O1 : Truth? Lies? How can you tell?
Panic reports started to seep out of Israel despite their somewhat totalitarian government's attempts to make the people believe that everything was still all right. It was over a month and a half since we had completed Frosch's nuclear weapons sabotage contract with the CIA and someone on the inside had managed to let the world's news services know what was going on.
The initial reports stated merely that the Israelis had been having some problems but there was no cause for alarm and no danger of unplanned nuclear explosions. Within a few days, underground news websites were reporting that the entire Israeli nuclear arsenal had been sabotaged and their security forces were unable to work out exactly when it happened or who could have done it.
The bad news for the rest of the world was that the Americans were supplying the components necessary to let them rebuild the electronic circuitry in the housings for conventional explosives and their nuclear core. Of course, the US government was denying doing any such thing but nobody was believing them.
Similar news of serial component failures also started to emerge from other minor members of the nuclear club. And to complicate things, nations with no nuclear weapons started to deny that they had suffered component failures, using exactly the same language as bona fide members of the club in an attempt to make everyone think that they too had built or bought nuclear weapons.
Frosch dropped in on Iktar and myself on the evening of the last Saturday in May with a new twist to the nuclear weapons saga. Stories of a nuke-zapping weapon in space were spreading around the minor players. In fact, the rumours were in danger of developing into a full-blown conspiracy theory of Kennedy Assassination proportions.
"You can't beat the Earthers for having vivid imaginations," Iktar remarked as she compared the taste of the dark brown liquid in a bottle of Spanish brandy, which Frosch had brought with him, with the products of France and Germany.
"So what's the conspiracy theory?" I said, asking the question that Frosch wanted to hear.
"Before very long, somebody is going to announce that he has incontrovertible proof that there's an undetectable alien spacecraft orbiting the Earth," said Frosch.
"The words 'absurdity' and 'logical' spring to mind," Iktar remarked.
"And it's taking out Earth's defences, the spacecraft," Frosch added. "And when the announcement comes, the Americans, British, Russians and French are going to deny they've had any problems with nuclear weapons. The Chinese will say nothing. And the minor members of the nuclear club will accuse the majors of ganging up on them."
"At which point the Yanks will say, 'And your proof that this is happening is what?'" said Iktar.
"And the minors will just repeat the spaceship story," said Frosch. "Then the Yanks will say, 'If this spaceship is undetectable, how do you know it's in orbit?'"
"Yeah," laughed Iktar, playing along, "how do you know it's not parked on the Moon? Or on the White House lawn? Or in Hyde Park in London?"
"I suppose it has a logic of sorts behind it," I realized. "There are aliens on Earth. We've all seen them on TV. And how did they get here if not in a spaceship? Which must be parked close by. But if no one can see it, it must be undetectable. To Earther technology, at least."
"Right," said Iktar. "And the big nuclear players have persuaded them to take out everything belonging to the little guys to make the Earth a safer place. Somewhere which will still be there if we decide to go away and recruit the Earthers into our Commonwealth of planets later on."
"I can't see the Yanks agreeing to have the Israeli nukes zapped," I mentioned.
Frosch shrugged. "It's no secret that a lot of people in the US military and secret services see Israel as a vastly over-resourced distraction. And the Israelis will say their nukes are intact, too. No one will believe them, of course, but that's what they'll say. In fact, they've got their own, private conspiracy theory. Their government is fairly convinced that their rich Arab neighbours have paid off the aliens to sabotage their nukes. And their secret service is charging around trying to find out who leaked all the details of where they kept their weapons."
"It gives them something to do," said Iktar.
"Another interesting snippet of news from Debbie Boon," Frosch added, "is she reckons her brother-in-law, the prime minister, ..."
"Our friend No Jacket?" said Iktar.
Frosch nodded. "The very same. He's been lurking near Cassidy's Club during his free evenings, ready to rush round there with a photographer if the aliens show up."
"I'm surprised you've not charged him for the photo opportunity," scoffed Iktar.
"There are some things you enjoy despite not getting paid for them," Frosch said cryptically.
Iktar gave him a 'yeah, sure!' look but I could see what our General meant. Frosch was enjoying twisting the tail of a direct official descendant of the politicians who had sent him off to choke to death on German poison gas on a battlefield in some part of Belgium with a name which the British Tommies could not pronounce. Frosch was not the sort to forgive and forget.
We settled into a period of not doing very much -- while expecting Frosch to come up with another Big Idea -- and catching up. Tolshivar and I made abundant use of our memberships of the Sci-Fi Film Club and Iktar surprised us by coming along as a guest on most of our trips there.
Borgan came over from Jamaica and spent the first week of June with us, having a look around London. He had not been here since the early Fifties and he kept finding himself lost when we strayed any distance from the usual landmarks along the river, such as the Tower and the Houses of Parliament.
We had a wander round the vast, idle space of the Millennium Dome -- invisibly, of course -- and we all had a go on the London Eye, opposite the home of the Mother of Parliaments. Borgan had the look of someone who had been cheated out of a treat when the Millennium Bridge failed to bounce about like a fairground ride.
On the Sunday, after Borgan had headed for home, Tolshivar accompanied Iktar and myself on a trip to what had been our farmhouse. He had never been there and he wanted a look at our former home. The place was looking bright and fresh and the garden was full of greenery when we arrived at just past sunset. Loriva and Daphre, the respectively Cornish and Welsh witches, seemed quite please to see us. Our reception was a whole lot more cordial than it had been almost three months earlier.
I think they had reached the conclusion, from the lack of a speedy return visit, that we were no threat to their way of life and that we were not planning to pester them into joining in with some grand scheme for the post-dead. Like me, the ladies were not enthusiastic joiners in.
Loriva and Daphre seemed to take to Tolshivar right from the start. Forewarned by me, he didn't laugh when they admitted to being witches. They seemed relieved to find a stranger who just accepted them. Neither mentioned that they were traditionalists, who came out only in the hours between sunset and sunrise, which I found surprising. Loriva, in particular, had seemed very keen to underline the differences between the two country dwellers and the two city slickers at our last encounter.
The farmhouse had acquired a lot of books since our last visit. There was also a TV set tucked away in a corner of the main room, although we didn't ask what the reception was like out here in the wilds. If they had a satellite dish, it was well hidden. When I scanned the titles of the books, I found that quite a lot of them were about gardening and do-it-yourself household maintenance. I suspected that the new occupants of the farmhouse had abandoned their dusk to dawn existence when their garden had started to come into bloom. Flowers are rather wasted at night without a system of floodlights.
We spent a pleasant Sunday evening with Loriva and Daphre, just chatting and giving them the benefit of our much greater experience of being post-dead. They were impressed to hear that our Jamaican friend, Borgan, had been post-dead since the American Civil War period. I think knowing that we have such a potentially long life span in our present condition took away any sense that they had to apologize for just pottering around an abandoned farmhouse instead of rushing round the world on voyages of exploration.
O2 : Too Many Questions
General Frosch turned up again at lunchtime the following Tuesday, which was a bright, sunny, June day. He arrived just after Iktar had switched off the World Cup news -- there would be no more football if she ever became Boss of the Universe. Frosch's CIA contacts had been asking him peculiar questions again.
"Go on, what do they want you to do now?" Iktar invited from her half of the settee.
Frosch pulled another face over his Welsh 'whisky', which we had picked up in a supermarket on our way home from our weekend trip to the farmhouse. Then he put on a smile. "Last week, on the Monday, they want to know if there's more than one group of our species on the Earth. A question which I found quite puzzling."
"But you know there is," I pointed out. "More than one group. I'm thinking about Hath and Beth's trip to China. And Xanthe's independent operations in France and then Switzerland."
"You've got a point there," Frosch admitted. "I just gave him some bullshit about not judging our methods in terms of his own organization's. So anyway, a couple of days later, the guy, Bill, asked me exactly how many groups there are and if they're working independently or reporting to a primary unified authority. Such as the Hadukar."
"Heavy question," I remarked.
"That's what I thought." Frosch broadened his grin.
"So what did you tell him?" Iktar invited.
"I told him I'm not authorized to give out that info to someone at his level."
"You sod!" laughed Iktar. "I bet that got right up his nose."
"Did it ever!" laughed Frosch. "So on Saturday, he was back with another question. Are there represenatives of another species or another political grouping of our species on Earth?"
"Sounds like the CIA have been watching too much sci-fi on telly," I said.
"That's what I thought," said Frosch.
"So you told him you're not authorized to tell him that either?" said Iktar.
Frosch shrugged. "I told him we're not aware of anyone else assessing the state of development and potential of his planet at this time."
"Which is about as helpful," I pointed out. "You don't know but there could be."
"But I didn't dilute our impact by admitting I think there could be others," said Frosch. "And I also pointed out that the universe is a big place, and even though stars with habitable planets, like the Solar System, are not exactly common, there are more than plenty in this region. So it's not all that likely the Earth will be duplicated simultaneously."
"Good bit of jargon, that," laughed Iktar. "Duplicated simultaneously."
"Tolsh came up with it," Frosch admitted.
"And it's an interesting thought," I said. "If there's one group of aliens here, it's highly improbable another bunch of different aliens will be here at exactly the same time."
"Or an independent bunch of the same aliens," said Frosch.
"Not unless Earth has some strategic position and different aliens are in competition to get established here," said Iktar. "Or different political groupings within a single sort of aliens."
"Yeah, Tolsh came up with that, too," said Frosch. "I like the hairdo, by the way."
"Do you?" Iktar, with perfect control over her shape, had lost the female reflex of putting a hand to her hair to dab it into shape.
"It suits you more with it longer," said Frosch.
"I told her that when I saw it this morning but she wouldn't believe me without independent corroboration," I mentioned.
"So is that what your CIA buddies are thinking?" said Iktar, pleased that her change of image had made a positive impact but not admitting it. "Two or more lots of aliens are in competition to sign Earth up, so it would be a good idea for them play the aliens off against each other for the best deal? And anything else you can sneak around the edges?"
"It's certainly the way the CIA mind works," said Frosch.
"I'm now wondering who, or what, rattled their cage," I remarked.
"Yeah, that's what I was asking myself," said Frosch. "Which is why I've been keeping an eye on my CIA guy since Saturday."
"And?" Iktar prompted.
"And we appear to have competition," said Frosch.
"What, actual aliens?" Iktar said with a cross between a frown and an uncertain smile.
"Yeah, from somewhere near Alpha Centauri," said Frosch. "Which makes them pretty near neighbours."
"Holy shit!" said Iktar.
Frosch winked at me out of Iktar's line of sight but something in his body language must have registered on her.
"Bastard," Iktar said without heat. "You had me going for a minute. Who, then? If not actual aliens?"
Frosch shrugged. "Post-dead Earthers who know a good thing when they see it. Who else?"
"Figures," said Iktar.
"Several groups of them in the US," Frosch added.
"Explain," Iktar said in her Seven Of Nine voice.
"The CIA have been screening field reports for 'weird'. Anything severely out of the ordinary that could be due to aliens. The first bunch they tracked down were ex-bikers, who were living out West in a ghost town."
"What, a real one?" I asked.
Frosch nodded. "Right. Some abandoned mining town out in the desert. The wooden buildings don't rot and they can last for ages. Anyway, these guys were living there and having a good time. When they wanted something, they just stolled into the biggest town in the area and took it. After dark or when no one was watching, of course. From what I can gather, the CIA invaded their ghost town and started asking questions and making promises. The bikers ..."
"How many are there?" said Iktar.
"Five of them. They put up with the invasion for a while, then they split. I think they just faded out when they were out of view of the CIA guys and went somewhere else. There was nothing about beam-outs in the reports Tolsh and I have seen."
"Post-dead bikers living out in the desert and just taking what they want," I said. "Sounds like a definition of their ideal life when they were pre-dead."
"Except all the fun's gone out of booze ups and gang bangs if they're post-dead," Iktar pointed out. "Same for snorting crystal meth and dust."
"Dust?" I said. "Don't they have that only on Babylon Five?"
"PCP," Iktar said patiently. "Angel Dust?"
"And they can fall off their bikes doing daft stunts without damaging themselves," said Frosch. "And I guess they still enjoyed shooting off their guns. The CIA reports talked about considerable arsenals of firearms and ammunition."
"So there were five of them?" I said. "Sounds like wherever they were is a bit like our farmhouse. Some sort of natural magnet for the post-dead."
"It's probably somewhere they'd all hung out before they croaked," said Frosch. "I gathered the place was a bit of a biker heaven a while ago. A sort of Hole In The Wall Gang hide-out. Till the FBI and the Alcohol and Firearms mob did a mass bust on them and ran them out of town and into gaol."
"What else did the CIA turn up in the way of aliens?" Iktar asked, coming back to the point.
"Two nerds in San Luis Obispo in California," said Frosh. "Who may have been inspired by us. They were trying to scam a chunk of cash out of a TV firm but they didn't have any of our tricks. All they had was a crude sort of beam in and out where they did a straight fade with no light effect. A bad rip-off of what we do."
"No weapons?" said Iktar. "Or Goa'uld voices?" she added with glowing eyes and a resonant voice.
"Not that the CIA could tell," said Frosch. "None of our sort of weapons. And no funny facial effects."
"Possibly it didn't occur to them that they can also do what we can do," said Iktar. "If they thought we're real aliens, not post-dead, like them, it wouldn't occur to them."
"So what went wrong for them?" I asked. "The nerds?"
"I think they tried to be too clever," said Frosch. "They tried to invent an alien civilization but they kept running out of detail. Especially with the language. Spoken and written."
"'I'm not authorized to tell you that' is usually a good get-out when you run out of inspiration," said Iktar.
"Except these nerds thought they were smarter than the Earthers," said Frosch. "And they thought they could keep the story going."
"But they couldn't?" said Iktar.
"They dropped out of sight before the CIA could catch up with them," said Frosch. "Which suggests they're probably polishing their script somewhere and getting ready for another go."
"Best of luck to them," said Iktar. "As long as they don't queer our pitch."
"Oh, yes," Frosch added, "another thing Bill of the CIA wanted to know is if we have telepaths."
"And do we?" Iktar said as I was asking, "Where did that come from?"
"From you two, apparently," Frosch replied to my question.
Iktar and I exchanged puzzled looks.
"Almost like that," laughed Frosch. "From what I can gather, they have a report of some function you were at. Whoever it was saw you say something to Ik, Preth, and she just looked at you. Then, after a while, you said, "Okay, okay, we'll do something else."
"But that's just standard non-verbal communication between two people who know each other pretty well," said Iktar.
"But when the two people doing it are aliens, the CIA feel entitled to take it as proof that the aliens are telepaths," said Frosch. "And Bill's next question was 'can they read Earther minds? Our telepaths?'"
"And can we?" laughed Iktar.
"I told him yes and no," said Frosch.
"How does that work?" scoffed Iktar.
"Imagine you're trying to read the mind of someone who thinks in Chinese," said Frosh. "You have no problem with images, of course, but the bloke talks to himself in Chinese so you don't have a clue what he's going on about. Now multiply the level of difficulty by a thousand for reading Earther thought processes and ask yourself if it's worth it."
"So we can read each other's minds but when it comes to an alien species, the thought processes are too different to make it practical?" I said.
"The CIA aren't going to believe that," scoffed Iktar.
"The definitive statement from Tolsh is that some of us aliens can do intra-species telepathy. But inter-species telepathy would require an Earther telepath and a whole lot of experimenting to make it work. And only when you achieve telepath to telepath contact across the species can you think about reading surface thoughts from non-telepaths of the other species."
"So the CIA are going to be hunting for Earther telepaths to see if they can secretly tap into our thought processes?" said Iktar. "And hoping they can find a super-telepath who doesn't need training?
"I would say that's a distinct possibility," said Frosch.
"Should keep them out of mischief, if nothing else," laughed Iktar.
"Another thing they're very keen to get their hands on is some clue to how our teleporting system works. Apparently, Earther scientists can teleport laser beams but they can't do atoms and they reckon teleporting a human body would require an atom-bomb explosion of power and an incredibly complex information handling system."
"Yes, there was something along those lines in the papers a while ago," said Iktar.
"But it's obviously possible if our people can do it," said Frosch. "So my CIA bloke was asking how."
"What, give up the secret for free?" laughed Iktar.
"I bet the CIA could scare up a billion dollars for something like that," I remarked. "For the advantage they'd get out of it before the Russians and the French stole it and some supposedly trusted employee gave it to the Israelis."
"That's what I thought," said Frosch. "So I decided not to get involved. I told him point number one, I'm not a scientist and I don't know how it works. Point number two, if I did know how it works and I explained it to him or one of his CIA experts, they wouldn't understand the explanation. And point number three, I wouldn't be allowed to give away the technology even if I could explain it all to them."
"Contact protocols," said Iktar. "Don't give a primitive society what it can't handle."
"She's been going to our science-fiction film club a lot," I said by way of explanation when Frosh put on a look of surprise. "Part of a personal improvement plan to help her become a more convincing alien."
"Don't get too carried away, Ik," laughed Frosch. "I think we should be thinking about leaving Earth pretty soon."
"Oh?" invited Iktar.
"The Earthers are starting to get too comfortable with us," Frosch explained. "We're obviously people like them. A hundred or two years ahead of them in terms of our technology but not monsters out to conquer them or phoney gods who'll give them a whole new set of toys and let them rampage around the galaxy."
"And it's not as if we haven't made more than enough money out of them to keep us in books, booze, fancy flats and cable TV for a few hundred years," I said.
"Exactly," said Frosch. "With comfortable comes nosy. And pushy. I think it would be a good idea if we said so-long to the Earthers for a while before they trip us up."
"Except, we're not like the nerds," Iktar said in her Goa'uld voice. "We can do stuff they can't. And we're also invulnerable ..."
"Except for particle beam weapons," I pointed out.
"We're bullet-proof," Iktar added, "and we have weapons and technology they don't have. I think we make bloody convincing aliens. But I take your point. Maybe it would be a good idea if our glorious leader dropped a few hints about reporting back on what he's learned about life on Earth."
"So long and see you in a century or two?" I said. "Or 'bye for a couple of years?"
"It might be useful for the main party to leave but leave behind a small team to carry on studying Earth," said Frosch.
"Just in case your CIA and other buddies come up with anything amusing?" said Iktar.
"Well, you have to admit," Frosch said through a broad grin, "there's nothing like spy-types for making life interesting."
"So what's our timetable for leaving?" I asked. "Days? Weeks? Months?"
"A couple of months, probably," said Frosch.
"Are you going to tell No Jacket we're going or just let him find out when we've gone?" said Iktar.
"We should inform the head of state," said Frosch. "That's only polite. And leave it up to her what she tells her flunkies."
"Does that mean we're going to have to get used to going though doors instead of beaming in an out?" said Iktar.
"Probably," said Frosch. "Unless you want to get yourself a job as a resident ghost and just drift through walls."
"Bit of a come-down from being an alien," laughed Iktar.
I nodded agreement. It would be strange not being an 'alien'. We had been living that particular part for well over a year. I suppose we were in the situation of actors whose drama-documentary show had been cancelled after two seasons. There was a whole other world out there and we would be free to find alternative parts in it. And it was not as if the transition would be all that difficult.
We were not like the cast of M*A*S*H, which ran on and on for eleven years. We were still in touch with our pre-alien lives most of the time. But we would miss the impact of beaming in en mass at one of the North Road Mob's clubs and watching the Earthers being cool and definitely not being freaked out by the visiting aliens. Showing off can be quite fun.