Title: From outer space
Author: Robert Zacks
Illustrator: Alex Schomburg
Release date: August 29, 2022 [eBook #68860]
Original publication: United States: Better Publications, Inc, 1952
Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Startling Stories, May 1952.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The grizzled old space veteran leaned back in his chair and stared up through the transparent dome. In the black sky myriad white specks gleamed without twinkling, their light unbent by atmosphere or dust. The steady pulse of the airmakers kept rhythm with the heartbeats of the young men seated in a semi-circle, listening with glistening eyes to these ancient tales of an Earth they'd never seen—the home of their species.
They stared hungrily at the old man's face. There was a silvery spot on the chin where Venusian fungus had nearly gotten into his bloodstream and had had to be burned away. Over one eye an eyebrow was gone, replaced by scar tissue grown on a planet at the other end of the galaxy where the light of enormous fireflies wasn't cold, as on ancient earth, but searing with heat.
"Imagine," they marveled, "such weak flame in fireflies."
"Not weak," corrected the old man. "Just different. Those insects on Earth didn't have to fight off intense cold. They had a much thicker atmosphere and were close to the sun. And they didn't feed on alcohol."
The young men's eyes glittered. They were an odd group. Small—most of them, none over five feet five inches—and pale, unlike the old man who was bulky around the shoulders and had skin virtually leathered by various radiations and temperatures and winds.
Each day this group waited hungrily for the old man to come and talk to them. The stories he told were the breath of life to them. And of all the tales of adventures in the far ends of the universe, the one that was most repeatedly called for was the story of what had happened to Earth.
"Tell us about Earth," said one of them, now, in a low voice.
"About how great we were?" said the old man. "About what love was like? About homes and children and how a man went to work in the morning at tasks of his own choosing? Or...."
"No. About what happened. You know. At the finish."
The old man looked up again. His eyes were dreamy.
"Earth," he said, softly. "Earth. I've been through the galaxies these last forty years and I've seen planets by the thousand. And there never was one like Earth."
"Tell us," they said, each in urgent, differing words, but all with the same tortured look. "Tell us about what went wrong."
"I've told you that a hundred times," he said.
But they wanted it again. Like a man who relives an incident to examine each moment with incredulity, as if in hope that it will fade and not have happened, as if in unconscious attempt to move sideways from that point into another time stream probability where a different course of action will be true.
"All right," said the old man.
The first they had heard of the strangers from outer space was when the new ultra short-wave frequencies were used. Professor Kennicot of Palmira University was the first to find how to generate and control them. He tried to transform the wavelengths upward to a range either auditory or visual but for some reason power was lost in the process.
Apparently he gave them a sufficient jolt with extra voltage, however, because they were picked up by the strangers in outer space as a signal. The heaviside layer did not stop these wavelengths.
Professor Kennicot was startled one day when he heard, or thought he heard, a soundless voice in his mind. It said:
"Interesting. We didn't know there was life on your planet or in your solar system."
Professor Kennicot shook his head and looked around. Nobody was in the laboratory.
"Of course," said the voice, "We detected atomic radiations from the area, but Zeetal thought it might come from your sun. Tell us, please, are you a Grade Three society?"
"My God," muttered Professor Kennicot. "I'm having hallucinations."
"There seems to be some difficulty establishing telepathic communication," came the puzzled thought. And then, after a pause, "Could it be we're in communication with creatures of zero grade?"
Another thought from elsewhere answered, and yet Professor Kennicot, somewhat, was tuned in: "Impossible. The signal picked up was very close to telepathic frequency."
It wasn't until two days later that Professor Kennicot discovered that he wasn't the only one who had experienced the auditory hallucination. The entire college was babbling about how Professor Johnson had come running out of the Chemistry Lab, which was two doors away from Physics, holding his head and babbling nonsense.
Professor Kennicot made a beeline for the hospital and had a quiet discussion with Professor Johnson, a discussion which is now historic. They discovered that not only were both their I.Q.s over one hundred and eighty, but that both of them, sitting together discussing the matter, were simultaneously getting new messages which nobody around them was receiving.
It wasn't long after that, of course, that many of the most brilliant men on Earth were reporting the same hallucinations, and as news of it spread it became obvious that not all could be insane in exactly the same way with the same thoughts. Excitement and puzzlement ran tremendously high because, although these intellects of Earth could receive telepathic messages, they were not advanced enough to send. They only knew what was being messaged to them; and this continued to be so until feverishly working physicists pinned down the telepathic wavelength mechanically. That was when conversations were begun and the entire Earth was able to listen in, by translation and regular broadcast.
The discussions did not go well. The beings from outer space would not answer questions. They only asked. The first thing, apparently, that made them cautious, was the first official question from Earth.
"How is it that we understand your thought even though many of our scientists speak different languages?"
The whole world awaited the first answer. None came. There was a silence lasting four hours. Then came a message:
"Your question indicates you may be a low grade of developed life. We shall investigate and fit you into our needs according to your capabilities."
A thrill of horror went around the world. What kind of monsters were these? What would they do? The uproar that ensued was full of frantic military preparations. Bombs were readied in the atomic planes, rockets were raised in their cradles adjustable to any orbit. Unfortunately, nobody thought to conceal this, and some fool had failed to shut off the telepathic wavelength. One morning the world awoke to a non-electrical society in which nothing electrical would work.
"We have put a field of force around your planet," came the message. "There must be no violence. Be not afraid. We come as friends. We will appear now and investigate. Be calm."
The leaders of each nation spoke to their people, and the world waited in tense silence. One day an enormous sphere appeared and landed. The creatures that emerged couldn't be clearly discerned because they were in space-suits which gave them comfortable air-pressures and what was to them breathable atmosphere. They were four-legged creatures but could walk on two, if necessary.
A delegation of picked dignitaries started to show them our world, our customs, the way we dressed, what we lived in, what we ate. Almost immediately the strangers turned and left our world.
Within two days Earth was in bondage.
The old space veteran stopped. He looked around at the tense faces.
"We found out later," he said. "It was the banquet they watched on a film which we ran off, that did it. There was a scene where a waiter brings in a whole roast pig with an apple in its mouth and then it's eaten."
All the boys drew a deep horrified breath. The old man nodded heavily. "Well," he said, "how were we to know these beings from outer space had evolved from pigs, or creatures very similar?" He sighed, and stood up. "Well, maybe in fifty years they'll feel we're advanced enough for freedom." He smiled. "I'll leave you to your telepathy classes and conditioning."
He moved toward the door and a portion of glass wall slid aside to let him through. But before he exited he turned and said softly, "Now don't let it get you, boys. Being exhibited in a zoo isn't too bad. Serve your time and you'll get servant status like me and get out into space."
He waved and walked out through the spectators gathered around the glass cage. They moved aside to let him through, staring at him with brilliant brown eyes, their snoutlike noses twitching in sympathy and kindness, their pig-like faces gentle with the expression a man gives a trained dog.