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´╗┐Title: Pictures Don't Lie
Author: MacLean, Katherine
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pictures Don't Lie" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          Pictures Don't Lie

                         By KATHERINE MacLEAN

                    Illustrated by MARTIN SCHNEIDER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                  Galaxy Science Fiction August 1951.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



         ... Pictures, that is, that one can test and measure.
       And these pictures positively, absolutely could not lie!


The man from the _News_ asked, "What do you think of the aliens, Mister
Nathen? Are they friendly? Do they look human?"

"Very human," said the thin young man.

Outside, rain sleeted across the big windows with a steady faint
drumming, blurring and dimming the view of the airfield where _they_
would arrive. On the concrete runways, the puddles were pockmarked
with rain, and the grass growing untouched between the runways of the
unused field glistened wetly, bending before gusts of wind.

Back at a respectful distance from where the huge spaceship would
land were the gray shapes of trucks, where TV camera crews huddled
inside their mobile units, waiting. Farther back in the deserted sandy
landscape, behind distant sandy hills, artillery was ringed in a great
circle, and in the distance across the horizon, bombers stood ready at
airfields, guarding the world against possible treachery from the first
alien ship ever to land from space.

"Do you know anything about their home planet?" asked the man from
_Herald_.

The _Times_ man stood with the others, listening absently, thinking of
questions, but reserving them. Joseph R. Nathen, the thin young man
with the straight black hair and the tired lines on his face, was being
treated with respect by his interviewers. He was obviously on edge, and
they did not want to harry him with too many questions to answer at
once. They wanted to keep his good will. Tomorrow he would be one of
the biggest celebrities ever to appear in headlines.

"No, nothing directly."

"Any ideas or deductions?" _Herald_ persisted.

"Their world must be Earth-like to them," the weary-looking young man
answered uncertainly. "The environment evolves the animal. But only in
relative terms, of course." He looked at them with a quick glance and
then looked away evasively, his lank black hair beginning to cling to
his forehead with sweat. "That doesn't necessarily mean anything."

"Earth-like," muttered a reporter, writing it down as if he had noticed
nothing more in the reply.

The _Times_ man glanced at the _Herald_, wondering if he had noticed,
and received a quick glance in exchange.

The _Herald_ asked Nathen, "You think they are dangerous, then?"

It was the kind of question, assuming much, which usually broke
reticence and brought forth quick facts--when it hit the mark. They all
knew of the military precautions, although they were not supposed to
know.

The question missed. Nathen glanced out the window vaguely. "No, I
wouldn't say so."

"You think they are friendly, then?" said the _Herald_, equally
positive on the opposite tack.

A fleeting smile touched Nathen's lips. "Those I know are."

There was no lead in this direction, and they had to get the basic
facts of the story before the ship came. The _Times_ asked, "What led
up to your contacting them?"

Nathen answered after a hesitation. "Static. Radio static. The Army
told you my job, didn't they?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Army had told them nothing at all. The officer who had conducted
them in for the interview stood glowering watchfully, as if he objected
by instinct to telling anything to the public.

Nathen glanced at him doubtfully. "My job is radio decoder for the
Department of Military Intelligence. I use a directional pickup, tune
in on foreign bands, record any scrambled or coded messages I hear, and
build automatic decoders and descramblers for all the basic scramble
patterns."

The officer cleared his throat, but said nothing.

The reporters smiled, noting that down.

Security regulations had changed since arms inspection had been
legalized by the U.N. Complete information being the only public
security against secret rearmament, spying and prying had come to seem
a public service. Its aura had changed. It was good public relations to
admit to it.

Nathen continued, "I started directing the pickup at stars in my
spare time. There's radio noise from stars, you know. Just stuff that
sounds like spatter static, and an occasional squawk. People have been
listening to it for a long time, and researching, trying to work out
why stellar radiation on those bands comes in such jagged bursts. It
didn't seem natural."

He paused and smiled uncertainly, aware that the next thing he would
say was the thing that would make him famous--an idea that had come to
him while he listened--an idea as simple and as perfect as the one that
came to Newton when he saw the apple fall.

"I decided it wasn't natural. I tried decoding it."

Hurriedly he tried to explain it away and make it seem obvious. "You
see, there's an old intelligence trick, speeding up a message on a
record until it sounds just like that, a short squawk of static, and
then broadcasting it. Undergrounds use it. I'd heard that kind of
screech before."

"You mean they broadcast at us in code?" asked the _News_.

"It's not exactly code. All you need to do is record it and slow it
down. They're not broadcasting at us. If a star has planets, inhabited
planets, and there is broadcasting between them, they would send it on
a tight beam to save power." He looked for comprehension. "You know,
like a spotlight. Theoretically, a tight beam can go on forever without
losing power. But aiming would be difficult from planet to planet. You
can't expect a beam to stay on target, over such distances, more than a
few seconds at a time. So they'd naturally compress each message into
a short half-second or one-second-length package and send it a few
hundred times in one long blast to make sure it is picked up during
the instant the beam swings across the target."

He was talking slowly and carefully, remembering that this explanation
was for the newspapers. "When a stray beam swings through our section
of space, there's a sharp peak in noise level from that direction.
The beams are swinging to follow their own planets at home, and
the distance between there and here exaggerates the speed of swing
tremendously, so we wouldn't pick up more than a bip as it passes."

"How do you account for the number of squawks coming in?" the _Times_
asked. "Do stellar systems rotate on the plane of the Galaxy?" It was a
private question; he spoke impulsively from interest and excitement.

The radio decoder grinned, the lines of strain vanishing from his face
for a moment. "Maybe we're intercepting everybody's telephone calls,
and the whole Galaxy is swarming with races that spend all day yacking
at each other over the radio. Maybe the human type is standard model."

"It would take something like that," the _Times_ agreed. They smiled at
each other.

The _News_ asked, "How did you happen to pick up television instead of
voices?"

"Not by accident," Nathen explained patiently. "I'd recognized a
scanning pattern, and I wanted pictures. Pictures are understandable in
any language."

       *       *       *       *       *

Near the interviewers, a Senator paced back and forth, muttering
his memorized speech of welcome and nervously glancing out the wide
streaming windows into the gray sleeting rain.

Opposite the windows of the long room was a small raised platform
flanked by the tall shapes of TV cameras and sound pickups on booms,
and darkened floodlights, arranged and ready for the Senator to make
his speech of welcome to the aliens and the world. A shabby radio
sending set stood beside it without a case to conceal its parts, two
cathode television tubes flickering nakedly on one side and the speaker
humming on the other. A vertical panel of dials and knobs jutted up
before them and a small hand-mike sat ready on the table before the
panel. It was connected to a boxlike, expensively cased piece of
equipment with "Radio Lab, U.S. Property" stenciled on it.

"I recorded a couple of package screeches from Sagittarius and began
working on them," Nathen added. "It took a couple of months to find
the synchronizing signals and set the scanners close enough to the
right time to even get a pattern. When I showed the pattern to the
Department, they gave me full time to work on it, and an assistant to
help. It took eight months to pick out the color bands, and assign them
the right colors, to get anything intelligible on the screen."

       *       *       *       *       *

The shabby-looking mess of exposed parts was the original receiver that
they had labored over for ten months, adjusting and readjusting to
reduce the maddening rippling plaids of unsynchronized color scanners
to some kind of sane picture.

"Trial and error," said Nathen, "but it came out all right. The wide
band-spread of the squawks had suggested color TV from the beginning."

He walked over and touched the set. The speaker bipped slightly and
the gray screen flickered with a flash of color at the touch. The set
was awake and sensitive, tuned to receive from the great interstellar
spaceship which now circled the atmosphere.

"We wondered why there were so many bands, but when we got the set
working, and started recording and playing everything that came in, we
found we'd tapped something like a lending library line. It was all
fiction, plays."

Between the pauses in Nathen's voice, the _Times_ found himself
unconsciously listening for the sound of roaring, swiftly approaching
rocket jets.

The _Post_ asked, "How did you contact the spaceship?"

"I scanned and recorded a film copy of _Rite of Spring_, the
Disney-Stravinsky combination, and sent it back along the same line we
were receiving from. Just testing. It wouldn't get there for a good
number of years, if it got there at all, but I thought it would please
the library to get a new record in.

"Two weeks later, when we caught and slowed a new batch of recordings,
we found an answer. It was obviously meant for us. It was a flash of
the Disney being played to a large audience, and then the audience
sitting and waiting before a blank screen. The signal was very clear
and loud. We'd intercepted a spaceship. They were asking for an encore,
you see. They liked the film and wanted more...."

He smiled at them in sudden thought. "You can see them for yourself.
It's all right down the hall where the linguists are working on the
automatic translator."

The listening officer frowned and cleared his throat, and the thin
young man turned to him quickly. "No security reason why they should
not see the broadcasts, is there? Perhaps you should show them." He
said to the reporters reassuringly, "It's right down the hall. You
will be informed the moment the spaceship approaches."

The interview was very definitely over. The lank-haired, nervous young
man turned away and seated himself at the radio set while the officer
swallowed his objections and showed them dourly down the hall to a
closed door.

They opened it and fumbled into a darkened room crowded with empty
folding chairs, dominated by a glowing bright screen. The door closed
behind them, bringing total darkness.

There was the sound of reporters fumbling their way into seats around
him, but the _Times_ man remained standing, aware of an enormous
surprise, as if he had been asleep and wakened to find himself in the
wrong country.

The bright colors of the double image seemed the only real thing in the
darkened room. Even blurred as they were, he could see that the action
was subtly different, the shapes subtly not right.

_He was looking at aliens._

       *       *       *       *       *

The impression was of two humans disguised, humans moving oddly,
half-dancing, half-crippled. Carefully, afraid the images would go
away, he reached up to his breast pocket, took out his polarized
glasses, rotated one lens at right angles to the other and put them on.

Immediately, the two beings came into sharp focus, real and solid,
and the screen became a wide, illusively near window through which he
watched them.

They were conversing with each other in a gray-walled room, discussing
something with restrained excitement. The large man in the green tunic
closed his purple eyes for an instant at something the other said, and
grimaced, making a motion with his fingers as if shoving something away
from him.

Mellerdrammer.

The second, smaller, with yellowish-green eyes, stepped closer, talking
more rapidly in a lower voice. The first stood very still, not trying
to interrupt.

Obviously, the proposal was some advantageous treachery, and he wanted
to be persuaded. The _Times_ groped for a chair and sat down.

Perhaps gesture is universal; desire and aversion, a leaning forward or
a leaning back, tension, relaxation. Perhaps these actors were masters.
The scenes changed, a corridor, a parklike place in what he began to
realize was a spaceship, a lecture room. There were others talking
and working, speaking to the man in the green tunic, and never was it
unclear what was happening or how they felt.

They talked a flowing language with many short vowels and shifts of
pitch, and they gestured in the heat of talk, their hands moving with
an odd lagging difference of motion, not slow, but somehow drifting.

He ignored the language, but after a time the difference in motion
began to arouse his interest. Something in the way they walked....

With an effort he pulled his mind from the plot and forced his
attention to the physical difference. Brown hair in short silky crew
cuts, varied eye colors, the colors showing clearly because their
irises were very large, their round eyes set very widely apart in
tapering light-brown faces. Their necks and shoulders were thick in a
way that would indicate unusual strength for a human, but their wrists
were narrow and their fingers long and thin and delicate.

There seemed to be more than the usual number of fingers.

Since he came in, a machine had been whirring and a voice muttering
beside him. He called his attention from counting their fingers and
looked around. Beside him sat an alert-looking man wearing earphones,
watching and listening with hawklike concentration. Beside him was a
tall streamlined box. From the screen came the sound of the alien
language. The man abruptly flipped a switch on the box, muttered a word
into a small hand-microphone and flipped the switch back with nervous
rapidity.

He reminded the _Times_ man of the earphoned interpreters at the UN.
The machine was probably a vocal translator and the mutterer a linguist
adding to its vocabulary. Near the screen were two other linguists
taking notes.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Times_ remembered the Senator pacing in the observatory room,
rehearsing his speech of welcome. The speech would not be just
the empty pompous gesture he had expected. It would be translated
mechanically and understood by the aliens.

On the other side of the glowing window that was the stereo screen, the
large protagonist in the green tunic was speaking to a pilot in a gray
uniform. They stood in a brightly lit canary-yellow control room in a
spaceship.

The _Times_ tried to pick up the thread of the plot. Already he was
interested in the fate of the hero, and liked him. That was the effect
of good acting, probably, for part of the art of acting is to win
affection from the audience, and this actor might be the matinee idol
of whole solar systems.

Controlled tension, betraying itself by a jerk of the hands, a
too-quick answer to a question. The uniformed one, not suspicious,
turned his back, busying himself at some task involving a map lit with
glowing red points, his motions sharing the same fluid dragging grace
of the others, as if they were underwater, or on a slow motion film.
The other was watching a switch, a switch set into a panel, moving
closer to it, talking casually--background music coming and rising in
thin chords of tension.

There was a closeup of the alien's face watching the switch, and the
_Times_ noted that his ears were symmetrically half-circles, almost
perfect with no earholes visible. The voice of the uniformed one
answered, a brief word in a preoccupied deep voice. His back was still
turned. The other glanced at the switch, moving closer to it, talking
casually, the switch coming closer and closer stereoscopically. It was
in reach, filling the screen. His hand came into view, darting out,
closed over the switch--

There was a sharp clap of sound and his hand opened in a frozen
shape of pain. Beyond him, as his gaze swung up, stood the figure of
the uniformed officer, unmoving, a weapon rigid in his hand, in the
startled position in which he had turned and fired, watching with
widening eyes as the man in the green tunic swayed and fell.

The tableau held, the uniformed one drooping, looking down at his hand
holding the weapon which had killed, and music began to build in from
the background. Just for an instant, the room and the things within
it flashed into one of those bewildering color changes which were the
bane of color television, and switched to a color negative of itself, a
green man standing in a violet control room, looking down at the body
of a green man in a red tunic. It held for less than a second; then the
color band alternator fell back into phase and the colors reversed to
normal.

Another uniformed man came and took the weapon from the limp hand of
the other, who began to explain dejectedly in a low voice while the
music mounted and covered his words and the screen slowly went blank,
like a window that slowly filmed over with gray fog.

The music faded.

In the dark, someone clapped appreciatively.

The earphoned man beside the _Times_ shifted his earphones back from
his ears and spoke briskly. "I can't get any more. Either of you want a
replay?"

There was a short silence until the linguist nearest the set said, "I
guess we've squeezed that one dry. Let's run the tape where Nathen and
that ship radio boy are kidding around CQing and tuning their beams in
closer. I have a hunch the boy is talking routine ham talk and giving
the old radio count--one-two-three-testing."

There was some fumbling in the semi-dark and then the screen came to
life again.

       *       *       *       *       *

It showed a flash of an audience sitting before a screen and gave a
clipped chord of some familiar symphony. "Crazy about Stravinsky and
Mozart," remarked the earphoned linguist to the _Times_, resettling his
earphones. "Can't stand Gershwin. Can you beat that?" He turned his
attention back to the screen as the right sequence came on.

The _Post_, who was sitting just in front of him, turned to the _Times_
and said, "Funny how much they look like people." He was writing,
making notes to telephone his report. "What color hair did that
character have?"

"I didn't notice." He wondered if he should remind the reporter that
Nathen had said he assigned the color bands on guess, choosing the
colors that gave the most plausible images. The guests, when they
arrived, could turn out to be bright green with blue hair. Only the
gradations of color in the picture were sure, only the similarities and
contrasts, the relationship of one color to another.

From the screen came the sound of the alien language again. This race
averaged deeper voices than human. He liked deep voices. Could he write
that?

No, there was something wrong with that, too. How had Nathen
established the right sound-track pitch? Was it a matter of taking the
modulation as it came in, or some sort of hetrodyning up and down by
trial and error? Probably.

It might be safer to assume that Nathen had simply preferred deep
voices.

As he sat there, doubting, an uneasiness he had seen in Nathen came
back to add to his own uncertainty, and he remembered just how close
that uneasiness had come to something that looked like restrained fear.

"What I don't get is why he went to all the trouble of picking up TV
shows instead of just contacting them," the _News_ complained. "They're
good shows, but what's the point?"

"Maybe so we'd get to learn their language too," said the _Herald_.

On the screen now was the obviously unstaged and genuine scene of a
young alien working over a bank of apparatus. He turned and waved and
opened his mouth in the comical O shape which the _Times_ was beginning
to recognize as their equivalent of a smile, then went back to trying
to explain something about the equipment, in elaborate awkward gestures
and carefully mouthed words.

The _Times_ got up quietly, went out into the bright white stone
corridor and walked back the way he had come, thoughtfully folding his
stereo glasses and putting them away.

No one stopped him. Secrecy restrictions were ambiguous here. The
reticence of the Army seemed more a matter of habit, mere reflex, from
the fact that it had all originated in the Intelligence Department,
than any reasoned policy of keeping the landing a secret.

The main room was more crowded than he had left it. The TV camera
and sound crew stood near their apparatus, the Senator had found a
chair and was reading, and at the far end of the room eight men were
grouped in a circle of chairs, arguing something with impassioned
concentration. The _Times_ recognized a few he knew personally, eminent
names in science, workers in field theory.

A stray phrase reached him: "--reference to the universal constants as
ratio--" It was probably a discussion of ways of converting formulas
from one mathematics to another for a rapid exchange of information.

They had reason to be intent, aware of the flood of insights that novel
viewpoints could bring, if they could grasp them. He would have liked
to go over and listen, but there was too little time left before the
spaceship was due, and he had a question to ask.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hand-rigged transceiver was still humming, tuned to the sending
band of the circling ship, and the young man who had started it all
was sitting on the edge of the TV platform with his chin resting in
one hand. He did not look up as the _Times_ approached, but it was the
indifference of preoccupation, not discourtesy.

The _Times_ sat down on the edge of the platform beside him and took
out a pack of cigarettes, then remembered the coming TV broadcast
and the ban on smoking. He put them away, thoughtfully watching the
diminishing rain spray against the streaming windows.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Nathen showed that he was aware and friendly by a slight motion of his
head.

"_You_ tell me."

"Hunch," said the _Times_ man. "Sheer hunch. Everything sailing along
too smoothly, everyone taking too much for granted."

Nathen relaxed slightly. "I'm still listening."

"Something about the way they move...."

Nathen shifted to glance at him.

"That's bothered me, too."

"Are you sure they're adjusted to the right speed?"

Nathen clenched his hands out in front of him and looked at them
consideringly. "I don't know. When I turn the tape faster, they're all
rushing, and you begin to wonder why their clothes don't stream behind
them, why the doors close so quickly and yet you can't hear them slam,
why things fall so fast. If I turn it slower, they all seem to be
swimming." He gave the _Times_ a considering sidewise glance. "Didn't
catch the name."

Country-bred guy, thought the _Times_. "Jacob Luke, _Times_," he said,
extending his hand.

Nathen gave the hand a quick, hard grip, identifying the name. "Sunday
Science Section editor. I read it. Surprised to meet you here."

"Likewise." The _Times_ smiled. "Look, have you gone into this
rationally, with formulas?" He found a pencil in his pocket.
"Obviously there's something wrong with our judgment of their
weight-to-speed-to-momentum ratio. Maybe it's something simple like low
gravity aboard ship, with magnetic shoes. Maybe they _are_ floating
slightly."

"Why worry?" Nathen cut in. "I don't see any reason to try to figure it
out now." He laughed and shoved back his black hair nervously. "We'll
see them in twenty minutes."

"Will we?" asked the _Times_ slowly.

There was a silence while the Senator turned a page of his magazine
with a slight crackling of paper, and the scientists argued at the
other end of the room. Nathen pushed at his lank black hair again, as
if it were trying to fall forward in front of his eyes and keep him
from seeing.

"Sure." The young man laughed suddenly, talked rapidly. "Sure we'll
see them. Why shouldn't we, with all the government ready with welcome
speeches, the whole Army turned out and hiding over the hill, reporters
all around, newsreel cameras--everything set up to broadcast the
landing to the world. The President himself shaking hands with me and
waiting in Washington--"

He came to the truth without pausing for breath.

He said, "Hell, no, they won't get here. There's some mistake
somewhere. Something's wrong. I should have told the brasshats
yesterday when I started adding it up. Don't know why I didn't say
anything. Scared, I guess. Too much top rank around here. Lost my
nerve."

He clutched the _Times_ man's sleeve. "Look. I don't know what--"

A green light flashed on the sending-receiving set. Nathen didn't look
at it, but he stopped talking.

       *       *       *       *       *

The loudspeaker on the set broke into a voice speaking in the alien's
language. The Senator started and looked nervously at it, straightening
his tie. The voice stopped.

Nathen turned and looked at the loudspeaker. His worry seemed to be
gone.

"What is it?" the _Times_ asked anxiously.

"He says they've slowed enough to enter the atmosphere now. They'll be
here in five to ten minutes, I guess. That's Bud. He's all excited.
He says holy smoke, what a murky-looking planet we live on." Nathen
smiled. "Kidding."

The _Times_ was puzzled. "What does he mean, murky? It can't be
raining over much territory on Earth." Outside, the rain was slowing
and bright blue patches of sky were shining through breaks in the
cloud blanket, glittering blue light from the drops that ran down the
windows. He tried to think of an explanation. "Maybe they're trying to
land on Venus." The thought was ridiculous, he knew. The spaceship was
following Nathen's sending beam. It couldn't miss Earth. "Bud" had to
be kidding.

The green light glowed on the set again, and they stopped speaking,
waiting for the message to be recorded, slowed and replayed. The
cathode screen came to life suddenly with a picture of the young man
sitting at his sending-set, his back turned, watching a screen at one
side which showed a glimpse of a huge dark plain approaching. As the
ship plunged down toward it, the illusion of solidity melted into a
boiling turbulence of black clouds. They expanded in an inky swirl,
looked huge for an instant, and then blackness swallowed the screen.
The young alien swung around to face the camera, speaking a few words
as he moved, made the O of a smile again, then flipped the switch and
the screen went gray.

Nathen's voice was suddenly toneless and strained. "He said something
like break out the drinks, here they come."

"The atmosphere doesn't look like that," the _Times_ said at random,
knowing he was saying something too obvious even to think about. "Not
Earth's atmosphere."

Some people drifted up. "What did they say?"

"Entering the atmosphere, ought to be landing in five or ten minutes,"
Nathen told them.

A ripple of heightened excitement ran through the room. Cameramen began
adjusting the lens angles again, turning on the mike and checking it,
turning on the floodlights. The scientists rose and stood near the
window, still talking. The reporters trooped in from the hall and went
to the windows to watch for the great event. The three linguists came
in, trundling a large wheeled box that was the mechanical translator,
supervising while it was hitched into the sound broadcasting system.

"Landing where?" the _Times_ asked Nathen brutally. "Why don't you do
something?"

"Tell me what to do and I'll do it," Nathen said quietly, not moving.

It was not sarcasm. Jacob Luke of the _Times_ looked sidewise at the
strained whiteness of his face, and moderated his tone. "Can't you
contact them?"

"Not while they're landing."

"What now?" The _Times_ took out a pack of cigarettes, remembered the
rule against smoking, and put it back.

"We just wait." Nathen leaned his elbow on one knee and his chin in his
hand.

They waited.

       *       *       *       *       *

All the people in the room were waiting. There was no more
conversation. A bald man of the scientist group was automatically
buffing his fingernails over and over and inspecting them without
seeing them, another absently polished his glasses, held them up to
the light, put them on, and then a moment later took them off and began
polishing again. The television crew concentrated on their jobs, moving
quietly and efficiently, with perfectionist care, minutely arranging
things which did not need to be arranged, checking things that had
already been checked.

This was to be one of the great moments of human history, and they were
all trying to forget that fact and remain impassive and wrapped up in
the problems of their jobs as good specialists should.

After an interminable age the _Times_ consulted his watch. Three
minutes had passed. He tried holding his breath a moment, listening for
a distant approaching thunder of jets. There was no sound.

The sun came out from behind the clouds and lit up the field like a
great spotlight on an empty stage.

Abruptly the green light shone on the set again, indicating that a
squawk message had been received. The recorder recorded it, slowed it
and fed it back to the speaker. It clicked and the sound was very loud
in the still, tense room.

The screen remained gray, but Bud's voice spoke a few words in the
alien language. He stopped, the speaker clicked and the light went out.
When it was plain that nothing more would occur and no announcement was
to be made of what was said, the people in the room turned back to the
windows, talk picked up again.

Somebody told a joke and laughed alone.

One of the linguists remained turned toward the loudspeaker, then
looked at the widening patches of blue sky showing out the window, his
expression puzzled. He had understood.

"It's dark," the thin Intelligence Department decoder translated,
low-voiced, to the man from the _Times_. "Your atmosphere is _thick_.
That's precisely what Bud said."

Another three minutes. The _Times_ caught himself about to light a
cigarette and swore silently, blowing the match out and putting the
cigarette back into its package. He listened for the sound of the
rocket jets. It was time for the landing, yet he heard no blasts.

The green light came on in the transceiver.

Message in.

Instinctively he came to his feet. Nathen abruptly was standing beside
him. Then the message came in the voice he was coming to think of as
Bud. It spoke and paused. Suddenly the _Times_ knew.

"We've landed." Nathen whispered the words.

The wind blew across the open spaces of white concrete and damp soil
that was the empty airfield, swaying the wet, shiny grass. The people
in the room looked out, listening for the roar of jets, looking for the
silver bulk of a spaceship in the sky.

Nathen moved, seating himself at the transmitter, switching it on to
warm up, checking and balancing dials. Jacob Luke of the _Times_ moved
softly to stand behind his right shoulder, hoping he could be useful.
Nathen made a half motion of his head, as if to glance back at him,
unhooked two of the earphone sets hanging on the side of the tall
streamlined box that was the automatic translator, plugged them in and
handed one back over his shoulder to the _Times_ man.

The voice began to come from the speaker again.

Hastily, Jacob Luke fitted the earphones over his ears. He fancied he
could hear Bud's voice tremble. For a moment it was just Bud's voice
speaking the alien language, and then, very distant and clear in his
earphones, he heard the recorded voice of the linguist say an English
word, then a mechanical click and another clear word in the voice of
one of the other translators, then another as the alien's voice flowed
from the loudspeaker, the cool single words barely audible, overlapping
and blending with it like translating thought, skipping unfamiliar
words, yet quite astonishingly clear.

"Radar shows no buildings or civilization near. The atmosphere around
us registers as thick as glue. Tremendous gas pressure, low gravity,
no light at all. You didn't describe it like this. Where are you, Joe?
This isn't some kind of trick, is it?" Bud hesitated, was prompted by a
deeper official voice and jerked out the words.

"If it is a trick, we are ready to repel attack."

       *       *       *       *       *

The linguist stood listening. He whitened slowly and beckoned the other
linguists over to him and whispered to them.

Joseph Nathen looked at them with unwarranted bitter hostility while
he picked up the hand-mike, plugging it into the translator. "Joe
calling," he said quietly into it in clear, slow English. "No trick. We
don't know where you are. I am trying to get a direction fix from your
signal. Describe your surroundings to us if at all possible."

Nearby, the floodlights blazed steadily on the television platform,
ready for the official welcome of the aliens to Earth. The television
channels of the world had been alerted to set aside their scheduled
programs for an unscheduled great event. In the long room the people
waited, listening for the swelling sound of rocket jets.

This time, after the light came on, there was a long delay. The speaker
sputtered, and sputtered again, building to a steady scratching they
could barely sense as a dim voice. It came through in a few tinny words
and then wavered back to inaudibility. The machine translated in their
earphones.

"Tried ... seemed ... repair...." Suddenly it came in clearly. "Can't
tell if the auxiliary blew, too. Will try it. We might pick you up
clearly on the next try. I have the volume down. Where is the landing
port? Repeat. Where is the landing port? Where are you?"

Nathen put down the hand-mike and carefully set a dial on the recording
box, and flipped a switch, speaking over his shoulder. "This sets it to
repeat what I said the last time. It keeps repeating." Then he sat with
unnatural stillness, his head still half turned, as if he had suddenly
caught a glimpse of answer and was trying with no success whatever to
grasp it.

The green warning light cut in, the recording clicked and the playback
of Bud's face and voice appeared on the screen.

"We heard a few words, Joe, and then the receiver blew again. We're
adjusting a viewing screen to pick up the long waves that go through
the murk and convert them to visible light. We'll be able to see
out soon. The engineer says that something is wrong with the stern
jets, and the captain has had me broadcast a help call to our nearest
space base." He made the mouth O of a grin. "The message won't
reach it for some years. I trust you, Joe, but get us out of here,
will you?--They're buzzing that the screen is finally ready. Hold
everything."

       *       *       *       *       *

The screen went gray, and the green light went off.

The _Times_ considered the lag required for the help call, the speaking
and recording of the message just received, the time needed to
reconvert a viewing screen.

"They work fast." He shifted uneasily, and added at random, "Something
wrong with the time factor. All wrong. They work _too_ fast."

The green light came on again immediately. Nathen half turned to him,
sliding his words hastily into the gap of time as the message was
recorded and slowed. "They're close enough for our transmission power
to blow their receiver."

If it was on Earth, why the darkness around the ship? "Maybe they see
in the high ultra-violet--the atmosphere is opaque to that band," the
_Times_ suggested hastily as the speaker began to talk in the young
extraterrestrial's voice.

It _was_ shaking now. "Stand by for the description."

They tensed, waiting. The _Times_ brought a map of the state before his
mind's eye.

"A half circle of cliffs around the horizon. A wide muddy lake swarming
with swimming things. Huge, strange white foliage all around the ship
and incredibly huge pulpy monsters attacking and eating each other on
all sides. We almost landed in the lake, right on the soft edge. The
mud can't hold the ship's weight, and we're sinking. The engineer says
we might be able to blast free, but the tubes are mud-clogged and might
blow up the ship. When can you reach us?"

The _Times_ thought vaguely of the Carboniferous Era. Nathen obviously
had seen something he had not.

"Where are they?" the _Times_ asked him quietly.

Nathen pointed to the antenna position indicators. The _Times_ let his
eyes follow the converging imaginary lines of focus out the window to
the sunlit airfield, the empty airfield, the drying concrete and green
waving grass where the lines met.

_Where the lines met. The spaceship was there!_

The fear of something unknown gripped him suddenly.

The spaceship was broadcasting again. "_Where are you? Answer if
possible! We are sinking! Where are you?_"

He saw that Nathen knew. "What is it?" the _Times_ asked hoarsely. "Are
they in another dimension or the past or on another world or what?"

Nathen was smiling bitterly, and Jacob Luke remembered that the young
man had a friend in that spaceship. "My guess is that they evolved
on a high-gravity planet, with a thin atmosphere, near a blue-white
star. Sure they see in the ultra-violet range. Our sun is abnormally
small and dim and yellow. Our atmosphere is so thick, it screens out
ultra-violet." He laughed harshly. "A good joke on us, the weird place
we evolved in, the thing it did to us!"

"Where are you?" called the alien spaceship. "Hurry, please! We're
sinking!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The decoder slowed his tumbled, frightened words and looked up into the
_Times'_ face for understanding. "We'll rescue them," he said quietly.
"You were right about the time factor, right about them moving at a
different speed. I misunderstood. This business about squawk coding,
speeding for better transmission to counteract beam waver--I was wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"They don't speed up their broadcasts."

"They don't--?"

Suddenly, in his mind's eye, the _Times_ began to see again the play
he had just seen--but the actors were moving at blurring speed, the
words jerking out in a fluting, dizzying stream, thoughts and decisions
passing with unfollowable rapidity, rippling faces in a twisting blur
of expressions, doors slamming wildly, shatteringly, as the actors
leaped in and out of rooms.

No--faster, faster--he wasn't visualizing it as rapidly as it was,
an hour of talk and action in one almost instantaneous "squawk," a
narrow peak of "noise" interfering with a single word in an Earth
broadcast! Faster--faster--it was impossible. Matter could not stand
such stress--inertia--momentum--abrupt weight.

It was insane. "Why?" he asked. "How?"

Nathen laughed again harshly, reaching for the mike. "Get them out?
There isn't a lake or river within hundreds of miles from here!"

A shiver of unreality went down the _Times'_ spine. Automatically and
inanely, he found himself delving in his pocket for a cigarette while
he tried to grasp what had happened. "Where are they, then? Why can't
we see their spaceship?"

Nathen switched the microphone on in a gesture that showed the
bitterness of his disappointment.

"We'll need a magnifying glass for that."





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