The Nadrum lay on her side in her bed, staring into the darkness. Knowing that sleep was not soon to be forthcoming, she pulled off her covers, got up, and turned on a small light. She tapped a number into her wall communicator.
It took a good ten beeps at the other end for anyone to answer. Eventually Parma Das did.
“Yes, ma’am,” Parma Das said, pushing her hair out of her face.
“I can’t sleep, Par,” said the Nadrum.
“Oh. Is there something I can do for you?”
“No, I’ll be alright. I want to be present when JM-4 gives Alvin Zaronsky the recording of Dora One’s last session.”
“Yes, if you wish.”
“I want you and Taus to be there too.”
“Mm hm.” She thought for a moment to make sure there wasn’t anything else she needed to say, but there wasn’t. “Okay, that’s all,” she said. “Good night.”
“Good night, ma’am.”
Cathy and Alvin sat at the small table in Alvin’s room. Waiting. Both were dressed. Cathy for once had tucked in her shirt. Vaka knocked on the door. Alvin answered it.
“Ready?” Vaka asked.
Vaka was three steps ahead of them continuously as they made the long walk through the corridors, into the elevator, and back through another long and meandering corridor. Eventually they arrived at the doorway of their destination. Vaka addressed Cathy at length and in the language of the Grace. Cathy listened, responded in kind, then turned to Alvin.
“Taus, Parma Das, and the Nadrum will be present while I speak,” Cathy told Alvin. “They will be at the front of the room behind a table. The Nadrum will be in the middle. We’ll take the small chairs before them. When you first enter, look at the Nadrum first, nod politely, and then move forward. Before you sit, nod to the Nadrum again, say ‘Nadrum Mestuke Tomma.’”
“Mest,” Cathy corrected. “Nadrum Mestuke Tomma.”
“Nadrum Mestuke Tomma,” Alvin repeated.
“Good. Wait for the Nadrum to nod back, then sit down. This is a hologram chamber, like when you were in Taus’s office. Taus, Parma Das, and the Nadrum are not actually present in the room, but rather on the other side of the wall. The chamber allows you to see them in human representation.”
“Why would I need to see that?” Alvin asked.
“It’s just an aspect of the translator, like in Taus’s office. It was designed to facilitate equitable and comfortable engagement between different species. Everybody looking the same promotes harmonious interaction. Presently it’s programmed for interaction with humans. So, they’ll look human, like you. What’s important with you is it’ll allow you to understand them, and also allow them to understand you should you want to say something, as well as me because I’ll be translating Dora One into English, and the Nadrum and Taus don’t understand English. Not very well anyway.” She paused to give Alvin the opportunity to acknowledge. His mind seemed busy. “Got it?” she prodded.
“Where’s the Nadrum?” Cathy quizzed.
“In the middle,” Alvin said.
Vaka stayed behind and Cathy and Alvin entered. Not being nearly as prepared as he thought he was, Alvin stopped immediately upon seeing the three others behind the table at the front of the room.
Cathy slapped his arm with her fist. “Nod,” she said. And he did. Then they both walked forward. Alvin looked at the Nadrum, but then couldn’t help glancing to his left at the other person who wasn’t Taus—a tall attractive woman wearing a gray jump suit with yellow patches on the shoulders.
“Eh! Nod,” said Cathy, with another shot to his arm. “And what?”
“Nadrum Mestuke Tomma,” Alvin said in a blurt, looking back to the person in the middle.
The Nadrum nodded and Cathy and Alvin sat.
As Alvin looked at the Nadrum, he tried to maintain a degree of decorum, but was unable. “You’re Judy Dench,” he said to her. Then he turned to who he assumed was Parma Das. “And you’re Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from the first Alien.”
“Nice choice,” Alvin said. “You look really good.”
No response. Her fingertips supported her slightly tilted head as she continued to both observe and ignore him given that the entire discussion was stupid.
“Though,” Alvin continued, “I think Ripley from Alien Resurrection would have suited you better.”
She repositioned herself upright. “I wouldn’t know, Alvin,” she said. “Nor care.” She turned to the Nadrum. “May we?”
“Why are you a hologram if you can understand English?” Alvin continued.
“Because listening to it at length is tedious. Why don’t we get rolling.”
Alvin looked to the right at the familiar figure of Taus. “Rip,” he greeted.
“Alvin,” Taus said, nodding back.
“Let’s begin,” said the Nadrum.
“Can I ask a question?” Alvin said, cutting in.
“Wwwhat?!” Parma Das snapped.
“How do you know these people? How do you know people I know? How do you know what they look like?”
“We don’t know these people,” retorted Parma Das. “They’re just random images programmed in from previously obtained data.”
“Oh,” said Alvin. “Programmed in by whom?”
Parma Das hesitated in her response as she assessed the relevance of the question. Determining that it had none, she nonetheless glanced to her left and pointed at Cathy.
“Ah,” said Alvin.
“Let’s begin,” said the Nadrum.
Cathy fixated on a random spot on the table. She locked in. Her eyes never drifted from it. She was simultaneously present in the room and not present. Simultaneously a person, and not a person.
And she began.
It was pastoral in its beginning. In response to an opening question, there was a description of Earth, which anyone might assess as pretty, and which Dora One did. There was bounty, and warmth, and natural beauty. There were innocuous questions which followed, such as ‘What are dogs?’ These satisfied curiosity, oftentimes, as Dora One chose to describe them, in a manner that elicited amusement from the present Grace. And quickly Alvin noted that Dora One was not simply a machine spewing data and observations, but an intelligent entity that assessed and expressed with a singular personality. Like a human. Like a human much like himself. Despite the fact he heard this related in Cathy’s soft, female voice, there was a recognition of his own voice, in his own way of speaking.
And then came the interruption. While he had been told in passing that their plot had been discovered, it was only now, as Cathy related all the events including that which included her personally, she speaking of herself like it was a separate person named “I” and “me”, did Alvin understand how far out on a limb she had gone on his behalf, and how she had literally stood her ground, as she related the thoughts of this character in the retelling with the previously unconveyed, “I am unsure, and I am afraid.” And Alvin, now being made aware of this for the first time, didn’t simply hear it, but absorbed it.
Cathy continued, being in two places simultaneously.
Memset Rofann stands. “What of war?” he asks.
Dora One responds. “The humans engage in war as if they’ve never heard of it before—like it’s a brand-new experiment. Or a video game. In any disagreement, war for some reason always seems to be their go-to resolution. It’s curious, they have expressions that say things like, ‘Never again’ or ‘Never forget’, but then they never seem to remember what it was they were referring to originally. And so they gravitate to violence, which of course, as we are aware, is destructive to all who entertain it, including the initiators. Even the victors. They’ve been making war on each other for as long as they’ve been grinding corn, well, longer than that actually, but show no sign of letting up anytime in the future.”
Tzo Morde stands. “I would like to interject here, if I may. Countering your opinion on their proclivity for war, it has to be noted that just about all Earth people have a belief in a supreme being, one which judges their actions and will also punish them for showing intolerance or disregard for others. How does this almost planetary belief weigh against their predisposition toward violence as you describe it? It seems there’s a contradiction here.”
“Oh, yes. God. Interesting point. There’s actually two Gods. There is a big God that people can’t actually see, and then there’s another God—a littler God, who they also can’t see—but who actually controls everything on Earth. The big God controls everything in heaven, but the little God controls everything on Earth. Do you follow me?”
“I think so.”
“The little God is called the Scapegoat God. This is the alter at which most humans spend their time praying. While humans might pray to the big God, like one day a week, they actually worship and adhere to the rules of the Scapegoat God every day. This God demands actual sacrifices. Sacrifices are tangible and therefore desirable as they are much more easily understood than whatever it is the big God wants, which is more often than not, very unclear. It is the nature of all the Earth people, that given any sort of undesirable events or circumstances, some other person be made accountable and punished, even if they had nothing to do with the whole business. This person is then offered to the Scapegoat God, who is satisfied, and who is actually the God that runs the planet, and so is the one that needs to be immediately pleased.”
“’Dora One, if you’ll excuse me, we’re trying to establish facts here, but on this you seem to be waxing poetic, or speaking abstractly.”
“I’m not capable of waxing poetic or speaking in the abstract. I am capable of extrapolating based on facts and evidence, however. The Scapegoat God has to be an actual thing. It would be the only explanation for the manner in which Earth people behave. The only reason they do what they do, which is doing each other in, and for no observable reason at all, has to be due to fear, and since there is no tangible Earthbound thing to be afraid of, it has to be due to the threat of wrath from a supernatural entity—one which doesn’t actually exist, but is nonetheless believed to exist. This is supported by their long-held tradition of having multiple gods—all who coincidentally exhibit the exact same pettiness, jealousy, and lust as the humans who invented them—and this going as far back as to the period of time when they came up with a positive use for fire. In our previous and recent interactions I’ve already provided the Sutto Council with a litany of horror that was the result of the human’s capacity for war and indifference, for their proclivity to define—from a self-centric perspective—where Us ends and Them begins, which apparently for the Americans is at one ocean on one side and another ocean on the other, with occasional convenient benevolence granted to random little spots within the rest of the planet. I was assuming that regurgitating all that which I’ve detailed before, the horror, was not required. And so I’ve summarized for the benefit of all here now. Whether this summation, in its assessment of cause, strikes you as poetic, imaginative, or abstract is irrelevant, for what needs only to be emphasized is the actions of humans. And those actions are either murderous to the soul or body of others. That’s my point.”
Tzo Morde pauses to consider it. He nods. “Thank you, Dora One.”
He sits. Aum Es stands.
“If I may, I’d like to return to Memset Rofann’s issue of war,” she says. “Is it not the leaders of countries who initiate these wars and as necessity force citizens to engage, even if they wish to not aggress against another country?”
“It would not be supportable to say that humans in general gravitate to aggression and violence. Passivity, yes. Violence? Well, no. True. A predilection to admit that they’re wrong—even if they aren’t—provided that it presents them as sanctimonious and suddenly enlightened and throws somebody else under the bus? Yes. But innately violent? While it could be posed subjectively, argued, and the argument given validity, it’s not provable, and as I said, ultimately not supportable. What is provable, though, and that simply through observation, is just as bad as instinctive violence. And that is the inability to think independently. Even Alvin knows this. He wrote it down one day. I was somewhat surprised he could be so accurately observant, given his humanness, as dim and flawed as such a thing is. In short, humans have no more ability to think independently than the ants that they might tread upon and crush beneath their feet, giving it no thought or sense of guilt. That said, though, I have observed an ant heading in one direction, only to change its mind—for no reason I could see—and go in the other direction. This ability escapes most humans. They are a tribal species. It’s more important that they adhere to the doctrines of the group which they were born into than to analyze what they observe, and assess it with logic. You’ll see this most strongly pronounced in their presidential elections—the Americans anyway. While they are not imbued with the ability to think independently, they are imbued with the ability to rationalize any behavior—no matter how foul—so that it is acceptable to their conscious. Bad is not so bad. Evil is pragmatic. Lies are misspeakings. Abuse of authority is a momentary lapse in judgment. Violence is duty. Death of innocents is collateral damage. The list goes on.
“I’ve determined that they do have the capacity for thought, for logic, they just prefer not to employ it. I think they find it hard. And yet they believe that anything is possible. And their idea that anything is possible allows them to assume that anything they might imagine is actually probable. In what seems on the surface to be innocuous—but which in reality isn’t given that it ultimately relieves any individual from responsibility for another—is, through the human imagination, the subsequent birth of fairies, and goblins, and witches, and ghosts, and magic, and gods of all sorts, and floating saints, and destiny, and fate, and rocks that have healing powers, and imbeciles who are not really imbeciles, and horrible people who nonetheless have so many good points, and so forth and so forth. Oddly, at the same time they seem hard pressed to believe in science or fact. Even basic principles such as, oh, Newton’s Third Law for example, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, is seemingly a concept beyond their grasp. Thus they have a propensity for poking the bear, as they say on Earth, oblivious to the concept that the bear will poke back—which of course is more than a poke since it’s a bear. But I digress.
“It is, however, the inability to think independently which is the most lethal and devasting to either other groups or individuals. It’s the inability to stand up to their tribe and suggest that some tenet is wrong, or some popular and fashionable belief is wrong, which creates the unstoppable tsunami of war, of violence, and of indifference to the well-being of those they don’t personally know. Humans find comfort in being accepted by their tribe, and discomfort in objecting to the rules of the tribe even when doing so would benefit not only others outside the group, but the group itself. It’s a fascinating dynamic.”
The hall is quiet. Po Lass raises his finger toward the Nadrum. The Nadrum nods and Po Lass stands and addresses Dora One. “I have a simple question, in response to what you have just now stated, Dora One. And that is, are all humans like this?”
He sits. He has no other question. He waits for the answer to this one.
“No,” says Dora One. “Not all humans are like this. There are humans that speak out. There are even humans who dedicate their own lives—sometimes sacrificing their lives—to and for the benefit of the entire group, sometimes for the entire planet, often for the benefit of all the beings on the planet, not just the humans but the animals as well. This, however, is a little group. The idea of giving any part of oneself for the benefit of the whole, is an alien concept for most humans. While some do, I would put this at about seven percent. But there are those who progress the species, yes. I would note, though, that even this group is wanting in regard to the number of their members whose motivations are altruistic. Artists paint because they like playing with paint and divorcing themselves from reality; soldiers enlist to defend because they like having the opportunity to play with guns and other such machines and not having to make personal decisions for several years; missionaries bring hope to the perceived hopeless because doing so makes them feel blessed; inventors invent to satisfy their itching curiosity; folk singers champion the have-nots because they like pontificating and wallowing in self-righteousness; billionaires give away huge amounts of money to charity provided they have more than enough for themselves in an attempt to buy their way into heaven following a lifetime of misdeeds, greed, and harvesting the labor of their employees if not their internal organs. But this dearth of altruism is a small quibble. Whatever the impetus, there is nonetheless positive action achieved.
“The larger issue is that unfortunately it’s the nature of the other ninety-three percent who are doing little more than taking up space—doing only enough in a make-believe way to give the impression that they’re contributing—to undo anything the little group does. It is, for the greater majority, far more important to believe in something contrary, whether that belief is valid or beneficial, than to give acknowledgement to another who might suggest another way is better. The reason for this is that for the great majority, self-importance is the only thing of value. To value someone else’s idea, values, accomplishments, wisdom or plans for society’s benefit is to relinquish your own self-importance; that is essentially, suicide of the ego. Tearing down is just as much fun as building up, but so much easier.
“It has to be noted that in the last hundred thousand years, Earth years, little positive progress has been made by human beings. Off the top of my head all I can really come up with, in terms of a positive move forward, is the development of opposable thumbs, the plow, and penicillin. This process of one step forward and one step backward, has left Earth in a state of constant fragility from which it’s likely to collapse at any moment. The seven percent that have pushed the Earth forward, in terms of technical progress, peaceful coexistence, art for art’s sake, and the ability to extend and double the human life, will eventually be overwhelmed by the masses that push back. It’s really just a matter of time. The fact that it hasn’t happened already has to be attributed simply to luck.
“Eventually it will, of course. Probability dictates that Earth can do nothing other than implode, at least in terms of civilization. The planet is hearty. So, that’s good. Though, history would dictate that that’s sketchy too given that it has a tendency to heave from within, whimsically altering its living surface from a paradise to a death trap capable of annihilating all existent species within inescapable ice or volcanic fire. That said, things are okay now, and should be for the foreseeable future. I’d say, oh, for another ten thousand years anyway.”
Madda Souk stands. “Dora One, you’re familiar with the Greeter Plan, are you not?”
“What is your assessment?”
“It’s ill-advised. Benign curiosity is not the strong suit of humans, at least not their governments—certainly not the American government, which I reference given their being the primary focus of the plan we’re discussing. You have to understand what you’re dealing with here. This is a species which debates in their Senate what actually constitutes torture, for the purpose of finding the point at which they need not take or feel moral responsibility for inflicting upon individuals physical acts which those individuals would prefer not be inflicted. Now, one would think this is an issue that doesn’t lend itself to argument or subjectivity, but for the Americans at least, it does. Consider that a reason for extreme caution.
“Regarding the Greeter Plan further, the idea of approaching, landing, and having JM-4 be the first to exit one of the ships and extend its hand, is a fine idea provided you’re dealing with a rational species who might lend themselves to hospitality. You’re not. Assuming the first ship to enter their atmosphere is allowed to land, the response to JM-4 is utterly unknowable. Assuming your expensive device isn’t fired upon by either a direct order or some misguided and jumpy low ranking military automaton the moment JM-4 comes through the door and says hello, despite its/her desired appearance, getting it/her back is unlikely. The Americans will find your JM-4 a fascinating design—creature, person, machine, what have you. And while JM-4 may make headway in the initial stages of the Greeter Plan, getting JM-4 returned to you is, as I said, unlikely. I’d estimate it at about zero percent probability unless she just stays put and stone-like outside the ship for the next few thousand years until everybody in America goes extinct. The Americans have a long history of finding something that intrigues them, and just taking it. Like Hawaii. I would suspect JM-4 will see the same fate.
“But of greater concern is the fate of the four hundred thousand Grace. America’s tolerance for immigrants ebbs and flows. It’s a dice throw in regard to how the Grace will be treated given whatever administration is running the show, though, history would dictate no administration can be depended on for absolute benevolence. History also shows that the more unalike one is from the majority, physically, the less likely they will be viewed with favor. I might cite the Chinese in the late nineteenth century being subjected to no end of intolerance—prior of course to them proving they were of need by opening laundries for the filthy hordes of gold-digging prospectors and their ability to construct a two-thousand-mile railroad without bankrupting the investors of it due to their reticence towards indolence and insobriety; they were then considered tolerable. Initially, though, they were simply physically and culturally different. And by different I mean wrong. And were punished for being so. Consequently I must point out that the Grace are considerably different, both in appearance and culture, and much more so than any of the present Americans.
“From a perspective of only practicality and logistics, the Americans not only do not have the systems in place to conveniently accommodate the sudden arrival of four hundred thousand Grace—other than incarcerating camps—they would have no interest in trying to create acceptable accommodations. Why should they? The Grace come with nothing that is clearly a benefit to the Americans. They’ll have minimal use for your little green crystals and militarily you’re certainly not going to volunteer and/or offer them what you’re capable of. This fact must be absorbed.
“Whatever route taken, though, JM-4 is the ideal candidate as a liaison should such a thing be necessary with whatever few remaining humans there might be following the Alternative Plan, a group of humans we might refer to as the collateral living. But the Greeter Plan as I said is likely doomed to failure. I just don’t know exactly how that failure will play out. There are so many possibilities given the mercurial nature of humans.”
There is a disquieting noise among all those in attendance, coming from all ships.
“I now yield the floor to Commander Ebbes Dest.”
He stands. “Dora One, in assessing the Alternative Plan, putting aside JM-4 and the Greeter Plan, what is the capacity to respond to an attack by our ships from the Americans, and what would be the response to such an attack by the allies of America?”
Dora One responds.
“Attacking from our height, the Americans would not have the ability to counter-attack. While they are more advanced in the development of nuclear capability, which is exponentially more destructive than what the Grace are capable of, their defenses and offensive weapons do not have the capability to match the Grace’s ability to engage at great distance. An initial attack would not be problematic. However, eventually the Grace will need to land. It is when they land, and are within range of America’s defenses, that America would unleash those defenses upon their own country—that being wherever the Grace have occupied. Therefore, all of America’s potential defenses, and subsequent offenses, would have to be neutralized prior to arrival.”
Commander Ebbes Dest speaks again.
“Dora One, skipping past America’s potential for counter-attack, what of their allies? Do we have anything to fear from the other countries on Earth, given that our attack is only centered on America?’’
“’No. Both previous and present controlling groups of America, their presidents and their association, or cabinet as it’s called, have created such great economic instability within the rest of the planet, undermined legitimate governments for America’s financial benefit, have voided long-standing agreements, and—for reasons beyond comprehension—during at least one recent administration insulted and consequently alienated all the leaders of the countries which had previously been their allies, it can be assured that no assistance in this matter will be forthcoming. They’ll just let it happen. Or they’ll pile on.’”
Commander Ebbes Dest continues.”
“Dora One, is it possible to neutralize the defenses of America?’”
“Yes,” says Dora One. “The key strategic locations can be determined, isolated, and neutralized from within reasonable range—not this range, but reasonable range where the Grace ships can remain undetected until the Americans have insufficient time to react. More difficult, but not impossible, will be to locate their nuclear submarines below the surface of the ocean. These will ultimately be the retaliatory force used against the Grace within America.”
“But they’ll blow up their own country.”
“They will attempt to eliminate what they consider a parasite within the body. If restrained, if controlled, surgical, it would be a logical and possibly successful response. This is not, however, without resolve. The submarines can be located and destroyed. That is foremost. And the Grace have the technological capacity to do so—meaning, you can see under the water. I believe this is doable with your Moc Astet Ro-Gat-Ent scan system, referred to more familiarly by the acronym MARGE.”
“That’s a classified system.”
“Or was. Sorry. Anyway, this is something neither the Americans, nor anybody else on Earth, has figured out how to do. I congratulate you on this development. This will be your key advantage. Consequently, I anticipate no problems with this direction.”
Ebbes Dest, satisfied, turns to the person on his left. “I yield the floor to Mahg Ja.”
Mahg Ja stands. She doesn’t say anything. She looks at a note in her hand. She folds it in half. She looks back at Alvin, at Dora One. She takes a deep breath, but then says nothing. She breathes in deeply again. Now she speaks.
“Dora One, I have the final question. It is our intent, it seems, quite clearly, to initiate an unprovoked attack upon Earth. My question, the ultimate question, and the reason why you were sent to Earth twenty Earth years ago, and is the reason for your long sojourn, is this: Do we have moral justification to attack the Earth? Be it a part of it, or be it in its entirety?”
She sits. Dora One is not responding. Everyone is very quiet. Everyone is waiting. Dora One now answers.
“Someone on Earth once said, if the Earth could emit a sound, it would be a scream. I have to agree with that. This is a planet where murder is normal—for the animals and for the humans. You want to eat? You kill. You want to thrive economically? You kill. Your question is, do the Grace have moral justification in annihilating everyone and everything on the Earth? Yes, you do. You’d be doing them a favor. Billions of the yet born will thank you for sparing them from suffering and horror if not a lifetime spent in a state of near catatonic confusion or uselessness.”
There is a great silence. It lingers. The Nadrum now rises. She looks down at Dora One, at Alvin.
“Thank you,” she says. “You have been of great service.”
Dora One nods. “I’m pleased that my journey has provided resolve,” he says.
The Nadrum scans slowly through the hall, high and low, contacting the eyes of everyone present. “Yes,” she says, “we have resolve. Our assessment is complete. This final interview, and meeting, are now done.”
A quarter of a minute passed in silence. Cathy released her gaze from the table and turned to Alvin, softly saying. “That’s it.”