17. DOC Y : Tell us about the early story.

I’ve done more than that: I’ve put it below, as far as it goes, and added comments at the end.

 

INTRODUCTION

by Commander A C Anderson, International Space Investigation Agency.

20th February 2051.

I suspect that everyone must know how we obtained the following report, but, for the record, here are the facts.

On 21st June 2040, Man first set foot on Titan, the largest moon of the planet Neptune. Because the conditions were so hostile, it was a brief visit, collecting rock samples, and surveying the surface for landing sites for future visits.

The survey noted a place where the dust of the surface was disturbed, so the second manned expedition landed close enough to investigate that.

This second landing was on 10th December 2049. On 13th December, while exploring the region, an astronaut spotted the corner of a black object, sticking out of the sand. It was a small box, about 120 x 80 x 20 mm. The edges and corners were slightly rounded. The surface was matt black, with no marks or seams.

It could not be a natural object, so it was the first evidence of intelligent life outside Earth. It therefore aroused great interest. I was appointed to lead the team to investigate it.

I will not describe the precautions we took in the investigation, but we had no success. The object defied all our efforts to discover its purpose. Analysis showed it was made of a tough plastic material, unknown on Earth, but not natural. None of our instruments could detect anything inside.

Then, on the evening 11th August 2050, I was at my desk in the lunar lab, with the object in front of me. The other members of the team had gone home, but I had lingered to puzzle over the object.

For no particular reason, I held it to my ear. And I sensed it whispering to me – not out loud, but inside my head.

It was a device for recording and playing thoughts. It responded to thought instructions – “Stop,” “Start,” “Go back,” and so on.

In great excitement, I set it to the start, and “listened” to the playback. It was so interesting that I was still at my desk with it, when the other members of the team arrived for work the next morning.

I “heard” it all, then we began to write it down. This was complicated, because everyone “hears” a slightly different story, depending on how they understand the thoughts. We therefore asked three people to write what they “heard”. I have combined their records, to make the following report.

I will make no comment on the material at this time. Where necessary, I have inserted explanations in brackets.

(signed)

A C Anderson.

 

My name was Johnny Francis, but it’s not that now. I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Europe, Earth, on 23rd March 1991, but I don’t know how old I am. I am recording this story of my life, but I don’t really expect anyone to find it.

With these thoughts to boost my confidence, here I go. My early life in Edinburgh was nothing special. I remember it clearly, but it doesn’t belong in this story.

[Police records show that John B Francis (born 23rd March 1991) went missing on 1st November 2003. He was never found, despite long investigations. A.C.A.]

I wakened drowsily. I thought, “My brain feels different – fresher.” It’s hard to describe. I felt super-alert. I’d been worrying about a Maths assessment for school, but I thought, “I feel good. I’ll murder that assessment.”

I stretched, and my right hand hit a wall. But – there wasn’t a wall at that side of my bed. That opened my eyes.

A woman in a white uniform was sitting on the bed, looking down at me. A nurse! I was in hospital!

I tried to sit up, stammering out questions. Where was I? What had happened?

Gently, she pushed me back. “Everything is all right. Don’t worry. Lie back and relax.”

Feeling calmer, I lay back. I wasn’t sorry to do it. Although my mind felt sharp, my body felt tired and sore. I looked around. I was in a small room with cream-coloured walls. It was about two metres square.

[When first heard, the words translated here as ‘two metres’ was a meaningless sound – ‘ekleklekleklek…,’ starting loud, and dying away, with the idea of a small size. Numbers and length are explained later in the report. If you study that before listening to the part above, it gives a length which can be converted to about two metres. To help readers to understand the report, I have translated all measurements. A.C.A.]

It might’ve been a cabin in a ship. My bed, or bunk, was a shelf along one side. Under me was a thick mattress of foam rubber. Above me was a thin quilt, also of foam rubber. It didn’t look warm and comfortable, but it was.

The cabin had three doors – one at each end of the long wall across from the bunk, and one on the short wall, alongside the foot of the bunk.

I was wondering why a small cabin would need three doors, when the last one opened, sliding into the wall. A young woman came in. She wore a white coat. She spoke to the nurse, who left.

The woman sat on the bed beside me. “Hello. Johnny, isn’t it? I’m Dr Bel. How are you feeling?”

“What’s happened?” I asked. “Where am I? Have I been ill?”

“No, Johnny,” she answered in a quiet voice. “You haven’t been ill. You’ve been chosen to join a team to do a very important job.”

“Job? Team? What do you mean? Nobody told me about any job.”

“No,” she said. “Your parents don’t know. You see….”

“Then what am I doing here?” I tried to sit up.

“Quietly, Johnny.” She pushed me gently back. “You have been chosen for a special job – not for your own planet, Earth, but for the Intergalactic Federation. You’re not on Earth now, Johnny. You’re on a planet called Kha.”

If she hadn’t pushed me back, I’d’ve fallen back. I’m used to the idea now, but it was a shock at the time.

When I’d recovered a bit, and she had persuaded me she was serious, she explained, “Kha is just one of millions of planets in the Intergalactic Federation.”

I asked, “Is Earth a member?”

“No, Johnny. Earth hasn’t been invited to join, because your civilisation is not far enough advanced. A civilisation must be able to travel between the stars before it’s invited to join.”

“Then why do you take people from Earth for your team? You must have millions and millions of people in your… Intergalactic Federation. Why not put them in your team? Why take people from a planet that isn’t in your Federation?

“The teams do include people from other planets, Johnny. But they also need people from Earth. You see, young people from Earth are special. People like you, Johnny.”

“Me?” I suppose everybody thinks they’re special. I think I’m special. But why would the Intergalactic Federation agree with me?

“Yes, Johnny,” she said. “Watch my face. What do you think of this?”

It was amazing! Her lips stopped moving, but I “heard” her question as if she’d spoken it. I’m used to it now, but I still remember my astonishment when I realised she was “talking” to me without saying a word.

I asked, “How do you do that?”

She answered, still in my head, “I’m sending my thoughts to you. Your brain can receive and understand them.”

She stopped again. Maybe she expected me to say something, but I was speechless.

She went on, “You should also be able to transmit thoughts. Try to think a message to me without speaking it.”

“What about?” I asked, out loud.

“Anything,” she said. “Whatever you would have said to me next.”

“How – does – it – work?” I concentrated towards her.

“No one knows,” she thought back. “The scientists say we’re using thought waves, but no one has invented an instrument to detect them.”

“What’s so…?” I was talking out loud. I started again, trying to think the question. “What’s so special about people from Earth? Are we the only ones who can send and receive thoughts?”

“No,” she replied. “Nearly everyone in the Federation can transmit thoughts, but none of them can receive them as loudly or clearly as young people from Earth. So I mean it when I say you’re someone special.”

“I’m not sure I like being someone special,” I said, remembering my home, my parents, everything I knew and liked on planet Earth.

She must’ve sensed my sadness. “I’m sorry, Johnny,” she said. “It must be difficult for you. But the job is important. And the training must be done at your age. Any younger, and the brain isn’t well enough developed. Any older, and it’s too well developed, forming fixed pathways which spoil it. Does your mind feel different?”

“Yes.” I remembered the alert feeling when I wakened.

“That’s from the treatment you had.”

“Treatment?” I asked in alarm.

She put her hand on mine. It felt warm. “It’s all right, Johnny. The treatment doesn’t harm you. It opens your mind, to receive thoughts more clearly.”

“But… you can’t do that! Why didn’t you ask me?”

“I’m sorry, Johnny. I know it’s not fair. But we couldn’t ask. People on non-Federation planets mustn’t learn about the Federation.”

“Does that mean – I’ll never go home?”

“I’m sorry, Johnny. We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t important.”

“Well, what’s this important job that needs Johnny Francis with a treated mind?”

“You’ll be joining a team, to explore unknown planets.”

“Eh?” That news was exciting – and worrying. Again, I tried to sit up.

“No, Johnny.” She held me down, gently but firmly. “You’re not strong enough yet. I came to make sure you’re recovering from your treatment. It took more than two weeks. During that time, nutrients were put directly into your blood. You’re still weak. You should rest now. In a few hours, you can get up, and have something to eat. Then we can have a chat, and I’ll answer all your questions.”

“Yes, but….”

“No, Johnny. Later. Don’t you feel weak?”

“A bit.”

“Then take another rest.”

My thoughts were whirling as I lay back. But my racing mind soon slowed, and I drifted off to sleep. How could I sleep after all she’d told me? I was puzzled at the time, but now I believe that Dr Bel was sending thoughts of peace to me. I’m not suggesting that one person can control another’s mind, but it is possible to transmit feelings.

I don’t know how long I slept but, when I wakened, Dr Bel was (still?) sitting on the bed. She asked, “How are you feeling now, Johnny?”

I moved my arms and legs. They were still sore, but not quite so bad. “Better,” I answered. “Hungry,” I added hopefully.

“Good.” She touched the door opposite the head of the bed. “This is your bathroom.” She pointed to the door at the other end of that wall. “Your clothes are in here.” She smiled. “Don’t worry if they seem strange. That’s what everyone on Kha wears.”

She stood at the outside door. “If you have any problems, or when you’re ready, just call me. My office is across the corridor.” She slid the door open, went out, and slid it shut behind her.

I lay for a moment, thinking. What would my strange new life be like? What was the planet Kha like?

The simplest way to find out was to get moving. I sat up, and swung my legs over the edge of the bunk. The movement made me realise I wasn’t as fit as I’d thought. My arms and legs were tired and sore, like on the day after I did the five-mile cross-country run for the school.

I was wearing a buff-coloured teeshirt, and pyjama trousers. There was a sore spot on my left forearm. I pulled up the sleeve, showing a square of brown plastic – Kha sticking plaster. It was well stuck to my arm, so I didn’t try to pull it off.

I slid forward, to stand. The floor looked like the same cream plastic as the walls, but it was softer, and felt warm under my bare feet.

I took the one step I needed to reach the bathroom door. It slid back easily, showing a small room. On the left was a washbasin. On the right was a toilet. Behind them, a shower head stuck out from the ceiling, above a drain in the floor. Everything was the same cream plastic.

I used the toilet, which had no tank, but a button on the wall, to flush it.

Then I played with the washbasin. It had an ordinary plug, but the water came in through a hole in the side. I could control its temperature by sliding a handle along the wall. A towel hung on a rail at the side.

There were two holes in the wall above the basin. One had a sponge. The other had the handle of a toothbrush sticking out. No soap. I looked in the hole behind the sponge. It was empty, but it had a slot along the top. I stuck my hand in, to feel it. A squelching noise brought a squirt of goo from the slot, all over my hand. I pulled my hand out of that slot faster than I put it in! But then I realised – I had found the soap.

I gave myself a quick wash, to use that fancy basin. The towel was thin, but it worked.

Back in the main room, I opened the cupboard where Dr Bel said I would find my clothes. After what she’d said, I didn’t expect to find my own clothes there. The cupboard had six shelves of clothes, all in the same buff colour as the pyjamas.

There were six kinds of clothes. Three might’ve come from Earth – briefs, short socks and moccasins. The fourth was a sleeveless shirt, like my athletics shirt, but with smaller armholes. The fifth was a belt. One end slid through a badge on the other. I could tighten it by pulling it through, and release it by pushing a button in the middle of the badge. That belt would hold up the sixth thing.

It caused me a bit of trouble, but I got it on. It had four cloth flaps, hanging from the belt to just above the knees. There were wide ones across the front and rear, and narrow ones down each side. The narrow ones were double thickness, with slots near the top, acting as pockets. When I finally got it on, I felt like the last of the Roman gladiators.

I found a comb among some interesting odds and ends in a drawer below the mirror beside the head of the bed. Then it was time for Johnny Francis to face the lions, or whatever else I would find on the planet Kha.

I slid back the outer door, and peered out. A short corridor. Like the head of a T, coming off another corridor. Same cream walls and floor. My door was in the top edge of the T, but near the end – not looking down the upright, but across to another door.

Nobody was in sight. Should I explore? Better not. I’d had enough trouble with the things in my cabin. I knocked on the door opposite. “Dr Bel.”

The door opened. Dr Bel appeared, smiled at me, and thought, “You look very smart.”

I blushed. I didn’t feel very smart. She was wearing the same labcoat, which stopped about the same place as my kilt. She had short socks and moccasins like mine.

She thought to me, “You’ll soon get used to it. Ready for something to eat?”

“Definitely.” I didn’t have to concentrate to make that sound as if I meant it.

“Good.” She led me down the corridor forming the upright of the T. It had two doors off each side, but they were all closed. No windows. The light came from the rounded corners between the tops of the walls and the ceiling.

The corridor went into a kind-of entrance hall, with a desk in one corner, and small bushes and clumps of flowers in a border built into another. The flowers made a splash of yellow against the green bushes, and the cream-coloured walls.

I asked, “Are these… daffodils?”

“Yes, Johnny,” said Dr Bel. “People are not the only living things from Earth that live on Kha.”

That cheered me a bit. If they’d taken the trouble to bring daffodils, this place couldn’t be totally dreadful.

A doors at the far end of the entrance hall led into a narrow dining hall. The far end wall had a serving counter. Two tables ran the length of the room, with benches along each side. The place was empty.

Dr Bel thought to me, “What do you want for breakfast, Johnny?” She led the way to the counter, and gave me a tray – made of cream plastic – what else?

 

*

 

And that’s where Johnny’s story stops. I’ll number my comments about it.

 

(1) It was written some time in the early 1980s, but I was too busy to continue it at that time, especially since it dodged the question of how Johnny reached the Federation. In late 1999, when I decided to try writing for young people, I remembered Johnny’s story, but I still hadn’t solved the problem of how he reached the Federation, when I was going down in a lift, and I thought to myself, “What if that lift door opened, and it’s not the hall.” Then I thought, “Got it! That’s how Johnny found the Federation. You can read it in the first chapter of Story 1.

 

(2) The Federation’s a lot smaller now. I decided to keep it in our Galaxy, so it’s Galactic, not Intergalactic.

 

(3) As the above story suggests, I originally intended the job to be exploring unknown planets, mainly to find out if people could settle on them. That would give me a chance of using aliens, and dangerous animals. In story 1, I introduced the other members of the team – Bea, Carrington, and Roc. Roc was not human-like, with a stolid mind that could not be affected by thoughts.

But, as Tony and Bea did their training, I realised that they could do lots of different jobs, so they became Troubleshooters.

 

(4) I thought carefully about what human-like people would wear in the Federation. Something simple but practical. I settled on the kilt described by Johnny, but Tony hated that kilt! Stories 1 to 8 were full of his complaints.

They would have had to change into something more suitable for exploring jungle planets, so I decided to give them a uniform they could wear all the time. To be practical, these uniforms would be like tracksuits.

At the start, these uniforms were different colours, to show the agents’ jobs. For one story, I think, the Troubleshooters wore buff-coloured uniforms.

But I decided that coloured bands round the chest and cuffs would be smarter, so that’s what they now have.

 

(5) A Federation cabin is not very different from the one that Johnny saw. The bathroom door’s gone and, with everything now being voice-operated, it’s changed a bit. Geli describes how to use a cabin in Report D.

 

(6) There’s more mind-sensing in Johnny’s story. I’ve reduced it for Tony and Bea. I intended the black box to give a report of what Johnny had done. He’d been recording it, hoping somehow to tell people on Earth what had happened to him. It would have had the story of his adventure as he explored the unknown planets, until he was sent to Titan, where he left it, hoping that someone from Earth would find it.