The man was acting very peculiarly. He looked peculiar too. He was not tall, perhaps five seven, and had on a brown suit, brown soft hat, brown shoes and a striped green and yellow tie. He would have looked like a typical well-dressed businessman—if it had been 1955.
"He looks a bit shifty," Kurt said, pointing him out to his partner.
"Let's check him out," Jan said.
The two policemen crossed the street to where the man was standing near the doorway of the tenement building.
"Excuse me, buddy," Kurt said as they approached the man. "Can we help you?"
"Oh, no thank you," the man said. He had a strange accent neither of the cops recognized.
"What are you doing here?" Jan asked warily.
"I'm just here for a visit," only it came out "veezeet."
"Is that where you live?" Jan asked pointing to the tenement building behind him.
"Oh no." the man said.
"Where are you from?" Kurt asked.
"I'm from... you wouldn't know if I told you. It's very far away."
"Try us," Kurt said.
"'Try us?' I'm sorry, I don't know what that means."
"It means," Jan said a little belligerently, "tell us where you are from, or show us some identification."
"Well, OK... I'm from Klinapontis."
"Where's that?" Jan asked.
"I said you wouldn't know where it was."
"You better show us some identification," Jan insisted.
"What do you mean, identification?" the man asked.
"Something that says who you are. Your license, or social security card," Jan snapped.
"I'm sorry, I don't have anything like that," the man said.
"I'm afraid you'll have to come with us," Kurt said.
"Have to?" the man said incredulously. "Why would I have to?"
"I'm afraid I'll have to cuff you too. It appears you are resisting arrest," Jan said, as he reached for the man's arm.
"I'm sorry," the man said. "I seem to have said something to offend you. I'm sorry for that. I'll be going now," he said and began walking away.
Jan and Kurt stood stunned for a second, then ran after the man who somehow had already turned the corner at the end of the street. When they reached the corner, the man had vanished.
"What the hell happened?" Kurt yelled to no one in particular. "How did he get away?"
Jan just stood there looking dismayed, the handcuffs hanging from his hand.
The shoulder cameras had caught everything. Kurt and Jan watched the brief videos over and over, but couldn't figure out how the mysterious man had managed to escape. Even in the videos, it seemed impossible. It was only seconds between the time the man started walking away until he was at the corner, but he hadn't run. He merely sauntered off, but though they both began running after him immediately, when they reached the corner he was gone.
Except for his strange behavior, there was no evidence the stranger had committed a crime. The police had dropped any interest in the incident, and that might have been the end of it, except that some enterprising reporter managed to get copies of the shoulder camera videos, which were broadcast on a late-night news broadcast.
"Has Anyone Seen This Man?" the segment was entitled.
As the videos rolled the narrater described the event:
"The strange man in these videos, as you will see, simply disappears. He looks for all the world like a 1950's gangster, but you can see from the video, that his behavior seems much too mild for that characterization. We have learned that when asked by the police where he is from he responded, apparently reluctantly, what they thought sounded like, 'Klinapontis.' Whatever, 'Klinapontis,' is, as far as we have been able to determine, either does not exist, or at least does not exist in this world. The police also failed to get the man's name. If anyone has seen this man, or has any information about who he is, WKKN late news is offering a reward for that information. Contact our reward center at ...."
WKKN aired the segment twice, and though they received lots of calls and comments on the segment, no one was able to claim the reward.
Then, about a week after the last airing, WKKN received a phone call.
"My name is Lanink Ghal. I'm the man from Klinapontis you would like to know about."
"Thank you for calling the reward line, Mr. Gal," the answering service said. "To receive the reward you have to provide proof of who you are and how you know who the man from Klinapontis is. Do you have that proof?"
"Yes," the man said.
"Please hold while I transfer you to the reward center."
Ten minutes later, following an interlude of obnoxious music a voice said, "Reward Center. What is this in regard to."
"My name is Lanink Ghal. I'm the man from Klinapontis you would like to know about. But I have no interest in any reward, whatever that is."
"Then why did you call the reward center?"
"Well, because it is the only way I know of to contact your station, and because your station seemed interested in knowing who I am. If you are not interested, I can call another station."
"Hold on a sec, will you?" the voice said.
Then there was a new voice.
"Hello Mr. Ghal. My name is Grant Lingstrom, and I'm the program manager at WKKN. How can we help you?"
"My name is Lanink Ghal. I'm the man from Klinapontis you would like to know about. I'd be very interested in an interview, if that is possible."
"Why yes, of course that would be possible," Grant said. "How soon could we meet with you?"
"Meet with me? What do you mean, 'meet with me?'" Lanink asked.
"Well, I mean, when can you and I get together to discuss how you want the interview to be arranged."
"Whenever you would like," Lanink said.
"Would tomorrow at one o'clock be too soon, ...at my office?" Grant asked.
"No, that would be fine."
"Do you need directions to my office?"
"No!" Lanink said. "I'll be there at one."
At one, Lanink was sitting in Grant Lingstrom's outer office. When Grant's secretary looked up, she was surprised to see him sitting there. She had not noticed him entering.
"Are you Mr. Ghal?" she asked?
"Please go in, Mr. Ghal, Mr. Lingstrom is expecting you," the secretary said.
Grant Lingstrom, who was sitting behind a huge desk, stood immediately when Lanink entered the office.
"Mr. Ghal?" he asked.
"Yes," Lanink said.
Grant was tall, greying in that way that is described as distinguished, and wore a pleasant smile when he reached out to shake Lanink's hand, "I'm so glad to meet you, Mr. Ghal."
Lanink just stood there, obviously having no idea why the hand belonging to Mr. Lingstrom was held out.
Lingstrom withdrew his hand awkwardly and, indicating, with the same hand, a chair in front of his desk, "won't you have a seat, Mr. Ghal?"
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Lanink. You said on the phone you would like to be interviewed. Is that right?" Grant began.
"Yes, that's right," Lanink said.
Then may I ask you some questions now? Grant asked.
"Yes," Lanink said.
"Where is that place, 'Klinapontis,' you said you are from?
"Klinapontis is a city on a planet within a galaxy none of your scientists have yet discovered or identified," Lanink said. "It is very far away," he added.
"How did you get here form Klinapontis?"
"I cannot tell you." Lanink said.
"Is it a secret? Are you forbidden in some way from telling me?" Grant asked.
"Oh no! It is nothing like that. I am forbidden nothing. I cannot tell you because there are no words in your language, or any earth language, to explain it. Your scientists have not even begun to discover the principles used."
"Pardon me for asking this," Grant began. "If your from a distant planet, how is it that you are human? You look human. Are you human?"
"Yes, of course. I know that on this planet you think you are the only human beings, but the universe is actually teeming with us."
"Then I have to ask this question. It has been a big question posed by scientists and philosophers for many years now. If there are other intelligent beings in the universe, why haven't we ever seen any?"
"Well, you are seeing one now," Lanink said.
"Are we going to start seeing more, then?"
"That is very unlikely."
"Why is that," Grant asked.
"Because they really do not want the people on your planet to know about them."
"Why not," Grant asked?
"Perhaps I better not answer that question at this time. I think the answer might offend you. I'm being very careful not to offend you." Lanink smiled and looked self-satisfied.
"I assure you, I will not be offended," Grant pleaded.
"Well, OK. But please stop me if you feel at all annoyed. Your planet is considered contaminated. The people of the universe believe there is something wrong with the human beings here and do not want whatever the contamination is to be spread beyond this planet. So long as you do not know that human beings populate the entire universe your scientists will not try in earnest to discover how to...," Lanink paused as though searching for the right word, "travel beyond this planet. You are what you call "quarantined" by your own ignorance."
"Thank you, Lanink. I am not at all offended. Of course I have doubts about all your claims, but any other explanation would have been impossible to believe. Your explanation is certainly plausible. But you have really raised my curiosity now. Why do the, "people of the universe," I believe you called them, believe there is something wrong with the people on this planet. I happen to think that myself, by the way.
"You do?" Lanink asked surprised.
"Yes I do. That's why I want to hear your explanation."
"Well, then, you probably know. There are three things you have on this planet the people of the universe do not have, or even understand: wars, religion, and people that live by controlling and using other people, what you call governments. Whenever the people on this planet seem to be making any progress toward what you call civilization, or what the people of the universe call normality, one or more of those three things, war, religion, or government destroys that progress. It is some kind of disease which we have not identified, but certainly do not want it to spread.
There is one other anomaly which is not understood at all. While it seems the people on this planet are perfectly capable of learning, they do not. The people on this planet are phenomenally stupid. Religion is just one of their superstitious beliefs. Almost everything else they believe is just as absurd. We don't know if that is the reason for the other three things, or whether it is war, religion, and government that makes them stupid."
Grant looked thoughtful. "Lanink, won't you be taking a risk being interviewed on television. Won't that make the existence of the people of the universe known, the very thing you don't want?"
"I don't think so," Lanink said. "No one is going to believe me."
"I believe you," Grant said.
"Perhaps," Lanink said. "But you have your doubts, and some others will believe me the way you do as well, but you and they won't be many and you'll all be put down as gullible oddities by the majority of people, because the majority of people will not like what I say and won't want to believe the truth.
"Yes, I admit I have doubts, but I do not believe you are a hoax."
"That's good, but it's not necessary. I do not care if anyone believes me. I have my own reason for wanting to do the interview on television, but do not ask me what it is, because I will not tell you."
"I'm going to do it," Grant said. "I'm going to make it an hour-long special. I'm going to have you interviewed by a special panel. There will be five people, a physicist, a psychologist, a philosopher, a politician...."
"No politician!" Lanink insisted.
"OK," Grant said. "A lawyer."
"No lawyer either!"
"Well then do you have suggestions for the last two?" Grant asked.
"Yes. Someone who runs their own successful business, and an intelligent child of ten to twelve years. One that does not go to a government or religious school," Lanink said.
"I can arrange that," Grant said, "but it seems strange."
"By the way," Grant continued, "How do you know so much about earth's society? How do you know the English language. Surely that's not the language in Klinapontis."
"I studied all I could about earth, and about your country, its history, customs, business, and culture; and I studied your absurdly difficult language, which was very challenging and a great deal of satisfaction to learn."
"Then the people of the universe know about our planet."
"Yes, everything. At least those who are interested in such things. Most are not very interested in earth, because their own lives are very full. Some find your planet humorous in an ironic and bizarre way that never appealed to me. To me it is just very hopeless and sad."
"I have one more question, Lanink, then we'll settle the details for the interview. Why did you come to earth?"
"I first came to work on a research project. The company I sell my work to is a kind of information clearing center on all planets that many individuals have business interests in. They are mostly interested in commercial possibilities. No one is going to be interested in this planet for that, but the company still likes to keep its records up to date. I chose to do the research," Lanink explained. "My current visit has another purpose which I decline to explain."
The program was scheduled for the following week. It would take place thursday evening.
"Has he shown up?" Paul Kemmons, the program director, asked anxiously?
"Not yet," Grant Lingstrom said.
"He was supposed to be here thirty minutes before the show. What if he doesn't show?"
"He'll be here," Grant said.
But with only ten minutes to go, and all the members of the panel already in there places, Lanink Ghal had still not shown up.
"What shall we do," Paul Kemmons asked not being able to hide his panic.
"Give him five more minutes," Grant said.
At that moment they heard, "I'm sorry to be late." It was Lanink Ghal. He was standing at the stage entrance. There would be no time to make him up. Grant's quick appraisal was that he would be awful on camera, but it would have to do. Why he had chosen that dark blue suit and maroon striped tie, he could not imagine. He still looked like a 1950's gangster.
He hurried over to where Lanink was standing.
"Don't worry about being late. Just glad you made it. We'll go on in five minutes. When I announce you, just walk over to the seat on the right and sit down. Someone here will tell you when." Grant explained.
"OK," Lanink said.
The panel that would actually conduct the interview consisted of MIT professor of physics, Dr. William Dirkens; the highly respected psychology theorist, Dr. Maurice Lawless; the very controversial philosopher, Dr. Millard Shenck; the highly successful software developer and entrepreneur, John Newland, and sixth grade straight A student, Paul Wiggin.
The members of the panel had each been given written overview of Lanink Ghal's claims based on Grant Lingstrom's earlier interview. They would be allowed to ask any question they chose. They were asked not to treat the interview as a challenge to Mr. Ghal's claims, but as a way to learn what they thought would be important if Lanink's claims were legitimate. They did not have to believe him, and could question doubts, so long as it did not take the form of, "cross examination." Lanink was not on trial.
When the panel had been introduced to the studio and television audience, Grant briefly introduced Lanink, explaining only that Lanink was an alien from another planet.
He then announced, "Please welcome Mr. Lanink Ghal!"
Lanink walked to his seat with all the poise of someone who had been doing this his entire life.
"Welcome, Lanink," Grant said as Lanink sat.
"Thank you very much," Lanink said.
"Do you wish to say anything before we begin the interview?" Grant asked him.
"No. We can begin now."
"Dr. Dirkens, would you like to begin the interview?"
"I'd be delighted," Dr. Dirkens began. "I know I'm here because I'm a physicist, but I am, as all of us here are, also a human being. You too seem to be a human being, Mr. Ghal, and I believe you claim that is what you are. It seems incredible that a being from a star as distant as you claim yours is would be human just as we are. I guess that is not a question, so I'll make it one. How is it that you are exactly like us?"
Lanink looked thoughtful. "Please call me Lanink, all of you," Lanink said addressing the panel. "It is only incredible, Dr. Dirkens, because you assume human life began on this planet. In fact, the beginning of human life, if there was a beginning, is unknown."
"You say, 'if human life had a beginning,' as though there is doubt about that?" Dr. Dirkens said astonished. "How could that be? The universe itself had a beginning."
"That is also in question," Lanink, said. "I know your various hypotheses about the origin of the universe. None of them are quite possible, however, which your scientists are on the verge of discovering."
"Can you explain that a little more," Dr. Dirkens asked.
"I'd like to, but there is no way to explain briefly those aspects of physics which your science has not yet achieved. I'm sorry." Lanink apologized, sincerely.
Dr. Dirkens was about to ask another question when Grant Lingstrom interrupted:
"We'll have to come back to that, Dr. Linkstrom, thank you. Would you like to continue the interview Mr. Newland?"
"Yes, very much, thank you," he said, and continued, "Lanink, ... did I pronounce that right? ..." Lanink shook his head and Newland continued, "I would like to know more about where you are form. What kind of world it is, and what kind of people, ...I believe you call them, 'the people of the universe,' ... what kind of people they are? Can you tell us a little about that?"
"Yes, a little, but it will have to be mostly generalities. The people of the universe do not really want your planet to know about them. In general, human beings are the same throughout the universe, but also have all the variety in language, culture, and appearance made possible to beings who can and must choose what they are and how they live. In that way, all humans are like those on this planet, and you would recognize them as human if you saw them. In one very important respect they are not like the humans on this planet, and quite frankly, the people of this planet would totally bewilder the people of the universe.
"They would never understand your wars, your vices, your, ... err ... what you call crime, or all the ways you interfere in each others' lives, like your governments and other agencies which seem to have no other purpose."
"You mean there are no wars?" Newland asked.
"No wars, no governments, no religions, and no crimes. There are not even any words for them."
"What, or how, ..." but before Newland could finish, he was interrupted by Grant.
"We'll have to come back to that, Mr. Newland. Would you like to continue the interview, Dr. Dirkens?"
"Yes, thank you." Dr. Dirkens began. "Lanink, I'm very interested in what you said about there being no government and also no crime. If there is no agency to prevent people from committing crimes, what keeps them from harming others or stealing, for example?"
"Nothing needs to prevent people from doing what they have no wish to do. That word, 'stealing,' I believe means taking something away from someone else, doesn't it?" Dr. Dirkens nodded, and said, "yes."
"Why anyone would want do that is one of the mysteries of this planet that the people of the universe would not understand."
"You mean that no one ever desires to have something that someone else has?" the doctor asked.
"Of course, people often desire what other people have."
"But it never occurs to them to simply take what they desire?" Dr. Dirkens asked.
"No one would think that way. Everyone is perfectly aware that it would be possible to do that, but, unless there were something wrong with them neurologically, they would never have a desire to do such a thing. They could not even entertain such an idea." Lanink explained.
"Why do you think the humans of earth do often have just such thoughts and often carry them out?" Dr. Dirkens asked.
"That is the great mystery of your planet. Whatever it is we believe it is also the reason for your wars and your superstitions, that is your religions ... or," he added, "it is perhaps your superstitions that allow you to think the way you do. For example, most of your religions talk about, 'forgiveness,' as though one could do something wrong and that thing you call forgiveness makes it alright. There is no forgiveness. Reality forgives nothing," Lanink concluded.
Thank you, Lanink," Grant interrupted. "Dr. Lawless, would you care to continue the interview."
"Yes, I would very much, thank you." Then turning to Lanink, "Lanink, you apparently have a concept of right and wrong. I am an ethicist, and am very interested in what you mean by right and wrong."
Lanink looked as though he were trying to recall something, then looked up and said, "Ethicist, you mean what you call, 'ethics,' or 'morality?'"
"Yes, that's right," Dr. Lawless confirmed.
"There is no such concept used by the people of the universe. I know what you mean by it, but it would be of no use to us. The concepts of right and wrong are absolute. There is the idea of big right and wrong and little right and wrong, but right and wrong always have the same essential meaning. ..."
"Can you explain what that essential meaning is?" Dr. Lawless interrupted.
"Yes. Right and wrong are terms of relationship. Their meaning is always in terms of some purpose, some objective or goal. Any action that moves toward or achieves the objective is good. Any action that inhibits or prevents achieving the objective is bad. Big good and bad always pertain to the objective of living one's life and being all one can possibly be, which you would call being happy."
"Thank you, Lanink, and excuse me Dr. Lawless." Grant again interrupted. " Paul Wiggin," would you like to continue the interview?"
"Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Lingstrom."
"Mr. Ghal, please tell us a little about Klinapontis. Does it have cities, like earth? Are there roads and vehicles that go on them? Do you have airplanes, television, cell phones, and other things like that?"
Lanink obviously liked Paul. He smiled the whole time Paul was asking his question.
"Mr. Wiggin, may I call you Paul?"
"Oh yes, sir!" Paul exclaimed.
"Well then, Paul, Klinapontis is very much like earth in many ways. It's a little warmer and a little larger. There are cities. Many of them. Some are larger then your biggest cities, but most are actually smaller. There are roads, some of them huge by earth standards, and there are vehicles of much greater variety than on earth. Some are similar to your automobiles, some even have internal combustion engines.
"There are radios, and televisions, and many different kinds of private communication devices, but they are all used much less then such things are used on earth. I think you would like Klinapontis very much. We have a saying there, betrabegon. It means everything that matters will be good. Can you say, betrabegon?"
"Betrabegon," Paul said enthusiastically. "Could I go to Klinapontis?" Paul asked enthusiastically.
"I'm sorry Paul," perhaps you can ask the question later. Now, Dr. Millard Shenck, would you please continue the interview?
"Of course," Dr. Shenck responded.
"Lanink, I certainly hope everything you have said is true, and I have no reason to disbelieve you, although it seems impossible. Perhaps it's because I want everything you have said to be true, not only because what you have said about human beings on this planet is what I have said, but because it would be proof of what I have always contended, that war, crime, and superstition are not necessary, but evidence of some fault of the nature of all humans on this planet. My only question is, is there anything those of us who recognize what is wrong on this planet can do to change it?"
"I'm sorry, Dr. Shenck, if there is a way to fix it, I do not know what it is," Lanink said, with what seemed genuine regret.
"Then you think the problems of earth humans are intrinsic, part of their nature in some way?" Dr. Shenck asked.
"Oh no," Lanink answered. "Earth humans are just like all other human beings. Whatever they are they have chosen to be. They could have chosen otherwise, but obviously haven't. The question, "why," does not really have any meaning. It is just what every individual on this planet has chosen. Since you obviously have not chosen it, you must see it is not determined by anything."
"Thank you, Lanink. Whatever you are or wherever you are from, you are right about those who populate this planet. I feel exactly like Paul Wiggin. I would love to go and live on Klinapontis."
The program was a huge success for WKKN and Grant Lingstrom, but Lanink was right, almost no one believed what Lanink claimed. To most it was just a huge but very entertaining hoax.
"Oh, Lanink, I had almost given up hope." The dusky lady embraced the mysterious man in the 1950's garb. They were sitting in the booth at the back of the bar. "How did you remember this place?" she asked.
"It was the most absurd of them all," he said. "When we identified all the possible locations, this was the last I thought we would ever use, so I could not get it out of my mind. Even the code word, 'betrabegon' was absurd."
"Shall we leave immediately?" she asked.
"Is there any reason to stay? It's what I came here for." he said.
"No, Darling, there is no reason to stay. It's been horrible. I had almost given up hope of leaving when the comterm stopped working. I knew no one else was scheduled to come, and there would be no way to find me if they did. I know I should have left with you, but I had that one silly thing to finish. I never expected to see you again when I found I had no way to return. I knew they would never send a researcher to the same planet twice. How did you manage to come? Who sponsered you?
"No one," he said. "Some even tried to stop me. They were sure I was going to give it all away. I financed it myself so I'm broke. We'll be starting all over," Lanink said.
"Well, you actually did give it away, you know," she reminded him.
"You mean the interview? No one is going to believe it. No one on this planet wants to know the truth. It's the one thing that's certain."
"Well if we're going to be starting over, we better get started." She hugged him again—and they were gone.