Authors: John Brunner
Tags: #Science fiction
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took his place on the rostrum in the hall of the United Nations, there were more eyes watching him, more ears attentive to what he was going to say, than ever before in the tangled history of Planet Earth. That was understandable. Never before had so much hung on what a single person said.
before. That was the only notable distinction about the occasion.
Before the assembled delegates, before the dozens of television cameras, before the microphones, Gyul Kodran remained as usual, impassive, never betraying a hint of what his feelings might be. His voice—that curious, distant, not quite ordinary voice, with its measured diction—was absolutely steady. Possibly he—he?—was used to addressing vast audiences. One couldn’t know. He hadn’t said anything about the subject.
By now his form was quite familiar: roughly man-height, not by any stretch of the imagination man-shape, garbed—again, one had to guess at this, as one had to guess at “his” sex, or indeed whether the race to which he belonged had sexes—in a kind of iridescent whirling through which it was quite possible to see if one allowed one’s mind to wander from the distracting patterns of it. Practically no one on Earth who had passed within range of a television set in the past six months would have failed to see him.
. Automatic assumption.
He spoke, as usual, in Esperanto. He had previously made it clear that the idea of national differences was something he could appreciate only intellectually; not being able to
it, and act instinctively in accordance with his feelings, he had decided to use only Esperanto during his stay on Earth, as being a language belonging to no national group that might feel slighted if he chose to speak in another tongue. Purely
as a by-product of his visit, the vocabulary of Esperanto had grown by forty per cent and was now at least partly untranslatable into most other human tongues. To convey the spirit of those words which Gyul Kodran had influenced, you had to use lengthy roundabout paraphrases.
The television commentators finished their recapitulation of the events—known to everyone, but still sufficiently startling after six months to warrant repeating—that had led up to this extraordinary session of the UN General Assembly, to this planetwide hookup of TV and radio, to this weighing of mankind in the balance …
They finished there. Not just because Gyul Kodran had taken his place on the rostrum and was plainly going to begin his address. Also because there was a corollary to that phrase about “weighing in the balance.” Something about being found wanting.
At last all was ready. The tension could be felt all over Earth. Almost the heart of the world had ceased to beat; they estimated that an unprecedented sixty-one per cent of the entire human population was concentrated now on watching and listening. Every available channel was turned over to this momentous broadcast. Every TV repeater-satellite was carrying it on all its channels. In the night hemisphere of Earth, people were sitting up, or had risen before dawn, to watch, listen, and find out.
Gyul Kodran began to speak, and the voices of interpreters brought his message to every language group on Earth.
He said, “I have been impressed.” And waited. The tension dropped with a sound one could all but hear: a gigantic sigh.
He said again, “I have been impressed. As you know, there are already some hundreds of intelligent life-forms affiliated to the Federation of Worlds; without exception, their achievements have surpassed yours, of course, but you have certain very individual achievements to your credit.”
He paused a second time. “I have seen,” he said, “the way in which, during a long and bleak passage of your history, you more than once reached the verge of annihilating yourselves—and thus, naturally, settled the question of your affiliation to the Federation of Worlds beyond doubt.” He paused a third time, and people chuckled, not because it was
any real kind of a joke, but as children chuckle over their own silliness once a night of darkness has passed without ghosts and devils. Gyul Kodran did have a sense of humor, of course; it had been his ability to crack a joke that had first breached the intuitive distrust most human beings felt for him.
But that was to be the last pause. Now Gyul Kodran began to speak rapidly and to the point. He said:
“Nonetheless, I am compelled to break the tentative promise I made to you on my arrival. Last night I discussed the question of your affiliation to the Worlds with the Supreme Council of the Federation and made a number of points to them which I, and they, were compelled to regard as significant.
“The first and most telling was that you are unique. There has never before risen such a situation as now faces us. We have known of species which arose on certain planets and which spent time quarreling among themselves, even to the extent of exterminating themselves. We were, for instance, aware of a race of chlorine-methane breathers on a planet of the star you call Spica, who had achieved space travel of a limited kind in spite of being handicapped by continual warfare, but who eventually reduced their germ-plasm to uselessness by continued atomic bombardment of each other. Indeed, until we became apprised of what you had done on your planet, we regarded this rule as having the force of a natural law, to wit: warlike races destroy themselves before leaving their own systems.
“I must expand this point a little further, so that you may see for yourselves why we regard it as important.
“In our Federation, as I said before, there are some hundreds of races. Contrary to popular belief, the reason that I came among you disguised in this flow of forces is not because of any poisonous constituent of your atmosphere—indeed, I can breathe it very satisfactorily. Nor is it for fear that some bacteria of yours might infect me with a sickness; we have other and better means of armoring ourselves against infection. It is solely and simply so that you do not see me as I am.
“You must understand that we have never revealed ourselves to a species whose history included a great many examples—of panic reaction and violence against intelligent persons
exhibiting minor differences: differences in the reflection of light from the hide or skin, for instance, or differences in the inflection of a language. Or indeed, differences regarding the nature and origin of the universe.
“And this brings me to my second point. Technologically, you are at the point where you will come to us, or would have come had we not come to you. The starship now being assembled in orbit around your planet will almost certainly operate as designed—that will interest your engineers, no doubt,” he added parenthetically. “Nonetheless, you appear to us to be precariously balanced on the knife-edge of tolerance. It is still necessary for you to take conscious steps to prevent the growth of intolerance among your children; in another generation or two, it may not be so, or the situation may change radically for the worse again. In view of this, we felt it dangerous to permit you to come among us immediately.
“And my third point is this: Some means must be found to settle the problems raised by the foregoing.
“After weighing evidence submitted by every authority who has studied your race and other similar races, the Supreme Council last night approved the plan I myself favored after my six months’ inspection of your planet. And that is that one citizen of the planet shall be permitted to go to the capitol world of the Federation. That he shall live there—you will understand that I use ‘he’ because your languages have no indeterminate pronoun, but it might be a woman if you so choose—for thirty days, your days. That you shall be allowed to affiiliate with the Federation if your representative can survive and can demonstrate his ability to exist in a civilized society with creatures whose outward appearance and manner of thinking differ from his or her own.
“At the end of this period, the chosen representative shall be returned to your planet. He or she will inform you of the verdict. In the case that it is favorable, you will be permitted to send your starships to other systems of the galaxy. In the other event, we shall prevent your doing so. We are not given to violence, but I think after the small proofs of our ability which I have given you during my stay on your planet, you will agree that we are perfectly capable of keeping our word in this respect.”
There was silence. It broke finally, with a hushing noise like water lapping round a rock: the noise of bated breath being at last released.
Gyul Kodran remained at his place on the rostrum. He was not going to speak further, that was obvious. Behind him the highest officials of the United Nations conferred hastily in whispers, and after a moment the secretary general—a Chilean, for the current term, called Briaros—stood up and spoke.
“Will there be any chance of an appeal against the verdict?”
Gyul Kodran said flatly, “No.”
“Nor of a—rehearing at a later date?”
“It is the consensus of opinion among the experts consulted by the Supreme Council that in the event of your representative failing to pass this test, the matter of a rehearing will not arise. You will have proved to be too intolerant of one another to survive.”
A murmur grew in the body of the hall. Sweating, Briaros pressed on.
“But just supposing—”
“No suppositions,” said Gyul Koddran. “None. You have one year in which to select your representative; the representative you choose will, of course, indicate to us a good deal about your civilization and the psychology of your species. Therefore in one year’s time, to the day, our ship will call to collect your chosen individual. And after the test, you will learn the verdict. I wish you luck.”
He sounded sincere.
Then there was a sound like a clap of thunder as air rushed into a space suddenly vacated—and Gyul Kodran was gone.