Contents: The Trouble with You Earth People (1968) Unhuman Sacrifice (1958) The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl (1975) Syndrome Johnny (1951) Trouble with Treaties (1959) with Tom Condit The Origin of the Species (1953) Collision Orbit (1954) The Fittest (1951) These Truths (1958) Contagion (1950) Brain Wipe (1973) The Missing Man (1971)
Release date: December 17, 2015
Print pages: 274
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The Trouble With You Earth People
Her husband, hanging upside down from the exercise bar, shrugged. “I don’t remember. Some word for harmonic mutual aid or intercourse. Scientists focus on concepts. It doesn’t matter what words I used.”
“It matters,” she kissed the air in his direction. “You did a perfect study of the culture, your diplomacy was wonderful. This report must be complete in every detail. I want you to get the credit you deserve.” She resumed her note taking, listening through earphones to their recordings of their strangely unsuccessful attempt to open an embassy on the planet Earth, in which they almost lost their lives.
This is what happened—
“I can’t wait to meet Sir Harrington face to face and tell him that we are brothers, one soul. All anthropologists are brothers. I wonder what they will tell him to ask me.” Working off nervous energy, Rem Sh’baar did a running somersault and landed back on his feet.
His favorite wife, Tima, lying on the padded floor, said nothing. She pushed a button that turned the page of the book projected on the ceiling.
“They might ask me to explain anything. I wish I could just tell them what they need.” Rem Sh’baar climbed on the relaxing bars, hooked his legs over a bar and hung upside down with his arms folded in a dignified manner. “‘Humans,’ I would say, ‘If you would just organize your pecking order so the old are given license to’…‘Um—They don’t say things like that. Perhaps I’d say, ‘If you put the food out of reach of the children in puzzle boxes….’”
“Rem, darling, you mustn’t hang upside down when interviewing the questioner. Humans don’t do it.”
He wrinkled his nose in annoyance. “Human astronauts hang upside down when they announce cartoons on their morning TV shows.”
“Astronauts only do that on the children’s TV shows, Rem. It is to amuse the children,” said the musical voice of his best beloved. She was an anthropology student and a grade higher in credits. She lay on the resilient floor with her arms folded behind her head while she studied the page projected on the ceiling. “You don’t want to speak from a posture that implies the listener is a child. He might be insulted.”
Rem turned rightside up and hung by his hands, looking sheepish. “I didn’t know those cartoons were for children. They seemed very cynical, full of cowardice and betrayal, much too depraved for children. But you’re right. In interview shows the grownups always sit still in those uncomfortable chair things and blow smoke.”
They glanced at the television set fastened to the wall. It was a handrigged imitation of an ordinary Earth-made television set, and for several months of study it had been providing Rem with a safe substitute for going down on the ground and studying the natives of Earth up close where they could reach him. At the moment they looked at it, a lithe young woman was pointing at a weather map, tracing its lines. Her mouth moved silently.
They looked away.
“Maybe I should learn to blow smoke,” said Rem Sh’baar. He swung upside down again, then spun himself upright, sitting on top of the bar. They were both tall, slender, and graceful, with rather doglike faces which could have won beauty prizes only at a pet show.
“They don’t all blow smoke,” said his slender wife. She pushed a button and the pictured page on the ceiling turned into a diagram.
“But they all sit on chairs,” Rem decided. “I’ll ask them to put two chair things inside the airlock for the interview. Look! There we are again!”
With great interest they both turned to watch the TV screen. The television showed a picture of their spaceship landing. For the thirtieth time in thirty hours it showed a gigantic black and silver beachball descending through clouds, with swarms of planes circling it like gnats. The early morning news commentator came on, babbling without sound and moving his hands in reassuring gestures.
Rem leaped forward and turned up the sound.
“—to keep the world informed of every new development of this startling story.”
The picture changed to a distant view of orderly crowds and people on a platform speaking, and swooped in for a closeup of a slender man in a silver spacesuit shaking hands with a stiff looking human in a dark business suit. The solemn voice of the news commentator explained: “Yesterday the visitor from outer space was officially greeted and welcomed by the Vice President of the United States and the Secretary General of the United Nations.”
The camera moved in on the scene, enlarging the head of the spacesuited figure. The spacesuit had a clear plastic helmet in a bubble shape, giving a partial view of Rem’s face as he turned and began descending the stairs. The film stopped and froze in a still photograph which showed his profile clearly, as obviously different from the humans.
“You look very handsome, surrounded by all those flatfaced monsters,” Tima said.
“I always photograph well,” Rem murmured.
A famous announcer suddenly appeared standing before a background picture of the giant spaceship parked on the ground in the middle of a great green park, with the capitol dome shining and the Spaceman’s Memorial Pylon showing its spike in the distance.
The announcer spoke in his well-known tones of fatherly reassurance. “Here we are in the second day of contact between civilizations. Today will be the big day for scientists. They have been requesting permission to interview the visitor from space since he first made contact. Yesterday, the alien being, whose name is Lord Rem Sh’baar, explained that he had been given permission for a short visit to Earth to collect anthropological data. He said he had a short time, but he was prepared to answer a limited number of questions on scientific subjects, if they were put on a short list. He said he had learned English from watching and listening to television science lectures, and he had admired the anthropology lectures of Sir Charles Harrington-Smith, and therefore would like to have the list of questions given to Sir Charles, so that Sir Charles would explain them to him if there were any difficulty with the language.
“The interview is scheduled for nine o’clock this morning.” The announcer turned and made a solemn gesture at the distant spaceship. “There may be the secrets of the ages locked within that silver sphere. There may be unguessable wonders of science. We can only wait and hope.”
A commercial began, showing a mound of dirty clothes flying into an oversized washing machine. Bending forward from the bars, Rem reached forward and turned off the sound. Six tiny humans climbed out of the washing machine and did a jig on the lid, then with great effort heaved up a big soap box, tilted it, and poured a stream of soap into the washing machine. The words bio-degradable zoomed up from the interior of the machine, expanded, and vanished. The commercial was over, so a cowboy on a horse appeared, his horse ambling slowly up the slope of an Arizona desert. An unseen blow sent his hat flying ahead of him. He looked behind, registered alarm, and sent his horse into a gallop.
“Why do cowboys shoot at strangers? Their reasons seem to be excuses. And why do people in towns occasionally form groups to hang someone?”
“We’ve worked out reasons. We’ve watched a lot of television, and the rules of attack seem to be almost the same in each story.” Tima rolled over and began to draw a copy of the diagram from memory.
“But now I am not sure we are right. The little humans dancing on the lid….and the magic shows….There is much lying, much imagination in these television shows. What if it does not represent what they really do?” Rem dropped to the soft floor and sat watching his wife. “Tima, must you study? I am nervous about the interview.”
She turned off the book projector and sat up. “If I don’t study I might panic. I don’t understand them either. You’ve planned this well, Rem; you studied for it hard. You will get scholar’s credits for it.”
“If I’m alive,” he said.
On the television screen a grim group of humans on horseback galloped along a trail, carrying rifles and a rope.
“Sir Charles Harrington-Smith on BBC says that the anthropologists think that a ground ape was their ancestor. Ground apes are pack animals. They guard each other in packs and have an instinct for mass attack on animals they don’t recognize.”
She reached forward and stroked his hair. “You were safe yesterday, so you must be doing the right things, when you follow their rules. Just avoid the rules of attack.”
He thought. “Yesterday I did not insult anyone or make anyone step aside. I let everyone walk before me. I ceased to speak when they spoke. I told the important officials that I admired their city and their planet. I touched nothing without permission and handed back everything they gave me. I did not steal. I did not refuse to drink with them, for they did not offer me any liquids. I wore the right clothing they expect from a man from space.” He felt his muzzle ruefully. “I can’t help looking strange.”
On the television the horses were stretched in a wild gallop, the cowboys leaning forward shooting grimly at a fleeing figure far ahead.
They both averted their eyes from the television scene.
In a low voice she said, “Rem, yesterday you were an ambassador. What are the rules for attack on ambassadors?”
“Only to start a war,” he replied in a low voice, looking away from the television. “They must think and talk among themselves for a long time before deciding to start a war.” He put his head in her lap. “What is your thought now?”
She stroked his hair. “Today you will be answering science questions. That makes you a scientist. What are their rules for attacking scientists?”
He thought, and put an arm across his eyes to think better. “I’m sorry,” he confessed apologetically. “I like the lectures and the stories too much. The scientists seemed to be very important, treated with much support and trust and liking. I only learned language from those shows. I forgot to think about sociology.” He sat up suddenly.
She leaped to her feet and went to the television set, pulled a reel of tape from the file box and dropped it into the slot on top of the television. The cowboys on the screen were busy throwing a noose over a tree branch. They vanished as the recorded signal took hold. Coiled glass tubing and twisted bottles appeared. The slender female turned the sound loud, and mad cackling laughter rolled from the set. She held her ears and watched.
A giant hand holding a tiny test tube appeared on the screen. “Just a minute kiddies,” said a gleeful voice with giant echoes. “I’ll drink some of this secret liquid and shrink down to where you can see me.” Glugging sounds followed.
Rem crossed his legs and laughed. “Not Mad Scientists, Tima. Those must be wizard and magician myths for children. In adult stories the scientist usually appears in a plot about spying and scientific secrets. I put all the best stories on a reel labeled Scientific Secrets.”
A small man peered, leering, from the screen. He wore a scientist’s white smock. He pulled at a bushy black beard and waggled thick black eyebrows up and down as he talked. Tima dropped in another tape and the mad scientist vanished.
“SCIENTIFIC SECRETS I” said the screen.
The two students far away from home sat together on the cushioned floor and held hands and watched while the television set of the strange civilization of Earth showed how scientists were treated.
On the television screen an inoffensive quiet man in a white laboratory coat worked, standing at a tall table with meters and moving graphs. He checked the figures on the meters against his calculations and made notes, and became excited and ran a test three times, checking the figures each time.
His audience of two excitable young persons watched while the scientist tried to call in other scientists to see, and found the lights out, the building dark and deserted, for he had worked long into the night. He called his home from the office phone and explained his discovery excitedly to his wife, while a spy who usually listened in on calls from the research building became excited and made other calls with his other hand while listening intently. The scientist went down to the street, accepted a lift from a too-convenient taxi and was kidnapped by agents in the taxi, taken to a lonely building, and beaten and tortured, while the torturers whispered demands that he reveal the details of his discovery.
An agent of his own country, sent by the scientist’s worried wife to check on his safety, located the place of torture by careful following of clues, killed a guard outside the building, climbed vines up a wall, slid through a narrowly opened window into a hall, and silently killed two men he encountered in the hall.
Tima shrank closer to Rem, and he put an arm around her.
On the screen the agent heard moans and went into the room where the scientist lay tied. He killed the torturer and two other men, all almost without noise, then imitated a voice on the intercom to the people in the rest of the building and warned that the police were coming, and commanded them to get into their cars and escape, but to leave one car idling and empty before the door. The agent waited until he heard motors leaving, carried the scientist down to the door, saw an idling empty car, looked around and saw no opposition, put the scientist in the front seat beside him and drove away.
Clutching each other’s hands the watching couple let out a sigh as the car reached safety, and the scientist was carried into a friendly and attentive hospital.
“It does not seem to be for children or for a joke,” Tima said. “Those agents and spies are dangerous to scientists from outside countries.”
“We are from an outside country.”
“They might substitute an agent for Sir Harrington.”
“But we know what he looks like.”
The screen said “SCIENTIFIC SECRETS II.”
Another story began, clipped from another television show. On the screen another scientist, pot-bellied and older, and more hesitant in his manner, let himself into a pleasant apartment and shut the door with a relaxing sigh. Music came soothingly from the kitchen.
“Maria, I’m home. Good news!” he called. The scientist dropped his coat on a chair and walked into the kitchen. “Naval Research has accepted my—” The kitchen was empty. Still smiling he wandered on to a balcony and looked at the sky. The phone rang. He went in to answer it.
Rem and Tina reached for each other’s hands as ominous music began. Still smiling the scientist held the phone to his ear.
A cold voice with an accent said, “Doctor Obarth? We have your daughter. She will not be harmed if you obey our orders.”
He gripped the telephone in both hands as if about to throw it, but pressed it more tightly to his ear. “I don’t believe you,” he whispered. “She has only just gone out to the store. You are lying.”
“We will prove we have her,” said the cold voice on the phone. “Listen and you will hear her speak to you.”
The aging man breathed heavily into the phone for a moment of hesitation and fear. “I don’t believe you,” he whispered. No one was listening to him. The scene on the screen divided, and the other side showed a dark basement room with the windows covered. Two men held a girl by the arms, and a third man held a phone before her face. She shook her head. The man holding the phone spoke to the other two, and they did something to the girl’s arms.
The girl screamed.
With a bound Rem Sh’baar turned off the television set. The screams faded, and the picture went dark. Trembling he stood pounding his fist softly down on the top of the TV set, looking at Tima. They were both tall and slender, delicate by Earthly standards.
“I won’t let them have you,” he said, his teeth showing. “All their friendliness and crowding around might be just waiting for an opening. Tima, what have I said about you? Have I said anything that would let them know you are in the spaceship too?”
She thought. “They don’t know I exist.”
“Good. They will not kidnap you to force me. Or kidnap me to force you. I will tell them I am sick. They will be afraid to beat me.”
He stopped and pounded his fist silently on the top of the television box and then continued. “The role is wrong. It is not safe to have them think of me as a scientist. I said this would be a short visit, so I am not bound to them by any promise to stay. We’ll leave as soon as we see any move toward kidnapping.”
Rem contacted the human officials and asked for chairs in the airlock.
They turned the television back to the hourly shows to wait for the news and worked off energy in a bowling target game, occasionally glancing at the television.
The scene was a panel show, but the puzzle contestants had abandoned their game and were discussing the news.
“What secret of science would you ask our visitor from the stars, Miss Saint Clair?” asked the moderator.
The camera shifted to a close-up of a rather wattled and skinny ex-movie queen. She toyed with an earring and looked coy. “Well, I do hope the dear man will tell us something about wrinkles. I’m still in my teens of course—”
The audience laughed politely. “But I do hope for the sake of all the other girls that he will give us one teensey cure for wrinkles.”
The mellow smile and raised hand of the MC interrupted the audience’s sympathetic laughter. “Now we’ll hear from Ralph Rock, currently starring in that musical hit, The Bluebells. What secret would you like the stranger from space to tell you, Ralph?”
A clanging and booming began in the outer airlock of the big spaceship as human TV technicians dragged in chairs, television equipment and camera, setting them up for the important interview.
“I will wear an airsuit and look like an astronaut again. Maybe they will not think of me so much as a scientist to squeeze for secrets.” Rem Sh’baar zipped his coverall on and pulled the bubble helmet over his head. “If they have no bad intentions it is only the language which can make trouble. But I think I can explain the science in their language without breaking taboos and angering them.”
The two chairs he had ordered were in the middle of the airlock. He entered and saw three television cameras along the walls, crowding the small metal room, pointing menacingly toward him like machine guns. Their heavy cables trailed away from them and out the door like thick-bodied snakes, and their presence held the door open so it could not be slammed shut for a quick takeoff.
Rem Sh’baar looked at the door wedged open, wondering if it were part of a plan, then he inspected the chairs, touching them suspiciously. He lowered himself into a chair. The arm rests surprised him by nudging against his elbows. He lowered his arms on to them and gripped them firmly, and sat very still, bringing everything he knew of English into readiness.
His posture was stiff and very still. To the panel of viewing scientists viewing the tape as it was made, watching somewhere in a government building in Washington, he looked like an Egyptian stone statue of an animal-headed god seated on a throne to judge the dead.
There was a sound of a polite knock by one of the television technicians. “Are you ready for Sir Charles, Sir?”
Rem turned his head stiffly toward the half-open door. “You may enter, Sir Harrington. I will be glad to greet you.”
“Thank you, Lord Sh’baar. I am glad to greet you also.”
A tall lean Englishman with buck teeth and the expression of an amiable horse pushed the door a little wider and stepped in carefully. Every move was taken with the caution of an old man, aware that old bones are brittle. He sat down, crossed his legs, and arranged himself in the relaxed and reassuring pose of a practiced interviewer, a man capable of interviewing natives in strange jungles or shy artists in their studios.
He glanced at the camera and slightly changed the angle of his head. “Thank you, Lord Sh’baar, for asking for me to interview you. It is an honor.”
Rem Sh’baar glanced also at the cameras and spoke slowly with careful clarity. “It is an honor also to meet you, Lord Harrington. We—I have admired you on television. Stories you told of struggle to be understood by native tribes and misunderstandings, such adventures have happened to us also. We—I am a student of races and civilizations also. I enjoy differences and seek them, as you enjoy them and seek them. What will be the questions they gave you?”
The human world was waiting, hoping that their man would be able to extract important and wonderful information from the stranger.
The famous old anthropologist inclined his head. “Lord Sh’baar, if you will permit a preliminary question before the important and difficult ones—Are our races on the same evolutionary level?”
The person from another planet fidgeted, thinking. He unzipped his bubble helmet, rubbed his muzzle in puzzlement and stroked the four short bristles on his cheeks. Finally he asked, “What is Evolutionary Level?”
“Evolutionary Level means—” Sir Charles hesitated, and looked at the muzzle and pointed ears of the visitor. “Well, perhaps it means nothing. We will forget that one. Tell me, do you find humans as intelligent and sensitive as your own people?”
“Yes, you have much inner struggle between carnivore and herd instincts, very like my own people. It makes for divided dreams of kill and love, impossible in action.”
“If we are like you, then we are intelligent enough to learn all of your science, are we not?”
It was a loaded question, a crucial question. Sir Charles Harrington-Smith asked it casually, without emphasis, but Rem Sh’baar recognized it. The child’s answer to only three wishes. The first wish shall be for a hundred more wishes. If the monster gives three answers, ask for a way to find out everything else.
“Would you repeat the question please?” He hoped that would not be it. His answer might offend them. He wondered if they dueled when offended.
“Can we humans learn all of your science?” the old anthropologist repeated patiently. “Do we have the intelligence?”
“No. Yes. Yes, intelligence. No, for you must learn our language. Science is thought, thought in language. Our children learn basic science when they learn basic language. Children have great speed in blotting up touch, sound, sight. They need only the help of words to make true connections. Yours is taboo culture, taboos basic words.”
The lanky old Englishman shifted position, and crossed his legs again the opposite way carefully. “Thank you, Lord Sh’baar. Could you inform me a little more clearly perhaps. We need to know if our scientists could learn your science from your science books and records. We would like to ask permission to photograph your books.”
It was the question, again. This time he had said it openly.
The alien licked his lips nervously, feeling very alien. “Your people cannot learn science, not even from your own science books and records. Your civilization is a word-taboo culture. Taboos words, not actions. Children learn to not-say, by learning to not-think. Taboo-type cultures are very difficult to learn, take all learning power to learn not-think. Average person when grown has learned not-think and how to tell bad jokes to think a little. He cannot learn science.”
Sir Charles shifted his weight and recrossed his legs, and scratched his upper lip as though looking for a mustache to rub. “You have learned English wonderfully well from listening to my lectures, Lord Sh’baar. It is almost like listening to myself lecture on taboos of tribal cultures.” He cleared his throat as though caught in a lie. “Ah, barring a little more grammar of course. The question is not whether our children can learn our own science, but can our scientists, our intelligent people learn science from reading your books and records?”
Rem had given a good answer, and yet Sir Charles had not understood the answer. He moved to put a hand over his eyes to think. But no human in an interview on television had ever put his hands over his eyes. It could be a tabooed action. Rem dropped his hand before it reached his face, licked his lips and glanced around at the cameras, trying to find words that would reach even the most stupid members of the human audience, and yet not offend.
“Sir, I could teach you to read our books, but you could not read our books. You could not make science mind-models from our words. Suck, eat, digest, sleep, defecate, kill, love, procreate. Strong experiences make strong words, make strong thoughts. Our science words are strong words. Science is about reality. Reality is yours from skin experience, from pleasure of instinct. But you taboo skin and instinct words.”
“But we could learn your language, could we not?” Sir Charles leaned forward, urging gently as he had so many times on television. Rem had admired his technique and had learned from it. Yet now Sir Charles was wrong, was blind, was angling a hook before a log instead of a fish. “And then we could read your books. If you would allow us to photograph and read your books….”
“How can they learn our words if they will not allow the ideas the words mean?”
“They could learn like children I suppose,” said Sir Charles. “Every child starts by hearing the words without knowing the ideas. Every child learns the ideas somehow. If you could loan us an encyclopedia of your science with pictures, and some of the books you use to teach your children, and let us photograph them, I’m sure our bright young scientists could work out their meaning somehow.”
“It is too late for adults, they have passed their learning time!” Rem’s voice was shrill. He flung an arm out sideways in a desperate gesture.
“Well, perhaps some of our scientists’ children in their own homes, could see photographic copies of your books. If you merely let us photograph them….” Again no understanding. Again the impossible request.
“Your children have work learning your culture. Infants learn to digest, no words for triumph, no praise or notice of it. Learn to reject bad food, don’t do that, bad child. Learn to defecate and withhold. Good child, but never mention it, the words are taboo, unspeakable words. Everything important and alive in the life of the child is unspeakable. They love and see love. Shh, do not mention it. They learn to talk, do not shout, do not make funny noises, do not say taboo wo. . .
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