My Teacher Flunked the Planet
“Nikka, Nikka, Flexxim Puspa!”
Broxholm's orange eyes were glowing. The Leathery, lime-green skin of his face was stretched tight in a look that I could not interpret. The viewscreen behind him showed an image of the Earth, floating in the dark glory of space.
Broxholm pointed to a red button that glowed more brightly than his eyes. “This is it,” he said. “The button.”
My throat was dry. “What would happen if you pushed it?”
His lipless mouth pulled back in something like a smile, revealing rounded, purplish teeth. “Nothing. At least, not now. It takes a complex series of secret commands to activate it.”
“And if that series of commands is used?” asked Susan Simmons, who was standing beside me.
Broxholm turned and gazed at the image of Earth. “Stardust,” he whispered.
“Whoa!” said Duncan Dougal. “Major bummer!”
Another being entered the chamber. Turning, I saw Kreeblim, the alien who had fried Duncan's brain and made him super-smart. Her lavender hair, thick as worms, was writhing around her head. “The council is ready to see us,” she said, gesturing over her shoulder with her long, three-pronged nose.
I swallowed. The Interplanetary Council was trying to decide how to handle what they called “the Earth Question”-which was basically, “What do we do with the only species on ten thousand planets that is bright enough to figure out space travel, yet dumb enough to have wars!”
That species was human beings, of course, and I didn't much care for any of the aliens' current plans, which I had explained to Susan and Duncan earlier that night when I told them the story of my experiences since I had gone win to space with Broxholm.
“If we start with the least nasty option and work up,” I had said, “then Plan A calls for the aliens to leave us alone for now.”
“That's not so bad!” Susan had said.
“Unfortunately, most of the aliens who favor it do so because they figure if they leave us alone, we'll destroy ourselves before we make it into space. That way the problem is solved, and they don't have to feel guilty.”
“That stinks!” Duncan had cried.
“Agreed. Now, the aliens who support what we'll call Plan B would like to take over the planet.”
Susan's eyes had widened. “An alien invasion, just like we feared from the beginning!”
“Not quite. This group wants to fix things. They would cure diseases, stop wars, end poverty, that kind of thing.”
Duncan had blinked in surprise. “Sounds great!”
“It would be, except they'll only do it if we give them total control of the planet.”
Duncan had started to ask why, then nodded. “They're afraid once they give us their technology we'll use it against them.”
“You've got it,” I'd said, reminding myself not to be surprised when Duncan figured things out.
“So what's the third option?” Susan had asked.
“Plan C: restrict us to our own solar system, either by sabotaging our science so we never develop faster-than-light travel, or by setting up a military blockade.”
Since I have always believed it is our destiny to go to the stars, I hated that idea more than I can tell you.
“Most aliens think that wouldn't work,” I had continued. “They figure sooner or later we'd get out anyway. So we have Plan D-D for destruction, you might say. The group supporting this wants to blow us up now, before we can get into space and really make trouble. They believe if we make it out of the solar system, the final cost in lives and destruction will be far greater than if they simply wipe us out today. They look at us the way we would look at a group of monkeys that accidentally learned to make atomic bombs; interesting, but too dangerous to be allowed to live.”
The bad news was, the aliens seemed to be leaning toward Plan D. The good news was, they were going to let us try to change their minds.
We followed Kreeblim to the wall. She had her pet poot-which was also named Poot, for reasons I didn't understand-riding on her shoulder. Poot was sort of an alien slug that oozed and changed shape. I had noticed that Duncan seemed to be very fond of it. I guess it was fond of Duncan, too, since when it noticed him it raised a blob of itself and cried, “Poot!”
Kreeblim stopped in front of a large circle. Mounted in the wall next to it were twelve rows of multicolored marbles. She punched six of the marbles. The circle turned blue.
This was what the aliens call a transcendental elevator. It could transport beings from one place to another instantly-which was just as well, since the New Jersey (that was the spaceship we were on) had thousands of miles of corridors.
I followed Kreeblim through the circle and into the meeting chamber of the Interplanetary Council.
Susan gasped when she came in behind me. I didn't blame her. Each of the eight beings on the council came from a different world. Seeing them all together was plenty strange.
Actually, what we were seeing were holographic projections of the council members. The council members themselves remained on their own worlds. However, the three-dimensional images were so realistic, I rarely thought about that.
First to speak was an alien who looked like a pile of red seaweed with thick green stalks growing out of the top. It made a series of popping, bubbling sounds, then wiggled the squishy-looking pods that dangled from the end of each stalk to indicate that what it had said was a question.
I understood the gesture because the aliens had installed a Universal Translator in my brain, and it interpreted whatever any of them said. In turn, I was to translate their sound (and gestures) for Susan and Duncan.
I turned to Susan. Her hair, usually blond, had a green tint from the odd light of the chamber. Susan is very pretty by Earth standards, but I had seen so many versions of beauty since I joined the aliens I didn't think about that much now. “He wants to know if you understand why you are here,” I said.
“I do,” she replied, speaking directly to Red Seaweed. “Peter told me all about it.”
“And do you accept this task?”
Susan took so long to answer that I began to fear that the alien might get upset. I understood, it was a big job. But even so…I gave her a nudge.
“I accept!” she said, more loudly than I expected.
“And you, Duncan Dougal?” asked an alien who looked more like a shadow than anything real and solid. It spoke by changing the way light reflected from its body.
Duncan's round face was serious. It was hard for me to imagine a kid who had bullied his way through grade school, a kid who appeared to have all the sensitivity of a brick, being responsible for the survival of the planet. But I was prejudiced. Duncan had been picking on me-and everyone else in our class-for so long that it was hard to remember how different he was now that the aliens had unleashed his natural intelligence by frying his brain.
When I translated the question, Duncan nodded. “I accept,” he said solemnly.
“And you, Krepta?” asked a tall, sea-green alien.
I hesitated for only a moment. After all, the mission had been partly my idea. “I accept,” I said. Though I meant to say it proudly, my voice came out sounding small and scared.
Next to speak was a purple alien whose long tentacles stretched across a silver rack. A nozzle mounted above the rack sprayed lavender mist over the tentacles, keeping them slick and shiny.
“Broxholm ign Gnarx Erxxen xax Scradzz?” it asked.
That mouthful of syllables represented Broxholm's full name, including his family group (Gnarx Erxxen) and his planet (Scradzz). Broxholm was standing behind me. I turned to look at him. Putting a hand on my shoulder, he wrinkled his high, green forehead-his way of signaling agreement.
The final member of our party to be sworn in was Kreeblim. Her thick lavender hair was rippling with so many conflicting emotions she looked as if she had a colony of confused worms climbing out of her head. I began to wonder if she had changed her mind. But after a moment she closed her third eyes, the one in the middle of her forehead, and said, “I accept.”
The council didn't ask us to swear on a holy book or anything; the aliens expect that if you say you'll do something, you'll do it. Only I wasn't entirely sure what we had just said we would do.
Basically, they had given us the last three weeks of October to put together a report on the state of Earth and its people.
But what was supposed to be in the report? How could we make them think better of us? At the moment, the aliens viewed us the way you and I look at flu germs-insignificant, yet nasty and dangerous. Or worse. I think they considered all of humanity as a sickness threatening to overtake the galaxy if something wasn't done about us.
“The newcomers will need translators,” said a large, batlike alien who dangled from the ceiling in a sling. Its voice, which I had not heard before, was like nails scraping over concrete. I could feel it in my spine.
After Susan and Duncan took their hands away from their ears, I translated the alien's screech. Duncan looked puzzled. “Why do we need translators to go back o Earth?”
“Because your planet, which has yet to figure out the benefit of true communication, has hundreds of different languages,” screeched the batlike alien.
The other aliens made sounds of sorrow and disapproval at our backward ways.
When I explained Bat-thing's answer, Duncan's eyes lit up. “You mean these translators will let us understand any language on Earth? he cried eagerly.
“They would hardly be Universal Translators if they didn't,” said Red Seaweed, adding a gesture that meant something like, “Is water wet?”
“Wow!” said Duncan. “This is going to be great!” Suddenly his smile faded. The blood drained from his face. “Wait a minute,” he said, his voice quavering. “Are you going to do brain surgery on me?”
In my opinion, brain surgery on the old Duncan would have been a good idea. He'd had nothing to lose, and it might have improved things. But now that I had been inside his brain a couple of times (as a result of being hooked into some alien communication machines), I understood why he was so upset. Since the aliens had fried the thing, it was pretty amazing. I wouldn't have wanted to take a chance with it, either.
I was trying to decide whether to tease Duncan or reassure him when a wave of dizziness swept over me. My own brain felt as if it had come loose inside my skull and begun to spin.
“Nikka, nikka, flexxim puspa!” I cried.
As I was wondering where the words had come from, everything went black, and I collapsed in a heap on the floor.
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