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Chapter 30: Personal Meeting in SPC12

4 March 1964

Chapter 1: Into Space in a Scout

The account that follows is precedent-setting in several ways. However, I will allow the readers to decide. I am merely the chronicler.

The event was set up two days before, when Orii gave me the cryptic message that I be ready for pickup at 0200 on the 4'th, then left it hanging there. The hours crawled by. It was like waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Finally, the appointed time arrived.

I went out a few moments ahead of time to wait for them, noting with interest the exceptional warmth of the night. The sky was largely shrouded in grayish clouds, illuminated by the waning gibbous moon, that occasionally broke long enough to allow a star or two to peek through at the snowy Earth. My attention was suddenly arrested by a flash of light off to the south that proved to be a familiar little scout.

It stopped overhead, plunged like a rock, and stopped inches above the drive about ten feet away from me. I could feel a slight tingling sensation, not at all unpleasant. When the top opened, brother Orii-Val motioned to me to hop in. Once we were on our way, I asked him what our destination was. He replied, "Outer space."
"In a scout?" I asked, amazed at the concept.
"Yes," he replied, "we build our scouts for travel in ANY medium, from deep water to deep space."

We had by now risen far above the clouds. I was enjoying the ride when Orii indicated that I should look upward. My eyes came to rest on what looked like a chrome-plated basketball, increasing in girth by the second. A moment later we were stopped and hovering about five feet below it. Orii flipped a switch on a small panel, and an indicator glowed with the words, "Lock Cycling".

Ten seconds later, an iris-type opening expanded in the hull, stopping at about 25 feet in diameter. We entered it and the iris spun closed below us. The diameter of the lock chamber was about 100 feet, and it was 25 feet high. On the wall, a board of glowing signs imparted such information to us as "Cycling", "Pressure Increase Rate", and the actual pressure in their units, namely Salares per square Vithali (or Thalu, the unit of area), which adds up on my slip-stick to about 4.77 pounds per square inch.

[Note: since there were no unit labels, just numbers, I calculated their values based on a list of measures that I had at the time. It was received by mail and contained information that led me to assume that it was from them. We determined a number of years later that the chart was another example of the inaccurate data given me by hostile sources and accepted by me without question.

Their commonly used pressure unit is Vathalex, which is 0.1207049 psi.

The reference to my "slip-stick" was to an expensive Pickett slide rule. As I type this on my personal computer with more power than the mainframes of the 1960s—and already obsolete—I am awed by our technological advances. Would that we had advanced spiritually and culturally to the same extent.]

A moment later, a green indicator sign read, "Inner Iris Open". We passed through it into a tremendous tube, a hundred feet in diameter and, I was told, 550 feet in length. A fair-sized tubular scout carrier could be parked in this great shaft. As we rose, Orii told me that this was SPC-12. This news thrilled me beyond words. Now I might meet all these good people who have been only images and voices.

Chapter 2: Aboard The SPC12

We stopped at about the three-hundred foot level, and watched as two large curved doors slid open, revealing a spacious hanger. Our little ship seemed lost in the vastness of this area, like a bird in Yankee Stadium. As we glided toward our berth, I noted a number of larger ships, some of them big enough to swallow our tiny craft up with nary a second thought.

We rode over the copper-hued G-Plate Ring surrounding the central tube until we had gone about a quarter of the way around the hangar. On the diagram, the berth we finally parked in is opposite the personnel elevator. The two 'rails', which actually were like sliding doors, were closed up tight, forming a wide flat surface. [Note: I was told that they could be opened to allow the vehicle to rest on them while exposing the lower surface for unloading passengers, cargo and equipment from below, or for servicing access.] Three other crafts similar to ours were there already.

Orii extended the hydraulic landing rams, and we touched down with a very slight bump, which removed any lingering doubts of the reality of this adventure. The dome opened, and we debarked, crossing to the escalator-type stairway to the lower level. [Note: although the drawing doesn't show it, the floors of the hangar decks included a 15-foot-high sub-floor, a personnel level, allowing access to the undersides of berthed ships and to the elevators.]

Once on this sub-floor, we went over to the Personnel Elevator. Orii summoned it with the button panel, and the floor numbers began their countdown to this level. When the doors slid open, we boarded an atypical elevator "car". The floor was carpeted in coffee-colored pile, the walls were a flat, light tan color, and the Lumiglow ceiling emitted a soft, cream-colored radiance. I had no time to examine the documents on the walls, as we no sooner boarded than we arrived at our destination.

When the door opened, we entered a long hallway. About half-way along its length, two wide corridors curved off to unknown destinations. We went down to the end of the hallway and entered a door to the right. A lovely lady of about thirty of our years sat at a desk. She greeted us warmly, them asked us for our security cards. She returned Orii's immediately after registering it. She inserted mine into a slot marked Initial Processing, then said to me, "It will be a moment, if you'd care to look around."

It was a typical receptionist's office in many ways, but there were notable differences. Two screens in the wall facing her showed the outside hall from both ends, naturally in color and full depth. Both could be zoomed for close-up shots if needed. On her desk, a small video communicator was on standby.

There were two low tables, one to the left of the door, and one against the wall opposite it. The latter was surrounded by chairs. The former had a variety of literature on the ship, including a floor diagram booklet, from which I copied the accompanying pictures. [Note: I was permitted to bring it home with me with the understanding that it would be returned on my next personal meeting with them. The drawings were by hand, as the images did not reproduce using copying machines.] I leafed through it while waiting. The room itself was based on blue, with a deep blue carpet, sky-blue walls, and white Lumiglow ceiling. Various documents and pictures made up the decor. In all, it was very comfortable and friendly in atmosphere.

Chapter 3: An Atomic Photograph

A tone signified the completion of the processing. I signed a document that she handed me, was given an ID badge, and slipped my security card into my pocket. We then left by another door, and went into a room that had an air of strictly business. The walls were plain and unadorned, a cream color. The floor was a brown marble-like material. The main feature of this room was the large triangular apparatus in its center. Around the walls were various panels. Orii spent a moment setting up the controls, then asked me to stand perfectly still in the raised, open section at the center of the triangle, feet together, hands by my side. I was mystified, but did as he said.

I took my place on the red circle on its floor and assumed the correct stance. Orii pressed a button. I felt what can be described as a wave of energy surge through me. It was very brief, an instantaneous mild electric shock. He said, "That's it. You can come down now."

"That's what?", I asked in total confusion. He explained that three things have been accomplished in the few seconds. First, I had been photographed in the usual manner. Second, my psychic makeup had been recorded. Third, and most astonishing, he said that in that brief instant, I had been given what can best be understood as an atomic photograph.

"As you remember from previous discussions," he said, "teleportation is a transmission of a complex pattern of data corresponding to your atomic structure to a receiver, where raw material is built up into a body, an object, etc. This unit, instead of transmitting these signals, impresses them onto a blank Pattern Block, which consists of a compressed atomic structure containing as many atoms as a ten-foot-cubed block of the densest natural material. The signals applied to the block cause the atoms to align in specific ways. When the alignment is completed, a Locking Pulse is sent through it to freeze them exactly as they are. The atomic photo is then completed. We maintain an error tolerance of less than one error in what you would call a quadrillion atoms.

"This is done for everyone that comes on this ship at any time. That is so for every ship in our Korendian fleets that has been constructed in the last ten cendrols. The purpose is quite simple. If a person's body should be damaged beyond normal medical treatment by accident or such, his body is annihilated, and a new one is built up from the 'picture' in the Pattern Block, which he then occupies, and picks up where leaving off. You might say that it is a sort of suspended teleportation."

I chewed on that one while we walked down the aisle to the next stop, a classified area. I naturally cannot divulge what I saw in there, but it was very definitely eye-opening. I am allowed to say that it has to do with happenings on our troubled Earth. Our awareness of it would severely compromise their operations.

Our final visit on this level was to the teleportation room, halfway around the level from the room we just left. When we entered, three young men greeted us. A few seconds later, the central cabinet lit up, and two forms appeared, quickly resolving into a pair of older men, who seemed to be about 45 to 50 years of age. Even so, they were at their peak of health, with only a trace of gray in their brown hair. When they stepped down from the cabinet, they crossed over from their entry point to the main console, gave one of the operators a card, and left. Half a minute later, three women came in and handed one of the men a paper with another card clipped to it. They entered the right chamber, the man slipped the card into a slot, and in a second they were gone. Orii looked at the card, and told me they were destined for Taranal 6 in the Andromeda galaxy. Over 1 million light years! Staggering!

Chapter 4: The Control Deck

When we returned to the personnel elevator, our next stop was level 2, the Control Deck, the brain of the ship, as it were. Leaving the elevator, we turned left and went halfway around the floor, then entered a door labeled "Pilot Area". This was the antithesis of most conceptions of a control room. It was spacious and airy, quiet except for a low music piped in from somewhere. It was colored in shades of green, with forest-colored carpeting, a very light green for the walls, and the typical white Lumiglow ceiling.

The only panels were against the outer wall, three in number. On either side of the main console, two smaller semiautomatic units kept a constant communication with the ships various sections, and by SSR with the Korendian home office. At present, everything was on computer control, and only one person was present other than us, Co-Captain Quinn Tatrill.

On the various walls were a variety of telescreens, including one wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling display on the outer wall. It showed a view of the space outside the ship as if it were a reflectionless window. It was awe-inspiring to look at. Quinn said, "The image is a composite from 5000 telescreen cameras spaced at equidistant points around the ship's hull. Their signals are computer-matched, with overlap eliminated. The overlap gives the necessary parallax to the computers so that it can calculate the optical distance, and thus the depth effect on this screen.

"The two panels on the opposite wall, on either side of the door, can be switched into individual cameras in this main system, or they can use their own cameras, which can be panned and are equipped with zoom lenses for any view from wide angle to extreme telephoto, with a range of 100 to 1. The focal length can also be changed on these cameras from five feet to infinity. Special lenses were developed for this purpose. They would cost over a thousand dollars on Earth if made in quantity."

We then turned our attention to the main panel. It was quite plain. There was a section labeled Automatic Control, no doubt very much like our autopilot. Only one indicator glowed on it. It read, "AC ON". The rest of the panel had assorted buttons, switches, and small scope screens with a variety of colored traces dancing about on them. An indicator light signified 'Hover', and a number of them read 'Standby'. Orii then explained the consoles for communication.

The left one was for interplanetary and inter-ship contacts. It could handle 100 conversations or signals simultaneously, all on different channels. Transmission could be via standard carrier-type signals, double sideband, or upper/lower single sideband, in any of the various forms of modulation (Amplitude, Frequency and Phase), as well as unmodulated or modulated continuous wave and data.

To add to that, there were ten laser transmitter-receivers available for use in strictly private inter-ship communication. It was very efficient, especially since all the necessary equipment was in one cabinet, including the units that allowed computer-controlled operation, which was now going on. Frequently, a light would blink on the console, signifying a completed connection between hither and thither.

The right console was for intra-ship communications. it could contact all the intercoms, address systems and communicators on board individually, in groups, or as many as required, including all of them at once. It was capable of carrying 200 separate conversations or connections simultaneously. It too was under computer control and was very busy.

The side walls, dimly illuminated in red light, were explained as telescreen monitors of any point in the ship that might be necessary for piloting purposes, including the power and drive sections. It used a subset of the security network cameras that covered the entire ship.

We passed through a door in the left wall into another wall-to-wall screen room. This one was illuminated by subdued light from narrow strips of Lumiglow around the top of the three other walls.

The outer wall was a smaller version of the display in the pilot room, but there were no consoles to obstruct the view. In the center of the room was the control board, with a divan to either side of it. The other walls were taken up by panels of electronic equipment, most of it featureless except for an occasional red power indicator.

The color scheme was blue walls with a medium gray carpet. The ceiling was white with just a tinge of blue. A few potted plants placed about the open spaces and between cabinets added life and delicate fragrances to the atmosphere.

We were the only people in the room, so Orii took a seat at the panel and suggested that I relax on one of the divans. I did so and immediately concluded that they had mastered the art of furniture-making. I have never rested on such a comfortable piece. It would be a force of will to leave this one.

When he switched the screen on, it flickered momentarily, then burst into brilliance with a glorious display of stars. Orii said, "This panel uses the main hull camera network for its feed." As he spoke, he set the system for a slow, steady left-to-right pan. Soon the edge of Earth's disk came into view. He stopped the pan when it was centered on the screen, filling most of it. He then switched in more cameras, and the globe receded until it was about three feet in diameter. The atmosphere formed a hazy glow around it.

Our planet is beautiful beyond description from this vantage point. It's unfortunate that our people cannot see it in its splendor. They would be far less amenable to blasting it into lifelessness if they did.

He continued the pan until the sun came into view, its brilliance casting strong shadows on the far wall. Orii expanded the disc until it was about five feet in diameter. The coronal glow, shimmering out beyond the sharp outline of the orb, was a sight that most astronomers would give their right arms to see like this. It was free of atmospheric perturbation, and didn't depend on the fleeting shadow of the moon in a solar eclipse to be seen. Here it was, spraying out like filmy gauze from the sun, with the stars behind glowing through it like diamonds.

The disc itself had a few of those solar freckles, the sunspots, on its blazing face. They were few and far between, this being one of the years in the low side of the sunspot cycle of about 11 years. It might be interesting to see it during the maximum activity periods.

As I watched, a prominence flared up from the left edge of the disk, arched upward, and then was gone in a few seconds. This type of activity continued intermittently around the rim, and no doubt all over the surface, but not visible due to the lack of contrast. It had risen perhaps ten thousand miles from the surface. The power in that one burst would have supplied Earth's energy needs for months.

A further panning brought the Lady of the Night into view, our own shining satellite, the inspiration of poets and lovers for millennia. It was a stark kind of beauty. A bit over half was illuminated by the sun. "Earthshine" dimly lit its night side, filling out the circle with a ghostly glow. Its starkness added to the impression of lifelessness, and yet... there is life there. I am told that it is so.

Chapter 5: The Disc Room

With that image still on the screen Orii switched off the system. After reluctantly parting myself from that luxurious sofa, we left the room. A trip about 2/5ths of the way around the corridor brought us to the Unmanned Disc Control Room. Here, an entire room was devoted to those little darts of light that have been called weather balloons, birds, and hallucinations. The main panel was the huge display rack around the outer wall. Seven seats were spaced evenly before it, three of them in use, occupied by three young men, apparently about my own age. The center of the room held two long control boards with the buttons, switches, and controls necessary to plot a flight pattern, send off a disc, bring it back, and fetch the needed information from them.

Six small data decks to the left were used for automatic disc control, by plugging in a preprogrammed data cartridge and pressing the Dispatch button. They also were used to record flights over specific courses for later use. Two of the decks were in operation, sending complex signals to the listening equipment on the discs, which manipulated their little flitting eyes according to the signals.

On the right wall, a segmented telescreen, divided into four parts, monitored the video transmissions from the discs. Only one of them was in use, showing a clear v1ew of the Pentagon in Washington. I was told that it was also monitoring brain waves from inside the 5-side. These patterns were being displayed on the output rack.

To round out the fixtures, large cabinets holding racks of tapes used up the two walls on either side of the hallway door. All were labeled in some unknown script, probably Korendian. There must have been two to three thousand reels in these shelf units. [Note: I learned on a subsequent visit to the ship that the tapes were purely for system data backup, much as we have tape drives to back up our computer data today. They were not used in normal operation, being totally inadequate for "real time" operations. The ones that I saw in use were in the process of doing routine data backups. However, see below for one exception.]

Orii said, "Let us not dally here. Two more are about to be launched on a magnetic vortex scouting mission. Let us go into the next room." We passed through a doorway at the end of the screen, and were in a rather large area in which were eight—for lack of a better word—pillars. Six of them were about twenty feet in diameter and three feet in height. Orii called them disc tables.

The six large ones—there were two smaller ones 12 feet in diameter—were divided on top by transparent panels laid out in a three-point arrangement, each section capable of berthing a five-foot disc. I was told that there was a separate room for three-foot discs. When we entered the room, we passed by one table with one of the three discs off gathering data somewhere. This gave me an opportunity to examine the berth itself.

It was a shallow depression in the material of the table, curved to fit the contour of the disc. Along the upper edge of the depression was a copper ring about half an inch wide. In the bottom of it was a copper plate about three inches in diameter, raised slightly from the bottom. It could be depressed with the finger, and was evidently spring-loaded to assure solid contact.

These served as the two contacts for application of charging current, test routines, and transfer of data to and from the disc when it is berthed. I learned that there is a section of the bottom of the disc that is insulated electrically from the rest of the hull, which contacts the plate to complete the current path from the center contact, through the equipment, and out through the hull and the ring around the edge.

The two smaller tables each held one large disc about eight feet in diameter. In the room's approximate center was a small console with about fifty switches and pilot lights, about half of them glowing steadily, and most of the rest slowly pulsating to indicate charging, testing, or transfers in process. The switches powered the charging and the in-berth test and data transfer equipment. As I was looking at it, two of the indicator lights blinked off, and a pair of discs rose from the table to the left of the airlock. They hovered momentarily while an "In Cycle" light flashed five green pulses, and then disappeared into the opening that appeared when the Cycle light stayed lit. Seconds later, the Cycle light flashed red five times and then went off, and things were once more normal.

I might note here that at no time was there any sound other than the low hum of the equipment, most of it coming from the two chargers, one to each side of the room between the tables. The discs were absolutely silent in operation.

Chapter 6: Lab Work

When we left this fascinating room, I found that we had come full circle on this level. As we boarded the elevator, I wondered what new wonders I'd see. We bypassed two levels and stopped at level 7, the Large Laboratory deck.

Our first stop on this deck was the Psych Lab. We entered through a door marked "Test Personnel Only". The major feature in the room was the large windowed chamber in the center, an instrument-bedecked cabinet that dwarfed the man seated on a reclining chair inside it. There were about fifteen people in this room besides us, including the two at the test desks to either side of the aisle leading to the cabinet. These two were firing questions at the man inside, who was bathed in a pulsating blue-white light.

In response to my unvoiced question, the man at the desk near us answered, "He is a Terran. He works in a military base, on top-secret devices that we need to know of for our further researches. When he is brought back to Earth, his memory of this will be erased. We had to pick him up while he was on vacation in the mountains, in order to avoid suspicion. He is single, and has no immediate family to miss him."

When I asked what he was undergoing, he replied, "The blue light is the ionization of the air by the Psychprobe beam, which is recording his thought patterns as we ask questions. Whether he answers them orally or not, his subconscious mind will furnish the needed data. In answer to your apprehension, no, we do not invade his private life. This would be against our ethical code. We need only his knowledge of the device. We will not and CANNOT go beyond this point. Actually, he volunteered when we came upon him, probably because he thought we were practical jokers. At any rate, we have his signature on a document giving us permission to perform this probe. He is fully conscious now, and can tell us when we are going beyond his limits of privacy.

"Also, please notice the gentleman in the green smock. He is an Alliance human rights official. They are always present at psychprobings of this nature to assure that no laws are violated." This comforted me somewhat. At least nothing would be done against this man's basic rights.

We explored the rest of the room when we finished this conversation. We talked briefly with the various others watching the boards, then stopped at a recorder bank in the far left corner of the room. I asked Orii, "How can the tape, moving so slowly, record the data the probe is getting with sufficient accuracy and fidelity?”

"Our recorders," he replied, "use a thin ribbon of metals with magnetic properties. Yours use a metallic oxide, usually iron oxide, bonded to the surface of the tape's base. Since iron oxide is at best crystalline, there is a fairly high amount of useless space between the atoms of iron on the tape, which limits the fidelity at low speeds, since part of the input signal is always lost in the inter-atomic space. And, the physical bonding to the plastic is susceptible to damage and failure, resulting in lost particles.

"Our tape, being a continuous band of metal, has only molecular space between the atoms, which allows frequencies hundreds, if not thousands of times higher than those which your tape can handle, per inch at any given recorder speed. You might use the comparison of a barrel of marbles as opposed to a barrel of fine sand. The same space has millions more atoms at much less distance from each other."

[Note: some technical data has been omitted here, because it was written later from memory and added to the text. It turned out to be sufficiently in error that the Kors requested that it be deleted from this file. I of course agreed to their request.

As to the use of tape by this advanced race, in some cases it is justified for real-time operations due to the need for massive multi-track data storage capacity without the need for what we call "random access". The tape is contained in a cassette slightly larger than a VHS cassette. It simultaneously records up to 500 separate tracks of streaming digital data, a feat that could not easily be accomplished using "hard drive" technology.]

After about a half-hour in this room, we moved off to another large room, the Radiation Laboratory. It too had a central unit, but this one was a good deal larger than the last. We stayed in here but a moment, as it was devoid of occupants and everything was shut down. There is nothing colder than a roomful of silent electronic equipment. The Lumiglow was down low, casting an eerie half-light on the machinery, which added to the mysterious nature of the room. As we left, Orii said to me, “That machine in the middle can produce a beam of radiation that can penetrate 60 feet of lead. It will produce Alpha, Beta and Gamma radiation, as well as two other kinds, the Xeric and the Colaric [Note: no explanation given], at levels that could literally disintegrate a human-sized mass of living matter in microseconds." I didn't ask what it was for, and he didn't offer further information.

Our final visit on this floor was to another classified area. We then returned to the elevator and dropped two levels to the Recreation Level. Here on one floor is sufficient entertainment and gaming area to handle a small city.

Chapter 7: All Work and No Play ...

We visited first the bowling alleys—that's right, ten of them, all regulation-sized. Their field operatives in the United States picked up the game from us and introduced it to the Korendian sports lovers. I submit that it is some kind of fame for Earth.

[Note: an earlier contact on Korendian sports shows that they are a highly competitive and very sports-oriented species. They are always looking for new and challenging sports to try out. They quickly took to bowling, although the higher gravity on Korendor required significant adaptation, e.g., a 16-pound ball would weigh a tad over 51 pounds. In the SPC-12, earth normal gravity is maintained because the Kors are in human form. Therefore they can be true to the rules and regs of the sport, as they are with all non-Kor sports that they adopt.]

Orii challenged me to a string, and I of course could not refuse, being a league bowler in my own right. He beat me by three points, 194 to 191. A rematch was planned here on Terra Firma at a future date.

The alleys were complete to the automatic pinsetters, purchased on Earth by their operatives. They were unique in that they fanned outward following invisible radii from the center of the ship out to the wall. Very comfortable seating was provided behind the divider partition separating the alleys from the spectator area. Two locker rooms were provided for the enjoyment of both sexes.

We stopped off at the dining area and indulged in milk and ham sandwiches, both of which are the products of synthetic "tank farms". They looked and tasted exactly like the real thing, but they lacked the harmful elements found in nature and had enriched nutritional content. It was certainly the best-tasting "ham" I ever enjoyed, and it was amazing to discover that it was "grown". The bread was equal to the best we have, and the milk was excellent. I found myself wanting a bag of Oreo cookies to complement it.

[Note: there was a time in their past when the Korendians raised and slaughtered meat animals. However, it was abandoned as they advanced in awareness of the universality of life. For a time they turned to vegetarianism, but it was ultimately rejected because humans are by nature omnivores. The lack of meats was taking a health toll. The research on artificial "meats" had begun even before the slaughtering ended, and it was sufficiently developed when the biological effects of vegetarianism took their toll that the people were eager to try the "new" meats despite their nature. They soon embraced them, and they continue to enjoy them to this day.]

After snacking, we went into the game rooms and watched Korendian equivalents of such sports as tennis and billiards, and Earth-style chess, which, I was informed, was widely known "out there" before it arrived here. A quick game of chess—I was solidly trounced—rounded out the visit to this deck, and we bid adieu to our companions in the rooms. Soon we were on our way again in the elevator.

We stopped momentarily on the Sleeping Quarters level, and Orii showed me one of their rooms. Every crewperson has his/her own compartment. There were 720 of them in all. Each was roomy enough to allow very comfortable furnishings.

Chapter 8: A Few Moments With Masters

As we headed upward again, I could sense that our tour was drawing to a close. I was not anxious to leave, but I was abundantly thankful for what I had been shown. We stopped at the Administration Deck, and shortly we entered a truly magnificent lounge of startling proportions. A ranch-style home could be built inside it with room to spare.

It was carpeted in a deep luxurious pile of a maroon color, blending perfectly with the silver-grey walls. We stayed in this large one only a moment, then entered through a door in the side wall to a smaller but equally posh room.

As we entered, the people rose to greet us. I recognized many of them, and it stunned me. There were three Masters and an Elder Master, half a dozen radio-TV friends, and a number of ship personnel. Lin-Erri was there, and as an added surprise, the lovely Astra-Lari was present. She came over with an ice-melting smile, took my hand, and led me to the very comfortable sofa facing one of two bookcases. The masters then seated themselves. They were, left to right, Kalen-Li Retan, Astir-Jolen Karo, Kren-Lor Altor and Elder Master Akrim-Vesta ANTIRI of Korendor. Akrim, as he asked me to call him, spoke first, in the typically friendly way that they all use in conversation.

"Well, Bob, what do you think of our space-traveling city from what you've seen of it so far?"
"Fabulous! Magnificent! It certainly upsets a few of our pet theories about physics. Just the sheer size of this ship would cause aspirin cases in our research labs."
"The next time you visit," he said, "You'll see equipment that would rock your science to the core. Even such a simple technology as atomic photography would raise eyebrows from New York to Sydney, exactly for the reason that your scientists have decreed such things to be in the realm of fairy tales. I am not criticizing your science, of course. You still have much to learn, as do we.

"One should, however, be wary of stamping the label 'Impossible' on anything. What can be conceived can be accomplished. I think subspace is a perfect proof of that statement.

"Your people might well ask why we are so free with our explanations and information. I can see by the books I've read that those of the Confederation are what you might call tight-lipped about things. Let us just say that we of Korendor are known as nonconformists, a title we wear with great pride, I might add. And the Alliance is by nature much more open than our brothers of the Confederation.

"We have often been chided in conversations about our open-book approach, but we look at it in this light: if we don't offer some concrete explanations and advice, you are bound to develop an attitude of, 'Ho hum, we've heard it all before. Maybe they aren't going to do anything. I'll get my kicks by blowing people's brains out with my trusty atomic bombs.' The accounts we read by your reporters, such as the typical, 'They never have anything specific to discuss,' are evidence of this attitude. What happens when people don't get sound advice? They lapse into their old ways. You have so far managed to restrain yourselves from using your nuclear toys on each other since the end of World War 2, but if nothing in the way of constructive information is given you, you might pop off a few just out of boredom.

"Our purpose, therefore, is to keep your minds too occupied to entertain thoughts of big glowing mushrooms."

Kalen-Li took over. "We will also say that we disagree with the 'holier-than-thou' attitude that we see in the accounts of some contacts with your local brethren. We do not plan to try to change their minds. They might have some very good reason for this type of impression to be given, but it escapes us.

"This is only a brief meeting now, to acquaint ourselves with each other. In the future, we will be ready with more imposing information for you. Let us not dwell on heady topics at this time, however. Have you any questions for anyone here?"
I hated to do it, but with that invitation, the temptation was so great that I couldn't resist it. "This is just a general question. What is your opinion of the Beatles?"

"I like them." That was from Astir-Jolen. Kren-Lor said, "I haven't decided yet, but I can't offer any criticism of them from what I have seen to date, which, I freely admit, is not that much." The rest of them were about evenly split, with one of the engineers describing them as "absurd, gyrating floor mops," which evoked great laughter from the assemblage. Astra-Lari, the youngest of the group, wisely refused to commit herself either way.

We spent the remaining time discussing the ship, their home world, and the merits of the 30-hour work week, on which I'll comment at a later date.

After an hour or so of pleasant informality, our time together drew to a close. I bade them all farewell, and after a completely unexpected kiss on the cheek from Astra, which I returned with great relish, I reluctantly followed Orii back to the elevator. Soon we were in the hangar again, and scant minutes later we were descending into the atmosphere of my world.

By now the sky had cleared up and daylight was well on its way. Orii took the chance and dropped low enough to allow me to jump off. He waved goodbye, closed the dome, and was gone in a few seconds, leaving an Earthman standing there looking upward after him, at once sad and happy. A few moments of contemplation, and then I decided there was naught to do but go in and resume my terrestrial life as well as I could.

I began counting the minutes to the next meeting.

Text proofread and edited for typographical errors and improved wording 20080909.

© 2008 Robert P. Renaud -- all rights reserved