Dan Rattiner's Stories

Trouble Elsewhere: The Council Meets to Discuss What to Do About the Planet Far Away

The 14 creatures, green blobs just four feet high, sat in comfortable chairs at a long table on a platform on a hill overlooking the city and mumbled to one another softly. Seven were on one side of the table, seven on the other. They spoke to one another out of the corner of their great mouths, their buck teeth occasionally flashing in the glare of one of the suns shining overhead, their giant glowing eyes, one each, about a foot across, blinking in their foreheads. They appeared very relaxed, but excited about what was about to happen.
There was a buzzing sound, and with a “pop,” Alatar appeared, standing at the head of the table. He leaned forward, the knuckles of his hands pressing against the top of the table. Above, the medallion of his office swung from the chain around his neck.
“Everyone settle down,” Alatar said. “Anazoo, enter.” Alatar looked at his watch. The creatures became quiet and then, with a new buzzing sound and another pop, Anazoo, wearing a flight helmet, appeared next to the great leader.
Anazoo appeared weary. The green of his glow was weak. But he bowed slightly to Alatar. Then he bowed slightly to those at the table. Then he cleared what there was of his throat.
“I am back,” he said. “Yes, there is life on another planet.”
Those in attendance began to talk excitedly. “Quiet!” shouted Alatar. And he pointed a finger at one of them still mumbling which, briefly, froze him to the spot. Everyone settled down.
“It is far, far away,” Anazoo said. “In the Milky Way Galaxy, as they call it.”
The group tittered. Alatar glared. The tittering stopped.
Anazoo unfolded a large piece of paper and held it up. “This,” he said, “is a page from a newspaper. You recall newspapers. We had them here for many suns.”
Anazoo held it over his head so all could see.
“They know about us. It’s in this newspaper, the New York Times, August 20, 2012. A PLANET JUST RIGHT FOR LIFE?”
“What do they look like?” someone asked.
“I will get to that,” Anazoo said. “Be patient.”
Alatar glared. Raised a finger. Lowered it.
“This newspaper reports on two groups of scientists. One group is on one side of the planet. The other group is on the other side of the planet. They are arguing with one another. One group says we exist, that we are a planet like them. The other group says we don’t exist.”
There was general laughter at the table. It was a series of honking noises.
“Does the planet have a name?”
“It doesn’t say.”
There was another zapping noise and suddenly a large curved plastic lens appeared floating in the air in front of Anazoo’s eye. He read from the article.
“In a paper in the journal Astronomical Notes, Dr. Vogt and Dr. Butler argued that the planet does indeed show up in the Swiss observations, if they are analyzed properly.” Anazoo looked up. “Dr. Vogt and Dr. Butler are from California.”
Nobody said anything.
Anazoo continued reading. “Artie P. Hatzes, a former student of Dr. Vogt’s who is now at the Thuringian State Observatory in Tautenberg, Germany, said it pained him to see his old mentor sticking to a conclusion ‘that is obviously wrong.’ Hatzes called Gliese 581g ‘a marginal detection’ that was not supported by additional data.”
There was a long silence.
“Who is this Artie P. Hatzes, with the three fancy names?” someone asked. “And is this ‘Gliese 581g’ supposed to be us?”
“Actually, no,” Anazoo said. “It’s just the ‘g’ that is us. Gliese 581 is the name they give to our biggest sun. And ‘g’ is us. We circle around Gliese 581. So do planets ‘c,’ ‘b,’ ‘d,’ and ‘e.’ You must forgive them. There are so many stars in the sky. But they think there is life on ‘g.’ That’s what it says. ‘A small planet circling a small red star in the constellation Libra at a distance smack in the middle of the ‘just right’ region where water on the surface is possible.”
“They call our beautiful Jo-ah ‘G?’” someone honked.
“Well they haven’t got it right,” Anazoo said.
“Maybe we should go and set them straight,” Alatar said. “Give them a sign. Print something out for them in their language and then just parachute it down to their planet. What’s the name?” He turned Anazoo.
“As I said, it doesn’t say.”
“They don’t say the name of their own planet?”
“Not in this article. Everybody must know it, though. I think they’d have to.”
“What do you think of this idea?”
“I think it’s a good one,” Anazoo said, bowing slightly again.
“Hmm,” Alatar said. “And what do they say about what they call c, b, e and d?”
“Not much. It doesn’t say. It’s all about us. They think we’re it. That there’s life on Jo-ah.”
“We’ve been hoping for this day,” Alatar said. He looked straight up into the sun and touched his knuckles together in front of his chest. “Cracka be Praised.”
“Cracka be Praised,” everyone said in unison. “Amen.”
Everyone was quiet for a while. All you could hear was the sound of the trolley cars scraping along the tracks in the city below.
“And what is the date of this paper?” someone asked. “How long ago was it published? I didn’t understand that 2012 stuff.”
“I picked it up on the day I left there. That was 20 million light years and one day ago.”
“So it’s old news.”
“Yes, very old.”
“So they could know for sure we are here by now.”
“I should think so,” Anazoo said.
“Hmmm,” said Alatar.
“I have a question,” someone asked. “What do these creatures look like?”
There was more mumbling, some honking and a chorus of “here, here.”
“I will show you,” Anazoo said. Now there was a further buzzing sound, softer than before but longer, and then after just 10 seconds, with a great popping sound, Anazoo took the form of a human being—half again taller, with hair on top, a nose, ears, hands and fingers, nipples, bellybutton, everything.
“Eeeeewwwww!!” somebody shrieked. “Turn yourself back!!”
And so, Anazoo, panting from the effort, did.
“This meeting of the great council is adjourned,” said Alatar. He rapped his knuckles on the table.
And in an instant, with a series of pops, they were all gone.

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