Not Quite Fairy Godmothers

People of Earth, please listen!

You have to stop all spaceflight, right now. I don't think there's a human on the planet who can withstand what the aliens will do to you if they find you. I'm the last one here who hasn't died or gone crazy, and I don't think I can last much longer. So while I'm still coherent, here's what happened.

Slightly less than halfway through our voyage to Alpha Centauri, the thing appeared. A giant mass, dwarfing our six-person ship and hanging motionless relative to it (Do you know how long it would take something that big to reach our present speed at any normal acceleration?) This thing had not been visible the day before; it appeared in the middle of the ship's night when only Jack was on duty. He woke us all up as soon as the mass registered on our instruments.

We spent a few hours winding down from our initial alarm at the sight of the thing on our viewscreen, since it seemed that it was just keeping parallel to our course with no indication of coming closer. Naturally, our speculations on what it was included the idea of some kind of alien vehicle, but we could find no indication that anyone was trying to contact us in any way. And if they were going to kill us they would have already done it, right? So we had an early breakfast and tried to relax, while still keeping an eye on the instruments for any change.

Then all of us heard it at the same time. A voice in our heads, without any actual audible sound, saying "Hello, there!" in what somehow gave the impression of being a rather jolly middle-aged man. It certainly wasn't the voice of anyone on the ship.

All of us looked around at one another and burst into excited chatter. Has we really heard it? Could we all be hallucinating the same thing? Had we all in fact heard the same words and gotten the same impression of the speaker? Could we really be sure there had been no audible sound? All the things you'd expect six scientists to wonder about when the impossible happens.

Suddenly, the voice came back.

"I am an emissary from the J'rpof people of the planet Js'dov. I have been absorbing the emanations from your minds for the past few hours. Please inform me if you are receiving my communications by thinking a response directed at the mass outside your ship. Apparently not all of my last message got through, but there have now been slight changes made in my broadcasting method."

We sat in stunned silence until Elaine said, "Well, what are we going to say?"

"Now wait a minute!" Ted objected. "We have not established that our senses are not playing tricks on us! This is the first long voyage to go anywhere near lightspeed; our minds could be affected in some way. You can't just start broadcasting messaged to some blob, on the assumption that it can defy all the laws of physics!"

"Stuff it," I fondly told my husband. "Dear, you are being silly. We can go this fast; why not somebody else? And no one has any idea how electric flow between ganglions becomes thought; there's no reason a civilization with the power to build a spaceship that big might not have figured thought out well enough to broadcast it."

"She's right, Ted," said Elaine. "So we can't do any harm by answering, and since the simplest explanation is that these J'rpof do exist, we might do a lot of harm by ignoring them. It's dumb to start things off by annoying a species this far ahead of us."

The argument didn't stop there, but it was not too long before Ted, the only holdout, was overwhelmed. We decided to all think 'hello' on the count of three, and ask what these J'rpof looked like.

It was kind of anticlimactic; the inner voice just replied, sounding exactly the same as before, that it could show us.

The mass outside moved closer to our ship, but the mental voice reassured us that closer contact would allow them to project a visual image over to our ship, and that they were good enough pilots not to crash into us. We shuddered at the thought of a crash, but the blob safely drew close enough to us that we could have gone over to it in spacesuits if we had wanted.

Nothing else happened until a sort of holographic image began slowly to become visible in the middle of the room where we were gathered. The being looked like an earless, greenish bear, except for hands that eerily resembled our own. Its first comments were, "That's better; I can perceive your thoughts much more clearly now. Give me a minute to reflect upon them." A couple of my companions flinched; I guess they didn't like the idea of anyone reading their minds. As a writer, I'm used to putting my thoughts (and a lot of fictional characters') out for public consumption, so it didn't bother me. I twiddled my thumbs while we waited.

The voice came back. It sounded confused. "Well, in the first layer of your minds I can see that you are curious about me. It would take a very long time to explain my race thoroughly. We are from very far away, which would explain why we have never encountered any of your fledgling efforts at interstellar travel.

"You also wish to know about the star you call Alpha Centauri. It is not inhabited by any advanced life-forms; your species should not have much trouble establishing a colony there. There are really very few intelligent life forms in this universe; when we find a new one we try to help them, so as to establish good will for the future. Even the most primitive life can become a nuisance if they don't like us. I'm sorry, I'm sure you don't like being called primitive, but there are twenty levels we categorize intelligent life in, and your species has reached only level two, of having some space travel.

"Back to the original topic. I do not understand the other things your minds want, nor why they are so wildly different. But I will give them to you; it never hurts to give out gifts to those too far away to ask for more."

We looked around at one another in confusion, as if to ask each other what else we could have said we wanted. The voice continued. "I leave you to enjoy your gifts, and say farewell until we come across your species again as you expand to other systems.

I guess I expected a puff of smoke and a model of an improved spaceship engine to appear at the image's feet. Instead, the image disappeared from the center of our circle, the viewscreen no longer showed the alien spaceship, and Ted's hand, which I had been holding all this time, started to change. I flinched and dropped it, then turned to look at him. He was growing taller and more muscular, like the Incredible Hulk in the show on the Nostalgia channel, except that he wasn't green. I thought I was hallucinating, except that I wasn't sure I could have felt his hand change if it wasn't real.

I looked around. There was a cat sitting where June had been. Abig cat, but it wasn't a tiger or anything like that. Its markings were those of a tabby. It was giving itself a bath.

Ivan was holding his head, repeating, "No! It's too big!" Jack was holding a squirming baby at a distance from himself. It looked like the baby pictures of his daughter Megan, who had died of cystic fibrosis when she was six. He mumbled, "Not again."

Where Elaine had been was a man in her clothes. They didn't look too bad on him; she had always liked unisex styles. You notice the weirdest things at these times. I didn't have time to think about it because Ivan got up and ran screaming from the room. Nobody else even looked up, so I jumped up and ran after him, almost tripping over the pile I hadn't even seen appear in front of my chair. But that slowed me down enough that he was already in the airlock without his spacesuit when I reached it. The inside door was sealed, but it takes a few minutes for the air to start pumping out to equalize the airlock and the outside pressures. I motioned for him to come back in, but he wrote something on the dry-erase board we keep in there. It said, "I wanted to understand the whole universe. But it's too big, I can't live with it." I closed my eyes and sent out the most intense, desperate thought i could manage, screaming at the aliens to get the hell back here and undo what they had done to us. No response. So then I turned away and hurried back toward the room with the others. I couldn't stand to watch him die.

No one else was in much better shape. Jack was the most together; he was pacing, trying to figure out how to take care of a sick baby on a ship intended only for healthy adults. Elaine (Allen, now?) was rocking back and forth, in some sort of shock. And Ted was pulling the tail of what used to be June. I tried to talk to my husband, but he said, "Shut up" and tried to smack me. I dodged and decided to let him get scratched by the cat.

I fixed dinner and we all went to bed, except June, who probably prowled throughout the night. Elaine never said a word that evening, or anytime after. I guess even if she may have wanted to be a man for the advantages it might hold in this still-sexist world, her mind couldn't take the shock of being suddenly stuck in a male body, at least not without the intense readjustment therapy hospitals give transsexuals. She was gone and I didn't know how to bring her back.

The baby died within a few days; we couldn't save her without the right drugs and equipment. Jack hanged himself that night. I guess the grief of seeing the same daughter die twice drove him over the edge. His suicide note said that he felt he had killed her by having the alien bring her back from the dead without healing her. Not that anyone would blame him; his unconscious had just wanted his daughter back, without specifying changes.

Ted had turned into a stereotype: strong, macho, and stupid. That didn't really surprise me; being married to him, I knew how much he loved to show off his strength and try to increase it. I guess his mental picture of a strong man didn't need any intelligence. He died of a head injury sustained by trying to lift heavy equipment from a high shelf and dropping it on himself.

It seems really funny that "the root of all evil" has been what kept me from going insane (so far) but it did. I grew up poor, and my wish has always been to have more money than I could ever spend. And that's what the pile that tripped me up when I went after Ivan was: thousand-dollar bills in big stacks. Not that it'll do me any good here. It won't even keep me sane until we reach Alpha Centauri. Alone on a spaceship except for an almost catatonic patient and a cat that used to be my best friend, with my husband's death and the possible fate of the human race hanging over me...I'd be glad not to have to think about it.

But anyway, you can see that space travel, at the very least outside the Solar System, has to be stopped. Perhaps we can pursue the other technologies or the mental powers the J'rpof have, and fight them off if they come to us. But don't risk going to them. Anyone who thinks they could gain something from them, just remember our experiences, and the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it."

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