Authors: Mark Clifton
Renaissance E Books
Deep within the spiraling galaxy, seen edge-on from Earth as the Milky Way, the thought channels summoned the regular members of the Interstellar Galaxy Council into communion.
"Our detection traps have been sprung."
"Another life form is stirring within the egg of its solar system."
"It has already spread from its mother planet cell to other cells within the egg."
"It may soon crack the shell, break through the insulating distance, spread out among the stars."
"Encountering our own cultures."
"Let us not be premature. It may prove stillborn. Never discover how to leave its egg, and destroy itself by its own growth within."
"But again, it may break through at any time. It need only discover the principle of the interstellar drive. So many have."
"Or, as among some of us, transcend mechanics entirely and learn how to transport or transmute the material, or the illusion of the material, by wish alone."
"To appear among us instantaneously."
"Unprepared for community responsibility."
"We do not know if this new life form is virulent or benign."
"Probably just adolescent."
"Some study in how to protect ourselves from it is indicated. Are we agreed?"
"Yes. Summon the Five."
"I suppose it is the usual survey job?"
"Council seems to think so."
"Best follow regular procedure; go right into the egg; remain undetected until we know the problem. Then appear, or not appear to them, as needed."
"Assuming their adolescence. That means they'll be more concerned with asserting than with learning. We'll need to gain their confidence if we appear."
"Not always easy to gain the confidence of an adolescent. His standards are not necessarily logical."
"But always naïve. Rescue him from peril and you are his friend. Ridiculous, but it does work."
"The trick is to find out what he considers peril."
"Threat to his survival, usually."
"But the semantics of the threat varies."
"His art forms usually reveal the semantics of his mores. If they've sprung the detection traps they undoubtedly have electronically distributed art forms."
"Reshape our outer forms into the approved symbols revealed by his art forms, faithfully follow the pattern."
"Yes, that usually works."
"Wait awhile. I've been vectoring this new disturbance. I seem to recall from the archives of some culture somewhere that there were some recent visitations to that area."
"How could there be? It's strictly violation of Galaxy Council's rules to make unauthorized visits, and we Five are always sent in first to make the initial survey."
"That brings it to mind. It was Vega. The fourth planet of Vega. The one who broke through the barrier before Council estimated they were ready. On their own they did some exploration of that section. The Vegans were still pretty primitive in some aspects."
"Well, they do admittedly still have a malicious streak in their character. Anyhow, they appeared before this lower life form as super-beings, and got quite a kick out of impressing them with magic tricks. Childish behavior, of course, and Council soon put a stop to it."
"But damage could have been done. If it is the same place, we could find a really messed-up semantic development."
"Might not be the same one. Hardly see how a life form could have progressed to the science of atomics if it were all messed up with belief in super-being magic—the unlogic of unreality behavior."
"Hope it wasn't the same culture. Such a messy problem."
"We'll have to study their art-form communication patterns carefully before we reveal ourselves. The meddling Vegans could have complicated the problem. The silly stage. ‘Look what a big deal I am. Aren't you properly impressed!’”
"Probably wasn't this culture at all. They've got nuclear fission and fusion. They've got interplanetary travel. We know they've got that, and they couldn't have if they hadn't at least some accurate estimations of reality."
"So they must be rational, after all."
The silken sough of sighing whirled infinity.
"Yes, of course. You're right. They're already rational!"
The scene in my waiting room was usual that June morning when I came, a little late, into my office. It was just after graduation and the benches and chairs were filled with young cybernetics engineers, primed by their college instructors to tell us what was wrong with our Company and how it ought to be operated—for a fabulous salary, of course. In the meantime they were waiting for someone to help them solve the hopeless puzzle of our application form—revised and simplified version—or to tell them how to spell “Yes” and “No."
My pretty receptionist sat behind her desk at the far end of the room, where she could guard the bank of glassed interviewing rooms to her right and the hall leading to my office to the left. She looked up alertly as I walked on down the room toward her.
"There's an important letter on your desk, Mr. Kennedy,” she called out in a voice louder than necessary as I approached her. I may have looked a little startled. Normally, we do not parade the mechanics of operating our Personnel Department before the applicants. And, too, it was usually reserved for Sara, my secretary, to break the news of what would face me that day.
"It's from the Pentagon,” the receptionist prattled on loudly, but her eyes were covertly on the applicants. I got the message then. Lucky applicants! to be hired by a company who has an executive who gets mail from the Pentagon!
"It's marked ‘Personal, Private, Confidential, Urgent,’ and...” as I approached her desk her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper which could still be heard in the farthest reaches of the room, “and ‘Top Secret!’”
"Why don't you get yourself a loud-speaker, girl,” I murmured out of one corner of my mouth as I started to pass her desk.
"Aw, give ‘em a thrill, boss,” she murmured back through ventriloquist lips, and caused me to hesitate in my stride. “Think of all those years of deadly monotony ahead of them if they do get hired."
"All right, all right!” I co-operated a little loudly myself. “Now what does that Pentagon want?” I shrugged impatiently.
I really wasn't very impressed. It was probably a poster they wanted pinned on our bulletin board telling our young men to quit their jobs and join Space Navy to see the universe. Which would be stretching it a bit, because we were still planning that supreme effort which would get us out as far as Jupiter's moons.
"Give the man an Oscar,” the receptionist murmured gratefully.
"Maybe the applicants are impressed with my importance,” I mumbled, “but my staff doesn't seem to be."
I walked on through the open door into my secretary's office, which was a buffer zone between me and the crude, rough world outside. Sara, alert and grinning as she sat behind her own desk, had also heard the receptionist's announcement. She held up a letter knife, handle toward me.
"You may open it all by yourself,” she said with her characteristic burlesque of secretarial concern. “With all those red cautions stamped on it, I didn't dare. It's lying right on top of your desk. You can't miss it."
I grinned back at her. I think Sara likes me. Behind her pose, she may even respect me. On occasion.
I took the knife and went on into my own office. The letter lay on an otherwise clean and polished surface. I couldn't miss it. Before I sat down I slit the envelope and pulled out a single folded sheet.
It wasn't a poster.
I slid my eyes past the quarter page of protocol, file and reference numbers, to the first paragraph. Halfway through the first sentence I sat down in my chair, rather heavily.
Dear Dr. Kennedy:
Pursuant to your application for the position of Staff Psychologist, specializing in the adaptation of Extraterrestrial Beings to Earth Ecology, your appointment is hereby confirmed.
You are ordered to report to Dr. Frederick Kibbie, Director of the Department of Extraterrestrial Life Research, Space Navy, Pentagon, promptly at 900 22-June-annum.
Inasmuch as this appointment automatically constitutes an Acting Commission in Space Navy (pending personal investigation of your sex practices by F.B.I.) failure to comply with this order will be prima facie evidence of willful disobedience of military orders by a commissioned officer in time of war emergency; an act of high treason; the exact penalties to be later fixed by formal Court-Martial.
Cordially yours, and my personal warmest congratulations.
STAR ADMIRAL HERBERT LYTLE Space Navy Personnel Director
I sat and stared through the slits of Venetian blind at the blank wall of our factory production unit across the street while I fumbled with a free hand for a sustaining cigarette.
It was a mistake, of course. Space Navy had got its files mixed up.
In the first place, I was plain Mister, not Doctor.
In the second place, I hadn't made any application to Space Navy for any kind of job.
Third, I wasn't a psychologist, let alone a specialist in the adaptation of Extraterrestrial Beings to Earth Ecology, whatever that might be. Frankly, I didn't see how there could be such a specialist since, so far, we hadn't discovered any Extraterrestrial Beings to adapt. And if we ever did, I wasn't sure who would have to do the adapting—they or us.
Fourth, there wasn't any war emergency, at least not that I'd heard of, and I'd surely have noticed the headlines while I was looking for the funnies.
Fifth, I didn't think it was any of the F.B.I.'s business what I did with my sex life, even if I were going to work for government, which I wasn't.
Sixth, I didn't want a commission in any kind of Navy, Space or Puddle.
Seventh, neither did I wish to be court-martialed for high treason by not showing up in precisely forty-eight hours.
In military style, which seemed to have ticked off the reasons why it must be a mistake. I need only communicate these points to Space Navy to straighten it out. I crushed out my cigarette and reached for the telephone.
Of course I didn't get to Star Admiral Herbert Lytle, who had welcomed me with such warm personal cordiality, but I did get as far as the clerk-yeoman in charge of the department of files handling names beginning in K.
There was a delay, Computer Research expense, while this fellow went to find my file. From three thousand miles away I could visualize his every movement while he searched the files where my dossier ought to be—but wasn't. From my own long experience in personnel offices, I could have told him to arrange a conference of the various department heads to have their staffs look under D for Doctor, Ra for Ralph, or in the Star Admiral's bottom desk drawer, his secretary's IN tray, OUT tray, wastebasket; or in possession of a contingent of shore patrolmen already on their way to arrest me.