Dave Dorian, standing in the wings, may have been the most popular person on the planet Dorian. Onstage, lights and cameras were focused on the empty desk and chair awaiting him. Directly behind the desk, on the wall, was a large screen. Dorian television often referenced a myriad of other civilizations, and whenever Dave, or any on-screen personality, spoke about something possibly unfamiliar to an audience, an explanation, usually with graphics or a video, was provided. For those watching at home, the explanation would appear in a pop-up box in the lower left-hand corner of their screens.Dave was a late-night personality on a major network, the only network, it seemed, in Dave's time slot. Everyone who was still up, and many were only up because of Dave, tuned in. Dave was slightly on the older side. His self was mostly all head, and with no clear delineation between his head and a body that tapered into the usual six rubbery legs, each leg with suction cups along the sides, and a sucking-squirting vent on the bottom. Along each side of his head, just above the ears, were shorter limbs, two to a side, like arms, although arm-type functions, grabbing, touching, feeling, were mostly accomplished with the legs. Dave had large, sad eyes, long dark eyelashes, no eyebrows, and no hair on his head. Dave was two-toned, like all Dorians, and was brighter on the top than the bottom. Beauty on Dorian was measured primarily in the meld, the merging of the upper color into the lower, although the eyes, the curvature of the body-head, and the grace of the legs counted too. Dave, a light blue on top, grayish-blue farther down, was middle-aged and plain, the plainness a part of his appeal. The lights on the tops of the cameras went from red to green, the big klieg lights came on, the orchestra began playing, and Dave shooshed onstage. Shooshed, or sometimes sashayed, was what movement with six legs was called. Dave had a slight hitch in his gait, a gimp, something else endearing him to his millions of fans. The studio audience greeted him raucously, maybe more so tonight. Tonight was going to be special. The folks didn't know what was up, just that the blurbs all week had promised something big, and Dave always delivered. Dave got behind his desk and sat, grinning with more teeth than Dorians generally showed. He held his grin until the applause abated, then greeted his studio audience and the folks watching at home. He told a few jokes and wisecracked through a couple of brief news items - there'd been a series of earthquakes with some resulting tsunamis, and Dave could joke, since buildings and roads, pretty much everything Dorian, hovered on what were called lily pads. Next should have come the lineup of the night's guests. Dave's show attracted the biggest and brightest from the worlds of show biz, sports and politics. Dave's couch was often a launching pad for upcoming talent, a reset for fading stars. Instead, there was silence, and Dave's trademark grin; the audience, intrigued, waited. Dave paused, his timing always impeccable. "As you all well know," he said. "We've been discovered." There were boos and hissing. Dorians did know. It had been widely reported - Earth, Bloody Earth, a relatively near neighbor, had discovered Dorian. "Earth," Dave said, "is a conglomeration of fiercely independent states, all competing with one another, instead of working together for a livable world. Earth, or, more specifically, a part of Earth, the strongest part, the biggest bully in a schoolyard full of bullies, has finally figured out there's a planet not too far from them with the potential to be inhabited, in what they call the Goldilocks Zone?? An explanation of Goldilocks appeared on the big screen directly behind Dave. ?Now, let me reiterate," Dave said. "Earth doesn't know ours is an inhabited planet. They only know we have the potential to be inhabited, based on what they know about life, what they call 'life as we know it,' as if there can only be life on another planet if it's similar to their own." "Dorians," Dave said, "have long been fascinated by the sordid blood and guts existence of Earth, the tooth and claw, and We've always felt it was prudent to not have any contact with them, for fear they'd try to get here somehow, to devour us. But now We've gone and done it. We've contacted them." There was disgust, and anger. "I know, I know," Dave said, waving those antennae. "Why in the worlds would we reach out to a planet as rapacious as Earth? We did it because it's a longstanding Dorian tradition, welcoming junior civilizations, and so tonight and for the first time, we're going to get it, as they say on Earth, straight from the horse's mouth." "Ladies and gentlemen," Dave said, using his most dramatic tone, and standing, and with a drum roll from the orchestra, "Our special guest, remarkable for his ordinariness, and straight from Earth . . . Mark!" Everyone, including Dave, stood and clapped; then, and as Mark appeared onstage, walking a bit nervously into the lights, there were gasps and exclamations. Mark looked like, like an honest to goodness Earthling, and if this was one of Dave's practical jokes, he'd done a heck of a job, stuffing a humpty-dumpty Dorian into a slender human suit. Mark's legs, he had just two, seemingly had no flexibility except halfway up, more like hinges than full-length flexors. Mark didn't use both of his legs at once and worked them instead one at a time, a grotesque, alternating gait. Above the legs, Mark was hard to look at - a pasty white skin and with no gradual descent from head down into body and legs, and thankfully, it was mostly covered with clothing. His head, grotesquely small, seemed more of an afterthought, an ornament perched on top of him, and the elongated connector between his body and head, ugh! Some in the audience covered their faces with their antennae, but they couldn't resist peeking around the corners. Others were standing, some laughing uproariously, some shaking their fists. Mark was considerably taller than Dave, taller than everyone on Dorian, Dave coming barely to Mark's shoulders. Mark was youngish and had dark hair and dark eyes and a warm smile, although he seemed a bit put out by the sea of Dorian faces and their boisterous reaction to him. Dave, still standing, fluttered his four antenna-arms in the traditional Dorian greeting, and Mark tried to grab the antennae with just one of his own antenna, instead of merely waving his own two in the traditional Dorian greeting. That seemed intentionally rude and provoked more consternation. Mark, finally giving up on trying to grab even one of Dave's antenna, any one of them, sat on the couch that was alongside Dave's desk. "Welcome to Dorian," Dave said, when it was quiet, "and as a representative of my world, let me say, welcome to the Universe!" "Thank you," Mark said, his words instantly translated into the single worldwide Dorian language. "I should point out, folks," Dave said, "that on his own planet, Mark is considered to be a looker." The audience didn't know how to react. A looker? Seriously? Or was it another of Dave's jokes? "Now, Mark," Dave said. "Most of the folks here and watching at home have a pretty clear idea of Earth, and they know about your having discovered us, and by the way, we discovered you more than sixty-five million years ago, back in the time of your dinosaurs, a marvelous epoch, let me tell you." "I saw the videos just this morning," Mark said, nodding vigorously, "and I concur. They are fabulous. Everything We've imagined, except those cute, furry little things trying to not get stepped on by the big lizards weren't really the progenitors of humans, as your video states." "Did they show you the video of the comet striking Earth and wiping out the dinosaurs?" "Talk about fireworks!" Mark said. "It was spectacular, wasn't it," Dave said, "and can you share with the folks just exactly how it is you ended up here on our planet?" "It was serendipitous," Mark said. "Time travel, compliments of Dorian, and which is every bit as exciting, or even more exciting, than discovering Dorian has a library full of videos that chronicle nearly the entirety of Earth's pre-history. I'm hoping I can take some of those videos, as well as the secret of time travel, home with me." "Not likely," Dave said, snarky, and with an implication intended to reassure everyone: Communicating with savages was one thing, but sharing the secret of time travel with a race that would probably see it as a route of invasion would be insane. "Well, as you know," Mark said, smiling, feeling a bit more comfortable now, on the couch and with a glass of water in his hand, his legs crossed, which fascinated the audience. How did he manage to cross those stiff limbs, and did those hinges require oiling? "We recently discovered - located was maybe a better word - your planet, a place very similar to Earth, and capable of supporting life. It was a one-day news item, and didn't create much of a splash, even on its one day. Most Earth newspapers and blogs scarcely mentioned it, and those that did, buried it." "Is it true," Dave said, "that the folks who discovered us were treated rather harshly?" "They were dispatched for re-education," Mark said. "That's standard procedure on my planet. Unfortunate but necessary. Anyway, a short while after the announcement, the president of my country?" A map of the U.S. appeared on the back wall, and with a blurb, biggest guy on the block, "the president began getting e-mails purporting to be from your planet. The White House mailroom initially dismissed the e-mails, we get thousands of prank notes." "Sure you do," Dave said, "and if I may, it seems odd to us, how a planet that has always speculated about the possibility of life elsewhere could deny, against all evidence, the discovery of an inhabited, or potentially inhabited, planet, so close to itself, but go on." "It had to be a prank," Mark said. "Everybody on Earth knows there can't be life anywhere else, and it was annoying, the barrage of notes, and the mailroom finally kicked them out to the chairman of theological conformity." "That would be you?" "Oh, no," Mark said, laughing. "I'm an unpaid intern, the lowest guy on the totem pole" - a totem pole and an explanation appeared on the back wall. "That's how I got the assignment. You see, the chief theologian, whose name is Steve, figured it was a political scam." "A political scam?" "It's when the opposing political party sets you up, gets you to do something to make you look ridiculous." "Why?" "Why, what, Dave?" "Why try to make you look ridiculous?" "So people don?t vote for you." "Vote?" "it's?" "Never mind," Dave said. "We keep getting distracted, we'll be here all night." "And a Dorian night," Mark said, "is equal to an Earth year." "Approximately, yes," Dave said. "When the notes kept coming, and became even more insistent, Steve asked me to investigate. My investigation showed the e-mails might be genuine and there might be intelligent life on Dorian." "Thank you," Dave said, "and what was Steve's reaction when you told him we might be here?" "He said, you're fired!? "Seriously?" "Actually, no," Mark said, laughing, "but he did say if I kept pursuing it and it really was a trap and it embarrassed the president, he'd have me flayed." "Flayed," Dave said, speaking to the audience, and without an explanation on the back wall, it would have been too upsetting. 'Peel the skin off strip by strip while the victim is still alive.' There were gasps. "Steve was joking, I think," Mark said. "But it's something they do on Earth, flaying?" Dave said. "Not so much, anymore." "They do it, though?" "Uh, sometimes." "Why?" "Well," Mark said, as if it were a foolish question, "to ensure conformity, of course. To rein in non-believers." "We better get back on our subject," Dave said, "before I lose my audience, and my dinner, as well." "It was too big for me to just let it go," Mark said, "and I didn't want to lose my job, I love my job, even though I don't get paid, and I didn't want to lose my skin, either. So for the next three months, I did serious work by day, and at night, every night, late into the night, over a secure line, I corresponded with someone purporting to be Dorian. At the end of the three months and after careful negotiations and with my Dorian contact offering me a lift, I decided to go for it, my job and my skin be damned, and I boarded one of your space crafts." There was applause. Dorians recognized courage. "And as a result of your tenacity," Dave said, "here you are, the first Earthling to ever time travel and to be a guest on another inhabited planet." "it's all been pretty overwhelming," Mark said. "Sure it has," Dave said, "although we here on Dorian are probably not what you'd call life as you know it. Congrats to you as well as to your planet, and moving on, what has always most fascinated us about Earth is your slavish dedication to your all-powerful dictator, God. Could you tell us a little bit about him?" "Thank you for asking," Mark said. "it's actually why I decided I had to come here. To tell you about God. He's an omniscient being, bigger than the Universe, permeating the Universe. He's worshipped all across my planet in a myriad of ways, and he has intervened at different times in the planet's history." "No one is bigger than the Universe," Dave said, "and as far as permeating it, most of the universe is dead space, but OK, you say he has intervened in the affairs of men. What sort of interventions?" "Well, for instance, miracles." "What's a miracle?" "Let's say you're blind. He restores your sight." "Oh, so He's a doctor, doing routine procedures." "Not exactly, see, you're blind and no doctor can heal you, so God does it." "So there are no blind people on Earth." "there's plenty." "Why hasn't God fixed them?" "He only fixes a few." "Why doesn't he fix all of them?" "The point in curing the blind isn't so a blind person can see." "So, what is the point?" "To show the awesome power of God." "I suppose it would take too much time," Dave said, "to fix them all. I mean, the line would be out the door and around the corner." "Actually, honestly, there wouldn't be a line." "No?" "He could snap his finger and they'd all be cured in a nanosecond." "But he won't." "He works in mysterious ways." "Amen," Dave said, and Mark laughed appreciatively. "He favors some, turns his back on others," Dave said. "He cures the good ones and allows the bad ones to suffer." "Good and bad," Mark said, "oftentimes don't seem to have anything to do with it." "What criteria does he use?" "we're not sure." "hasn't anyone asked him?" "He hasn't spoken to us for centuries." "He's a recluse, in hiding?" "I wouldn't call it hiding, exactly." "What would you call it?" "Aloofness, I guess." Dave winked at the audience, and back to Mark: "He's gone away?" "Yes, but He's watching us." "God," Dave elaborated to his audience, "has given each Earthling something called a soul, which, if I get it correctly, is a little piece of God in each of them. it's there but you can't see it or touch it." "That's a good way of putting it," Mark said. "When an Earthling dies," Dave said, again to his audience, "he doesn't simply return as dust to the cosmos. He's judged by the omniscient one, and if he, the Earthling, has been good, his soul goes to a really swell place called heaven, a sort of eternal spa, and if he hasn't been so good, he roasts in a fiery furnace called hell." "That's correct, Dave," Mark said. "So it pays to be good." "It sure does," Mark said. "Even if you're blind and he won't fix your sight." "Yes." "So why are there so many bad people on Earth?" "They haven't yet come to God." "Yet, some of the worst ones can't shut up about God," Dave said, perplexed. "On your planet, you have waves of violence that would be unheard of on any planet we know, and we know many, and at the top of the violence is something called war. Want to tell the folks about war? I wanted to put up a video, showing it, but same as with flaying, my producer nixed the idea. He said it'd be way too unsettling." "War," Mark said, ?is when one nation tries to humble, and in some cases, eradicate another." "it's death and destruction," Dave said, "on a massive scale." "War is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary," Mark said, somewhat sheepishly. "It must make God awfully mad." "Actually, he, uh, sometimes, most times, takes sides." "Which side?" "Both sides, usually." "Well, he certainly is a strange one, and when you said he works in mysterious ways, you weren't, if I may use an Earth adage, whistling Dixie. You said how He's been gone for a long time. Maybe, and for your sake, he should stay gone." "He has to come back," Mark said, "to save us." "To save you from what, Yourselves?" "From the devil." "Who?s that?" "He's the one who's responsible for all the bad things." "So nothing is the fault of the Earthlings, or of God, it's all the devil?" "we're his victims," Mark said. There was a silence, Dave and the folks trying to absorb the apparent contradiction, an all-powerful being taking credit for the good and ducking responsibility for the bad. "Just so I'm getting this," Dave said. "God is good, the devil is bad, God is all powerful, but He's gone away, and in his absence, the devil brings bad stuff. God doesn't approve but he won't intervene. Why doesn't he smack this devil on the head, it's what any Earthling would do." "He's going to." "When?" "As soon as he gets back." "He's gone away, yet he permeates the Universe, which would include Earth." "He hasn't really gone away." "But you said?"? "Nobody sees him anymore, but He's still with us." "So, when you say He's coming back, you're being figurative. He can't come back, since He's never left." "That's the beauty of God," Mark said. "Even though He's gone, He's still in our lives every day, guiding us." "He can be gone without ever having left," Dave said, and his grin said it was time to lighten things, to be playful, and with his four antennae-arms fluttering: "He's everywhere! He's everywhere!" "Even when He's not!" someone shouted. "When is he coming back?" Dave said. "At the end of time," Mark said. "When's that?" "Soon, we think." "It can't be soon enough," Dave said. "We could spend the rest of the night proving to you how time can't end, but OK, Let's say it's the end of time and He's back. He scoops up all the good people and takes them to heaven. Separates the wheat from the chaff." ?Well put," Mark said. "How exactly did Earth get into this sort of predicament?" Dave said. "I mean, it's a situation unlike anything you'd find on any of the other inhabited planets, and intelligent life is supposed to act, you know, intelligently." "I wouldn't exactly call it a predicament," Mark said. "It doesn't make sense to us," Dave said, "why God, who you seem to think is a pretty swell dude, would allow the devil to get away with spreading so much misery. And please, don't tell us there isn't misery on Earth. It appals us daily, how you surpass the seemingly unsurpassable." "Way back at the very beginning of time," Mark said, "when there was just one man and one woman, the woman took a bite out of an apple and ever since, people have suffered." There was a silence and Mark filled it: "We call it original sin. Everyone who is born comes into the world with the stain." "The stain of the bite of an apple." "Yes." "Apples are very popular on Earth," Dave said. "Everybody eats them." "Well, yeh, sure," Mark said, "and it's OK to eat an apple. it's just the first apple that shouldn't have been eaten. God told the woman not to eat it and she disobeyed him." "So it wasn't really about the apple, but about obedience," Dave said. "Correct," Mark said. "Why didn't the woman do as she was told? I mean, someone who can give sight to the blind with a snap of his fingers and who permeates the entire Universe, and trust me, you Earthlings have no idea just how vast the Universe is, someone who stretches from one end to the other would seem to be someone who should be obeyed." "A snake tricked her." "Well," Dave said, "never trust a creature without legs or antennae." "It was the devil," Mark said. "Who was?" "The snake." "The snake was the devil?" "In disguise, yes." "Sneaky little devil," Dave said, "but thankfully, hopefully, God is coming back someday, to set things right, to fix the apple problem." "Yes." "And He's coming soon." "Yes." "Gloriously?" "Like a thief in the night." "I beg your pardon, a thief?" Mark chuckled, condescending. "He won't be stealing things," he said. "What it means is, he'll arrive when He's least expected." "So you better be good, for goodness sake." "Exactly." "Before the apple," Dave said, "Earth was paradise, or so you say, and never mind we could offer video evidence that Earth has never been paradise, and after your redeemer uh, redeems, you'll have paradise again. But here on Dorian, We've never experienced him, and we seem to be doing OK." Mark wanted to argue but couldn't find the words. he'd toured Dorian, the entirety of it, in a solar powered zip-craft, and had marvelled not so much at the prosperity, although there was plenty, but at the harmony. The people had attained homogeneity without sacrificing individuality, a neat trick humankind had never managed, or attempted. "Now, Mark," Dave said. "Here's what everyone wants me to ask. On your planet, it's considered an act against God, a sin, for a person to believe there could be life on another planet." "That's correct," Mark said. "And now you've seen life on Dorian, experienced it, what are you going to tell the folks back home?" "I'll tell them the devil is working overtime." "Huh?" "it's very simple, isn't it?" Mark said. "The final showdown is fast arriving and the devil, desperate to hold onto us, has conjured a civilization that can shake Earth's beliefs to their very core." "Are you saying we're not real?" "Oh, you're real enough," Mark said. "But you're the handiwork of the devil." The audience was insulted and angry, and objects - fruits and nuts, handbags and cellphones, lots of shoes, bounced and rolled along the stage. "it's a crime on your planet," Dave said, "to believe there can be life anywhere else, and only one person from your planet, you, Mark, has experienced alien life. The consensus, the only sanctioned belief on your planet, is that there can't be life anywhere else because you're God's people and he wouldn't create anyone else, because if he did, he might have to love them with the same intensity as he loves you. That's why Earth dismissed the overtures of an inhabited planet and why we have nothing to fear from you. There may be the possibility of life, but for you, there can't be the reality, although it's another mystery, why God would create the conditions necessary for life without creating life itself. When you return home, it's going to take an act of great courage for you to tell folks where you've been." "They'll flay him!" someone shouted from the audience, and there was hooting. "I understood the risks, coming here," Mark said, "but I felt I had a duty, to convince the folks back home there was life on Dorian, so we could send missionaries." "To conquer us in the name of God," Dave said. "To bring you his word." "Whether we want it or not." "Well, you'd want eternal life, wouldn't you, if it was there for the taking?" "Three centuries is enough," Dave said. "it's a fact, on those planets where the life span goes beyond three-hundred years, the old folks are miserable." Then, and as if Mark were no longer present on the stage, or no longer mattered, and by way of closing out the first segment of the interview, and with Dave's producer already having decided it would be a bad idea to go ahead with the second half, a Q and A with the audience, Dave spoke to those in the studio and at home: "It has alarmed many of you, the notion we'd bring an Earthling to Dorian and share our knowledge and sophistication with him, but there's a sense of fairness on Dorian." Dave grinned. "Of course, we knew we could bring Mark here without any risk to ourselves. Earth's faith in God won't allow them to believe we're here. Even Mark doesn't believe it. Like all Earthlings, He's blind in a way that even God can't cure." Mark tried to interject, but his microphone had been turned off, a rudeness rarely seen on Dorian. Dave continued: "How Earthlings power their planet, and folks, I'm not making this up, they dig deep into the ground and extract the liquefied remains of dinosaurs and other animals dead for millions of years and turn those remains into combustible fuel. That actually works OK, so long as you don't mind inhaling poisonous air. Unfortunately for them, fortunately for the Universe, the gaseous remains of the fuel linger for centuries in their atmosphere. It accumulates and creates a barrier that prevents a portion of the heat arriving from their sun from bouncing back into outer space. it's a simple enough problem to fix, but only if you're committed to fixing it. If you prefer to wait for somebody else to fix it, or if you deny it's even happening, think it couldn't happen because God, who's OK with famines, wars, genocide, and flayings, wouldn't allow it, well, you're not going to listen to a cautionary tale told by Dorians or any other space aliens." "More and more heat becomes trapped," Dave continued, and to ominous, low music from the orchestra, "and as a result, Earth is cooking. there's a point at which the cooking process becomes irreversible, a tipping point, and Earth doesn't realize it, but it's gone beyond its tipping point. There are seven billion people on Earth, and even did every one of them cease tomorrow to burn their dirty fuel, it wouldn't matter. They're on an irreversible march to massive warming. Their glaciers will melt, their seas will rise even as their lakes and rivers dry up, their coasts will disappear, species and crops will die. Humanity will become more and more lethargic as the unremitting heat enervates them, and at the end, They'll look to their only hope, God?" And now Dave was speaking to Mark, "only to discover he doesn't exist?" Mark objected angrily, shouting to be heard without a microphone: "Denying the existence of God can get you shot on my planet!? "We've seen it before," Dave said, ignoring Mark's outburst, and with the lights dimming and with the ominous music rising in volume, Dave pointed to the screen. Mark stood, half turned, and there was a video, hundreds of years truncated into seconds, a planet succumbing to massive warming. The audience watched, somber, although not dismayed at the prospect of Earth not surviving long enough to expand into a universe that was better off without it. "That's not Earth on the screen," Dave said. "It's Earth's future reality as it played out eons ago on another planet, a once promising civilization that mistook science for the devil and turned away from it. They had God too, only theirs was a woman, and having gone beyond their tipping point and with God not coming back, the overheated planet gave itself a second bite of the apple by loading primitive life into a space capsule and sending it to a nearby planet." The video had gone into fadeout, the doomed orb growing smaller as it receded into darkness, becoming just one of the myriad pinpoints of light in a black sky, albeit with a brightness that outshone all those others. "Look familiar?" Dave said to Mark. It did, it was Earth's parent, Venus, a notion shocking to Mark, unsurprising to the audience; all Dorians knew the cautionary tale, the demise of Venus, and with a close-up of Mark's face - stunned recognition, appearing on the screen, there was dead silence. "You're cooked, baby," Dave said, grinning, and with the music becoming livelier, jazzier, "and now, and before we send you home to your sweltering hell on Earth, join us in some entertainment folks? Miss Dora Divine and her trained two-leggers." The crowd roared as Dora and her pets, staples of Dave's show, came onstage, the cute little two-legged imps doing their tricks, obeying the commands of a comely six-legger.
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Hugh Cenerville, AKA W. J. Smth, is, again, a frst time contributor to anotherealm. We had several of those this year?all of them worthy choices. Notice, too, that many of the stories this year are science fiction oriented. I?m glad to see that. Fantasy and horror are fine and fun, but sci-fi offers a different level of both challenges and satisfaction. Hugh nee? WJ?s quirky tale rises to the challenges and delivers the satisfaction. Agree? Demure? Let me know on our BBS. - GM