by William Tenn
You tell them, Alvarez, old boy; you know how to talk to them. This isn’t my kind of public relations. All I care about is that they get the pitch exactly right, with all the implications and complications and everything just the way they really were.
If it hurts, well, let them yell. Just use your words and get it right. Get it all.
You can start with the day the alien spaceship landed outside Baltimore. Makes you sick to think how we never tumbled, doesn’t it, Alvarez? No more than a hop, skip, and a jet from the Capitol dome, and we thought it was just a lucky accident.
Explain why we thought it was so lucky. Explain about the secrecy it made possible, the farmer who telephoned the news was placed in special and luxurious custody, how a hand-picked cordon of M.P.s paced five square miles off into an emergency military reservation a few hours later, how Congress was called into secret session and the way it was all kept out of the newspapers.
How and why Trowson, my old sociology prof, was consulted once the problem became clear. How he blinked at the brass hats and striped pants and came up with the answer.
Me. I was the answer.
How my entire staff and I were plucked out of our New York offices, where we were quietly earning a million bucks, by a flying squad of the F.B.I. and air-mailed to Baltimore, Honestly, Alvarez, even after Trowson explained the situation to me, I was still irritated. Government hush-hush always makes me uncomfortable. Though I don’t have to tell you how grateful I was for it later.
The spaceship itself was such a big surprise that I didn’t even wet my lips when the first of the aliens slooshed out. After all those years of streamlined cigar shapes the Sunday supplement artists had dreamed up, that colorful and rococo spheroid rearing out of a barley field in Maryland looked less like an interplanetary vessel than an oversized ornament for a what-not table. Nothing that seemed like a rocket jet anywhere.
“And there’s your job.” The prof pointed. “Those two visitors.”
They were standing on a flat metal plate surrounded by the highest the republic had elected or appointed. Nine feet of slimy green trunk tapering up from a rather wide base to a pointed top, and dressed in a tiny pink-and-white shell. Two stalks with eyes on them that swung this way and that, and seemed muscular enough to throttle a man. And a huge wet slash of a mouth that showed whenever an edge of the squirming base lifted from the metal plate.
“Snails,” I said. “Snails!”
“Or slugs,” Trowson amended. “Gastropodal mollusks in any case.” He gestured at the roiling white bush of hair that sprouted from his head. “But, Dick, that vestigial bit of coiled shell is even less an evolutionary memento than this. They’re an older—and smarter—race.”
He nodded. “When our engineers got curious, they were very courteously invited inside to inspect the ship. They came out with their mouths hanging.”
I began to get uncomfortable. I ripped a small piece off my manicure. “Well, naturally, prof; if they’re so alien, so different—”
“Not only that. Superior. Get that, Dick, because it’ll be very important in what you have to do. The best engineering minds that this country can assemble in a hurry are like a crowd of South Sea Islanders trying to analyze the rifle and compass from what they know of spears and wind storms. These creatures belong to a galaxy-wide civilization composed of races at least as advanced as they; we’re a bunch of backward hicks in an unfrequented hinterland of space that’s about to be opened to exploration. Exploitation, perhaps, if we can’t measure up. We have to give a very good impression and we have to learn fast.”
A dignified official with a brief case detached himself from the nodding, smiling group around the aliens and started for us.
“Whew!” I commented brilliantly. “Fourteen ninety-two, repeat performance.” I thought for a moment, not too clearly. “But why send the Army and Navy after me? I’m not going to be able to read blueprints from—from—”
“Betelgeuse. Ninth planet of the star Betelgeuse. No, Dick, we’ve already had Dr. Warbury out here. They learned English from him in two hours, although he hasn’t identified a word of theirs in three days! And people like Lopez, like Mainzer, are going quietly psychotic trying to locate their power source. We have the best minds we can get to do the learning. Your job is different. We want you as a top-notch advertising man, a public-relations executive. You’re the good impression part of the program.”
The official plucked at my sleeve and I shrugged him away. “Isn’t that the function of government glad-handers?” I asked Trowson.
“No. Don’t you remember what you said when you first saw them? Snails! How do you think this country is going to take to the idea of snails—giant snails—who sneer condescendingly at our skyscraper cities, our atomic bombs, our most advanced mathematics? We’re a conceited kind of monkey. Also, we’re afraid of the dark.”
There was a gentle official tap on my shoulder. I said “Please!” impatiently. I watched the warm little breeze ruffle Professor Trowson’s slept-in clothes and noticed the tiny red streaks in his weary eyes.
“ ‘Mighty Monsters from Outer Space.’ Headlines like that, Prof?”
“Slugs with superiority complexes. Dirty slugs, more likely. We’re lucky they landed in this country, and so close to the Capitol too. In a few days we’ll have to call in the heads of other nations. Then, sometime soon after, the news will be out. We don’t want our visitors attacked by mobs drunk on superstition, planetary isolation, or any other form of tabloid hysteria. We don’t want them carrying stories back to their civilization of being shot at by a suspendered fanatic who screamed, ‘Go back where you come from, you furrin’ seafood!’ We want to give them the impression that we are a fairly amiable, fairly intelligent race, that we can be dealt with reasonably well.”
I nodded. “Yeah. So they’ll set up trading posts on this planet instead of garrisons. But what do I do in all this?”
He punched my chest gently. “You, Dick—you do a job of public relations. You sell these aliens to the American people!”
The official had maneuvered around in front of me. I recognized him. He was the Undersecretary of State.
“Would you step this way, please?” he said. “I’d like to introduce you to our distinguished guests.”
So he stepped, and I stepped, and we scrunched across the field and clanked across the steel plate and stood next to our gastropodic guests.
“Ahem,” said the Undersecretary politely.
The nearer snail bent an eye toward us. The other eye drew a bead on the companion snail, and then the great slimy head arched and came down to our level. The creature raised, as it were, one cheek of its foot and said, with all the mellowness of air being pumped through a torn inner tube, “Can it be that you wish to communicate with my unworthy self, respected sir?”
I was introduced. The thing brought two eyes to bear on me. The place where its chin should have been dropped to my feet and snaked around there for a second. Then it said, “You, honored sir, are our touchstone, the link with all that is great in your noble race. Your condescension is truly a tribute.”
All this tumbled out while I was muttering “How,” and extending a diffident hand. The snail put one eyeball in my palm and the other on the back of my wrist. It didn’t shake; it just put the things there and took them away again. I had the wit not to wipe my hands on my pants, which was my immediate impulse. The eyeball wasn’t exactly dry, either.
I said, “I’ll do my best. Tell me, are you—uh—ambassadors, sort of? Or maybe just explorers?”
“Our small worth justifies no titles,” said the creature, “yet we are both; for all communication is ambassadorship of a kind, and any seeker after knowledge is an explorer.”
I was suddenly reminded of an old story with the punchline, “Ask a foolish question and you get a foolish answer.” I also wondered suddenly what snails eat.
The second alien glided over and eyed me. “You may depend upon our utmost obedience,” it said humbly. “We understand your awesome function and we wish to be liked to whatever extent it is possible for your admirable race to like such miserable creatures as ourselves.”
“Stick to that attitude and we’ll get along,” I said.
By and large, they were a pleasure to work with. I mean there was no temperament, no upstaging, no insistence on this camera angle or that mention of a previously published book or the other wishful biographical apocrypha about being raised in a convent, like with most of my other clients.
On the other hand, they weren’t easy to talk to. They’d take orders, sure. But ask them a question. Any question:
“How long did the trip take you?”
“ ‘How long’ in your eloquent tongue indicates a frame of reference dealing with duration. I hesitate to discuss so complex a problem with one as learned as yourself. The velocities involved make it necessary to answer in relative terms. Our lowly and undesirable planet recedes from this beauteous system during part of its orbital period, advances toward it during part. Also, we must take into consideration the direction and velocity of our star in reference to the cosmic expansion of this portion of the continuum. Had we come from Cygnus, say, or Bootes, the question could be answered somewhat more directly; for those bodies travel in a contiguous arc skewed from the ecliptic plane in such a way that—”
Or a question like, “Is your government a democracy?”
“A democracy is a rule of the people, according to your rich etymology. We could not, in our lowly tongue, have expressed it so succinctly and movingly. One must govern oneself, of course. The degree of governmental control on the individual must vary from individual to individual and in the individual from time to time. This is so evident to as comprehensive a mind as yours that I trust you forgive me my inanities. The same control applies, naturally, to individuals considered in the mass. When faced with a universal necessity, the tendency exists among civilized species to unite to fill the need. Therefore, when no such necessity exists, there is less reason for concerted effort. Since this applies to all species, it applies even to such as us. On the other hand—”
See what I mean? A little of that got old quickly with me. I was happy to keep my nose to my own grindstone.
The Government gave me a month for the preparatory propaganda. Originally, the story was to break in two weeks, but I got down on my hands and knees and bawled that a publicity deadline required at least five times that. So they gave me a month.
Explain that carefully, Alvarez. I want them to understand exactly what a job I faced. All those years of lurid magazine covers showing extremely nubile females being menaced in three distinct colors by assorted monstrosities; those horror movies, those invasion-from-outer-space novels, those Sunday supplement fright splashes—all those sturdy psychological ruts I had to retrack. Not to mention the shudders elicited by mention of “worms,” the regulation distrust of even human “furriners,” the superstitious dread of creatures who had no visible place to park a soul.
Trowson helped me round up the men to write the scientific articles, and I dug up the boys who could pseudo them satisfactorily. Magazine mats were ripped apart to make way for yarns speculating gently on how far extraterrestrial races might have evolved beyond us, how much more ethical they might have become, how imaginary seven-headed creatures could still apply the Sermon on the Mount. Syndicated features popped up describing “Humble Creatures Who Create Our Gardens,” “Snail Racing, the Spectacular New Spectator Sport,” and so much stuff on “The Basic Unity of All Living Things” that I began to get uncomfortable at even a vegetarian dinner. I remember hearing there was a perceptible boom in mineral waters and vitamin pills…
And all this, mind you, without a word of the real story breaking. A columnist did run a cute and cryptic item about someone having finally found meat on the flying saucers, but half an hour of earnest discussion in an abandoned fingerprint file room prejudiced him against further comment along this line.
The video show was the biggest problem. I don’t think I could have done it on time with anything less than the resources and influence of the United States Government behind me. But a week before the official announcement, I had both the video show and the comic strip in production.
I think fourteen—though maybe it was more—of the country’s best comedy writers collaborated on the project, not to mention the horde of illustrators and university psychologists who combined to sweat out the delightful little drawings. We used the drawings as the basis for the puppets on the TV show and I don’t think anything was ever so gimmicked up with Popular Appeal—and I do mean Popular—as “Andy and Dandy.”
Those two fictional snails crept into the heart of America like a virus infection: overnight, everybody was talking about their anthropomorphic antics, repeating their quotable running gags and adjuring each other not to miss the next show. (“You can’t miss it, Steve; it’s on every channel anyway. Right after supper.”) I had the tie-ins, too: Andy and Dandy dolls for the girls, snail scooters for the boys, everything from pictures on cocktail glasses to kitchen d4calcomanias. Of course, a lot of the tie-ins didn’t come off the production line till after the Big Announcement.
When we gave the handouts to the newspapers, we “suggested” what headlines to use. They had a choice of ten. Even the New York Times was forced to shriek “REAL ANDY AND DANDY BLOW IN FROM BETELGEUSE,” and under that a four-column cut of blond Baby Ann Joyce with the snails.
Baby Ann had been flown out from Hollywood for the photograph. The cut showed her standing between the two aliens and clutching an eye stalk of each in her trusting, chubby hands.
The nicknames stuck. Those two slimy intellectuals from another star became even more important than the youthful evangelist who was currently being sued for bigamy.
Andy and Dandy had a ticker-tape reception in New York. They obligingly laid a cornerstone for the University of Chicago’s new library. They posed for the newsreels everywhere, surrounded by Florida oranges, Idaho potatoes, Milwaukee beer. They were magnificently cooperative.
From time to time I wondered what they thought of us. They had no facial expressions, which was scarcely odd, since they had no faces. Their long eye stalks swung this way and that as they rode down shrieking Broadway in the back seat of the mayor’s car; their gelatinous body-foot would heave periodically and the mouth under it make a smacking noise, but when the photographers suggested that they curl around the barely clad beauties, the time video rigged up a Malibu Beach show, Andy and Dandy wriggled over and complied without a word. Which is more than I can say for the barely clad beauties.
And when the winning pitcher presented them with an autographed baseball at that year’s World Series, they bowed gravely, their pink shell tops glistening in the sunlight, and said throatily into the battery of microphones: “We’re the happiest fans in the universe!”
The country went wild over them.
“But we can’t keep them here,” Trowson predicted. “Did you read about the debate in the U.N. General Assembly yesterday? We are accused of making secret alliances with nonhuman aggressors against the best interests of our own species.”
I shrugged. “Well, let them go overseas. I don’t think anyone else will be more successful extracting information from them than we were.”
Professor Trowson wriggled his short body up on a corner of his desk. He lifted a folder full of typewritten notes and grimaced as if his tongue were wrapped in wool.
“Four months of careful questioning,” he grumbled. “Four months of painstaking interrogation by trained sociologists using every free moment the aliens had, which admittedly wasn’t much. Four months of organized investigation, of careful data sifting.” He dropped the folder disgustedly to the desk and some of the pages splashed out. “And we know more about the social structure of Atlantis than Betelgeuse IX.”
We were in the wing of the Pentagon assigned to what the brass hats, in their own cute way, had christened Project Encyclopedia. I strolled across the large, sunny office and glanced at the very latest organizational wall chart. I pointed to a small rectangle labeled “Power Source Sub-Section” depending via a straight line from a larger rectangle marked “Alien Physical Science Inquiry Section.” In the small rectangle, very finely printed, were the names of an army major, a WAC corporal, and Drs. Lopez, Vinthe, and Mainzer.
“How’re they doing?” I asked.
“Not much better, I’m afraid.” Trowson turned away with a sigh from peering over my shoulder. “At least I deduce that from the unhappy way Mainzer bubbles into his soup spoon at lunch. Conversation between sub-sections originating in different offices on the departmental level is officially discouraged, you know. But I remember Mainzer from the university cafeteria. He bubbled into his soup the very same way when he was stuck on his solar refraction engine.”
“Think Andy and Dandy are afraid we’re too young to play with matches? Or maybe apelike creatures are too unpleasant-looking to be allowed to circulate in their refined and esthetic civilization?”
“I don’t know, Dick.” The prof ambled back to his desk and leafed irritably through his sociological notes. “If anything like that is true, why would they give us free run of their ship? Why would they reply so gravely and courteously to every question? If only their answers weren’t so vague in our terms! But they are such complex and artistically minded creatures, so chockful of poetic sentiment and good manners that it’s impossible to make mathematical or even verbal sense out of their vast and circumlocutory explanations. Sometimes, when I think of their highly polished manners and their seeming lack of interest in the structure of their society, when I put that together with their spaceship, which looks like one of those tiny jade carvings that took a lifetime to accomplish—”
He trailed off and began riffling the pages like a Mississippi steamboat gambler going over somebody else’s deck of cards.
“Isn’t it possible we just don’t have enough stuff as yet to understand them?”
“Yes. In fact, that’s what we always come back to. Warbury points to the tremendous development in our language since the advent of technical vocabularies. He says that this process, just beginning with us, already affects our conceptual approach as well as our words. And, naturally, in a race so much further along—But if we could only find a science of theirs which bears a faint resemblance to one of ours!”
I felt sorry for him, standing there blinking futilely out of gentle, academic eyes.
“Cheer up, Prof. Maybe by the time old Suckfoot and his pal come back from the Grand Tour, you’ll have unsnarled a sophistry and we’ll be off this ‘Me, friend; you come from across sea in great bird with many wings’ basis that we seem to have wandered into.’ ”
And there you are, Alvarez: a cheap advertising small-brain like me, and I was that close. I should have said something then. Bet you wouldn’t have nodded at me heavily and said, “I hope so, Dick. I desperately hope so.” But, come to think of it, not only Trowson was trotting up that path. So was Warbury. So were Lopez, Vinthe, and Mainzer. So was I, among others.
I had a chance to relax when Andy and Dandy went abroad. My job wasn’t exactly over, but the public relations end was meshing right along, with me needed only once in a while to give a supervisory spin. Chiefly, I maintained close contact with my opposite number in various other sovereign states, giving out with experienced advice on how to sell the Boys from Betelgeuse. They had to adjust it to their own mass phobias and popular myths; but they were a little happier about it than I had been without any clear idea of what public behavior to expect of our visitors.
Remember, when I’d started, I hadn’t even been sure those snails were housebroken.
I followed them in the newspapers. I pasted the pictures of the Mikado receiving them next to their nice comments on the Taj Mahal. They weren’t nearly so nice to the Akhund of Swat, but then when you think of what the Akhund said about them …
They tended to do that everywhere, giving just a little better than they got. For example, when they were presented with those newly created decorations in Red Square (Dandy got the Order of Extraterrestrial Friends of Soviet Labor, while, for some abstruse reason, the Order of Heroic Interstellar Champion of the Soviet People was conferred upon Andy), they came out with a long, ringing speech about the scientific validity of communist government. It made for cheering, flower-tossing crowds in the Ukraine and Poland but a certain amount of restiveness in these United States.
But before I had to run my staff into overtime hours, whipping up press releases which recapitulated the aliens’ statement before the joint houses of Congress and their lovely, sentimental comments at Valley Forge, the aliens were in Berne, telling the Swiss that only free enterprise could have produced the yodel, the Incabloc escapement in watches, and such a superb example of liberty; hadn’t they had democracy long enough to have had it first, and wasn’t it wonderful?
By the time they reached Paris I had the national affection pretty much under control again, although here and there a tabloid still muttered peevishly in its late city final. But, as always, Andy and Dandy put the clincher on. Even then I wondered whether they really liked DeRoges’s latest abstraction for itself alone.
But they bought the twisted sculpture, paying for it, since they had no cash of their own, with a thumb-sized gadget which actually melted marble to any degree of pattern delicacy the artist desired, merely by being touched to the appropriate surface. DeRoges threw away his chisels blissfully, but six of the finest minds in France retired to intensive nervous breakdowns after a week of trying to solve the tool’s working principles.
It went over big here:
ANDY AND DANDY PASS AS THEY GO
Betelgeuse Businessmen Show Appreciation for Value Received.
This newspaper notes with pleasure the sound shopper’s ethics behind the latest transaction of our distinguished guests from the elemental void. Understanding the inexorable law of supply and demand, these representatives of an advanced economic system refuse to succumb to the “gimmies.” If certain other members of the human race were to examine carefully the true implications of …
So when they returned to the United States after being presented at the British court, they got juicy spreads in all the newspapers, a tug-whistle reception in New York harbor and the mayor’s very chiefest deputy there on City Hall steps to receive them.
And even though people were more or less accustomed to them now, they were somehow never shoved off page one. There was the time a certain furniture polish got a testimonial out of them in which the aliens announced that they’d had particularly happy and glossy results on their tiny shell toppers with the goo; and they used the large financial rewards of the testimonial to buy ten extremely rare orchids and have them sunk in plastic. And there was the time …
I missed the television show on which it broke. I had gone to a side-street movie theater that night to see a revival of one of my favorite Chaplin pictures; and I’d never enjoyed the ostentatious greet-the-great hysterics of Celebrity Salon anyway. I hadn’t any idea of how long the M.C., Bill Bancroft, had waited to get Andy and Dandy on his program, and how much he was determined to make it count when the big night arrived.
Reconstructed and stripped of meaningless effusion, it went something like this:
Bancroft asked them if they weren’t anxious to get home to the wife and kiddies. Andy explained patiently, for perhaps the thirty-fourth time, that, since they were hermaphrodites, they had no family in any humanly acceptable sense. Bancroft cut into the explanation to ask them what ties they did have. Chiefly the revitalizer, says Andy politely.
Revitalizer? What’s a revitalizer? Oh, a machine they have to expose themselves to every decade or so, says Dandy. There’s at least one revitalizer in every large city on their home planet.
Bancroft makes a bad pun, waits for the uproarious audience to regain control, then asks: And this revitalizer—just what does it do? Andy goes into a longwinded explanation, the gist of which is that the revitalizers stir up cytoplasm in animal cells and refresh them.
I see, cracks Bancroft; the pause every decade that refreshes. And then, after being refreshed, you have what as a result? “Oh,” muses Dandy, “you might say we have no fear of cancer or any degenerative disease. Besides that, by exposing ourselves to revitalizers at regular intervals throughout our lifetime and refreshing our body cells, we quintuple our life expectancy. We live five times longer than we should. That’s about what the revitalizer does, you might say,” says Dandy. Andy, after thinking a bit, agrees. “That’s about it.”
Pandemonium, and not mild. Newspaper extras in all languages, including the Scandinavian. Lights burning late at night in the U.N. Headquarters with guards twenty deep around the site.
When President of the Assembly Sadhu asked them why they’d never mentioned revitalizers before, they did the snail equivalent of shrugging and said the Betelgeuse IX equivalent of nobody ever asked them.
President Sadhu cleared his throat, waved all complications aside with his long brown fingers and announced, “That is not important. Not now. We must have revitalizers.”
It seemed to take the aliens awhile to understand that. When they finally became convinced that we, as a species, were utterly entranced with the prospect of two to four centuries of life instead of fifty or sixty years, they went into a huddle.
But their race didn’t make these machines for export, they explained regretfully. Just enough to service their population. And while they could see as how we might like and must obviously deserve to have these gadgets, there was none to ferry back from Betelgeuse.
Sadhu didn’t even look around for advice. “What would your people want?” he asked. “What would they like in exchange for manufacturing these machines for us? We will pay almost any price within the power of this entire planet.” A rumbling, eager “yes” in several languages rolled across the floor of the Assembly.
Andy and Dandy couldn’t think of a thing. Sadhu begged them to try. He personally escorted them to their spaceship, which was now parked in a restricted area in Central Park. “Good night, gentlemen,” said President of the Assembly Sadhu. “Try—please try hard to think of an exchange.”
They stayed inside their ship for almost six days while the world almost went insane with impatience. When I think of all the fingernails bitten that week by two billion people …
“Imagine!” Trowson whispered to me. He was pacing the floor as if he full intended to walk all the way to Betelgeuse. “We’d just be children on a quintupled life scale, Dick. All my achievement and education, all yours, would be just the beginning! A man could learn five professions in such a life—and think what he could accomplish in one!”
I nodded, a little numb. I was thinking of the books I could read, the books I might write, if the bulk of my life stretched ahead of me and the advertising profession as just a passing phase at the beginning of it. Then again, somehow I’d never married, never had had a family. Not enough free time, I had felt. And now, at forty, I was too set in my ways. But a man can unset a lot in a century …
In six days the aliens came out. With a statement of price.
They believed they could persuade their people to manufacture a supply of revitalizers for us if—An IF writ very large indeed.
Their planet was woefully short of radioactive minerals, they explained apologetically. Barren worlds containing radium, uranium, and thorium had been discovered and claimed by other races, but the folk of Betelgeuse IX were forbidden by their ethics to wage aggressive war for territorial purposes. We had plenty of radioactive ore, which we used chiefly for war and biological research. The former was patently undesirable and the latter would be rendered largely unnecessary by the revitalizers.
So, in exchange, they wanted our radioactive elements. All of them, they stated humbly.
All right, we were a little surprised, even stunned. But the protests never started to materialize. There was an overwhelming chorus of “sold!” from every quadrant of the globe. A couple of generals here, a few militaristic statesmen there managed to raise direly pointing forefingers before they were whisked out of position. A nuclear physicist or two howled about the future of subatomic research, but the peoples of the earth howled louder.
“Research? How much research can you do in a lifetime of three hundred years?”
Overnight, the United Nations became the central office of a planet-wide mining concession. National boundaries were superseded by pitchblende deposits and swords were beaten into pickaxes. Practically anyone with a good, unable arm enlisted in the shovel brigades for two or more months out of the year. Comaraderie flew on the winds of the world.
Andy and Dandy politely offered to help. They marked out on detail contour maps the spots to be mined, and that included areas never suspected of radioactivity. They supplied us with fantastic but clear line drawings of devices for extracting the stuff from the ores in which it assayed poorly, and taught us the exact use of these devices, if not their basic principle.
They hadn’t been joking. They wanted it all.
Then, when everything was running smoothly, they buzzed off for Betelgeuse to handle their part of the bargain.
Those two years were the most exhilarating of my life. And I’d say everyone feels the same, don’t they, Alvarez? The knowledge that the world was working together, cheerfully, happily, for life itself. I put my year in at the Great Slave Lake, and I don’t think anyone of my age and weight lifted more pitchblende.
Andy and Dandy came back in two huge ships, manned by weird snail-like robots. The robots did everything, while Andy and Dandy went on being lionized. From the two ships, almost covering the sky, the robots ferried back and forth in strange, spiral aircraft, bringing revitalizers down, carrying refined radioactive elements aloft. No one paid the slightest attention to their methods of instantaneous extraction from large quantities of ore: we were interested in just one throbbing thought—the revitalizers.
They worked. And that, so far as most of us were concerned, was that.
The revitalizers worked. Cancer disappeared; heart disease and kidney disease became immediately arrested. Insects which were introduced into the square one-story lab structures lived for a year instead of a few months. And humans—doctors shook their heads in wonder over people who had gone through.
All over the planet, near every major city, the long, patient, slowly moving lines stood outside the revitalizers, which were rapidly becoming something else.
“Temples!” shouted Mainzer. “They look on them as temples. A scientist investigating their operation is treated by the attendants like a dangerous lunatic in a nursery. Not that a man can find a clue in those ridiculously small motors. I no longer ask what their power source can be. Instead, I ask if they have a power source at all!”
“The revitalizers are very precious now, in the beginning,” Trowson soothed him. “After a while the novelty will wear off and you’ll be able to investigate at your leisure. Could it be solar power?”
“No!” Mainzer shook his huge head positively. “Not solar power. Solar power I am sure I could recognize. As I am sure that the power supply of their ships and whatever runs these—these revitalizers are two entirely separate things. On the ships I have given up. But the revitalizers I believe I could solve. If only they would let me examine them. Fools! So terribly afraid I might damage one, and they would have to travel to another city for their elixir!”
We patted his shoulder, but we weren’t really interested. Andy and Dandy left that week, after wishing us well in their own courteous and complex fashion. Whole population groups blew kisses at their mineralladen ships.
Six months after they left, the revitalizers stopped.
“Am I certain?” Trowson snorted at my dismayed face. “One set of statistics proves it: look at your death rate. It’s back to pre-Betelgeuse normal. Or ask any doctor. Any doctor who can forget his U.N. security oath, that is. There’ll be really wild riots when the news breaks, Dick.”
“But why?” I asked him. “Did we do something wrong?”
He started a laugh that ended with his teeth clicking frightenedly together. He rose and walked to the window, staring out into the star-diseased sky. “We did something wrong, all right. We trusted. We made the same mistake all natives have made when they met a superior civilization. Mainzer and Lopez have taken one of the revitalizer engine units apart. There was just a trace of it left, but this time they found the power source. Dick, my boy, the revitalizers were run on the fuel of completely pure radioactive elements!”
I needed a few moments to file that properly. Then I sat down in the easy chair very, very carefully. I made some hoarse, improbable sounds before croaking: “Prof, do you mean they wanted that stuff for themselves, for their own revitalizers? That everything they did on this planet was carefully planned so that they could con us with a maximum of friendliness all around? It doesn’t seem—it just can’t—Why, with their superior science, they could have conquered us if they’d cared to. They could have—”
“No, they couldn’t have,” Trowson whipped out. He turned to face me and flung his arms across each other. “They’re a decadent, dying race; they wouldn’t have attempted to conquer us. Not because of their ethics—this huge, horrible swindle serves to illustrate that aspect of them—but because they haven’t the energy, the concentration, the interest. Andy and Dandy are probably representative of the few remaining who have barely enough git-up-and-go to trick backward peoples out of the all-important, life-sustaining revitalizer fuel.”
The implications were just beginning to soak into my cortex. Me, the guy who did the most complete and colossal public-relations job of all time—I could just see what my relations with the public would be like if I was ever connected with this shambles.
“And without atomic power, Prof, we won’t have space travel!”
He gestured bitterly. “Oh, we’ve been taken, Dick; the whole human race has been had. I know what you’re going through, but think of me! I’m the failure, the man responsible. I’m supposed to be a sociologist! How could I have missed? How? It was all there: the lack of interest in their own culture, the overintellectualization of esthetics, the involved methods of thought and expression, the exaggerated etiquette, even the very first thing of theirs we saw—their ship—was too heavily stylized and intricately designed for a young, trusting civilization.
“They had to be decadent; every sign pointed to that conclusion. And of course the fact that they resort to the methods of fueling their revitalizers that we’ve experienced—when if we had their science, what might we not do, what substitutes might we not develop! No wonder they couldn’t explain their science to us; I doubt if they understand it fully themselves. They are the profligate, inadequate and sneak-thief heirs of what was once a soaring race!”
I was following my own unhappy images. “And we’re still hicks. Hicks who’ve been sold the equivalent of the Brooklyn Bridge by some dressed-up sharpies from Betelgeuse.”
Trowson nodded. “Or a bunch of poor natives who have sold their island home to a group of European explorers for a handful of brightly colored glass beads.”
But of course we were both wrong, Alvarez. Neither Trowson nor I had figured on Mainzer or Lopez or the others. Like Mainzer said, a few years earlier and we would have been licked. But man had entered the atomic age some time before 1945 and people like Mainzer and Vinthe had done nuclear research back in the days when radioactive elements abounded on Earth. We had that and we had such tools as the cyclotron, the betatron. And, if our present company will pardon the expression, Alvarez, we are a young and vigorous race.
All we had to do was the necessary research.
The research was done. With a truly effective world government, with a population not only interested in the problem but recently experienced in working together—and with the grim incentive we had, Alvarez, the problem, as you know, was solved.
We developed artificial radioactives and refueled the revitalizers. We developed atomic fuels out of the artificial radioactives and we got space travel. We did it comparatively fast, and we weren’t interested in a ship that just went to the Moon or Mars. We wanted a star ship. And we wanted it so bad, so fast, that we have it now too.
Here we are. Explain the situation to them, Alvarez, just the way I told it to you, but with all the knee-bending and gobbledegook that a transplanted Brazilian with twelve years oriental trading experience can put into it. You’re the man to do it—I can’t talk like that. It’s the only language those decadent slugs understand, so it’s the only way we can talk to them. So talk to them, these slimy snails, these oysters on the quarter shell, those smart-alecky slugs. Don’t forget to mention to them that the supply of radioactives they got from us won’t last forever. Get that down in fine detail.
Then stress the fact that we’ve got artificial radioactives, and that they’ve got some things we know we want and lots of other things we mean to find out about.
Tell them, Alvarez, that we’ve come to collect tolls on that Brooklyn Bridge they sold us.