When They Come from Space (3 page)

BOOK: When They Come from Space
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Mainly because I couldn't find a pause to interrupt, I let him finish the quick once-over of his department, since it was apparent he liked to talk about all the wonderful things they were thinking of doing. Then I dropped my bomb.

I wasn't the right man for the job—whatever it might be!

Apparently that thousandth part of his mind he was giving me wasn't enough for him to grasp that I meant I was the wrong Kennedy.

"Now, now, now, Dr.!” he chattered absently, hurriedly, and bounced out of his executive chair to pace about the room. “We haven't time for the usual polite self-deprecations. All very commendable, of course. Shows you had the proper training. Gives me confidence in you. Understand your reluctance to succeed where the rest of us have failed. Natural teamwork spirit. Commendable, most commendable. Ah yes, better to fail and keep the approval of your fellow scientists than to succeed and make enemies of them.

"Proper attitude. Most acceptable. Proud to have you on my team, Dr. Kennedy. Knew you were just the man. Knew that right away."

I leaned my elbow on his desk and braced my head with my hand. Too late, I realized what my procedure should have been. I should have told him I was eager for the job, just had to have it. That would have made him judiciously consider and reject me. I should have done it with Space Navy. Then they'd have been sure to find some reason why I couldn't make the grade.

"...proper humility, modesty,” Kibbie was still rambling along. He whirled around and shook an admonitory finger at me, which made me lift my head again. “But that's all out now. For the duration. Can't afford to fail this time. Not even if the other scientists get peed off with you for admitting that you know whatever it is you know. In a war emergency, individuals have to rise to self-sacrifice. Martyrdom!"

He beamed upon me proudly from the center of the room, where his feet had been following the intricate design of the rug, and struck a pose which might have appeared noble had not his round stomach, short legs, and pink complexion reminded me so much of a Kewpie doll won at a carnival booth.

"What war emergency?” I was finally able to get down to the question.

"Why—ah—” He looked startled, and then came to a quick recapitulation of my state of ignorance. For a moment I thought the added burden might be too much for him, but he shouldered it manfully. He gave up trying to step on each of the yellow dots in the rug, and paced in short, rapid steps over to the window, where he gazed at the impressive row of shining white government buildings stretching to the horizon. There was a silence while he collected his thoughts. Apparently he decided I could take the full brunt of it, all at once.

"We're going out to Jupiter's moons!” He made the announcement portentous.

"Of course,” I said indifferently. “So?"

His face took on a hurt expression.

"You already know that?” he asked, disappointed.

"It's been in all the papers for days, weeks."

"Those congressmen!” he exclaimed bitterly. “Always sucking up to news reporters, hoping they'll get their names in the papers or even mentioned on TV."

"But anybody could have figured it out,” I consoled him. “We've already got contingents on Mars and Venus. We're not equipped to start mining the Asteroid belt just yet. The state of the art won't permit landing on Jupiter, itself. Naturally, its moons would be next."

"I suppose you're right,” he agreed ruefully. “Not really much of a secret."

"But what has that got to do with a war emergency?” I asked curiously.

"Don't you see?” he admonished me, and shook his finger at me again. “We don't know much about those moons. What if there is some kind of life form there? What if it is technically advanced? What if it is hostile? What if we weren't prepared? So—a war emergency!"

"Oh, come now!” I made no secret of my disgust. “That's going pretty extreme, even if you had a military mind—which you haven't."

He looked at me piercingly, and then his eyes began to twinkle.

"Shrewd!” he congratulated me. “Very shrewd. Oh, I knew you were the right man for me. Doesn't take you in for a minute. Took in that congressional committee without a murmur of doubt. Secret session of course. Very, very hush-hush. I asked for four billion. They gave me only two billion, so, later when it can be told, they can show the voters how economy minded they were. Paid me two billion dollars, well, for running my department, of course, for the status satisfaction of being in on something nobody else knows. In open session they wouldn't have given me a dime."

"So the war emergency is just a con,” I said.

He paced the floor for a moment more. His face was serious, drawn in worry.

"No,” he said at last. “It's real.” He came across the room to stand at my elbow. “So now I'll tell you the real reason. The one known to the top men here in the Pentagon. The one we couldn't tell Congress because they're such blabbermouths, and so we had to con them."

He took up his pursuit of the yellow dots in the rug design again while he assembled his thought.

"Mustn't leak this to the reporters, son,” he began in a warning. “Public mustn't know, mustn't find out."

"Why?” I asked.

He drew a quick breath.

"Oh my! Oh my! You really are from the Outside! Have to do something about that Outside attitude, right away. You're in government now. First rule of government of the people, by the people, for the people: Never tell the people!"

He came over and stood in front of me. He peered at me through narrowed eyes. Apparently he was waiting for a loyalty oath. I raised my fingers in scout's honor. It seemed to satisfy him.

"The Black Fleet has struck four times!” he whispered hoarsely.

"The WHAT?” I shouted.

"Sh-h-h!” he put his fingers to his lips hurriedly, and looked around the room.

"The what?” I asked, more normally.

"The Black Fleet."

"What the hell is the Black Fleet?"

He snapped his fingers in delight.

"Good! Oh, good! Then that news hasn't leaked yet. Sometimes those generals and admirals are as anxious to get their names in the paper as a congressman.” He was as delighted as a child successfully playing button-button.

"Tell you all about it,” he said.

He came back and settled down in his chair behind his desk at last. My neck muscles appreciated it.

"Best if we start at the beginning,” he said. “We'll review the charts and analyses of all my departments on it. You're going to need to know every detail. Because, as the expert in extraterrestrial psychology, that's your job.

"To interpret what it all means.

"To find out who they are.

"What they are.

"What they're up to."

I waited, for he had spaced each item with a long impressive pause, and wasn't finished.

"And how we can drive them off before the people find out that Earth has been invaded!"

[Back to Table of Contents]


The announcement proved more impressive than the evidence.

Dr. Kibbie's staff tried. He combined introduction of his various department heads with a full-dress presentation of their material; but since neither then nor later did I have more than the most casual relations with the men, their names remained only names.

This half dozen or so assorted names brought in their charts and graphs, and charts and graphs explaining their charts and graphs. They produced maps and statistics and analyses, and analyses of maps and statistics and analyses. As the office walls, tables, desks, and even the floor became littered with these impressive evidences of loving labor, I began to get the feeling I was in a room of mirrors, where images of images were being repeated to infinity.

One such chart I remember as being a prototype of most. It was the pride and joy of Dr. Er-Ah. Meticulously, beautifully drafted, it covered an entire worktable. He went to some pains to assure me that this was only the working copy, that the master remained locked in their vault except at times it was mandatory to make further entries upon it, after such entries had been charted and approved on the working copy.

The purple vertical lines represented the hours. The red vertical lines represented the minutes. If I cared to verify the chart's accuracy, I would find there were always fifty-nine red lines in between the bolder purple lines. The still bolder black horizontal line represented the actual passage of time through the minutes and hours. The dotted pencil line, stretching out beyond the black horizontal, represented the prediction of time passage through the minutes and hours of the future.

With almost uncanny accuracy, Dr. Er-Ah could predict that, when so many minutes in the future had passed, a given number of hours would also have passed! It was now eleven o'clock. When sixty more minutes had passed, his chart revealed that there was strong probability that it would be twelve o'clock!

Now I began to get the idea how four hundred people could be kept busy, but I was not to woolgather about it, for he was not finished.

His clerks would fill in the bold black line, as each minute passed, to check the accuracy of his prediction. When this had been properly checked and verified and authorized, the master copy could be taken out of the vault and brought up to date with the working copy. Of course I appreciated that, while he had the working copy tied up in here for review, his department was being greatly handicapped, and would probably have to work overtime to catch up the delay in their work.

He reached his moment of triumph when I inquired what this had to do with extraterrestrial psychology.

"When, and if, another life form is discovered,” Dr. Er-Ah instructed gravely, “the instant will be marked on this chart, and finally on the master chart in the vault, as a permanent record for all posterity.” As one of the most momentous events in all mankind's history, I could appreciate the necessity for absolute accuracy when I realized that historians of the future for thousands of years, tens and hundreds of thousands of years, must refer back to this historic chart for an absolute fix.

The dedicated vision, which makes some few scientists great, shone from his visage.

Nor was Dr. Kibbie far behind in exaltation. Here, surrounded by the months of work that had gone into this display, each piece of which made valiant effort to equal the time chart in workmanship and usefulness, the man came into his own. Now I began to realize why a congressional committee had paid out two billion dollars. They are not the only ones to assume that charts and graphs must mean something.

Even more, I appreciated Dr. Kibbie's motive in keeping four hundred people busy accomplishing absolutely nothing. The status of a government official depends entirely upon his title and the number of people he supervises. It has nothing whatever to do with what he accomplishes, or whether anything at all is ever accomplished—the academic transferred to the government.

And Dr. Kibbie was determined to become a most important man.

I found myself wanting to believe in all this impressive work—a work of which I now, somehow, had become a part. Kibbie had that quality about him. There was no doubt now that he was a first-class con-man, active where the pickings are richest. He had already conned Congress out of two billion for nothing, and even granting the traditional congressional habit of shoveling out tax millions for wild-haired schemes while withholding pennies from sound and sorely needed projects, it was still quite a con feat. I suspected it was only a beginning.

I wanted to believe, to become a True Believer like the rest of his department. But obviously, I must still be thinking as an Outsider; for, boiled down to essentials, all the charts and graphs and analyses added up to little more than some of the vaguer flying saucer reports.

In the central Ural Mountains of Russia, some goat-herders had seen a fleet of black flying saucers hovering overhead. A red ray had licked down and melted away one of the peaks to make it run like a river. That was the sum and substance.

Some of their kids had brought the hallucination of their ignorant parents to the district school, where it could be exposed by the analysis of dialectic materialism. Ever alert to the evil machinations of the Wall Street Overlords, even while the teachers felt it best to soothe and explain away the superstition for their students, they, nonetheless, forwarded the information through the proper channels to the Propaganda Ministry. Possibly there was hope of reminding the peace-loving people of Russia of their danger by this latest invasion of the Capitalist Royalists and their Boot Licking Lackeys.

The Propaganda Ministry sent out some of its best propagandists to the Urals, and among them, of course, was one of our own C.I.A. operatives.

But when they got there, the parents had been convinced by their more enlightened children that either they hadn't seen what they knew they had seen, or had better keep their mouths shut about it. The reports and evidence were too evasive, tenuous, and vague, even for Kremlin purposes, and nothing more would have been heard of it—except that the C.I.A. operative felt it necessary to include a summary in his report to substantiate his expense account. He did see fit to add a footnote, a rather extensive footnote, to provide our own propagandists with whatever color background they might find useful.

As for example, although this was now fourth generation under communism's dialectic materialism, the backward peasants—er, enlightened comrade-workers—had been unable to separate natural from supernatural. With the excellent police training he had received here in the United States, he had succeeded in inciting them into committing the crime they had not intended to commit. Because he succeeded in convincing them he was one of them at heart, they confessed to him, in secret, how they had felt toward the phenomenon. They had dwelt heavily upon the semantics of Evil, as a palpable force, which emanated from the Black Fleet. Fear and hatred of the Fleet had swept over them, appalled and frozen them in their tracks, even before the emission of the red ray.

Perhaps it was this hint of the supernatural seeping through which made the Russian propagandists feel more was to be lost than gained through making something of it all and which caused them to hush up the whole thing. But maybe ours could find it useful to show that you can't educate primeval superstition out of man through appeals to logic and reason—or however sentimentally and culturally acceptable our own propagandists might want to phrase it.

BOOK: When They Come from Space
3.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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