count the number of times Xan-Tu was asked this.
The questions rolled in. Xan-Tu stood immobile, waiting.
Some of the crowd had pressed down to ten feet from us now and began to shove nearer; the police were having difficulty holding the line.
"Please do not venture any closer," Xan-Tu requested. We are fully protected." I felt a force screen go up around me too.
It was an odd sense of lack of pressure and I just knew it was there. The crowd drew back a bit, at Xan-Tu's words.
One of the network channels and CNN were in position and they wanted to get the word out before the other reporters were ready. The questions flew.
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At last Xan-Tu spoke: "Greetings citizens of earth, I come in peace. For years our people have monitored your television broadcasts and finally it was decided to send me as an observer and emissary to visit your world. I have full power to act in accordance with the wishes of the Great Ones. Yesterday I landed in the Arizona desert and was in contact with Dr. Jerry West, here. He invited me to his home last night and we decided to fly to Washington today to hold a press conference. I represent an intergalactic confederation. This is a mere first contact and we are not here to exploit your planet.
I am speaking inside your heads but also in such a way that my voice will be recorded on your video camera film."
Several of the networks were plugged in by now, recording the whole show and sending it out live.
"Why did you shoot down our plane, if you came in peace?" one reporter asked.
"I did not shoot down your plane or use any weapons. You will find on analysis that your plane fired on my ship and the bullets bounced back and hit the plane's wing. He shot himself down, something which I believe has happened before, if your old news programs are to be believed. The pilot is unharmed. Do not come closer there."
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One of the reporters had thrust a mike up into the three foot zone of the force screen and gotten a shock that sent him flying. He lay stunned a moment, rubbing his hand.
"I will say again," Xan-Tu commanded, and his voice was harsher. "Please stay at least six feet away from us. Eight feet would be safer."
Everyone backed off a little again. Several limos pulled up at the parkway perimeter and some officials walked across the grass, the way being cleared by security people. The graying Secretary of State, Ted Webster, and two Senators were there to offer official greetings.
There were some minutes of ceremonial welcome to earth and to this city from the people of America.
Immediately after that the reporters began again, asking questions that made me shudder. I wanted Xan-Tu to think well of America and of humankind, but the media response to this most important news conference of all time was something less than edifying. There were many repeated questions:
"Have you come in peace?"
"How do you like earth?"
"Do you think our women are pretty?"
"Are you from Mars?"
"You learned English watching television. Which television programs do you like best?"
Roger Lee Vernon – The Great Encounter 49
"What do you think of our movies?"
"What do you think of people?"
"What do you do for fun?"
"Have you done much traveling before?"
"Do you watch our commercials?"
"Are you here on a shopping trip?"
"Which parts of earth would you most like to visit?”
"Can we tour your spaceship?"
To all of which Xan-Tu gave appropriate answers. Most of the questions elicited responses that did not say much.
"How long will you stay on earth?"
"Until my mission is complete."
"What is your mission?"
"I am a mere observer at the moment."
"Will others of your kind come to earth?"
"Not right away."
"Are you the forerunner of an invasion?"
"No. I come in peace."
"How fast does your ship travel?"
A dozen military jets were flying overhead just in case, which also attracted people from far and wide. Two large tanks and an armored troop transport pulled in to the rear of the throng as a show
Roger Lee Vernon – The Great Encounter 50
of force. At the edge of the crowd, merchants with carts were selling ice cream and hot dogs. Pickpockets were no doubt plying their trade.
I saw what I took to be a hooker soliciting. There is something about a crowd that feeds upon itself. It is a magnet, a black hole, pulling those nearby into its grip. Surely if there is a crowd, something must be happening. The whole event was turning into a circus.
More limos were pulling up. One vehicle carried the Russian ambassador who soon reached the front of the line and extended his greetings, suggesting that Xan-Tu should visit Moscow soon. American Secretary of State Ted Webster had had enough. "I think Mr. Ambassador that we should finish this conference in some private place such as Duncan House. It is only a few blocks from here. We can put you up there in comfort and discuss our relations."
"That would be fine, Mr. Secretary," Xan-Tu agreed.
The Secret Service cleared a wide path after which Xan-Tu and I followed Ted Webster back to the longest stretch limo I had ever seen. I noted that the Russian Ambassador was smiling. I decided that Xan-Tu had sent him a private message, probably in Russian, accepting the invitation to Moscow soon.
When we reached the limo, I felt my force shield come off. Xan-Tu floated into the limo, taking up a whole seat across for himself. Before I could enter the car, Ted Webster extended a hand to
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shake mine, but the words that went with the shake were an attempt at understanding my position. Since I did not know what my position was, it was a little hard to answer.
"You are just a day previous in this business?" the Secretary inquired.
"That's about it?"
"You are the discoverer of our visitor?" Webster continued, still holding my hand so that I could not enter the limo just yet. The implication was that somehow I should now bow out.
"In a way. A young Mexican boy saw the spaceship land and summoned me to the scene. Xan-Tu spent last night at my house."
"We'll debrief you later."
"I do want Dr. West to stay with me for the present," Xan-Tu declared. "His wife, Helen, who does not like space flight, is coming in by regularly scheduled plane and should be met at Dulles Airport and brought out to Duncan House as well. It is important to give orders also that no one come too close to my ship. There is a force shield around it and it is fully protected. It will repel force with at least equal force. I hope it may remain there for a few days. I realize this is sacred ground I am on. I regret the intrusion upon it."
"No problem, Mr. Ambassador. Is that the correct title to address you?"
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"That will do."
Ted Webster terminated what had been the longest handshake I ever endured, I was allowed into the limo. Usually I am calm, but now I felt jumpy, on edge. I could not wait to see what would happen and I was hoping to be a part of this action. I had been involved by
chance, but for the first time in my life I was inside the car of history, traveling, looking out through the tinted windows at a reality I could scarcely believe.
Duncan House was one of the huge old homes along Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capital and the White House that the government owned and used at times to put up visiting dignitaries. It was vacant at the moment, except for live-in servants who stood in readiness for just such a call. The front entrance hall was larger than my living room back home.
Ordinarily the conference that followed might have been held after the visitor had time to freshen up, but that seemed unnecessary to the Secretary of State this time. Also the meeting would have been one on one. Now not only was I allowed to be present, but two Secret Service men were in the paneled study for the protection of the Secretary. What protection anyone might offer was a moot point. It was only by courtesy of Xan-Tu that I was still a part of these events. While I did not understand my role, I was enjoying the experience.
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"Dr. West," Ted Webster demanded, "I must ask that you will please say nothing of these matters until you are given an official release to do so."
"I can be just as reticent as necessary, Mr. Secretary," I replied. "However, the way the reporters hound people, I really thought of typing up a written statement of all I know of this matter so I can be done with it."
"Well you are not State, so I guess we can not prevent that. I would like to read any statement you prepare first, before it goes to the press." Officialdom is officialdom and always trying to maintain its dominance even in small things. People in charge feel they know best and would like to be able to exercise control, extending it as far as permission to go to the washroom. They are the true parents and the rest of us are as children, at least in their eyes.
Now the Secretary of State continued the welcoming protocol addressing Xan-Tu, and finally he asked: "Mr. Ambassador, what brings you to our small planet?"
"I am a mere observer for the Great Ones. Eventually I will report back upon my visit. Depending upon the outcome you may some day be asked as a planetary unit to become a part of the Confederation network. Later other steps might be undertaken depending upon our progress and the circumstances."
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"Who are the Great Ones that you refer to?"
"They are my masters, the rulers of the Confederation."
"How far have you come on your journey?"
"It has been a journey of some years."
"I guess it is useless to offer you some food or drink. Is there anything we can do for you immediately? Do you need any supplies for your ship? What is your pleasure?" I saw this speech as a feeble attempt to get into the ship.
"I would like a Computer set up. Also I would like some language programs. I would like an atlas of maps of your world. I would really like these as soon as possible."
"That is one of the easiest tasks I have ever been charged with. You will find a computer set up in the library here at Duncan House. The President would like to meet you. May we set up a time for ten A.M. tomorrow morning at the White House?"
There were some other perfunctory questions and then the Secretary took his departure. Xan-Tu and I were alone with the servants of Duncan House. Washington was two hours later than Arizona and so it was after seven P.M. when we arrived at Duncan House.
I smiled: "Well, we are here. Is there anything you would like me to do?"
“Not now. But stay here.”
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Of course Xan-Tu wanted to spend the night with the computer. I was sure it was connected to the State Department and they would be able to monitor whatever he did. I asked the household staff for some food. Secret Service men were outside along with police and reporters. The crowd of the curious around the house was growing. They stood about, just waiting, perhaps hoping for some important event to transpire.
The phone had been ringing and Bill Haskins, the chief of staff at Duncan House, was just taking messages. Haskins had an interesting job. He and his wife lived in an apartment on an upper floor of Duncan House. He served as a sort of butler and major domo, his wife as a cook and maid.
When Haskins noted the phone was always busy, he asked for a twenty line phone, and managed to get this installed at once, that very night. The telephone company was trying to please. When the twenty line system was plugged in, all the lights lit up. Now Haskins inquired to whom the phone calls might be referred. Xan-Tu had asked not to be disturbed. I really felt as if our visitor was laughing at us.
I barged into the library and found Xan-Tu floating over the atlas. "All the world wants to talk to you." I waved a batch of telephone call slips. "What shall we tell people?"
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"You decide, Jerry," Xan-Tu instructed. "Take only the most important calls yourself and of those calls decide to which people I should talk."
So Haskins screened the calls and I talked to only those Haskins felt were important. All manner of promoters and weirdoes had the number. Then Connie Jarson, the talk show hostess, phoned in person and to my surprise Xan-Tu agreed to appear on her show the next night if she could fly here and do the program from a studio in Washington D.C.. Connie Jarson agreed.
Even my wife, Helen, when she arrived at the Washington airport, had been met by a group of women reporters who wanted to know the sex of the robot, what kind of a house guest he was, and other important questions such as did he use the toilet.
Helen was suddenly convinced that we should have come to Washington D.C.. After all it was accepted by the television.
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"Xan-Tu is more a man than any of us. And I can prove it.
He's got four balls." - A comedian.
By morning peddlers were selling alien tee shirts with Xan-Tu's picture to the crowds gathered outside Duncan House. There were also pennants, buttons, and silver charms for sale. There were records, audio tapes, and video tapes of the alien's words.
Kids on skateboards were showing their talents outside on the street, as were clowns, comics, and unicycle riders. Musicians were playing and passing the hat. Pennsylvania Avenue was partly blocked off. The police were looking very officious and serious as they talked to each other on their walkie-talkies. I was glad to see it begin to drizzle.
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The morning newspapers were announcing the story with headlines two inches high. Pictures of the space ship and Xan-Tu covered the front pages. Time and Newsweek were out with special editions a little later. According to the television news, the space ship had been cordoned off, but was drawing crowds that filled the park below the Washington Monument.
As I expected, when I arose at six A.M. that morning, Xan-Tu was still at the computer. "How are you doing?" I inquired.
"I have completed my elementary education as to humanity, Jerry," the alien asserted, "but there is always much more. I am glad you are up early. From the first, I felt a compatible relationship with you, which is why you were chosen. I wish now to bounce some thoughts your way and see if you agree."
"While the problem is not universal, most life forms that pass through advanced stages fast run into this problem. My problem is often to save the dominant species from itself. If men were not aggressive, humanity would not have become the dominant type on this planet. Then having achieved mastery, the dominant form of life still has this aggression. Of course it is largely true of all life. Big fish eat little fish. Now your human aggression places you in jeopardy from yourselves. Yet you do not admit this, but obscure the problem with minor issues."
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Xan-Tu continued: "In past times on Earth there were wars and great slaughters in which empires fell. But the whole human race was never in danger. As late as the 19th century wars were considered romantic. Two examples are the Crimean War (1854-1856) with its Charge of the Light Brigade and the Spanish-American War in 1898 in which more soldiers died of disease than in battle and men could still charge uphill on horseback carrying flags while bands played as it were."
"In the World Wars, except for the air battles, which often were individual and could be considered romantic, men died by the millions for no good purpose except alleviating aggression. Nuclear weapons have made human wars on this small planet very dangerous."
"Today, your world plays with minor wars, in Korea, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, any of which could have turned into a great final disaster. Yet you manage to fool yourself into believing this is not so. Nuclear weapons are in the hands of so many other countries now that the situation is plainly out of control. The public and the politicians as well are deluded by peace plans that take small steps."
"You are saying what we all know, Xan-Tu," I finally interrupted, "but we find no way out."
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"The United States, Russia, and China as the leading world powers, must take charge and point the way. You need a force of marshals, as in your old American west, small teams that will seek out nuclear weapons and eliminate them. The great nations need to agree and then impose their will on the other nuclear nations. There needs to be complete nuclear disarmament.”
"That's a form of pacifism and you may be able to force it, which is already a contradiction in terms, but we can't seem to do it for ourselves. The military in all countries have a built in need to stay strong. Governments want their individual independence."
"You must draw the national lines of countries where you are now. Any changes would be based on free elections within each country. Thank you for listening, Jerry." I was dismissed.
I walked back to the kitchen and fixed myself some breakfast. The phones had been put on standby overnight, but when I plugged them in, the whole twenty-line system lit up. I let the lights flash and walked away, switching on the early morning television broadcasts instead. The news programs were sensationalized. Only maybe this event needed sensationalizing. When Helen awoke, she was most impressed to find her interview at the airport last night was carried in full. Every silly question a reporter asked was recorded. "I'm on TV," Helen marveled.
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Downstairs again, I saw that the State Department, at Haskin's request, had sent over a secretary in case Xan-Tu needed one, and a telephone operator had been added to the Duncan House staff. The phone operator mostly said: "Xan-Tu can not be disturbed now. Please leave your name, a brief message, and your phone number and he will
get in touch with you if he is interested." A recorded message for all the people on hold was prepared.
The word came through that we were to be received at the White
House Rose Garden at eleven A.M. that morning, only an hour's delay.
I hoped that they were not trying to impress Xan-Tu by putting him off. It wouldn't work.
Finally I began to take some phone calls. Reporters wanted to talk, often asking questions I could not answer. One reporter requested full details on the weapons systems inside the space ship.
A magazine offered me $25,000 and, when I refused that, raised the offer to $100,000 for exclusive rights to my life story. What a boring tale that would be. When I refused the second offer, the publisher reminded me rather caustically that I had better understand that my story was time related and if I did not act now, the value of my life would go down. I was amused. I had been a University Professor who had written books no one much read. Now suddenly I was a celebrity for nothing that I had done myself. It was not fair.
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It seemed time, so I cornered the new secretary at Duncan House and dictated everything that had happened to me asking only that this be printed up and photocopied so that all the reporters would have exactly the same story.
The vice-president of the University where I had taught, one Randall Hampden, a man who had twice passed over my name for head of the department of history, telephoned me. I don't know what he was offering now, but I refused to take the phone call. That did give me some perverse pleasure, I must admit.
By ten A.M. I was pacing back and forth around the house, gripped by a feeling of anxiety. What would happen when Xan-Tu finally understood the human race? It was a chilling thought. Were we at all worth preserving?
It was just Tuesday evening that Jose Manuel Herrara had brought me to the desert and shown me the space ship and Xan-Tu. It was Wednesday night when we had come here to Washington. Now it was Thursday morning, and I felt my whole life had changed and the direction of the human race was also in doubt.
Others were wondering the same thing, for it was right then that a limo pulled up and three men were spirited through the curious throng outside by some Secret Service guards who looked like linebackers. The three men were there to see me, privately, and Xan-Tu was not to be disturbed.
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We met in the spacious living room of Duncan House.
"Dr. West, we only have a few minutes and we want to ask you some questions. I am General John Tanner. This is Admiral Clement O'Connor and Vince London here is Director of the CIA."
"Hello." We shook hands. General Tanner was a huge man who shook hands with knuckle crunching force.
"Just shake it, don't break it," I requested. Admiral O'Connor was bald, his wide chest beribboned, and he held a coffee cup that apparently was attached to his hand, for he carried it in with him from the Limo and never did put it down. Vince London was tall, but thin, angular, sharp eyed, a very pale creature who blended into the furniture.
"Let me get right to the point," General Tanner began. "That space ship is all cordoned off. We fired a couple of tracers at it last night as an experiment and they bounced back. We tried digging under it, starting at eighty feet out. When we got down twenty feet, we tunneled toward the ship. About fifty feet away the drill struck the force shield underground and exploded. Two men were badly hurt. The force shield goes down into the ground apparently and clear around the ship underneath."
"Xan-Tu said it would repel force with equal force," I advised.
"Yes. We were warned," General Tanner agreed. "Now we've told you what we know. What do you know?"
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I handed them each a photocopy of the typed statement I had prepared for the press. That was not enough. They wanted me to repeat the story and I did so from the beginning leaving out no details. Even then they asked questions, as if to trip me up.
"There will be a Congressional Committee investigating all of this, eventually," General Tanner disclosed, "but they are just beginning to set up a team and you know how they operate. It will take months for them just to get ready to begin to get started to commence to proceed." The General was being scornful.
Vince London, the head of the CIA added: “The Congressmen and media will investigate and want to know such things as why we did not foresee this and plan for it.”
Something clicked in my mind. These men all had their jobs in the government, as military officers and CIA chief, but in addition they were members of the famed Quadrilateral Commission, a secret organization with its own aims to direct the government along the right path, whatever that was.
"You can't even guess where Xan-Tu came from or from which direction?" Vince London asked.
"Did you see anything but a corridor on the space ship?" Admiral O'Connor inquired.
"No. I was told where to stand and I did so."
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"You don't think this is all an elaborate hoax by someone here on earth trying to impose their own agenda upon us after we swallow the whole alien from outer space story?" the CIA man asked.
"No." I reflected. "Hardly. The force shields would be an entirely new invention. The ability to talk to people in a great crowd without a loud speaker would again be a whole new technology. The space ship is real. It arrived here in Washington from Arizona in a matter of minutes. It achieved satellite orbit in moments and then in a few minutes had covered three thousand miles without much feeling of motion or having traveled at all. When the ship arrived here in Washington it was fired at by one of our latest planes without any
effect. Then Xan-Tu helped the plane and pilot to a soft landing when the bullets from our plane ricocheted back to shoot itself down."
"That's a very good summary," Vince London declared of this analysis. He turned to the other two. "This man should have a security check and then stay with this assignment."
"As long as the robot wants him, I guess we have no choice anyway," Admiral O'Connor concurred chuckling, and sipping a little coffee.
"So we are not dealing with a wealthy group who have developed new inventions and are ready to hold the world hostage?" General Tanner restated the situation.
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"Hold the world hostage I don't know," I divulged. "But there are three new kinds of technologies right here. The force field, the speed of the ship, and the voice transmissions. There are probably more. One new technology in the hands of a conspiratorial group who wanted to put on a show for their own purposes is possible. What I have witnessed is plainly beyond that."
"We have only your word for the speed of the ship," Vince London observed. "The force field and the voice transmissions are unusual. And our plane was shot down. But is there anything else?"
"Well, yes. Only I want this back. It was a gift from Xan-Tu." I took out the gold coin and handed it over.
"It's too heavy for gold," Vince London commented. "We'll run some tests and give it back to you."
"What do you think he wants?" General Tanner asked.
"I don't know."
"This could mean the end of the world, or the end of humanity. It could be the end of our freedom," Admiral O'Connor suggested.
"I've wondered what it would do to our sovereignty," I admitted.
All of the men seemed uncomfortable. They asked me to find out all I could and they departed.
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* * *
Just before 11:00 A.M. the limousines were back and Xan-Tu and I left Duncan House for the meeting with the President. The crowds were heavier than ever outside. Suddenly one man broke from the police line, pulled out a gun, and began firing at Xan-Tu. "You are the Antichrist come to earth," he screamed.
The bullets glanced off the visitor's force screen and one struck a secret service man in the leg. The crowd ran every which way, but secret service men jumped on the gunman from so many directions it looked like a football pileup.
Xan-Tu and I were spirited off to the White House Rose Garden before something else happened. Washington is always most interested in protocol, and since apparently Xan-Tu did not sit, it seemed fitting that the meeting was being held in the Rose Garden where everyone would stand. There were perhaps twenty people present including secret service men and members of the cabinet. The
President, Reed Hamilton, was his jolly, smiling self, assured, only seeming to be bothered that he could not shake hands with the visitor.
I had voted for President Hamilton. In person he appeared shorter, but more handsome and full of life even than on the television. He had what all top officials have, charisma. He was
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dressed in a blue pin striped suit, but he seemed to me to be one of those men that was more comfortable in less formal clothes. This was probably an effect of his bushy, curly black hair. It was said that his hair was a factor in women voting for him and his election. Who knew?
When the preliminaries were over the President expressed sorrow over the shooting incident as we left Duncan House. Hamilton next asked: "How do you float?" It was a simple question, but the President seemed genuinely interested. Curiously, I had not heard that asked before.
"It is an antigravity process not unlike the force field."
"Dr. West tells us that you are a messenger. What is your message?"
"The universe lies beyond your small planet. It is time for you to cross the threshold and leave the house of your fathers. Maturity beckons."
"What do the Great Ones look like?"
"They are beyond fixed physiology."
The President paused, reflecting. From the look on his face, he had a great desire to explore this matter further and even though it might be trivial he was not going to be denied. "Do the Great Ones have multiple arms and legs as you do?"
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"It is very helpful to have numerous appendages of various sizes. I note on your television the oft recurring phrase when someone is not able to do a job fast enough: 'I only have two hands.'"
"I think that may be my problem." Reed Hamilton gave his famous chuckle. He was pacing around and never seemed to be still. If anyone would offer extra arms, I am sure the President would have been right there. "What do you want of us Xan-Tu?" Hamilton asked at last.
"To establish relations. To observe. To help."
"We need lots of help. Did the Great Ones you speak of deliberately design you to be small so you would inspire less fear?"
"No. Size is relative only. We could not judge your size from your television broadcasts. You might have been the size of your ants, who also have legs and ways to manipulate their environment, if only their brains grew enough in relation to their bodies."
"Do the Great Ones look human?"
"You have many kinds of life on this planet. Any type of life that is capable of manipulating things and developed a large brain could have attained primacy. What are the odds that intelligent life on another planet would look just as you? Humans developed in response to this planet, its size, gravity, temperature, atmosphere, and other factors."
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"Well, Xan-Tu, let me ask a silly question, as the reporters do: How do men appear to you? Do you see?"
"Not as you, but I can read the visual images on your television. At first with all alien species, you looked alike to me. Then I noticed small variations that make men and women individuals."
"Do you want to trade with us?"
"We are probably beyond trade. Yet the universe is vast with hundreds of millions of suns. Strange things occur."
The President appeared to think that over. Reed Hamilton was at the height of his power just then, having taken office just a few months ago. Given the peculiarities of the American electrical system, the new President felt he had three years for action and then there would be a year in which the country was forced to think of nothing but the next election.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" the President asked.
"I wish to study and observe your people. Soon I will make a statement."
Rex Hamilton, the President's brother, who was a part of the inner circle, and Attorney General, now spoke up: "Xan-Tu, we all welcome you to earth. We understand you are going to be broadcasting live on the Connie Jarson show tonight at nine P.M. in a special program right here in Washington. I wonder if you would favor the reporters, the foreign ambassadors, and our leaders of government by
Roger Lee Vernon – The Great Encounter 71
attending a buffet party tonight at six P.M. at the home of Mrs. Perkins?"
Xan-Tu agreed. Mrs. Sylvia Perkins was one of the great donors to the President's political party and also one of the most notable hostesses on the Washington scene. She had an enormous home and always invited many people to her parties. A buffet seemed proper as Xan-Tu neither ate nor sat down. Since it appeared to be safe to be near Xan-Tu, top Washington officialdom, and the foreign ambassadors would all have a chance to meet the visitor from the beyond.
When we returned to Duncan House a direct phone call came through from the CIA for me.
"Jerry West, this is Vince London." It was the Director himself. "Let me give you some confidential information, which you are not to divulge, and then ask you a question. When we sent in that TV and phone, we bugged both so we could read what programs Xan-Tu was using. Maybe we shouldn't have done that, but we wanted to know. Well, the bugs stopped at once. No information is coming out. What's he up to?"
This action seemed to me to be typical CIA, and I was not even asked to promise not to mention it at some future time. Now, of course, it simply does not matter any longer.
"I'm not surprised," I replied. "He is able to create his own circuitry somehow. He can probably read the circuits. I am sure he
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could pick up bugs and eliminate them almost instantly. I believe he is learning various languages."
"So why the secrecy?"
"I would guess he just doesn't want to be bugg
Vince London sighed and said goodbye.
About then there was another guest in person at Duncan House, Joe Candlelight the Chairman of Rush Research Council, one of the great brains in Washington. Joe Candlelight had access to the President's ear and perhaps other parts of his anatomy. He wanted to talk to me and we met in the great living room at Duncan House. I was glad to meet him, but shocked at his appearance. How did one give advice to presidents and pretend at wisdom when you were five foot four inches tall and weighed 300 pounds. Didn't Joe Candlelight include health articles in his vast reading?
"I've looked at the transcript of your briefing to CIA," Candlelight declared, his many chins wobbling merrily. "Do you realize what this really means for the world, Jerry?"
Candlelight was at once familiar and moving closer to me, one of these people who stood so near, you automatically backed away.
I squirmed uncomfortably. "It means a lot of things, I am sure." I did not want to feel like a student, but Joe Candlelight made everyone feel that way.
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"Guessing games I was not asking you to play, actually, Jerry. What it means, if this be true and Xan-Tu represents an actual contact from off planet, is that we may be in for conquest, or imperialism, or even if this is a completely benign visit, well actually lets ask, what did the Indians think when they saw Columbus? Not a bad guy in a funny hat. What did the Japanese think when they saw Commodore Perry? What did the South Sea Islanders think when they saw Cook?
Were they actually aware that their lives would never be the same again? You're a historian. Primitive people in contact with advanced civilizations tend to curl up and die. They find their myths punctured, their dreams of history evaporate, and they wither."
I nodded. "True. That happens often. Yet what we must do is rise to meet the challenge."
"Actually we are out of Xan-Tu's league," Joe Candlelight continued. "He can cut off our balls anytime and dangle them."
"I don't know as he wants our balls."
"But what does he actually want, Jerry? You don't just travel across space for years to say ‘Hello’."
I nodded. "You're right. I have not gotten straight answers from him either. He can be vague if he wishes."
"Does he lie?"
"I haven't caught him in any."
"Not likely. But he's cagey. He actually says nothing of
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inventions or trade. Of course, why should he, Jerry? Cortez never gave the Aztecs the formula for muskets."
"I see what you're getting at."
But Joe Candlelight was all over the map: "Do you think he is in a hurry?"
It was an odd question. After so long a journey, why hurry? But as I thought over the question, I had to agree: "Maybe. He is preparing for this TV broadcast tonight. Of that I am sure."
"Could you announce me, Jerry? I would actually like to talk to our visitor."
We walked, or rather I walked, and Joe Candlelight waddled behind me into the next room. Xan-Tu was busy over the computer, which was flashing things on the screen too fast to be read. "May we interrupt, Xan-Tu?" I asked.
"This is Joe Candlelight, founder and director of the Rush Research Center. He would like to see you for just a few minutes."
"Delighted. I believe that is a more desirable greeting than 'How do you do.' Is that true?"
"Yes," Joe Candlelight agreed. "I understand you are learning languages. How is that coming?"
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"You told the Secretary of State that earth might actually become a part of your Confederation. How would that work?"
"You are not yet ready to be asked to join the Confederation in any sense. But some day that could happen."
"You actually make too many secrets, Xan-Tu. Give me a simple answer to just one question. Tell me exactly where you are from?"
"In our nomenclature, the Great Ones originated on the planets of Star System D427 in the first galaxy."
Joe Candlelight blinked. "And on our star charts, where is that actually?"
"Ah. You said just one question."
The fat man laughed. "You actually have me there. You are the sphinx. Do you always tell the truth?"
"In your Christian Holy Book, which I read, Pontius Pilate asked Christ the most difficult question he could think of, testing Him,
before sending Him to His death. The question was: 'What is Truth?' and it is recorded Christ gave no direct answer. Let me ask you and Dr. West a question. Are the documentaries on your educational channels concerning life on your planet correct? I have watched thousands of these on the way to earth."
Candlelight spoke first: "You are wondering if you can trust the data you have assimilated. The non-political documentaries made in America I would say are largely correct, to the best of our knowledge
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now. Some have a bias in favor of certain causes. Even ecologists can have a bias." I nodded in agreement.
"Yes. The bias I expected, but the pictures are not altered as to life here?"
"No. But often it is the strange or unusual that is filmed."
"Yes, of course. I wonder if we could meet again after my broadcast on the Connie Jarson show tonight?" Joe Candlelight understood he was dismissed and left.
In the great hallway, as he departed, Joe placed one last thought with me. "Something must be going to happen on that show tonight. Here is my private phone number. If you want to talk off the record sometime, just ring me up. Xan-Tu has become the center of a storm, a tempest of a human ferment, actually. And you are the
inside man, the anointed one, as it were, Jerry West. Stay on top of this."
I instinctively liked Joe Candlelight in spite of his obesity, but I was having some unfitting thoughts. There is a motto I have which I have carried over from my youth, that runs: 'Never lie to yourself.' The worst lies are those we tell ourselves.
When I thought about things honestly, I realized that I was concerned Xan-Tu might replace me as his intermediary with someone else, a still smarter man, a person such as Joe Candlelight. And I
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very much wanted to stay on in my present position. I was having the time of my life.
* * *
There was one more visitor in the late afternoon, oil billionaire Wesley Aimes, a master of mergers, they called him. He had State Department clearance. Since he was a big political party contributor he could get almost anything including a pass through the guarded front door of Duncan House.
Wesley Aimes was heavy of jowl and belly, but not a forty-five year old fat man as Joe Candlelight, but a eighty year old who was mildly overweight and trembled on his cane. He was accompanied by a huge bodyguard type who stood silently and watched.
"I'll see if Xan-Tu will talk to you," I advised.
"Nonsense. We will go in." Aimes could see by the direction of my gesture that Xan-Tu was in the next room. Wesley Aimes was a
man accustomed to getting his way, and the power was not just in his $2000 suit which was a bit crumpled.
I had no authority to prevent this meeting. The pass was signed by the Secretary of State. Aimes and his bodyguard moved right past me and into the large library room where Xan-Tu floated before the computer. I followed hesitantly, feeling I had failed, somehow.
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"Hello, I'm Wesley Aimes and I wanted very much to meet you."
Xan-Tu placed his computer on hold again and revolved about. "Did you bring in this gentleman for a purpose, Jerry?" the alien asked. I had a feeling that Xan-Tu heard everything in the house right through the walls.
"No. He found his own way in, as they say. He has a note from the Secretary of State that requests admission to Duncan House and an interview with you. It is a high level request."
Xan-Tu now addressed Wesley Aimes: "You are in the financial news. Perhaps we could talk at a buffet I am going to shortly."
"This is a private matter."
"Yes, your health perhaps. CXT Corporation is troubled because of your recent heart attack."
Aimes was taken aback only momentarily. "You have the technology to extend my life?" he asked.
"Yes. But not indefinitely in your present form."
"Indefinitely!" Aimes was disdainful. "I'll take ten years or twenty in good health, if I can get it. What do you want? Gold? Diamonds? Land? I can get you anything the earth has to offer."
"Interesting. You would sell what you consider to be valuable parts of your planet to someone from beyond your Sun System for your own private reasons. Have you tried losing weight and exercising? There are already too many humans. What makes you more valuable than
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the billions who are struggling in less developed countries? What do you offer the earth?"
"I can get you things. I am a mover. I can cut corners and act faster than governments."
"Acquisition? But what is your personal value to this planet? Are you a scientist? A teacher? What have you invented? What pictures have you painted? What job do you do?"
"Look, I get your drift. But someone has to manage things right or the world would go to Hell. Is there anything you want?"
"Perhaps. We might set up a Foundation with half of your money to be used to build low rent housing and extend your life for ten years as you suggested."
"Half my money!" There was real pain in Aimes voice.
"Your life isn't worth it? But we can discuss that. Let me keep you in mind. For now, though I do not wish to be disturbed."
"Look, I don't want to offend you. But the whole world is going to want to get things from you. I'm just here first. That's
one of the things I'm good at, getting there first." Aimes chuckled. "Do hear me out."
"Out is the activating word. Not now, Mr. Aimes."
"Look here," Wesley Aimes began again, and then suddenly he and his bodyguard were not there.
"What happened?" I gasped.
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"I shall be polite at the buffet, Jerry West. But for now there are a few things I wish to do. Mr. Aimes and his companion are now in New York City. I returned them there. I believe that is where his corporate headquarters is."
I laughed. "I will try to do better at seeing you are not disturbed."
"And I should really have taken care of that matter myself before this. So I shall do so now." What Xan-Tu meant by that remark was obvious shortly.
Something was indeed going on. I wished I knew exactly what. An announcement? An ultimatum to the planet? I had a feeling it would be a wild evening.
Before I left the room Xan-Tu suggested: "You have not asked anything for yourself, Jerry West."
"I don't want to be sent to New York." I laughed and left, shutting the door.
It was only a few minutes later while I was staring through the front windows at the still increasing crowd outside, that Bill Haskins, the butler at Duncan House, came rushing up. "Dr. West, you
are the one on the spot I am told to report to if anything unusual occurs. Could you come with me to the hallway please."
"Sure." I followed Haskins and watched as the well tailored butler felt along the wall.
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"I bumped against this by accident. I find I can not touch the wall along here."
I felt the wall myself in surprise and found nothing. "What is the problem, Haskins?"
"You are putting your hands through, and I can not," Haskins replied. He was a very matter of fact person. Yes, that was the situation.
"Feel along here and tell me where the force screen extends?" I requested. It was helpful to give the phenomenon a name. In a few minutes we both knew. The entire library, where Xan-Tu was operating his computer, the walls and doors, was covered by a force field that extended a few inches out from the wall. Apparently I was programmed to enter the screened area and felt nothing. I could thrust my hands through while Bill Haskins and presumably the rest of the world was barred from entering the library until Xan-Tu desired other company. While he was staying here at Duncan House, no one was going to walk in on the visitor from space unannounced again.
The other unusual element here, was that while the force screen around this part of the house felt solid to the butler and could not be penetrated, no matter how he banged his fist on it, and he tried
that at my suggestion, there was no electrical shock or repulsion. Xan-Tu did not want anyone inadvertently hurt.
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When I did enter Xan-Tu's now private chamber an hour later to see if the robot wanted anything, the visitor was not there. He had simply vanished. So what was happening? I sat waiting in the room, before the quiet computer, not knowing. Would he return at all? Where had he gone? How long had he been gone? Should I even be waiting here inside the room for him. It was nice to be trusted to enter, when everyone else was barred. But what was really going on?
Then Xan-Tu simply materialized in the best science fiction tradition, like the Cheshire Cat in reverse, just fading into the room and there he was.
"Hello. I was just checking to see if I could do anything to help and you were gone?"
"I've been all over the earth, investigating, Jerry," the robot explained. And yet it was no explanation at all.
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"If you had a force shield built for two, it might be fun."
- Kinky Turner.
The buffet at Mrs. Perkin's mansion was right out of a Hollywood set. The rooms were on a grand scale and interconnected, with spiral staircases leading to overhead balconies and alcoves where guests could gather in small groups and talk privately. The buffet table was roughly as long as Xan-Tu's spaceship and held a smorgasbord of every hors d'oeuvre I had ever seen and many that I could not identify. Waiters kept refilling the table dishes and also walking around the rooms with trays of food or drinks.
My wife, Helen, had gone out that afternoon and spent hours selecting a three hundred dollar dress in which she felt dowdy compared to the rest of the guests. Still Helen was circulating determinedly and holding wine glasses. Presently she would be a bit tipsy. I had one glass of wine, but was certainly trying the food.
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Xan-Tu was standing in the ballroom, right in the middle, and talking to all comers. I watched the scene from one of the side alcoves, hoping the humans would not ask the alien too many silly questions. Then I was interrupted by a tall, comely young woman. She had on a black low cut dress, which showed skin tones that a model might have envied. She was obviously a mammal on display.
"Hello, Dr. West," she enthused. "I'm Kinky Turner. I wanted very much to talk to you. Perhaps we could go out on this balcony."
There were a number of balconies through many open French doors and I agreed out of curiosity. The night was warm and the fragrance of flowers filled the air outside. Mrs. Perkins had one of the largest gardens in Washington.
"Are you a reporter?" I asked.
"No. Should I be?" She was coquettish. "I just thought maybe Xan-Tu could be left alone for a while and we could take a walk in the garden."
"We could do that. But for what purpose?" Kinky Turner was perhaps twenty-five, about the age of some of my younger graduate students back in the good old days. I had heard the name, but I am not good at identifying celebrities.
She took my arm, which was very pleasant, an experience that left me tingling. It was curious how these feelings persisted even at my age.
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"Purpose," she continued, "well, if you do not like gardens, Mrs. Perkins, who owns this house and is giving this party, and who is
a good friend of mine, has a number of spare bedrooms that are not in use right now."
"If you follow the newspapers, you know I'm married."
"Yes. How married are you? Does that bother you?"
"Good Heavens. I remember your name now. You were in the newspapers, involved with that Senator. And you are direct. But why me?" Curiosity again. I always wanted to know about everything. It could get me in serious trouble some day.
Kinky Turner shrugged, then brushed back her sweeping blonde hair which kept moving as if it had a life of its own, jiggling flirtatiously like its owner. "I'm a celebrity groupie, I suppose. I collect people. I can't have the robot. You are known as 'The Discoverer.'"
"I never thought of doing it with Columbus," she admitted.
"Which historical character would you most like to do it with if you had the chance?" I asked.
She hardly hesitated. "Washington, maybe. I understand he was a bit of a ladies' man. He was suppose' to be the father of his country, but never had any children. Do you think the father of his country was impotent? He married Martha and she was a widow with
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children, so she wasn’t sterile. Oh, and Lincoln. Honest Abe the rail splitter. Maybe Ben Franklin. He was a rounder in more ways than one. Teddy Roosevelt had a really fierce mustache."
"And in the rest of the world?"
She frowned and showed what her face would be one day. "Napoleon maybe. Alexander the Great."
"Only conquerors. And not Caesar, Attila the Hun, Genghis Kahn?"
Kinky laughed. "I can see why Xan-Tu likes you. You're a thinker."
And she was a classifier. I continued my inquiry: "No artists, scientists, writers, philosophers?"
"Artists, maybe. The rest are pretty dull. Rubens. I like his pictures in the museums. It would be fun to be a model, to be painted."
She was hardly Rubenesque, I decided, all bones under her clothes, thin to the vanishing point, but lovely skin. "You would like to hang in the Louvre?" I suggested.
"It's one form of immortality."
Before I could contribute further to the conversation, Kinky continued to muse. "Do it with anybody in all of time. It's a curious idea. Shakespeare, maybe."
"Not Moses, Socrates?"
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She laughed. It was her chief characteristic, a bright tinkling laugh. "The press say you make a fine companion for the robot. They are right. You are a fascinating man." She squeezed my arm. "Am I striking out?" she asked.
"I can't imagine why you want to play in my bush league," I replied.
"You might be just the kind of craggy ball player that would make me want to score in the bush or anywhere."
Students had occasionally offered themselves for grades and I had always refused. Why start now? "My wife is here," I told her by way of excuse.
"She won't have to know. Or I can send someone to keep her company." That rather did it. Suddenly I had a very differing idea of the Senator's indiscretion with Kinky Turner. So often we all see the man as the aggressor and do not allow for the temptation of the determined woman. I bade a permanent goodbye to Kinky Turner and returned to the party to observe Xan-Tu again.
Vince London, the CIA Director, came up almost at once. Vince seemed paler than before even and was pulling hard on a cigarette. "Well, Jerry West, the sorcerer's assistant. We've checked you out, you know. You pass muster as a real person."
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Vince London put on what passed for a smile. "Every ambassador from every little country is inviting Xan-Tu to come see their land, and he is saying 'maybe' in multi-languages. But I really think this party is for the women. They are asking Xan-Tu every dumb question imaginable. I shudder at what he must think of the human race."
"I’ve had plenty of fears of that kind, Vince. But is Xan-Tu giving any answers?"
"He is saying absolutely nothing elaborately, as usual. He could outfox Machiavelli without any trouble. Do you believe he will use the Connie Jarson show to tell mankind he is taking over because we are just too stupid?"
"Connie Jarson is a woman."
"Ah yes, but of a different kind than these." Vince gestured around at the party guests. "By the way," he continued, "that object you were given, we tested it at the CIA lab. Its not gold. It's no known metal. Xan-Tu told you it had value here?"
"Not gold. Well, I'm sure it will have value then. I do want it back as a souvenir. I hope they didn't destroy it."
"Destroy it. They can't get into it. It's too hard to be real, they tell me."
"What is real?" I asked. I was losing my grip on reality.
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* * *
It was the Connie Jarson show live from Washington D.C., a new first for the capital. "And here's Connie," bellowed the announcer in his usual exclamatory style, while the audience burst into wild applause, though nothing had happened yet. Massive applause without reason was one of the curiosities concerning American television that had puzzled Xan-Tu.
I got to watch the entire show, peering from behind a curtain in the wings, starting with the preliminary set up as Connie Jarson, the hostess, was ensconced on stage. A small table was brought in for
Xan-Tu to float over which would put him just below eye-level with the hostess as she sat behind her famous desk. The background props were set up next.
The make up men were upset because the camera lights glared a bit off Xan-Tu's silvery body and they could not apply anything in the way of dress or make up that would soothe the coloring. No one was permitted to come closer than three feet due to the visitor's personal force screen.
Connie Jarson appeared to be at her unflappable best, the hostess of "The Evening Show" for twelve years now, and always high in the ratings. She was a success partly because she had that rare ability among television personalities to open people up and then
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listen to their musings without interrupting. She was a tall, angular woman with a pleasant pinched face, for she had dieted down to the bone. She was wearing a silver dress tonight matching her guest's coloring. There had even been talk in the studio that perhaps she should modify her jet black upswept hair and it too could be colored silver. But that Connie felt was a cheap shot, a little too obvious. She was calm now with her broad, almost painted on smile and expansive gestures as she pointed to changes she wanted in the lighting. And then it began, the most peculiar television broadcast ever seen.
"This is a very unusual evening for me, ladies and gentlemen. It is a strange evening for all of us on earth. Ordinarily I do an opening monologue and then have four varied guests. But we have canceled everyone else tonight and are going live with Xan-Tu, a true visitor from outer space who landed just recently in Washington D.C. This program is being broadcast from our Washington studio. Now may I present Xan-Tu."
And the diminutive visitor bobbed in, floating along, finally hovering over the table, as planned, to the tune of more raucous applause and some laughter from the studio audience.
"This is not a hoax, ladies and gentlemen, but the real thing. I am glad to welcome you, Xan-Tu." The audience had been prompted and they stood up breaking into thunderous applause again. Xan-Tu, to my
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amazement, bowed in the middle, the two upper globes of his being bending mightily, which I felt looked grotesque.
"We have been photographing you all we could since you arrived on earth, but we never saw you do that before," Connie began in her inimitable style.
"There are many things I do that are a bit more impressive that you have never seen. You may see a few of them tonight."
Connie did her famous blink and the audience laughed a bit, albeit nervously.
"This is a really special broadcast," Connie continued smoothly.
Then Xan-Tu cut her off. One of the things everyone noted later in the postmortems after the show was over, was that when Xan-Tu 'talked' or rather broadcast his thoughts, it cut off the voices of others on the TV. You couldn't upstage him.
"Yes. This will be a special broadcast," the visitor agreed simply.
"You have had some adventures here in Washington, which we as humans must apologize for," Connie began, alluding to the recent assassination attempt or perhaps the attack on his space ship by the warplane trying to guard the capital. "We as humans seem to be trying to show how barbarous we are."
"You are a young people, only a generation into space and only three hundred generations into civilization. There is so much
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happening for you so fast right now, you really do not understand it yourselves or grasp its significance."
"Are you a robot?" Connie asked. It was an excellent question and had simply not been asked point blank before.
"Yes and no. I am a creation. But then we all are. I am a mixture in a way. I am allowed certain latitudes in decision making. But again all of us must follow rules. I am not a purely mechanical creature with transistors and a computer brain. We have moved beyond computers, though the parallel is there." Xan-Tu paused. He had finished with that question.
It was just there at the pause in the questions that a messenger walked out onto the stage and handed Connie Jarson a note. The teleprompter had failed, but this had not concerned her. She had the questions she was about to ask in her head. She was not one to lose her cool.
She read the note in seconds and then smiled again, her trademark wrap around, wide-angle grin. "Some technical difficulties. We will break for commercials and be right back."
"Connie, I am so glad to be here," Xan-Tu spoke in everyone's head in the studio audience and out onto the airwaves. "And to show respect to your visitor, your show will be done without commercial interruption tonight, though there may be a few pauses."
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Connie laughed self-consciously. "You know Xan-Tu, that we do have great respect for you. But in America television is supported by commercials and we have to have them. We will be right back."
But on the viewing screen facing the audience they did not fade. They remained on, just sitting there. "There appears to be some problem." Connie divulged, laughing. "Well, Xan-Tu, let's wing it. Let me ask you . . ."
There was a buzz of conversation nearby backstage and I asked what was happening. A shirt-sleeved, heavy-set man, generously perspiring, had just walked up to our group watching from behind the curtain at the side. He spoke to us in quick sentences. "I'm Nelson Rickdow, a vice-president of the network.” He laughed. “At least that’s what they tell me. We've got about thirty vice-presidents so it's not as impressive as it sounds. I'm supposed to make sure this is all running smoothly, tonight. Well, it's not. We've lost control. We've totally lost control."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"First, the cameras can't swing around. They are frozen in position and locked on. We can zoom in and out, but we can't dolly or
truck. We can't even change the camera angle. And we are unable to break for commercials. But that's nothing compared to the rest of what's happening." Rickdow sighed so deeply that I was afraid he would be heard on stage.
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The television company vice-president continued after a moment: "This is going out on every network in America. Even the small networks have got it. It's greater coverage than a Presidential press conference. It's on HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Disney, . . . all the cable channels. You can't get any other program on American television right now. The other networks are calling and complaining. It wasn't their idea to pirate this program. But their own programming is preempted and not going out. And we can't do commercials," he repeated, sorrowfully.
I shifted my attention back to the stage. "What will you tell us of your civilization and your people?" Connie Jarson was asking.
Xan-Tu considered. "Our numbering system is based on twelve, the duo-decimal system you call it. Mathematically, it is a superior system to ten. We see twelve stages in the development of intelligent life. Twelve stages of civilization. This is considered a universal truth, though there is some variation among the cultures of the universe in following this pattern. It fits the way of life of the Great Ones who live much longer lives than you. There are twelve stages of life also. You would say: Pre-natal, infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adult, maturity, and old age. But that is only seven stages. We talk of twelve. You all know that a young
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child is a different being than an adult. But suppose your stages of life were extended?"
Connie let that thought go. "Tell us about the twelve stages of the life of civilization."
"The first stage is that one which is just above animals and plants; it is tool development. Some of your apes and even your ants are near this stage right now. Many of your animals build homes or nests and even use tools a little, but that is largely instinct. When it ceases to be instinct and becomes thought, individual action, which is passed on, and altered, then life has reached this first stage. Your histories show many humans reached the stage of tool development perhaps fifty thousand years ago or longer."
"The second stage is that of some control of the other life on the planet, domestication of useful animals and farming you call it. Again, your records show that some humans reached that stage perhaps
ten to fifteen thousand years ago.”
Xan-Tu paused and my own private thought here was that the domestication of animals which began perhaps 25,000 years ago and agriculture which began 10,000 years ago or so were being combined. Perhaps on Xan-Tu’s planets these stages had occurred simultaneously.
Anyway Xan-Tu went on: “The third stage is the development of a written language, or some way to transmit the knowledge gained and
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store it fairly permanently. That generally implies close association: government, schools, and the beginning of simple cities.
Some humans moved into that stage six to seven thousand years ago. You call that stage civilization."
Xan-Tu paused. "Will you hear more?" he asked. Receiving an assent he continued: "The fourth stage is one of the development of power. It is variously called. Usually it is built upon the mining of metals. Manufacturing you call it, or the Industrial Revolution.
Invention now proceeds apace. It should be said that creatures may backslide at any stage, decay, collapse, or not move further forward. Each stage has its dangers that may cause the life involved to drop back down the ladder they have so painfully ascended. But the progress can also feed upon itself and become exponential. You reached the fourth stage only a little over two centuries ago. The most important thing is for men to recognize at each stage where they are and what the problems are."
"The fifth stage is that which you call technology. Knowledge is stored in computers. Transportation and communication enormously improve to cover the whole planet. At last you have explored your whole world, its mountains, skies, and seas. Humans reached this stage only in the twentieth century. Your seas and poles you have not totally explored even yet."
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"The sixth stage you are now entering. It requires some population control and either the dominance by one people or the unity of all peoples. It is the transition age in which you are ready to
move out to the worlds beyond your own planet. It involves intense exploration of your own sun system."
"The first six stages are measured on your home planet. The next six are measured by your journey outward. Those I can detail to you only in general terms. You are not ready for the future and your future may not even be. It depends upon the breath of your vision."
"Please tell us what you can," Connie Jarson requested.
"Very well. The seventh level, the first outward stage, involves setting up many permanent colonies on the moons and planets of your own sun system. You begin to see your home world as a center for the future, which it is. You begin to biologically change your natures and physiology to fit on new worlds and to travel in space. You develop ships to take you to far places at great speeds. You are in communication with alien civilizations and your development proceeds apace."
"The eighth level, the second outward stage, is the exploration of nearby star systems. You produce messengers who can travel and report back. You develop ships capable of traveling continually faster. The ninth stage is setting up colonies in many parts of your own galaxy. By this time you will be a very long-lived species and
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developing in several directions biologically. You find out how to bend time and space."
"The tenth stage is the exploration beyond your own galaxy and communication intergalactically. The eleventh stage is colonization in other galaxies and a feeling of the unity of the universe.”
“And the last stage, that of maturity?”
"Ah, you have not forgotten. That I may not do more than touch upon here. It is the stage of the Great Ones and communication with the universal spirit. Yet, even here, there can be growth or decay."
"Very interesting. Won't you tell us more?"
"Mankind is very tough and very fragile. Your civilization is like mankind. Your potential is enormous and your problems are enormous."
Later some columnists said this was all too deep for Connie Jarson to grasp. In any case she changed the subject: "Do you have a numbering system based on twelve because the Great Ones have twelve appendages or twelve fingers?"
"Originally the Great Ones had pods, which could be used for suction, but each pod had small tentacles on the side reaching out for grasping, two on a side, eight in all, on each pod. It was a much more satisfactory system than your hands."
"Tell us about the Great Ones."
"They have at last achieved mastery because they understand the universe."
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"Well," Connie observed, "please forgive me Xan-Tu, but we have counted your appendages and find you have twenty-four, two dozen, twice twelve. We have wondered if you were created in your master's image and therefore given many appendages."
At this point backstage Nelson Rickdow, the vice-president of the network, returned again to talk to me. “My God, Professor, this program is going out worldwide. Every television station in the world is carrying this, as far as we can determine." And he counted on his fingers: "There are simultaneous translations into Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Dutch, Turkish, Hungarian, Hindi, Tamil, Chinese,
Japanese and maybe more we haven’t heard from. The translations are instantaneous as if both Xan-Tu and Connie Jarson, in a simulated female voice, were speaking in each of their languages. The audio is also going out on every radio program that we can monitor so far. And all the stations are objecting to what we are doing, as if this is our fault. There are going to be enormous lawsuits here."
"You haven't heard from all the countries as yet by telephone," I suggested.
"Oh my God. Look, he is floating higher!" the network vice-president's voice rose to a squeal that almost went off the scale.
I had not noticed, the change must have been slow, almost imperceptible at first. "You're right, he is not floating eight
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inches above the table anymore, as he started out, but maybe twenty inches up," I agreed. "It's not that much difference."
"It's a power play," exclaimed the television vice-president in real fright now. This change seemed to unnerve him more than the worldwide nature of the broadcast. "Don't you see? We always adjust the seats of the guests so they are six inches or so below Connie. If we are having a tall guest, we adjust the seat lower. That way she is
the dominant figure, behind the desk. That's the nature of power and control. The appearance of control is enhanced on TV by the camera angle, and we've lost control of that too. The cameras are locked in position, they tell me. Now Connie looks smaller than the robot. See the picture on that TV monitor over there."
"Well, you're right, I suppose," I shrugged. In the world of illusion, the dominant figure was king.
Another man came running up, looking distraught. "We can't get through to the New York network center any more. The telephone lines are dead, both local and long distance. When you dial you only get one message: 'We are temporarily out of service. Listen to your local television for directions.'"
"I bet that is worldwide too," I suggested. "Xan-Tu wants to be heard."
"But it's all pretty tame so far, right, Dr. West?" the network vice-president suggested uncertainly, reaching for some hope.
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"So far," I asserted. "The stages he outlined suggest a universal form all intelligent life may follow as it advances. He must consider that important." We listened.
Connie Jarson was trying for a commercial break without success. She did not know her broadcast was receiving full coverage worldwide. The network vice-president had made an administrative decision not to send a note onstage and tell her. He felt there was no point to taking a chance of shaking her up while she was on camera.
"Well, I guess we continue to experience what they call technical difficulties," Connie announced. "Are you responsible for this, Xan-Tu?" Connie asked. She thought she was joking.
"Yes. There once was an early television program in America that talked about taking away control of your television sets, temporarily, of course. That is all I am doing. Actually, I should
say to the people of your planet, if you are unable to turn your home television set off, that is my fault."
Connie appeared uncertain with this answer. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am talking to a visitor from space, Xan-Tu. How common are planets like earth in the universe?"
"Water worlds are rare. It is a matter of temperature. In America you have managed prosperity in spite of using silly old English measurements. The absurd Fahrenheit Scale for temperatures obscures from you what you might see easier with the Celsius Scale,
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that temperatures are enormously varied in the universe. Still perhaps you can see, even using your Fahrenheit scale, that temperatures may go to millions of degrees above zero and hundreds of degrees below freezing. Water exists only between 32 degrees and 212 Fahrenheit. Below that, if any water exists on a planet, it becomes ice, and above that it becomes steam. It requires a very stable temperature and very precisely balanced climate for water worlds to exist."
"So temperatures affect life?"
"Just as your microbes increase on your bodies within certain temperature frames, so humans themselves presently operate best within very narrow temperature limits. You have developed to meet the requirements of this planet."
"Xan-Tu, if you were doing this interview, what questions would you ask?"
"That is clever," Xan-Tu admitted, appreciatively, but not answering.
"Do you have inventions that you will share with us? I understand our government has given you our computers to use and you have taped into our knowledge. What will you share with us of your knowledge?"
"I used your computer to understand your people, not to gain knowledge. My very presence here is a symbol of the great
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possibilities for mankind. Some questions I pose will have significance only in your future. There are many discoveries to be made in space. Many answers and many questions."
"Try me." Connie leaned forward at her most enchanting.
"What is faster than light?"
"You have eyes to see light and ears to hear sound. Are there senses that no earthly life possesses that could give you a clue to the nature of the universe?"
"It's a challenge. And what do you think of mankind?"
"This is the time to tell you what you must do. There is a fear gripping mankind, today, to paraphrase the Communist Manifesto. A whole generation has been born worldwide with the threat of nuclear destruction hanging over its head. While treaties have been made, they have merely regulated the edges of the problem. In over a half century, you have not made any real progress in controlling nuclear weapons. There is a theory among some of your military that nuclear weapons will prevent Great Wars. That is not true. The military, East and West, have a vested interest in maintaining themselves. The spread of nuclear weapons to more countries causes nuclear war to become inevitable and any little war could turn into a Great War. At the present state of mankind little wars do relieve tensions and are necessary, but the nuclear threat must be removed."
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"I'm afraid people don't even like to hear about this," Connie Jarson pleaded, shifting around in her seat. She looked profoundly uncomfortable. "Of all the unmentionables on the tube, this heads the list, Xan-Tu," she continued, as if personally afraid. "You can sell tampons and prophylactics and talk about hemorrhoids, but nuclear war is the most unmentionable and unthinkable, Xan-Tu." Connie suddenly gave a violent shudder.
"The great nations of earth have wars, revolutions, or major riots every generation, Connie," the visitor persisted. "Do you realize what that means? People are programmed to have wars. They need them because humans are aggressive. Even the peace protestors, who are violently parading, are having a war for peace and relieving their own tensions. When there has been no war for a while there is enormous tension among the people of your great nations. You are on the edge of catastrophe."
"What should we do?"
"There will be an immediate peace conference between the nuclear powers, thirty days from today, meeting at the United Nations. The purpose will be to scrap all nuclear weapons and delivery systems, not just some. Three delegates each from the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran all nuclear powers, will meet and nuclear weapons will be phased out completely over the next six months with worldwide verification
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and inspection at each stage by non-nuclear powers: the Swiss, Swedes, and Japanese."
"It sounds simple."
"It is simple. You merely need prodding. For instance, one of the three delegates from the United States should be Joe Candlelight and one of the three from Russia should be Andrei Dakeroff."
"He's a leading dissident in Russia, now in prison," Connie Jarson exclaimed. She was knowledgeable.
"So I hear. If the announcement of the members of the delegation from each country I have named has not been made in ten days, I shall appoint the other members of the delegation also to represent those countries. This is going forward."
"That sounds like what we call an ultimatum."
"It is. And to stabilize things, sixty days from today there will be free elections held in each country in the world. Anyone wishing to run for any office may do so. Ninety days from today the two leading contenders for each office in each country will be in a run off election. If in fifty days, at least two candidates are not running for each major office in each country with a population over one million, I shall appoint my own list of opposition candidates. It is time for the best men in each country to run for office.
In the United States, for instance, this often is not true. Democracy should be more than merely a choice between two unfit men. This election should serve to stabilize things on earth a bit. The
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candidates will have large blocs of television time at their disposal, whether anyone wants to listen or not."
"We had an American Presidential election last November," Connie protested.
"Yes, but to treat everyone fairly, you will have another."
"Can you force us to be free, Xan-Tu?"
"Freedom comes from within as well as without. However, I can see that these elections are held."
"There is something grotesque about trying to force us to be democratic."
"Perhaps. I have formed a judgment that this is best for mankind at this stage and have acted upon it. I have formed many other judgments about what would be best for you, but I have refrained from action . . . at least so far.”
"And after you leave. . . "
"I shall stay awhile."
There was a sort of deep gasp by the studio audience at this statement. Then Xan-Tu went right on. "You also need world unity. There has been too much splintering nationalism, that is, there are too many little nations on your planet right now. But the first step to free association before you can have true world unity, I believe, is to let every group on your planet do their own thing for a while until they see that larger political blocks are more prosperous. Then
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the smaller groups can form together in some worldwide association. This worldwide organization needs real power so there is more than the bickering of your United Nations. World organizations need to have delegates and votes in terms of population."
"To make sure there is freedom of choice," Xan-Tu continued, "three months from this date there will be further elections in each state in the United States and Puerto Rico for instance, in each state in Russia, in each of the divisions of Europe, Catalonia for example, in each state in South Africa, also in Tibet, Mongolia, Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, South Vietnam and anyplace that wishes to break away from a government and establish their own. The purpose of these elections will be a vote on whether each section will remain a part of that nation. I will not urge this, however, if other groups I have not named obtain signatures and addresses of ten per cent of the population of a contiguous area, they may have such an election anyway,”
"Well at least you are trying to give us democracy."
"There are long democratic traditions in many parts of the world. Democracy is inefficient, but the elites and the ignorant even out in a broad enough vote. The decisions are often right. Men are not ready for mental bonding yet. In the end though there must be a unity to your diversity."
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“Well, since you are organizing our planet, what else do you think we should do?"
"The so-called great powers should compete not in military matters but in the good life they offer their people and in the exploration of space. Russian and Chinese communism are both a sham. They don’t work."
"America calls itself a free enterprise society, yet your national, state and local governments have grown from eight per cent of the workers to thirty-two per cent. That is also socialism. That has produced inefficiency. Your graduated income tax is an obvious sham and everyone knows it. It was designed to tax the rich and now it taxes the middle class, while the rich escape. The wealthy are now so powerful your Congress can not tax them. The wealthiest one per cent of your people have more money than the bottom ninety percent. That is out of joint. Every man who wishes a job should be guaranteed one and you have it in your power to see that this happens. There should be jobs instead of welfare. It should be one man, one job. That is the most conspicuous failure of your American system, but your politicians will not address this."
When Xan-Tu paused Connie Jarson asked almost as a relief: "Xan-Tu, you say you are a mere messenger. Have you been to other worlds on this particular journey you are taking now? That is, do you have a route?"
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"Oh yes. And that is another very perceptive question."
"And will you visit more planets before you go home?"
“Have you ever failed, I won’t say with your meddling,” she laughed.
“Yes. Some creatures have destroyed themselves.”
"Wow! You make it sound as if we humans ought to behave. Sorry to pry, but if you get into trouble, not here but elsewhere, is there a backup you call on, a support system?"
"You have a story in your old wild west in America, Connie, of a riot in a town and a U.S. Marshall is sent there. They ask him why only one Marshall was sent. He replies: 'There's only one riot.'"
I stood transfixed, in the wings, listening. Xan-Tu's words had a deep effect upon me. I had a sudden vision of a future where there were no poor, where men lived long and fulfilled lives. I had been born too soon, into a short lived society. The future beckoned. Men in the next generations would share, not immortality, but enormously long lives and look back on this period as incredibly primitive, as we looked back on the Egypt of the pyramids.
"How do you feel about women's lib?" Connie Jarson asked. It was an attempt for a change of pace.
"Worldwide or in America?" Xan-Tu asked.
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Connie paused, in the grip of a new thought. "Sure universalize it, Xan-Tu."
"One could spend an evening on this, as with so many topics, Connie. There are many differing perspectives. Women should surely move to equality with men, and since I am of neither of your sexes, I can perhaps speak impartially. In each country, women should not move to equality in such a way that they take humans' attention away from life and death issues for your planet such as solving the nuclear problem."
"Xan-Tu, we think of you as a 'HE' because your voice is masculine," Connie suggested.
"I can see that would happen, Connie. I did have to make a choice. But your early TV broadcasts I listened to did give me more masculine role models to choose from."
Xan-Tu paused for a moment, then continued: "A hundred smaller causes, many of them justified, still take attention from the issues of life and death. Women are different from men. There is nothing wrong with roles for each sex. Trying to escape your nature can be frustrating. In the West, women's lib has often been led by those who have inherited wealth or are living on their husband's income.
But in thinking of women's lib, remember that the average woman on earth is that person who carries the water back from the well on her
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head. She needs also to be considered. Women's lib has been a cause for the rich ten per cent of humans."
It was later in the week that Playboy featured Xan-Tu as a female in its centerfold, a totally imaginary artistic creation with enormous silver breasts.
Connie Jarson managed not to go into shock. She touched on the problems she was having in taking a break via commercials.
Xan-Tu spoke again: "This broadcast was meant to be a ninety minute show, however, it will end after only thirty minutes. For those who may have missed it, the program will be repeated worldwide on every channel every six hours for one entire week so that it reaches all time zones on occasions convenient for viewing. Thank you citizens of earth. Ready, Professor West?"
And I found myself back in Duncan House with Xan-Tu.
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"One trouble is that you humans are in a great
universal world, on the threshold of space, and yet
your thinking is still primitive tribal. People just
don't care much about each other." - Xan-Tu.
The next day the New York stock market fell four hundred points and the other world markets were all off. The decline continued all week. It was dubbed the "Alien Crash."
Washington papers headlined: "Demands Upon Mankind" and "Xan-Tu Blasts Everyone." A New York newspaper headlined: "The Human Race Gets Its Orders" And under that the caption read: "What if we refuse?"
There was a savage cartoon in a California newspaper which was widely copied. It showed a robot, obviously Xan-Tu, saying in successive captions:
"I travel through space."
"I don't eat."
"I don't drink."
"I don't make love."
"I get my kicks out of interfering in other planets' business."
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Psychiatrists wrote articles about the father image of Xan-Tu.
And sure enough the broadcast on all the world's TV stations in dozens of languages repeated in six hours and again in six more. It was going to continue all week as Xan-Tu said. Even TV stations that turned themselves off, broadcast anyway.
The whole planet went into shock. Governments were crying in pain. Some countries accused Xan-Tu of being an American creation so the United States could take over the world. Totalitarian states were declaring that they would hold no elections on demand. People were talking more than they ever had about rights and constitutions. Xan-Tu was being asked countless questions.
Mail for the alien came up in an eighteen wheel truck with letter bombs in every delivery. I suggested the mail be sorted elsewhere and only the one per cent of most interest brought to Duncan House for consideration. The President gave the order for that. A group of thirty postal clerks, with careful instructions on defusing bombs and deciding what was of most interest to the visitor, began sorting through the mail.
People with a complaint, a cause, a grievance, an invention, beggars for a thousand causes, those with any hope of gain, all those in pain, the insane, the inane, repeated the refrain: 'Help me.' It was largely in vain.
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General Tanner phoned to talk to me. He was very angry. "Xan-Tu wants us to jettison all our nuclear weapons. And then what does his Confederation do? They take over our planet. If anything could unite the Russians and Americans, it is a demand for universal disarmament."
"It appears to me that Xan-Tu could take over the planet by himself with his force screens," I told the General.
General Tanner growled on the phone. It was pure guttural. I thought for a minute, he was choking.
At last the General became coherent again: "If we could obtain a force shield from Xan-Tu, it would be all we needed," Tanner declared. "We could shield the entire country and no one could get through with a nuclear weapon."
"Would it mean the end of armies, General?"
"Yes, force shields could mean the end of armies." There was a long pause as the General thought of what he had just said. "Force shields could also mean that one country could blast its enemies with impunity until they surrendered."
I had a sudden vision of the Aztecs looking at Cortez' army and thinking: "We've simply got to find a way to get some muskets and horses." And they did. But not until they had been conquered. With Xan-Tu it would be even more difficult to obtain the technology? What did we have to offer?
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"Could you try to find out how the force screens work, Jerry?" the General asked after a bit.
"I can ask, General Tanner, but I don't expect to be given any formulas."
"If we had something like that we could give up everything else and sit behind our screens. It would be purely defensive, of course."
"Of course," I repeated, trying not to sound as if I was mocking. "But would we then do what we'd really like to do in this country, just return to isolationism?" I asked. "For centuries we did our own thing, sitting safe between our two vast oceans. Guided missiles forced us to deal with the whole world for the first time."
I had a sudden picture of a single man with weapons and a force shield, able to walk at will upon a battlefield and kill, invincible, unable to be stopped, destroying everything.
General Tanner grunted. "See what you can find out, Jerry," he repeated. "Please."
"Sure." And I did try questioning Xan-Tu once, without success. I approached the matter in what I thought of as a clever way. As usual we were in the library at Duncan House with Xan-Tu still operating the computer. I asked: “Couldn’t you just give us your force screen technology and then nuclear missiles could not get inside a country.”
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“It would not work, Jerry,” Xan-Tu responded. “Huge force screens could effect planetary air flow. And besides, there would be nothing to prevent an enemy assembling a nuclear devise inside a country.”
* * *
Xan-Tu was back at the computer and I was sure he was connected up to any data bank in the world he wanted, university, governmental, military. That afternoon I felt cooped up in Duncan House. Out on the front porch, I calculated the odds of giving the press the slip and taking a walk. One reporter called out: "It's the Professor."
And then another newsman asked: "What do you think of the new robotic look, Professor?" I had seen pictures of the four silver circles that made up the puffy dress, described as 'new for Fall,' that caused all the women who wore it to appear fat.
"I think one of the many fashion designers who hates women has been busy again," I declared.
They could always get a good quote from me. "I take it that indicates disapproval?" the reporter called again.
"You're not sure?" I asked and went back in. Then I took a walk the hard way and it turned out to be the very hard way, indeed. I ordered a limo to be brought around. Naturally my limo was followed
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by newsmen and it turned out other people followed as well. I got off downtown with the request that I be picked up at the same corner in one hour.
Then I walked rapidly through several department stores, in one door and out another, until I felt no one was following me any longer. It was good just to be out alone and walking about. It was
obvious how the famous could enjoy the notoriety of the media and yet at the same time wish to escape and just not be bothered on some occasions.
Just when I was sure I had shaken off the press, the disaster occurred. Rounding a near deserted corner, I saw a man in a dark coat coming my way. It was too warm a day for a trench coat. There was something in his face, menacing even at a distance. I turned back, but too late. Another man came around the corner behind me, following me, and I knew at once they were together. I looked to cross the street and there was a third man waiting on the other side, pausing to watch me. A black car came up slowly, the door already opening to
snare me. Then there was a gun, the barrel looking as large as a tunnel. My heart began to pound and I was sweating all over.
"I've done nothing wrong," I pleaded.
"Come with us Professor, or you're a dead man." In the car, I was in the middle, between two swarthy men, with the vehicle picking up speed.
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I had committed one of the sins of modern society, not being alert while out walking. My anxiety to get away from the crowds had led to this.
"Who are you?" I asked. "I have no power or influence."
"Be quiet Professor Jerry West. We know you. You are our hostage." I had the feeling I was a dead man and tried to psych myself up to meet whatever came, to be brave. I had lived a long, full life. The last few days had given me more than fifteen minutes of fame and I had done nothing to earn the acclaim I had been receiving. What difference really did anything matter?
The car crossed the Potomac to the Virginia side of the river and came off the main highway, turning at last into a subdivision at the end of a street where there was a small house set apart.
"Inside," the man directed. "Upstairs and sit down." I followed orders. My hands were tied tightly and I was turned on the plain wooden chair to face a painted white wall.
Another man had entered the sparsely furnished upstairs room. The voice behind me sounded harsh and cruel: "Tell us all you know about that robot."
"I know nothing more than I told the press."
"You shut up and answer questions only when we talk to you. Perhaps you want to feel some pain."
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I did not remark that these were contradictory commands. I told the whole story again in detail, even stretching it out, because I was afraid what might come when I ceased talking.
"Can you get through the force shield and into that space ship?" I was asked.
"I doubt it."
"We will try that later tonight. The robot likes you. Will he pay off on your life by telling us how his ship flies?"
"I doubt it." I managed a look at my watch. It had been an hour and the government car would be coming back to pick me up about now. "Who are you working for," I asked.
"We are the Islamic Revolutionary Underground Justice. Don't turn around." The man laughed. "Yes, we are right here in Washington D.C. We are in the belly of the Great Satan now. Why did the robot not mention the Arabs when he spoke of elections? Is this another Jewish plot?"
"I have no control over what the robot says. I am sure if you followed the directions for free elections suggested, then your group too could have a vote."
He snorted. "Free elections. We are Freedom Fighters for a holy cause." I reflected for an instant that one man's freedom
fighter is another man's terrorist. Think about that in the dark hours of the night.
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Now I felt the gun poked in my ribs. The weapon came higher and pressed right into my face. I watched the finger squeeze on the trigger with dry-mouthed fascination. There was an audible empty click that filled the whole room and the man laughed again. "Do you like Russian roulette? It is the best game the Russians gave the world."
It is one thing to practice meditation, self-hypnosis, and right thinking on how unimportant life is, how little the whole world and everything in it actually matters. It is a very different entirely to see a gun the size of an oil pipeline pointed at your eye and hear an empty click that means only that more horror will follow. One immediately begins to think how to please your captors and what
you really can do for them. The change of perspective is almost instantaneous.
I will not make too much of my situation. My captivity in that house had lasted for some twenty minutes at that point and there are others who have suffered days, months, years with mad jailers trying to work their will upon them in some fiendish way. But I think my point is an important one. To think that one may be tortured or die is to immediately begin to sympathize with your captors, to try to help them find solutions to their problems so you may escape.
And then my captivity ended as abruptly as it had begun. The evil looking man was raising his gun again to point it at me, when
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he cursed and pushed at the air. I could not understand at first what his problem was. I remember hoping that he did not become too irritated at whatever the difficulty was and shoot me right there. Then my jailor turned his back on me and began to claw the air in all directions. I twisted to look about and the other three terrorists were similarly confined, trapped by force screens in very tight spaces. The force screens were closing in on them very slowly until they could not move at all. Then Xan-Tu was there, hovering near me.
"We will wait here for the police, Jerry," the alien divulged. It was perhaps ten minutes before we heard the sirens, blaring so loudly that if the terrorists had not been held tight by force screens they would have had plenty of time to flee.
The three men who had kidnapped me and the two others who were driving the automobile were stolid, accepting their fate, glaring their defiance. They were soldiers for a cause, unafraid. The leader who had threatened me with a gun was a different story. He tried shooting away the force screen and managed to hit himself in the shoulder, which caused him to give a great outcry. He was screaming now: "You can't do this to me. I have diplomatic immunity. You shot me."
The police untied me. Xan-Tu and I went back to Duncan House in a limo.
"How did you find me Xan-Tu?" I asked.
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"You were easy to trace. There are extraterrestrial senses that humans do not have. Some are as handy as your sight, Dr. West."
"Tell me, Xan-Tu. I have never pried before."
"That is true. I have a really sympathetic feeling for you. How to describe a new sense to a person who does not have it? It would be as hard as describing a color off the visible band that one could suddenly see. I tagged you, as I do all people whom I have met. That allows me to know where they are at all times, to listen in to them if I wish, and to know them better."
Tagged in the way a captured animal was, I surmised. Tagged with a tracer and then released. It was an invisible tag, but some way of knowing, as all senses are.
"You certainly arrived promptly, Xan-Tu. When the limo failed to pick me up, I suppose there was concern."
"The limo?" It was almost as if Xan-Tu laughed. "Your limo had not yet called in that you were missing. I just knew."
* * *
When we returned to Duncan House, the press already had the story of my kidnapping and rescue. My wife, Helen, began a persistent effort to persuade me to return to Arizona. I refused, but Helen continued her nagging for some weeks until our children began to
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visit us in D.C.. I insisted I wanted to see this adventure with Xan-Tu through to the end, regardless. It was not until much later that I came to know what 'regardless' would mean to me and mine.
About that time a delegation of religious leaders representing several denominations phoned for an appointment and had a conference with Xan-Tu. I was an observer.
Their main initial question seemed to be: "Are you a hoax?" Did they think they could get an answer that was true from a hoax?
I had come to accept Xan-Tu as real and here right now. Everyone on earth had to come to terms with that idea. These churchmen wished to reject Xan-Tu as real.
Xan-Tu said prosaic things such as "beliefs give us certainty."
"What is this communication with the universal spirit you describe as the last stage of life?" one squat Bishop finally asked: "Is that God? Are you the messenger of God from Outer Space?"
"If you like?" Xan-Tu seemed to sigh. "Gentlemen, you, as with all other life, will have to take these mysteries one stage at a time, and not try to discover the last stages first. Above all I am
not here to destroy your faith. In the past people believed Heaven was skyward. Perhaps it still is."
But this Bishop was a bit of a philosopher. "Xan-Tu," he continued, "there are on earth many grains of sand, many kinds of rocks, many trees, many of each animal, and many people. There are in
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space many planets, many suns. God alone is singular and One. He is a supreme being that necessarily exists. He is the creator and yet maybe not of our world and solar system alone. There is in the whole universe only one God. I wonder if you are His messenger? I wonder if in your travels you have encountered Him? Have you ever met God?"
"I encountered many things in my travels, even more than you might imagine. And you humans as a people must be allowed to discover truths in your own good time. About half of what your scientists believe about the universe beyond your earth is true."
"But which half is that?”
"Ah that is for you to find out."
Xan-Tu was asked if the Great Ones looked Human. "No," the visitor replied. "It is against all odds that intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy would grow to be even close to you in structure or appearance. Life if it develops at all on a planet does so in response to the light from the sun of its solar system, to the atmospheric make up on the planet, to the size and weight of
planet, to the soil and the things this life eats, and many other factors as well. These elements vary from planet to planet."
The tall Bishop with the sharp nose began with a little flattery:
"We have read all your words and find no profanity."
"Profanity has never done much for me," Xan-Tu observed. "Perhaps it is because I never become angry."
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Now this Bishop spoke with deference but came back to one of the original questions: "Are you a messenger from God?" he inquired.
"No. Nor am I here to attack the underpinnings of your faith. Faith is important to many men to see them through this life."
"Have you met God in your travels?"
"I have seen many things. Does the thought that your God might have created other life trouble you?"
"Are you here to destroy the human race? If you destroyed humanity would our God still exist?"
"There is no end to arguing theology I am sure. But no, Bishop, I am not here to destroy the human race. And certainly God would continue without you humans. Many of your own civilizations have risen and fallen. So take good care of yourselves in these modern times. Your God may not always save you, if you do not work to save yourselves.”
"Well, if you will not answer that question, then talk to us about the stage of existence we are now in," another Bishop suggested.
"Let me relate to you a parable," Xan-Tu began.
All the holy men squirmed uncomfortably at these words. Xan-Tu went on: "I have read that one of your Greek philosophers taught his students that the world was supported on the back of an enormous elephant that held it up. One of the students asked: 'But what holds up the elephant?' The philosopher replied: 'The elephant is standing
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on the back of an enormous turtle.' Everyone nodded except the one student questioner who persisted: 'But what holds up the turtle?' The philosopher was angered. The student had questioned too much."
Xan-Tu paused and then continued: "Some of your religions explain the world as created by God. Some students ask where this God came from? And you reply: 'He always was and always will be.' A few persistent students want you to explain how this can be. But that is questioning too much."
"Some of your scientists declare the world and the present universe was formed billions of years ago in a great cosmic bang that threw the present planets and suns out into their orbits. No one is to ask your scientists what came before the Big Bang. That is questioning too much. There are, however, eternal truths. You live between two infinities of time and space. What lies before the beginning and what comes after the end? Your Einstein tried to develop a mathematical model to explain it all, but he stood on one planet, with insufficient data."
"Go on," one of the Bishops was wise enough to say.
"If the religious fear science, then truth may be denied to them. You need a religion of discovery, perhaps you need a religion of outer space."
As a silent observer, I couldn't help but think that Xan-Tu always kept his ideas simple, perhaps as God did, when He spoke to man
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so long ago. Simple ideas for the unsophisticated tribesmen of ancient times; simple ideas even for the semi-cultured city dwellers of our era. Xan-Tu had read and digested unabridged dictionaries. I had seen him looking at the OED in the computer. But using obscure terminology to impress was not his way. He seldom used any vocabulary except what he called television English. The great ideas, aside from those of mathematics and physics, could all be kept simple. In my youth I devised some college lectures, replete with obscure terminology, so as to be really beyond understanding. The lectures sounded grand, but they were devoid of real meaning. Later I abandoned all such devices.
Xan-Tu did not talk down to people.
Slowly I tuned back in to the conversation as Xan-Tu was asking: "But why have you religious men not led a holy crusade of all religions for worldwide nuclear disarmament? Yes, you have done some things, but you have not really united with all religions to prevent the end of the human race. Your world, by its own standards, is insane to persist on its present course. Insane. That is not to say
that you should have pressed for nuclear disarmament only by America." The Bishops had no good answer.
As the long discussion continued I remembered Joe Candlelight's words and had a vision of a group of Aztec holy men interviewing Cortez and his Jesuit priests after the Spanish invaded Mexico. Only
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the Spanish, began pressing for conversion to their religion. Would Xan-Tu press us for conversion to Confederation beliefs? I was glad when that interview ended; the whole concept bothered me. Especially troubling was Xan-Tu's labeling of our present world culture as insane.
The press were not allowed in to the conference with the Bishops, but the newspapers got their stories from the holy men later or made them up as usual. One editorial screamed: “God had only ten commandments and this alien has twelve steps to salvation.”
* * *
The following morning I awoke suddenly from a dream, seeing a great truth, the real answer to the enormous questions regarding the universe. It was an understanding that opened vast doors. Then the sunlight streaming in the windows seemed to escape and the huge doors began to close on me. I tried to hold on, but the truth was there no more. It was a mere bubble, a fanciful creation that burst and left me with nothing. Where does the fire go, when it goes out? The
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greatest stories ever told are unfolded to us in our dreams and forgotten as we wake.
When I arose and talked to people around Duncan House, I suddenly discovered I possessed a personal force screen which Xan-Tu
had provided, a shield that did not require my wearing any device of which I was aware. It was a gift, without my asking, an invisible
barrier, about three feet out, as was Xan-Tu's own shield. No one could penetrate it without my permission.
The shield was apparently controlled my me mentally, for if I allowed someone to shake hands with me or when I wished to hold my wife Helen at night, there was no problem. Otherwise people who got too close to me were repelled. I began to warn everyone I met, so they did not have an unpleasant experience, although my force screen was not as powerful as the robot's, for it did not shock others if they touched it.
Xan-Tu was obviously trying to protect me from my own people, humans who might hate me because I was helping him. The alien did not
want me kidnapped again and perhaps killed before he could reach me this time. I did not ask what would happen when he left, and of course as it turned out that was unnecessary. As I certainly saw rather intimately, a bit later, even Xan-Tu could not predict all human actions and anticipate everything that might happen.
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I tried to play down my force screen, but the news gradually filtered out. Haskins, the butler at Duncan House was probably making his own secret reports on what was going on to intelligence agencies.
Soon General Tanner insisted I come down to a great hidden military lab deep under Washington D.C. where there were miles of reinforced tunnels and places many people could wait out a nuclear attack.
When this lab had been constructed and how it had been kept so secret from our prying press, I can not imagine. Anyway the laboratory was
only one part of the complex, but seemed to have all the latest human medical technology.
Medical people in their uniform, sterile white coats, prodded me, trying to break through my force shield. They even used electrical currents, to no avail. Later I got to thinking that perhaps they were trying to find a way to get through to Xan-Tu. General Tanner was amazed that I could shake hands with him or reach for things at will, but if something unexpected attacked my force barrier, such objects could not penetrate. I had no trouble sitting down or passing narrowly through doors. My force shield was different in several ways from Xan-Tu's.
I rather liked the bluff, gruff, patriotic General. There are those who hate all things military, but to me General John Tanner was a man who had given over his life to his country, to its protection
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and security. Perhaps all his kind were now outdated, mere relics. I am sure Tanner would not mind becoming an anachronism. It seemed to me he would have gladly given his life, if his country could be forever secure.
"This is a force screen without teeth," General Tanner asserted at last. "You told us there was a force shield over part of Duncan
House, which Haskins the butler there could touch without being shocked. This screen too, I can not penetrate, but it does not produce an electric shock when I touch it. Xan-Tu is wearing a force
shield, which if you try to penetrate it, you get a nasty electric shock. His ship is even better protected. His ship repels by
slamming you back at two or three times the energy you use to try to get in."
I shrugged. "So I'm not as well protected."
"It's better for our test purposes to try to understand these shields. But Damn it, man, how do you do it? What do you think about when I put this cane out and you let it penetrate and touch you and then you don't?"
"I'm sorry, General. You told me to try to let it through and then stop you from touching me. And I have done just that by merely thinking of it. And I don't know why it works. I'm not wearing anything. There is no technology that I know of." I felt Xan-Tu was
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monitoring all this in some way and laughing at us. Could he laugh? I had never seen him do so.
"I can't believe in witchcraft or magic," the General grumbled. "Would you mind taking off your clothes?"
They checked my clothes, but I could perform the feat naked. Indeed, they all regarded it as a feat, a trick, and it was the easiest thing I had ever done. The medics examined my body all over and found nothing. They even x-rayed me and ran me through a full body scan, an MRI. Nothing was found.
* * *
Several times when I walked into Xan-Tu's room in the next days, he simply was not there. I did not ask him where he had been when he returned. He was out visiting throughout the world, of that I am sure, but he did not take his spaceship as he did on formal visits just a bit later. Since there were no reports of sighting him, and the press had gone crazy on the subject of the alien, I wondered if he might have been invisibly hovering about, observing. I just do not know the answer to that.
The power of Xan-Tu's force screen was amply demonstrated by the alien's much publicized second visit to the White House. Xan-Tu
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went alone that time and as it turned out I was glad not to share in the experience. Our non-human guest left Duncan House in a stretch limo and as he traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue there was an enormous explosion. The whole street had been mined down in the sewer pipes and the blast was set off as the limo passed over. The driver and two Secret Service men in the limo were killed and a number of people on the street were severely injured. Buildings for several hundred yards along the avenue lost their windows and were weakened. The limo was blown to shreds, but Xan-Tu floated up out of the blast unharmed.
* * *
The day after this blast Xan-Tu flew to Moscow in his space ship, leaving me behind in Duncan House. The flight took only a few minutes and the alien landed in Red Square. There were many television pictures of the great military parade in honor of the visitor, the longest, largest, and most impressive display of might the Russians had ever staged. The troops and weapons went by for hours and some commentators televising the event for American audiences joked that perhaps the same military groups were coming around to be counted again, sort of reruns. The speeches and welcome
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were laced with statements declaring that no explosions and attempts to assassinate him would greet Xan-Tu's visit to Russia.
There were many scare headlines in the United States speculating as to what sort of deal the alien might be making with the Russians and criticism of our government because it had not made a deal. What sort of deal our government should have concluded with Xan-Tu was left vague.
Xan-Tu stayed in Moscow for five days and then flew to Peking, landing in the great square near the Forbidden City. After three days in China he flew to Trafalgar Square in London for three days, landing amid the pigeons. Then the visitor was off to the Champs de Mars in Paris where his space ship was parked in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for two days. There were a lot of reporters who felt that the
relative numbers of days spent in each country were significant. In all the countries there were official conferences and receptions.
In France there were a great many parades and then a televised confrontation with the government followed that made world headlines. "We will not be bound by treaties forced upon us," the French Premier declared.
"If you sign the treaty, you will be honor bound to follow it, and you will sign it," Xan-Tu replied. "The French word is good."
"We are an independent, free nation. You have come to our land as a visitor, not to give orders. This is our country."
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And watching this back in Washington I remembered a biting country type song in the United States where the refrain ran:
This land is our land.
It ain't your land.
And if you don't get off,
We'll blow your head off.
Xan-Tu answered: "Yes, and it is your world too. You French sell nuclear reactors to all who will buy without many controls. That goes beyond boundaries."
“We do not sell missiles,” came the reply.
“Yes, but a terrorist nuclear devise brought into France in a van could take out your city of Paris. How would you feel about that?”
The argument went on; Xan-Tu had come up against national pride.
A French television interviewer sought to gain information ala the Connie Jarson's show, and his program was covered world-wide with translations. The interviewer was a man with long hair that stood straight out in all directions and made a rather spectacular
appearance himself. The most ordinary question in the interview brought a curious answer from Xan-Tu.
"Do you find your work interesting as you travel around the universe?" the interviewer asked.
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"Yes. I have a built in pleasure instinct. There is of course a habit to happiness. Beyond that, for stability during long-term travel, it is essential to maintain pleasure and happiness. Many lucky humans have such built in mechanisms. It is vital to progress as humans should guess."
“Suppose we just do not attend your forced disarmament conference?” the interviewer asked.
“Then the decisions for the nuclear powers will be made without France,” Xan-Tu replied.
“Ah, but we are a member of the security council of the United Nations with veto power,” the interviewer put in.
“This is not the United Nations,” Xan-Tu declared. “It is time that France got over its belief that it is a great nation as in the days of Napoleon. You were given the Security Council position by the United States, even though France was crushed in World War Two.”
The French interviewer gasped at the audacity of the alien. A truth had been uttered that others were afraid to voice.
Xan-Tu was naturally invited everywhere, to small countries as well as large, but it was my feeling that unofficially he had already been all about the world, perhaps invisible, visiting personally many countries. I was sure our guest from beyond had the power of local instantaneous travel anywhere on earth after I watched how he had sent
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financier Wesley Aimes back to New York when he got tired of talking to him.
In any case Xan-Tu returned to Washington again in two weeks, landing his space ship as before in the green near the Washington Monument. There was a great "Welcome back Xan-Tu Parade," a kind of spontaneous affair, after which the robot returned to Duncan House by government limousine.
A joke ran: "What did Xan-Tu say when he landed in Moscow?"
"When you've seen one human, you've seen them all."
* * *
I suppose I could have used the time I had with Xan-Tu to ask more questions, but I did not want to presume on what I saw as a friendship. Especially, I did not want to be a pest. We did talk privately on several occasions. Let me leave you with some of his insights.
Xan-Tu spoke to me once about concepts of real time. "Humans will shortly discover, to their fascination, the variations in real time, Jerry West. I, for instance, comprehend humans as blinking on and off with many a pause, even in your most rapid speech. What is
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time and what is reality?" I leave that statement of Xan-Tu's behind for what it is worth, though I did not understand it.
Looking back, I always felt there was not enough time, weather I was working or retired. I joked about having on my tombstone the words: "There wasn't enough time."
At another point Xan-Tu amplified the matter by saying, "I had to slow down my own real time by a factor of almost four to synchronize into your time and make sense of your words and actions."
Later Xan-Tu gave me the clue I used to put together some surmises about the visitor's travels about the earth. "If I
moved fast enough, Jerry, in my time frame, I could stay in the same place and yet you would not see me."
On still another occasion Xan-Tu declared to me: "You know, the greatest human invention or innovation occurred long ago and it has since become an adaptation."
"And that is?" I asked.
"Laughter. Without that you would have none of your comedy, none of your jokes. Though I must say that some of your jokes in all language are among the most difficult for an alien to comprehend."
"Or a resident," I replied.
And another time he spoke very kindly to me: "Professor, having looked at your planet and people, I still think your profession as historian is an honorable one. But you must know that most of the
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people of your world have no sense of history. Many are too poor to think of such matters. And many simply do not understand or care. Of those who have a sense of history, the world would be better off if half of them would forget their knowledge of your world's past. Except for some scholars, many of those with some knowledge of history are often ready to use what they know to hate and destroy others. They are angry over battles lost and land lost in the past."
"I am sure that is true," I agreed. "The problem goes back to primitive tribes and desires to take over their neighbor's territory. There is the story of the old farmer whose needs were simple. He only wanted the land next to his own."
Another time I inquired: "Xan-Tu, if I am off base here, let me know, but something puzzles me."
"What is that, Jerry?"
"You have outlined stages that civilizations may pass through if they survive. But at the last stage, you have life expanding through whole galaxies. In such a case, do not the most advanced creatures come into conflict with each other?"
"There are several reasons why this does not happen. One is the simple vastness of the universe."
This was a period when Xan-Tu was still studying humanity, but more slowly, perhaps, and waiting for the time of the disarmament conference he had called.
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* * *
In a rather rare interview some reporters were allowed in to the great living room of Duncan House and one particular pushy newsman asked: "What if the delegates to the disarmament conference you have called can't agree?"
"Oh, they will agree," Xan-Tu assured him.
"Follow up. Follow up," the reporter demanded, loudly. "Suppose that the delegates do not have the authority from their governments to make decisions? Checking back with their governments could be long and frustrating."
"These delegates must be allowed to act and make decisions on the spot. They can telephone home. But if the heads of state do not trust the delegates which they send to make absolute, final decisions, then the heads of state themselves should be the delegates."
That news conference produced some headlines and television commentary, a lot of it dealing with the visitor's pressure on mankind. Xan-Tu asked that the United Nations set aside two floors of conference rooms for the delegates. Individual bedrooms for the delegates were to be arranged just off the main conference room.
Apparently the delegates were to be sequestered, as in a jury trial, and not allowed to leave until they had arrived at a decision. Actually, we did not know the half of it.
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* * *
At last the day of the nuclear disarmament conference came. All the nuclear powers sent their requested three delegates each to the United Nations in New York City. There were a number of ceremonies that first day, a banquet, toasts, speeches, and of course every kind of protest imaginable outside on the streets in New York City. The whole world was literally holding its breath. At the conference, the delegates of several countries asked of Xan-Tu: "How do we know we can trust you if we scrap our nuclear weapons?"
And Xan-Tu replied: "Your nuclear weapons are as nothing to me. But if life is to continue on your small planet, you must end nuclear weapons."
The next day there was a breakfast in the great conference hall and Xan-Tu talked to the delegates. There were no press present, but a worldwide TV hook-up had been established and the broadcast
naturally played on every television channel simultaneously in over thirty languages, whether the stations wished to participate or not.
"My instructions to you delegates are simple," Xan-Tu explained. "Scrap all nuclear weapons and delivery systems within six months. Verify at each stage this is being done. Some of yournations have only a few weapons. For you it will be easier. I do not wish to spell out details, but rather have you work these out yourselves."
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"You have given us a broad outline to follow of no nuclear weapons and no delivery systems, all eliminated in six months with verification. So why do we need to meet at all?" one delegate complained. "You are simply making demands on mankind."
"There are many details. How will you verify and be sure? Which weapons systems will go first, second, third, and so on. What other conventional armaments should be scrapped to produce further safeguards?"
Before Xan-Tu was able to disclose his real shocker, what he truly had in mind for the delegates, an English representative, Sir John Hightower, adjusted his thick glasses, crossed his lanky legs,
cleared his throat menacingly and demanded seriously: "If you take away nuclear weapons from the world, you leave Western Europe open to Russian attack by conventional armies. The Russians have superiority in regular weapons, more tanks, larger armies. Is this all a Communist plot?" The Englishman was really speaking to the world audience beyond this room.
"It is not a plot at all," Xan-Tu replied.
But Hightower was determined to have a discussion. He had a classically ugly face and blinked his eyes constantly, which was distracting, but he voiced an important view: "You must know Xan-Tu that nuclear weapons have protected this planet from having a Third World War for more than a generation. Nuclear weapons have allowed
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small, limited wars in confined regions, Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, areas in Africa and the Far East. But they have sheltered the world from a major war. The small wars allowed the great powers to release their aggressions and tensions as you yourself suggested. Without the nuclear component, Western Europe will be wide open."
Hightower paused, looked the world camera in the eye, and continued, expressing his concern: "If nuclear weapons are eliminated and the Russians attack Western Europe, then if America and Britain respond to the Russian invasion, there will be a conventional World War Three with both sides scrambling to be the first to build new nuclear weapons from scratch. . ."
The microphone in front of Hightower went dead and Xan-Tu answered: "You are covering too many questions, Sir John. Let me deal with the issues you raised so far. You are right that the small wars defused the military spirit. I would suggest some further studies of human aggression patterns and war cycles. Ending nuclear weapons does not have to end small, contained conflicts, if that is what is necessary to relieve worldwide tensions."
Now as the other delegates clamored to talk and their microphones all went dead, Xan-Tu continued: "Sir John, you can not have it both ways. If nuclear weapons prevent big wars and small ones relieve tension, it is still the case that first, nuclear weapons can be used by accident and mankind has been merely lucky so far. Second,
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terrorists can get control of your nuclear weapons. Third, the more countries that have these weapons the more dangerous the situation becomes, and nuclear knowledge is spreading. Fourth, the small wars can escalate to larger conflicts. Therefore, Sir John Hightower, your solution to preventing World War Three must not continue to be based on such a false hope as nuclear weapons. For those reasons we are not debating here, but setting a timetable to end these weapons."
"Why do you interfere in our life on earth?" still another delegate demanded angerly.
"Do you not see that the situation you are in now is unstable?" Xan-Tu inquired. "Your world is not standing still. You keep making progress, including progress in armaments. Each change is
technologically destabilizing. You have to find a solution to this problem."
Sir John Hightower now cleared his throat and began again: "Xan-Tu, this will just take a minute. Do not cut me off." He was letting the world know what was happening. "My question is, how do we humans know you won't invade our planet once our guard is down?"
"That is a phony issue, Sir. John. If I wished to destroy mankind or any particular species upon the earth, you would all be dead tomorrow. Perhaps we need an example to prove to you that I do not speak idly. Tomorrow watch for mosquitoes worldwide. But for now, enough of your diplomatic talk. You will begin to take action."
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"And if we refuse?" another delegate asked pointedly.
"You will stay in these rooms, with individual adjoining bedrooms, connected to the outside world and your governments by telephones only. You may phone out all you please. The proceedings will be broadcast on all the world's televisions, until you arrive at a conclusion. You may of course take as long as you wish. However, you may not leave this building until the treaty is completed. There is a force screen around these two floors. There is plenty of water in the water fountains here. But there is enough food on these floors for only three days. After that you may become hungry if you do not arrive at a treaty."
The delegates, long-talking diplomats who had hours of speeches prepared to deliver as filibusters, talks which were mostly protests against each other, went into shock.
"You can't do that," several protested.
"Ah, but I have done that," Xan-Tu countered.
And I who was watching the show on the television back at Duncan House could almost paint a mouth on the top globe of Xan-Tu and see him smile now.
"It's inhuman," someone yelled.
"Ah, but I am not human," Xan-Tu retorted. "Now I think it is time you began." Then quite suddenly, the visitor from outer space was no longer in the room.
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Once long ago, some pacifist had proposed that all peace conferences be held by delegates who stood on one leg until they could arrive at a solution. Xan-Tu was not quite that cruel. I wondered if Joe Candlelight would lose weight as the talks proceeded.
I had a sudden insight, a flash of prescience as to what was happening here. It was as if we earthlings were being visited by the Enterprise and the crew of Star Trek who saw clearly what was obviously wrong with the planet, something so obvious and appalling which none of us on the ground could see. It took an outsider.
Why would no one talk about this nuclear thing? We talked of weather and women, of baseball and beer, of schools and science, when we were young. When we were older we talked of jobs and money, money
and what it would buy. We were children, infants, struggling toward the light. And in one swoop Xan-Tu stepped in and saved us.
But if Xan-Tu had not come, then what? What warning would be necessary to create action?
The first day of the conference there were a lot of arguments about how to proceed, but whenever any delegate talked too long, there were protests. By the end of the first day, there was agreement that no one should talk over three minutes on any question. Xan-Tu was seeing to it that the conference was the only thing on television and the whole world was watching. People around the globe not only
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watched, but sent telegrams, demanding action. It was obvious the earth's people wanted to end nuclear weapons.
The next day it was discovered what Xan-Tu meant about mosquitoes. They had vanished. In some tropical places where mosquitoes once were very thick, some bodies were found. A whole species of pest had been destroyed as an example of the alien's powers. There were protests by some environmentalists that this would upset the balance of nature. Spiders and birds would be deprived of necessary food. But there were other bugs for spiders and birds to eat. I for one could not mourn the mosquitoes. Humans had tried dredging swamps, pouring oil on the top of waterways to reduce the breeding places and cut down on the number of mosquitoes. Now in a twinkling they were all gone.
A German newspaper cartoon that was widely copied showed a mosquito in a circle with a diagonal line through it. Waiting on tap for its extinction next was a man also circled. As the news of this event traveled around the planet it was apparent that Xan-Tu did not need to worry about our nuclear weapons if he wanted to destroy the human race.
Still Xan-Tu rumors floated everywhere. It was said that the alien was kidnapping human babies to take back with him to outer space, that he had started the AIDS epidemic to depopulate the earth before the large Alien invasion arrived, that he was planning on
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taking all of our oil, gold, food, water, endangered animals, and so on.
The second afternoon of the disarmament conference the delegates made a great use of their telephones calling their home governments and the outline of an agreement began to appear. The third day the treaty was nearly completed. The impossible had been accomplished quickly. The conference ended the morning of the fourth day with a signing of the treaty.
Running out of food in three days does focus your perspective. These were diplomats who wanted to continue to eat. They were not going to join the starving millions. There was no hunger strike by these diplomats.
* * *
Already the governments of the earthly nations were concerning themselves with the coming worldwide elections.
Humans kept showing they could be as barbarous as animals. I cringed at some of the news stories.
As one small example, several presidential candidates were killed in Haiti. When Xan-Tu ordered the Haitian army to collect and lock up all weapons on the island, there were protests from that small
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country that their rights were being violated. The government of Haiti declared that aliens led by Xan-Tu would invade their island if they surrendered their weapons. Xan-Tu talked directly on Haitian television and told the people there: "If the major powers must comply with my requests to discard their nuclear weapons, why do you think you need to keep your rifles, pistols, and machine guns?"
Even after the Haitian army was forced to search and round up weapons, people who desired to run for office were hacked to death by machetes. There is always a way to kill. It looked like a stalemate.
Again Xan-Tu appeared on Haitian television. "Your land is the poorest country in the Americas. You cannot afford to allow evil men to continue to kill any possible leadership. If this happens again an example will be made of this island, as follows: Every male over the age of ten will be rendered permanently sterile. You have a population problem anyway. The choice is yours. If that is what you want, continue the killings and test me.”
If there was anything the macho types who were killing in Haiti did not want, it was sterility. Free elections were held with the remaining candidates allowed to live.
In the meantime, Xan-Tu's threat against Haiti sent shock waves of horror around the world. Could he do this? Could he do as he suggested selectively on one island? A cartoon in a Miami paper widely reproduced, showed a male with a world for its head, looking
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down, examining to see if his gonads were gone. . . Gone from the whole planet.
The possibility of sterility reminded me of how Xan-Tu had originally talked to me about watching our X-Rated movies on television as he flew toward our planet. I don't suppose we humans thought much about how we were letting the whole universe see our procreation. Things are pretty unplanned on our world.
The situation on Haiti was only one example of a thousand unfolding events worldwide. Everywhere there were efforts made by those in power to thwart the will of the mass of the people. In dozens of instances Xan-Tu appeared suddenly on local television, explaining the situation to the people in their own language. This happened so often that a few clever reporters, who followed the events with care, discovered that Xan-Tu was often in more than one place at the same time. In several countries there were government planned riots on election days. Every government on earth thought about the elections, and all took some actions to try to solve real or imagined problems. In the end many people voted for candidates already in power as a protest against Xan-Tu and alien pressure upon them.
President Harrison was easily elected again in the United States as a kind of slap at Xan-Tu for forcing us to go through the process. The rivals were perfunctory and often said they would run again in
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three years when the next “real” election according to the American Constitution required it. That occurred in Britain, France, and
Germany as well. The same men were returned to office.
When it came time for the elections on creating new nations, the United States offered statehood to Puerto Rico, and breathed more easily when the island accepted this offer voting to stay with the American nation rather than leave. But that was not the end of the problem. Some American Southern states talked of secession without a Civil War. A dozen little areas such as Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the Conch Republic of Key West demanded concessions or a vote on secession. These votes failed to produce succession from the United
States. Some people in Guam wanted their own republic and the island was deemed too small to offer statehood. Guam finally stayed on in its present status.
For many people around the world the elections appeared to be an opportunity for a small group to establish their own nations. South Africa gerrymandered its country in all directions. Israel lost some Arab lands it had once conquered. There was a successful vote to place Jerusalem under the United Nations. A section of Northern Ireland voted for independence. Quebec eventually stayed with Canada, but not without a vote.
Tibet, Mongolia, and Hong Kong all voted to be independent states. Tamil and Punjab in India were only the beginning in that
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region; a half dozen new nations were going to divide up India. Separatist movements everywhere had their day. Andorra became larger and Catalonia in Spain and France became independent.
I was not personally involved in very much of this and became aware that Xan-Tu was talking to dozens of advisors in lands around the world. I began to wonder why I was even being kept around.
A reporter wanted to interview me again and I accepted. He was a young man, the kind who would stand at the coal mine entrance after the explosion, thrust a microphone in her face and ask new young widows how they felt right now. His main aim was apparently to extract an admission from me that Xan-Tu was mistreating mankind and forcing us to do things that destroyed our will to continue as humans.
"Not at all," I finally interrupted the young reporter's tirade. "Think of how badly Xan-Tu could have really treated mankind
if he had been a conqueror, evil, or mad? We have been extremely fortunate."
"But we don't know if he will still do those things. And surely our liberty to choose, our freedoms, our rights, our sovereignty, still hang in the balance," the reporter persisted.
I cut him off again. "For most of the earth's people it is economic freedom that is more important than liberty, which is why Communism was so often successful at snaring its victims. We must
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first have liberty to eat, freedom to work, the right to a good life, the sovereignty of no nuclear weapons to destroy mankind."
I was seriously misquoted as saying that I thought Xan-Tu was a Communist.
And the interview did set me to wondering. As a Science-Fiction fan I thought of Star Trek and their directive against
interference in the progress of backward civilizations they encountered. And I thought also of Isaac Asimov and his prime directive which robots were to follow that they could do human life no harm. I wondered if Xan-Tu was at all controlled by rules that he must obey? Did our situation cause him to interfere to save us? Then I decided Xan-Tu was probably right; I was not at all sure humanity had the wit to survive. Humans might well reinvent nuclear weapons after Xan-Tu left. We might be one of his failures.
Somehow the common man felt that there were experts around the world who would not let a nuclear disaster happen. Yet all the experts I met were scared.
Then the great disaster in my personal life occurred and even Xan-Tu was not able to prevent what happened.
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"I have stayed on earth a year and a day and made
with all of you one full rotation of your planet around
its star. I have obtained the feel of your life in all
its phases and seasons." - Xan-Tu
For Xan-Tu I am sure a lot of the time was a waiting game, while mankind sorted itself out. "Time changes everything," Xan-Tu said once. I just drifted on the river of time, not knowing what lay around the next bend. But what can you ever do to alter events ahead?
The waiting period provided quite a series of exploring adventures for me.
Xan-Tu told me: "Man and his world have become one. Earth is your home. If you burn down your home, dirty it up, make it less livable, you will have no good base from which to explore the broad universe.”
On several occasions during the waiting, I was privileged to join Xan-Tu in an exploration of mother earth. With force shields on we traveled about, I in tow, for we flew independently of the space
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ship all about the planet. I was sometimes aware of others around us, flying so fast on other time planes as to be almost spirits. No doubt the alien had advisors from various countries, but this was a mere impression. I think Xan-Tu wanted to keep the illusion, when we traveled, that we were alone and he was talking only to me.
We flew over Antarctica and I felt nothing of the bitter cold outside as we explored. The force field around me kept the air a constant temperature. We flew high above the earth and looked down upon our small water planet, seventy per cent of the surface covered with liquid, so much always obscured by cloud cover. We submerged ourselves in the Pacific Ocean depths and descended several miles to look at life growing without any sunlight, it was so far beneath the surface. I had never snorkeled or tried scuba diving, so the undersea world was especially fascinating to me. The number of growing things, especially at great depths, was really incredible.
"Here are your last earthly frontiers," Xan-Tu declared once, "Antarctica and the depths of the oceans. After that there is what you call outer space."
Later a reporter, to whom I spoke of these adventures, asked me how much air the force screened area around me contained and wondered how I continued to be able to breathe under those conditions. I did
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not know the answer to that. I trusted Xan-Tu and had reached the point that I was ready to follow wherever he led.
I felt really lucky to have discovered Xan-Tu, to have been summoned by Jose Herrera to the desert. Now it seemed to me to be
fate that I had been singled out to discover Xan-Tu. Somehow after events occur, they all seem inevitable.
There were new nations on earth now, new governments, and some countries even began to change their minds and asked to rejoin existing states to which they had belonged before. Then a remarkable thing happened.
Puerto Rico had demanded the right to remain bilingual, with both English and Spanish as official languages, as a condition to accepting American statehood. Many people in the United States objected to that, but at last Puerto Rico got its way. Partly as a result of that experience, other countries in the world, especially in South and Central America, began to ask if they could become states that were a part of the United States while retaining their own language. Instead we began working on a regional organization with close economic ties and one currency, akin to the European Common Market.
I remembered that some American presidents had believed that one day the United States might spread throughout much of the Americas. Now I began to see possibilities for the "idea of America"
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spreading in the world. It would not be manifest destiny, colonies, imperialism, but unity among equals. I suppose it would be a Confederation.
Xan-Tu made a speech to the world again. He spoke of a trillion dollars, a thousand billion dollars each year, being spent on arms worldwide, half by Russia and America. If some of that money
could be spent on progress of another kind, it would be wonderful. Things were looking up.
* * *
During the year Helen and I spent at Duncan House, all of our children came to visit us in Washington D.C. at some point. They all came again together that Christmas. This was quite a reversal, since before we were splitting holidays among our children. I was sure it would be our last time all together, but I did not know how true that was to be.
Usually at Christmas my wife Helen and I visited one of our oldest two children, Don in California, who had four children, all boys, or Betty who lived mostly in Manhattan and had three girls, one by each of her now former husbands. Helen and I would visit Betty on the occasions she was between divorces and was stable. Susan, our youngest, who was in her fifth year of college, in a four year
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program, would come to whichever place Helen and I went that Christmas. Then we would telephone the others long distance, marveling at the technology that allowed us to all seize a phone and talk to each other three thousand miles away. But of course the same technology had made it easy for my children to move far from us.
How do you write of a last Christmas together! Christmas is a time of returning. Traditionally in childhood it is a time when you get everything you want. It is a time of great expectations, impossible desires, and so enormous disappointments. Children may be more often spanked at Christmas than any other season. It is a joyous, hopeless time, so sacred it cannot be written of except falsely.
Xan-Tu hovered over our Christmas, usually a silent presence, graciously thanking me for allowing him to be there and intruding on our festivities. I explained my own joy, telling the alien I ought to thank him for bringing my whole family together once more.
Betty, finalizing her third divorce, actually arrived with her daughters at Thanksgiving and just stayed on for some months. Soon she met another lawyer in Washington.
Betty specialized in lawyers. She spoke jokingly of disposable husbands. Still, she would always be my daughter no matter what she did. I had given her away three times, and none of the givings had taken. Perhaps Duncan House offered her something secure in the
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wreckage of her life or maybe she discovered that Washington D.C. had more lawyers per capita than any other city.
I talked most to Betty, trying to untangle her life. She was such a pretty girl, slim and pale as my wife Helen once had been. She seemed happy, but I felt she was very confused. Our initial conversation was a real surprise for me. She was going to take more straightening out than I could manage.
"Do you think Xan-Tu has any solution for me?" Betty asked me when we were alone having lunch in the kitchen of Duncan House. There was my opening to inquire.
"Don't bother him, Betty," I requested.
"Oh, I just thought perhaps, being neither male nor female, he could look upon our world as no other. I have been to the counselors and the psychiatrists, and you know something Father, they are all either male or female."
I laughed, uneasily. "What are you looking for, Betty?" I asked.
"There must be some men out there who are in charge of their lives, in control of themselves, not being run, but masters of events, deciding calmly what they will do, not slaves to each passing breeze."
"You're not going to find a man who is a robot as Xan-Tu. Each man is a different case. But you have to decide what you want and then stick to him," I told her. Then I took a deep breath and
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continued: "When you have three divorces, it may be because you are picking the same man each time, someone who ultimately you can't stand." My words sounded hollow even as I spoke. Why do we parents always feel we must give advice?
"I've known forever that there was something out there watching us, Father," Betty mused, on her own track, not listening to me anyway. "Something is watching us as a master to a pet. You know, we humans are gods to our dogs. I like dogs, and I had a different breed of dog with each husband. When the marriage failed, so did the dog."
"So you think something is watching us?" I prodded, trying to open her up.
"Yes, something is looking at our silly, small lives, our absurd efforts to do something, our pompous, petty, presumptuous,
posing, posturing, pretending at being something. It has watched us forever and is laughing at us. We are the greatest show on earth as we fumble along."
"Be careful the paranoids don't get you," I suggested, laughing. "Man has always had the fear that something smarter than he was around in the universe. Even the pre-Christians, the Greeks and Romans, saw gods watching us and interfering in our lives."
Then I asked: "But what of you? Will you marry this new man you have met here in D.C. and have one more child by him?"
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"We all marry to please the most important person in the world, ourselves," Betty declared. "As to children, there are people who at any given moment aren't born yet."
"You have a great mental attitude about it all," I told her in some surprise. "You're a happy person, and that's important. You might as well laugh at life rather than cry. In some ways it is all an enormous joke."
"I'm the philosopher's daughter," she replied simply, squeezing my hand. "Always remember, Father, it's better to be a young, rich, happy, healthy winner than an old, poor, miserable, sick loser."
I let that one go. "But when you marry these lawyers and have a child, how come you always get custody of the children?" I asked again.
"My lawyer was always better than their lawyer." Betty chortled.
"Tell me about your life?" I was trying to lead her on.
Betty settled in on the stuffed kitchen chair opposite me and spoke confidentially: "I've had a separate life with each of the men I've known. They aren't all alike, Father, and I've known and lived with many more men than I have married. I hope that doesn't shock you. You should have seen some of the ones who got away. Do you want to hear more?"
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I nodded in the best tradition of the psychiatrists and Betty went on: "All right, this is True Confessions time. We turn to others when we can no longer stand ourselves. It is better to talk to others than yourself. Sometimes, Father, I've wished I could experience all men. What does that make me?"
"How did you feel when you broke up with them?"
"Often I've died a little when we broke up. There was always interwoven the mysterious special jokes and stories, the ways of speech, food, and love. Sometimes my lives with them have been long and sometimes short. I'm spoiled, Father."
"I don't think you need one night stands in your search, your quest." I laughed a little to show I understood and meant no harm. How do you warn a thrice married daughter?
Betty laughed too. "Sometimes you can't stand them even one night. I remember one worse case scenario. He had a coupon book for restaurants that offered one dinner free with each purchase. He used it for our first date. We looked through the book together and selected a restaurant. After dinner, he suggested we start our relationship right by going Dutch Treat that very night. He said that women were driving for equality in the workplace and equal pay for equal work, yet they wished to be treated when they were taken out to dinner. So I agreed to the Dutch Treat. Then, after dinner, he
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declared that since he had the coupon book for his meal, I should pay for mine!"
"That’s not quite women's lib," I ventured, laughing with her.
"Some of my men have thought I spend too much. But I like shopping. Do you know, Father, that stores all over the world are having their greatest sales ever, today, this very day?"
"How come?" I asked becoming the willing straight man.
"Well, they always are."
It was a joke, I guess. Betty went right on: "Sometimes I feel I should attach a sign: 'Stop me before I buy more.' Some things make me laugh, as when the stores have a sign in the window: 'Inventory reduction sale.' As if they did not want to reduce inventory all the time."
She was all over the map. I felt I needed a butterfly net to talk to her. My daughter the flake. "Forget the shopping, Betty," I demanded. "Tell me, why so many men? Why not make it work with one?"
Betty paused, reflecting, frowning, and I wished I could have put a finger on her lovely forehead and wiped the sudden wrinkles away. We age fast enough.
"Father," Betty finally answered, "why do people read stories of love affairs and go to see movies and plays that have as their theme, boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy marries girl?"
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"Well we're all sympathetic to such stories, Betty. They are romantic, a dream, and evoke strong emotion."
"Exactly, and this is because the readers or viewers themselves want to do it again and again, consciously or unconsciously. They live the fullest part of life once more through such stories. They would like multiple lives of falling in love. The courtship and honeymoon are the best part. The classic line of Shakespeare: 'Wherefore art thou, Romeo?' is the epitome of woman."
"But what do you really need and want?"
"I want everything and I need nothing."
"And I don't understand you."
"That's what all my husbands have kept saying." She smiled and patted my hand. Betty was always so full of life.
"But the children . . . "
"The most wonderful thing about raising children is that you have a ready receptacle for all your prejudices." Betty paused, reflecting: "Washington D.C. breathes politics. Everyone I meet here is trying to turn being a lawyer into being a politician."
I agreed this was probably the case. "Well Betty, George Bernard Shaw said 'Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach.' That always used to bother me when I taught at the University. But I believe those who can't teach, administrate. And those who can't even
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administrate, run for office. But I was asking you about your children."
"So I have three children. Do you think, Father, that the natural enemy of the environmentalists should be the Right to Lifers, because overpopulation is the main environmental problem? Over- population is the root cause of all of it, wiping out whole species of animal and plants, too much garbage, too many factories and cars polluting the air, water going bad, quality of life in trouble, shortages of raw materials . . ." Her voice trailed off.
Maybe she was too smart for her own good. I told Betty this. "I'm on your side," I told her.
"So, If you're on my side get off my back," she replied. "You know my first two husbands were smart, but possessed galloping immaturity. They hadn't learned yet that when you married a woman, you didn't own her nor is she an extension of your personality."
Betty got up and walked around a little, putting things away in the kitchen and I watched her. Then she continued: "An Englishman I dated recently told me that the modern preachment that women are equal spoils them all. He said, and I quote: 'The liberals and do-gooders run around and tell the ladies that their brains are as good as ours.
How much better in the old days when we ordered the women about,' he said, 'and expected a dowry before we married them, took over their estates and money, demanded they wait at home while we went out to our
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clubs. We anticipated good sex relations as our right, and even were allowed to beat the women a bit if they misbehaved without some social worker making a lot of noise about poor battered women.' I didn't have to marry him to know it wouldn't work."
I nodded in the best counselor's tradition of urging her on and Betty did continue: "Sometimes I do think I'm living in the wrong age. I think to be young and living in the 1960's might have been really fun."
I smiled now. "I was too old for the 60's and by the time I understood them, they were over. Your mother and I used to say that we missed the sexual revolution, but we missed it together."
Betty stood on the point of leaving, framed in the doorway. "Father, I'm really all right. I've finally become the person I want to be." She left the room and I sat quietly wondering what it all meant.
* * *
When Christmas came, with all our children and grandchildren at Duncan House, Betty still declared privately to me that the holiday season was a fraud. "The spirit of Christmas," she told me, "is the impossible hope to receive the perfect gift, to succeed in pleasing
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everyone completely. The wrappings and trim are an illusion we create that an ideal fantasy lies within the package."
I was beyond Christmas, but loved it anyway. When I could, I engaged in child study among my grandchildren. Now I had a new role, grandfather. The old are another race, removed from reality, and perceived as never having been young.
Betty's three girls were all different, Cathy dark, Amy a golden, honey blond, Paula a bright redhead. Yet they were all the same too, thin, delicate, energetic, loving. I took Betty's three girls, aged seven, four, and two out to the stores to see Santa by myself.
The middle girl, Amy, struggling to get dressed for this adventure told me: "I could put on these shoes, if I could," which was true enough. Later I watched Amy snuggle up to the Santa fantasy in the store and say: "Bring me some goodies." And I felt rewarded.
Children finally fly from the nest and we parents know that someday they must. Yet our hopes and fears, all our warnings and
tears, all our praise and cheers, everything we have put into raising them through the years, goes with them when they leave.
My daughter Betty seemed to be using the parties and social events in D.C..
For my part, I must say I have never seen such a bunch of total parasites as attended the parties in Washington. I met so many people
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whose function as a part of our government I thought had no purpose. Further, a massive circle of minor agents of foreign powers lived in Washington, not really caring for their own home governments, but here in America having a good time. If you asked this group to do any work you were interrupting them.
“What are you really looking for out there?” I asked Betty again, directly, one Spring day when we were alone in the living room of Duncan House.
She laughed her self-deprecating tinkle. “I am sure she used that laugh a lot when playing her game. “Merely the perfect man, father,” she replied.
“There is no perfection in this life,” I confided. “I’ve never met any perfect people. Humanity at present, in the phrase of the philosopher Nietzsche, is ‘becoming.’ People are unfinished, half way between man and superman, Nietzsche said.”
Betty made a face. “There must be some people who are together somewhere. Why is life in the movies so easy?”
“In the movies they can remake the scene. They show the hero getting on the train and getting off. The audience doesn’t have to take the whole long boring ride with him.” Abruptly I threw up my hands. “Betty, you keep looking for the same thing and you keep finding it. And it isn’t what you want.”
“But what do I want, father,” she asked.
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In the end Betty’s affair with the latest Washington lawyer ended and she returned to New York City.
Our oldest son, Don, had already gone back to California to continue working with his music group. He too capitalized on my friendship with our alien visitor, writing a successful song about Xan-Tu the robot, which reached diamond status on the charts.
In the Spring our youngest daughter, Susan, finally graduated from college. She moved to Washington, living at Duncan House for several months. Sue began dating here, but soon returned to Florida where she had gone to school. She was going to try for an MBA. It seemed to me that it was a way of extending childhood. I asked Sue why she had broken up with her boyfriend and she replied: “I didn’t want to make the same mistake once.” I almost understood her.
My wife, Helen, was settling in to Duncan House by this time. She asked if she could have an exercise machine installed in our bedroom and it happened. The exercise machine was installed at her request in front of the television. I commended her on rebuilding herself, but instead it seemed to cut her television watching.
I knew the exercise phase was over when Helen declared: “I’d like to get one of those battery operated TV’s to take with me.”
I joked to distract her. “It wouldn’t work. If you put it in the casket for after death viewing, the battery would run down and
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they would have to keep digging us up to recharge it. I guess that might be the origin of the phrase: ‘Dig you later.’”
Helen just looked at me blankly, like a television set that had just gone off.
* * *
I returned once that Spring to check on our home in Arizona. The small city of Las Palmas had become a tourist town. Sadly, Jose Herrera had quit high school and become a tour guide, escorting the curious visitors to the site of the alien ship’s landing.
* * *
Back at Duncan House and alone with Xan-Tu I asked a question that had been troubling me for some time. “Xan-Tu,” I said, “you have twenty-four arms, feelers, appendages. Yet I never see you do more than wave a couple of these about. You seem to be able to move things and accomplish your desires by something close to pure thought. So what is the purpose of your many appendages? Excuse me if I overstep the boundaries of our friendship.”
“None of your questions have ever bothered me, Jerry West. Some of the worlds I have encountered possess intelligent creatures
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you might see as beetles, giant or tiny, whose conversation is entirely managed by antennas. Speech is not the normal communication of the universe. This is one reason why your scientists have not heard from intelligent life forms earlier. Delicate shades of meaning can often be conveyed by a variety of vibrations. Without these appendages I would not be able to communicate on some worlds.”
I thought of some other questions, but I did not ask them.
* * *
For months there had been a growing group of protestors parading around Duncan House carrying signs that declared quite plainly: "Xan-Tu go home." As the weather warmed in the Spring the number of protestors grew.
There are always those who hated and those who demanded a vote on some issue. After they lost they felt cheated, full of hatred. Some protestors hated Xan-Tu for interfering in earthly affairs. Occasionally protesters in the form of terrorists struck in many places in the world. They had lost through ballots so they tried bullets.
As a former historian I was reminded of the time in ancient Greece when some of the leading citizens of various Greek cities were banished. "Ostracizing" was what the Greeks called the expelling of
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citizens from a community. One man in Greece was sent away from his home city by the citizens who got tired of hearing him called "the Good."
When my personal disaster occurred it all happened too fast for even Xan-Tu to intercede. Later I had a suspicion he knew something violent was coming. Maybe he wanted to allow the world's people to see what it might be like after he left unless stringent measures were taken.
It was at another party in Washington, a great place for continual parties. The affair was at a huge home of one of the
powerful leaders of the Quadrilateral Commission. There was a great banquet table set up and people milling about on several levels. Xan-Tu had learned the trick of toasting. He would extend a tentacle through his force shield and hold a wine glass high. Then, without his drinking any, the liquid would slowly disappear, apparently running down into the stem of the glass.
Then a bearded man in a tuxedo extended his hand to shake mine and I let him in to my personal force shielded area. He had a small gun concealed in his palm.
I had heard that great pain produces automatic bodily cutoffs and I now found out how true that was. I felt nothing as I lay bleeding and dying on the floor. Then there was more shooting. A half dozen waiters were blasting away at the crowd with automatic weapons from
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the balcony. I saw all of this as if in a dream, as I lay on the floor.
Xan-Tu paralyzed the attackers with one sweep of his light ray, but it was too late, though I did not know that at the time. Xan-Tu patched up my heart from across the room right on the spot, sending out a bolt of light from one of his tentacles. It was probably some process akin to laser technology. Still I had lost a lot of blood and was brought by ambulance to the hospital.
It was later when I found out. The attackers, posing as a catering service had killed the American President, Reed Hamilton. Others had been murdered at the same time, and I was sure it was deliberate, but among these was my wife Helen, shot several times in the head.
There I was at the hospital, the doctors remarking on how well my heart and arteries had been repaired. They gave me a blood transfusion and bed rest. Several hours later Xan-Tu came floating in.
"I am so sorry, Jerry," he began, and since I knew nothing about what had happened except my view from the floor of the banquet, it all came as a surprise. Xan-Tu told me of President Reed Hamilton's death and then about Helen.
"They could not reach me and wanted to hurt me in some way," Xan-Tu suggested. "And I can not prevent all the mad things men may
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do. You humans are a violent people. I should have known that there would be more efforts to simply destroy."
I lay there with the tubes up my nose, in my arm, and even in my penis to remove fluid, all drugged up, almost unable to comprehend. I felt guilty. Yes, I had been on an ego trip, loving the experience of being at the center of events. Helen had always been on the outside, even here in Washington, wanting nothing more than to watch her television. And now she had been killed. But we always feel guilty at the death of others who are close, feeling we should have done more to save them.
”Í must say, Jerry," Xan-Tu continued after a bit, "that even after what you humans call death, I could have used the cells to restore life, to Reed Hamilton, to Helen, and to others. But it
would not have been the same life. If so many people had not been shot in the head from above, including your Helen and President Hamilton, it would not have been a problem. But serious head injuries in humans bring brain death to the images that mean memory."
Xan-Tu paused so I could absorb that much. "I could do something akin to what you call cloning, only instantaneously," the alien continued, "but the American people would not want a look-alike man who could not remember his past. You would not want Helen without her past memories. They would apparently be the same person, but without memory there is no use trying to fool anyone."
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I nodded as best I could, feeling desolate. There was one more pause and then Xan-Tu concluded: "As to yourself, your heart and arteries are stronger, for having been repaired. Jerry, if I were to genetically redesign humans, the first thing I would do would be give you five small hearts down the middle of the chest instead of one."
* * *
I was in the hospital for a week and on an exercise schedule after I got back to Duncan House. The children were all back for Helen's funeral. It was after this, when I was told that Xan-Tu was leaving shortly, that he offered to take me along.
"I have been thinking about it Jerry, and I am concerned that you will be a target again once I leave. I cannot allow you to keep the force shield. Think it over."
There seemed to be nothing left here on earth for me and I accepted the offer. I was still feeling depressed, but I had done by best for my children and Helen was gone.
"Once we leave the planet it will be journey of several your years before we reach our next destination," Xan-Tu told me. "I will have to alter your form so that you continue to live as we proceed with our trip. It is not exactly immortality, but close. You will
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appear to be a man and think as one." Xan-Tu told me a bit more about the process, which I will not relate here. In any case, I agreed.
* * *
That night I had a science-fiction type dream in living color. I was very old and some doctors told me I was dying. Then in the dream a man in my hospital room told me they could take my brain and connect it to a computer so I could live forever. I asked, "What about my wife, Helen?" The doctors told me: "You can never speak to her again. Her brain has been connected to a TV." I woke from my dream sweating profusely.
As I thought of this dream, I was reminded by my wide reading in my childhood of a story by Mark Twain of a man who was drunk in a bar. He passed out and had a 70-year dream between the time he fell asleep and his head hit the table. I was reflecting now on what Xan-Tu had said about the relativity of time.
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* * *
When the word got out that I was leaving with Xan-Tu one Washington newspaper, who hated the visitor, suggested I had sold myself to the alien and had no other recourse but to flee and become a curiosity in some alien zoo. I felt quite the opposite about my decision. Xan-Tu could kidnap whom he wished and he had asked my permission. As it turned out there were many who began to appeal to Xan-Tu to go along, all of whom he refused. I was going off to see the universe.
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"To one thing do all men agree and that is there is no
general agreement among men on anything. And yet in all
societies survival depends upon agreements." - Xan-Tu
In the end many people said this whole year with Xan-Tu meant nothing. Humans could have done everything that happened for themselves. We really needed no outside help. It was all so simple. Perhaps. Or perhaps it would have been the end of mankind. If we could only see beyond the curtain of time, how differently we might all act at any given moment.
True, there was no new knowledge imparted to mankind by our alien guest except that we were not alone in the universe. And even the messenger from beyond had been unable to prevent the shooting deaths in the final days of his stay.
The human race was still on its own. I have here written up an account of what I have experienced. I won't be around to see how the game is played out.
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* * *
Editor's note: As the spaceship with Xan-Tu and Jerry West departed for the stars, many of us watching wished we could have gone too. And we never will forget the last words of Xan-Tu as he left:
"We shall be in touch," he said.