Authors: Avram Davidson
Whilst my mind was filled with these droll fancies, I felt a tug at my sleeve, where my guide was holding it. He gestured and I followed.
“Now,” I thought to myself, “he will bring me before the President of their Galactic Council, or whatever he is called,” and I stood obediently within a circle marked on the surface of the platform whereon we stood.
In a moment, we were teleported to an inside room somewhere, and there I gazed about me in stupefaction, not to say astonishment. My eyes discerned the forms of Bunsen burners, Baldor lathes, casting machines and ovens, denture trays, dental stone, plaster, shellac trays, wires of teeth, and all the necessary equipment of a fully equipped dental prosthetic laboratory.
My surprise at the progress made by these people in the science at which they were allegedly still children was soon mitigated by the realization that all the items had been made on Earth.
As I was looking and examining, a door opened and several people entered. Their faces were a pale blue, and I realized suddenly that my guide must be wearing makeup to conceal his original complexion. They spoke together in their native dialect; then one of them, with a rod of some kind in his hand, turned to me. He opened his mouth. I perceived his gums were bare.
“Dentical person,” he said, “make me teeth.”
I turned in some perplexity to my guide. “I understood you to say my first visit would be one of inspection only.”
Everyone laughed, and I observed that all were equally toothless.
The man in the chair poked me rudely with his rod or staff. “Talk not! Make teeth!”
Fuming with a well-justified degree of indignation, I protested at such a gross breach of the laws of common hospitality. Then, casting concealment to the winds, these people informed me as follows:
Their race is entirely toothless in the adult stage. They are an older race than ours and are born looking ancient and wrinkled. It is only comparatively recently that they have established contact with Earth, and in order that they should not appear conspicuous, and in order to be able to eat our food, they realized that they must be supplied with artificial teeth.
My so-called guide, false friend, my enticer and/or kidnaper, to give him his due, had gotten fitted at a dentist’s in New York and cunningly enquired who was the leading man in the field. Alas for fame! The man answered without a second of hesitation, “That is no other one than Morris Goldpepper, D.D.S., perfector of the Semi-retractable Clasp.”
First this unscrupulous extraterrestrial procured the equipment, then he procured
“Do I understand that you purport that I assist you in a plan to thwart and otherwise circumvent the immigration laws of the United States?” was my enquiry.
The man in the chair poked me with his rod again. “You understand! So now make teeth!”
What a proposition to make to a law-abiding, patriotic American citizen by birth! What a demand to exact of a war veteran, a taxpayer and one who has been three times on jury duty since 1946 alone (People vs. Garrity, People vs. Vanderdam, and Lipschutz vs. Krazy-Kut Kool Kaps, Inc.)! My whole being revolted. I spoke coldly to them, informing them that the situation was contrary to my conception of dental ethics. But to no avail.
My treacherous dragoman drew a revolver from his pocket. “Our weapons understand, you do not. Primitive Earth weapons, yes. So proceed with manufacture, Imprisoned Goldpepper.”
I went hot and cold. Not, I beg of you to understand, with fear, but with humiliation.
The phrase, with all the connotations it implied, rang in my ears.
I bowed my head and a phrase from the literary work “Sampson Agonistes” (studied as a student in the College of the City of New York) rang through my mind: Eyeless in Gaza, grinding corn… Oh, blind, blind, amidst the blaze of noon …
But even in this hour of mental agony, an agony which has scarcely abated to speak of, I had the first glimmering of the idea which I hope will enable me to warn Earth.
Without a word, but only a scornful glance to show these blue-complected individuals how well I appreciated that their so-called advanced science was a mere veneer over the base metal of their boorishness, I set to work. I made the preliminary impressions and study casts, using an impression tray with oval floor form, the best suited for taking impressions of edentulous ridges.
And so began the days of my slavery.
Confined as I am here, there is neither day nor night, but an unremitting succession of frenum trims, post dams, boxing in, pouring up, festoon carving, fixing sprue channels, and all the innumerable details of dental prosthetic work. No one assists me. No one converses with me, save in brusque barks relevant to the work at hand. My food consists of liqueous and gelatinous substances such as might be expected would form the diet of a toothless race.
Oh, I am sick of the sight of their blue skins, bluer mouths and horny ridges! I am sick of my slavish serfdom!
I have been given material to keep records and am writing this in expectation of later reducing it in size by the method here employed, and of thereinafter inserting copies between the palatal and occlusual surfaces of the plates. It will be necessary to make such plates imperfect, so that the wearers will be obliged to go to dentists on Earth for repairs, because it is not always practical for them to teleport—in fact, I believe they can only do it on the 8th day of every third month. Naturally, I cannot do this to every plate, for they might become suspicious.
You may well imagine how it goes against my grain to produce defective work, but I have no other choice. Twice they have brought me fresh dental supplies, which is how I calculate their teleporting cycle. I have my wristwatch with me and thus I am enabled to reckon the passing of time.
What their exact purpose is in going to Earth, I do not know. My growing suspicion is that their much-vaunted superior science is a fraud and that their only superiority lies in the ability to teleport. One curious item may give a clue: They have questioned me regarding the Old Age Assistance programs of the several States. As I have said, they all
Can it be that elsewhere on this planet there is imprisoned some poor devil of a terrestrial printer or engraver, toiling under duress to produce forged birth certificates and other means of identification, to the fell purpose of allowing these aliens to live at ease at the financial expense of the already overburdened U.S. taxpayer?
To whom shall I address my plea for help? To the Federal Government? But it has no official or even unofficial knowledge that this otherworldly race exists. The F.B.I.? But does teleporting under false pretenses to another planet constitute kidnaping across State lines?
It seems the only thing I can do is to implore whichever dental practitioner reads these lines to communicate at once with the American Dental Association. I throw myself upon the mercy of my fellow professional men.
Dentists and Dental Prostheticians! Beware of men with blue mouths and horny, edentulous ridges! Do not be deceived by flattery and false promises! Remember the fate of that most miserable of men, Morris Goldpepper, D.D.S., and, in his horrible predicament, help, oh, help him!
A long silence followed the reading of this document. At length it was broken by Dr. Hansen.
“That brave man,” he said in a husky voice. “That brave little man.”
“Poor Morris,” said Dr. Danbourge. “Think of him imprisoned on a far-off planet, slaving like a convict in a salt mine, so to speak, making false teeth for these inhuman aliens, sending these messages to us across the trackless void. It’s pitiful, and yet, Doctors, it is also a tribute to the indomitable spirit of Man!”
Dr. Weinroth moved his huge hands. “I’d like to get ahold of just one of those blue bastards,” he growled.
Dr. Rorke cleared his throat. All present looked at their President respectfully and eagerly.
“I need hardly tell you, Doctors,” he said crisply, “that the A.D.A. is a highly conservative organization. We do not go about things lightly. One such message we might ignore, but there have been eleven reported, all identical with the first. Even eleven such messages we might perhaps not consider, but when they come from a prominent scientist of the stature of Dr. Morris Goldpepper—
“Handwriting experts have pronounced this to be
handwriting beyond cavil of a doubt. Here”—he delved into a box—“are the eleven plates in question. Can any of you look at these clean lines and deny that they are the work of the incomparable Goldpepper?”
The six other men looked at the objects, shook their heads.
“Beautiful,” murmured Dr. Smith, “even in their broken state. Poems in plastic! M. G.
produce bad work if he tried!”
Dr. Rorke continued. “Each report confirmed that the person who brought in the plate had a blue mouth and edentulous ridges, just as the message states. Each blue-mouthed patient exhibited the outward appearance of old age.
, gentlemen, of those eleven, no less than
were reported from the State of California. Do you realize what that means? California offers the highest amount of financial assistance to the elderly! Goldpepper’s surmise was right!”
Dr. Hansen leaned forward. “In addition, our reports show that five of those eight are leaders in the fight against fluoridation of drinking water! It is my carefully considered belief that there is something in their physical makeup, evolved on another planet, which cannot tolerate fluorine even in minute quantities, because they certainly—being already toothless—wouldn’t be concerned with the prevention of decay.”
Young Dr. McCallister took the floor. “We have checked with dental supply houses and detail men in the New York metropolitan area and we found that large quantities of prosthetic supplies have been delivered to an otherwise unknown outfit—called the Echs Export Company—located not far north of the Washington Market! There is every reason to believe that this is the place Dr. Goldpepper mentioned. One of our men went there, found present only one man, in appearance an
man. Our representative feigned deafness, thus obliging this person to open his mouth and talk loudly. Doctors, he reports that this person
has a blue mouth!
There was a deep intake of breath around the table.
Dr. Rorke leaned forward and snapped off the tape recorders. “This next is off the record. It is obvious, Doctors, that no ordinary methods will suffice to settle this case, to ensure the return of our unfortunate colleague, or to secure the withdrawal of these extraterrestrial individuals from our nation and planet. I cannot, of course, officially endorse what might be termed ‘strong-arm’ methods. At the same time, I feel that our adversaries are not entitled to polite treatment. And obviously the usual channels of law enforcement are completely closed to us.
“Therefore—and remember, no word of this must pass outside our circle—therefore I have communicated something of this matter to Mr. Albert Annapollo, the well-known waterfront figure, who not long ago inaugurated the splendid Longshoremen’s Dental Health Plan. Mr. Annapollo is a somewhat rough person, but he is nonetheless a
“We know now the Achilles heel of these alien creatures. It is fluorine. We know also how to identify them. And I think we may shortly be able to announce results. Meanwhile—” he drew a slip of paper from his pocket—“it is already the first of the month in that quarter when the dental supplies are due to be transported—or teleported, as Dr. Goldpepper terms it—to their distant destination. A large shipment is waiting to be delivered from the warehouses of a certain wholesaler to the premises of the Echs Exporting Company. I have had copies of this made and wrapped around each three-ounce bottle of Ellenbogen’s Denture Stik-Phast. I presume it meets with your approval.”
He handed it to Dr. Hansen, who, as the others present nodded in grimly emphatic approval, read it aloud.
“From The American Dental Association, representing over 45,000 registered dentists in the United States and its Territories, to Dr. Morris Goldpepper, wherever you may be: DO NOT DESPAIR! We are intent upon your rescue! We will bend every effort to this end! We shall fight the good fight!
“Have courage, Dr. Morris Goldpepper! You shall return!”
When “Now Let Us Sleep” first appeared it excited a fine reaction. The dark issues it confronts lie deep within us. Since its publication, we have learned much about our origins, our connections to the other primates, and implications for our own lot in the universe.
Consider the chimpanzees. We separated from them genetically about six million years ago and differ by less than two percent in our DNA. We’ve patched together, from field observation and evolutionary logic, a picture of how they—and we—evolved our social behaviors.
The issues of this story arise from a conflict between Avram’s clear, liberal sympathies and the nagging knowledge that maybe our core natures conflict. This is dismaying news indeed.
Let me sketch some of the perspectives from a scientific view, to outline the problems.
Chimpanzees move in small groups, disliking outsiders, breeding mostly within their modest circle of a few dozen. This meant that any genetic trait that emerged could pass swiftly into all the members, through inbreeding. If it helped the band survive, the rough rub of chance would select for that band’s survival.
But the trait had to be undiluted. A troop of especially good rock throwers would get swallowed up if they joined a company of several hundred, their genetic heritage watered down.
What to do? Striking a balance between the accidents of genetics in small groups, and the stability of large groups—that was the trick, we believe.
Some lucky troop might have genetic traits that fit the next challenge handed out by the ever-altering world. They did well. With some out-breeding, that trait got spread into other bands. Down through the strainer of time, others picked up the trait. It spread.